Sendak on Blake

I have nev­er been a fan of Mau­rice Sendak. I was eight when Where the Wild Things Are was pub­lished, but I do not think I ever heard of it or Sendak until I was in col­lege. I am not sure I have ever read any Sendak, but I know I have at least paged through Wild Things and looked at the pic­tures (the only way to read a book, right?). The pic­tures nev­er did any­thing for me. Clips from the movie do noth­ing to make me want to see it.

Over the past year, I have come to under­stand that Mr. Sendak, what­ev­er his tal­ents as a writer, is quite a char­ac­ter.  There is a won­der­ful inter­view with NPR’s Ter­ry Gross on Fresh Air.

Now I notice this bit of video on YouTube in which he says some­thing that makes me feel bet­ter about myself. At just around the 1:54 mark, he dis­cuss­es the poet William Blake. He has a whole shelf devot­ed to Blake and has read a lot of and about Blake. He loves Blake, espe­cial­ly as an illus­tra­tor (which makes sense). But the part I love is

I don’t under­stand him. I still can’t read through one of his illu­mi­nat­ed ma…I can’t. I don’t know what the hell he’s talk­ing about.

I have tried read­ing Blake on many occa­sions, but I have nev­er got­ten very far. I do not under­stand him. It is good to know that it is not just me.

I have, as I have aged, begun to sense that much poet­ry does not yield under­stand­ing with­out repeat­ed read­ing. But who wants to read with­out under­stand­ing? I sup­pose that is what the rhythm and lan­guage is for, to pro­vide plea­sure while wait­ing for under­stand­ing. I just made that up, but I can’t believe that (hav­ing majored in Eng­lish Lit) I have nev­er been told it.

At some point I plan to read Blake again. And I will read him aloud and will plow through even when I’m lost.

Maybe that plan should apply to read­ing Sendak.….

More Like Brevity Or Bust

The oth­er day I opened up an old issue of The Paris Review to a poem by Eliz­a­beth Nei­ditz, That I was not Insane, or Worse.

The end­ing lines sound­ed familiar:

And my father, a mas­ter of the two-line letter

And the fifty-six sec­ond phone call,

Liked to say that “brevi­ty is the spice of life.”

My father, to my knowl­edge, nev­er said “brevi­ty is the spice of life”, but he was a mas­ter of the two-line let­ter and the fifty-six sec­ond phone call. My only expo­sure to his let­ter writ­ing was the notes he includ­ed with the checks he sent when I was in col­lege, the full text of which was some­thing like “I know you need this so I won’t waste time writ­ing much. Love, Dad”

The phone call was not real­ly fifty-six sec­onds because Mom would talk longer, but Dad would come on to say hi. Fifty-six sec­onds would have been a long time on the phone with Dad.

I have no idea why con­ver­sa­tions with Dad were inher­ent­ly brief, but a pos­si­bil­i­ty for the brief let­ters occurs to me. Dad was an excel­lent attor­ney. I have been told that a big rea­son for that was his thor­ough­ness. He cov­ered all the details. I sus­pect that this was not a dif­fi­cult skill to learn for him, that he had a nat­ur­al instinct to be thor­ough. The let­ters had to be brief, since any expan­sive­ness would then require a detail or two to be cov­ered. Much sim­pler to keep it down to the bare bones.

Then again, maybe he was just busy.

I know as I blog that my goal is to always be brief. Most­ly because I do not like blogs that con­sis­tent­ly have long posts. I can’t believe I am the only one who feels that way. But my efforts to be brief are con­stant­ly frus­trat­ed by the desire to explain a bit more.

If this PDF (4.06 MB) is rel­e­vant (and I believe it is), then Eliz­a­beth Nei­ditz is now Eliz­a­beth Bene­dict.

I must con­fess that for all of Dad’s brevi­ty in let­ters, I make him look like Dick­ens in com­par­i­son. I have writ­ten too few let­ters in my lifetime.