Just finished reading this great 1982 Paris Review interview with famed poet, journalist, and tastemaker Malcolm Cowley; he talks Faulkner, Hemingway, Stein, drinking, sanity, poetry, publishing and more. Here, he shares an anecdote about F. Scott Fitzgerald—
Do you see a relationship between unhappiness and poetic creativity?
To the extent that poems may be born from a straining of one’s senses and imagination to a degree to which they couldn’t be strained in ordinary life. I was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s correspondence the other day. Scott and Zelda’s difficulties were ones that I never had to face; I never had to drive myself to drink in order to get my imagination working. Actually, I found my imagination worked best on fatigue. That’s another form of intoxication . . . to set yourself writing, and keep on writing until after two or three hours the subconscious takes over. It’s certainly safer than alcohol. The trouble with alcohol is that you can’t keep it up.
I went to visit the Fitzgeralds when they were living outside of Baltimore—a place called “La Paix.” Scott said to me, “I’m on the wagon, but I got you a pint of whiskey from my bootlegger; I’m on water.” So we talked, or mostly he talked, and every once in a while he’d go out to the kitchen to get another glass of water. His talk became more belligerent, sometimes incoherent, until finally he said, “You know, that water I’ve been drinking all evening—it’s half grain alcohol.” I said to myself, “Oh . . . surprise!”