Around the turn of the century, a poet working at the Poetry Society of America asked me to do her, and PSA, a favor, and meet with the PSA board president, a businessman named William Louis-Dreyfus. The idea was that his taste in poetry was too conservative even for PSA and that perhaps I could open his ears a bit on that score.
I was intrigued by the offer, curious if I could turn a stone-cold agent of Official Verse Culture, in the manner of Mission Impossible. I knew almost no one remotely like Dreyfus, who was a lawyer born in France but who headed a promient financial firm. I met with William several of times at his office in what I still like to call the PanAm building, the big one that towers over Grand Central Station.
William loved Frost, knew the poems by heart, and he was very suspicious of poetry that did not have the values he admired in Frost, though he also admired Stevens. I knew William liked modernist visual art so I thought that might be a place to begin my intervention. We read, line for line, Stein’s „If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso.“ He was skeptical at first, but once he saw how the poem worked, and saw its connection to Picasso, he was intrigued. And after a while he turned, if not into an agent for the new, at least into less of an enemy.
I wouldn’t say I got him to like Stein as much as Frost, but he did go from a very negative view of her approach to poetry to some serious admiration. / Charles Bernstein über William Louis-Dreyfus, der am 16. September diesen Jahres starb