The "post-cocious" poet, Josephine Jacobsen



this program is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts with additional funding from the Maryland Humanities Council poet Roland Flint talks with Josephine Jacobsen welcome to the writing life today we have the pleasure of spending some time with the splendid poet Josephine Jacobsen a poet whose first poem was published when she was 11 years old and whose recent collection of poems just out in fact in the crevice of time has 18 poems in it that were written between nineteen thirty five to nineteen fifty so we're talking about along and increasingly illustrious career which includes a stint as the consultant poetry to the library of congress which is now more aptly designated by position as the poet laureate of the nation josephine is going to read some poems and we have a chance to talk with her today she was also cited last year in 1994 by the Academy let me get it right the American Academy american academy of arts and in the citation the it is declared that her best work has been done in her 70s and 80s which reminds us of Berryman saying of williams that he had the mysterious late excellence which is the crown of all our trials and a marvelous thing and i think absolutely true of josephine Jacobson's work so welcome to the films thank you it's nice to see you again wonderful to see you again and i thought we would just begin by asking you to read something from this fine new book it's called in the crevice of time it's just out from Johns Hopkins press beautiful book well I thought I would start out by reading motel in Troy New York because actually the incident in this poem took place right here in Columbia but for obvious reasons Troy was important so that was changed but I feel that it's very appropriate here a motel in Troy New York the shadow falls on our cribbage the motel window is a glass wall down to grass a huge Swan is looking in cumulus cloud body from the cloud dirty neck that hoists the painted face Carl and black inky eyes peer at our lives it cannot clean its strong snake neck it stands squat on its yellow webs splayed to hold scarcely up the heavy feathered dazzle all of a stair then in a lurch it turns and wattles rocking presses the stubble to the tip of the blue pond set sail in one pure motion and is received by distance that crucial soiled snake neck arched to a white high curve received by distance and the shadowy girl across the water it's wonderful to view as if you've made up your own myths out of well you know there's so many leader poems that you're kind of worried about another leader point but no it just happened I think you I think you do it wonderfully one of your critic says and I agree that you have a superb narrative gift and it seems to be a reference to your poems but I know you've published three books of short stories as well and I I believe you have a collection of them coming out is that so well I think I think next year there's something in the wind on that yes I love fiction and I have found it a great well not relaxation because no work that you ever do in that way is a relaxation but a great changeover and stimulus from poetry are quite different and I enjoy very much the the challenges that are quite different from the poetic challenges so I enjoy writing fiction very much can you go back and forth from one to the other kind of genre well yes you know Roland really most of the work that I've done is being done at Yaddo or at McDowell and I get sort of so filled up and jammed with stuff I want to do that it's impossible to do at home that when i get there it all sort of pours out so when I've been there I've worked always on both fiction and poetry and are you writing these days man if so are you writing poems or stories or both now I am writing wrong I have a poem coming out today in The New Yorker I'm still I'm still tottering in there I haven't written a port story in almost a year I hope that doesn't mean there won't be any more but I've been writing them both all through my 80s that's wonderful well yes and no well it is I saw for him I think was last summer in the Atlantic it was yes quite wonderful well Liam Meredith said I was post coches and that was a that was a cheerio Scotia's that's wonderful well our main business today is to hear some of these wonderful poems we don't have time for stories but it's also true that Josephine Jacobson has written distinguished books of criticism with with William Muller one on UNESCO and went on Beckett but today we're concerned with this new book and the opportunity to hear Josephine Jacobson read from it so Josephine a few well I suppose this would really be rolling almost a little story in itself a true story I remember Flannery O'Connor saying that we are all in a sense displaced persons and I think that's so true this occurred at the hopkins hospital but it would have made any difference where it occurred it's called mr. Mahoney illicitly mr. Mahoney roams they haven't been a room but it is not his though he has become confused it is not in this mr. Mahoney cannot find his room a young blonde nurse gentle Tim by the elbow I hear her a gang in the hall mr. Mahoney this isn't to a room let's go back and see if you brush your teeth yours is 82 row while brushing his teeth is the Laura I cannot say does he pries it so she darts on a white feet to spare him from strange doors I hear I repeat with an Angels patients noises down this way with 8 20 is a swamp a blasted Heath a dozen times returned he knows it is wrong there is a room and what he does belong he is being 28 too old he has brushed his teeth before his biopsy the Herod nurses a test mr. Mahoney was practical in a 20 though very old and brown he will have to go this is not the hall not the building for his quest tranquilized mr. Mahoney still eludes at 2am in my dog 283 the wide door cracks and sudden and silently mr. Mahoney's nutty face of prudes it is gently snatched back by someone behind it this is someone else's room yours is this way mr. Mahoney he could not possibly stay he's gone by noon you got have time to find it it's wonderful people are displaced in so many ways and lose their identity so easily under under various pressures I remember a story of yours Josephine in which a woman who's about to leave town and all her friends know she's leaving town she just has time to catch a cab to the airport I think it is locks herself in the bathroom and can't get out and she said I think everybody in America must have had that experience I had more letters and more telephone calls many of which sort of said did you hear about my luck and I said well no actually I didn't but it is a common affliction but it was very amazing because sometimes you know if the apartment above is empty and the sum of the apartment below its it's quite an extraordinary thing yeah well it was terrifying ah go ahead please well I thought we were talking about I was talking to Kenneth Rexroth about poetry and he said you know writers are not very nice people the trough is too small and there are too many pigs and you know there is of course a case to be made for that but I haven't really found that in my own experience very much I have not either but this i have found it at times and this is a i won't say a tribute this is a memo to one of the people that he was talking about it's called a bird song of the less support excluding someone scotch in a moving missed abstracted as he broods upon that grant he has an intimate word for those who might assist for a bad review a memory to shame the elephant who would unearth a mine and fail to work it his erstwhile hosts a good for fun and games that brightened the lumpen audience on the poetry circuit he drops only the most unbreakable names disguised as youth he can assign all guilt his clothes proclaim a sort of permanent stasis with a hawk's eye for sign a professional wilt he weaves his garden of friends on a monthly basis and yet and yet to that unattractive head and yet and yet to that careful kg face comes now and again the true terrible word unearned the brief visa into some state of grace well it always amazes me when someone like that comes out with a beautiful point well but then they do it's a generous format at the conclusion I mean to be as tough as it is about that type and to say even so it does happen yeah it does happen always to my in credit in fertility no well it's finally have more generous than it is judgmental because it lets him it lets him into that company that he wants so much right and it's a I think mr. Brecht I found that most of the best poets that I have known of also being the best people I said that to John Broderick and he said all right tell me some so I told him someone we went back and forth well I feel that way too you know Robert Lowell said he named someone a friend of his who said poets aren't competitive well they are Lowell said but in fact I haven't I haven't found that to be true and the poet's I consider the best of those I've known personally have not been like that have not been mean or competitive no I think you do run into it I know when I was at the library of congress and we were dealing with all the invitations and all the people that came there every now and then you would get someone whose ego was so so obvious and so touchy that you thought all this is going to make for difficult evening but not many right not many well that's good good to hear I think so go ahead well another one another phone oh maybe I can ask you a question I I wanted people are going to want to hear you read poems and not hear me chat when I can dispute that but one of your critics compares your poems with those of Elizabeth Bishop than Marianne Moore and Louise bogan now do you think of them as are the favorites of yours do you think of them as influences on you in any way well you know it's really curious wrong because I do Elizabeth Bishop is one of my very favorite poet but I do not feel that she has been an influence on my work I didn't get to know her work really for many many many years and the strange thing is that the points I admire most are not the poets that I feel have influenced my work which is strange i can't explain that I mean for instance I think that as far as influences wind i think that Yates and orden whether people i can trace whose influence on trace on the other hand two poets that I think of wonderful poets AR ammons and Julia Randall I don't think had any influence on it at all and yet I admire them tremendously so I don't think the point you admire unnecessarily the influence yes there's something that maybe it's their technique or maybe it's what they're interested in that that really shocks you and takes over and I thought that with the eights when I was young and with orden for many many many years yes huh well thanks let's hear some more poems alright this is a poem called it is the season it is the season when we learn or do not learn to say goodbye the Crone leaves that as green virgins opened themselves to Sun creek at our feet and all farewells return to crowd the air say Chinese love us by a bridge with crows and a waterfall he will cross the bridge the crows fly children who told each other secrets and will not speak next summer some speech of parting mentions God as in our dear ideals commending what cannot be kept to permanence there is nothing of north unknown as the dark comes earlier the birds take their lives in their wings for the cruel trip all farewells our rehearsals darling the Sun rose later today summer summer with what we had say nothing yet prepare I love the ending of that beginning with darling all all our wells all rehearsal is that long it reminds me of ricky's many arrivals make us live but there's also something about that poem that suggests farewells in arrivals yes I was thinking of all farewells you know the farewell to some of the farewell of people the people that won't see each other again like children who get so intimate and love each other and then something they don't want to speak yes these break off that happened yes they're terrible they are and some of them are inexplicable and some of them are just in our in our lot oh there was one point I thought I would read which I'm very dubious always about reading you know misinterpretation of poems is something that all ports get used to if that bothers you you should try another trade but an ironic poem is even more so and I was always a little nervous about this poem and then garrison keillor read it on Ash Wednesday this year over national radio and I had a real attack of thinking I wonder how many people were shocked by that time and interpreted it quite differently from what I meant well it's very short notes from a Lenten bar I was the library of congress and i came in very very tired i stopped to have a drink before i went up to my room and it was quite a convivial scene I know that my Redeemer liveth because the pebble odd gent with the briefcase two tables down has called him by name three times in two and one-fourth minutes and because the guys on my right a liquid with the health of Victorious Immaculate Conception 46 298 and because after the last of my supper I learned once more as i rise to 1403 there is nothing between the 12th in the 14th floor isn't it curious how these things last I mean these tiny little trivia that are tossed off but it's wonderful I mean it's the these men swearing at the bar oh yes macula conception with some Marvis well you know Holy Cross did very well last year so it goes supports and cursing that's right and the mystery of the third being the 13th floor and I bet most people don't associate that's why they consider 13 I'm not unlucky number do you think no I really don't think they do but well shall I read one more and then now well I'd like to I wish you would talk a little bit more this is a curious point because it's very sad to me and yet it's at the same time it's very superficial in its setting but it's much more personal than most of the poems that that I ever ever read but we'll just see it's called a survivor's valid where have I got it here it sure she will over to 11s I had it right here a minute ago to 11 nothing like having her page numbers instead of having to search through survivors ballad she's not sure if it's song or sermon ballad of a tight-knit trio graduates of the Monday German to with beauty and three with real three what cocky and three were witty to take a dim view of their local past or future took both to New York City but three times a year they lunched at the Astor closest thieves in their favorite venue the waiter welcomed his favorite trio pink carnations and shiny menu to with beauty and three with bri oh that was long before the trouble trio carnations wine and waiter the hotel Astor has long been rubble she doesn't know what was built there later the beauties fought and made it up but after that it was so of keep her with more sharp cracks than a broken cup and she ended with double lunches I'll do the dark eyed one was put through paces by bitter pain before she went the blue-eyed wine lost names then faces then who she was and what she meant song or sermon port or pastor a dream revisits the last of the trio really and young at the hotel Astor to with beauty and three with Rio it's wonderful I loved her i love the rhyming the skillful love ballads and i wish i had done more of them i've done very very few but they appealed to me tremendously and you know this this the blue-eyed one lost names then faces then who she was and what she meant has a wonderful echo to me of edwin arlington robinson one of the ports I loved when I mr. flood or yes then but that that phrasing yes when she what she was and who she was well they were too gorgeously beautiful women contemporaries and friends of mine and it's it to me it's a very very sad below well it is it also has that displacement that forgetfulness the loss of the room or the identity by losing the room but what about I'm delighted to see in these in the newer poems rhyme you think it is making a comeback well the new formalism you know I have never had any use for trends I feel very very strongly that trends and poetry for the birds I think every poem that a poet writes brings within it the seed of its own form what it should be and I know I can start a poem and just know it's all wrong and I have to throw it away or start over again because of the form because of the form it's not the right forum for that point and I continued writing rhymed and formal poetry in the day when it was such a disadvantage that you felt a triumph when it was published now the new formalism oh I have at home I think five or six anthologies about the new formalism you know now it's very important that you should have formal poems and even perhaps Ryan points well I just think that's absolutely ridiculous i wrote both kinds when only one kind was fashionable and i have no idea now of going back necessarily i wrote this because i love the ballad form but certainly not because so have you read let me see but some of the a formal feeling comes that's one of the better anthologies no I have not really don't know it's it's and there at least five or six that I have that are saying oh now this is the way poetry should be written and I just don't approve of that do you know I don't and I the poems i read and closed forms and rhyme now I find very often don't do what Arden and Yates could do and Josephine Jacobson canal I mean it I mean they they've counted their syllables and they rhyme but they don't have the what the urgency or it doesn't have the feeling of an imperative that's all right and if you get a feeling of cramp of inevitability I mean that just destroys the poem I just think you have to try to find out what form this point once I really believe that good i'm happy to hear it well unhappy be very happy but I I do I mean I'm still occasionally writing poems with those traditional forms but I but the other kind as well and I think it's very important that the point when he sits down to write or she sits down to write should not feel now I must remember that whatever i want to say has got to go into this form to be acceptable and that is just deadly i think so too sitting down and pouring it into the form yes you know i just well we have time for amount of three or four more for you sure well fun i read a poem called softly um this was i been always interested in archaeology very much and have written a number of homes about it my father was a amateur archaeologist he was a doctor he was a physician but he did a good bit of excavation and was very interested in it and i've always found it absolutely fascinating and in fact that when we walk over the ground wherever we are I mean Louis lie city after City hundreds thousands of people that have lived and died there right sir well this point I try to say it softly wherever we walk we walk over the silent cities we know I never heard of whose citizens gave themselves in sleep to dreams not understood so how far the stars were how the moon shrank and went dust to dust they couple joined dust they found precious lit fires for cold and dark lost what they could not keep walk softly oh the dust of their cities deep below over the places that were dear to them or bitter under the pasture the forest the ugly street the museum that houses their artifacts in respect of that fraternity over its numbers see how few move that's what that overwhelming feeling of the small number of the living compared to league it made me think of two things when I reread that for him I was in perugia in Italy a few years ago and there is an Etruscan well that was discovered but they had to excavate 450 meters to get down to the top of it I don't doubt this well and think of all the generations that passed along that way it's a fascinating thought and even I mean then the most mundane places when they do dig they do find relics know the people that have been before them and in catch-22 Yossarian finds out that someone has died and he says he joined the majority exactly exactly that's what the two things that poor made me think of well I think we've come to a time to hear your gentle reader poll fine that will terminate 140 that is an EC here this was a poem that I am very very fond of I mean I'm not too fond of a lot of my poems because it's always something that got away you know I didn't do flat tub this is one of my favorites too well I had been doing a lot of reviewing and I had been reading a lot of just awful poetry and i think i was a little bit of a tantrum when i wrote this and then i was reading some superb poetry and you always want to say something about that and nobody has ever said it satisfactorily I suppose Marlowe came closest to it but nobody i think is ever described what the reading of a great poem is so this is my own attempt Jeff areata late in the night when I should be asleep under the city stars in a small room I read a poet a poet not a versa fire not a hotshot ethic manga laying about him not a diary of lying about in cruel cruel beds crying a poet dangerous and steep oh god it peels me juices me like a press this poetry drinks me it's me gut and marrow until I exist it's just a sorrow until my juices feed a savage site that runs along the lines bright as beasts eyes the rubble splays to dust city book bed leaving my ears lust saying like Molly yes yes yes oh yes oh that's wonderful and it recalls silly girl yeah recall so vividly Molly and Ulysses and her great longing and acceptance further excuse me yeah it's been a great pleasure talking with you Josephine I'm here oh and it's always good to see you and this is very special well it's special to me I'll tell you that and and I'm so glad you were able to come and read from this wonderful new book for us in the crevice of time well you know one is always in love with one's latest book for a while and so we're still in the honeymoon period this book happy honeymoon thank you thank you and thank you for joining us on the writing life you know Rona I always wonder what the people are talking about well you

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