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Friday, March 09, 2007

Byways


I hadn't heard of James Laughlin, the poet and founder of New Directions, until I read a recent piece about him in the New York Review of Books. None of the libraries in our 76-library consortium have the new book (The Way it Wasn't) yet, but I was able to get a copy of Byways, his memoir in verse, which I'm enjoying very much. You can hear an interview with Laughlin here, where he also reads some of the poems. Highly approachable, not at all formidable, the book consists simply of the late-life ruminations of a man who rubbed shoulders with most of the literary geniuses of the twentieth century.
Another thing: Laughlin was born in Pittsburgh in 1914; my mother was born near there in the previous year. When Laughlin talks about seeing a girl who was Vassar-bound the summer before he himself left for Harvard, I can't help but think it was probably someone Mom would have known there. Or not. Still, I know their worlds must have overlapped to some degree, particularly in the earlier years, and that in reading the details of this life I'm adding to my understanding of my own family. Isn't this a big part of why we read anyway?

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