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Guy Davenport, Lexington, KY
photograph by Jonathan Williams

FAREWELL TO MY ONE AND ONLY KISSIN’ COUSIN:
GUY MATTISON DAVENPORT, JR.
Kissin’ Cousins are a rare invention of the American South. They are allowed to “hug your neck” at family gatherings, and possibly kiss your ear. Not very erotic stuff, but it seems important in order to proclaim the rest of the familial cousins as dung beetles, beyond all hope. The “Sensitives” write 10,000 first novels a year about this kind of stuff in both South Carolina and Mississippi. The South fidgets and throbs.
 
It’s fascinating that Guy Davenport, as refined as they come, came from an artless town in Upper South Carolina named Anderson. His father worked for Railway Express. Maybe this is why he never learned to be a host or a guest, why he kept his own company and sat in the parlor after a slap-up breakfast of a peanut butter sandwich on light bread and a cup of instant coffee? Did he have little social ease until he arrived at Oxford University and met remarkable friends like Christopher Middleton, who would not know much of the class-ridden lore of Anderson, South Carolina? He may have worried about being seen as “putting on airs” his whole life. Did he have a sign in his front yard that said CULTURE HERMIT: No Unannounced Visitors Permitted? I ask these vexing questions as a “Tarheel” from the Great State of North Carolina, just up the road from Anderson.
 
Anyway, I met Guy in 1964 at Haverford College, after a reading of mine. By 1969 he was my principal colleague. He already knew more about my poetry than I ever did. I would drive to Lexington, Kentucky to one of his monastic abodes (no television, no coffee beans) and hear him tell a few friends and students that I was “a master of the vernacular windfall.” And that my poetry was always “peripatetic, paratactic, and cathectic...” Being a seasoned hiker, I knew what the first term meant. The other two always bemused me. One whispered “gee whiz.”
 
 We wrote hundreds of letters over the years and, clearly, loved each other’s prose style. Last year Green Shade Press in Haverford, PA, published “A Garden Carried in a Pocket,” a selection of letters from GD and JW, dated 1964-68. Let me quote the last one from GD:
 
Die fasti St Bridget, Veuve [October 8] 1968
 
Et alors, mon bon bougre,
 
I God, a very Gomorry on wheels! You lead the most exciting life I know of, and complain more about it than any two well-off bastards in the running. I am glad to hear you sound like your old self, though I never hearn of no Jonathan with two Davids.
 
Top of this letter is an allusion to that wonderful novel, The SotWeed Factor, in which Ebenezer Cooke, “poet and virgin,” is about to be raped by a buncher sailors (they have him tied across a table in the fo’c’sle; he is saved by a raiding party of pirates, one of whom strides into the scene and says, “I God, this here ship’s a very floatin’ Gomorry!”
 
Have come down with the flu since inditing the above. [...]. The mail yestiddy brought a letter from Sam Beckett! asked to see Sappho and Arky. I sag with fatigue. Blessings.
 
Guy
 
Guy once moaned to Hugh Kenner that “Living in Kentucky is like living in the Balkans.” The world is full of eggheads, philistines, and dummies, whether you live in Lexington, Kentucky, Mokra Gora, Kosovo, or the suburbs of Tophet.
 
Someone told me a very funny anecdote, which I’ve turned into one of my “meta-fours”:
i love the story
of when the young
belle of the blue
grass who had just
barely survived his course
on ancient civilizations came
up to professor davenport
during a cocktail party
at one of the
horse farms outside lexington
and said professor davenport
you’re the most over-educated
man i’ve ever met
Nietzsche, on target as usual, once said ” There is a laughter in the mind.” Guy Davenport would laugh at that little tale. The first person he’ll tell it to is Ezra Pound, who’ll tell it to Basil Bunting, who’ll tell it to Hugh Kenner. One thing you need in Elysium is jokes.

JONATHAN WILLIAMS

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