Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Poet Robert Lowell was called Cal here in Castine, and perhaps everywhere he was allowed to be himself. The following is Chapter 4 of Philip Booth's "Trying to Say it Out Loud: Outlooks and Insights on How a Poem Happens". Booth was a resident of Castine too.

Against sunset, against summer's end, against the prevailing sou'westerlies which stress and release even the peninsula's strongest elms, Cal plays tennis almost every afternoon on one of the two courts next to the High Road. The company at these late-afternoon sessions of round robin doubles is socially elect. the voices are pure Eastern Shore, West Hartford and Boston, but the talent is severely mixed: Cal wins one set with Janet Hughes, twenty years his senior, then loses a second set with Sally Austin, skilled and barely of age. His legs never get him to the right place on the court at the right moment, but he compensates by attacking the ball with all the immense strength of his upper body. His reflexes, if not always coordinated, are quick: even when his stroke flails he scores points with his running monologue - this particular game variously reminds him of Philip of Macedonia, his first wife, and Aristophanes. Elizabeth, exhausted after two sets, gangles on the sidelines under the cedars.

Cal is about the serve. Sweating hugely, he strips his shirty (violating the only club rule ever posted), and says, "This may make me as famous as Rene LaCoste...." Wherever fame may reside, it will not reside in his service: he throws the ball too low, ducks with his knees to accommodate the failed altitude, pushes at the ball from too short an arc, and with great speed squashes it into his Partner's left buttock. She smiles back wildly at Cal, and he invites everybody for supper.

Everything stops. Cal glances hugs at Elizabeth, and turns back happily to his tennis partners. "If you can't do that" he says "at least come for drinks."

Philip Booth, 1996

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