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April 17, 2009


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This is hilarious, Jim. What a way to get out of an uncomfortable situation. I'll have to try it some time. At least he didn't spill coffee.
Speaking of spanking, though. One of my favorite books is Spanking the Maid, by Robert Coover. When I met Coover, I asked him how he came to write the book. He explained that during a visit to England he discovered the Brit's love of spanking, and a cache of those magazines, in the library where he was doing research. They were Victorian-era guides for how to discipline household help. He couldn't remove the journals so he had to copy passages in long hand into his notebook. They were the inspiration for the novel, which is about the relationship between a man and his maid (w/lots of spanking) though Coover said it was really about "language."

Oh god, that's great: really about language! The language of love. I've never read "Maid" but I really like Coover's work; I'll track it down tomorrow. Thanks! Maybe the Brits are onto something; perhaps we should spank more young women in this country. It might be good for the young women, too; don't you think? Maybe this is a social engineering program we can all get, er, behind.

Yes and I have to say there was a note of condescension in his voice when he said it was about language, as if I was a real dope for missing the the point. Still, I love that book (at the time I read it, I was working for a real monster so it seemed to mirror my life (thwack!). (See how literature teaches us that we're not alone?)And I like his other books too, especially Gerald's Party (a great "bum" scene in there too), and The Convention, which I think was published as a chapbook, and the one about Nixon (can't recall the title).

That's a great story about the meeting of the two Phils. I read Larkin when I was at Cambridge back in 1971 or 72 and had even daydreamed about going to Hull to see him, but Hull is a long trip from London, and Larkin never answered the letter. I still remember which poem of his initiated me into the club: "Poetry of Departures."

David, I would love to remember the similar poem for me; I've spent the last half hour leafing through the Collected. I just remember reading a stretch of his work being fascinated because the personality revealed was not exactly congenial (reread "To His Wife" or "Talking in Bed"), yet the work--the voice, the world--was so compelling, so semblable and frere. Ones I remember from that time would be "Toads," "Vers de Societe," "Annus Mirabilis," and of course "Poetry of Departures" and "This Be The Verse." Oh, and definitely "Self's the Man," which almost caused me to have a mild infarction. Stacey, I think for a certain stretch of time, probably from Wittgenstein through the day before yesterday, "language" was a mystical term for non-mystical writers, "numinous" as the Jungians say; if not an archetype, at least a nexus of value that they couldn't define but which provided a really handy little club they could use. Whap, whap. I never mind condescension; in fact, it reassures, since it's so obviously an overcompensatory move. Speaking of Larkin and Coover and condescension, Julian Barnes was here a while back; at one odd combustion moment, we began reciting,the two of us, "This Be The Verse"--we were like a 6-cylinder engine hitting on 3 or 4 cylinders, but we made it through. I was pleased, but then saw he was condescending to me. I didn't mind, though; he was beginning a book tour. Good luck, man.

To say that "Spanking the Maid" is really about language -- and in a patronizing tone -- is to sum up a quarter century of academic discourse.
I once heard an enthusiastic disciple of Derrida say that the Crusades were "largely" a linguistic battle. "Language invaded the universal problematic," he said, quoting Derrida, but before I could get him to clarify, he was off and running to his next assertion: "Meaning is Fascist."

Beautifully put.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.



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