Wednesday, November 01, 2006

George Starbuck's "Sweet Ladies"

Great issue of American Poetry Review this month (Nov/Dec 2006). A fascinating essay by David Trinidad, about the brief real-life friendship between Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. They were both auditing Lowell's poetry workshop, and would go out with George Starbuck afterwards for martinis at the Ritz, and laugh and laugh and carry on about suicide and nervous breakdowns and becoming famous poets. Sexton was about to have her first book published, Starbuck soon to win the Yale. Plath comes off as a bit jealous, always keeping a ledger and holding grudges of her friend's successes. And it is fascinating to see Plath lifting passages from Sexton, and using them in her own writing (several examples are given). But in the end, after Plath's suicide and sky-rocketing fame, it is Sexton who tries to "out-Plath Plath" by writing the 39 poems of The Awful Rowing Towards God in a mere 16 days, before taking her own life, as well. It's a fascinating read: my only question: what ever happened to George Starbuck?

Also in this issue, Mark Doty has a wonderful essay about the writing of his poem "Theory of the Sublime." It's a great look into how his mind works, and how his poems come to be. In the poem he connects two disparate experiences: one, being asked to clap in front of a video camera for a friend's art project; and two, climbing the towers of La Sagrada Familia. He tells of waking up in the night to go write the first drafts of the poem at the computer on the mezzanine level of the Art Nouveau-era gay hotel he is staying at in Barcelona, and it was a secret delight for me to know he must have been staying at Hotel Axel (where Dean and I were last spring) and sitting in the very place, at the same computer and keyboard, where I would write in the night at Axel as well.

There's also an Ira Sadoff essay about Frank O'Hara, and much more, including a long-ass Komunyakaa poem, that I haven't gotten to, yet. Happy reading . . .

6 comments:

The Sublibrarian said...

Starbuck died in 1996. Although Wikipedia calls him a neo-formalist, his work is far more eccentric than that and includes many things that these days might be called Oulipian or neo-Oulipian—acrostics, shaped poems, etc. I have a selected poems, Visible Ink, edited by his daughter if you'd like to take a look sometime. A more recent, and more generous selected is The Works: Poems Selected from Five Decads.

Marvin Bell pointed me to Starbuck after I workshopped "from divortere" in one of his classes.

Peter said...

Thx Ron, yes I'd like to see it.

I found some odd poems of Starbuck's online, where he took a well-known Shakespearean sonnet, and carved away everything but about one syllable per line, and made the poem say something entirely new and funny. Yes, I agree, more experimental than formal.

Diane K. Martin said...

Diane Middlebrook's bio of Sexton discusses that time and the friendship/competition between Sexton and Plath.

Paul said...

Strangely enough, Starbuck ended up living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, deciding to stay there after finishing a poet-in-residence stint at the University of Alabama. I taught there for three years beginning in 2000 and he was very fondly remembered by everyone. UA Press has published some posthumous collections of his work and the library has a really great collection of his papers.

Peter said...

Thanks, Paul. Good to know this.

MJ said...

Interesting story on Starbuck at:

http://www.slate.com/id/2106536