“It’s an existential question, not a historical one: what kinds of places make you feel at home? Some people feel at home nowhere, and some feel at home everywhere. I’m myself, wherever I am.”
Willard Spiegelman returns to the show to talk about his wonderful new essay collection, Senior Moments: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (FSG). We get into the process of deaccessioning, Mark Strand’s advice on paring down to 100 books, Willard’s take on 45 years living in Dallas (and what he’ll miss about it now that he’s retired), the joy of getting lost in Italy, the best way to pick someone up in NYC, the contrast of his 50th high school and college reunions, and more. Give it a listen! And go buy Senior Moments!
“I’m enthusiastically looking forward to getting rid of everything.”
We also mix it up over the aesthetic sunk cost fallacy, ponder being alone in the middle of a crowd, compare Japan and Hungary relative to being linguistically uprooted (I argue that Hungary is tougher, because it looks like you should be able to piece together the language), examine the pharaonic idea of hoarding, and listen to time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Now go listen to the show!
“I’m much too old to write a memoir. That’s the province of 25-year-olds.”
- Willard Spiegelman (2013)
- Jonathan Galassi
- Burton Pike
- Rachel Hadas (2016)
- Ann Patty
- Langdon Hammer
- JD McClatchy
About our Guest
Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. From 1984 util 2016, he was also the editor in chief of Southwest Review. He had written many books and essays about English and American poetry. For more than a quarter century, he has been a regular contributor to the Leisure and Arts pages of The Wall Street Journal. In 2005, Willard won the PEN/Nora Magid award for literary editing. In addition to Senior Moments, he’s also written or edited Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness, How Poets See the World: The Art of Description in Contemporary Poetry, Wordsworth’s Heroes, Imaginative Transcripts: Selected Literary Essays, Majestic Indolence: English Romantic Poetry and the Work of Art, The Didactic Muse: Scenes of Instruction in Contemporary American Poetry, and Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt. Oh, and he’s quite dapper.
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 Mr. Spiegelman’s home 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 Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Spiegelman by me.
“I’ve never felt so happy, but I’ve never felt so mortal.”
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.”
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.
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 www.rachelandshalomshow.com.
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.
“I often think that my ideas are exaggerations that are on the brink of disbelief, but just this side of that, so the suspension of disbelief is a challenge in my books. I like to push things as far as they can go.”
Rupert Thomson returns to the show to talk about his new novel, Katherine Carlyle (Other Press, 2015). We also discuss IVF babies, doing research “in character”, keeping the reader’s interest in a “road movie” novel, prioritizing imaginary facts above real facts, his pros & cons list for becoming a parent, the challenge of writing a novel about a father’s fear for his child’s safety, the long and short answer of “Where do you get your ideas?”, how he got James Salter to blurb his new book, and more! Give it a listen!
“My wife was adopted. She told me what it was like not to be related to anyone in the world by blood. She said, ‘We learn about ourselves by looking at people we resemble, and if you don’t have that, you’re alone in the world. And the only mirror is the one on the wall.’ I felt like it was within my gift to change that for her.”
Rupert also talks about repetition compulsion, the changing nature of a full-time writer, learning to perform in public readings, why he wanted to name his new book Frankenstein’s Daughter and why his wife told him not to write it for years, who he’s reading, and what his daughter thinks about his work. Go listen!
“People would assume that you’d do all the research and then write the book, but with me it’s absolutely the opposite way ’round: I think the real facts can really get in the way of the imagined ones. I sink down into my imagination and write the book I want to write first. The imagined facts have to have priority over the real ones.”
We talked about some books during this conversation. You should go read ’em!
- Katherine Carlyle – Rupert Thomson
- Secrecy – Rupert Thomson
- Unformed Landscape – Peter Stamm
- Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
- Love Me Back – Merritt Tierce
- All That Is – James Salter
- Light Years – James Salter
- The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories – Joy Williams
- The Mare – Mary Gaitskill
About our Guest
Rupert Thomson is the author of nine highly acclaimed novels, including Secrecy; The Insult, which was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize and selected by David Bowie as one of his 100 Must-Read Books of All Time; The Book of Revelation, which was made into a feature film by Ana Kokkinos; and Death of a Murderer, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award. His memoir, This Party’s Got to Stop, was named Writers’ Guild Non-Fiction Book of the Year. He lives in London.
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 Carlyle Hotel 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.
“Chanel was trying to gift herself to women, and give them something that would lend them an allure that would be useful.”
Rhonda K. Garelick, author of Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History, joins the show to talk about Chanel’s impact on women’s fashion and French national identity, how she managed not to get tried for collaboration after the war, the one figure from our age who compares to Chanel, what it’s like teaching the accordion-and-beret crowd, and more! Give it a listen!
“I remain certain that there is no one else who has had this sort of aesthetic influence.”
We also talk about Chanel’s pleasure in hiring fallen royalty to work in her boutiques and factories, the need for myth-making in fashion, the challenges of getting Chanel’s associates to talk to her, the psychological similarities of fashion and fascism, and the decision to structure Mademoiselle around Chanel’s relationships. Also, I make the major mistake of letting Rhonda ask me a question, which sends the conversation utterly off the rails.
We talk about a couple of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):
- Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History – Rhonda K. Garelick
- Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
- Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Hoarders: Material Deviance in Modern American Culture – Scott Herring
- Private Lives, Public Deaths: Antigone and the Invention of Individuality – Jonathan Strauss
About our Guest
Rhonda K. Garelick writes on fashion, design, performance, art, literature and cultural politics. Her books include Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender, and Performance in the Fin de Siècle (Princeton University Press, winner of the Kayden Award for outstanding manuscript in the humanities), Electric Salome: Loie Fuller’s Performance of Modernism (Princeton), and, as co-editor, Fabulous Harlequin: ORLAN and the Patchwork Self (University of Nebraska Press, winner of the 2011 award for book design from the American Alliance of Museums). Her new book is Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, New York Newsday, International Herald Tribune, and The Sydney Morning Herald, and numerous journals and museum catalogs in the United States and Europe.
She is a Guggenheim fellow and has also received awards from the NEA, the NEH, the Getty Research Institute, the Dedalus Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the Whiting Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Prof. Garelick received her B.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature and French from Yale University. She splits her time between Lincoln, Nebraska and her hometown of New York City.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she is Professor of Fine and Performing Arts and English, as well as the founder and director of the Interdisciplinary Arts Symposium. For the academic year 2015-2016, Rhonda will be the Stanley Kelly, Jr. Visiting Professor of Distinguished Teaching in Comparative Literature at Princeton University. Garelick has also had a long career as an international business consultant, specializing in the fields of fashion, media, and journalism.
Credits: This episode’s music is Cri de Coeur by Edith Piaf. The conversation was recorded at an undisclosed location 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. Photo of Prof. Garelick by Agaton Strom.
“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.”
Langdon 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.
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.
“The literary writer still needs someone to have a dialogue with, to help shape their book, understand it and make it as presentable to the world as possible.”
FSG president Jonathan Galassi has been a literary editor and publisher for more than four decades, so how did that experience prepare him for publishing his first novel? Find out in this week’s show, as we talk with Mr. Galassi about Muse (Knopf)! We talk about his history (and future) in publishing, how he wound up a publisher-hybrid of Roger Straus and James Laughlin, how he learned to shut off his editor-self in order to get in touch with writer-self, why he took the challenge of writing a character’s world-changing poetry, and more. Give it a listen!
“The most important thing an editor has is taste. And how do you get taste? By reading a lot of books, and coming to understand what makes them good. Having a visceral love or detestation is important.”
We also talk about Muse‘s affectionate satire of the New York publishing world (okay: he calls it a “revenge fantasy” in our conversation), why he enjoys the rough-and-tumble aspects of the biz, the degree to which authors’ expectations have changed over the decades, the degree to which publishing relies on luck, the best training for an editor, our favorite Philip Roth novels, the value of big advances, where he falls on MFA vs. NYC, why the better literary writers should shouldn’t self-publish, and whether it was a taboo for him to venture into fiction writing after spending so many years editing fiction writers. (Photo: Yvonne Albinowski/New York Observer)
“You go into publishing because you love literature, and you end up reading a lot of crap.”
About our Guest
Jonathan Galassi is a lifelong veteran of the publishing world and the author of three collections of poetry, Morning Run, North Street and Other Poems and Left-handed, as well as translations of the Italian poets Eugenio Montale and Giacomo Leopardi. He has served as a senior editor at Houghton Mifflin, and as executive editor and later president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. In 2008 he received the Maxwell E. Perkins Award, which recognizes an editor, publisher, or agent who “has discovered, nurtured and championed writers of fiction in the U.S.” A former Guggenheim Fellow and poetry editor of the Paris Review, he also writes for the New York Review of Books and other publications. He lives in New York City. His new novel is Muse.
Credits: This episode’s music is Caçada by Bebel Gilberto. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Galassi’s office at FSG 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. Photo of Mr. Galassi by Yvonne Albinowski/New York Observer.
“Poetry chose me at an early age. I think it was connected to the fact that poetry is emotional, pretty, and short.”
Rachel Hadas, author of Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia and Poetry (Paul Dry Books), lost her husband to early onset dementia. We talk about how poetry — hers and others’ — gave her solace during this years-long process. We also talk about poetry is a way for the poet to both release and identify emotions, why it was easier to publish collections of poetry in the 1980s and 1990s, the benefits of poetry memorization, and why the Furies looked the other way when Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia.
“Writing helps us to live through something and then it helps us remember it, if we want to.”
BONUS: You get to hear me record an intro after 35 hours with no sleep, and find out about the huge, life-changing thing I did last week!
About our Guest
Rachel Hadas studied classics at Harvard, poetry at Johns Hopkins, and comparative literature at Princeton. Between college and graduate school she spent four years in Greece, an experience that surfaces variously in much of her work. Since 1981 she has taught in the English Department of the Newark (NJ) campus of Rutgers University, and has also taught courses in literature and writing at Columbia and Princeton, as well as serving on the poetry faculty of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the West Chester Poetry Conference. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant in poetry, and an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Rachel Hadas is the author of many books of poetry, prose, and translations. Most recently, she her memoir about her husband’s illness, Strange Relation, was published by Paul Dry Books (2011) and a new book of her poems, The Golden Road, was published by Northwestern University Press (2012).
Credits: This episode’s music is Strange Conversation by Ted Hawkins. The conversation was recorded at the home of Ms. Hadas on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in a hotel room in London on the same gear. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Rachel Hadas by me.