Unreal Nature

June 9, 2017

To Alter Egos

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… there will have been a lot of joy on the way.

The following are letters — or portions of letters — found in Between the Lines: A History of Poetry in Letters, 1962-2002 compiled and edited by Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young (2006). Henry Rago was the editor of Poetry at the time these particular letters were exchanged:

James Dickey to Henry Rago ………………………………………….. Portland Ore., 3 March 1963

Dear Henry,

… Could you help me with a problem? I want to write some poems under another name — a couple of other names, in fact — to see if I can take on different “writing personalities” in case I get tired of the one I have. I’d like to send some of these to you and see what you think of them, but in case of publication, I wouldn’t want my real identity known. Is this a legitimate pursuit, in letters? A Portuguese poet name [Fernando] Pessoa did this some time ago — he had four alter egos! — and I wanted to try it, just to see what would happen. On the other hand, I don’t want to submit poems to my editors — such as yourself — without letting them in on what I am doing; that would somehow seem wrong to me. Could you advise me on this?


Leonard Nathan to Henry Rago ………………………………………….. New Delhi, India, 24 December 1966

Dear Henry Rago,

Some more from India, though not, I guess, Indian. This place is incredible, not the least for its literary life. Ginsberg left quite a trail, but there is an Indian twist to it. For Beats, they have their “anti-poets” writing, obviously “anti-poetry.” I am to address these people soon, mostly young. In Calcutta a group of free-wheelers — I guess of the Beat variety — began a monthly magazine for verse. It soon became a weekly, then a daily, then — so help me God — an hourly; they printed, so I hear, seven in one day. I guess the poets lined up in front of their door, with poems hot off the pan, or finishing them up right there.

… What chiefly they lack — so far as I can tell — is a good practical criticism, a thing we may have too much of. And then politics gets in the way, not just poetic politics. The tendency is for the manifesto to substitute for thinking hard about individual poems and poems in general. But nobody is curling up in silence and that means, if nothing else, there is plenty of life. And out of the collision of east and west — it is no less than that — something may come that is larger than either. If it doesn’t, there will have been a lot of joy on the way.




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