The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on December 17, 1995 · Page 217
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · Page 217

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Richard Eder A Literary Lion's Private Fragility Henry Miller's letters to his patrician poet publisher HENRY MILLER AND JAMES LAUGHUN Selected Letters Edited by George Wickes (W.W.Norton. 260 pp. $2750) Andrew Carnegie financed libraries, and the Fords and Rockefellers financed foundations, but one of corporate America's more useful cultural benefactions was producing an heir to the Jones & Laughlin steel fortune. In the mid-1930s, young James Laughlin chose to forgo steel, take summers off from Harvard and spend them in Italy with the poet Ezra Pound. Pound ran what he called his Ezuversity for the benefit of this sole and promising adept The promise that Pound saw in Laughlin was perhaps different from the one Laughlin hoped to see in himself. While conducting the young man through his own splendidly idiosyncratic version of Western civilization, Pound's aim was to insinuate that rather than one more second-rate man of letters, his pupil could become a first-rate patron of letters. That he did. Through the '40s and '50s, the clean primary colors and stark lettering of the New Directions imprint stood out amid the pastel blur of American bookstore shelves. Here in your hand, they proclaimed, you may be sure you are holding the highest of high-modern, literature. The quality-paperback revolution of the 1960s would make New Directionswhich, like the octogenarian Laughlin, is still at work less special. But by that time, steel money, spent with discrimination, whim and parsimony, had given readers of my age (62) the words and cloth- bound heft of Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Rimbaud, Pablo Neruda, Djuna Barnes, William Carlos Williams, Alain-Fournier, Thomas Merton, Delmore Schwartz, Herman Hesse and, of course, Pound. Recently, Laughlin's 60-year publishing career has taken a remarkable byway. W. W. Norton has been issuing volumes of his decades-long correspondence with Pound, Williams, Schwartz and Kenneth Rexroth. They display the writers in a variety of postures: confiding and suspicious, patronizing and insecure, touchy and touching. Henry Miller Ezra (Pound) by James Laughlin To Rapallo then I came, That was in 1934, a student Bored with the academic conventions Of Harvard, wanting to get to the source. To learn about poetry from the best Poet alive, and you accepted me into Your Ezuversity where there was no Tuition, the best beanery since Bologna (1088). Literachoor, you said, Is news that stays news, And quoting from some old bloke Named Rodolphus Agricola, Utdoceat,utmoveat,utdelectet, Make it teach, move the heart. And please. You taught me And you moved me and you gave me Great delight ... . . . You read My poems and crossed out half the Words saying I didn't need them. You advised me not to bother Writing stories because Flaubert And Stendahl and James Joyce Had done all that could be done With fiction. . . . From "The Country Road," new poems by James Laughlin (Zoland Books.- $22.95; 149 pp.). Laughlin took Pound's suggestion to become a "first-rate patron" of the arts, but evidently never gave up his itch to write poetry, having published six other books of verse as well as several volumes of prose. They are the poet at his meat and the poet is never so hungrily and vulnerably at meat as when corresponding with his publisher, benefactor and natural enemy. As for Laughlin, though his letters are fewer and usually shorter, his own intriguing portrait emerges: patient encouraging and with an upper-class breeziness. One wonders if he spoke of his writers as his "stable." The squire knew his horses, delighted in them, mostly ignored their bucking and kicking, and a sore point saw that they were not overfed. After stable-rounds he went off skiing. The latest volume spans 40 years of Laughlin's letters to and from (mostly from) Henry Miller. They are perhaps less revealing, literarily, than the Pound and Williams volumes, but then Miller was not a literary introspective; rather, he was ringmaster and spectator at his own show. (So was Pound, of course, but this greater and scarier artist's "own show" encompassed pretty much everything else as well) What the letters do reveal is the private fragility of a public terror. Pound introduced them, according to an account Laugh lin gave to George Wickes, editor of the correspondence. One morning at lunch in Rapallo, the poet tossed over a volume, presumably the semi-clandestine, Paris-based Obelisk Press (later Olympia Press) edition of "Tropic of Cancer." "Waal, Jas," he growled, "here's a dirty book that's really good. You'd better read it if your morals can stand it" Laughlin's morals could; his prudent sense of his own intestinal and financial fortitude could not He toyed with the notion of publishing "Cancer" and "Capricorn" in the United States but had no wish to expose himself and his fledgling New Directions to criminal prosecution for obscenity. Besides, his Aunt Leila, who still held the purse strings, would probably have cut him off. So although New Directions issued 19 Miller books over the next half-century, it did not do the scandalous, money-making ones: the two "Tropics" and "Sexus," "Nexus" and "Plexus," which gutsy Grove Press profitably issued in the 1960s. Of the others, "The Colossus of Maroussi," "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare," "Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch" and "The Henry Miller Reader" sold respectably, the rest hardly at all. Nineteen books made for a lot of letters. The thin returns made for feverish ups and downs in their tone. Miller, a complicated and timid man despite the scandalous bravura of his writing, shows himself by turns grateful, whimsical, manic, lordly and furious. "You are the Jesus Christ of the publishing world!" he wrote in 1938 after Laughlin had outlined the royalty arrangements. Two years later, infuriated by the legal Please see Page 12 V"' i James Laughlin Believing by Rote Mr. Ives shows us one way to conquer grief MR. IVES' CHRISTMAS By Oscar Hijuelos (HarperCollins: $23; 248 pp.) Reviewed by Benjamin Cheever Arriving from Alpha Centauri and beginning his study of earthly spirituality at Barnes & Noble, the pilgrim alien would be greatly cheered. The news on planet Earth is good: very, very good. There's plenty of chicken soup for the soul. In "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success," Deepak Chopra has finally severed the troubling link between poverty and piety. Judgment, in any case, will be delayed if only we avail ourselves of "The Miracle of Melatonia" The reason humans get old and die, apparently, is because the pineal, a small, cone-shaped endocrine organ Benjamin Cheever is working on a book tentatively titled "Investment Tips of the Saints." in the posterior forebrain, gets tired and stops producing melatonin. Fear not the stuff can be purchased at most any health food store. I paid $5.56 for 60 tabs, highest quality, quick-acting. Take one at bedtime and you'll awake refreshed. And younger. Plus Christmas is around the corner. Tis the season to be jolly. God bless us every one. And yet Oscar Hijuelos has chosen to build his fourth novel around a Christian who plays by all the old rules and suffers anyway. He tells a story that is nearly 2,000 years old and yet in so doing presents us with a book that is truly startling in its novelty. He makes all those popular optimists look like tinsel on a soiled and plastic tree. This is the best book Hijuelos has written. Which is saying something. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1989 novel, "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love." Later made into a movie, this told the exuberant story of a couple of Cuban musicians who hit New York hard during the 1950s. The new book is as quiet as the other was loud. Abandoned without so much as a hastily scribbled note, the child hero of "Mr. Ives' Christmas," is adopted seven years later by a man who "taught his son how to pray, when to kneel and stand and bow his head and close his eyes during the consecration of the Host; taught him to take in the beautiful goodness that he was desperate to believe existed; to tremble before the 'enormity of it alL' " And there's plenty of enormity in this book. We learn almost immediately that Edward will lose his own beloved 17-year-old son to a freak killing. "The sad event took place one evening, a few days before Christmas 1967, some six months before Robert was to enter the Franciscan order." The father around which this story is built is crushed by the sacrifice of his boy. "In his retirement and much slowed down, Ives still had days when he blamed his son's death on God's 'will.' God had timed things so that his murderer, his face scowling, came walking down the street just as his son and a friend were standing around talking. Pop, pop, pop, three shots in the belly." The story then spins backward to less sorrowful times. We find ourselves entranced, even as we examine the . Please see Page 12 BOOK REVIEW. LOS ANGELEST1ME, SUNDAY. DECEMBER 17, 1995 PAGE 3

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