One night after Christmas last year, in a dark, well-upholstered restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the American poet Frederick Seidel, an elegant man of 73 with an uncommonly courtly manner, told me a story about poetry’s power to disturb. “It was years ago,” Seidel explained in his measured voice, “in the days when I had an answering machine. I’d left my apartment, briefly, to go outside to get something, and when I came back there was a message. When I played it, there was a woman’s voice, a young woman’s voice sounding deeply aroused, saying: ‘Frederick Seidel . . . Frederick Seidel . . . you think you’re going to live. You think you’re going to live. But you’re not. You’re not going to live. You’re not going to live. . . .’ All this extraordinary, suggestive heavy breathing, getting, in the tone of it, more and more intensely sexual, more gruesome, and then this sort of explosion of sound from this woman, and: ‘You’re . . . not . . . going . . . to . . . live.’ ” Seidel paused. The bright cries of a group of young women giving a baby shower in the adjoining booth rose and fell behind the bare crown of Seidel’s gray head. “So,” he continued, “the first thing I did was call a girlfriend. And the woman said, ‘I’m coming over.’ And did. And listened to this thing. And burst into tears. Because it really was horrific.” Another friend, a federal judge, also listened, insisting that Seidel call the police immediately and tell them he’d received a death threat. “They came by and they said: ‘It’s real. Have you published a book recently?’ I had. And that was it, really. Meaning nothing happened. But,” Seidel said, his large blue eyes brightening, “it was the most severe review I’ve ever received.”
more from the NY Times here.