Monday, June 01, 2009

a soul collected

I'm looking at a file that is an accumulation of letters, emails and documents all pertaining to a longtime search for a few frames in a documentary. The oldest item is a letter dated 1989. In all the time since, on and off, I've been trying to get a screenshot of a painting by Alice Neel featured briefly in the film Alice Neel: Collector of Souls, produced by Nancy Baer. Bear made her Neel film for TV and it was aired on PBS (part of a series called Women in Art).

Neel did a portrait of Ronald Lane Latimer, who was born James Leippert and had about five or six pseudonyms other than Latimer. In the mid-30s Latimer published books of poems at the small press he founded, Alcestis Press. He published Williams, Moore, Allen Tate, Stevens, Robert Penn Warren (Warren's first book), Willard Maas, Ruth Lechlitner and others. Until I published by book on Stevens' poetry in the politically radical context of the 1930s, very little was known about who Latimer/Leippert really was. He was a bisexual avant-gardist living and publishing booked in Greenwich Village, while being a semi-secret Communist, while enrolled in a school preparing him for the priesthood upstate, while engaged to a young woman in Albany...while corresponding crucially with Stevens and other poets, while running away from certain demons. I was able to track him mainly because I compiled a list of his pseudonyms.

I became fascinated with Latimer and tried to find photographs of him in his various phases: Columbia student, publisher-communist, then Buddhist in flowing robes in New Mexico, then expatriate in Japan, finally Episcopal priest in Florida (while living with a young man whom he told neighbors was his son--and who might have been his son, for all I know, but doubtful). I actually have a photo of him in Florida, posing, in his collar, with his large dog. And I have one of him standing on the steps of Columbia's library from 1932. But I've only had a glimpse--on TV as it aired--of the Alice Neel portrait of Latimer depicted in the Nancy Baer documentary. (There's also a painting done of Latimer in Buddhist robes done by Santa Fe-based painter Miki Hayakawa.)

For some reason I'm back on the trail, looking to be in touch with Nancy Baer, hoping to find a reproduction of the Neel portrait, hoping even to see a copy of the documentary (which is rare). Anyone with leads? Please contact me at afilreis AT writing DOT upenn DOT edu.