City of No Illusions

December 09, 1990|By Andrei Codrescu

Buffalo.--WHEN I GOT out of the car a blade of frigid wind whipped my face with the fury of a pack of wolves starving in the snowy deeps of Siberia. ''I can't believe you people live here!'' I howled contra-venti at my friend Deborah Ott who was flattened by the gale against a wall of the University of Buffalo. ''It's nothing.'' she said, ''Wait till next month!''

Luckily, I wasn't going to. I was going back next day to my scented bower of camellias, azaleas, wisteria, magnolia and birds where winter is only a dream, and our only fear is not finding a table at our favorite outdoor cafe. Nonetheless, in spite of or maybe because of the weather, Buffalo is a city full of poets.

Here at the university they have a chair for Robert Creeley, the man who recently wrote: ''The world is a round but/diminishing ball, a spherical/ice cube . . . '' And here was where the giant, Maximus, AKA Charles Olson, spent many years writing and talking up a snowstorm. In the cooled inner recesses of the Buffalo Poetry Collection, Robert Berthoff, the librarian, shows me the original notebook that became ''Ulysses'' by James Joyce, and the typewritten and crumbling manuscript of William Carlos Williams' ''Farmers' Daughters.''

''Williams bought some cheap paper in bulk somewhere, and it's falling apart!'' growls Mr. Berthoff who could be Mephistopheles, and probably is. A fiendish pursuer of the archives and books of American poets, he stays up in the long winter nights of Buffalo bidding for souls.

In the back yard of Jack Clarke's house a similarly phantomatic mixture of cold and poetry hold sway. We have come outside to see the sharp, bright stars. Quickly moving snow clouds move under them. A cat darts out from under a frozen tree. Chilled to the bone we move back inside to where the wine and the music are. I am beginning to remember the pleasures of deep winter, the common front people make against the cold with soup and warm bread . . . Neah . . . I'll go back to my bower of birds and ease . . . where I'll wear only my new T-Shirt: ''Buffalo: City of No Illusions.''

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