The next thrilling installment of the Unexpurgated Diaries of Anais Nin, Trapeze gives us the iconic writer leading a teetering, highly-colored, emotiThe next thrilling installment of the Unexpurgated Diaries of Anais Nin, Trapeze gives us the iconic writer leading a teetering, highly-colored, emotionally jet-fuelled existence, torn between her attachment to her husband of decades, Hugh Guiler, and her passion for Rupert Pole, a much younger lover. Unable to break with Guiler--for reasons both material and deeply psychological—or to fully commit to Pole, we watch Nin move between the two men like a woman walking on icefloes, in constant danger of drowning. The intense, outrageous, intimate portrait of the woman behind the mysterious Nin legend—and all the hunger and charm and deception that comprised this high-wire act of a life. Comes out May 15, 2017....more
There are fateful decisions which mark one for life. Young Tristine Rainer’s decision to make charismatic, enigmatic Anais Nin her mentor unfolds intoThere are fateful decisions which mark one for life. Young Tristine Rainer’s decision to make charismatic, enigmatic Anais Nin her mentor unfolds into a tale suspenseful as a thriller. Artfully crafted memoir of a high-wire act, the advantages and perils of a vulnerable young person’s intimacy with a glamorous, seductive, brilliant and dangerous mentor. Revelations, especially toward the end of the book, changed my understanding of the Nin story.
The apprentice mentor relationship has elements of a mother daughter story, of a friendship, of a power relationship, the push pull of needs, for the mentor helps the apprentice, but the apprentice also serves the mentor’s needs—a dangerous, unwholesome relationship that in the end proved to have been worthwhile, showing how how becoming so intimately and trustingly involved in the life of a very glamorous person one adores can have both beneficial and dangerous effect on one’s life.
Being an Apprentice to Venus is a job requiring fortitude and loyalty of a type only a very young person can really deliver. It was fascinating to see behind the scenes of the trapeze years of Nin’s life as she recruited a young admiring Angelino, Tristine Rainer, to be her accomplice in keeping her two marriges alive and, more importantly, apart. I wanted to warn young Rainer, ‘don’t get involved!’ in such a high wire act, and yet I was fascinated to see Nin through eyes so clear as well as so naïve, and also to watch how the friendship affected the girl—aside from her backbreaking chore of running interference between Nin and the men in her life. Rainer's first sexual encounter, and her first love affair can be directly traced to Nin’s affect on the prim young girl in 1962. Usually in these kinds of memoirs, one wants to hear less about the author and more about the blazingly charismatic object of their fascination, but in this book, I was equally interested in following in the development of Rainer from that young, eager naïf to the seasoned sophisticate she will become
I will never stop loving Anais Nin, and her mystery and allegiance to passion. As was the case with so many young women writers, Nin inspired me to pick up a pen. I envisioned my own writing life and personal dramas as I read those early diaries. She was a such beguiling figure--especially as she presented herself in those books, whose compilation Rainer describes beautifully-- but my contemporary self, now the same age as Renata Druks and Anais, is exhausted reading about her double life, and the vows and secrets and whirl of self-importance.
But Nin really didn’t ever grow up and become a woman who says, “there are more important things in life than my own emotional dramas. What I could do if I could just settle down and write?” I can see why young woman like myself were so attracted to her—she was so big and dramatic and elusive and glamorous. But it sure is a lot of work to live at that high flame. In this memoir, young Rainer glories in it, while the current Rainer watches on—one has to imagine in both remembered pleasure and the horror that perspective can give. As I read on I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. (And drop it did.)
Aside from the initial meeting of Tristine and Anais, and their party in Harlem, and her sexual encounter with Jean Jaques, My favorite place is on p. 162, a moment of perspective around Anais’s keeping of the Lie Box, keeping track of her elaborate falsehoods told to both men, which after they overflowed the box in her purse, she went on to keep in two strongboxes, one on each coast. (The one in New York she kept in a secret closet she’d had installed in her apartment--so James Bond!)... She felt it was out of compassion that she couldn’t abandon either man, rather than face the fact that she wanted what she wanted:the safety of the one and the ripping sex with the other. It wasn't quite compassion--in truth, she couldn't bear to see her deception mirrored in the eyes of another, and thus step into the role of her abandoning father, the villain of her life. Not seeing that she was her father. Instead, she imagines each man opening that strongbox of her secrets and lies. How it would kill each of them.
“Such nightmares, along with panic attacks of guilt, became her way of life. She was the accountant of her bigamy; keeping double books, ever fearful of discovery as a love embezzler."
“When Anais was most honest with herself [and one wonders if this was revealed in a conversation, or if it is the author’s imagining} she recognized there were advantages to her trapeze. For one thing, her cyclical appearances and disappearances kept her marriages fresh. Her husbands never tired of her because, unlike the usual wife, she couldn not be taken for granted. When she was gone, each man longed for her as for an absent mistress."
“For another thing, her double life tempered her restlessness. After her affair in Paris with Henry Miller, she had been infected with Henry’s lust and taste for variety, a greater threat to her marriage to Hugo than this predictable pendulum. Now she no longer picked up men at parties, no longer engaged in affairs. Her need for adventure, her appetite for wildness, was satisfied."
“Sometimes she could even see humor in her high wire act, and sometimes it gave her an almost insane high... Aloft, she was Sabina—who defied life’s cruel restrictions of one love, one spouse, one life, one self.”
There is something about the young girl meddling, involving herself in the complicated life of this mysterious older woman that itself seems fraught with danger, keeping us turning the page.
It was especially interesting to read this book in tandem with the new unexpurgated diary "Trapeze"--just released --which has Anais's own perspective of the events into which young Rainer stumbled.
Beautifully told, toggling between novelistic renditions of Nin's situation to Rainer's own life, "Apprenticed to Venus" is absolutely spellbinding, I could not put it down. And in the last chapters, certain mysteries about Nin which have always puzzled Nin lovers and scholars are resolved in an explosive way. Read to the end!!!...more
I have had this book for many years--beautifully reproduced pictures of the works, a number of which fold out to display the paintings in a larger forI have had this book for many years--beautifully reproduced pictures of the works, a number of which fold out to display the paintings in a larger format. There are also studies and drawings, illustrating how Hopper assembled his big paintings. We always thinks paintings are just made as we see them, but just as few novelists simply write their books from beginning to end, but make drafts and sketches, so Hopper assembled his paintings, perhaps sketching a bit of one house here, one house there, elements of the landscapes, a figure's possible poses there, and then brought them together in a unified composition.
As is the case with the Leonard Bernstein coffee-table book I reviewed here once, The Private World of Leonard Bernstein, I often have art books for years before I actually read the text, and as in that case, the text here is incredibly informative.
As to the issue of loneliness in his pictures--what I'm getting by reading this book was that was not something that was particularly conscious with Hopper. He saw the quiet and Americanism, the unique beauty of the ordinary moment, and the more ordinary the better, often the liminal, boring moments of waiting which he saw as beautiful. He railed against the influence of other nations' work on American art, felt there was such a thing as national character, and it was important to work out of one's own national character to build a new, authentic art. American art was hugely affected by French impressionism in Hopper's era--not a bad thing, kind of a palate cleanser for a rigid and stuffy environment to my mind--but that it was important to express what was unique about the American soul or character, to the point that the sensuality of the materials, paint and brush, stroke and thickness and gloss, eventually flattened out in Hopper. He wasn't interested in paint. He was interested in conveying the emotion of the subject, and stripped away everything that distracted him from it.
The other thing that I strongly related to was how he was never satisfied with his work. As Martha Graham once described it, he had divine dissatisfaction. He always despaired that the quality he wanted to portray was always distorted by the forms and demands of the painting itself that he saw as 'intruding' on his initial vision. He wanted to paint the painting in his mind, but the actual painting always took over, and left him feeling frustrated. And so he would try again. This is the engine that fuels many, many artists and I recognized it well.
Was Hopper lonely? Or was it something he perceived in the American soul? Or perhaps we see moments of quiet and introspection as lonely because we live in an extroverted time which fails to understand the attraction? Lots of questions here.
I hadn't realized that Hopper was the student of the influential American art teacher Robert Henri, a leading figure of the Ashcan School and author of one of my most treasured books, The Art Spirit, about the making of artists....more
A fascinating book about Tennessee Williams that itself could have been a play. A young boy writes a letter to a great writer asking for advice aboutA fascinating book about Tennessee Williams that itself could have been a play. A young boy writes a letter to a great writer asking for advice about how he could become a writer too. Instead of getting a letter in return, he is invited from his home in Baton Rouge to New Orleans to meet the writer in person--for a purpose, and not the purpose you'd think. The playwright is having a prolonged crisis of faith in himself and his work, his ability to continue working after his great plays are behind him, and wants the boy to contact the women who formed the core of this body of work, whose faces were the faces that originally embodied those fictional women, and to ask them if his work mattered.
The boy learns how Williams created, how he was accustomed to creating his work. He imagined a proscenium stage in his mind. Then a fog or smoke rolled out onto it--I'd never heard the creative matrix described as a fog before--and then a woman emerged from the fog, and began to speak. That woman changed with each play, but the book actually tells us who that original face belonged to.
I learned, for example, that his vision of Blanche DuBois was Lillian Gish, who was originally cast but was so uninterior an actress it was a disaster. The boy not only talks to Gish, butalso interviews the great actress who eventually did bring Blanche duBois to the stage--Jessica Tandy. Grissom interviews Elia Kazan, and Jose Quintero, and we see that a great director does for a playwright what a great editor does for a writer. Challenges him or her. Forces him or her to defend what he or she has done. Forces you to be better than you can ever imagine being. And that a bad director or an indifferent one doesn't help clarify, but simply throws it out there as is.
The book is a multi voiced conversation with and about Williams,theater, creativity, the world of the theater in a certain time and place, and the way Williams' art made its way onto the stage. All the people who made it possible, or corrupted it, changed it, amplified it, and all the women who embodied his vision, or tried and failed.
Williams is a voluble subject, and we get his opinion of everything and everyone, and realize that he still was the writer he always was. But he didn't value it anymore, he couldn't feel it. He wanted it the way it used to be--the fog, and then the woman. If it didn't happen that way, he could still write short stories, but he didn't feel them, he didn't take pride in them--creative acts that could have sustained him in a new phase of his career instead just seemed like pale shadows of what he used to be able to do. He talks about other playwrights such as Inge (they were close but Williams was quite rivalrous), Albee, Guare, Odets...
And thus it's also--even mainly--a book about the creative act, what went into the making of these plays, exploring the matrix that is the writer himself.
But most people will read this for the interviews with his actresses. Some are Williams' very close friends and saviors (Maureen Stapleton especially), others more stringently professional (the great Geraldine Page--oh, this is the best part of the book, she was so talented that ALL the other actresses were scared of her. She was the only one of the actresses who didn't want to know what other ones Grissom had interviewed or what they'd said about her). I know I will read this section again and again.
The world of the stage is mysterious to me, as there is no record but memory. It;s so interesting to get a literary picture of Kim Stanley, Jessica Tandy, Laurette Taylor and so on...and insights into figures of the theater world, like Lee Strasberg and the Actor's Studio. Loved the Brando interview--he's so insightful--and the Katherine Hepburn... and insights into other actors whose work I'd seen but not known much about--like Jo Van Fleet, who famously played the cold, cruel brothel-owner mother in the James Dean version of East of Eden, the perfect alignment of role and personality.
I can just see the note-taking boy Grissom had been, that he was able to grab those night-long rants of Williams in New Orleans on the fly and preserve for us this man in all his brilliance and largely self-orchestrated agony. The book brings up questions about writer's block and how to continue to be an artist over time, when the applause dies down but the talent is still there. It's a caution against piling up too many "necessary rituals" before writing, because then the rituals themselves become obsessional, rather than helping the writer move into the work.
So this is more of a novelistic portrait of a writer and his collaborators and influences and creative needs, his later life heartaches and solaces, a confrontation with what is it to be an artist and then a later-life artist, and a portrait of the theater as well. Eccentric and enlivening.
"Tenn believed that writers, all artists, had several homes. There was the biological place of birth; the home in which one grew up, bore witness, fell apart. There was also the place where the 'epiphanies' began --a school, a church, perhaps a bed. Rockets were launched and an identity began to be set. There was the physical location where a writer sat each day and scribbled and hunted and pecked and dreamed and drank and cursed his way into a story or play or novel. Most importantly however, there was the emotional, invisible, self-invented place where work began -- what Tenn called his 'mental theater,' a cerebral proscenium stage upon which his characters walked and stumbled and remained locked forever in his memory, ready, he felt, to be called into action and help him again. 'I've got to get home.'" ...more
Having spent the last decade writing a novel set during the Russian Revolution, I was thrilled to come across this brand-new anthology of poetry and pHaving spent the last decade writing a novel set during the Russian Revolution, I was thrilled to come across this brand-new anthology of poetry and prose not just about those events, but written while they were still taking place. There are times in life when historical change is so great that people can barely take a breath, let alone get perspective or bearing on their moment in history.
The late twenties were full of marvelous books about the Revolution and the Civil War, such as Babel’s Red Cavalry and Bulgakov’s White Guard, novels and poetry written from both the émigré and the Soviet perspective. But this book fills a unique place on the bookshelf because it helps us understand how it feels to be in the midst of such overwhelming change, without any idea how it will all settle out. It’s a lot like being in a rollover car accident as everything you’ve tossed onto the floor begins to rain down your head. The immediacy of these poems and short fictions is what grabs you, the way people tried to understand what was happening as the events were occurring. It speaks a lot to our own time of unbelieveably rapid political shifts, and how one might find something to say about this experience. 2017 is the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution and the echoes to the present day are everywhere.
The book's poems and fictions are grouped in fascinating and surprising ways. Certain writers one would never think of in the same breath—like the cosmopolitan, openly homosexual Mikhail Kuzmin and the precocious bad-boy peasant poet Sergei Yesenin, yet their poems both embrace the revolution and are invigorated by it, though Kuzmin perfectly exemplifies the confusion of such rapid change:
It seems a century has passed, or just one week! What week? A single day!
Its editor, Boris Dralyuk, wonderfully contextualizes each group of two or three writers, bringing the reader into a literary scene marked by circles like families into which these works were born.
In general, the poems in this volume are more well-known than the fiction. Poets can respond very quickly to changes in events, where fiction writers often take years to ‘digest’ events. Many of these poets were already in their maturity at the time of the Revolution in what’s known as the Silver Age of Russian literature (Pushkin’s being the Golden).
Here are the fiery, iconoclastic Tsvetaeva, the decadent, rancorous Zinaida Gippius, and the clarity of deeply cultured Mandelstam. There’s a beautiful translation of his famous “Let’s praise O brothers, liberty’s dim light...”
the great and somber year! A forest of thick snares is plunged into the boiling waters of the night. You are ascending into god-forsaken years, O people—sun and judge. .... We have bound swallows into warring legions—now we cannot see the sun...
Here’s the grave, brave dignity of Anna Akhmatova, in a stunning new translation of one of her most famous poems--“When the nation, suicidal...”--a poem about the temptation to emigrate:
“I heard a voice. It called to me. “come here,” it spoke consolingly, “and leave your senseless, sinful land, abandon Russia for all time. I’ll scrub your hands free of the blood, I’ll take away your bitter shame, I’ll soothe the pain of loss and insults with a brand new name.”
But cool and calm, I stopped my ears, refused to hear it, not letting that unworthy speech defile my grieving spirit.”
There are also worker-poets like Gerasimov, including his beautiful poem, “Iron Flowers”:
“I forged my iron flowers/ beneath a workshop’s smoky dome—"
Most impressive, there are two brand new full-length translations of the great Silver Age poet Aleksander Blok’s monumental long-poems The Twelve and The Scythians. The Twelve, about twelve Red Guardsmen making their tour of Revolutionary Petrograd (St. Petersburg) streets during a blizzard, uses the language of the street and the Revolution in a brand new way, and it seems less obscure in this translation than it usually does. And the lesser-known poem, The Scythians, about Russia’s historical role to be a buffer between Europe and the invading Mongols, is Blok going out in a blaze of glory.
For me, the jewel of the poetry section, and probably the book as a whole, is a single translation--Pasternak’s “Spring Rain.” Pasternak as a nature poet was every bit the equal of rambunctious Yesenin, yet more than that golden hooligan, Pasternak was a deep, cultured, subtle thinker to rival Mandelstam, with an enormous heart all his own.
Although Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, his great novel about the Revolution, published in the 1960’s in the West, shows much of his poetic ability, and his descriptions of nature are always glorious, I often find his poetry difficult. This translation of “Spring Rain” helped me get my mind around Pasternak the poet and how he writes. He’s like a garden laid out by a master, so that the whole isn’t visible from any one point, you have to walk down its paths, and let it unfold for you slowly, until you can take in the whole.
“It grinned to the bird-cherry, sobbed and soaked the gloss of carriages, the flutter of pines Under the bulging moon, fiddlers in single file make their way to the theater. Citizens, form lines!
Puddles on stone. Like a throat full of tears, deep in the heart of a rose’s furnace damp diamonds burn, and on them, on clouds, on eyelids, the wet lash of happiness...
The second half of 1917 is devoted to prose work. It would be a few years before the great novels and collections about the Revolution would began to emerge. Yet Boris Dralyuk has found wonderful examples of stories and other prose from the period, such as the ascerbic humorist Teffi, who makes her appearance with two pieces. One “A few Words about Lenin,” certainly will sound familiar:
“...actually, if Lenin were to talk about a meeting at which he, Zinoviev, Kamenev and five horses were present, he would say, ‘There were eight of us.’”
In a short story “The Guillotine,” Teffi presents an absurdist little tale about how the bourgeoisie makes way for its own destruction. It begins as a friend of the family drops in at dinnertime and is invited to stay:
“No, I can’t. I’m in a hurry. I only popped in to say goodbye. I’m due to be guillotined tomorrow.” “But Vera darling!” we exclaimed. “What a wonderful coincidence. We’re all scheduled for tomorrow!” “Spend the night at my place,” I said. “We can all go together...”
“Sasha and Yasha” by Kuprin is a classic, its heroes a pilot and his little sister’s pet stuffed monkey which becomes his totem. “The Drum” by Kataev, which follows a boy in cadet school who joins the school orchestra so he can visit his girlfriend an extra hour a week, shows the sudden changes in the boys' lives as the revolution breaks out. There’s a sobering small essay by Bulgakov, who fought on the White side in the South, and a furious little piece by Zoshchenko, who later became a well-known humorist, bemoaning the worship of the strong--very resonant for our times. Stories by Zamiatin, Alexander Grin, and Prishvin, were other favorites in the collection.
It is a gripping and emotionally challenging experience to read these Russian writers struggling with and reacting to the turmoil of their times exactly one hundred years ago, and to see many of the same issues which are coming back to haunt us in different clothing....more
Just bought this, discovered it at City Lights in San Francisco. Somebody said recently in regards to this book that 'Russian humor is tragedy plus voJust bought this, discovered it at City Lights in San Francisco. Somebody said recently in regards to this book that 'Russian humor is tragedy plus vodka.' Dovlatov's book of short stories "The Suitcase" I have probably bought six times--I keep giving it to people. If you haven't read it, do! And who doesn't love Pushkin? Cannot wait to read Pushkin Hills....more
An entire book of poems about a divorce after thirty years of marriage examines love and loss, age and youth, the body, what it is to be together andAn entire book of poems about a divorce after thirty years of marriage examines love and loss, age and youth, the body, what it is to be together and to be alone, and successfully capturing the most beautiful, subtle moments of realization. I've never seen the subject of marriage examined with such quiet honesty. It reminded me of Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters, about Plath--though this is nowhere near as tragic, and Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband, especially in the descriptions of the husband physically. But this collection is about divorce reflected in the eye of Sharon Olds, reflecting her particular temperament, which happens to be loving, generous and fair. In reading the book, I imagined many times what Plath would have said here, if she had been the one left, or what Sexton would have said. Plath was such a good hater, and Sexton could be so cruel. None of that here.
The first poems are the first inkling, the first admissions, when it still might be otherwise. Then the dawning that it was going to be real. How to tell her ancient mother. How to tell her own body that he is gone--this is one of my favorites of the collection, "Poem for the Breasts":
"...All year they have been calling to my departed husband, singing to him, like a pair of soaking sirens on a scaled rock. They can't believe he's left them, it's not in their vocabulary, they being made of promise..."
Every subtle but horrible moment, like giving him back his things, things she's lived with for three decades, in "Object Loss":
",,,I had not known how connected I'd felt, through him, to a world of handed-down, signed, dated, appraised things, pedigreed matter... I feel as if I'm falling away from family--as if each ponderous object had been keeping me afloat. No, they were the scenery of the play now closing..."
Although the Plath in me wanted her to sweetly dump his stuff in the pool, or sell it at a yard sale for $1, or burn it on the girlfriend's lawn. But it wouldn't be Olds, who is far too grownup for tantrums.
What she does capture are the bizarre corners of divorce--how she wants to comfort him for the pain he's feeling for leaving her in "Last Look"
"all that day until then, I had been comforting him, for the shock he was in at his pain--the last of leaving me took him back, to his own early losses. But now it was time to go beyond comfort, to part..."
and then there's "Not Going To Him" that insane but human way we want to be comforted by the very person who delivered us the blow, because he is the one we are closest to--very like breaking an addiction:
"Minute by minute, I do not get up and just go to him... It is what I do now: not go, not see or touch..."
the book is divided up into sections--the first parting (January-December), the first aloneness (winter), then Spring, Summer, Fall and Years Later. She moves ahead and falls back, as each aspect is examined, the personal and the universal. Here is the moment she finds a picture of the other woman in the washing machine, and here the moment where she wishes he had just died, that that would be easier. Wonderful erotic detail informs us there was a reason she was so besotted of this man, and what to do with her eroticism now that he is gone--I loved that in a poem called "French Bra"--just the description is like touch:
"... like a hermes heel-wing, fitted with struts and ailerons, fragile as a silk biplane, the soutien- gorge lies, lissome, unguarded..."
Memories of a miscarriage they'd had, memories of a summer rental home, and then, years later--coming across him at an art opening in "Running into You":
"... But you seemed covered with her, like a child working with glue who's young to be working with glue... When I went up to you two, at the art opening, I felt I had nothing to apologize for, I felt like a somewhat buoyant creature with feet of I don't know what, recovered-from sorrow..."
The issue she comes back to is how she had not really known how he felt, that she had made assumptions about him, that the betrayal was not just his. A beautiful multifaceted collection equal to its subject.