My experience has changed over the years, and this I think of primarily in terms of having written (with Lew [Ellingham]) that biography, and following helplessly what I subsequently learned were the three stages of biography. Stage one, you love your subject, and everyone else is wrong in some way. A lot of biographies seem to be of this booster sort. Then there's stage two, in which at a certain point you realize, uh-oh, he was just human after all, and he was filled with faults, and this comes as a giant shock—a shock which freezes some biographers into adopting a position in which their books become evidence for the prosecution. I don't know of course, but that's the feeling one gets, isn't it, when one reads Ekbert Fass's book on the young Robert Creeley or Tom Clark's life of Charles Olson, a book I admire a good deal but one that seems needlessly contestatory, like Olson was not the great Oz and everyone should know it. And then there's the third stage of biography, where you seek the balance between the good and the evil in your subject and find the actual person somewhere in there. I don't know, maybe that's how friendship works in regular life? Anyway that's why I came away loving the new life of Zukofsky, because Mark Scroggins had every right to stay in stage one and he didn't—he moved on to the dangerous shoals of stage two and pushed right on through to the bay of stage three.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Kevin Killian on biography
In conversation with Joseph Bradshaw at Rain Taxi, Kevin Killian, biographer & editor of Jack Spicer, says nice things about The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky, & smart things about biography in general: