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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June 16, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Ezra Pound to James Joyce, March 1918. Pound, then an editor for the New York magazine The Little Review, had arranged to serialize Joyce’s Ulysses; he feared its more scatological parts would result in confiscation from the government. The Egoist, a British magazine also running the novel in installments, had failed to find a printer willing to accept it.
The Little Review had already been suppressed once, in November 1917, for a piece by Wyndham Lewis; Judge Augustus Hand had banned it, citing a subsection of the U. S. Penal Code that likened prurient literature to information about contraceptives. “I confess to having been a bad citizen,” Pound had rebutted in print, “to just the extent of having been ignorant that at any moment my works might be classed in the law’s eye with the inventions of the late Dr. Condom.”
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June 2, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Philip Larkin to Barbara Pym, July 18, 1971. The pair enjoyed a long, warm correspondence beginning in 1961; they met, at last, in 1975, at the Randolph in Oxford. “I shall probably be wearing a beige tweed suit or a Welsh tweed cape if colder,” Pym wrote in advance. “I shall be looking rather anxious, I expect.” In 1977, Larkin helped Pym find a wider audience by choosing her as the most underrated writer of the century.
Duke’s Head Hotel, King’s Lynn,
I have a theory that “holidays” evolved from the medieval pilgrimage, and are essentially a kin of penance for being so happy and comfortable in one’s daily life. You’re about to point out the essential fallacy in this, viz., that we aren’t h. & c. in our daily lives, but it’s too late now, the evolution has taken place, and we do the world’s will, not our own, as Jack Tanner says in Man & Superman. Anyway, every year I take my mother away for a week, & this is it. God knows why I chose this place—well, there are certain basic requirements—must be fairly near where she lives, must have single rooms with private bathrooms & lift, must for preference be near the sea … even so, one can make grave errors, & I rather think this is one of them. One forgets that nobody stays in hotels these days except businessmen & American tourists: the food is geared to the business lunch or the steak-platter trade: portion-control is rampant, and the materials cheap anyway (or so I guess: three lamb chops I had were three uncuttable unchewable unanswerable arguments for entry into EEC if—as I suspect—they had made the frozen journey from New Zealand). The presence of the hotel in the Good Food Guide is nothing short of farce. Of course it’s a Trust House, which guarantees a kind of depersonalized dullness. Never stay at a Trust House. Read More »