Friday, 27 August 2010
She and I attended the first part of the launch of the Summer issue of Poetry Review, partly because I had a poem in it and partly because I wanted to hear Ruth Padel, the evening’s featured reader. I first met Ruth when we were both participants in the San Miguel Poetry festival in Mexico, in late 90s. I hadn’t known about her work at that time, but, since then, she has become of the leading poets in Britain. She gave a brilliant reading at the launch, so it was too bad I couldn’t stay to congratulate her; I had the launch of Mimi’s anthology to do the same evening.
That was held at the Free Word Centre in Clerkenwell. When Margot and I got there, the first person I saw was Mimi, looking particularly attractive, and modestly aglow about the festivities soon to begin. The Free Word Centre had been set up like a cabaret, with low lighting and three separate stages, one of them high up on a balcony overlooking the space. During the general mingling beforehand, I saw several friends, including Michael Schmidt, the poet and editor, and one of the contributors scheduled to read. We first met in the 80s, and there have been several meetings since then, to the extent that a man who runs a large publishing house, edits a magazine, teaches writing, assembles anthologies and writes poetry and poetry criticism, can spare time for meetings. Then Marilyn Hacker arrived and we had a quick conversation in the last few minutes before proceedings began. Other participants were Eric Ormsby, to whom I spoke briefly and Pascale Petit, whom I hadn’t seen for several months. I was also pleased that Sophie Mayer, fellow resident at Hawthornden, last May had come.
The readings were done in three sets, concluding with Mimi giving a beautiful rendition from the balcony. After that, actual Portuguese fado performers came to the main stage and performed several songs for us. Good as the translations in the anthology are, there is still no substitute for the original Portuguese, accompanied by music. I went up afterwards to congratulate Mimi on the evening and was introduced to Grey Gowrie, one of the contributors and in fact the originator of the idea for this anthology. Knowing that he had been a good friend of Lowell’s, I asked him what his impressions were. He spoke warmly of a poet he clearly regarded as his mentor and mentioned that it was through his intermediary that Lowell and Caroline Blackwood met for the first time, an encounter that eventually led to Lowell’s divorce from Elizabeth Hardwick and remarriage to Caroline Blackwood (aspects of this narrative are found in Lowell's The Dolphin). Acknowledging its negative aspects, Gowrie pointed out that the marriage had produced a fine son and that Elizabeth Hardwick’s work had gained fresh strength once she was on her own. Obviously these comments very much interested someone who has written a play about Lowell to be produced next year in London. (We still haven’t set a date, but I think it will probably be in March of 2011.)
Next morning I met James Byrne for coffee near his summer rental on Queen Square, a quiet enclave in Bloomsbury where the offices of Faber & Faber are located (though currently under renovation). James brought me up to date about his plans. He’ll be returning as a second year student at NYU’s writing school, as an International Fellow, editing The Wolf from over there as he did this past year. Meanwhile, he has been working on an anthology of Burmese dissident poets, scheduled for next year. We had a good hour’s stroll around the neighborhood and then said goodbye when I went off to my lunch appointment. The night before a plan had been made for Mimi, Marilyn, her friend the poet and critic Mary Bain Campbell, and myself to meet for lunch. Which we did, a pleasant couple of hours at a good Indian restaurant near Euston Station. Conversation was equal parts serious and hilarious, but I won’t attempt to summarize it. After lunch, Marilyn and I went down to the Blakean neighborhood of Lambeth, specifically, to Lambeth Palace, where there was an exhibition of medieval illuminated mss. Taken from the Lambeth Library, some of them of extraordinary quality and historical interest.
I came down to London once more in July, staying with my friend David Matthews, the vicar of Holy Innocents parish out in Hammersmith. David and I met through our mutual friend Edmund White, whose work he greatly admires. David is originally from Nova Scotia but is now pretty well at home in London, where he has many, many friends and seems to be adored by his parishioners. I’d wanted to attend an evening in honor of poets from the U.A.E. sponsored by Banipal magazine and held at the Purcell Room on the South Bank. David had other plans, but James Byrne met me there and we had a congenial reunion as we always do. There were Margaret Obank and Samuel Shimon, who edit Banipal, and London poets Stephen Watts and Yiang-Lin, a Chinese dissident now living and working in the U.K. The Emirates poets were Nujoom Al-Ghanem, Khalid Albudoor, and Khulood Al-Mu’alla, none of them known to me, but all highly accomplished, to the extent that it’s possible to judge from translation.
Next day evening, David and I joined Adam Mars-Jones and Keith King for dinner, and then they went off to a see a play. The plan was to rejoin them after at the launch of the new issue of Granta, where Adam often appears. We followed through, but apparently we arrived too late, after the festivities had ended. Still, it was a chance to exchange news with them, and I can see that they both are prospering.