Monday, 21 March 2011

A Season Summarized

Once again I’ve neglected for a long time to post anything here, part of the explanation being that I was caught up in so many activities I didn’t stop to think about writing about them.  Highlights would have included attending, with Marina Warner, a play titled Tiger Country, by the new playwright Nina Raine, whose father Craig Raine, the poet and critic, also a professor at Oxford, I met many years ago at Amy Clampitt's apartment in New York.  The play is set in a large London hospital and presents some of the difficulties of any such institution working under current rules established by the National Health Service. 

Other plays seen: a revival of Noël Coward’s playlet Red Peppers, followed by his short play Still Life, at Pentameters Theatre, which will produce my play Lowell’s Bedlam this April. Also, Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, at the Comedy Theatre, whose cast included stars Ellen Burstyn ad Keira Knightley. 

Sean O'Brien
As for seeing poet friends, I attended a Poetry Review launch at the Free Word Centre, which featured Sean O’Brien, reading, along with a young poet named Karen McCarthy Woolf.   I hadn’t seen Sean since last summer in Newcastle, and, regrettably, Gerry Wardle didn’t come down this time. Many poets were in the audience, including Poetry Review editor Fiona Sampson, of course, Elaine Feinstein, and Ruth Fainlight. After his extraordinary reading, Sean and I went out to dinner at an Italian place in Exmouth Market, joined by poets Alan Brownjohn, Leah Fritz,  Tamar Yoseloff, and her husband Andrew Lindesey.  I hadn’t met Brownjohn before, but we got onto the topic of Robert Lowell, whom he met during the years Lowell was married to Caroline Blackwood and indeed visited them at Maidstone, Kent.  Sean was in a convivial mood during dinner, leaving us all in compulsive laughter with his ironic asides.  The publication of his next book November (paradoxically published in April) should be one of the main literary events of the coming months.

Adam Mars-Jones
Adam Mars-Jones and I saw the Thomas Lawrence exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, an occasion to speculate again why portraiture is the special excellence of British painting.  Maybe something to do with theatre, which has a preëminent place in British literature: the study of character, also carried out in fiction using techniques borrowed from drama. Consider, too, the dramatic monologue, brought to perfection in Browning's poetry.  After having tea, Adam and I walked to Foyle’s and there was a copy of his new novel, titled Cedilla, a sequel to the first volume Pilcrow, published a couple of years ago.  It continues the narrative of a disabled gay man, the story based on the life of a friend of Adam’s.  An original subject, told, surprisingly, with a lot of wit, verbal acuteness, and mischief.    

Invited by Kathryn Maris, I attended the award ceremony for the T.S. Eliot Prize, held this year at the Wallace Collection (not in the galleries themselves, but in the covered courtyard).  You can never say much at these gatherings, but at least it was a chance to greet poet friends like Don Paterson, Elaine Feinstein, Colette Bryce, and Ruth Fainlight, and to meet for the first time Robin Robertson and Lavinia Greenlaw.  Anne Stevenson, the head of the prize committee, announced that the winner was Derek Walcott (not present), and discussed the virtues of his magisterial collection White Egrets.  I spoke to Anne afterwards, and we calculated that we hadn’t seen each other since 1986, at a time when she was still living in here London, in Belsize Park.  That’s how, insensibly, a quarter century can pass. 

The Queens College, Oxford
I made a day trip to Oxford, planning to see David Constantine and Craig Raine. A telephone mixup meant that I missed Carig, but David and I had a pleasant hour around teatime, and the trip was also a chance to revisit what is no doubt the most beautiful assemblage of academic buildings in the world.  That would include David’s Queens College, one of Hawksmoor’s most resplendent designs.  

Don Paterson
A week or so later, I attended a reading at the London Review Bookshop, featuring Don Paterson, Jo Shapcott, and David Harsent.  By chance I ended up sitting with Fiona Sampson, with whom it’s always a pleasure to discuss things. Don gave a topnotch reading, and next day he and I had lunch at a Spanish place near King’s Cross and had a chance to catch up.  These days he is writing critical prose as well as poems, in fact, a couple of months back I reviewed his recent commentary on the Shakespeare sonnets (see the online journal Thethe):

Marilyn Hacker
Mimi Khalvati has come to dinner a couple of times, and I had Marilyn Hacker here to lunch when she came here from Paris, where she now lives. Marilyn was one of the readers for  the spring Poetry London launch, on her way the following morning to the Stanza Festival up at St. Andrews, Scotland. Marilyn has the distinction of being one of the very few American poets published abroad in France as well as the U.K.

I mentioned the upcoming production of my play Lowell’s Bedlam and am happy to announce that rehearsals for it have now begun.  The cast is as follows:

                                                    Theresa Brockway              Celeste Haydon
Lowri Lewis                     Elizabeth Hardwick
David Manson                    Robert Lowell               
Hannah Mercer             Elizabeth Bishop               
Roger Sansom                    Dick Jaffee                    

The director is Daniel Ricken, and the producer is Leonie Scott- Matthews.

Bookings can be made at

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