Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cecily Mackworth On Henry Miller

This past July 2006, English writer Cecily Mackworth died at the age of 94. She'd tried her hand at many types of writing, but succeeded mostly as a literary travel writer. By the age of 26, in 1937, her list of published works was limited to a handful of poems in the London Mercury. That summer--a year since moving to Paris--she met Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell and the rest of the Villa Seurat circle. It was an exciting time at 18 Villa Seurat: Durrell was newly arrived, The Booster was being published, and the household was a social and creative hive, with the likes of Alfred Perles adding to the action. Mackworth fell in for a time with this writers' circle.

Cecily Mackworth's memoir Ends Of The World (1987) spends a few pages detailing these moments at Villa Seurat. (Mackworth's photograph--circa 1961--can be seen below, left)

MACKWORTH INTRODUCED TO MILLER

Mackworth "drifted into a picture gallery in Montparnasse" one lazy afternoon during the late summer of 1937. Here she met David Edgar, who was also browsing. During conversation, Mackworth stated that she "wanted to write." "[David Edgar] gave me an icy stare," she wrote of the occassion, "and said, 'You must meet Henry Miller!'" Edgar led Mackworth "at a brisk pace" to 18 Villa Seurat.

"There were a lot of people standing about or sitting on the floor. A corkscrew staircase led up to a loggia. A gramaphone was playing Stormy Weather. [click here to listen to a 1933 Duke Ellington version of this song while you read the rest of this post (search the title on the page; plays in Real Player only)]. Henry himself was rather bald, spectacled, already middle-aged...a general impression of untidiness...clothes rumpled, perhaps not very clean...an eager, concentrated look, as if he was waiting for sonething to happen and wanted to be ready for it. Later, I realized he was waiting for the moment when he would want to write."

"When the writing moment came, it made no special difference [...] Henry just moved over to the table in the corner and started to write. Once he began, he went on, apparently never feeling the need to take a walk or go to bed. He wrote on without fuss; pages of Tropic Of Capricorn piled up beside him while the red wine in the bottle at his elbow sank lower and lower."
[Ends Of The World, p. 5].

Mackworth goes on to tell how Alf Perles would bring Henry some food, which Miller would shove into his mouth with one hand while writing with the other. These writing sessions sometimes went on for 24 hours, "until he had said whatever he wanted to say."

WRITING ADVICE FROM HENRY

"Henry believed that people could do whatever they wanted to do, and that the trouble with most of them was that they did not want enough. If you wanted to write, you sat down and wrote; if you wanted to write poetry, you sat down and wrote poetry. Grammar, vocabulary, and so on were just accessories. 'A real poet can write poetry in any language,' he said, and showed me as proof a peom for his friend Hans Reichel, written in German, a language of which he had only the scantest knowledge." [Ends Of The World, p. 6].

Mackworth also describes Henry's like of the Cafe d'Alesia, which can be read about in this posting from Miller Walks.

MACKWORTH PUBLISHED BY MILLER

In 1938, Henry published the work of Mackworth under the title Eleven Poems. This was apparently done as an "off-shoot" of The Booster publication that Miller, Durrell and company were creating at the time. I've been unable to find much more information about Eleven Poems.

Mackworth stayed on in France after everyone else fled in 1939, though the Nazi invasion forced her to flee in June 1940. From this experience came a book, I Came Out Of France (1941) that gained her some degree of success (and the admiration od TS Eliot).

Mackworth and Miller don't seem to have stayed in touch after 1938; I've found no reference to her in Miller's published letters.

Many thanks to Kreg for the idea and the information.

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