Poetry on the South Bank

Last summer, when wandering about where those Modified Social Benches are to be found, in the vicinity of the Royal Festival Hall, I happened to look downwards and I encountered, beneath my feet, this snatch of poetry:

When, more recently, I wondered what this poetry was, I was of course quickly able to identify the entire poem, hunting quotations down, even quite obscure ones, having now become so very easy.

I am sure that the off-puttingly antiquated language that I see in this poem is at least metaphorically speaking present, for many, in the classical music that I so love to listen to. These things are all a matter of personal taste. An insuperable barrier to one potential receiver of Art is no barrier at all to another. But for me, this sort of poetry is such that I hear only those barriers, rather than what is behind those barriers.

“O Thames!” … “Bards” … “fair River! … “fair Stream! … “Thy quiet soul on all bestowing” … “Vain thought!” … “thou art” … “ditty” … “the dashing oar” … “By virtue’s holiest Powers attended”. I just can’t get past such verbiage. If you can, I’m delighted for you, but I just can’t. This is close enough to the language I know and love for me to get straight away most of what is being said, but for that very reason, the fact that I and my contemporaries just wouldn’t say it like that also cannot be got around.

And, for me, the poetic momentum acquired by poetry when it really had a public impact, when people were spoken to strongly by words and phrases like those I have picked out from this Wordsworth poem, seems to weigh down even much contemporary poetry with its antiquated habits.

It’s not just the antiquated words. The very habit of “poetic” contemplation now seems to me more a suitable object for comedy than a real way to communicate. This much repeated bit of Rik Mayall stand-up seems to me to skewer the whole idea of being a poet, now. The puns that aren’t funny and aren’t even meant to be. The knowing proclamation of banalities, or just nonsenses, in a manner that implies deep wisdom. The deep suspicion verging on outright hostility that the Poet now has towards his potential audience, knowing that we think he’s rather laughable, in a bad way. The feeling that this character is a Poet, because he’s not up to being anything else of greater impact in the world as it now is.

I repeat. If you like poetry of the sort that poets do now, great. I am trying to describe how I feel, not making any sort of argument about what you should feel. I know I’m missing out on a lot of good things because of the above.

Here is something else I encountered, earlier on the same South Bank photo-walk in which I photoed that bit of Wordsworth.

A poet:

Yep. Definitely a poet. A poet is exactly the sort of person I’d expect still to be using a typewriter, and to ply his trade without drawing anyone’s attention to a website or social media presence. This is an exercise in self-conscious anachronism and, if this chap is silly enough to take what he’s doing seriously, almost inevitable downward social mobility.

Unless of course, he’s gathering material for his stand-up comedy act. That would make sense.

Boris Johnson at Lord’s on July 17th 2006

Indeed. On that day, for the final day of this game between England and Pakistan, I was at Lord’s, photoing photos like this:

You can see what I was trying for there. A nice uninterrupted photo of that Space Pod Lord’s Media Centre, with that Spirit of Cricket sign in the foreground. The spirit of cricket having undergone a lot of modernisation lately. Something along those lines.

Only this blond-haired bloke strode past and got in the way, and it took me three goes before I had a photo I could crop down into what I was going for.

However, Boris Johnson was even then a celeb, and he grinned happily at me as I photoed him. I knew, and have known ever since, who this chap in my photos was. So, absurdly blurry though his face is, that is definitely him. Just like me, he had been watching the cricket.

Which rather gives the lie to this piece in The Critic, by John Joliffe, with this subheading above it:

What happened to Boris as a child that he hates cricket so?

Backed up by this in the text, in which Joliffe speculates, without really meaning it, why the Johnson government has smothered cricket in social distancing regulations:

One wondered about the motives of a government which was willing to foist these futile regulations on a harmless amateur game. It seemed unlikely that Simon and his sanitiser was all that kept us from an early death. Perhaps 40 years ago at Eton, Boris Johnson was overlooked to play for the Colts 4th XI on Agars Plough and has never forgotten the slight or forgiven the game.

If Johnson has hated cricket ever since he was a kid, he had a weird way of showing it back in 2006.

I don’t think Johnson hates cricket. More likely, he hates what he has been doing, for over-riding political reasons he was and is powerless to resist, to cricket and to the country, because of this damn Plague, and what both the press and the “experts” were and are still telling him he has to do about it. As a Prime Ministerial predecessor of Johnson’s is said to have said: “Events, dear boy, events.”

The third and deciding game of this summer’s weird test series between England and the West Indies begins tomorrow morning. Weather permitting.

BMNBQotD: William Befort on the bourgeois virtues

William Befort comments on this Instapundit posting, which links to and quotes from this posting by David Thompson.

“Equity” now seems to mean that the bourgeois rewards must be evenly distributed even if the bourgeois virtues aren’t.

Having recently been recently linked to by David Thompson (to this), I can vouch for how well his blog is now doing.

And come to think of it, “They Sell Failure” (the title of Thompson’s posting about all this evil nonsense) is a pretty good quote too. The only problem with “They Sell Failure” being that, on it’s own, it isn’t self-explanatory. But it’s the heading of a blog posting, so all is duly explained. I note that Instapundit started his blog posting with those same words.

How to be optimistic about your own country

Just came across this quote in a posting at the Old Blog, and immediately transferred it across to this blog:

The state of the world is now such that, if you want to be optimistic about your own country, don’t whatever you do look at your own country. Look at all the others.

Wise words, I think, that will bear repetition, hence me repeating them in this posting. They are my words, so I’m biased. I originally wrote them in connection with China’s high speed trains way back in 2011. Miraculously, that link still, or at any rate now, works.

Trump as Republican Party Reptile

I just did some Thoughts on Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech for Samizdata. Here is the complete speech of Trump’s that I was on about, and to which I linked, twice, because I think the fact that we all now can link directly to it is so very good.

Something else I didn’t complicate my Samizdata piece with did occur to me, while I was reading that same speech, and in particular when I read things like this in it:

We are the country of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass. We are the land of Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody. (Applause.) We are the nation that gave rise to the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen – (applause) – Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, George Patton – General George Patton – the great Louie Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Mohammad Ali. (Applause.) And only America could have produced them all. (Applause.) No other place.

We are the culture that put up the Hoover Dam, laid down the highways, and sculpted the skyline of Manhattan. We are the people who dreamed a spectacular dream – it was called: Las Vegas, in the Nevada desert; who built up Miami from the Florida marsh; and who carved our heroes into the face of Mount Rushmore. (Applause.)

Americans harnessed electricity, split the atom, and gave the world the telephone and the Internet. We settled the Wild West, won two World Wars, landed American astronauts on the Moon – and one day very soon, we will plant our flag on Mars.

We gave the world the poetry of Walt Whitman, the stories of Mark Twain, the songs of Irving Berlin, the voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the style of Frank Sinatra – (applause) – the comedy of Bob Hope, the power of the Saturn V rocket, the toughness of the Ford F-150 – (applause) – and the awesome might of the American aircraft carriers.

I’ve read this before, I thought, or something a hell of a lot like it. Yes, a piece in P. J. O.Rourke’s Republican Party Reptile, which was published in 1987, about an epic car journey O’Rourke made across America, in a Ferrari. I read this book in the late eighties. The Ferrari piece in this book would appear to be a slimmed down version of this piece, which was published in Car and Driver, in 1980.

I wrote a Libertarian Alliance pamphlet in praise of O’Rourke’s essay (also in praise of classical CDs), which included big quotes from the 1987 version of O’Rourke’s piece, including things like this:

… To be in control of our destinies – and there is no more profound feeling of control of one’s destiny that I have ever experienced than to drive a Ferrari down a public road at 130 miles an hour. Only God can make a tree, but only man can drive by one that fast. And if the lowly Italians, the lamest, silliest, least stable of our NATO allies, can build a machine like this, just think what it is that we can do. We can smash the atom. We can cure polio. We can fly to the moon if we like. There is nothing we can’t do. Maybe we don’t happen to build Ferraris, but that’s not because there’s anything wrong with America. We just haven’t turned the full light of our intelligence and ability in that direction. We were, you know, busy elsewhere. We may not have Ferraris but just think what our Polaris-submarines are like. And if it feels like this in a Ferrari at 130, my God, what can it possibly feel like at Mach 2.5 in an F-15? Ferrari 308s and F-15s – these are the conveyances of free men. What do the Bolshevik automatons know of destiny and its control? What have we to fear from the barbarous Red hordes?

And like this:

… And rolling through the desert thus, I worked myself into a great patriotic frenzy, which culminated on the parapets of the Hoover Dam (even if that was kind of a socialistic project and built by the Roosevelt in the wheelchair and not by the good one who killed bears). With the Ferrari parked up atop that orgasmic arc of cement, doors flung open and Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” blasting into the night above the rush of a man-crafted Niagara and the crackle and the hum of mighty dynamos, I was uplifted, transported, ecstatic. A black man in a big, solid Eldorado pulled up next to us and got out to shake our hands. “You passed me this morning down in New Mexico,” he said. “And that sure is a beautiful car. …”.

Note that Mount Rushmore includes, along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln: the Roosevelt who killed bears, Teddy Roosevelt, but not the Roosevelt in the wheelchair who presided over the Great Depression. No wonder Democrats are now saying they hate it.

I don’t know what P.J. O’Rourke is up to these days, so whether he had any direct input into Trump’s speech I have no idea. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But I’ll bet you anything that whatever combination of Trump and Trumpsters wrote Trump’s speech at the very least knew all about that O’Rourke piece. I’ll go further. I’ll bet Trump read that O’Rourke piece at some point in the 1980s, and remembered it, and said to his guys: “That’s what I want! Write me something like that!” And they did. Right up to the stuff about cars, and warships, and the Hoover Dam, and about how “there is nothing we can’t do”.

Even if you hate everything about P.J. O’Rourke and everything about Trump and if you especially hate Trump’s speech the other day, you surely may still be agreeing about the O’Rourke echoes I think I heard.

If I’m right, then this is a story which confirms something else I am fond of telling anyone who will listen, which is that all the people alive now will, in thirty or forty years time, either be thirty or forty years older, or dead. You can tell a lot about the world now, by asking what people in their teens and twenties were getting excited about, thirty or forty years ago. There will be more of that.

Of course, I loved Trump’s speech, just as I loved that P.J. O’Rourke Ferrari piece. God is a figment of the human imagination, but setting that quibble aside, may He Bless America.

Poetic perfection in a reopening pub

Rebecca Day tweets:

I’ve spoken to regulars Chris and Jimmy. Jimmy hasn’t gone to bed after his night shift tarmacking the roads. He had a shower and came straight here. He described the taste of his first Carling as being like an ‘angel pissing on the tip of my tongue’.

In her original tweet, Rebecca Day put “p***ing” and “his” tongue, so I’ve restored what Jimmy said to its original state of perfection. You’re welcome.

One of the services this blog supplies to its regular readers is to pluck occasional pearls of perfection like that (or that (or that)) from the torrent of swine shit that is Twitter, or at any rate what Twitter seems to turn into for many people.

Civilised disagreement works better face-to-face (therefore cities have a future)

The present dose of Plague History we’re having has caused much pessimism concerning the future of big, densely packed cities. Being an enthusiast for big city architecture, especially the seriously big and eye-catching sort, I am now more than ever on the lookout for people saying things about why cities confer, and will continue to confer, an advantage upon all those who live and work in them.

So, I particularly noticed this Bo Winegard tweet, when I encountered just now:

It depresses me how quickly a person on twitter can go from disagreeing with you to cursing and insulting you. Strikes me that there’s probably an evolutionary mismatch because almost all of our interactions were face-to-face. People are much nicer when they have to look at you.

I think that captures a key advantage of face-to-face communication, which is that it makes it more likely that those face-to-face communicating are that bit more likely to do it like ladies and gentlemen rather that like loutesses and louts.

I think people on twitter shout, so to speak, partly because they can. But also, maybe, because they feel they have to, to get their point across. If you do one of those oh-so-gently meaningful and very politely phrased criticisms, on Twitter, or for that matter during a conference-at-a-distance, you are liable to fear that your point will get lost. Your iron fist will be completely smothered by the velvet gloves you chose to wear. Face-to-face, you can literally see and hear and feel your point getting across. Or not, in which case you can politely rephrase it.

Being able to disagree in a civilised manner, in a way that doesn’t leave lasting scars or permanent feuds, is fundamental to the successful functioning of any organisation.

My dad was a barrister, in American: a trial lawyer. British barristers are always careful to call each other “my learned friend”, and the more fiercely they are quarrelling, the more they are careful to scatter these words upon all the insults they trade. That always used to amuse me, when my dad talked about it. But an important point was embodied in such drollery, not least because dad often spelled it out explicitly. When arguing, be polite. The more fiercely you argue, the more important politeness becomes. Twitter seems to make that harder. Face-to-face communication makes it easier.

So, cities will survive. Face-to-face communication is now one of their core purposes.

Matt Welch on how to practise

I’ve had this tweet open for ever, and I was just looking through all the results, with a view to shutting it.

David Burge:

I’m looking for advice, but not about anything in particular GO

In my opinion, the best advice came from Matt Welch:

Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

Very true. Both halves.

I’m English. You practise, verb. What you practise is practice, noun. Like Advise and Advice. (Commenters: If you think that’s wrong, I don’t care.)

BMNB QotD: Silence

Michael Tracey:

I don’t think it’s accurate that “silence” automatically equals “complicity” or “violence.” Sometimes people are “silent” because they have complicated views about a complicated subject, and decline to mindlessly repeat whatever clichés you are trying to force down their throat.

Which I only got to read because Steve Stewart-Williams (plus another of my followees Claire Lehmann) liked it. (See also: this posting here (also made possible by SS-W liking and linking to something) which told me about this bit of video about dentistry.)

Am now following Michael Tracey. So far? Disappointed. Says he’s “friend to all dogs”, but have scrolled and scrolled, but have found no canine references at all. Just him not being silent about all the rioting and posturing. But it’s all good knockabout stuff, and he’s still right about silence.