Robert Lowell on the raw and the cooked

Two poetries are now competing, a cooked and a raw. The cooked, marvelously expert, often seems laboriously concocted to be tasted and digested by a graduate seminar. The raw, huge blood-dripping gobbets of unseasoned experience are dished up for midnight listeners. There is a poetry that can only be studied, and a poetry that can only be declaimed, a poetry of pedantry, and a poetry of scandal. I exaggerate, of course.

— Robert Lowell, National Book Award acceptance speech, November 1960

The award was for Life Studies.

‘The Cooler’ in The Interpreter’s House

Delighted to say that The Interpreter’s House issue 68 is out, the final issue edited by Martin Malone and assistant Charles Lauder Jnr. I’m delighted my poem ‘The Cooler’ is included, my second appearance in TIH after two of my poems appeared in issue 58. Thanks to Martin and Charles.

It’s a great journal, 130 pages of always interesting poetry and reviews, and I look forward to seeing the next issues from editor Georgi Gill and assistant Andrew Wells.

James Wright on the Olympian syndicate

In 1958, in July, [Wright] wrote me a letter (I’m sure similar letters went to others) in which he announced that he was through writing poems. […] The first issue of Robert Bly’s magazine, The Fifties, which he read at this crucial point, arrived like a reproach. (He did not yet know Bly.) He told me: “So I quit. I have been betraying whatever was true and courageous […] in myself and in everyone else for so long, that I am still fairly convinced that I have killed it. So I quit.” In the letter he called himself “a literary operator (and one of the slickest, cleverest, most ‘charming’ concoctors of the do-it-yourself New Yorker verse among all current failures) […]”

A day later he wrote again, admitting that “I can’t quit and go straight. I’m too deep in debt to the Olympian syndicate. They’d rub me out.” (This is Roethke talk, who during mania often alluded to The Mob.)

— from Donald Hall, introduction to James Wright, Above the River (1992), p. 29-30

Joseph Harrison on writing and Penelope

Penelope’s situation (in Homer, of course, it’s a death shroud she’s weaving) seems to me an interesting figure for the predicament of the writer or artist: making something, ripping it up, making something, ripping it up, all the while vaguely hoping for one’s ship to come in, whatever that would mean, with nobody in the immediate vicinity paying much attention.

–Joseph Harrison, note on ‘The Cretonnes of Penelope’ in The Best American Poetry 1998, ed. John Hollander and David Lehman, p.302

W. H. Auden on the function of poetry (1938)

The primary function of poetry, as of all the arts, is to make us more aware of ourselves and the world around us. I do not know if such increased awareness makes us more moral or more efficient;I hope not.

I think it makes us more human, and I am quite certain it makes us more difficult to deceive, which is why, perhaps, all totalitarian theories of the State, from Plato’s downwards, have deeply distrusted the arts. They notice and say too much, and the neighbours start talking.

— W. H. Auden (1938) quoted in James Fenton, Auden at Home, The New York Review of Books, April 27 2000

Edited to add: I don’t share Auden’s certainty that poetry “makes us more difficult to deceive”. It’s an interesting assertion, though, and I’m wondering how one might test it…