Saturday, June 23, 2012

ELIZABETH POLLET, novelist, Rest in Peace

(Pollet in the 1940s)
Elizabeth Pollet died several months ago, after four decades at Westbeth. At the time of her death, she would have been 89 or 90. Pollet was a novelist who had been married to the brilliant but disturbed poet Delmore Schwartz. Pollet managed to turn the years of her destructive marriage into the sublime "Portrait of Delmore," a collection of his writings and journal entries, which was published in 1986.  

I interviewed Elizabeth in 2005. She was a gracious, profoundly shy woman with a dry wit. Even 50 years after her marriage to Delmore Schwartz ended, she was still haunted by him.

Elizabeth Pollet was the daughter of Joseph Pollet, a prominent Greenwich Village painter. She was a statuesque woman with high cheekbones, and was one of the great beauties of the 1950s intellectual scene. Pollet met the poet Delmore Schwartz not long after she graduated from the University of Chicago in the early 1940s. Their tumultuous relationship lasted 15 years, ending in 1957. Pollet was the author of the best-selling novel “A Family Romance.”

I was roommates with the poet Jean Garrigue on Morton Street. That’s how I met Delmore. He was teaching in Cambridge and was seeing something of Jean. Delmore was coming for dinner with a friend and they needed another girl. I had read Oscar Williams’ poetry anthology. My favorite poets were Delmore Schwartz and Dylan Thomas. There were pictures of all the poets. The idea that I was going to meet Delmore was overwhelming.

Once I was involved with Delmore, I was head-over-heels in love with him. I wanted to marry him. I was absolutely fascinated by him and deeply sorry for him in a lot of ways. After some years of marriage, he said to me once, “You don’t love me as much as you used to.” I said, “I love you more, but I don’t adore you as much.” There’s a big difference between loving someone and adoring them. Delmore was very jealous and possessive. I did my best to give him no occasions for jealousy.

I didn’t have much sense of a career. What I wanted to do was write, which was an essential part of my being. Delmore handed my novel to James Laughlin at New Directions with no name on it. Laughlin liked it a lot. If my name had been on it, maybe he wouldn’t have liked it so much. “A Family Romance” came out from New Directions in 1950, and the British edition and American paperback came out in 1951. It sold 250,000 copies in paperback.

Editing the journals, my feelings went through a big cycle. Why was I so dumb to marry someone so troubled? Why did I think I could help him and why was I so self-destructive? Reading his journals, I was reliving a lot of things, but I was also recalling a lot of positive things. At the time, I wanted to marry Delmore more than I had wanted anything in the world. We both thought of ourselves as Dostoevskian characters. That’s both good and bad. There’s a desperation there, but there’s also an intensity there. You could call it egotistical to dramatize yourself to that extent.

I loved being with Delmore until he really began to disintegrate. Towards the end, he told me to stay near him at parties in case his mind might jump off the rails. I couldn’t get any help for him. If we had a lot of money, maybe something could have been done. I used to say that living with Delmore was like living on the side of a volcano, but that was putting it mildly.


JJ said...

She was splendid. Thank you very much for this.

Unknown said...

I first heard of Elizabeth Pollet while reading "Poets in their Youth," by John Berryman's first wife, Eileen Simpson. Simpson described her as looking as if she'd just stepped out of a "Norse fairytale." In any case, I look forward to reading Pollets's own work. (And by the way, I wonder why there is no Wikipedia entry for her. I hope that someone who knows her work (and how to navigate Wiikpedia) will write such an entry.

Unknown said...

read the superb "humboldts gift" by the superb saul bellow - theres a wonderfull portrait of pollett' called in book -kathleen.

erik krishek' israel