Paris Review: Dorothy Parker

Interviewer: How about the novel? Have you ever tried that form?

Parker: I wish to God I could do one, but I haven’t got the nerve.

Interviewer: And short stories? Are you still doing them?

Parker: I’m trying now to do a story that’s purely narrative. I think narrative stories are the best, though my past stories make themselves stories by telling themselves through what people say. I haven’t got a visual mind. I hear things. But I am not going to do those he-said, she said things anymore, they’re over, honey, they’re over. I want to do the story that can only be told in the narrative form, and though they’re going to scream about the rent, I’m going to do it.

Interviewer: Do you think economic security an advantage to the writer?

Parker: Yes. Being in a garret doesn’t do you any good unless you’re some sort of a Keats. The people who lived and wrote well in the twenties were comfortable and easy living. They were able to find stories novels, and good ones, in conflicts that came out of two million dollars a year, not a garret. As for me, I’d like to have money. And I’d like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that’s too adorable, I’d rather have money. I hate almost all rich people, but I think I’d be a darling at it. At the moment, however, I like to think of Maurice Baring’s remark: “If you would know what the Lord God thinks of money, you have only to look at those to whom he gives it.” I realize that’s not much help when the wolf comes scratching at the door, but it’s a comfort.

*photo from nndb.com; interview excerpt from The Paris Review Interviews, vol. I

Paris Review: John Cheever

Interviewer: What comes first, the plot?

Cheever: I don’t work with plots. I work with intuition, apprehension, dreams, concepts. Characters and events come simultaneously to me. Plot implies narrative and a lot of crap. It is a calculated attempt to hold the reader’s interest at the sacrifice of moral conviction. Of course, one doesn’t want to be boring…one needs an element of suspense. But a good narrative is a rudimentary structure, like a kidney.

*photo from Wikipedia; quote from Paris Review Interviews, vol. III

Paris Review: Alice Munro

May is Short Story Month, and Alice Munro, along with being one of my favorite writers, is an undisputed master of the short story form. If you have not read any of her work, I suggest you get your hands on one of her collections, pronto. My personal favorite is Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.

Interviewer: Were you a big reader growing up? What work if any had an influence?

Munro: Reading was my life really until I was thirty. I was living in books. The writers of the American South were the first writers who really moved me because they showed me that you could write about small towns, rural people, and that kind of life I knew very well. But the thing about the Southern writers that interested me, without my really being aware of it, was that all the Southern writers whom I really loved were women. I didn’t really like Faulkner that much. I loved Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, Carson McCullers. There was a feeling that women could write about the freakish, the marginal.

Interviewer: Which you’ve always done as well.

Munro: Yes, I came to feel that was our territory, whereas the mainstream big novel about real life was men’s territory. I don’t know how I got that feeling of being on the margins; it wasn’t that I was pushed there. Maybe it was because I grew up on a margin. I knew there was something about the great writers I felt shut out from, but I didn’t know quite what it was. I was terrible disturbed when I first read D.H. Lawrence. I was often disturbed by writers’ views of female sexuality.

Interviewer: Can you put your finger on what it was that disturbed you?

Munro: It was: how can I be a writer when I’m the object of other writers?

*photo from abebooks.com; interview from The Paris Review Interviews, vol.II

Paris Review: Chinua Achebe

Interviewer: When you write, what audience do you have in mind? Is it Nigerian? Is it Igbo? Is it American?

Achebe: All of those. I have tried to describe my position in terms of circles, standing there in the middle. These circles contain audiences that get to hear my story. The closest circle is the one closest to my home in Igboland, because the material I am using is their material. But unless I’m writing in the Igbo language, I use a language developed elsewhere, which is English. That affects the way I write. It even effects to some extent the stories that I write. So there is, if you like, a kind of paradox there already. But then, if you can, visualize a large number of ever-widening circles, including all, like Yeats’s widening gyre. As more and more people are incorporated in this network, they will get different levels of meaning out of the story, depending on what they already know, or what they suspect. These circles go on indefinitely to include, ultimately, the whole world. I have become more aware of this as my books become more widely known. At this particular time, mostly the news I hear is of translations of my books, especially Things Fall Apart…in Indonesia, in Thailand, Korea, Japan, China, and so on. Fortunately you don’t think of all those people when you are writing. At least, I don’t. When I’m writing, I really want to satisfy myself. I’ve got a story that I am working on and struggling with, and I want to tell it the most effective way I can. That’s really what I struggle with. And the thought of who may be reading it may be there somewhere in the back of my mind–I’ll never say it’s not there because I don’t know–but it’s not really what I’m thinking about. After all, some people will say, Why does he put in all these Nigerian-English words? Some critics say that in frustration. And I feel like saying to them, Go to hell! That’s the way the story was given to me. And if you don’t want to make this amount of effort, the kind of effort that my people have always made to understand Europe and the rest of the world, if you won’t make this little leap, then leave it alone!

*from The Paris Review Interviews, vol. III

Paris Review: Robert Lowell on Theodore Roethke

Interviewer: What about Roethke, who tries to do just about everything you don’t try to do?

Robert Lowell: We’ve read to each other and argued, and may be rather alike in temperament actually, but he wants a very musical poem and always would quarrel with my ear as I’d quarrel with his eye. He has love poems and childhood poems and startling surrealistic poems, rather simple experience done with a blaze of power. He rejoices in the rhetoric and the metrics, but there’s something very disorderly working there. Sometimes it will smash a poem and sometimes it will make it. The things he knows about I feel I know nothing about, flowers and so on. What we share, I think, is the exultant moment, the blazing out. Whenever I’ve tried to do anything like his poems, I’ve felt helpless and realized his mastery.

The StormTheodore Roethke
1

Against the stone breakwater,
Only an ominous lapping,
While the wind whines overhead,
Coming down from the mountain,
Whistling between the arbors, the winding terraces;
A thin whine of wires, a rattling and flapping of leaves,
And the small street-lamp swinging and slamming against
the lamp pole.

Where have the people gone?
There is one light on the mountain.

2

Along the sea-wall, a steady sloshing of the swell,
The waves not yet high, but even,
Coming closer and closer upon each other;
A fine fume of rain driving in from the sea,
Riddling the sand, like a wide spray of buckshot,
The wind from the sea and the wind from the mountain contending,
Flicking the foam from the whitecaps straight upward into the darkness.

A time to go home!–
And a child’s dirty shift billows upward out of an alley,
A cat runs from the wind as we do,
Between the whitening trees, up Santa Lucia,
Where the heavy door unlocks,
And our breath comes more easy,–
Then a crack of thunder, and the black rain runs over us, over
The flat-roofed houses, coming down in gusts, beating
The walls, the slatted windows, driving
The last watcher indoors, moving the cardplayers closer
To their cards, their anisette.

3

We creep to our bed, and its straw mattress.
We wait; we listen.
The storm lulls off, then redoubles,
Bending the trees half-way down to the ground,
Shaking loose the last wizened oranges in the orchard,
Flattening the limber carnations.

A spider eases himself down from a swaying light-bulb,
Running over the coverlet, down under the iron bedstead.
The bulb goes on and off, weakly.
Water roars into the cistern.

We lie closer on the gritty pillow,
Breathing heavily, hoping–
For the great last leap of the wave over the breakwater,
The flat boom on the beach of the towering sea-swell,
The sudden shudder as the jutting sea-cliff collapses,
And the hurricane drives the dead straw into the living pine-tree.

EpilogueRobert Lowell
Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme–
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

*poems and photos from poets.org; Lowell quote from The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. IV

Paris Review: Elizabeth Bishop

As many blogs have already mentioned, April is National Poetry Month.

Interviewer: Have you ever had any poems that were gifts? Poems that seemed to write themselves?

Bishop: Oh, yes. Once in a while it happens. I wanted to write a villanelle all my life but I never could. I’d start them but for some reason I could never finish them. And one day I couldn’t believe it–it was like writing a letter.* There was one rhyme I couldn’t get that ended in e-n-t and a friend of mine, the poet Frank Bidart, came to see me and I said, Frank, give me a rhyme. He gave me a word offhand and I put it in. But neither he nor I can remember which word it was. But that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. Maybe some poets always write that way. I don’t know.

*Bishop was referring to her poem “One Art.”

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Poem and photo source: poets.org

Paris Review Interviews: Raymond Carver

I finally received my Paris Review Interviews box set, and I thought it would be fun to share some excerpts with you every Saturday. This week, since I said in my Booking Through Thursday post this week that I think people should read Raymond Carver, I thought I would start there:

Interviewer: Are your characters trying to do what matters?

Carver: I think they are trying. But trying and succeeding are two different matters. In some lives, people always succeed; and I think it’s grand when that happens. In other lives, people don’t succeed at what they try to do, at the things they most want to do, the large and small things that support the life. These lives are, of course, valid to write about, the lives of the people who don’t succeed. Mot of my own experience, direct or indirect, has to do with the latter situation. I think most of my characters would like their actions to count for something. But at the same time they’ve reached the point–as so many people do–that they know it isn’t so. It doesn’t add up any longer. The things you once thought were important or even worth dying for aren’t worth a nickel now. It’s their lives they’ve become uncomfortable with, lives they see breaking down. They’d like to set things right, but they can’t. And usually they do know it, I think, and after that they just do the best they can. (1983)