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Index: Commentary on Art and Literature

Proust in five pages.

John Matthias: ‘Although Proust does not provide, as Justice does, an actual score, his analysis of the little phrase is quite specific. “He had realized that it was to the closeness of the intervals between the five notes that composed it, and to the constant repetition of two of them, that was due this impression of a frigid and withdrawn sweetness.”’

Literary politics in America.

Richard Kostelanetz; ‘This essay repeats criticisms made by me in periodicals and conversations over the past decade, when they were heard or read by an angry but ineffectual few. Only in 1970 did I realize that if my complete critique were written and then published in permanent form, we could have more leverage in dealing with adversity.’

On poetry and the environmental crisis.

Rae Armantrout: ‘I’ll read any good book at the edge where research science brushes up against ontology. And, yes, I have gotten ideas, facts, quotes from this reading to use in poems.’

The Roth/Bailey Contretemps.

William O’Rourke: ‘Dealing with the dead is both easier and harder, the usual paradox for nonfiction writers. All that research! A living author can just tell you. And Roth does and does. It’s hard to locate just when Roth decided his books would be his progeny and Bailey doesn’t wrestle with the question, or bring it up, but I have encountered almost no writers who have been so punctilious and protective of their own work and reputations as Roth.’

Matthias’ Laments.

Igor Watts: ‘It’s in “Some of Her Things,” a fable in the form of a long prose poem, written shortly after Diana’s death, that Matthias’ most powerfully, and poignantly, deploys his language and his craft. To borrow Michael Hofman’s word, it is a courtly threnody for lost time.’

Rereading O. Henry’s ‘The Last Leaf’.

Christopher Landrum: ‘“The Last Leaf” is about using art to heal. The plot is almost too short to summarize without spoiling, but essentially, three painters in Greenwich Village each come down with pneumonia. Sue recovers quickly, Johnsy (Sue’s flatmate and painting partner) engages in a long struggle with the illness, and the third (their friend Behrman, much older and unhealthier than the two women, but also a painter) dies after only a few days.’

Edmond Jabès meets Max Jacob.

Raphael Rubinstein: ‘In June 1936, having left Paris for the town of Saint Benoît-sur-Loire some 100 miles to the south, Max replies testily to Edmond who has asked him for help in publishing his poetry. “You cruelly offend me [the words “cruelly offend” are underlined three times] in taking me for a bureau of recommendations. I am a searcher like you. You only remember me when you need me. O naked cynicism!! ‘The others’ have gotten me used to the most adroit hearts. And I thought you more refined. Disappointment!”’

George Mackay Brown.

Nigel Wheale: ‘The author who has been systematically co-opted in this process of ‘monetization’ of the Orkneys is George Mackay Brown, a gifted writer of numerous novels, poems, plays and short stories.’


Anthony Howell: ‘For Dante, Purgatory is just part of his grand scheme. Didactic allegories in verse had already been pioneered by Brunetto Latini, with his Tesoretto appearing in 1295.’

Chaos is come again.

ALAN WALL: ‘It seems to me that Shakespeare had understood early on that order is performative, not static. It must be re-enacted constantly, or it collapses back towards chaos. Order is a dynamic affirmation. Every time we write a poem, or enact a play, or sing a song, we are asserting order.’

On Longinus and bread.

Igor Webb: ‘I was twenty-five, for example, when I pulled William Hazlitt’s Political Essays (1819) off the shelf in the English library, upstairs in the elegant main building, the Wilkins Building, at University College, London, where I had the good fortune to have been sent for the year by Stanford on a Leverhulme Fellowship (the year was 1966!). But when I opened the volume, I discovered—as I would discover about many books in that library—that the pages were uncut.’

Desnos and Warsh.

David Rosenberg: ‘Lewis finds the root note in Night of Loveless Nights at the tender bottom of its surrealist chords: “lover/ whose pain never dies.” I think we first heard it in our own neighborhood from Ted Berrigan, who might translate dream for pain.’

Looking at pictures.

John Welch; ‘I’m standing at the bus stop by the roundabout on Lea Bridge Road, looking back at the roundabout itself which has been thoughtfully planted. In front of some conifers are some stone shapes and I start to think of a painting by Poussin. There are elements in his work that people have compared to Cezanne.’

Peter Taylor in double or triple vision.

John Matthias: ‘I knew him, not in the South, but in the Midwest, where he came to Ohio State during a brief period itself interrupted by a year in Paris, about which he wrote one of his best stories, “Je Suis Perdu.” Among other things, that beautiful story is about a writer who has come to Paris too late—too late in the century, and too late in his own life.’

Representation by millimetres.

Alan Wall: ‘G. K. Chesterton once remarked that the phrase ‘He has lost his reason’ is often the precise opposite of the truth. He has lost human affection, any sense of balance, any residue of charity or compassion, but his reason continues. Whirring away in a vacuum. And that is Dr Strangelove.’