March 26, 2008 8:21 AM   Subscribe

I need poetry related anecdotes.

I'll be speaking at a poetry book launch. I'm doing the obvious poem reading, give a short review and I'd love to add a literary anecdote.

Preferably if there's a poet or a book launch involved. Or both.

You know Fernando Pessoa, right? I'm also interested if you have funny/surprising/ odd stories about this type of 9-5 office workers who apparently lead an unpoetic, unadventurous life (in the romantic sense, I guess) but have a rich inner world inside them. The anti-Byrons, so to speak.

I know this may be a stretch but, who knows, you might even have heard of a poet who loved running. Who is he/she?
posted by lucia__is__dada to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wallace Stevens was an insurance salesman.
posted by prefpara at 8:57 AM on March 26, 2008

My grandmother lived with T.S. Eliot's older sister when they were students together at Radcliffe. This would have been in the 1890's. Once when little Tommy Eliot came to visit, the girls were going for a bicycle ride, and he asked them "how can girls ride bicycles? What do they do with their tails?" As far as I know, this is the first time this oft-told anecdote has ever been "published." :-)
posted by thomas144 at 9:21 AM on March 26, 2008 [15 favorites]

To second prefpara, I immediately thought of Wallace Stevens as well. Check out some of the anecdotes related about him and his insurance job here, as well as his NYT obit. For example, Stevens stated that "It gives a man character as a poet to have this daily contact with a job." When asked whether it was odd for him to spend time on both insurance and poetry, he responded that he "never felt that it was odd for me to be doing such things. . . . Is any man supposed to be engaged in his business to the exclusion of everything else and, if he is, what do people think of him?"

Also, Stevens was a prodigious walker.

Also, I don't think this will help you necessarily, but my favorite quote ever about T.S. Eliot comes from Earnest Hemingway, who hated him fiercely. Following comparisons of Eliot to Joseph Conrad, Hemingway responded: "If I knew that by grinding Mr. Eliot into a fine dry powder and sprinkling that powder over Mr. Conrad's grave Mr. Conrad would shortly appear . . . I would leave for London tomorrow morning with a sausage grinder."
posted by onlyconnect at 9:43 AM on March 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

A good recent example would be Spencer Reece, who won several awards for The Clerk's Tale, written while he was working at Brooks Brothers.
posted by steef at 11:45 AM on March 26, 2008

Ernest, dammit. Sorry!

(Also, because I've now found the whole Hemingway quote, here it is in its entirety: "If I knew that by grinding Mr. T.S. Eliot into a find dry powder and sprinkling that powder over Mr. Conrad's grave Mr. Conrad would shortly appear, looking very annoyed at the forced return, and commence writing, I would leave for London early tomorrow with a sausage grinder.")
posted by onlyconnect at 12:39 PM on March 26, 2008

This may be tangential but I've always liked Flaubert's remark that "every lawyer carries inside him the wreckage of a poet."
posted by pasici at 12:41 PM on March 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

This is only a poetry anecdote in the most general sense so not sure if this is useful, but at the time this happened, this "discovery" amazed me. Some time in the eighties, I found a poem in the New Yorker that completely blew me away by a woman named Tess Gallagher. I immediately went out and tried to find her writing. Shortly afterwards, I discovered Raymond Carver, whose writing also blew me away. The inscription on a lot of his books says: For Tess Gallagher. Turns out they lived together for ten plus years and they got married before he died of cancer. It really amazed me that I discovered two incredible writers around the same period in my life and then have it turn out that they actually were living together.
posted by gt2 at 9:53 PM on March 26, 2008

I'd suggest trolling through David Markson's minimalist books (Reader's Block, Vanishing Point, This is Not a Novel, The Last Novel, etc.) because he has TONS of anecdotes about artists, poets, etc. Here are a few:

- "Eliot was not a very experienced writer, he didn't write very much, he didn't write very much poetry. Said Allen Ginsburg."

- "Every poet is a fool. Which is not to say that every fool is a poet. Said Coleridge."

- "The speedometer needle after the crash that killed Albert Camus was frozen at 145, in kilometers--meaning roughly 90 miles per hour. The driver of another vehicle said the car had passed him going faster than that."

- "Anna Akhmatova had an affair with Amadeo Modigliani in Paris in 1910 and 1911. Late in life, not having left Russia again in a third of a century, she would be astonished to learn how famous he'd become."

- "H.L. Mencken called Lizette Woodworth Reese the finest American poet of his time."
posted by mattbucher at 9:11 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, this book features several women who are both poets and runners (Stephanie Plotin, Grace Butcher).
posted by mattbucher at 9:17 AM on March 27, 2008

An addendum to Wallace Stevens: The only anecdote about Stevens I've ever heard is the story of his fistfight with Hemingway, 20 years his junior, a story which leaves neither looking good.
posted by Kattullus at 8:10 AM on March 28, 2008

William Carlos Williams was a pretty devoted doctor who had a medical practice in NJ throughout his career. Supposedly, he scribbled some of his poems on Rx pads. Might make an interesting tidbit.
posted by theantikitty at 9:47 PM on April 2, 2008

One of the most renowned Dutch poets of the previous century is Gerrit Achterberg.
He was a common middle school teacher. People thought he was a little peculiar.
Around the time that his first modernist poetry was published he threatened physically his girlfriend.
She left him. He was apprehended carrying a gun while on his way to her.
He was admitted to a closed asylum.
He wrote some more great poetry, was in & out of asylums and ended up killing his landlady.

Is he the boring 9-5 type? Or the Byronic type? You decide.

There's more information I can provide of course. But I guess Dutch poets, even when well known in the Netherlands, don't make for great anecdotes...
posted by jouke at 5:54 AM on April 23, 2008

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