Her memoir of that time - of her friendships and encounters with poets, including Jim Carroll, Denise Levertov, Gerard Malanga, Erica Jong, James Merrill, Stanley Kunitz, and James Wright - is an inspiring tribute to poetry and a stunning evocation of time and place. I had never heard of Kray, but her influence filters down to my present job. I was annoyed and more than a little baffled. I'm glad that I read Dakota and the Cloister Walk before reading this. For it drew Norris closer to Kray by all accounts an extraordinary woman, friend to every major mid-century poet and inventor of any number of innovative arts and education programs as well as a talented writer herself, evidenced by the letters included in Norris' book. I got weary of her stories of life as a Bennington College student, with all its drug, sex, and navel gazing drama. How wonderful that Norris tells us about Betty and her ceaseless devotion to poets and poetry.
Throughout the book she writes of her mentor, legendary champion of American poetry, Betty Kray. And as silly as our schoolgirl nicknames and Sunday-night rituals were, they gave us a small measure of communal identity that, in turn, made us feel more at home. And so, I am glad I pressed on. We do not store files, because it is prohibited. Until now, no detailed examination has been made of the twenty-four portraits known to have been painted of Coleridge during his life. It was years before I could admit how badly I betrayed her.
The two of them had spent the entire weekend in bed, rousing themselves only to go to the snack bar on Saturday night for a quick meal. Cloister Walk was a writer trying to be a writer. Modern smartphones and computers can read files of any format. But I was still too adolescent to be capable of genuine intimacy, far too absorbed in constructing my own identity. It shocked us when police found marijuana at a high school in a rough neighborhood, and confirmed our suspicion that drugs were low-class. Which maybe is self-evident, but I need to hear it a lot.
But the last 50 pages or so, Kathleen talks about the need for language, language that has depth of meaning. I dialed the number for her, and once I had determined that he was making arrangements for her to fly to the city to have an abortion-this was in the days when a legal abortion took place only after a panel of psychiatrists attested that a woman was too mentally unstable to undergo a pregnancy-I went to the library and stayed there for hours. Committed to helping struggling writers through grants and awards, Kray nourished many native talents while also promoting foreign celebrities. Booze had been the drug of choice among my peers; even in junior high, I'd heard rumors about binge drinking on weekends, everything from beer blasts at the beach to kids' raiding the good scotch when their parents weren't home. Joanna Smith Rakoff is the book editor for Shout magazine. Invigorated by Belitt's lecture, I was more intrigued than intimidated by the lengthy reading list he handed out. While gaining an education in urbanity and sophistication that might have made another soul more cynical and self-destructive, Norris managed to maintain a certain appealing innocence and optimism.
Betty is the director of Academy of American Poets and a pioneer in arts administration. She condemns the ambition of other poets, but pretends that her own way to early publication and a position at the center of the literary world just sort of happened by accident. We chose a Terpsichore, an Artist, a Scribe. I hadn't thought of my friend in years, and now, in circumstances I never could have imagined at Bennington-lying next to my husband in my grandparents' bed in South Dakota-I thought kindly of her, hoping that she too was laughing on that chilly autumn night, chuckling with pleasure over a good book, or roaring with gusto over something a new lover had said. Years after I had left college and the East Coast, I awoke once in the middle of the night, startled by the memory of a long-forgotten event that loomed up in a vast darkness: a small illuminated space revealed me standing in a dorm room at Bennington with my lover. Kathleen Norris' books have been a comfort to me. I could not have foreseen that my four years at Bennington would be so much like Alice's journey through Wonderland, that I would often be confused or confounded by matters other girls took for granted-not only drugs, but also sex with faculty members, or their spouses, and the ministrations of psychiatrists to sort it all out.
The Virgin of Bennington, which features Norris' signature pitch-perfect prose and engaging first-person narration, is an essential addition to her exploration of self. The Virgin of Bennington made this Christmas season all the more meaningful for me since I was absorbed in it throughout the holidays. While she seems proud of her virginity during her early years at Bennington, she sleeps her way into a job at the American Academy of Poets via a liaison with a married professor, then details other sexual liaisons that may have helped her career throughout the book. Kray tutored Norris in everything from fashion to revision techniques to social etiquette and introduced her to James Wright, Diane Wakoski, Galway Kinnell, Richard Howard and a number of other poets. She worked for the American Academy of Poet Kathleen Norris' books have been a comfort to me. While gaining an education in urbanity and sophistication that might have made another soul more cynical and self-destructive, Norris managed to maintain a certain appealing innocence and optimism, evident in her receptivity to new experiences and new people, and her hesitancy to judge others. But, what kept me going was her relationship with Academy director, Betty Kray, who became Norris's mentor and friend.
Working at the Academy of American Poets for her beloved mentor, Elizabeth Kray, and hanging out at clubs with Andy Warhol's crowd at night, Norris found herself immersed in an exciting and emotionally turbulent new world. The professor was married, which I unconsciously interpreted as meaning that I could have all the thrill of a romantic involvement without being asked for a genuine commitment. Her tenuous balancing act on the bridge between naïve experimentation and indirection and the more focused responsibilities of adulthood, makes for a dramatic and illuminating account of coming-of-age at a tumultuous moment in our history. This account of the making of a young writer will resonate with anyone who has stumbled bravely into a bigger world and found the poetry that lurks on rooftops and in railroad apartments —and with anyone who has enjoyed the blessings of inspiring teachers and great friends. Soon it is taken over by Betty Kray, her boss, mentor, and friend. Most of the book was about her being a young poet and person in New York City in the late 60s, doing some unwise things, being timid about some things, and learning to use her sense of wonder to write good poetry.
The book her devoted readers have been waiting for. Reading this book is like getting a good dose of literary history, along with name-dropping of folks like Patti Smith, Jim Carroll and Andy Warhol's assistant, Gerard Melanga. Kray worked hard to integrate poetry into American life. I happened to undergo my formation not within convent walls but in the wilds of Bennington in the late 1960s. I think I'm addicted to her voice. Her tenuous balancing act on the bridge between naÃ¯ve experimentation and indirection and the more focused responsibilities of adulthood, makes for a dramatic and illuminating account of coming-of-age at a tumultuous moment in our history. Kray was the best reader of Norris's early work and her most helpful critic; she gave Norris a sense of home amid the vagaries of New York life; she was a motivating and stabilizing force for Norris.
Augustine: sleep around a lot in your youth, then repent when you're old and impotent and get all religious about it. It's also a story of a writer coming into her own, with help from Betty Kray and Experience. That it was with a young woman instead of a man had much to do with the fact that she was the first person who had demonstrated an erotic attraction to me. Norris has led an enviable life. I learn a lot from you. I regret the times when I was not steadfast, when I withdrew from friends in need.