Collected Journals, 1936-42 Paperback – 10 Sep 1991
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The Collected Journals 1936-42 cover the years when the young David Gascoyne lived in Paris. Lawrence Durrell, George Barker and Henry Miller were early friends and he was actively involved in the surrealist movement with Andre Breton and the poet Paul Eluard. The journals give a full account of these years: his personal struggle and despair as world war loomed, his complex relationship with the English author Antonia White and his return to London and enlistment as an actor with E.N.S.A. Written in a period when he was producing some of his finest work, these journals illuminate and complement the poetry and serve to reaffirm Gascoyne as a major voice of the twentieth century.
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These pages document Gascoyne's unrelenting pursuit of poetic vision at all costs in the face of abject poverty, alienation from friends and family, taking us on his unforgettable journey from the celestial heights
of the "seer" (in the tradition of his idols Holderlin and Rimbaud), to the depths of a psychotic depression which would leave him silent for more than twenty years.
Gascoyne's concerns were unfashionably religious--though not in any orthodox sense--and his quest for a "religio poetae" which would restore a sense of the sacred in the human being through imagination charged his life in Paris with famous contemporaries (Henry Miller, Claude Cahun, Dylan Thomas) and even friends (George Barker, Paul Eluard, Roger Roughton, Lawrence Durrell) a sense of separateness which constantly drove him into an impassioned solitude.
It is incredible that anyone, poet or not, could manage to pack the amount of intensity Gascoyne did into these 335 pages. Packed to the hilt with philosophy, poetry, translations, and accounts of his daily interactions with some of the most well known literary figures of the twentieth century, I can only imagine Kafka's "Diaries" equalling it.
It somehow transcends even the great time period in which it was written.
This intensity is of necessity short-lived. His addiction to a (then legal) form of methamphetamine and a monstrous self-hatred that grows worse and worse as the journal continues slowly erode the will toward creation.
The "Afterword", written thirty years after his mental breakdown, is sombre, compelling and sort of sad--Gascoyne documents his return home to his parents in Teddington, England and his subsequent loss of belief in himself as poet, and a series of hospitalizations which would eventually result in a lifelong marriage.
Gascoyne would indeed gain the recognition he deserved and craved, but tragically it happened very close to the time of his death when he was not fully able to appreciate the fruits of his labor. It came via Enitharmon Press and also commendably through the influence of poet Jeremy Reed.
These pages are as great as anything I have ever read, whether in literature or poetry; it is a time capsule and also a monumental achievement on the part of Gascoyne.
It is way past time for a re-introduction of David Gascoyne's poetry to a younger generation of readers.