February 15, 2012

Harry Mathews

 Harry Mathews [b. USA/lives France]

Author of essays, fiction, and poetry, Harry Mathews attending Princeton and graduating from Harvard in 1952. He met artist Niki de Saint Phalle when only 12 years of age, and married her in 1949 at the age of 19. After his graduation, the couple moved to France, where they had two children before divorcing.

With inherited money, Mathews founded the influential literary journal Locus Solus (named after Raymond Roussel’s novel), editing it with John Ashbery, James Schuyler, and Kenneth Koch.

Mathews also became well known in the French literary scene, translating several American works into French and serving as an advisor to French publishers. Through his close friendship with Georges Perce he became a member of the Oulipo group.

Among his award-winning fictions are the books The Conversations, Tlooth, The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium, Cigarettes, The Journalist, and My Life in CIA. He has also written a book of shorter fiction, books of essays, and poetry. Sun & Moon Press reprinted his collaboration with Alex Katz, Selected Declarations of Dependence in 1996.

Mathews married the writer Marie Chaix in 1992, and the couple split their time between Paris, Key West, and New York City.


The Ring (1960); The Planisphere (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1974); Selected Declarations of Dependence (with Alex Katz) [poetry and prose] (Calais, Vermont: Z Press, 1977; reprinted Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1996); Trial Impressions (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1977); Armenian Papers: Poems 1954-1984 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986); Out of Bounds (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1989); The New Tourism (Key West, Florida: Sand Paper Press, 2010)

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English

Lateral Disregard

after an observation by Kenneth Koch

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s bay
an orange cliff rising from its waters to the east
to the west a slope of reddish earth whorled with gray olives
between them an arc of rock, then sand, then little port
four houses of blue-washed rubble and red-tile roofs
and below them under broad-leaved vines a terrace with tables and benches
from which at noon the smoke of golden bream grilling
brings a gust of longing to the wayfarer as he looks over the bay
from a bluff down which a dusty zigzag path
leads to a straggly cluster of fig trees near the water’s edge
(their first fruits now ripened in July sun)
to whose left on flat rocks ample nets have been drying
to whose right on the sand — green, yellow, green, red — four fishing craft
rest through the languid hours of the blue day
only at night taking to the clear dark waters
through which their bow-lights beckon curious fish
for nets to scoop from their nimble careers
to be shaken over the decks in slithering heaps
and at dawn the boats coast home between brighter blues
the glory of the world suffuses earth stone and leaf
land and sea reaffirm their distinction
in an exchange so gentle that the wayfarer briefly believes
he has been suspended lastingly in newborn light
the happiness and rightness of the morning
no longer dreaming plowing on through thick mud?

Copyright ©2001 by Harry Mathews.

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