THE BEST THING EVER!
Ok, So I’ve been pretty lazy pants with the blog posts lately. This is probably because Im overwhelmed by shit I want to say, but I don’t really want to say shit, because I think if I say it, I’ll ruin whatever it is that I want to say things about. And I can’t really think of anything else to say besides what I can’t say, partly because my head is dominated by it, and partly because I like to rebel against myself and the more I stop myself from saying what it is I want to say, the more I want to just say it and FUCK IT ALL.
aNOTHER reason is: I can look at pictures at work but I can’t really WRITE much or think about much outside of what Im supposed to be writing/thinking about, so…. pretty pretty pictures and pretty pretty poemz it is, right?
I am a bad blogger. Bad blogger, bad!! No bones about it.
to make up for my shitty blogger status, I found out something really really amazing: T.S. ELIOT AND GROUCHO MARX WERE PEN PALZ!!!!! say….WHATTTTTTTTTT?!!!!!!!!
Eliot’s attraction to Groucho might come as a surprise—it certainly did to Groucho—but there had always been signs of his own buried antic disposition. For one thing, in his early expatriate days in London, he grew fond of wearing pale green powder on his face, occasionally accompanied by lipstick. For another, he expressed great enthusiasm for the defecation scene in “Ulysses” that had appalled Virginia Woolf. V.S. Pritchett described Eliot as “a company of actors inside one suit, each one twitting the others.” One thinks of the twitting Marx Brothers packed into that small stateroom in “A Night at the Opera”.
The St Louis-born American poet, who had transplanted himself to London for an extended impersonation of an Englishman, knew all about the suppressed comedy at the heart of role-play. Appalled by humourless modern ideologies like communism, Eliot might have been drawn to Groucho’s alternative mode of revolution. It seems he agreed with Irving Berlin that “the world would not be in such a snarl, had Marx been Groucho instead of Karl.” Eliot was also experiencing matrimonial happiness for the first time with his second wife, Esmé Valerie Fletcher, so much so that he had stopped writing poetry altogether. With sex, perhaps, came laughter.
As for Groucho, his love for books and culture was unabashed and unabated. “Outside of a dog,” he once proclaimed, “a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
The precious handful of letters that have been published reveal mutual warmth and respect—on the surface. Underneath there is a mutual fascination and wariness. They speak of getting together for three years before Groucho and “Mrs Groucho”, as Eliot gamely calls her, arrive at the Eliots’ apartment in London for dinner one evening in 1964. Throughout their correspondence, Groucho is almost alarmingly provocative with Eliot. “I get away with saying some pretty insulting things,” he told one of his biographers. “People think I’m joking. I’m not.” In his new pen pal, Eliot might have recognised Thersites in Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida”, perhaps the most famous case of parrhesia—compulsive frankness—in literature. It seemed that simply being invited by Eliot into his club, as it were, incited Groucho not to want to be a full member.
Groucho cannot resist the compulsion to remind one of literature’s most famous expatriates of his origins: “Dear Tom…I think I read somewhere that your first name is the same as Tom Gibbons’, a prizefighter who once lived in St Paul.” He is quite open about his ignorance of the very public details of the poet’s life: “My best to you and your lovely wife, whoever she may be.” He pushes Eliot’s origins in his face. In another letter he calls him an “early American, (I don’t mean that you are an old piece of furniture, but you are a fugitive from St Louis)…” In the same letter he relays to Eliot that “the name Tom fits many things. There was once a famous Jewish actor named Thomashevsky. All male cats are named Tom—unless they have been fixed.” He concludes by assuring the famously buttoned-down author that “I would be interested in reading your views on sex, so don’t hesitate. Confide in me.”
Eliot’s well-known attitude towards Jews was something the Jewish provocateur could not leave alone. If the comparison of Eliot to Thomashevsky was not challenge enough, Groucho on another occasion promises Eliot that he will visit him “on my way back from Israel.” (He never does.) Eliot gamely rises to the occasion. “I envy you going to Israel,” he replies, “and I wish I could go there too if the winter climate is good as I have a keen admiration for that country.”
Yet the most intriguing of Groucho’s letters with regard to Eliot is not one that he sent to the poet, but a description of the dinner that finally did take place. Groucho wrote up an account of it for his brother Gummo.
Groucho writes that the week before the dinner, “I read ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ twice; ‘The Waste Land’ three times, and just in case of a conversational bottleneck, I brushed up on ‘King Lear’.” They begin with cocktails. A lull in the conversation prompts Groucho to “toss” in a quotation from ‘The Waste Land’.” Eliot “smiled faintly.” Feeling perhaps slighted by this uber-goy, Groucho writes that he “took a whack at ‘King Lear’,” arguing that the king was “an incredibly foolish old man”. But Eliot, whether annoyed or nonplussed, perhaps passive-aggressively ignores Groucho’s invitation to ponder “Lear”, preferring instead to discuss “Animal Crackers” and “A Night at the Opera”. “Now,” recounts Groucho triumphantly, “it was my turn to smile faintly.” Suddenly they are like two characters in a play co-written by Samuel Beckett and Neil Simon.
The conversation limps along, Groucho insisting that Lear was an idiot, while Eliot segues into an inquiry about “Duck Soup”. Dinner is then served, which “included good, solid English beef, very well prepared”. Groucho finishes on a note of sincerity: Eliot “is a dear man and a charming host”. Though a butler was present, Eliot had insisted on pouring the wine himself, “and no maitre d’ could have served it more graciously.”
Clearly the two men found a mesmerising bond in each other’s very alienness. That is not so surprising when you think about it. They had both, in their ways, spent their lives following Edgar’s brave, if dangerous, exhortation at the end of “King Lear” to: “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” Or as Groucho famously put it—and it could serve as an epigraph to “The Waste Land”—“Whatever it is, I’m against it.” It takes one strange god to know another.
I just ordered a copy of T.S. Eliot’s collected correspondences…Been meaning to do it for EVER because Mr. T.S. is my long time fave and first love. figures he’s such a weirdo. and a total ass hat.
In other news, yesterday I walked 3 miles to get to this poetry festival organizational meeting. It started raining within the first 15 minutes of my walk, and kept raining til I got there. I arrived quite dramatically late. Swamp creature emergeth. Taking a taxi or the bus would’ve taken 5 minutes…but no… the will power and the will to power and the perpetual stubborn rebellion against the weather (which is my primary cause to action) kept me going.
ok. that was my attempt at writing a blog post with words written by me. now I am going back to the pretty pretty pictures and the boring boring job.