Features / In Their Own Words

IN HIS OWN WORDS: W.M. Spackman

In Monday’s essay on the work of W.M. Spackman, Nicki Leone discusses an interesting quandary: How do you reconcile your feelings when you love an author’s writing, but not necessarily what he’s writing about? The answer hinges on her appreciation of his style. Spackman’s novels offer portraits of a very specific time and place: the U.S., post-Jazz Age and pre-feminism, which may or may not appeal to every reader. But his prose is a delight, she advises us—here, then, are some examples, to speak for themselves:

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“A professor of literature is not so much trained to look at what he is reading as to find things to say about it.” —from On the Decay of Humanism (Rutgers University Press, 1967)


Heyday W.M. Spackman“For worst perhaps of all was the loneliness of man. Through the echoing corridors of how many stately buildings, in what squalid bars, had Mike not heard the voices of his classmates break with their subtle accent of terror and humiliation, to glide with a faltering modulation beyond his ear? We’ve cut personnel to the bone and past, Mike; and even not. I may as well tell you, Mike, put it frankly in fact, two weeks from tomorrow. They’re closing us down, fella, no kidding, they’re just plain closing us down.”

—from Heyday


Proem to an Unwritten Epic (a parody of Byron’s Don Juan)

However. Here’s the issue as I find it: —
Byron would make you think the mischief’s done
By lovers half-tongue-tied and seven-eighths blinded;
Neither of them you’d swear, is having fun;
The lady, if not downright absent-minded,
Never seems conscious quite what’s going on
(In fact the situation’s so abused
I’m never sure she knows she’s being seduced).

—Twenty-five Years of It (privately published, 1967)


“We spent the first night at Harper’s Ferry; and it was near there, as it turned out, that we found the only likely-looking place of the whole trip, the very next afternoon, on the wooded bluffs along the Shenandoah. What I remember chiefly, however, was the drive south, through the lovely hazy sunlight and bloom of spring. It affected me strangely. To my surprise (or was it really to my surprise?) I found myself thinking back with a curious and almost caressing insistence to the countryside our route to Harper’s Ferry had led us through—the towns we passed into and out of in the green, rolling, peaceful, back-Maryland afternoon, drowsy and still in the early stirrings of spring; the glistening green blades of the reeds in the marshes, the names we had seen on bridges over streams: Leg Creek, Bynum Run; names I supposed of some unknown but loved and honorable history. There had been a bare wooden sign that had in some irrational way moved me deeply, at the edge of an alder thicket by the highway, weather-whitened against the clustering emerald newness of the leaves:

GIVE GOD YOUR HEART

I had felt, I realized, some tender but unrecognizable emotion when I saw it first; and I felt it later too, running the phrase over in my mind, seeing it again in my memory, faded red letters on a bleached sign. At more than one maple-shaded graveyard with its low white wall and springy turf, I had almost suggested to the others that we stop for a moment and wander among the headstones: I would have liked,  do not know why, to scrutinize the perhaps familiar names; I even had the unexpected fancy that I might come upon my own.”

—from Heyday


armful_of_warm_girl“What is this business of homilies anyhow but mankind’s fatuous and age-old yearning for the Book of Answers! There never had been answers; never would be; merely a linguistic mistake of Greek philosophy’s we’d taken over, that if the word existed the thing it denoted existed too. Why, the only serious desiderata for a normal Indo-European are a pretty girl within grabbing range, a dazing drink, and somebody to knock down.”

—from An Armful of Warm Girl


“. . . the typical first novel . . . tends to be naturally gloomy and emotionally out of balance / Sto sospirando o lagrimando vado / and so forth. But second novels are noticeably different if the writer is artist enough to see that every new book calls for a new form, and perhaps style, as much as for a new topic.”

—from On the Decay of Humanism


“Heyday is among other things an elegy upon the immemorial loneliness of man; a statement too about its causes (varied) and customary cure (someone charming to hold one’s hand).”

—from Heyday, author’s note to the 1953 edition


” . . . the Class of 1927 was perhaps the last generation brought up in those traditions of moral competence and severe pride in the individual which progressive education and the welfare state have nearly stamped out by now forever.”

—from Heyday, author’s note


“Answers he would admit would be very cosy: if everybody could for example find out how everybody else felt, by running one of these beef-witted opinion surveys on it, then everybody might temporarily be less uneasy about how they felt themselves.”

—from An Armful of Warm Girl


“And what a conception of Man! For fancy ‘happiness’ as a goal for a being whose immemorial ambience is catastrophe! Here we’d been, since the dawn of history, stumbling onward and upward, as if that were the right direction, dodging the endless thunderbolts (le bon Dieu, si archaïsant) and now here came psychiatry to ‘adjust’ us to being knocked sprawling!”

—from An Armful of Warm Girl


“What he’d first thought of feeding his Victoria was an early-summer lunch out of Paul Reboux: a cool gazpacho, then a little glazed crème de cervelle (which, as he wouldn’t inform her was cervelle, she’d love), followed by a pink-fleshed lake trout garnished in two shades of green, viz., artichoke hearts and green mayonnaise, and end with a vanilla ice gleaming with slivers of almond and slivers of truffles. But then he remembered she made a tiresome fuss at truffles, which she held were not merely orated but rubbery, so after trying in vain to find frais de bois he had just this cherry tart with a crème aux marrons piped onto it in rococo swags.

That then was what she arrived looking lovely to eat.”

—from An Armful of Warm Girl


“Sometimes, in my apartment, I would want her, in a sudden gust of sheer exasperation at any one of a number of lost and irrecoverable occasions when we might so easily have made love with complete satisfaction to (I would tell myself) everybody concerned. But mostly I wanted little more than to loll, say, with my head in her lap and hear her chiming voice, while her fingers made affectionate ringlets in my hair or fed me my cigarette.”

—from Heyday

Click here to read Nicki Leone’s feature on W.M. Spackman.

Bloom Post End

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