Posts Tagged ‘Edna St. Vincent Millay’

Happy birthday to the Book Haven! We’re ten years old!

Saturday, November 30th, 2019
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We began on November 19, 2009. And we’ve been going ever since. For years we’ve anticipated this special tenth anniversary (alright, alright, we’re eleven days late; we’ve been busy).

What did we imagine? We had envisioned champers and brie and little pink cakes! We had hoped for international acclaim and cybercards and cyberroses … oh well, why bother? Instead: one solitary woman at a computer, cranking out books and articles (and even the occasional blogpost) faster than any reasonable person should.

However, the occasion of our tenth anniversary was not entirely unmarked. The Book Haven has made it’s debut appearance in The Smithsonian Magazinewith this paragraph in the current issue, on a subject we know startlingly little about. It generated a scholarly query last week in my inbox, so it’s good to know our July 11, 2018, post is getting some attention

The end result, according to a blog post by Stanford University’s Cynthia Haven, was a masterful collection of 1,299 gouaches, 340 transparent text overlays and a total of 32,000 words. One painting finds the artist cuddling in bed with her mother; another shows a seemingly endless parade of Nazis celebrating Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Germany’s chancellor while swastikas swirl above their heads.

Maybe next year?

Read more here.

What else has happened, since we last wrote about ourselves, five years ago, here? Some time ago, we hit a record high of 45,000 hits in a month. However, gone are the days when we used to wake up in the morning, pull the laptop out from under the bed, and compulsively check our numbers on Google Analytics. We have our following, and we get our bouquets and our punches … and our letters. Like this one a few days ago, from the U.K.: “I am just writing a very quick thank you for introducing Edna St Vincent Millay to me. I had been searching for Sara Teasdale and found a wonderful article written by you at The Book Haven. If it wasn’t for your article I wouldn’t  have found and fallen in love with Edna.” We’re glad you did, sir!

This year alone: We’ve posted on the controversy surrounding the Stanford University Press here and here. After the death of the notable Johns Hopkins polymath and bibliophile Richard Macksey, we were quoted in The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun and wrote about his passing here and here and here. We’ve forged a partnership with The Los Angeles Review of Books to create an Entitled Opinions channel, as well as a series of articles.

Books, books, books. We’ve written about many books. We wrote about our debut in Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Nation, plus reviews of Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. (Too many to list – put it in the Book Haven search engine). Plus… we were named a 2018-19 National Endowment for the Humanities public scholar, the inaugural Milton Cottage resident, and oohhh, so much more.

Sorry, maybe for 2020.

The Book Haven broke the national news of President Trump‘s plans to scuttle the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts – but other media outlets were close on our heels. We memorialized fallen greats at Stanford, many of them friends: Dostoevsky scholar Joseph Frank and theater director and Brecht protégée Carl Weber, French intellectual Michel Serres and Milton Scholar Martin Evans, and of course, the French theorist René Girard. And, this month, another cherished friend, the French scholar Marilyn Yalom.

The Book Haven has taken you to Bergen, Sigtuna and Stockholm, Kraków and London, Warsaw, Paris, and Avignon, among other locales.

We’ve described how we brought about the acquisition of Russian Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky Papers at Stanford, and our debut on Russian TV … and later the acquisition of Russian poet Regina Derieva‘s papers.

We’re still here. So many excellent blogs and online journals have folded – Elegant Variation, House of Mirth, Bookslut – and journals, too, such as Quarterly Conversation and Smart Set. We’re still here, and looking forward, in six weeks time, in joining you for the brand new decade for all of us.

C’mon, December, we’re ready to take you on – to the end of the year and beyond. Our vision going forward is 2020.

Happy birthday to us! Long may we live!

“The greatest woman poet since Sappho”? Consider the work, not the life.

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018
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Today is Edna St. Vincent Millay‘s birthday. (We’ve written about her here and here and here.) Every so often, someone calls for a revival of her delicious verse, and today it’s Amandas Ong’s turn, over at The Guardian. She notes that Millay is more remembered for her wild and crazy life than lines like these:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. … (Read the rest here.)
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An excerpt from Ong’s article (which is online here):

Where should one begin with Millay? She had a famed predilection for Petrarchan sonnets and rhyming couplets, at odds with prominent experimental modernists of the era, such as TS Eliot and Wallace Stevens. But Millay expanded the scope of these poetic forms, presenting a bold, sexually charged vision of the female experience. Her verses serve as a kind of elaborate architecture, housing the fickle, frenetic movements of the heart that falls in love and then out of it. Renascence and other poems (1917), which includes the 200-plus line poem that brought her acclaim, also boasts six sonnets, all of which are outstanding in this respect.

“If I should learn, in some quite casual way, / That you were gone, not to return again —,” she muses in Sonnet V, she would not cry in a public place, like a train; no, she’d “raise my eyes and read with greater care / Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.” This is classic Millay – how else can one grapple with the end of a love affair than to instinctively busy oneself with the mundane?

But Millay never approached love and its vicissitudes with passive melancholy. In “No Rose That in a Garden Ever Grew,” she ponders cynically on the temporal nature of infatuation that drives the stories of women such as Lilith, Lucrece and Helen: “And thus as well my love must lose some part / Of what it is, had Helen been less fair, / Or perished young, or stayed at home in Greece.”

Happy birthday, Edna. You deserve a revival. And a little cake.

Starving writers: you are not alone! Here’s Edna St. Vincent Millay’s letter to her editor.

Sunday, August 6th, 2017
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Starving writers: you are not alone! Have you ever wondered how to plea with your editor for payment tout de suite? American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay did it the classy way. Here’s her letter for an advance from the editor of Poetry magazine, in 1918 – about the time the photo above was taken. (And if you’d like to see her rather fancy shoes, try here. and if you’d like to hear about her plummy vowels, try here.)

“America’s Sweetheart”: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Pickford, and plummy vowels

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013
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“We were very tired, we were very merry…”

Okay, okay, I admit it.  I was absolutely smitten with Edna St. Vincent Millay as a young teenage girl.  I would wander a quarter-mile down Lone Pine Road in the isolated outskirts our tony neighborhood, head into the woods and loudly recite Millay’s sonnets of disillusioned love to the cattails, red-winged blackbirds, and the frozen pond.  And it made me feel grand.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t feel too embarrassed.  No less than an eminent authority than Richard Wilbur wrote, “She wrote some of the best sonnets of the century.”

Too bad I didn’t have a recording of her voice.  I didn’t know about “her resonant voice with its clipped consonants and plummy vowels” – that might have intimidated me into a little more sense and silence.

Kate Bolick writes about the pin-up poet of the 1920s in “Working Girl” over at poetryfoundation.org.  Bollick informs me that I was not the first.  As a young woman at Vassar, Millay “threw herself into campus cultural life, starring in plays, publishing poems, and cultivating her already magnetic personality into a persona that proved irresistible to a captive pool of young women ripe for seduction.”

Here’s one secret they didn’t know:  She was named after a hospital. Her mother, who raised three daughters alone, was a sort of itinerant nurse, and had some reason to be grateful to St. Vincent Hospital.  Voila!   So all you have to do to get a classy sounding name is head for the nearest emergency room.  (Wouldn’t work for me.  Nearest hospital is Stanford University Hospital.  Cynthia Stanford University Haven doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)

The Millay girls grew up poor, and the plucky girls were alone for days and had to look after each other.  One day in winter, I recall reading, the pipes broke, flooded the floors, and froze.  The girls ice-skated throughout the house.

Bolick writes:

America’s other sweetheart.

There certainly wasn’t any money for college, so after Millay graduated from Camden High School in 1909, she stayed home writing poems and confiding her dissatisfactions to her journal. It was during this period that she drafted the epic, 214-line “Renascence,” which uses the topography of that little coastal burg—the mountains and bay islands and apple trees—to dramatize one woman’s spiritual oppression and mystical rebirth. Maine can get forbiddingly grim in winter, and it’s tempting to imagine the young poet sick with thinking she’ll never leave that godforsaken place, desperate to get out of the house at least, heroically pulling on her boots, trudging through the freezing slush, and eventually winding up at the local five and dime, idly flipping through a movie magazine. The year is 1912. There’s a big spread on the latest hit, The New York Hat, starring “America’s Sweetheart” (actually Canadian) Mary Pickford. It’s a silly film, about a girl and a hat. But what Millay sees is her more-or-less reflection. She and Pickford were born the same year. Like Millay, Pickford was barely over five feet tall and rarely exceeded 100 pounds, with a winsome face and masses of hair—“luminous tenderness in a steel band of gutter ferocity,” as one film critic put it. Millay pays for her hot cocoa and hurries back home, seed planted; soon enough, she’ll send that fetching portrait to the editor of the Lyric Year poetry contest.

That little scene is an invention, of course—I made it up. But there’s something potent in the idea of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Mary Pickford shining at opposite reaches of the same celestial firmament. In the 1910s, women were entering the public sphere in greater numbers just as the publishing and entertainment industries were gaining momentum, to mutually beneficial effect. Pickford, too, was raised in poverty by a single mother, and used her beauty and acting talents as her ticket out, inaugurating one of modern America’s most enduring fairy tales.

Whoops.

Millay is commonly thought to be the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (in 1923).  Not so, says Bolick. “In fact, she was the third. But who beyond poetry scholars remembers Sara Teasdale and Margaret Widdemer?”

I do sometimes.  Sara Teasdale, anyway …

It is not heaven: bitter seed
Leavens its entrails with despair
It is a star where dragons breed:
Devils have a footing there.

The sky has bent it out of shape;
The sun has strapped it to his wheel;
Its course is crooked to escape
Traps and gins of stone and steel.

It balances on air, and spins
Snared by strong transparent space;
I forgive it all its sins;
I kiss the scars upon its face.

Whoops. That’s Elinor Wylie, the third in the troika of American lyric poets of the period, with Millay and Teasdale.  Somehow Wylie and Teasdale have a tendency to blur in my mind, and sometimes Millay joins them.

Read the rest of Bolick’s piece here.

And listen to the pronunciation of “merry” and “ferry” in the poet’s reading of “Recuerdo” below. Wow.