Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Lowell on sentimentality, Donna Seaman

First, a bit from Robert Lowell's interview with Frederick Seidel (reprinted in Lowell's Collected Prose). The initial subject is W.D. Snodgrass, whose best poems, the interviewer suggests, "are all on the verge of being slight and sentimental." Lowell's response is a fascinating: a defense of "whimsical, minute, tender, small emotions" and (presciently) the more muted poetry he himself would write during his final decade.
I think a lot of the best poetry is. Laforgue--it's hard to think of a more delightful poet, and his prose is wonderful, too. Well, it's on the verge of being sentimental, and if he hadn't dared to be sentimental he wouldn't have been a poet. I mean, his inspiration was that. There's some way of distinguishing between false sentimentality, which is blowing up a subject and giving emotions that you don't feel, and using whimsical, minute, tender, small emotions that most people don't feel but which Laforgue and Snodgrass do. So that I'd say he had pathos and fragility--but then that's a large subject, too. He has fragility along the edges and a main artery of power going through the center.
In the Chicago Tribune, Mara Tapp interviews Donna Seaman, whose own interviews (this is getting very circular) have recently been collected in Writers on the Air. For Seaman, the minutiae of literature are obsessively compelling, the way baseball cards are for 11-year-old fanatics--she'll trade you two Margaret Atwoods for a rare Aleksandar Hemon:
When I speak to other people who are readers, I feel that we have these maps in our head, like constellations, and they sort of light up, so this was my attempt to turn it into something concrete and to capture those conversations I've had with big readers, many of whom were in the book. You know little boys who are baseball fanatics and keep statistics? It was kind of like that, trying to create a world that you love.

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