Forever Saroyan Presents: The Beggars


Hello and welcome to Forever Saroyan Presents – Three Times Three.   

Thank you for your patience as we've been having the holidays here in California as well as opening our exhibit. William Saroyan at the Arion Press Gallery in San Francisco through February 24th.

53d248db 8a1d 45fe 8a19 f398020f4acc 858185781. SX576 SY576 BL0 QL100 UX250 FMwebp QL85 This week we return with the second to last story in the collection – “The Beggars”

“The Beggars” has a brief introduction.

“The Beggars” was written Tuesday, June 2 1936. It was called originally Beggars voices.” I went to Europe in 1935, I was amazed at the poverty of man on earth, everywhere in the world, material poverty and spiritual poverty. I haven't yet begun to say what I know I shall need to say about this.

The story itself is interesting, but the introduction speaks to a number of things in Saroyan's own youth. His family was not prosperous, and at times, he could certainly be said to have been quite poor. Growing up in poverty can often lead one to have very particular values and methods to their life that show themselves through their work. Saroyan often looks at impoverished families, particularly children, you could look at “The Men with the Heart in the Highlands” as reflecting Saroyan's own impoverished youth.

Even he was amazed at the poverty he saw in Europe in 1935. At that time, Saroyan would have been back for about a year from his trip to Europe, and he traveled all over. At that point, the world was at the height of the Great Depression. This would have led to great levels of impoverishment around the world, and certainly his visits to portions of what would be the Soviet Union, as well as mainland Europe and Ireland, would have led him to see some truly impoverished areas.

The story itself is less a story than it is a series of short vignettes, and it opens very much like the introduction.

I was a traveler once and I went to Europe.

Instantly, you see a contradiction between the the beggars, and the speaker. Beggars are rarely travelers, that is to say beggars and the impoverished rarely have the chance to travel except out of necessity. We have this concept of the traveling beggar who goes from town to town, again reflected in “The Man with the Heart in the Highlands, but most are in some way, tied to the land at which they are and don't get to move around. The nomadic lifestyle does exist among the poor, but perhaps not the levels that it does for the rest of the world. Certainly, being able to be an American who can travel to Europe would definitely qualify Saroyan as being separated from the impoverished. He mentioned this and notes-

“…such as I saw amateur beggars and professional beggars, a professional beggar is a beggar who begs for living, he begs for money with which to buy bread.”

otyam photo069He then says that

“Every man alive in the world is a beggar of one sort or another. Every last one of them great and small. The priest begs God for grace and the king begs for something for something. Sometimes he begs the people for loyalty. Sometimes he begs God to forgive him. No man in the world can have endured 10 years without having begged God to forgive him.”

Again, Saroyan is talking from a very specific point of view, a very western point of view, certainly a Western, Judeo Christian point of view. He talks about various different types of beggars, he encounters both happy and sad on his trip to Russia, and in fact, what he says

“one of the gayest little beggars I ever saw was a Russian boy of nine or 10, who met the trains at the station of a little village south of Kiev on the way to Kharkov.”

He says Russia, but of course he's speaking about the Ukraine.

He goes on to talk about how the boy sang and had a beautiful voice, and how others came to see him, but he was most enthralled and interested. He knows there was such sadness in the song, but it was a kind of sadness, which had not forgotten gaiety.

“He sang the song through once and then stood smiling at me. And I began to hurry through my pockets for Russian money.”

He also notes this was one of the things that pleased him very much about Russia, ignoring the current understanding of what constitutes Russia and the Ukraine.

Certainly at this point, the Ukraine would have been seen as Russian land though the traditions of both have always diverged pretty significantly.

He then describes interactions with another beggar in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh. He notes that that

“The beggar was singing just out in the every day he says right in the world. Build right on the stage of The World theater. That kind of music is magnificent in the world. I don't know how it would be in a theater, but I doubt very much it would be half as magnificent. That kind of music needs the world for a stage.”

 This of course harkens back to the Shakespearean quote, “All the world's a stage and the men and women merely players.” It speak to the idea of busking, and of course, to bring the art to the masses as being something that can lift the impoverished or the poor classes up and give them a way of making a living. This idea of egalitarian performance has always existed to a degree. In fact, famed British mathematician Charles Babbage wrote many screeds against street performers, largely because he found it as an imposing form of begging one that could not necessarily be ignored.

Saroyan closes with a look at a woman in London. He notes that

“…there were organ grinders, but flowers cellar, and a big cockney Lady of 50 or so, who had a bunch of roses and he passed along the street, very slowly and called to the people in the hotel, he talks about the loveliness and the sadness in her voice, and that her language was cockney.”

Cockney is, of course, a famed lower class idea within the British society, with a very specific voice pattern. You can definitely hear this in the musical My Fair Lady, as what Professor Henry Higgins is trying to bring out of bringing out of his charge, Eliza Doolittle. Throughout the story. It's marked with things such as dropping Hs. This idea of language, and particularly the forms of speech, marking your class is a classic note and something that Saroyan would have been highly, highly aware of. You could see this even in his own life. As the Armenians of Fresno added in language that at once reflected their background, certain Armenian words would definitely color their language, often, making them notable among the other classes that lived in Fresno. Most ethnic groups will have this sort of idea of working within them within their larger groups, famously Spanglish, the insertion of Spanish words within English typically by Hispanic populations. These sort of patois and jargons exist throughout all cultures where mixing of various groups is frequent. Often, it is the non-dominant group who is either ridiculed or at least remarked upon for having these traits to their speech.

pakay photo005Saroyan was a man who had encountered the arts across the board, around the world, yet these three voices made a deep impact upon him. This is another example of Saroyan’s writing, where he looks at the lower classes as would not normally be seen. He presents them not only in a positive, but in a moving light. This would be a major theme of his plays, and his books, going forward.

Thank you for listening to Forever Saroyan Presents -  Three Times Three. Our final episode will happen probably in two weeks, perhaps a little longer because of the exhibit William Saroyan at Arion Press Gallery in San Francisco. The final story: “Quarter, Half, Three-quarter, and Whole Notes.” So I hope you'll stay tuned.

Forever Saroyan Presents - Baby

Welcome to Forever Saroyan presents - Three Times Three. This week we're looking at the story, “Baby” and it opens with a very accurate statement. – “I tried to do too much in this one.”

53d248db 8a1d 45fe 8a19 f398020f4acc 858185781. SX576 SY576 BL0 QL100 UX250 FMwebp QL85 This statement is interesting because 1) he absolutely did, and he spends most of the introduction explaining why trying to do too much always fails and how it's sometimes a personal flaw. He sees himself as not being an old enough writer to really understand when to pull back, which is a fascinating idea.

The story itself is interesting, and certainly flawed because it is largely without form, though It is highly structured, broken into a number of smaller chapters, only one of which seems to have a somewhat traditional narrative. It's that small section that shows Saroyan’s understanding of his own writing, and how he never let a single story stay a single story.

Section nine, opens as the previous eight sections with something of a think piece.

“All things exist. Revelation is the only thing. Deep within the seed is beginning and end. The wondrous world of coming go. The moment of now, yesterday is eternity lost. It's an interesting point, but that's what most of this story is. It's very philosophical. But then we get to a point where we're actually told a story. Writing nowhere on my bicycle I reached eternity. I rolled deeply into the universe and found it godly emptiness, full of all things unknown, unseen and shaped. All things of the world to be tomorrow, breathe coldly from the void. And today, a mirage of glory to come. What afternoon I delivered a death message to the mother of a jockey. I wrote to her house on Railroad Avenue, knowing the message, Mother, your son is dead. He was a good jockey. He brought in a lot of winners. He rode like a gentleman. He was loved by trainers and touts alike. Today in Chicago, he fell from his mount and was crushed under the hooves of seven horses, your son, John.

This is a remarkable left turn from the rest of this piece, which is not particularly interested in telling the story. It's telling a story in general, but here there are a couple of interesting points. First, it's that this long segment about him not wanting to deliver the message, but it being part of his job as a telegram, messenger boy. It does get very, very emotional and you kind of see him going through the stages of grief. There is 100% denial, there is bargaining, sorrow, you name it, all of it’s in here. And he delivered the message, of course. Devotees of Saroyan will know that this is a direct parallel to one of the early chapters of The Human Comedy. There, Homer McCauley is delivering messages and has to deliver the note that in World War Two, one of the women's sons has been killed. So different contexts, but the idea is the same. And even to the point where he says the following –

saroyan art sketch 131“Mrs. Krek, I said, it says here Johnny is dead. I couldn't cry, but God Almighty, she was crying, and my heart was breaking. It may be mistaken, Mrs. Krec. I said, sometimes they make a mistake. Maybe another boy was killed and they thought it was Johnny. But says Johnny, I’ll go back to the office and ask them to find out for sure. You can just go in and lie down and I'll make sure to find out for sure.

She took me by the hand and showed me a lot of old photographs of the boy. He was little guy with a pinched face who looked very sad, even when he was a baby.”

This is so much like the chapter in The Human Comedy where Homer delivers the message and it's interesting that he returned to this idea. It's more interesting that he embedded this story, this emotional, lovely story between such a chapter of literally just philosophical thought.

Here's a portion that actually gives you an interesting view.

Can you believe city subway skyscrapers ship bridge locomotive? Can you dream the dream of native and contemporary unreality and make it real? Can you believe mob? The parade of the living across the world is the life of man a life on earth or a life within the dreaming heart of the universe? Within darkness of desperate and lonely dream? Can you believe what is laughingly called civilization? The purpose of life? Is this the earth of man.

That is a very typical paragraph for this entire story, and I think one of the reasons he put it here. This very simple story, that is very beautifully executed, was dealing with the bigger ideas by inserting a moment of relatable reality, right in the middle. He gives himself the room to express emotional connection between humans because the rest of the story is about bigger connections. This section is about smaller connections, gentler, truer connections, and that that may be why he went with that idea.

Thank you for listening to Forever Saroyan Presents - Three Times Three. We'll be back after the New Year with another episode. That one will be “The Beggars” so stay tuned.

Forever Saroyan Presents: Life and Letters

Hello, and welcome to Forever Saroyan Presents - Three Times Three. Today we're looking at the story, “Life and Letters”. This is from the introductory note.

ThreeTImesThree Lifeletters“This one was written Monday, August 24 1936. It was written for the Book Collectors Journal, Chicago. The editor of that magazine and I had made a deal by mail, he'd pay me $10 For anything I'd write for his magazine, and I could write anything I liked. He printed one piece, “Books, 5 Cents”, which was about books I picked up in Frisco, for five cents each, about writing, about writers, and about the stuff writers used for material.”

Saroyan’s. connection with Book Collectors Journal goes through several stories over the course of about a year and a half, two years. They're not really stories, but more personal encounters. That books five cents about the books that he purchased, does show his view of looking at writing, as a writer, being a part of a community of writers, but also showing that he is not necessarily deeply involved in the community of writers, but is more looking from the outside. That view is very fascinating. And the story, which probably is one of his better pieces for book collectors journal, is a clear indication that he sees writing as a vocation. But also that a vocation is kind of fun. This introduction is one of the longer ones in the book. And it does a lot of look at how art is made. To express not only feelings but to do more than that, to be a connection with deeper thoughts within an individual. From the introduction. Maybe art is a correction of errors within the artist in the world, in man in the universe. And if there are no errors to correct within the artist, there are an undo correct in the world, in man or in the universe. In short, if you would be immersed, immortal in art, you must be mortal in life. I hope no young person goes wrong because of this theory, it may be wrong. His reflection on the role of art in life runs throughout his entire career. From these early works, all the way up through his final work that were done. In memoir style, he often looked at the role that art played in his life, and how art interacted with the community in large. He was actually very popular to write introductions for artists who included people like Fletcher Martin, and his cousin, Khatchik ‘Archie’ Minassian.

The story itself is very different. And I would say it is again, a reflection on Art and Writing, but also on how an individual's life performs a feedback loop.

publicity 022The opening of the story is pretty clear. – “I don't suppose there's ever been a writer in the world who hasn't at one time or another, been very much amused with his craft and maybe even disgusted. I cannot imagine at any rate, any great writer not at least seven times during the course of his life asking himself the simple earnest question: What the hell do I think I'm doing? This question is usually asked six times before the writer has been published, read and accepted. So the first six times are relatively unimportant. The writer is not really a writer. He's never been published and he doesn't know for sure if he ever will be.”

This seems to be a reflection on Saroyan’s own path to becoming a writer. He had written and submitted for several years before he started get significant acceptances. Most notably, he had a few publications in 1928, leading up to his major publication in Overland Monthly, “Portrait of a Bum.” That happened in December. His first work as we at Forever Saroyan discovered not too long ago, was published in the San Franciscan, though, potentially prior to that, he may have written ad copy for a local group. Of course, that doesn't necessarily count, but it is interesting to see that he was trying to get his words out there.

Between 1928 and his really important acceptance in 1934, for the “Daring Young Man of the Flying Trapeze,” He published several things, but was not gaining much traction. It wasn't until Story magazine published “The Daring Young Man” that he truly became a major figure, and even then, it was massively eclipsed with the release of the Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories later in 1934.

In here, he talks a lot about not only writing and the writer’s needs, but also about the role of the whole thing in letters in general.

He has some very long portions that he goes into what writing should do, I think. example – “A clear sky at night or artistically, you'd see the subtle relationship between A and B, and between B and C. And between A and B, and C and Z. And the subtle relationship between one and zero, and between one and one, and between one and two, and three and four, and between zero and zero.”

He's pointing to a framework, that writing is about revelation, and in particular, writing is about revelation of position within the grander scheme of things, in essence, the relationship from A to B to C to z. What he doesn't necessarily mentioned, though, is the theory that many writers who simply go from A to B to C to D, and so on and so forth, are merely tracing, the simple lines, where it is most interesting is when you go from A to C, B to Z, when you're eliminating the intermediate steps surrounding his writing doesn't necessarily do that he tends to walk through the entire process to give you those connections. And in a way, this makes him a very impressive writer. Because to do that takes more wordage, it takes more focus, but in his work, he has managed to do it in a way that does not bog itself down.

Saroyan's sometimes a little bit harsh on his fellow writers, and I think part of that is that at the time politically, fascism was on the rise in Europe. Not any small amount also in the US sadly, there was general strife and we were still in the middle of the Great Depression.

publicity 029Of writers he says this – “it is very simple. The only trouble is that there aren't many writers around anywhere in this country or in Europe or in Asia, who understand this simple thing or even suspect. There are mobs of dopes who piddle around with words and horse around with what they call characters and situations and plots and atmospheres, and all that crap, but these babies aren't writers, they aren't any different from the whole mob of people who constitute the population of the world. They're nothing. What they do writing is no different from what do at any other time, they've meant well, I suppose, and they haven't meant to make a mess of letters, but they have made a mess of letters. And consequently, any kind of writer at all, who is doing any kind of writing at all, is up against very tough opposition because the people of the world have been eating up the lousy writing for so long, that when the great writing comes along, they don't know what to make of it, they forgotten about that kind of stuff. And very often they don't like the great writing.”

This may be Saroyan accounting for the lack of critical success some of his works met. It could also be for the fact that his sales sometimes lagged, though at this point, he was still one of the top selling writers in the world. He often spoke against readers who did not enjoy his work. And he also the work of other writers. What's interesting is that often he came into conflict with other writers, even admitting that they were great writers, Ernest Hemingway very famously in that case, and discussion about definitely afternoon and so forth. What this though, is also saying is that writers don't see themselves as being lacking. And the ones that do are the great ones, I find that aspect of the store very potentially interesting. So you have to dig down a couple of layers to find it. This is a story that is very much informed from Saroyan's life story, particularly the period from about 1925 through about 1932. To understand it, you really have to see that he has formed both a cynicism, towards writing as well as a great respect for it. It could easily say that he is not a fan of writers, he is merely a fan of writing. That's pretty clear.

This story deals also with the sense of immortality. Saroyan’s famous claim that he began writing to get even on death can definitely be seen here. But there's other portions of that thought that are slightly more difficult. Here he's talking about how writers and writing are yearning for an immortality but not of the body. There is an idea that he is actively saying, ‘I want an immortality because I don't want to die.’ That's a fascinating take, and Saroyan played with that theme throughout his career. But here in the relatively early portion of it, he's expressing it through the idea of examining what writers do and what writing is supposed to do. And that makes this one of the more interesting stories in the entire collection.

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