Tuesday Poem: homage to Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is presently – and unusually – in England; as far as I know she seldom travels far from Baltimore. She gave a talk at the Oxford Literary Festival yesterday and that’s utterly unusual; almost unknown. Anne Tyler never attends conferences or festivals. She never gives talks. As far as I know she’s given only two interviews in her entire working life. In the second, given recently to National Public Radio in America, she said: “I did do one [a face to face broadcast interview] about 35 years ago. I don’t have that much to say, so I figure about every 35 years will do, right?”

Well, Ms Tyler, I wouldn’t say ‘right’ but I would say, ‘better than nothing’. I couldn’t go to the Oxford Festival to hear her speak but a dear friend went and promises to give me a complete, in-depth and definitive account including hand gestures and a note about handbags, if any: meantime he says this: “You simply have to know, right here and now, that Anne Tyler has two poems on the walls of her study: ‘Walking To Sleep’ by Richard Wilbur. And an Updike poem about writing a novel.”

If anyone reading this loves Anne Tyler’s work as much as I do, and is waiting as impatiently for the release of her new novel (‘The Beginner’s Goodbye’, published in the UK tomorrow) then you might be interested in the NPR interview.

And those poems on her study wall? Well, I can’t give you the whole of Richard Wilbur’s poem because I haven’t had time to seek his permission, but it’s a magnificent poem and especially wonderful for a writer’s wall. So here are the first few lines, and a link to the rest of it on the web.

Walking to Sleep
by Richard Wilbur

As a queen sits down, knowing that a chair will be there,
Or a general raises his hand and is given the
Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind.
Something will come to you. Although at first
You nod through nothing like a fogbound prow,
Gravel will breed in the margins of your gaze,
Perhaps with tussocks or a dusty flower,
And, humped like dolphins playing in the bow-wave,
Hills will suggest themselves. All such suggestions
Are yours to take or leave, but hear this warning:
Let them not be too velvet green, the fields
Which the deft needle of your eye appoints,
Nor the old farm past which you make your way
Too shady-linteled, too instinct with home.

And the John Updike poem? I have, I think, all his published poetry, so unless he wrote it privately for Ms Tyler, and nothing would surprise me there, I ought to be able to track it down. That rustling noise you can hear is me skimming the pages of John Updike’s poetry collections. Watch this space.

And while you’re waiting you might like to check out the rest of the Tuesday Poems this week (lots of them will be up already – it’s run from New Zealand where it’s already been Tuesday for five hours). And the Tuesday Poem community are embarking on another communal poem to celebrate the site’s second birthday, and members have been assigned rostered lines to write and post – roughly one every 12 hours. You can watch it grow!

7 Responses to “Tuesday Poem: homage to Anne Tyler”

  1. admin Says:

    And the same dear friend who has promised a full report on the Oxford session has emailed with further news:-

    “The Updike poem’s title is ‘Marching Through a Novel’

    It begins:

    Marching Through a Novel
    Each morning my characters
    greet me with misty faces
    willing, though chilled, to muster
    for another day’s progress
    through the dazzling quicksand,
    the marsh of blank paper.

    So now we know.”

    So no urgent need for more rustling through my Updike poetry collection.

  2. Elizabeth Welsh Says:

    Belinda, I enjoy Anne Tyler’s work – I’d love to hear a full report about the Oxford session with her. And I absolutely love John Updike. I particularly relish his short stories. I’ll have to read some more of his poetry again :) I am not particularly well acquainted with Richard Wilbur, so I really enjoyed this snippet – loved the ‘you nod through nothing like a fogbound prow’ – I know that feeling!

  3. admin Says:

    I should have guessed that you liked Anne Tyler and loved John Updike – we have a lot of other preferences in common in our literary tastes, too! I also love Updike’s short stories, but I think his poetry is the absolute best of all. And do you read the NYer? If not, I must share sometime with you the wonderful Updike anecdote Roger Angell told after Updike’s death. And, don’t you love Updike’s “marsh of blank paper” from his poem?

  4. Lucille Says:

    What a co-incidence. I have just been reading through my Anne Tylers – Breathing Lessons last week and now Ladder of Years. I have no idea what made me pluck her off the shelf where she has languished for far too long, but what a treat. And I even recommended her to another blogger who was asking for new ideas. So now I can’t wait to hear more about her. And there’s a new title coming. My cup runneth over!

  5. admin Says:

    There must have been something in the air, don’t you think? And yes! A new one! What a wonderful new treat we are about to enjoy!

  6. Michelle Elvy Says:

    So interesting to hear what people put on their walls — thanks for posting this part of the Wilbur poem and also the Updike. I grew up reading Updike, in Annapolis, just down the road from Baltimore, and I lived in Baltimore several years back. I should probably read some Anne Tyler — my mother tells me she captures the place very well indeed. You’ve made me think this would be a very good idea! Thanks for this post.

  7. admin Says:

    My study walls don’t have room for the Wilbur poem as well as the Updike – but as a friend of mine says, if one of your novels is made into a major film and you win the Pulitzer you could probably have a wall specially built that WAS big enough! Thanks for posting – I rather envy you all those Tyler novels waiting to be read.

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