ghost of an experience

September 30, 2018

nightmaresandsexyghouls - Stefan Heilmann - Boys are you brave enough to play with me

I asked the poet Tony Hoagland what he thought about fear. He said fear was the ghost of an experience: we fear the reoccurrence of a pain we once felt, and in this way fear is like a hangover. The memory of our pain is a pain unto itself, and thus feeds our fear like a foyer with mirrors on both sides. And then he quoted Auden: “And ghosts must do again / What gives them pain.”

Mary Ruefle
Madness, Rack, and Honey

reflected face

‘Bad writers,’ Auden remarked, ‘borrow. Good ones steal’ I like to think I’m a good enough writer to thieve – and do so blatantly. I ripped off Robin Cook’s (aka Derek Raymond) title How the Dead Live quite shamelessly, and gave it to one of my own novels. He was dead, so he couldn’t do anything about it. Some Raymond acolyte thought this was a bit much and wrote me an irate letter. Big deal. Besides, I don’t think Cook would’ve given a toss – he was enough of a Wildean to know flattery when it was staring him in the face.

Will Self
Introduction to How the Dead Live


With its unusual contemporaneity, (Frank) O’Hara’s poetry is a good example of what Ezra Pound meant when he said “literature is news that STAYS news.” It’s not hard to imagine that O’Hara would have been thrilled by the unusual afterlife his poetry has enjoyed in the 50 years since his death. Despite his notoriously casual attitude toward collecting and publishing his work, O’Hara always had one eye on posterity. “How am I to become a legend, my dear?” he asks in “Meditations in an Emergency.” He was convinced that inferior work would eventually vanish – “It’ll slip into oblivion without my help,” he once said, explaining why he declined to bash poetry he didn’t like. At the same time, as one can see in poems such as “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island,” which eerily looks ahead to his poetry’s posthumous life, O’Hara felt that truly great art finds a way to survive as it reaches down through time, altering and being altered by successive generations of readers, the words of the dead forever being “modified in the guts of the living,” as Auden said in his elegy for Yeats.

Andrew Epstein
Also a Poet