Reed Whittemore: “When we were short of money, we paid off our poets with fine Italian cravats.”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

Today is the birthday of the former U.S. poet laureate Reed Whittemore. When he was a 20-year-old English major at Yale, hee co-founded a literary magazine called Furioso, which published poems by Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. The magazine’s co-founder was James Angleton, Whittemore’s roommate; Angleton would go on to serve as the CIA’s counterintelligence chief. The magazine didn’t have much money, so contributors weren’t always paid with currency: “When we were short of money, which was most of the time, we paid off our poets with fine Italian cravats from the stock that the Angleton haberdasher in Italy kept replenishing,” Whittemore recalled.

He published 11 volumes of poetry, a memoir (Against the Grain), and a biography (William Carlos Williams, Poet from Jersey). His books include Heroes and Heroines; An American Takes a Walk; The Fascination of the Abomination: Poems, Stories, and Essays; and The Mother’s Breast and the Father’s House, which was nominated for the National Book Award.

Whittemore on writing: “When I look at history, literary and social, I find that I side pretty steadily with history’s eccentrics. I don’t mean all the mad astrologists and mystics […] but simply the mundane eccentrics who have stood on the sidelines with the game in progress, and made frosty remarks instead of cheering.”

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