Episode 528 – Willard Spiegelman

Virtual Memories Show 528:
Willard Spiegelman

“Anyone whose primary allegiance is to libraries, encyclopedias, museums, reading is going to have a life that is best reflected or best measured by what she reads and how she reads, and what she does with her reading, and how the reading weaves itself into the fabric of her art.”

Author, critic, professor and now biographer Willard Spiegelman rejoins the show to talk about his amazing new book, NOTHING STAYS PUT: The Life and Poetry of Amy Clampitt (Knopf). We get into his winding history with Amy Clampitt, why he thought a biography of her would be impossible and why he decided to write it anyway, what made her poems so special, and what it was like to have such a late-blooming career (she first published at 58). We talk about the learning curve of writing his first (and only) biography, why he thinks Clampitt stubbornly stuck with prose instead of poetry for decades (and why she stuck with a terrible play about the Wordsworth circle in her last few years), how coastal Maine helped her write about her home prairies of Iowa, and why Willard choose to use the poems to expand on phases of her life from decades earlier. Plus we discuss Clampitt’s resonances with Emily Dickinson, the epiphany she had at the Cloisters that started her on the path to poetry, her spiritual and political engagement and how she felt about being a “female poet”, and her enthusiasm for enthusiasm. Plus, Willard looks back at the 10 years since we first recorded! Give it a listen! And go read NOTHING STAYS PUT!

(And listen to my 2013, 2016, and 2018 conversations with Willard!)

“You could say the launch of her career was fast work, but it was fast work that took 40 years.”

“I firmly believe that if one is a rational, sensible, common-sensical person, all of life’s important decisions should be made on impulse and whim.”

“Looking back with nostalgia is the inevitable balm that old people have: ‘when I was young, when I was strong, when I was in my prime, oh, the deeds I could do.’ Looking back can make you sane, but it can also make you grouchy.”

“The pandemic? If what you like doing is reading and writing and watching television and listening to music, what could be better than 2 years of house arrest?”

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

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About our Guest

Ken + Willard

Willard Spiegelman was for many years the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and the longtime editor of the Southwest Review. Since 1987 he has written about books and the arts for The Wall Street Journal. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Bogliasco Foundations, he is the author of eight books of literary criticism and personal essays, and the editor of Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt. He currently lives in Stonington, CT, and New York City. His new book is Nothing Stays Put: The Life and Poetry of Amy Clampitt.

Listen to our 2013, 2016, and 2018 conversations.

Me + Willard

Credits: This episode’s music is
Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Willard’s home in NYC on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4 digital recorder & interface. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Willard by me. Photo of Amy Clampitt uncredited, from her site. It’s on my instagram.

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