The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘remembrances’

Bill Becker, 1927–2015

September 14, 2015 | by


Becker in 1995.

We were saddened to learn that Bill Becker, a longtime friend of The Paris Review, died this weekend at eighty-eight. As today’s obituary in the New York Times explains, Bill was “a theater critic and financier who acquired Janus Films with a partner in 1965, expanded its catalog of art-house and Hollywood classics and broadened their distribution to university audiences and home viewers.” A cineaste and a shrewd businessman, he was instrumental in bringing works by Renoir, Fellini, Bergman, Antonioni, Truffaut, and dozens of other filmmakers to new American audiences, a legacy his son Peter carries on as president of the Criterion Collection.

We knew Bill as a familiar face at our annual Spring Revel, and a generous, loyal benefactor. A close friend of George Plimpton’s, he was quick to champion the writers he admired—James Salter credited him with bringing A Sport and a Pastime to Plimpton’s attention. After George died, Mr. Becker continued to support the Review under each of its new editors. We join his colleagues at Janus Films and the Criterion Collection in offering our condolences and our gratitude.

Swimming with Oliver Sacks

August 31, 2015 | by

Oliver Sacks died yesterday at eighty-two.


Oliver Sacks swimming in Rhinebeck, NY, in July 2015. Photo: Bill Hayes

I met Oliver Sacks at the Blue Mountain Center, an artist and writers residency in the Adirondacks, where we spent August of 2012. The room I was assigned had a pretty view out onto Eagle Lake, but it was tiny—there was no way I could pace in it, and I needed to pace, so I disappeared into the mountains several times a day. I walked and walked, got lost in the pouring rain and knocked on the cabin doors of strangers, hoping to be adopted, maybe. Instead I was given haphazard, passionless directions back to the colony. While I was feeling the dark of the woods pressing heavily on my shoulders, Oliver was writing to the sounds of the loons on the lake. He was seventy-nine then. Read More »

Smoking with Lucia

August 18, 2015 | by

Remembering Lucia Berlin.

Lucia Berlin in Albuquerque, 1963. Photo: Buddy Berlin/Literary Estate of Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin was not PC. And she was not New Age. She never talked to me about “recovery” or “karma.” We never spoke of the Twelve Steps. It was understood: she was sober now. No need to talk about it. Especially when she could write about it. Her stories, populated with alcoholics and addicts, are rendered with an empathy, disgust, and ruthless wit that echo the devastating circumstances of her own life. She’d moved from isolation to affluence to detox and back again, and Boulder, Colorado—inundated with massage therapists, extreme athletes, and vegans—was an unlikely place for her to end up. Yet she spent much of the last decade of her life there. First in a clapboard Victorian beneath the red rocks of Dakota Ridge; later, when illness nearly bankrupted her, in a trailer park on the outskirts of the pristine town.

News of the trailer depressed me until I managed a visit, finding her at ease amid the shabby metal homes stacked on cinder blocks. It’s likely Lucia would have felt more comfortable watching a bull be gored in a Mexico City arena or huddling among winos on a corner in Oakland than she ever felt at her first place on posh Mapleton Hill. But that was where we spent nearly all of our time together. Usually at her kitchen table. Read More »

Freddy Plimpton

February 26, 2015 | by

image2The artist and designer Freddy Medora Espy Plimpton passed away peacefully in her sleep at the Vermont Respite House on February 22, a beautiful Sunday morning. She was seventy-three.

The daughter of Willard R. Espy and Hilda Cole Espy, both writers, Freddy was born in New York City and grew up in Mt. Kisco, New York, alongside her twin sister, Mona Schreiber; her younger sisters, Joanna Espy and Cassy Espy; and her younger brother, Jefferson Espy. She graduated from Fox Lane High School in 1959, and then attended Parsons School of Design. She moved to New York in the early sixties, where she worked at Random House writing book-jacket copy and later became a photographer’s assistant. Considered one of the great beauties of the times, she married the author and editor George Ames Plimpton in 1968, with whom she later had two children, Medora Ames Plimpton and Taylor Ames Plimpton. Freddy traveled with George on the campaign trail as an integral part of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 run for the presidency and was present to witness the great tragedy at the Ambassador Hotel when Kennedy was shot and killed. Read More »

My Lost Poet

February 23, 2015 | by

Anger and tenderness in Philip Levine.

Photo: Frances Levine

In the spring of 2012, Philip Levine delivered a lecture at the Library of Congress called “My Lost Poets,” marking the end of his tenure as the eighteenth U.S. poet laureate. In the talk, which was later published in Five Points, Georgia State University’s literary journal, Levine takes us to Wayne University’s Miles Poetry Room in 1948, where, once a month, he and other aspiring poets gathered to talk shop and critique one another’s work. The group comprised four World War II vets and a number of Wayne University students, including a young man who would eventually be drafted to the Korean War, a narcissistic Hart Crane wannabe, a rural Southern Baptist woman from Kentucky, and a young black man obsessed with Walt Whitman. In the wake of the war, Levine explained, the group found urgency and vitality in poetry, regardless of their respective talents. This poetic camaraderie was short-lived, though. The Hart Crane fanboy died in a car wreck at an early age; the Southern Baptist disappeared into the jungles of Latin America; the Whitman worshiper saw his idealism dissolve in the face of fifties-era politics and Jim Crow laws. Still, it was these people, along with the war poets he discovered during that time, who helped shape Levine’s own poetic voice.

That voice, when he finally found it, decried the injustices of our society, of working-class life in particular, lending Levine’s experience a “value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own.” Unlike his great hero, Walt Whitman, Levine doesn’t seem to stand over us, exalting and exalted. Instead, he’s always among the multitude bearing witness to the historical moment. He looks out every so often to address his reader with a plural or a singular you that invites us to share his vision, expanding our own. His poems are full of unrealized dreams, with auxiliary verbs—would, could, should—signaling inevitable disappointments or a foreboding sense of what’s to come. This dissonance between one’s idealistic fantasies and reality conjure a tremendous anger in his work, evident especially in his earlier poems about factory life in Detroit. Read More »

Philip Levine, 1928–2015

February 15, 2015 | by

We were saddened to learn that Philip Levine died yesterday at eighty-seven. The U.S. poet laureate from 2011 to 2012, he composed poems that were, as Margalit Fox writes in the New York Times, “vibrantly, angrily, and often painfully alive with the sound, smell, and sinew of heavy manual labor.”

Levine grew up in industrial Detroit during the Depression; the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he worked factory jobs for Cadillac and for Chevrolet. “You could recite poems aloud in there,” he told The Paris Review in 1988 of his time on the assembly line. “The noise was so stupendous. Some people singing, some people talking to themselves, a lot of communication going on with nothing, no one to hear.”

His time in those jobs would later inform one of his most enduring poems, “They Feed They Lion,” from the late sixties—you can hear him read it above. Levine explained the title in a 1999 interview with The Atlantic: Read More »