Sunday, March 23, 2008



A rare moment in publishing. The Library of America has published a very very good book: SELECTED POEMS by ANNE STEVENSON, the second of its Neglected Masters Award volumes. The previous one by Samuel Menashe was long overdue as they say. Menashe was much praised by Denis Donoghue, Derek Mahon, Donald Davie... it sometimes seemed that Menashe existed in England and Ireland but not in the United States. His poems are all very short and resisted paraphrase.

American critics and poets did not know what to make of Menashe so ignored him. Of course he did not teach creative writing which for a poet is always destructive. One could probably make a rule and say,if a poet has been teaching creative writing that is a reason not to read him or her. One thinks of fakes like Sharon Olds, Mark Strand, Galway Kinnell, Philip many years teaching, semester after semester, and nothing much to show for it except a slue of books that are copies of copies of copies of copies of previous books: each of these academic poets turned out faithful disciples who could be counted on to praise their master by writing poems in imitation of their master's imitations...


The Library of America has published the SELECTED POEMS of Anne Stevenson. An American long resident of England... biographer of Sylvia Plath along with two studies of Elizabeth Bishop... many books of poetry: and now this invitation to discover...

Might as well quote two short poems:

On Going Deaf

I've lost a sense. Why should I care?
Searching myself, I find a spare.
I keep that sixth sense in repair
And set it deftly, like a spare.


It's not when you walk through my sleep
That I'm haunted most.
I am most alive where you were.
And my own ghost.

That's a taste of a selected. The editor also includes the whole of CORRESPONDENCES A Family History in Letters. Ranging back to the early 19th century and on into the second half of the 20th...reads like something that should have been done many times before... but a rare precise rapt attention to detail and the suggestiveness of the constant loss which is life. One long section rooted in Cincinnati reminded me of Hannah Green's great visionary book THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE and other parts of Glenway Wescott's THE GRANDMOTHERS... that casual way Americans just move on and on, all the time losing.

Let us hope that this Library of America book will have rescued Anne Stevenson, at least, for a little while. I have a place for her next to LIFE SUPPORTS by William Bronk and ARK by Ronald Johnson.

Anne Stevenson's poetry will shadow your life, a little.


DAWN, DUSK or NIGHT A year with Nicolas Sarkozy. By Yasmina Reza.

I am a Francophile without a sentence of French in my head.

Everything that I know about contemporary France comes from having gone to Verdun, Lourdes and Paris and having read all the available translations of books by Celine, Gracq, Genet, Green, Perec. Drieu La Rochelle, Pascal.

I am probably over-qualified to comment on Yasmina Reza's impressionistic fragmented writing based on the year she traveled with Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, while he campaigned for the presidency of France.

Such a book is totally unimaginable in the United States where we expect our political commentators to produce tomes that are more like tombstones for whomever they are writing about and stuffed with endless re-creations of events and personalities serving as a thousand tiny stakes into their subject's heart.

While I would have given--- as they say--- anything to have been invited to write a book like Reza's about either Richard Nixon or George W. Bush--- one quickly realizes the sheer impossibility of such a book... and I have selected these two men because they are the only really interesting presidents of recent years... that have the necessary complexity as to suggest a possibility for literature.

Reza mentions early on that she is interested in politics, "as a way of being." You now know this is a special sort of book... and her freedom from the receive wisdom comes quickly as she does not give the expected slurring with recounting a visit Sarkozy makes to George W... and while Reza's applying the word splendid as an adjective to Obama after a visit to his office is cause for possible alarm one is pleasantly surprised to note the following: "What makes you(Sarkozy)different from George Bush? How am I different from Bush? He was elected president of the United States twice. None of the journalists present in the room at the Sofitel seems to appreciate the intelligence of this response, and I will not see if quoted anywhere in the French press.

Reza notes "He (Sarkozy) seeems more elegant these days...He is elegant, yes, he's gone back to Dior. Before he wore Lanvin, Lanvin is normally the thing, but it has to be tailored, the sleeves cut, all kinds of alterations, Dior suits him better."

Even I note this detail and the observing eye...

I hope I will be given the chance to write more about Reza. Her book is to be published on May 3rd. Alfred A. Knopf.

---old news---

Now six days have gone by since that publisher has had my book in front of him...