Tuesday, January 31, 2012

From Jean and Gene Elliott, October 1948, Paris

Dear Rosa and Murray—everyone here talks French and we stumble after with our pitiful little burden of simple sentences which we try to feed into gaps in conversations but usually our opportunities have swung way behind us while we are still sorting out pronouns, subject-verb agreement, etc. We sit at the table of our pension nodding and smiling from time to time and sometimes getting a chance to say yes or no or thank you or the soup is very good tonight. It’s pretty maddening—we’ve discovered how really addicted we are to conversation. To correct our ineptitude as quickly as possible, we are taking an 8 to 10 AM daily class in French taught entirely in French at L’institut Panthéon, a class that is a little too hard for us so that we have to study about six hours each night. I think it’s helping.

Jean Elliott at the Lake Union houseboat, 1945
We have been homesick for people and animals but not for home so the obvious solution is to import les gens et les animaux, n’est-ce pas? And we’d like to start with you. Paris is a marvelous place to be in spite of some lack of comfort. We live in a fairly large room on the fourth floor; our windows are on the street and we have a fireplace which we will be able to use at some vague future date after the chimney is swept (we shall not have coal but maybe wood although it’s high because of the coal strike). There’s a washbasin behind a screen but not hot water at all, a toilet down the hall and not a bathtub in the house. We bathe at the public bains et douches in a private room for the two of us: we each have, for about forty cents altogether, two big European tubs, chin high, in which we sit for half an hour in all the hot water we want and chat as we wash. We both think it’s a very fine, unboring way to bathe. Our meals, included in bill here, are good. A maid brings us café au lait, which is neither coffee nor stimulating but good, and the dark Paris bread (without butter) at seven-thirty. We gagged on the bread at first but have, fortunately, developed a taste for it. [Bread was rationed in France into 1948; the loaves that were available were made from the sourdough starter and unrefined “gray flour” now used to make the priciest of pain de campagne loaves.] At noon we have a big meal with a vegetable hors d’oeuvre and fruit or cheese or yogurt for dessert and at seven we have another dinner (dîner—I think it means supper) with soup to begin with, salad and same kinds of desserts. We always have meat at noon, often at both meals. And always vegetables. This is costing us a little or $60 a month including tipping. 

Heat and light are something else. One night the electrician of the house came into our room, asked if we had warmth in our radiator. We said no, and he put his hand on it and said oui, oui, you have the heat. It was a little warmer than body temperature. That was a week ago and apparently just an experiment with the heating system because we haven’t had heat since and the days are getting quite cold (they’re like Seattle’s cold, frosty days only a little damper). The lights in the hall are so dim that often we’ve reached for the button before we realized that they were on. … The bathroom light is not automatic but is so unfunctional that we have to take a flashlight in to see what we’re doing. Our  reading lamps are slightly better, but only if we are huddled under them. But these few discomforts are nothing compared to the joys of being here. You know how incomparably beautiful it is (didn’t you once hang from the netting of the Eiffel Tower?). We’ve been doing some organized sightseeing, that is—organized by us, such as going to a famous place outside the city each Sunday: Versailles, Chartres, Chantilly, Senlis, St. Germaine
Bee [Lucille] Shepherd, Puget Sound, 1948
en laye. And then, of course, we wander the streets constantly. If we don’t watch ourselves, we spend two hours getting from our school ten blocks away back to our house. Books and art books are everywhere and we covet nearly every one we see. Also decanters, pottery, hand-woven material—almost everything. We have also become addicted to pastries of which there 486,000 varieties, each one better than the one before and all very inexpensive. We’ve had some meals in restaurants and they’ve been wonderful. The French say that food, wine, pastries are below pre-war standards and if that is true it is impossible for me to imagine what they were like because all of it now is almost the best we’ve ever had. You should come for next year or sooner.

Shep (Charles) Shepherd, Port Ludlow, 1948
The Shepherds overwhelmed us with kindnesses. In the first place, they met our train at some awful morning hour, eight-thirty I they met our train at some awful morning hour, eight-thirty I think. Then they brought us presents, beautiful billfolds wrapped up in tissue and ribbons. We had coffee in the station, took a taxi to the art museum and looked for Bill’s [Bill FettLudlow including a very fine one of the bottom of your feet, Murray. Objet d’art.
Howard Daniel was not home at all. Nor Howard Lewis—at the paper we were told that he was in Paris but flying back to NY the 26th; we sailed the 24th. We looked for a plane overhead Sunday afternoon and Monday morning but didn’t even see a wing-tip to wave at. We talked to Ann [Ann Elmo, Murray’s agent] about how she was (she had a strained back) and how we were (we were fine) and how you were (you were fine too) and how Agony was (Agony  was not fine but she said that she’d like us to try rewriting the last chapter). One nice piece of news we had for her was that we had seen, the first day we were in the city, a fairly prominent display of Dixie Raider on one of the tables at Brentano’s. (How is DR going?) …
“Liquor for the State of Washington, Wallace for president: the perfect life.”
If the house caught on fire, we would first save each other and the toss to decide whether to grab the typewriters or the Baedeker next. I can’t find words, French or English, to tell you how much we’ve needed it, relied on it, enjoyed places because of it, used it to find things or to keep from getting lost or to get unlost, loved having it and read ourselves to sleep with it. I shudder to think how different our lives here would have been if you had believed us when we were protesting that we really couldn’t accept it from you. God.
This 1948 image of the Republican Members of the House Un-American Activities Committee included, from left to right, Representative Richard B. Vail of Illinois, Chairman John Parnell Thomas of New Jersey, Representative John McDowell of Pennsylvania, Robert Stripling (chief counsel), and Representative Richard M. Nixon of California.
Our ballots came just as we were about to give up and so we voted Monday, mailed them back. Liquor for the State of Washington, Wallace for president: the perfect life. Please, please, please write us about the Canwell committee’s fate (and that of their victims). As far as the letters we’ve received are concerned, the whole business never happened. Harry and Jo Fugl told us on their arrival that two of the committee-men had been defeated in the primaries which is excellent but we’d like to know more about all of it. [Harry Fugl, director of the activist Pacific Northwest Labor School in the late 1940s, was called before the Canwell Committee.]
Monday’s Le Monde carried a short paragraph about M. Parnell Thomas , among the loveliest French we’ve ever read. Maybe it is just Democratic Party move and maybe he does get a closed session in contrast to all the public reputation-feasts he’s officiated over, still it’s good. [Thomas, head of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, was convicted of fraud for putting friends into phantom jobs on the Congressional payroll in exchange for kickbacks.]  a We’d like to know more about that, too, if you have time.
Gene wants space. We miss you deeply. Send a note as soon as you can and seriously think about how happy you’d be here. 
Love, Jean

Dear Water-dwellers: we have not yet found the Keplers or Kepples (choose one) [it’s Kleppers] but will give you all the dope soon. In the meantime we are constantly reminded by seeing the boaters on the Seine, some with those double-bladed paddles and some with sails, having what is apparently the time of their lives. Jealousy gnaws at our vitals, or would if it were not for the fact that there are so many land-borne pleasures t every hand that we don’t stand still long enough to be gnawed. Harry and Jo arrived (as implied above) and are settled near the Boulevard Saint Michele, very happy. Better come over. Study threatens. Much more soon. Love to you both.    g 
For more on Parnell Thomas:
For more on the Canwell Committee hearings at UW:   
Canwell biography:   

Sunday, January 29, 2012

From Phyllis Goldschmid, 11 March 1946, Shelton, Washington

Murray and Rosa were in Washington, D.C., finishing up Murray's Army duties.
Dear Murray and Rosa, 

We were very glad to get your letter and to hear that you are well and doing interesting things. We too had started many a letter to you, but now Johanna is at an age where she is worse than a household pest and is scampering all over everything, so that she requires a great deal of watching and so our firm vows turn to nothing.  Apparently I had you on my mind so much that I had a very interesting dream about you and Carmen and Bill. You
William Fett's fighters
were, in my dream, fighting a very uneven war on the side of the dark people of the world who were trying to get rid of their yoke…and somehow you received one of my frivolous letters after a horrible battle in which the opposition had thrown in some terrible professional troops and you were very hurt that under those conditions I should chide you for not writing a letter to us. Really, it was very sad and very real and it made me feel bad for days.

We were very interested in all your news… we would love to hear more of Howard’s [Daniel] travels in Europe… Did Leila go to the University of Chicago and do anything with her Soc.  I remember how worried I was about a girl who went to school without planning to use it…her training, you know…but now I see her point of view much more clearly.

We hope that you are planning to spend at least a month in Shelton when you get back. We can give your privacy so you can write and loaf…we are fixing up the backyard with that in mind… You can loll in the sun all day and Johanna will be trained to leave you alone…really.
Phyllis and Johanna, probably by Rosa Morgan

Our move is still in the dim dim future now the rumor is two or three years… and we are hoping by then they will have some sense.

We heard Paul Robeson talk a couple of weeks ago at a Spanish Refugee… African Affairs rally. He was wonderful. For my money he doesn’t have to sing. We looked up at home the Woolcott profile on him in While Rome Burns … if you haven’t read it or have forgotten it it’s worth reading again.

We are getting more and more unhappy at the anti-Russian talk. There may be things wrong there, but I don’t think that it’s anything that Mr. Churchill and his crowd can fix. 

This is not much of a letter, but I have to go to the dentist. We are looking forward to seeing you.

Very much

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Excerpt from Howard Daniel, New York City, 16 January 1947

Dear Murray and Rosa:

This is to say thankyou for the letter and the surrealisty picture of Charlie [Olson] complete with hawk or falcon or humming bird or scrub turkey. Incidentally C & Connie were up to see us for a moment on New Year’s Day on their way back from Rhode Island(?) He has a contract and a down payment for another book from Reynals & Hitchcock. This one is about the headon crash of white and red done in incidents starting from when Chris Columbus’ boys got all poxed up in Hispaniola and ending with someone knocking off Injuns about fifty years ago. Included are Cortes and Pizarro. 
"Charlie so sweeps you away with his enthusiasm and the poetry of his great historical movements sweeping here and there with the rush of an emptying toilet bowl that a guy like this Argentine throwing in some cold facts sounds rather vulgar."
Connie and Charles Olson, Virginina, 1945. Rosa Morgan photo
There was an Argentine friend present who knows plenty about South American Indians and he in his Philistine way said he couldn’t see what the clash had to do with Red Indians or as far as that went what was the relation between the natives of the West Indies and the other Indians of the mainland. Charlie so sweeps you away with his enthusiasm and the poetry of his great historical movements sweeping here and there with the rush of an emptying toilet bowl that a guy like this Argentine throwing in some cold facts sounds rather vulgar. It was good to see the two of them. Jesus, I thought we had us an apartment until Charlie walked in and made the place look like a book-lined closet. ...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

from Charles Olson, 27 May 1947

Our western wonders:

Yr card today sure got me where it hurts. For I as well as you have been appalled at this unconscionable delay. And no good excuse. For I take it spring fever is not such. (Surely not where such fever shld have led us by bus to you people!). 

Or maybe it hasn’t been spring fever. I have a hunch it’s deeper, got something to do with redirection of work. For I came back from 2 weeks in nyark all fired up by an offer to do article for Harper’s bazaar at $250. So I ripped right ahead, and in two weeks had a 5000 word THING done, plus a BALLET! And plans for two more articles! Very very unlike Mr. Olson, as you know. And I guess it was too much, for the article bounced and with it not only the 250 but the figuring one will do on more such sales as well, the ballet bounced! And the final stuttering work on the two further articles which were to make a trilogy ground to a final stop a week ago.

The point of it all being, (April is a cruel month discounted at usurers’ rate) that it is verse I shld most properly be about and I was forcing myself with all this other business under the mistaken notion I could make some dough. In witness thereof do please see current WESTERN REVIEW for poem written before newyark and one I am most interest to hear both your response on. They only sent me 2 copies, or yd certainly have one from me – 2 copies and no check, alas.
“It is verse I shld most properly be about”

Perhaps all this money business sitting on my nights and days is due to our GRAND PLAN: Europe in the fall. With which we are full right now, and do most need your advice. For we—or rather, it was Connie’s brilliant idea—have hopes we may be able to combine trip we said we’d make to see you and Europe, both. For we are told there are boats to France from the west coast. Know anything about ‘em? The idea of a visit west  to you, then a long leisurely swing through the Pacific and the Indian, and the backdoor to Yourup is most engaging. We are probably as uneconomic as usual and the cost of such a route will prove prohibitive, but it’s what we’re working on at the moment.
Connie Olson, left, with Howard Lewis, Murray Morgan
and unknown someone. 1947

But in any case we’ll go. We have an invitation to Aix en Provence and another to a schloss in the Italian Tyrol: so, for a couple of months we’d have no rent problem. – I figure the gag that I’m going to be in France (and now maybe England) for the appearance of book ought to get us passports, no? – And jeezus, to shake our feet of this too, too familiar people of ours for a short breather of another air however  however, is good for the soul. 

We are such fools not to write you, for to have letters from you is one of our rare joys. In fact, despite our own omission, we both keep going to the box each day thinking, maybe there’ll be a letter from Rosa and Murray! And there it was today, and now the card is covered with four shades of green, two cerulean blues, and a loufly jonquil yellow, for it caught us right in the middle of converting the whole damn studio into a living space. The old bitch gone in the teeth from whom we rent went off to Europe and we took the plunge: have moved out to the studio bed and all, and have arranged it! And how we’ve arranged it! Mit what colors, you should never see! So, if we get out there, we’ll be in time to trim the Morgan’s new house.

Gooducks, that’s what I’ve had on my draw, that’s what’s taken so long.

So do, for god’s sake, excuse us, please, and write us back a long letter full of all you are up to, how work goes, what a wonderful place Washington is (make us drool), what of the books, and all the rest. – Judith [Daniel] was here Saturday and we had a Morgan session. She was busy as a president on her lecture bureau. Have you signed up yet?

Thanks for much things said via CMI: ads are deceptive, sales slow but already over what the smart boys figured. My own hope is that the edition exhausts itself by winter (3000), which will give me two advantages: 1, 500 bucks for Europe, and 2, not to find myself on some remainder shelfs.

Big event lately was second coming of the messiah, Father Eliot, whom I met in such a way as to justify these tentative lines: 

Pound in a penitentiary
Eliot in a parish house:
the end does not justify the means
(the lowdown according to the rhythm of things)
but, to put it Possum’s way,
a heresy is better than none
Meanwhile, in the crowd, sing-song the beggar cries
‘Orbs for the lamps of Eliot
orbs for the likes of Pound
orbs for
Pound for
In their beginning is their end

End of stanza 1st.

T.S. Eliot, 1950
T.S, the old arrow color adonis is aged mightily, looked most so when clerical at St Thomas Parish House, less so at Mellon next day when 900 come to hear him read the old things while Biddle, David Finley, and others who cut the coupons and the passerby, layed the laurel on:

The Archbishop and the ape-neck Chief
shall comfort their syllabic grief

But hoooH, Fasa!
Connie, I just see, is asleep. We’re worn out from this unseemly painting and arranging we’re doing, It’s now pushing midnight, and I must stop. But I was damned if I’d let slip another day. Take this as token it won’t happen again. For our hearts, darlings….

All love from both of us

Thursday, January 12, 2012

From Charles Olson, 7 February 1947

Morgans, my wonder children!
Here I sit cross-legged in bed (India), with my neck smeared with a stuff as black and oily as axle grease (America), and on the point of it all (the gland directly west of the cortex) an ice bag (Alaska), doped with penicillin (Cheese) and wrapped in my black and red check jacket (Dockton, Wash.)

Before all this it was sulfa: with which I ask you forgive us you did not hear earlier a big shout of thanks from Olsons Incorporated for pictures and pictures and pictures. What’s nice about it all is that you and us agree all the way thru that this OLSON is BEST, fur and all, but says publishers—spontaneous like—this ain’t no Eastman-Emingway affair, and there’s no need for you to prove your wirility and so, would like a nice, harmless, uninteresting, stupid and empty puss to fill a column. To which I sd: shit.

Charles Olson, 1946. Rosa Morgan photo
About publishers: would like to ask you a question. Just got contract for next book, which will sign, for it’s a $750 advance. But decided to dicker a bit on the  foreign rights. The contract calls for 75% to me on English as well as translation sale, and I’ve written back saying, not, that’s too much of a cut to them, I want it the same as movies, radio etc: 90%. What is your experience on this so far? What % do your contracts call for on such rights? 

Between us and you, this book has me pissless. It sold on the basis of an outline of tales, clearly, tho unstated, in prose. And what do you think has happened so far, every  time I put my hand to the material? It damn well bloody does turn in to werse! I’ll include one thing which may or may not be good, and may or may not have something to do with the book. 

Which reminds me, to hear anything about what YOU are up to along these lines, we have to hike ourselves to N.Y. and see one delightful fellow names Howard [Daniel] to learn a damned thing. He’s concerned you’re going to have to stay out of the state of Washington after the present mss, [The Viewless Winds] is finished. What’s yr plan? Gradually exclude yourself from each place you know? Patzcuaro [Day of the Dead], and now Wash. An “intriguing” idea.

Life is quiet. (I mean as well when I’m up as down). Harper’s Bazaar bot a pome. But otherwise the mail is mostly bills.

I don’t think I’ve made clear what excitement the pictures brought us. I should also make clear that my publisher, sir, is NOT Houghton Mifflin. Try again!

y&x  – the poems and drawings – is still being kicked around by the publisher’s failure to get the proper plates for the drawings. I’m pessimistic it’ll ever see the light.

Connie is spending her time these days, of course, trying to keep up with a sick man’s multiple needs. But she’s terrific, and wants me to tell you how exciting the picture flurry was, and how much she misses you, and loves you. We lie abed and dream about buying a Buick convertible and winging out to see you! She damn well ought soon to see that Great West of ours, I’m sure you agree. …

Connie & Charles