Meetings (VN Diary No. 22)

Because I haven’t been feeling well the last couple of days, I’ve had to cancel a couple of meetings, which of course throws everything into disarray. Add to that the fact that I’m going south on next Tuesday and it makes for scrambled plans. I haven’t met nearly as many people here as I had hoped. On some days I have felt as if people are actively avoiding meeting with the American professor. When I was planning this trip, I thought that Hoang Hung and Ngo Tu Lap would be here to help, but Hung has permenantly decamped and Lap is nowhere to be found. One of the poets I’ve really wanted to meet again in Hanoi is Phan Huyen Thu, whose poems I helped translate when I was here before. Unfortunately, she left town on business just about the time I arrived — I’m not quite clear about when she’s returning, but I hope it will be before I leave. In the south, though, I will be in good hands. Ly Lan and Mai Tran have promised to introduce me to all their friends, so, ironically, while I thought most of my work was in Hanoi, going forward it may be that most is in HCMC and Hue. I also have wonderfully rewarding and ongoing friendships at the publishing house (The Gioi / The World) that sponsored me on my Fulbright, but they are journalists and editors, who, while wonderfully helpful, can’t really help me make the contacts I need in the poetry world. It has been a frustrating, though not completely worthless couple of weeks in terms of my specific project; but then I’m in the lovely city of Hanoi, which takes some of the edge off the frustration.

W.D. Snodgrass 1926 – 2009

I had lunch with Snodgrass & some other students in 1980 after he gave a reading at Iowa, and though I was operating in a haze of self-involvement at the time, I recognized in Dee Snodgrass a kindrid spirit, if that’s not claiming too much. My own earliest poems were influenced by Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, James Wright, John Berryman, and (the somewhat younger) Bill Knott (who, I’m happy to say, is still out there making trouble) — Snodgrass coming a little later, along with Robert Lowell — so my work begins right in the heart of the confessional movement. Oddly, perhaps, I came to appreciate WCW only in my later undergraduate years & in particular through one class I took with Ronald Johnson (surely the odd man out in this collection of influences), who showed me the later poems of WCW, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” “For Daphne and Virginia,” etc. & how they objectified the personal material they contained & it would be that combination of the confessional & the objective that would carry my work right through to the present, though my poems have become increasingly impersonal in recent years. In any case, that lunch with Snodgrass gave me heart at a difficult time in my life & I’m sorry to hear that he is gone.

Corrupter of Youth

I’m still in a May Day mood & so thought I’d pass this link along, about Allen Ginsberg in Prague, May 1st 1965. That’s when he was crowned King of the May & the authorities decided that the poet was corrupting the fine socialist youth of the city. [Via the New Poetry email list.]