The KGB Bar Monday Night Poetry Series kicks off its Spring 2013 season tomorrow night with a reading by Paul Muldoon and Jonathan Wells. The reading will begin at 7:30 pm.
Hosted by Matthew Yeager and John Deming
PAUL MULDOON, whose The Word on the Street: Rock Lyrics will be released this month, has been described by The Times Literary Supplement as "the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War." A native of Country Armagh, Northern Ireland, he is the author of twelve books of poetry, including Moy Sand and Gravel, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Among Muldoon's distinctions are a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1990, the T. S. Eliot Award for The Annals of Chile in 1994, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature in 1996, and the Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for his New Selected Poems in 1996. In 2003 he was awarded the Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry. The poetry editor of The New Yorker since 2007, he is currently the Howard G.B. Clark '21 Professor at Princeton University.
JONATHAN WELLS is the author of Train Dance (Four Way Books, 2011). His poems have been published in many literary journals including Hayden's Ferry, Paris Review Daily, Poetry International, and The New Yorker. He is also the editor of Third Rail: An Anthology of Rock and Roll, which was published by Simon & Schuster and MTV Books in 2007, with a foreword by Bono. Previously, he worked at Rolling Stone Magazine as director of Rolling Stone Press, the magazine's division of books.
Here is the remaining Spring 2013 Schedule:
Feb 11: Paul Muldoon + Jonathan Wells
Feb 18: Todd Boss + Joseph Voth
Feb 25: Pink Thunder Poetry Music Night: Michael Zapruder & Friends
March 4: David Lehman + James Kimbrell
March 11: KGB POST-AWP HALF-OPEN MIC
March 18: Monica Ferrell + Arisa White
March 25: Daisy Fried + Idra Novey
April 1: Nate Pritts + Jennifer Fortin + Jackie Clark
April 8: Major Jackson + Heather Christle
April 15: Lynn Melnick + Yona Harvey
April 22: Sharon Olds + Michael Dickman
April 29: Michael Klein + Will Schutt
May 6: Glyn Maxwell + Louis Jenkins
May 13: TBA + TBA
May 20: Eileen Myles + Rebecca Wolff + Season Finale Party
My dear Miss Monroe,
The centennial anniversary of Poetry magazine's founding was at hand, some months ago. What was I to do about it?
Well, write. Write, of course, about you.
But no one wanted it.
I tried wherever I could think of: book publishers, who roundly insisted that a book about you would never sell. A New York literary agent, who informed me that, unless I could uncover a great love affair for you with an even more prominent and famous person, my project would never find a home. Was the secret lover to be William Jennings Bryan, I wonder? Or Jane Addams?
I also tried the quarterly literary journals. The various literary websites. The poetry advocacy organizations, which did not seem ready, willing, or able to "advocate" for Harriet. A second literary agent, who advised that I might have hard work to do in order to overcome the impression you had left behind of having lived a rather "dull" daily life. (Bobo, whose life isn't?)
Eventually I also tried the poets themselves, who tend to react in one of two ways to you now, Harriet. Poets tend to react with a vague disdain for Miss Monroe's supposedly slow-witted, or uncaring, treatment of poets and their poetry. (They may mask their disdain with boredom.) Or, poets tend to react with fear of Miss Monroe's current-day Poetry Foundation.
For yes, my dear Miss Mionroe, your magazine has survived you in such a way as to outdo even your most militant triumphalist fantasies. Your desire for a future in poetry for all poets, potentially, although sometimes mocked in your day, has come to be.
Your magazine has continued without interruption, published monthly since its first issue. And Poetry still pays poets to publish their poetry, which for you was both an innovation and a sticking point. For poets it remains something of a rarity.
In addition, one might say that Poetry was the harbinger of a gradually developing national (and international) poetry "business," owed partly to you and to Poetry, which now includes an extensive educational infrastructure, widespread grant funding for poets, an array of poetry prizes, and the publicity and public programming to go with these. You'd be shocked--pleasantly--by it.
And then, there is the Poetry windfall: an act of favor methodically conferred upon Poetry in very much the Chicago way. In 2001, the heiress to a midwestern fortune, Ruth Lilly, who loved poetry (and wrote it), chose to bequeath the fortune to your enduring storefront. The sum would have astounded you perhaps more than anyone: an estimated $100 million, to be disbursed over a period of two or three decades.
This may well promise us a Poetry in perpetuity, with expanded programs, now a new building of its own for the first time, and whatever a foundation president, editors, staff, board, readers, and writers may imagine for it.
But something bothers me about all this.
It is, as I've said already: people seem to fear poetry. More to the point, they seem to fear the Poetry Foundation, which belongs to you still, morally.
Before I began writing letters to you, I contacted almost everyone I knew (or didn't) in a search for ideas, aided by one or two overwhelming questions. To my surprise, very few people answered candidly, at any length, or sometimes at all. Virtually no one would speak on the record.
Although I cannot speak for them, I can for me: what will the buttoned lip possibly accomplish?
A leader of the pack assured me that poets were keeping silent for fear offending your institution, which could make or break their careers.
Harriet, are you laughing at the irony?
What is wrong with sharing ideas? At its very best, isn't poetry a disagreement?
Harriet, you wouldn't like our silence.
My dear Miss Monroe,
To break the silence, I wish you'd reappear and talk to us.
This is how I picture it: in July a sunny Saturday, with scudding clouds. On the grassy breadth of Grant Park in Chicago near Lake Michigan, with picnic tables, a grill, and a tetherball or two, the gaggle gathers. Us. Them. You.
Us. Them. You.
There is Amy Lowell with a parasol, peering at the line-up for a sack race. There is Vachel Lindsay, dancing barefoot, with a root beer. There is D. H. Lawrence, coughing badly.
Edna St. Vincent Millay flirts with Wallace Stevens. William Carlos Williams slings a Frisbee to Bob Holman. Yusef Komunyakaa catches it. Hart Crane swigs one, while chatting with Mark Doty. Susan Wheeler reunites with Lorine Niedecker.
In a hammock, Robert Polito screens "The Maltese Falcon" on his laptop. Near the lemonade, Emily Dickinson finds herself facing the smiles of Susan Howe, Alice Quinn, Brenda Hillman, Richard Howard, and Lucie Brock-Broido. In a patch of shade, William Butler Yeats tries to teach Rabindranath Tagore how to play online solitaire. Meanwhile, David Lehman searches the premises for the editor.
Everyone else is there, too.
David isn't the only one left waiting for you. Nearby, on a sloping urban knoll designed with a sleek modern Danish reticence, a tufty-headed man of uncertain age stands upright, in waistcoat, gazing imperiously at a distant cloud loitering high above the lake. As if responding to a summons inaudible to any but himself, he picks up a large, stately bow and arrow, takes studious aim, and shoots to kill the cloud.
Falcon-faced, the archer utters a sneeze that stirs the immaculately tiered midsummer wildflowers agog on their gnarled, hairy stems. Recovering from his pollen outburst, he seeks to steady himself. He stares again at the cloud with a kind of craving.
Suddenly he chimes in solitary earnest, "Harriet! Harriet! Where are you?"
His voice reverberates and reverberates. Except for the muted roar of city traffic, there is no answer.
A goat enters the scene, climbing the knoll on confident, dainty cloven feet. Picking his way (it is a "he"), the goat shows a wary interest in the archer, although the archer seems not to return this.
The goat draws closer. Lifting his muzzle as if beckoned by a pungent aroma, the goat observes the archer's dusty boots, old leather rucksack, and wispily luxuriant remnants of a short reddish beard.
When the goat's eyes finally reach the man's, quizzical meets quizzical, as it will. In obeisance the goat trills a customary hello. He's got a good vibrato. The archer hopes to acknowledge his admirer. In Greek he sounds a musical reply.
Stern. Egalitarian. Straightforward. Insightful. Determined. Honorable. Any of those adjectives could describe man and animal.
The man's raptor-face relents. Foregoing any words, he utters a hoarse cry in salutation of his better half.
Charmed, the goat begins gnawing deferentially on the man's Italian-made shoelaces.
Patting the goat on the forehead with an air of friendly gravity, Ezra Pound asks, "Is it you, Harriet?"
My dear Miss Monroe,
The train got stuck, stopped, could not start again, and we the passengers were called to evacuate it. But I made my way anyhow in another train through a lot of stops with names like Odenton, where abandoned toilets enjoy free range in the backyards, to the Library of Congress--just to meet you.
Just to hear Harriet speak.
It took me a while.
"I have no idear when you will arrive," announced the train conductor helpfully to us in his Southern twang. He looked like a pregnant male boar. But on the trip at least I also saw an eagle.
The eagle's head and neck were showy white as snowbound Maine clapboard. His bib and body: charcoal black. His back was turned toward me. The urgency of position and posture as he perched on an evergreen told me, this is a useful soloist.
So were you, I think.
Visiting the grave of your archive, though, was a little different. Mist seemed to sink the Capitol. Indoors, the Library of Congress architect (if there ever was one) appeared to conceive of the place, especially its below-ground "C" level, as a dim, sealed, top-secret bunker; as a mountain railroad tunnel, minus screeching, rusted traffic. True, the aggressive swoon of lofty florescence may bar roaches. (Or, entice them.) The smudgy, blameless off-white corridors, stretching endless, without a scrap of signage save for office room numbers, inscribed on tiny doomy door plaques, would seem to ban the writer from the premises. Except for one small problem: all the books and words by and for and with and to and from the writers are stored here, of all places.
Why not put up a picture in the halls? Then, another? Why not post some large-scale building maps to help us hapless wanderers, or even a few interactive smart-boards?
Yes, there are workers, said to work here, like ripe, toddling Kafkas. Still, the steadfast vacancy of their habitat--doesn't it erase them, or threaten to?
Just down the Mall from here in a museum recently the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective serenely went kapow. Indeed, the library could hire a squad of graffiti artists to swarm the hallway pallor. Will they ever?
Until then, we walk through places where we'd rather not. Getting lost at the library, as I do and will and did, at least means I believed I could.
My dear Miss Monroe,
As I learned later, the office of XYZ could not be sure, they assured me, that the digitized audiotape facsimile of the voice I sought (your own) could be located, that day or any other. The librarian was a nice guy. But he also discovered that his office had lost its computer network connection only seconds before I walked in, which meant there was no way as yet for me to ascertain on what day, if ever, I might be able to listen to Harriet speak.
I waited, and they waited, and for all of us you also waited, didn't you?
Two and a half hours further on, I found myself ready and seated, snugly fitted with headphones in the office of XYZ, not far from Sergei Rachmaninoff's improbably lavish, curlicued old marquetry desk--listening. Listening to you. You read a total of six poems in a genteel, gung-ho, rhythmic tone. I think you tried to sing, as much as one could. And, phew: you didn't make clever comments along the way, as so many poets do. You did not try to explain your writing to me, or to you. Unlike poets now, you foreswore telling stories in 1932 about where your poems came from. You only read them in that pliant, sympathetic, vigorous voice. (Back then, few professional poets ever read, in public, their writing aloud.)
Because of how you read aloud, for the first time I understood that in writing you were doing more than just consolidating (sigh) what had been a very enterprising--if sometimes despairing--career. At the age of seventy-two, four years before you died, you were still looking (as you always had been looking) for another way to live again through words.
That is what I heard.
This week we welcome Sarah Arvio as our guest blogger. Arvio's books are Visits from the Seventh (Knopf 2002), Sono: cantos (Knopf 2006), and night thoughts: 70 dream poems & notes from an analysis, out last month also from Knopf. She has been the recipient of many honors, including the Rome Prize, and the Guggenheim and Bogliasco fellowships. Her poems have been set to music by William Bolcom and others. For many years a translator for the United Nations in New York and Switzerland, she has also taught poetry at Princeton. A lifelong New Yorker, she now lives in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay.
We're also pleased to announce that Knopf has generously agreed to sponser this week's giveaway of five copies of Arvio's night thoughts. Here's what Grace Cavalieri, writing in the Washington Independent Review of Books, has to say about night thoughts: 70 dream poems and notes from an analysis: "This book is influential because it is one of a kind. . . These are works of strong feelings ringed by messages saying we can’t control our dreams but we can control the poem. From the uncomfortable silence of the psyche’s tundra, Arvio wrings out her truth."
To qualify to receive a copy of Sarah's book, simply respond to her posts in the comment field. Winners will be the author of the best, most responsive, comments. Be sure to include a valid e-mail address so that we can contact you for mailing information.
My dear Miss Monroe,
Anyway, what did you write?
Much of it was resented or pilloried by your fellow writers. But poets could only resent Miss Monroe's poetry fairly if they chose first to read it. And evidently they do not.
Your volume, Chosen Poems (Macmillan, 1935), collecting your own favorites from your books to date at the age of seventy-five, has been checked out by borrowers from Columbia University's Butler Library for a grand total of five times in the last twenty years, when I last looked. I have chosen Columbia as a measuring stick of your prevalent unpopularity not only because this university offers a large undergraduate and graduate English program, but also a well-established M. F. A. in creative writing program, as well as an esteemed sister institution, Barnard College. The fact that so few readers have chosen to read you should go far to suggest the immemorial dust that has come to coat Miss Monroe's poems.
Is the dust just, and did Harriet anticipate its silent future downpour? Perhaps tellingly, the volume's introduction is not called that. Instead, you gave it the title of "Apologia," and in it you freely admit, "I offer apologies that this book is not full of masterpieces. Would it were worthier of me . . . ."
That is a curious comment, since in it Monroe the editor seems to detach herself from Monroe the writer, finding in the writer much to disappoint. And yet, the poet herself may feel none of that regret. The two selves, the poetry editor and the poet, therefore may have called a kind of truce. For if Monroe the editor found the contents not to her liking, and if the editor were assumed to prevail in editing Chosen Poems, then that book might never have been published: the editor would have forbidden it. But if, on the other hand, the poet took charge of assembling the volume, then the book would not only have been published. The editor would also have been banished from making belittling comments in the introduction. The presence of poet and editor together in the pages of your prose preface implies that one will let the other live, so as not to bear the grievous blame for killing another off. In such ways did you maintain a difficult balance.
My dear Miss Monroe,
Even so, let's consider your plaint again in your preface: "Would it [Chosen Poems] were worthier of me . . . ."
If she the poet has failed to write masterpieces worthy of "me," then Miss Monroe's "me" must be the editor, and not the writer. And if the provisional unitary "me" is indeed an editor, and not a poet--and not, either, a hybrid of them both--then what hope could Miss Monroe pretend to give herself or her poetry? The editor would be assumed to rule. The editor, harshly fair or fairly harsh, did not care how the poet felt, or with what pangs the poems were made. No, the editor cared only about the result. For an editor a poem, such as it was, could be no better, and could do no better, than the poet could.
If you could not quite reconcile your criticism as an editor with your pleasure as a poet, then the chosen poems should show the strains implied. The poems in this "chosen" book show a writer striving, with mixed results. Some are so thickly, deeply dusted that we almost cannot read the poem anymore through the coating. The poem no longer seems to be one. The editor was right.
Yet in your handful of resolute relative successes, we can find poems, even at this late and dusty date. Looking through the intervening years at the poems, we can pause as well to imagine what your fellow poets might have seen in them, or missed. Pausing to look as those others once must have looked, we can wonder why they missed what they did.
-William Butler Yeats
If I can’t pick up the ocean, how heavy is water?
You tell me to try swallowing a bucketfull.
The weight is in the salt then. You trace a border
around my archipelago of calf birthmarks. I can’t pull
this peached blue tide away from our morass of a dune,
but you tell me to leave it alone, that the harder
I impugn or try to pin down particles, the sooner
and more spastically they zip around to escape the onlooker.
This is the reason I took up arms with God so young.
You shrug; tell me no one is watching me but you
and maybe that seagull, finger grains of sand out from
my bellyhole. I ask, if space keeps expanding too fast,
our bodies and everything will be torn apart,
spread empty, why chart a cosmos we can’t outsmart?
-- Caitlyn Pezza
Very soon in the first episode you can tell that the American version (the AV for short) and the English (EV) are completely different in tone. What surprised me was how different the series are in plot and character as well -- so much so that you might risk a few generalizations on the basis of a comparison. The English version relies on wit, bite, satire. There is a nasty sado-masochistic undertone in the way the inimitable Ian Richardson wields power ("I put a bit of stick about"). Richardson -- as the FU figure at the center of the action who is also our chief narrator, making frequent asides to the viewer --- dominates. It is black humor in the stiff-upper-lipped English manner. And because it is technically a comedy, you suspend your ethical sense. You identify yourself with an incorrigibly charming but thoroughly despicable master of deceit.
The AV, twenty three years younger, is naturally more sophisticated in visual presentation. Equally naturally, the AV reflects certain all-important digital facts that were unknown in 1990: the cell phone, the text message, the increased surveillance of the civilian population, the rate of acceleration in technological upheaval. These are the inevitable changes brought on by time and a bigger budget. But there are changes in spirit dictated by differences in the national temper. The English version radiates charm and a certain amount of Schadenfreude. The American version is filled with heartache and bile, guile and guilt.
In contrast to the EV, with its London cool, its cheerful irreverence signaled in the trumpet fanfares of the theme music, the AV is saturated with Washington, DC, a place that considers itself the center and capital of the Western world. The AV has its dark humor, but it is fraught with high anxiety, tension, heartbreak, the possibility of redemption or the premonition of tragedy. In the EV, sex is a sport, indulged in for robust pleasure, forbidden or otherwise, and sexual infidelity parallels political treachery. In the AV, sex is many things, but a sport is not one of them. Sex in the AV can involve infatuation, redemption, desperation, hostility, or the weakness of an addiction, which is also a paying profession. The thematic linkage of prostitution to politics is established early on in the AV and is powerfully sustained. Addiction is a key plot element. In the EV, we have the irony of a government minister routinely breaking the law by snorting cocaine and funding the habit at his party's expense. It is a proof of his weakness and seals his doom as a mere instrument of someone else's power. In the AV it is not an irony but a tragedy when a recovering alcoholic drops off the wagon -- and it is entirely possible that his AA sponsor will betray him when the stakes are down.
Spacey, a brilliant actor at his best (except when he forgets his South Carolina accent), has his asides, but there are fewer of them, and they do not resemble theatrical soliloquys. He is masterful when he has to shuttle between his home district and a labor dispute in Washington. Ruthless he is, but vulnerable as well. Robin Wright as Clare Underwood is a far more complicated mystery than the deliciously diabolical Diane Fletcher, who gives Lady MacBeth a run for the money as Elizabeth Urquhart in the EV. We see Elizabeth entirely in relation to her husband's aspirations and the obstacles in his path. But Clare, though in cahoots with her husband, has her own professional identity, her own lover, and her own agenda, which can clash with his. There is a scene where she visits a trusted former aide of her husband's, who is dying in his hospital bed. I refuse to say another word about that scene here but I know we will want to to talk about it sometime. That is true as well of the scene at the military academy that Francis Underwood attended, the Citadel -- I mean the Sentinel -- where they sing Dixie when they're feeling patriotic, and the boys get drunk and two of them remember just how close they had once been.
This was the first time I heard one woman call another "a twitter twat." Ditto the joke told by the owner of the "Washington Herald" (they mean the "Post" but my guess is they didn't get permission). The last line of the joke is, "Where do you come from, cunt?" The newspaper owner is a woman. On the other hand, the crack about "sleeping your way to the middle" could have been left on the cutting room floor.
There are so many moments or sequences that one would like to single out for praise. Several characters are interesting enough to warrant a thousand words of speculative analysis. Journalist Zoe Barnes played by Kate Mara, for one; the Pennsylvania congressman played by Corey Stoll, for another. But I will end this note by recalling the speech Kevin Spacey makes at a church in his own congressional district where a tragic accident (and potential public relations disaster) has occurred. The speech is brilliant and brilliantly delivered, and by "brilliant" here I should explain that I mean something very unusual. The rhetoric is effective politically in winning sympathy for the speaker but it also manages the crisis in a way that enables the victim's parents to come to terms with calamity. The ironies mount up; a bad guy can do a good deed for unholy ends. In the middle of the speech Spacey turns to us, the viewers, his confidantes and confreres, to make sure we get it, and we do: See, it's all cynical -- even or especially this oratory that helps a community heal. I wondered, watching the scene, and I wonder still whether it would have been better without the Brechtian interruption. What do you think O reader? -- DL
My dear Miss Monroe,
Of course, my letters to you are a kind of work-in-progress. Even by now, you barely know me, and I haven't quite explained exactly why I want to write to you. With that in mind, let me confess something before I bid you a goodbye, later today, temporarily. (Surely, I'll write to you again.)
My confession: I write to you because I like to read your letters, as well (of course) as read the letters that were written to you.
The letter is an unappreciated form. Usually it's reckoned as informal, except when writers go to it with a formal purpose. Usually it's considered as incidental, unless composed on important stationery. The letter is most often interstitial: it plays and works in between, in back of, inside of, always peripheral.
But being interstitial means a letter, or the work and play of letters plural, can and does command a furtive pathway of complex, integral connection unavailable to anyone who writes anything that is not a letter. Being interstitial also means we have to work for it, without assurance of a find or a finished product.
Letters may include unsuspected secrets. Regardless, to close readers they may yield unexpected insights.
Because writing a letter meant mainly for just one person can prompt a carelessly subjective intelligence: careless of whatever might be the letter's broader reception, for few will probably read it. Careless (relatively) of the need to plot or politick in a letter, for much the same reason. Careless of the worldly consequences for the writer of the letter. But caring, all the same, for the writing as a forthrightly intimate exchange with someone, not another.
In a letter, one can assume a listener. I am the first, if not the last, for myself when I write a letter to you.
In a letter, may I say farewell, for now, to a writer's cyncism?
There were such nice responses both here and on my Facebook page last week when I published my farewell to Mobile Libris, I thought you might enjoy a poem I wrote a few years ago in celebration of our fall 2010 season, one of our busiest. I read the poem at our annual ML holiday party, and it was a huge hit. There are, of course, some inside jokes, but I hope readers here enjoy it, too.
The poem includes book titles that we sold during the season, along with excerpts of blurbs and reviews from the books, a bunch of real subtitles (oh, the subtitles!), and some imagined email correspondence with clients and staff. Hope you get a laugh out of it, too. The book industry is full of weird quirks, enough to make you cry sometimes.
Fall 2010, From the Desk of Mobile Libris
and the former chair of the FDIC is throwing down
the gauntlet at the New York Palace Hotel. “It’s a
Senseless Panic, we’re having a meltdown, there are
thirty-five hundred guests, we should have 150 books, we can sell
40-50 a day, we need a fix, a bailout, fix our broken
system.” Mobile Libris is given a blunt indictment…
We sold one book.
It’s 6 o’clock pm and we’re sending Half the Sky
to Women in Communications
It’s 6:30pm and The New York Public Library is traveling an
American Passage: The History of Ellis Island.
The Women’s Republican Club hosts Great Negotiations:
Agreements That Changed the Modern World.
The New School presents the season’s first non-fiction forum:
Geoffrey O’Brien and The Fall of the House of Walworth:
A Tale of Madness and Murder in Gilded Age America,
a Downward Spiral of Festering Insanity and murderous
mentality. Darkly Mesmerizing.
Developing Life’s Most Important Skill.
It’s a brilliant synthesis, a revolutionary look,
tremendously engaging. Compelling. Inspirational.
It’s Fordham University, Poets Out Loud
Eleventh Street Bar: Triptych Readings
It’s emerging and established writers
brought together for brief and luminous
readings in New York City’s East Village.
across from Chelsea Piers, and Nancy Brinker
is sharing how her sister’s struggle and death
led her to raise money for scientific research
in the hopes of one day finding a cure.
It’s KGB Poetry on East 4th St, after a bit of rain,
and Rita Ann Higgins is Throwing in the Vowels
while Cohorting with Philip Fried.
in the corner to my left, wearing the red and white striped
trunks -- Eliza Griswold with her Dispatches from the
Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam – the Tenth
Parallel!! She’s a courageous reporter, a gifted writer.
The book is deeply impressive and immensely rewarding.
Her talent is like a blinding light! She gives us a rare look
and a riveting investigation of the triumph of the human
imagination; an essential work that will remake the world
in years to come!
one of the few people in America committed to
exposing the monstrous elephants in the room, she blends
outrage and optimism, she’s a voice of conscience
in a time when we need conscience more than ever,
one of Time Magazines 100 most influential people --
Arianna Huffington, with her hard hitting polemic: Third World
America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class
and Betraying the American Dream.
How Our Economy is Undermining the Environmental Revolution
How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life
How Does It Feel to be a Problem?
How the Fierce Handle Fear
How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America
How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking
Our Two Party System.
How Wars End
How Religion Divides and Unites Us
How to Raise a Drug Free Kid
How Colleges are Wasting our Money and
Failing Our Kids – and What We can Do About It
How Pleasure Works
How Food Shapes Our Lives
How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession
How Mighty Table Tennis Shapes Our World
How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World
How Medicine, Meditation and Madonna Saved My Life
How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness
Hello Booksellers: just a gentle reminder that you are expected
to arrive at your venue 20-30 minutes before the start time of the program.
Hi Sharon, Jane is going to cover my event next Thursday. Thanks, Katie.
of Half the Sky at Cooper Union, the UN, the New York Times,
Saturday morning, Monday noon, and Thursday evenings for the rest
of their lives. Can you sell books for us there?
coming down with the Icarus Syndrome.
Hi Sharon. Just want to let you know that Priya will be working for me tonight.
Booksellers: Please remember, we always tell the event coordinators
that you will arrive 20-30 minutes before the start of the program.
Please bear this in mind when planning your time. Thanks, Sharon
Sharon, Kim will be working my Saturday event. Thanks, Katie.
Dear QRST University Press. Thanks for getting in touch and
asking Mobile Libris to be part of your University Snoozefest
next week. We’ll gladly be there! Cheers, Sharon
Booksellers: You must be on time for your events, 20-30 minutes before the
start time of the program. This is important. Sharon
Hey Sharon. Shantaya will be covering my Brooklyn Library event next Tuesday.
See you later, Katie.
Hi Sharon. I know that it’s 4:45 on a Friday afternoon
and the chances for this are slim, but could you possibly
sell books for us in five minutes at Soho House? I think
we’d need about 750,000 books. They are expecting 20 people.
Hi Sharon. Anne will be covering my event tonight. Thanks, Katie.
to get over this Icarus Syndrome. Sharon
And now it is Saturday, December 18, 2010.
Our season has been The True Story of the
Riot Grrrl Revolution, The (Almost) Complete and
(Entirely) Entertaining Story of America.
A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention,
A Super Sad True Love Story,
A Story of Punishment and Deliverance.
It’s been The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and
Civilization. We’ve had Adventures in Taxidermy,
Adventures Among Ants, Adventures in the
Margin of Error.
It’s been a Journey Behind the Headlines.
It’s Three Women, Three Miracles,
and a Ten Year Journey of Discovery and
It’s now The End of the Day, The End
of the West, The End of the World
As We Know It. The End and the Beginning.
My dear Miss Monroe,
Ezra Pound was the one with whom you may have fought most memorably while you were the founding editor of Poetry and he was the magazine's foreign editor. Maybe you fought most memorably with him because of Pound, or maybe it was because of you.
Did you hate him? Did he hate you?
Yes, there were other antagonists. But when I happen to mention to a noted Pound scholar that lately I've been paying close attention to Harriet Monroe, the tall man only stoops and titters. His amused contempt for you is amazing. Normally, he is the king of cool.
When you wrote to him on August 7, 1912, inviting him to submit his poems to your as-yet-unpublished new magazine of poetry, he replied promptly, "I am interested."
He asserted that your "scheme" for a journal was "not only sound, but the only possible method."
He claimed that there was nothing else like it already.
He declared that of American magazines in general, none "is not an insult to the serious artist and to the dignity of his art."
In other words, he acclaimed in stringent terms a magazine (yours) before there ever was one.
He warned you, too.
He insisted that "during my last tortured visit to America I found no writers and but one reviewer who had any worthy conception of poetry."
Pound admonished, as well, that it might be impossible to "teach the American poet that poetry is an art, an art with a technique . . . ."
Was it clear from the beginning, then, that nothing and no one was likely to measure up to his hopes?
I think it was.
SomebodyMy dear Miss Monroe,
If you couldn't measure up to his hopes, then how would you ever work with Ezra Pound as your foreign editor at Poetry?
The answer: since you met him only once, you would write him letters, and he would write you letters.
The experience of reading these letters now, even if only selectively, differs dramatically from reading any other letters I know.
For one thing, the element of contrast--contrast in your tone and his, in your character and his, in your taste and his, even in penmanship--sets yours apart from his, and his apart from yours, with a musical fervor. But as the pages turn and far-off years pass, the two of you seem more and more to be uncommonly well matched. You weren't supposed to be, were you?
Indeed, you commented to T. S. Eliot frankly in 1934, ". . . I don't wonder that you find Pound's letters 'mysterious' and that 'little emerges in apprehensible form.' Those he sends me are incredibly violent and abusive, but I am used to that and usually don't mind."
You often wrote to Pound in neatly typed, concise paragraphs. Pound often wrote back to you with pulpy black ink in words as boldly vertical as they were extravagantly horizontal. His handwriting cantered. It looks like a disciplined sculpture. The t's cross with a flash in a phrase like "the only possible method." His y's, g's, f's, and capital I's are architecturally confident. The writing on a page is centered surely with a fluid momentum not at all like your well-managed pencil afterthoughts.
When Pound did type, he didn't bother with (or couldn't care about) the niceties of conventional, consistent spacing. As if compelled to hit the spacebar over and over again on the typewriter to satisfy his inner sense of rhythm, he also hit it, possibly, in answer to his inner sense of wisdom. To him, either was imperative.
My dear Miss Monroe,
All too obviously, Pound fought you, and you fought him, even though he would affirm in 1916, "We have started a new period in American poetry, which was I believe what was intended . . . ."
One letter of Pound's to you began, "Dear H.M. With this last imbecility I will have nothing to do." Miss Monroe's reply promised to "[obey] your orders." But Harriet noted to him, too, "Irritation is inevitable in any enterprise big enough to include more than one person."
What was Pound's response to your rather fine, upstanding letter? Without informing you, he "gave" away his job as foreign editor of Poetry to another writer, asking him to "please take over as foreign correspondent of 'Poetry' & communicate with them to the effect that I have turned it over to you." He wrote this summons on Poetry stationery!
The chosen recipient of the job, Ford Madox Hueffer, wrote to you with Pound's letter to himself enclosed: ". . . Could you not make it up with him or reinstate him--or whatever is the correct phrase to apply to the solution of the situation, whatever that may be?" Hueffer added, ". . . I think it would really be much better for you to go on with Ezra."
You invited Pound to return as foreign editor, and he accepted.
As you put it in a letter to somebody else in 1930, Pound "has been stirring the rest of us for twenty years." He did it with an exile's necessary rancor, as when he exclaimed, "Personally I favor the assassination of all Americans over fifty, with the sole exception of Henry James."
In 1928, writing to you, he demanded, "When is the balarsted and devasted repooblik going to put me in charge of its eddykatn in licherchoor?"
Actually, you'd done almost that--as much as could be done, perhaps. As a quasi-professor of poetry at your magazine, yet endlessly free to roam, Pound made incredible finds on your and his own behalf. So good was he in this limited role that at age seventy you admitted, "[P]robably I made the mistake of my life in not giving [Pound] complete possession of the magazine . . . ."
If you had given it all to him, then Poetry, you speculated, "would perhaps have cut a wider swathe through the mud and mire of the world's fullness." But you were a realist. You observed, "Mr. Pound, who puts his shoulder to the wheel with such dynamic energy, invariably gets tired of the job after a few turns." You watched as he "wearied of POETRY, of The Little Review, of Blast, of The Dial, even of his own Exile." To him you declared quite early in the partnership, "You are your own worst enemy, alas! Something in you fails to realize that a little rudimentary tact is not compromise . . . My very respect for your work makes me wish you would not plant yourself so violently in front of it."
The upheavals of your many disagreements led to his editorial exit just shy of seven years after his appointment. But he had threatened to resign only one year into it. The pathos of your pairing with Pound lay in the aftermath.
Late in December of 1932, you wrote in confidence to him to explain that you expected to step down in a year from editing the magazine, which might not survive. To him you acknowledged, "But it would be a great satisfaction to me, and a distinct enlivenment to the magazine, to have you as foreign correspondent for even a few months. Also it would round out our history, complete the circle, so to speak."
When asked who might succeed you as the magazine's editor, Pound maintained that "the only person in amurikuh who cd / continue your periodical is Marianne [Moore]." He added, "I don't see exactly why you shd. retire . . . At any rate I see no other successor who wd. do you honour and who is a practical proposition." He concluded, "M. M. ideal presiding officer."
Except for you, he meant.
My dear Miss Monroe,
With a covetous zeal, you valued the hate mail you received. For decades you stashed it all in a file, labeled "knocks." The knocks now bring stray, sundry dead readers back to life in oddly flamboyant, unguarded performances, as though the audience for American poetry surely could strike back.
Wrote one Walter Surrey in an undated letter to yourself: "I think, indeed I know, that there are poets in America, but I make the assertion that they knock in vain and will continue to knock in vain at the gate of Miss Harriet Monroe, in whose magazine from the beginning I challenge you to find . . . a single poem which can justly be called great when measured by the standards of literature, of beauty, of philosophic thought, and of originality."
No less than The Dial magazine seemed to agree with Mr. Surrey, calling your periodical "an impudent affront to the poetry loving public." [sic] In reply to The Dial's attack, an editorial in the Chicago Record Herald produced another: "If Poetry [magazine] is no good, just step on the insect; don't try to knock it out with a succession of body blows." [sic]
Sometimes, your knocks came from rather lofty place. On September 14, 1914, you received a knock from the dean of a Chicago cathedral, the Reverend Walter Taylor Summer: "My dear Miss Monroe-- . . . How two-thirds of the poetry that has appeared [in Poetry] could be reckoned as poetry or as containing anything particularly inspiring, is beyond me. As I can't adapt myself to it, and it only irritates me to think I can't, I am going to escape making myself unhappy trying to understand it--by ceasing to read it."
The Reverend added, "I really cannot stand . . . Ezra Pound." Pound, who then served as Poetry's foreign editor, often couldn't stand the magazine, either.
On August 9, 1915, you received a knock from S. R. Floraunce, cashier of the Webster County Bank in Red Cloud, Nebraska: "Gentlemen: I am in receipt of the August number of Poetry, and herewith enclose draft of .15 [cents] to pay for same. When I subscribed I was under the impression that the magazine was devoted to poetry, but find I was mistaken. Please pardon the error, and drop my name from your list."
Would-be writers also raged, producing knocks. A poet writing from St. Louis in 1913 told you off: "Dear Madam. I have all of my manuscript back from you. Why inclose the duping, brassy lie? You neither 'thank' me, nor did the Mss have any 'consideration' at your hands, nor have you the slightest 'regret' that you 'cannot make use of it.' The lie is paltry. I shall send you no more, not because my poems are not meritorious, for they compare more than favorably with ANYTHING you have published." [sic]
At an undated moment, Miss Monroe was to console herself: "This magazine brings the poets together, so that they criticize and train each other, compare notes, and keep free of closet moodiness."
Still, many of the attacks on this editor never made it into your "knocks" file, for they came from the very poets whose work you published in, or at times rejected from, the magazine. You filed this hate mail, charily, under each author's name. Your official wars crowd such files. Indeed, your warfare may well be what best defines you as an editor.
Some of your editorial wars were high-minded; others were less so. More than a few were provoked by your determination to make internal cuts in poems that you hoped to publish, cuts made--if necesary--above a poet's protests, or even without the poet's knowledge. Wallace Stevens, whose poem, "Sunday Morning," was much amended by the editor, responded with a wry diplomacy to the lash of your pencil by writing in a letter to yourself, "You are an encouraging person, if ever there was one, and I am grateful to you not only for that, but because, in addition, you give me an opportunity to do what you want, if I can. I shall try."
Ezra Pound put it less sweetly in 1930, when he commented, "Miss Monroe has occasionally mutilated a work by excisions." Of course, Pound himself was known for his editorial bravado in making cuts in the poems of other poets, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. Ironically, you considered Pound to be one of your main instructors in what you called a "salutary discipline" by which your "incrustations of habit and prejudice were ruthlessly swept away." You seemed to thrive on meaningful conflict.
In a letter to William Carlos Williams, with whom you sparred often about the matter of poetic revision, you wrote, "Perhaps it is inevitable that the editorial mind should grow stilted. If you see evidence of it in Poetry, 'Please punch my face in order to save my soul,' as Ezra says. I am very gratefully yours." In 1919 Williams wrote slyly to a friend, "Harriet Monroe and her folded diaper of a periodical is without any significance except as per cash paid for work."
Your plea to "punch my face" was not made casually. You sincerely courted combat, if in literary terms it struck you as important. To restore some measure of public palpability to American poetry, warfare evidently impressed you as a useful means and strategy.
But you also took war personally. As you wrote in an editorial in Poetry, "Next to making friends, the most thrilling experience of life is to make enemies." As you saw it, "the normally healthy person may accept" what you called "dagger scratches" as "tributes to his vitality."
My dear Miss Monroe,
The shared work of poet and editor is more often rumored or hidden than made public. But, for reasons best known to yourself, at sixty-five years of age you chose to share with the readers of Poetry your rather arduous work with Hart Crane, then aged twenty-seven, on his poem, "At Melville's Tomb."
Published in the October 1926 issue, well into your tenure as Poetry's founding editor, and untouched editorially by you, the poem was not Crane's only contribution to that number. For in the back pages, by mutual consent, also appeared the editorial corrrespondence about "At Melville's Tomb," dubbed as "A Discussion with Hart Crane." There, editor and writer found themselves in basic disagreement about the poem. To publish the debate was an idea of the editor.
If, as you candidly acknowledged, you could not quite grasp the manner or the meaning of Crane's poem while you read it, then you could take the unusual and paradoxical step of questioning the poem even while you published it. Most editors would not have done as you did: your decision could have exposed you to ridicule, undermining to an editor's purview and accrued authority.
Paradox in motive also characterized Crane in the encounter. For he need not have seized the opportunity you gave him to compose a substantial manifesto in response to you, thereby publicizing his very own editor's misgivings about his poetry. Instead, he could have scrawled but a few sentences, leaving well enough alone. Yet from the struggle he claimed, or tried to claim, a victory of rhetoric at Harriet's tomb.
His was an open letter of rejection to you.
My dear Miss Monroe,
The terms of your struggle with Hart Crane were clearly expressed by the editor in the four concise paragraphs of your initial salvo to Crane, published in Poetry.
You remarked, "Your ideas and rhythms interest me, and I am wondering by what process of reasoning you would justify this poem's succession of champion mixed metaphors, of which you must be conscious. The packed line should pack its phrases in orderly relation, it seems to me, in a manner tending to clear confusion instead of making it worse confounded."
Crane's far more extensive and elaborate reply occupies eighteen long and abstract paragraphs, suggesting, "My poem may be elliptical and actually obscure in the ordering of its content, but . . . as a poet I may very possibly be more interested in the so-called illogical impingements of the connotations of words on the consciousness (and their combinations and interplay in metaphor on this basis) than I am interested in the preservation of their logically rigid significations at the cost of limiting my subject matter and perceptions involved in the poem."
You, Harriet, responded to Crane in five crisp paragraphs, observing: "No doubt our theories and ideals in the art differ more or less fundamentally, yet I would not deny to the poet the right to take certain of the liberties you claim. I think he can take as many as he succeeds with without mystifying his particular audience; for mystery is good, but not mystification."
Finally, you commented in a concluding note addressing Poetry's readers, "The editor would rather not have the last word, but as Mr. Crane contributes no further to the discussion, we must pass it on to our readers."
Max Steiner composed some exciting suspense music for The Big Sleep, Howard Hawks’s 1946 movie of Raymond Chandler’s novel. It is very effective, and so, in its way, is the swinging number Lauren Bacall and band perform at the casino run by racketeer Eddie Mars: And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine (music Stan Kenton and Charles Lawrence, lyrics Joe Greene). The lyric locates us in noir central: “She’s a real sad tomato, she’s a busted valentine.” But my favorite musical moment in The Big Sleep is subtle enough that you might not notice it the first time around. Bacall (as one of the notorious Sternwood sisters) and co-star Humphrey Bogart (as detective Philip Marlowe) are bantering in a restaurant. In the background, a piano player is playing two great jazz standards: I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan (music Arthur Schwartz, lyrics Howard Dietz) and Blue Room (music Richard Rodgers, lyrics Lorenz Hart). At first you might think that what you’re hearing is just tremendously appealing café music. Only later do you realize that the two songs themselves have captured, in a whimsical fashion, the structural meaning of the scene.
The Big Sleep will culminate in the image of two lighted cigarettes in an ashtray as the words THE END appear on the screen. It’s a fitting image for the romance of Bogart and Bacall, who like to smoke and drink and make witty repartee in a roadhouse café. The by-play between the two romantic leads is utterly charming, but it is also, for much of the picture, utterly incongruous because incompatible with the story-line. The movie needs them to be lovers, the audience expects them to flirt, to link, and to clinch, and this duly happens, but at considerable violence to the logic of the plot, which puts their characters on the opposite sides of a quarrel.
Though this duality may threaten the coherence of the picture, it makes the scenes between Bogart and Bacall doubly entertaining. The dialogue is full of double meanings and playful digressions. In the restaurant scene with the piano soundtrack, the two are nursing their drinks. They employ an extended racetrack metaphor to communicate their sexual interest. She: “Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front-runners or come from behind, find out what their hole-card is. What makes them run.” He invites her to take a stab at summing him up. “I’d say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.” He: “You don't like to be rated yourself.” She: “I haven't met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?” He: “Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how far you can go.” She: “A lot depends on who's in the saddle.”
The ostensible purpose of the encounter is for Bacall to pay Bogart off – to pay him for the work he has done and get him to drop the case. Thus: I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan. Once this plot requirement is out of the way, Bacall and Bogart get down to the real cinematic purpose of their being there: to tease and flirt and advance their budding romance. And now the piano player plays Blue Room, which idealizes the successful outcome of such a romance. Lorenz Hart’s lyric stars you and me and the prospect of our betrothal and a subsequent time ever after when “every day’s a holiday, because you’re married to me.” It’s a song second perhaps only to Tea for Two (music Vincent Youmans, words Irving Caesar) as an idealized fantasy of marriage so beautifully innocent it almost brings tears to your eyes.
The Big Sleep needs the two songs in the background, and not simply because they are in exact counterpoint to the course of the conversation between Bogart and Bacall. A soundtrack of popular songs by Rodgers and Hart, Schwartz and Dietz, Irving Berlin, and the other great masters of the thirty-two bar song is as necessary in noir movies of the 1940s as the city streets, the silhouette in the window, the Mickey disguised as a highball, and the night spots the characters frequent, from Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca (1942) to Eddie Mars’s casino in The Big Sleep, where beautiful costumed girls check Bogart’s coat, offer to sell him cigarettes, and vie for the privilege of delivering him a message.
Nor do the songs suffer from being relegated to background music, shorn of lyrics. The solo piano renditions of I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan and Blue Room insinuate themselves in your consciousness. If you don’t recognize them, fine; if you know them, so much the better. When you listen to an instrumental version of a song whose lyrics you know and like, what you’re hearing is a metonymy of the song: a part standing for the whole. The text is not altogether absent if you the listener can supply it. (When the septuagenarian Frank Sinatra went up on the lines of The Second Time Around the audience helpfully sang them). But to make my point about the interdependence of Hollywood films and popular songs, let me offer this montage:
-- -- What better way to convey the faithful consistency of “iron man” Lou Gehrig, the Yankee first baseman who long held the record for most consecutive games played, than with Irving Berlin’s song Always? In Pride of the Yankees (1942), the song does double duty as the musical affirmation of Gehrig’s loving fidelity to his wife, Eleanor, played by Teresa Wright.
-- Johnny Mercer’s lyric for Tangerine (music Victor Schertzinger) extols the charms of a vain and fickle Latin beauty. To the strains of this song, Barbara Stanwyck plays the ultimate femme fatale in Double Indemnity (1944), who conspires with insurance man Fred McMurray to eliminate her husband. In a flashback in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), the same song plays on the car radio when Stanwyck, playing a neurotic heiress this time, flaunts her father’s wealth to betray a friend and seduce Burt Lancaster. The great Jimmy Dorsey big band version of this song features Bob Eberle’s romantic solo followed by Helen O’Connell’s brassy satirical retort.
-- As David Raksin’s theme for Laura (1944) plays in the background, the homicide detective played by Dana Andrews becomes obsessed with the murder victim, a beautiful dame (Gene Tierney), whose picture hangs on the wall. Laura obligingly returns to life -- the corpse in the kitchen belonged to somebody else – and whenever in future we need to summon her up, we need only hum Raksin’s theme. Johnny Mercer added his lyric to the music months after the movie was released.-- To Have and Have Not (1944) is notable for being the first movie pairing Bogart and Bacall. It’s the one in which the foxy young actress seduces the hardened skeptic by teaching him how to whistle: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” The song she “sings” in the movie’s nightclub scene is How Little We Know (music Hoagy Carmichael, lyrics Johnny Mercer). There are three things to keep in mind about the scene. 1) It is the composer who is playing the piano. 2) The song is an under-appreciated gem in the Carmichael – Mercer canon; I like it almost as much as Skylark. 3) It is said that the young Andy Williams enhanced the voice coming out of the throat of Lauren Bacall. (4) Jacqueline Bouvier loved the song, and during her junior year in Paris, she wrote out the bridge in English and in her own French translation for the benefit of one of her French hosts.
-- In The Clock (1945) office worker Judy Garland meets soldier Robert Walker on a two-day leave in New York City. At the moment they realize they are falling in love, the piano player in the restaurant is playing If I Had You (music Ted Shapiro, lyrics James Campbell and Reginald Connolly).
-- Somebody puts a coin in the jukebox in the diner and out comes I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me (music Jimmy McHugh, words Clarence Gaskill), triggering the recollected psychodrama in Edgar Ullmer’s strange reverie of an unreliable (unbelievable) narrator in Detour (1945). The movie is a paranoid masterpiece, and the very title of the song goes to the heart of its mystery. The viewer “can’t believe” the events he or she is witnessing, because the narrator is either delusional or a liar or both in some blend. The same song punctuates The Caine Mutiny, where it has a more conventional signification.
-- A drunken Fredric March still in uniform and his game wife Myrna Loy dance to Among My Souvenirs (music Horatio Nicholls, lyrics Edgar Leslie) on his first night back from the war in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Hoagy Carmichael tickles the ivories at the gin joint where the reunited couple have gone with their daughter (Teresa Wright) and returning airman Dana Andrews.
-- Rita Hayworth invites the American male in the form of tightlipped Glenn Ford to Put the Blame on Mame (music Doris Fisher, lyrics Alan Roberts) in Gilda (1946). In The Lady from Shanghai (1947), the same red-haired enchantress seduces Orson Welles and coyly sings Please Don’t Kiss Me (same songwriters), a phrase that says one thing and means its opposite. Given the way Hollywood films wink at one another, it’s no surprise that we hear an instrumental version of Put the Blame on Mame in the background when tough-guy Glenn Ford sets out to foil the killers in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953).
-- The radio reliably pours out love songs in keeping with the plot twists in Delmer Daves’s Dark Passage (1947). Humphrey Bogart plays an escaped convict with a new face who will escape to South America with Lauren Bacall if he can figure out who killed his pal and framed him for the murder. During the course of the movie we hear instrumentals of I Gotta a Right to Sing the Blues (music Harold Arlen, lyrics Ted Koehler), I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan (music Arthur Schwartz, lyrics Howard Dietz)\, and Someone to Watch Over Me (music George Gershwin, lyrics Ira Gershwin). “You like swing, I see,” says Bogart. “Yes, legitimate swing,” Bacall counters. When Dark Passage gets serious about the love story, we see a record spinning on Bacall’s record player and the golden voice of Jo Stafford sings Too Marvelous for Words (music Richard Whiting, lyrics Johnny Mercer) and legitimates the romance.
-- In Key Largo (1948), the fourth Bogart-Bacall movie on this list, Claire Trevor plays a washed-up night-club singer and full-time lush in the entourage of gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). Trevor sings Moanin’ Low (music Ralph Rainger, lyrics Howard Dietz) a capella, her voice faltering, and when she finishes the torch song, says, “Can I have that drink now, Johnny?”
-- Manipulative Anne Baxter supplants Bette Davis as queen of the stage in All About Eve (1951), and the romantic Broadway ambiance of New York City is communicated in background instrumentals of all-star songs by Rodgers and Hart (Thou Swell, My Heart Stood Still), Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (Stormy Weather), Arlen and Johnny Mercer (That Old Black Magic), and Ralph Freed and Burton Lane (How About You?).The last named begins, “I like New York in June.”
The use of Among My Souvenirs in The Best Years of Our Lives is exemplary. Edgar Leslie’s 1927 lyric communicates regret at the passing of time. Trinkets and tokens diligently collected and treasured offer some consolation but do nothing to stop the flow of tears. In the movie, when the U. S. army sergeant played by March comes home he brings souvenirs of the Pacific war as gifts for his teenage son. But like the knife in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Crusoe in England,” when it has become a souvenir on the shelf after Crusoe returns home from his island, the mementos of the global conflict have lost their meaning. They seem vaguely unreal, lifeless. In contrast, the photograph of his wife that a hung-over March looks at the next morning – another sort of souvenir – has all the meaning in the world for him. And Among My Souvenirs – played on the piano by Hoagy Carmichael, hummed in the shower by a drunken March, and heard as background music -- unifies the whole sequence and endows it with the rich pathos that make the song so durable a jazz standard. I recommend that you listen to Art Tatum play it on the piano or, if you can get your mitts on it, a recording of Sinatra and Crosby doing it as a duet on television in the 1950s.
-- A version of this essay appears in Boulevard, ed. Richard Burgin.
My dear Miss Monroe,
As the founding editor of Poetry, you wanted to discover whatever you could not make or do yourself.
Would the poets hinder you, or help?
Some might help and others hinder. Some reached toward you, with a kind of warmth. Others kicked and grumbled, in retreat. Some were able to work quite serenely with Miss Monroe on revising their poems, almost as her coeditors. Others staged all manner of revolt.
The reclusive and itinerant American poet Laura Riding, for instance, changed addresses so often that we read her correspondence with you, over the years, as if peering from afar at a flock of one.
Meanwhile, Riding seemed to seclude herself in her poetry. Her long poem, "Body's Head," led off the November 1925 issue of Poetry, and suggests the author's queenly reticence in the first few lines of fifteen adroitly overflowing stanzas: "Separate and silk, / A scarf unwoven, / Thin enough to keep a little of it-- / A little less brown the earth would be / If rain changed from silver to gold-- / Lean out anxiously over my forehead, / Trembling and giddy and falling / At the top of skyscraper me."
Wrapped in tresses, Riding's persona here looms large, "skyscraper me." But only a year earlier, when first submitted to Poetry, her poem extended some six dozen lines further than it would, eventually, in the magazine. After more than a decade of working as Poetry's editor-in-chief, Miss Monroe evidently felt confident enough to ask Riding to cut the poem by one third as a condition of accepting "Body's Head" for publication.
As detailed in surviving letters written by Riding to her editor in the spring and summer of 1924, the editorial suggestions did not stop there. Along with shaking excess ripples from Riding's poem, you recommended other changes, too: things considered, discussed and, for the most part, accepted by Riding as she went to work on the revision. Although not known to posterity for a conciliatory temperament, the twenty-three-year-old Riding seemed to find the tampering pencil of her sixty-three-year-old editor worthwhile, somehow.
Miss Monroe had already published Riding, who was then called Laura Gottschalk, thanks to her husband of the time. The January 1924 issue of Poetry contains Riding's "The City of Cold Women," a poem in seven parts, occupying three pages of the magazine. Still, this poem is patently less ambitious than "Body's Head," which when published in Poetry ran for eight pages and 191 lines, unusually long by the magazine's standards. Your demand of Riding to shorten her manuscript by a third was therefore not surprising.
Still, shortening it might have circumvented the scope of the poem. In "Body's Head," a mind talks to itself from within a world of its own. But the mind seems curious to know more than it can. Reading Riding's poem in its early draft, we find the poem turning an eye ambitiously on whatever lies outside the self while still attached to it, letting that thing live on, out there, in Riding's contented elegy for a body not yet dead.
Endearingly, her poem salutes the body with a mind that claims much for itself, and yet mocks itself, deferring to the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. When sketching such a collusive collision of parts, Riding also allows body and mind to persist in an alliance. The mind offering all the insights in the poem seems to be ticklishly aware of its own ambitiousness. Mind consorts ambivalently with features of the head--after all, home to it--in an ironic recognition of the mind's grandiosity.
Tone is partly responsible for the success of the poem. Yet to describe Riding's tone in "Body's Head" is difficult. We might call her tone omniscient, yet humbled; questing, but sequestered; at once abstract and willfully personifying. Addressing the body as a property, the narrator of the poem cannot claim too much--then goes ahead and does it, anyhow. The metaphors billow in their persistence, as though the body's plenty wished to overcome the mind that would take charge.
Writing in her twenties, Riding can be forgiven some lapses into coyness, as when her voluminous poem sashays off toward a sentimental neverland of pathetic fallacy, where eyes are "[t]he moon's particular godmother gift," or where they bow as "sad squires," or where they traffic, unfortunately, with sublime mountain summits and horizons.
"When grief comes like a beggar to my eyelids," Riding wrote, "Sight throws it pennies." At times anxiously intrepid, the poet could not always stop herself from such embroiderings, but probably sometimes should have stopped.
Feb 11: Paul Muldoon + Jonathan Wells
Feb 18: Todd Boss + Joseph Voth
Feb 25: Pink Thunder Poetry Music Night: Michael Zapruder & Friends
March 4: David Lehman + James Kimbrell
March 11: KGB POST-AWP HALF-OPEN MIC
March 18: Monica Ferrell + Arisa White
March 25: Daisy Fried + Idra Novey
April 1: Nate Pritts + Jennifer Fortin + Jackie Clark
April 8: Major Jackson + Heather Christle
April 15: Lynn Melnick + Yona Harvey
April 22: Sharon Olds + Michael Dickman
April 29: Michael Klein + Will Schutt
May 6: Glyn Maxwell + Louis Jenkins
May 13: TBA + TBA
May 20: Eileen Myles + Rebecca Wolff + Season Finale Party
Series hosted by Matthew Yeager and John Deming
My dear Miss Monroe,
I believe you never would have built Poetry magazine without having seen firsthand what it was like to rebuild Chicago, a burned city.
How did you build Poetry?
Only after the hither and thither of energetic failure.
You weren't well educated, except in the sense that they let you read anything you wanted in your father's library. You were not welcomed into a profession. As a feeble-bodied teenager, you were thrust instead, on doctor's orders, into a convent school boasting a mild climate. There the nuns were to "finish" you. (Same thing happened to the future Mrs. Potter Palmer, a fellow alumna and grand dame of Chicago.)
Yes, the Visitation Convent in Washington, D.C., gave you nuns. You were not a Catholic. Nor were many of your fellow students. But your education there was Catholic amid the bricks and mortar of Georgetown, that wealthy nook. I've lurked on cobblestone for long enough there to chase your old haunts.
Did the hilly views of that town's very worldly world help to inspire you, away from home for the first time? And then, the nuns, the teachings, rules, the other girls: they gave you something to think about and maybe something to think against. Later you wrote, "For a time I was a queer little rebellious fish in these strange waters, refusing to get in line, arguing against the rosary." Learning to say no, did you learn something true and useful for the future?
One of your surviving convent-school report cards concludes with the important subject "conduct," after covering forty-six other subjects, from orthography (your grade for that was "generally correct") to Latin (your work showed "great improvement"). Yet with "conduct" your high marks took a fall. For "conduct" you received the mere rating of "satisfactory." Did that disappoint you, or did it please you?
Maybe Latin mattered more to you than conduct. The same was true of your editorial collaborator Ezra Pound, years ahead. Did a taste for disobedience ally you with him in the magazine work you were to share? Although I haven't heard this before, I'm tempted to believe it.
In Georgetown you wrote some of your first poems, thanks to your favorite nun, the "elusive, imaginative, temperamental" Sister Mary Paulina Finn, who taught English. (Nuns were domiciled near the school, and some taught at it.) You preferred writing poetry to various other assignments required of the students, such as "painting rigid flowers on satin boxes."
Sister Paulina told you fifty years later, in 1928, "I like your own prose best of all you print in POETRY." [sic] She commented, "Your review of about ten books of verse . . . was a model of brief criticism, still briefer quotation, reflection, patience, and to me, most of all, a certain humane pathos, in which you may not agree with me."
Sister Paulina also had a question for you. "[W]ere you ever arrrested by a sudden thought that you stood still--fixed to the ground for a moment or two?" [sic] She was.
Strangely or not, this is what you said you got from two years of study at the Visitation Convent, beginning at age sixteen: "a certain questing freedom of mind and spirit."
You brought it home with you.
My dear Miss Monroe,
Your life after Georgetown and before Poetry, rarely idle, sounds to me like a long span of desperate efforts made to meet two standards. One of them: the standard set by Chicago's gradually rebuilt skyline. The other: the standard set by Sister Paulina, that "poet in orders," as you put it, "who found only divinity worth a poet's ardor."
You described her, tellingly, as "a seer of visions." Yet you could not see hers. How it must have frustrated you! Back home, you saw whatever else you could see, whatever Chicago had to show you: the superb, profane visions of skyscrapers, listing upward from a weedy flatness, a tumbled urban plain with smokestacks. It may have been ardor. But it wasn't divinity.
You floundered fiercely. Signs on every side of you in the city spoke without flummery or concealment of how one could be bold, create something of public value: Louis Sullivan's Carson, Pirie Scott and Company building (1899). Daniel Burnham's Reliance building (1890). Adler and Sullivan's Auditorium building (1889). Holabird and Roche's Marquette building (1895). Burnham and Root's Rookery building (1888), in which your talented brother-in-law John Wellborn Root, the architect, participated; later, Frank Lloyd Wright remodeled the inner court.
Yet nothing you did, for years and years and years, provoked the wow or esteem won by those buildings, yesterday or today, nor by the Chicago stockyards, the railroads, the stock exchange, or Chicago's famous fairgrounds Ferris wheel. Even when you were commissioned to write a poem opening the World's Columbian Exposition in 1892, sung by a chorus of five thousand for a Chicago audience of 125,000, you had to fight for it--and the poem (after all) isn't much good. You burned the extra copies of the poem to stay warm in your bedroom, since nobody would buy them.
You wrote, "In 1900 my earnings were $573."
You noted, "As I reached my fortieth year and entered, with the hopeful world, the new century, the professional outlook was rather discouraging."
By 1910 your annual income climbed to $1636. You were not a rich man's daughter. In fact, your family lost its financial bearings, little by little. You were never anyone's wife. And although you were to publish an astonishing array of writing in many of the best places, "there was very meager pay," you acknowledged.
Your essays, reviews, poetry, and travel writing appeared in The Atlantic, The Century, and The Fortnightly Review, among others. Beginning in the late 1880s, you wrote about theater and art for The Chicago Tribune. But elsewhere you wrote many other things, too, starting in 1901, when William Randolph Hearst opened the American, his first Chicago newspaper, and employed you as a freelancer.
You remembered, "Following the city editor's suggestions or my own, I interviewed this or that celebrity; attended a Dowie revival and meeting; wrote a violent slam for the new County Building with its useless and perfunctory superimposed columns; discussed some new play or book or picture; presented phases of the divorce problem; spent a dramatic hour at the Juvenile Court; listened in at a meeting of theosophists; sympathized with Booth-Tucker's denunciation of slum dwellings . . . ." You did everything, in other words, and then wrote the article about it.
Before covering the Armory Show for the Chicago Tribune, you had to talk them into sending you. You reported, "This 1913 exhibition was the most interesting incident of my journalistic career." With dry sarcasm you commented, "New York has at last achieved a cosmopolitan, modern exhibition, which the older art societies have talked about for years but never accomplished."
By then, you knew what you were talking about. A $650 ticket had taken you around the world in 1910 to China, Japan, Europe, and England. In 1908 and 1909 you'd explored the American West, camping out with fellow members of the Sierra Club. During your first trip to New York in 1888, you'd met and mingled with the literary entourage of Richard Watson Gilder and Edmund Clarence Stedman.
But where were the careers for poets?
In your steely way, you mourned, "The minor painter or sculptor was honored with large annual awards in our great cities, while the minor poet was a joke of the paragraphers."
You demanded, "Why was there nothing done for poets, the most unappreciated and ill-paid artists in the world?"
You decided, "[S]ince nobody else was doing anything, it might be 'up to me' to try to stir up the sluggish situation."
My dear Miss Monroe,
Were you, founder of Poetry magazine in 1912, a good editor?
Now, we cannot see straight through to you. After all is said and done, your very own poets have come to obscure you. They got in your way (sometimes). Even today, they get in ours.
Ironically, Miss Harriet Monroe has become well known for imposing her will as an editor on poets who were often quite reluctant to receive it. Their complaints, some shy of a century old, still rustle in the contemporary ear--whispered betimes by living poets, some of whom are no more friendly to editors, dead or alive, than any other poets were.
Did your own poets resent you slightly less for your editing than for your poetry? Like their own, it staked a fragile claim upon a culture, as much poetry seems to do. Yet if their editor wrote but poorly, or even if she wrote no more than adequately, then could she edit other poets and their poetry with authority, or without?
Unlike them, as an editor Harriet chose to publish her own poetry in her own magazine, and also chose which of her poems to publish, with a compound tenacity. Miss Monroe's power seemed to overwhelm theirs. Or did it, finally?
We know you as a doughty and well-disciplined sole proprietor in 2013, slightly more than a century after Poetry's first year. We know your spectacles, your thin lips unsmiling for the portraitist.
We also know of your penchant for discovery.
My dear Miss Monroe,
Shall we begin with the wind?
In Chicago, your town, wind has a certain history. A nineteenth-century visitor, Albert Lea, knew that wind, and commented in the Freeborn County Standard: "Walk past the Masonic Temple or the Auditorium any day even though it may be perfectly calm elsewhere, and you will meet with a lively breeze at the base of the building that will compel you to put your hand to your hat."
He observed, too, "Chicago has been called the 'windie' city, the term being used metaphorically to make out that Chicagoans were braggarts."
He added, with a purpose, "As usual, people go to extremes in this thing also, and one can tell a stranger almost anything about Chicago today and feel that he believes it implicitly."
At the corner of Chicago and wind, the famous Drake Hotel will be found to catch on its abraded sides every lick and pellet of Chicago's breath: tatterdemalion shivers of spring; moist guff, in summer; autumn catarrh; in winter, fury and contempt (these ease apart, like melting ice, into sub-genres).
Fury and contempt: the city fathers have sometimes chosen to rig up ropes against these flaws of weather, along iced-in sidewalks, for us to grip as we pedestrians wobble into shops, hospitals, offices. They could do nothing less. Winter citizens of Chicago, otherwise how would you walk? While husbanding your mercantile heat, so sought by this wind? While filching, while filched, while fidgeting?
Wool won't do. Nor sable. Coat yourself in brick, in vinyl, in wainscoting, even in shantytown timber. Then just try to walk, you clanking Tin Woodsmen!
Miss your footing? You'll fall, for certain. And while you're down, the wind will knock all the wind out of you.
Mustaches freeze. Tears squeeze, and freeze. The hats all look like old horses.
My dear Miss Monroe,
My own time with wind in Chicago tells me something in particular. Wind in Chicago is often constant. Wind in Chicago is often vehement. Always it makes the cold more cold. But it is also singularly difficult.
For the wind in Chicago pushes at you from all directions, from all at the same moment. You cannot turn your back on it, you cannot look down your nose at it, you can't protect your eyes or nether parts from it. If you don't fight it, the wind will blow you down. So you fight it.
"The wind was very high," remembered a survivor of the great Chicago fire, which destroyed two thousand city acres in 1871. A third of Chicago's people were left homeless. Three hundred died, and with them perished eighteen thousand buildings, as well as countless private and public municipal records. Why? Because the wind blew up from the southwest, carrying the fire north and east from its origins, with a rocking speed compared to surf by witnesses.
Terrified of losing everything, some who fled rushed first to bury their possessions: family silver, a piano. The fire burned for an October night, before meeting the natural barrier of Lake Michigan and receiving rain. At its greatest, the wind reached a mere thirty miles an hour. But it was a singularly difficult wind.
You were ten.
You remembered "a confused jumble of shouting people and pushing teams [of horses hitched to vehicles]; and the air strangely full of an ashen dust, blinding and odorous in the gale that was still blowing."
Afterward, inspecting the ruins of your father's downtown law office, you found "his iron office safe, with a hole in it, slanted on piles of broken bricks."
The managing editor of the Chicago Evening Post described the new city created by the fire: "Pieces of iron, writhing in a thousand fantastic forms."
Historians say Chicago burned was a blank begging to be built again.
My dear Miss Monroe,
Chicago, post-fire, is the color of metal, for years to come. Metal is less flammable.
The number of days of gray skies in Chicago per annum can scarcely be counted.
If I added up the full amount each year of the leaden, the ashen, the bruised, the clouded, all lifted and pendant above, I would have the sum of at least several lives.
Gray gets reflected. The lake engages it. Air and there, they meet.
Carrying it, the gray, Chicagoans bear on their backs a load like iron with the metal screech of subways skidding along elevated tracks five storeys up.
When the gray is much too much, they go indoors. All of them.
My dear Miss Monroe,
Chicago, post-fire, is the color of ambition, for years to come.
I enjoy reading ambition in the Plan of Chicago (1909), a looming historic volume. It is the map of an ideal.
Never mind what I actually know about the city, earned and learned by wearing out my shoes and toes. Of course, Chicago can be a place--it often is--of extorted and befuddling boredom. It can be a place--it often is--of bullying bitterness.
But it is designed. Unlike New York, flung up to be flung down, visually Chicago has something big, sure, and clear to rest upon.
Call this a solid geometric sameness of the decidedly level ground. Call this an open excess of the lake. Call this a built-in turmoil of our days, trying to toss everything: that wind, of which I spoke before.
The page at large of the lake means we might well write on it, if we like, or simply dream our leisurely way into it. Or, look into it--and see ourselves, returned and returning. There can be no waves big enough to interrupt that pause. One thing I know: the lake won't send me to an end. I can't see through to it.
Wasn't it ending that we coveted, at length?
No. The end will find what it needs when it wants: me and myself alike.
And so, peruse a city's ambitious "plan" for itself.
I enjoy reading ambition in the Plan of Chicago because, in between the grand, sober, forefatherish pronouncements of its paragraphs, are pictures and photographs, laid in state to receive an eye. The Plan is civic and possessive, but it is also democratic, circa 1909. Someone blue drew this map, didn't they, for it is blue? And then another, followed by someone umber, purple, amber, prickly, somnolent, or scarlet? There are too many images for anyone to own.
I read from Chapter IV, which begins: "Chicago, on becoming a city, chose for its motto Urbs in horto--a city set in a garden. Such indeed it then was, with the opalescent waters of the Lake at its front, and on its three sides the boundless prairie carpeted with waving grass bedecked with brilliant wild flowers." Isn't this Oz-like? Should the cynics cough?
Yes, except the garden now, as then, is also steely.
The Plan reveals this quality, and other sharp objects. Highways are preponderant in it, "radiating" from town with the symmetry of monumental man-made chrysanthemums. Rendered in color, some of the highway graphics resemble in tone Chicago dune, a dense tawny warmth. The diagrams of roads look languorously urgent, like the life microscopic, once emerged.
But instead, what was formerly huge was really made to fit a book, nine inches by twelve-and-a-half: the Plan. City into garden into what-not? Shrink it down!
Regardless, every picture here calms a swarm. The 1909 Plan, reissued by the Princeton Architectural Press in 1993, was "commissioned by a group of Chicago's progressive businessmen who had hoped to rationalize, and thereby improve . . . ." Playgrounds were extremely important to its original coauthor, the architect Daniel Burnham.
All of Burnham's classrooms in the ideal city should "face south" and "have fireplaces for cheerfulness."
To Burnham, "The slum represents the failure of the city to protect its people."
He put faith in "the elliptical avenue."
He believed firmly in scope and scale: "Now, while it happens that the planning of a new city imposes straightness as a duty, and diagonals as a necessity, it is equally true that a virtue should be made of these hard-and-fast conditions. There is a true glory in mere length, in vistas longer than the eyes can reach . . . ."
I suppose that is part of what I see (and seek) in Miss Monroe's city, and in her magazine: a finite infinity of dares and flaws, the mud and snow and dunes and winds.
My dear Miss Monroe,
I find this finite infinity where you did, piecemeal and in part.
The old Fine Arts Building, for example, is where I find it, and where Poetry magazine in your time kept one office, among various others, along its course, hoisted high in the South Loop at 410 South Michigan Avenue, west of Grant Park and just down from the art museum.
Rising ten storeys in 1885, the Fine Arts Building was initially a headquarters for the Studebaker Corporation. After the company moved to Wabash Avenue, the music publisher Charles Curtiss leased space in it, in 1898. A renovation of the building prepared it for other new occupants: art teachers, violin repairmen, dance schools, literati, painters, sculptors, two theaters. This was meant to be a city (in a city) of art to come.
"To this day even its elevators continue to be operated by human operators," proclaimed David Swan in 2008, when he kept his office there.
There you kept your office, too. I have visited the remnants of it, a narrow waddling suite of "entre nous," giving glowing, good protection from the ransacking storm of the city's gray. It is sepia, but lively, too. Dark hallways prance with nearby do-re-mi's.
In the Fine Arts Building we have found the quarters of a literary agent, who stacks up mystery novels on the bookcase. We have found a photo studio for the best brides. We have found many painters, hunching solo. We have found steep ceilings and strong steam heat, spitting out in old-timey gloom. We have found the Boitsov School of Ballet. "Milwaukee eeeees village," Madame Boitsov once confided. "Ballet need BIG TOWN!"
It is hard. Art is mean. So is town.
Blown in from Michigan Avenue by the punching winds, we have time to adjust the straps of our winter boots, to disengage the Kleenexes. Our scarves seem to be gagging us.
You, Miss Monroe, must have been an activist.
Molly McQuade was poetry columnist for The Hungry Mind Review, and she founded the poetry review column at Publishers Weekly. Currently she is a columnist for the American Library Association. Her poetry has appeared widely. In a review of her collection of essays about poetry, Stealing Glimpses, she was called "a learned, witty, and absolutely orginal writer" by the Harvard Review.
"Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), one of the great underrated black-and-white films from the idealistic late1940s, is now available streaming from Netflix, and I urge everyone to resist the temptation of watching all of "House of Cards" all at once and choose instead to spread the pleasure over the course of a week and to interrupt the flow by taking in this well-written, well-acted film, a monument to liberalism when it had its moment as the L word of choice. Gregory Peck stars as a journalist who comes up with a new angle on exposing anti-Semitism in America. The anti-Semitism critiqued is, to use a distinction Ezra Pound would have appreciated, the "suburban" rather than the extermination kind -- the separate but almost equal approach: country clubs and hotels restricted to gentiles; anti-Semitic hiring policies so ingrained that even in New York a well-qualified person named Cohen or Finkelstein would be wise to change her or his name when applying for a job; the assumption that a smart Jew would have figured out a way to avoid combat in World War II ("were you in public relations, Mr. Green?); even Jewish anti-Semitism -- the way a Jew will cringe in the presence of a stereotypically "kikey" (i.e. loud, vulgar, pushy) member of the faith. Elia Kazan directed the picture. The sterling supporting cast includes Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, June Havoc, Anne Revere, Albert Dekker, Dean Stockwell, Sam Jaffe, and Jane Wyatt.
This is from the period when the script could make or break a Hollywood film. Moss Hart wrote this one and copped an Academy Award nominaation. The movie garnered eight other nominations and won thre, including the best picture Oscar. Eliza Kazan won for best director, and Celeste Holm deservedly took Holm an Oscar as best supportng actress (beating out the equally wonderful Anne Revere, who plays the journalist's mother). The lead was offered first to Cary Grant, who turned it down. But they got the the right star In Gregory Peck, who is to principled liberalism what Cary Grant is to suave urbanity. Peck took the role despite his agent's objections. I know he's supposed to be a wooden actor but I have always thought this an unfair characterization and if you see this movie (and "Twelve O'Clock High") I think you'll see my point.
You'll get no spoliers from me. The film is full of surprises, even if the most crucial one is given away in just about anything written about it. But here are some things you might like to know: (1) It's adapted from the best-selling novel of the same title by Laura Z. Hobson, which I read when I was fifteen and thought it was pretty good. (2) Darryl Zanuck, a gentile, who produced the movie for Twentieth Century Fox, decided to make it when he was turned down for membership in the "restricted" Los Angeles Country Club, whose management was under the mistaken belief that Zaniuck was Jewish. (3) More than a few facts about the making of the movie supports its central thesis. Samuel Goldwyn was among the Jewish movie moguls who feared that the making of the film would only stir up trouble -- that Jews would be wise not to call attention to themselves. (4) The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), associating Communism with Jew-lovers, called Zanuck, Kazan, John Garfield (real name: Julius Garfinkel), and Anne Revere to come to Washington and endure the committeee's contempt. Garfield, who refused to name names, suffered on the blacklist for a year and died of a heart attack shortly before being asked to testify a second time. He was only 39. (5) The movie's success was toasted at Los Angeles's Biltmore Hotel on December 12, 1948 with speeches and testimonials followed by an entertainment extravaganza in the hallowed Hollywood tradition. The night was capped off by the Hollywood debut of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. They were a hit. -- DL
Well, really it started with snapshots. There was the truck, but there was also Wyoming. In Wyoming, a young Hayward watched red ants bring beads up from deep within the earth—from old burial sites. It was how the earth fused past and present, he noted. Then there was fourth grade art class. Hayward smushed a paintbrush onto paper, watched the bristles splay out, rapt at the potential that lay before him. A humorless art teacher snapped him back to reality— “You’re going to ruin that brush!”
Hayward doesn’t operate in a world where the tools of art—pieces of art themselves—are subject to ruin. After all “to ruin” suggests someone is there to impose on these instruments, to do the alleged ruining. When Hayward creates, he steps aside. Hayward sets the world in motion like the deist god who winds the clock, but where it will go from there is anyone’s guess. Stepping out of the way, however, may be the most challenging artistic task of all.
* * *
Last week Hayward appeared at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho with Laura Isaacman, editor of The Coffin Factory magazine, to discuss his full-length film Asphalt, Muscle and Bone. Isaacman’s interest in Hayward’s work was sparked by a collaboration she witnessed between Hayward and the writer Justin Taylor. Isaacman then began “stalking” the eccentric Hayward—who humored her inquiries—hanging around his studio and digging through old suitcases, looking for anything that might lend some insight into the enigmatic artist and that nagging question of inspiration.
Isaacman, perhaps naively, wanted a linear tale of inspiration, a trajectory from “then” to “now,” but from there things only got less lucid.
After living in 17 states with his older, snake-wrangling sister, who instilled in him a sense of adventure and a hunger for possibility, Hayward got his start in photographic portraiture. As Hayward took the conventional, staid position of photographer behind the lens, enacting his vision on the subject, he felt something was incredibly wrong; he couldn’t get something Kierkegaard once said out of his head.
“He said the advent of photography would make everyone look the same,” explains Hayward. “I decided it was time to mess around, to disrupt.” He began slicing up and rearranging faces—the effect was a cubistic uncanny valley, equal parts creepy and beautiful (the resulting images managed a certain uneasy symmetry, which we are unconsciously conditioned as viewers to believe denotes the utmost beauty).
It also occurred to Hayward that around this time there had been a “gross imbalance of testosterone” in the world for the past three- to four-thousand years. He became fixated on dance, believing dance emphasized the female figure in a position of power, one contrary to the traditional view of women.
“Throw out everything you’re comfortable with,” he adds. “Give yourself permission.”
Hayward made it his mission to reinvent portraiture, to transform it from something unfulfilling and subjugating to a process of the “collaborative self.” (At least this is his explanation for those who demand a narrative, who cannot wrap their minds around the disjointedness of inspiration and creation as they infiltrate our lives, only to abandon us just as quickly as the canvas has been primed.)
Hayward would bring in his “subjects“ for a conversation and together they’d wait for something, anything. That “something” was removed from judgment and from planning. It was full of risk. It usually took about 15 minutes to get the ball rolling, to strip away the inhibitions of daily life and proper conduct.
People tore off their clothing, dipped their hands in paint and stood there, exposed, dripping onto canvases. If it sounds less than earth-shattering to you, wait until you see Hayward’s shots. The man behind the camera disappears, the image yanks you in—it demands your unwavering complicity. You feel as though you’ve just witnessed a crime of passion you yourself perhaps committed. I feel like a traitor calling them “Hayward’s shots” at all, as though I’ve gravely missed the point.
When it was Willem Dafoe’s turn, he created a series of large, oversized, crudely-drawn mother figures. In Hayward’s photos, Dafoe cowers below them, as though being birthed from the pages. “Oedipal” springs to mind.
Don’t ask Hayward what he’s trying to accomplish. He quotes Francis Bacon: “If I knew what I was doing, why would I do it?” He says Asphalt, Muscle and Bone encapsulates “risk-taking and how women have been written off” as well as the “impossibility of love” as he flips through projected film stills, he knows he only wants to see things he’s never seen, but that’s about all he knows.
Members of the audience shift in their seats, they seem uneasy about this “impossibility of love” notion. Hayward feels under no pressure to address the crowd for long, quiet stretches. A man breaks the silence: “Can you expand on the impossibility of love?”
The way we’re introduced to love is completely erroneous, offers Hayward. We have to break it down before we can build it up.
“All of these may or may not be in the film,” Hayward explains cryptically as he shows us film stills of mythical places like the Fat River Hotel and the conceptual Museum of Emotions. You cannot physically enter into Hayward’s museum or his hotel, all the rooms are made up, but you can purchase postcards, postcards which look as though they were pulled from the very ancient burial grounds themselves. And in order to reach these places, you must first yourself get lost.
In his presentation, as in his work, Hayward appears to withdraw into a strange, removed place within himself only to reemerge and confront us with the unseen, the whimsically gritty and eerie. Is this work erotic? Nudes reappear in the stills on several occasions, in hotel rooms, often in compromising poses, seemingly torturing each other or wrapping their teeth around strings of pearls. We almost feel guilty asking ourselves. What is eroticism anymore? Would it offend Hayward if we were to ask? No one does; they’re hung up on the love question. They’re still obsessed by the idea of inspiration.
Hayward says it took a long process of elimination to get to where he is now, artistically-speaking—a lifetime of risk-taking. His life parallels the canvas he describes—a “blank” canvas is not truly a blank canvas, it’s a series of cliches which must be painstakingly scraped away.
Throughout the process, Hayward always felt that push of something being wrong though. It was the impetus to move forward, the force that kept him going. “I feel at ease now,” he says.
In the art of the world around him, Hayward will settle for no less than the standards to which he holds himself. “You can’t short-circuit experience,” he says. Art cannot and should not be commodified. “You won’t find yourself online, on Instagram.” The crowd titters, guiltily. “You won’t find Paris in Disneyland.”
Alissa Fleck is a freelance writer whose work has been featured in the Huffington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Our Town Downtown, on Narrative.ly and more. She cares deeply about LGBT issues and has a piece on the subject forthcoming on Truthout.org.
is a black hole in your body –
an ever expansive void into the deepest,
most private parts of you;
for this reason, and many more,
I wish to enter it.
-- Jade Shames
NA: There are so many independent poetry presses out there. What makes Wave Books different?
MZ: Every press has a different focus, some limits or areas of interest. Wave mostly publishes work by so-called "mid-career" American poets: individual books of poems, translations, etc. So we don't publish a lot of other terrific books that our allies in the small publishing world take on. The small press ecosystem requires and benefits from that sort of variety I think. I do also believe Wave has some unusual and innovative ideas about design. Other presses of course publish gorgeous books, ones that we love, but our focus on type design as a necessary manifestation of the idiosyncratic poetic impulse within each book seems to me to be different from what many other presses are currently doing, and hopefully a contribution to the field of book design.
NA: I read on your website that Wave hopes “to continue to challenge the values and practices of readers.” How do you plan to do that?
MZ: In the way that any representative of artists does, by putting forth work that pushes our ideas about poetry and art and life in heretofore unexplored directions.
NA: How did you become an editor at Wave?
MZ: Brian Henry, my friend and fellow poet, and I founded Verse Press together in 1999. Soon after, I took over as the main editor of the press, because Brian was busy with his work editing Verse Magazine, as well as his teaching and other obligations. When Verse Press became Wave Books in 2005, I continued on as editor, and poet Joshua Beckman was hired as the other editor. I think our editorial work and vision are much stronger for having two editors and a very involved Publisher, Charlie Wright.
NA: I see that Wave publishes translations. I was wondering if you could give us a poem, or an excerpt from a poem, from one of your books of translations, and maybe a short bio of the author and translator.
NA: How many books do you publish each year? How does one become a Wave poet?
MZ: Currently we publish around 8-10 books a year. Obviously that means we have a relatively small regular group of authors we publish. As I wrote above, we focus on mid-career poets. Our editorial board takes very seriously our task of keeping track of what is being written by the poets of the generation we publish. Yet we realize we can't keep track of everything, so periodically we will have a reading period of some kind, usually to fulfill a specific purpose. When we were putting together a book of political poetry in 2008, we had an open submissions period where we read any political poetry people wanted to send: this was very educational and helpful for us as editors, in figuring out what we thought a political poem was or could be, and we took many poems from those submissions. This past summer we had an open reading period for manuscripts, just because we felt it was time to see what was out there that we might be missing. Again, this was incredibly educational (though also an enormous amount of work, to read everything), and we found several books from that group that we hope to publish in the next few years, translations as well as individual volumes of poetry.NA: If you could think of a title of a book you would love to publish, what would that title be?
MZ: The Lost Poems of Robert Desnos.
NA: Is there a poet or two out there that you would like to publish (or to have published) who is not a Wave author?
MZ: We are open to working on specific projects with poets who have great publishing situations, in order to publish something else that they are doing that might not be appropriate for their main publisher. For instance, we have recently published translations by Graham Foust, whose books of poetry are published by our friends and co-conspirators Flood Editions. That seems like a good way to get to work with poets we admire, without in any way disrupting a happily functioning publishing arrangement.
NA: Could you describe some of the happiest or proudest moments for the press? MZ:I would have to say the Poetry Bus tour was an early proud moment, though I'm not sure it was always a happy one, only because Joshua and I and Travis Nichols (who were on the bus for the entire trip) practically had nervous breakdowns from the sheer velocity of it all. But it was a lot of fun, and something that I think brought a lot of pleasure to people all over the country, which was a great feeling. Each year we put on an annual festival in Seattle, to which we invite our authors as well as a lot of other poets. Last year we did a translation festival at the Henry Art Gallery, and I felt immense pride and gratitude that we were able to bring together so many brilliant translators and poets to talk in a way that felt very connected to true poetic practice. This coming year our festival will be focused around poetry and film, the weekend of February 22nd, and I am really looking forward to that. On a personal note, my proudest moments as an editor are when I really feel as if, through my responses and enthusiasm and general presence as a thoughtful and serious reader, I am bringing the poets I work with closer to the very best thing they can accomplish at a particular stage in their artistic life. I am happy and proud when I am in service to the people I feel are some of the finest poets writing today. Recently, when I saw the book of lectures by Mary Ruefle that Joshua so carefully and brilliantly edited, I was very proud on behalf of Wave Books and poetry.
NA: I’d like to close the interview with a poem from one of the Wave authors and a link to your website. Would you be willing to select a poem and provide a link?
MZ: It's hard to choose one poem by one author. But I guess I'd like to post a link to a poem by Joshua, from a book that is forthcoming in Fall 2013, The Inside of an Apple. This selection originally appeared in a gorgeous limited edition chapbook, Porch Light. For more info about Wave Books you can check out our website or our Tumblr or follow us on Twitter.
Matthew Zapruder is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Come On All You Ghosts (Copper Canyon 2010), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He is an editor for Wave Books, and teaches at UCR-Palm Desert's Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing. He lives in San Francisco.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here. Follow Nin on Twitter here.
Last night, after a long look at my empty office space, I left Mobile Libris for the last time. It’s been a good run, these past seven years of selling books. It’s a tough business – margins are slim, prices are fixed, book-buying habits are changing – but we made a good go of things, even in this sluggish economy. Mobile Libris is a success story even though it is no more.
For those of you not familiar with Mobile Libris, we sold books here in New York City exclusively at author events. We had no brick-and-mortar store; rather, we had a fleet of booksellers who traveled off-site to all manner of author talks, conferences, book parties, readings, panels, discussions – pretty much wherever we were asked to go – to sell books. Our one requirement: the author had to be there to sign. We were known by our black, wheeled suitcases. Event organizers would look out for one rolling into her space, spot it, and know the books had arrived.
I came up with the idea for a mobile book-seller while I was managing a Barbara’s Books in LaGuardia Airport. How I ended up there is a bit of a story in itself, but suffice to say I took what I expected to be a throw-away job selling books between semesters of teaching freshman comp and fell in love with bookselling. I was there for almost five years. Occasionally we were asked to handle off-site events, but usually the logistics of getting books from the airport to the event location was much too complicated. One time, though, I accepted, and sold copies of Susan Fales-Hill’s Always Wear Joy at a charity fundraiser where the author was the keynote speaker. It was magic – the book, the author, the audience: all were perfectly matched. They listened to her with rapt attention and lined-up to buy books and catch a few words with Susan after her talk. This, I thought, is the way to sell books. Each book became a precious memento of the evening, a souvenir with a personal signature that would evoke that event every time it was read or even looked at on the shelf. There must be a way for me to sell books in this manner on a regular basis.
So I gathered the few resources I had – a book about how to start a business in New York, a few connections in the publishing industry, an idea of a reading series or two where I could start, a good friend at the New School writing program (thank you, David), and good personal credit – and started a book business. At first I worked out of my home in Astoria, Queens, with a UPS post-box that would accept packages for me in Manhattan, centrally located by Macy’s in Herald Square, so I could get to any location in the city easily. I’d pick up my books, put them in my suitcase, and be off. And though the magic of that original event wasn’t replicated every time, it was often enough. More importantly, people were appreciative and I sold books.
I was taken by surprise by how quickly the idea took off. I expected to eke out a living by servicing two or three events a week, but almost right away I had to hire a helper to cover events that were booked for the same day and time. Within a short period of time, the guys at the UPS store were complaining that my boxes were taking up too much room, so I moved to an office-share close by. The paper engagement calendar I used to keep track of events, income, and expenses wasn’t going to cut it anymore, so I bought a Mac and switched over to an electronic calendar system which worked great for the 10 or so booksellers I now had working for me. Pretty soon, we outgrew that space, too, and then the next as well, and for the last three years we’ve been on West 29th Street in a 600-sqaure-foot office that was usually filled to the brim with books and books. At the end of our reign I had three full-time employees in the office, a part-time intern, and about 25 booksellers servicing about 50-75 events every week. Our record number of events for one day was somewhere around 22.
The booksellers and I had the privilege of selling books in amazing locations and meeting extraordinary people we certainly wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise. I sold books in Martin Scorsese’s and Joan River’s homes; I met Alan Alda’s mother at book party where Regis Philbin stole a book from me (“I’m taking this book!!”); I’ve dined in the Metropolitan Club, the University Club, the James Beard House; I heard Patricia Neal scold a rude kid at a book party by starting out, “Do you know who I am, young man?”; Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney have bought books from Mobile Libris, as have Mayors David Dinkins and Ed Koch; we’ve sold books for Cathie Black, Walter Isaacson, Malcom Gladwell, Mary Higgins Clark, Vernon Jordan, Mario Vargas Llosa. Like I said, it’s been a good ride. Did I say “Good”? No, it’s been an extraordinary ride.
So why stop? Mobile Libirs was as successful as it ever was when I made the decision to close, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. I’m not a business person; for God’s sake, I studied poetry in grad school! I had taken Mobile Libris as far as I could go. I wanted to sell the business, to see it continue, pass it on to the person who could take it to its next level. Ah, but you have to love books, not money, to see the value of a book-selling business. I had a few bites and one offer, but it wasn’t right. Better to close and let this chapter of my life close behind me.
What’s next for me, then? I don’t know. I took a leap out into the nothing and am working to see what will happen next. I have a few ideas – return to teaching, go into the text-book trade – but I’m not sure. At this point all I know is my key ring is lighter by four keys and Mobile Libris is closed.
--Wandrers Nachtlied (1780)
Over the hills
Comes the quiet.
Across the treetops
No breeze blows.
Not a sound: even the small
Birds in the woods
Just wait: soon you
Will be quiet, too.
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.