i AM BEHIND in my reading of the London Review Books--which leaves the misleading impression that I am caught up in everything else, when my house clearly testifies otherwise, a labyrinth of dusty stacks of subscription guilt--so I only recently read the 27 September 2012 issue, with Terry Castle's lead review of Lisa Cohen's As We Know: Three Lives.
Castle begins the review with an anecdote; it's the early 1980s, she is having lunch with several other women who, like her, are among that year's fellows at the Bunting Institute (now renamed the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study). She describes some of the party (no names), most of whom seem to be lesbians or experimenting with lesbianism; Castle seems to know in at least a vague way, as do most of the others, how everyone else's love lives are faring.
But then another member of the party--"aggressive, competitive, exorbitantly heterosexual Poet Lady with long flowing hair"--pipes up. "Hey, guys, you'll never believe the weird gossip I just heard!" Heads turn and attend. "Yeah, somebody told me the Bunting Institute is full of lesbians!"
Clunk. Poet Lady knows she has stepped in it, but doesn't know what it is. Poor, clueless Poet Lady!
The connection from this story to the review itself is a bit tenuous; it turns on the idea that some phenomena, like lesbianism, can be right there to be seen yet remain invisible to those who do not hold the key to what they are looking it.
Fair enough--but as a reader, I felt Castle was narrating with a relish that went well beyond having an interesting introductory anecdote. To be blunt, I felt Castle was taking a certain pleasure in Poet Lady's discomfiture, even at a remove of thirty years.
So--is "Poet Lady" Jorie Graham?
Poet? Check. At the Bunting Institute in the early 1980s? Check. Long flowing hair? Check. Exorbitantly heterosexual? Don't know...could well be. "One of the Reigning Poetry Divas of Our Time"? Ummm, check.
So...is the point that one can have an extraordinarily acute, finely calibrated sensorium, registering the most ethereal trembles on one's emotional seismograph, and yet be so clueless in certain matters that one can loudly call the attention of a table full of lesbians to the rumored presence of...lesbians? Even if one is, shall we say, Jorie Graham?
I guess one can.
The Cohen book sounds amazing, by the way. It's on my list.