Focus 2013: Lyndall Gordon & Paul Mariani

Focus 2013: Lyndall Gordon & Paul Mariani

Lyndall Gordon
Lyndall Gordon. Photo by Nina Hollington.

“Writers on Writers” continues to attract a remarkable cast of panelists. Today we profile South Africa-born Lyndall Gordon and New Englander Paul Mariani. Both will appear at the second session, January 17-20, 2012. Registration is open.

Lyndall Gordon is the prize-winning author of six biographies, whose subjects hold in common an almost mythic fascination for contemporary readers. They include Emily Dickinson and Henry James, as well as the 18th-century proto-feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, Modernist poet T.S. Eliot, and Charlotte Brontë and Virginia Woolf, whose works dramatically changed the way women were seen in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Each of Gordon’s biographies, she says, “has been a different experiment with the genre—and subjects were chosen in part because they had something to teach about our life-span, the shapes it can take, its silent spaces and invisible presences.” She has spoken of striving toward “a new form of biography” and writes that “imaginative truth must coexist with documentary truth if we want to bring a subject to life and avoid a dead shell, the compendium of fact.”

Paul Mariani
Paul Mariani

Paul Mariani is a poet and the biographer of poets including William Carlos Williams, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Hart Crane, and—most recently—the 19th-century prosodic innovator and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins. A former poetry editor of the national Catholic weekly America, Mariani’s work evinces a fascination with the “poetic/spiritual journey” undertaken by poets, whether explicitly Catholic, as with Hopkins, Lowell, and Berryman, or ostensibly secular, as with Williams and Crane.

“If you ask me about God and poetry, I really can’t separate them,” Mariani has said of his own motivations as a poet. “That doesn’t mean that all my poems are God-filled; in fact some of them deeply question the reality of it all. But the poems that most deeply satisfy are those in which I confront the mystery.”

Mariani is currently at work on a biography of Wallace Stevens, whose reputed deathbed conversion to Catholicism belies his somewhat less Catholic adventures in Key West, and in whose late poem “Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour” we find the words “We say God and the imagination are one…”

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