The morning read has two parts, I must add to yesterday’s Breakfast Challenge, pre– and at-breakfast. There’s coffee in both, but one is pre-walk, the other after it. Difference is, at the 2nd you take in heavier food requiring digestion, at the 1st lighter that is not so demanding on internal excretions. At the 1st, rather than imbibing newspaper-style stuff with coffee — one cup at most — you want what makes best use of your semiconscious state, such as poetry by Pound or, as now, criticism by Hugh Kenner.
His book on American fiction and poetry (A Homemade World, Morrow, 1975) lies now on the little reading table in the front room, far from PC and ‘Net. It’s a copy I picked up some time back, now with neat 5×8 1/2 paperback pages that come off in my hand, one by one. I keep it all together with a nice fat rubber band. This volume, to use the word loosely, is nothing to take on an “L” train.
Kenner contrasts Wallace Stevens the insurance exec — not health insurance: we are now allowed to hate him — with William Carlos Williams the GP — you gotta love a GP — who wrote a mere eight years apart, Dr. Williams coming later.
What he says about them, frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to tell in detail. I can say it includes this, that Stevens of Hartford saw poems as having something to say and saying it well or poorly, in that order (Kenner rated that the most egregious “misunderstanding” in literary history, of which he knows quite a lot), Williams of Camden the opposite. For Williams words are parts of a machine, for Stevens the maker of things we can believe in.
If that’s not perfectly clear, to use a Nixonian phrase (remember?) adopted by Obama, leaving out “perfectly,” try this, that as a Christian reader I got more to conjure with from Stevens than from Williams.
What does all this say? That I read something that I could not fully absorb but by which I was absorbed by. Not to mention that I was warmed and satisfied, as I was by that single cup.
This is mainly — no, entirely — Kenner is so smart and well-versed and articulate and word-wise that he could probably get my attention and absorption if he were discussing the national debt or nuclear fission.
I’d be entertained as I read along, taken up into something bigger than myself that I could take seriously, which, to return to yesterday’s Breakfast Table item, I do not ask of a newspaper. Of a newspaper I ask only to keep little gray cells going at a rate consistent with digesting cereal, prunes, and even eggs, the making of my true, main breakfast.