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Posts Tagged ‘W. H. Auden’

W. H. Auden’s Potent Syllabus, and Other News

January 29, 2015 | by

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Light reading. Image via More Than 95 Theses

  • W. H. Auden was a professor at the University of Michigan for the 1941–42 academic year. His course was called Fate and the Individual in European Literature, and its syllabus mandated more than six thousand pages of reading: The Divine Comedy, The Brothers Karamazov, Moby-Dick, Fear and Trembling 
  • Coming to the Huntington Library: Jane Austen’s family letters, Wicked Ned the Pirate’s watercolors, Louis Pasteur’s beer notes (“scribbled on pages of various sizes, in black and blue ink”).
  • On Pedro Lemebel, a Chilean writer (and artist and activist and provocateur) who died last week: “a writer who called himself a ‘queen’ (una loca) and ‘a poor old faggot’ (un marica pobre y viejo), and whose style and obsessions were forged on the social margins and in political opposition.”
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s unreleased documentary about the Holocaust, suppressed for decades, is being screened in full for the first time later this year. “The film, shown at test screenings, extremely disturbed colleagues, experts and film historians.”
  • Fear death? Sure you do! Don’t just sit there drumming your fingers and waiting for the end, though. Talk about it. Over coffee. At a Swiss death café. “The idea for the café mortel was simple: the gathering was to take place in a restaurant, anyone could come, and [Bernard] Crettaz [a Swiss sociologist] himself would gently marshal the conversation. The only rule was that there was to be no prescription: no topic, no religion, no judgment. He wanted people to talk as openly on the subject as they could.”

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Salty Language for Kids, and Other News

February 5, 2014 | by

children swearing

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W. H. Auden at the 92nd Street Y

January 22, 2014 | by

W. H. Auden at the Poetry Center, 1966. Photo: Diane Dorr-Dorynek, courtesy of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center

W. H. Auden at the Poetry Center, 1966. Photo: Diane Dorr-Dorynek, courtesy of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center

75 at 75,” a special project from the 92nd Street Y in celebration of the Unterberg Poetry Center’s seventy-fifth anniversary, invites contemporary authors to listen to a recording from the Poetry Center’s archive and write a personal response. Here, Cynthia Ozick reflects on W. H. Auden, whose readings she remembers attending as a Poetry Center subscriber in the fifties.

There must be sorrow if there can be love. —From “Canzone”

Ah, the fabled sixties and seventies! Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs! The glorious advent of Howling! Of Getting Stoned! The proliferation of Ginsbergian Exclamation Points! To secure the status of their literary subversion, these revolutionary decades were obliged, like the cadres of every insurrection, to denigrate and despise, and sometimes to blow up, their immediate predecessor, the fifties—the middling middle, the very navel, of the twentieth century. The fifties, after all, were the Eisenhower years, stiff and small like Mamie’s bangs (and just as dated), dully mediocre, constrained, consumerist, car-finned, conformist, forgettable, and stale as modernism itself. Randall Jarrell, one of its leading poets and critics, named this midcentury epoch “The Age of Criticism”—and what, however he intended it, could suggest prosiness more? And what is prosiness if not the negation of the lively, the living, the lasting, the daring, the true and the new? The reality was sublimely opposite. It was, in fact, the Age of Poetry, a pinnacle and an exaltation; there has not been another since. Its poets were more than luminaries—they were colossi, their very names were talismans, and they rose before us under a halo of brilliant lights like figures in a shrine. It was a kind of shrine: the grand oaken hall, the distant stage and its hallowed lectern, the enchanted voices with their variegated intonations, the rapt listeners scarcely breathing, the storied walls themselves in trance—this was the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in the heart of the twentieth century. Read More »

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Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love

May 27, 2013 | by

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Winslow Homer, Rowing Home

Three years before my mother’s final illness she had a major stroke. It was not a typical stroke—more cascade than cataclysm—but when it was over it had laid her low as effectively as a bolt of lightning.

At first, we didn’t know if she would live or die. She couldn’t move any part of her body, couldn’t speak, couldn’t swallow. This last was particularly distressing—swallowing is such a primitive function, but the stroke, it seemed, had struck a primitive part of her brain.

During those first few nights I sat by my mother’s bed in the dim double ward, the curtains drawn between us and the other occupant, who coughed feebly and rustled like an animal in the walls of a house. My mother breathed quietly, the lights on her monitors blinked and glowed. Occasionally an alarm would go off somewhere down the hall with the high, persistent beeping that hospital staff, remarkably, never seem to notice.

I sat there for I don’t know how many hours, drifting in and out of exhaustion and anxiety, and at some point a fragment of poetry came into my mind. “Lay your sleeping head, my love, / Human on my faithless arm . . . ”

Over and over it played in an endless loop, while I racked my brains to identify it. It was definitely something I knew, but I couldn’t even think what century it belonged to. For some reason it became incredibly important to me to figure out what it was. Read More »

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Auden Journal Found, and Other News

May 14, 2013 | by

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  • “I am happy, but in debt … I have no job. My [U.S.] visa is out of order. There may be a war. But I have an epithalamion to write and cannot worry much.” A journal W. H. Auden kept in 1939, believed lost, has been found. (Not sure where; details are vague.) It will go to auction next month.
  • Meet the “grand impresario of American etymologists” and his “unique self-published journal, Comments on Etymology.”
  • David Hare is adapting Behind the Beautiful Forevers for the London stage.
  • Reading the stoop books of Brooklyn.
  • Speaking of the borough of kings: a topless book club.
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    DFW: the Trading Card, and Other News

    February 22, 2013 | by

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  • David Foster Wallace: the trading card.
  • While you’re at it: pro-book desktop wallpaper.
  • On bribing librarians, and other ways to discover new books.
  • Speaking of libraries: here is what Auden checked out of the New York Society Library. (How many titles can you decipher?)
  • James Patterson and, oddly enough, the Duchess of Cornwall are teaming up to encourage fathers to read to their children.
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