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from The Scope of Words edited by Peter Baker, Sarah Webster Goodwin, and Gary Handwerk (Peter Lang, NY, 1991) For Al What we got on kept happening, happening-- parallax landscape, days passing-- All that world of heroic echoes, passionate belief-- One's intent to get there, night's sleep-- I remember Professor Nock and Latin prosody at eight in the morning in Widener Library-- I remember you then so bright, intent, determined-- All that you got done was earned, was earned-- But now clouds, say, or breezes lift you, lift you- Now they see the ampleness of it all was for free, for free.
1998 The Sometime Master The Edwin Mellen Poetry Press Reasons for Waking The Edwin Mellen Poetry Pres 1997 Haiku The Edwin Mellen Poetry Press The Future Invests The Edwin Mellen Poetry Press 1996 Reasons for Waking The Edwin Mellen Poetry Press 1994 Affability Blues The Edwin Mellen Poetry Press 1993 Modes The Edwin Mellen Poetry Press 1992 Delayed Answers The Edwin Mellen Poetry Press 1992 Modulars poems on a new metrical principle see also Modern Poetry Studies. The Edwin Mellen Poetry Press 1981 Adapt the Living The Swallow Press 1072 The Charges Reprint (paper) The Swallow Press 1970 The Charges The Swallow Press 1963 Progressions The University of Arizona Press
Alaska Quarterly Review 1:3-4 (Spring 1983): p.56 "XVII" from Modes Art and Literature, 11 (Winter 1967), pages 124-125 "Poems (Barriers)" and "Hands for the Space of Wisdom." Art and Literature, 6 (Autumn 1965), pages 168-174. Translations of Poems by Paul Celan Audit, II:2 pages 15-20. "The Faring," "Theatre," "Lesson of Journeys." Audience, A Quarterly of Literature and the Arts, (1962) VIII:3 Issue 49 pages 59-60 "Retoucher of Moonlight." Brown Classical Journal, No. 3 (1986) pages 31-32. "LIII," from Modes. Canto, I:3 (Fall 1977) page 121. "Waiting Minotaur." Centennial Review, The XX:4 (Fall 1976) pages 376-377. "The Old Mother." Chelsea, 9 (March 1961) "Composition of Place II," "Heartening for the Voyage." Circle Review (Cleveland, Ohio), III:1 (Spring 1967) n.p. "The good politician at his constituents' party for him." Colorado Quarterly, The IX:3 (Winter 1961), pages 239-240. "Weekend." Denver Quarterly, The (University of Denver), XVII:2 (Summer 1982) pages 118-121. "XII"and "XIII" from Modes.Poems from ModularsDelayed Answers,Modes and Affability Blues are included in Peter Baker, ed., Onward: Contemporary Poetry & Poetics, Peter Lang, 1996
ARCHES, CAKEWALK, DOUBLING, THE EMPEROR OF CHINA, THE FROZEN TURKEY AND THE VANISHING DOLLS, OBJECT: GO, THE PINATA,SCRIMMAGE, SNAPPING TO, TRIAL JOURNEY, ZAP.
OEDIPUS REX of Sophocles, translated into English verse. Printed in Ten Greek Plays, Houghton Mifflin, 1957 and Reading for Pleasure Prentice-Hall, 1960. POublished in Oedipus Rex: A Mirror for Greek Drama San Francisco 1963, and reprinted several othr times in anthologies. Produced at the Tribultary Theatre of Boston (two-week run), the Cleveland Playhouse (three-week run)and others. Included in Greek Tragedy:An Anthology, revised edition Wayne, 1993 DOUBLE EXPOSURE (full length) Edlred Theatre, Cleveland, 1958 NIGHT GUARD (one act) broadcast by WBAI, New York and KPFA San Francisco,1962 BIG BLOW (full length) Chamber Theatre, Buffalo, 1964 CHECK (full length) Chamber Theatre, Buffalo, 1966 PAN IS DEAD (full length) staged reading, Playwright's Platform Boston, March 1985 THE DEATH OF TROTSKY, THEATRE AND DRAMA, Spring 1971 RECALL American Hoerspiele ed by Richard Kostelanetz.
THE REACH OF POETRY William Kumbier, Southern Humanities Review Summer 1998 v32 n3 p312 Charles CagleThe Midwest Quarterly Spring 1997 v38 n3 p339 J.D McGowan Choice Feb 1996 v33 n6 p945 CANONS AND WISDOMS Colin Nicholson The Modern Language Review April 1995 v90 n2 p400(2) B>W. Whitlock Choice April 1994 v 31 n8 p1289(1) THE BURDEN OF SUFFERANCE: Women Poets of Russia Victoria A. Babenko-Woodbury World Literature Today Winter 1995 v68 n1 p162 Mary f. Zinn Library Journal August 1993 V118 n 13 p 109
It was my mother who fostered me and bolstered me from the beginning.She grew up in an Ohio village as the second eldest in a dirt-poor family of eight children. When she was sixteen in her tiny high school she was given the Army Alpha intelligence test, and she got a score higher than all but seven men of the entire World War One U.S. Army. She was immediately hailed as a prodigy, graduated, sent off to Ohio State, and pulled into the swirl of life around campus. There she encountered my father, a salesman travelling from New England for Lever Brothers. She dropped out of school, married, and deferred her education for forty years.
My father, the pampered youngest son of his family, was the first to graduate from college. He trained briefly for the First War, further delayed his degree by easy living, but then settled down into the staid, reserved life of a conservative executive. Already officially engaged to an entirely appropriate fellow Yankee when he arrived in Columbus, he startled everyone by making the mistake of breaking it off and marrying my mother. She gave birth to me at the age of nineteen in the hospital of Exeter, N ew Hampshire, the nearest one to the village where my grandfather had settled as a cooper. Eventually he had become the town clerk there, holding the office for decades. His wife ran their large house for summer boarders, and she, my grandmother, seems to have been the only member of the family who treated my disoriented mother decently. We drove the distance there for cer emonial stays from wherever we happened to be living. They saved the comic sections of the Boston Sunday papers in a pile for me by the stove, and I rushed to them at each arrival after the long drive.
I loved that house with its screened-in porch of seemingly endless length, its screened-in small summer house between it and the general store my grandfather had once run, its large, fragrant woodshed now become a garage, stacked high with wood for the w inter, its henhouse out back towards the woods that stood across a field behind, its large kitchen around the giant black all-purpose stove where the beans were slow-baked unfailinglyevery Saturday, its bins for the dry beans and for flour, its large dini ng room where the family's early nineteenth century sampler (now owned by my half-sister) hung over the giant rolltop desk that held all the records of the town. There my grandfather would now and then closet himself with some townsperson. Beyond the sun ny dining room was the large living room, opening on the wraparound porch through a vestibule. It was organized around the console radio where my grandparents would settle down to hear favorite serials. Visiting the Frost Place a couple of years ago, I was surprised to see that on a slightly smaller scale the house where Frost set his first New England poems matched my grandparents' point for point: large stove, dining room, living room, woodshed, henhouse, woods across a field behind.
The poorer house of my Ohio grandparents was smaller and far shabbier: simple furniture, next to nothing on the cracked walls, faded wallpaper, a pervasive smell of mould, and, as I remember from my first visit, an outhouse. Behind it ran a muddy stream, the Scioto River, where small freshwater crabs could be found floating under rocks. They were used for bait by my grandfather on fishing expeditions. I tried to capture him later in a poem my mother framed and passed around to the family under a photograph of him holding a fishing pole over his shoulder:
In the river where you went fishing, crayfish Trailed foetal white at the edge of the brown sluggish current. Behind the iron railing trees grew too dense for deep shade You used doughballs for bait, crayfish lacking, and were gone all afternoon, Returning, often as not, laden with car Your eyes unladen. Such was your decline. Your eyes affirmed that the burden of eight children Constrained but did not depress the unwizened Indeterminate set, scarce darkened by age, Of their steel gray answer to grandchildren and strangers. Sent into the world too young by your father's drink, You avoided drink, from that Tennessee moved north, Had a family, and ended up papering houses, Then lived out the long rest of your life on a pension, Fishing, or in the back room of the poolhall, over cards. You dealt, it was dealt, unbearably equally. Yet your gray coevals told at a Reunion How once, when young, in the forest, you found a honey tree... Who was bugler at the full military funeral The Legion gave you? Or was there a bugler? Your war was over, bugler, before you got to it. Back home, still, you lived decades on the memory of bugling, On the government pittance for it, and taught me to bugle As Memorial Day you bugled in the same town graveyard Where veterans of a war without bugles have borne you, your survivors.
When I was five, breaking the move from Springfield to Albany, we rented a camp for the whole summer on Crooked Lake, staying into October. I learned to swim there, pushing off our dock in my linen water wings for many weeks till the great moment when I could leave them behind. We returned for the following three summers, and during the last I swam all the way across the lake, followed in our rowboat by my uncle Dave, one of my mother's brothers.
In our first Albany house we lived on the edge of the city. At the end of our short block was a woods, where I loved to wander. One path led, after what I remember as most of a mile, to a large amusement park where I would stroll and watch the crowds, oc casionally feeding a penny into the glassed machine where a mechanical gipsy would dip down and pick up with a claw hand a random prize to deliver through a small chute. The other path led to a steep hill off the main street, issuing behind a Catholic sc hool. That first Albany house was far enough out that there was still a large farm with horses on my walk in towards town to school. Do I really remember hearing the terrified neighings of the trapped horses as the barn burned down? I did see the charre d remains on my walks.
Literature was all around me, pervasive and elusive. At the time when I was drawn to a book of Greek myths at the front of my first grade classroom, my uncle Paul arrived out of his Ohio high school into our household in the teeth of the Depression. He sold door-to-door off of a tray slung from his neck the pies my mother baked, waited for the job with Protection Company where my father was a salesman, and studied by lamplight in his attic room the manuals that would make him a lieutenant in the Citizens Military Training Corps, a supply major in Australia during the War, and, it all counting, an early-retired Cape Canaveral technical writer turned real estate agent. Back then he also wanted to write and won contests from Black Mask magazine, writing in his off hours from the Protection private police force.
Of all my many cousins, the only writer of the lot published in his youth a play with French's. After the war he settled down for life as an itinerant high school class photographer among the country and mill towns become fringe exurbs, not far from the farms of my father's ancestors. A recent visitor to those farms is my much younger half-sister, a journalist who aspires to write fiction.
My mother, a lifelong would-be writer, spoke anxiously in her final months about the unread books of poems on her shelf. They stood behind her flights, at long-spaced moments of stress, into conventional verse. My radio-announcer younger brother, when he broke away from the big time, wanted also to break into being a writer via the tape recorder, which was to give private shape to what he kept so successfully uttering in public. In that new mode he sailed to a dream of Tahiti; there he married for good a mute, obsessive Polynesian, his fourth wife, his widow now.
When we moved from Albany to Utica my parents sent me for three entire summers to the Albany Y camp, where I improved my swimming and learned to develop pictures in the camp darkroom. There I practiced the bugle that my Ohio grandfather had begun teaching me, becoming one of the camp buglers my last summer, when I was twelve.
My father was transferred from city to city. And within the cities we would move as well. Our second Albany house, further in toward the city, also abutted a wood, one that was later levelled to make room for the campus of SUNY Albany. The third was an a partment most of the way downtown. In Utica too, our first house was even further out, on the actual property of a farm. My walk to school led through part of a wood, along railroad tracks, and across an open field. That field was later levelled for a pla yground where I played paddle ball, tennis, basketball, and pickup football. Still later the playground was levelled to build a GE plant where my future brother-in-law would find the employment that freed him from the family business. And still later the GE plant was abandoned.
Starting in Albany, my father soon showed his unhappiness with my mother by staying away from our house longer and longer, even on days when he was not travelling. Typically he would make us wait in the car for sometimes over an hour while he completed s ome errand, and even when I was in my teens on ceremonial father-son fishing expeditions he would park me on a rock and disappear for hours upstream where the fish really were, returning with his full creel to me and my empty pole. He loved to drive, and we spent Sundays those years exploring the terrain north, south, east, and west of the city where we happened to be living.
Our second house in Utica was a flat on the main street near an orphanage; our third one up a hill on the best street in town. Behind the houses across the street a wooded ravine fed down into a sewer running a mile or so underground, roofed high enough t o permit surreptitious expeditions through it to the other side of our district. And a mile or so out the railroad tracks into another neighborhood stood a movie theater, the James, where every Saturday afternoon I could see two films, serials, cartoons, and an amateur show, while munching complimentary popcorn, all for a dime. Later the theater was converted to a synagogue in honor of a schoolmate who died early. I had many friends, and I was included as a possible though ungifted player in the seasonal sports, baseball, football, and basketball, the seasons changing as if by magic when one day on the impromptu field as we were playing baseball a couple of boys would be passing a football off in the wings, and within a week everybody would be playing football.
A confident and exploratory twelve-year-old, I delivered magazines on a weekly route, swam on the seventh grade team, sang as a soprano in the paid choir of the downtown Episcopal church, worked quickly up the ranks as a Boy Scout in my own Congregational church. When our scoutmaster resigned, I took it on myself to ring the doorbell of a neighbor I hardly knew and asked him to assume the post (which he did). I learned out of a pamphlet ordered from a novelty company and succeeded in hypnotising my brother and some of my friends. Word got around: on the school playground some unknown kid from another class would come up, blurt out "Hypnotise me!" and dash away.
Just before my thirteenth birthday we got the news that this idyll was over. My father had been promoted by a transfer back to the home office in Boston. In the new school I was refused admission to the college entrance track because I had not had the oth ers' opportunity to start French in seventh grade. I offered to try to catch up ("I'll try very hard. I already know a few French words; I'm a stamp collector"). But I was placed in the shop program, on a metal lathe, where I turned out a metal rock hamme r that I put to use for my rock collecting expeditions on the wooded hills up from our new house. This recalled my experience in the new school on our second Albany move when I was nine and found myself in a class where strangely no other child in the ro om could answer any questions. That lasted only a couple of weeks till I was transferred from this bottom track to the top track.
And then later that Boston year we moved again, this time to an apartment on the edge of a fancy suburb where the new school, full of the affluent (five of the twenty boys in that eighth grade were later in my Harvard class), threw me heavily off balance. By May it was announced that by this school's assessment I was failing in all subjects. If my mother had not stormed in to protest, I would have had to repeat the grade. They decided to let me graduate. They gave me the role of bugler at commencement, a nd then abruptly withdrew it when they remembered that the offspring of a legendary Brahmin family (who died that summer in a hunting accident) had taken a few trumpet lessons and so could adapt more appropriately for my role---just as when I won a spelli ng bee against the offspring of another legendary family, the star of the school (later a Marshall of my Harvard Class and a renowned lawyer), they declared a mismatch and started over.
All that year I had noticed widening cracks in the family unity, though no open arguments that I can recall, simply absences on my father's part and anger on my mother's. It was announced over the summer that they were separating. We drove back towards Ut ica to reinstall my mother, my brother, and myself, while my father would return to Boston. Newspapers all along our route announced the German invasion of Poland.
Our new house in Utica was not on the best street in town this time; it was a rooming house my mother set up on the main street. She took a job as a clerk in a downtown hotel. Many of her old friends snubbed her; we were now declasse. Very soon a strange man appeared on our porch looking for me. My mother had set up an interview with the supervisor of routes for the local newspaper. I was to deliver papers to set aside money for college. My schedule abruptly changed. I delivered papers every day for four years in all weathers, getting up at 5:45 to pick up my bundle that had been dumped on a nearby corner.
Walking the route alone those early mornings I began composing poems in my head again, writing them down and revising them at home.
My brother became increasingly unmanageable and soon was sent away, first to a prep school that expelled him for stealing apples in a nearby orchard, then on back to my grandmother in the Ohio village, to the very high school my mother had attended. He st ayed there and graduated when I was in college.
In my solitary independence I taught myself to play chess from a book. Soon tiring of feeble games with my contemporaries, I ran a news item in the local paper that a meeting of the (non-existent) Mohawk Valley Chess Club was to take place that month and prospective members should phone me. This notice flushed out a local physician from a suburb, who phoned to ask whether a group of professionals who met at his house monthly to play chess might join our club. On my confession, he invited me to their nex t meeting, and I improved my chess through the winter. I subscribed to the main chess monthly and bicycled one summer down to Colgate for the day to observe some of the best players in the country at the New York State Chess championships. Later in a war -depleted Harvard I was the shaky eighth board on an eight-man Harvard chess team.
In ninth grade I became editor of the school magazine where I had published in sixth grade a poem that had already appeared in a newspaper column for children's writing. I began to read poetry widely, and fiction, and philosophy---at first in popular int roductions and compendia and then, as I got into tenth grade, in full treatises, some of which I dimly understood. I realized that if I really wanted to read Plato I would have to know Greek. By then I was in the high school downtown, where an earlier enl ightened superintendent of schools had hired as his heads of departments men who were already teaching in college. One of these, a Ph.D. in Classics, was still there. I approached him to teach me Greek, and I had daily sessions with him for the rest of m y high school career, along with the more usual Latin courses.
I was also ranging free, often away from the larger rooming house my mother was running closer to downtown. I intended to become a writer; I bought a typewriter and a manual and taught myself to type, typing up stories and poems I never showed anywhere.
I was also becoming contestatory. Thrown out of the senior honors English class for ostentatiously refusing to read an assigned trashy novel, and for arguing with the sacrosanct Atlantic Monthly's wartime putdown of Spengler, I became the first person ev er from our school to win publication in that magazine's national prep school contest; in their student prize fascicle they printed my sonnet sequence epigraphed with a quotation in Greek from Xenophanes, and they singled out for their prose honor list my rhapsodic essay on the novels of Thomas Wolfe.
My sophomore year I was chosen with two others in a school assembly contest to represent the city for a station in Schenectady that ran a Sunday program modelled on Quiz Kids. The alcoholic speech teacher, with whom I had never studied, chose me to repres ent the school at a statewide Youth Congress in Syracuse. And in my senior year, for the local radio station on which my brother was to become an announcer some years later, I was the male half of a duo hosting a children's program, The Wizard and the Witch.
At the suggestion of another English teacher I called on the city's one Rhodes scholar, a man who had been fired from Hamilton during the Depression for a mild socialism, then failed to take hold as a high school Latin teacher in spite of sponsorship from the head of the Latin Department, my mentor. He was reduced to a job as night watchman in the milk plant owned by one of his own classmates, the father of my earlier hypnotism cronies up on the hill. Random nights I listened in his living room to his disquisitions about history and politics, walking home late.
Through the local bike shop, where I had used my newspaper earnings to buy one of the town's few English bicycles, I met the local checker players, a different stratum, reaching down into factory workers and retirees like my Ohio grandfather, who had ta ught me pointers about the game. One of the articulate regulars around the stove in the bike shop turned out to be the Congregational minister who had been imported from Scotland a few years earlier to the church where I was a Boy Scout, and then fired f or having an affair with a parishioner. He was now estranged from her and working as a printer.
The owner of the bike shop organized day-long rides through the nearby communities, of ninety miles or so out and back, on the then lightly used highways. And I went on forays of my own: one to Lake Champlain, from which my companion and I took the train back; one to visit my cousins in Michigan; and one which started out north to Watertown and became on an impulse we voiced as we crossed the bridge over the Thousand Islands a six-hundred-fifty mile circuit of Lake Ontario, lasting a week and taking us, in late September, 1941, through a Canada that was already at war. I was written up in the newspaper and dressed down by the high school guidance counselor. I bicycled all over the routes surrounding the city, at random, or on expeditions to collect rocks (I found garnets on one, a glacier-scraped piece of shale on another).
Summers I hung around the tennis courts, meeting there a fellow aspiring poet, who later became a published one, a colleague and lifelong friend. I also hung around the bowling alleys, where I made another friend who distinguished himself in our elective course on European history, later a CIA man and library administrator who in his retirement has become a cabinet maker, working on refinishing some cabinet doors for us as I write.
My parents were still only separated. The summer before my senior year I joined my father in Boston, taking a room in an apartment building next door to the building where he had a room. We met every night for supper. I got a job in the Boston ball park s hawking pop and hot dogs. In the locker room under the stadiums I was roughed up and ostracized by the clannish townies who had bullied me on the streets when I was in eighth grade. That summer fueled both my fears and my aspirations. And the aspiration s, if nourished, I felt, could provide an escape from what I feared, the world of rough survival in which the company of other hawkers jostled. Another place beckoned, the Harvard Yard and the Harvard Library. I dropped into the Widener Reading Room and c onned its shelves of books on reserve for English courses. And on the steps of the Fogg Museum I heard a sentence uttered that still rings in my mind: it epitomized the cultural speculation I sought: "So it's simple, James, the more decadent the society , the more flamboyant the architecture." Indeed, given the approximate age of the speaker and the itself flamboyant British accent in which the sentence was uttered, I fancy I can identify him, though I have never met him, nor have I ever heard him since.
Writers everywhere. In Utica generations before my time of growing up there a pre-Civil crude symbolic logic worked out during his off hours and presented before the Utica Lyceum; he turned it into a book that was buried nearly a century till its resurrec tion and republication by a symbolic logician at Berkeley while I was teaching there in the early fifties. Harold Frederic, whom I first heard of from a Berkeley colleague, surveyed in Utica the stresses and limitations of Methodist bureaucracy and Cathol ic sophistication. An imperious woman led him to transplant all this to the Surrey of Henry James (whose grandfather laid out the streets of Utica), and of Stephen Crane, who had studied at nearby Syracuse University. Having made his name with an evocativ e story about a victimized prostitute, Crane had married a trapped, devoted madam. Frederic would have found there a context for his own personal, powerful maturation of those relevant sexual sympathies; and, indeed, comparable considerations had alread y been sketched out in the pamphlets, bearing a Utica imprint, of the Oneida Community, located between Utica and Syracuse. Another local writer, Thomas Jones, Jr., most persistent and perdurable of sonneteers, was published first by the Thomas Bird Mosh er who early gave Pound a cold shoulder; and ultimately by one of the major publishers, who had done likewise. Jones was a crony of the busy poetaster Clinton Scollard, who taught at Hamilton College where Pound briefly studied and graduated, in what is n ow a suburb of Utica. I gathered these two poets, and others, into an anthology of Utica poets I compiled when I was in high school, seeing myself as on the way to becoming one of their number. On my newspaper route, living in a large, single first-floor room in a rundown mansion of the main, elm-shaded street, was the retired Hamilton professor who had taught Pound Provencal. That tradition must have provided some of the books for the glassed-in bookcase he warned me away from as I approached it in the business of collecting on my newspaper rounds. Nor did he recognize me when he came by around midnight Saturdays to the Kewpee, the hamburger joint where I worked on the weekend night shift. He sat quietly over his pie and coffee when the Roller Drome c rowd after its closing flooded in for giant burgers and Frosted Malteds.
Then there was my high school hitchhiking crony, picked up by a local Communist because he published a fantasy story in the high school literary magazine about a Soviet soldier kissing the Russian earth. Much later in life he paid to put into print the c areful fruits of metaphysical, social, and religious meditation, including some measured comment on the Soviets, his balance riding the crest of desperation in both (if not all) instances. Retired now, he toys with the bad idea of giving a bad novel he ha s written another vanity publication.
A few miles north in nearby Talcotville intermittently the pastoralizing, patronizing, crude and urbane critic, Edmund Wilson, who by implication allows for little of this, was writing away at his own local impressions and investigations. Within easy drive was the friendly anthropologist-bureaucrat of Albany, who gave him the data for the book he would write about the local aborigines. The anthropologist was based at the State Museum that I used to love to visit when I lived in Albany as a child, return ing with fascination to its exhibit of crystals and phosphorescent minerals, before I began collecting rocks myself. It was to Utica this quasi-mandarin was summoned to pay his back taxes, giving himself away by writing to justify his peculation after the fact in a book that attacks public military spending. Evasions and concentrations cancelled each other out, as they always threaten to do.
Soon after my rearrival to Utica in ninth grade I discovered that in one of the buildings of the Cultural Institute near downtown anyone could listen on request to rolls played on their old player organ:
I, having heard the player organ reel out Rachmaninoff's "Stone Island," was some years later driven across that island on a Soviet bus, not knowing of Pushkin's death at that spot (the site on the itinerary) in a foul duel anything beyond the sense of passion I began to undergo, knowing still how it drove me on under huge trees at night from the endowed mansion containing the organ.
The following year I heard that in the building next door the Institute offered to all comers all day long the choice of music selections played on their massive Capehart from a collection that completely lined the walls below the windows of their large salon. This room became a meeting place for the culturally inclined at the high school, my poet-tennis friend, the history buff, the local piano prodigy, my hitchhiking crony, a theate enthusiast who was to become my college roommate and later a psychoa nalyst, the still younger parochial school student who had begun reading Proust and Joyce under his eighth grade desk (later my collaborator in an anthology of Greek tragedy)---and, among many others, Carol, the girl who was later to become my sweetheart and my wife. We went there almost every afternoon after school, rushed home for supper, and rushed back, staying till they closed at 10 PM. We would file our music requests with the attendant, sit and talk in low tones or play chess or read their current copy of Poetry Magazine, and their other books too advanced for the local library, like T. S. Eliot's translation of Perse's Anabase. Over three years we outgrew Tchaikovsky's Symphonies, progressing gradually to Beethoven's Quartets---and to Couperin's Les TénŹbres, a title we overheard the Hamilton col lege intellectuals choosing one afternoon and forthwith made a favorite of our own. The Institute held one winter a free evening course on Renaissance Painting by an émigré professor of art history at Hamilton, from which I also took an extension course o n philosophy. I had begun going in ninth grade to the movies the Institute brought up once a week all winter from the Museum of Modern Art; in four years we saw much of the history of film.
At our high school graduation picnic while others were playing baseball Carol and I sat on the grass in a long conversation that resulted in our agreeing to write one another when I went off in a few weeks to Harvard for the wartime-accelerated beginning of my freshman year.
My first week there I found a note pinned to my freshman theme inviting me around to the rooms of a sophomore who had studied with John Berryman the year before. After about five minutes he said, "I'm homosexual. I can see you're not. That's O.K." He con tinued, "As Kenneth Burke says"... I had read very widely by then, seeing Eliot and Pound as the acme of the modern, but this was a new name. When I said "Who's he?", my host expressed surprise and lent me Counterstatement. We had the same exchange ove r Partisan Review and The Castle, and some other books as well. I walked out of his rooms with my future in my arms, and returned all through the semester to the weekly literary salon he held, till he was expelled for homosexuality. Frequenting those li terary nights were ex-members of the temporarily defunct Harvard Advocate and others like myself, including an aspiring poet who was to become the novelist John Hawkes.
I had entered a large world, where my classmate who had won the Westinghouse National Science contest (later a physicist for Westinghouse) was abashed at being outclassed by a promising physicist who went on to the Princeton Institute and then to a post a t Berkeley. (Later he and I were fellow Fulbright Professors in Vienna.) Living in a wing of our residence house was the pre-Hitler Chancellor of Germany, Bruning; and Salvemini, a famed opponent of Mussolini now a Professor of History, lived a couple of floors up in the entry where a hospitable, crippled French tutor welcomed all and sundry. I heard news about the philosophy of history from a budding comparatist who was dating the daughter of Bertrand Russell.
I took five courses instead of the regulation four, and I audited three more, doing all the reading. I was thus busy night and day. In the Latin course I audited was a prospective Latin teacher who was to become the poet Robert Creeley. I soon learned wh y none of the people whose criticism I admired was teaching me, though nearly all were on university faculties. There were records of Pound reading the Cantos in the poetry room, Eliot had given Norton Lectures eleven years before, and one professor was writing a book on Eliot; yet the official poet, the Boylston Professor, sneered at Pound and Eliot and everything modern. Even the charismatic young professor who was the author of a book on Joyce, when I encountered him later, sneered at Faulkner, Willia m Carlos Williams, the later Stevens, and many others. The expert on the seventeenth century liked to get a laugh from his classes by referring to "a tale told by an Eliot, full of Pound and fury." There was still much intellectual direction and stimula tion to be had, from the classicists Arthur Darby Nock and John Finley and Werner Jaeger in my field, and in many quarters elsewhere too. With the last of the "Humanists" I studied Seventeenth Century French literature; I took courses from a theoreticia n of the "psychology of language," and from a theoretical sociologist. For the rest we educated each other.
Not having 20-20 vision, I was ineligible for the Naval Officer training program that my qualified classmates could enter. I enlisted in the Army so as not to be drafted out of my second semester, and I entered active service that winter. While still at the reception center I got a three-day pass to attend my mother's divorce hearing in Boston. One evening at the YMCA there I met a uniformed Canadian who for me embodied all the purpose of the war. Converted to Communism when he was a graduate student of economics and saw the hordes of strikers massed in his plains city, he had enlisted to join the Spanish Loyalist Forces overseas; captured and imprisoned a long time in a Fascist jail, he found himself released in time to reenlist for World War Two. He had given most of a decade to this, but I was to give little more than six months. Devoted as I was to the war effort, by the time I finished Infantry Basic Training I had become subject to splitting headaches. Instead of being shipped as a replacement for the still unexpected Battle of the Bulge, I was discharged at a moment in September, 1944 when it was assessed that the war would be over before winter and all doubtful cases should be released. Hating the Army, and especially professional soldiers as death-dealers, I felt immense relief, and at the same time immense guilt for abandoning the Cause of the century.
Carol wrote me faithfully during my time in the Army, and we grew deeply close as she went off to Antioch College, having worked a year to earn some of her fees.
I had begun Finnegans Wake in Utica. Now back at Harvard I joined a Finnegans Wake reading group of four or five, organized by a freshman who kept massive notebooks on each paragraph of the text. The group met evenings all through the winter after my army discharge. It included a member of the faculty and a Canadian graduate student who would join my Department at Buffalo twenty years later. The freshman, after a spell in the family business on graduation, went to graduate school and became a renowned so ciolinguist. I also lifted weights weekly the same winter in the rooms of a classmate and ran with him mornings, long before "jogging" became popular, in a loop around the bridges over the Charles. This man had abandoned his home at fourteen or fifteen, sent himself to a cram school, got into and got free of West Point, and was now gung-ho for a business career, boasting of the wealthy fiancee he had cultivated and acquired for her father's high-level connections. His dorm room hung with ticker tape, an d his portfolio of holdings was swelling. But then he had a change of heart. "If I had ten lives, " he said, "I might spend one of them making money." He precipitously gave up all that for religion, philosophy, and literature. He spent a summer in the Ozarks trying to write a novel, but it didn't pan went back more quietly to business and married the no-nonsense physical education girl friend whom he had courted after breaking with the other.
I had already won as a freshman the undergraduate poetry award, the Garrison Prize, and on my return to Harvard I made some new literary friends.
One literary friend, Lou, was already writing accomplished poems. He was soon to take a part in a film by another who was in the process of launching himself as a film-maker. Dipping in and out of school, when he graduated Lou buried his poems and attend ed to his career in advertising. But he surfaced as a poet again thanks to a long near-mortal brush with Hodgkin's Disease. Lou was an enthusiast of sports car rallies, till fear of his own death suddenly turned him ahead on his own clock, if then back tothe fold of poets. He stuck to his desk on weekends out in the space of an elegant colonial town distant from his workaday city; till his death did come---but not before he had broken the record for lines of verse published in The New Yorker and been presented a medal in Widener Library.
Norm, another avid would-be writer, kept maniacally dreaming up Wagnerian projects. Guetteur melancholique, he cycled into repeated breakdowns. Fired as a young advertising copywriter after one breakdown, he got a job as a comic book editor and was then fired after another. He had already formulated a couple of years out of the never-finished college how the pop writer, too, must give his all and square the depth of his past.
He fulfilled his prophecy a score of years later, surviving the legal troubles sometimes occasioned by his outbursts in the advanced breakdowns. He shaded from promising playwright into first the punch-loaded film writer of a collaboration between a gun- maniac worker (as from the Detroit of his childhood) and a jaded, gutsy ad man (as of his own stormy, silent twenty years); then the honest draftsman of a film about the one honest policeman; then the high-credit screenwriter of a black slave stud in the Old South, his own ingrained forthrightness repackaging the nightmare of interracial sex. His biggest hit celebrates the emergence into wider aspirations of an honest, avid dancer who follows his partner out of a metropolitan Italian enclave (Saturday Ni ght Fever). Here and there the script echoes my haunted friend's own stresses and aspirations. He was following the prediction he had uttered in the form of a denial; he had turned out to be giving commercial writing his life blood. The money that shower ed in only fuelled his movie phases.
The gloss and hurly-burly of his life spelled the lifelong sacrifice. Early on his star-blasted eyes were burning, as all but really foreseeing his acclaim, his Herculean breakdown cycles, his prosperity.
Still, these were single literary friendships. I remained unconnected to the official college literary groups. What I published in one group magazine, Wake, I submitted in the dead of night under a pseudonym that encapsulated the contradictions of my self-image: Charles Hamilton Sorley, a minor British poet who died in World War One. I kept the barrier-bridge of my absorption in classics between myself and my more insistent preoccupa tions, and the further barrier-bridge of my focus on French and other literatures. I refused to join the poetry workshop into which the kindly head of the Poetry Room invited me. Constantly auditing English courses, the only ones I took for credit then o r ever were Chaucer, Anglo-Saxon, and a graduate seminar on the critical literature of Neo-Classicism. I saw myself as a loner while being treated well by an officialdom my anti-authoritarian self scorned. In this, indeed, I was one of a generational gro up of self-styled loners, as I gradually discovered, learning later that many of my schoolmates felt the same way. And even in centralized, hierarchical France, as I have recently come to learn, some of the most famous and best-placed thinkers of our time saw themselves in their youth as isolated loners, at least six of them having publically testified to that effect.
The following summer I spent in New York, sharing with my mother a small Village apartment and working as a typist-receptionist at the American-Scandinavian Foundation. Carol was in Manhattan too on a coöp job from Antioch, and we were constantly together all over the city, now secretly engaged. That summer we joined the throngs at Times Square on V-J Day. One of our favorite places was the old Museum of Non-Objective Painting with its grey carpets and velvet-covered walls, mellowing piped-in baroque music. The attendant on the second floor turned out to become Mrs. Delmore Schwartz, recognizable when she opened the door of their apartment some years later, to which I had been invited on the heels of his accepting my double sestina for the Partisan Review.
The contrast of confidence and isolation came once again to a head at my early graduation in 1946, where I was the Latin orator, choosing as my topic "On Joy for War's End and Concern for Its Imminence" ("De Belli Gaudio Finiti et Imminentis Sollicitudine "). Eisenhower was the commencement speaker, and the whole assemblage rose in homage to him. Still smarting from my Army experience, and determined not to honor any professional soldier, I sat planted resolutely in my front-row seat, resisting the effort s of those next to me to drag me to my feet. Eisenhower on his way down off the platform shook my hand. The next day my scandalized tutor in Advanced Latin Composition, who had been an officer in a unit preserving Art Monuments in Italy, argued with me vi gorously. Still, however scandalously I acted, and however simplistically (I had no notion of Eisenhower's later demonstrated commitment to peace), those responsible for assessing me always rated my intellectual performance equitably--- a rare advantage it took me years to appreciate.
I wanted badly to live for a while in a French-speaking milieu, but limited funds and the recent war and my desire not to be too far from Carol kept me from France itself. I settled that summer for French Canada. Staking myself with my savings from prize moneys, I went to the library and from a map picked a village that looked to be far enough away from Montreal to be wholly French-speaking but close enough so that I could bicycle in to a university library once a week or so. I flew to Montreal, took a bu s to Ste. Rose, found almost at once down the main street a sign "Chambre ą louer," and rented the room. For the next two months I ate at the communal table of this farm family (the farms a distance from the village), spoke French all day, wrote poetry an d the draft of a verse play and a long story, and evolved out of a central notion in my undergraduate thesis the schema for what the next summer would become my first critical book, The Dark Voyage and the Golden Mean. And then I joined Carol in Boston. The agnosticism of my adolescence was being tempered by my war- sharpened sense of the pervasive sinfulness of the world and of the redemptive possibilities that beckoned at the same time. These stirrings, transmuted and fortified by a year-long study of theological writings and Dante, brought me to the threshold of the Church. The role of the Roman Church in the War, and much else, put me off from it. A friend who hoped to become---and did become---an Anglican priest, kept up an ongoing dialogue with me. Finally I was ready for conversion. He took me to the Anglican monastery of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge for instruction, after which I was received into the Episcopal Church, of which I am still a communicant. For a while later I joined the lay order to which Dante belonged, the Third Order of St. Francis.
The stimulation towards thinking about Greece that John Finley triggered was supplemented in graduate school by Eric Havelock, who communicated the excitement of his evolving ideas to the seminar in the Pre-Socratics I took my first semester, along with D ante in Italian, Beginning Sanskrit, and a private reading course on Thucydides. Present in all three of these group courses was a man whose fourth course turned out to be an advanced course in physics. For his war service he had published a book-length t reatise on the mathematics of supersonic flight. He was a member of the Society of Fellows, of which I had vaguely heard before and now hoped to enter, since it provided three supported years for writing. (He, too, was eventually converted to Episcopali anism. He became a priest, editor of a series of intellectual magazines and books, author of studies of Near Eastern thought and of a trenchant meditative diary, a Professor of Old Testament at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific until he was fired for leading a protest against the entry of official military weapons into the San Francisco Cathedral during the Vietnam War.)
In my independence I was already too far along, being now a graduate student, to join the traditional magazines at school,and so I founded my own, with my Utica poet friend and others:
The vital advances are being made in theoretical works like those of Kenneth Burke and others. We applaud this tendency For literary criticism, focusing as it does the most abstruse problems of ontology, ethics, the theory of knowledge, and their interrelations, is the chamber music of philosophy.
So I wrote in the manifesto for Halcyon, a magazine that was to bring fiction and poetry together with criticism in the vigorous continuing mode of the time. We published Wallace Stevens, James Merrill, Allen Ginsberg (as a reviewer), E. E. Cummings, and many others, including ourselves.
A year earlier as an undergraduate I had written my first, and almost my only, fan letter to Kenneth Burke, congratulating him on The Grammar of Motives. I did not meet him myself till nearly thirty-five years later when we coincided as visiting lecturer s at the SUNY Buffalo English Department. This was more than a decade after my three-year tenure there as its chairman, when I reshaped it along principles still partly based on the Halcyon manifesto.
My literary aspirations included playwrighting. Presenting myself that fall to the forming theater group at Harvard, I was sidetracked into typing up multiple copies of a section of a windy self-indulgent British play they were mounting. I soon withdrew. Not long afterwards I presented myself to the Tributary Theater of Boston, where I was taken on as a stage manager for Peer Gynt, Ghosts, King Lear, and Measure for Measure. Wanting t o produce an Oedipus Rex, they commissioned me to prepare a verse version that would be stageworthy. They produced it, and in its revised form it is still in print.
My contrast of confidence and isolation was brought to a head by my election to the Society of Fellows, an honor which I owed, as I owed intellectual stimulation and much else, including the publication of my first book, to the sponsorship of John Finley, the mentor who directed my undergraduate thesis and stuck with me through all the vagaries of my purposes. As an aspiring writer and self-directed thinker I was refusing to take the Ph.D., abetted for that purpose by the official posture, though not the actual practice, of the Society of Fellows. It had been founded on the principle of sidestepping the Ph.D., though of the eight people elected my year, I was the only one who did not already have that degree.
Then, and for decades afterwards, I gathered myself to write fiction, trying to model myself on a range of commanding virtuosi in my own language, and beyond them on Flaubert, and on Proust, whom I had already begun to imitate in high school from the flor id English version of the time. (I had soon plunged into the old, badly printed first French edition, and have been readinghim steadily all my life.) My own style differed from the first. I published stories at very long intervals, beginning early with one in Partisan Review.
Swept after our long wait into the joy of marriage, Carol and Ientrained to New York for a few days in a borrowed Brooklyn Heights apartment, then back up the Hudson on the Hudson River Day Line, proceeding to the isolated hunter's cabin in the Adirondack s where we spent the summer with our cold well, ice chest, and kerosene lamps, rowing together on the lake:
Yes yes, love claims us, our several marriages Rescued from war. On a train to the same City, bemused bride, we took our common flight, You in the yellow dress of a mere ten years gone by. In that world we dipped, out again by waters of a river- Fed lake, high. And we are brunted to be courting Responsibilities of labyrinthine energy, alive.
(Curiously the same poem, written in Cleveland, places along with three of our earlier cities of residence, another two that I had no way of knowing or guessing would one day take up the major time of our lives: Letters this past year snowed in from New York, Buffalo, Vienna, Berkeley, Providence.)
At our return from the Adirondack summer I entered upon my appointment to the Society of Fellows, threw in the wastebasket the paper attesting to my loyalty to the State of Massachusetts (I never heard another word about it), and once again took up the su ccess-in-isolation that I had been choosing for myself, burying myself not mainly in critical writing but in poetry and fiction---at the same time reading vastly for what would become a few years later the critical writing of my second book, The Meaning o f Fiction. I wrote an essay that would get incorporated as part of a chapter in History/Writing and another that I would collect in Soundings, both after almost forty years. And, under the inspiration of a keen young historian of art and architecture in the group (he to abandon that for a career as a college president), I drafted a few pages that would turn out to be the germ of my four books on art.
Carol was soon pregnant, and we moved up our planned trip to France. We settled for four months in a hotel room right in the center of Saint Germain des Pres recommended by the already famous young poet in the Society. We plunged into exploring, viewing, and reading. Another poet, who was readying to found his own magazine, greeted us and showed us around. In the cheap restaurant much frequented by other Americans we met over a copy of Partisan Review a couple who became our close friends. He was a paint er, she a writer. (He was already ill and died five years later; she then married a writer and became a painter herself.) They introduced us to an indigent Israeli painter and his wife, who also became our friends.
Earlier I had had our friend Ken mail me from his teaching post in Dijon Sartre's L'Etre et le néant, which I spent much of the summer of 1948 studying through, during our honeymoon in the Adirondacks. Following this line during my later sojourns to Fran ce, I attended Merleau-Ponty's inaugural course at th CollŹge de France in 1952, Lévi-Strauss's course in the winter of l963-4, and Lacan's lectures in the late sixties and early seventies.
David was born on our return. During that summer Carol was stricken in the polio epidemic of 1949, and our apartment became a rehabilitation watch, once she was returned from a month at Massachusetts General Hospital, which luckily stood just at the foot of our street. She could not come to the party for my first book at The Gotham Book Mart (attended, among others, by James Merrill, Hayden Carruth, Paul Goodman, and Oscar Williams). It was not till January that she could go out on crutches. Her first ou ting was to attend Dylan Thomas' inaugural reading in America, which bowled us both over, as during our courtship we had read in rapture together his poem "A Winter's Tale."
We spent the whole following summer with the infant David in a cottage overlooking the Bay of Fundy, and three more entire summers, the last one after my first Buffalo year, David now fifteen, Daniel twelve, and Jonathan ten. Huge tides, misty fog every m orning, water and headlands out our window, strawberries in the field beyond the garden out back, fresh eggs from the farm next door, fresh fish from a delivery truck. We kept busy building wood fires in our stove and fireplace, invigorated by swimming in the icy water, clamming, fishing, and taking excursions to town with our generous landlord's family, ranging further afield in the summers afterwards when we had a car. I wrote in a tiny space on the second floor of our cabin.
Then we lived in an old Man's house by the sea shore. On the slope to the bay He let pink and purple Lupine grow and grow wild. His wife sowed them, and more. In us the fronds stipple A thousand miles away. Back we went once again. Love keeps gathering head To strength not before known. Time acts as its leaven. All lights: a broken fan Of peacock plumes, tail-eyed, Hung over clouds, given A shining not their own.
It was my deep conviction that a devotion to writing meant I should not teach. "The professor's preoccupation with the past as a scholar and with the future as a teacher could only confuse the presentness of the writer's self-set concerns." Some such wer e the words I wrote to the Society as I left it not for an academic job but for the fortunes of what I could pick up otherwise, unaware that these words contained an affirmation in the form of a denial. Carol loyally backed me in this troublesome venture . We were to have another child six months hence---Daniel---when we moved to New York. A flurry of vain job searches left me as a salesman on the exploited staff of the commission-only force of Encyclopedia Brittanica. Briefly I did motivational intervie ws on car selection for a psychologically oriented market research firm. Next I was typing lists for an executive employment agency that masked itself as a self-help cooperative. I supervised my two associates, a minister losing his faith who disappeared mysteriously every morning for what was probably an analytic hour, and a young Romanian diplomat who had defected and then come to the end of a stipulated support from Radio Free Europe---with which I had interviewed myself. (He had been to art school an d found his way to a successful career as an illustrator of children's books.) I wrote every evening, or tried to. Fired from this job along with most of the staff---the organization was subjected to a pseudo-dissolution---I landed through a member of my church a post as accountant for the Brooklyn Museum Art School, from which I was ultimately fired after unsuccessfully blowing the whistle on the sweetheart deal of the major supplier to the school's art store. I ended up as the technical editor for a trade journal of the commercial fishing industry, my longest job during that year. I knew nothing about motors and simply paraphrased my monthly column out of a manual issued by Shell. Soon Shell phoned me to hire me away, but by summer I knew I was to h ave a student Fulbright to France; during my last weeks on the job I watched with relief and anticipation out the window of my office as the transatlantic liners moved in and out of their berths on the Hudson piers.
France this time was hard for our two children, and for us. We traded our New York apartment for a large but primitive apartment in the Paris suburb Clamart, where downstairs lived a modiste and her ex-Wehrmacht officer-husband. Upstairs there arrived a p ainter already deep in gastronomy who became a famous writer on food. We shared an icebox with him in the hall, and he painted David's portrait (never in our possession). The semi-automatic toilet for everyone was on the first floor. We had one coal sto ve in the living room and one small wood stove in the children's bedroom. In our unheated bedroom days I wrapped several layers of clothing around myself to write poems, a verse play, and a long monograph on Balzac, reading through all of La Comédie Humai ne in the process (I vividly appreciated his characters' attention to domestic heating). I later condensed what I had written for the Balzac chapter of The Meaning of Fiction.
Carol and I would get a baby sitter once a week, or sometimes oftener, and go into Paris for the day, visiting our painter friends from the earlier sojourn, wandering about the city, and attending the theater, returning either on the last metro and bus ou t from the Porte de Versailles, or on the train at half-past midnight from the Gare Montparnasse, which obliged us to walk home a couple of miles up the hill through the dark. Clamart was a Communist suburb and an old White Russian enclave. Opposite our f ront window was a walled estate owned by a prosperous pre-Revolutionary family that ran a small wire factory on the premises and had a whole entourage, complete with private chapel and priest. On their wall across the street, facing our apartment, was pai nted in big letters: American Go Home. It was the time of the Rosenberg trial, and one poster showed a smiling Eisenhower, every tooth an electric chair. Another poster said "Don't send your sons to fight under Nazi officers for the Bank of Indo-China." (It was France's Vietnam war; and at that time ex-Nazis did predominate in the Foreign Legion.)
Before returning we managed to spend the summer in England, with the help of the British Fulbright Commission, which arranged to have us share a house in Chiswick. We shepherded over as we flew the daughter of a friend of our Israeli painter (the friend's husband had been executed as a resistant by the Nazis). The family we joined ran a nursery school downstairs in which we enrolled David; their presence allowed us to leave overnight, as we did for a trip up the Thames as far as Henley, and on to Oxford. The family became our friends. He was an oil chemist turned teacher of candy chemistry whose father had been a leader in the British Communist Party. As a Boy Scout he was entrusted with funds, which he concealed in his backpack, for the German Communist s beleaguered under Hitler. They arranged a visit---I hitchhiked---to the Communal colony in the Shropshire countryside where her brother was a teacher. We kept in touch for years after their emigration to Australia.
Having practised the experimental method, as one wry Harvard philosopher put it, I was ready to propose myself for teaching jobs. I was interviewed in Florence by a Berkeley professor whom I had impressed while he dined at the Society of Fellows, and they hired me. It was right after the Berkeley oath contraversy,and as part of my appointment I was obliged to sign their oath and have it notarized, which I did, at the Clamart town hall. Back in America we took the train across the country and sublet a sma ll house on the Berkeley flats for the year, not having the funds to buy a car, let alone a house. My sponsor hinted that his own house in the hills might be for sale, in a part of that community so expensive I could have afforded it at no time in my life . He had misapprehensions about me, and soon other misapprehensions developed. While I felt I had done well in my teaching, after my first year I was told I had not, that my second critical book, of which they had seen a hundred pages, was so unintelli gible I would never be able to publish it, that my creative writing was uncertain. All this was delivered by the chairman, in the presence of my "sponsor," as a bill of particulars in the process of firing me and preemptively denying me a second three-yea r term, as I believe they had not done to any of the forty or so assistant professors passing through that rank over the decade. I was also, I believe, the only one with a book behind him and a publishing career firmly under way. Another of the charges ag ainst me was that I had exhibited dilettantism when I submitted myself to a course, complete with examinations, in Hebrew. I was doing this for both devotional and intellectual reasons, preparing myself to write what would later appear as my studies of J ob and the Song of Songs (The Root of the Thing) and the Hebrew prophets (The Burden of Prophecy).
My two lame duck years at Berkeley were pleasant but uncomfortable. I forged ahead with my writing, and with Hebrew. By the end of the first of those years I had completed The Meaning of Fiction. I took the two huge black binders of the manuscript in to my former sponsor and reached up to hand them over, asking him to read them; but he held up his hands in front of him and said he did not have time.
Luckily I got a research Fulbright Professorship to the University of Munich, where I deepened my immersion in recent German poetry, expanded my own poetry, and began my books The Classic Line and Prisms. We met a German art critic who had known Rilke an d I had brief ceremonial encounters with a couple of professors. Our closest friends were the family of an art historian on a Guggenheim who had abandoned the house we rente after a quarrel with the difficult resident landlady. Our first new car, a Volks wagen, took us on many expeditions to as close as the nearby Starnbergersee and as far as Vienna. I audited a course on Pascal given by Romano Guardini, and we went to many concerts.
Toward summer that year, still jobless, we took off for Rimini on the Adriatic, stopping off at the Pound Castle in the Tyrol above Merano, having been introduced to Pound's daughter Mary by Eva Hesse, our new Munich friend, Pound's translator. It was Aug ust before my cliffhanging attempts at a job search elicited a telegram from Western Reserve in Cleveland offering a one-year post. My new chairman, puzzled, later asked the Berkeley eighteenth century specialist, my ex-sponsor's close friend, why they h ad fired me. "He was not one of us," he replied.
I stayed for six years, allowed a role I could not have exercised at Berkeley as the university's main exponent of modern literature. Within a month I was asked at a neighboring school to take part in a panel on Endgame. Because Reserve had appointed lea nly for years, the younger staff was sparse in number, and we formed a vivid social milieu of mutual support and encouragement. The best literary students there flowed into my courses. While writing The Classic Line and finding no satisfactory version of the Odyssey from which to quote, I did some renderings of my own and found them an ideal means of loosening my poetic style. I proceeded systematically to carry through with translating the entire poem.
In the middle of my time there I accepted a teaching Fulbright to Vienna, where I renewed and fortified my German, met some poets, polished the Odyssey, and revelled with Carol in the rich musical life of the city. In persistence and stubbornness I was still trying to find my way into writing fiction, redrafting earlier work and scrapping it while inventing larger structures that would direct and contain what I might produce. The harvest yield of withdrawal to a foreign country was diminishing, and yet for my poems it still functioned. I broke into writing haiku. The boys' isolation was compensated for, as it had been in Munich, by the ski excursions they loved to the mountains an hour or so south. They became very fond of our friend Ken, now the Dutch uncle of a group of expatriate students of psychiatry. Having foundered or floundered in America, he had come to Vienna for affordable psychoanalysis, staying on since before our Munich days. He had visited us there. Here, down on his luck, he became alm ost part of the family. He was still in touch with the writer, a fellow Irish-American, who had broken into fame for The Ginger Man, a novel that chronicled Ken's Dijon days as a sidelight on their Dublin experience. He was to cast Ken as the protagonis t of a Vienna novel too. Ken was beginning to work part time---as he would, on his return to America, a while full time---for another American Dublin friend who had gained renown as the most creative Jungian of his generation. Ken was the link when we ou rselves met this psychiatrist during his Zurich years, where we had visited him from Munich, and again at intervals, usually with Ken.
Ken joined us as far as Bern in our ample Peugeot (he would split off from there to Zurich) through our youth hostel trek across Europe on our way to a London summer. There we rented the Hampstead cottage of our Cleveland subtenant. I read my poems at th e Poetry Festival of the Mermaid Theater. On the liner home, knowing I was to be teaching some Russian poets in my modern poetry course, I began the study of Russian and kept it up for another decade, until I got a fellowship to Moscow on the Senior Scho lar exchange to write what would become the Russian chapters of Thresholds. I also steeped myself in Russian poetry, and I began to translate some poems which especially drew me, an enterprise that took its final form as my collaborative book The Burden of Sufferance: Women Poets of Russia.
For my plays I developed a style for dialogue and a strategy of stage presentation. They stayed in verse for over a decade: one of these was staged in Cleveland, another broadcast over WBAI, New York and KPFA, San Franciso. Then I evolved an idiom that wa s neither verse nor prose but something between the two, for plays that were semi-allegorical in conception. I have continued to write them over the years, having published one and had small productions of others.
I had submitted some poems to the Arizona Quarterly, and they wrote back asking to see more. Soon after I sent those, I got another letter: they would like to do a book! It had been ten years since the editor of a major publishing house had phoned me at night to announce their acceptance of a book of poems, an acceptance that after many twists mutated into a rejection. Now delighted, I put together Progressions, and Arizona brought it out, complete with illustrations.
I ruminate constantly working towards a poem. When a new music pulls at my ears it tends to be a sign that the poem will be a long one, first Midway, and then a decade later, for more than a decade itself, finally Modes, which I thought of as the last of this series employing the "syllabic module" and at one time came to think would last me my whole life, on the model of Pound or Olson (or for that matter, Whitman). My way turned out to be different, thankfully, and lo, along, slowly, came "Prophecies," and then "Dooms and Inclinations," and then "Transfers." I still don't know of a nascent poem at first even when it will turn out to be only epigram-length, or only a haiku; most of my many haiku start out headed for more expansive expression. As I per petually do too. In the inch as in the mile.
What are my purposes as a poet? Do these poems cohere into a unity other than retrospective---or crucially prospective as I keep trying to forge ahead? The very expatiations of my bulky critical commentary on poetry, which I have always thought of as an endless prolegomenon to my own poems (whatever else they have been), tend to displace the integrative center of my purpose. My masters are themselves a large and various chorus whose voices I try to blend with my own.
My salary as a full professor at Reserve was almost exactly at the official Federal figure defining the poverty level for a family of five. Poorly paid, my colleagues and I were involved in frequent contestation against bad policies in the University. Wh en I heard about the chairmanship opening at Buffalo, at first I passed it over; I never wanted to administer anything, and I had sent from Vienna a brief "No" to a Big Ten university that had asked me to be a candidate for their chairmanship. Buffalo was rated far lower. But Buffalo had become a State school wit the promise of massive infusions of State money. English ha fifty staff members with a prospect then of growing to seventy; twenty-five on the staff were in a low, temporary rank, and there were only three full professors, all scheduled soon to retire. Carol urged that if I took policies seriously, this was my chance to put my money where my mouth was. My old Utica poet friend was on the staff and guided me through preparing my interviews; I wa s hired. At once I found myself both prosperous and dynamically at the center of gratifying, empowered professional fulfillment.
I took the job only on condition that I not have to keep regular office hours; and I intended to give it, as I did, just the three years of the initial term. During that time I bureaucratized the department and organized our considerable hiring not on the hackneyed principle of covering century fields, but rather of looking for the best people we could find and then letting them carry on or develop as they might. Instead of having a single poet in residence I established poetry on a par with other activit ies, and we hired several poets, while others whom we hired blossomed into poets. Much activity was soon generated; it drew marvelous graduate students and an unpredictable range of keen thinkers to the staff.
I was able to taper out of my chairmanship under the auspices of a fellowship at the Center for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences. There, instead of any isolation, I found an intellectual continuum of stimulation. Everyone in the redwood studi es, each facing through a glass wall into greenery, operated effectively all day on the high, even plane produced by meeting at the outset the three minimum requirements---intelligence, commitment, and good work habits. Over Christmas we drove the whole family the twenty-five hundred miles to Mexico City in our Volkswagen camper, stopping off on the way at the Poet's House of the University of Arizona and visiting my old classmate who was a priest there. Mexico was a revelation to all of us. Crossing in to Mexico, we were enchanted by the mix of Spanish, nineteenth century French, and modern set in the context of indigenous civilizations. We celebrated Christmas in the Cathedral of Guadalajara and swam at Mazatlan, revelling when we reached Mexico City i n the light-strung trees of the Alameda.
All the Buffalo developments took place in the toils of an oath controversy, and of the Vietnam War. On my arrival nine of the ten non-signers of the oath in the entire State of New York belonged to my Department. Only one of these was a writer. "You ha ve many writers on the staff here," said a visiting art critic to the President's wife. "Yes," she said, "And they're all under investigation." Having signed the oath myself, I did everything I could to aid the non-signers. The President had begun calli ng me by my first name within a month after my arrival. Within another month he reverted permanently to my title. His successor fostered me, but the next in succession was an administrator I had had trouble with from the beginning. He was installed as P resident for his role of student-suppressor as a leader of the faculty faction favoring the Vietnam War, against which I had been involved in active protest virtually since my arrival. Though our rich intellectual and social life continued, the last sever al years of that administration worked to erode my confidence in the collective decision making. I was searching for another job. Then out of the blue I got a phone call from Brown inviting me to apply for a slot in their Comparative Literature Department .
The arrangements were quickly concluded. Before leaving Buffalo I was asked to do an interview with the main local paper, and I agreed. The interviewer turned out once to have been the editor of the student paper that groaned under this President's polic ies, and she was delighted when I assailed his administration. The interview, to my surprise, was printed under a headline on the front page of the Sunday paper. "My wife comes from Buffalo," the President of Brown said on my arrival, with a genial twinkl e in his eye, "And her family sends her the newspapers from there."
Brown fulfilled exactly my expectations. It provided, though in a somewhat austere community, a range of enriching possibilities for my professional expansion. I lived for the next decade, as I have for nearly another decade since my retirement, in an am bience where I could flourish in the confidence of enlightened encouragement. It persists, as I have too.
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