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The Uxorious Testimonial

by Stanley Booth

Diann and I have learned many valuable lessons from Christopher Price, the co-author, with Joe Harland, of Live Fast, Die Young: Misadventures in Rock ’n’ Roll America. One mans pedantry is another man's porn, Price wrote my wife. Meaning we are both pornographers of what others might call pedantry, and I think it would be disrespectful not to defer to:

1) An English writer, thus far primarily on the subject of music, but a writer who knows both his Dante and his Robbe-Grillet frighteningly well. As well should be the case.

2) An American poet who is, or should be, a footnote in Harvard Universitys archive. For starters, Diann went from being a secretary / receptionist in its graduate English offices, housed in a building with inadequate heating and a lead bathtub, to qualifying for Seamus Heaneys twelve-member workshop.* While my wife is a very nice person, she says the greatest compliment ever paid her came from me: I once called her “an assassin” in her poems, which, she says, is the only place it matters. Should it worry me that she often signs e-mails with “Keep the Faith,” which Seamus says is the IRA motto?

I’m not sure. But Diann is a Nice Alabama-by-way-of-Virginia Girl from a Nice Alabama Family with Nice Alabama Manners, and thus she gives thanks even to her not-very-nice boss, who entrusted her with the keys to the supply cabinet and copy machine and was rarely around. Diann believes these very same keys may have played a role in her selection for the class, though she also believes that the ground zero of her life as a poet is Richard Tillinghast, who, while stopping short of encouraging explosives, about which he may have learned something at Berkeley, encouraged only minor theft at Warren House and followed through with a “nervy suggestion” that she write Seamus, enclosing some poems, on department letterhead. “What choice did the poor man”—Seamus, not Richard—have?” she now asks. I ask: did her actions constitute semi-fraudulent use of the mail?

3) Another of Dianns employers, whose seminar on Lowell she audited, was very kind to her in other ways as well, including the bequest of a 1928 Book of Common Prayer from Fugglestone in Christopher Prices native land and our own ancestral one. “The Missal Thief,” as we now call her, was apparently in the habit of picking up a few such volumes on her many trips to England. Diann mostly admires her work but does not understand why she reacted so negatively to Alice Quinns book on Elizabeth Bishop. Diann has studied Edgar Allan Poe and the Jukebox obsessively, is very fond of Ms. Quinn, and says she has terrific taste in knee socks.

4) Diann’s second Harvard promotion came when she ceased being Seamus’s part-time helper and letter/parcel bringer—and his own instructor of the proper way to heat corned beef hash, which is not best done by placing the open can in a saucepan of boiling water, as one does a baby bottle—to the position of Steward of the Signet Society. Its members mostly included of what the future Nobel laureate called “a rather cadaverous group of young people.”

5) And she was also promoted to Boston University! Seamus introduced her to another famously future visitor to Stockholm, Derek Walcott, who for two years permitted her to perch on one of the windows in his classroom if there were no desks available! And at 9:00 a.m., the hour at which she now customarily goes to bed, Diann would listen and listen and listen! Or recite the poems she had been assigned for this purpose!

And all this after a bumpy bus ride across the river which Diann claims she minded not one bit, and I do not argue with my wife on such matters. Would you?

6) She argued quite violently, however, when she was dragged from Cambridge after a third and final year at Harvard, when she received her last promotion there, serving as a Junior Tutor and Seamuss section leader in a class on Modern British and Irish Poetry.

7) Seamus and Derek* are the only men she has ever allowed—joyously—to mispronounce her first name (“DeeAHNN”); the former told her he found her real last name more mellifluous than the one to which she had been previously attached, and that is but one of the reasons she says they both deserve not only Nobels but haloes.

8) For the reunion with Seamus, Diann is grateful to Bill Wadsworth, who procured for her tickets to an event at the 92nd Street Y, where he appeared with Robert Pinsky and they both wore laurels in their hair, Seamus’s representing the Nobel and Pinsky’s for his status as American’s sole three-time Poet Laureate. Though in the picture below, Pinsky appears to be sitting in a pile of that particular flora. Diann finds this rather undignified.

But I was speaking of pronunciation: Derek found Diann’s Southern accent vastly amusing when it apparently returned after her move to Nashville, which returns me to the beginning: you must read the passages in Live Fast, Die Young on that particular city, as well those which address other aspects of America, Americana, and the silliness and snobbery too often present in both.

9) At the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, of which Diann was the founding coordinator and then graduated (she had a highly nonlinear education and thus graduated more often than most people) to being a Dakin Fellow, Derek kept asking her to say Hawkins Cove while they sat together on a hard bench.  

For the reunion with Derek, Diann is grateful to Wyatt Prunty. She doesn’t have a picture of herself with Seamus, and our scanner is broken, so the Google Images shot, labelled "Sewanee Writers Conference Bench, will have to do.

10) But wait! OMG! It’s another SWC bench! And Barry Hannah is sitting on it! Don’t the picture and the note he left for her at Square Books in 1992 amount to another graduation?

Diann wishes her picture could have been taken there with him, but here’s the next best thing:

Previously forced to make the trek to Dereks Brookline apartment for conferences, and once for a recommendation letter, Diann found the excursions so nerve-wracking that she could never accept his kindly offers—he apparently knows his way around a kitchen better than either Seamus or Diann—of tea and soft-boiled eggs. She says her hands shook so badly that she was afraid she would spill the tea all over his expensive art books on the table in front of his sofa, which—look!—is apparently more comfortable than the Sewanee Writers Conference Bench.

She has also admitted that she is unsure as to how one actually eats a soft-boiled egg. Harvard must not hear of this lest they expunge her from any historical archives.

11) Speaking of numbers, with which I would have stopped had our Mac Angel, Bob Drury, not only fixed the scanner but also ridding the document below of her unmellifluous and former last name, thus giving Diann proof of her final promotion at Harvard!

So I can now return to #1: Christopher Price is fun. Diann, though asleep, retains the conviction that not only he but also Seamus, Derek, and Preston can be fun; I have tricked her a time or three into convincing her that she can be too. 

But in general, I must admit that Keith, Diann, and I, are not particularly fun; in fact, we are boring. Diann and I do nothing but write, read, have techno-calamities and minor household disasters and also, more interestingly, perhaps, legal and financial imbroglios, and we suspect Keith lives similarly if on a more lavish scale, so to speak: he reads, writes, thinks and thinks and thinks and plays and plays and plays his guitar.

Thus, while Diann and I are a perfect couple, we worry that Chris will find staying with us boring when he launches an American book tour. Our idea of fun is reading, writing, or arguing about grammar. Diann corrects the diction and word choices of most journalists and the grammar of various TV newsmen. We have read that John Cheever, bless his heart, did such things in rehab, but neither of us plans to visit any similar facility for any purpose. For, in conclusion, I must once again assure you that we are Not Fun. Except, sometimes, in those rare situations that bring on physical discomfort and longings for mild tranquilizers, or a glass of wine—except Diann spills those too—with our own ilk. These are occasions on which—I just asked her—arise is an appropriate word choice indeed.

That doesn't mean you shouldnt read Keiths book. But Diannlike David L. Ulin, Dan Chiasson and Greil Marcusthinks mine is better too.
We give final authority here to Nanette Bahlinger, who knows everything and is the only reason we have learned how to have fun on Christmas. Indeed, she is the only reason we met in the first place—Getting Respectable—and Nanette will tell you that we have a tendency to sleep through national holidays.
And sometimes we don't even have to wait for holidays. See? The picture at left was taken by our Angel Sis, Roni Beals, three days before Thanksgiving.

Diann works too hard, and usually at night. It's part of being boring; and besides, one of her favorite quotations is the sunshine bores the daylights out of me.  

She will jump on you like a duck on a June bug if you use the word quote as a noun in her presence, as you might have guessed from the item about the sweet Mr. Cheever with whom I saw Roman Polanskis Macbeth; he—Cheever—kept leaning over to ask if I were all right.”

Macbeth—especially Shakespeares version—bores neither of us, but Christmas would be miserable indeed were it not for Nanette, our Angel Sis Roni, and our Angel Bro Bill Paulk.  

They keep as much of our house as is humanly possible from looking like our bed. (In the photograph of Diann, please notice, besides her computer and her TENS unit, the copy—speaking of numbers again, even though I promised to stop—of Eliza Griswolds The Tenth Parallel, partly obscured by my bride’s flowing locks, etc.; this last, Wideawake Field and some new Griswold poems, still remain among Dianns current exhausting enthusiasms, and last summer she wrote about Griswold in a piece called, appropriately enough, “Crossings,” which has, among its sub-themes, a plea for tolerance.)

One of the few people in this world for whom Diann has no tolerance is David Lynch, for he has caused much of her e-mail to be stolen and secreted by Gmail after she attempted to “twit”—is that the proper word?—him about a young poet whom they both admire.

But Diann likes celebrations. For example, we love our tree, which we keep lighted for such long periods that Roni has warned us about burning out its bulbs.
Horrible thought! For then all would be dark again.

Its obvious that Keith has not burned out. Diann has even decided she no longer truly wishes to throttle him, thanks to the BBC Culture Show and its feature on Life. They interviewed me in the—thanks to Bill and Roni—neat and freshly vacuumed hallway, and I wonder if Keiths looks as tidy.

On one thing we have reached an agreement: inhabitants of Ireland and England truly are better-educated and -mannered than Americans. And thus Keith, who once flew a Confederate flag—meaning rebellion, meaning freedom—from part of his car, remains an unreconstructed and unregenerate English gentleman. And an indelible one too.

Perhaps it’s just the reading, guitar-playing, and songwriting that make Keith boring. Is he too cool to have fun except onstage? Not Christopher!

But now I am going to have to ask for Dianns help. She is no twin—in fact, she is an almost-only child, as I am an only, and if you think David Lehman’s theory about success in the arts and politics being based on trochaic names is interesting, wait until you hear hers about Only Children, Almost-Only Children, and Psychological Hermaphroditism—but she glimmers all the same. 

*The scanner is working! And Diann not only glimmers but is a genius, for she now knows how to operate it! For both text:

AND photographs.

*The credit for the original photograph of Derek and Diann goes to Preston Merchant.

Further credit goes to him for reinforcing my bride’s statement that Derek was simply having fun hearing her pronounce Hawkins Cove, and so, secretly, was she.

She has become so insufferable I may have to divorce her.

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