Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Lowell, Brodsky, Tillman & Co.

Just a few notes. First: Christmas came early this year--meaning that I got a copy of The Letters of Robert Lowell in the mail. The book, which weighs in at a strapping 852 pages, is clearly going to be a joy. It also reveals a much more spontaneous, attractively slapdash writer. Lowell, after all, was an obsessive reviser of his poetry, and one reason he abandoned the autobiographical prose excursion he began with "Antebellum Boston" and "91 Revere Street" was that there were too many damn words to change, fix, fiddle with. But correspondence liberated him from this need to play snooker with every single syllable. They're marvelous, sly, illuminating letters, from the very first (written by a 19-year-old college student to Ezra Pound) to the very last (a note to Caroline Blackwood about their son Sheridan, who "(wisely) preferred people to swans and a rubber-tyre swing to people.")

Next: according to a piece in the St. Petersburg Times (via Bookslut), there's a plan afoot to transform Joseph Brodsky's diminutive boyhood apartment into a museum. The problem is that the current tenants are reluctant to leave. A mother and daughter in one room fear that they won't be able to find other lodgings. And the guy living in Brodsky's old bedroom--a twelve-meter-square cubbyhole!--is behaving "as if he had struck oil," says Alexander Kobak, a member of the St. Petersburg City Hall's Cultural Heritage Council. We're talking about the same apartment Brodsky described in his classic essay "In a Room and a Half" (reprinted in Less Than One), and this sentence makes me hope they'll eventually find the funds to restore the sanitary facilities as well: "As for the bathroom, Russian hygienic habits are such that eleven people would seldom overlap when either taking a bath or doing their basic laundry. The latter hung in two long corridors that connected the rooms to the kitchen, and one knew the underwear of one's neighbors by heart."

Finally, I got one of those funny pangs the other day when you simply must hear a specific song, so I hastened to the iTunes store and put my 99 cents on the barrelhead for Floyd Tillman's "This Cold War With You." I've always loved the lugubrious melody and the Eisenhower-era conceit of the lyrics:
The sun goes down and leaves me sad and blue.
The Iron Curtain falls on this Cold War with you.

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