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Knowing My Place

November 24, 2014 | by

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The title page of Knowing My Place, annotated by Paul Muldoon. Click to enlarge.

On December 2, PEN American Center presents “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” an auction of seventy-five annotated first editions at Christie’s New York, including work by Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, and Jane Smiley, among others. The proceeds will benefit PEN, a writers’ association dedicated to protecting free expression.

Paul Muldoon’s first chapbook, Knowing My Place, is one of the books up for auction, and PEN has shared some of Muldoon’s annotations with us. Knowing My Place is so hard to come by that The Paris Review’s Art of Poetry interview with him makes no mention of it; his first full collection, 1973’s New Weather, is usually considered his first book. He does hint at the circumstances of Knowing My Place’s publication, though:

INTERVIEWER

While you were at Queen’s you joined a very famous writing group, and while still an undergraduate you published your first book, New Weather. How did all of this come about? Who had you been showing your work to?

MULDOON

Ciaran Carson. Frank Ormsby. There were people associated with a particular magazine, The Honest Ulsterman. I’d started publishing there when I was a teenager. When I went to Queen’s I was welcomed by Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley into a critical society called the Group, or the Belfast Group, which was the offshoot of the London Group. And our poems were critiqued there by Heaney, Longley, Stewart Parker, and various other luminaries lurking around. So I suppose the stakes were quite high.

One of the things about being eighteen or nineteen or twenty is that one’s daunted by nothing. So on some level I thought to myself, Well, you know, I can do this. That’s why people do almost everything, whatever it might be. Not only, I can do this, but, I can also do it better than this. I have a sense, which I try to give my own students, that it’s possible to write poems that are of a high quality.

Knowing My Place was published by Ulsterman Publications, which I can only assume is affiliated with the group mentioned here. It appeared when Muldoon was only nineteen, an undergraduate, in 1971; “the year decimalisation came in the UK,” his annotation to the title page says. (The pound sterling was subdivided in one hundred pennies where previously it had comprised 240 pence.)

Here are some more of the annotated pages in Knowing My Place: Read More »

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Ray Bradbury on Your Wall, and Other News

September 26, 2014 | by

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In Ray Bradbury‘s art collection: Ray Bradbury. Photo via io9

  • Ray Bradbury’s art collection is at auction, and it’s full of science-fictional wonders: moonscapes, fabulist spacecraft, fire-belching dragons, robot dinosaurs eating robot men, and Bradbury himself, inter alia.
  • Karl Miller, the founding editor of The London Review of Books, has died at eighty-three. His former colleague Andrew O’Hagan called him “perhaps the last of the great Bloomsbury men … Of course, there are brilliant writers and editors now, but they live in a world where the squeeze on literary values and on books programs, on high culture and carefulness, is fearsome and degrading. Karl Miller worked in spite of the market, and he enriched the intellectual life of the country in a thousand ways.”
  • Rediscovering Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first six films, which are now easier to stream than ever: They’re “psychosexually nutty meta-movies that eat their own tails so lustily they make Godard’s contemporaneous work look orthodox … [They’re] tasteful affairs, gorgeously shot and structured, like his fiction, around narrative ellipses and absences, mysteries that can never be solved, enigmas that defy time and reason. They’re also jam-packed with nude actresses and erotic posturing … ”
  • A salute to Futura, the typeface that’s been to the moon (and in every Wes Anderson film): “Futura represents the rational utopia of progress, where everything not only works well, but looks good doing it … Futura was the future we dreamt of in the past, and, in part, the future we achieved.”
  • On the celebrity of the Mitford sisters: Were these “beautiful, wayward young women”—the youngest of whom died yesterday—the Kardashians of their day? “Although it’s a stretch to imagine any of the Mitford sisters making a sex tape or promoting an ice cream called Va-Va-Va-Nilla, the nature of their fame is similar. Born from a fascination with the rich and beautiful, and the ability we are granted through newspapers or internet to live vicariously through these people, to share their adventures, and be scandalized by their mistakes, the fascination with which we view the Mitfords and Kardashians is one and the same.”

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The Oldest Book in English, and Other News

July 18, 2014 | by

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The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye, the oldest printed book in English.

  • Javier Marías can think of seven reasons not to write novels, and only one reason to write them. (Fortunately, the one is pretty good.)
  • A 540-year-old book—the first to be printed in English—has sold at auction for more than a million pounds. “The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye is a version of a French book written around 1463 … The story is an epic romance which portrays the heroes of Greek mythology as chivalric figures.”
  • “I do own a pair of unusual books that I treasure … they are collections of poems, written by Howard Moss, poetry editor of The New Yorker from 1948 to 1987. They originally belonged to the poet May Swenson (1913–1989), who has been a favorite of mine since I stumbled on her “Half Sun, Half Sleep” in high school … Each is heavily underlined, in both pencil and ink—an emphatic, and ugly, green ink, seemingly more suited for some censorious schoolmistress than for Swenson, a nicely calibrated nature poet. Still, I take great pleasure in her scarring underscorings and in her occasional approving check mark or cryptic annotation.”
  • The Supreme Court has refused to hear an “emergency petition” from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s heirs, who are seeking “indefinite copyright protection” for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
  • In which the novelist Scott Cheshire, an ex–Jehovah’s Witness, visits the Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn: “I felt like throwing up, so I headed for the men’s room to pull myself together, pressed my face against the cold metal towel dispenser, and fainted.”

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