so, since we got back from paris last november, garebear's been on a lost generation kick. which means there's been, in the last month, a lot of who is this ezra pound person? what do you think of that james joyce?
all of which ever so briefly culminated in my scathingly brilliant idea that we should all- as a family- read a short story for christmas. FAMILY CHRISTMAS REQUIRED READING. you can imagine how well this went over. i assume, as a result, i was poisoned and that is why i have been ill. so we would not all have required reading over christmas.
anyhoo, this is ongoing. this lost generation business. for weeks now, he's been taunting me with the idea that he's going to reread the book about "your man, harry crosby" (there are so many men he calls mine that they have to be specifically identified by name) and he has apparently ordered it (AS YOU ALL SHOULD DO BECAUSE IT IS AMAZING), but he's not ready for it yet because he's reading something else and he's thinking about going to hemingway and i tell him no, no hemingway ruins everything, don't go to hemingway, you'll never come back.
there. i've basically transcribed all of our conversations for the last month.
so i don't know what he's reading right now but it's still something to do with the lost generation. and, the other night, we're talking and my father- who has known me all of my 33 years and with whom i have been talking, in depth, about literature since we read the wizard of oz together when i was 4- looks deep into my eyes through the computer and says, have you ever heard of this thing called "waste land"?
jaw hits floor.
it takes every fiber of my being not to incredulously scream, DO YOU KNOW ME AT ALL?!?!?!
because, come on. surely my love of the waste land isn't something secret. maybe here, yes, if you have recently joined us, because really it doesn't come up all that often. but in general, especially in college, totally THE POEMS. the waste land was to blame for all of that.
and so i don't scream and i tell him, um... yeah. the waste land is why i took 5 of dr. hargrove's classes and sat in on her graduate seminar- so i could hear her teach it again and again and again. it's the only reason i went to the eliot summer school last summer, because it had been 10 years and i wanted to see whether there was anything new. (it certainly wasn't because of the prose, because prose eliot is a jackass.) the waste land is why i write biography the way i do. eliot is why i construct sentences in biography the way i do. the waste land is fundamental to the way i write.
he does not know this. i am alarmed. for some reason i wind up reading aloud an extract from finnegan's wake to punish him and immediately email the text of east coker with the promise- probably interpreted as a threat- that "we will discuss." (because much as i love the waste land, increasingly i think east coker is where it's at.)
there was this moment a few months ago- i'm pretty sure it was the same conversation where i proposed the FAMILY CHRISTMAS REQUIRED READING- where, on skype, my parents very casually admitted to hating poetry. and a horror rose within my soul, because how could anyone say such a thing? because even if you don't read poetry or you don't understand poetry, its... meh, i don't know what it is, only what it does. only that, when i'm putting sentences together for the book, i'm reading them aloud. because it's one thing for them to fit together on the page and quite another for them to fit together metrically, for them to carry a musicality that transcends the page. never mind that i am likely the only person who's ever going to read them aloud, that is the level at which i want them to work. because it seems if they can dance on the air, then they'll be freer- not as free, but still freer- on the page.
clearly, i want to have been a poet. as we all know from THE POEMS, that would have been the very worst possible thing but do know: the impulse has not died. it's tarted up in different dress, but it ain't dead.
when my father read the draft of the jackie book over christmas, he said you keep repeating yourself. i feel like i'm reading things i've read before. i remember very clearly, through my delirium, quoting eliot without attribution and telling him: You say I am repeating /Something I have said before. I shall say it again, /Shall I say it again? which, come to think of it, directly preceded the point over christmas at which my parents expressed the most concern regarding my illness, saying i didn't seem like myself. little did they know...
when he asked have you ever heard of this thing called "waste land"? my immediate response was ohhhhhhhh. because i assumed that if he were to read eliot, suddenly all things would be clear. a dangerous thing, i know. to assume that your readership will have read eliot and therefore be forgiving of your attempt to introduce musicality and poetic devices into the way we write biography. a bold one definitely. but a fruitful one perhaps too?
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure Because one has only learnt to get the better of words For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate With shabby equipment always deteriorating In the general mess of imprecision of feeling, Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate—but there is no competition— There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business