The Art of Poetry No. 93

There’s a poem in the new issue of the LRB by August Kleinzahler, ‘A History of Western Music: Chapter 74’. In 2007, in a Paris Review interview, he was asked what prompted the series:

I was in Ireland and everywhere I went they were playing the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth. It seemed so odd in that context of airports and supermarkets. Then I went to London and in every pub there was Frank Sinatra. There was a special on Sinatra on TV and they were running Tony Rome on TV late at night for a week. So I began writing about Ireland and London through the filter of Mahler and Sinatra. I didn’t realize it was going to be a series but in those days I had my column in my head all the time and was looking for contexts to discuss music. So I fell into this idea of approaching all sorts of music in this fashion.

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The old order reasserts itself

This World Cup has had most things but one thing it has lacked is a genuine upset. In the round of 16 each match was won by the team that had previously won its qualifying group. In the quarter-finals the likeliest winners in each case turned out to be the actual winners. Now we are left with four teams of impeccable World Cup pedigree whom the bookies cannot separate: any of them would be an entirely plausible lifter of the trophy (the Dutch have never won it before but with three defeats in the final and a history of heroic endeavour they are long overdue). Yes, there have been some mild shocks along the way: few people anticipated that Spain would be trounced by Holland in their opening match and Costa Rica’s victory over Italy was somewhat unexpected, though perhaps it shouldn’t have been given how the Italians were playing. On the whole, though, the form book has been an unerringly reliable guide. More »

What happened to the manuscript of ‘Under Milk Wood’

A decade after Dylan Thomas’s death, a lawsuit was brought by Caitlin Thomas on behalf of his estate to recover the manuscript of Under Milk Wood from Douglas Cleverdon. It was Cleverdon who had produced the play for BBC radio and had now put the manuscript on the market. The claim failed: the judge, Mr Justice Plowman, accepted Cleverdon’s case that Thomas had made him a gift of the manuscript.

The story as it emerged at trial was this. More »

Le Tour d’Essex

touressex

In the global league of immense sporting events, the Tour de France is third to the Olympics and the World Cup, or so the Essex Chronicle says. So how can a narrow lane in this corner of Essex between Chelmsford and Ongar, intensely rural though hardly thirty miles from London, accommodate the event? More »

At Wimbledon

I’ve been to Wimbledon twice this week. On Monday, I turned up at 8 a.m. and took my place in line for a ticket for the following day. Since each day’s order of play is only announced the previous evening, this was the one way I could be certain of seeing Roger Federer. There were 100 or so tents ahead of me, which meant I was definitely among the first 500, giving me a choice of any court. (When Andy Murray is playing, two nights’ camping is required.) I pitched my tent and spent most of the next 14 hours lounging around outside my tent or, when it was raining, inside it. I was occasionally tempted to sneak off, but a plummy-voiced steward told me that absences of more than an hour were likely to result in expulsion. More »

Andy Coulson and Other Henchmen

Just how nasty are politicians expected to be? Maybe they need to look nastier than they really are, because the demos demands that they hang tough. Even so, voters baulk at politicians who go home and dismember effigies of opponents or torture kittens; indeed the public, at least as ventriloquised by the press, demands politicos not succumb to such common moral foibles as fibbing, graft and the wedlock-bucking hump. As the two demands clash, modern politicians find themselves flip-flopping between machismo and piety – which explains why, taken in the round, they often present as characterless vacuums. Thatcher’s and Blair’s premierships managed to strike both poses at once, in a tic that degenerated into self-caricature. More »

France v. Germany

Any World Cup match-up between Germany and France is an opportunity to exorcise the demons of 1982, when the two countries (if you treat Germany and West Germany as the same country) met in a semi-final that remains one of the most traumatic matches in World Cup history. Certainly, it traumatised me. Most people remember it for the horrific foul committed by the German keeper, Harald Schumacher, who jumped knees-first into the onrushing French forward Patrick Battiston, knocking out his teeth, breaking his ribs and leaving him unconscious. What made it worse was that no foul was actually given. After the match, Schumacher’s lack of contrition stoked anti-German feeling in France to the point that Schmidt and Mitterrand had to issue a joint statement to calm tensions. But at the time – that is, as the game was unfolding – it didn’t seem so bad. Football was still a contact sport back then, and these things happened. The horror was what came later. More »

At Bannockburn

‘How can a field sell out?’ the man from Edinburgh wanted to know, helping his wife out of a cream Land Rover. They’d driven over for Bannockburn Live, only to hear there might not be tickets available after all. You should expect crowds any time you pay £7 to park on a farm, but the sea of anoraks was a genuine surprise. For months the Scottish press had been rubbishing the event, drooling at the prospect of an SNP-backed disaster, but there were huge lines to get in. ‘It’s all this anti-independence thing,’ Land Rover man muttered, sniffing conspiracy in the drizzle. More »

About a Ball

brazucaThe star of this World Cup is called Brazuca. Who’s he? It’s the ball. It got its name in a poll of Brazilians in 2012: according to FIFA they chose it because the word ‘captures national pride in the Brazilian way of life’ (the second choice was the Bossa Nova, which would have been overegging it a little). The ball was designed by Adidas with the aim of avoiding the flaws of its predecessor, the Jabulani, whose erratic performance marred the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Football designers often have a not-so-secret agenda to build something that will lead to more goals. The Jabulani was smooth and light, in the expectation that it would fly into the net. Unfortunately its aerodynamic features, combined with the high altitude at many South African grounds, meant it was more likely to fly away. The players didn’t trust their ability to control it over long distances, which contributed to the general ugliness of a tetchy, finickety tournament. Too many games ended up being played at close quarters. More »

A Tale of Two Cities

Down and out in Paris and London? At least make sure you’ve got plenty to read. This summer you can take out a year’s joint subscription to the Paris Review and London Review of Books. Subscribe to both magazines together here.

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