My Joy

Nunc Dimittis, James Laughlin

Little time now
and so much hasn’t
been put down as I
should have done it.
But does it matter?
It’s all been written
so well by my betters,
and what they wrote
has been my joy.

James was an heir of his family’s iron and steel business. He majored in Latin and Italian at Harvard and studies at Ezra Pound’s “Ezuversity”. In 1935 Pound persuaded the young man to give up his poetic ambitions and “do something useful,” like publishing. The result was New Directions who went on to publish WC Williams, Henry Miller, Dylan Thomas and Delmore Schwartz among others.”It is better,” James wrote, “to be read by eight hundred readers and be a good writer than be read by all the world and be Somerset Maugham.” I didn’t like poetry at school and only started reading it in my late 20s. My guide was Martin Seymour-Smith’s monumental “Guide to Modern World Literature” which introduced me to such stunning writers as Trakl, Vallejo and Mandelstam as well as the poetry of Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe. It’s impossible to compete with them so the joy lies in reading them. The only thing you can do as far as writing is concerned is be yourself and discover that maybe there is something only you can say. It has taken me a lifetime to get there.

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