Yesterday I had the chance to visit with Richard Howard, guest editor of The Best American Poetry 1995 and frequent contributor to our pages (left, pictured during the launch reading for the 2008 edition of the anthology; the picture on the right below is from last year's launch). I'm no stranger to apartment 5X, but every time I come I find something new and delightful on the walls or shelves, or maybe it was there all along and only now am I noticing it. Yesterday a beautiful painting by Marsha Recknagel caught my eye and I admired a set of paintings by Howie Michaels arranged vertically on the two sides of the portal separating the dining and sleeping areas of the spacious loft apartment. Richard has framed two little water colors that I made for him and he grinned from ear to ear directing me to them.
Richard is finishing a sequence of poems situated in the Park School, the experimental school in Cleveland where he was educated. The book will be called Progressive Education. The last poem in the sequence will bear the title "Farewell to the Fifth Grade," I love that title. The poem that Richard recited for me yesterday is his most recent: "E Pluribus Unum." It is in the form of a group poem -- written collaboratively by the class's thirteen precocious students -- and is dedicated to their teacher, who has the unlikely name of Miss Husband. "We wondered what her name would be if she got married," Richard remarked. The memory gave him pleasure.
The poem is splendid and will appear soon in Parnassus magazine. Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, the poet reminds us, was originally entitled Alice 's Adventures Underground. The poem's climax occurs when the author of the Alice books conjectures that the works were "really about malice."
With his customary enthusiasm, Richard is teaching a course -- at Columbia's School of the Arts -- that pairs the Alice books with J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan as, respectively, the major Victorian and major Edwardian childhood fantasies. "Peter Pan's enemy is Huck Finn, whose attitude toward life is not refusing to grow up," Richard says. A course with Richard on such and related fictions (L.Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz, for instance): I wonder if the Columbia kids realize how lucky they are.
And the next time I teach Graham Greene's "Under the Garden," a particular favorite of mine, I will remember to pair it with the Alice books, and I'll remember that the idea occurred to me while I was visiting Richard on an exceptionally hot Saturday afternoon in September. -- DL