…or ‘it wasn’t a dry fuck’
“It sucks to be reliable.”
“Maybe we should teach you the art of letting go.”
Yesterday apparently was the birthday of poet David Ignatow – a poet whose few works I’ve rather haphazardly come across impressed me and were worthy of going back and reading again at different points in life. I first heard of him in high school – during the hated poetry unit we were force fed. Our teacher assigned us each a poem to explicate and investigate and then present to our class. She had apparently taken some care to match our personalities up with poets she felt somehow had something to offer us. I was given Adrienne Rich. Don’t get me started. The teacher had hoped we would each respond to these assigned poets and pursue a more in-depth research project on the one we were already acquainting ourselves with. By this time I was deeply entrenched in my 20th century Russian women (Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva and Akhmadulina) and could not be bothered with Rich.
Meanwhile my dear friend Mike, whom the teacher had previously referred to as a “miscreant” (for some unknown reason?), was given a poem (I believe) by David Ignatow. Mike decided he would pursue Ignatow as a research project but ran into the problem we all ran into back then: a dearth of information thanks to … well, the limitations of libraries and access to information. Libraries were well-connected networks, of sorts; you could look up and order information, but it was not instant or immediate. There were still barriers to all the information you might have wanted – primarily temporal barriers, particularly the more obscure your topic. If you could find what you wanted eventually – time was often the ultimate limitation. School assignment deadlines – waiting for some book or resource to arrive at the local library – really not practical. But once upon a time, it was the only way. And probably was the reason that many viable but difficult research topics ended up abandoned by well-meaning and curious students. I suspect this is why, in the pre-internet era of too-little-information at the fingertips, Mike abandoned David Ignatow.
Now I run across Ignatow fairly frequently in my readings and find gems, such as this Paris Review interview from 1979. I loved to read about Ignatow’s attempts to succeed at business, only to find that he felt more like a (willing) prisoner to his writing and had to write. Or that it was an inevitable pleasure: “I didn’t will myself to become a writer. It was just a natural outgrowth of the pleasure readers got from my work. I wanted to give pleasure and give myself pleasure. It wasn’t a dry fuck, in other words.” HAHA. And also was inspired by reading the following passage, feeling as though this ‘background of immortality’ is a guide:
A Mexican writer, José Gaos, was quoted in Octavio Paz’s beautiful book The Bow and the Lyre as saying: “As soon as a man enters life he is already old enough to die.”
That’s good. When you assume that knowledge, you begin to live a very vital life, because everything you do is in the background of immortality. The background is the immortality of death. That’s when you can say you are a man in the full sense of the word. You’ve become an existentialist. That’s what it’s all about.”