Love deserves …

In a marvellous Tukwila, Washington used bookstore the other week I picked up a copy of Yvor Winters’ Uncollected Essays and Reviews for $2.99. I am glad I did because it sure was worth it. I would have been happy to have paid five.

Winters was a Stanford University English Professor and a literary critic and moralist. Long after he passed away, in the 1980s graduate students like myself could leaf through his bound and yellowing PhD dissertation in the Briggs Room library (I was the librarian) in Building 50 next to Memorial Church on the quad. We all read Winters, particularly his book In Defense of Reason, if only to disparage his conviction that a poem should be a rational statement of an abiding human truth. We were more amenable to his discussions of prosody, but could not help but find him often wanting there as well.

As a reader of American poets of the early 20th century, Yvor Winters’ views went from testy to lacerating and back again. I enjoyed his limpid prose. And I certainly enjoyed some of his take-downs of silly poems and poets.

Most interesting to me were his discussions of William Carlos Williams, who was the subject of my first scholarly publication. His ambivalence was all-out, as if he had fallen in love with a drug dealer. This is from an essay called “Poetry of Feeling” found in the Uncollected Essays:

The romantic principles which have governed Dr. Williams’ work have limited his scope. … The combination of purity and of richly human feeling to be found in his language at times reminds one of Thomas Hardy or of Robert Bridges, and of beauty and of execution he is their equal, though in so different a mode; but his understanding is narrow than theirs, and his best poems are less great. On the other hand, when poems are so nearly unexceptionable in their execution, one regards the question of scope regretfully: Robert Herrick is less great than Shakespeare, but he is probably as fine, and, God willing, should last as long. If I may venture … a prediction, it is this: that Williams will prove as nearly indestructible as Herrick; that the end of the present century will see him securely established, along with Wallace Stevens, as one of the two best poets of his generation.

Winters wrote a “postscript” to this piece 25 years later, not long before he died:

My general remarks may stand, but by this time, I would restrict my choice of successful poems much more narrowly. … To say that Williams was anti-intellectual would be almost an exaggeration: he did not know what the intellect was. He was a foolish and ignorant man, but at moments a fine stylist.

“But at moments.”

I find this postscript terribly poignant: What had happened to Professor Winters that permitted scorn to upend his aesthetic attentiveness and delight for work he had loved truly, if never with the wholeness of ease?

“No love deserves the death it has.” – Jack Spicer

– reposted from nocontest.ca

Dog on Sunset Beach

DogOnSunsetBeach

“Individuals” – a critique

An ongoing one from our friend Clarissa.

Sinners in the hands of an angry god

Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century preacher who gave the world that lovely phrase, wrote a sermon on the back of a “bill of sale” accounting for his purchase of a black slave. Susan Stinson’s article is really good.

h/t MD

Obviously not obvious

If you throw everything *but* the kitchen sink at your problem, you will surely fail. You always need a kitchen sink.

Primary Progressive Aphasia

Harold Gulskin was an amazing acting coach who told his students “to emphasize the words of the script over any analysis of their characters’ motivation.” (His students included Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, and James Gandolfini.) That is, he did not believe in The Method. He believed in the script, and the actors reading that script. He passed away last week.

His wife, Sandra Jennings, said the cause [of his death] was probably a pulmonary embolism. He learned a decade ago that he had primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia, she said, and had been living in a care facility in Park Ridge.

Primary Progressive Aphasia robs people of their linguistic abilities. Word by word, they can no longer understand names and terms; bit by bit, they can no longer find their own words in their minds; great big verbal parties become warehouses of nothing. Their other cognitive skills, and their memories, remain intact, for several years, until their brains and everything else fall apart.

This is what killed my Dad.

Reading Gulskin’s obituary moved me greatly.

As primary progressive aphasia gradually took away Mr. Guskin’s ability to speak and communicate, Ms. Jennings helped coach his students, filling in words he could no longer conjure and explaining his intentions.

Ms. Weisz said: “Even when he was down to about 20 words, I knew what he meant to say. We had a shorthand by then, and he would say, `No, no, no,’ when I wasn’t hitting the truth.”

My father was a stutterer well into adulthood. Learning how to speak out loud flawlessly and beautifully was I think to him his greatest achievement. That he was robbed of this toward and at his life’s end was utterly galling to him and our family. God bless Mr. Gulskin’s.

Farewell Tom Wolfe

He wrote some great books and coined new language. But I stopped liking him.

A blast from the past:

4 Nov. 04: A loyal basil.CA reader sent me a friendly election-day double-dinger: an email entitled “Is Bob Cranky Today?” that begins, “Your entry today [on Tom Wolfe, below*] was opaque and confusing.” I WAS cranky, and it  IS confusing.  Here is what I meant to say: 

Wolfe was my favourite writer for about a year in college, when I was an editor at the college newspaper:  He really opened up my view of nonfiction generally and journalism in particular.  He was very USEFUL to a young writer.  His later essays are often very funny, but they are infected with reverse snobbery, which I loathe a good deal more than regular snobbery. From college on, and especially from grad school on, I’ve run into countless snobs and reverse snobs.  I have always like snobs more:  They think they are better bred than you, and that’s fine with me, even on those occasions when they are clearly wrong.  Reverse snobs decry the whole idea of breeding and so not only renounce but DENY theirs — they become citizens of the working class, etc., or some other “authentic” class.  They are frauds, not to put too fine a point on it.

And here is what I meant when I said that Wolfe now parrots the Republican party:  He employs clichéd expressions like “the Eastern Media elite” to echo reactionary resentments the same way that party does. I don’t know if being a parrot makes you fraudulent, but it does make you mind-numbing.

The post to which my friend was responding:

At one time Tom Wolfe was my favourite writer.  (When I was at Stanford, I used to teach The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.) He lost his charm when he started writing fiction.  He lost everything else when he started parrotting the Republican Party.  It’s not uncommon for writers to get resentful and ossified at the end of their careers, but it always dismays.