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This article is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

A View of Yaddo John Haffenden

"I AM looking down an enormous lawn; in the distance, straight in my line of vision, is an ornate pond with a statue; a wall of dark trees surrounds the lawn on three sides, immediately below me is a broad, flagged terrace with steps leading down to the lawn." This is Yaddo; the author is Penelope Mortimer writing a novel called Long Distance. Yaddo was the bald seat of Alison Lurie's novel Real People. William Carlos Williams expressed a brief chapter on Yaddo in his Autobiography. Yaddo is a colony where writers, artists, composers lunge at their work long hours alone, kick their heels, and occasionally find each other in wedlock. Although it is a place where artists bring work to be done, Yaddo itself engrosses the soul, providing inspiration, gossip or insinuation. Conversation can be distressingly banal; but, once in a while, a remark sparks a real dialogue, an insight springs a poem or a character in a novel. Left to our own purposes, insulated from the outside world, we the inmates must engage first our work, then one another.

The guest-list reads like a roll of fame: Saul Bellow, Robert Lowell, Carson McCullers, Philip Roth, Delmore Schwartz, Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor; it goes on forever, but, thank God, only a handful of guests are present to each other at any one time, clambering into immortality or tumbling into neglect, the neurotic, temperamental, trembling sensibilities. Here is where Sylvia Plath slept, here Ted Hughes. This is ...


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