- Ben Lerner remembers C. D. Wright: “She was part of a line of mavericks and contrarians who struggled to keep the language particular in times of ever-encroaching standardization. I think of the messy genius of James Agee and Mary Austin as two possible antecedents for her genre-bending, lyrically charged, often outraged and outrageous American English … She had no illusions about what poetry could do in the face of ‘the factory model, the corporate model, the penitentiary model, which by my lights are one and the same.’ But she had no patience for disillusion, for those who would surrender their wonder before the world.”
- Bernard Williams attempted a rare thing for a philosopher: clarity. Exasperated by the discipline’s obscurantism and by Continental philosophy’s aversion to plain speaking, he wrote his books, emphatically, to be read. As Nakul Krishna writes, “The hardest thing in philosophy, Williams wrote in the preface to Morality … was finding the right style, ‘in the deepest sense of style in which to discover the right style is to discover what you are really trying to do’ … Could a piece of philosophical writing combine abstract argument with concrete detail? Could its inevitably schematic descriptions of complex situations ever represent enough of their reality? Could philosophy, in other words, have room in it for a real human voice?”
- Ted Hughes once wrote of sitting with Sylvia Plath at a pub in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, where he was born: “A gorge of ruined mills and abandoned chapels, / The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution / That had flown.” What’s in Hebden Bridge today? The remains of an awful flood, as Tom Overton writes. “Up on the moors on Boxing Day last year, the level of rainfall gave normally modest streams a resonant fullness. In ‘Four March Watercolours’, from River, Hughes calls it ‘baroque superabundance’; ‘the pour / Of melted chocolate.’ Turning into something more like the apocalyptic flood at the beginning of Tales from Ovid, it poured into the boutiques and cafes on Hebden’s Market Street, and washed a small bus along with it. The independent bookshop lost its entire stock. The canal and river burst their banks and met in the pub between them, the Stubbing Wharf.”
- At last, the days of digitized pop-up books are upon us. You can now peruse a translation of Johann Remmelin’s 1613 work Captoptrum Microcosmicum, a medical text with 120 flaps—proof that that pop-up was once the province of adult pedagogy, not children’s entertainment. “Astronomy, geometry, theology and technology have all been the subject of early pop-up books … They were once called mechanical books, for the moving flaps and revolving parts they featured … Mechanical books were almost exclusively used in scholarly works until the 18th century, though that delay may be because few of these early tomes were aimed at children. The first examples of moveable books for children were Paper Doll Books produced beginning in 1810 and William Grimaldi’s lift-the-flap The Toilet.”
- “How is it that this novel could be sexy, entertaining, experimental, politically radical, and wildly popular all at once? Its success was no sure thing,” Paul Elie writes of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Its creation, to say nothing of its arrival on the international stage, was a complicated affair. Mario Vargas Llosa said, “This was the book that enlarged the Spanish-language reading public to include intellectuals and also ordinary readers because of its clear and transparent style. At the same time, it was a very representative book: Latin America’s civil wars, Latin America’s inequalities, Latin America’s imagination, Latin America’s love of music, its color—all this was in a novel in which realism and fantasy were mixed in a perfect way.’”
The poet C. D. Wright died unexpectedly this week at the age of sixty-seven, in Providence, Rhode Island. “It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free,” Wright once said, “and declare them so”; poetry was “the one arena where I am not inclined to crank up the fog machine.” Over the course of more than a dozen books, she “found a way,” as The New Yorker put it, “to wed fragments of an iconic America to a luminously strange idiom, eerie as a tin whistle.”
Wright’s poem “Our Dust,” which might double as a kind of eulogy—“I made / simple music / out of sticks and string … I / agreed to be the poet of one life, / one death alone”—appeared in the Winter 1988 issue of The Paris Review, and is reprinted in full below. It was later collected in her book Steal Away. You can watch her read it aloud here. Read More
And yet, of course, not impossible: of course, too possible, too much the reality of what we would always have to face one day, one morning waking across time zones, stumbling upon radio tributes, answering the phone to the have you heard, to the gut-punch, to the heart-bolt: he is gone.
Our laureate. As though that could ever be a word which could get at the marvel of him. There is, probably, no single word for the marvel of him. Only perhaps his name, alive today on countless lips, uttered with sadness and fondness and gratitude and disbelief; sparking and flaring across countless status updates, countless tweets, in countless slow nods and headshakes in shops and schools and kitchens and hallways and forecourts and farmyards. I know of a wedding in Wicklow today where his will be the name on the air as the guests wait for the bride to arrive; of a gathering in Rathowen this weekend where his poems will be read aloud in hushed pubs; of a music festival in Stradbally where lines studied at school twenty years ago will be traded like—well, like the kinds of things that are more usually traded at music festivals. (And he would be in the middle of them if he could, you know, marveling—for that was his register—at Björk and St. Vincent and David Byrne, with a sage word about My Bloody Valentine lyrics, with a wink and a buck-up for the young lads from the Strypes.) Read More
6:15 A.M. Our children wake us up. Nobody wants anything read to them this morning. They are involved in some kind of acrimonious negotiation involving Lego heads (“That’s my head!” “It’s MY head!” “No, mine!” et cetera) so I go into the next room and start thinking about a class I am guest teaching today at BU. I’ve been reading (and writing) father-son poems, and I think, Why not just tell the students what’s on my mind: Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem for his son, “Three Things There Be.” The poem comes in several variants; I print them out and look at a brief discussion of the variants as well as the provocative “spoiled riddle” poems (poems that act like riddles but give their solutions away) on Slate, by Robert Pinsky.
I go to the Times website, and there is (fortuitously) this article on metaphor and the brain. I skim it for something I can say to the class. Neuroscience is very keen on poets and poetry these days: It turns out that when you call someone a cockroach, you activate the same part of your brain that can recall the picture of an actual cockroach
8:30 A.M. I head into Boston. It’s an hour drive this time of day. I get a four-shot latte at Karma Coffee, Route 20 in Sudbury (do yourself a favor). I am listening a lot to the Byrds’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo these days, especially “One Hundred Years from Now.” I have a problem that technology has solved. When I like a song, I listen to it over and over for weeks at a time. You used to have to keep rewinding the tape, and the tape would snap or come unraveled. Now, with iPods, it’s no problem.