Guy Davenport's Portrait of Jonathan Williams

726 Franklin Avenue
Lexington, Kentucky

Dear Jonathan Williams,

Check enclosed for a copy of Bucky's
Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization.

Guy Davenport

6 October 1963

The book was mailed on the 12th of November from Highlands, North Carolina. The following autumn Williams wrote Davenport a card congratulating him on his Archilochos translations. Then recently published in Arion magazine, they were to become the bedrock of JW's aesthetic. “I have your English postcard book on the table,” Davenport answered, “and thought about it ever so often this summer, in England. The Appalachian book sounds wonderful... Encouraging & cheering, your kindess in writing.” And the post-script to the letter from which I'm quoting: “Arion” the dolphin jockey, not Orion (as you put) the leopard stalker.”

Thus began the mutual precision and care of their correspondence, these Gentlemen of Letters. Hammers and tongs, this is Wotan's workshop, here we have two men, the perfection of whose craft has been wrought through the practise of letter-writing. And striking, the immense admiration and respect each holds for the other's work. And too, their differences of temper and element. Imagine Catullus writing to Heraclitus, or Fauré listening to Scott Joplin, Sherlock Holmes and Joel Chandler Harris dunking haver-cakes in chile.

So far their exchange covers nearly a quarter of this century, and almost any imaginable subject. Should I say "object"? Such is the clarity their sentences set forth. A remarkable combination, Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon interleaved with a Sears-Roebuck Wish-Book, the domestic detail and courtly gossip, an elegance of observation, complete with Jeffersonian vistas.

Thomas Meyer, from an introductory note

Highlands, North Carolina
Oct 24/64

Dear Guy Davenport,

I’ve been stumbling here and there on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and on the Great Smokies most of the time since you wrote in September. It’s all grist for my book, but Indian Summer in this part of the world needs no justification for time spent idling and looking.

That’s excellent news, that Miss Sappho comes next. I’ve enjoyed Mary Barnard’s version, and it will be very useful to have yours too.

I can’t seem to locate anything very cosmic on the Epigram. However, Ralph Sargent send me down a treasury of Aphorisms compiled by Logan Pearsall Smith. Ok, but not really what I need.

Recently I happened across a copy of Curled Wire Chronicle (1954), with a piece of yours on Christopher Middleton. That was quite a surprise. It must be about the first thing said about him critically, no? I met him through Roger Shattuck and got to be very friendly in London during the year I was there. And then he stopped off to spend a weekend last December en route back from a lecture in Austin. Now he’s reading the manuscripts for Longmans and is trying to force a book of my poems down their reluctant throats. (Actually, I seem to have more luck in London than in NYC. The Marlborough Gallery is going to publish my 40 MAHLER poems in a folio with 41 silk-screens by R.B. Kitaj. Their exotic idea is: 60 copies @ $1000.00 apiece. Well, I knew Lorenzo De Medici and the Jet/Set would make it back to town eventually.)

Once I cast 12 votes agin Senator Goat Bladder on the 3rd, I have to hop in the VW and make a poultry-reading circuit to 13 colleges, to keep some dollars trickling in and a little more paid to the printers. There are four new titles due right away? Zukofsky, Lowenfels, Sherwood Anderson, Ronald Johnson. I’ll send you more details once I have time to get a notice out.

Enjoy the Blue Grass and the Bourbon — I guess there’s not much else thereabouts? ... Have you ever run into a gent name of Hank Chapin (209 Clayton Ave., Georgetown, Ky)? He has a mag called (you guessed it) Blue Grass, but, also he’s published a little book of Zukofsky’s Found Objects, and from the littl? correspondence I’ve had, he sounds amiable. Must teach at some cow college. Make that hoss.

Jonathan Williams

Highlands, North Carolina
November 1/64

Dear Guy,

Very enjoyable, having your letter now that my eyes are back in focus and I have only one head after last evening’s liquid indiscretions. The British consul from Atlanta was up an evening with friends and I drank three times as much of the wine of his country as I needed. So, I woke around about 1 p.m. bunched on lembas that I have the elves deliver three times a week and put under the catawba rhododendron at the back door, and sat dazedly as the Redskins conquered the Eagles and showed off the talents of the Messrs Jurgensen, Mitchell, Atkins, and Taylor.

I went to an exhibition in Atlanta the other day by a naturalist/watercolourist who seems to be backed by a foundation of business men in Louisville, à la Cassius Clay. Name of Ray Harm — one can’t forget it since it appears painted rather blackly and centrally in all his empty skies. Worth looking at, certainly, but accurate to the point of tedium. But, that degree of accuracy is rare enough I suppose and one probably shouldn’t cry for Art at all turns. Too much Art in Audubon. I guess the only man who ever balanced the two, ornithologically, was Louis Agassiz Fuertes? Mr Harm, who has a son named Happy Harm (ugh), doesn’t live in Lexington, however, so I can’t recommend his conversation to you. I do, though, think of Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Do you know his photographs? Some of them are very spooky indeed — kids playing arcane games with dolls and American flags in the attics of decayed houses, etc. He, himself, is quite amiable but I’ve only met him once. Went over late one night after dinner with the Victor Hammers and looked at about 1000 mounted prints. That was 1961.

My stalwart anthracite-gray Beatle is going to carry me far and wide these next 7 months, and it is good of you to suggest that Lexington be one of its watering places. Not that it needs water — it’s me that needs bourbon. Anyway, the trip beginning right now takes me first to St Louis and then I don’t really get within range of U of Ky for the remaining six weeks of apple-planting. January I’ll make New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas (i.e., some people would read anywhere!) and the U of NM, on the way to Carmel Highlands, which is going to be base for three months. If nothing else, it’s good for tennis and the weather is too good to be bearable. March holds about nine chortlings up in the Northwest. Then, my furturistic plans tell me that on April 19th I point the Beatle for Utah and points east. Trying to line up this circuit: U of Utah, Aspen (gratis, since the Institute has been very fine to me), Colorado College at Fort Collins, Kansas City U (where Hesiod-Ed Dahlberg will be snarling on campus for a few memorable months), Washington U (if Don Finkel is about still), Northwestern, and U of Illinois. So, from Champaign I see no reason at all why I couldn’t head for Lexington. Might arrive circa May 8th, a Saturday, and we could devote the weekend to talk. Then the 10th and 11th for a thing or two on campus. Does that sound plausible? I tell you, the head of the Art Department, whom you must know, is a friendly soul. He might be interested in my books and slides, etc., in connection with their work in design, etc. Anyway, I enclose a few of my tedious self-advertising brochures, just to give a few possibilities and (I hope) a few qualifications that make sense to them’uns who tend the groves of academia.

It’s good to hear that you had Stan the Man down for a session. He’s a live one. We’ve been friendly by letter for many years, but haven’t met but once. That was in Denver one night at a private gathering where he was showing films and I was reading poems. I remember I made him a little hot when I announced that many of the top executives at th Aspen seminars were a hell of a lot more capable and sensitive citizens than 90% of the poets I knew. Ah well. I feel about him a bit like I do about Cage? I seldom ‘like’ anything they make but I keep looking and listening, and I like each very much in his person. My movie taste is totally depraved anyway. The last two films I really went for were Mr Hulot’s Holiday and Beat the Devil, and I preferred A Hard Day’s Night to anything I’ve seen by Resnais or Antonionionionionioni, or Berman either, except for Smiles of a Summer’s Night. Well, let’s leave the movies lest I become as perceptive as Ike trying to figure out what the Walter Jenkins Case was all about.

Your references to the rings of power elicit a copy of my In England’s Green &, with my compliments, wherein you will find a Mathom for JRRT. I spent a delightful afternoon in his study in Oxford, and he wrote a superb page of Hobbit tongue in my holograph book ... While I’m about it, I’ll add also a little Samuel

Palmer poem and some of my more down-country measured irascibilities.

You sound as though your thousand-dollar bills are being put to very fine uses — don’t worry about my MAHLER. I’ve the right to print them in a normal edition three years after the Marlborough’s madness is published and gobbled up by the blind and loaded.

Of course you whet my appetite with word of the press in Harvard. You’ve got a very distinguished series going, and I’d only be too glad to submit something for consideration. It can’t be Mahler poems since the Gallery controls those rights. But, it can be maybe four of my “Jargonelles From the Herbalist’s Notebook,” i.e., the curious little creations for the Appalachian book. I am having a typographer in NYC work on 10 of them at the moment. So, when he mails the proofs out to me somewhere on the poultry-circuit, I’ll shoot them down to you. I have 4 that are about coons, pileated woodpeckers, bears, and ants — they might make a nice little group ... By the way, one Jargonelle is entitled “The Fragments of Chief Lacoonah,” and voices its inspiration and apologies to your Archilochos.

I share your enthusiasm for the gingko, but having trod on so many of the dioecious mothers at Haverford, in DC, and in Charlottesville, I will plant my sacred grove on a hill somewhat away from the house. I guess my native, local favorite would have to be the sourwood. Though, when you really think of it, our old friend Cornus Florida is very damn hard to equal at any season of the year.

So, I’m out of space. Jargonelles soon, and many thanks for asking to see something.


[Washington, DC] Union Capital (in transit)
December 6, 1964

Dear Guy,

Your invitation for Jack Daniels and turnip greens is hereby accepted for Maytime. Fee enough, though it’s really too bad we won’t be able to take some of the University’s money. Well, perhaps after my second sojourn amongst Palmerish hills of central Wales.

I enclose the original typescript (and a carbon for you to hold) of 4 JARGONELLES FROM THE HERBALIST’S NOTEBOOK — in the hope that you are madly bemused by it and rush it via mercurial sandals to the minions of the Lowell Press. Tell them if they don’t like it, they are dolts, knaves, and as illiterate as Princetonians.

Ran into Willis Barnstone in Bloomington, Indiana. He seems to be doing Miss Sap-Foe’s fragments also. Wills is an amiable man, but his own work has yet to convince me he could write his way out of a paper bag. So, you’ve little to fear from that quarter. Now if Pussy Galore, the distinguished English Lebesarian, essays a translation, then that’s another matter.

Also met one John Dimoff at a party at Don Hall’s in Ann Arbor, and he mentioned it twas Michigan that was publishing your book. Very good.

Ok. Have to bat across DC for a dinner and get some decent sleep so I can operate at something normal energy tomorrow. Big reading at my old prep-school, St. Albans, and people of all sorts coming in for it, including Bucky Fuller, Walt Rostow, and Reed Whittemore, to drop a few convenient names. Onword! I’ll be home December 16-26, so let me know how the Jargonelles strike you, if you have a minute.


PS/ I mailed you a Sherwood Anderson/Art Sinsabaugh opus from Chicago, and hope it made it through the mails. The Midwest never had it so good ...

20 (en route) Biloxi, Godhepusmississippi
Jan 2/65

Dear Guy,

Just a note from the wilderness. I’m recuperating from the inevitable Virus I get when I visit Msssipppiii. Must be the oysters? More probably the sheriffs.

Pleased you like the Jargonelles and the Anderson/Sinsabaugh. More reaction to the latter than to anything I’ve ever published — which just goes to show, as if we needed proof, that few people are reading anything ever.

Sorry that Charlottesville wasn’t the time or place. I didn’t want to intrude on HK’s miseries. I was there a Thursday night (Dec 10th) and Friday until after lunch. The burial was probably that day.

On to New Orleans briefly this weekend to check in on Clarence John Laughlin and on to Tim Reynolds. Then on to Roger Shattuck Land, Creeley Land, Eliot Porter Land, and Fred Sommer Land. Good to mix poets with photographers.

As for our get-together in old Lexington this spring, mark down May 3-4 in your book. Ron Johnson and I would be driving from Bloomington on the morning of the 3rd, then drive on for Charlottesville on the morning of the 5th. Have a month’s exhibition of books there (following Reed and Southern Illinois U), and a reading on the 6th, courtesy of the School of Architecture; viz., like never courtesy that bloody English Department. Surely HK won’t be staying?

If you’re out of session, why don’t you plan to join a small safari setting out from Cade’s Cove on Saturday May 15th for about a week of hiking, photographing, bird-watching, and botanizing? Besides Ron, Lyle Bongé (Mississippi’s Meanest Motherfucking Photografter) and wife Sonia are all set for the trek. Come along, and bring a friend if you wish. We’ll do the A.T.* from Gregory’s Bald up to LeConte, with some side trails — which in the Smokies are often better than the A.T.; i.e., particularly because of the spring flowers and variation of altitudes on the side trails.

So, suh, on to the West. Keep well and say hello to Jack Daniels and the boys. Onword!


Pullman (alias Nowhere), Wash.
March 21/65

Dear Ginkgophile,

I don’t seem to have heard from you of late, but maybe I just thought I wrote you (I suffer from a baleful habit of composing poems and epistles as I steer the Volkswagen, then forgetting to type them later)?

Anyway, you missed some rather cosmic petrified trees yesterday, on the banks of the great Columbia River in central Washington.

Dr Johnson and I are cooling it in the Hilltop Motel today, catching up on letters, drinking beer, and watching Cincinnati Vs Boston and Herr Leinsdorf and the BSO do the Mahler First on tv. Tonight we have to chortle with the English and Art Faculties here at Washington State Univ., and tomorrow I have numerous labors to perform to permit me to pick up their menial check. Zounds! the distances one travels for this bloody Muse named Mnemosyne. [...]

Hugh K wrote before leaving for Ez Country, and sez he liked Ron’s book, its ‘wildflower lyricism,’ etc. I think you will too ... And, I’m getting up an appetite to see Flowers and Leaves.

We’ll get to Lexington by noon on May 3rd, and hope to find all vernal and ebullient ... Met Mary Barnard in Portland recently and will tell you about that. Meantime, ONWORD!


Carmel, Caliph
March 28/65

Dear Guy,

My snarling sounds in the Asphodel newsletter were not meant to discourage the dichter von Flour and Leafmould.* Notatall! So, get thee a copy in order for me to peruse when we’unses arrive on Franklin Avenue on May 3rd. I trust you’ll have your dogwoods going crazy like white folks.

Dr Johnson and I have returned from the Vast Northwest where we ran the usual errands for Great Mnemosyne. That country is glorious but pole-tree reading there is the aesthetic equivalent of yelling down a very dry well in a very wet rain forest.

I am listening to something wonderful turned out by your local boys, the Louisville Symphony. Namely: Lou-621, which is Lou Harrison’s Suite for Symphonic Strings, plus a little bit of Mr Ives. Oi veh, it’s a lovely work, probably the most so since Mr Dvorak penned a couple suites ... Visited Lou in Aptos [California] the other night. He keeps knocking out these great things and nobody sez nuthin. Whew. Well, use that money you were going to devote to poor old Jargon and buy LH. Today! ONWORD!


c/o Doner, Box 98, Route 1, Carmel, Caliph
April 4/65

Dear Guy,

I have Mr Getz and Mr Gilberto on the stereo playing me “Desafinado” and other pleasures. The night is young, etc. The bourbon is full, etc.

Well, anyway, to get you off a brief epistle before I answer a rancorous letter or two from the likes of several literary fatheads: Mr Dahlberg, Mr Patchen, Miss Levertov. God, what a shit-eating task it is, trying to publish poets. In the Next Life I’m going to be a pro-tennis player and get miles of California ass.

Well, anyway (again), the Dr Johnson I refer to is Dr Ronald Johnson, author of ALOPAROT [A Line of Poetry, A row of Trees] and other verbal delights you will see when Longmans and Wild Hawthorn release them. Friend Ronald is my, to quote Robt Duncan, ‘companion in life,’ a great cook, and most handy around the house, etc. We intend to land at 726 circa noon Monday May 3rd. Ok? Get the hushpuppies frying. Why don’t you make the safari to Charlottesville on the 5th. We can have a great get-together with Sir Hugh; then, after the reading on the 6th, go up to Upperville, Virginia for the weekend. An old school chum of mine, Willis Van Devanter, is curator of Paul Mellon’s library, so we look forward to seeing all the glories of the collection and living in splendor for two days. You’d be welcome indeed.

I’ll remember about celery in ancient Greece. I wonder if Mary Barnard knows that? Meantime, I am pre-occupied with a poem about a man with a pile-driving ass and a hoe-handled hard-on. Ah, the American lang-witch ...

Berlioz, yez. I too am a Believer. I have been to his grave at Pére Lachaise or however you spell that frog necropolis. I was too hungover to pay proper attention, full of lusts and despondency over a ravishing U of Va gent who'd turned me down for a rich international lawyer. Who likes poets? Lesbia? who cares?

Looks like we'll have to miss Pippa Passes, damn it; not to mention Drift, Hi Hat, Mouthcard, Rowdy, Dingus, Decoy, Vest, Dwarf, Hardshell, Canoe, Wolf Coal, Blue Diamond, and Pomp. God, the deprivation of it all! Check them out for us. Full many a deflowered flower was born to blush, unseen by voyageurs and voyeurs, etc ...

Ok, Colonel, the Jim Beam is getting to me. Time for a sitz bath. Onword! [...]