William Burroughs Conversation – 9

W.H.Auden (1907-1973)

AG: So is there some story on the call on Auden?   Now what about Auden? Do we have Auden here in 1950?
GC: Let’s get to Brussels, lets get to the big time (stories)..
AG: Now, wait a minute.
GC Alright, let’s hit Auden

AG: Now, what is that situation?
GC: Now, was that in England when the bicycle fell?
AG: No, I didn’t know that. I don’t remember.
GC: Yeah, he picked up the bicycle….we’re in his room..
AG: No, in relation to the scene in ’53? – there’s something?
GC: Then, earlier. You go on..I was thinking of Ansen, when we saw Auden..
AG: Ok
GC: Auden?
AG; ’53-4 something like that

GC: Did we ever see Auden together?

WSB: We never saw Auden together, Gregory, No.

GC: You and I saw their friends We saw Alan Ansen, Chester Kallman.

WSB: Well certainly, yes, but never Auden. I saw much him earlier.

AG: Well it was 1950..(no,) 1938.

WSB: 1938, when he was staying with (Bill) Gilmore (sic) in Brooklyn Heights

AG: There was a great famous house –  where Auden stayed. Who else visited (there)?

WSB: Oh, Paul Bowles, and John Latouche, and Jane Bowles, Charles Henri Ford… all that..

AG: Tennessee Williams in there?

WSB: Yes. Very definitely. All the View crowd, all of the View crowd.

AG: Surrealists – all staying in the same big house in Brooklyn Heights. And a college friend of Bill’s, William Gilmore..

WSB: William Gilmore

AG:  ..who was about.. I guess, Bill’s closest, or second-closest, friend during those (early) days when we first met.

WSB: Fairly close friend, yes.

AG: He was a very elegant old queen, who was a mysterious sort of guy..

WSB: What?

AG: …he was always making fun of me, I always thought – “Oh, there’s the divine…”

WSB: Well, he wasn’t any older than I was.

AG: Well.

WSB: About three years older.

AG: Well, he looked like a..  He seemed much older than me. He must have liked me because he kept saying what a great beauty I was (and I was embarrassed completely by him). I never did tell you about that.

WSB: Well, the thing about Gilmore is that he had a fatal flaw – he always wanted to be a writer. See, he wants to write a great book but he doesn’t want to go through the procedure of writing one.

AG: Like many of our students!

WSB: But he had a fatal flaw. Now, writers can have all sorts of terrible qualities, but he was an inveterate cheque-dodger. I’ve never gone out with this guy but why he didn’t try to dodge his share of the cheque).. I was with him there (at Harvard) the whole time and he was always talking about getting out of the rat-race and writing a novel (and did once)

AG: But as part of the general demeanor of that scene which would be, actually even earlier, that’s (19)45-(19)47, (which would involve Kerouac also, because Gilmore knew Kerouac pretty well)

WSB: Oh yes. He knew Kerouac well and disliked him.  Well, he knew him fairly well and disliked him. Oh yes.

AG: Really?   Why?

WSB: Oh well.  He thought, you know, he rejected  this whole “Beat” thing. He said that Kerouac was just a nut and he was disorganized and undisciplined. He had studied.. his model was Babbitt, you know, the humanist at..

AG: Babbitt, Irving Babbitt, the teacher of T.S.Eliot..

Irving Babbitt (1865-1933)

WSB: Yes

AG: Did Gilmore study with Babbitt?

WSB: Oh yes! – he adored Babbitt

AG: Did you study with Babbitt, did you know…?

WSB: No, no. I never knew Babbitt – but only indirectly, through Gilmore, you see. He was Gilmore’s sort of idol, or mentor…

AG: So Gilmore had a funny kind of high class 57th Street Sutton Place gay style.. I’ve never told anybody…

WSB: Remember that he didn’t have a dime..

AG: But he had an apartment, right on 56th Street, between…

WSB: Yeah, but that was a fluke, you know he got that apartment.

AG: He had an apartment in an elegant section of New York.

WSB: Yes

AG: But he kept saying, “Oh my dear Allen, you’re such a beauty!”. And I just shrivelled because, by hindsight, I thought he was probably coming on – or, do you think he was..or was he..?

WSB: How do I know!

AG: I don’t know.  It’s been puzzling me for forty-five years now!  What is.. what was..

WSB: Listen, we’ve been trying to track him down on the biography (sic) and I don’t know where the hell he is. If you can find him, I’d be very grateful

AG: We’ll find out.

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning approximately twenty-nine minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in

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