The BOOKPRESS November 1998

Letters to the Editor - Exchange between Robert Sward & Jascha Kessler

our readers

Dear Bookpress Editors,

1. Jascha Kessler cites your Bookpress [Mar 1998] as the location where one might find his "Midnight Special" memoir re: James Dickey/Robert Mezey/Robert Sward.
2. Because Kessler himself writes that he "regrets the absurd conflation of Robert Sward with Mezey..." (see below for Kessler's complete message), I am asking that you please post a notice at the head of the libelous memoir directing readers to my letter (see below).
3. Falsely identifying people is a crime, is it not?
4. Please respond to this message confirming receipt and, I trust, youragreement to making the correction. I do plan to take legal action if necessary.

Robert Sward


Dear Jascha Kessler,

I just happened on your James Dickey Reads at UCLA memoir [Midnight Special, Mar 98/The BookPress], which I enjoyed, but am puzzled that you have me "showing up [in 1969-70] carrying a cased guitar"and, later, "picking at it amateurishly."

Jascha, I never owned a guitar, never attempted to play a guitar and what's especially weird about the anecdote is I remember you telling me the exact, same story when we met at your home, but then the would-be guitar player was a poet named Robert Mezey, no friend of mine. Is it possible that you have conflated the two Robert's, Mezey and Sward?

The truth is, in 1969-70 I was Poet in Residence at the University of Victoria in Canada and I hadn't visited Los Angeles since 1964-65, which is the one and only time we met. I had come to know and admire your work when I was on the editorial board at Cornell University's "Epoch" Magazine, and made a point of looking you up when I was in L.A. I did not attend James Dickey's 1969-70 UCLA poetry reading.

What is particularly bizarre is your having ascribed to me the unpleasant behavior you had originally ascribed to Mezey, my nemesis from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

As Allen Ginsberg once eloquently phrased it, "Help!"

At the time of our meeting--yes, James Dickey was there--you recounted an earlier meeting you had had with Robert Mezey and how he had expressed negative feelings about my poetry. So I was pleased at the time to hear how Mezey had made a fool of himself masquerading as a guitarist. But that was Mezey with the guitar, Mezey, not me.

So, yes, I visited your home in 1964-65 shortly before leaving to spend a year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Your James Dickey www.bookery.worlddesign... article is about five years off. Maybe Dickey came to UCLA twice? In any case, I didn't "sit [myself] down at [Dickey's] feet", at least not in 1969-70, because I simply wasn't there.

You mention Henri Coulette, who I remember from my days at the University of Iowa (1956-58), but Coulette was not at your home when I visited in 1964-65. For me, Mezey and Coulette were part of a scarily cliquish group of Iowa City poets much in evidence in the days of The Workshop's "cornbelt metaphysicals."

Apart from being five years off in recounting this story, you describe me as "Sward, a soda drinker," and then a page or two later this same Robert Sward manages "to make his way to his car and weave his way up the coast." Gimme a break, Jascha.

Hmm, and you offered me the same excuse you offered Dickey for not including my poems (not even "Uncle Dog"?) in your [then] forthcoming "American Poems" anthology. "We're limiting it to poets under 40..." you said, or something to that effect. I chose not to make much of the fact I was 31 (in 1964).

Well, you did offer me a job teaching at UCLA, which I refused (now there's a valid reason to say I'm a jerk!) and, later, recommended me to that former FBI agent, Henry Sauerwein, then director of the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, N.M. So I am grateful to you for making it possible for me to get additional mileage on my Guggenheim Fellowship--I needed the time at Wurlitzer to complete a new book of poems--and regret my run-in's with Henry Sauerwein, who became enraged when my children caused the Wurlitzer plumbing system to break down. And, imagine, I've been waiting all these years to say this to you.

So on the one hand, thank you.

On the other, please get your facts straight.

Robert Sward

________October 20, 1998_________ Kessler reply follows:
Jascha Kessler wrote:

Dear Robert Sward,

I will sell that Dickey memoir sometime or other, I think, and will erase the conflation of two of the three Iowa poets I know, among others. I regret the absurd conflation of Robert Sward with Mezey at a time of his life - I am very very fond of him these past decades - and Sward. Somehow it seems to have happened that way. The mind plays tricks, and in those days there was always some Irish whiskey (for me) involved, though I havent touched hard liquor since 1963, with exception of brandy, which is grape, and Irish, which is the only honest distilled drink I know of in the whiskey line, and even at that something I take only rarely, and usually for an oncoming cold and such at night.

Still, I hope you will agree, S' non vero, non ben trovato? To me it seems good. You will be expunged from my story, and Mezey set down at his feet with his geetar. Still, I wonder who else was in the room except for Hank Coulette, a really 1st rate, if dead, poet. His collected poems came out posthumously. Mine are coming out from Xlibris this month, and novel, mentioned in the signature shown below is ready to be bought. Try your library up there for my 4 books? A kind deed shines in a cold world. Try a non-random act, etc.

Cordially, yours,

Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: (310) 393-4648

Dear Jascha,
[email protected]

I want to keep you in the loop as we get closure re: The Memoir

Jascha, please understand, seeing myself falsely identified, as in your conflation of Robert Sward with Mezey, is scary. However it may have occurred, the result is akin to stealing someone's identity. For that reason I am asking that you join me in requesting that Bookpress--and anywhere else your Memoir--appears, to make the appropriate correction, *or* please include an unabridged copy of the letter I sent you.

Again, I respect and admire your work (this goes back to the mid-1960s) and hope it will be possible to see you when I visit L.A. again in Dec./Jan.

Meanwhile, all good wishes.

--Robert Sward

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