A quick, self-congratulatory note: Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine, wrote a short, end-of-the-year best poetry list, and The Problem of Boredom in Paradise tops the list. From the piece:
Boston-area poets of a certain age (I am one) will remember Paul Hannigan, possibly with a shudder. Some of us huddled in informal workshops he attended that were held in an annex to Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room: There he could wither a career with a word, a gesture, a look. Irascible, implacable, intimidating, but ingenious and indubitably smarter than anybody when it came to poetry, it’s no exaggeration to acknowledge him now as a local legend.
Born in Cambridge in 1936, he was connected with virtually every literary institution in town for decades. His trade press debut was “Laughing,’’ published by Boston’s own Houghton Mifflin, but he also produced many fascinating chapbooks — usually illustrated with his own arresting drawings — that are priceless, yet can still be had for a song. Time has been unkind to this poet; he died in 2000, almost forgotten. But his work was rediscovered by young poets who have lovingly prepared a new selection….Our thanks to Mr. Share. It's good to be young. Here’s hoping many will read Paul Hannigan in the new year. Cheers!
There’s a letter from DeWitt Henry to Paul Hannigan in the Ploughshares archives at Emerson College. Mostly just Henry worrying about what needed doing before issue 3/2, the issue he asked Hannigan to edit could be promised. Some money matters—“…since we lost our $5,000 state grant to Alice James, everything depends on the success of 2/4. I think the prospect is fairly definite that it will earn back enough ($3,500) to publish 3/1….”—and a few notes re. possible contributors. My favorite is this,
I might have had fiction from Gilbert Sorrentino on the line for you, but he sent me an excerpt for 3/1 I couldn’t get anyone to like, and he’s sworn off people who solicit then choose. Enough boring things at his age, he says, then to put up with that, unquote.
Too bad, too—Hannigan liked Sorrentino’s work (read Hannigan on Sorrentino here).
A little later in the letter, “I’m sorry Sorrentino’s out, because I liked the Williams essay he did in Am Rev and that’s the kind of stuff I imagine you’d like.”
The issue happened. There’s fiction by Russell Banks, Paul Metcalf, Harry V. Murphy, and Moophy Sweezy. And Moophy Sweezy was Paul Hannigan, I was right, this confirmed by John Batki. An excellent discovery, as it means Hannigan published two fine short stories in Ploughshares—“The Slot People” and “Boomerang Tears,” and there’s more short fiction, unpublished, including “Badboy,” which I referenced in my introduction to the Selected. About short stories, Hannigan wrote in October of 1994, “...reduced to reading a short story by Joyce Carol Oates. I loathe Joyce Carol Oates—and I hate short stories.” Too bad, that—I love Hannigan’s short stories.
There’s no J. Gladstone, either: the portfolio and the cover art are by none other than Batki himself.
Arion’s Dolphin, a little press in Cambridge, published Kiss, a collaborative sketchbook by Hannigan, John Batki, and Stratis Haviaras in 1977. The similar style of the three poet-artists is emphasized by collaboration; to identify any one drawing as Hannigan’s for certain is difficult, in spite of my familiarity with his work. (One image, a topless lady liberty made faceless by fetish gear, is Haviaras’—the same image appears on the cover of the Arion’s Dolphin chapbook, Jay Boggis’ Old World Courtesy, and is credited.)
Batki and Hannigan collaborated throughout the seventies. I've seen some of the results, and hope to see more (Batki tantalized me with mention of “the Pelikan book”). “May & Jody,” which we posted here in February, was so like their collaborative work, we worried we’d left out Batki’s due credit. He confirmed for us, however, that it’s pure Hannigan, “Oh that drawing is unmistakably Paul's! How can there be any question about it???”
Hannigan edited an issue of Ploughshares in 1976. Included in the issue is a portfolio of drawings by one J. Gladstone. The drawings are not unlike drawings by Hannigan. The issue presents a number of mysteries, which the bio notes only serve to enhance. For instance, Gladstone’s reads, “J. Gladstone and Harry V. Murphy are blood brothers.” Murphy’s reads, “Harry J. Murphy is a friend of J. Gladstone.” (These notes are consistent with the joke Hannigan makes with/of the bio notes—that he is personal friends with nearly everyone published in the issue (he was), and that the only way to get into Ploughshares is to be pals with the editor.) So what’s with the different middle initial? A typo, or a clue? And Murphy's contribution? It's called "Harry Murphy." Anyway, I’ve wondered if Hannigan was Gladstone.
To go a little further into my conspiracy theory: the issue’s cover is a pen and ink drawing of a woman smoking. In the lower left hand corner is the date 1936. The artist is not credited anywhere in the issue. I originally assumed that meant the artist was Gladstone, but the drawing isn’t quite like those in the portfolio. Could it be by Hannigan? What does the date mean? Hannigan was born in 1936.
Then there’s the question of Moophy Sweezy’s story “Boomerang Tears.” No one has yet been able to confirm that there really is a Moophy Sweezy and her (?) bio note, “que sais-je moi?” certainly doesn’t diminish my suspicion that Sweezy is Hannigan. Certainly, the story bears a resemblance to Hannigan’s fiction.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my “Paul is dead”-esque conspiracy theory. Enjoy “May & Jody,” which is by Hannigan. If anyone has any answers, I'm listening.
flim forum press
166 pages, 7x9
$20 + $4 for shipping & handling
Paul Hannigan, society reporter on safari, sketches serpentine philosophers and corporate baboons, chronicles “these degrading surprises we call our days.” Like a good comedian, he paints these fools on his own face, in othered self-portraits, alternately toothy and toothless, sad saccharine, smothered in “moral sherbet.” Hannigan mumble mumbles a messy subjectivity, all the insecurities of our race, gender, sexuality. He can be rhapsodically self-felicitous in fantasies of self-pity. He can be witty, crude, and brutally cruel. Paul Hannigan, fall-guy, castaway, shackles Milton with suburban shopping malls and maps over happiness with The Bush, that colonial/genital beachhead. Hannigan’s poems are busy napping, bong coughing, constantly undressing, disabling, donning a series of hospital gowns. Perverted lyrics parade from his hopelessly open mouth.
You have already
had enough fun
now you must
what watch watch
and listen and
according to subject.
At your dwindling
Paul Hannigan's chapbook Holland and the Netherlands is a set of twelve poems, all included in the Selected; they make sense as a group, linked by form and, less concretely, by tone. Holland and the Netherlands was published in 1970 by Pym-Randall Press (the press was named for its founder James Randall and his cat, Pym). We liked the simple design, and aped it for New Australia, a previously unpublished serial poem by Hannigan. New Australia does not appear in The Problem of Boredom in Paradise.
A copy of New Australia comes free when you purchase the Selected directly from us, either at the AWP conference in Boston this weekend, via this page, the Flim Forum blog, or our website (and only while supplies last).
Here's the last stanza of "Buffalo" from New Australia:
Really JimIt's a rude, slangy thing, not to be missed.
But Australia appears to be
deadd a special miscarriage
Uruguay from a distance
The editors at Open Letters Monthly (OLM) published “That is not Sad, This is Not Funny,” the first result of my haphazard efforts to find out a little more about Paul Hannigan, back in 2007. That essay led directly to the Selected.
OLM is a Boston-based journal (though now its editors work thousands of miles apart); it’s appropriate they would promote Hannigan, who spent most of his life in the Boston area. Today, the new issue is up. The homepage features a pen & ink sketch drawn by Hannigan (click on the image and see how he framed it on a sheet of high quality art paper), and the issue includes a conversation John and I had about the Selected. John’s questions are superb. I struggled to answer them adequately.
John asked, “Where do you see The Problem of Boredom in Paradise fitting into our poetry culture, and what would you like to see?” My answer is a little enigmatic: “When a poet is recovered his recovery reminds that for every name handed down a few are lost. Can we ‘recover’ those hidden from view now? Maybe that’s not possible. Maybe recovery is by nature a project for the generations to follow.”
On my mind as I answered is the ongoing recovery of poetry from the ancient world, how thrilling it is to think another great epic might be found, but also the vast number of literary journals in our world now—the amount of work in journals is as daunting as the desert that buried Ashurbanipal’s library for thousands of years.
I need more time.