Apr/May 2010 Poetry

A Writing Life

by Oliver Rice

A Writing Life

Say it was a season in the decline
of the New York Intellectuals,
when Solzhenitsyn and Neruda won Nobels,
the first synthesis of a gene was announced,
the National Guard shot Kent State students
protesting the war in Vietnam,

when Hannah Arendt was in her highest repute
among bookpersons in Europe and America,
approaching seventy, although no less formidable
in mentality and continental charisma,
colored by her storied escapes from the Gestapo,
first to Paris, and again to New York,

her mere acquaintance sought by many,
her generous friendship extended to numerous,
perhaps most conspicuously to Mary McCarthy,
a prominent member of the publishing elite,
much married and self-proclaimedly promiscuous,
with whom Hannah socialized and corresponded
intermittently for more than three decades,

the Hannah who had dwelt so intently
on the human condition,
on the life of the mind.


Say it was when the Pentagon Papers appeared,
conglomerates began taking over movie studios,
Arab terrorists attacked Israeli Olympic athletes,
The Forsyte Saga, The Godfather were filmed,

when Hannah Arendt had become legendary
among her intimates and literary chroniclers
for her reticence about her personal life—
in a society of compulsively liberated lifeways—
about her two husbands, both bold personalities,
one perhaps divorced in favor of the next,
but most curiously about lingering rumors
of her lifelong affair with Martin Heidegger,
begun when she was his student in Germany,
often interrupted for years by circumstances
but irresistibly revived by one or the other,
most poignantly in the last years of their lives,
after the death of her second husband,
by then with the acceptance of his wife,

a circumstance of significance to Susan Sontag,
slyly ambiguous about her evident bisexuality,
who, aside from noting Hannah's elegant ankles,
persistently competed with Mary McCarthy
for visible status in the Arendt circle,

the Hannah who had dwelt so intently
on the origins of totalitarianism,
on the Jew as pariah.


Say it was when Amtrak began operations,
the U.S. returned Okinawa to Japan,
the Dow Jones average dropped to 631,
the Watergate incident occurred,

when Hannah Arendt, never a beauty,
had, even yet, a bearing and a countenance
felt by some to be uniquely alluring
for their authenticity and purpose,

when Auden, long a close acquaintance,
a petitioner for a closer relationship,
and a subject for Hannah's compassion
as his personality, his physical appearance,
and his lifestyle deteriorated into squalor,
to her distress, absurdly proposed marriage
only three weeks after her husband's passing,
clearly out of desperate need for refuge
and a last resort before his retreat to Oxford,
the British public by now disenchanted with him,
Hannah enduring guilt as well as pity and grief
during her euphoric reunions with Heidegger,

the Hannah who had dwelt so intently
on the banality of evil,
on dark times, violence, revolution.


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