Turner Cassity was an American original. A one-time student of Yvor Winters, he was, with Thom Gunn, the least Wintersian of that crowd. His inimitable guerrilla-style humor -- darting in sideways like a velociraptor with a devastating quip, then darting away -- took no prisoners, and was as sharp as anyone's I can think of, save possibly James Merrill's.
When Turner died last month, there was very little to-do; scant notice was taken in the press. The ship had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. Meanwhile, one of our greatest, crankiest, strangest, densest poets of high polish and high wit -- in other words, as Auden might have put it, "something amazing" -- passed from sight.
Here is a poem of Turner's that ran not too long ago in The New Criterion. The poem takes a while to warm up, but then it's like a fire in your hand.
Crystal but Not Crystal Ball
Upon the sapphire is the light a star?
Who is to say it is not compass points,
Or non-Euclidean geometry
Upon the rounded blue? As sign a star,
The shining asterisk is star but less;
Is radiance without the consequence—
Astrology without prediction: twelve
In one, one fate and one mortality.
If you would have your charting different,
Examine then star rubies. Theirs is truth
Extrapolated from the blood, the flash
Of heat across the chill of mineral.
The East and West and North and South of love;
Its novel proofs, its parallels that meet.