There's nothing in this short, casual memoir that adds substantially to Humphrey Carpenter's 1981 biography of W. H....

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AUDEN: AN AMERICAN FRIENDSHIP

There's nothing in this short, casual memoir that adds substantially to Humphrey Carpenter's 1981 biography of W. H. Auden--but Miller (a self-described ""failed poet"") offers glimpses of Auden at work and play, in conversation and daily chores, that are often amusing or touching in their homey (or campy) specificity. They met in 1940, when Auden was a visiting lecturer at the U. of Michigan and Miller was a somewhat overage student. Auden promptly announced: ""A-aa-act-u-ally, now, you must live with me, because I'm a stranger here. . . and I'm told that you're an, uhm, accomplished cook."" So the two shared a house; heterosexual Miller was quickly reassured that Auden's designs on him were culinary, not sexual (Auden was already in love with Chester Kallman, who visited); Miller records Auden advice on work, love, faith; he recalls his disillusionment when Auden loudly renounced such political poems as ""Spain,"" stroking out stanza after stanza in Miller's copy of the 1934 Poems; Auden encouraged Miller (who had a clutch of dreadful childhood memories) toward ruthless self-analysis. There are glimpses of Auden wolfing food, thrilling to a 95mph car ride, imitating Marlene Dietrich. And, in later years, Miller and Auden would be lower-Manhattan neighbors--lots more book-talk and food-talk, with shopping on First Avenue--while Miller began to notice the increasing strain on Auden from loathed lecture-tours, the increasing loneliness as Chester, ""the permanent problem mate,"" sought sex elsewhere more frequently. (""If one hadn't experienced it many times, one would hardly believe that Wystan's listed telephone didn't ring for hours on end, or for days."") True, the Miller/Auden friendship itself never really takes on shape or weight here, despite attempts at analysis: ""Wystan was waiting for me to prove myself as a person (if not poet) to him, and I was waiting to define him, to name him, to formulate his complex entity in my consciousness forever. . . ."" But there are enough engaging candids in this graceful photomontage to divert (if not surprise) most Auden-watchers.

Pub Date: April 1, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Scribners

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1983