Friday, October 14, 2005


Pinter, Almond v. Sarvas, Akenfield

First, some poetry:
Here they go again
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America's God.
The gutters are clogged with the dead.
Yes, it's by Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, from his 2003 collection War, which not only found a publisher but won the Wilfred Owen Award for Poetry. Complete dreck, of course. You might argue that the Swedish Academy is honoring him for his pathbreaking work as a dramatist. As they noted in their citation: "Pinter restored theatre to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretence crumbles. With a minimum of plot, drama emerges from the power struggle and hide-and-seek of interlocution." Okay, okay. But despite his ironclad accomplishment in the theater, I can't help but suspect that Pinter's virulent anti-Americanism ultimately put him over the top. And if that's the case, I'm already placing my bet for next year's Nobel Prize in Literature: Saddam Hussein. He writes novels, you know.

Next: Steve Almond unloads on Mark Sarvas at Salon (non-subscribers will have to sit through a short advertisement) and just about every blogger from here to Timbuktu weighs in. I will say that these two guys seem to have a reciprocal (and unhealthy) fixation going on. The only thing I have to add is a footnote. Sarvas and I got off to a slightly rocky start when he began potshotting at my First Fiction columns in the Los Angeles Times. I sent him a civil email, he replied with his rationale--pretty lame, I have to say--and after a couple of additional communications, we left it at that. Cut to the BEA in June, where we were introduced just before a panel got rolling. Did we spit on each other or exchange kidney punches? Nope. Just a friendly nod, before he fired up the laptop and began another round of live blogging. We've traded a few amiable emails since then. The moral of the story is that there's no point in getting your jodhpurs in a twist over this crap.

Now, a palate-cleanser from Ronald Blythe's Akenfield, which I started on the subway last night:
The East Anglian wind does far more than move the barley; it is doctrinal. Probably no other agent except, perhaps, the great forests which once covered this plain, has done more to shape the character of the people who have dwelt on it. It is a quite unmysterious wind, dispelling the fuzziness of things. On a clear day--and they are mostly clear days in this part of the world--you can see as far as you can bear to see, and sometimes farther. It is a suitable climate for a little arable kingdom where flints are the jewels and where existence is sharp-edged.
Don't you feel better now?

I do feel better now. Genuinely. Your good eye--or good ear?-- for the real thing is a relief. It helps keep me on track as I plod along at my own work. Thanks.
In a similar vein to Akenfield is a great novel from the early 90's that I just read: Ulverton by Adam Thorpe. It is a record the last 300 years in a fictitious town in Wessex, told through farmers' recollections, letters, etc. Amazing use of contemporary language and a real immersion into rural English life.
That's funny, because I was there and I had no idea of your previous encounters with Mark.
Nor I for that matter. Bud and I would have been happy to broker a detente, I'm sure. But it sounds like all went well.
I like the juxtaposition of that sweet piece of perfect prose and riding the subway
Well found. Blythe is a very fine writer and thinker. If you enjoyed Akenfield try his other writings and also Richard Mabey and Roger Deakin. Clear blasts of the English rural and good sense.
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