Kent Johnson sent a query to the comment-box of the previous post. I deleted it along with some ill-considered responses of my own, but it got me thinking about the "Shakespeare event" of 1973, a pivotal crisis in my life. So I'd like to try to address his question somewhat, and at the same time provide some context, as I see it, to that experience. I think I will have to do this in a sequence of posts. In the meantime, the "hypertext" Island Road post, below, has teleported over to my warehouse/distribution center, AlephoeBooks, for those who would like continued quick access to it (AlephoeBooks doesn't scroll so fast as HG Poetics).

So here goes.


In the fall of 1972, I was a junior at Brown Univ. Those were the heady days of "curricular reform", and I took full advantage of the lack of required courses, choosing mostly creative writing classes. In my freshman year, I won 3 literary contests offered by the English Dept., and had my first chapbook published. That was exciting. Of course, the war in Vietnam was on. I had applied for conscientious objector status, which angered & worried my father. But I had the student deferment, & got a high draft number. So I was lucky, and I didn't push my "objector" status to any substantial act of protest.

In those days, I think you could say I was on the edge of manic depression. I was often gloomy and withdrawn, shy of human contact. One romance had already ended, another was in trouble; the "sexual revolution" and my feelings of guilt & dislocation were in jarring contrast. On top of this, my writing was not going so well. My sophomore year was far more difficult than the previous one. I had, seemingly, already played out a sort of happy-go-lucky NY School (award-winning) persona; I was reading a lot of heavy-duty "masters" (Stevens, Rilke, et al.) and feeling unsure of myself.

In early December of that year, my cousin Juliet jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. I took this very hard. My own sense of psychological balance was fragile.

Later that month, I picked up Shakespeare's Sonnets for the first time. Suddenly I had the strangest sensation, totally new to me, simultaneously frightening & exhilarating. I thought that, by some unknown process, utterly anachronistic, Shakespeare was addressing me personally. The sonnets to the Young Man were written to me.

I'm fully aware that the literary history of responses to the Bard is chock full of eccentric episodes (such as Prof. Looney's theories of authorship, & far beyond). Even as it was happening, the irrationality of my experience was shocking to me. And shortly thereafter, I renounced poetry altogether. In a sense, this first "Bard episode" was the culmination of a downward spiral of depression. Dimly, I recognized the manic nature, the compensatory aspect, of my response to the Sonnets. I changed my major to History, and signed up for a completely "unliterary" spring semester.

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