Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What the bleep do I know about Louise Bogan?

OK, so I really have to get this paper finished for the West Chester Poetry Conference. I'm presenting first thing Thursday morning, for pity's sake! It would be nice if I didn't also have to facilitate a discussion on Writing Across Disciplines tomorrow at FIT from 9-12, then run up 8th Avenue to Penn Station for a 1 p.m. train. And if I didn't have some sort of upper respiratory crud in my chest (yes, a cough! a lovely touch as I head to a place where I will be sitting quietly for hours listening to presentations and poetry readings). And if I had more sleep. Etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, I do know a few things about my dear Louise:
  • She was the poetry critic at the New Yorker for nearly four decades.
  • She published a very small body of poems as a result of writing all that criticism (she needed the money, didn't have an independent income like Marianne Moore and other contemporaries).
  • She never completed university but clearly received an extraordinary education, mostly at Boston Latin Girls' School. Yet she had somewhat of a chip on her shoulder about her "lack of schooling."
  • In high school, she came home every day and wrote "a long poem or sonnet sequence." Every day. She was greatly influenced at the time by the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Swinburne.
  • Despite Louise's literary prowess, the principal of her school spoke with her mother and told her "No Irish girl could be editor of the school magazine." She suffered greatly from discrimination she experienced as a "mick" in Yankee New England.
  • She was praised by (mostly male) critics for her skill with rhyme and meter, and for her decorous, reserved, poems unsullied by messy "confessions."
  • Whatever the apparent "detachment" in her work (and I query this notion), her life was at least as tumultuous and racy as that of bohemian goddess Edna St. Vincent Millay (about whom my friend Moira is presenting on our panel).
  • She suffered horribly from depression and was hospitalized three times. One of these visits resulted in the poem "Evening in the Sanitarium." (There is life left: the piano says it with its octave smile.)
  • Her adult ills can be connected to some trauma in her early life: her mother, a handsome and high-spirited woman married to a worker-bee five inches shorter than herself, had numerous affairs and would sometimes leave the family for days or weeks at a time. Also, her brother was killed in WWI when she was a teenager.
  • She was not the most attentive mother herself; after separating from her first husband, who subsequently died, she left her small daughter Maidie with her parents and took a Greenwich Village apartment, immersing herself in the literary scene of the day. Later, friends (including Margaret Mead) chided her for failing to mention she had a child.
  • Her poems are perfected with lapidary skill, polished like gems, precious to the reader, "talismans" according to one critic. I find that many of her lines stick with me, and have for years.

Well, there is much more to say, but I will let Louise have the last word.

Solitary Observation Brought Back from a Sojourn in Hell
At midnight, tears
run into your ears.

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