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Declan Ryan discusses The Dolphin Letters, 19701979: Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, and Their Circle

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Automatic TRANSCRIPT

So strangely enough we now have two versions of the Dolphin because published in tandem with the the letters are the two dolphins Saskia. Hamilton has the final published book. And then this sort of draft version so in the end being left with these versions of the poems. What do you make of them? I think people who care a lot about. Oh we'll think of day by day. His last book is kind of beautiful or different code. Two things yeah but I think because the Dolphin is so complicated not only its publication history and in the front drama around describing the letters. I think it's hard to know how to think about the poems as palm. So how let's say as a critic. How do you think about the poems now? Yeah I think that's absolutely. I mean it's one of those books it's absolutely impossible to remove from. Its Is Kinda biographical circumstance. I love love some of the poems. I mean you know beautiful. Bits are beautiful lines in a lot of them and he's he's never anything other than interesting but I think I think the problem is that so much of is is tied up with that that period an oscillation and I I think even just if he's trying to make a narrative out over because he does this kind of reordering and there's so much going on he's trying to hold in place and I think he changes the order as as is mentioned in the the new to version in book he moves bits of around. They stopped making sense or they at least emotionally. Stop Making Sense. I think he always did. That didn't even an early books. I think he wants commented demented that sometimes he would he would see something in a draft and then in the final version he would just say the opposite of. Yeah Yeah that's technique. It must have been extraordinarily maddening as I remember in the in the Hamilton biography. I think it talks about him visiting friends and just picking up copies of his own book and just correcting them. You know I mean never pleased with it I think and I think part of the problem is that's exactly and there's also I think I'm pretty sure it was maybe frost or some maybe pound said to him at one point. You know you'd say anything just to say you know I think he does have the enemies or tests He tests things out by writing them and then he has the sense that we're not going to say the exact act opposite next time but I think part of that isn't necessarily mischief or not knowing what it means. I think I think it is a testing and I think it seems nice to seems to mean reading this back and spending time with the two versions of the Dolphin having not ready for war beforehand. That he's trying to work out what he feels in the midst of feeling it and and I think a lot of the poems here his way of trying to work out with two to go. We'll stay and it's a very public way of doing nothing. Most of his might make a list. Maybe not in not diary but I think in the end. That's why he's able to move around so much because he's he's sort of never sure. And and as we see with the developments between him and black wooden and hardwick. I mean up to the end of the book in up to up to his death. He's never quite shaw. Think we're Mason. Who is married to who wants to be married to and I think that's reflected flexing the poems too I think if he was doing a revised version in a one? If he'd lived that long. You know it might have been completely different again Yeah one of the things that I noticed. Noticed in your piece that you you diagnosed as sort of one of the difficulties around this book is laws mixing of fact with fiction. Shen and as you're speaking about this book of letters poems and so on you really are very clear about how in this case ace. The poems are strongly tied to the biographical situation. And I'm wondering if that's something that's intrinsic too long long and the particularities of what he was doing his his personal life his friends and so on and so forth. Or whether that's something that you you would think of as being More of a principal for reading and possibly writing poetry in other situations nations or other time periods and with other goals in mind. I'm just curious what you might think about that. Yeah well I think certainly with with Lola mean so much of is is the whole his whole kind of poet career certainly from from life studies. Onwards is is almost a kind of one. Long biography of poem poem has what biography. But there's I suppose the thing he did so well particularly life studies perhaps an and the union this symbolism to a lot of it and it's it's never it's never straight fact and I think I think that's probably important to think about because as much as he got you know todd with that confessional branch. That's run through a lot the other person's but I mean I think a lot of the idea of fact in lull poem isn't really that straightforward nothing. There's the primary says why not say what happened. I think the thing we always overlook that perhaps is easy to overlook. is the sense that you know he talks about. It is more patiently thing than that I think he he. He means accuracy Chrissy or wherever you want to frame it not so much as as literal fact as an accurate impression or or or kind of form of getting across an emotional facts rather than just being slavishly literal. So I think it's not necessarily out of keeping that he would all The letters by Hardwick and things like that if he thought he made a poem. Because I I don't think fact was his main priority. I think it was always the line or to the podium of the image will the symbol. He drew from life again found periodically. I think but he didn't didn't necessarily worry about the fact checking of it so I think that's in keeping and I think I think that's a strength in in some regards in a poem if if you didn't mean you're boulder rising someone's heartbroken correspondence. Maybe but I think narrowly is a strength of his work. that it isn't necessarily a you know that's exactly what happened and he'd see tries to turn that idea on Elizabeth Bishop I think when she says to him about mixing fact and fiction that kind of holiday line of criticism that she makes and when he says it wouldn't matter if I said lease dress was blue you know rather than yellow or something and I think he's being deliberately facetious there but there is something in that I think it's the particular facts that he changes all the the fact that is her direct personal private correspondents. Let's that he's moving around. I think it would matter less if if the things he's lying about. Where Loyd voice Well he made this argument. That the Robert Lowell in the poems in quotation marks that it's character Robert lows him personally. which is such an intriguing? streaking argument I mean. You know all these years. After the appearance of these poems in these books you still have to sort of think about that one but what I'm wondering is especially because so. Many many of his letters emanate from the UK. Is this an American thing sort of mythology. Sizing yourself making yourself a character in your own Paul more writing so much about yourself or that's something that everybody does something where stuck when I mean it's it's hard to know I mean. He's such a specific sort of an American as well isn't it. I mean he's you know he's a mayflower American isn't it. I mean he sort of I think he he certainly. That's also so a big part of it. I think you know that that runs into a lot of things that were written about him at the time you know if it was someone else talking about their family or would be much less important or relevant I mean he. Can you know he can throw any surname immediately. He's kind of he's on grunt territory but I mean I think part of it his best. I mean there's a cut remember exactly who wrote it. I think it was in in an early issue of the review or something that someone was talking about life studies and they talked about him as an exemplary sufferer in the studies poems and I think there is something in his best particularly ticketed. Think these complete specificity and his his use of the autobiography allows him to become something grander than just the Passport Robert But law and he does become maybe something near to the idea of kind of symbol of Robert Law in a kind of character a public figure or something and I think maybe that's the the great strength of some of those poems is when again I think even in the Dolphin I think it's Rick's Christopher ricks who's talking about him and using throwing some heavy names around I think he's compared to Browning and Tennyson. Listen and and talking about how he's this kind of you know Baltic figure an I mean again. That's probably what it aims for. Its best certainly. I think other people do it but it's hard to think of many people who do it as well as he does because he does have access to to all of that rich material in terms of his family history but also I think because just because of his wide reading his understanding of of myth and again there is a maybe a slightly whitman meets wordsworth element to where you know. If he's going to write an epic is going to be about himself but he he seems capable of doing it in a way that I think he wouldn't be if he was an ordinary day-to-day citizen. Just you know knocking around Boston in any kind of blue collar job or something you know. I think it's only because of the circumstances of the family that he does it. And then I think you know the things that have come off to this the other versions versions of of confessional ism they do. They're very different things I think they don't they don't have that same sort of symbolist background to him. I think he's he thinks of himself as a kind of a figure from the AENEID well sort of carrying the past on his back in a literary sense. Yeah it's it's very compelling but it also leads me to wonder if you have a guess as to where this all leaves Lowell. Now in what will become of his reputation. Shen I mean I think most people do sense that Bishop is in the ascendancy that feels very salutary and heartening. But where does all this leave us with Lowell. Oh all do you think I mean yes. She certainly Overtaken him over the last several decades. But I mean it's interesting with lawler thing I think he never. He never goes away. And it's interesting particularly to see that some of the some of the books that have come out from American lots of dumped typically well over here like Rankin citizen. Listen and the the most recent terrance Hayes Sonnets I mean they. They feel very indebted to Lowell in in in some ways I mean the sonnet sequence. Boy Hayes is you know I mean. That's the notebook in new voice in some ways and Simile rankin deals head on with life studies. So I think I think he's ingrained there whether there is someone to react against all of inherent from this is probably another question but I think he's he's still there in particular. Poets are dealing with personal experience. And that kind of biographical sort of poem. I have to say that often my favorite poem. I think he's there. He has to be at least reckoned with in in some regards so I I think he hasn't. He's not likely to go away but I wonder if he'll be rehabilitated. I mean perhaps it might be the kind of inverse of of lock in. It might be that these letters of give him a redemption. Maybe uh-huh it's hard to see how hard we seems like. She's probably going to be the next bishop and I wouldn't be surprised if if hardwick reputation outstrips his in the next couple of decades. Maybe maybe she seems to be having a real revival at the moment that seems like a good place to leave it. Well the way this happens but thank you so much for speaking with us about the the letters and poems and for talking with us about them to now. It's been great. Thanks a lot Declan Ryan's latest Chap Book is fighters losers you can read. Letters are not life a review of the Dolphin Letters. One thousand nine hundred seventy two nineteen seventy-nine.