Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Now Reading: The Letters of Ted Hughes


In 1965, the poet Ted Hughes wrote a verse-drama titled Difficulties of a Bridegroom. His play was rejected for performance by Peter Hall, Director of the Arts Theatre in London, who found the manuscript to be "...characterized by 'over blown metaphors' that make everything seem rhetorical and empty."

Hughes wrote to Lucas Myers on December 10, 1965:

"My fault was to attend to the content etc. of the verse, rather than simply listen to characters whom I imagined real. That's the dilemma. The moment I begin to ripen up the writing, I lose sight & sound of an actual character speaking. When I simply listen to imagined characters, of course, they speak quite natural prose. But whereas the final effect of the former is artificial & literary, the final effect of the latter is real. The charm is to see and hear characters who seem real, yet who surprisingly speak in verse, or in something more stylized than prose. I think its probably better to put all the complications into the situation, & let the speech be what you hear. Late in life, when the brain shrinkage has shriveled everything into a mustard-seed, it will all happen together naturally."

I am enjoying Hughes' Letters. The reviews I have read suggest that Hughes spent too much time in his correspondence "explicating" his poetry and not enough time--what? I am actually not sure what he was supposed to do to make his letters more interesting--gossip?

The critics are wrong on this one. For the working poet--for the writer in any genre--this is a marvelous book.*

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*Ted Hughes, The Letters of Ted Hughes, Selected and Edited by Christopher Reid (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).

The portion of the letter quoted above is found on page 251.

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