Clive James's new book

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John F
Posts: 20353
Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Clive James's new book

Post by John F » Wed Oct 08, 2014 1:51 am

It's "Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language," being published in the UK tomorrow. James writes poetry himself, but this is a discussion of major 20th century poets, about whom I'm sure that James the excellent literary critic has provocative and cogent things to say. The book is on my want list.

And there's the problem. The American print edition is not to appear until March 30, 2015. Why? Especially since it will be for sale tomorrow as an ebook from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in their respective formats. What's the sense of that?

So I have four choices. One is to wait five months and buy American. Another is to order it from, where it will cost about $15 at the current exchange rate for the pound, plus the cost of transatlantic shipping - Barnes & Noble's prepub price is $22.69. The third is to buy the ebook, which is priced at about $12 from both vendors - but this is the kind of book I want to hold in my hands and scribble in the margins. Or I can wait and hope that the New York or Brooklyn Public Library will offer the ebook edition, which will cost me nothing.

The most attractive option, for me, is to buy the British edition now. I'm reluctant to lessen the American sales by even one copy, but that would be the fault of the American publisher, Liveright - a subsidiary of my former employer W.W. Norton, by the way. On the other hand, I believe James's royalty from foreign sales is likely to be smaller, as that's how it often is with such subsidiary rights. I haven't quite decided yet, but most likely I'll buy British.

James is terminally ill with leukemia and emphysema, and is being kept alive by several blood transfusions a week and bottled oxygen. Even so, he remains pretty active, giving talks and readings, and interviews with him on BBC Radio 4 this week found him in a positive and good-humored mood. But he says he could die at any time - "fall off the twig," as Aussies like him say - and this could be his last book. Even if it weren't, I want it.

As for James's own poetry, I don't take it as seriously as he does, but I read it and now and then come across something truly memorable, such as this celebration of Schadenfreude and vindictiveness:

'The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered'

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book --
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys
The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the blare of the brightly jacketed Hitler's War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretense,
Is there with Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots--
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
"My boobs will give everyone hours of fun".

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error--
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.
John Francis

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Posts: 26867
Joined: Wed Jan 28, 2004 10:15 pm
Location: Stony Creek, New York

Re: Clive James's new book

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Oct 09, 2014 12:52 pm

I find nothing remarkable about that so-called poem or Clive James in general. As you know, we will disagree about these things and I can make no apology in spite of your superior formal education in English literature.

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty--

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
--Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,--

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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