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Alex Carnevale

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Kara VanderBijl

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Mia Nguyen

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Durga Chew-Bose

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Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Learn How To Correctly Prepare A Canvas For Painting

I Paint


Because I didn't go to art school, a class in the painting department was out of the question. Instead I signed up for the introductory painting class in the illustration department. The illustration department was a sort of more old style branch of the school, like what I imagined a 1950s art school to be like. The idea that you could teach somebody how to make art seemed as ridiculous to me as the idea you could teach someone how to write. You either could or you couldn't. You can or you can't.

I was deciding between drawing and painting. Like most people, I maintain a variety of side talents that I can imagine could be my main talent if only I were a little more focused on it, and I am very talented at drawing. I spent the majority of my school years drawing in notebooks during class and while my style is more caricaturish than strictly realistic, I am pretty fucking good. So the prospect of drawing in a real art class was exciting, as was that of life models, which seemed really official and traditional. But given the choice, the asceticism of drawing; the discipline and repetition verging on tedium, the limited supplies? It didn't stand a chance against the painting class. 

Painting, with all its accessories and trappings, had mystique I could not explain. It appealed deeply to my Irish-Catholic half, the side of me that enjoys going to botánicas and cataloguing sins and saints. But it mostly had to do with paintings. With the way that observing certain paintings could induce really powerful feelings in me.

I wanted to see what I had inside. The same way I was sure I could write a great song if I only knew how to play the guitar, I was convinced I had paintings in me. I was sure they would come out of me as soon as I got a brush in my hand. That when I had a little technique and a canvas in front of me it would be impossible to contain them.  

On the first day of class I ran into a really pretty girl I kind of knew who had inspired me a few months before to stop wearing bras entirely after seeing her at a restaurant in a wife-beater without one. "Wow, cool" I'd thought admiringly, "She doesn't give a fuck. And neither do I!" I tend to overdo it when I go to an extreme. She was on her way to the drawing class, and encouraged me to come so we could be in it together. I thought about it for a second. I loved making friends, especially very attractive ones. But I was really committed to the idea of the introductory painting class. To painting.

Every week after that I'd see her in the stairwell. We'd greet each other, then she'd turn the other way to head into the drawing class. Even when I didn't see her I would imagine her going to the drawing class to sketch and long to have followed her that first day. Being good at drawing, it turned out, had no bearing on other kinds of art. 

The painting teacher was a tall willowy bald man in a tunic with the kind of round frame glasses favored by older artist types. He commuted in weekly from New York. He was cold, with a zen master manner that appealed to me. I decided immediately that I liked him. In retrospect he was gay but I never thought about it at the time. During the first class he showed us some of his recent work; a series of grayscale oil paintings of the interior of a washing machine. "This guy is fucking serious," I thought admiringly.  

I was a senior in college, avoiding thinking about what I was going to do exactly after graduating. My boyfriend of a year had gone abroad and I was unprepared to feel so weird about our breakup. I'd decided not to do a thesis because a big project that was due all at once and mostly unsupervised seemed like the worst possible idea for a Ferris Bueller finish everything at the last minute person like me. But my friends were incredibly busy, and I had too much time to think about how I really felt (terrible).

Painting seemed like an elegant solution to all my problems. In lieu of a thesis, it would give me one thing to focus on. Going down to the art school would provide variety in my routine and I could devote all my unspoken for spare time to working on my paintings. To becoming a painter, a thing I was sure I could also be. It didn't occur to me that I might later resent my own arrogant blitheness that it would be easy.

I bought as many art supplies as I could afford, which was not all that many because I learned quickly that oil painting is a truly expensive pursuit. I was attracted to the accessories, the tinctures and tools. But I'd had no idea just how many accessories there really were, how much alchemy and liniment went into preparing the canvases. How familiar I'd soon become with the nightmarish poetic phrase "rabbit-skin glue."

I might have known some of this if I had asked any of my many, many friends who painted and took art classes even the most rudimentary questions about what a painting class might entail in advance of signing up for the painting class at the art school. But I had just charged in confidently like an idiot, like I generally always did.

The first few weeks of the class knocked the arrogance right out of me. I couldn't do anything. I had no knowledge, no background, no color theory. I thinned the paint wrong. I held the brush wrong. I couldn't mix colors correctly to save my life. Everyone else in the class seemed to know exactly what they were doing. They could all paint.

I asked for help every minute, but it didn't help any. I was terrible. Relentlessly terrible. Terrible in new and inventively terrible ways, ways that seemed to baffle the teacher and any classmates who caught a glance of my canvases. There was a wall between me and being any good at painting, and I could not get over the wall. I could barely even make out its sides. But I felt it there in front of my face, blocking me from my goal.

All we painted were still lifes. There would be three set-ups and over three hours, and each session was a lesson for me in abject failure. I was the worst person in the class by a long shot and it was humiliating. I fucking sucked. The teacher would come stand near me and just sort of shake his head. He was right to be confused. Why was I there?

Our homework was the same as the classwork. Three still lifes, a different color scheme each week. I went to the art building on my campus and set up my easel and materials by the picture window. I was jealous of the studio cubicles, especially of the clippings taped up inside, your own space to just dwell on inspirations and ideas.

Having a cubicle means you are a real artist, I thought. I saw the real artists I knew, working on their thesis projects, utterly consumed in themselves. "Why didn't I do a thesis? Why didn't I write a novel? Or short stories? Because I am a fucking idiot."

Then I tried to paint the shells that I was looking at again, and failed. Each attempt a failure in a totally different way. In one the shells are much too pink. In another the arrangement appears two dimensional. I found a new way to fail every time. I painted slower, then faster. Sober, then high. I went to the studio drunk and ended up falling asleep on the bench in the lobby. I woke up and outside the glass it was snowing.

I began to dread painting, because I dreaded being terrible. I hated the endless inevitable failures that were my attempts at translating an image from real life onto a canvas. I did not enjoy being terrible at it, and the classwork and homework were so rigid that there was no possibility of adjusting the subject matter to my outsider style, as I had done in other fields such as dance. I wondered a lot why it was that I so vehemently couldn't enjoy something I wasn't good at. How egotistical that was.

I was accustomed to picking things up easily, impressing and occasionally frustrating others with the seeming effortlessness with which I could pick new things up at will. There was no picking up painting. It was hard work and I was out of my depth. And I could tell. And the teacher could really tell, and he was getting sick of my excuses.

I had been able to bullshit my way through a lot of things in life, but I could not bullshit a painting. Furthermore, there was no failing, because I had already failed a class earlier in the year. I needed the credit to graduate. I stopped going to class.

My refusal to attend coincided with a big snowstorm after a long weekend and I wrote off the first couple weeks of missed classes as weather related. The third week I was just slacking and knew it. The teacher knew it too. He e-mailed to say he'd fail me if I didn't show up the next week. "This guy is fucking serious," I thought irritatedly. 

I came back to class and tried to be less of an asshole, but was almost definitely even more of one in this attempt. The only place I really thrived in the class was during the critiques. Oh I had opinions about everyone's paintings. Positive ones! I could talk all day about what I liked about one painting or another. I loved talking about what I liked about things. I was still the worst painter but I sure talked the most during the crits.

I thought a lot about this tendency I had, towards language. How when I saw a tree I immediately began describing it in my head. I had talked about it with my boyfriend right before he'd left. He had countered that he never did that. That when he looked at the tree he saw only the tree. And if he started to break it down, it was into colors and shapes. Images, not words. I didn't understand. He never read for pleasure either. 

Painting seemed more mystical than ever. Now that my fantasy of being good at it had been destroyed and replaced with the truth (that I sucked) I was in complete awe of anyone with any painting talent. Anyone who was better than me was a genius. I admired those with talents I couldn't master. It was like being good at a sport. 

I continued to go to class. I stopped dreading failure. I didn't expect failure, but neither was I devastated when it happened. My ego was no longer in it. I had no natural talent for painting, but that didn't mean none could be cultivated. Sometimes I'd feel as though I had gotten one detail about the set-up across in my painting, and that would satisfy me enough to keep going. I had a couple of stupid winter hats, and whenever I wore one I was mistaken for an art student (and then asked directions).

It was not sudden but I began to understand. I started to look at things differently. I learned to think about the quality of the light. How things appeared to be different colors depending what time of day it was. How to observe buildings. How to describe without words. How this was a whole other language, a universal one, and I did know it. I had just been trying too hard to force everything into my own native dialect. 

We stopped doing still lifes and started painting nudes. I liked the life models. I felt connected to my own brushstrokes and color choices in a way I previously hadn't. Whatever it was I was trying to comprehend, I couldn't possibly put it into words, and I understood now how that was the point (zen master indeed). I had climbed the wall.

As with any fallow time, when I think about this period of my life I just wind up romanticizing it. I remember how cold I was and how heartbroken, how thwarted I felt and how hurt. I see myself riding my bike to the studio through the snow, listening to Southern gangsta rap on headphones, the music you listen to that helps blunt your feelings (rather than the miserable music you use to indulge them) with my portfolio slung over my shoulder. How determined I must have looked. It makes me laugh.

I proposed a series of paintings of small toys for my final project and was approved. I hung out with my other recently single friend who was an actual painter and we worked on our art in her attic room which had a big awesome skylight. We smoked joints and listened to Electric Light Orchestra albums on her record player while we painted. That I thought I was miserable that semester seems so ridiculous now.

I had no idea if I was going to pass the painting class given those three absences, and passing was necessary for my graduating, and graduating seemed crucial given how much money I was now (am) in debt for. I was nervous regarding a lot of other things about my immediate future, absolutely none of which would turn out to matter at all. 

When I think of the thing I might have written that semester had I dedicated myself to it I feel no remorse. No regret that I failed to take on a big writing project instead. No curiosity about what I might have produced. It would never have been any good. You cannot produce something great on purpose or on schedule. The painting class was more important, akin to psychedelics. It was the most important class I ever took.

The teacher surveyed my final project; small still lifes of toy cars. In his affectless tone he said something measuredly complimentary about my curve towards improvement and I felt myself stir with deep pride. How could I tell him how much it meant that he had tolerated me, had humbled me, had let me learn the lesson for myself? And then how much I had learned? I couldn't tell him, so I didn't. I passed painting with a C.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She twitters here and tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about her feud with Jack Nicholson.

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In Which Nothing About Audrey Hepburn's Ex-Husband Interests Us

The Dark Side of Audrey Hepburn


Nothing about my ex-husband interests me. I have spent two years in hell – surely the worst in my life.

More than once, I was at the station seeing trainloads of Jews being transported, seeing all these faces over the top of the wagon. I was exactly the same age as Anne Frank. We were both 10 when the war broke out… if you read [her] diary, I’ve marked one place where she says, ‘Five hostages shot today.’ That was the day my uncle was shot.

I admit that people have often said they never really get to know me. But does anyone ever know someone else completely?

 It’s become cliché for teenagers and young women of our generation to love Audrey Hepburn. For some reason girls of the 90s grew up with an affinity for Hepburn to where it became, "Welcome to college, here’s your Breakfast At Tiffany’s poster for your dorm room." That film is based on a dark novella in which Holly Golightly doesn't get her cat back, doesn’t get the guy, and is generally a horrible person. But in the film, it’s not even really clear that Hepburn plays a prostitute. That completely went over my head the first time I saw it. I thought she just liked to wake up early and put on a party dress. Also there’s that horribly racist Mr. Yunioshi character that Mickey Rooney threw in there. So I guess if you really analyze it, there is a dark side to the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, just not in an obvious way.

And that’s the thing about Audrey Hepburn. She has darkness but it isn’t obvious. The problems of Marilyn Monroe became part of her legend but Audrey’s were carefully tucked away in a Givenchy handbag. A friend of mine once despaired about a fight she got into with a rude friend of a friend. She didn't even know this person and yet she was torn up about it. When I asked her why it bothered her so much, she said it was because she strived to be like Audrey Hepburn, and "no one ever said anything bad about Audrey Hepburn."

Challenge accepted.

She is a rank amateur who needed a dozen takes. – Humphrey Bogart

Bogart hated working with Hepburn, but he had a point. Though she had come off a major film (Roman Holiday) for which she won an Academy Award, her success was partly due to luck, timing, and the graciousness of her costar Gregory Peck, who insisted on giving the unknown equal billing. Before Roman Holiday Hepburn starred in the play Gigi. Paramount actually considered her "plump" and put her on a strict diet of steak tartare and greens before filming. (You know Hollywood is fucked up when Audrey Hepburn is put on a diet.) Hepburn herself never believed that she was thin.

According to her son, Hepburn would refer to herself as “fake thin” because her upper body and waist was especially thin and would give her an overall appearance of slightness. One can’t help but roll their eyes at her claim because, well, look at her. Rumors of an eating disorder plagued her, but if you consider World War II an eating disorder, then yes, she was very disordered. In 1944 Nazis occupied the Netherlands, where she and her mother lived.

Audrey and her family, with the exception of her Nazi sympathizer father, worked for the resistance. She suffered severe malnutrition and once had to hide in a cellar for a few days. When she was a child she almost died of whooping cough. This, combined with her poor nutrition during the war, lead to her asthma. Despite the fact that she had weak lungs and knew it, she continued to smoke for the rest of her life, even though she was consistently told that she "might be in the early stages of emphysema." Yes, it was the fifties and sixties and smoking was a vice, but even someone in that era with those symptoms would know it was a bad idea.

In the 80s she lamented over the condition of her skin, but it was typical of her to point out flaws. She would often call herself ugly and wished that she had a bigger chest. It is of course these "flaws" that have made her so iconic, but it’s very possible she had some form of body dysmorphic disorder or at least a very low self-esteem.

Her weight plummeted to an all-time low during her first divorce from her controlling and jealous husband Mel Ferrer. A child of divorce and with a child of her own, Hepburn desperately wanted to make the marriage work, but Ferrer's likely infidelity and definite need for complete control over Hepburn’s professional and personal life sent her into a deep depression. The man had to be a total asshole for Hepburn to refer to her divorce as "two years in hell" considering that she spent most of her early teens dodging Nazis.

During the separation Mel stayed with Hepburn but only out of concern for her health; she was apparently, according to a friend, "down to 82 pounds and looks thin and wan; she has never looked so frail in her life, even when she was ill." Again, quite the statement, considering that Hepburn compared her youth to Anne Frank's.

Their divorce was described as "absolutely unexpected" not only to her fans and the media, but their friends as well. One of them, Dee Hartford Hawks, said that only two weeks before their separation she ran into them at a nightclub in France and that "Audrey and Mel were acting like honey-mooners. They danced every number together – even the Watusi." The Watusi!! Who could have predicted this?? A second miscarriage also put a strain on their already frail marriage.

In an article by Tom Daly from the 1960s, he reported that Audrey attempted suicide twice. Once she tried to slit her wrists and it was Mrs. Yul Brynner who got her to the hospital in time. An unnamed insider said that "I've heard about Audrey’s suicide attempts, too, and that shocks me, but in a way I’m not surprised. Whatever that woman does she does with her whole heart and soul. And when she married Mel, she invested everything she had emotionally. It’s no wonder that she feels lost now." And it’s no wonder that so many sources (aside from Bogart and Hawks) wanted to keep such scandalous thoughts to themselves because Audrey was revered and famous for her elegance and charm. In an article "The Two Hepburns" (not referring to Katharine and Audrey, but to Audrey’s light and dark sides), Eliot George tapes into this darker side of Hepburn: "The wispy, sable-browed, gamin-faced Audrey is either Elfin Charmer or Iron Butterfly, depending on where you stand."

Another person who had plenty of bad things to say about Hepburn was Brenda Marshall, William Holden’s wife at the time that Holden and Hepburn shot Sabrina. Hepburn and Holden carried on an affair. (It was ironic that later in life Audrey would try so hard to create the perfect family and do anything for her children, though she slept with Holden well-knowing that he was married with three kids.) Holden would invite Hepburn over to his home for dinner and he, Audrey, and Marshall, who eerily resembled Hepburn, would all eat together. "Audrey felt guilty all through the meal." No! This is Watusi shocking!!

Everyone assumed that Holden would leave Marshall for Hepburn but as soon as she found out that Holden had a vasectomy and could not provide her with children, she left. Holden was also a crazy drunk who died when he fell and hit his head on his coffee table and didn’t realize that it was serious so he didn’t go to the hospital and just kind of bled out to death in his living room. Charlie Sheen has nothing on William Holden.

Paris When It Sizzles, 1964

Holden and Hepburn would reunite about ten years later for the film Paris When It Sizzles, which one column described as "the worst movie ever made by anyone at any time." It was also around this time that Hepburn's marriage slowly and painfully began to unravel, and one can see the stress this put on her body. Even for Hepburn, she is unusually thin in his movie, and it may have been the only time in her life in which the eating disorder rumors were true. Holden tried to reignite their affair, but this time she was the married one and would not cave in.

People think of Hepburn as ever humble and ladylike but even she had her moments of divadom and snarkiness. While filming The Nun’s Story in Africa, Hepburn demanded that, "quarantine laws in the Belgian Congo would be waved for [her terrier] Famous […] and most important of all, that a bidet would be installed and waiting for her... It was probably the only bathroom fixture of its kind in Central Africa at that time." Slyly ironic considering she was playing a nun and nuns are all living without possessions. She did routinely visit a leper colony and refused to wear protective gloves "out of sympathy with the afflicted." She then likely went to her guest house and freshened up in her bidet-equipped bathroom.

While filming My Fair Lady she wouldn’t let Ferrer see her until her street urchin Eliza Doolittle look was completely washed away, though even though this look consisted of mere soot dotted on her face, Vaseline smeared in her hair, and dirty finger nails, and of course she still looked stunning. After retiring from film she married second husband Andrea Dotti and announced, "Now Mia Farrow can get my parts." Perhaps she meant it as a way of passing the baton over to another doe-eyed actress, but there is a certain edge to the comment, considering that after divorcing Mel, Hepburn "emerged with a hairdo even short than Mia's!"

Though people praise her for aging gracefully, perhaps the most shocking Hepburn quote ever was given during a 1980s interview with Harper’s Bazaar: “I think it’s [plastic surgery] a marvelous thing, done in small doses, very expertly, so that no one notices.” Not even Nicole Kidman will admit to her notoriously frozen face, but here was a beauty icon freely praising plastic surgery.

It is just another part of Hepburn’s life that most people breezily skip past. She is more than that waif figure forever posed in that little black dress on 5th Avenue. She came from a god-awful childhood, suffered from depression, got divorced twice and had an affair. There is nothing new or evil about any of these things, but it is interesting that these aspects of her life remained hidden. Monroe was just as sweet, just as loving, but her secrets spilled out and are still notorious. Why is Hepburn so sacred? Granted, the work she did with Unicef was immense and admirable, and nothing should detract from that. But why must she be a goddess? She was human, like any of us. She had flaws.

And Grace Kelly really was a slut. I stand by that.

Almie Rose is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is the creator of Apocalypstick. She last wrote in these pages about her life with rapper Kanye West.

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"Martha" - Tim Buckley (mp3)

"Martha" - Tom Waits (mp3)

"We All Fall in Love Sometimes" - Jeff Buckley (mp3)


In Which We Hate Talking On The Phone

This is the second part of a series about the letters of Denise Levertov and Williams Carlos Williams. You can read the first part here.

Agonies of Indecision

The letters of the poets Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams quickly grew familiar. In Levertov, the aging Williams found a like mind eager to take up his artistic sensibilities. Because Denise disliked long phone conversations, she put it all into the letters to her mentor, impressing both with the poems that inevitably accompanied the correspondence as well as descriptions of her life in Mexico married to the woefully mediocre Mitch Goodman. The letters below chronicle her departure from Mexico in the late fifties after Bill first wrote her following an introduction by Robert Creeley.

My dear Denise Goodman,

A man should be able to react "big" to his admirers, it's due them, they do not throw their praise around carelessly. And so I always feel mean when I look into the back of my own head and see what a small figure I make to myself. I am not what they think. I am not the man I should be for THEIR sakes, they deserve something more. It is in fact the duty of the artist to assume greatness. I cannot. What a fool.

I can't believe even what I know be the truth of my own worth. When an individual says he or she "lives" by what I exhibit I get a sudden fright. But at the same time if I myself live by certain deeds why should not others do the same? But we are so weak, what we do seems the worst futility. I am willing to go down to nothing but I don't want to feel I'm dragging anyone down with me.

Here I sit in my little hole like a toad. Thank you for your letter.

Faithfully yours,

W.C. Williams

November 13th, 1951

Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

Dear Bill

First, thanks very much for subscription to "Naked Ear." That's very kind of you. He has an extraordinary mixture of good & bad in there, hasn't he — mostly bad — but yet it's so open & simple (like, I've heard, the man himself) that one always feels better things may show up. And in fact they do, e.g. Bob's poems. Bob Creeley spent the 3 days after Xmas with us & he was describing Judson Crews whom he likes very much.

Coming to Guadalajara & finding us gone to the coast & the house empty, Creeley broke a window, entered, & did all the Goldilocks things including a little laundry. When the maid's husband came to make his daily inspection & water the lawn, there sat Bob at table with some food & a book propped up; with his one eye and his beard you can imagine the sensation he must have caused.

He was lucky not to have been shot for there've been robberies in the neighbourhood and Mexicans are gun-happy. Bob's inability to prove to Soledad & her husband that he really was a close personal friend of ours, & their agonies of indecision as to whether to treat him as a guest or a bandit (they arrived at a compromise) make a comic piece in the genre of Pirandello's The Jar.

At the beach we ate fresh coconuts & lobsters, saw a most beautiful insouciant armandillo, swam every day, walked in the palm jungle, caught some inedible fish (tho' the water teemed with edible ones) from an unbalanced & unresponsive canoe (on the lagoon) and in addition I distinguished myself by getting a bad attack of malaria, complete with nephritis, hepatitis, & gastritis. The day before we left the bay filled up with enormous sharks, something I wouldn't have missed seeing for the world, tho' I didn't care to swim any more after that. Once or twice we swam at night — once while Bob was with us.

We were obliged to go to bed early as the candles flickered in the sea wind & hurt our eyes, so we got up in the time to see the sun rise, most days.

The most delightful twinkle-footed little pigs of all colors & their lean long-snouted medieval-looking parents, were constantly wandering through the sandy village of palm-huts & snuffing abut the beach.

I have some poems to send you but Mitch has the typewriter and won't be back for another week so I'll wait till then.

The book from Ferlinghetti was to have been out by Xmas but there was some trouble about the typeface & cover so it will be a while longer.

John & Ruth Herrmann & Juanito have gone to Houston Texas where they intend to remain 6 months & then return to Mexico. John is going into the V.A. hospital there for another hernia operation, & hopes as a result to have his pension augmented. He spent a little time at the beach with Mitch before leaving. We hope, & so do they, that the complete change of scene (after 8 yrs in Mexico) will help Ruth who has just been killing herself with drink. I went into a spin over it for a while, until I realized that no one person, least of all an emotional one like me, can do anything to help a person in that condition.

An image that lingers with me: — her blurred voice & tousled gray hair, her ravaged face from which glowed one beautiful eye (the other half-closed from a terrific shiner) as she recalled you coming up to her years ago at some meeting & saying, "Ah, Ruth, your lovely face — your lovely face makes it worth while having come..." And the strange dignity she retained in her degradation, in the dirty chilly kitchen among the flies & the giggling servant-girls. Somehow she pulled up when John came back from the beach & left for the States in pretty good shape. John himself aside from his poor health is O.K.

I feel ashamed to be so remote, to have given so little thought and feeling, to the Hungarian rising — but it's from the feeling of distrust one has of all the reports — not of the fact of what happened, essentially, but to the way it is used by the worst people. For example I picked up eagerly a sort of supplement to Life consisting of pictures & history of the whole affair — and dropped it without looking because however many true photographs could have been taken there's always the sickening feeling that, in the Time-Life context, they're fixed. So that natural impulse to sympathy, indignation, etc, gets turned back on itself. All the passion and illusion of the thirties that fizzled out with the war is denied to one in the 50s because one's damned if one's going to be tricked and bamboozled. (Of course I was a child in the 30s, but I lived some of it through my sister, 9 years older than I — walked in May Day parades, held the soap box steady in Hyde Park etc) And then one feels ungenerous & introverted. Well, Schuhmacher, bleib bei dein Last, I guess.

Hope Xmas & New Years were happy for you and Floss, to whom please give my love as always.


from Denise

January 17th, 1957

Dear Denise:

I just mailed you a note about the certificate to be returned to me, thank you. But in the same mail with your letter telling me of my mistake in sending came Cid Corman's Origin with your poems — which you had sent me earlier in manuscript, at least the one called "Tomatlan."

Reading the poems it came over me how almost impossible it is to realize what it is that goes over from a writer into her poem. And how it gets there. Even the alertest reader can miss it. The poet herself might miss it and quit trying. And yet if it is important enough to her she will never quit trying to snare the "thing" among the words. Where does it lie among the words? That is the critic's business to discover and reveal that. You do not make it easy for.

I have never forgot how you came to me out of the formalism of English verse. At first as must have been inevitable, although I welcomed you I was not completely convinced, after all I wasn't completely convinced of my own position, I wanted you to convince ME.

Even recently I fight against accepting you unconditionally. It must always be so with a person we love and admire. It must be in the words themselves and what you find to do with them and what you have the spirit and trust to rely on the reader to find what you have put among them.

Where is it? In detail. Microscopically.

To take that poem apart or before that to view it as a whole, what do I see? But before that where else in this issue of that magazine is there something to challenge it. I'll have to pass that one up because I have not read those poems as carefully as I have yours.

Returning to that particular poem I have spoken of, to read it gives me a sensation of calm, of confidence. A countryside, a tropical jungle appears to me into which with my imagination I enter. It is done with the fewest possible words, with no straining after effect without the poet's apparent consciousness of making any effect at all.

The words used are copied direct from a vision seen, actually seen. The transition between the reader and what is being put down for him is direct, nothing extraneous has been allowed to creep in. This is a great preliminary virtue. It makes the final picture fresh as is anything seen for the first time, by a child, but let's not overemphasize that.

What, granted that, has the poet selected to use in her picture? She looking at the original picture must have selected significant details because after all she cannot see everything and what she seizes in her imagination reveals in the first place her intelligence and emotional range and depth. Her sight is keen, her mood relaxed.

I think the trick is done in the second stanza with the words "its silky fur brushes me". And later on "the palms shake their green breasts,"... Effortlessly, is the impression in the instantaneous exchange that takes place in the metaphor flares as a flash in our minds.

But a poet is not to be trapped so easily (it is all a flight and an escape) an internal battle of wits and the intelligence, a man and woman competing, wrestling for the crown of laurels, and some men and women write for cash. Denise Goodman has the ability to bundle the whole mess into one, balance calmly on her head, not giving herself away.

"New peace shades the mind here, the jungle shadows frayed by the sea winds." The test of how the poet is going to divide her lines is the test of what she or he is.


February 11th, 1957

Dear Bill & Floss

It's a long time since I last wrote — you'll have just about written me off as having disappeared into the Sierra Madre.

We had a long meandering bus trip down here stopping at different places & seeing a beautiful variety of landscape — the best being that between Mexico City & Puebla, which has not only its own riches, but the two snowy volcanoes Popocatepetl & the Sleeping Woman at its horizons. I had just received $80 for 2 poems from Mademoiselle, so in Mexico City we had a little leeway with money & bought a whole lot of books (since Oaxaca has no American library) which was fun. I don't mean eighty dollars' worth of course!

Finally we got down here to find that the house wasn't ready for us owing to a typical Mexico mishmash — that was the first week in July — now we've moved into 2 rooms & the kitchen & they're rebuilding the rest around us — it will be nice when it's finished but meanwhile the sounds (beginning at 6:30 am — continuing till sundown) of plastering, sawing, plumbing, whistling, singing & cement mixing (by hand) are driving us nuts, especially Mitch, and especially since the patio is almost completely obstructed by rotten beams (removed from the original structure) metal rods) to be used in the present structure) huge mudpuddles (it is the rainy season) and our landlord's family washlines (the landlord & family are charming friends and have adopted my mother for life, which makes it almost impossible to complain, especially since all this is not the fault of anyone in particular).

Anyway — Mitch is restless & wants to get back to New York; so he's probably going to drive up with some friends in a week & stay a couple of months. I guess we will all 3 be back next spring. The prospect of going back to N.Y. gave me the shakes as recently as a week ago, but I've now realized that it is inevitable because Mitch needs it, it is his native ground & he comes to a standstill when he's away too long. For me it is rather bad than good but I'm very adjustable once I can see there's no way out. So now I'm beginning to think of the good things about a return — the chance of seeing you for one. And seeing paintings, hearing music. Nell Blaine has been painting down here & I've gotten a kick out of her work (& finding what a good person she is too, after years of mere acquaintance) — & it makes me realize how much I miss that.

Insurgentes Avenue

Here, even in Mexico City, there's nothing. The Mexican painters don't interest me, except some of the engravers. Oaxaca itself & the great archeological sites nearby I love, but somehow none of it has the impact on me that the bare dry prairie & distant mountains around Guadalajara had a year & 1/2 ago — bitter & almost ugly, they seemed the right place to come at a bitter time. However once this damn house is fixed I mean to suck whatever savor is to be had from the remaining months here, if I can.

Today I discovered something odd — H.L. Davis whose poems (published by Harriet Monroe in the twenties) I'd found in an anthology & liked very much, also a book of his called Winds of Morning, & to whom I'd been meaning to write to ask if he still wrote poetry, is living right here just outside Oaxaca. I haven't met him yet but am going out there in a day or 2. It was rather like finding John Herrmann, to find him living here — tho I don't expect him to be such a nice person as poor John (from whom we haven't heard recently — & in his case that's not a good sign).

The electricity just gave out (see "The Plumed Serpent," very little has changed) and there's about 1/4 inch of oil left in the lamp. We were very glad to read about that Award they gave you. I hope you've both been well — has it been a good summer for you? — not that it's ended but there's a feeling here of summer visitors departing & fall beginning. I've been dyeing curtains all sorts of unexpected colors. We have a 16-year old maid called Lydia, she has terribly bandy legs but such a nice face. The workmen's wives and families come twice a day & they all have long civilized picnics among the rubble.

With love, always,

from Denise

August 25th, 1957

In a diary entry from November, Levertov wrote, "went to San Felipe to visit H.L. Davis. Liked him — gave him my book."

The letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams are edited by Christopher MacGowan. You can read the first part of this series here.