Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Penelope Shuttle

I'm still working away in the archives. I'm really loving it, especially today when I was cataloguing lots of issues of Elaine Feinstein's magazine from the 50s/60s: Prospect. It is my new favourite magazine, it had such great stuff in it, I wish I lived in a time full of that sort of stuff.

In the same box as the copies of Prospect was an issue of another magazine of the same era called Bananas. It's quite a rubbish name I think, and very misleading in that way because the work it contains is powerful and incredible. Bananas is one of those things that makes me entirely rethink the way I connect people in my head - associate editors include Elaine Feinstein, JG Ballard and Angela Carter. I can't quite imagine how they came to work on the same magazine.

The issue of Bananas I was reading was 'The Russian Issue', which contained too much good stuff to mention. I will just describe two absolutely great things I found in it:
- Marina Tsvetaeva's letters to Pasternak. He famously lost her letters (which were part of a rather unusual correspondence between those two and Rilke, none of whom really knew each other in real life, but they were very intimate in their letters), but thankfully she had drafts of them. The few letters that were in Bananas were beautiful and have made me desperate to get the full book of their correspondence. One part was just so wonderful I had to write it down:
'My dear Pasternak,
My favourite mode of communication is in the world beyond: a dream, to see somebody in a dream.
My second favourite is correspondence. A letter is, as a form of other-worldly communication, less perfect than a dream, but the rules are the same.
Neither can be ordered. We dream and write not as we want, but as they want. A letter has to be written; a dream has to be seen.'
She goes on to say that for this reason he should never feel guilty if he's slow in his response.
- A story by Ted Hughes (which seemed to have nothing to do with the Russian theme of the issue) called 'The Head'. It starts out with a line about his mad wife and I thought it was autobiographical, but then it went on to describe a trip to the woods with very scary results that are definitely fictional. It's not the sort of story I'd go looking for, but I loved it, perhaps even more because it surprised me and sucked me in despite me not really looking for it.

The other wonderful thing that happened today was that Penelope Shuttle came to visit the library. Strangely enough, I had just been reading an advert for a novel of hers in the issue of Bananas that dated all the way back to 1978. She had heard about the sonnet exhibition and wanted to visit it. And since she is a friend of Elaine Feinstein's, Stella thought that she might be interested in seeing the archive I'm working on and talking to me about it. Penelope Shuttle has the most wonderful presence, and it was almost like a part of the archive had gathered up its strength and appeared in corporeal form. It wasn't just that which was pleasing though, meeting Penelope Shuttle was wonderful in itself. She was so genuinely interested in everything I was doing and she asked just the right questions to make me feel comfortable and knowledgeable.

I can't believe that my work with the archive finishes on Friday. I really don't want to leave. Though now I'm a reader at the John Rylands I don't really have to leave, I can come and go as I please and read all the lovely archives every single day.

Oh, also, in my researchy travels I found this interesting interview with Elaine Feinstein conducted by Michael Schmidt, if you want to know more about Elaine. If you want to know more about Michael then you'll have to google him because he has just done too much interesting stuff to mention.

1 comment:

  1. You can hear my mother Elaine Feinstein reading some of her poetry on her web page at http://www.elainefeinstein.com/mp3
    Best wishes,
    Joel Feinstein