Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Loving Comic Strips, Theatre, Movies, Poetry and Sex: The Correspondence of Ray Bradbury and William R. Cox

P&PC recently spent some time at the University of Oregon's Knight Library digging around the papers of Ethel Romig Fuller—a widely-published (though not well remembered) modern poetry advocate in the Pacific Northwest who was named Oregon's third (and first woman) poet laureate, a position she held from 1957 until her death in 1965. We can guarantee that you will eventually be hearing more about Fuller from P&PC, but this week we thought we'd share something else we came upon at the Knight: a June 6, 1979 letter from Ray Bradbury to William R. Cox, and Cox's response of June 22 later that month, both of which are in the library's William R. Cox papers. Neither Bradbury nor Cox (who wrote stories for the pulps before moving West to write screenplays, television scripts, and 80 novels) are associated with poetry by most stretches of the imagination, and yet, as these letters suggest, poetry was nevertheless part and parcel of the pulpy world they lived in and the language of friendship they spoke.

In paragraphs three and four of Bradbury's letter above (check out that amazing letterhead!), for example, Bradbury defines "the first, the best rule" for "how to treat ourselves, know ourselves" as: "Do what you love, love what you do. . .If I have had any success it is in loving comic strips, loving theatre, loving movies, loving poetry, loving sex, loving, loving, loving." Comic strips, theatre, movies, poetry, and sex, right? Then, in his response, Cox wraps up his own reflections on Bradbury's rule by referencing the poetry of Don Marquis and the characters of Archie (the poetry-writing cockroach) and Mehitabel (Archie's alley cat friend) that Marquis first made famous in poems illustrated by George Herriman and published in the New York Evening Sun in the 1910s and 1920s. "Well, what the hell Mehitabel," Cox concludes, "what the hell as Archie the Cockroach was wont to say."

These letters are a touching window onto the surprisingly intimate relationship between Bradbury and Cox ("Have you noticed how people shy away from the very word 'love?'" Cox asks). What's even more touching for the P&PC Office, though, is how the expression of that friendship is made all the more intimate by the reference to Marquis, as Cox not only casts himself as Archie to Bradbury's Mehitabel, but as Marquis to Bradbury's Herriman, poet to Bradbury's cartoonist, and perhaps even as text to Bradbury's corresponding image. (BTW, that's Archie bouncing on the typewriter keys with Mehitabel looking on pictured here.) If the two (Cox and Bradbury) were alive today, maybe Cox would also quote Dr. Evil's famous words to Mini-Me: "You complete me." What the hell indeed.