By Paul Mariani
Publication by way of Mariani, Paul
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Additional resources for A Usable Past: Essays on Modern and Contemporary Poetry
Or even of her letters. Other biographers will reject my suggestion because they do not have the ability to reconstruct either their subject's language or even the illusion of that language. Of course such a direct imitation is not exactly what I have in mind either. What I mean is rather a simulation of the language of the subject whose life we are retelling. This is not to say the language that we hear in Williams's or Stevens's poems, or in the novels of Faulkner or Hemingway, but rather a simulation of a person's characteristic diction and syntax as we can discover those in letters, tapes, and memories of their speech: in short the language staple, the language as they themselves used it everyday.
Not enough attention has been paid to this poet by American critics (Hugh Kenner being one notable exception), but he is already one of the three or four most important older voices now coming out of England. And if Tomlinson has learned much from his American teachersWilliams, Stevens, Marianne Moore, and Ezra Pound among themwe Americans have much to learn from him about precision of image and word, the values of discretion, and a sense of poetic civility that Yeats for one would have appreciated.
Is it not, after all, the illusion of a life which the biographer gives in the process of writing biography, something carried on perhaps over many years, a process of reassembling tapes and letters, discarded drafts and manuscripts, directives and memoes, testaments and check stubs, the feel of names and places revisited, people known perhaps still among the living, words, words transcribed, written, uttered, words, words, and more words, that the biographer must shape and select and reorder, until a figure begins again to live in our imagination?