Mason & Seidel


From a recent piece in the New York Times

One night after Christmas last year, in a dark, well-upholstered restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the American poet Frederick Seidel, an elegant man of 73 with an uncommonly courtly manner, told me a story about poetry’s power to disturb. “It was years ago,” Seidel explained in his measured voice, “in the days when I had an answering machine. I’d left my apartment, briefly, to go outside to get something, and when I came back there was a message. When I played it, there was a woman’s voice, a young woman’s voice sounding deeply aroused, saying: ‘Frederick Seidel . . . Frederick Seidel . . . you think you’re going to live. You think you’re going to live. But you’re not. You’re not going to live. You’re not going to live. . . .’ All this extraordinary, suggestive heavy breathing, getting, in the tone of it, more and more intensely sexual, more gruesome, and then this sort of explosion of sound from this woman, and: ‘You’re . . . not . . . going . . . to . . . live.’ ”

Wyatt Mason, the author of the piece, writes a very fine blog for Harpers (which also has a fun piece on Seidel that casually bashes Garrison Keillor). I first came across Mason’s work in the LRB, where he wrote an article about DFW, in which he expressed doubts about the level of patience and close reading required to fully appreciate the stories in Oblivion, DFW’s last collection. Though he did not doubt the quality of the pieces, in his opinion an average, literate reader could be forgiven for being unwilling to make the considerable effort required. At the time I disagreed with him, perhaps in the belief that this made me more than an average reader. The fact that DFW’s last few published pieces (particularly Good People in the New Yorker) seemed to eschew such tricks or puzzles suggest that DFW had become aware of the diminishing returns of such forms.

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