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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Burton’

Material Objects

October 22, 2014 | by

Lessons from Rare Book School.

Edward Collier, Trompe l'Oeil of Newspapers, Letters and Writing Implements on a Wooden Board, 1699.

Four stories underneath the stately Georgian campus of the University of Virginia, I was with a group of rare-book experts scrutinizing a five-hundred-year-old Italian woodcut of two chubby infants. They framed a capital letter L. One, with a look of insouciant concentration, was thrusting his butt over the downslope of the L to defecate on it.

“The woodcut accompanies Andreas Vesalius’s discourse on the muscles of excretion,” Roger Gaskell, a rare-book dealer based in Cambridgeshire, told the group. It turns out that Vesalius, the Renaissance physician remembered today as the father of modern anatomy, had an intensely strained relationship with his publishers. “This initial letter differs from the others in the book—despite the fact that the printing house had a perfectly good L already cut,” Gaskell said. “So I rather suspect this shitting putti was a message to his publisher.”

Over a coffee break, the members of Gaskell’s seminar mingled with three others led by such luminaries as Mark Dimunation, the chief of the rare-book division at the Library of Congress. They were gathered in a warren of windowless basement rooms for an annual rite of passage in the world of antiquarian texts: Rare Book School. Read More »

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In Which Richard Burton Discusses Poetry

October 16, 2012 | by

Friday, October 20, Capo Caccia

On Sunday morning I read poetry at the Union with Wystan Auden. He read a great deal of his own poetry including his poems to Coghill and MacNeice. Both very fine conversation pieces I thought but read in that peculiar sing-song tonelessness colourless way that most poets have. I remember Yeats and Eliot and MacLeish, who read their most evocative poems with such monotony as to stun the brain. Only Dylan could read his own stuff. Auden has a remarkable face and an equally remarkable intelligence but I fancy, though his poetry like all true poetry is all embracingly and astringently universal, his private conceit is monumental. The standing ovation I got with the ‘Boast of Dai’ of D. Jones In Parenthesis left a look on his seamed face, riven with a ghastly smile, that was compact of surprise, malice and envy. Afterwards he said to me ‘How can you, where did you, how did you learn to speak with a Cockney accent?’ In the whole piece of some 300 lines only about 5 are in Cockney. He is not a nice man but then only one poet have I ever met was—Archie Macleish. Dylan was uncomfortable unless he was semi-drunk and ‘on.’ MacNeice was no longer a poet when I got to know him and was permanently drunk. Eliot was clerically cut with a vengeance. The only nice poets I’ve ever met were bad poets and a bad poet is not a poet at all—ergo I’ve never met a nice poet. That may include Macleish. For instance R. S. Thomas is a true minor poet but I’d rather share my journey to the other life with somebody more congenial. I think the last tight smile that he allowed to grimace his features was at the age of six when he realized with delight that death was inevitable. He has consigned his wife to hell for a long time. She will recognize it when she goes there.

From The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams, Yale University Press, 2012. Copyright © 2012 Swansea University.

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Taylor’s Multitudes

December 15, 2011 | by

Silvano and I met about ten years ago through mutual friends. I don’t remember the exact shirt he was wearing at the time, but I know it had bright colors and elaborate embroidery. (Later, I learned it came from Alpana Bawa.) Also, he was wearing one dangling, bauble-y earring. Possibly it included a feather. This was at a party where most people worked in publishing, which is to say, he stood apart.

Other details I have filed away about Silvano include that in the house he shares with his husband, Craig, there is a shrine to Anna Magnani and a poster from his 1977 campaign for supervisor of Board 5 in San Francisco. In the poster, he wears a one-shouldered top and tights and is beaming, his long arms flung skyward, a look inspired by a Patti Labelle album cover. He was running as the “dada alternative” to Harvey Milk. Also, in Robert Gluck’s novel Jack the Modernist, the narrator goes out to a performance piece in which Silvano appears as “Madame Chiang-Ch'ing.” More recently he got his associate's degree in accessories at FIT.

I knew all this about Silvano, but I didn’t have any idea how much Elizabeth Taylor meant to him. Not even when I met him at his home Sunday morning and he came to the door wearing a purple felt fedora, an iridescent purple mandarin-collared jacket, and purple suede boots. We were on our way to a preview of the Elizabeth Taylor collection being auctioned off this week. Read More »

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To Bricktop, on Her Belated Birthday

August 15, 2011 | by

Photograph by Jack Robinson. Courtesy The Jack Robinson Archive.

Whenever she was asked about her start in the world, the legendary saloonkeeper Bricktop—born Ada Smith—replied:

On the fourteenth day of August 1894, in the little town of Alderson, West-by-God-Virginia, the doctor said, “Another little split-tail,” and on that day Bricktop was born.

T. S. Eliot later added, “…and on that day Bricktop was born. And to her thorn, she gave a rose.”

Bricktop is a not a familiar name to most people today, though the crumbs of her extraordinary life are indispensable to the telling of a certain moment in the history of Americans in Paris and café society everywhere. Woody Allen’s latest movie, Midnight in Paris, could hardly recall the days of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, or the Fitzgeralds without Zelda crying, “Let’s go to Bricktop’s!”

Ada Smith, like many African Americans of her day, was born poor. Her mother, who ran a boarding house, had a passion for cleanliness and a self-confessed trigger-fast Irish temper. Around 1900, the family moved from Virginia to the South Side of Chicago, where Ada got her first taste of the theater. She hung around the stage doors of Chicago’s great vaudeville houses, waiting for the likes of Sophie Tucker, a belting singer known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” to emerge. But it was the back rooms of saloons, with their sawdust-covered floors, that captured her imagination. Read More »

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