Jan 042016
 

D. H. Lawrence, together with his wife Frieda, and friends Witter Bynner and Willard (“Spud”) Johnson, visited Mexico in March 1923, initially staying in Mexico City.

By the end of April, Lawrence was becoming restless and actively looking for somewhere where he could write. The traveling party had an open invitation to visit Guadalajara, the home of Idella Purnell, a former student of Bynner’s at the Univeristy of California, Berkeley. After reading about Chapala in Terry’s Guide to Mexico, Lawrence decided to  catch the train to Guadalajara and then explore the lakeside village of Chapala for himself.

Lawrence liked what he saw and, within hours of arriving in Chapala, he sent an urgent telegram back to Mexico City pronouncing Chapala “paradise” and urging the others to join him there immediately. Lawrence and his wife Frieda soon established their home for the summer in Chapala, on Calle Zaragoza. In a letter back to two Danish friends in Taos, Lawrence described both the house and the village:

“Here we are, in our own house—a long house with no upstairs—shut in by trees on two sides.—We live on a wide verandah, flowers round—it is fairly hot—I spend the day in trousers and shirt, barefoot—have a Mexican woman, Isabel, to look after us—very nice. Just outside the gate the big Lake of Chapala—40 miles long, 20 miles wide. We can’t see the lake, because the trees shut us in. But we walk out in a wrap to bathe.—There are camions—Ford omnibuses—to Guadalajara—2 hours. Chapala village is small with a market place with trees and Indians in big hats. Also three hotels, because this is a tiny holiday place for Guadalajara. I hope you’ll get down, I’m sure you’d like painting here.—It may be that even yet I’ll have my little hacienda and grow bananas and oranges.” – (letter dated 3 May 1923, to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild, quoted in Knud Merrild’s book, A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence.)

DH Lawrence house in Chapala, ca 1950, Photo by Roy MacNicol

DH Lawrence house in Chapala, ca 1950, Photo by Roy MacNicol

Life was not without its incidents and travails. Frieda, especially, was unconvinced about the charms of Chapala:

Lawrence went to Guadalajara and found a house with a patio on the Lake of Chapala. There, Lawrence began to write his “Plumed Serpent”. He sat by the lake under a pepper tree writing it. The lake was curious with its white water. My enthusiasm for bathing in it faded considerably when one morning a huge snake rose yards high, it seemed to me, only a few feet away. At the end of the patio, we had the family that Lawrence describes in the “Plumed Serpent”, and all the life of Chapala. I tried my one attempt at civilizing those Mexican children, but when they asked me one day, “Do you have lice too, Niña,” I had enough and gave up in a rage. At night I was frightened of bandits and we had one of the sons of the cook sleeping outside our bedroom door with a loaded revolver, but he snored so fiercely that I wasn’t sure whether the fear of bandits wasn’t preferable. We quite sank into the patio life. Bynner and Spud came every afternoon, and I remember Bynner saying to me one day, while he was mixing a cocktail: “If you and Lawrence quarrel, why don’t you hit first?” I took the advice and the next time Lawrence was cross, I rose to the occasion and got out of my Mexican indifference and flew at him.  – (Frieda Lawrence: (1934), Not I, But the Wind… Viking Press, New York (1934), p 139)

The house the Lawrences rented was at Zaragoza #4 (since renumbered Zaragoza #307) and became the basis for the description of Kate’s living quarters in The Plumed Serpent. The Lawrences lived in the house from the start of May 1923 to about 9 July that year.

Interestingly, the house subsequently had several additional links to famous writers and artists.

Immediately after the Lawrences departed, the next renters were American artists Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser, who lived there for 18 months. They did not realize the identity of the previous tenant – “an English writer” –  until the following year. Their time in Chapala is described, with great wit and charm, in Jackson’s Burros and Paintbrushes (University of Texas Press, 1985).

[Jackson visited Mexico many times and made several return visits to Chapala, including one in 1968 when he, his wife and young grandson, “rented the charming old Witter Bynner house right in the center of the village of Chapala. It had become the property of Peter Hurd, the artist…” In 1923, Bynner and Johnson stayed at the Hotel Arzapalo. In 1930, Bynner bought a home in Chapala (not the one rented by Lawrence) and was a frequent winter visitor for many years.]

Lawrence house in Chapala - ca 1963

Lawrence house in Chapala – ca 1963

Over the years, the house on Zaragoza that Lawrence and Frieda had occupied was extensively remodeled and expanded. The first major renovation was undertaken in about 1940 by famed Mexican architect Luis Barragán. Another large-scale renovation took place after the house was acquired in 1954 by American artist and architect Roy MacNicol (mistakenly spelled MacNichol in Moore’s The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence).

lawrence-quinta-quetzacoatl-chapala

Quinta Quetzacoatl

In the late 1970s, Canadian poet Al Purdy, a great admirer of Lawrence (to the point of having a bust of Lawrence on the hall table of his home in Ontario), wrote a hand-signed and numbered book, The D.H. Lawrence House at Chapala, published by The Paget Press in 1980, as a limited edition of 44 copies. [If any generous benefactor is reading this, I’d love to own a copy!] The book includes a photograph, taken by Purdy’s wife Eurithe, of the plumed serpent tile work above the door of the Lawrence house.

The town of Chapala today would be totally unrecognizable to Lawrence, but the home where he spent a productive summer writing the first draft of The Plumed Serpent eventually became the Quinta Quetzalcoatl, an exclusive boutique hotel.

Sources:

  • Goldsmith, M.O. 1941. “Week-end house in Mexico: G. Cristo house, Lake Chapala.” House and Garden vol 79 (May 1941). Describes the remodeling of D.H. Lawrence’s one story adobe cottage by Luis Barragán, the “talented young Mexican architect.”
  • Harry T. Moore (ed). 1962. The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence (Two volumes), (New York: Viking Press).

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Dec 282015
 

Author and poet Harold Witter Bynner (1881-1968), known as “Hal” to his friends, had a lengthy connection to Lake Chapala extending over more than forty years. He first visited the lake and the village in 1923, when he and then companion Willard Johnson were traveling with D.H. Lawrence and his wife.

Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and later (1940) bought a house there, which became his second home, his primary residence remaining in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bynner spent two and a half years in Chapala during the second world war, and the equivalent of ten years of his life there in total.

Poet, mimic and raconteur Witter Bynner was born into a wealthy family. Apparently, he liked to recount stories about his mother, who, he claimed, kept $500,000 in cash in one of her closets.

He graduated from Harvard in 1902, having been on the staff of the Harvard Advocate.

Bynner published his first volume of verse, Young Harvard and Other Poems, in 1907. Other early works included Tiger (1913), The New World (1915), The Beloved Stranger (1919), A Canticle of Pan and Other Poems (1920), Pins for Wings (1920) and A Book of Love (1923).

In 1916, in an extended prank aimed at deflating the self-important poetry commentators of the time, Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke collaborated to perpetrate what has often been called “the literary hoax of the twentieth century”. Bynner and Ficke had met at Harvard and were to become lifelong friends. Ficke and his wife Gladys accompanied Bynner on a trip to the Far East in 1916-17. In 1916, Bynner writing under the pen name “Emanuel Morgan” and Ficke, writing as “Anne Knish” published a joint work, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments. Intended as a satire on modern poetry, the work was enthusiastically reviewed as a serious contribution to poetry, before the deception was revealed in 1918. (Ficke, incidentally, later spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala, with Bynner, and wrote a novel set there: Mrs Morton of Mexico.)

Even though Bynner still became President of the Poetry Society of America from 1920 to 1922, the Spectra hoax was not well received by the poetry establishment, and Bynner’s later poetry received less attention than deserved.

Bynner traveled extensively in the Orient, and compiled and translated an anthology of Chinese poetry: The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology, Being Three Hundred Poems of the T’ang Dynasty 618–906 (1929) as well as The Way of Life According to Laotzu (1944). He also amassed an impressive collection of Chinese artifacts.

In 1919, he accepted a teaching post at the University of California at Berkeley. Students in his poetry class there included both Idella Purnell and Willard “Spud” Johnson. When Bynner left academia and moved to Taos, New Mexico, in 1922, to concentrate on his own writing, Johnson followed to become his secretary-companion. In Taos, they met D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, and the four traveled together to Mexico in the spring of 1923. After a short time in Mexico City, they settled in Chapala, where the Lawrences rented a house while Bynner and Johnson stayed at the Hotel Arzapalo.

bynner-coverChapala with the Lawrences

Bynner’s memoir of this trip and the group’s time in Chapala is told in his engagingly-written Journey with Genius (1951), which is full of anecdotes and analysis. Among the former, for example, is the story told them by Winfield Scott, manager of the Arzapalo, who a few years earlier had been kidnapped by bandits who attacked the Hotel Rivera in El Fuente.

Bynner, who seems to have had near-perfect recall, describes Chapala and their trips together in loving detail, as well as providing insights into Lawrence’s work habits and mood swings. For his part, Lawrence appears to have been less than impressed, since in The Plumed Serpent he used Bynner as the basis for the unflattering character of Owen, the American at the bullfight.

Bynner’s poem about Lawrence in Chapala, “The Foreigner”, is short and sweet:

Chapala still remembers the foreigner
Who came with a pale red beard and pale blue eyes
And a pale white skin that covered a dark soul;
They remember the night when he thought he saw a hand
Reach through a broken window and fumble at a lock;
They remember a tree on the beach where he used to sit
And ask the burros questions about peace;
They remember him walking, walking away from something.

The Lawrences left Chapala in early July 1923, but Bynner and Johnson stayed a few months more, so that Bynner could continue working on his book of verse, Caravan (1925).

bynner-1961Bynner returned to Chapala in 1925, and a letter from that time shows how he thinks the town has changed, in part due to tourists: “Too much elegancia now, constant shrill clatter, no calzones, not so many guaraches, no plaza-market.” Among the changes, Bynner noted several other American writers and a painter in Chapala, making up “a real little colony” (quoted in Delpar).

Elsewhere, diary entries and other letters reveal why he liked Chapala: “The Mind clears at Chapala. Questions answer themselves. Tasks become easy”, and how he felt at home there: “Me for Chapala. I doubt if I shall find another place in Mexico so simpatico.”

Poems related to these first two visits to Chapala (1923 and 1925) include “On a Mexican Lake” (New Republic, 1923); “The Foreigner” (The Nation, 1926); “Chapala Poems” (Poetry, 1927); “To my mother concerning a Mexican sunset / Mescala etc.” (Poetry, 1927); “Indian Earth” [Owls; Tule; Volcano; A Sunset on Lake Chapala; Men of Music; A Weaver from Jocotepec] (The Yale Review, 1928); and “Six Mexican Poems” [A Mexican Wind; A Beautiful Mexican; From Chapala to a San Franciscan; The Cross on Tunapec; Conflict; The Web] (Bookman, 1929).

Bynner included many of these poems in the collection Indian Earth (1929), which he dedicated to Lawrence, and which many consider some of Bynner’s finest work. A reviewer for Pacific Affairs (a journal of the University of British Columbia, Canada), wrote that “Chapala, a sequence occupying over half the seventy-seven pages of the book, is a poignant revelation to one in quest of the essence of an alien spirit, that alien spirit being in this case the simple, passionate Indian soul of old Mexico.”

Among my personal favorites (though I admit to bias) is

A Weaver From Jocotepec

Sundays he comes to me with new zarapes
Woven especial ways to please us both:
The Indian key and many-coloured flowers
And lines called rays and stars called little doves.
I order a design; he tells me yes
And, looking down across his Asian beard,
Foresees a good zarape. Other time
I order a design; he tells me no.

Since weavers of Jocotepec are the best in Jalisco,
And no weaver in Jocotepec is more expert than mine,
I watched the zarapes of strangers who came to the plaza
For the Sunday evening processions around the band,
And I showed him once, on a stranger, a tattered blanket
Patterned no better than his but better blent––
Only to find it had taken three weavers to weave it:
My weaver first and then the sun and rain.

Later Chapala-related poems by Bynner include “Chapala Moon and The Conquest of Mexico” (two poems; Forum and Century, 1936) and “Beach at Chapala” (Southwest Review, 1947).

Bynner’s third trip to Chapala, with partner Robert (“Bob”) Hunt (1906-1964), came in 1931. The pair visited Taxco and Chapala, but Bynner preferred Chapala, claiming (somewhat in contradiction to his earlier letter about a “real little colony”) that, “Chapala survives without a single foreigner living there and, despite its hotels and shabby mansions, continues to be primitive and feel remote.” Of course, this was by no means true; there certainly were foreigners living in Chapala in 1931, including some who had been there since the start of the century.

When Bynner returned to Chapala for a longer stay in January 1940, he first stayed at the Hotel Nido, but not finding it much to his liking soon purchased a house almost directly across the street. The original address was Galeana #441, but the street name today is Francisco I. Madero. We will consider the history of this house in a separate post, but Bynner and Hunt regularly vacationed here thereafter.

At some point in mid-1944, Bynner had been joined at Chapala by a young American painter Charles Stigall, whose ill health at the time had caused him not to be drafted. He lived with Bynner while he recuperated. Certainly he was there in November 1944, as the Guadalajara daily El Informador (19 November 1944) records both “Mr Witter Bynner, famous American poet” and “Mr Charles Stigel” attending an exhibition of Mexican paintings by Edith Wallach, at the Villa Montecarlo. Among the other guests, at the opening were “Nigel Stansbury Millet (one half of the Dane Chandos writing duo); Miss Neill James; Mr Otto Butterlin and his “lovely daughter Rita”; Miss Ann Medalie; and Mr. Herbert Johnson and wife.” (The newspaper makes no mention of Bob Hunt, who was also in Chapala at that time).

In November 1945, Bynner lost his oldest and closest friend, Arthur Ficke. The following month, he returned to Chapala for the winter.

Bynner and Hunt continued to visit Chapala regularly for many years, into the early 1960s. He was well aware of how much the town had changed since his first visit in 1923. For example in a letter to Edward Nehls in the 1950s, Bynner wrote,

“The “beach” where Lawrence used to sit, is now a severe boulevard [Ramon Corona] which gives me a pang when I remember the simple village we lived in. The tree under which he sat and wrote is gone long since and the beach close to it where fishermen cast nets and women washed clothes has receded a quarter of a mile. But the mountains still surround what is left of the lake and, as a village somewhat inland, Chapala would still have charmed us had we come upon it in its present state.”

In February 1949, Bynner had his first slight heart attack, but still visited Chapala for part of the year. At about this time, his eyesight began to deteriorate. Bynner and Hunt, in the company of artist Clinton King and his wife Narcissa, traveled to Europe and North Africa for the first six months of 1950, visiting, among others, Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin in Paris, and George Santayana and Sybille Bedford (author of a fictionalized travelogue about Lake Chapala) in Rome.

Bynner’s final years were spent in ill-health. Bynner had almost completely lost his sight by January 1964, when he unexpectedly lost his long-time partner, Bob Hunt, who had a fatal heart attach just as he was setting out for Chapala, having made arrangements for Bynner to be cared for in his absence by John Liggett Meigs.

The following year, Bynner suffered a severe stroke. While friends looked after him for the remainder of his life (he died in 1968), Bynner’s doctors ordered that the famous poet was not well enough to receive visitors for more than one minute at a time.

Bynner left his Santa Fe home to St. John’s College, together with the funds to create a foundation that supports poetry. The house and grounds are now the Inn of the Turquoise Bear.

His passing marked the loss of one of the many literary greats who had found inspiration at Lake Chapala.

Sources:

  • Bushby, D. Maitland. 1931. “Poets of Our Southern Frontier”, Out West Magazine, Feb 1931, p 41-42.
  • Bynner, Witter. 1951. Joumey with Genius: Recollection and Reflections Concerning The D.H. Lawrences (New York: The John Day Company).
  • Bynner, Witter. 1981. Selected Letters (edited by James Kraft). The Works of Witter Bynner. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Delpar, Helen. 1992. The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican : Cultural Relations between the United States and Mexico, 1920-1935. (University of Alabama Press)
  • Kraft, James 1995. Who is Witter Bynner? (UNM Press)
  • Nehls, Edward (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Sze, Corinne P. 1992. “The Witter Bynner House” [Santa Fe], Bulletin of the Historic Santa Fe Association, Vol 20, No 2, September 1992.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Dec 212015
 

Explanations of why the famous British author D. H. Lawrence chose to visit Chapala in 1923 often ignore the key role played by Idella Purnell, a strong-willed young poetry fanatic from Guadalajara.

Purnell had studied under American poet Witter Bynner at the University of California, and Bynner had received an open invitation to visit Purnell and her family in Guadalajara. Over the winter of 1922-23, Bynner and Lawrence had become friends during the English author’s first stay in New Mexico.

In 1923, Lawrence was becoming restless and proposed a trip to Mexico. Lawrence and his wife Frieda invited Bynner, and Bynner’s secretary-companion Willard “Spud” Johnson (who had been a fellow student of Purnell in Bynner’s class), to accompany them. After a short time in Mexico City, the group settled in Chapala for the summer, during which time they met frequently with Idella Purnell and her dentist father, Dr. George Purnell, sometimes in Guadalajara, sometimes in Chapala. The Purnells had numerous links to Chapala and Ajijic (where Dr. Purnell owned a small house), and Idella Purnell went on to enjoy considerable success as a poet, editor, and author of children’s books.

Idella Purnell: The Merry Frogs

Idella Purnell: The Merry Frogs (1936)

[Born on 28 March 1863, Purnell’s father, George Edward Purnell (1863-1961), was among the earliest graduates in dentistry from the University of Maryland, the first dental college in the U.S. Purnell practiced in Missouri before moving to California. In 1889, during a downturn in the Californian economy, a vacation trip to Mexico became a permanent move.

Purnell set up a dental practice in Guadalajara and got married. Dr. Purnell also had mining interests, including a stake in the Quien Sabe Mining company at Ajijic, where several rich veins of gold ore were found in 1909, duly reported in the Los Angeles Herald and El Paso Herald. Some years later (1930), Purnell was kidnapped by bandits but released unharmed after less than a week in exchange for four hundred pesos.]

Idella, the eldest of the Purnell’s three children, was born in Guadalajara on 1 April 1901, and named after her mother. As a teenager, she taught primary school in Guadalajara before attending the University of California, Berkeley. During her second semester there, she was the youngest student in a poetry class given by Witter Bynner. She also became an associate editor of The Occident, the university’s literary magazine.

After she gained her B.A. degree in 1922, Purnell returned to Guadalajara where she worked as a secretary in the American Consulate for the next couple of years. She began writing to Bynner, asking him to come for a visit:

“I was very hungry for intellectual contacts; Guadalajara at that time was an arid desert.” (letter to Nehls)

Taking advantage of her connections to the Berkeley poetry circles, Purnell spent much of 1922 planning the first issue of Palms, a small poetry magazine that she would edit and publish until 1930.

The first issue of Palms appeared in the spring of 1923, just before her prayers for further intellectual stimulation were answered by the visit of Bynner, Johnson and Lawrence. Bynner had been supportive of Palms from the start, but had certainly not anticipated Lawrence’s willingness to offer some poems and drawings, in exchange for some home-made marmalade.

In Journey with Genius, his account of visiting Mexico with Lawrence, Bynner describes how they visited the Purnells’ “quaint little untidy house of adobe”:

“Never have I seen Lorenzo [Lawrence] more amiable, more ingratiating that he was that evening. He listened to poems of Idella’s and to some of her Palms material. He was full of saintly deference to everyone…” (Journey with Genius, 82).

Idella Purnell was initially taken aback by Lawrence, but soon became enthralled:

“Even warned about the red beard, it was with a sense of shock that I met Mr. Lawrence, so thin, so fragile and nervous-quick, and with such a flaming red beard, and such intense, sparkling, large mischievous blue eyes which he sometimes narrowed in a cat-like manner. His rusty hair was always in disorder, as though it never knew a comb. But otherwise the man seemed neat almost to obsession and frail, as though all his energy went into producing the unruly mop on top and the energetic still beard.” [Letter from Purnell to Bynner, quoted in Journey with Genius]

Over the next few months, the Purnells saw Lawrence regularly, either at their home in Guadalajara, or in Chapala at weekends when they stayed Saturday nights at the Hotel Arzapalo.

In early July, a few days before the Lawrences left Chapala, they arranged an extended four‑day boat trip around the lake with Idella Purnell and her father. The group left Chapala aboard the Esmeralda on 4 July.

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923. Photo credit: Willard Johnson.

The boat ran into very bad weather overnight, causing several of the group to be sick, before they finally limped into shore on the south side of the lake near Tuxcueca. From there, Idella took a badly-suffering Bynner back to Chapala on the regular steamer. While friends accompanied Bynner to a hospital in Guadalajara, Idella remained in Chapala to greet the remaining members of the party when they finally returned a few days later.

Based on these times with Lawrence and his friends in Chapala, Purnell wrote an unpublished roman à clef novel entitled Friction. The novel, whose title was suggested by Lawrence, apparently incorporates some excellent descriptions of the local area, and revolves around a political assassination. Among the characters are Edmund (Lawrence), Gertrude (Frieda), Judith (Idella), Lionel (Johnson) and Dean (Bynner).

Purnell continued to publish and edit Palms, considered a forum for young, upcoming poets, until 1930. She never published any of her own poems in Palms, but under her leadership, the magazine published work by more than 350 poets, many of them rising stars at the time, even if largely forgotten since.

palms-cover-by-gotzchePalms included contributions from Bynner, D.H. Lawrence, Johnson, Marjorie Allen Seifert, Warren Gilbert, Mable Dodge Luhan, Countee Cullen, Norman Maclean, Carl Rakosi, Langston Hughes and Alexander Laing, among others. Both Lawrence, and his Danish artist friend Kai Gøtzsche (1886‑1963) (see image) provided illustrations for Palms‘ covers, as did Idella’s younger sister Frances-Lee Purnell. Famous American poet and critic Ezra Pound, in his essay “Small Magazines” (1930), said that Palms “was probably the best poetry magazine of its time”, high praise indeed.

During the second half of the 1920s, Purnell yo-yoed between Mexico and the U.S. In summer 1925, she was head of the foreign book department at the Los Angeles Public Library, where she first met future husband, John M. Weatherwax, before moving back to Mexico in October.

[In 1926, while staying at the Hotel Cosmopolita in Guadalajara, Emma Lindsay Squier (1892-1941) became good friends with the Purnells. Squier’s time with them is described in detail in her memoir Gringa (1934).]

purnell-idella-30-mexican-menus-span-engIn 1927, Purnell and Weatherwax married, and she joined him in Aberdeen, Washington. She returned to Guadalajara the following year to have their only child, a daughter who, tragically, died as an infant. Weatherwax sued for divorce in 1929, but despite this, he and Purnell collaborated on 19 books between June 1929 and October 1930.

She gave up publishing Palms in 1930. The title was briefly revived by Elmer Nicholas in 1932, a minister in Frankton, Indiana.

On a business trip to New York in 1930, Purnell fell in love with Remington (“Remi”) Stone. The couple lived in New York and married in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, on 30 September 1932.

In 1931, Purnell returned once again to Guadalajara, and the following year was the organizer and dean of the first University of Guadalajara summer session. Many years later, in 1975, her photograph appeared in the Guadalajara Colony Reporter as a guest of honor at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the University of Guadalajara, since she had been the University of California’s delegate to the university’s opening in 1925.

In 1932, Purnell applied, unsuccessfully, for a Guggenheim fellowship to study the anthropology of Lake Chapala and write an anthropological-fictional novel to be called Canoa, which she hoped “would convey to the reader the idyllic atmosphere of the Mexican countryside.” (Delpar)

Purnell had two children with Remington Stone: Marijane Stone, born in 1934, and Remington, born in 1938. The couple also later brought up Purnell’s niece, Carrie Stone. In 1935, when Marijane was only 14 months old, the family began another Mexican gold-mining venture. Remi remained in New York to secure financing, while Idella and Marijane joined Dr. Purnell in Ameca, Jalisco, to oversee the mining operations. All three became ill, so Remi arrived to help run the mine. In 1937, Idella and Marijane went to Los Angeles for medical reasons. Remi gave up the mine shortly afterwards when the Mexican government began expropriating foreign-owned mining property.

In Los Angeles, Idella taught creative writing, and during World War II, she became a riveter for Douglas Aviation and Fletcher Aviation.

In the 1950s, she started studying dianetics, and opened a Center for Dianetics in Pasadena in 1951, before moving it to Sierra Madre in 1956.

Purnell died in Los Angeles, California, on 1 December 1982; she had played an active role in many different literary and educational achievements of the twentieth century. Her archive of correspondence and papers, 1922‑1960, is held by the University of Texas.

purnell-idella-1944-bambi-sIn her long literary career, Idella Purnell (Stone) was the author or co-author of numerous children’s books, including The Talking Bird, an Aztec Story Book: Tales Told to Little Paco By His Grandfather (1930); Why the Bee is Busy and Other Rumanian Fairy Tales Told to Little Marcu By Baba Maritza (1930); Little Yusuf: The Story of a Syrian Boy (1931); The Wishing Owl, a Maya Storybook (1931); The Lost Princess of Yucatan (1931); The Forbidden City (1932); Pedro the Potter (1935); The Merry Frogs (1936).

However, Purnell’s best known work is the Walt Disney version of Bambi (1944), when she “retold” Felix Salten’s original version, Bambi, A Life in the Woods, with Disney providing the illustrations. (Incidentally, Walt Disney himself actually visited Chapala at least once; he gave a speech at the Villa Montecarlo in October 1964, during a “De Pueblo a Pueblo” meeting attended by Mexican president Adolfo Lopez Mateos and US military historian John D Eisenhower).

purnell-idella-sci-fi-anthologyIn addition to children’s stories, Purnell also wrote non-fiction, including a Spanish language biography of the famous American botanist Luther Burbank: Luther Burbank, el Mago de las Plantas (Argentina: Espasa Calpe, 1955), and 30 Mexican Menus in Spanish and English (Ward Ritchie Press, 1971).

Works compiled and edited by Purnell include 14 Great Tales of ESP (Fawcet, 1969) and Never in This World, a collection of stories by twelve famous science-fiction writers, including Isaac Asimov (Fawcett, 1971).

Her short pieces include “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala“, originally published in American Junior Red Cross News in December 1936.

Sources:

  • Witter Bynner. 1951. Journey with Genius (New York: John Day)
  • Helen Delpar. 1995. The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican: Cultural Relations Between the United States and Mexico, 1920-1935 (University of Alabama Press)
  • David Ellis. 1998. D. H. Lawrence: Dying Game 1922-1930; The Cambridge Biography of D. H. Lawrence, Volume 3. Cambridge University Press.
  • D. H. Lawrence. 1926. The Plumed Serpent.
  • Frieda Lawrence (Frieda von Richthofen). 1934. Not I, But the Wind… (New York: Viking Press)
  • Harry T. Moore and Warren Roberts. 1966. D. H. Lawrence and his world. (London: Thames & Hudson)
  • Edward Nehls (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Vilma Potter. 1994. “Idella Purnell’s PALMS and Godfather Witter Bynner.” American Periodicals, Vol 4 (1994), pp 47-64, published by Ohio State University.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 072015
 

English novelist, poet and essayist David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) was 37 years of age in summer 1923 when he spent three months in Chapala writing the first draft of the work that eventually became The Plumed Serpent (1926).

Early years

Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, on 11 September 1885, and died in France on 2 March 1930. He studied at Nottingham High School and University College, Nottingham, where he gained a teaching certificate, and then taught for three years, but left the profession in 1911, following a bout of pneumonia, to concentrate full-time on his writing career. In 1914, he married Frieda Weekley (née von Richthofen) (1879-1956), the former wife of one of his university French teachers.

Lawrence was deemed medically unfit to serve in the first world war (1914-18). During the war, the couple lived in near destitution on account of suspicion engendered by Lawrence’s anti-war sentiments and Frieda’s German background. Accused of espionage while living at Zennor, on a secluded part of the Cornish coast, they were forced to move to London.

As soon as was practical after the war, they left the U.K. to live abroad. Lawrence only ever returned to the U.K. on two occasions after that, each time staying for as short a time as possible. Lawrence and Frieda began an itinerant existence as the novelist sought the perfect place to live and work; this quest took them to Australia, Italy (where he acquired the nickname Lorenzo, used by wife Frieda and others from that time), Sri Lanka, the U.S., Mexico and France, but no single location ever satisfied Lawrence for long.

From New Mexico to Mexico City and Chapala

In September 1922, Lawrence and Frieda were invited by Mabel Dodge Luhan, to spend the winter in New Mexico. En route to her ranch near Taos, they spent a night in Santa Fe at the home of Witter Bynner the poet. Bynner and his secretary (and lover) Willard (“Spud”) Johnson would travel with the Lawrences to Mexico the following year. (We look at them in relation to Lake Chapala in separate posts).

In March 1923, Lawrence, Frieda, Bynner and Johnson arrived in Mexico City and took rooms in the Hotel Monte Carlo, close to the city center. This hotel became the basis for the Hotel San Remo in The Plumed Serpent.

By the end of April, Lawrence was getting restless again, and still looking for somewhere to write. The party had an open invitation to visit Idella Purnell, a former student of Bynner, in Guadalajara. Lawrence read about Chapala in Terry’s Guide to Mexico and, taking into account its proximity to Guadalajara, decided to explore the village for himself.

Curiously, there is some uncertainty among biographers as to how (and precisely when) Lawrence first arrived in Chapala. Some claim that he left the Mexico City-Guadalajara train at Ocotlán, and then took a boat to Chapala. While this was possible (and this manner of arrival was clearly the basis for the trip to “Lake Sayula” described in chapters V and VI of The Plumed Serpent), it seems unlikely, given that the house he subsequently rented in Chapala was recommended by a consular official in Guadalajara.

More likely, Lawrence stayed in Guadalajara and met the official face-to-face. He then had several alternative means of traveling to Chapala: train back to Ocotlán, followed by boat, or train to La Capilla and then the La Capilla-Chapala railway (which operated on a limited schedule), or bus (camion) all the way from Guadalajara.

D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, Chapala, 1923

D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, Chapala, 1923

However he arrived, Lawrence liked what he saw and, within hours of arriving in Chapala, had sent an urgent telegram back to Mexico City pronouncing Chapala “paradise” and urging the others to join him there immediately.

Frieda, Bynner and Johnson narrowly caught the overnight train and met the Purnells in Guadalajara the following morning. According to Bynner, Frieda then caught a camion (bus) to Chapala to join her husband, who had already rented a house in Chapala, on Calle Zaragoza. Bynner and Johnson opted to stay a few days in the city before joining the Lawrences at the lake. When they did arrive, they chose to enjoy the comforts of the nearby Hotel Arzapalo.

Lawrence sets up home in Chapala

Lawrence and Frieda soon established their home for the summer in Chapala, at Calle Zaragoza #4 (later renumbered #307). In a letter back to two Danish friends in Taos, Lawrence described both the house and the village:

“Here we are, in our own house—a long house with no upstairs—shut in by trees on two sides.—We live on a wide verandah, flowers round—it is fairly hot—I spend the day in trousers and shirt, barefoot—have a Mexican woman, Isabel, to look after us—very nice. Just outside the gate the big Lake of Chapala—40 miles long, 20 miles wide. We can’t see the lake, because the trees shut us in. But we walk out in a wrap to bathe.—There are camions—Ford omnibuses—to Guadalajara—2 hours. Chapala village is small with a market place with trees and Indians in big hats. Also three hotels, because this is a tiny holiday place for Guadalajara. I hope you’ll get down, I’m sure you’d like painting here.—It may be that even yet I’ll have my little hacienda and grow bananas and oranges.” – (letter dated 3 May 1923, to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild, quoted in Merrild.)

Lawrence’s stay at Lake Chapala proved to be a highly productive one. His major achievement at Chapala was to write the entire first draft of a new novel set in Mexico. Initially called Quetzocaoatl (after the feathered serpent of Mexican mythology), the draft was completely rewritten the following year in Oaxaca as The Plumed Serpent.

Writing beside the beach

After a couple of false starts, Lawrence began his novel on 10 May and, writing at a furious pace, completed ten chapters by the end of the month. Within two months, the first draft was essentially complete.

Lawrence did not do very much writing in the house, but preferred to sit under a tree on the edge of the lake. Willard “Spud” Johnson recalled that:

Mornings we all worked, Lawrence generally down towards a little peninsula where tall trees grew near the water. He sat there, back against a tree, eyes often looking over the scene that was to be the background for his novel, and wrote in tiny, fast words in a thick, blue-bound blank book, the tale which he called Quetzalcoatl. Here also he read Mexican history and folklore and observed, almost unconsciously, the life that went on about him, and somehow got the spirit of the place. There were the little boys who sold idols from the lake; the women who washed clothes at the waters’ edge and dried them on the sands; there were lone fisherman, white calzones pulled to their hips, bronze legs wading deep in the waters, fine nets catching the hundreds of tiny charales: boatmen steering their clumsy, beautiful craft around the peninsula; men and women going to market with baskets of pitahayas on their heads; lovers, even, wandering along the windy shore; goatherds; mothers bathing babies; sometimes a group of Mexican boys swimming nude off-shore instead of renting ugly bathing-suits further down by the hotel. ..Afternoons we often had tea together or Lawrence and I walked along the mud flats below the village or along the cobbled country road around the Japanese hill—or up the hill itself. We discovered that botany had been a favorite study of both of us at school and took a friendly though more or less ignorant interest in the flora as we walked and talked. Lawrence talked most, of course. (quoted in Udall)

Seeking a permanent home

For much of their stay in Chapala, Lawrence was hoping to find a property suitable for long-term residence, as evidenced by this letter, dated 17 June 1923, from Frieda to their Danish artist friends Knud Merrild and Kai Gøtzsche back in Taos, New Mexico:

“We are still not sure of our fate–but if we see a place we really like, we will have it and plant bananas–I am already very tired of not doing my own work.–Lawrence does not want to go to Europe, but he is not sure of what he wants.  –The common people are also very nice but of course really wild–And I think we could have a good time, Merrild would love the lake and swimming, we could have natives to spin and weave and make pottery and I am sure this has never been painted—–” (quoted in Merrild)

It is unclear whether or not Frieda intended the last comment, about the lake never having been painted, to be taken literally. The truth is that many artists had painted Lake Chapala long before the Lawrences ever stayed there, including Johann Moritz Rugendas (who painted there in 1834), Ferdinand Schmoll (1879-1950), watercolorist Paul Fischer, and August Löhr (1843-1919). Moreover, only days after the Lawrences left their home in Chapala, it was rented by two young American artists, Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser.

Late in June, Lawrence himself writes to Merrild, explaining that despite looking for a new home, they have now given up hope of finding somewhere suitable:

“We were away two days travelling on the lake and looking at haciendas. One could easily get a little place. But now they are expecting more revolution, & it is so risky. Besides, why should one work to build a place & make it nice, only to have it destroyed.

So, for the present at least, I give it up. It’s no good. Mankind is too unkind.” (quoted in Merrild)

In July 1923, a few days before Lawrence and Frieda left Chapala, they arranged an extended four-day boat trip around the lake with friends including Idella Purnell and her father, Dr. George Purnell. The trip, aboard the Esmeralda, began on 4 July. Two of the party returned early, but the others endured some very rough weather, before their return to port.

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923. Photo credit: Willard Johnson

Lawrence returns to Chapala (briefly) in October 1923

On 9 July, the Lawrences left Chapala for New York via Guadalajara, Laredo, San Antonio, New Orleans and Washington D.C. The following month, Frieda went to Europe, leaving Lawrence behind in the U.S. In October, Lawrence returned to Mexico, traveling with the Danish painter Kai Gotzsche down the west coast, with plenty of unanticipated adventures, to spend a month in Guadalajara. They stayed most of the time in the Hotel García (where Winfield Scott, former manager of the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala, was now in charge). From Guadalajara, they visited Chapala for a single day on 21 October 1923, before traveling to Mexico City in mid-November, before sailing from Veracruz for England.

The following year (1924), Lawrence and Frieda came back across the Atlantic to New Mexico in March, bringing with them the painter, the Hon. Dorothy Brett (who later wrote her own memoir of Lawrence). The Lawrences spent the Fall of 1924 in Oaxaca, where Lawrence focused on reworking Quetzacoatl into the manuscript for The Plumed Serpent.

The lake looks like urine?

Did Lawrence really like Lake Chapala? That remains an open question, and no doubt depended on his mood when asked. Playwright Christopher Isherwood, when interviewed by David Lambourne, credited D. H Lawrence with having taught him that for best effect you don’t need to describe things as they are, but as you saw them:

“Lawrence… was so intensely subjective. I mean his wonder at the mountains above Taos, you know, and then his rage at Lake Chapala. And the characteristic methods of his attack were so marvelous. I mean, he was in a bad temper about Lake Chapala, so he just said, ‘The lake looks like urine.’ He meant, ‘It looks like urine to me,’ you see…”

Lawrence Myths

Inevitably, many misconceptions have arisen about Lawrence’s time in Chapala. It is often assumed, for instance, that he spent far more time in Chapala than just ten weeks. It is sometimes claimed that he spent “one winter” there, whereas in fact he visited from May to July, witnessing the very end of the dry season and the start of the rainy season.

Nor was Lawrence the first Anglophone writer to find inspiration at Lake Chapala, though he was quite possibly the most illustrious. The honor of writing the earliest full-length novel set at the lake in English goes to Charles Embree (1874-1905), who spent eight months in Chapala in 1898, and wrote A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900).

Chapala remains a place of pilgrimage for Lawrence fans

Since 1923, many Lawrence fans have made their own pilgrimage to Chapala to see first-hand what inspired their great hero. Perhaps the most famous of these admirers is the Canadian poet Al Purdy, who visited Chapala several times in the 1970s and 1980s. Purdy was a huge fan of Lawrence, even to having a bust of Lawrence on his hall table back in Canada and wrote a limited edition book, The D.H. Lawrence House at Chapala (The Paget Press, 1980).

Sources / Further reading:

  • David Bidini. 2009. “Visit to poet Al Purdy’s home stirs up more than a few old ghosts”, National Post, Friday 30 October 2009.
  • Witter Bynner. 1951. Journey with Genius (New York: John Day)
  • David Ellis. 1998. D. H. Lawrence: Dying Game 1922-1930; The Cambridge Biography of D. H. Lawrence, Volume 3. Cambridge University Press.
  • David Lambourne. 1975. “A kind of Left-Wing Direction”, an interview with
    Christopher Isherwood” in Poetry Nation No. 4, 1975. [accessed 2 Feb 2005]
  • D. H. Lawrence. 1926. The Plumed Serpent.
  • Frieda Lawrence (Frieda von Richthofen). 1934. Not I, But the Wind… (New York: Viking Press)
  • Knud Merrild. A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D. H. Lawrence.
  • Harry T. Moore(ed). 1962. The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence (Two volumes)
  • Harry T. Moore and Warren Roberts. 1966. D. H. Lawrence and his world. (London: Thames & Hudson)
  • Edward Nehls (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Vilma Potter. 1994. “Idella Purnell’s PALMS and Godfather Witter Bynner.” American Periodicals, Vol 4 (1994), pp 47-64, published by Ohio State University.
  • Sharyn Udall. 1994. Spud Johnson & Laughing Horse. (Univ. New Mexico)

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 092015
 

Poet and novelist Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1945) and his second wife Gladys, an artist, spent the winter of 1934-35 in Chapala. From late November 1934 to late April 1935, they rented a house with fellow poet Witter Bynner and his partner Robert Hunt.

ficke-book-cover-2Ficke subsequently wrote a novel, Mrs Morton of Mexico, set at the lake and published in 1939 by Reynal & Hitchcock, New York. It is Ficke’s only novel. The novel was illustrated at the heading and end of each chapter with interesting and attractive drawings by Ficke’s wife, Gladys Brown.

We take a closer look at the novel in a separate post, but the title character is an octogenarian American expatriate, based in real-life (as Neill James pointed out in her Dust on My Heart), on the persona of Mrs. Hunton, originally from Virginia, the matriarch of a family that first settled in Chapala at the start of the twentieth century.

A poem by Ficke entitled “Lake Chapala” and at least one of the stories told in the novel, about “The Burro of Chapala”, had been published previously, in Esquire. (The poem, illustrated by John Groth, in May 1936, and the short story, with an illustration by Eric Lundgren, in December 1937.)

Portrait of Ficke (Iowa Post)

Portrait of Ficke (Iowa Post)

Arthur Davison Ficke was born on 10 November 1883 in Davenport, Iowa, the son of a lawyer, and died in Hudson, New York, on 30 November 1945. During his childhood, the family traveled to Europe and the Orient, the start of a lifelong interest in Japanese art.

Ficke entered Harvard College in 1900, where he first met Witter Bynner, who became a lifelong friend. After graduating from Harvard in 1904, Ficke then gained a law degree at Iowa State University (1908) while teaching some English classes at the university and having married Evelyn Bethune Blunt in 1907 .

He was a prolific poet. Ficke published From the Isles his first collection of poetry in 1907. This was quickly followed by The Happy Princess and Other Poems (1907), The Earth Passion (1908), The Breaking of Bonds (1910), Twelve Japanese Painters (1913), Mr. Faust (1913), Sonnets of a Portrait Painter (1914), The Man on the Hilltop and Other Poems (1915), Chats on Japanese Prints (1915), and An April Elegy (1917).

Ficke was close friends with Bynner, who accompanied the Fickes on a trip to the Far East in 1916-17. This close friendship led to the two poets perpetrating what has often been called “the literary hoax of the twentieth century” in 1916, when they published a joint work, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments, purportedly written by Anne Knish (Ficke) and Emanuel Morgan (Bynner). Intended as a satire on modern poetry, the work was enthusiastically reviewed as a serious contribution to poetry, before the deception was revealed in 1918.

During the first world war, Ficke served in France with the U.S. Army from 1917 to 1919. For a short time in 1922, Ficke accepted a post as curator of Japanese prints and lecturer in Japanese art at the Fogg Art Museum in Boston.

On 8 December 1923, a year after his divorce from Evelyn, Ficke married Gladys Brown, a painter. The couple settled first in New York City but then moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, until 1928. He published four books in the 1920s: Out of Silence and Other Poems (1924); Selected Poems (1926); Christ in China (1927); Mountain Against Mountain (1929), followed by The Road to the Mountain (1930). Later works include The Secret and Other Poems (1936) and Tumultuous Shore and Other Poems (1942).

A brush with tuberculosis took him to North Carolina and Texas for treatment, after which, in the early 1930s, he traveled to Jamaica and Florida before his visit to Chapala in 1934-35.

“University of Iowa researcher William H. Roba said many writers thought of him as a “poet’s poet.” Tall, debonair, always impeccably dressed and with perfect manners, he stood out from others. He used traditional forms for most of his poetry — odes, elegies, sonnets — but had a humorous side that sometimes emerged in his writings.” – Tom Longden in Desmoines Register.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Oct 262015
 

Willard Marsh, known to his friends as “Butch”, was one of the pivotal figures in the Ajijic literary scene in the 1950s and 1960s, and one of the first to write a novel set in the village. His novel, Week with No Friday (1965), is the story of a troubled expatriate playwright who lives in Ajijic in the 1950s. While fictional, it still affords many insights into the village’s literary and artistic scene of the time.

marsh-willard-passport-photoMarsh also wrote Beachhead in Bohemia: Stories (1969) a collection of short stories, published by Louisiana State University. Several of these stories had been published previously, and several are set in the Lake Chapala area, and feature the same characters and scenes that appear in Week with No Friday.

Marsh was born in Oakland, California and attended Oakland High School where he learned to play trumpet and trombone, initiating a lifelong devotion to jazz music. He financed his courses at the State College at Chico by forming “Will Marsh and the Four Collegians”, a jazz group that played at an Oakland roadhouse.

His education was interrupted by the second world war, where he served with the U.S. military, 1942-45, in the South Pacific, becoming a staff sergeant.

Soon after the war, on 4 September 1948, Marsh married George Rae Williams, a former Pasadena Playhouse actress. It must have been Marsh’s second marriage, since George wrote to her brother John Williams in mid-1948 that, “We can’t get married until August because his divorce isn’t final until then.”

[John Williams (1922-1994) was a novelist, editor and professor of English, author of Augustus and Stoner. Williams is the subject of The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel, a biography by Charles J. Shields due to be published in 2016. Shields kindly shared with me the information that John Williams had begun his own novel (sadly now lost) about bohemians living in Mexico, presumably based on his visits to his sister and brother-in-law.]

Willard and George Rae Marsh moved to Chapala in Mexico in the early 1950s. Marsh strove to establish a career as a free-lance writer while working on his “G.A.N.” (Great American Novel). They would continue to live in the area, with breaks to travel or teach in the U.S., until his death in 1970.

The couple lived first in Chapala, and later in Ajijic. They also spent some time in the literary and artistic circles of San Miguel de Allende. In 1952, from Chapala, Marsh reported to brother-in-law, John Williams, that they were living “quite well, in our cozily disordered way, for about seventy-five bucks a month, including everything.” The comment, “both typewriters clacking, and the jug of tequila diminishing as we go”, suggests that a liberal amount of alcohol helped fuel their creativity.

A letter from George to her brother in March 1953, says that she was excited to have just learned from their landlady that they were living in the same house in Chapala where “Red” Warren wrote All the Kings Men.

After several years living and writing in Mexico, Marsh’s Great American Novel remained unfinished. Marsh gained degrees at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop (B.A. in 1959 and M.A. in 1960), and decided to complement his less-than-stable writing income by teaching, accepting positions as an assistant professor of English, first at Winthrop College, Rock Hill, SC (1959-61), then at the University of California, Los Angeles (1961-64) and later at North Texas State University, Denton (1968-70). He continued to spend as much time as possible in Mexico.

marsh-weed-with-no-fridayWork on the novel continued. In October 1963, Marsh reported having had “a wildly relaxing, wildly productive summer in Ajijic, during which time I got so much accomplished on the novel that I can have the mother in the mails before year’s end.” He planned to resign from the University of California and live in Spain for a few years.

The following year, after more thought, they decided against Spain, opting to return to Ajijic instead, though they expressed some misgivings: “Ajijic has been overrun with slobs quite a bit, too, but if it gets too bad, one can move a few kilometers down the lake to $an Juan, Jocotepec, and on to Morelia. The lake is 25 miles wide and 50 miles long, so there’s a lot of lake-front real estate still unoccupied.”

Marsh’s magnum opus Week with No Friday was published in 1965 to generally positive reviews. The book gave Marsh the opportunity to respond to the unflattering portrait of him in Eileen Bassing’s own novel set in Ajijic, Where’s Annie? (1963). Bassing had used Willard and George Rae Marsh as the basis for her characters Willie and Sam Chester:

“[Willie Chester] was enshrined there on his patio only half hidden among the telefono vines, typing away. He wrote. Merciful God, how he wrote. A story every day he said, good, bad indifferent, sensational, like a non-discriminating machine, learning, he said, with each one he wrote, but writing them so fast, so terribly, frighteningly fast. And he sold some of them, not many. That he sold any was alarming. He had no reverence, no respect, no fear of his own possible or impossible talent. He wrote; it was the answer to everything for him…. Sam was behind Willie, circling about in a stained and tattered leotard, steadily but badly practicing her ballet. Did she woo and win him with her twittering, soiled dancing? Oh, turn my eyes from the vision of their lives.”

Marsh retaliated with brief, equally unflattering descriptions of Eileen “Blissing” and her husband, in his own novel:

“He introduced her to Beau Blissing, a fairly entertaining slob, so that she could hear the single gift that Beau had perfected in a lifetime — the ability to sing ‘Blue Skies’ backward. Afterwards he tried to give them one of his voracious French poodles he never could afford to feed. ‘Such a bewildered, wistful man’ Martha said. ‘Has he any other hobbies?’ ‘He accepts book dedications. His wife is a lady novelist with a lousy memory.'”

In his writing career, Marsh was successful in getting short stories published in more than seventy periodicals, including Antioch Review, Furioso, Prairie Schooner, Northwest Review, Yale Review, Esquire, Playboy, Transatlantic Review, and Saturday Evening Post. His short stories include, “Beachhead in Bohemia” (The Southwest Review, 1952); “Bus Fare to Tomorrow” (The Saturday Evening Post, 1954); “No More Gifts” (Playboy, 1956); “Ad Lib Exit” (Playboy 1956); “Mexican Hayride” (Esquire, 1960), described by writer Allyn Hunt as the short story that most “accurately depicts Ajijic in the 1950s” (and the the basis for the first chapter of Week with No Friday). “Beachhead in Bohemia” and “Mexican Hayride” were chosen for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of 1953 and 1961 respectively.

Marsh also wrote under several pen names, including “George Ketzel” for poetry.

In 1970, apparently as the result of a medical misdiagnosis, he died, leaving his next novel, Anchor in the Air unpublished. Marsh’s body was interred in Ajijic cemetery, but was not allowed to rest for long. In 1972, a real estate developer drove a road through Ajijic cemetery, desecrating many graves, including that of novelist Willard Marsh.

Willard Marsh’s personal papers are held at the University of Iowa. My thanks to Charles J. Shields, biographer of John Williams, for his valuable help in locating material relating to Willard and George Marsh.

Related posts:

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Sep 072015
 

Leanne Averbach is a Canadian writer, performance poet and experimental filmmaker, whose first collection of poems, fever (Mansfield Press, 2005; 79 pp) includes a mention of Chapala in the final stanza:

Here, in Chapala, Mexico,
where the poverty is general
my secrets do not translate
that well.

averbach-feverWe do not currently know more about the circumstances or timing of her visit or visits to Chapala.

The publisher’s description of fever is, “Erotic and absurdist, Leanne Averbach’s fever docu-rides a life examined through multifarious experiences. Through her iconoclastic lens, life as a former left-wing activist and trade union organizer takes shape with indelible moments spent in factories or incarcerated in jail cells. Averbach’s work contains vivid tales of love, family encounters, and the mad poetry of harsh international realities. With its unique blend of the personal and the political, fever burns with the engagement of the most committed poetry.” The book was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Prize in 2006.

American poet ruth weiss, who also has connections to Ajijic and Chapala, became famous for reciting her poetry to live jazz, and Averbach does the same. The companion CD fever is a fusion of her spoken words with the blues/jazz accompaniment of Astrid Sars’ band Indigo.

Averbach was awarded an MA from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and also holds an MFA from The New School, New York. She has taught at the University of British Columbia Language Institute and has performed her poetry to live jazz in Canada, New York and Italy.

Averbach’s second volume of poetry, Come Closer, was published by Tightrope Books, Toronto, in 2010.

Her poetry has  been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including
Prism International, Best Canadian Poetry in English Anthology, The Fiddlehead, Poetry New Zealand, Poetry London, Court Green (Chicago), Sub-TERRAIN, The Smoking Poet, MiPoesias, Arabesque (Paris-Tangiers), Seven Deadly Sins Anthology, Pottersfield Portfolio, Canadian Women’s Studies, Love in the Media Age Anthology, Poesia de-Amore (Italy), TheAntigonish Review, The New Quarterly and Poetry in Performance.

Averbach has also produced several video-poems and short films. Her short film, Teacups & Mink, based on her poetry, was selected as Best Short International Film, Poetic Genre, and Best Directorial Debut at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival in 2008.

Want to read more?

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Jul 202015
 

María de Jesús Magallón Pérez (1924–1957) was one of the seven poets included in De Esta Tierra Nuestra; Antología Poética (Colección Sahuayo No. I, 1972). Besides being an award-winning poet, she was a social activist and the founder of a piano school, a writing school and the “Diego José Abad” Literary Circle.

Born in Jiquilpan on 24 March, 1924, Magallón Pérez studied in Jiquilpan, Jacona and Morelia. She demonstrated poetic sensitivity as a child, and had verses published in provincial newspapers from an early age.

She subsequently entered a convent, trained as a teacher, and taught in the states of Mexico and Nuevo León. Magallón Pérez married Roberto Villaseñor Espinosa (“Ticolín”), a poet-songwriter-historian who was also an ardent promoter of cultural events in the town of Jiquilpan, and returned to Jiquilpan in 1953. She established herself as a member of the “Sahuayo literary group” and dedicated herself to writing.

Her first book was Cuadernillo poético (Sahuayo, Michoacán 1953), centered on descriptions of the landscapes of her native Michoacán. In 1955, her poem “Raíz de llanto”, dedicated to the memory of Alfonso Méndez Plancarte, won a poetry competition in San Luís Potosí. The following year, “Ciclo de Navidad” was awarded top honors in a poetry festival in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco. That poem became the basis for a theatrical work which was also televised.

Magallón Pérez was preparing her third collection of poetry, Silbo y luna, when she died in Jiquilpan, on 19 December 1957, while giving birth, at the tragically young age of thirty-three.

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Jul 062015
 

Peter Everwine (born in Detroit, 14 February 1930) is an American poet who spent a sabbatical year in Mexico in 1968-1969. While living in the Lake Chapala area, Everwine (who had traveled previously in Mexico) became friends with (Don) Shaw and Tom Brudenell, both then living in Jocotepec.

Of all Everwine’s poems, the one most obviously related to Lake Chapala is “The Fish/Lago Chapala”, which was published in Keeping the night: poems (Atheneum, 1977) and reprinted several years later in From the Meadow: selected and new poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004). “The Fish/Lago Chapala” opens with the following stanza:

Sunrise, the tiny
almost transparent fish of Chapala
drawn in nets.
All afternoon shining and steaming
on the roadsides, scattered
or in small mounds
like fingers of broken glass.

The poem goes on to depict a child’s funeral procession, before ending with a more abstract third section.

everwine-from-the-meadow_Everwine was raised by his Italian-speaking grandmother in western Pennsylvania. He earned his BS from Northwestern University in 1952 and served in the Army from 1952 to 1954. After military service, Everwine undertook graduate studies in English at the University of Iowa, which awarded him a PhD in 1959.

After teaching English at the University of Iowa from 1959 to 1962, he taught English and creative writing at California State University, Fresno, retiring from that post in 1992. He was a senior Fulbright lecturer in American poetry at the University of Haifa, Israel, and in 2008, was a visiting writer at Reed College, Portland.

Everwine’s poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, Antaeus, The New Yorker, and American Poetry Review, and he has published seven collections of poetry, including Collecting the Animals (1972), described by one reviewer as “calmly dazzling poems”, Keeping the Night (1977), Figures Made Visible in the Sadness of Time (2003), From the Meadow: Selected and New Poems (2004) and Listening Long and Late (2013).

His work has brought him numerous awards, including Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships; the Lamont Poetry Prize in 1972; a Horizon Award in 2008; Best American Poetry 2008; and Pushcart Prize XVII.

Everwine has also published two books of translations of Nahuatl poetry: In the House of Light (Stone Wall Press, 1969) and Working the Song Fields (2009), and is responsible for translations of two works by controversial Israeli poet Natan Zach: The Static Element (1982) and The Countries We Live In: The Selected Poems of Natan Zach 1955-1979 (2011).

Everwine’s work is included in several poetry anthologies, including The geography of home: California’s poetry of place (edited by Christopher Buckley, Gary Young for Heyday Books, 1999) and How Much Earth: The Fresno Poets (edited by M. L. Williams, Christopher Buckley and David Olivera for Heyday Books, 2001).

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jun 222015
 

Poet, writer and politician Honorato Barrera Buenrostro was born in the Lakeside town of Jamay (mid-way between Ocotlán and La Barca) in 1870 and died in Ocotlán in 1952.

He left his home town for Mexico City at a young age. In Mexico City, he studied and wrote alongside Amado Nervo (1870-1919) and Luis Gonzaga Urbina (1864-1934). Coincidentally, Urbina’s own collection of poetry, Puestas de sol, includes “El poema del lago” (“The Lake Poem”), a lengthy poem inspired by a visit to Chapala. Barrera Buenrostro was also a good friend of the poet and novelist Rubén M. Campos, who had many links to Chapala.

Barrera Buenrostro subsequently returned to Ocotlán where he worked in commerce and as a telegraphist for the railway company. He later moved to Chapala, and was the Mayor (Presidente Municipal) of Chapala in 1924, during the time when Lic. José Guadalupe Zuno was the state governor (1923-1926).

aquel-famoso-remingtonBarrera Buenrostro’s work won various literary prizes, including ones awarded in Aguascalientes, Morelia and Mexico City. His best known works are a book of poems, Andamio de Marfíl (1947), and a novel, El rémington sin funda (1947).

The novel El rémington sin funda (1947) is based on the life of Rodolfo Álvarez del Castillo. Nicknamed “El Remington”, Álvarez del Castillo was a famous pistol-packing womanizer of the 1930s, who eventually fought a duel with a soldier in which both men lost their lives. Álvarez del Castillo was the brother-in-law of famous Mexican movie star María Félix and his life story became the basis for at least two Mexican films: ¡Se la llevó el Rémington! (1948), starring charro singer Luis Aguilar, and Aquel famoso Remington (1982), directed by Gustavo Alatriste.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jun 012015
 

Born in 1928, ruth weiss is a renowned American poet, playwright and artist, best known for reciting her poetry to the accompaniment of live jazz. She visited Ajijic and Chapala briefly during an extended road trip to Mexico in 1958-1959, with her husband and her dog.

weiss was born into a Jewish family in Berlin. Her family left Berlin for Vienna in 1933 and then relocated to New York in 1938. weiss lived for a time in Chicago, but eventually settled in San Francisco in 1952.

In Chicago, in 1949, weiss first met Ernest Alexander (“Alex”), who played a decisive role in persuading her to start reading her poetry to jazz. In I Always Thought You Black (a tribute to her African American artist friends), weiss wrote that,

ERNEST ALEXANDER long & brown listens to my poem. in my black blue-bulb room.
pulls me upstairs. sez now read to these folks. they gotta hear this.
my first own home. my first turntable. my first modeling nude. my first poetry aloud.
someone blows a horn. someone brushes a drum. i’m reading to jazz man.”

This quickly became a trademark of readings by ruth weiss.

weiss-cant-stop-the-beatA year or so after they first met, Alex left Chicago for Mexico where he lived and worked for a few years in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. weiss moved to San Francisco, where she became a prominent member of the counter-culture movement of San Francisco, and good friends with the likes of Jack Kerouac, Bob Kaufman and surrealist poet Philip Lamantia. In the 1960s, she started to use only lower case for her name in a symbolic protest against “law and order” since in her birthplace of Germany all nouns are capitalized.

weiss mentions Alex several more times in I Always Thought You Black.

For example, weiss writes about how she and Alex used to work together:

Oh ALEX lover of my first woman-lover JERI WANTAJA. your
paintings of birds. your studio bright & wild with their
flight. your studio a three-cornered touchstone where i
write in a corner. look out at warehouses trucks dawn.
come rain come shine.

weiss also describes how she met Alex again several years later, in San Francisco, after Alex’s return from Mexico in 1953:

oh ALEX. is it 1955 or 6 or 7. THE CELLAR. san francisco
north beach. where i had started poetry & jazz. you walk
in. i carry glasses & bottles. almost drop them. we hug.
your wife with you. your first-born soon after. it’s all a
blur. your wife and boy dead. mexico.

you become a legend. it’s the beat-time. day after day
in & out of the CO-EXISTENCE BAGEL SHOP. you stand outside.
you sit inside. you walk up & down. you talk at. you
talk at.  you talk at. you hold my eye in your hand.
it slips from your hand. it is wet with tears.”

weiss’s links to the Lake Chapala area would be tenuous at best (and only by proxy via Alex) were it not for her extended road trip to Mexico in 1958-1959, with husband Mel Weitsman and dog zimzum. They left San Francisco on Tuesday 14 October 1958 and returned in early February 1959.

In Can’t stop the beat, the life and words of a Beat poet, published in 2011, weiss includes her narrative poem COMPASS, her diary of the trip to Mexico. Her entry for Ajijic reads,

oct. 31 … ajijic aside-town where many i have known have been … divided
… there the square and park … we leave the car … to wander slowly
pebbled street … sleepy hot … a place … a face familiar … we must have
known each other’s presence … then … the house to look for … he was in
it … bill filling the window now … the girl in jeans and black is smile
and small … ny to sf … mexico city … she is here now … art later …
bill and he split one scene for this one … we fill the house … it’s lori’s
… a legend … romana is the maid or more than … two nights around …
past halloween … the ghosts have dog-voices against the moon … another
stranger met again … she is blonde in the dark house … all in the hosue
… the glass room catches us … each one … the orange cat the guardian …
we leave the halloween by day … the lake around … the road is village …
the space between … the lake is low … or have the lake-plants grown this
noon … each cow a slow a sudden focus … the earth people move slow …
each step an earth-beat … the burro the boy the woman the urn … the man
the wood … eyes in the stone … blue mountains from the far red plain …
the sky the whirr the clouds … rain a shaft between two black mountains …
red road to a red town in a red plain … the corn is dry …

As Matt Gonzalez has written, “Part travel journal and part surreal dreamscape, no text of the beat era captures Mexico with more authenticity and immediacy than weiss’s 80-page COMPASS.”

Books by ruth weiss include: Steps (1958), Gallery of Women (1959), South Pacific (1959), Blue in Green (1960), Light and other poems (1976), Desert Journal (1977), Single Out (1978) 13 Haiku (1986), For these women of the beat (1997), A new view of matter (1999), Full circle (2002), Africa (2003), White is all colors (2004), No dancing aloud (2006), Can’t stop the beat (2011), Fool’s journey (2012). ruth weiss has appeared in several short films by Stephen Arnold, including Liberation of Mannique Mechanique (1967), The Various Incarnations of a Tibetan Seamstress (1967), Messages, Messages (1968), Luminous Procuress (1971); Pyramid (1972).

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 6:51 am  Tagged with:
May 252015
 

Elizabeth Bartlett (1911-1994) was a poet and writer who lived for a time in the Lake Chapala area with her artist-author husband Paul Alexander Bartlett and son Steven James Bartlett in the early 1950s. Later, in the 1970s, the family revisited the Chapala area several times from their then home in Comala, Colima. Bartlett gave several poetry readings in the Chapala area, though the precise dates and locations are unclear.

In addition to her poetry, Bartlett is remembered as an author of fiction, essays, reviews, translations, and as an editor. She was also founder of the international non-profit organization Literary Olympics, Inc.

Elizabeth Bartlett, circa 1973. Photograph courtesy of Steven James Bartlett, literary executor for Elizabeth Bartlett.

Elizabeth Bartlett, circa 1973. Photograph courtesy of Steven James Bartlett, literary executor for Elizabeth Bartlett.

Eizabeth Roberta Bartlett (née Winters) was born in New York City in 1911. She was awarded her degree from Teachers’ College in 1931 and then undertook  postgraduate studies at Columbia University (1938-40), before dedicating herself to writing and teaching.

She first met her husband in Mexico in 1941, and the couple married in Sayula (Jalisco) in 1943. Their son Steven was born in Mexico City two years later. The family divided their time between the USA and Mexico. In Mexico, the family lived in numerous different states while Paul Bartlett was researching his book on Mexican haciendas.

Elizabeth Bartlett had a distinguished teaching career, including spells at Southern Methodist University (1947–49), San Jose State University (1960–61), the University of California at Santa Barbara (1961–64), San Diego State University (1979–81), and the University of San Diego (1981–82). She was a visiting poet at universities in Canada, California, Florida, and Texas, and Poetry Editor for ETC: A Review of General Semantics and for Crosscurrents.

Bartlett was founder and president of the international non-profit organization, Literary Olympics, Inc., which was established to reintroduce a cultural component to the Olympic Games. In relation to this, Bartlett edited three international multi-language anthologies to coincide with the Olympics, beginning in 1984. A fourth volume was published in 1997 in memory of Bartlett, to honor her for her work with the Literary Olympics, and to commemorate the 1996 Olympic Games.

Bartlett’s writing has been published in numerous journals, anthologies and books of collected poetry, including Poems of Yes and No (1952), It Takes Practice Not to Die (1964), Address in Time (1979), Memory is No Stranger (1981), The Gemini Poems (1984), Candles (1988), and Around the Clock (1989).

Acknowledgment.

Sincere thanks to Steven Bartlett for sharing his memories of the family’s time in Mexico.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 6:13 am  Tagged with:
May 142015
 

Distinguished American poet and painter John Brandi (born in California in 1943) and his wife Gioia lived in Jocotepec for about eighteen months, from the winter of 1968-69 to mid-1970. The couple’s youngest child, Giovanna, was born in Jocotepec.

Brandi graduated in 1965 from California State University, Northridge, with a B.A. in art and anthropology, before working as a Peace Corps volunteer with Andean farmers in Ecuador from 1966 to 1968. In Ecuador, he began to keep detailed, illustrated journals, a practice he continued while in Mexico. He was an early proponent of “do-it-yourself” self-publishing, producing hand-sewn mimeograph editions.

During his time in Jocotepec, Brandi composed illustrated “myth masses”, as well as hand-made poetry books.

In April 1969, Brandi took part in a collective exhibit that opened 18 April 1969 at La Galería, Ajijic. The announcement in Guadalajara daily Informador (20 April) lists the artists as John Kenneth Peterson, Charles Henry Blodgett (guest artist) and “El Grupo” (John Brandi, Tom Brudenell, Peter Paul Huf, his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf, Jack Rutherford, Shaw, Cynthia Siddons and Robert Snodgrass).

In June 1969, and in a bid to challenge the artistic status quo in the Lake Chapala area, John Brandi joined with Brudenell and Shaw (all three artists were living in Jocotepec) in staging the Chula Vista “happening”. Brandi contributed drawings, milagros (folk charms) and poems to the happening, which opened, perhaps appropriately, on Friday 13 June.

Sketches by John Brandi for Chula Vista Happening

Sketches by John Brandi for Chula Vista Happening

Brandi, a life-long political activist who joined protests against the American War in Vietnam, was living in the San Francisco Bay area, when he found his first publishing success, with a collection of poems entitled Desde Alla (Christopher’s Press, 1971). While he was living for a summer in a miner’s shack in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, he met Gary Snyder, immortalized by Jack Kerouac in The Dharma Bums as Japhy Ryder. Snyder introduced him to Japanese poet-wanderer Nanao Sakaki.

In 1971, Brandi moved to New Mexico, where he built a cabin in a remote canyon, and founded Tooth of Time Books, which became a nationally-recognized poetry press.

John Brandi has had numerous collections of his poetry published, including Desde Alla (Christopher’s Press, 1971); Chimborazo: Life on the Haciendas of Ecuador (Akwesasne Notes Press, 1976); That Back Road In (Wingbow Press, 1985); Shadow Play: poems 1987-1991 (Light and Dust Books, 1992); Weeding the Cosmos (La Alameda Press, 1994); Heartbeat Geography: Selected & Uncollected Poems (White Pine Press, 1995); A Question of Journey: travel episodes India, Nepal, Thailand (Book Faith, India, 1999); Reflections in the Lizard’s Eye: High Desert Notes (Western Edge Press, 2000); Empty Moon : Belly Full, Haiku from India & Nepal (Pilgrims Publishing, India, 2000); In What Disappears (White Pine Press, 2003); One Cup and Another (Tangram Press, 2004); Water Shining Beyond the Fields (Tres Chicas Press, 2005); Staff in Hand, Wind in Pines (Tangram Press, 2008); Facing High Water (White Pine Press, 2008); Road to the Cloud’s House (with Renée Gregorio, La Alameda Press, 2009); Seeding the Cosmos: New & Selected Haiku (La Alameda Press, 2010); and The World, the World (White Pine Press, 2013).

Brandi has also undertaken translations, including parts of An Eye through the Wall: Mexican Poetry, 1970-1985 (Tooth of Time Books, 1986).

Brandi’s paintings have featured in numerous exhibitions including: San Francisco Public Library; Roswell Museum of Art, Roswell; New Mexico History Museum, Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe; Loka Cafe Gallery, Taos; Harwood Art Center, Albuquerque; Cruz Gallery, Santa Fe; Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe; Claudia Chapline Gallery, Stinson Beach, California; North Columbia Cultural Center, Nevada City, California; Woodland-Pattern Book Center, Milwaukee; Laurel Seth Gallery, Santa Fe; University of New Mexico Thompson Gallery, Albuquerque; Return Gallery, Taos; Moody Gallery, Houston, Texas.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 

Apr 162015
 

Robert Penn Warren, the great American poet, novelist and literary critic, was born in Kentucky on 24 April 1905 and died in Vermont on 15 September 1989. Warren lived and wrote in Chapala for several months in the summer of 1941.

Warren entered Vanderbilt University in 1921, where he became the youngest member of a group of Southern poets known as the Fugitives. Other members included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Donald Davidson and Merrill Moore. Warren’s first poems were published in The Fugitive, the magazine published by the group from 1922 to 1925.

From 1925 to 1927, Warren taught at the University of California, while earning his master’s degree. He also studied at New College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After marrying Emma Brescia (nicknamed “Cinina”) and returning to the U.S. in 1930, he taught at Vanderbilt, Louisiana State, the University of Minnesota, and Yale University.

2005 U.S. stamp commemorating Robert Penn Warren

2005 U.S. stamp commemorating Robert Penn Warren

Warren was a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and founded the influential literary journal The Southern Review with Cleanth Brooks in 1935. He and Brooks also co-wrote a textbook Understanding Poetry (1938), which would prove to have a profound influence on the study of poetry in American colleges.

Warren, accompanied by his wife Cinina, visited Chapala in 1941, two years after the publication of his acclaimed first novel Night Rider.

Relatively little is known about their stay at Chapala, or their motivation in choosing to go there. However, Warren did have a family connection to the nearby city of Guadalajara. In Portrait of a Father, published in 1988, the year before his death, Warren wrote about the similarities between his father’s life and his own. Among the family members recalled in the book is Warren’s uncle Sam, who had worked in mining and lived in Guadalajara. Warren adds that he had often been there “during a long stay at Chapala”.

A few tantalizing snippets of information can be gleaned from the correspondence between Warren and his colleague Cleanth Brooks, published by the University of Missouri Press in 1998.

In a letter dated 17 July 1941, and signed “Red” (Warren’s nickname on account of the color of his hair), he wrote, from the Hotel Nido in Chapala, that Chapala was “a tiny town on a lake, surrounded by mountains, with a fine climate”, before providing some details of his living arrangements:

We have rented a little house, new and verminless, for which we pay six dollars a month, though getting it screened raised the rent several dollars more. A cook is a dollar a week, and food is cheap. The place beautiful, smelly and picture-postcardy. There are some Americans about, including Witter Bynner – who, in fact was about, very much about, with a palatial establishment, but he left yesterday for Colorado. But we have led a pretty isolated life here. Cinina was pretty busy for a few days getting the domestic machinery in motion, and I’ve been working and studying Spanish and swimming and going to the can more often than usual. Not that I’ve got a bug in me yet, but the complaint seems to be usual here upon first arrival…” (Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren: A Literary Correspondence, p 55)

He bemoaned his lack of access to American magazines,

We’ve seen one copy of Time, Latin America edition, but you can’t buy it here at Chapala, and we don’t go to Guadalajara, thirty miles away, but once a week…”

Chapala did offer him, though, a good space in which to think and work:

I’ve got some ideas for new poems, but haven’t done anything on them since arrival. The novel occupies most of my thoughts.”

“The novel” is presumably his second novel, At Heaven’s Gate, first published in 1943.

The following month, August 1941, he wrote that he had mailed a manuscript from Guadalajara to The Southern Review, but had to go to the city by bus because he was temporarily without his car:

We still like Chapala, but are getting awfully anxious for Baton Rouge. It seems that our car may be ready within a few days–though one can’t be too sure. I saw the body work the other day in Guadalajara, and you can’t even tell that the thing had taken a beating. But it has shore [sic] God played hell with what passes for the Warren budget.”

warren-robert=penn-at-heavens-gate

Warren also referred in this letter to “the unexpected arrival of the Albrizios”, friends from the U.S., whom “Cinina just happened to see”, “on the street at Chapala”. He excused his relative lack of work progress as being due to “matters of weather, stubbing toes, catching colds, having hangovers, and such…”

By coincidence, the house rented by Warren was later the home in 1952/1953 of Willard Marsh, author of the novel Week With No Friday (set at Lake Chapala), and his wife George. The owner of the house remembered “Red” as “a nice person with “red” hair who drank a lot – and gave wonderful parties!”

Warren’s marriage to Cinina ended in 1951; the following year, he married Eleanor Clark. He received numerous awards for his work, including the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for The Novel for All the King’s Men (1946), as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in both 1958 and 1979. Warren is the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. He was appointed as the first poet laureate of the United States (1986 -1987).

Two of Warren’s works were subsequently turned into movies: All the King’s Men (1949) and Band of Angels (1957).

Source:

Mar 092015
 

Esther Tapia Ruíz de Castellanos was born in Morelia, Michoacán, on 9 May 1842, and died in Guadalajara on 8 January 1897. She married Ignacio Castellanos and wrote what is believed to be the earliest poem of any substance specifically about the lake.

The Castellanos family was one of wealthiest land-owning families on the north side of the lake, and probably the richest family in Ocotlán. Their estates included much of the shore between Ocotlán and Jamay, an area known as the Rivera Castellanos in the latter part of the 19th century. Ignacio Castellanos inherited the family property on the death of his father, Pedro Castellanos, sometime in the middle of the 19th century.

tapia-de-castellanosThe family seat, complete with stables, was a mansion located opposite the old parish cemetery, extending to the bank of the River Santiago. Castellanos added a mirador, almost as high as the church tower, atop the family home, from where a spectacular view could be enjoyed, encompassing parts of his extensive land holdings, the River Zula, and the “Castellanos” bridge, used by everyone entering and leaving Ocotlán from the east.

After Castellanos married Esther Tapia Ruíz , the couple divided their time between their country home in Ocotlán and a city residence in Guadalajara.

Postcard showing Lake Chapala shore near El Fuerte de Ocotlan and the Hotel Ribera

Postcard showing Lake Chapala shore near El Fuerte de Ocotlan and the Hotel Ribera

Esther Tapia de Castellanos’s very long Lake Chapala poem, inspired by her husband’s absence on business, was entitled, “A orillas del lago de Chapala” (“On the shores of Lake Chapala”), and was finished on January 22, 1869. Shortly afterwards, the poem was sent by Mr. Vaca, a family friend from Zamora, to Siglo XIX in Mexico City. It is not known whether it was accepted at that time for publication but, a century later, both the poem and an accompanying letter were published in the January 1969 issue of La Civilización.

The letter describes Mrs. Tapia de Castellanos as living in Ocotlán, a “village located between two powerful rivers and comprised of a small number of homes”. The hacienda occupied by Mr. Castellanos and his wife, has “a mirador on top, from where the view dominates Lake Chapala, home of aquatic birds and humble boats,” and the cultivated fields of the San Andrés hacienda.

Tapia de Castellanos wrote several volumes of poetry, including Flores silvestres (Wild flowers), published in 1871, Cántico de los niños (Song of the children), and Obras poéticas (Poetic works), as well as several plays. In 1886, she was one of the co-founders of La República Literaria, a magazine of science, art and literature, published in Guadalajara, which rapidly became one of the best known publications in the country. The other co-founders were José López Portillo y Rojas and Manuel Álvarez del Castillo, one of whose sons founded the El Informador daily in Guadalajara.

In the following fragements of “A orillas del lago de Chapala”, Tapia de Castellanos describes the scenery, flora and fauna from a very romantic, idyllic point of view.

On a tranquil afternoon
The sun advances to the west
leaving, as it departs, the clouds
tinted with gold and mother-of-pearl.
Its last rays gild
the clear water of the lake,
which seems, when it moves,
to be flecked with diamonds.
The light, sonorous waves
are teased into gentle undulations
making a tender murmur
that is only understood by the soul.

The willow bends its branches
As the warm waves kiss
and a perfumed breeze
jealously removes them.

(Esther Tapia de Castellanos, 1869 “A orillas del lago de Chapala”. Translation by Tony Burton.)

This text is a lightly-edited extract from Lake Chapala Through The Ages, an Anthology of Travellers’ Tales (Sombrero Books, 2008)

Related posts (poems about Lake Chapala):

 

Feb 022015
 

The American poet Jack Gilbert was born 18 February 1925, and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, and then spent some time in Paris and several years in Italy. From 1956 to the mid-1960s, Gilbert made his home in the San Francisco Bay area. during which time he worked with photographer Ansel Adams and took Jack Spicer’s Poetry as Magic workshop at San Francisco State College.

In the late 1950s or very early in the 1960s, Gilbert rented a house in Ajijic, Mexico, while working on Views of Jeopardy (published in 1962). Views of Jeopardy won the 1962 Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and was nominated for that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

gilbert-jack-views-of-jeopardyAfter Gilbert won the Yale prize, Gordon Lish, the editor of the literary journal Genesis West devoted an entire issue of the journal to him.

Gilbert is sometimes considered as one of the Beat poets, a loose group also including Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Rexroth and ruth weiss. However, in this 1962 interview with Lish, Gilbert makes it abundantly clear that he was not:

– Lish: But you’re not part of the Beat Movement?

– Gilbert: God, no! And I don’t go in for freakish behavior nor esoteric knowledge.

It remains unclear precisely when Gilbert was in Ajijic working on Views of Jeopardy, and whether or not he was accompanied by his then partner, poet Laura Ulewicz (1930–2007), to whom the book is dedicated. (“To Laura Ulewicz, a kind of dragon”). Her Wikipedia biography records her as living in Europe from 1960-65, so if the two were together in Ajijic, then this was presumably in the late 1950s rather than the early 1960s.

Gilbert at first enjoyed his fame, but, “After about six months, I found it boring. There were so many things to do, to live. I didn’t want to be praised all the time.” He accepted a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964 and spent much of the next two decades living and traveling in Europe.

Jack Gilbert in the early 1950s

Jack Gilbert in the early 1950s

While Gilbert’s work often reflects places he lived or visited (Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Mexico, Greece, Denmark, Paris), none of his published poems can definitely be linked to Ajijic.

However, he did compose at least two poems related, via their titles and subject matter, to the nearby city of Guadalajara. For example a seven-line poem entitled “Elephant Hunt in Guadalajara” appeared in Monolithos: Poems 1962 and 1982, his second book of poetry published in 1984. That poem describes a floor show in a nightclub called El Serape where, when the lights went off, “strong girls came like tin moths” to dance with the patrons. Monolithos won the Stanley Kunitz Prize and an award from the American Poetry Review.

In 2009, Gilbert’s poetry collection The Dance Most of All: poems included “Searching for it in a Guadalajara Dance Hall”, in which Gilbert describes how in “an empty, concrete one-room building”, men and women sit in straight lines of chairs on the opposite sides of the room. The dancing is not a prelude to anything romantic:

Nothing is sexual.
There are proprieties.
No rubbing against anyone. No touching
at all. When the music starts, the men
go stiffly over to the women…

From 1964-1970 or thereabouts, Gilbert was living in Greece with his former student and fellow poet Linda Gregg; the two remained close until his death. During that period, he co-authored with Jean Maclean, under the joint pseudonym Tor Kung, two erotic novels: My Mother Taught Me (1964) and Forever Ecstasy (1968).

In the 1970s, Gilbert lived in Japan with another former student, the sculptor Michiko Nogami. She died in 1982, the same year his second book of poetry was published.

Gilbert went on to publish several more poetry books including The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992 (1994); Refusing Heaven (2005); Tough Heaven: Poems of Pittsburgh (2006); Transgressions: Selected Poems (2006); The Dance Most of All (2009); and Collected Poems (2012). He was also a regular contributor to The American Poetry Review, Genesis West, The Quarterly, Poetry, Ironwood, The Kenyon Review, and The New Yorker.

The great American poet Jack Gilbert, who early in his career lived for a time in Ajijic, died in Berkeley, California, 13 November 2012.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 6:02 am  Tagged with:
Jan 252015
 

Luis Gonzaga Urbina (1864-1934) was born in Mexico City 8 February 1864. In his lifetime, he was one of Mexico’s best-known poets, straddling the boundary between romanticism and modernism.

Urbina studied at the National Preparatory School and worked, for a time, as the personal secretary of the Education Secretary Justo Sierra. Urbina taught literature and was a reviewer of theater and music for publications such as El Mundo Ilustrado, La Revista de Revistas and El Imparcial.

In 1909 he was chosen to lead the compilation of a literary anthology, Antología del Centenario, to commemorate the 1910 centenary of Independence. Urbina’s lengthy introduction provided an insightful overview of the history of Mexican literature.

luis-g-urbina

The following year (1910), Urbina published a collection of poetry Puestas de sol. This is often regarded as Urbina’s finest work. It includes “El poema del lago” (“The Lake Poem”), a lengthy poem inspired by a visit to Chapala. “El poema del lago” builds on an earlier prose piece, “Frente al Chapala” (1905).

“El poema del lago” (link is to full text in Spanish) consists of 18 sonnets, each with its own particular direction and strength. It combines science and poetry and sometimes draws attention to environmental issues. For example, the opening lines describe the suffering of a single tree, scarred by axes and wildfires:

¿Qué dice tu nervioso gesto de selva oscura
árbol vetusto y seco sin una verde rama?
Con cicatriz de hachazos y quemazón de llama,
como un espectro tiendes tu sombra en la llanura.

What is this sombre dark jungle gesture:
ancient tree, withered, a memory of green?
Where your burned out bark and hatchet marks seem
to ghostly, cast shadows on the plain and fester.]

[translation by Scott M. DeVries]

During the early part of the Mexican Revolution (which began in 1910), Urbina was Director of Mexico’s National Library (1913-1915). When revolutionary forces took Mexico City in August 1915, and Álvaro Obregón became president, Urbina left the country for exile in Cuba, where he taught and continued his career as a journalist.

In 1916, El Heraldo de la Habana sent Urbina to Spain to be its Madrid correspondent. At the time, due to the Mexican Revolution, many illustrious Mexicans were living, studying or exiled in Spain; they included Alfonso Reyes, Martín Luis Guzmán, Diego Rivera and Ángel Zárraga.

Urbina spent much of 1917 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and from 1918-1920, was appointed the First Secretary of the Mexican Embassy in Spain.

A man of many parts, but best remembered for his original, emotive and elegant poetry, Urbina died in Madrid, Spain, on 18 November 1934; his remains were returned to Mexico and interred in the Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres in Mexico City.

His academic publications include Antología del centenario (1910, in collaboration with Pedro Henríquez Ureña and Nicolás Rangel); La literatura mexicana (1913); El teatro nacional (1914); La literatura mexicana durante la guerra de la Independencia (1917); La vida literaria de México (1917); Antología romántica 1887-1917 (1917).

His collections of poetry include: Versos (1890); Ingenuas (1910); Puestas de sol (1910); Lámparas en agonía (1914); El poema de Mariel (1915); Glosario de la vida vulgar (1916); El corazón juglar (1920); Cancionero de la noche serena (1941).

Source for biography

  • Luis G. Urbina (1864-1934) by Antonio Castro Leal

Related posts (poems about Lake Chapala):

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 6:57 am  Tagged with:
Jan 192015
 

Indian yogi and guru Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) introduced millions of westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his Self-Realization movement and his book, Autobiography of a Yogi (1946). The book was an inspiration for many people. For example, Steve Jobs (1955–2011), the co-founder of Apple, who first read the book as a teenager, re-read it during a trip to India, and then every year thereafter. The Self-Realization movement remains widely popular today.

Paramahansa Yogonanda at Lake Chapala, 1929

Paramahansa Yogananda at Lake Chapala, 1929

Paramahansa Yogananda visited Chapala in the summer of 1929. This striking image of him standing on a sail canoe at Lake Chapala has been regularly used since in the publicity materials of the Self-Realization Foundation.

Background

Mukunda Lal Ghoshin (Paramahansa Yogananda’s birth name) was born in Uttar Pradesh, India on 5 January 1893. He was educated at Serampore College, a constituent college of the University of Calcutta and in 1915, took formal vows into the monastic Swami Order and became ‘Swami Yogananda Giri’. He died shortly after giving a speech at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on 7 March 1952.

In 1920, he traveled to the U.S. aboard the ship City of Sparta, as India’s delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. Later that year he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), with the aim of more widely disseminating his teachings on India’s ancient practices and philosophy of Yoga and its tradition of meditation. In 1924 he gave speeches all across the U.S. and the following year established an international center (later the international headquarters) of SRF in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles center was run by Yogananda’s old school friend and co-worker, Swami Dhirananda.

In 1929, Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Dhirananda had a serious falling out. According to one version, in the spring of 1929, Dhirananda suspected that his guru Paramahansa Yogananda, in New York, was “living with a woman” (in contravention of his vow of celibacy). Dhirananda resigned from his position at Mt Washington, and asked Paramahansa Yogananda for a share of the proceeds from sales of books and other activities. Their dispute over money led to an acrimonious lawsuit.

Trip to Mexico

Following the resignation of Dhirananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, stricken with remorse, needed a break, and on 23 May 1929, left the USA for a three month visit to Mexico. During the trip, he met Emilio Portes Gil, the Mexican president, gave lectures and wrote the chant: “Devotees may come, devotees may go, but I will be Thine always…” Paramahansa Yogananda, also visited Xochimilco, which he thought was one of the most beautiful spots he had ever seen: “As entries in a scenic beauty contest, I offer for first prize either the gorgeous view of Xochimilco in Mexico, where mountains, skies, and poplars reflect themselves in myriad lanes of water amidst the playful fish, or the jewel-like lakes of Kashmir.”

The trip to Mexico is described in the Nov-Dec 1929 (Vol 4 #3) issue of East West Magazine:

On May 23rd, 1929, Swami [Paramahansa] Yogananda sailed from New York on a visit to Mexico. While there he met the President of Mexico, and also opened a Yogoda Center in charge of General Caly Mayor, a staunch Yogoda student of Mexico City whom the Swami was very happy to meet.

On July 15th Swami Yogananda was presented by Mr. G. O. Forbes, First Secretary of the British Legation, to Mr. Portes Gil, the President of Mexico. During the interview, which lasted about one-half hour, the President mentioned his ambition to lift the Mexican people to a great spiritual ideal. Swami Yogananda, speaking of the President’s recent success in settling the religious situation in Mexico, pointed out that it was spiritual understanding and culture alone that could unite all nations and creeds into one helpful band of brothers, all traveling toward the same goal of perfection. At the conclusion of the very enjoyable talk, the Swami and President Gil were photographed by newspaper and motion picture photographers in front of the palace, and pictures and news stories appeared in several of the leading Mexican papers on the following days.

Two of the palace guards showed the Swami about the palace and its beautiful grounds. It is situated on a high hill overlooking the surrounding country. An atmosphere of Oriental grandeur, due to marble walls and gilded ceilings, mingles with a brisk democratic atmosphere which reminds one of America’s presidential White House.

The Swami greatly enjoyed the magnificent and varied scenery of Mexico, the beautiful Lake Chapala inspiring him to compose a poem in its honor. He made many friends in Mexico and took many moving pictures of the interesting people and places he saw, many of which reminded him of India and her sun-tanned sons and daughters. Immense interest in Yogoda was manifested. “The Mexican people are spiritually inclined,” Swami reported. “There is a great field here for Yogoda and the message of India.”

Poem about Lake Chapala

The poem composed by Paramahansa Yogananda during his visit to the lake is “Ode to Lake Chapala”:

Ode to Lake Chapala — by Paramahansa Yogananda

O Chapala!
Like the flickering flame of Indo-skies,
Thy moods of limpid waters
Boisterously play with fitful gleaming storm,
Or rest on thy shining forehead
without a ripply wrinkle!
‘This then thy silver, shining mind,
Free of ruffling causes,
A transparent mirror—
Reflects just noble images
Of the green-dressed young and old hills,
Like tableaux of drilling soldiers
Standing hand in hand, with dwarf and tall heads,
Crowned with sliver skies or fleecy clouds.
I beheld the starry damsels
Beautifying their twinkling faces
In the mirror of thy waters.
How I watched in the flickering hall of lightning
Thy furious fight with the gunning clouds.
Showering torrential bullets of spattering rain,
O! what wild cloud-churned skies
and bounding winds,
Rolling thunder peals,
bursting vapour embankments,
Have flooded thy territory of waters
And have lashed thy spirit
to rouse thy resting soldier-waves
To leap to furious fightings!
Then again, when truce is signed with storm gods
And warring fury of the skies,
I find a stray white sail
Charged with a vital breeze,
Racing to thy horizon’s hidden unknown shores.
Thy nocturnal silence,
Oft rocked to sleep
By the lullaby of thy gentle breakers,
Is rudely roused at dawn
By those busy silence-shattering, droning sounds
Of man-made, horrid watery ploughs
Which encroach upon
Thy private fields of silence,
O! Changing Chapala
—The gleaming lightning of my feeling’s skies!
I love thee as never before!
Here’s hill-ramparted lake—
Which can allay
The scenic-beauty thirst of yearning minds.
When comes such another? Where?
Alas, Chapala!
Thy beauty will be snatched
Form my adoring skies
By cruel duties of exacting life,—
But they will fail to take away
Thy beauty enthroned in me as joy for e’er.
The stony arms of the palace by thy banks
Enclosed a tract of thy loved waters,
And ‘neath the lone, shady tree,
Standing on the spot ‘tween two sheets of water,
Oft I sat with those unforgettable hours—
When I beheld the Infinite
Emerge from pale unanswering walls of blue—
And unite my soul with thee,
Mounts, skies, and me!

Related posts (poems about Lake Chapala):

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 Posted by at 6:13 am  Tagged with:
Jan 122015
 

Rafael López (1873-1943) wrote a poem entitled “To Lake Chapala” (1927). The poem is a homage to, and parody of, the famous poem “La suave patria”, composed by Ramón López Velarde (1888-1921). (Ramón López Velarde is often considered Mexico’s national poet.)

Rafael López, whose formal name was José Barbarín Rafael de la Concepción López Castañón (!) was a distinguished modern poet, very popular in his time. His work has been favorably re-evaluated in recent years.

lopez-rafaelBorn 4 December 1873 in the city of Guanajuato, he loved poetry as a child and discovered Amado Nervo at an early age. He wrote to him in verse, thus beginning a long friendship. Nervo helped him publish his first poem, “De invierno”, in a national paper, El Mundo Ilustrado, in January 1899. Other poets in their circle included José Juan Tablada, Jesús E. Valenzuela and Rubén M. Campos. Rafael López was also a close friend of Luis G. Urbina.

López moved to Mexico City in 1901 and was a founding member in 1909 of the Ateneo de la Juventud (“Atheneum of Youth“). a grouping of young intellectuals, primarily writers and philosophers. In 1910, López was appointed as instructor in literature at the National Teachers’ College.

Among many other accomplishments, in 1910 Rafael López wrote the lyrics to Mexico’s national anthem, “Canto a la Bandera”, the music to which was composed by fellow Ateneo de la Juventud member Julián Carrillo, inventor of Sonido 13.

López published only two books of poetry – Con los ojos abiertos (1912) and Poemas (1941) during his lifetime, as well as a collection of prose Prosas transeúntes (1925).

Rafael López’s poem “To Lake Chapala” is dedicated to the lake, the then fashionable place to vacation during Holy Week. Here are the original words, with my loose translation into English:

Del gran libro en que Dios puso el secreto
del mar, eres el lírico folleto;
cuna infantil de su flujo y reflujo,
de un soplo, una pompa de jabón
y el pulso de su errante corazón.
El domingo de Pascua, placentera
y fina, en tu recámara playera,
proporcionas al ocio ciudadano
tu ‘agua florida’ y tu ‘espejo de mano’.
Tu alma de moaré bien se acomoda
al capricho del viento y de la moda;
te envuelve el lujo en seda casquivana
y la niebla filosófica, en lana.
Pérfida en ocasiones, no te pierdes
de ser crüel con tus enamorados,
que –naturalmente– han muerto ahogados
en la caricia de tus brazos verdes.
From the great book in which God placed the secret
of the sea, you are the lyric booklet;
infant cradle of her ebb and flow
of a breath, a soap bubble
and the pulse of her wandering heart.
On Easter Sunday, pleasant
and fine, in your bedroom by the beach,
you provide for civic leisure
your ‘flowery water’ and your ‘hand mirror’.
Your rippled soul adjusts itself well
to the whim of wind and of fashion;
it envelops luxury in frivolous silk
and philosophical fog, in wool.
Sometimes perfidious, you do not miss
being cruel with your lovers,
who-naturally-have died from drowning
in the caress of your green arms.
.
Rafael López’s work appeared in numerous poetry collections of the era, as well as in numerous newspapers, magazines and journals, including El Mundo, El Mundo ilustrado, Revista Moderna, Revista Moderna de México, Savia Moderna, La Patria, Arte, Arte y Letras, El Entreacto, Diario del hogar, El Imparcial, El Demócrata mexicano, Novedades, La Nación, Argos, Crónica, La Semana Ilustrada, Revista de Revistas, Nosotros, El Pueblo, Mefistófeles, El Independiente and El Universal.

López published some poems under the anagram “Lázaro P. Feel” (used for a few years during the Mexican Revolution), and pen names such as “José Córdova”, “Tris tris” and “Prevostito”. He maintained his somewhat rebellious attitude to the status quo throughout his life, and remained close to the up-and-coming youthful poets and at the forefront of what was then happening in poetry circles in Mexico. He served as director of the National Archives from 1920 until his death in 1943.

Note:

Julian Carillo and Sonido 13 are the subject of chapter 25 of my Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique (2016).

Sources (Spanish):

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

 Posted by at 6:12 am  Tagged with:
Nov 172014
 

Fred Lape, born at Holland Patent, about 10 miles north of Utica, New York, in 1900, spent several months every winter from about 1966 until his death in 1985, in Jocotepec on Lake Chapala. He died in Jocotepec on 1 March 1985, aged 85, and was interred in the local cemetery the following day.

Fred Lape (Credit: Landis Arboretum website)

Fred Lape (Credit: Landis Arboretum website)

Lape attended Cornell University and received a degree in English literature in 1921. He then divided his time between teaching English as a university professor (at Cornell, Stanford and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), freelance writing, running his farm, developing his skills as a horticulturist, and functioning as the historian of the small town of Esperance (population 2000), his chosen place of residence in Schoharie County, New York.

In 1951 Lape, who never married, transformed the family farm into the non-profit George Landis Arboretum. The arboretum’s website states his mission: “He aimed to grow every species of woody plant from temperate regions around the world that would survive in the hills of Schoharie County.” Fred Lape served as its director until his death. The arboretum closed every year from 1 November to 1 April, allowing him ample time each winter in Jocotepec.

His great love was guiding visitors around the arboretum. His obituary in The Altamont Enterprise describes how, “The arboretum director, a tall, angular figure topped by a plain, undecorated wide-brimmed  straw hat shielding a craggy, deeply-tanned face, would lead visitors past that landmark on regular weekend woodlot tours.”

Lape’s published work included one novel, Roll On, Pioneers (1935), and three non-fiction works, A Garden of Trees and Shrubs (Cornell Univ. Press, 1965), Apples and Man (Van Nostrand, 1979); and A Farm and Village Boyhood (Syracuse Univ. Press, 1980).

He also authored at least 8 volumes of poetry and founded a quarterly poetry and prose magazine, Trails, which published local nature verse from 1932 to when it ceased publication in 1951. His poetry titles include Barnyard Year (Poems) (1950), A Bunch of Flowers (Poems) (1954), My word to you, J.Q.A: Seven scenes in the life of John Quincy Adams (1965), At the Zoo (1966), Along the Schoharie (poems) (1968), Poems from the Blue Beach (1976), and Hill Farm (1976).

Obituary:

  • The Altamont Enterprise, Thursday 14 March 1985
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