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They must have been built at about the same time in the last century. And had been similarly covered at a later date with Sandy one colored stucco. Now crumbling away in patches until April in May mornings. Thin blue smoke from the chimney of the fire house would seem to answer the smoke from the chimney of ours and to translate into another dimension. The hissing blaze of cherry logs I had watched my father build in our fireplace. The neighboring farm was owned and run by a mother Kerry and his son Harvey. Even in her unimaginable prime Kerry could not have been much over five feet tall. Now she was so bent by 60 years of stooping labor that in conversation her face was roguishly up twisted. She wore tight high top shoes that put a kind of pop into all her motions and an old fashioned bonnet so that in profile she frightened me with her resemblance to the first bogey of my childhood. The faceless woman on the Dutch Cleanser can chasing herself around and around with a stick.
Harvey called in the country way hive. Was thought that Saddam footed his Iraq would rattle our door before we knew he was on the porch. There he would stand surrounded by beagles and then cocked shotgun drooping from his arm on my parents vainly tried to invite him in. He preferred to talk outdoors and his voice was faint and far like wind caught in a bottle. Well tonight he hunted Coons and I woods which merged with his. The yapping of his beagle seemed to be escorting a silent spirit that traveled through the trees as resists a sleigh as the moon overhead traveled through the clouds. In the spring high pitched up their mule and horizontal they ploughed the gradual rise of land that mirrored the one where I stood. The length silhouettes of the man and the mule moved together. Back and forth like a slow brush repainting the parched pallor of the winter faded land with the wet dark
color of loam. It seemed to be happening in me and as I age with this century. I hold within myself this memory. This image unearthed from a pastoral epic predating my birth. This deposit lower than which there is only the mineral void. The English excavators of Earth as they deepen their trench to the strata of rubbish deposited by successive packs of the Samarian civilisation suddenly encountered a bed of perfectly clean clay. Which that first took to be the primordial silt of the delta. But measurements were taken and the clay proved too high to be of the original riverbed. Digging deeper they found that after eight feet the clay stopped yielding to soil again pregnant with flints and pot pots hurts. Much. But where a Samarian pottery had been turned on the wheel and not painted. These fragments bore traces of color
and had been entirely hand formed. In fact the member remnants were of an entirely different civilization called lubed and the eight feet of clay with a physical record of the legendary flood survived by Noah. My existence seems similarly stratified at the top there is this kind of rubbish of minutes hours and days and events and objects that occupy these days at the bottom. There is a hidden space where hive who since his mother died has sold the farm and married and moved to Florida eternally plows between them. I think as the distance from the grass to the clouds and no more like clay than fire is like air. Interposes the dense vacancy where like an inundation the woman came and went. Let us be quite clear she is not there. But she was there. Proof of this may be discerned in the curious hollowness of virtually every piece of debris examined in the course of scavenging the days.
When of course great caution should attend assertions about evidence so tenuous so disjointed and so befouled with the mud of phlegm and fatigue. Each fragment seems hollow in the same way. And a kind of shape. Or at least a tendency of motion which if we could imagine that continuing uninterrupted would produce a shape might be hypothesized. But we would be on friendly ground simply describing the surface layer of days. Abundantly present are small items of wearing apparel. Particularly belts and shoe laces. China plates pattern and plain stainless steel eating implements small tables with one loose leg glasses containing like a regular jewels hurriedly stashed at the cataclysmic end of an antique cleans rain ice cubes children's faces voices in toys newspapers and isolated Lim says of whether sky towers and vegetation the order of occurrence is not
random generally in the probing of each fetch stratum a tooth brush is the first object encountered often followed by automobile gearshift and a ballpoint pen or a fountain pen which is invariably dry. Contraceptive devices and files apparently of medicine not one common. Sometimes a page of the book is found involved with a bar of soap and confusing snowstorms of cigarette filters and golf balls must be painstakingly worked through. Care is crucial days though in some their supply of rubbish seems endless. Are each an integument of ghostly thinness at or in the delicate excavations of the tomb of Queen Chabad a clumsy foot might crush a hidden skull. Or a pick driven an inch too deep might prematurely bring to light a dish of gold ribbon or a diadem or a golden beech leaf more fragile than a wafer. So to the days of my life threatened even when the crust appears to be most
solid to crumble and plunge my vision into a dreadful forsaken gold. At the touch of an old hope the wallpaper pots and reveals the lack of a wall. A locked Bush and a woman's hair and gulfs me guitar music just from a window and I turn to see if she notices a newly discovered that she is not there. Grief fills the cavern of my mouth with a taste like ancient metal. And lost. And lost like some sweeping hypothesis of the theory of physics. Floods the transparent volume between the grass and the clouds. Vast streets open up stream outward under the revelation and the entire world. Cities and trees seems a negative imprint of her absence a kind of tinted hollowness from which her presence might be rebuilt as wooden artefacts along rotted to nothing can be recreated from the impress they have left in clay. A shadow of paint and drain more easily
erased by a finger than the dusty pattern on a butterfly's wing. Imagine a beach. At night. The usual immutable web of stars overhead boats anchored lightly swapping slaps with the water off the sand. Many people a picnic. There is a large bonfire lighting up faces. She is there. She herself is there. Here cold with fear under the mantle of darkness I go up to are restored beside my shoulder her human smallest. Amazes and delights me. How are you. Fine just fine. No really. Don't ask me I'm all right you're looking very well. Thank you. To never think that a river eyes looking past my shoulder into the fire chance lates into yet another dimension. The fire my father had set to burning a ONS ago.
She looks at last at me. The fire goes out in her eyes. She asks Would you like some coffee. I don't have a cup. I have a cup. Thank you and you're very kind. I had touching the cup that she is touching my fingertips don't touch. Don't hate me I don't hate you. I don't think I do. The taste of metal follows the taste of coffee in my mouth. I'm glad I say. For me it's still bad. You like to think that you enjoy suffering because you don't know what suffering is. And from the trap the quickness with which she moves her head from one side to the other toward the fire and the way I realise that she is struggling not to cry. A towering exultation seizes me and for a moment I am again her master riding the flood riding the flood. I protest I do no. No. I'm sorry you hate me I say to wrench a contradiction from are
the contradiction does not come. I don't think that's what it is she says thoughtfully and takes our cup from my hand and sips as if to give her words precision. I think it's just that I'm dead. I'm dead to you. And with sweet firmness she pronounces my name. Please try to understand I expect nothing from you. It's a great relief. I'm very tired. All I want from you is to be left alone. And I find myself saying yes she walks away. Her long hair bouncing on her back with a quick light step she has preserved. Yes as if I'm getting a scent aloof and scholarly to the invincible facts around me. They're rigid spattered of stars above the sander that I'm testing except the pit at my feet the sea absentminded they tipping pale surf over the edge of darkness. Ribbons of phosphorescent light that unravel again and again always in the same direction
like a typewriter carriage. Where am I. It has ceased to matter. I am infinitesimal lost invisible. Nothing. I leave the fire. The company of the others and wander beyond the farthest ring the circumference where guitar music can still be heard something distant is attracting me. I look up. And the stars in their near clarity press upon my face bearing upon my guilt and shame with this strange liquid Lee strong certainty that human Lee considered the universe is perfectly transparent. We exist as flaws in ancient glass. And the not pretending this transparent. My mind enters a sudden freedom like insanity. The stars seem to me a roof the roof of days from which we fall each night and survive a miracle. I wait resurrection archaeology as a science of the incredible Troy and Harappa with Fables until the shuttle struck home.
On the beach at night. It is never totally dark or totally silent and the sea soliloquies as the moon broods its glitter pattering and hyphens on the water. And something else is happening. Something like the aftermath of a plucked string what having fallen through the void where the woman was. I still live. I move and pause and listen and know. Standing on the slope of sand. I know what is happening across the meadow. On the far side of the line where water and air maintain their elemental truths. Hive is plaing now thanks. I'm
tm. That is what we do. Well that's a very complex story and a very beautiful one. And what I'm impressed by is I am as to the artist to be a love fest I bow out as I've mentioned earlier to Mr. Dyke that his his his wonderful control of language and the language that controls the story it allows him to do the impossible and the story really to make it a story to push the story to to where it is a poem really and to be so sure of the language and of his images that he can bring it just where he wants to. And I think that's very rare everyone who writes is trying to find a way of writing of what his language will be is to be and what sort of form he is to find but everybody aspires to write the story that has the that story that
has a complete control that that can make it an essay and still be a story that I think is very beautiful. There are poems of all and it's a point this is this this is a kind of attack it surely answers me very much because it seems to me that some of the methods of modern poetry of. Are among the foremost kinds of things that modern fiction is doing the kind of juxtaposition of a love story an archeology list so it would again forgive me John if I'm wrong but it seems to me that that's that's kind of the method of poetry this kind of abrupt transition of this book is something that we expect more poacher than we do prose fiction or did until the last few years. Well not much prose fiction can not many post fiction writers can do it either I think because in reading prose people absolutely say well this is proof we mustn't do it
and you have to be able to make the language carry it that way otherwise it just wouldn't work I think. And certainly something you've done in your poetry very beautifully violent edges sharp edges breaks stories and somehow the space between the thing said. The hope of a certain certain kind of to pad to pad a kind of a juxtaposition. Come in closer to poetry. Anybody tries to write like you. But what about what about the general kind of sensibility that there is. Remember in the 30s for example that they were that
kind of thing that James T. Or that before him that drives are dead prose writing. One of the tell it like it is like it was. But again does James tell it like it is. I mean when he says again maybe this is unjustified I don't want to make him the whipping boy but when he says he saw he saw a scandal and climb into the tree he wished to be with the March when he walked down the street with his hands in his pockets and so on it's extremely. Flat kind of a report no one could deny this was true. No one could feel the particular circumstances. And yet that that particular kind of flatness and direct statement has really not not served
fiction. Well if it had other people would be doing it. There are many people still writing that way I think a certain flatness is just you cannot avoid it. In my own story all that was done to all those archaeological things I was thirsting to get to the dialogue which is very simple and flat and I think but there is certainly always somehow a need to capture what's in the corners of your vision as well as. What is in the front of the. There are a lot of ways to skin this cat I think I don't think we need to hypnotize by people who leave out periods and drop the capital letters. There's a lot more I find Mr. Taylor's work full of just a kind of resonance implied things. Caught in the fullness of its ambiguity. Or it's either or and you know when you have a live
cat in the bag. Well the flatness of the dialogue seems to be talking about often the flatness of sight I think. Ever think that it doesn't have the depth but that the dialogue must really be as rich as the other two in the two it is in there the dialogue is not you wouldn't put it next to ferals dialogue and like that it would. It's not the same sort of thing it's not giving us the facts in the case it becomes a sort of a front after the rest of the narrative it comes as almost a miracle with magic when people speak suddenly in the story. That's my impression of it. I think you're doing more than just it's not just da log rolling in there. The whole question of how people do speak now it's a question of ear and there's a stage in your life when you almost stop listening I hope I haven't reached it yet. Southern writers do seem to be surrounded by people more bearable in a more interesting way. There's a things that governor's wife said or
somehow I can't picture the governor of Vermont quite quite coming out with me. Not that she's a superwoman but somehow there's not a verbal resource both in terms of allusion and in praise of expression and rotundity of expression somehow. Well of course that's what just amazed that you resort to finding the language of some sort. If if you don't have the you have verbal gifts really for narrative and you have the real control of the whole range of language. Everyone has his experience with language and you reach out to find the parts that are most alive for you and perhaps because Southerners are Gallus and tale telling and so on. The LAT language is very important and we have to do something with it. And then too it's often your you know as you know your limitations if you if you don't have the the grand the great style you find you can Flannery O'Connor someone from a first draft of her stories would not.
You just couldn't believe that they would become what they were because she worked so hard in finding the right language and seems to me that there are really two kinds of approaches to fiction where there are lots of different sub the writers of days but they both have they both have something to do with what the writers are pleased to call truth. The type of writer is going to look askance at what they want. Philip the pale face of the Mandarin is prose and they're going to go for what they what they think of as a as the raw stuff of life and if you if you're a mixed and extremely report Tauriel kind of prose. That simply tells events and people speaking of them in sort of
monosyllabic and extremely understated way this is going to be their version of truth. And yet there's kind of a literal truth and an emotional an emotional truth or more imaginative truth which is quite different from the literal and it seems to me that from what I've read that the most paid attention to the contemporary writers are going for the more difficult kind of truth which has which has senators with poets rather than the fences with the paper. I don't I don't I'm not going to defend Dreiser I'm not a great guy Syrian but I do think that he was in a way a great man of American letters that. That. Authentic talent will try to go for that aspect of reality which seems to him to be eclipsed by the present literary conventions and I think that in
a genteel era and an era. Dreiser is the kind of things he was saying were well worth saying and now it seems a little coarse and too much. Nevertheless there is life there and there was the. I wish I could feel that my contemporaries or I myself knew. Knew is certainly what they wanted to do is to ask you knew what he wanted to do. I feel I'm a you know kind of a kind of confusion that kind of knocking around. The lack of the kind of program that drives had and that Virginia Woolf in her way had really definite sense of what was the matter with past action what needed to be done now. We live in a kind of an age when one fears that it's all been done or been attempted. This is only half true in one's own life when the still excited and has fears one has more to say. Don't you feel that the Dreiser is more important to us sort of
historically than in any other way that what he was what he was felt should be done at that time he did make the breakthrough and so on. But that Hemingway really has put an end to it seems to me to simple reporting in fiction that is you can only do it he seemed to be simple reporter simply reporting you've got to be doing and Hemingway does much more than that but when he seems to be telling I have a simple story he and to be just reporting it's really very poetic. Yes this is this is exactly my feeling there's a very great deal of difference between the kind of extremely evocative understatement that Hemingway does and drives at the end of a limb off a book of his called the genius in which he attempts to put put Trey and August when he ends by having his artist Eugene whittle dreaming great dreams in the firelight really. If you go to the last page of the book that's what you first conceived of that story. That's always fascinating. I think that you can see
it first in the three images. No I was thinking as I was reading it. I put these things in China trying to reconstruct that moment in my life and somehow think of the people critics imagine that a writer has the world to choose from and actually only the little bit at all at least twice. There was a moment in my life when I think the same didn't interest me where this memory of having lived without much being aware that having lived across the valley from a farm where a mule was still you know this in Pennsylvania was pretty really a remnant of a much earlier than the way it was a curious thing to happen to a young adolescent.
Lessoned who was very urban oriented to be plugged into a piece of a piece of 1880 and then quite to me at least interesting details of the excavation that. And something human that must of struck me at the time. Anyway these three things it may have been an illusion but in some way they did. Yes I did not begin the story. But with all three in mind and how they have to get into my mind at the same time I don't know and I wouldn't want I would want to insist on a poem. That's a that's frighteningly like what I have always conceived of the method of the poet to start with the three maybe unrelated things of this so I don't know enough about prose fiction and to say that this is more true of poetry than it is of prose Nevertheless it seems to me. True of the practice of poets that I have read about that it is a book.
This seems to me that that particular kind of approach to a story through images is much more traditional a poetic approach again is just deadly to so many writers to try it is to me when I've tried to take on a certain kind of experience or experience and wanted to write a story from it and then tried to force it into it that would have been a great mistake and it took too much in some conventional plot that just killed it and you had to do it just that way. That's what's miraculous to me. Well it seems to me that what I know of prose fiction has indicated that there is a that there has been in the last 20 years a new opening up of section 2 of this kind of approach and many other kinds of approaches that have never been available to fiction. To take a drive which tenement as that Oh and by our environment.
Did not make it. You haven't given that he what he would have thought of the story. Chronicle of the financial genius he wouldn't have thought of it in terms of times of juxtapositions of the mind of the Creator which would then have to be dealt with on their own terms. Maybe calling for a new form that would that would have been comprehensible to him but I think there are built limits on how big they can get a story of this nature can't be because you pretty rapidly need suspense. There was too much in the short story has really replaced the personal essay an essay in the last hundred years or so and that this is a but
but this is a now and then you'll find a writer a fiction writer who does bring it back and makes him really give the whole cause you lose something you gain a great deal. When you begin to put a character in an essay to build around a person a great deal to figure interest well around. Character if you build around a character and get that then you lose something of the S.A.T. then you lose the explicit ability to be explicit. And I'm ready to speak at length on some kind of experience. Well I guess we'll have to wind up this evening's entertainment or whatever or whatever it is. But I do want whatever you want to say whatever has been solved are unsolved. We would like to thank very much that we have left something on your mind to think about from the
particular conjunction in time at this particular evening of your south. And Mr. Peter Taylor and John Updike. With my own modest participation hardly more than a ghost here at this time at this place. So you are you have heard of Peter Taylor and to John Updike. Discussing with James Dickey the reading and writing fiction. This was another in a series of lectures and readings recorded at the Library of Congress under the auspices of the Gertrude Clark with all poetry and literature front. This is the national educational radio network.
Library of Congress lectures II
Episode Number
Episode 2 of 9
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WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Series Description
For series info, see Item 3701. This prog.: The Writing and Reading of Fiction is discussed by James Dickey, Peter Taylor, and John Updike.
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Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-40-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:07
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Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 2 of 9,” 1968-09-17, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 14, 2024,
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APA: Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 2 of 9. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from