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The Aspern Papers… Spicer’s, Schwartz’s, Kafka’s – and yours?
“After Jack Spicer’s untimely death at the age of forty in 1965, the contents of his apartment were packed into boxes…” Dunno about you, but I know what would happen to the contents of my place, should it all end up in boxes! Just think how much we owe to the removal and serendipitous rediscovery of what used, not very charmingly, to be called a writer’s “remains.”
Virgil’s never-completed Aeneid was famously preserved against his wishes. Emily Dickinson wanted her letters destroyed, and many were – yet her poems and lots of the letters survived, anyway. And in one of my favorite examples, Robert Philips tells how it’s a miracle that Delmore Schwartz’s papers were, unlike the poet himself, saved: When D.S. had to leave his N.Y.C. apartment, the landlord hired a moving company to cart them all away. But it turns out that the moving man had liked Schwartz, and used to go drinking with him at the White Horse Tavern – so he didn’t trash the boxes, as he’d been told to do. Years later, after Delmore’s death, the mover was drinking in another Village bar with a guy who turned out to be Dwight Macdonald’s son, and said to him, “Your father’s a literary man. Do you think he’d be interested in Delmore Schwartz manuscripts? I’ve got boxes of them.” The answer: Dad would be – because he was Schwartz’s literary executor!
And just in the last few days, there’s been much media coverage of Franz Kafka’s great lost kartons. K. instructed that his papers be burned upon his death, yet his secretary Max Brod chose to ignore this. As it happens, Brod himself had a secretary, Esther Hoffe, who refused all requests for 40 years to examine the never-published Kafka papers he left to her; now that Hoffe has died, the whole world is waiting to see what her daughters will do with whatever the cats, moths, damp, and time’s other demons haven’t consumed. It’s Kafkaesque.
Well, as Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian put it in their introduction to our Jack Spicer portfolio in the July/August issue of Poetry, those boxes of Spicer’s work “became, in effect, a time capsule, containing Spicer’s prescriptions, paperback books, unopened mail, student papers, a calling card, artwork, and other miscellany along with notebooks and manuscript pages.” It’s from these materials that Gizzi has assembled the selection of poems and letters you’ll find in the issue.
Shades of The Aspern Papers… Mark your boxes carefully and choose your executors (and movers) wisely!