|April 7, 2012|
Tennyson in the London 2012 Olympic village
From Literary Review:
They are putting Tennyson up in the Olympic village. Last year, the final line of ‘Ulysses‘ – ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’ – prevailed in a public competition to select ‘Winning Words’, which means it will be emblazoned on a purpose-built wall on the Stratford site by the time the immense, sweaty circus comes to town this summer. It’s meant as an uplifting mantra for the athletes as they set about winning and losing, a taking-part-that-counts riff on the Pindaric victory ode. Clare Balding, the BBC sports presenter and member of the judging panel, said the line ‘encapsulated the endeavour, the glory and the dance with failure that Olympic sport entails’. A press release for a recent tie-in event sounded neither so convincing nor so convinced: ‘Why did we choose the words of a pirate hat wearing, big bearded Victorian giant’, it asked, ‘as a motto for London 2012?’
Well, partly in a pragmatic effort to promote poetry – and in this regard, the installation is welcome. I often feel that London’s buildings and monuments are somehow inimical to poetic inscriptions (whenever I hurry past Sue Hubbard’s ‘Eurydice‘ in that cold underpass at Waterloo, for instance).
Even so, Victoria’s great laureate has always seemed under-represented on the city’s surfaces. The age’s huge suburban cemeteries are dense not with stanzas plucked from In Memoriam but with an array of commemorative doggerel. And Tennyson himself had little truck with inscription poetry: it seemed an Augustan hangover by the middle of the nineteenth century, at odds with the introspective sensibilities of post-Romantic verse. ‘I hate doing this kind of thing,’ he remarked with his characteristic gruff humour when asked for an epitaph, ‘but they bother one out of one’s life if one refuses.’
‘Ulysses’ has star billing among the so-styled ‘permanent poems‘ to be dotted about the Olympic venues. Four newly commissioned works will be etched on wooden slatted boxes built to disguise the electricity transformers in the main Olympic Park, which sounds not only haphazard but also like hazardous planning (one of the poems, John Burnside’s ‘Bicycling for Ladies‘, has a good quip about ‘danger of death/forgotten’). It’s interesting to see three of these poems turning back to the radical heritage of this part of east London: Burnside to the suffragettes at Bow, Lemn Sissay to the 1888 match-girls’ strike, and Caroline Bird to Joan Littlewood’s visionary plans for a ‘Fun Palace‘ on the banks of the Lea River. In doing so, they gesture to the rich historical weave that many local writers and artists feel has been torn up by the Olympic grand project. I’m not convinced that lyrics tacked onto camouflaged infrastructure will do enough to preserve previous legacies. They risk looking like piecemeal excuses for wholesale erasure.
Merleau-Ponty’s Child Psychology
As much as death signals the end of the self, birth is just as mysterious. Both extend out to infinity and signal the brevity and contingency of our lives. As mysterious are those first few years of life that one does not have access to as an adult, I know I existed before my earliest memories. I know I interacted with others, I learned to walk and talk. I was willful from my parent’s tales.
William Pope.L: Reader Friendly
William Pope.L is famous for (among other things) carrying a business card that identifies him as “The Friendliest Black Artist in America.” It’s a clever gag because it makes itself true, in a way, every time it draws people closer. The card must be especially useful when Pope.L does business with people who dread Black men or Black artists.
10 Things the NSA Has Seen Me Do
One winter in my early twenties myself and some good friends — a merging of art, music and literary ladies of New York, full-grown girls aspiring to be women — got together, had a lovely dinner, some wine and delightful chat. Then we decided to spend an hour practicing “Teach Me How To Dougie”. NSA — can you teach me how to Dougie? You know why? “Because all my bitches love me.”
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On the subject of death I’m inclined to turn to my two favourite writers. Vladimir Nabokov begins Speak Memory, an autobiography of sorts, with the kind of banality any reader of his knows better than to get cosy with: ‘The cradle rocks above an abyss and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.’ Given how much respect he had for common sense we shouldn’t be anything but wary.
he invited me to the village Kout-chouk-Koy where he had a tiny strip of land and a white, two-storied house. There, while showing me his "estate," he began to speak with animation: "If I had plenty of money, I should build a sanatorium here for invalid village teachers. You know, I would put up a large, bright building—very bright, with large windows and lofty rooms. I would have a fine library, different musical instruments, bees, a vegetable garden, an orchard. . . . There would be lectures on agriculture, mythology. . . . Teachers ought to know everything, everything, my dear fellow."
Who me, listen to audio books? That was my attitude until recently, a prejudice of my profession that literature is better read than heard. But on a solo road trip this summer I took along the ten-disk set of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the ride.