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Berryman and Yeats Light Up

October 24, 2014 | by

Tomorrow marks the centenary of John Berryman’s birth.

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Craven_a_virginia_s_20_h_white_red_with_a_cat_jamaicaI went in and asked for Mr. Yeats. Very much like asking, “Is Mr. Ben Jonson here?” And he came down. He was much taller than I expected, and haggard. Big, though, big head, rather wonderful looking in a sort of a blunt, patrician kind of way, but there was something shrunken also. He told me he was just recovering from an illness. He was very courteous, and we went in to tea. At a certain point, I had a cigarette, and I asked him if he would like one. To my great surprise he said yes. So I gave him a Craven “A” and then lit it for him, and I thought, Immortality is mine! From now on it's just a question of reaping the fruits of my effort. He did most of the talking. I asked him a few questions. He did not ask me any questions about myself, although he was extremely courteous and very kind. At one point he said, “I have reached the age when my daughter can beat me at croquet,” and I thought, Hurrah, he's human! I made notes on the interview afterward, which I have probably lost. One comment in particular I remember. He said, “I never revise now”—you know how much he revised his stuff—“but in the interests of a more passionate syntax.” Now that struck me as a very good remark. I have no idea what it meant and still don't know, but the longer I think about it, the better I like it. He recommended various books to me by his friend, the liar, Gogarty, and I forget who else. The main thing was just the presence and existence of my hero.

—John Berryman, The Art of Poetry No. 16, 1972

 

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An ad for Berryman‘s books from our Winter 1972 issue, in which his Art of Poetry interview appeared.

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[REDACTED], and Other News

September 23, 2014 | by

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The censors of the Russian Empire. “Examination of correspondence from the theater of war by military censors,” an illustration from the journal Priroda i liudi, May 28, 1915.

  • What not to do during Banned Books Week: ban seven books. After a tense board meeting, a high school in Highland Park, Texas, has demanded its students stop reading The Art of Racing in the RainThe Working Poor: Invisible in America, SiddharthaThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianAn Abundance of KatherinesThe Glass Castle: A Memoir, and Song of Solomon. “Parents and grandparents brought books flagged with sticky notes. They read excerpts of sex scenes, references to homosexuality, a description of a girl’s abduction, and a passage that criticized capitalism.” (Most of which you can find in a given issue of The Paris Review—lock up your daughters.)
  • Relatedly: What is censorship? “To dismiss censorship as crude repression by ignorant bureaucrats is to get it wrong. Although it varied enormously, it usually was a complex process that required talent and training and that extended deep into the social order. It also could be positive. The approbations of the French censors testified to the excellence of the books deemed worthy of a royal privilege. They often resemble promotional blurbs on the back of the dust jackets on books today.”
  • Things from which invisible ink has been made, through the ages: “The milk of figs, cows and nuts; lemon juice, orange juice and onion juice; saliva, urine, blood, vinegar, aspirin, and laxatives.” Oh, and a dormouse’s corpse … oh, and the display codes embedded in porn images …
  • Talking to Emmanuel Carrère—“the most important French writer you’ve never heard of,” unless you’ve read the Art of Nonfiction No. 5—about his new book Limonov, which comes out next month: “In the manner of Truman Capote … Carrère has waited, with the patience of a deer hunter, for the true story that would not only illuminate aspects of his own life, but also exemplify the puzzle of the post–cold war west.”
  • “The internet gives us everything that writing does not: it gives us what we dream about when sitting alone at our desks: contact with our tribe and the sense that we’re in a community … The internet reminds me of smoking—which I gave up almost twenty-seven years ago—but whenever someone talked about cancer or heart disease it made me want to light up.”

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Dear Don Draper, It’s a Wonderful Life

March 28, 2012 | by

Dear Don Draper,

Birthday greetings from the year 2012! Adam Wilson here, writing to tell you that things will be okay!

I know life looks bleak right now, Don. You just turned forty. You’re feeling it. Your frown lines tell the tale, your smoke-seasoned cheek skin, the whiskey jaundice blooming in your beautiful eyes. The way your manly body slumps and crumples, finally flaccid after decades of tumescence.

It’s 1966 and everything’s orange and yellow, plush and furry, groovy, heady, already psychedelically aglow. At the end of last season you were smiling like a lobotomized monkey, gaga over Megan the secretarial sex machine, offering love and financial security in exchange for a peek at her abs.

Now you’ve got the spoils of that horny dream and it’s not a pretty sight: an open plan apartment accented by white rugs and cream-colored decorative pillows; a wife whose sexual liberation extends outside your bedroom and into the public salon where she’ll embarrass you in front of your coworkers, strutting her silky stuff while a band of blond surf bros play anesthetized hippie pop; daughter Sally quickly turning Lolita; your son Bobby all but unrecognizable from last year (it’s not your fault—they changed the actor); baby Gene with his creepy, beady eyes; plus the possibility of even more unwanted children! Read More »

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Campy Fiction; Smoking Strictures

March 9, 2012 | by

Watching a marathon of Twin Peaks has gotten me thinking about camp. There are movies and television shows that we delight in, and discuss seriously, though the content may not be “serious.” What can be said about campy contemporary fiction? Please give me a list of fabulous, outlandish books, preferably with a narrator who will repulse and delight me all at once. Something bad, but well-written.

Delight may not be the operative word, but David Vann’s new novel, Dirt, is outlandish, repulsive, well-written, and utterly over the top. (In one climactic scene, the teenage hero imprisons his mother in a toolshed after she threatens to have him arrested for the statutory rape of his cousin.) True to its title, the book is down and dirty. I am not sure whether the camp is intentional—but then I often suspect that many of the best “camp” artists, as for instance Lynch and Almodóvar, do mean it. Their sincerity is their power.

If you’re looking for high camp—without the Sturm und Drang—it doesn’t get campier than James McCourt’s 1971 send-up of the opera world, Mawdrew Czgowchwz (pronounced “Mardu Gorgeous”). And if soap opera’s more your speed, try Cyra McFadden’s 1977 The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County.

Dear Lorin,

I've recently moved to Manhattan only to learn that I am actually a ghost—that I am, apparently, an apparition. Needless to say, this discovery has been rather disconcerting, but my chief worry is that the recent strictures regarding smoke in apartments and Central Park will cause me rapidly to be evicted from my apartment, and possibly excommunicated from the city outright. I have it from trusted sources that you are at once smoking, wispy, and nebulous—indeed, altostatus cumulus—and yet you seem to face little threat from the law. Lorin, my friend, how do you do it?

Spiritedly,
Spook

Dear Spook,

My secret is I don't smoke very much. It's bad for you! It's probably even bad for ghosts ...

To the wise members of The Paris Review,

The only poem I have ever memorized was for Spanish class in ninth grade. It is time to add to the repertoire, but which poem do I choose? I imagine that it would be a comfort—something inspiring about living, loving, the natural ups and downs of being human. Perhaps something about choices, or appreciation. Not too long or too short. Something to share when the moment is right, or something to keep to myself, to repeat in a chant-like form on long runs through the woods. I maintain full confidence in your advice.

Sincerely,
Julia

Dear Julia,

Once my friend Cary and I had a poem-memorizing contest. He memorized poems by Richard Hugo. I memorized poems by Keats. Each poem had to be longer than fourteen lines, and each of us had to pay the other a dollar for every line we muffed. My favorite of the poems I learned is the “Ode on Melancholy,” which I think may fit the bill. At least, I go around repeating it to myself in low moments, and it seems to do the trick. (Note that the word globed should be pronounced with two syllables.) Read More »

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