January 08, 2011

Literary doppelgangers

New Year's Resolution: Resolve those literary mix-ups 

Does this happen to everyone to have authors you always mix up with another author? Let me say without shame that until just recently I was forever confusing the poets John Berryman and John Ashbery. "What? How can he have a new book of poetry? Didn't he kill himself?" Actually, if it comes to that, at one point I used to get James Merrill mixed up with both of them -- that "err" again, and a long-term partner named David like Ashbery's.

James Merrill got out of the mix when I read about him and David and the Ouija board when Alison Lurie's memoir about them came out -- five hundred pages of poetry dictated by a Ouija board was definitely madness enough to distinguish him forever. My problems with the other two persisted until a friend of mine declared John Berryman to be his favourite poet, which astounded me since of course I confused him with the long-winded, dare I say pompous (just my opinion) John Ashbery.

syndetics-lc"No!" said my friend. "He's the womanizing alcoholic who wrote brilliant poetry and killed himself by jumping off a bridge." So then I got a book of his poetry, and it was brilliant (see bottom of post) and guess what, I've got it now! I am even picturing his kind of nerdy specs, his grizzled beard, his amused but world-weary eye, as I write.

It feels so good that I've resolved that the first literary thing I'm going to do in 2011 is to clear up the other cases of literary doppelgangerism which I find so annoying, which would be:

1. Richard Wilbur and Richard Howard

Richard Wilbur:
born 1921
Poet, translator of French literature (Moliere, Racine, Mallarmé)
US Poet Laureate
Pulitzer prize winner

Richard Howard:
born 1929
Poet, translator of French literature (Camus, Baudelaire)
Poet laureate of New York
Pulitzer prize winner

Which one has a French bulldog named Gide, wore capes and hung out with Edmund White?

2. Geoff Dyer and Geoff Nicholson

Geoff Dyer:
born 1958 lives in London
clever British author of both fiction and non-fiction

Geoff Nicholson:
born 1953 divides his time between London and Los Angeles
clever British author of both fiction and non-fiction

Which one wrote Paris Trance and which one wrote Bleeding London? Which one wrote The lost art of walking and which one wrote Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It? 

3. WD Snodgrass and WS Merwin

WD Snodgrass:
American poet, born 1926
wrote a beautiful poem with a lute in it

WS Merwin:
American poet, born 1927
wrote a beautiful poem with a flute in it

Which one looked like an elf, was married to Dido and they were friends of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes?


Richard Howard

2. Geoff Dyer wrote Paris Trance and Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It and Geoff Nicholson wrote Bleeding London and The lost art of walking

WS Merwin

I've definitely got the Richards and the Ws straight now, but I still had to look back at the catalogue for the Geoffs. They're going to take some more work. Maybe someone out there has already devised a system? Please let me know!

In the meantime,here's a modern Inferno from the brilliant John Berryman:

Parting as descent

The sun rushed up the sky; the taxi flew;
There was a kind of fever on the clock
That morning. We arrived at Waterloo
With time to spare and couldn't find my track.
The bitter coffee in a small cafe
Gave us our conversation. When the train
Began to move, I saw you turn away
And vanish, and the vessels in my brain
Burst, the train roared, the other travellers
In flames leapt, burning on the tilted air
Che si cruccia, I heard the devils curse
And shriek with joy in the place beyond prayer.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 05:30


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