Thursday, October 2, 2008

Moving

In haste: I'm nearly packed. It's my last night in Kennington-Walworth, cradle of Charlie Chaplin and so many others.

No sooner do I unpack in my own flat in Belsize Park, then I must repack and leave on Monday for a journey to Rabat, Morocco. I've been invited by the university there to participate in an international celebration of Darwish. This sounds exciting, to understate.

Apparently, an official at the Nobel Foundation said today that no American writer was good enough to be awarded the prize. We were too parochial, out of touch with the world at large. It's interesting to glance back at the previous American winners: Pearl Buck, Sinclair Lewis, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, I.B. Singer, Bellow, Toni Morison. First observation to make is: no poets. No Frost, Wallace Stevens, no Marianne Moore, no W.H. Auden, no Robert Penn Warren, no Robert Lowell, no Elizabeth Bishop, no John Ashbery, no Adrienne Rich. (Granted Eliot was born in the U.S.A., but he became a British citizen and more an English than an American poet. Granted, Milosz and Brodsky held American citizenship, but their poems were written in Polish and Russian, not American English.) Clearly any one of the American poets just named could hold her/his own with the likes of, say, Jaroslav Seifert or Rabindranath Tagore. All our Nobels are novelists, and with the exception of Faulkner or Morison, a bit on the popular side. But then Europe has only ever been interested in our semi-primitives; they feel that Europe does the complex, refined thing better than we do. A typically literate Frenchman will have read Erskine Caldwell and Allen Ginsberg, but not Henry James or Wallace Stevens. But as is so often true, the Salon des Refuse's often looks better than les Accepte's. Non-Nobellians include the names above, Rilke, Colette, Stein, Akhmatova, Mandelshtam, Tsvetaeva, Borges, Pavese, Julien Gracq, Moravia, Georg Trakl, Tennessee Williams, Nabokov, Zbigniew Herbert, Larkin, Michel Tournier, Tomas Trastromer, Yehuda Amichai, and Mohammed Darwish, whom I will be celebrating next week.

Adam and Keith invited me on Wednesday to come with them to the opening day of Kings Place, the first new music venue to be built in London since the Barbican twenty-five years ago. It's a handsome modernist building on York Way--I suppose part of the general renovation of King's Cross, which used to be so dreary but now has the new St. Pancras and the new terminal for the Eurostar trains. The halls for music are on the lower level and the main level has cafe's and a restaurant, all very posh. In a month or so both The Guardian and The Observer will move into offices on the upper floors. We heard a chamber music concert given by a group called Endymion, works by York Bowen and Schoenberg-Webern. Very good music, excellent performance, and perfect acoustics. A month-long festival is underway and I will no doubt attend other performances when I return from Morocco.

After the concert, I went with Keith King to his own King's Place, a studio down in Camberwell, where he makes his ceramic sculptures in clay and then fires them. Human figures, less than life-size, more males than females, usually nude or with little clothing. After firing he paints them, just as classical Greek sculptors used to transform their Platonically white marble into polychrome. But Keith's figures are often swimmers with their swim togs on, which brings it all up to date. Anyway, they are executed with an eye to the small significant detail that arrests the eye. He also does bas relief casting, a complicated process that I'm particularly intrigued by. I think an earlier blog mentioned an article I published a year ago in the Hudson Review about the bronze Ghiberti doors for the Florence Baptistry. It's reassuring that the tradition is still going on.

7 comments:

Bill Knott said...

living Nobel poets at this point should include Ashbery, Parra, Bonnefoy, Enzensberger, Tanikawa Shintaro, Carol Ann Duffy, and make your own list!

Why can't they split it and give two each year, one to a poet and one to a prose writer . . .

saint satin stain said...

Bill, howdy, I must be my nitpickayune self. Prose and verse are modes of writing; play, essay, novel, and poem are genres. You and I both have written prose and verse poems. You have some magnificent ones (perhaps you will have mercy on me, but my praise is sincere.) John is a prose writer, prose poems many. I spend half my waning days as a prosodist.

Perhaps give four, one for each genre each year.
My list would include Ashbery, but also - only poets - some departed who should have been considered like Denise Levertov, William Carlos Williams, Robert Haydn, Lorine Niedecker, Wilfred Owen, Paul Blackburn, and H.D., and Wallace Stevens. My partial peeve done. Some alive: John Ashbery, Charles Bernstein, Andrei Codrescu, Russell Atkins, Harvey Shapiro, Diane Wakoski.

Alfred Corn said...

Of course we have many poets worthy of the big prizes. The question is, are the prizes are worthy of them? The main contention of what I said was that prizes are very often given to people less good than those who were ignored. It's really instructive to review the list of Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners, going back over the last half century. And the same for the Nobels. And yet people still take them seriously. Partly because serious money is attached to some of them, particularly the Nobel. (Along the same lines, =Poetry= magazine enjoyed an honorable obscurity until the Lilly bequest made it the richest literary magazine on earth.) I'd be interested to know if other winners besides Derek Walcott used the money for charitable purposes. He took his award and founded a community theatre in Saint Lucia. Anybody know of other like instances?

Poet in Residence said...

Hi Alfred, I thought I'd better mention that W H Auden was a British poet born in York in 1907.

He died at 5, Wallfischgasse, Vienna, Austria in 1973; a grubby plaque on the wall of an half-empty office building with ground floor pub (closed now 10 months) glorifies the spot. I walked along there today.

Alfred Corn said...

Hello Poet In Residence. It might interest you to read this blog for June 16, where I speak of going to see the former hotel in Vienna where Auden died. As for his nationality, of course he was born in England and never lost a love for things English, but he changed his nationality and became, if not a U.S. citizen, then at least a citizen of New York; and his lifelong partner Chester Kallman was American. The twentieth century gives us several examples of British-American cross-pollination: Pound, Eliot (who took British citzenship), Thom Gunn, Sylvia Plath, Anne Stevenson, Ruth Fainlight, and a few others readers may want to mention. The exchange seems to have done good things for all concerned.

czechmate1954 said...

Alfred, reading your posts make me feel as if I'm in Britain again....wonderful. Any chance you've had the chance to meet Sarah Waters? You introduced me to her "Night Watch", and I've sought her out since then. "Tipping the Velvet", and "Fingersmith." Thank you for your thoughts and sensations. One disagreement, on completely friendly terms: one must look at "Three Studies for the Base of a Crucifixion", and realize what Bacon presented with that piece at that moment in time. It can be used even today to signify every torture and human suffering we still endure. Everything that came after never measured up to it, and yet, he simply kept painting out of pain. And the pain often revealed his inability to love. However, love crept in, and died, with little fanfare. At least, the portraits, unto themselves, stand as unique biography. Love, indeed, is the devil

Alfred Corn said...

Czechmate...when did we discuss Sarah Waters? Anyway, I haven't met her, though I'm sure it would be a charming experience. I've seldom knocked on doors of writers I haven't met. Just leave it to chance.