Pare Lorentz, Young Love, Edgar Allen Poe, Ploughshares, and James Merrill
The Raven
Edgar Allen Poe
(Northeastern University)
Not only the Gods, but, as well, the Gauls, must be crazy. They idolize Jerry Lewis and Edgar Allen Poe. Maybe, based on the early Martin and Lewis corpus, we can understand some of the interest in the former. But Poe: fagh! Try reading this aloud without dropping your mental crankshaft:

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
    On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor,
    And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
              Shall be lifted --- nevermore!

Good exercise for five-year-olds and nitwits, and damn the American scholars who decided that Poe was An Important Literary Figure (he's an Important Lunchhead, as far as we can determine, and little else).

They say, by the way, that the French adore Poe because of the excellent translations by Stephane Mallarmé which, for all intents and purpose, were Mallarmé pretending to be Poe. The design of this edition is excellent.

The Consuming Myth
The Work of
James Merrill

Stephen Yenser
The est people used to say "Ultimate insight is the booby prize of life." We would guess that the booby prize for an American poet is to have some scholarly University Press put out a 350 page, closely printed, totally cryptic, highly footnoted, turgid, dogmatic investigation of one's works.

By this token, just before his death, James Merrill suffered the ultimate insult: a philomath from UCLA attempted to pin him wriggling to the wall. We care for Merrill's poetry too much to countenance such nonsense, so let's hope that Consuming Myth does not damage his promise for American letters.

As we were reading (or trying to read) Yenser's inspissated prose, we felt like we were passing through the dogwater to get to the dog. For example, this sonnet, written about the poet's father Charles Edward Merrill (who founded Merrill, Lynch, Fierce, Fenner and Beane):

    My father, who had flown in World War I,
    Might have continued to invest his life
    In cloud banks well above Wall Street and wife.
    But the race was run below, and the point was to win.
    Too late now, I make out in his blue gaze
    (Through the smoked glass of being thirty-six)
    The soul eclipsed by twin black pupils, sex
    And business; time was money in those days.
    Each thirteenth year he married. When he died
    There were already several chilled wives
    In sable orbit --- rings, cars, permanent waves.
    We'd felt him warming up for a green bride.
    He could afford it. He was "in his prime"
    At three score ten. But money was not time.

A well-formed sonnet on a stock-broker father, of all things. It's contained with a richly honed anger; it's a perfect use of a form; it's punning and as perfectly wrought as cast-iron; it's a work of art. One should not study gold and then fabricate dross.

To say that Yenser is an inchworm literatim would be overly generous.

Our Share
Of Time

Tves Navarre
Translated by
Dominic Bernardi
and Noelle Domke

(Dalkey Archive)
The French, like the very rich, are always going to be different. To read Flaubert or Sartre or Malraux is to be immersed in a strange, floating world as peculiar as that of the Ch'in Dynasty. Is it that they are so self-conscious? Or is it the mental gymnastics?

    I'm not a very kind person. I state here what has always been a matter of good taste to keep quiet in order to make one's confession more touching. But I have no taste for good taste. And to that extent, the story will be a novel, the marketplace for those who cry out when good form dictates that one hush up. It'sThe Gold Rush.

Navarre's tale is that of an older gay schoolteacher, Pierre Forgue, in love with a twenty-one year old beauty named "Duck." There is an intersticing of the story line with Forgue's novel-in-progress; it gives us a dreaminess which is more than a mere May and December liaison:

    There is only one point about which I feel superior to the mass of men: I am altogether more free, and more dutiful than they dare to be. Superiority is not a matter of caste but a matter of generosity. It's not the product of ambition, but of the raw gift of yourself. The gift of life is enough. Would be enough. Excess can only be expressed sparingly.

With the overlay of attempted suicide, skewed love, a tad of violence, and, most of all, a hothouse, draining, stupefying jealousy, the termination of the affair becomes the termination of all of our affairs: misery, mutual hate, twisted iove gone wrong, long agonized silences, momentary tenderness, wariness, impatience, lust and disgust mixed, and finally, at the end of it all, a beastly weariness. The claustrophobia turns this into Long Day's Journey into Night played out in the 13th Arrondissement.

The Ploughshares
Poetry Reader

Joyce Peseroff

    I took the last
    dusty piece of china
    out of the barrel.
    It was your gravy boat,
    with a hard, brown
    drop of gravy still
    on the porcelain lip.
    I grieved for you then
    as I never had before.

"Ploughshares" has been around for more than twenty years, with poetry, reviews, criticism, and fiction. They've gathered together over a hundred of their poetic contributors for this anthology. Evidently the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, et al have referred to its "prescience" and "provocativeness," and it got rave reviews from the literary basketcases at Publishers Weekly. Even Booklist, who usually can separate the baskets from the basketcases, referred to it as "superb," so butter won't melt in their mouths.

The poem above, by Jane Kenyon, entitled "What Came to Me," is typical. It is of the warmed up milktoast school of versification right off the pages of The New Yorker. We find little poetic in "a hard, brown/drop of gravy still" on some nether lip, and the whole image, that of Aristotle contemplating the bust of gravy-boats in the attic of a Sunday afternoon is as maudlin as you could ask. If this particular poem were a rare dud, we would recommend the book anyway, because we like the spirit if not the execution of "Ploughshares," but there is here as much sap as you would hope to find in a spring morning in Vermont. That is, it overflows the buckets, gets all gummy-like, drips on the ground.

Lorentz on Film:
Movies 1927 - 1944

Pare Lorentz
Prologue by King Vidor
(University of Oklahoma)
This is a new edition of a volume first published in 1975. When the book was originally released, the French director Rene Clair wrote Mr. Lorentz:

    In going back with you over the course of the times, one cannot but admire the sureness of your judgments and your profound knowledge of the art of images. It is not in metal boxes that films are best conserved but in this ideal cinémathèque which is made of our remembrances. Thank you, dear Pare Lorentz."

Beginning in 1925, Pare Lorentz wrote for Judge magazine, and later for the New York Evening Journal, Vanity Fair, Town and Country and McCall's. Mr. Lorentz, a superb documentary filmmaker himself (The Plow that Broke the Plains, The River), selected 100 of his film reviews for this collection. Here, as he comments on one of his favorite films (and one of his favorite filmmakers) Sunrise (1927) directed by F.W. Murnau, we are reminded of the peculiar difficulties of being a film critic at a time when the artform was scarcely more than thirty years old:

    So far, most of the movies that have been made since Edison invented the moving picture have been a mongrel, illegitimate breed, a mechanical curiosity, with the less said about them the better. Regardless of the host of writers and playwrights who litter the Pacific Coast, there are but two or three men who have felt the real possibilities of the motion picture as a medium for expressing human emotions with photography and musical accompaniment. Therefore, there is no real precedent by which to judge the motion picture. There have been a barren dozen made in the manner in which a motion picture should be made, Fred one of the men who grasped the great possibilities of his craft.

Lorentz remains, along with James Agee, one of our most intelligent and worthwhile film critics.

--- Lolita Lark 


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