Paula Vogel on Virginia Woolf & Beckett

Very interesting piece on Beckett in the Times this weekend, with various playwrights discussing Beckett’s influence. Here is Paula Vogel:

“I wonder what would’ve happened had Beckett existed as a colleague, or a contemporary, or even as a forerunner to Virginia Woolf,” Ms. Vogel said. “What would’ve happened if she had seen the ability to dramatize stasis, where drama was no longer about the conflict of men in action, but was instead a conflict of perspectives? I think Virginia Woolf would’ve become a playwright.”

And further:

“The huge gift that Beckett gave to theater, to women playwrights in particular, is our notion of dramaturgy: a non-Aristotelian, nonapocalyptic sense of time, sheer chronicity that stretches to eternity,” she continued. “In the 1960’s, women experimental writers were criticized for being static, but they actually would have stayed away from drama without Beckett’s model, because quite frankly it wasn’t a form that appealed to their different notion of dramatic time.”

I won’t argue there, though of course he wasn’t the only one. A major one, not the only one. And it’s true what John Guare says about people riffing on Beckett: the work falls flat. Why? Any number of reasons I suppose, but one thing I notice when I teach Beckett in writing classes (and I do whenever possible…), is that people tend to see the play’s surface, not its depth, not the depths of the characters. They don’t see the mean streak, the anger, the hostility. They go for the conceptual gloss, and it’s beautiful stuff, but it’s not empty!!

Anyhow, can’t miss a chance to post on Beckett. And Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive is a damn fine play too. Structurally it’s much more brilliant than it seems.

Ah, Beckett, Stein, Woolf: it doesn’t get any better for this Hound.

Oh, and planning on seeing Wallace Shawn’s new translation of Brecht’s Three Penny Opera next month! Woohoo!

Jason Camlot

I’m reading Attention all Typewriters at the moment, which is a pleasing read, and by that I mean, a pleasure. That there is so much pleasure and so little struggle may cause suspicion in some circles, and occasionally the one I am standing in too, though not today, not this book, and not because I’m giddy with spring air and the planting of my bathtub (the pride of any Brooklyn gardener), no, because this book is great fun, and smart too. In lieu of a review (forthcoming, but there is a line at present, and gardens too), I offer the first poem in this amicable text.

Bewildered Alexandrines

Dazed speechless baffled flabbergasted mazed misled
Dumbfounded struck rebounded rattled in the head

Blind muddled hit befuddled knocked floored blown-breathless
Strewn puzzled flipped bedazzled into nothingness

Agape bamboozled battered wrecked confused lost
Addled shook confounded fazed hazy horror-tossed

Dismayed forlorn spun whirling ruffled to the core
Thrown flustered “off” bothered perplexed looking for more

Shamed crushed embarrassed burnt cut reeling fucked
Staggering awed astounded woozy wonderstruck

Disgraced aghast disturbed astonished supefied
Afraid left in the dark bewildered but alive

Virginia Quarterly Review loves Open Field (with notes)

And we love the Virginia Quarterly Review. Really. What a smart journal. Great taste in poetry, and diverse readings. An essay by David Quamman, a portfolio on Adrienne Rich. Who are these people and where have they been hiding? Yes, the poetry selection is conservative, that’s a flaw (people, read outside of your own perspective!!), but there is some interesting work here aside from Rich (who is, even if you don’t find her work as urgent as it once was, an important figure). In particular Joshua Poteat, whom I’ve never heard of, but there is space in his work. It isn’t all jammed together with the seamless, hyper-polished quality of much of the tightly spun quatrains or couplets we see in most of these journals. “Illustrating how to catch and manufacture ghosts” is a great title, and the poem itself was engaging:

“Tonight there is no wind, even the heat

is on its knees, and the moths laying eggs”

Now, I’m suspicious of these “ah, moments” in poetry. So much of what is being published seems designed to illicit such repsonses. Shouldn’t the fact that Oprah has all but copyrighted such responses tell us something about the manufactured nature of such responses??? (I have witnessed some of the nations powerhouse editors go weak at the knees at lines such as this…)

But Poteat makes fresh this desire, it seems to me, as the poem continues:

“on the side door are not being honest
with themselves. Though their enterprise

is beauty, the eggs will not last through

the rains, and so it goes.”

The blog does not seem to allow me to indent, which changes the visual of the poem slightly, though not, it seems essentially. But even as I trace the poems movement here, what seemed pleasing at first glance becomes less so: we again learn how failed hope is, and though we are not left here, on the safe confines of a front porch, chardonnay in hand, we are left with the impotence of desire, our vain delusions…perhaps a more pungeant “awe moment” than many of the poems of this variety? (Is it such a terrible stance to be open and wondering about poems instead of militant and slotting? This school here, this school there, dig, dig the trenches?).

While perusing the magazine rack I also noted a new issue of Noon, one of the more under-rated journals, which looks as delicious as ever, and Jubilat, another one I’ve come to enjoy.

Union Square was hopping, and a friend caught up on some of the AWP tales–aside from everything being big and Texasish the event was not without controversy. One Kate Braverman, whom I posted on just a few days ago, apparently accused her publisher of censorship and walked off the stage…wow. Okay, when I said I liked the directness of her attitude in the Brooklyn Rail interview, this isn’t quite what I had in mind…

Wow, I say again. Intense. Who knew?

But really, the title of this post is Virginia Quarterly Review loves Open Field (maybe even its publisher, who finally updated their website last month, likes it! Thank you Persea.). I’m telling you, if you don’t have it, you’re missing out.

On this day in 1941


Virginia Woolf committed suicide on this day in 1941. Her walking stick, found on the banks of the River Ouse, was sold at auction in 2002, and is now part of the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. The spot where she left it when she jumped is included on the literary tours of Rodmell, Sussex.

But eleven years earlier on this day in 1930 she was full into writing The Waves:

I had a day of intoxication…felt the pressure of the form–the splendour & the greatness–as–perhaps, I have never felt them.

A tantalizing spring day ending with tea with Nessa & Angelica and the following observations:

People fight & struggle. Knocking each other off the pavement. Old bareheaded men; a motor car accident: &c. To walk alone in London is the greatest rest.

Brooklyn Rail interview

The Brooklyn Rail is great. This issue has an interview with Kate Braverman that made me want to buy her book, which I shall, and report back… But the interview I can recommend nonetheless. She’s wonderfully candid, and a poet turned fiction writer which is always intriguing. Here she discusses the lack of audience, something I suppose poets aren’t supposed to discuss…

Braverman: My readers are primarily MFA students. My short fictions are in most university anthologies. My audience has been limited because of my failure to understand the marketplace, which used to follow rather then dictate. I am responsible for the lack of audience I have. The neo-Romanticism of the sixties and isolation of Los Angeles combined with a pathological inability to engage the Establishment on its terms was a major problem. I was told in 1988, when Palm Latitudes was published, that I needed to find someone like Didion or Janet Malcolm or Sontag, say, to explain why my work mattered, to frame it, make it intelligible to the many. If anyone had done that, bothered to do it, say, in the New York Times Book Review, the reader would have been introduced to me as they are to complex, typically male and foreign writers. I continued to think I could create an origami so exquisite, it would filter through. I was wrong.

The woman question: uplifting, or pinning down

At a dinner party scene on the L Word, Max shares an anecdote about lobsters: how it’s only male lobsters you have to worry about leaping out of the pot when you’re trying to cook them. The males, sensing danger, make a ladder so that they can help each other climb out of the pot. Female lobsters, on the other hand, hold each other back.

The idea of mentorship and support among women comes up often in conversations—particularly in conversations between poets and artists. There is a lot of complaining about a lack of female role models, a lack of support—and if I recall that is why Annie Finch started Wom-Po, the women’s poetry listserv. Wom-Po is a great resource, but apart from gender, that project seems to be concerned with discussion of formal poetry and less open to innovative and experimental work.

I’m not sure whether there is any veracity in the lobster tale, but the number of conversations I’ve had about this subject over the last half decade or so indicates that there must be. Reading series like belladonna—which I am very pleased to be part of—go a long way in creating positive experiences for innovative women writers and readers. But what about other forms of support? What about reviews, for example??