cultural hash

What a couple of days this has been! First the Booker – to Hilary Mantel for a huge fat novel about Thomas Cromwell, of all people. Henry VIII’s right-hand man, architect of the Terror. I’ve bought it. Vastly reduced on Amazon, less than half price. Heartening for a book of sweep, scope, historical perspective, ambition, win a prize – a non-solipsistic novel that looks outside the little bubble of the chattering classes… not by any of those people… etc… And the Tudors! When you get down to it, I think this is an excellent time for a novel about the creation, hoarding and abuses of centralised power.

I actually had a nightmare about Thomas Cromwell when I was 14 or 15, featuring – I don’t know how it worked, except in that metaphysical way dreams work – a painting of a blue dog, whose eyes followed you around the room, and the painting then fell off the wall, down behind a cupboard. I woke up in stark fear, whcih I couldn’t shake off for many days. I think it started out as Cromwell and became the blue dog. Very scary.

And speaking of power, abuses, etc – today Gary McKinnon lost his “right” of appeal against his ridiculous extradition to the USA. (If it’s really a right, can you lose it?) Talk about breaking the butterfly on a wheel. Talk about the UK toadying to the USA, allowing an obsessive UFO geek with Asperger’s to be extradited and made an example of on post-9/11 anti-terrorist legislation – where is the UK on this? Protecting its citizen? First of all, the software McKinnon used to gain access to the Pentagon’s systems was legal – schools use it – and secondly, he “hacked” into the Pentagon by identifying which users had no login passwords.

Why are they putting him on trial, and not the IT managers at the Pentagon???

And thirdly, it amazes me that senior politicians can possibly think it is a good thing to have a treaty or whatever it is, of any kind, which relinquishes jurisdiction of any British citizen to the US, at the US’ instigation. What?!?

Someone said somewhere the other day, we all think we have to worry about Big Brother, but we should really be worrying about Little Brother.

On which note, it was delightful when someone on Twitter said the Conservative Party Conference was like a Slytherin school reunion.

National Poetry Day was something else on Twitter: everyone was talking about poetry, it was like wow man. Then the Nobel announcement: all morning people were speculating about whether Murakami would get it, but that bubble was effectively burst at 12.58 by someone tweeting, “Does anyone seriously imagine that Murakami might get the Nobel?” Whereupon – er – he didn’t. It would have been so nice – everybody already knew who he is.

But Obama’s got the Peace Prize! Why is everyone saying he shouldn’t have it? Because he hasn’t made a difference yet? How big a difference does it have to be before it’s a difference? I think it’s nice that they’ve honoured something instantaenous, a snapshot in time as it were. The last Polaroid.

And speaking of photography, Irving Penn’s died. He was 92 but it’s still a shock. I was a little bit obsessed with his work for a while when I was very young, its sculptural cleanliness, and the wonderful shadows. The joy and depth in his fashion photos, and the mystery of his portraits. And the Clinique ads, that have so defined a brand that we don’t even see the qualities of the photographs any more.

Then there’s the BBC Arena special on TS Eliot – who was, as you may know, voted the “nation’s favourite poet” on National Poetry Day. (I voted for Donne. Contrarywise.) An amazing documentary, if a little repetitive, and with a few gaps. Really well worth watching. It’s worth watching just for the bit about Emanuel Litvinoff, and Dannie Abse’s anecdote. Though really it is very sweet indeed about Valerie, like a love story. It’s marvellous stuff.

If that’s too mainstream for you, this came up over on the Poets on Fire forum: Keston Sutherland reading Section A of White Hot Andy. I really think you should watch as much of it as you can, especially right after the discussions of Modernism and The Waste Land in the TS Eliot film. Remember that Eliot was once shockingly new, and made his name jumbling up voices. (Though I agree with my fellow forum member that “arabesque of equivalence” is unfortunate. Possibly not a formation that Pound, say, might have sanctioned in his later flowering.)

Meanwhile, I’m on a scary poetry deadline, reading about Wilde, drafting poems ha;f asleep, or in the steam room at the pool, that when I go to write them down turn out to be awful – so not writing… I feel like I’m circling around something, homing in on it maybe if I’m lucky, who knows, who knows. Oh, it’s difficult.

Oh, and the readers’ notes on my essay on Anthony Hecht, written well over a year ago and only now getting edited! The readers thought my assertions were astonishing. They thought Sesame Street was a “very obscure reference.” Well – not to anyone under 55, I don’t think. Admittedly not the sort of reference usually bandied around in respect of Mr Hecht, but that was kind of why I did it. It was directly relevant to the passage of Hecht, in fact. I think I know who the readers were, and one of them, I think her name begins “Mrs.” So after ranting and raving and throwing around phrases like “heritage theme park” and saying, “Well clearly I shouldn’t be in this book then!” I have come to an understanding with my heroic, patient, long-suffering and extremely professional editor, the tireless Ernest Hilbert… All I have to do now is pluck up the courage to open the file. I’ll do it after Oscar. One thing at a time.

My lovely yellow 1940’s anglepoise lamp, the one I bought off eBay the other week for my desk – tired of typing in the dark – has been rewired. Imagine though when I got it home and found that the new cord has no on/off switch! It’s the sort of thing you might expect them in the rewiring shop to notice. But no. The guy is so lovely in there, but he was stuck on the why did I pay money for something with chipped paint thing. I’m there saying like a useless pseud, “It’s a design classic…” But I’m not lugging it back, I’ll just have to turn it on and off at the outlet. Who cares. It weighs a ton. It’s fine.

And that’s it, folks. The Baroque TV isn’t working; I called Virgin Media and they said it’ll be a whole WEEK before they can send someone round.  (I watched Arena on the computer.) Thank you, Virgin! And that really is it.

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