A Heaven of Words – Last Journals, 1956-1984
By Glenway Wescott
Edited by Jerry Rosco
University of Wisconsin Press – $24.95
I sing wine and I drink water.
As the author of Wild Animals I Have Known: Polk Street Diaries and After, Kevin Bentley states, this (at times) overtly colourful and enlightening book is ”a frank and insightful collection of later journals from a brilliant gay writer and Lost Generation survivor.”
That it is ”full of literary and sexual anecdotes, wise ruminations […] and poignant reflections on growing older as a writer and lover of men,” does much to recapture not only a lost generation, but a lost time. An era, that when things happened, they were truly special amid the people to whom they were actually happening, rather than beamed across the planet – for all and sundry to see and share and comment upon – a mere few seconds after they’ve taken place.
The more than aptly titled A Heaven of Words (Last Journals, 1956-1984) is an inadvertent reflection, as well as confirmation of such; whereby the acutely observational Glenway Wescott (clearly never one lost for meditative thoughts nor words), mirrored all that he saw through his own, honest and highly intellectual prism of nuanced portrayal.
”Observation of pleasure” was after all, his ”religion.”
As mentioned in the title, these 279 pages (excluding Index and a section called ‘A Glossary of Glenway Wescott’s Contemporaries’), begin in 1956 and conclude in 1984. Along the way, there’s a menagerie of simply terrific one-liners, the altogether witty and esoteric likes of which, one doesn’t stumble across everyday: ”He introduced me to Jesus Christ, and also to the Queen of Romania,” ”[…] partings have to be a rehearsal for the great aloneness,” ”The verb ”belittle” was an invention of Thomas Jefferson’s,” ”What pain is to the body, shame is to the mind,” ”There is nothing stranger than life, unless it is literature.”
As with all great writing, the reader is transported unto another place, wherein the translucence of one’s own imagination is extraordinarily viable to be both educated and enhanced simultaneously. Take the following passage for instance, where, on May 13th 1957, Wescott wrote: ”I am an aging genius, with an insufficient talent; now pregnant with certain books that I have been gradually labouring at for years; in extremely unhappy circumstances in some ways; extraordinarily independent but with very little liberty; kept in extraordinary luxury here at home but penniless otherwise; perhaps due to be famous before long, perhaps more apt to fail, to sicken, to disappear from the picture. Yet there are a few things I know more about than anyone else alive.”
It is just such idiosyncratic insinuation that enabled Wescott – who began his writing career as a poet but is best known for his short stories and novels – to live the charmed life he did. Whether as part of the American literary expatriate community in Paris during the 1920s or revelling amid the company of such celebrated writers as Jean Cocteau, Somerset Maugham, Christopher Isherwood and (one of my all-time favourite poets) W. H. Auden – much of which is captured throughout this wonderful recollection in earnest.