Hello Readers, and a Goodbye to Paul Newman

Hello.  I’m Jennifer Michael Hecht.  You can call me Jennifer.

If you think of philosophy, poetry, and history as trades, then I am a Jennifer-of-all-trades.  I am a singular muchness, and lest that offend, remember that there is only one of me, and that compared to the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, I am infinitesimal, and compared to the footprints on the moon, I am disturbed.   I can barely look at a photo of Paul Newman without thinking of cutting the heads off some parking meters.  Maybe spending a night in the box.  I saw on Boing Boing the other day that someone is making deluxe coffins into couches, just cut off the fourth wall and put legs on it.  What I want to know is can they make these couches back into coffins when you are done sitting?  I was always scared he’d get killed driving those rad race cars, and now I can stop worrying about that.  It’s just trying how many poets and artists of other types seem to be exiting stage left lately.  It cuts off the roads to and from we, the remaining, and the worlds of other times and places.  No man is an island, but no-man is.  Luckily, we no-mans get land.  Consider Emily Dickinson.  She was nobody, too, and she had a large garden.

When asked what book I would want with me if I were stuck on an island, alone and without resources, I always say, “What do you mean if?”  Elizabeth Bishop, in her poem, “Crusoe In England” gave Crusoe these lines:

I got so tired of the very colors!
One day I dyed a baby goat bright red
with my red berries, just to see
something a little different.
And then his mother wouldn’t recognize him.

So many of us do, indeed, get tired of the very colors and dye our baby goat bright red, just to see something a little different.  And then our mother’s won’t recognize us.  See how Bishop said, “wouldn’t” instead of “couldn’t”?  The mother is making a choice.  It’s not stupidity and it’s not necessity, it’s rejection.  Paul Muldoon has written that he is tempted to refer to something Bishopian as Episcopalian, which is hilarious and I can’t help adopting it.  Anyway, her father died when she was an infant and her mother lost her mind, went to a mental hospital, and died, all when Bishop was still a small child.   So there is your Episcopalian Crusoe.

Just as those born before the sixties and those born after the eighties each think the natural NYC skyline is without two fingers of glass sticking up at the bottom of it like a couple of dinosaur tail spikes, so a slightly earlier generation is parenthesized by whether “Gilligan’s Island” made you think it was Robinson Carusoe, and The Police made you think it was Nahbahcuv. It isn’t possible, I suppose, but I can imagine Bishop singing on a bus stop, “Don’t stand, don’t stand, don’t stand so close to me. Please, don’t stand so close to me.” What may be most important here is that Philip Larkin got his title for “This Be The Verse” (They fuck you up your mum and dad) from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem” which goes:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

So we have to figure that “they fuck you up your mum and dad” was the verse that Larkin was asking to have engraved on his tomb. It didn’t happen. The grave reads “Philip Larkin, writer,” and yet “This Be the Verse,” is in fact the mental headstone by which most people locate the grave. Usually when one small piece so dominates a career, we in the know all think “Bah! Really? ‘Blowin in the wind’? ‘Aooo Werewoves of London. Aooo.” But here, in a clear code, Larkin has told us by the purview of his title that this, in fact, be the verse dude wants ‘graved on his grave. So it worked out.

For the hot tin roof, it seemed that glad did he live. I am pretty sure I could not eat fifty eggs, but I know that sometimes you just have to announce that you can, if only to break the tension.

Well, my friends, thanks for reading.  More soon.

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About jennifermichaelhecht

I'm a poet with a PhD in the History of Science from Columbia University and I've written five books, two poetry, two popular philosophy, one intellectual history. I live in Brooklyn with my husband and our two little kids. I teach seminars in poetry in the MFA programs at The New School and at Columbia.
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One Response to Hello Readers, and a Goodbye to Paul Newman

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