Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson is out today from powerHouse. Pick up a copy if you have any interest in the best writer of the last 50 years. (Bonus: This blog and myself are both mentioned on pg. 77)
BUY IT NOW!
Also, be on the lookout for my interview with poet Laura Sims (the one to whom all the letters in this book were written). It should be going up on Full Stop sometime soon.
For now, here’s a mini excerpt from our interview:
One thing I always wanted to chat with another Markson-obsessed person about was what to call those final novels when grouped together? On Reading Markson Reading, I’ve been calling them The Notecard Quartet, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on whether they should even be grouped together and, if so, what they should be called?That’s a really nice name for them, I like that. The Notecard Quartet. And yes, I really do think they belong together. It’s undeniable that their shared form and concerns connect them—they’re like one big book he was working out over time. I always think of them as a “tetralogy,” but I like your name for them much better. The words “Fare Forward” are from a T. S. Eliot line which Markson quoted as a kind of “bon voyage” to you when you moved from New York to Wisconsin. Can you tell me why and how that title was chosen?Originally I came up with five possible titles:  Don’t Leave Flowers, Telephone: Letters from David Markson I’ll Tell You the Truth: Letters from David Markson The Sound of My Own Voice: Letters from David Markson I Almost Prefer the Silence: Letters from David Markson Fare Forward, Voyagers: Letters from David Markson Wes (of powerHouse) made the very good point that we didn’t want to choose a title that, like the first four on the list, emphasized Markson as a hermetically sealed literary figure. If the book were to introduce new readers to his work, as we hoped it would, we would have to choose something more open-ended and optimistic. We both liked the last one for that reason, and then Wes thought it would be better without the “Voyagers.” I think he was right. I like that the title is positive, forward-looking, and optimistic in a way, because I think that there’s actually an optimism in his writing that is often buried, but is sort of always there, a strange optimism that I can’t quite describe.It is. It’s what keeps the books from being completely bleak and depressing. They’re really not. I know that some people find them so, but I don’t think of them that way. There is a thread of hope running through them that keeps them buoyant, joyful even.

Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson is out today from powerHouse. Pick up a copy if you have any interest in the best writer of the last 50 years. (Bonus: This blog and myself are both mentioned on pg. 77)

BUY IT NOW!

Also, be on the lookout for my interview with poet Laura Sims (the one to whom all the letters in this book were written). It should be going up on Full Stop sometime soon.

For now, here’s a mini excerpt from our interview:

One thing I always wanted to chat with another Markson-obsessed person about was what to call those final novels when grouped together? On Reading Markson Reading, I’ve been calling them The Notecard Quartet, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on whether they should even be grouped together and, if so, what they should be called?

That’s a really nice name for them, I like that. The Notecard Quartet. And yes, I really do think they belong together. It’s undeniable that their shared form and concerns connect them—they’re like one big book he was working out over time. I always think of them as a “tetralogy,” but I like your name for them much better.

The words “Fare Forward” are from a T. S. Eliot line which Markson quoted as a kind of “bon voyage” to you when you moved from New York to Wisconsin. Can you tell me why and how that title was chosen?

Originally I came up with five possible titles: 

Don’t Leave Flowers, Telephone: Letters from David Markson
I’ll Tell You the Truth: Letters from David Markson
The Sound of My Own Voice: Letters from David Markson
I Almost Prefer the Silence: Letters from David Markson
Fare Forward, Voyagers: Letters from David Markson

Wes (of powerHouse) made the very good point that we didn’t want to choose a title that, like the first four on the list, emphasized Markson as a hermetically sealed literary figure. If the book were to introduce new readers to his work, as we hoped it would, we would have to choose something more open-ended and optimistic. We both liked the last one for that reason, and then Wes thought it would be better without the “Voyagers.” I think he was right.

I like that the title is positive, forward-looking, and optimistic in a way, because I think that there’s actually an optimism in his writing that is often buried, but is sort of always there, a strange optimism that I can’t quite describe.

It is. It’s what keeps the books from being completely bleak and depressing. They’re really not. I know that some people find them so, but I don’t think of them that way. There is a thread of hope running through them that keeps them buoyant, joyful even.

     Pg. 55 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Markson placed a line in the margin next to part of a quote from poet Wallace Stevens on his contemporary William Carlos Williams:     “I have not read Paterson. I have the greatest respect for him, although there is the contrast difficulty that he is more interested in the way of saying things than in what he has to say. The fact remains that we are always fundamentally interested in what a writer has to say. When we are sure of that, we pay attention to the way in which he says it, not often before.”
     And then Markson puts a squiggle to the sentence that Kenner writes in response to Stevens’ reading of Williams:     “This is one of the most extraordinary misunderstandings in literary history.”
—
     So what does Markson think of “one of the most extraordinary misunderstandings in literary history”?
     Where would Markson stand in a Stevens v. Williams deathmatch?
     Well, though we should be careful not to completely conflate the “Novelist” persona in The Last Novel with Markson himself, there are obvious points of similarity between character and author, and the Novelist might offer a point of entry into the novelist’s (Markson’s) thoughts on Wallace Stevens:     The Novelist in The Last Novel (and perhaps Markson himself) thought this of Stevens:     “Wondering if there can be any other ranking twentieth-century American poet whose body of work contains even half the percentage of pure drivel as Wallace Stevens’.” (Pg. 109)
     And yet, Markson’s thoughts on William Carlos Williams also seem to be less than enthusiastic—and we don’t have to use the filter of one of his characters to discover his thoughts here:     On another page in this Hugh Kenner book, once owned by David Markson, Markson wrote in the margin his thoughts on William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore:     “Not if your poetry is not very good—which theirs isn’t.”
     “Tell me honestly, Cal. Am I as good a poet as Shelley?     Asked William Carlos Williams, not long before his death, of Robert Lowell.”     An anecdote found on pg. 178 of The Last Novel.
     Makes me imagine my own scene of WCW on his deathbed:     “Tell me honestly, Dave. Am I as good a poet as Stevens?     Asked William Carlos Williams, not long before his death, of David Markson.”     What would Markson have said?
—
     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 55 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Markson placed a line in the margin next to part of a quote from poet Wallace Stevens on his contemporary William Carlos Williams:
     “I have not read Paterson. I have the greatest respect for him, although there is the contrast difficulty that he is more interested in the way of saying things than in what he has to say. The fact remains that we are always fundamentally interested in what a writer has to say. When we are sure of that, we pay attention to the way in which he says it, not often before.”

     And then Markson puts a squiggle to the sentence that Kenner writes in response to Stevens’ reading of Williams:
     “This is one of the most extraordinary misunderstandings in literary history.”

     So what does Markson think of “one of the most extraordinary misunderstandings in literary history”?

     Where would Markson stand in a Stevens v. Williams deathmatch?

     Well, though we should be careful not to completely conflate the “Novelist” persona in The Last Novel with Markson himself, there are obvious points of similarity between character and author, and the Novelist might offer a point of entry into the novelist’s (Markson’s) thoughts on Wallace Stevens:
     The Novelist in The Last Novel (and perhaps Markson himself) thought this of Stevens:
     “Wondering if there can be any other ranking twentieth-century American poet whose body of work contains even half the percentage of pure drivel as Wallace Stevens’.” (Pg. 109)

     And yet, Markson’s thoughts on William Carlos Williams also seem to be less than enthusiastic—and we don’t have to use the filter of one of his characters to discover his thoughts here:
     On another page in this Hugh Kenner book, once owned by David Markson, Markson wrote in the margin his thoughts on William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore:
     “Not if your poetry is not very good—which theirs isn’t.”

     “Tell me honestly, Cal. Am I as good a poet as Shelley?
     Asked William Carlos Williams, not long before his death, of Robert Lowell.”
     An anecdote found on pg. 178 of The Last Novel.

     Makes me imagine my own scene of WCW on his deathbed:
     “Tell me honestly, Dave. Am I as good a poet as Stevens?
     Asked William Carlos Williams, not long before his death, of David Markson.”
     What would Markson have said?

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.


     Pg. 182 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Markson placed a check in the margin, which is either making note of:     “Olson turned incoherence into a style.”     Or:     “Since his death in 1970 transcriptions of tapes have been printed like sacred oracles.”     I can’t be sure which.
—
     Neither the fact of turning “incoherence into a style,” nor the fact of his “death in 1970” and subsequent “transcriptions of tapes” can be found in Markson’s final four novels, his Notecard Quartet.     In fact, the only mention I can find of Charles Olson in Markson’s Notecard Quartet comes from pg. 93 of The Last Novel:     “Does having been six feet eight inches tall make Charles Olson the tallest known poet?”     
—
     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 182 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Markson placed a check in the margin, which is either making note of:
     “Olson turned incoherence into a style.”
     Or:
     “Since his death in 1970 transcriptions of tapes have been printed like sacred oracles.”
     I can’t be sure which.

     Neither the fact of turning “incoherence into a style,” nor the fact of his “death in 1970” and subsequent “transcriptions of tapes” can be found in Markson’s final four novels, his Notecard Quartet.
     In fact, the only mention I can find of Charles Olson in Markson’s Notecard Quartet comes from pg. 93 of The Last Novel:
     “Does having been six feet eight inches tall make Charles Olson the tallest known poet?”    

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     The inside front cover of David Markson’s copy of The Age of Anxiety by W. H. Auden:
     On which David M. Markson wrote his name as an inscription.
—
     “One never steps twice into the same Auden.     Randall Jarrell said.”     Wrote Markson in The Last Novel on pg. 177.
—
     David Markson’s copy of The Age of Anxiety by W. H. Auden is owned by Maria Barrera-Agarwal. The above scan is used with her permission. Copyright © Maria Barrera-Agarwal.

     The inside front cover of David Markson’s copy of The Age of Anxiety by W. H. Auden:

     On which David M. Markson wrote his name as an inscription.

     “One never steps twice into the same Auden.
     Randall Jarrell said.”
     Wrote Markson in The Last Novel on pg. 177.

     David Markson’s copy of The Age of Anxiety by W. H. Auden is owned by Maria Barrera-Agarwal. The above scan is used with her permission. Copyright © Maria Barrera-Agarwal.

     Pg. 31 of David Markson’s copy of Old Masters: Great Artists in Old Age by Thomas Dormandy:
     On which Markson has placed a check next to a quote by Sir Joshua Reynolds re: the painter Frans Hals:     “He was not without ability to portray strong individual characteristics, but alas, he could never join to this the most difficult and most important part of the art of painting, a patience to carefully finish what he had often correctly planned and begun.”
—
Oh, that classic inability to finish an artwork…
I know that problem well.
     Reminds me of a poem by Markson, titled:     OF WRITINGS UNFINISHED     (Which appears on pg. 54 of Markson’s Collected Poems.)
     Those sheets, like wretched hulls disgorged to rot      Upon the land, are merciless to sight.      Beneath imagined planks the dull pools lie     In stagnant desolation. The surfless tide      That shifting dreads collision with the reefs      Sweeps in but these, the spars of nerveless dreams      Indifferent sands inter. No scars will mark      The strand, such meager wrecks will not abide. 
     But ships aground tell tragic lines, while those—      Those unbegotten words, their charted course      Across the gulf of mind undared—in fears      Have foundered sunk unborn. Is image then      Untrue: do they thus drowned and grieved for here      Deserve a lesser metaphor than sea,      Whose pilot weeps ashore? What mariner      Will say? Is there not sting of salt in tears?

     Pg. 31 of David Markson’s copy of Old Masters: Great Artists in Old Age by Thomas Dormandy:

     On which Markson has placed a check next to a quote by Sir Joshua Reynolds re: the painter Frans Hals:
     “He was not without ability to portray strong individual characteristics, but alas, he could never join to this the most difficult and most important part of the art of painting, a patience to carefully finish what he had often correctly planned and begun.”

Oh, that classic inability to finish an artwork

I know that problem well.

     Reminds me of a poem by Markson, titled:
     OF WRITINGS UNFINISHED
     (Which appears on pg. 54 of Markson’s Collected Poems.)

     Those sheets, like wretched hulls disgorged to rot
     Upon the land, are merciless to sight.
     Beneath imagined planks the dull pools lie
     In stagnant desolation. The surfless tide
     That shifting dreads collision with the reefs
     Sweeps in but these, the spars of nerveless dreams
     Indifferent sands inter. No scars will mark
     The
strand, such meager wrecks will not abide.

     But ships aground tell tragic lines, while those—
     Those unbegotten words, their charted course
     Across the gulf of mind undared—in fears
     Have foundered sunk unborn. Is image then
     Untrue: do they thus drowned and grieved for here
     Deserve a lesser metaphor than sea,
     Whose pilot weeps ashore? What mariner
     Will say? Is there not sting of salt in tears?

     The inside front cover and first page of David Markson’s copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1918 by Various (Ed. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch):
     On which Markson has written “David M Markson" as an inscription.
—
     A Quiller-Couch volume just like this one was carried by T. E. Lawrence…     “Throughout the desert campaigns, T. E. Lawrence carried an Aeschylus and an Aristophanes in his kitbag, both in Greek. Also a Morte d’Arthur and the Quiller-Couch Oxford Book of English Verse.     He was able to read while riding camelback.”     - David Markson, Reader’s Block, pg. 36.
     Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, though himself a writer (who wrote under the pen name “Q.”), is primarily remembered less for his own writing and more for the promotion of others’ writings, through the editing of this edition of poetry.
     Surprisingly, though the selections in this edition were chosen by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Gerard Manley Hopkins makes an appearance with four poems.
     This is surprising because:     In Markson’s last novel The Last Novel we read:     “A precious, priestly, hothouse darling.     Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch dismissed Hopkins as.” (Pg. 78).

     The inside front cover and first page of David Markson’s copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1918 by Various (Ed. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch):

     On which Markson has written “David M Markson" as an inscription.

     A Quiller-Couch volume just like this one was carried by T. E. Lawrence…
     “Throughout the desert campaigns, T. E. Lawrence carried an Aeschylus and an Aristophanes in his kitbag, both in Greek. Also a Morte d’Arthur and the Quiller-Couch Oxford Book of English Verse.
     He was able to read while riding camelback.”
     - David Markson, Reader’s Block, pg. 36.

     Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, though himself a writer (who wrote under the pen name “Q.”), is primarily remembered less for his own writing and more for the promotion of others’ writings, through the editing of this edition of poetry.

     Surprisingly, though the selections in this edition were chosen by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Gerard Manley Hopkins makes an appearance with four poems.

     This is surprising because:
     In Markson’s last novel The Last Novel we read:
     “A precious, priestly, hothouse darling.
     Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch dismissed Hopkins as.” (Pg. 78).

     Pg. 47 of David Markson’s copy of Lives of the Modern Poets by William H. Pritchard:
     On which Markson scribbled out some marginalia (which has thus become unreadable).
—
     From the little that I can read through the scribbles—like a “she was” barely visible, but certainly there, in the middle section of markings—the writing which was covered up looks to be quite similar to Markson’s handwriting, so presumably this was his own marginalia, which he then later crossed out with scribbles.
     Erasing, by way of crossing out, whatever comment he once disclosed.
     “Erasure is as important as writing.     Said Quintilian.”     - David Markson, Vanishing Point, pg. 99.
     Crossing out as important of writing too???

     Pg. 47 of David Markson’s copy of Lives of the Modern Poets by William H. Pritchard:

     On which Markson scribbled out some marginalia (which has thus become unreadable).

     From the little that I can read through the scribbles—like a “she was” barely visible, but certainly there, in the middle section of markings—the writing which was covered up looks to be quite similar to Markson’s handwriting, so presumably this was his own marginalia, which he then later crossed out with scribbles.

     Erasing, by way of crossing out, whatever comment he once disclosed.

     “Erasure is as important as writing.
     Said Quintilian.”
     - David Markson, Vanishing Point, pg. 99.

     Crossing out as important of writing too???

     The Dedication to The Waste Land in David Markson’s copy of Poems by T. S. Eliot:
     On which Markson has made a number of notes…
     He placed a line in the margin and wrote that the quote:     “NAM Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla  pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σίβυλλα τί θέλεις; respondebat  illa: ἀποθανεῖν θέλω.”     Is from:     “Petronius.”
     He underlined:     “ἀποθανεῖν θέλω”     And translated it as:     “(I WISH TO DIE)”
     He underlined:     “Il miglior fabbro”     And translated it as:      “(That greater magician)”
     He then created his own table of contents in the lower right corner, naming the five parts of The Waste Land:     “I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD     II. A GAME OF CHESS     III. THE FIRE SERMON     IV. DEATH BY WATER     V. WHAT THE THUNDER SAID”
—-
     Markson saw the four novels that make up the Notecard Quartet, his tetralogy, as somewhat similar, if still inferior, to Eliot’s The Waste Land.
     Markson claims This Is Not A Novel could be seen as:     “An ersatz prose alternative to The Waste Land, if Writer so suggests.”     - This Is Not A Novel, pg. 101.
     Likewise, his friend and literary compatriot, Ann Beattie, wrote of Reader’s Block:     “Finally, a prose sequel to Eliot’s The Waste Land.”
     Like Eliot’s The Waste Land, the novels in Markson’s Notecard Quartet warrant the kind of close reading, study and marginalia that Markson placed in his copy of Eliot’s master poem (as showcased in the above scan).
     One wonders if Fannin, the detective in Markson’s Epitaph for a Tramp, did as close a reading of The Waste Land as Markson did…
     “I sat around for a couple of hours, disciplining myself by not opening the next bottle until I could manage it without defacing the tax stamp, and trying to make sense of something called The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot which was the only book in the joint.”     - Epitaph for a Tramp, pg. 13 (of the collected Epitaph for a Tramp & Epitaph for a Dead Beat).
     “In such a misanthropic context, what better book to read than T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, given Fannin’s bittersweet humor?”     A question asked by Françoise Palleau-Papin in her Markson study This Is Not A Tragedy.     A question seconded by yours truly.
—-
     David Markson’s copy of Poems by T. S. Eliot is owned by Ethan Nosowsky. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © Ethan Nosowsky.

     The Dedication to The Waste Land in David Markson’s copy of Poems by T. S. Eliot:

     On which Markson has made a number of notes…

     He placed a line in the margin and wrote that the quote:
     “NAM Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σίβυλλα τί θέλεις; respondebat illa: ἀποθανεῖν θέλω.”
     Is from:
     “Petronius.”

     He underlined:
     “ἀποθανεῖν θέλω”
     And translated it as:
     “(I WISH TO DIE)”

     He underlined:
     “Il miglior fabbro”
     And translated it as:
     “(That greater magician)”

     He then created his own table of contents in the lower right corner, naming the five parts of The Waste Land:
     “I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
     II. A GAME OF CHESS
     III. THE FIRE SERMON
     IV. DEATH BY WATER
     V. WHAT THE THUNDER SAID”

—-

     Markson saw the four novels that make up the Notecard Quartet, his tetralogy, as somewhat similar, if still inferior, to Eliot’s The Waste Land.

     Markson claims This Is Not A Novel could be seen as:
     “An ersatz prose alternative to The Waste Land, if Writer so suggests.”
     - This Is Not A Novel, pg. 101.

     Likewise, his friend and literary compatriot, Ann Beattie, wrote of Reader’s Block:
     “Finally, a prose sequel to Eliot’s The Waste Land.”

     Like Eliot’s The Waste Land, the novels in Markson’s Notecard Quartet warrant the kind of close reading, study and marginalia that Markson placed in his copy of Eliot’s master poem (as showcased in the above scan).

     One wonders if Fannin, the detective in Markson’s Epitaph for a Tramp, did as close a reading of The Waste Land as Markson did…

     “I sat around for a couple of hours, disciplining myself by not opening the next bottle until I could manage it without defacing the tax stamp, and trying to make sense of something called The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot which was the only book in the joint.”
     - Epitaph for a Tramp, pg. 13 (of the collected Epitaph for a Tramp & Epitaph for a Dead Beat).

     “In such a misanthropic context, what better book to read than T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, given Fannin’s bittersweet humor?”
     A question asked by Françoise Palleau-Papin in her Markson study This Is Not A Tragedy.
     A question seconded by yours truly.

—-

     David Markson’s copy of Poems by T. S. Eliot is owned by Ethan Nosowsky. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © Ethan Nosowsky.

     The first page of David Markson’s copy of Latin Poetry: The New Poets & The Augustans by Clarence W. Mendell:
     On which Markson wrote as an inscription:     “Markson     NYC ‘81”
—-
     The above inscription is a fairly classic Markson inscription.
     Though he has a few ways of writing his name on the inside front cover or first page of his books, it most often appears like this.
     Mendell’s book, Latin Poetry: The New Poets & The Augustans, from which the above scan is taken, discusses such Latin poets as Lucretius, Catullus, Vergil, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius and Ovid.
     A fact you would know of these men if you have read Markson’s Vanishing Point:     “Evidently not one of the major Latin poets in Rome was born in Rome itself.” (Pg. 89).

     The first page of David Markson’s copy of Latin Poetry: The New Poets & The Augustans by Clarence W. Mendell:

     On which Markson wrote as an inscription:
     “Markson
     NYC ‘81

—-

     The above inscription is a fairly classic Markson inscription.

     Though he has a few ways of writing his name on the inside front cover or first page of his books, it most often appears like this.

     Mendell’s book, Latin Poetry: The New Poets & The Augustans, from which the above scan is taken, discusses such Latin poets as Lucretius, Catullus, Vergil, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius and Ovid.

     A fact you would know of these men if you have read Markson’s Vanishing Point:
     “Evidently not one of the major Latin poets in Rome was born in Rome itself.” (Pg. 89).