"Fate Playing," Ted Hughes (from Birthday Letters)
Because the message somehow met a goblin
Because precedents tripped your expectations
Because your London was still a kaleidoscope
Of names and places any jolt could scramble,
You waited mistaken. The bus from the North
Came in and emptied and I was not on it.
No matter how much you insisted,
And begged the driver, probably with tears,
To produce me or to remember seeing me
Just miss getting on. I wasn't on it.
Eight in the evening and I was lost and at large
Somewhere in England. You restrained
Your confident inspiration
And did not dash out into the traffic
Milling around Victoria, utterly certain
Of bumping into me where I would have to be walking.
I was not walking anywhere. I was sitting
Unperturbed, in my seat on the train
Rocking towards King's Cross. Somebody,
Calmer than you, had a suggestion. So,
When I got off the train, expecting to find you
Somewhere down at the root of the platform,
I saw that surge and agitation, a figure
Breasting the flow of released passengers,
Then your molten face, your molten eyes,
And your exclamations, your flinging arms,
Your scattering tears
As if I had come back from the dead
Against every possibility, against
Every negative but your own prayer
To your own God. There I knew what it was
To be a miracle. And behind you
Your jolly taxi-driver, laughing, like a small god,
To see an American girl being so American,
And to see your frenzied chariot ride-
Sobbing and goading him, and pleading him
To make happen what you needed to happen-
Succeed so completely, thanks to him.
Well, it was a wonder
That my train wasn't earlier, even much earlier,
That it pulled up, late, the very moment
You irrupted onto the platform. It was
Natural and miraculous and an omen
You wanted confirmed. So your huge despair,
Your cross London panic dash
And now your triumph, splashed over me
Like love forty-nine times magnified,
Like the first thunder cloudburst engulfing
The drought in August
When the whole cracked earth seems to quake
And every leaf trembles
And everything holds up its arms weeping.
My leg had gone to sleep, but I did not stand up; unspecific tensions seemed to be rendering everyone in the room catatonic. The producer played back the rhythm track. The engineer said that he wanted to do his deep-breathing exercises. Manzarek ate a hard-boiled egg. "Tennyson made a mantra out of his own name," he said to the engineer. "I don’t know if he said 'Tennyson Tennyson Tennyson' or 'Alfred Alfred Alfred' or 'Alfred Lord Tennyson,' but anyway, he did it. Maybe he just said 'Lord Lord Lord.'"
"Groovy," the Clear Light bass player said.
–Joan Didion, The White Album, p. 23-24
There’s a mini polemic on in France right now about a series of photographs depicting professors (apparently real professors– call me, Monsieur X–) in their birthday suits to protest the “dépouillement” (or dispossession– literally: plucking) of the education system in France. These photographs are part of a calendar which you can see in its entirety here. On the news the other day, some conservative bureaucrat was complaining that these photographs “dévalorisaient la profession [d'enseignant]” [devalued the teaching profession]. What do you think?
The Paris Review's blog recently ran a piece on the menu tradition at Alice Waters' Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, where local designers are asked to produce illustrations for their menu covers. Seeing the range designer Patricia Curtan posted made me go looking for my own, which I've held onto, lo all these many years.
I love how the raspberry leaf breaks the frame, and the delicate little hairs on the stem.
Those torpedo onion pancakes have stayed with me. One day I'll go back!
Shortlist and even shorter list to come on October 4th and then 25th, with the winner announced on November 2.
- Stéphane Audeguy Rom@ (Gallimard)
- Emmanuel Carrère Limonov (P.O.L)
- Sorj Chalandon Retour à Killybegs (Grasset)
- Charles Dantzig Dans un avion pour Caracas (Grasset)
- David Foenkinos Les souvenirs (Gallimard)
- Alexis Jenni L’Art français de la guerre (Gallimard)
- Simon Libérati Jayne Mansfield 1967 (Grasset)
- Ali Magoudi Un sujet français (Albin Michel)
- Carole Martinez Du Domaine des Murmures (Gallimard)
- Véronique Ovaldé Des vies d’oiseaux (L’Olivier)
- Eric Reinhardt Le Système Victoria (Stock)
- Romain Slocombe Monsieur le Commandant (Nil)
- Morgan Sportès Tout, tout de suite (Fayard)
Full listing of prize longlists here.
- Lyonel Trouillot La belle amour humaine (Actes Sud)
- Delphine de Vigan Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit (JC Lattès)
“The materiality of the writer’s life cannot be exaggerated. If you like metaphysics, throw pots. How fondly I recall thinking, in the old days, that to write you needed paper, pen, and a lap. How appalled I was to discover that, in order to write so much as a sonnet, you need a warehouse. You can easily get so confused writing a thirty-page chapter that in order to make an outline for the second draft, you have to rent a hall. I have often ‘written’ with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table’s edge and pace out the work. You walk along the rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple of hours, you have taken an exceedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet” (The Writing Life, 46).
Photograph of Lamba and Breton by Claude Cahun, 1935-36
My lovely Demon … this to show you that I am still in the good graces of the demon. My beautiful liquid Element, I drown in you. Will there be heaths grey enough, rocks tormented enough, forests hollow enough for our flight together tonight? One more word, but let it be at least carried by my voice: I love you.
The Surrealist scholar and translator* Mary Ann Caws shares a letter from the leonine Pope of Surrealism to his second wife, Jacqueline Lamba, which Lamba gave to her one evening in the South of France. In this week's London Review of Books (subscription unfortunately required to see the full article, including the letter). The letter is being gifted to the Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet in Paris.
*(and my dear friend & advisor)