August 26, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine Pagès, dated October 11, 1915. Apollinaire had met Pagès, who taught literature, on a train in January of that year; by August they were engaged and Apollinaire was stationed in the trenches of Champagne, fighting the Great War. His prolific correspondence with Pagès from this period is remarkable not just in its erotic candor but in its portrayal of life in the trenches, down to the finest details: “mud, what mud, you cannot imagine the mud you have to have seen it here, sometimes the consistency of putty, sometimes like whipped cream or even wax and extraordinarily slippery.” At times he rebuked his lover for not writing often or well enough, though the beginning of this letter finds him pleased with her efforts. The following year, he was wounded by shrapnel; the injury so disturbed him that he refused to receive his fiancée during his convalescence, and soon the letters, along with their engagement, dried up.
My love, I had two letters from you today. I am very happy with them … especially out here, where your precious sensuality is a consolation to me, the sole remedy for all my troubles. Please do mark this well, my love. You said yourself that we should strengthen the secret between us, so do strengthen it, and fear for nothing. Be naked before me—as far away as I am … Your meaningful look in Marseilles is admirably clear to me in memory, charged with all the voluptuousness that is part of you. You are very beautiful. I kiss your mouth through your hat veil, tearing it like a Veil of Isis and grasping the whole of that little traveller who is now my own beloved little wife and clasping her madly to me …
I take your whole mouth and kiss it, and then your breasts, so sensitive, whose tips harden at my kiss and strain towards me like your desire itself. I wrap my arms about you and hold you fight forever against my heart. Read More »
August 14, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Samuel Beckett to Cissie Sinclair, his aunt, dated August 14, 1937. At the time, Beckett was trying, fitfully and without much success, to become an art dealer; he’d gone so far as to travel through Germany for six months for the express purpose of seeing as much art as he could. Though his efforts as a dealer foundered, he emerged with an affinity for Cézanne, Watteau, and especially Jack B. Yeats, whose painting “Morning” he bought when he could scarcely afford it. The poem he includes here, “Whiting,” was published soon afterward.
Southampton, En route to South Africa
14th [August 1937]
Gresham Hotel, Dublin
I was glad to get your letter this morning. I wanted you to think of me sometimes when you had a drink. How else would I render it likely? Have many.
[…] I had a letter from Tom by the same post as yours. He is writing about Jack Yeats, inspired apparently by some Constable exhibition & a chance remark of mine about the Watteauishness of what he has been doing lately. Every Thursday there seems to be something to prevent me going in to see him. I suppose to suggest the inorganism of the organic—all his people are mineral in the end, without possibility of being added or taken from, pure inorganic juxtapositions—but Jack Yeats does not even need to do that. The way he puts down a man’s head & a woman’s head side by side, or face to face, is terrifying, two irreducible singlenesses & the impassable immensity between. I suppose that is what gives the stillness to his pictures, as though the convention were suddenly suspended, the convention & performance of love & hate, joy & pain, giving & being given, taking & being taken. A kind of petrified insight into one’s ultimate hard irreducible inorganic singleness. All handled with the dispassionate acceptance that is beyond tragedy. I always feel Watteau to be a tragic genius, i.e. there is pity in him for the world as he sees it. But I find no pity, i.e. no tragedy in Yeats. Not even sympathy. Simply perception & dispassion. Even personally he is rather inhuman, or haven’t you felt it? Read More »
August 3, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Hayden Carruth to Jane Kenyon, dated April 29, 1994. When Kenyon was dying of leukemia, Carruth wrote her almost daily, though he knew she was unable to respond. His correspondence is collected in Letters to Jane. Carruth, born on August 3, 1921, published poems in three issues of The Paris Review; he died in 2008.
I’m in the waiting area at the Washington National Airport with another hour before boarding for my flight to Syracuse. I hate this place, I hate it. Hatred has not been a prominent factor in my life, but in this particular place at this particular time it is. The weather here is INTOLERABLE, hot, hot, hot, and coming from Upstate New York I’m not dressed for it, wearing my faithful tweed jacket that I customarily use for readings. And I’ve had three glasses of house chardonnay in one of those little cubicles off the waiting area, the only place where one is permitted to smoke …
Well, I’ll insert a “poem” I wrote while I was having my coffee and so-called croissant: Read More »
July 28, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Malcolm Lowry to Conrad Aiken, sent in the winter of 1929. Lowry, who was born on this day in 1909, was so enamored of Aiken’s novel Blue Voyage that he attempted, with this bumptious letter, to strike up a correspondence; throughout, as if to prove his worth, he quotes liberally from Blue Voyage and Aiken’s poem “Palimpsest: A Deceitful Portrait.” It worked: the letter sparked a complicated, rivalrous mentorship that would last until Lowry’s death. By July of 1929, Lowry had already decamped to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for lessons from Aiken, who was twenty years his senior. Lowry called his first novel Ultramarine in parodic reference to Blue Voyage.
5 Woodville Road
Blackheath, London S.E. 3
I have lived only nineteen years and all of them more or less badly. And yet, the other day, when I sat in a teashop (one of those grubby little places which poor Demarest loved, and the grubbier the better, and so do I) I became suddenly and beautifully alive. I read … “I lay in the warm sweet grass on a blue May morning, My chin in a dandelion, my hands in clover, And drowsed there like a bee … Blue days behind me Reached like a chain of deep blue pools of magic, Enchanted, silent, timeless. Days before me Murmured of blue sea mornings, noons of gold, Green evenings streaked with lilac … ”
I sat opposite the Bureau-de-change. The great grey tea urn perspired. But as I read, I became conscious only of a blur of faces: I let the tea that had mysteriously appeared grow clammy and milk-starred, the half veal and ham pie remain in its crinkly paper; vaguely, as though she had been speaking upon another continent, I heard the girl opposite me order some more Dundee cake. My pipe went out. Read More »
July 20, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Mark Twain to John T. Moore, July 1859. Moore, also known as Tom, was an “old river man” and a longtime friend of Twain’s. More than twenty years later, in 1883, this note appeared in The Arkansas Traveler and was afterward reproduced by papers nationwide—a few weeks later, though, the Traveler’s editor, Opie Read, claimed it was a hoax, thus casting doubt on its authenticity. Today most Twain scholars believe it to be genuine, suggesting that the notion of a hoax was, itself, a hoax.
Memphis, July 6, 1859.
My Dear John:—
I have made many attempts to answer your letter which received a warmth of welcome perspiringly in keeping with the present system of hot weather; but somehow I have failed. Now, however, I screw myself down to the pleasant task. It is a task, let me tell you, and it is only by the courtesy of friendship that I can call it pleasant. Read More »
July 13, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From John Clare’s letter to Eliza Emmerson, March 1830. Clare, born on this day in 1793, came from poverty and is sometimes dubbed “the peasant poet”; he’s known for his expansive poems on rural life and for his eventual turn toward insanity. By the end of his life, Clare had escaped from an asylum, and sometimes claimed to be Shakespeare, Lord Byron, or a prizefighter. This note, a polemic against the egotism of the first-person pronoun, was written in the midst of a deep depression seven years before he was hospitalized. By “points,” Clare means punctuation, which he disdained, thinking it an unnecessary hindrance to expression. Original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.
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