Included in Truman Capote’s collection Music for Chameleons is a charmingly self-indulgent piece titled ‘Nocturnal Turnings,’ in which Capote, unable to fall asleep one night, conducts an interview with himself. The self-interview maintains a high level of intimacy, one we could only expect from a writer either so honest or so unconcerned with how he is already perceived publicly (or both), opening up on issues ranging from religion to suicide. But it was the first self-exchange that immediately caught my attention:
Q. What frightens you?
A. Real toads in imaginary gardens.
Though I didn’t realise this at first, Capote had paraphrased the poet Marianne Moore, who in her poem ‘Poetry’ wrote:
[…] One must make a distinction however: when dragged unto prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the poets among us can be ‘literalists of the imagination’—above insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them,’ shall we have it.
As Moore underlines the bravery that comes with honesty in writing, Capote states—perhaps in jest, perhaps in truth, or perhaps both, for we can never be sure with him—that doing so frightens him, yet he goes on to do so anyway. (Still under the impression that Capote had invented the phrase himself, I shared it with a friend, who informed me of its originator, adding ‘All good things come back to women.’)