October 24, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Tomorrow marks the centenary of John Berryman’s birth.
I went in and asked for Mr. Yeats. Very much like asking, “Is Mr. Ben Jonson here?” And he came down. He was much taller than I expected, and haggard. Big, though, big head, rather wonderful looking in a sort of a blunt, patrician kind of way, but there was something shrunken also. He told me he was just recovering from an illness. He was very courteous, and we went in to tea. At a certain point, I had a cigarette, and I asked him if he would like one. To my great surprise he said yes. So I gave him a Craven “A” and then lit it for him, and I thought, Immortality is mine! From now on it's just a question of reaping the fruits of my effort. He did most of the talking. I asked him a few questions. He did not ask me any questions about myself, although he was extremely courteous and very kind. At one point he said, “I have reached the age when my daughter can beat me at croquet,” and I thought, Hurrah, he's human! I made notes on the interview afterward, which I have probably lost. One comment in particular I remember. He said, “I never revise now”—you know how much he revised his stuff—“but in the interests of a more passionate syntax.” Now that struck me as a very good remark. I have no idea what it meant and still don't know, but the longer I think about it, the better I like it. He recommended various books to me by his friend, the liar, Gogarty, and I forget who else. The main thing was just the presence and existence of my hero.
—John Berryman, The Art of Poetry No. 16, 1972
August 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
What did Śmieja say about me in the discussion in defense of my diary? “His brutality, egocentrism, and arrogance toward writers of lesser stature may be distressing … ”
But no! He misinterprets me! With me there are no “writers of lesser stature.” This again is a collective viewpoint. It is true that I sometimes demolish, with gusto, in jest, by attacking, writers, but only those who prance around in their epaulets. I have never really taken part in a single duel while clad in my stripes and epaulets; I have never written a single word dressed in anything but my birthday suit.
—Witold Gombrowicz, 1961, Diary
Witold Gombrowicz was born 110 years ago today. In 2012, the Daily published five excerpts from Gombrowicz’s Diary, widely considered his masterpiece. You can read them here.
May 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Alan Hollinghurst is sixty today.
I was rather a goody-goody as a child. I hated the idea of being in the wrong and dreaded being punished. Everyone at my prep school was being beaten by the headmaster with the back of a hairbrush round the clock, and I was keen to avoid that. It was only later on I discovered that you could be naughty and get away with it.
What were you reading at that age?
There was a bizarre library at the school that had a lot of old-fashioned children’s adventure books by G. A. Henty and R. M. Ballantyne. I got very involved with Rider Haggard—I still have the tie-in paperback for the film of She with a picture of Ursula Andress on the front, “the most beautiful woman in the world.” I also became an avid collector of a series called The Pan Book of Horror Stories, edited by Herbert Van Thal. I still have these as well, and the gruesome covers take me back—the whole atmosphere of the school suddenly closes in on me when I look at them.
In my school reports, one of the masters was worried about this “macabre reading,” but by the following year, I had discovered Tolkien, with whom I became totally obsessed. I read The Lord of the Rings over and over. I made charts of the kings of Rohan and so on. I used to write letters to my friends in dwarfish runes. The English master took a dim view of this and made me read Barchester Towers as an antidote, when all I wanted to do was to get back to Bilbo Baggins’s eleventy-first birthday party for the seventh time. I’ve never been able to read Trollope since.
—Alan Hollinghurst, the Art of Fiction No. 214
March 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Robert Frost was born on this day in 1874.
Among other things, what [Ezra] Pound did was show me bohemia.
Was there much bohemia to see at that time?
More than I had ever seen. I’d never had any. He’d take me to restaurants and things. Showed me jujitsu in a restaurant. Threw me over his head.
Did he do that?
Wasn’t ready for him at all. I was just as strong as he was. He said, “I’ll show you, I’ll show you. Stand up.” So I stood up, gave him my hand. He grabbed my wrist, tipped over backwards and threw me over his head.
How did you like that?
Oh, it was all right.
—Robert Frost, the Art of Poetry No. 2, 1960
March 25, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Flannery O’Connor was born today in 1925.
Flannery O’Connor was probably the biggest influence in my mature writing life. I didn’t discover her until I was at Arkansas, and I didn’t read her until I was around twenty-five, twenty-six. She was so powerful, she just knocked me down. I still read Flannery and teach her.
What was it that got you? Was there something specific?
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and then I read everything.
I thought the author was a guy. I thought it was a guy for three years until someone clued me in very quietly at Arkansas. “It’s a woman, Barry.” Her work is so mean. The women are treated so harshly. The misogyny and religion. It was so foreign and Southern to me. She certainly was amazing.
—Barry Hannah, the Art of Fiction No. 184, 2004
March 13, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
You know, the strange thing about imagery is that a great deal of it is subconscious, and sometimes it appears in a poem, and nobody knows wherefrom this emerged. But it is rooted, I am certain, in the poet’s subconscious life, often of his childhood, and that’s why I think it is decisive for a poet: the childhood that he has lived … When I was a child I discovered somewhere in a corner of a sort of bungalow we had in my grandmother’s garden—at the place where we used to spend our summers—I discovered a compass from a ship which, as I learned afterwards, belonged to my grandfather. And that strange instrument—I think I destroyed it in the end by examining and re-examining it, taking it apart and putting it back together and then taking it apart again—became something mythical for me.
—George Seferis, the Art of Poetry No. 13