Appreciations

What [Don] Celender has done in these recent projects is construct shrewd response-devices that encourage people (and institutions) to display their uniqueness merely by providing answers that they think are "normal" to them; but by assembling their responses into a single context, Celender not only makes a "found art" that is uniquely identifiable with his name, but he allows his respondents to contrast and augment one another in a burgeoning irony that is obviously marvelous and yet quite unlike anything else I know in either art or literature.

“Don Celender” (1980)

What should not be forgotten is that [Frank] Zappa lived dangerously, doing professionally what had not been done before and others would not do after him, at a time and in a country where such adventurousness was possible, even as he was continually warning that such possibility should never be taken for granted. For all the continuing admiration of his example, there has been no one like him since.

A Frank Zappa Companion (1997)

In his relative isolation Higgins became a great correspondent, initially with letters, later with E-mail. I received more paper from him than anyone else I've known, and probably sent him more as well. . . . . Curious beyond belief, Dick knew everything I knew about literature and the other arts (and then some), and so little on my mind required much introduction to be communicated to him. The day he died I'd put into the mail my last letter to him, typically responding to something he'd sent me. When I traveled abroad for the first time in several years the week after his death, staying in Venice with our mutual friend, Emily Harvey, I told her that my greatest regret while there was that I couldn't come home to tell Dick what a marvelous host she had been. I'm still thinking of things to tell him.

“Remembering Dick Higgins” (1999)

Because [James Weldon] Johnson achieved a level of professional freedom rare for anyone black or white, he didn't fit the categories—the essentially journalistic niches—into which African-American writers have been put, and alas still are, which is to say that he wasn't particularly angry, he was never poor, he wasn't orphaned or female. Usually employed as a bureaucrat, he wrote in spare time. Worse yet for him perhaps, he was well-educated and excelled at more than one genre of writing. His authentic autobiography, Along This Way (1933), is an American success story that has been reprinted once again.

“James Weldon Johnson” (2001)

Of such commentary, like many of the examples [in I Love Me, Vol. I, “A Palindromic Encyclopedia (1996)], I feel a kind of fellow craftsman's awe--I couldn't have thought of that if I tried. (This feeling, which is esthetic, differs from the sense engendered by much kitsch--why didn't I think of that first.)

“It Must Be Poetry” (1996)

Even if the Anthology of Revolutionary Poetry appeared today (and it should be reprinted), we would credit [Marcus] Graham with a laudable unique synthesis, implicitly demonstrating that it has been (and still is) possible for a serious independent writer/editor to produce an anthology that looks strong and smart not just a decade or two afterwards but a full seventy-five years later. Finally, both these books were necessary anthologies, rather than opportunistic, in gathering flowers that wouldn't otherwise be found together, which is to say that by tasteful selecting and organizing both [V. F.] Calverton [in Anthology of American Negro Literature, also 1929] and Graham made happen important books that wouldn't otherwise exist. That's their attractive lesson.

“Remembering Two Great Underknown Anthologies 75 Years Later” (2004)

On the other hand, there will always been prizes in profession that depends so heavily upon qualitative judgments; and the best that can be said about the Nobel is that it is a good prize, if not the best there is, for a variety of laudable reasons: From the beginning it has been a universal prize, rather than a purely regional or national prize. A second reason is the elaborateness of the annual selection process. This is not a committee that like NEA panels meets once or a few times to make its choice(s); it meets every Thursday for most of the year. A third reason is the continuity of a selection committee that remembers previous discussions and then develops a sense of distribution and timing. As Sjöstrand put it, "Everyone who wins we have discussed for so many years, being such a coherent institution." To these factors must be added the undoubted independence and integrity of the procedure, along with the rigor of the commitment to secrecy. That in turn relates to Sweden's high-minded distance from the Frankfurt Book Fair and the promotions of multinational publishing. The literature prize gains as well from being awarded along with other Nobel Prizes that, while mostly not as well-known as the literary award, nonetheless add weight to it.

“The Nobel Prize Process” (1982)