Thursday, December 27, 2007

Beckett on Dante, Freud Meets Aquinas,
and the Fine Art of the One Word Poem

Cover collage by John Harter

Last week's posting opened with an elegant quote by James Wright concerning Dante. Perhaps Dante would be appreciative of a maniacal mood swing to another aspect of his persona, as well as ours. In my job, I read literally dozens of reviews every week, concentrating on the areas of literature. In the Times Literary Supplement 11/30/07 under the heading "Cultural Studies", there is a review of Valerie Allen's On Farting: Language and Laughter in the Middle Ages. From that review, the following:

"Samuel Beckett, the creator of more than one flatulent character, when asked about his ambitions once replied: 'All I want to do is sit on my arse and fart and think about Dante.'"

One might suppose that reading dozens of literary reviews weekly might be conducive to all sorts of reactions, but that line of thought is surely a cul-de-sac. Rather, better to take the high road and press on to Joyce Carol Oates's review of Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life by Philip Davis in the Dec. 21-28 TLS, for the following interesting tidbit on the pitfalls of the biographer:
"In the preface ... Davis quotes the notorious remarks of Sigmund Freud on the futility of the biographical enterprise: 'Anyone turning biographer has committed himself to lies, concealment, to hypocrisy, to flattery, and even to hiding his own lack of understanding, for biographical truth is not to be had, and even if it were it couldn't be useful.' Such an irrational outburst leads one to wonder what Freud was desperate to conceal from biographers, and whether he succeeded ..."

Freud and his talking cure have long been discredited, despite or, perhaps, because of its many successes; Oates's little diatribe, of course, prompts the reader to wonder how such "an irrational outburst leads one to wonder what" Oates was desperate to conceal about the futility of the reviewing enterprise. Extending this logical progression of thought with a mighty Aquinian (as opposed to Kierkegaardian) leap, one might actually come to posit that Freud was, in his notably prescient way, commenting on the blogging enterprise of the early 21st century and its futility.

Under every rock, a post-modern observation lurks, it would seem.

So, enough of what I do when not reading poetry, posting letters, laying out new issues, and thinking about Dante. More selections of poetry have been added to the Back Issue Archive; there are now 14 back issue samplings up online, with over 80 poems. More samples, of course, are posted every week in this blog, so there are now well over 100 poems from the past 18 years of Lilliput Review online, with more to come. This week's selections come from #135, pictured above. As a lover of the short poem, I've an unhealthy fascination for the one line poem and, even more narrowly, perhaps, and even more life threateningly, the one word poem. Among the selections below is one of my favorites ...


Just before spring

the war begins

but - ignorant -

the pink blossoms

keep opening

their tiny fists

Julie Toler

The year comes to an

end, another begins. Still

it is not finished.

David Lindley


Ray Skjelbred

Each that we lose takes part of us;

A crescent still abides,

Which like the moon,

some turbid night,

Is summoned by the tides.

Emily Dickinson

Here's to peace in 2008.

Best till then,


Poet Hound said...

Julie Toler's poem is wonderful! Thanks for presenting poems from back issues.

Jeffery Skeate said...

In Deidre Bair's 1978 groundbreaking biography of Samuel Beckett, a commentary concerning the Beckett quotation can be found on page 145. Beckett would have been twenty-six at the time.

Beckett's essay on Dante can be most easily found in "Disjecta", published by Grove Press in 1984. I believe the essay was written in l929; Beckett would have been twenty-three then.

Beckett had a lifelong infatuation with Dante and in fact rather preferred him over Shakespeare.

Thank you for the intriguing reference!

Jeffery Skeate said...


What I really meant to say was "Beckett had a lifelong inflatulation with Dante and in fact preferred him over Shakespeare".

Thanks again!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Glad you liked the poem. I checked out your blog, "Poet Hound," and enjoyed it very much. I've linked it in the sidebar to spread the word and keep me up to date. Best, Don

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks for the note, I'll check out the original context in Bair's bio at the library when I head back on Wednesday. I guess "inflatulation" should be the final word on the Beckett quote. Hope you have a great new year ... Don

Poet Hound said...

Thanks so much for checking out my humble blog, I consider it an honor to be featured on yours and will add your blog to my sidebar as well!