Saturday, July 24, 2010

Meeting Robert Lowell and Anne Enright

A chance meeting with US poet Robert Lowell by an elevator, a walk in a Boston blizzard, and talk of 'the usefulness of sonnets'. Not me, but someone called M A Schorr who's written about this 1967 encounter in the wonderful Charles River Journal of Boston (September 2009 edition).

Go here to find out how to read the whole article - I'm afraid it involves money - but the link will take you to some of the other articles in that particular journal which are well worth a read.

From Schorr's article, I am particularly taken with the thought of broadening the notion of the sonnet. Schorr says Lowell 'expanded his use of the sonnet form to create an intensely compressed history of the world'.  The poet used sonnets as a personal 'notebook' and they were published as 'Notebooks 1967-68' and later as a larger compilation 'History'.

Fascinating. I battled with a sonnet a couple of weeks back for my Tuesday Poem. It wasn't just the rhyme scheme that caused me to fret, it was also grappling with what a sonnet does. Lowell's view gives me more to think about.

This report on a chance meeting with Lowell reminds me of when I ran into Irish author Anne Enright outside our hotel in Auckland at the Writers and Readers Festival in 2008. No snow, no walk, no sonnets. Although there was a kind of magic Narnia moment as I fell through a door and there she was.

We did talk, though, on that autumn street with taxis and people on their way somewhere else. She, despite jet-lag, was ascerbic, clever, funny, and quick to brush off my obvious fan ecstasy. She was, I suppose, a kind of cross between the White Witch and Mr Tumnus.  I was Lucy I guess.

I don't remember Anne Enright offering me any advice on writing as we stood on that coolish street (no snow remember, it was Auckland) within coo-ee of an elevator (sorry, 'lift'), perhaps she did.

Perhaps it was this - don't hang around famous authors outside hotels hoping for something that will change your life. They just want five minutes of peace after a long flight. They will not give you pieces of turkish delight and if they do, beware.

1 comment:

Claire Beynon said...

Terrific tales, these, Mary - thank you!

Your quip about turkish delight made me laugh out loud. How right you are to say 'beware.' Have you read Michel Tournier's book "The Four Wise Men"? If not, I'd encourage you to. Early on in the story, a boy prince is offered a small square of turkish delight. One bite is all it takes. He is completely undone and goes on to become obsessed with finding the recipe for it... Needless to say, he journey is fraught with unimaginable gifts and tragedies. During his process of discovery he is called to surrender everything he has held dear, all that he once attributed high value to. He ends up labouring in a salt mine (a far cry from the exotic texture, flavour, metaphor of the turkish delight) and it is there that a most mysterious transformation/recovery takes place. This is one of the very few books I have re-read every year since I was first given it.

Looking forward to meeting you in Welly next week... L, C