Thursday, 30 December 2010

London Continued

To wind up the year, a brief summary of whereabouts and events.  I got to London in mid-November and have spent the last month and a half settling in. I’ve seen friends, beginning with Kathryn Maris and her husband Herman Dietman, who put me up for a couple of nights when I first arrived.   At Kathryn’s suggestion I attended a performance of a Pasolini play, translated by the poet Jamie McKendrick as Fabrication, and performed at a fringe theatre in Notting Hill called The Print Room.  Afterward, Jamie gave a reading and answered questions.  We spoke briefly at the end, a chance to renew acquaintance after a hiatus of a couple of years. From there Kathryn and I went to a launch party for Anne-Marie Fyfe’s new book, titled Understudies, and recently published by Seren.  A big party, so there was no chance to do more than greet and congratulate Anne-Marie, and to listen to her read from the book. 

I’d seen Ruth Fainlight at the launch party and a week later went to have tea with her at her place in Notting Hill.  We tried to recall the circumstances of our first meeting and dated it back to 1987, during my second long-term stay in London. It was a dinner party with the novelist Madison Smartt Bell and his wife the poet Elizabeth Spires.  Ruth came with her husband Alan Sillitoe, whose novels I’d read, though I didn’t in those days know about Ruth’s poetry.  She has just now published her New and Collected Poems with Bloodaxe. Because of that event and Alan’s death this past spring, it’s likely that 2010 will have proved a pivotal year for Ruth.

Mimi Khalvati
Reform Club, Pall Mall
I saw Mimi Khalvati, in fact, attended a reading she gave at the Reform Club on Pall Mall. Mimi looked wonderful, and I gather that she is receiving a lot of favorable attention these days. The Reform Club is an immense building, constructed just at the beginning of Victoria’s reign by affluent Whig political figures.  We walked up the stone steps and into a vestibule, where we were met by Mimi’s contact person Mary Louise (sorry, didn’t hear the last name).  Another stone flight up to the central atrium, some three storeys high, with dark, gold-fluted columns topped by Corinthian capitals placed at decoratively strategic points around the hall.  Under a central mirror at the rear, a marble bust of Victoria, gazing towards her left.  Portraits of notable Liberals are placed in convenient niches around the atrium, for example, Palmerston, Gladstone, and others with names less recognizable.  Mimi and I went upstairs under Mary Louise’s guidance and had a quick survey of several rooms off the central atrium—a dining room, a library, a reading room.  The evening’s event was to be held in a large reading room on the second level. We drifted in and settled near the fire, the chimneypiece boasting a bronze head of Lloyd George. People began to trickle in, taking the little gilt ballroom chairs that had been set up.  Mimi was introduced and then read, very winningly, might I add.  After the final poem, applause, then people gathering round to congratulate her and buy a book.  And that was it.  We reclaimed our coats and put them on in the vestibule, where I noticed a strange, highly polished brass object.  I asked the doorman what it was and was told it was a cigar-lighter, no longer used but still in operation as late as the Second World War, when figures like Churchill made use of it.  Apparently there had been a gas flame in it accessible through an aperture where you inserted the cigar.  The only such object in the world? Very possibly.

From there we walked to a nearby Lebanese restaurant and had a pleasant dinner, a chance to catch up on each other’s news.  A few days later, we both participated in a marathon reading as a benefit for The Long Poem magazine at a café near King’s Cross.  Our bit done, we walked to a nearby restaurant and had dinner.  Many topics touched on, including the fact that Mimi’s new and selected poems are now in production and will be out next year with Carcanet.    

David Plante
I had dinner with the novelist and memoirist David Plante at his place in Marylebone, where I’ve often been a guest over the years. But this may be the last time I’ll have seen it, as he plans to move house very soon.  I met David here in London back in 1986, and we’ve been intermittently in touch ever since.  His partner Nikos Stangos, for many years an editor at Thames & Hudson, was also a dear friend, so there is, ever since Nikos’s death a few years ago, a touch of sadness when David and I reunite. He last year published a moving memoir about their relationship, Nikos’s illness and death, and its aftermath, titled The Pure Lover.  David was preparing to go to Lucca, where he has an apartment, for the Christmas holiday, but I expect to see him in 2011.  

I’ve seen three plays, first, Goldy, based on the life and work of Oliver Goldsmith, staged by Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead (which will also produce my play about Robert Lowell this coming spring).  It’s an affectionate portrait of an underrated writer, from whose long poem The Deserted Village Tony Judt borrowed the title of his powerful last book Ill Fares the Land. To prolong the Augustan mood, I saw Sheridan’s The Rivals in the Peter Hall production at the Theatre Royal, a work seldom revived and performed this time with a lot of brio.  Not too many plays result in the coinage of a new word, but this one does. A “malapropism” is the term used to describe the verbal habit of the character Mrs. Malaprop, who confuses polysyllabic words, applying them in contexts where they don’t fit—as when she speaks of “allegories on the banks of the Nile.”  That tic and other comic elements produced a nefarious evening filled with knowing chuckles. Finally, with my friend Miguel Mansur I also saw the Young Vic production of The Glass Menagerie, which seemed only partly successful, yet had its moments. 

George Szirtes
Shortly after I settled in my sublet flat in Tufnell Park, George Szirtes, whom I hadn’t seen for over a year, came to lunch; and from there we went to Smith Square in Westminster for a cultural event George was scheduled to appear in. This was to be held in the recently established Europe House, the London headquarters of the European Commission, whose mission is, I believe, purely cultural.  At the door we were greeted by Jeremy Sullivan, who arranged the event and commissioned George’s poem.  We were guided into a small auditorium and there found Elaine Feinstein, dressed all in red and black.  She and I spoke as preparations for the evening were underway. Eventually people began coming in and one or two introductions were made, in particular, to Lázló Magócsi, the Science and Technology attaché to the Hungarian Embassy.  Naturally he wanted to speak with George, a British poet born in Hungary, yet the topics centered mainly on the scientific achievements of Hungarians in the 20th century, which are more considerable than I’d realized.

Europe House’s chief officer, a man named Scheele, launched the evening’s program. Then George read his commissioned poem, titled “The Door is Open,” concluding with this quatrain:

Here histories, manners, speech, vision, dance,
Commerce and custom, constitution, chance,
And strategy, seek concord and a voice.
Open the door. The house is yours. Rejoice.

After this, several ambassadors read poems in their language.  We had Austria, Poland, Denmark, Romania, Spain, Estonia, Belgium and, as mentioned, Hungary.  A translation was read after each poem, and then at the end Elaine read a few poems of her own (non-commissioned).  Applause, closing remarks, then drinks and snacks. Finally, there was a dinner party for participants and their guests, an occasion for interesting conversations with others present. George had a train to catch so we left a little early, I saw him to his cab and then walked to the tube, returning the same way I came.

James Byrne and Sandeep Parmar, back in London after several months in New York, came to call and have a look at my sublet for this year.  We had lunch here and engaged in an unbroken flow of talk about what we’ve been doing and writing.  Sandeep is teaching at Wagner College now and finishing her book on the Modernist British poet Hope Mirrlees. James has one more term at NYU before he gets his MFA and is putting the finishing touches on the next issue of The Wolf, expected in January. 

Marina Warner
Christmas roared in and out and on Boxing Day I walked to Kentish Town to attend a party given by my friend Marina Warner and her partner Graeme Segal.  I hadn’t seen Marina for quite a long time, so it was a pleasure to meet again.  I have very clear memories of her house because I once, back in 1987, rented it for four months.  Lots of changes have been made, so that seeing it now is like looking at a double exposure.  Marina introduced me to several people, all new to me. Then I had a brief conversation with her son, Conrad Shawcross, a rising young sculptor whom I hadn’t seen since he was a boy.  Conrad was on the eve of a month-long journey to India and Tasmania, which promises to be extraordinary.  Marina herself is completing a study of The Arabian Nights, a book I look forward to reading when it appears, as I do being her neighbor this winter and spring.  

For those interested in looking up publications, I have a review of UA Fanthorpe’s complete poems in the current Poetry Review. Also, under Sudeep Sen’s editorship, a long poem published in an online journal called Molossus. The poem’s titled “Eleven Londons” and describes my stays in this great city from 1967 to 2007. Here’s the link:

A happy New Year to all.

No comments:

Post a Comment