Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Robert Lowell

Quote of the Day

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One of the first things I noticed was [Robert Lowell’s] revision, his revision and revision and revision and you would see the poem written over in this sort of printed handwriting, over and over the same point with slight changes and then on each piece of paper, arrows and asterisks and changes—endless changes till finally the poem didn’t have the same, wasn’t the same poem at all, didn’t mean the same thing at all. I think that was the beginning of my learning that all things are equal in poetry, all the elements that go into making a poem and that including the theme, the theme is no more important than the form.

Peter Taylor, quoted by Kay Redfield Jamison in Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire

Written by nevalalee

December 13, 2017 at 7:30 am

A public animal

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The real problem of writing by dictation [is] I’m finding it extraordinarily difficult to sound like myself. It’s paralyzing to have to formulate each sentence out loud. It’s so public and official. How do you brood your way into a sentence that you have to spell out for someone else, perhaps literally spell half the words? What are those lines of Emily Dickinson’s—”How dreary to be somebody / How public like a frog?” I don’t particularly think of a frog as a public animal, but imagine being a poet with impaired vision and having to dictate those lines. You say, “How public like a frog,” and the secretary stops and says, “What was that you just said? ‘So public like a fog?'” And you say, “No, not fog. Frog.” “Oh,” her voice sinks. “Public like a—frog. F-r-o-g?”…I guess I could have tried to write one word on a page, ten words on a page. I always wanted to write by hand, the way Edith Wharton did, sitting in bed with stacks of paper and tossing the written pages onto the floor for a secretary to pick up and type while she went down to lunch with Henry James

It’s a serious and complicated matter. It’s hard enough to be the controlled person that I am—so much controlled, I mean, by logic and reason—without in addition having the free flow of feeling and idea impeded by the cold presence of another person. I once had an exchange with Robert Lowell—it was about the student uprisings at Columbia—and in it he called me a “housekeeping goddess of reason.” He had a point there…Who knows—at this stage of my life, perhaps if I were alone at my typewriter, my fingers would flit over the keys in some vagrant fashion and I would write all sorts of unexpected things, unreasonable things, things that defy logic…Dictating is the dullest possible occasion for the triumph of the superego.

Diana Trilling, in an interview with Stephen Koch

Written by nevalalee

October 1, 2017 at 7:30 am

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