I've been reading a lot of Delmore lately, and he keeps coming back through my head without warning, like Bolano, Ferrante, from Highway 61 Revisted. Also, I think I can see how he might have influenced his Syracuse student Lou Reed, re the same or similar low-key but steady pace, which can shift into droning momentum, and hypnotically fascinating detail (as in the shades-of-gray family saga "The Child is the Meaning of This Life", which, like most of his stories that I've found, seems influenced by his inveterate movie-going in the 30s and 40s), or just as confidently and urgently, jump the turnstiles, spin the dial,'til he finds just what he wants, for the moment---and as Cynthia Ozick concludes, in her intro to Screeno: Stories and Poems, though some may think of the fancy poems as Delmore, the urban raincoat stories as Schwartz, "they're really from the same DNA."
― dow, Friday, 13 September 2019 19:04 (nine months ago) link
Anyway I started with Once and For All: The Best of Delmore Schwartz, which isn't all the best---help us out, Library of America!---but I was intrigued because, unusually enough, it does cover the whole career, incl. cherrypicked highlights of the decline. Starts with the one-two punch of "In Dreams begin Responsibilities", the reputation-making short story he wrote at 21: dreams that he's watching a silent movie of his future parents' courtship, documented in quaintly genteel, charming-to-others, sucks-for-him detail, til he has to stand up and shout, "Don't do it! It's not too late!", and the usher comes hurrying down the aisle with his flashlight, gives young D. a stern talking-to. This happens again later, when these seems to be last chance to warn them. He wakes up, can't shake it, gotta get up though."The World Is A Wedding" had me thinking of Paul Goodman's Empire City trilogy way before I read that it's based on Goodman and an early circle of friends---it does unfold stealthy character sketches, implicitly zinging the voluble zingers, but it also considers the situation he shared, lived with them, being the child of immigrants, whose Great Expectations for their children are suspenced by the early Depression, so that of these highly educated, thus unusually on-paper-qualified for the times 20-somethings spurn and/or seek (and sometimes find and sometimes jump from one to another) jobs, schmobs, eh what's gonna come of it anyway (In the later Depression, as the New Deal begins to provide jobs, even for writers, it feels a bit different, but a man's got his way of life, hey.) So Delmore senses a pre-Beat sensibility and channels it through the shrewdest and most lyrically extended, deepest passages of this short novel---as Goodman himself did later, more acerbically in the best parts of the Empire City novels and the nonfiction Growing Up Absurd.
― dow, Friday, 13 September 2019 19:38 (nine months ago) link
Have you read the James Atlas bio, Don?
― Our Borad Could Be Your Trife (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 13 September 2019 19:53 (nine months ago) link
(No, not yet). The anthology continues with some of his best and best-received early poems---oh yeah, should have entioned that John Ashbery's intro provides many ace comments, incl. on "Genesis Book One," the unfinished epic poem which was "indifferently received," a turning point in Delmore's hopes and dreams, although he had---other problems---JA says it was an uneven work, with passages of wooden prose, which nevertheless set off the verse keepers, like so that reading it can be like unwrapping stiff dusty cloth to find brilliant gems in the attic (paraphrasing, but that's pretty close). No prose bits here, but the verse excerpts work, with the perfectly named nebbish-hero Hershey Green periodically beset with a whirlwind of outsidery geezers, not shy with the insights and advice (future Delmores?) We also get the glories and the bottomless dark plunges of Delmorevision simultaneously at one point, the split-screens merging (spoiler).The best of the later poems, so far, seems to be a consideration of Seuret's "Sunday Afternoon on the Seine," a call-and-response of one kind of imagist to and with another, also a critic-philosopher's appreciation, then he realizes he's never going to have this kind of sustained enjoyment of life's simple offerings in his own world, and he wants to get inside, peel himself into the painting----SERENITY NOW!Also good letters, where he stands up to his former fave Ezra Pound, and to his landlady, among others.
― dow, Friday, 13 September 2019 19:58 (nine months ago) link
In one of his essays in this anthology, he mentions things he's learned from his students: for instance realizing that that some incorrectly used terms could make acceptable sense when thought of in a very different way---and he realizes he's experiencing, in bits of real time, the way language changes down through the ages. Not that he's allowed to let them do whatever they want, but he keeps things as unconstricted as possibleAnd on of the letters, he mentions his insecurities as a teacher, incl. being not much older than his students, but also that one class stands up and applauds him on the last day ("Yay, It's over!"?)
Which reminds me of "A Bitter Farce," a really interesting story about a young Jewish teacher and his slightly younger, mostly military students, during WWII: they ask him a lot of questions about race and ethnicity and how they figure in the war and homefront, and he always comes up with an answer bold and cautious, standing on a wire, also he counters with his own questions. Most of the students, or the talkiest ones, are male, duh, but things shift when he's in conference with a co-ed (he doesn't come on to her or anything like that, but the challenge, the protocol with a female is different). The author leaves us to make the connection between the story and the rude title, which seems slapped up there after he finished writing-, but probably isn't.
Because he trusts the reader to make such connections, he trusts himself to take chances of that kind (and others)---in his prime he does, although the later efforts in Successful Love and Other Stories(1961) are mostly (except one about a stressed-out faculty star and his observant wife and a cool couple from Europe, more sophisticated yet having to find their way in this ever-curious country---that's "The Fabulous 20 Dollar Bill") labored, trying too hard to be funny and topical and didn't-I-blow-your-mind-this-time, with windbag narrators, whom he knew just how to contextualize and counterbalance in some earlier stories. And what's really distressing is that he does have some intriguing points about America in the 50s, but he really really needs--I dunno, Max Perkins and a big pair of shears?? And these later stories can be even more dismaying in contrast to a couple of halcyon nuggets, the pistol-poppin' "The Track Meet", a Kafkaesque/Highway 61 cartoon with a truly scary ending, and "The Statues," even cooler in its way, maybe an antiparable
"The Statues" is in his first collection, The World is a Wedding(1948), along with the otherwise unavailable "A Bitter Farce." That book's out of print, but its other selections, plus "The Track Meet" and OMG "The Commencement Address" (a distinguished historian startles and charms and delights and puts off and mystifies and melts down, shifting back and forth a bit, but it's all good, he's still in the steely deadpan bosom of Robert Moses)- oh, and the prev. unpublished, untyped even "SCREENO" are in In Dreams begin Responsibilities and Other Stories, now in its Xteenth printing, edited and intro'd by James Atlas, foreword by Irving Howe, tribute by Delmore's aforementioned Syracuse student Lou Reed.
Screeno" Stories and Poems, with that ace into by Ozick, is mostly poems, but adds the otherwise-unavailable "The Heights of Joy," about a magisterial multinational mogul who finds himself drawn to a young European star of the silver screen, even more charismatic off-screen. (They challenge each other and themselves and a third
― dow, Sunday, 15 September 2019 02:40 (nine months ago) link