Poem: ‘Homage to Greta Garbo’
Vol. 26 No. 18 · 23 September 2004
I know poems are not arguments, but John Burnside’s poem (LRB, 2 September) in homage to Greta Garbo was lovely enough to count as a good argument. The speaker wakes up to find swallows etching his walls with shadow, and captures a big thing or two about solitariness, if that’s not too juicy a word for loneliness. Garbo, of course, very much wanted to be alone, but there are some quite specific things to be said about her walls too, the ones of the Sutton Place apartment she occupied for years in New York. In one of his ditties, Truman Capote swears (I know, I know, but when it comes to good stories I think it’s a case of any port in a storm) that Garbo’s walls were hung with Picassos. ‘The only problem was,’ he said, ‘they were upside down.’ When pressed, Capote recalled they were pictures from the funny period, two faces and so on, a detail which suits Capote rather well when you think of it. Anyhow, he was backed up. A few other people have sworn that Garbo’s Picassos were upside down. This adds nothing at all to Burnside’s poem, but it might occasionally help him (and the rest of us) out of our blue period.