Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Leonora Speyer: Ummm...Who?

When I first saw Leonora Speyer's name on the Pulitzer list, I was forced to face my fear, and the real reason I started this project: to confront what I don't know and open myself to it.

I'd never even heard Lady Speyer's name (her second husband was a Lord) and I certainly haven't read any of her poems. Until now, of course, and I'm sorry to say that I feel completely unchanged by what I encountered. This issue is not entirely Lady Speyer's fault, but more an empty spot in the vast space of the internet. Or so I'd like to think.

After an hour or so of searching for biographical information, I discovered only a few things about Leonora Speyer:

-She was born Leonora von Stosch in Washington D.C.
-She was a professional violinist for most of her life and had trained in Europe.
-She married twice and had four daughters.
-She lived in London and New York City after marrying her second husband.
-She won the PPP at the age of 55 for her book "Fiddler's Farewell."

Her poems were as scant as her biography, and I was equally unfulfilled by what I found. Here's her poem "Measure Me, Sky" which I like just enough to share it with you, though not enough to read too many times.

Measure me, sky!
Tell me I reach by a song
Nearer the stars:
I have been little so long.
Weigh me, high wind!
What will your wild scales record?
Profit of pain,
Joy by the weight of a word.

Horizon, reach out!
Catch at my hands, stretch me taut,
Rim of the world:
Widen my eyes by a thought.

Sky, be my depth;
Wind, be my width and my height;
World, my heart's span:
Loneliness, wings for my flight!

Food for thought: How much does biography endear us to or detract us from connecting with someone's work? This seems an especially important question given both the popularity of the memoir genre, the so-called "cult of personality," and today's concept of what makes a celebrity. Could a great writer be punished for having a conventional life?

1 comment:

  1. This blog is about 85 years after Edgar Lee Masters wrote an unpublished poem (in the holdings of Chicago's Newberry Library) about Speyer's winning of the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her 1926 book of poetry, Fiddler's Farewell and perhaps validates ELM's dark opinion expressed there. On the other hand, perhaps Master's startlingly antisemitic poem was a combination of his own disappointment at not winning the prize again, the not high quality of Speyer's poetry (commented on in this blog) and an elsewhere-unexpressed anti-Jewish prejudice (made the more irrational by the fact that Leonora Speyer was not, herself, Jewish!).