[This was the intro to my Feb. 9, 2022 e-mail. I liked it, so now it’s a standalone post. Drawing of Pound by me.]

“You — find me — in fragments,” said the old poet to the young poet, on the threshold of a doorway in Rome.

Or so goes Donald Hall’s recollection of the first words Ezra Pound spoke to him, as they met for several days of conversation that would become a Paris Review Writers At Work interview. It was 1960; two years earlier Pound had been released from a hospital for the criminally insane, after 13 years of confinement.

Hall wrote about his week with Pound and its aftermath in his book Old Poets (previously published in 1978 as Remembering Poets, then expanded in 1992 as Their Ancient Glittering Eyes and now reissued as Old Poets). It’s the culmination of a series of essays about poets whom he interviewed or under whom he studied: Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Archibald MacLeish, Yvor Winters, Marianne Moore and Pound.

Reading the book last week — alternating between Kindle of Old Poets, and hardcover of Their Ancient Glittering Eyes bought at Faulkner House Books in New Orleans — I was transported by Hall’s prose, but I also found myself comparing our experiences of meeting & interviewing our literary heroes. The comparison breaks down because Hall was an accomplished poet by the time of these literary encounters while I’m some zhlub from New Jersey, but I felt such empathy for his anxiety before these sessions, his desire to win their approval. The recollections — of a man in his early 30s by a man in his mid-50s and 60s — are never tinged with regret at his youthful behavior, and capture the reverence with which Hall held the great poets of his lifetime. He also found time to conduct literary analysis and to dish hot goss. (The Marianne Moore essay in particular is unforgettable, for the sheer weirdness of Moore’s life, the effect she had on poets & editors, and the depth of Hall’s examination of her poems.)

The book captivated me in a way I haven’t felt for quite a while, and in a way I didn’t know I haven’t felt. Even when I disagreed with some of Hall’s takes — particularly around Pound’s antisemitism, which he attributes to Pound’s insanity — I was utterly immersed in the world he was recounting, one where poems and their writers mattered.

“When a stranger wanted to come calling, I told him I was almost dead,” wrote the old poet.

I like to think Hall wrote those words about me. They’re in his final essay collection, A Carnival Of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, published weeks after his death in June 2018.

In 2015, I pitched Hall via intermediary, offering to drive up to New Hampshire for an hour or so of conversation. He turned me down, citing a litany of health issues, concluding that if he talked for an hour, he “would spend two days in bed.” He concluded, “I’m actually not on the brink of death, at least I don’t think I am, and surely that’s what I must sound like. . . . I do a little, in order to be able to do anything!”

The essay where he mentions the stranger — Way Way Down, Way Way Up — covers much of 2015. The dates don’t match up neatly — I wrote him in May, but that line crops up while he’s recounting a mid-January hospitalization — but if anyone was entitled to poetic license, it was Donald Hall. Maybe I’m a stranger, if not thestranger.

After Hall’s death, I mentioned to our mutual friend, Sven Birkerts, that he’d turned me down for a podcast a few years earlier. Sven told me I shouldn’t have taken no for an answer, and that he surely could have convinced Hall to record with me. Now that I’ve read Old Poets, I — let’s not say regret — rue not following up or otherwise cajoling Hall into a conversation at his home. Of all people, the man who interviewed those great poets in his youth would have understood my impulse in wanting to talk with him.

But I’m struck by those words with which Pound greeted him: “You — find me — in fragments.” Pound referred to his shatteredness, the 13 years in a hospital, the madness, the notion that the alternative was execution for treason.

Hall copes with the reality of Pound’s fragments over the course of his essay, both Pound’s exhausted, disintegrated persona and the bits of poetry and prose he tries to assemble in his wake. Hall draws parallels to the self-destructions his other poet-subjects wrought on their loved ones: Frost, Thomas, Eliot.

But was Pound saying that fragments are all that was left of him, or that he is only truly findable within those fragments? “You find ME in fragments.”

Fragments imply a whole. In Judaism, we have the concept of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. To our mystic brethren, this is symbolized by vessels that were shattered when they were filled with the light of the divine, and became the world. Each fragment contains a spark, and restoring the shattered vessels, separating good from evil, is the aim of mankind.

Where else do we find one other, but in the fragments?

Episode 208 – Barbara Epler

Virtual Memories Show 208: Barbara Epler

“We try to find things that move the walls in our brain about what fiction and poetry can do.”

New Directions publisher Barbara Epler joins the show to talk about her accidental career, the pros and cons of New Directions’ size, the Moneyball aspect of publishing works in translation, surviving a Nobel crush, the importance of secondary rights, the language she most wishes she could read, the novel she promises never to write, the book whose success surprised her the most, where WG Sebald’s work might have gone, and more! This is part of our Festival Neue Literatur series; Barbara is the 2017 recipient of the FNL’s Friedrich Ulfers Prize! Give it a listen!

“We have to make money, but we don’t do anything that overtly looks like it makes money.”

“James Laughlin believed that one of the most important streams of income for New Directions was to get the best poets of the generation who were working in an experimental mode, because of the secondary rights.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Barbara Epler started working at New Directions after graduating from Harvard in 1984, and is now the publisher. The writers Epler has published include such international luminaries as W.G. Sebald, Roberto Bolaño, László Krasznahorkai, Robert Walser, Clarice Lispector, Yoko Tawada, César Aira, Inger Christensen, Franz Kafka, Yoel Hoffmann, Bei Dao, Tomas Tranströmer, Jenny Erpenback, Veza Canetti, Fleur Jaeggy, Raduan Nassar, Joseph Roth, Takashi Hiraide, Alexander Kluge, and Antonio Tabucchi. She has worked with some of the world’s most gifted translators and has served as a judge for the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Awards. In 2015, Poets & Writers awarded Epler their Editor’s Prize and in 2016 Words Without Borders gave her the Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the New Directions offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Ms. Epler by me. It’s on my instagram.

Episode 176 – Malcolm Margolin

This is one of those Must-Hear episodes of The Virtual Memories Show, people! I know I love all my kids, but I admit this one’s pretty special; give it a few minutes and you’ll understand why.

Virtual Memories Show #176:
Malcolm Margolin

“What I’m passing on to people is . . . the capacity to have fun. To have a life that you can build around. Not branding, and not the demands of the marketplace, but what you really think and what you want.”

HMALcover_web800px-200x299After a remarkable 40-year career, publisher Malcolm Margolin is retiring from Heyday Books in Berkeley. He joins the show to talk about the liberation of being unimportant, building a roundhouse to fall apart, the “dress code” necessary to make things palatable to a mainstream audience, his efforts to chronicle California Indian culture, his next act(s), and more! Give it a listen!

“In some ways I feel regret; the irony is that I was so active in preserving other people’s cultures and languages, but I let mine go.”

We also talk about the craziest golf foursome ever, the two-week-plus run of LSD that may have changed his life, his hatred of salesmanship (and environmentalists), the publishing revolution of the ‘70s, how we learn to live in a world bigger than our capacity to understand it, the inscription he’d want on his headphone e’d what drew him to publishing all those years ago (the beautiful women)! Give it a listen!

And become a patron of this podcast via Patreon or Paypal to get access to bonus conversation with Malcolm and a list of all the books we talked about! (Also, here’s a free bonus page of all the great quotes from our conversation.)

“I’m an emotion junkie. If I can go more than a few hours without breaking into tears, it’s a wasted day.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Malcolm Margolin is an author, publisher, and the founder and executive director of Heyday Books, an independent nonprofit publisher and cultural institution in Berkeley, CA. In 1974 he founded Heyday with the publication of his book The East Bay Out: A Personal Guide to the East Bay Regional Parks. Malcolm is the author/editor of eight books including The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, named by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the hundred most important books of the 20th century by a western writer. His essays and articles have appeared in a number of periodicals including The Nation, Small Press, National Parks, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times. He retired from his role as publisher at Heyday Books this year.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the offices of Heyday Books on a Zoom H2n digital recorder (because I screwed up with my main recorder). I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Malcolm by me.

Episode 153 – Rachel Hadas

Virtual Memories Show #153:
Rachel Hadas

“I’ve never felt so happy, but I’ve never felt so mortal.”

41jSXgwsSYL._SX358_BO1,204,203,200_Poet Rachel Hadas returns to the show to talk about her new books, Talking To The Dead (Spuyten Duyvil Press), and Questions in the Vestibule (Northwestern University Press). It’s been two years since we last talked (over here), so I had plenty of questions for her. How did she rebuild her life after losing her husband to early onset dementia? How did she wind up pals with James Merrill (and what’s her take on his Ouija poems)? What do we lose and gain in the act of translation? And how did she become a love poet after spending her career writing elegies? Listen in to find out!

“It’s like Forster said, there’s a sense that the great poets are sitting at a table, synchronically all writing at the same time.”

515iK7+qPaL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_You should check out this extra material from our conversation: Backdrop: Merrill in Stonington, a video essay Rachel made with her husband, Shalom Gorewitz, and The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, a collection of essays commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts. Also, here’s the blog post I wrote about translating Tolstoy.

“I’m at a point in my career where I feel fortunate to be able to publish what I’m writing.”

Also, if you want to find out who she’s reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of February, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who Rachel’s reading lately and why.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

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About our Guest

Rachel Hadas’s book of selected prose pieces, Talking To The Dead, was published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2015. Her new book of poems, Questions in the Vestibule, is forthcoming (April 2016) from Northwestern University Press, which will also publish her verse translations of Euripides’ dramas Iphigenia in Aulis and Iphigenia Among the Taurians. The author of a score of books of poetry, essays, and translations, Hadas is Board of Governors Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark. She and her husband, artist Shalom Gorewitz, have been working on marrying poetry and video; some of their collaborative work, including a piece about James Merrill, can be seen at

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Hadas’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. All photos of Ms. Hadas by Shalom Gorewitz.

Episode 123 – The Hidden Wish of Words

Virtual Memories Show #123:
Langdon Hammer – The Hidden Wish of Words

“What I really cared about most, what drew me, was the relationship between lives and work, between how we live and what we do, and what we do with it. And that’s one of James Merrill’s major subjects.”

merrillcoverLangdon Hammer, Chair of the Yale English department, joins the show to talk about his new biography, James Merrill: Life and Art (Knopf) (and one of the best books I’ve read this year). We discuss Merrill’s allure as a poet and the alchemy that allowed him to turn base wealth into artistic gold. He also talks about learning the art of literary biography on the fly, the challenge of recreating Merrill’s life in Greece, Merrill’s silence over AIDS, how we can understand the Ouija board-derived poems of Merrill’s masterwork, and more! Give it a listen!

“Alchemy is a theme in Merrill’s writing. How is he going to make his own gold, how is he going to transform the lead of his father’s money into a higher value?”


We also learn about Langdon’s decades at Yale and how students have changed during his time there, what the globalization of English poetry means for the form, why he considers The Book of Ephraim to be James Merrill’s greatest poem, and the farthest he traveled to research the book.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Langdon Hammer is chair of the English Department at Yale and the poetry editor of The American Scholar. His books include Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism and, as editor for the Library of America, Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters and May Swenson: Collected Poems. His lectures on modern poetry are available free online at Yale Open Courses. There’s a more extensive bio at JamesMerrillWeb, if you’d like to check that out.

Credits: This episode’s music is Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Hammer’s office at Yale on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.

Worse than Ezra

Ahoy, ahoy, dear readers! I’m way too busy reading pharmaco financials and analyst reports to spend much time blogging. Updates will be pretty light until July 4thish. (Of course there’ll be an Unrequired Reading this Friday! Don’t be silly!)

Just so you get your fix, the 0-fer of the week is . . . Ezra Pound!

Now I gotta get back to work. Later!