Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kenneth Gross

Kenneth Gross is professor of English at the University of Rochester. His books include Shakespeare’s Noise and Shylock Is Shakespeare.

His new book is Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life.

Earlier this month I asked Gross what he was reading. His reply:
A lot of the reading has been rereading. Some of it for pleasure, some to think about a class I’m teaching on Shakespeare, and also a class on poetry and memory I’ll be teaching in the spring. I’ve been moving slowly through the long section in the second volume of In Search of Lost Time, where Proust describes how Marcel settles and unsettles himself within the life of the grand resort hotel at Balbec, in the company of his beloved grandmother. To get myself thinking about certain questions in Shakespeare, I recently went back to look at Mary Cowden Clarke’s The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines, first published in 1851, which I read years ago. It’s a collection of sentimental and melodramatic, even lurid, yet also acutely thoughtful stories which imagine the early lives of Portia, Ophelia, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, and others. The stories recollect a past that the plays do not know, or forget to mention. I reread Tennyson’s long sequence of elegiac poems, In Memoriam A. H. H., finding the poems much plainer, also much more alive to the curious subterfuges of the mourning mind, than I’d remembered.

I spent a lot of time rereading Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry during a trip I took in mid-October to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a place whose landscapes, houses, and towns Bishop evokes so well, and so mysteriously. (The white churches we saw really did feel “dropped into the matted hills like lost quartz arrowheads.” You stumble across them suddenly while driving.) Later at home, I pulled from the shelf Eleanor Cook’s fine volume of essays, Against Coercion: Games Poets Play, partly for the essays on Bishop, though I also stumbled on a great chapter on “ghost rhymes” I’d not read before. Right now I’m back with Bishop’s collection of letters, One Art.

Two days ago I read for the first time, and have reread already many times, this 1991 poem by the Northern Irish poet Michael Longley:

"The Ice-Cream Man"

Rum and raisin, vanilla, butter-scotch, walnut, peach:

You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before

They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road

And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.

I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren

I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,

Meadowsweet, tway, blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,

Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,

Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,

Yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.

One new thing, at least, that I’ve been reading through is a book about a magisterial reader, the classical scholar Isaac Causabon (1559-1614): "I have always loved the Holy Tongue": Isaac Casaubon, the Jews, and a Forgotten Chapter in Renaissance Scholarship, by Anthony Grafton and Joanna Weinberg.
Learn more about Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 69 Test: Shylock Is Shakespeare.

My Book, The Movie: Shylock Is Shakespeare.

Writers Read: Kenneth Gross (July 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue