A Trash-strewn Alley of One’s Own, and Other News


On the Shelf

Outside Brancusi’s studio on the Impasse Ronsin. © Succession Brancusi – All rights reserved ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • Every artist needs an alley—some narrow, weedy, urine-soaked passage to call home. In the Paris of the fifties and sixties, an alley called the Impasse Ronsin was the alley to be: Brancusi, Max Ernst, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Martial Raysse, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Claude Lalanne all worked in a squalid studio there. (Those last four, as it happens, have all contributed portfolios to The Paris Review.) An exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery opening October 27 will explore the studio’s history. As James McAuley tells it, the artists shared “a single toilet but many beds, cheap food but priceless ideas … It was also on the Impasse Ronsin that, in 1961, Niki de Saint Phalle, a former cover girl, launched her career as an international artist with a literal bang. For her ‘shooting’ canvases, she, along with friends such as Robert Rauschenberg, would fire guns into bags that concealed pockets of paint. This was somewhat of a Ronsin ritual, as Yves Klein had done much the same with the ‘Monotone-­Silence Symphony’ the year before. He had conducted an orchestra as nude women danced covered in blue paint, plastering their bodies on canvas as they twirled. In both cases, what mattered was performance as much as product.”
  • Today in bold solutions for writer’s block: Alan Michael Parker spent a few months “writing and reading as badly as possible,” and he came out on the other side feeling much more assured about his work. Even if he hadn’t, though, the whole exercise sounds like a great way to kill some time: “I worked diligently to figure out what ‘bad poetry’ meant to me, and once I become empowered to disappoint, how I could appall myself in a poem. I felt vicious, intemperate, outrageous, sleazy, hysterical, cantankerous, willful. I made poems with unconscionable and irrelevant leaps, poems with overblown abstractions heaped upon abstractions (who will ever forget ‘the turpitude of forgiveness’?), poems with speakers pronouncing upon every character in sight (because ‘I’ always knows so much better than her or his family), poems with social toxicities heightened further by specious speechifying. I made poems that clanked and thumped, beset by sneaker-in-the-dryer iambs, and conversely, poems that used non-metrical speech oblivious to all considerations of sound, the kinds of poems that deserve to be chopped up, but are too often just divided into lines and called free verse.” 

  • In Waycross, Georgia, there’s a water tower with Pogo’s face on it, beaming at you from Route 1. Who is Pogo? I didn’t know, either. He’s from a popular midcentury comic by Walt Kelly, and his fate, as Liam Baranauskas writes, is now tied to the town’s: “I came to Waycross because a friend told me that in the 1980s, the town had marketed itself as the home of Pogo Possum, which seemed like an absurd pitch … By 1987, the year of Waycross’s first Pogofest, Pogo had been defunct for a decade and a half … Though Pogo had reached the apex of its popularity before Kelly visited Waycross for the first and only time in 1955, the strip’s art had already managed to capture the region’s strange beauty with poetic aptness … the idea was to cross-market Pogofest with the Okefenokee Swamp Park, using Kelly’s characters as mascots.”
  • John Berryman’s only novel, the autobiographical Recovery, has been reissued: “Its grimly ironic title signals that recovery was one thing that was not going to happen in his life. It was posthumously published, discussed, and went out of print. Now the University of Minnesota Press has revived it in a paperback edition, with the original foreword by his best friend, Saul Bellow … In Recovery, Berryman presents his agony through a fictional alter ego, Dr. Alan Severance, a biologist with a great reputation. Severance admits he must avoid alcohol but can’t do without its reassurance, which usually ends up being a quart of bourbon a day … As Bellow writes in the foreword, ‘The cycle of resolution, reform. and relapse had become a bad joke which could not continue.’ Dr. Severance keeps awaking in a hospital bed, having been deposited there in a stupor by friends, wife or gentle police officers.”