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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Fresh Hell

August 22, 2014 | by

dorothy-parker-poet

Dorothy Parker

If you wish to celebrate Dorothy Parker’s birthday with a small gift to yourself, you have many options. An Etsy search of the writer’s name will give you letterpress prints and pillows and pins; a locket; earrings, several flasks; a bracelet; a range of portraits, including a cat in a cloche; a sampler; and a choice of two dolls. And the tote bags! Ah, the tote bags. Need I even mention the tote bags? I am not immune; yesterday, I treated myself to a Dorothy Parker cocktail, made with Dorothy Parker gin. At the Algonquin, no less. (There is also a certain charm to “what fresh hell” spelled out in Morse Code.)

Dorothy Parker’s Art of Fiction interview, from 1956, has always been among my favorites. She has no interest in glamorizing her reputation. She has scant regard for her much-vaunted wit. From the interview’s introduction: “Readers of this interview ... will find that Mrs. Parker had only contempt for the eager reception accorded her wit.” “Why, it got so bad,” she had said bitterly, “that they began to laugh before I opened my mouth.” I can’t think of an interview more honest, or more generous. She refuses to call herself a serious writer, saying:

There’s a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words. I didn’t mind so much when they were good, but for a long time anything that was called a crack was attributed to me—and then they got the shaggy dogs.

And on the vaunted Round Table: “I wasn’t there very often—it cost too much. Others went. Kaufman was there. I guess he was sort of funny.”

Say what she will, no one can take away from the body of her quotables—or, for that matter, an easy cultural shorthand that reduces her to bons mots. But for my money, there’s no quote that sticks with you quite so much as the final lines of that interview:

It’s not the tragedies that kill us, it’s the messes. I can’t stand messes. I’m not being a smartcracker. You know I’m not when you meet me—don’t you, honey?

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Deborah S. Pease, 1943–2014

August 20, 2014 | by

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A detail of the cover of The Paris Review’s Summer 1977 issue, which marked Deborah Pease’s first appearance in the magazine. Cover painting by William Copley, “Untitled,” 1977.

The Paris Review was saddened to learn that Deborah S. Pease—a poet, our former publisher, and a longtime supporter of the magazine—died in Boston earlier this week. She was seventy.

Pease was The Paris Review’s publisher from 1982 to 1992. She was a generous benefactor: in addition to her work with the Review, she supported Poets House and the Poetry Society of America, and she went on to help found A Public Space, whose editors write, “For her one of the truest ways to value art was to share it.”

An accomplished poet, Pease found a home for her work in the Review as early as 1977, and she returned to these pages often over the next decades; her work could be found in The New Yorker, AGNI, and Parnassus, among others, and in 1999 collected her poems in Another Ghost in the Doorway. She was precocious, too—a short story, “Doubt,” appeared in The New Yorker when she was only twenty-three, and her novel, Real Life, came not long afterward, in 1971.

Below is her poem “Self-Portrait in Iceland,” published in our Summer 2010 issue. Read More »

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Poetry in Motion

August 4, 2014 | by

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The Brooklyn Bridge in 1892.

Yesterday, I decided to walk home across the Brooklyn Bridge. With this in mind, I had downloaded a fine recording of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” before setting off, and planned to commune with Whitman, or whatever, as I marched, marveling at the ceaseless roll of existence and the beauty of the language and, if I felt like it, crying a little. There was absolutely no question in my mind that this was a fantastic idea.

FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.

Which was all very well, except that I’d forgotten that in fine weather the pedestrian thruway is so crowded that it’s almost impassable. People like to stop and take pictures—of themselves, or with others, or by others—and you can hardly blame them for it. Not that there’s anything wrong with visiting the Brooklyn Bridge! On the contrary! It’s beautiful, it’s historic, it’s free, and walking the mile-plus span is good exercise! But it gets in the way of the idyll, a little. Undeterred, I put in my earbuds and started walking. Read More »

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On the Slaughter

July 31, 2014 | by

A political poem’s ironic new life.

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Bialik at around age thirty.

ON THE SLAUGHTER

Heaven—have mercy.
If you hold a God
(to whom there’s a path
that I haven’t found), pray for me.
My heart has died.
There is no prayer on my lips.
My hope and strength are gone.
How long? How much longer?

Executioner, here’s my neck:
Slaughter! You’ve got the ax and the arm.
The world to me is a butcher-block—
we, whose numbers are small
it’s open season on our blood:
Crack a skull—let the blood
of infant and elder spurt on your chest,
and let it remain there forever, and ever.

If there’s justice—let it come now!
But if it should come after I’ve been
blotted out beneath the sky,
let its throne be cast down.
Let the heavens rot in evil everlasting,
and you, with your cruelty,
go in your iniquity
and live and bathe in your blood.

And cursed be he who cries out: Revenge!
Vengeance like this, for the blood of a child,
Satan has yet to devise.
Let the blood fill the abyss!
Let it pierce the blackest depths
and devour the darkness
and eat away and reach
the rotting foundations of the earth.

Political poems lead strange lives—they often wither on the vines of the events they’re tied to. Old news gives way to new, and the whole undertaking starts to seem, well, an expense of spirit in a waste of shame. For many and maybe most American readers, “poetry and politics just don’t mix.”

But sometimes they do. Quite violently.

On June 12, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped while hitchhiking home together from their West Bank yeshivas. They were murdered—most likely within hours of being taken—and, eighteen days later, after an extensive search, their bodies were discovered under some rocks in a field near Hebron. Israel mourned, and raged. Emerging from a cabinet meeting convened just after the corpses were found, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences to the families and quoted the great modernist Hebrew poet Hayim Nahman Bialik: “Vengeance … for the blood of a small child, / Satan has not yet created.” He went on in his own words: “Hamas is responsible—and Hamas will pay.” For good measure, the Prime Minister’s office tweeted the lines as well.

As anyone who hasn’t lived atop a column in the Congo for the past seven weeks knows, a series of violent, retaliatory acts followed. Israel carried out mass arrests on the West Bank, killing six in the process; a Palestinian teenager was beaten and burned alive by a group of Jews; throngs of Palestinians destroyed tracks and stations on the Jerusalem light-rail line; Jewish gangs shouting “Death to the Arabs!” rampaged through Jerusalem in search of victims—and found them; some thirty-five thousand Facebook users “liked” a page called “The People of Israel Demand Revenge”; Hamas fired rockets by the dozen into Israel from Gaza; Hamas officials warned that “the gates of hell” would open if Israel attacked in retaliation for the killings or the shelling. Read More »

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She Jazzes That Dazzling Verse

July 28, 2014 | by

Ansel Elkins YUP

Courtesy of Yale University Press

Congratulations to Ansel Elkins, our poet-in-residence at the Standard, East Village, who’s featured in The New Yorker this week. (Complete with a terrific caricature by Tom Bachtell.) Elkins, who recently finished her residency, speaks to Andrew Marantz in the Talk of the Town section, discussing her time at the Standard, her unique position on the height spectrum (“between Lolita and Lil’ Kim”), and her persistent yearning for HoJo ice machines.

Elkins spent her days indoors, napping and listening to Hank Williams and revising her poems with colored pens … Most nights, she went out for three-dollar tacos on Second Avenue and walked back slowly, gazing up at the gargoyles on East Sixth Street. “This late-night walking is the one thing about the city that’s most saturated my work,” she said, mentioning a new poem, an ode to Mae West, that she began writing here. (“Singing in two languages— / English and body; / She jazzes that dazzling verse.”)

Read the whole piece here.

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The Vale of Soul-Making

July 25, 2014 | by

How Keats coped with fever.

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Tuberculosis seemed to pursue Keats his whole life.

In 1821, three months after he learned of Keats’s death, Percy Shelley wrote Adonaïs: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, in which he described the poet as a delicate, fragile young flower of a man:

Oh gentle child, beautiful as thou wert,
Why didst thou leave the trodden paths of men
Too soon, and with weak hands though mighty heart
Dare the unpastured dragon in his den?

That dragon was a cruel critic who had mocked Keats’s literary ambitions—John Gibson Lockhart, who, writing under the pseudonym Z, had scolded Keats as if he were a child, insisting in a review of Endymion that “it is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop, Mr John, back to the ‘plasters, pills, and ointment boxes.’ ” Lockhart had classed Keats among the Cockney School of politics, versification, and morality, known—at least by readers of Blackwood’s Magazine—for its “exquisitely bad taste” and “vulgar modes of thinking.” In Shelley’s formulation, it was this bad review that sent Keats to an early grave, and gazing back through history, one begins to accept this two-part narrative of Keats’s legacy. The fallen poet had lived a life of abstractions—he was not only an aesthete, but the aesthete—and he had been, as Byron quipped, “snuffed out by an article,” too beautiful and frail for this harsh world.

But Keats was immersed in the realities of life; his poetry and letters reveal an allegiance to radical politics as well as a concern with economic and scientific issues. Far from childlike and apolitical, he’s now thought of as having been “dangerous … a poet who embodied and gave voice to the anxieties and insecurities of his times … a poet whom the establishment would be obliged to silence,” as the scholar Nicholas Roe puts it. We often overlook, for instance, that Keats spent six years studying medicine, successfully earning a license to practice in London from the Society of Apothecaries—hence Lockhart’s insult about the “plasters, pills, and ointment boxes.” To think that he was “snuffed out by an article” trivializes the intense pain he experienced as his lungs were slowly consumed by tuberculosis, robbing him of his work, his love, and his life at the age of twenty-five.

The myth of the frail genius is attractive, even to contemporary readers, because of its quintessential Romanticism. But the truth is that Keats’s writings—especially when they seem fanciful or escapist—are grounded in real-world concerns. And nowhere is this more evident than in the letters and poems of his that deal with feverish suffering. Read More »

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