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.