27 October 2012

Carl Djerassi Doesn't Need My Money; Press Probably Not Sneezing, Though

Ecco Djerassi.
I went to the Carl Djerassi reading October 25. I was sorely tempted to just call it a night because it had gotten terribly cold, but I'm glad I acted the hardy soul. For poetry!

Carl Djerassi got his PhD at Wisconsin and, consequently, invented the pill. Hats off to him. His life is so interesting. He escaped Nazi Germany and ended up marrying Diane Middlebrook, the woman who wrote the biography of the Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes marriage Her Husband. I was understandably dazzled.

Reader, I bought Djerassi's book. It's bilingual in German--and I was fascinated by his description of working with a translator. Skype! Of course! Though, that didn't go so well, he said, and they fell back upon email. (A story I have in mind involves a translator--and I'd thought of Skype, actually. So, I'm "researching." And I did ask him about his experience working with a translator. And I did take two semesters of German translation as an undergrad and do have fond memories of it.)

I was also interested in the theme of vulnerability. I'm really fascinated by and admiring of people who make themselves vulnerable to others because I find it a Herculean undertaking. Djerassi's book consists of the poetry he wrote in the aftermath of the biographer summarily dumping him (but before they reconciled and got married) and going off with another guy. Well, he is moving on for 90; what does he care how he looks to other people now?

I couldn't help wondering the next morning, though, how much A Diary of Pique is him getting the last word, a finger in Middlebrook's eye. Because his wife is dead. She held forth, as a biographer, on the wishes and the shaming of the dead, but he did mention his power struggles with her, so it seems a little egoriffic on his part to me.

Despite Djerassi's sprawling oeuvre, wealth, and cosmopolitan ways I feel as if he's less than three degrees of separation from me. Because we're in the same, well, subculture of poetry and English departments. Sure, his wife was a superstar. But she was an English department superstar.

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