Kasia Boddy

Kasia Boddy is a professor of US literature at Cambridge.

Are you still living? Counting Americans

Kasia Boddy, 19 October 2023

William Faulkner​’s story ‘Go Down, Moses’ begins with a lengthy description of a man. But it’s hard to get a handle on him. If the drapes, pleats and price of his suit are all ‘too much’, his face is ‘black, smooth, impenetrable’. The story elaborates on these details but also draws attention to the fact that they fail to interest his...

Donald Barthelme’s​ relationship with the New Yorker began in March 1963 and hasn’t ended yet, more than thirty years after his death. Every so often one of his stories pops up on the magazine’s monthly Fiction Podcast, in which writers are asked to choose a favourite piece from the archive to read and discuss. Many admit that they began their careers trying to emulate...

When I came to the writing of these poems I hadn’t written any for about two years. I’d been writing stories, and I didn’t know if I’d ever write any more poems. I felt writing poetry might have passed out of my life. I lamented that, but it didn’t seem as if there was anything I could consciously do about it. Then I went from Syracuse, New York out to Washington State, with the intention of writing fiction. In the house in Washington, after I had sat still for about a week, not writing at all, I wrote a poem one night. And the next morning I got up and wrote another poem, and before the day was over I had three poems. And I kept writing like this for, I think, 65 days. And I had a book – a full book. I had about a hundred and twenty poems – more than enough for a book. I quit writing then and went with Tess on a trip to South America. Then about three months later, back home again, I started writing poems once more. I wrote the rest of the poems that make up the book. In the space of about eighteen months – it was an extraordinary time – I wrote two hundred and fifty to three hundred poems. I’ve never had a time quite like it in my life. When I was writing these poems I was entirely happy. I could have died then, and I would have died happy. Then, for whatever reason, I stopped writing poems and went back to writing stories, and it is likely I have enough stories now for a new book. But I’ve started writing poems again recently! It’s a good time in my life right now. I’m writing stories, and I’m writing poems. When I began writing stories again, all the poems that are in this book seemed like nothing less than a great gift to me. It is a mystery to me now where they came from. But I began as a poet. My first publication was a poem. So I suppose on my tombstone I’d be very pleased if they put ‘poet gad short-story writer – and occasional essayist’. In that order.’

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