http://www.nrk.no/programmer/radio/radi ... 32400.html
There are also two videos with Leonard!!! He tells about Marianne and
the time on Hydra!
- The sixties, that’s a long time ago, isn't it?
- How long is that, 40 years?
Blessed with amnesia
- How do you remember…?
- My memory is not so good, you know, in fact, I’ve been blessed with amnesia, I hardly remember anything from the past, so that’s made me a very unsentimental person, I don’t have any good memories, or bad memories, so it’s okay. But I very rarely review my memories.
- Why is that?
- I don't know, it’s just the way it worked out. I read somewhere that as you get older, the brain cells associated with anxiety die, and you’re just starting feeling better.
-(laughter) and do you?
-(laughter), yeah, exactly.
- So what do you remember of the period (the sixties)?
- I don’t have any memories, you know, I hardly review the period in my own mind, so my life has always felt the same. I suppose most people feel that way, you know, because one day bleeds into another. You remember when your children were born, or you remember when maybe the first time you saw Hydra, or maybe the first time you went on the stage with your guitar. A few things like that, but I don't remember the life that I was leading, before I met Marianne, or after really, it seems to be all the same. A lot of sunlight, which I have always loved, and then just working, you know. Trying to answer some invitations to make something beautiful or significant or … anything at all, even if it isn’t significant or beautiful, just to make something. The inner voice seems to be saying: Make something!
No decisions were made
- Has it always been like that?
- Yeah! It’s always been like that. So I never had any choices, any real serious decisions. In fact, I don't think I ever made a decision, my life, it just unfolded that way. Always sponsored to that impulse of blackening a page, or finish a song or… that work has never been easy, I mean, compared to what, it’s easy compared to a miner going into a tin mine in Bolivia, and it’s been very well paid, even though I’ve lost it all, but it’s always been a consuming, engrossing work that took a lot of attention.
- And then there were the other appetites; for women, for beauty, for sunlight, for applause, for fame, for solitude, for spiritual enlightenment – you know, all the other appetites arose. And you know, as they arose with their various intensities I ignored some, and heated others, but it seemed to be all part of the same activity, and I don’t really know when the sixties began or when the sixties ended, or when this morning began or when this evening will end.
- I mean you notice that you have some aches and pains you didn’t have before (laughter), things like that, but nothing really, no real significant changes.
Famous to ourselves
- How was it to go from being a relatively unknown poet to become so famous?
- You see in Montreal we always thought we were famous, and in a sense we were more famous to ourselves then than afterwards. Afterwards you begin to realise that your own fame is very limited compared to people who have really achieved world renown. So what is your fame compared to Mohammed Ali – insignificant, and compared to Marlon Brando. When you were young in Montreal, and nobody knew who you were except the four other poets, then you really felt, you know, that your fame had some weight.
- What made you decide to go to Hydra?
- Like most things, you know, it was more or less accidental. I had come to London, and I was living there and working on my first novel, and it seemed to me that it never stopped raining – in fact it was some of the rainier seasons they had, but…I grew up in Montreal where there is snow, and you know how to heat your house, you know, but in England or in London, there were continuous rains, but nobody seemed to have heating. You know, you put a hot water bottle in you bed, but there was a continuing pervading dampness, in your clothes, in your sheets, you know, and I happened to be downtown in London because I was going to a dentist in the East End, and walked into a Bank of Greece, for some odd reason, maybe to cash a travellers cheque.
- I’ve told the story often, there was a young man, one of the tellers, and he had a suntan, he was smiling. And I said, you know (laughter), how did you get that complexion, you know, everybody else is white and sad. He said: I’ve just come from Greece. I asked ”what’s the weather like there?” He said ”it’s full spring”. And I had a scholarship, I had a government prize at the time, so I had a ticket that took me to Rome and Athens and Jerusalem. So I went to Athens the next day, and I got on a boat, and I got off at Hydra.
Hydra was home
- What did you see when you got off the boat?
- I think I wrote to my mother a little postcard, I just found it, it said I felt no culture shock, on the contrary, I felt that everywhere else I’d been was culture shock, and this was home. I felt very very much at ease in Hydra, and I don’t know how it’s like these days, my son is there right now, as a matter of fact. I don’t know what it’s like these days, but every corner, every vision - just looking out the corner of your eye – whatever you saw, whatever you felt, whatever you held was beautiful, and you didn’t have to say those words to yourself, it was just… when you picked up a cup you knew by the way that it fitted into your hand that it was the cup that you always had been looking for. And the table that you sat at, that was the table that you wanted to lean on, and the wine, that was ten cents a gallon, was the wine that you wanted to drink, the price you wanted to pay.
Meant to be with these people
- And then I started to bump into these wonderful people, like Marianne and her husband at the time, Axel Jensen, and many other people, who also felt not at all like foreigners. The people that I bumped into, both the Greek and the foreigner, had the feeling of the people that I was meant to be with. It was a great sense of inevitability and hospitality, although it never really occurred to me, just - this is the place were I was meant to be.
- I rented a house for 14 dollars a month. I think it was a table there and a couple of chairs, the most beautiful chairs, something like these we’re sitting on here. Chairs that Van Gogh painted. And I had my typewriter, and I got to work. And, you know, very easily and swiftly a kind of ritual arose where I got up very early in the morning, and then go to the beach, have a drink, look at the girls, talk to the men, you know – it was a very free and happy and disciplined life at the same time. And everybody was doing the same thing. There were very few people there at the time who were just drinking, just vacationing, you know, there was a group of foreigners who were doing their serious work there, serious painters who would work hard all day and drink at night and play at night, so it was a very good atmosphere for a young writer.
- I got up early in the morning, and people would start drinking in the evening, when the sun went down, and there would be a little table in the port where we were centred around an Australian couple, the Johnsons who Marianne might have spoken about, you know, around that table gathered a group of people, mostly writers and painters. And there were wonderful conversations, a lot of drinking, a lot of abandon and dancing and drunkenness. Eh… everyone was looking for some kind of amorous opportunity of course, you know, people paired off and split up and paired off again – that kind of very exciting, sometimes painful activity.
- It was a free life?
- It was very free, one felt very free. And foreigners were tolerated, somehow, in fact they seemed to be the amusement of the natives. We seemed to be their entertainment, in a certain sense, down at the port. I mean, we were tolerated.
Maranne in a holy trinity
- Do you remember the first time you saw Marianne (So Long, Marianne)?
- I remember seeing Marianne several times before she saw me, and I saw her with Axel and with the baby, with Axel senior and the baby, the ”barn” – and thinking ”what a beautiful holy trinity they are”, and it fit in perfectly with any other beautiful vision available, to see the three of them come sailing down the port. You know, they were all blond and beautiful and sun-tanned (laughter). I saw Marianne several times before she saw me, but I do remember bumping into her at ”Catsicus” it was the grocery store.
A glorious beauty
- What do you remember from the situation?
- I don’t remember it (laughter). She (Marianne) still has a mind (laughter). To me everything is blur.
- What was it with Marianne that you saw?
- Oh, Marianne was terrific, and of course one never, at that age, you know, one is mostly interested in beauty. And she had beauty in abundance, you know, I think that’s mostly what one saw, what anyone would have seen with Marianne, this glorious beauty, and then you know, she was an old-fashioned girl, and I kind of come from an old-fashioned background myself, so, the things that I took for granted with Marianne, and she perhaps took with me, a certain kind of courtesy and behaviour and ritual and order, which became very scarce as I got older, I didn’t find it with such abundance in other women. But Marianne had some wonderful family qualities, and the home that she made was very very beautiful, very old fashioned.
- I don’t know how things go now with the young, but that house was very orderly and there was always a gardenia on my desk where I’d work, you know. There was such a sense of order and generosity, that she had, that she still has.
Met when her husband left
- How did you start to meet?
- I don’t remember, I’m just summarising. When her.. her husband left with an American painter, who was also a very lovely woman – in fact everybody was beautiful and young and full of talent and, you know, covered with a kind of gold dust. You know everyone there had very special unique qualities. These are naturally the feelings of youth, but in this setting, in this glorious setting at Hydra, all these qualities that youth naturally can claim, they were magnified, and they sparkled, and everyone to me looked glorious, and all our mistakes were important mistakes and all our betrayals were important betrayals and everything we did was informed by this glittering significance. That’s youth.
- There wasn’t a man that wasn’t interested in Marianne, there was no one that wasn’t interested in approaching that beauty and that generosity, because it wasn’t just that she was… she was a traditional Nordic beauty, that was indisputable, but she was also very kind, and she was one of the most modest people about her beauty.
- There was no sense that she was playing her beauty, or maybe she was so brilliant at it that no one saw. But you meet people, men and women, that are aware of their physical and use it, but with Marianne one felt a real modesty, that she was unaware of how good she looked. It didn’t seem to be really what she was presenting, it wasn’t just…as many beautiful people present their beauty, that’s what you come up against first, I never had that sense with Marianne. It was indisputable that she was beautiful and you wanted to be, you know, in that radiant orbit, but she never presented it that way. Never.
- In fact, when we got into trouble, it was about language. English was not her native tongue, although she spoke and speaks absolutely fluent English, but as you know when you’re dealing with anyone who wasn’t brought up in a language, words have a very special kind of resonance, and sometimes we’d get into disputes about something that to me would mean a completely different thing.
- For instance, I’d ask her to do something, and she would say ”I’ll manage to do it”, which to my ear, and the way I learned the language meant, if you say ”I’ll manage”, it means it could have been an incredible effort and somewhat of a drag to do it, while all she meant was that ”I’ll be happy to do it, of course I’ll manage it”. So, we were best when we weren’t discussing ourselves.
- Both of us had work to do. I had no money at the time, in fact I have no money now, and, eh… so… you know I was working hard, and she was looking after the house, and in Hydra there was an activity to produce every effect, you know, you had to go down to the port to shop, you had to bring your basket, you had to pump the water, you had to clean the glass on the oil-lamps. So to maintain an ordinary life involved a lot of work, wonderful work. So we were both very, very busy making this household operate, just getting the water into the pot took a certain kind of effort, which was a very sweet effort. It had that quality, every drop of water you knew was from the rain, and you stored it under the floor in that kind of cistern or you bought water that came up on a donkey.
- So life had that quality that was very nourishing. We seemed really to enjoy doing those things together, although we never ever spoke of those things. We were just living a life.
A fragile relationship
- How was it to get a child, all of a sudden?
- It also seemed alright, it seemed natural, you know, it seemed okay, you know. I was able to put him to sleep often, when Marianne couldn’t.
- How do you remember little Axel?
-He was very bright, very alive, you know. He was a very normal kid. Our relationship was not… secure. She’d go back to Norway, I to Canada to try to make some money, and we were young, and both of us interested in all kinds of experience, so there was something fragile about the relationship, so it eventually broke, from various conflicts and strains.
- I don’t remember much of it, there is something very sweet about memory, and I have very little of it, but none of it is painful, although it was very painful at the time, but I don't remember the incidents. I just have a sense of the way I was working, I kind of see my notebooks and almost anything else, so I’m not a very good reporter, my recollections are not very accurate.
- I honestly do not recall very much about the past. And those early days at Hydra are very much the past.
Would take a novel
- It’s an important period of your life..?
- It’s important in the sense that it sponsored a lot of directions I would go on about. But to write about Marianne and Hydra would take, it would take a novel, and it would take a kind of examination that I don’t have the skill to make. As you get older you begin to understand where your strengths lie. You could write a novel, but it wouldn’t be a good one. You know, I could fake one. But I don’t have the skill to do it, as some writers do, as Axel did, bring to life in an interesting and illuminating way what our existence was, who Marianne was, what was the nature of our relationship, how did the child fit in to the whole thing.
- To me it comes down to like a table, and a woman and a man and a child, and I know I was there, but much else I really do not know. And there is a sense of deep respect I have for the situation and all the people in it. That’s mostly what I recognise. I have no sense of regret, I have no sense that I did something wrong or she did something wrong or I did something right, or she did something right. I place no exterior values. The only thing that rises in my heart, if I can locate anything, is respect. And honour. That something happened there that was worthy of deep respect and gratitude. At the specifics. Marianne has a much better memory than I do.
- You even drove her from Greece back home to Norway..
- Yes in her little Carman Ghia, and she liked to drive fast, and I didn’t like to drive that fast, but anyway, we got there, and, yes we drove from Athens to Oslo. That was a wonderful drive. Although I remember us quarrelling a lot. I don’t know whether it was about the driving or not, but I do remember that it was quarrels that arose. But they were healed because we’d stop at some little Italian café and have pasta and a bottle of wine or some cheese and bread, and we’d get over it.
- But I remember coming in to Oslo, and I remember another time coming into Oslo by train, from Yugoslavia, and my coat was stolen in the train, and I got into Oslo in the middle of a snowstorm without a coat, I remember that. So my memories are very, eh…, unimportant somehow. I mean, they’ re unimportant to me, so I can imagine how unimportant they are to you (laughter).
The relationship couldn't survive
- It’s just a sense that I was privileged; the sunlight, the woman, the child, the table, the work, the gardenia, the order, the mutual respect and honour that we gave to each other – that’s really what matters. I know there were all kinds of problems, we were kids, we were kids trying to… – the period was a period where the old forms were overthrown. And we were people that didn’t want to follow the forms, we wanted to overthrow the forms that had been given to us, but at the same time maintain things that seemed to be nourishing.
- Those relationships at that time were all doomed, we didn’t know it at the time that they were doomed, but they couldn’t somehow survive from what life imposed on us. Those relationships that were formed idealistically or sexually or romantically couldn’t survive the challenges that ordinary lives would confront them with. So none of those relationships survived, except in the sense that we honour them, and we recognise the nourishment of those experiences. Outside of that I don’t remember incidents or specifics. I don’t happen to remember the specifics.
The distance grew
- Would you like a little more coffee?
- Yes please
- I don’t remember how we split up, somehow we just moved and we just separated. The periods of separations became longer and longer, and then somehow it collapsed. Kind of weightlessly, like ashes falling, you know. There was no confrontation, there was no discussion, in fact I don’t remember how it happened. She was in Oslo, I was in New York struggling to make a living, and she was, I suppose, struggling to find some sort of situation, to take care of the child, and the distances grew and grew until we were leading different lives.
Qualities from her grandmother
- Both you and Axel (Jensen) were the creative ones, while she has been called a muse…
- She is that kind of figure. Very nourishing presence. You know, looking at her from a distance of 40, 45 years almost, I see how very, very rare those qualities are. She had and has a very, very rare…, and I have met a lot of men and women since then. But she was brought up by her grandmother in Larkollen, she was brought up during the war, and she just knew things about the moment, about graciousness, about service, about hospitality, about generosity – that you learn from your grandmother in the country.
- And the grandmother who obviously was also in touch with a more ancient world, where those values were even more honoured and observed. So Marianne inherited this very very ancient sense of service and generosity, and it was totally natural, it was in the skin. It wasn’t just something that she dragged up or had to look for, it was absolutely natural for her. Just the way she put the plate on the table or poured the wine or…
- And she had that other side too, where she drank wine and danced and became wild and beautiful and threatening and dangerous if you were a man with her. So she had these qualities that were very very old, and that are very rare now, very rare to find in people.
- She always felt that she was not present in her own life?
- She always felt that, she always felt that she wasn’t enough, but the attractive side of that, was, with a certain amount of suffering for her, but it also was a certain kind of modesty that invited a great deal of love from people. She might not have felt inadequate to every situation, but that inadequacy provided tremendous love from other people. So these things, they have many sides. But I know she always had that issue that she wasn’t present.
- Marianne told me you sent her a telegram from Montreal; ”Have house - all I need is my woman and her son. Love Leonard”.
- I remember that. And I remember her arriving at the airport in her fur coat, and she had two heavy valises in each hand, and I was prevented to go into that area, but I could see her through the glass, and she couldn’t wave to me because she couldn’t lift the suitcases up and she didn’t want to drop them because she was moving, you know, so she waved to me with her foot. I remember that very very clearly (laughter).
- You lived in Oslo for a while as well, didn’t you?
- Yeah, in Silurveien.
-How did you like it?
- I like Oslo, that’s a city I really like, Theatercafeen…oh yeah. I saw Ibsen. For someone who was not from the region, and who studied literature at the university to come to Oslo and go to the National Theatre and see Ibsen, that was incredible. Those are just touristic things, but important to me. As I always say, and I don’t understand what connections are, and I am connected to a lot of various things, but, Oslo was a city that was familiar to me. I think because of Montreal, I don’t know, I wouldn’t want to make the comparisons street by street, but there is something about the scale in Oslo that is very similar to Montreal, just the space, the buildings.