From the Archive
April 29, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“On the Ship,” a poem by Constantine P. Cavafy from our Spring 2005 issue. Cavafy was born on April 29, 1863; he died on his seventieth birthday.
It certainly resembles him, this small
pencil likeness of him.
Quickly done, on the deck of the ship;
an enchanting afternoon.
The Ionian Sea all around us.
It resembles him. Still, I remember him as handsomer.
To the point of sickness—he was that sensitive,
and it illumined his expression.
Handsomer, he appears to me,
now that my soul recalls him, out of Time.
Out of Time. All these things, they’re very old—
The sleuth, and the ship, and the afternoon
Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn.
April 23, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
An exchange between J. P. Donleavy—who’s eighty-nine today—and John Irving, from our Spring 1988 issue. Some two years previous, in his Art of Fiction interview, Irving had disparaged Donleavy at length, speaking of their meeting at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where Irving taught in the seventies:
I like meeting other writers, and Iowa City is a good place to meet them, but I didn’t enjoy Donleavy. John Cheever and I, who were in a particularly ritualized habit of watching Monday Night Football together, while eating homemade pasta, were happy to hear that Donleavy was coming. We’d both admired The Ginger Man and we wanted to meet the author. I went to the airport to meet him; I’d written three novels—but not yet The World According to Garp; I wasn’t famous. I didn’t expect Donleavy to have read anything of mine, but I was surprised when he announced that he read no one living; then he asked if we were in Kansas. I told him a little about the Workshop, but he was one of those writers with no knowledge about writing programs and many prejudices about them: to be a student of writing was a waste of time; better to go out and suffer. He was wearing a very expensive three-piece suit, very handsome shoes, and handling a very posh walking stick at the time, and I began to get irritated. In a meeting with Workshop students, he told them that any writer who was lowering himself by teaching writing wasn’t capable of teaching them anything. And so I was quite cross by the time I had to pick up the great man and drive him to his reading. I said we would be taking Mr. Cheever with us to the reading, and that both Mr. Cheever and I were great admirers, and that although I knew Mr. Donleavy did not read anyone living, he should know that Mr. Cheever was a wonderful writer. His short stories were models of the form, I said. But when I introduced Cheever to Donleavy, Donleavy wouldn’t even look at him; he went on talking to his wife, about aspirin, as if Cheever wasn’t there. I tried to say a few things about why so many American writers turned to teaching—as a way of supporting themselves without having to place the burden of making money upon their writing; and as a way of giving themselves enough time to practice their writing, too.
But Donleavy wasn’t interested and he said so. The whole trip he was taking was tiresome; the people he met, the people everywhere, were tiresome, too. And so Cheever and I sat up front in the car, excluded from the conversation about the evils of aspirin, and driving the Donleavys about as if they were unhappy royalty in a hick town. I will say that Mrs. Donleavy appeared to suffer her husband’s rudeness, or perhaps she was just suffering her headache. Cheever tried a few times to engage Donleavy in some conversation, and as Cheever was as gifted in conversation as any man I have ever met, I grew more and more furious at Donleavy’s coldness and unresponsiveness and total discourtesy. I was thinking, frankly, that I should throw the lout in a puddle, if there was one handy, when Cheever spoke up. “Do you know, Mr. Donleavy,” Cheever said, “that no major writer of fiction was ever a shit to another writer of fiction, except Hemingway—and he was crazy?” That was all. Donleavy had no answer. Perhaps he thought Hemingway was still a living writer and therefore hadn’t read him, either. Cheever and I deposited the Donleavys at the reading, which we spontaneously decided to skip. It was many years later that I met and became friends with George Roy Hill, who told me that he’d been a roommate of “Mike” Donleavy at Trinity College, Dublin, and that “Mike” was just a touch eccentric and surely not a bad sort. But I remembered my evening with Cheever and told George that, in my opinion, Donleavy was a minor writer, a shit, or crazy—or all three. I should add that drinking wasn’t the issue of this unpleasant evening; Cheever was not drinking; Donleavy wasn’t drunk—he was simply righteous and acting the prima donna. I feel a little like I’m tattling on a fellow schoolboy to tell this story, but I felt so awful—not for myself but for Cheever. It was such an outrage; that Donleavy—this large, silly man with his walking stick—was snubbing John Cheever. I suppose it’s silly that I should still be angry, but George Plimpton told me that Donleavy has a subscription to The Paris Review [a complimentary subscription—Ed.]; this presents an apparent contradiction to Donleavy’s claim that he doesn’t read anyone living, but it gives me hope that he might read this. If the story embarrasses him, or makes him angry, I would say we’re even; the evening embarrassed Cheever and me, and made us angry, too.
Donleavy wrote the following response; the editors also published a riposte from Irving. Read More »
April 22, 2015 | by Elizabeth Handel
A poem by Elizabeth Handel from our Fall 1976 issue. Handel went on to become a doctor; Google suggests that the composer Thomas Janson adapted this poem for choral performance sometime in the eighties, but no recordings have turned up.
Clarence was not known for speech or grace;
His looks were those of ordinary men;
In Roman times he might have washed the grapes for others’ orgies,
For his were lowly tasks of preparation
Behind the diamond window of a swinging door.
Clarence was a chosen person that they got somewhere
To be lower than a cook, but higher than a dishboy.
He placed lobster claws, two by two,
Beside their preboiled fuselages, busted up for fancy salads,
Antennae waving carefree from the luncheon platter;
So he could count, make no mistake.
The hostess banned him from the dining room
(He had no “class”) but she couldn’t stop his fingerprints,
Which entered by the hundreds on the backs of shellfish—
And this is what he loved: to watch his works in grand procession,
Held high above all men on sacred trays.
April 6, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“April in the Berkshires,” a poem by William Matthews from our Spring 1987 issue. Matthews died in 1997. “Auden was wrong,” he said in a 1995 interview: “It’s not true that poetry makes nothing happen. It tends to work its wonders in a very small arena. It makes you more interesting to yourself, and you and me, at its best ... It has the power to perform a kind of cleansing, or rinsing of the sort for which for a long part of human history, we had only images of theological intervention to describe.”
Dogs skulk, clouds moil and froth, humans
begin to cook—butter, a blue waver of flame,
chopped onions. A styptic rain stings grit and soot
from the noon air. Here and there, like the mess
after a party, pink smudgily tinges the bushes,
but they’ll be long weeks of mud and sweaters Read More »
March 27, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From “Soap,” by Francis Ponge, in our Summer 1968 issue. Ponge, a French poet and essayist born on this day in 1899, believed that “a mind in search of ideas should first stock up on appearances.” “Soap” is an excerpt from his Le Savon.
There is so much to say about soap. Precisely everything that it tells about itself until the complete disappearance, the exhaustion of the subject. This is just the object suited to me.
Soap has much to say. May it say it with volubility, enthusiasm. When it has finished saying it, it no longer is.
Soap was made by man for his body’s use, yet it does not willingly attend him. This inert stone is nearly as hard to hold as a fish. See it slip from me and like a frog dive into the basin again … emitting also at its own expense a blue cloud of evanescence, of confusion. Read More »
March 11, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Tokyo noir.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who created a dark, noirish style of Japanese manga he called gekiga, meaning “dramatic pictures,” died last week at seventy-nine. We featured a portfolio of Tatsumi’s work in our Spring 2006 issue. “Tatsumi’s gekiga,” the editors wrote,
is distinguished by its discordant placement of flat, almost crudely sketched ordinary characters within gritty, naturalistic backgrounds. The drawings alternate between impressions of mundane daily life and images of surprising violence and sex, conveying a sense of individual alienation within the rapidly changing throng of postwar Japanese society.
[…] In tone and style, Tatsumi’s gekiga shares an obvious kinship with the “alternative” or “literary” comics that began proliferating in North America in the mid-1980s—yet it predates that work by as much as three decades. The stories from which the images in these pages were selected are all set in Tokyo in the 1960s.
[…] When asked whether he wanted to say anything to English-language readers coming to his work for the first time, he said: “I myself am a very normal person. Please do not interpret these stories as representative of the author’s personality.”
Below, in memory of Tatsumi, are a few excerpts from that portfolio. Read More »