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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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Tuesday
Nov162010

In Which You Have No Idea What They've Endured

Tell Me How Long James Baldwin's Been Gone

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Before James Baldwin made his first ever trip to the American south in 1957, the Harlem-bred prodigy flew to Washington D.C. to talk to the poet Sterling A. Brown. Where Baldwin's work continues to be read in schools and to a certain extent by the general public, Brown's distinguished career is relatively anonymous outside of appreciators of the master poet.

Before reporting on the civil rights conflict for Partisan Review in an article that would be called "Nobody Knows My Name," Baldwin got a rough guide from his mentor on what to expect in his first destination, Charlotte, North Carolina. Brown reminded Baldwin that blacks in the South might resent or fear him, and in David Leeming's biography of Baldwin, he quotes Brown as telling Baldwin "to remember that Southern Negroes had endured things I could not imagine."

cooking in 1966 in istanbul
It is strange to think of Baldwin alive in the world today, walking around in the world he made instead of the one in which he was made. Born in August of 1924, Baldwin's early life in Harlem would later be chronicled in one of the great first novels ever written, Go Tell It On The Mountain. The ostensible subject was Baldwin's domineering reverend stepfather, but the book was to a greater extent Baldwin's declaration of himself as the ultimate outsider.

Initially titled Crying Holy, Mountain established Baldwin's reputation as an emerging talent in world literature. Written in Paris during the first of Baldwin's exiles, the book is almost incomprehensible to young people today, and it was only assigned reading in my ninth grade class because by the grace of God my English teacher never shaved her armpits and told me that referring to Macbeth as being "whipped" was both sexist and inappropriate. Baldwin himself was quickly identified as a gifted student, and he attended high school at De Witt, the legendary Bronx school, after a recommendation by early mentor Countee Cullen.

with engin cezzar in istanbul 1965
At De Witt, Baldwin's classmates included the likes of Richard Avedon, Sol Stein, and Emile Capouya. Still living in Harlem with his family, Baldwin developed a second community, mostly composed of Jews, where he felt at home. This was a crucial step for the young writer, who was for the first time investigating his sexuality. Although he was very gay, Baldwin had relationships with women throughout his life, the vast majority of which consisting of mothering and unwavering financial support.

with biographer David Leeming (glasses) and othersBecause of his fearsome stepfather, though, the men in Baldwin's young life loomed large. His friends were numerous and bold-faced: Marlon Brando once paid Baldwin's way back to American after an aborted attempt to go stay in Tangiers with Paul Bowles. His connections with the major names in black literature were more fractured. He would resolve to work harder than his predecessors on relationships with the next generation of writers. As Toni Morrison once put it in a remembrance of her friend:

I suppose that is why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to witness the pain you had witnessed and were tough enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.

By the time Baldwin was ready for the first trip to the south, he had already felt the lax racism of Paris, where many African-American expats went to gather, including Baldwin's major nemesis/foreunner, the novelist Richard Wright. Baldwin's third piece in the fledgling journal Commentary was an attack on Wright called "Everybody's Protest Novel." The two argued about writing for the expediency of a political cause, and Baldwin ended up feeling uncomfortable under Wright's gaze.

embracing Lena HorneWhen he had first arrived in Paris sometime after his 24th birthday, his welcoming party had included Wright and Jean Paul-Sartre. Returning there later in life, he saw Paris as an escape from the literary culture, and perhaps more importantly an escape from America, where he could be James instead of standing in for someone's idea of him. Still, he did not always find Paris as welcoming as he had hoped, although he once said that at the time, he never intended to return to America.

The publication of two of his essays on the subject of race, collected in The Fire Next Time, thrust Baldwin into a very public position while he toured the country. These broadsides had run in consecutive issues of The New Yorker, and Baldwin appeared on the cover of Time in 1963.

In one sense, this represented a kind of progress, a shifting of the debate. It was also a double-edged sword, as Baldwin deftly noted in the introduction to his collected essays:

But it is part of the business of the writeras I see it to examine attitudes, to go beneath the surface, to tap the source. From this point of view the Negro problem is nearly inaccessible. It is not only written about so widely; it is written about so badly. It is quite possible to say that the price a Negro pays for becoming articulate is to find himself, at length, with nothing to be articulate about. ("You taught me language," says Caliban to Prospero, "and my profit on't is I know how to curse.") ... Nevertheless, social affairs are not generally speaking the writer's prime concern, whether they ought to be or not; it is absolutely necessary that he establish between himself and these affairs a distance which will allow, at least, for clarity, so that before he can look forward in any meaningful sense, he must first be allowed to take a long look back. In the context of the Negro problem neither whites nor blacks, for excellent reasons of their own, have the faintest desire to look back; but I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.

Baldwin was the man of his family now, the world traveler. He feuded with William Faulkner over Faulkner's declaration that he would fight in the street with his racist friends if it came to it. Faulkner's advice to the civil rights movement was to "go slow." Baldwin responded in his essay "Faulkner and Desegregation" by quoting Thurgood Marshall's comment that "They don't mean 'go slow.' They mean 'don't go.'"

This is a world we cannot recognize, and Baldwin actually had to answer for why he wanted equal rights so badly! He concluded his appraisal of the Mississippian by writing "There is never a time in the future when we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now."

James Baldwin, Joan Baez, and James Forman (left to right) enter Montgomery, Alabama on the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, 1965.He did so, obligingly, definitively, eventually impatiently. He rememberd Sterling Brown's advice, and his work about race was usually addressed to whites, aiming to convince them delicately, forcing them to convince themselves, really. For his style and manner he was sometimes reproached by his peers, including Malcolm X, who represented at least something of the religious officiousness that Baldwin had rejected in his youth. All that time he told us how difficult it was to want be a part of something he was convinced with absolute certainty could never be.

Faulkner refused an invitation to the White House that would have put him and Baldwin in the same room. He was of an ilk of white man whose objection to other people's objections was that they made it all about race. This is not to say something about Faulkner, but ourselves. Even now, when someone argues that an issue has eclipsed race, we can hear Faulkner's words to American blacks in theirs, and know it for a lie.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages on the letters of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He tumbls here and twitters here.

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with the painter beauford delaney"Peepsie" - Dntel (mp3)

"Flares" - Dntel (mp3)

"Soft Alarm" - Dntel (mp3)

Monday
Nov152010

In Which You Should Dunaway Fast As You Can

Brushing Out The Mothballs

by DANIEL D'ADDARIO

Morning Glory

dir. Roger Michell

102 minutes 

The last time morning-shows were at the forefront of American minds after around 10 a.m. each day was in 2005. That was when Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer fought, blonde-on-blonde, for not just the eyeballs but the sympathies of the American viewer. Couric won the battle but lost the war – her Today was and is ever the top-rated, but she went to the nightly news and everyone hated it. (I watched the first night and only remember her breaking the story that Suri Cruise actually existed.) Sawyer went to the evening news a few years later, and was, I think everyone agreed, fine. Now Matt Lauer, the second most unfortuitously balding man in the world after Jude Law, wades amidst the weird Bush-Kanye imbroglio of the last week and seems to be positioning himself for something “greater.” Daytime TV is all about getting out and doing other things, retaining a bit of energy for the serious work that comes later.

Not so in Morning Glory. In this new film, about a daytime-news producer who winds up tasked to save a national news show because she is Rachel McAdams, daytime is all. The movie is crammed with cultural signifiers from mid-Bush era, when Couric vs. Sawyer was big news: McAdams and Patrick Wilson hit their heights of people saying they would eventually be huge stars around then, and everyone remembered Diane Keaton was alive between 2003 and 2005. Even the celebrity guests McAdams books for Daybreak – Eva Longoria and 50 Cent, who performs “Candy Shop” – should be brushing mothballs out of their hair.

Morning Glory is full of people towards whom the viewer feels goodwill and they are all awful. Like a remake of Network, the film hinges on the (metaphorical!) seduction of an older news veteran (Harrison Ford playing William Holden) by a producer with bright ideas and boundless repressed energy (Rachel McAdams, you are no Faye Dunaway). In Network, Holden’s literal seduction, as well as his ceding control of his news department to Dunaway, who turned it into a weird, hugely-rated joke, was a tragedy. Even for the mid-1970s, the film is a little heavy-handed, but it left no room for doubt about what any deviation from straightforward news coverage meant: schizophrenics on the evening news and an Angela Davis reality show.

McAdams’s re-imagining of Daybreak begins with hiring Ford away from the evening news and continues by begging him to do everything he never thought he’d have to do. The viewer is constantly elbowed in the ribs to acknowledge how horrible a team player Ford is, and the fruit plate in his dressing room is probably an excessive demand, but consider whether, at your job, you’d suddenly want to start getting Tasered and playing with wild animals and undergoing needless medical exams.

William Holden’s onscreen wife, Beatrice Straight, won an Oscar for telling him off for five minutesMorning Glory has no similar person, to speak up for the Ford who once was, to remind him of his standards. We are left with an impression of a man running on the fumes of reputation who will show up where there is money and do as little as possible – a perfect argument for McAdams’s methods, and perfect casting of Harrison Ford.

By film’s end, McAdams, of course, has saved Daybreak by turning it into gonzo journalism, Jackass plus that daily hour where Kathie Lee gets drunk on TV. She’s obsessed with the body and its limits, and book segments on the orgasm, roller-coaster riding, and electrolysis. She cheers when Keaton spontaneously kisses (really kisses) a frog, and even when Keaton and Ford fight on-air: it’s good for ratings!

"The battle between news and entertainment has been going on for forty years!," McAdams says to Ford, cutely flipping her bangs. "Guess what? News lost." Go, girl! But he still won’t indulge her. When Ford breaks the story of a scandal involving the governor of New York, McAdams is only excited that cameras caught the police cars pulling up – that it bears all the signifiers of what is tabloid, even as Ford rattles off financial details that are already lost to my memory. The next week, her real triumph happens –getting Ford to cook a frittata on air.

This all happens when McAdams is interviewing for a new job, at Today. She was so good at finding the schlocky that she might rise to the pinnacle of her field (and presumably NBC consented in some way to the portrayal of their news department – the whole sequence is shot at 30 Rockefeller Plaza). She can’t leave, she decides, her “family” at Daybreak, a family whose patriarch has finally decided being an authority figure is no fun.

Faye Dunaway, in Network, would never have made the same mistake. She rose in the TV-news hierarchy not because the movie’s by the writer of The Devil Wears Prada, so of course the girl gets the job offer; but because she was spooky-good at her job, and she knew what her job was. She would never have giggled at Keaton kissing a frog – she’d just have made a mental note that all anchors had to kiss amphibians a minimum of twice a week. And she’d never have confused her workplace for a family. In 1976, we were all still pretending there were values greater to a capitalist society than workplace success.

But, yay, the girl succeeds and the Natasha Bedingfield song plays. “Success” is highly contingent, even in this irony-free film – she has not gotten promoted and Daybreak is not a Howard Beale Show-style hit. She merely gets to keep her job for another year, as Daybreak has staved off its cancellation.

But that’s the happiest of endings for McAdams, whose striving and focus on working within the bizarre and familiar grammar of daytime TV has seen her rewarded. Part of that striving was convincing a newsman that the news was important, as long as it was packaged as gossip, snuff films, and porn. McAdams tells Ford, at the turning point of his shift into Lauerland, that the institution of daytime news faces pre-emption by “soap operas and game shows.” For all Dunaway’s flaws in Network, she’d never make a good chick-flick heroine, but at least she knew such a pre-emption would make no difference.

Daniel D'Addario is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in White Plains. He tumbls here and twitters  here. He last wrote in these pages about Easy A.

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"Swallow Tail" - The Brian Jonestown Massacre (mp3)

"Carousel" - The Brian Jonestown Massacre (mp3)

"You Have Been Disconnected" - The Brian Jonestown Massacre (mp3)

 

Friday
Nov122010

In Which We Can Talk To Each Other Like This Forever

I Wish You Were Here In The Sunshine

The letters of the poets Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams begin as those of an admirer to an icon, and end as a dance of equals. Levertov was a young, married poet developing her powers while the legendary Williams had just suffered his first stroke when Levertov wrote to him for the first time. Other figures swirl and move through this artistic relationship, and despite a massive age difference (40 years), some element of romance remains. As his body failed him Williams' mind raced to keep up with its active heights, when the physician-poet made new forms using his iron-clad grasp of the language. The female poet that considered his advice sage above all others was struggling to realize her life would not follow so easily from mastery of her art. The mystery then, is of what is occuring at the edges of their letters, where two people seem to suffer together without explaining or having to explain the cause to themselves. - A.C.

This is the first letter Denise ever wrote to Bill:

Dear William Carlos Williams,

I stopped myself from writing to you for a long time because of a self-conscious idea that it might seem my motive was to draw attention to myself, collect your autograph, or something like that. But I've decided this is silly. If a man is a force in one's life, as you are in mine & my husband's, if his work has given not only great pleasure & excitement but is felt to enter the fabric of one's thinking and feeling & one's way of trying to work, he certainly ought to know it. So, thank you.

I got the address from Bob Creeley.

yours sincerely,

Denise Levertov Goodman

October 1951

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

By 1953, Levertov was regularly sending Williams her poetry, including what appears to be a version of her classic poem, "A Story, A Play," which he goes on to quote at length in his response letter.

Dear Denise:

There is something wrong, but easily cured, with the beginning of your first poem. Omit the first line. That aside I am as much as ever impressed with you. There's something indescribably appealing to me in what you write and I think appealing to anyone who reads you with attention. I'd like to be able to indicate more clearly what it is but so far it has escaped collaring. That I suspect is exactly what you want. It is a problem that eludes me.

You need a book of your closely chosen work. I think, if you thought out and selected your choice very carefully, it would be one of the most worthwhile books of the generation. It would have to be a small book squeezed up to get the gists alone of what you have to say. Much would have to be omitted. You may not be old enough yet to know your own mind for it would have to be a thoughtful, adult book of deep feeling that would reveal you in what may not want to be revealed. I am curious to know what you are thinking — you never say. But you reveal more by your poems than can be easily deciphered and that is what draws a reader on. Perhaps you will never be able to say what you want to say. In that case you make me feel that the loss will be great.

levertov

A small closely chosen book is what I want to see packed with the power of your self-denials, your repressions — which would be revealed in the beauty of whatever it is a lover and a poet discovers in his heart. Things that cannot from the necessary reticenses of a sensitive person, cannot be expressed but in a poem. It is the tension within ourselves that drive us to confess what is wrung from us.

Sappho must have been a powerful wench to stand what would have torn a woman apart otherwise. The tensions she must have withstood without yielding have made her poems forever memorable. You can say it was her fine ear that did it but she would not have been as voluble as she appears to have been without the other. Hers must have been a sound constitution in the first place. She was probably worn thin with the intensity of her longings which she refused to have beaten.

The dread word has been spoken.

Cut and cut again whatever you write — while you leave by your art no trace of your cutting — and the final utterance will remain packed with what you have to say. The stream does not ripple or at best go wild save by the swiftness of its flow as well as by the obstruction it encounters. But in the end you must say whatever you have to say, without honesty completely outspoken you will not succeed in moving yourself or the world.

'And the Minotaur will devour.
it's life against death, and
                       death wins
and will uproot the rocks, too, for pastime.'

'Deformed life, rather:
the maskfaced buyers of bric-a-brac
are the detritus only - of a
ferocious energy -'

                      'A monster.
Greed, is it? Alive, yes - '

'Whose victims
multiply quicker than it eats
& stubbornly
            flourish in the shadow of it.
'

Whoever wrote that, for it is only quoted, knew what he was doing. It can stand alone, without explanation and no matter what the connotation, and it will constitute a poem.

Pardon this screed, something set me off as it does whenever I have a letter from you. Chuck it away when you have done reading it.

Regards to your husband. Love from Floss and myself.

Yours

Bill

August 23rd 1953

Denise wrote the following letter after a visit with Bill and his wife Florence Williams. Denise and her husband Mitch Goodman were in Guadalajara at the time. After WCW passed in 1963, Denise continued to write to his widow until Florence's death in 1976.

Dear Bill,

That was a wonderful afternoon I had with you. I've thought of it very often in the confused weeks since then — almost 2 months. Now I'm beginning to feel clearer in the head. I was in a daze at first; partly because of the new country - so different from any place in Europe. And partly because not very long before leaving N.Y.  I had fallen in love - with someone who loved me - & though I knew I was going away and would very likely never see him again, & that had to be so because of Mitch and Niki, it wasn't until I was in the plane, and thereafter, that I really did know it.

But I have a fearful resilience; and a good marriage; so here I am, alive & kicking. (More or less.) It's sunny all day every day, there's a wonderful luxuriance of delicate flowers with an iron will to grow out of the dusty cracked ground, & we have a brand-new house on the edge of town, where the prairie begins; & cowboys and cattle & donkeys & Indians, on foot or sometimes on bicycles, with huge loads on their heads, pass by all day. Guadalajara is rather Americanized - has glossy super-markets, etc., & is growing like mad — but it has old houses too, & beautiful jumbled-up markets full of strange smells and bright colours.

We have to pay much more rent than we expected - older houses we looked at didn't have a place for Nik to play, or were too small. But we like the house, and the lower cost of food, schooling etc will make it come out alright I think.

We heard that John Herrmann was living just outside of town in a place called Thaquepaque. I'd never been able to get hold of a copy of "What Happens" but remembering your praise in the autobiography we thought we'd go & pay our respects. We finally tracked down the house but he was out. We'll try again another day - though someone afterwards told us that he's in pretty bad shape, has been ill. We saw his little blond son, about 2 1/2 years old, or 3 maybe.

Nik has started at the American school here. It's not a good school, but we tried out a Mexican private school first & that was worse, & at least he feels a little less strange in this one, & likes his teacher. Most of the children are Mexican & so is the teacher but the tuition is in English (of sorts). In the afternoon he digs up the yard here with a friend he's made — they're making a system of canals (there's a convenient faucet on the garden wall, meant for a hose, which we don't yet have).

I don't speak much Spanish yet but have been reading some, with a dictionary.

I have a table by a window, and a view. In the foreground workmen are building a house - one of the workmen is about ten years old, & has trouble getting up a ladder with a bucket of cement on his head & the grown men tease him, & he answers back in a little treble voice — but he seems to have a pretty good time too. In the distance are mountains.

I wish you were here in the sunshine. I love you dearly. The most.

I reread the Fall of Tenochtitlan in Mexico City where we spent a few days before coming here. We brought all our copies of your books along, except A Voyage to Pagany which got put away by mistake. Aside from you, we have Stevens' collected poems, a good deal of D.H. Lawrence, the Viking 5 vol. poetry anthology, The Golden Bough, Don Quixote — & not much else. Oh, the Cantos & the "A.B.C. of Reading." And some books by Paul Goodman, pretty wild.

I'll put in a few poems. I feel as if I could work well here — started right in. Mitch has had to finish off a travel article so he hasn't got back to any real work yet but he mailed it yesterday &  thinks he'll be able to settle down to work now; he needs to get his breath and stop worrying about money.

I did write to Marianne Moore, but she couldn't see me — wasn't well. Do you remember, you wanted me to go?

With love from

Denise

March 12th 1956

in 1906 with a donkey

WCW wrote back with the following:

Dear Denise:

Maybe it's just as well that you have — saved yourself to go on writing verse though you may regret it. There's no way to know what that beast of love may not do to one. Without the drive to write, and write, and write against all that may occur to stop you nothing matters. Regret is as good a goad as anything else. If you had been overwhelmed by love nothing may have come of it but satiety - unless you had gone on from love to love. Writing always better and better, more pointedly, with your eyes wider and wider poen and words cleaner, more stripped of the inessential, cleared of every redundancy alone will give you any lasting satisfaction. It may be that women are different from nen in that, they have to strip themselves barer than men do, the history of Sappho seems to indicate it - nothing held back, absolutely nothing, complete incontinence, but the cost is exorbitant. Women can rarely do it, they are physically ruined.

Not that they should not be but the cost is more than they can endure. And nothing less than completely laying themselves bare is any good. They frequently do as Sappho did, is reported to have done, turn to love of individuals of their sex — though Sappho turned to a sailor at the end — presumably a young sailor. What could she do, men apparently proved impossible to her. They only wanted the one thing soon exhausted. But she was to be satisfied with only the greatest subtleties which existed only in herself. Only the putting down of the deeply felt poem in its infinite and resourceful variety could relieve her. No man could give her what she required. The poet that is not in essence a woman as well as a man can know the  divisions of the words can amount to anything.

But the physical satisfaction of indulging yourself or herself to the ultimate implies so many dangers that most women fail to indulge themselves enough. Better to be a writer with the imagination taking on the load.

Hope you met John Herrmann, sorry to hear he is not well. So he has a child. Good for him. I'm glad you like Guadalajara, they say it is a beautiful city. The poems are not as good as the ones you read to us the last time you were here — what can we expect. Keep writing.

Yours,

Bill

June 13th, 1956

Dear Denise,

"Compost" is a fine poem, thank you for calling it to my attention. From now on it occupies a niche in my consciousness. But that only reinforces the main drawback for me in all of Whitman's poems, even the greatest of them and I include "Compost", now that you have called it to my attention, among one of his most important shorter poems.

The mark of his times was on Whitman, he had rejected the older prosody but had nothing to take its place but a formlessness which has laid him open to attack on formal grounds. When you see what the young poets are writing today, Whitman might never have existed instead of founding a memorable school that should have gone influencing the writing of poems to this day.

Maybe it is best so, a great poet is strongly an individual and not to be copied but if he does not link up with the prosodic process in some way he seems to me to have lost his major opportunity.

The intellectual enlightenment that this poem signalizes is tremendous. That should be enough, you might say, to commend it to our admiration. The art of the poem must keep pace with the intellectual life of the times in which we live. A play which I saw last week which was on the verge of closing its doors because there were not enough people interested in seeing it was Waiting for Godot. Without qualification I find it the greatest play of a generation. It was an uproarious comedy with tragedy breaking through mostly in the acting, which was superb, but also in the idea itself. The comedy was laid on with a trowel. God it was beautifully done!

I could go on raving about that play for the rest of my life but I want to call your attention to a phenomenon of the moment in NY. That play all but failed but another play, referred to in an accompanying letter (which you can destroy), is all the vogue. You can imagine, from the title, why that is. This sort of snobbism will go on forever as long as women are desirable under their clothes. It has no relation to poetry or perhaps (we do not know) to the subtle poems of Sappho, that delightful bitch. Which brings me back to Whitman: The art of the poem requires order but in our day a new species of order, a new measure, consonant with our time. My complaint against Whitman is that he failed to realize this. He discovered nothing.

The poems you enclosed, you are right, are much better than the last time. One or two of them are up to your best work. But not the last, longest one, "Le Bateleur", which I can't see. Glad you are getting to know John Herrmann, I always liked him. Give him my love and tell him he has always occupied a special place and a distinguished place in my memory. I'd love to see him again. I hope he recovers his health completely for from all I hear he has been seriously ill.

Write again, the life you are living in Mexico sounds fascinating especially Oaxaca where you are heading. Take care of yourself. Saw some paintings of a young New Jersey painter who lives about 40 miles from us in country district about Lake Hopatcong that are quite marvellous today; thrilling work, actual records of life but not abstracted for a patterned to appeal to a geometric unity. Watch him, his name is Henry Niese. Love.

Bill

Dear Denise:

Your new lot of poems at their best show the ability with the words that I have come to look for from you, the same mastery of the rhythmic structure. At the same time it reinforces my knowledge that poetry is a most difficult art. It requires constant attention to detail and a conscience that lays in wait to trip us up at the smallest lapse from perfection. "The Lovers" is a beautiful piece of work. "Tomatlan", that attempts more, is also a good work which I very much like but it is not as sharply cut as I'd like to see.

One word too much in such short poems as this damages the whole effect. Without showing it all such short poems have to be cut to the quick. One redundant word overburdens the line intolerably.

The test of the artist is to be able to revise without showing a seam. In "The Lovers" you yourself state that the poem as I saw it had been revised. That proves that you have the right knowledge of what you're doing. It often is no more than a question of knowing what to cut. And in the process of cutting, part of the same gesture, the new word, the insight in your own meaning will suddenly flash across your mind.

Practice, practice, practice! must be the practice of the artist. You have to write (as you must know) practically in your sleep and leap out of bed day or night when the inevitable word comes to your mind: it may never come again. You know all this but it can bear repeating, I am talking as much to myself as I am to you.

All the best passages we have ever written come to us in the flash of an — sometimes we lose them (it must be admitted) by revision, but that is a chance that has to be taken.

I return your script to show you what I would do to it — and never forget that as between writers there are no secrets. All I have is yours as far as I can make it so. I don't expect that you will agree with me. Good luck.

Best,

Bill

"The Springtime" is also a well made poem.

W.

June 25th, 1956

Dear Bill,

Thank you very much for those 2 letters & for making that poem. I absolutely agree about the cuts — it's like someone trying to make a 'realistic' drawing & just not seeing they've got the nose too long, or whatever. Until someone points it out at last. Did you mean, I wonder, to send the 4th part of the poem or not? You didn't, anyway. Maybe you though it was OK?

I wish I could have seen Waiting for Godot. I'm going to read it, anyway, but that's something different. Also there's a book of 3 stories, by the same man, I've seen it here at a store which sells French books, which we're going to buy on the strength of what you say about Godot.

The last memorable theater I saw was The Dybukk in a little cellar-like theatre on E. 3rd St. somewhere; where the stage is in the middle, audience on 2 sides, & the actors were obliged to climb onstage, like boxers, from the ailes. It was another world, and given with complete intense conviction. And before that in 1948 in April, Jean-Louis Barrault's production of Kafka, not The Castle, the other one, dramatised by Gide I think, altho' I could understand only about 1/2 at most — because of the sense of there being no slack to take up, and of things happening simultaneously at different levels, as in a string quartet. (And indeed the set was built so that that was physically true.)

Other plays I've seen, including Shakespeare (because it's played with such embarrassment and consciousness of "playing Shakespeare") even when I've enjoyed them, have usually seemed no more than versions of conventional novels "acted out" — nothing specifically theatre about them. Some sense of what it could be I've gotten from Artaud (tho' sometimes he seems quite incoherent — or perhaps it's just that I can't keep up with him) and from that scene where the sailors dance on the moonlit deck in Moby Dick — and from "A Dream of Love" - but how I wish I could see it!

I showed John Herrmann your message and he was very pleased & said he must write to you. But it seems he finds it just about impossible to write letters. The little boy, Juanito, was 4 the day after Nik was 7, & we went to the party. And Juanito has been over here to play several times. They like each other in spite of the age difference.

Mitch's novel was just turned down by Random House after a nine week wait. Mitch has gone downtown to relieve his feelings. (We received the agent's letter this morning.) There isn't much one could do to relieve one's feelings in Guadalajara except to drink tequila and he's not much of a drunk, or go to the movies. So I guess he went to the movies.

Lee (Leland) Bell (that painter about whom I wrote to you & whose show you then went to see, a year or so ago,) and his wife also a good painter, received McDowell Fellowships and are there now. I'm very pleased because they really needed something like that.

I've been reading a book on Ecology which interested me very much - the place of the predators especially. And some Fabre, insects.

We are looking forward to Kora in Hell which Ferlinghetti tells me will be out in October.

Love to you & Floss

Denise

August 22nd, 1956

Dear Bill,

It certainly was good to hear from you. I hope you won't feel disappointed in Mitch's article when Floss reads it to you — the thing, it is strictly commercial, has to be, written to a market, and he would hate anybody, and you in particular, to think of it as an attempt at a piece of genuine writing. I wish he wd. show you some of his real stuff — the only legible copy though is with Ivan von Auw, the agent. It keeps coming back from publishers with notes saying, "great talent" etc. etc. "but not for us" — "however we'd be happy to see his subsequent work" etc.

At the moment he is away on a trip to Guatemala, Yucatan, and the W. Indies, also for Atlantic Monthly. The Guatemalan Tourist Commission gave him a car & driver & paid all bills for a week or 10 days & he went to remote mountain villages & saw Indians proud and beautifully dressed, as they are not here. He'll be home in a week or so — I'm looking forward to hearing about all the other places he's seen, of which Havana seems to have been the worst and Haiti the best, after Guatemala & Yucatan.

At that point the milk boiled over.

Enclosed are a few new poems. Ferlinghetti seems about ready to send off the poems he's chosen, from what I sent him, to the printers. Jonathan Williams is also doing a book for me, and Al Kresch will do a litho for it. Jonathan put me on his list & sent that out before I even knew what he was up to, & he's going out of business (he says) after he's through with his present titles — so now it's now or never — but I wish he could have waited till next year. I'm afraid of not having enough good poems for him; and I don't want to pad it.

I think the Ferlinghetti book will be good, tho', and I look forward to sending you the first copy he sends me.

Tomorrow I'll go downtown to look for The New Yorker. Good!

Did you ever read Stanislavsky's An Actor Prepares and My Life In Art? The former, a very exciting book in spite of its rather wooden prose, seems to me to have so much in it that's applicable to other arts besides acting; & the latter, which I'm just reading, is full of amusing very Russian anecdotes as well as showing an interpretive artist's development step by step. I also just read The Idiot for the first time.

Denise

Dear Bill

First — it's too late to wish you a happy birthday but I do wish you a happy year, with good health & lots of work. I didn't forget the 17th but couldn't make up my mind whether what I'd got to send was suitable or not — i.e. whether you'd be able to read it. In the end I decided to send it anyway (with love) in the hope that if you weren't able to read it to yourself you would be able to find someone Spanish-speaking to read it to you. I was afraid you'd have to pay duty on anything other than a book.

A few days ago I had a letter from a N.Y. painter, Nell Blaine, telling me about a sort of anthology she & some other people are getting up, of poems, & reproductions of contemporary paintings, and asking me to ask you if you would contribute. The painters included are mostly good — Lee Bell, whose show you went to see after I wrote about it, for one — Helion, Kerkam (a rather neglected older man), Albert Kresch, etc. But the poets, or at least those who are editing it, aren't much good I think; a little clique — John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara — rather slick. So I don't want to be the one to ask you. However I took the liberty of sending your address — I hope that's alright. She'd undoubtedly have gotten it from someone else anyway. Grove Press is going to publish it. I think the section of paintings will be very good.

We saw some short Lorca plays here a couple of weeks ago, very very well done by a young group, El Caballito. Also some early renaissance things something after the style of Everyman or The Shepherd's Play; & 3 modern French plays (in Spanish) — by Tardieu, Neveux & Ionesco. All were short, & done with wonderful crispness and freshness. They call their programs "Poesia en Voz Alta." Absolutely no ranting — (except in an arrangement by Octavio Paz of "Rappacini's Daughter," of Hawthorne, with dreadful scenary by Leonora Carrington — the one poor item). They are the poeple who, if it weren't for the language barrier, damn it, could do A Dream of Love.

All this makes it sound as if our Spanish were much better than it is.

We finally got hold of Waiting for Godot, & liked it very much. But it needs to be seen — it's so hard to pace one's reading properly — rushing through what on the stage would be long pauses full of meaning.

Mitch's agent is our Godot. Right now it's 14 weeks since the book came back from one publisher & was sent to another — & not a word.

Olson's second book of The Maximus Poems arrived yesterday. At a glance it looks to me much better than the first lot, which seemed to me to need cutting. I have very varying feelings about Olson. Sometimes he seems terrific & at others incredibly bad and self-deluded. Have you read this book?

With love to Floss & to you

Denise

Denise Levertov died in 1997. You can purchase the collected correspondence of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams, edited by Christopher MacGowan, here. You can find more photos of Williams here and listen to him reading here.

"Passengers" - Trap Tiger (mp3)

"Aside" - Trap Tiger (mp3)

"Aside II (The Wild Hunt)" - Trap Tiger (mp3)

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