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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Spender’

Dialogues: An Interview with Aaron Stern and Jordan Sullivan

June 22, 2016 | by

Rebecca Norris Webb, Blackbirds, color photographs. From the series “My Dakota,” 2005–2011.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Blackbirds, 2006, color photograph. From the series “My Dakota,” 2005–2011.

A few weeks before the end of 2014, Aaron Stern and Jordan Sullivan wrote me to request permission to reprint the poem “My Gift to You,” by Roberto Bolaño, which was published in our Summer 2012 issue. Stern and Jordan, both of whom are photographers, had recently opened a small space called 205-A in which they hosted group photography exhibitions with the aim of creating an artistic community in dialogue. They had also begun publishing small-run books; “My Gift to You” was intended for a book pairing images by nine photographers with the work of nine poets. Titled 36 Photographs & 20 Poems, the slim volume is published under the heading Dialogues 01, indicating future installments in a series.

The book appeared in limited quantity in 2015. Its dimensions are slightly smaller than those of the Review, and its pale pink covers are unassuming: with only the title and a white rectangle on the front, suggesting an empty frame, it has the austerity of a classic Éditions Grasset cover. Stern, who lives in New York, spoke with me in person; I corresponded with Sullivan, who resides in Los Angeles, over e-mail. The assembled conversation returns again and again to the linked ideas of collaboration, correspondence, and correspondences.

 

INTERVIEWER

The epigraph is from Arseny Tarkovsky’s “On the Bank,” a sublime and foreboding poem about the natural world. The book’s opening photograph, by Rebecca Norris-Webb, depicts an army of brown, bowing sunflowers and a plague of birds and echoes Tarkovsky’s line about “the terrible, vegetable sense of self.” Why did you choose to begin this way?

SULLIVAN

The poem explores the moment when one realizes nature has a language, though that language is incomprehensible. This realization makes the world both troubling and beautiful, and perhaps the world made more sense to him before he was able to contemplate it, before he was fully conscious, before he “counted life in years.” This narrative speaks to this large cosmic complexity, and I think it makes for a nice ground from which the rest of the poems and pictures in the book can grow. Essentially, this book is an exploration of the world at large. There isn’t a concrete thesis or message we’re trying to convey. We were more interested in presenting poems and images we found interesting and organizing them in a way where meaning could be generated from their interaction. Whatever that meaning is, it will be different for each person. Read More »

A Generic Statement About Haystacks, and Other News

December 11, 2015 | by

Claude Monet, Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning, 1891.

  • Our new Winter issue, hot off the presses, features poems from A New English Grammar by Jeff Dolven. One of them, “*The Haystack’s Painting,” has occasioned a roiling linguistic-grammatical debate at Language Log. “I would have no problem with a sentence such as ‘We sat in the haystack’s shadow’ in any case, but the case at hand is not a generic statement about haystacks,” one reader writes: “The body of the poem personifies the haystack, so it seems perfectly consistent that the title does also. If the reader is caught short by the title, only to have the tension relaxed by personification in the following lines, this is to the poet’s credit.” Another says, “I’m not quite sure what’s being considered ungrammatical about ‘The haystack’s painting.’ Haystack is a noun; nouns have possessive forms. It’s certainly unusual to consider the subject of a painting to be the ‘owner’ of that painting, but I think it’s quite an effective poetic device here.”
  • The poet Stephen Spender kept his sexuality a secret—a burden he managed only with the belief that leading a double life was completely ordinary for a writer. “In the 1990s, when literary parties were more fun, or I was more fun, I used occasionally to see Stephen Spender,” Andrew O’Hagan writes: “there he was, the establishment on quivering legs, queer as a chocolate orange but safely married. (When I spoke to him, I discovered he could flirt with his eyes shut.) … ‘Just do your thing,’ one wishes to say to him, but he was doing his thing, and part of that thing was not really to know what his thing was. Sexual identity gets all the limelight, but sex itself wasn’t particularly important to Spender and the freedom he harped on about, and feared losing as a result of his domestic decisions, was the freedom to write as he wanted to.”
  • Today in length: books have more of it than ever. A survey found that the average number of pages in a book has increased by 25 percent since 1999—to four hundred pages. “The real struggle is publishing an unremarkably-sized book,” one agent says: “the most difficult area now appears to be the middle. Mid-list, mid-career, middle-sized—in fact anything that’s middling.”
  • Jewels, vases, statues, masks, vessels … you name it, the Ancient Greeks had it in gold. And now this plunder is ours, all ours: “We learn a great deal about Greek art by being grave robbers. The immensely privileged eased themselves into the afterlife with much of the booty that had cushioned their time on earth. It seems they aimed at taking along enough symbols of power and wealth to get whatever passes for honor in the underworld. Greek and Roman rulers and victors wore wreaths more often than crowns; so we find gold imitations of the rich foliation of crowns made from different tree branches. Phillip II was buried in an underground miniature temple wearing an oak leaf wreath made with stunning realism by his little army of goldsmiths.”
  • People have been flying in the movies for more or less as long as they’ve been flying in real life. The plane, in cinema, has long functioned as an essential piece of visual vocabulary, and also as propaganda. During World War II, the military commissioned directors like William Wyler to bring a glorious variant aerial combat into movie houses: “Wyler and his crew embedded (as we might now say) with the 91st Bomb Group. They took their sixteen-millimeter cameras on bombing runs … The results of his time with the 91st Bomb Group were assembled into a short documen­tary called Memphis Belle (1944), which James Agee praised for its immediacy. ‘I could not guess which shots were re-enacted and which were straight records,’ Agee confessed, and postwar movies would often aspire to induce precisely this confusion. Agee had an ethical commitment to documentary, and a temperamental suspicion of artifice, and during the war his insistence on the literal, visceral truth reflected the biases of the filmmakers themselves, who often battled Army censors over how much unvarnished reality they could show.”

Strawberries and Cream and Spinal Injuries

January 28, 2014 | by

W.B._Yeats_(6435353487)

Yeats at age fifty-eight, via Wikimedia Commons

Today marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of W. B. Yeats’s death.

Ottoline had what she called her Thursday parties, at which you met a lot of writers. Yeats was often there. He loosened up a great deal if he could tell malicious stories, and so he talked about George Moore. Yeats particularly disliked George Moore because of what he wrote in his book Hail and Farewell, which is in three volumes, and which describes Yeats in a rather absurd way. Moore thought Yeats looked very much like a black crow or a rook as he walked by the lake on Lady Gregory’s estate at Coole. He also told how Yeats would spend the whole morning writing five lines of poetry and then he’d be sent up strawberries and cream by Lady Gregory, and so Yeats would have to get his own back on George Moore. Another thing that amused Yeats very much for some reason was Robert Graves and the whole saga of his life with Laura Riding. He told how Laura Riding threw herself out of a window without breaking her spine, or breaking it but being cured very rapidly. All that pleased Yeats tremendously.

—Stephen Spender, the Art of Poetry No. 25

 

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