Category Archives: New York

THE LOVE SONG OF HARRY N ABRAMS

The Love-Song of Harry N Abrams
With apologies to T.S. Eliot

“If I thought my reply were to one who could ever return to the world, this flame would shake no more; but since, if what I hear is true, none ever did return alive from this depth, I answer you without fear of infamy.”— Dante, Inferno

Let us go then, you and I,
When the Scraper’s reared against the sky
Like an author etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain Roman patterned streets,
Those harsh and sharp retreats
Of touring nights in small, Boutique hotels,
And Gainsvort restaurants, with oyster-shells:
Avenues that rush on like a vicious argument
Of most direct intent
To power you to an overwhelming question. . .
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us move and make our visit.

In the firm the women come and go
Talking of Bad Pinnochio.

The yellow cab that rubs its lights upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the trash that falls from Galleys,
Slipped by the Brown Stone, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a bright Eternal night
Curled once about its Publisher, and fell asleep.

And indeed there is no time
For the yellow cab that streaks along the street,
Flashing its eyes upon the window-panes;
There is no time, there is no time
To prepare a face to meet the falseness that you meet;
There is no time to murder or create,
No time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a novel on your plate;

No time for you, no time for me,
No time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the ‘MOVE on’ for some Village tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Bad Pinnochio.

And indeed there is no time
To wonder, “Was it fair?” or, “Did I dare?”
No time to turn back and descend the stair,
With some wood chip in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My British coat, my collar fraying badly at the chin,
My Ink Pen rich and modest, but asserted by a simple grin—
[They will say: “But how his wooden legs are thin!”]
Did I dare
Disturb the Universe? It was disturbed.

In a minute there is no time
For decisions and revisions which a minute won’t reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with lost dubloons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a happier room.
So how did I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a nimble phrase,
Like, ‘Burns his bridges’,
or ‘Won’t avert his gaze,’
‘A kinda of own worst author,’
or ‘a heartbreak in a daze.’
And when I’m formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I’m pinned and wriggling for them all,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how did I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are amuleted, but white and bare
[Yet in the streetlight, downed with hard black hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that wait upon a proof, or edit out a scrawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through grid-lined streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely CEO’s in shirt-sleeves, leaning out windows?

I should have been a pair of printed claws
Tapping across the floors of noisy seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so fitfully!
Smoothed and edited by fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after cupcakes and Bleeker ices,
Have had the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my wooden head (now bald) brought in upon a platter,
Perhaps I AM a prophet– and here’s great matter;
Yet I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Bellboy hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cupcakes, Margheritas, talk of being free,
Among the Galley Proofs, among some lies by you, of me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward another overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.”

If one, settling someone else’s novel by her head,
Should say, “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the meetings and the swarming streets,
After the novels, after the cupcakes, after the boots that stomp along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is just possible to speak of what I mean!
But as if an emailed madness threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a cover, or throwing off my scrawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

Yes! I was Prince Hamlet, and was sad to be;
Not just a branded author, one that once could do
To swell a progress, start a tale or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, mad to be of use,
Impolitic, outrageous, but meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall bear the dustjackets of my novels rolled.

Shall I part my wooden hair behind? Do I dare to grow a peach?
I shan’t wear All-Star Sneekers, or walk on Coney beach.
Yet I have heard bad mermaids singing, each to each.

I hear they will not sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the deep, loveless waters inky black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By press-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till New York voices wake us, and we drown.

DCD 2011

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Filed under New York, Poetry, Publishing

AN AMERICAN SENSE OF HISTORY?

I’m a bit worried that anything I say about the US might be tinged with events in New York three years ago! However, looking into the subject of ‘Spatial Humanities’ recently and a NY Times article on Gettysburg, The Salem Witch Hunts and the modelling of events, temporally and spatially, does remind me of the tours I did in American schools. It worried me that in many schools there History is not taught on its own, but as a ‘Social Science’.

It rather begs the question of what History is ‘for’. I realise that in the UK there has always been a cultural split between the ‘geeky’ scientists and the ‘poetic’ Historians. I actually love science as much as history, and on one level Spatial Humanities is attempting to unite all disciplines, and especially the ‘two languages’ we carry in the world, that I’ve talked about elsewhere. The problem for me is that somehow history must be an art, not a science at all, so be about listening to the mind and sensibilities of historians talking about the past, for no other purpose than deepening the human dialogue and creating cultural depth.

So to teach History instead as Social Science presupposes some kind of ‘Telos’, some unfolding purpose, just as the Marxist Historians argued for, or much like some of the voices that come out of Right Wing America, arguing that the US is the freest and greatest Nation ever, or that we must somehow all stop dead at the 11 O’clock school bell and swear allegiance to the flag. To us that is a kind of cultural brainwashing, and you might speak of the facts that came up last night on a repeat of the Quiz show QI, saying that America locks up one in a hundred of its citizens, on the ‘3 Strikes and You’re Out’ model, more than any Nation on eath, ever. The figures for young blacks in prison now are even more frightening. In one sense though, History, and the study of cultures, should have no obvious purpose at all, but like literature, be a chance to explore greater truths across time, and imaginatively examine, for good and bad, the entire human condition.

Since I clearly can’t resist a bit of New Yorker bashing, the depth of sensibility and awareness I met from my own partner, and then at my own American publisher too, was astoundingly limited. Almost instantly, and from my own editor of ten years, it became about ‘sides’, ‘You’ and ‘Us’, like re-fighting the Alamo when I was supposed to be in partnership with a firm, to create. A very onesided partnership because of all the money they generate elsewhere, and when another very personal partnership had been so harmed along side it. Some people call it ‘Ego Consciousness’, brilliant at arguing for individual ‘rights’, and snap decisions, or being shocked by something out of the mould, but terrible at seeing a bigger and truly human picture, warts and all. Terrible when you find that at the heart of a prominent publisher.

There are many exciting things about Spatial Humanities, which educationally is about the vivid engagement of the student in a world that is increasingly defined by technology, and this place you are looking at, the Cyberverse. Yet there is also the danger of turning all human history into some glorified Computer Game, and we all know the dangers and addictions of that. Actually, anything that takes us further away from the human, so contained in great history and great literature, is fraught with dangers. Keep to the human. DCD

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Filed under America and the UK, Culture, Education, New York

A PERSONAL ATOMIC BOMB

A friend compared what happened with a partner and my own publisher in New York to a kind of personal atomic bomb! Then they sent me these two remarkable photos of Nagasaki in 1945, and Nagasaki after the earthquake and tsunami this year. If, as they said kindly, I’m someohow the still standing arch, or you can’t really destroy a spirit, only push it terribly out of shape, I wonder what they left me with, and about the collatoral damage too. Yet it isn’t so irrelavent when you find yourself arguing with a publishing CEO, as I did, that if man’s mind can invent bombs, or split the atom, can create the ‘brilliance’ of neutron bombs, that wipe out thousands of people, but leave buildings standing, perhaps negative energy really can build up and transfer harm from a novel into the real world. Or it was at least worth trying to heal something, and worth channelling love to try and do real miracles. They just cancelled a book again, and after being labelled ‘evil’ by someone I loved and needed, either as partner or friend, what was more evil in that situation? Of course it was conventionally ‘mad’, but in the situation of an eyesight problem in a real person being written all over the pages of a novel, I still insist we are connected on levels we sometimes have no idea of, and that certain breaches of responsibility can do enormous harm. As Abrams and a group of people who knew each other did enormous harm, not only to an author’s career, and his stories, but in the world around me too. I lost myself very badly, went very dark, but refuse to carry a true story alone, especially if we are connected in certain unknown ways, and while I’ve just started doing Tai Chi again, perhaps we all need to study and follow the Tao. The problem is, as the Master says, if you think you know how to teach it, then you do not understand the Way at all! DCD

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Filed under America and the UK, London, New York, The Phoenix Story

HARRY POTTER PREMIER

The Harry Potter premier in London’s Trafalgar Square yesterday was extraordinary. As if Britain had suddenly become Hogwart’s and little Wizards everywhere been morphed into Royalty. Tears, thrills, waving crowds. Phoenix’s founder has to confess to a twinge of jealousy, even Schadenfreude at it all. He remembers his agent when Fire Bringer came out, telling him to check out ‘the competition’, with the arrival of JK Rowling’s first book. So, as the thrill of seeing his own work in the shops turned to horror as Harry Potter books turned into piles like New York sky scrapers, in one way he has lived in that shadow more than most. At school presentations, especially in America, he would ask what kids thought of the books, and then do a very good impression of Septimus Snape, snarling at ‘PPPPOTTER.HARRY POTTER!‘ The truth is though he, like everyone else, adored the series, though also being a little grumpy in the Bloomsbury premier of the first movie. He also defended the books, especially in Christian America, against the absurd charge of being evil.

Yet Children’s authors, in fact all authors, have lived in the shadow of the Potter Phenomenon, and carefully orchestrated phenomenon it has been. Brilliantly stage-managed, and channelled towards movies and merchandising with an enormous degree of talent. But the reason for that is certainly not stage management alone. It was always said, and we believe quite rightly, that the books began as a word of mouth phenomenon in schools. Their power is their extraordinary narrative energy, their remarkable reinvention, drawing on all the great myths, their humour and joy, but their inclusive, highly sensitive values as well, in defence of the young, of imagination, and of the magic of life. Fully in tune with the inescapable opposites of Good and Evil, and perhaps above all filled with a great deal of love.

Sober writers, ‘great minds’, serious intellectuals wondered why children and adults were hunched on tubes reading not The Brother’s Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, or even Pride and Prejudice, but happy to pick up those colourful volumes. The truth is not only the essential child within, and the vital dialogue between adulthood and childhood that makes the world, but also makes ‘children’s literature’, so wrongly dismissed sometimes, as the very gateway to genius and imagination. There are many other books to be read and written, and now the hype tells us its all over. Of course it isn’t, because the books will always be there, and JK Rowling, fearsome in defence of her own copyright, has started her own online book world. We wonder if she will turn that to supporting other writers and stories, in a defence of reading itself, but can only smile approvingly at all she has achieved. ‘Harry Potter is dead – Long live Harry Potter!.’

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Filed under Childrens Books, London, New York, Publishing, The Arts

WELL, SAYING IT BLUNTLY!

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Filed under America and the UK, Books, London, New York, The Arts, The Phoenix Story