Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dark Green: Francine du Plessix Gray

“The text in progress is like a fire in the room, an animal.” —Francine du Plessix Gray

The tiny bedroom where she spends her early morning hours reading is painted a dark green.


If you had another life to live, would you choose to be a writer again?


Hell no. Have you ever met a writer who’d want the same karma a second time round? I doubt if one exists. We write out of revenge against reality, to dream and enter the lives of others. The next time round I’d like to be a great athlete with a political mission, like Billie Jean King or Arthur Ashe, or perhaps a lieder singer. However if you’d confine me to a literary trade for another life, I might like to be a sane poet, as long as I could be sure to be very, very sane. Poetry was my first and greatest love, my gate to literature. Long before I knew I’d be a writer, I memorized the whole of Milton’s “Lycidas” by heart, or all three hundred lines of Valéry’s Cimetière Marin. A need to stay in touch with sumptuous verbal cadences, internalize the glory of language. To this day the first aspect of prose that grabs me, as a reader, is its tonal texture, its musicality. Prose is only as good as its approximation of the condition of poetry—that condition in which not a rhythm, not a particle of sound can be changed without upsetting the entire page.


Yet poetry is one of the few genres in which you haven’t published.


A secret vice, probably inherited from my remarkable mother. As a girl during the Russian Revolution, she helped to keep her family alive by reciting poetry to Soviet soldiers in exchange for hunks of bread. To this day, in her late seventies, she has a phenomenal memory for verse, and can recite hundreds of lines of Pushkin, Lermontov, Akhmatova by heart. Her love for poetry has colored my life, and may have made me a writer.

Francine du Plessix Gray, The Art of Fiction No. 96
Interviewed by Regina Weinreich, PARIS REVIEW