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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Magritte Shaving

November 21, 2014 | by

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René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952, oil on canvas. Image via SFMOMA

René Magritte was born on this day in 1898. Louis Simpson’s poem “Magritte Shaving” appeared in our twenty-fifth anniversary issue in Spring 1981.

The houses look at one another,
a language of windows.
The violin stands above the collar ...
sleigh bells in a blue sky.

How calm the torso of a woman
like a naked statue.
Reclining in an alcove
with curtains, the window gives
a view of earth ... yellow fields.
She has a blue leg and a green arm,
red arm, and leg painted saffron.

The orange sphere floating in space
in front of the blue canyon
has a face like a mask
with fixed brown eyes.
Directly underneath, on the parapet,
stands a shirt with a tie
in a dark, formal suit.

He has left his shaving brush
on top of the cabinet with doors of glass
that is merging with a cloud.

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The Poets Speak

November 20, 2014 | by

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Maya Angelou backstage at the 92Y.

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. Now, 92Y and The Paris Review are making recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. You can consider them the deleted scenes to the printed interviews, or the director’s cuts, or the radio adaptations, or—let’s not dwell on it …

The latest editions to the collection are three poets: Maya Angelou, Denise Levertov, and Gary Snyder.

In this recording from 1988, Maya Angelou, who died this past May, speaks to our founding editor, George Plimpton:

I would be a liar, a hypocrite, or a fool—and I’m not any of those—to say that I don’t write for the reader. I do. But for the reader who hears, who really will work at it, going behind what I seem to say. So I write for myself and that reader who will pay the dues.

Denise Levertov died in 1997—Kenneth Rexroth called her “the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving.” Here she speaks to Deborah Digges in 1991:

Where I live in Seattle, I see a good deal more—more sky, more trees. I can see the lake. And from one upstairs window I can see a bit of Mount Rainier—when it’s out ... Who would want a mountain that was out all the time? You’d stop seeing it. It’s wonderful when it comes and goes.

And Gary Snyder, “the poet laureate of deep ecology,” talks to Eliot Weinberger circa 1992:

There’s no question that spending time with your own consciousness is instructive. You learn a lot. You can just watch what goes on in your own mind, and some of the beneficial effects are you get bored with some of your own tapes and quit playing them back to yourself.

We owe these recordings to a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, who worked in the art department at The Paris Review and volunteered as an archivist at 92Y’s Poetry Center.

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Talking Tate: A Fake Oral History

November 19, 2014 | by

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Photo: Library of Congress

There’s no Writers at Work interview with Allen Tate—who was born today in 1899—but his name seems to pop up in nearly everyone else’s. By my count, he has cameos in nineteen of our interviews; he shuffles onstage to offer an apercu or to help someone or to drink or to be carried down a flight of stairs. And then he leaves.

Tate ran in many circles, in part because his teaching allowed him to move around so much. At one point or another he crossed paths with an astonishing number of his fellow writers: Robert Penn Warren and Robert Lowell, most prominently, but also Randall Jarrell, John Gould Fletcher, John Crowe Ransom, John Berryman, and Andrew Lytle. His walk-ons in The Paris Review interviews testify to his influence not just as a poet but as a friend. If you read these mentions of him in succession, as a kind of patchwork oral history, you get a strangely gratifying secondhand sense of the man, as if someone had painted his portrait based only on a description. Let’s give it a try— Read More »

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William Carlos Williams’s “Election Day”

November 4, 2014 | by

An abandoned grade school in La Prairie Center, Illinois, used as a polling place in 1973. Photo: National Archive

Your typical polling center seldom evokes the poetic. In my neighborhood, we’re assigned a local elementary school. There are student projects lining the walls: family trees, doggerel, pictures. (“Children only!” a volunteer yelled at me when I tried to use the girls’ room—which, fair enough. But everyone in the place was over eighteen.)

Enter William Carlos Williams. His “Election Day,” from 1941, is spare and sardonic; vote before reading.

Warm sun, quiet air
an old man sits

in the doorway of
a broken house—

boards for windows
plaster falling

from between the stones
and strokes the head

of a spotted dog

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Walt Whitman, “Election Day, November, 1884”

November 4, 2014 | by

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A polling place in New York ca. 1900.

A reminder: Walt Whitman really, really liked Election Day. Nothing could quicken the man’s pulse like a good showing at the polls.

As “Election Day, November, 1884” has it, he preferred the spectacle of democracy—the “ballot-shower from East to West”—to any of our nation’s natural wonders, including, but not limited to, Niagara Falls, the Mississippi River, Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Great Lakes … you name it, Whitman thought the vote was better than it. (You’d think someone could’ve sold him on the Rockies, at least.) One can imagine a latter-day Whitman passing up a trip to the Grand Canyon and instead hunkering down at the TV, flipping anxiously from network to network as the precincts begin to report, wringing his hands. Not, mind you, that he would have any particular stake in the outcome; he’d just be along for the great democratic ride, clucking his tongue at the gerrymanderers of the world.

(If you need an antidote for all this unalloyed patriotism, try Charles Bernstein’s “On Election Day,” which contains, among many excellent lines, “The air is putrid, red, interpolating, quixotic, torpid, vulnerable, on election day.” I know which poet would get my vote.)

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest
         scene and show,
’Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor
         your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-
         loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—
         nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name— the
still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the
         quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland
         —Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia,
         California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and con-
         flict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:)
         the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
         heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.

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The Poet Bandit

November 3, 2014 | by

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Black Bart, the outlaw poet.

November 3, 1883, marked the beginning of the end for Charles Earl Bowles, aka C. E. Bolton, aka Black Bart the Poet, aka the very picture of delinquent suavity. Bowles was a legendary nineteenth-century stagecoach robber known for the poetry he left at the scenes of his heists. Over the course of nearly a decade, he pulled off some two-dozen robberies hither and yon, concentrating on Wells Fargo stages throughout Oregon and Northern California. He made off with thousands of dollars a year plus the many intangibles that come with being a criminal mastermind, and he never once fired his gun or rode a horse.

Many fragments of his poetry survive, but apparently only two verses can claim Bowles as their author with full certainty. (Understandably, the guy had a lot of copycats.) Both of these merit close exegesis. The first was found at the scene of an August 1877 stagecoach holdup:

I’ve labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

And the second verse, found at the site of Bowles’s July 25, 1878, holdup:

Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will, I’ll try it on,
My condition can’t be worse;
And if there’s money in that box
‘Tis munny in my purse.

Bowles had a pretty good reputation, as far as highwaymen go. People referred to him as a gentleman bandit, a man of sophistication. A police report described him: “A person of great endurance. Exhibited genuine wit under most trying circumstances, and was extremely proper and polite in behavior. Eschews profanity.” Read More »

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