Posts Tagged ‘Wallace Stevens’
March 6, 2013 | by Sophie Pinkham
The September after I finished college, I moved to Orange County with my boyfriend. He was going to graduate school to study Shakespeare. I had decided to become a famous writer, though I had no idea how to go about it. The only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to be the kind of writer who gets shipwrecked on a South Sea island, and not the kind of writer who gets an M.F.A. in the Midwest. I belonged to the Melville school, I told myself. I was going to have a lot of adventures. Southern California didn’t seem particularly exciting, but it was closer to the South Sea than New York. At least, I thought so. I had a poor grasp of geography.
Unfortunately for me, I also belonged to the Alvy Singer school. (Would Melville and Alvy Singer get along?) I was a native Manhattanite who had rarely ventured west, and I soon found that Southern California didn’t suit me one bit. With no seasons, no job, and no driver’s license, I felt that I was going nowhere, both literally and metaphorically. Time seemed not to pass, and books were my only friends. Read More »
October 12, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
This week, Lorin and I made a whirlwind trip to Houston, where we had the chance to visit the wonderful Brazos Bookstore. While browsing their well-curated cookbook selection, my eye was caught by a volume called 101 Classic Cookbooks, curated by the Fales Library. Published by Rizzoli, it is as much an art book as a recipe primer (although there are plenty of those too, from such luminaries as Julia Child and Alice Waters). Images of antique receipt books and mid-century food art make for great cultural history. —Sadie Stein
Charles Portis is that rare literary legend too few have read—me included. When I spotted a copy of his 1979 novel, The Dog of the South, on a friend’s shelf, I knew it was time to find out if the rumors are true. They are. There’s a hopped-up futility to this tale of a man in pursuit of his wife and her lover south of the border, and when Ray’s surrender is set off against small moments of truculence, it’s comic gold. One passage in particular, of Ray trying to outrace another car in a total clunker, reminds me a bit of the pie-fight scene in Gravity’s Rainbow, which was published only six years before; though the setup is far less surreal, it’s rife with absurdity:
I’ve had enough of this, I said to myself, and I was just about ready to quit when the exhaust system or the drive shaft dropped to the highway beneath the Chrysler and began to kick up sparks. Jack was down for the day. I shot over a rise and left him with a couple honks. Harvest yellow Imperial. Like new. Loaded. One owner. See to appreciate. Extra sharp. Good rubber. A real nice car. Needs some work. Call Cherokee Bail Bonds and ask for Jack. Work odd hours. Keep calling.
Walker Percy, the National Book Award winner and Paris Review interview subject, has a delightful and underappreciated piece called “Bourbon, Neat” on a topic near and dear to my heart. Percy claims that bourbon does for him what a bite of cake did for Proust and goes on to expound an aesthetic approach to bourbon in which the chief pleasure comes from, “the little explosion of Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine in the cavity of the nasopharynx and the hot bosky bit of Tennessee summertime,” words that make this Kentuckian’s breast swell with pride. More importantly, this piece provides a ready-made, literary-minded rebuttal to accusations of alcoholism. A defense, I imagine, that might prove useful to more than a few of our readers. —Graham Rogers
I recently picked up The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of Poetry Magazine, which was released in celebration of Poetry Magazine’s centennial (thanks to Sam Fox for lending it to me!). If you need to be reminded of the incomparable poems that the magazine published first in its pages (including those of Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, and Sylvia Plath), read excellent poetry by an author you might not have discovered yet, or simply remember why poetry is worth loving, this is the book to turn to. I recommend getting together with a few friends, taking turns opening to a poem at random, and reading out loud—knowing that you (and they) won’t be disappointed. —Emma Goldhammer
According to Robert Louis Stevenson in “The Secret of the Heather Ale,” the last Pictish king chose to have his son put to death and be killed himself rather than reveal the secrets of his favorite beverage to an invading Scottish army. You could try and re-create the ale that “Was sweeter far then honey, / Was stronger far than wine,” yourself this weekend by boiling five ounces of flowering heather tops (any color, although white is allegedly the luckiest) and boil in a gallon and a half of water. After an hour add seventeen pounds of honey and boil for a further half hour, before leaving the mixture to rest for another thirty minutes. Strain into a seven gallon wine fermenting bin and fill the bin to the top with cold water. Stir through one sachet of champagne yeast, skim off any foam that forms on the surface and decant into clean wine bottles. It should be ready after a week or two. —Charlotte Goldney
This week the loveable geeks over at A.V. Club published a tripartite list of the 1990s’ best films. It’s a neat little nostalgia trip on its own, populated by Tarantinos and Jarmuschs and Scorseses and such. But web-surfers were quick to point out that the skinny white dude aesthetic of the Club list-makers resulted in the absolute omission of black and female directors from this particular record of the nineties canon. Weirdly, this didn’t yield a firestorm: it produced a thoughtful discussion of the nature of institutional bias (think Linda Nochlin’s essay “Why Have Their Been No Great Women Artists” in 140-character tidbits), and the chance to reflect upon the contingency of our cultural consumption. Start at Slate if you’re interested. —Samuel Fox
February 24, 2012 | by Lorin Stein
More than the other seasons, spring is a state of mind. As you know, it can strike in the dead of winter or go AWOL all April and May. It is the season of initiation, of mysteries, when the evening lengthens and spreads out before us and we are filled with irrational hope. Or not, and we feel its absence: spring is no longer for us. “I am a man of fortune greeting heirs; / For it has come that thus I greet the spring.” We all know about April being the cruelest month; Rodgers and Hart put it more succinctly: “Spring is here, / I hear.”
We all have our favorite greatest hits (you can’t call a spring poem a chestnut): Deirdre likes William Carlos Williams’s “Spring and All,” e.e. cummings’s poem beginning “in / Just spring,” and Emily Dickinson’s “A Light exists in Spring.” Sadie loves Elizabeth Bishop’s “In Early Spring” and the Dickinson poem that starts “A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King” (though she admits it gets “a little odd” as it goes along). Stephen plumps for “Fern Hill,” on the sensible grounds that it concerns “the spring of life.”
The poem that occurs to me is “Les Chercheuses de Poux,” by Arthur Rimbaud. Here it is in Wyatt Mason’s translation, which magically preserves some of the strangeness and sensuality of the original:
When the child's forehead full of red torments
Begs the white swarm of vague dreams
To take him, two charming sisters loom
Above his bed, with fragile fingers and silver nails.
They sit him before a window opened wide
Where a jumble of flowers bathes in blue air,
And then, bewitching and terrible, the delicate fingers
Walk through his heavy, dew-matted hair.
He listens to the song of their uneasy breath,
Long earthy blossoms of rose-rich honey
Interrupted now and then by a salivary sucking,
Tongues licking lips, hungry for a kiss.
He hears their black lids bat beneath
The scented silence, their gentle pulsing fingers
Kill little lice beneath royal nails crackling
Sounds resounding through his gray stupor.
But the wine of Sloth is rising in him,
A harmonica's sigh that sets you reeling;
Beneath the slowness of their caresses, the child
Feels an urge to cry, welling and dying, endlessly.
We also polled a few friends from outside the office: the aforementioned Wyatt Mason; Molly Murray, who is lecturing on Shakespeare at Columbia; Jeff Dolven, who happens to be doing the very same thing at Princeton (and has two poems in our last issue); and Kira von Eichel, whose child was falsely accused this week of having lice—and who recruited her mother, Linden von Eichel, in the cause.
Wyatt chose a poem by Frederick Seidel, from issue 194. He writes: “I hope you won’t argue that it isn’t a spring poem. Spring is coupling, so a spring poem must be in couplets. Spring is song, so a spring poem must rhyme. Spring is light, so a spring poem is lit from within. Spring is nice weather, so ‘Nice Weather’ is spring. And don't tell me I’m being tautological. I don’t know what that means.” Read More »
February 1, 2012 | by David Parker
Milton wasn’t working.
The aspiring novelist had already written the perfect dedication (“For my friends”), and he’d long had a list of possible titles, yet he still had no epigraph, the mysterious but meaningful quotation he’d seen at the beginning of every great book. He’d been holding John Milton in reserve for this very situation.
When contemplating the epigraph for his debut novel, the writer had always been confident that if all else failed, he could find inspiration in Shakespeare or Milton. For his part, the Bard hadn’t cooperated.
A line like “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” might work for a paperback legal thriller, but nothing Shakespeare wrote seemed appropriate for the “Borges meets Zola, if Zola had somehow been influenced by Nabokov” collection of loosely related vignettes set in a fictional megalopolis in an indeterminate near-future the writer hoped to get published by next fall. Read More »
January 19, 2012 | by Eliza Griswold
Reading these long and sluggish lines, I can see Wallace Stevens at work in his quiet office, looking out of the window at a cold, sunny winter day much like today. He sees smoke leaving the neighbor’s chimney. Someone has made a fire. But I find the most indelible phrase of this poem to be the “babyishness of forsythia”—as Stevens writes, it’s “a snatch of belief.” It’s the line that helps get me through winter, as I suspect it did Stevens. I’ve never been able to see the wooden branches of a forsythia bush again, bursting into yellow, without thinking of his words.
It makes so little difference, at so much more
Than seventy, where one looks, one has been there before. Read More »
September 9, 2010 | by Louisa Thomas
I’m on my way to the Open! It will be, I’m embarrassed to say, my first time inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. During previous years, I’ve been out of town or out of money. Decent seats during the second week were beyond my reach, and if David Foster Wallace is right that “TV tennis is to live tennis pretty much as video porn is to the felt reality of human love,” then I figured that the promenade—the more-affordable upper deck—meant the disappointment of an unrequited crush.
Excuses, excuses. This year, I’ve sprung for Loge level tickets. Stanislas Wawrinka, the 25th seed best known as the Swiss player who’s not Roger Federer, is facing the 12th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny. An improbable quarterfinal matchup, but I’m looking forward to it. Wawrinka and Youzhny have two of the best one-handed backhands in the game. Neither man, though, will probably move the ball as well as the wind will.
I’ve avoided talking about the weather, since you’ll have heard about the weather. Every story about the Open has discussed it; every TV commentator has obsessed over “the conditions.” First, it was very, very hot. Then there was talk of hurricanes. Finally, came the devastating winds.
But the weather cannot be avoided. Nor should it. “We are physical beings in a physical world,” the poet Wallace Stevens once wrote to a critic. He also said, “The state of the weather soon becomes a state of mind.” The wind has turned the tennis ugly. Letting blown tosses fall, servers can’t find a rhythm. Topspin shots that should arc inside the lines fly long. Routine groundstrokes become hard to handle. Any ball that floats begins to flutter. Last night, Robin Soderling netted an overhead hit from a squat. Against the third-seeded Novak Djokovic, the Frenchman Gael Monfils became so rattled by the swirling air that he tried trick shots when regular strokes would do, swinging through his legs instead of hitting a normal forehand. “I was completely lost,” he said afterward. “Can’t serve. Can’t really use my forehand. You run for what?”
You run for what? And yet, the winners run. They adjust their angles, shorten their toss, and smile when the wind redirects a crosscourt shot down the line. Yesterday, the 7th-seeded Vera Zvonavera and the top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki hit fewer than half as many unforced errors as their opponents. While Wozniacki’s opponent, Dominika Cibulkova, smashed and slashed her racket, as if she could cut the wind, Wozniaki calmly braided her errant hair.
But no one has been immune to the wind like Roger Federer. Last night, he struck his shots so cleanly, his serves so sharply, that I wondered if he inhabited a different atmosphere. “The conditions” did not apply to him. Federer had 16 more aces and 20 more winners than Soderling. Even more arresting, though, than his play was his look of calm. “By now, I see playing in the wind as a challenge—an opportunity to play differently,” Federer said after the match. “It's not easy, you know…. I used to dislike it so much that I've been able to turn it around, and now I actually enjoy it."
Reading Federer’s words, I thought of Stevens’s masterpiece, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction:
The weather and the giant of the weather,
Say the weather, the mere weather, the mere air:
An abstraction blooded, as a man by thought.