Monday, February 07, 2011


I've survived the weekend. It began, horrifically, with the girls' school carnival, 2 hours of trudging around in the sun (not awfully hot, probably high 70s or so, but the humidity's back up) and seeing how much cotton candy & pizza Daphne could inhale without going into some kind of carb-sugar shock. Then back to Casa Scroggins & the full-scale run-up to the girls' birthday party. Yes, they were born the same day – February 1 – but I think this might be the first time we've actually had a single party for both of them at once. I've almost managed to repress the memories of yesterday afternoon (I've vague recollections of kids shrieking happily, and many things being strewn about the yard), but I won't go into it now.

Today their grandmother took them off our hands, so we had a rare weekend afternoon to ourselves. Much of which we burned by going to a giant book sale at the local public library, which seems to be making space for new computers & caf├ęs and who knows what? massage parlors? by selling off much of their collection of books. Sigh. At any rate, I picked up a nice copy of David Macaulay's wonderful Cathedral, a older kids' picture book of how they actually constructed cathedrals back in the middle ages, with wryly clear text and beautifully expressive and detailed line drawings. Oh, and a bunch of other stuff, including some Joyce criticism and heaven help us, an old Fulcrum edition of Bunting's Collected Poems. This makes by my count the sixth collected Bunting on my shelves (Fulcrum, Oxford, Moyer Bell, Oxford again, Bloodaxe, New Directions).
Yes, the New Directions editions of the complete LZ poetry are now out & available. My copies turned up last week in the mail, in one of those old-fashioned mailers padded with grey cat's-hair lint that inevitably sifts onto the floor and your pants and shirt when you open the thing, & that falls out from between the pages for years to come. But that's okay. My report? They're just fine. Photo-reprints, to be sure. "A" is pretty much the same as the old California & Hopkins "A", with a new very informative introduction by Barry Ahearn and a handful of typographical errors corrected. ANEW: Complete Shorter Poetry is the Hopkins Complete Short Poetry under a different title, and (again) with some key typos fixed. I'm glad to have them, tho I have multiple copies of the texts, & have had all the typos marked for years. (I'm not about to give up my disintegrating 70s-era paperback of "A", with its palimpsest of a quarter-century's boneheaded annotations.)

But the real nice touch here is that the two volumes are now uniform: the trim size of "A" has been enlarged a bit (a good thing), and that of ANEW has been sized down a bit. And they even look nice, in their beige-&-black starkness, beside the yellow, blue, & red volumes of the Wesleyan prose works. High time, methinks, for someone to get ND to do a slim volume of Arise, arise.
Bill Sherman quotes Jack Clarke in re/ my last post on biography to the effect that the biographer ought to take a stance of "love" towards her or his subject. Not sure I agree – but at the very least there has to be a certain deep-seated sympathy. That's what renders Humphrey Carpenter's life of Pound such a deadly doorstop, the fact that while Carpenter's got all the facts marshalled he clearly doesn't give a shit about his subject, doesn't much care for the poetry, indeed probably has gotten to the point of hating him. Tom Clark's life of Olson is similarly disappointing, vitiated by Clark's gradual recognition that Olson wasn't perfect, which somehow drives Clark into a fury of showing precisely what a jerk Olson was.

In splendid contrast is a book I'm rereading at the moment, Richard Holmes's Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, an exploration of the relationship of Samuel Johnson & the poet Richard Savage, an engaging ne'er-do-well who prompted Johnson's first great full-length work, the Life of Savage (1744). Savage was more than a bit of a jerk, blackmailing the woman he claimed was his mother, killing a man in a tavern brawl, & spending his way quite expeditiously thru whatever monies his friends & patrons handed him. But he & Johnson had been very close indeed in the years when Johnson was a newly-arrived Grub Street aspirant, & Johnson is very firmly on his subject's side in his little book, which Holmes reads as a paradigm for "romantic" biography – biography which involves more than dispassionate recounting of a life-story, but an actual identification between biographer and subject.

Holmes is brilliant at unraveling evidence, especially in regards to the bar-fight for which Savage was condemned to hang. (He got a last-minute royal pardon, thanks to some highly-placed friends.) Here's what the court records say; here's the testimony; here's the three or four different ways in which it might be read by a scrupulous biographer. And here's how Johnson chooses to present it in his biography of Savage – an interpretation which amounts, in the end, to a whitewashing of Savage, and a high-handed playing down of the most sordid episode of his deceased friend's life. Alas, it's one of those few places where Johnson's "love" for his subect – or his identification with him – gets the better of his staunch insistence on "truth."
I hope everyone had a good AWP. And I'm tired of hearing about it on Facebook. Indeed, I'm on the point of unfriending a bunch of poet-types, or maybe just adjusting my "news feed" settings, I'm so bloody tired of being the object of people trying to sell me their books. I know, I know – all the hip kids know that "social networking" is the next wave in marketing, that (as J. tells me incessantly) if you don't blow your own horn no-one will blow it for you, and that the marketing gurus tell us that repetition is the key to effective advertising. But gimme a break, okay?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


is that what was just in D.C.? 4,000 Credentialists
trying to make a career out of Poetry? friends buying friends' books ... very sad more and more of less and less...