The Poet’s Two Bodies

Professor and Poet
Professor and Poet

Robert Creeley’s story of a poet on a reading tour who is asked by an audience member, “Was that a real poem, or did you just make it up yourself?” elicits laughter. But the question is spookily on the mark. Just beneath the surface of its naiveté lies a real anxiety: that neither the artistic process nor the poet are wholly to be trusted. This has, I suspect, something to do with teaching. Things that can be taught, and those that can’t. There is also the problem of authority, which functions contextually. A bright local light may have no purchase on the national stage, and an internationally-known poet may wander lost through a small town looking for a decent bagel and a cup of joe. My thoughts here are pressured by the question: “where and under what circumstances do we get to be poets?” Certainly not, as Jesus said of prophets, in our hometowns.

If you are a teacher and a poet perhaps you have noticed how your classroom presence, though ostensibly premised on your artistic accomplishments, can be utterly absent of them. I refer to those awkward ego confounding moments when, after the visiting writer has concluded a classroom visit, your beloved students, aglow, turn to you and proclaim, “so cool to meet an actual published author!” Some version of this scenario has befallen me more times than self-esteem will allow me to recall. Cue the despondent crawl to a bustling Student Union, where over a sad packaged sandwich you must admit, egoistically, that all along you have been professing under the assumption that your students, with all the world’s knowledge a few keystrokes away, had looked you up, and had read, if not your entire oeuvre (it is rather overwhelming, isn’t it?) at least a poem or two floating through the glittering digital cosmos. But no. Even if you are teaching them how to write a poem, you are the professor, not the poet. The poet is a body of work, the body of the poet an abstraction, made real only by magic. Though you are in the room, your work is not. An analogy may be made to a diploma: everyone assumes you have one, but no one actually ever asks to see it. There is a measure of trust at work. For the undergraduate community this is especially true, but when a graduate student embraces this trust, then they are not in the room for the reasons I think they are. Why are they there?

One graduate student, whose thesis I advised, told me before leaving town that, though we had worked closely together for nearly a year, she had never read any of my work. Seeing how utterly dumbfounded I was by this confession, this extremely kind and bright young poet then explained that her discomfort at the thought of reading a teacher’s work came from her worry that to do so would be rude or intrusive, or, too intimate. This explanation—so far from the general reasons I might have assumed given an entirely different kind of student, such as negligence, laziness, or a deficit of curiosity—brought two questions to mind: firstly, has the role of professor become too parental, such that, instead of professional adults in a field we have become caretakers assuring safe passage through poetic briars (you cannot live and keep free of them!)? Secondly, can someone cheat on you with your work?

Children often resist or dislike the idea that their parents have extra-parental lives. The painful vision of a parent in a context in which you, the child, are irrelevant. But parents are such by virtue of the fact that they have children. There is no training or accomplishments upon which the role of parent is dependent, no “post birth review” by a jury of one’s peers. The bond is based on love and nurture. Though such tender emotions may enter the classroom, shouldn’t the bond between professor and student, like that of the master and apprentice, be based on a shared care for—not each other—but the work?

The work has a body. The work has a life of its own. As I wrote in my Fragments, “sometimes the poem has more friends than the poet.” Thus the work may be personified. It may be in the room without you. The visiting poet’s work entered the room before the arrival of the visiting poet, while the professor’s work—unless she be of that shady ilk that assigns her own books—waits patiently outside the classroom door. The body of the visiting poet is likely to humanize the body of work, to dissolve its difficulties. To explain, calm, and clarify. While the professor’s body of work, should it enter the classroom, may upset or complicate settled ideas or assumptions about the professor. What would happen should these lines, from my poem “Coastal” enter the classroom: “ . . . Youth bores me. I cannot be excited / by watching others learn things for the first time”? Would a discussion about “truth” and what’s said in poems ensue? Or one about whether a student’s success is premised upon a teacher’s investment and excitement? Perhaps it’s better to leave the work out in the hallway after all.

The case above aside, many students may feel perfectly comfortable with the “professor’s two bodies.” Perhaps it is I that am uncomfortable being in the room with my work. It is a distinct possibility. Modernist leanings have ill-equipped me for small-town notoriety. I prefer anonymity. That, or the fleeting yet focused attention of being a visiting poet myself. There is a distinct pleasure to be had in breezing into someone else’s classroom and playing “the poet.” To being the object of study, as if your work and you were in fact the same. I have learned much about my poems from insightful questions posed by student readers, as long as those students are taking their education on a campus far away from the one where I go about my quotidian existence. This is a puzzle of the local. My predecessor at the University of Maine, Constance Hunting, wore her regional prestige with admirable dignity. She gave readings often, typically finishing with her feminist amuse bouche “Cezanne”: “The man astonished all of Paris / with an apple / but his wife liked / only Switzerland and lemonade.” The local audience knew the poem and seemed never to tire of hearing it. Connie was wise and open. Noticing my resistance to her path, she winked at me with a knowing, if slightly critical, glance. Though she was a light of the local, she knew it was a mask, and understood its viciousness. I won’t soon forget when she turned to Steve and me after a tense reading of “Maine poets” at the close of an NPF conference and, with Maggie Smith-like aplomb, dropped the line: “Everyone knows where the bodies are buried!”

My work, like the nose in Gogol’s story, has been known to go off on its own and have rather more success than me. It has been hobnobbing with prize-winning poets at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for years. I’ve never set foot in the place. But rumors get back to me. This creates a certain amount of emotional ambivalence, as well as genuine terror, whenever I join my work out in the world for a performance. Should that joining take place in my hometown my knots of anxiety tighten all the more. Will my work look down upon me? Will the local judges, from whom you cannot flee but must live with day in and day out, laugh like the panel of scientific judges in Victor Sjöström’s Freudian tour-de-force He Who Gets Slapped? Will the community chuckle with schadenfreude, thinking, “we knew she wasn’t a real poet!” Or, the more likely scenario: my work will be disliked, turning erstwhile friendly grocery story chats into foot-shuffling phone-checking encounters! Enough. Suffice it to say I have never been calm about given hometown readings, which is perhaps why I have only done so four times in the past seventeen years. I recall each of those performances as rather dismal, the “professor” mantle stifling the far more personal, and often vulnerable role my poems ask me to play. This past May, however, I was invited to read in Bangor with Denver graduate Christopher Kondrich by the Norembega Collective. The audience, a skeleton crew of friends, one or two former students, and a couple of strangers, was warm and attentive. Some magic ensued, because for the first time since moving to Central Maine I felt that my poet self was in the same room with my body of work.

Reading to Flowers in Bangor (photo credit Heather Howard)
Reading to Flowers in Bangor
(photo credit Heather Howard)

 

Stephen Rodefer, November 20, 1940 — August 22, 2015

In our Providence apartment, 1992
In our Providence apartment, 1992

I feel a mix of nostalgia and melancholy today, occasioned by the news that my old teacher and sometime friend, poet Stephen Rodefer, has died in Paris. He played a significant role in my chronicle of what I jokingly called l’école de San Diego—The Middle Roomand a significant role in my poetic formation. But he was not a mentor. That word, originating from the name of the sage advisor in The Odyssey, doesn’t fit Rodefer. He was more like Odysseus, many minded, wiley, attractive, a “resort darling.”* In The Middle Room I compared him to a god: “his air was aristocratic, and when he walked he surveyed the landscape before him like a man who is certain that he has, like Apollo, left in the wake of his golden form a comet’s tail of glowing light . . .” And later, “He was dedicated to the old-fashioned image of the poet whose only master is truth and only mistress beauty . . . .” Many today might find the way he played the poet role old fashioned, but when I was young I found the romance he brought to it both silly and intoxicating. Anyone who spent any time in his company has an anecdote to tell.

During the years Steve and I lived in Providence (1989—1998) he visited often. An especially memorable time was in May of ’94, right after I had graduated from Brown. Following a stint in Cambridge, England he showed up carrying a battered leather suitcase that had supposedly belonged to I. A. Richards (it was monogrammed). Inside was one of the largest bottles of Vodka I’d ever seen. Taking all the new poetry anthologies that had appeared during his time abroad, he proceeded to set up camp in our backyard, drinking and leafing through volumes, out of which he composed a poem.

He had a fondness for feminine things. Two tableaux: Rodefer in a skimpy silk robe sitting at our Providence kitchen table polishing his toes with my nail polish. Rodefer at my vanity table in Maine, in front of the lighted mirror, putting on mascara before being filmed.

Rodefer_BooksConsensus among poets tends to be that though a complicated, self-destructive, and often infuriating person, Rodefer was a great poet. His tastes shaped mine: O’Hara, Villon, Williams, to name a few. He had only to mention a writer for me to seek that writer out, in part because he spoke his aesthetic opinions as though they were obvious and irrefutable. Consensus also holds that his book Four Lectures is his masterpiece. But personally, I’ve always had a fondness for his O’Hara influenced volumes, The Bell Clerk’s Tears Keep Flowing, and One or Two Love Poems from the White World.

 

Rodefer_Relics_2015Rodefer_dedication_dictionarySteve and I have two Rodefer relics, now deepened by the pathos things take on when their former owners die: The first is a monogrammed edition of his battered old Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, with a touching dedication to me. The second is a flowery scarf he lost after a particularly wild party at our home in Orono (the festivities went until 4AM). Though he surrendered the dictionary willingly, Rodefer was very upset about the loss of the scarf. We searched the house high and low, but couldn’t find it. After he left town, Steve and I were walking through the village center when we espied the missing scarf tied to a lamppost. How it got there is a mystery to this day. Rest in peace, poet.

Rodefers_Websters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Jack Gilbert, “The Plundering of Circe”

Cell #103

I read last December at the Poetry Project, and now a portion of that reading, with Lee Ann Brown’s introduction, is available for listening as part of the Project’s new podcast initiative. Reviewing the sound file, I was startled to hear that I began that evening with “Cell #103.” This short poem, from Imagination Verses, is dedicated to “Vladimir Mayakovsky & Fred Moxley.” Listening back to this December reading in June, but a few weeks after my brother Fred’s sudden death, an eerie feeling came over me. In preparing my set list, I knew I wanted to read something to honor Tender Buttons Press and its forthcoming omnibus edition, which will include Imagination Verses in its entirety. But why did I choose “Cell #103”? It has never been one of my “go to” poems, those that you voice again and again because they read well and you know how to sound them in your sleep.

Bonne_Terre_Visitor_BadgeWas I thinking back to my visit to Missouri’s Bonne Terre maximum security correctional center? In fall of 2013, I had been a guest of the Inside Out Prison Arts and Education Program run by Devin Johnston and Mary Gould. Before my visit, prisoners were invited to read my book There Are Things We Live Among. Those who wanted to were invited to write essays on objects they valued. When I went into the prison, myself and three of the incarcerated men read our writings and led a discussion. Then, asking their indulgence, I read “Cell #103.” “That gets it pretty close,” one man said, and then, “How could you know what it’s like in here?” My answer: from reading the writings of revolutionaries (or revolutionary poets) and from my brother’s letters.

Reading alongside the incarcerated men
Reading alongside the incarcerated men

103 was the number of Mayakovsky’s cell at the Butryka prison, where he was locked up for several months when just a teenager. The poem “As a Youth” recounts his experience seeking the light outside, only to see a mortuary, “I / fell in love / with the Office of Funeral Processions / through the keyhole of cell 103.”* My brother, whose hopes of a different life were much curtailed by the so-called crack down on crime and California’s “three strikes” law, described to me, in one a letter from the “Gila unit” of the Arizona State Prison complex, how his body had been changed by incarceration: weight gain from working out, tattoos, piercings, and TB (then much associated with HIV). But, he assured me, “I am not into all the white supremacy bullshit here, but I also have to adhere to my surroundings. . . .” Trying to connect my world to his, I would send him Etheridge Knight’s Poems from Prison, which he thought described a milder situation than he found himself in, having recently participated in “two riots,” and “three fights,” but “not the stabbing.” When I had my first poems published in Ben Friedlander’s Dark Ages Clasp the Daisy Root, Fred, now in a California facility, was sweetly impressed: “Published! You’re my little braguette item — my sister the poet”! Criminals really respect you—as I’m sure you know a lot of inmates themselves are poets . . .” Yes, I know, I thought at the time. And though I may have forgotten it, my visit to the Bonne Terre facility reminded me anew.

*translation James H. McGavran III

 

 

 

Naropa Summer Writing Program

Other Cultures Panel  (with Janet Hamill and Maik Nwosu)
Other Cultures Panel (with Janet Hamill and Maik Nwosu)

Just catching my breath following a stint (June 21-28) at the Summer Writing Program of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. The week’s theme, inspired by Kyoo Lee, was “Whom Am I When I Dream?: Philo-poetics.” Stressing the “philo-poetics,” more than the dream, Steve Evans and I co-taught a course titled, “I Never Said I Loved You: Poetry, Philosophy, and the Language of the Break Up.” With a motivated and sharp group of about eight students we read and discussed works by Emily Dickinson, Plato, Robert Creeley, Christina Davis, Roland Barthes, Alain Badiou, and others. This was my third time as a visiting faculty member (previous years: 2007; 2010). In addition to teaching, I spoke about my interest in Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Herrick, and the “Other Culture” that is the past during a panel discussion. I also debuted several new poems during my evening reading. I shared the stage that night with James Sherry, Eleni Sikelianos, and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge.

Being at the  The Summer Writing Program is like suddenly waking up in a magical place where poets and poetry matter, and one can speak candidly about literary passions without raising suspicions. Anne Waldman, as guiding spirit, inspires with her energy, enthusiasm, and warmth. The summer-camp-like atmosphere of a group of visiting faculty, light-headed from the thin Boulder air and joyously exhausted by a dense schedule of teaching, panels, and readings, makes for an easy and memorable camaraderie. The interesting conversations I had with my students and fellow faculty members—including Vincent KatzSarah Riggs, Omar Berrada, C. S. Giscombe, Janet Hamill, Joanne Kyger, and Eileen Myles) will sustain me for a long while.

At the Podium
At the Podium

What Goes Around

Please_Excuse_coverThe YA anthology Please Excuse This Poem, which includes my poem “The Fountain,” is just out from Viking Penguin. The editors, Brett Fletcher Lauer and Lynn Melnick did a great job. Some gems so far: “Talk” by Terrance Hayes, “We Fall in Love with Total Strangers” by James Allen Hall, “Mistakes,” by Shane Book, “Bleeding Heart” by Carmen Giménez Smith, “Rape Joke,” by Patricia Lockwood (it really deserves all the attention, it is that good).

“Most poets begin writing poetry in secret,” writes Carolyn Forché in the introduction, “As with love . . . there is a first time and it is remembered.” I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I certainly remember writing my first poem. I was twenty years old, long past my teenage years. I was only fourteen, however, when I first encountered Carolyn Forché. Here’s an abridged version of the story excerpted from The Middle Room:

When I was nearing my fifteenth birthday and she on the cusp of her fiftieth, my mother took a fiction workshop taught by a young poet named Carolyn Forché. Though twenty years apart in age, Jo and her teacher became good friends. Carolyn, captivated by Latin America, was interested in my mother’s stories about living in Mexico during the 50s and 60s, and Jo, ever hungry for literary companionship, was captivated by Carolyn’s intensity.

Mom_Dad_Mazatlan_50s_web_sm
My mother and father in Mazatlån in the 1950s

All of a sudden “Carolyn,” as my mother called her, became a constant presence in our house. She could be felt hovering over the typewriter in that my mother suddenly no longer cared for writing humorous Thurberesque prose that took for its subject matter life’s absurd moments, but instead wanted to write about the agony of her lonely life during the last few years of her marriage to my father. She could be felt in the air of our living room as a thick white smoke hovering above little ashtrays filled with cigarette butts that suddenly started to appear like film noir extras on the heavy Mexican coffee table next to piles of Time and Sports Illustrated. She could be felt in the grave urgency of words such as “political prisoner” and “refugee” which came through our foyer without stopping to pause over the big fat yellow paperback of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago which had stood brooding on the bookshelf for as long as I could remember . . .

“The Return,” a longish narrative poem in Forché’s 1981 book The Country Between Us, is dedicated and addressed to my mother. In wrenching detail, it tells the story of Forché’s difficult readjustment to the United States after visiting El Salvador. The poem lists acts of unspeakable torture, poured into my mother’s empathetic ear:

                            you took
my stories apart for hours, sitting
on your sofa with your legs under you
and fifty years in your face.

How strange to read this portrait of my mother—written by a rising poetry star when I was just a teenager—now that I have “fifty years in [my] face”! This convergence of factors makes Forché’s presence as “godmother” to Please Excuse This Poem feel, in my case, strangely apt. In her presence I’ll forever be an adolescent, that girl who, “hot, puffy and flustered with wind from riding my bike,” was instinctually aware that when she and my mother were drinking wine, deep in talk, “no matter how wildly I gesticulated in the squeaky language of my fifteen-year-old life, I would not be heard.”

Forché with my mother, Josephine Crum. 1989, about 6months before Jo died of breast cancer.  Photo credit: Tracy Meehleib
Forché with my mother, Josephine Crum, in fall of 1989, about 6 months before Jo died of breast cancer.

A decade later my mother would be dead, and Forché on her way to becoming a major proponent of the “poetry of witness.” Her landmark anthology Against Forgetting collects poetry of courage written in extreme circumstances, poetry that speaks back to historical horrors before which many feel powerless (is adolescence such a horror?). Reading such work, I feel powerless. To which perhaps Forché would justifiably say to me, as she did my mother:

It is
not your right to feel powerless. Better
people than you were powerless . . .

Photo credit: Tracy Meehleib

Surprised by Laurels

Ange Mlinko has awarded the Poetry Society of America‘s 2015 William Carlos Williams Award to my book The Open Secret.

Anyone who knows me and knows my poetry also knows that I haven’t participated much in the prize culture of American poetry. I wanted the work to speak for itself, and for publication to be a meaningful experience given my poetics and values. All of my books have been published by independent presses, and without blurbs (except The Line, which does have blurbs). The WCW Award—given only to books published by independent or university presses, and the money from which supports the press—feels especially apt and lovely. Actually, it feels great!

A Friend in Boston

Me and Dan in front of his new home in Arlington
Me and Dan in front of his old place in Somerville

How stunning to realize, as I begin to think about the poetic company that Dan Bouchard has afforded me, that he and I have been writing to each other for twenty years! When we began our correspondence, I was living in Providence, he in Boston. Lee Ann Brown, whom he had looked up following a tip from Lyn Hejinian, introduced us. A little while later we met for a second time at an after-poetry-reading party at Peter (Gizzi) and Liz’s (Willis). Because they lived across the street from Steve and me, it was easy to invite Dan up to our apartment and give him a bunch of Impercipients. I had put together six issues to date; Dan’s work would appear in the seventh.

The oldest letter I can find from Dan is dated May 15, 1995. “It’s been nearly a month since we spoke on the phone,” he says, “I wanted (finally) to write something to let you know I was serious in suggesting a correspondence.” This was the pre-Social Media equivalent of a “friend request.” (At the time, most of us didn’t even have email.) That first letter also mentions that “a year ago to the week” he had finished his MA at Temple and left Philadelphia. I too had finished a graduate degree the previous year, my MFA from Brown. We were in that precarious post-graduate-school phase, trying to figure out how to be poets and continue to participate in a dialogue about poetry. I had resolved to stop writing for a solid year and concentrate on reading instead. Starting a correspondence with Dan was propitious, for if his letters to me were various in material and method—typed, handwritten, on anything from fine stationery to lined notebook paper—they were consistent in their record of Dan’s passion for reading. In that first letter he wrote that, due to moving apartments, his “Tenuous (indeed, strenuous!) reading habits” had been “shattered.” Despite which fact he includes a lengthy discussion of Oppen’s work and mentions reading Silliman’s New Sentence, in addition to autobiographies of “Big” Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. These last choices attest to Dan’s interest in American labor history. This interest led him to interrogate something he’d just heard about in reference to writers like Philip Levine called “work poetry”: “I was in Philadelphia last weekend and had the chance to see many students from the Temple program. Two talked with me about what they called “work poetry . . . [t]he inflection of their voice[s] when saying “work poetry” made it sound like a genre, if not a movement, and I was hesitant to suggest that maybe it’s poetry with ‘work’ as a subject matter.” I love the clarity of this insight. It is the sort of “emperor’s new clothes” observation that Dan excels at. I can’t say how many times I’ve been agonizing over some poetry-world kerfuffle only to have Dan cut right through the nonsense.

Though I didn’t often make copies of my letters, [Read more…]

Rituals and Respects

Tucked among my juvenilia is a poem titled “Leave Me Alone with This Dead Man.” It recounts an unfortunate bit of policing I was subjected to while I was sitting on the clean grave of Charles Baudelaire in the Cimetière Montparnasse. The gendarme disrupted my two-fold aim: to pay my respects to a poet I loved, and to place myself in a propitious setting in the hopes of receiving a bit of poetic genius “by osmosis.” A recent return to this, my favorite Parisian cemetery, along with my upcoming appearance in Jason Mitchell’s reading series, Frank O’Hara’s Last Lover, got me to thinking about the rituals and respects some of us practice around the accoutrements, objects, birthplaces, and death sites of the poets we love. The liturgies of poetry, one might call them: pilgrimages, offerings, silence, ceremonious readings in significant places, benedictions and genuflections. The material book, from codex to paperback, seems to encourage ritualistic behavior: the slow unrolling or turning of pages, a treasure of magical knowledge waiting to be released.

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Jason Mitchell

When Jason Mitchell arrived at the University of Maine to do graduate study he was already possessed of a reverential, though not obsequious, relationship to poetry. I learned quickly of his value for literary ephemera: limited edition chapbooks and broadsides. Before moving away, Jason helped Steve and I bring some order to our overflowing chapbook collection. Watching him hold little stapled nothings I had all but forgotten about as if they were precious gems I felt I’d grown callous, no longer able to see their true value amidst the glut. On the fortieth anniversary of Paul Blackburn’s death Jason organized a living-room reading of that neglected poet’s works. A small group sipped wine and read from the Collected. The poems sounded especially good that night. Jason continues to remind me of things I have forgotten, and he always does so by going back to the poems. In a recent letter he wrote: [Read more…]

Author Function

Author_Name_Tag_Miami_International_BookfairBrowsing bookstalls at the Miami International Book Fair I blow the dust off a tempting copy of a Spinoza Dictionary. Too expensive. I turn to the bookseller, a wizened man with white hair jutting from the sides of his head. “You run a local shop?” “Yes.” I feel so grateful to see old books among the many stalls selling shiny new “bestseller-style” hardbacks. I exchange a few niceties with the bookseller, who is a bit standoffish until he notices the name tag hanging around my neck. “Oh, you’re an author,” he says, suddenly attentive. “Yes, I suppose I am.” As I move on to the next stall, he stops me. “Wait, just wait a minute,” he says, “I want to write down your name. Just in case.”

At the Miami International Book Fair, the “Author Function” hung awkwardly around the neck of the living poet. It swung by a cord and served as a magic key. It let her into the Author’s Lounge, where there was free coffee and vats of Cajun food, printers, posturing, none-to-subtle name tag gawking, and “who’s who” gossip. Young smiling volunteers treated anyone with an author’s name tag like royalty. After events authors were lead to outdoor tables in order to sign books for adoring fans. This part of the “author” charade deflated rather awkwardly as, following our event, the other poets and I stood ignored next to our “wares.” No one was buying, or even browsing. The well-meaning volunteer asked us to sign one book each. Just in case.

If, in Backyard Carmen, I wrote that the idea of “audience” makes me uncomfortable, the whole charade surrounding the “grandiosity of authors” just makes me embarrassed. I realize that the Miami Book Fair generously hopes to promote literary culture in part by treating authors as stars—but as Foucault articulated, the Author Function does not come about by an act of “spontaneous attribution”— such as hanging a tag with the word “author” around the neck of a poet.

Which brings up another question: is a poet an author? Authors have authority, but do poets? The Author Function is necessary in order to place works of literature within “juridical and institutional systems” (Foucault again). In other words: to know who to hold accountable or to accuse. Is this why I prefer some distance from the site of anyone reading my work? As if I—the flesh and blood person—fear I’ll be held accountable for the spectral self, the uncanny “function,” which somehow managed to write poems and then point the finger at me . . .

“What do you mean by poet?” the tribunal of the underworld asks Orpheus when he claims he’s a poet, not a writer. “Écrire sans être écrivain,” he replies. “To write without being a writer.” Or, I would add, an author.

A Gift Amiss

. . . but as he gan byholde,
Ful sodeynly his herte gan to colde

Troilus_Cressida_Cover
Edward Gorey’s cover

Thus Troilus’s reaction upon seeing the brooch he had given to his beloved Cressida hidden within the folds of a cloak, which, a spoil of war, has been ripped from the Greek warrior Diomede. Cressida’s betrayal, the denial of which Troilus excels at, is confirmed by the fact that the brooch is encountered not where or when expected. Cressida has given the proof and reminder of Troilus’s love to another. She has “regifted” it, and in doing so left evidence of her crime against Troilus’s love.

For the poet, nothing makes the “herte” full suddenly “gan to colde” than encountering a warmly signed copy of one’s own book not where or when expected, in a used bookstore, or perhaps even on the shelves of someone other than the dedicatee. It can feel like a betrayal, nothing on the scale of Cressida’s, but wounding nonetheless. But is selling or discarding a signed book tantamount to a betrayal? After all, there are many reasons for getting rid of books: a move to smaller quarters, the need for money, a sudden desire to purge oneself of worldly goods, etc. Hopefully “intention to wound the author” is rarely a motivating factor. Unless, that is, [Read more…]