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.