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Posts Tagged ‘poems’

“I Will Unveil Myself”: An Interview with Czeslaw Milosz

June 30, 2015 | by

 

At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

Because our new Summer issue has a focus on translation, we’ve dug up two interviews with translators to present this week. The first is with the poet Czesław Miłosz—it’s his birthday today, coincidentally—whose translations into Polish include  works by Baudelaire, Eliot, Milton, Shakespeare, Whitman, and Simone Weil. Read More »

I Have Wasted My Life

June 23, 2015 | by

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Niels Frederik Schiøttz-Jensen, An Afternoon’s Rest, 1885

The narrator of “Yancey,” Ann Beattie’s story in our new Summer issue, is an aging poet; she tells of her encounter with an IRS agent who shows up to audit her. Toward the end, she recites a poem to him—James Wright’s famous “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”:

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,

Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses

Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

As it turns out, that poem first appeared in The Paris Review; it was published some fifty-four years ago alongside his “How My Fever Left” in our Summer-Fall 1961 issue. Since then, that last line has inspired reams of analysis and debate—is it a lament? Is it a joke, a kind of boast? Did Wright intend to undercut or to bolster his pastoral scene with it? Could it be a winking response to Rilke, whose “Archaic Torso of Apollo” concludes with the imperative “You must change your life”? Beattie’s IRS agent isn’t sure what to make of it: Read More »

Say Your Prayers

June 18, 2015 | by

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Christopher Robin Milne with Winnie the Pooh in 1928.

Christopher Robin Milne’s first two memoirs, The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees, are in the canon of great ambivalence books. Perhaps you’ve read that Christopher Robin, as A. A. Milne’s son and muse, grew to loathe his fame and the hordes of Pooh fanatics who stalked him even as an adult. (Milne fils supported himself as a successful bookseller; all the royalties went into a trust fund for his disabled daughter.) “It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders,” he wrote, “that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son.”

But the books don’t read as an angry indictment so much as an attempt to grapple with his condition. Yes, there’s some record straightening—but the author’s sense of frank exploration is sympathetic, and it feels honest. Although he’d ultimately detach from his remote parents, his feelings are complex, and he describes his experiences with sensitivity and nuance. Milne died in 1996; in later life, he’d even come to embrace his father’s legacy, gamely showing up at the occasional official event coming to appreciate the love of nature bestowed by his Sussex childhood. Read More »

All the Fun of Poetry Without All Those Poems, and Other News

June 16, 2015 | by

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Kenyon Cox, An Eclogue, 1889.

  • Ben Lerner stares into the mire of futility and falsehood that is poetry: “What if we dislike or despise or hate poems because they are—every single one of them—failures? … The fatal problem with poetry: poems. This helps explain why poets themselves celebrate poets who renounce writing.”
  • While we’re on poets and failure—in the midthirties, W. H. Auden entered into an auspicious if unlikely collaboration with Benjamin Britten. Here’s how that went: “Britten wrote his first opera, and I my first libretto, on the subject of an American folk hero, Paul Bunyan. The result, I’m sorry to say, was a failure, for which I was entirely to blame, since, at the time, I knew nothing whatever about opera or what is required of a librettist. In consequence some very lovely music of Britten’s went down the drain, and I must now belatedly make my apologies to my old friend while wishing him a very happy birthday.”
  • Sixty years on, J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man “remains a hilarious and upsetting portrait of postwar Ireland and the American GIs who showed up there, with the prerogative and the wherewithal to carouse and copulate on a level that the locals did not appreciate.” And what of its author? He remains … obstreperous, a new interview suggests. “When I return to the kitchen, I see that Donleavy has put on a funny pink bucket hat. He tells me he never allowed any changes to his manuscripts, nor is he particularly inviting of second readers or the like.”
  • What’s your very favorite thing? If you answered “art fairs,” congratulations—you can’t throw a rock without hitting one. (Also, you are probably very wealthy.) You could be at an art fair right now, in fact, in beautiful Switzerland, instead of reading this. Art Basel “is one of at least 180 international art fairs held each year, up from only fifty-five in 2000 … The art calendar is so packed with them that there is increasing talk of ‘fair fatigue’—visitor and exhibitor saturation.”
  • Airports are such liminal spaces—and are so widely loathed—that we risk losing them to history. Who is documenting the airports? Who will remember them? Andrea Bruce is one of twenty photographers who took pictures of the airports she passed through in April. “Each time she let security scan her ISO 400 film with x-rays. Though the TSA claims that airport x-rays do not affect film of that speed in the United States, the repeated exposures to radiation left some of Bruce’s photographs with what she describes as ‘a faint, ghostly wave.’ ”

Love Is a Bohemian

June 11, 2015 | by

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Vivien and Barney in 1900.

From “Renée Vivien,” an essay by Natalie Clifford Barney anthologized in A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney. Vivien, a poet who was born on this day in 1877, began an intense affair with Barney in 1899; in 1901, they broke up, and Barney began to devote herself to winning Vivien’s affections again. Eventually they reunited and traveled together to Lesbos, but not without great effort on Barney’s part. “How could I win her back?” she writes: “Should I bang on her closed door? Dare to send her a more direct poem, reveal to her my suffering, how much I was suffering? Swallow my pride and admit that I loved her still, since I could not help but be faithful to her?” She decided to write a sonnet—“My tears are a slow poison I will drink/Instead of gleaning from some trivial affair/A barren cure, the final numbness,” are among its lines.

But how to get this sonnet to her without anyone else reading it? I asked my friend, Emma Calvé—who was also suffering from a romantic desertion … to lend me her irresistible voice. That night, disguised as street singers, she sang under Renée Vivien’s French windows: “I have lost Eurydice, there is no pain like mine,” while I pretended to pick up coins thrown to us from the other floors. At last René opened her French window, the better to hear that astounding voice singing the famous aria. “Love is a Bohemian whom no law binds.” The moment had arrived. I threw my poem, attached to a bouquet of blowers, over the garden fence so that she would see it and pick it up. But passers-by were beginning to crowd around us and we had to slip away before the singer, recognized even in the shows by her voice, was swamped with applause. Read More »

A Surly Clang

June 1, 2015 | by

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Laurits Andersen Ring, In the Month of June, 1899.

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten ...
―James Russell Lowell

Even people who don’t know poetry—and who certainly don’t know much about James Russell Lowell—have often heard the June line from “The Vision of Sir Launfal.” This is probably a bit of oral tradition at work; pick up any school primer from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and you’re likely to find an excerpt from the poem. Generations of American schoolkids probably recited it and, in the way of recitations, remembered it instead of much more important things all their lives. (“What is so rare as a day in June,” my grandfather would sometimes say, in June. That was all he remembered—that and “hie me away to a woodland scene,” which I’ve never managed to place. But in those moments, it was 1920s Arkansas.)

Lowell—Boston Brahmin, poet, satirist, Atlantic editor, abolitionist, and diplomat—was a major cultural figure in intellectual circles of his day. And a popular writer, too. Like the other Fireside Poets (Whittier, Longfellow, Bryant, and Holmes) his themes were frequently romantic or heroic, and “The Vision of Sir Launfal” is both. Here’s how Lowell describes it in the poem’s 1848 preface: Read More »