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Thursday, June 21, 2007


In a discussion over on this forum recently, Roddy Lumsden said that, what with his fifteen year hiatus from writing, James Fenton (who recently published a Selected Poems that didn’t include his single best poem, A Staffordshire Murderer) had effectively turned himself into an ex-poet.

Ex-poets. Hiatus poets. Francis Stuart took an eighty or so year breather between his first and second poetry books. That’s some lunch-break. Trevor Joyce took a large mid-career leave of absence. My esteemed fellow blogger John Latta did likewise (was I the first person to use the Jeffrey Dahmer joke on him, I wonder, when I received a copy of his first book and thanked him with ‘Thank you for your Torsos, as Jeffrey Dahmer use to say to his fridge). It was practically obligatory for the Objectivists, whose late flowerings were a bit like Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and Bukka White getting tracked down in the 60s, decades after their scratchy recordings in the field.

Though then again arch pisseur de copie Georges Simenon struck ‘writer’ from his passport when he retired as a novelist, almost defiantly. Over and out.

Anyway, when George Oppen gave up poetry after Discrete Series he went to work as a carpenter instead, down Mexico way. He was forced to give up poetry again in the 70s as the clouds of Alzheimer’s began to descend, a process all too visible in the painful, halting style of his last published book, Primitive. Robert Creeley’s Best American Poetry 2002 features a series of later jottings written by Oppen as his condition began to rob him of speech, and posted on his study wall. Listen to the terrible scratching noise of the rat in the skull that is thought behind a couple of those fragments:

Music, that marvel
trying to exist
out of this forest to come forth


The world is black magic
The world is half magic


The universe moved
and we moved
in this monstrosity


The ordinary words
come to mean

In a way I live on words, forget words

1 comment:

John said...

Gee, Puthwuth, I don't remember taking a break. Did I take a break? Last thing I remember is going off to fetch a bottle of bourbon at the ABC store in Charlottesville, Va. circa 1987. What a lunch!