Thursday, 16 November 2017

IN THE WAKE: A STUDENT POEM

Writing and speaking about Richard Wilbur over the past two weeks, I was drawn to search through my files looking for work I might have done for him. I found this poem, which I wrote in the fall of 1970, which must have been for his verse writing class. I was 19. I seem to have revised it, only slightly each time, in 1976 and 1977, in Montreal, then in Connecticut, and finally after I moved to Britain, and sent it to at least one magazine each time (I can tell by the return addresses; and I used onion-skin paper in those days, remember that?).

I've done a little more revision now, but it's still basically the same poem. I wish I had the copy I submitted to Wilbur, with his comments; it may be in a box somewhere in my brother's attic. I share it because I think one can sense the influence of Wilbur, and I can feel the awkwardness with which I approach rhyme and particularly meter. In The Wake has never appeared in public before...

IN THE WAKE
 
The funeral procession plodded by
in single-file cars
their headlights struggling to be seen
against the morning sun.

In front the hearse, the limousines,
behind them black gave way
to cars in motley disarray
until the line was done.

And down the road a flower-painted
old Volkswagen van,
just-married signs, tied-on shoes,
tin cans and blaring horn,

Chugged by like dawn's cacophony.
I stopped to look both back and forth
And hear them pass, the boundary of
My sunny summer morn.

Sept-Oct 1970, Middletown

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

JOHN HILLERMAN: MY GUARDIAN OBITUARY

I've written John Hillerman's obituary for the Guardian; it's online and you can find it here. It ought to appear in the paper paper soon. It is as written, for the most part, and I'd characterise it as a log of sorts for a jobbing actor. That he had a major success with Magnum was something for which he was grateful, and deserved; I saw a brief quote from an interview that emphasised the financial comfort the part brought him.

Yet I meant what I wrote about noticing him in small parts in the Seventies (the still above is the moment in Chinatown where he asks Jack Nicholson what happened to his nose), and I have the distinct sense that there were bigger and better roles out there for him, had not casting been so myopic. I also was considering any number of parts on stage I would have thought he could have filled. But playing second banana to Tom Selleck for eight seasons of a hit show was nothing to sneeze at, even if nothing as good, and certainly nothing more rewarding, followed.

It has nothing to do with John Hillerman, but I was struck by the fact that his was the second Hillerman obit I'd written for the Guardian; the first, of the crime writer Tony Hillerman, was nine years ago. You can find a link to it here.

Friday, 10 November 2017

RICHARD GORDON: MY GUARDIAN OBITUARY

My obituary of the astronaut Dick Gordon is up at the Guardian online; you can link to it here. It should appear in the paper paper soon.

It is pretty much as I wrote it, with the exception of the final paragraph, detailing his death and survivors. Here's what I wrote:

Gordon died 6 November 2017 in San Marcos, California, just two months after the death of his second wife, Linda Saunders. He is survived by three sons and two daughters from his first marriage, to Barbara Field, which ended in divorce, and by two step-children. Another son, James, died in 1982. Pete Conrad died in 1999 in a motorcycle accident, but Alan Bean became an artist; his 1993 painting The Fantasy shows all three of the Apollo 12 team standing on the surface of the moon. 

I would have liked very much for that to be the way the obituary ended.

RICHARD WILBUR: MY BBC RADIO 4 LAST WORD ESSAY

Yesterday I mentioned, in the words I spoke at Kevin Cadle's funeral, the Richard Wilbur essay I'd recorded for BBC Radio 4 Last Word; today the piece was broadcast. You can find it here on IPlayer, it runs from 13 mins to 18 minutes into the programme. It was a very clever edit by the programme editor Neil George, who got an extra poem in, the wonderful 'Tywater' as well as created a new link into the lyrics from Candide. It sounds seamless and I'm very pleased with it. I hope it's a worthy tribute. One bit that was lost was my own reading of Wilbur's 'Museum Piece'...maybe I'll post my original script and record that one for it. Until then, Wilbur's readings are beautiful; listen and enjoy. The programme will be broadcast again Sunday evening at 8:30 on Radio 4.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

KEVIN CADLE: SAYING GOODBYE

Today was Kevin Cadle's funeral. It was a big service, full of music and video and reminiscence from family and friends that had us combining laughter and sadness the way you hope such events will do. I was honoured to be asked to speak at the service, and I wrote something to fit a 4-5 minute slot. But when I arrived at the church, I saw in the programme that I was scheduled to do a reading of Psalm 23. So I took my script and did a quick edit: removing the stories I was going to tell, so the emphasis would be more serious, and lead to the Psalm.

As the service went on, and people shared their stories, I felt better because mine were not really needed, and there were so many of these touching personal moments we might have gone on all day. I found out all about all sorts of sides of Kevin I hadn't known, Although when Bobby Kinzer, in his Eulogy, mentioned Kev watching Calvin Murphy play basketball at Niagara, he reminded me of something and I inserted it into the speech adlib. Anyway here's what I wrote and said: the bit in bold face is what I wrote in the pew as I cut the story-telling part, which is what's between the brackets at the end:

KEVIN CADLE

Since Kevin died, I've been thinking a lot about synchronicity. The other day I started reading a novel, Inez, by the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. The first line went “We shall have nothing to say in regard to our own death” and I had to put it down right there, and haven't picked it up since. Kev went so suddenly he didn't have anything to say, but it's been a comfort to my soul to hear so much that everyone else has said. Kevin was so full of life, such fun. You all know that--and it was one of the things you heard from almost everyone who remembered him, from friends and colleagues and fans: the Kevin audiences watched on TV was the same Kevin we knew.


I've told a lot of stories about Kev lately, and I realised that the point of all of them was the same: Kevin touching my serious self, teaching me that 'people gonna do what people gonna do', 'stuff happens' 'it is what it is' have a GREAT day!' And making me laugh. Bobby reminded me of Calvin Murphy; every time Kev and I would discuss or argue or broadcast basketball together, at some point he'd look at me and say, 'remind me how many Murphy laid on you in high school?' and I'd stammer and finally say '67 points, but they weren't all on me!'. The last time I saw him we were doing his Sportsheads show, and when we were done I was feeling sentimental and I told Kev how great it felt to be working together again. Kev looked at me and said 'You know what's better? We're still working!' 

I've been thinking a lot about synchronicity. The day Kev died I woke up and discovered that a professor of mine, Richard Wilbur, the second poet laureate of the United States, had died the day before He was 96, and last week I recorded an essay about him for Radio 4's Last Words. In his late 80s he wrote a poem called This Pleasing Anxious Being, whose title comes from Gray's Elegy in A Country Churchyard—which, given a little poetic license about 'country' is what we're doing today. In the poem he remembers a holiday dinner when he was a boy, and the action stops while everyone around the table waits

for you to recollect that, while it lived, the past
was a rushed present, fretful and unsure.

In an interview he explained he had only recently discovered there was a past: he thought his life would always be there for him to revisit, only to find now he had to do it in his mind. It was like Thomas Wolfe's saying 'you can't go home again', something both Kev and I, as expats, were aware of.

The poem ends with a drive, in 1928, through a snowstorm, to a Christmas visit. In the back seat, the boy's half-closed sleepy eyes

make out at times the dark hood of the car
plowing the eddied flakes, and might forsee
in good time, the bedstead at whose foot
the world will swim and flicker and be gone.

Synchronicity. Seeing through a child's eyes. Cooking pancakes for my son on New Year's morning two years ago, right after giving me 'pinch, punch first of the month', he asked me 'when we die, the world won't remember us, will they?' I told him that we all have worlds we make around ourselves, where we will be remembered, even when things, like books and poems and articles and show tapes and blogs, have disappeared. And that someday he would tell his children about their grandad they may have never met, and maybe tell them how he learned to make pancakes from me. And he said 'never mind, dad'....

But I do mind. We can't go home again? Kev didn't get to choose his own words? But for him, home is going to be present in all those memories all of us and so many other people share of him, home will be in all those he reached, and touched, made smile, and entertained. I don't have that many close friends. I've just lost one. But wherever my friend is now, I like to think that he is home.

Which leads us to the reading, from the 23rd psalm, and please join in: 
 
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: 
for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; 
my cup runs over. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: 
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

-end-

If you're still interested, here are the stories I left out.  They pick up from
'I've told a lot of stories about Kev lately, 

{ but I'll repeat this one cause it's at the root of why we stayed friends for more than 20 years.

Kev and I had been covering World League of American football in the spring. That summer, Sky decided to replace me with Kev as host of the NFL in the fall, and being Sky they didn't bother to tell me. Kev and I had lunch one day and talked mostly about his future. Later, after I'd luckily gone to Channel 5's late night, I bumped into Kev and told him I had no hard feelings; Sky offered him the job and that's fair enough, I just was surprised he hadn't mentioned it to me. 'But I thought they'd told you and you were just being polite and not mentioning it', he said. And then he shook his head and said 'Sky B Sky' and the truth of it (and the pun on BSkyB) made me laugh. It became a catch phrase and I still use it.

We still did NFL Europe together, where I got Cadled (see this post), when Kev would tell you he was going to ask you a certain question, then ask you something completely different, and sit chuckling off camera while you spun your wheels. The best times were when he'd drive me home afterwards, and we'd talk. Sometimes we were even serious. I do tend to stew on things. One time I ended a worry about something by asking rhetorically, why can't they just do the right thing? Kevin burst out laughing. People gonna do what they do, he said. Nothing you can do about it.

My favourite gig with Kev was one he got for me. We did Euroleague basketball for Showtime Sport, each doing solo commentary on one game a week, then doing the Final Four together, my doing play by play and Kev colour. I rarely Cadled him, but I got to set him up to analyse the sport he loved so much and was so knowledgeable about. Kev was a good coach because he was a people person, but he was a great coach because he could also take apart the game} 

I sometimes tell people I'm happy I don't have to work for a living. When I was working with Kev, it certainly never seemed like working. RIP my man. My condolences to his family and friends, and my grateful thanks to Lorraine, his widow, for being asked to be a part of his goodbye.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN WESTMINSTER

The shock horror at revelations of inappropriate sexual behaviour in the House of Commons came as a huge surprise to the media who cover Parliament. There has never been a sex scandal in Westminster before. Ever. Right? I should Profumo, to use some rhyming slang. I can't tell if the present scandals are considered better or worse than a major party leader hiring a hitman to kill his gay lover, but time and the tabloids will tell. I am suspicious, however, of any scandal which allows Julia Heartless-Bruiser to play the heroine.
But to get on point, when it comes to inappropriate behaviour with subordinates, I recall a column Simon Hgoggart wrote thirty-some years ago. It was probably in the Tina Brown Tatler, which I confess to having read back then, and hooked to the scandal of Margaret Thatcher's favourite cabinet minister, Cecil Parkinson, impregnating his secretary, Sara Keays, during a long affair, all the while upholding Mrs. Thatcher's 'Victorian Values' as one of the heartthrobs of the blue-rinse Tory faithful ought to.

This must have been in 1983, when the scandal forced his resignation, but before his heartless callous bullying treatment of Keays after her daughter was born became public knowledge. Hoggart was, like most of the Westminster insiders, approaching it with some levity. I couldn't find the original column, but memory says it the key punchline was something like "it would be an exaggeration to say that the air at Conservative Central Office at 5pm on a Friday was filled with the noise of assistants smacking against desk tops, but not much of one."
They say politics is show business for ugly people, which doesn't explain Harvey Weinstein, but may go some way toward understanding how the power elite functions with those less powerful, in the hothouse and treacherous upwardly mobile atmosphere of Parliament. Shocked! I'm shocked to discover politicians abusing those under them...now they know how the electorate feels.

9/11, ROBERT MUELLER AND SAUDI ARABIA

I am not sure exactly what this means, but I do advise care in following Robert Mueller's investigations. He is described as dogged and perseverant, as scrupulous and honest, but also as loyal, and the question might be to whom is his ultimate loyalty? Here's a portion of a remarkable bit of investigation by Patrick Cockburn of the ongoing 9/11 lawsuit, the Saudi connection, and Mueller's stone-walling of it 15 years ago.

"The reason we know so much about the West Coast activities of the (9/11) hijackers is largely because of Michael Jacobson...an investigatior for the Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities (relating to) the Terrorist Attacks Of (9/11). Reviewing files at FBI headquarters, he came across a stray reference to an informant in San Diego who had known one of the hijackers. Intrigued, he decided to follow up in the San Diego field office. Bob Graham, former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee (said) Robert Mueller, then the FBI director...made the "strongest objections" to Jacobson and his colleagues visiting San Diego.." This is Patrick Cockburn in the current issue of Harpers. He goes on to report the links beween the hijackers and Saudi funding of people they visited, and extreme Wahhabis at the Saudi consulate in LA. They had been in touch with another FBI informant named Shaikh, who omitted them from his FBI reports,. When Jacobson wanted to interview Shaikh, even backed by a congressional subpoena, Mueller refused to allow it, and the FBI moved him into hiding "for his own safety". "Graham believed Mueller was acting under orders from the (Bush) White House"....

Saturday, 28 October 2017

JFK ASSASSINATION PAPERS: THE PARTIAL DUMP & THE PERFECT PATSY

Watching the response to the latest release of documents about the JFK Assassination, I'm struck by just how much noise and how little light has been generated. Starting of course with Donald Trump's claim 'he' was releasing the docs, 'ahead of schedule', when of course the release was mandated by a law passed 25 years ago, and Trump in the end withheld what were probably the most crucial documents. But that's par for the course with the Tweeter in Chief.

The spin had been delivered to the mainstream well before the release: the voices called upon to evaluate it were predictably defensive. A couple of threads likely to attract attention from the general reader and deflect attention from bigger issues were the major talking points on virtually all media, from BBC to NBC and even to Fox, where you'd think so-called 'conspiracy theories' about JFK would get as much credence as all the other weirder stuff Hannity, Alex Jones and Trump peddle. Watching the uninformed bit of the  punditocracy wade around in this sludge like they were backstroking in perfumed waters has long since ceased amusing me.

Those pundits always work within the Conspiracy Anomaly, an oddly worthless syllogism which posits anyone suggesting the Warren Commission might be wrong in its assumptions that Lee Harvey Oswald was a long crazed leftist assassin, must therefore also defend any and all other conspiracies extant, from Elvis on the Moon to David Icke's Lizards. Meanwhile, defenders of the establishment like themselves can be proven wrong time and time again when they accept the official version, and never be compelled   to account for that history of conspiracies or lies. They simply write those events off as good intentions gone bad, unfortunate coincidence, or unwitting mistakes. Then they forget their errors and press on with accepting and acting as PR boosters for the next lies which come along. This represents a long and ignoble list of the highly paid and highly promoted punditocracy.

Nevertheless, or indeed, for this reason, I do have a few names to throw out there which I wish some of those enlightened personages might have considered.

1. DONALD TRUMP As mentioned, this was not 'Donald Trump Releasing JFK Documents', as it was billed almost everywhere. This was a release mandated by law 25 years ago, which Trump managed to sabotage by allowing both the CIA and FBI to allow a large tranche of docs to be withheld, for at least six more months until a 'review' has been undertaken. Which was what the 25 year wait was supposed to allow.

2. EARLE CABELL One of the more interesting documents released, as highlighted by Jefferson Morley, confirms Dallas Mayor Earle Cabell was a CIA asset going back to the 1950s. Given that his brother was Charles Cabell, deputy director of the CIA under Allen Dulles, and the man who planned the Bay of Pigs invasion and then was forced by JFK to resign along with Dulles, there has always been speculation of collusion, not least with the late change of the motorcade route to include the odd and unsafe turn through Dealey Plaza on its way to the Stemmons Freeway. Knowing he actually worked for the CIA makes such speculation that much more credible.

3. DAVID ATLEE PHILLIPS: Many of the stories led with Oswald's contacts in Mexico City with the Soviet embassy, and their so-called head of assassinations. This made for great headlines to relaunch the CIA's pet conspiracy theory of 50 years ago into a climate where Russia-hating is popular and rife. The documents released shed no new light, but it's worth remember what we already knew. First, at the time he was supposedly traveling from New Orleans to Mexico City via Houston, Oswald, or someone pretending to be him, was introduced to Sylvia Odio in her Dallas apartment. Odio, the daughter of a man who tried to assassinate Castro, would have no reason to lie about this.

The tapes of Oswald's telephone calls to the Soviet embassy were originally claimed to have been destroyed by the CIA, before they showed up, when the 28 Sept calls were shown to have been made by a voice not Oswald's. The pictures of the man taken by CIA cameras were of a man not Oswald. If, as we believe, Oswald was a patsy, he may have been being moved around Mexico City with one cover story (trying to get to Cuba?) while another man was moving in parallel paths setting him up, and another was doing the same in Dallas.

It's also possible that there were two separate frames built, as Peter Dale Scott has suggested. The first was intelligence sources setting up Oswald the assassin as a Russian/Cuban hireling or sympathizer, in order to justify LBJ's invading Cuba. The second was cobbled together quickly when LBJ unexpectedly balked at triggering WWIII, and then put together piecemeal to show Oswald as a disaffected lone crazed assassin.

Most of the rest of the docs which are still being withheld are most likely for CYA reasons involving cover up for involvement by CIA agents and contacts w Oswald as an informant by FBI. But there may be others, more directly dangerous to the CIA. The most interesting would concern David Atlee Phillips, who, under the name of Maurice Bishop, actually introduced Antonioi Veciana, the founder of the militant Cuban exile group Alpha 66, to Lee Oswald in Dallas in August 63. Phillips, who would lead the CIA's anti-Castro ops, was Win Scott's deputy in Mexico City. Intuiting that he might have been running Oswald around and framing him is no great leap of imagination.

4. GEORGE JOANNIDES: Joannides worked on JM/WAVE, the CIA's operations run out of the University of Miami, which included the plans to kill Castro (Operation Mongoose). He basically ran the Student Revolutionary Directorate (DRE), which was even more aggressively active than Alpha 88 against Castro; it was DRE who staged the confrontation with Oswald in New Orleans which caused Trump to accuse Ted Cruz's father of killing JFK. Joannnides was the CIA liason to the House Committee on Assassinations in 1978, which is an interesting use of the fox as a game keeper (HSCA was of course never informed of the conflict of interest). There were lawsuits to get his files in 2005 (he was also accused of participating in the RFK killing) which the CIA blocked. These likely don't fall under the purview of the files in the National Archives, but it would not surprise me were there other material there.

5. ALLEN DULLES Thanks to David Talbot, whose biography of Dulles, The Devil's Chessboard, is essential reading on the subject of the CIA and its doings, including re JFK. Had it been published back then, I would have added it to the compendium I wrote for the London Library on the 50th anniversary of the assassination (you can link to it here) for his speculation on what documents may be missing. These include information about what Allen Dulles was doing at the CIA facility known as 'The Farm' on 22 November; given that he had been gone from the Agency for two years. It's easy to speculate he was ready to oversee operations in the chaos that might have followed the assassination (recall communications going dead just after the shooting). I would be surprised if records were kept, but any confirmations of meetings or other attendees would be welcome, and, since they might suggest a highly-placed disaffected element of the CIA was involved or had knowledge of the plot, would be something the CIA would need to stall indefinitely.

6. WILLIAM HARVEY, HOWARD HUNT et al: David Talbot also mentions files on the Church Committee's 1975 interview with the CIA's legendary William Harvey, who was in charge of the much of the Company's dirty work and may have felt he was being hung out to dry. Even travel records might be revealing for Harvey, David Morales (who was a hit man working for Harvey and Ted Shackley) or Howard Hunt, who denied being in Dallas on 22 November, but lost a libel suit to a magazine who claimed he was, and then of course issued a death-bed confession via his son. Talbot also mentions files on J. Walton Moore, the Dallas CIA office chief who assigned George de Morenschild to Oswald (I have always believed it was de Morenschild's writing in Russian, on the back of the famous Oswald posed photo) and Gordon McClendon, the Dallas businessman Jack Ruby called for after he shot Oswald.

7 LEE OSWALD: The '201' file the CIA kept on Oswald was supposedly destroyed by James Angleton (who also destroyed Mary Pinchot Meyer's diary after she was murdered; her estranged husband Cord Meyer was high up in the CIA and she had been having an affair with JFK) but bits of it have been pieced together. If you believe that many of the contradictions in that file were because Oswald's 'defection' to the USSR was being used as a barium meal, to discover leaks within the CIA, this complete file would possibly answer some questions; it might also reveal contacts which would help show Oswald was indeed an agent, informer, and/or dupe: in other words, a perfect patsy.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

ROBERT GUILLAUME: THE GUARDIAN OBITUARY

My obituary of the actor Robert Guillaume has been posted at The Guardian online, you can link to it
here. It should be in the paper paper soon; in fact, they called me while I was out taking the dog for a fall swim at Waggoners Wells, and asked for it in two hours as it was intended for today's paper, before Fats Domino died.

Guillaume was a very late starter in many ways, but his good luck in being spotted a number of times, and his hard work at a number of good roles where he was the first to take over from the original lead, or to take a show on the road, was impressive. Apparently, despite his success as Nathan Detroit, which ought to have convinced almost anyone, network executives were very hesitant to offer him the Benson role on Soap: I probably should have mentioned that as well as being the show's anchor, his work with Katharine Helmond was the best relationship in the show. Benson, in a sense, was less successful because his was more a two-hander with James Noble, who had to stand in for any number of characters from Benson.

Charles Gordone was, I believe, the first black dramatist to win a Pulitzer, and No Place To Be Somebody was the first Off-Broadway play to win as well. I read that this was Guillaume's favourite role. I never saw an episode of the Robert Guillaume Show, but would be very curious to view it now: it must have driven the network Standards & Practices people crazy. Interracial romance? What next?

Similarly, Sports Night never made it to Britain (I assume because they would assume American sports was of no interest to anyone) but a takeoff on ESPN Sports Center could easily be seen as a precursor to Studio 60 (Saturday Night Live) or Newsroom (CNN). I've also never seen the movie Prince Jack, but alongside Guillaume as King and Robert Hogan as JFK you have Lloyd Nolan as Joe Kennedy, Cameron Mitchell as Gen Walker, Kenneth Mars (Franz Liebkind in The Producers) as LBJ, and Dana Andrews, Theodore Bikel, William Windom and Jim Backus. How did I miss that? RIP, Robert Guillaume.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

MICHAEL CONNELLY'S TWO KINDS OF TRUTH

Harry Bosch is still working cold cells, his office a converted cell at the San Fernando PD. But when the small town is hit by a double murder at a pharmacy, Harry's experience means he becomes the primary on the case, which he quickly realises is not just a brutal killing attached to a random robbery.

But just before the murders were called in, Bosch had been visited by an old LAPD partner Lucia Soto, accompanied by a DA and an investigator from the departments new Conviction Integrity Unit. Preston Borders, a sex killer Bosch had put away thirty years ago has petitioned for a new trial, based on the confession of another criminal to his lawyer. As the other man is now dead, the lawyer came forward, and a recheck of the evidence discovered new DNA evidence which backs up the confession. And if someone else killed Danielle Skyler, Bosch must have framed Borders with the evidence that did convict him.

Two Kinds Of Truth is Michael Connelly's second novel released this year, following The Late Show, which marked the debut of a new cop character, Renee Ballard. In my review of that book, to which you can link here, I wrote that Connelly's books are character-driven, though never shrinking as police procedurals, and often in the Bosch series resembling hard-boiled detective stories as well. I also noticed, in the previous Bosch novel, The Wrong Side Of Goodbye (link to that review here) the way Connelly's weaving together of two complex stories became driven by plot—which I thought might reflect the different approach to writing the Bosch TV series.

This novel's two stories aren't as complex, nor as deeply-layered as The Wrong Side Of Goodbye's were, but they are also, in a sense plot-driven. The pharmacy killings lead to a more serious drugs case, and Harry winds up going undercover to get to the bottom of the prescription opioid racket. Meanwhile, Harry hires his half-brother Mickey Haller to defend him in the re-opened murder case, which turns into a courtroom drama, and most interestingly, one based on what is, in effect, a locked-room mystery.

The first story is a thriller, and it really stretches the image of Harry as an action hero. Its pacing is quicker than the other story, in which the investigation has to proceed layer by layer, and much of it done by Haller and his investigator, and reported back to Harry. It also has to resolve itself like clockwork: legal clockwork, and legal is the meaning of the two truths in the novel's title. The mesh of the stories isn't as seamless as you'd hope: but both wind up being page-turners, reading to get to the solutions. It's the way in which thrillers and puzzles get to a similar place by different means; the dark interiors of hard-boiled Harry are what gets passed by to an extent. The great thing is, it doesn't matter. Undercover thriller, courtroom drama, locked room mystery. The menace of drug rings and the menace of venal DAs and Rat Squad cops. And Harry Bosch, whose character remains as deeply compelling as ever. Michael Connelly remains the best in the business.

Two Kinds Of Truth by Michael Connelly

Orion, £19.99, ISBN 9781409145554

published 31 October



note: this review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

RIDDLE: A POEM FROM RICHARD WILBUR'S CLASS

I mentioned that I could recall one exercise I did for Richard Wilbur's poetry writing class. This was in the fall of 1970; I was 19, beginning my third year of college, and as I wrote in the previous post, the student strike had convinced me that if I was going to stay in college, I was going to study what I wanted to study. Though I'm not sure this sort of thing was my ultimate goal. If I can find any others from that time which are a bit more, well, you know, I may post them here.

The assignment was to write a riddle in verse.  I was quite pleased when I came up with this one, and if I remember correctly he of course guessed it right away (it ain't hard) but said something nice about the originality of the metaphor, or some such.

I couldn't find a copy of it, but I did find its index card in my files, because it was actually published, in Frank Denton's magazine Ash Wing, in 1977. I hadn't remembered that at all. But I've written it below, from memory. I think I'd get rid of jaundiced in this context and maybe reverse 'around the world' and 'over the top', which I'd originally done writing in logical progression, though the phrases sound better ordered as they are.


RIDDLE

Bright jaundiced yo-yo
What tricks can you do?
Around the world, over the top
And a wicked all-day sleeper too.

RICHARD WILBUR: THE GUARDIAN OBITUARY

Richard Wilbur, twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and America's second Poet Laureate, died last Saturday. My obit of him went up at the Guardian online Tuesday; you can link to it here. It should be in the paper paper soon. I had actually written it quite a while ago, probably about ten years ago, long enough that it was saved in my computer in Microsoft Works! However it didn't require much updating, and I was very happy with what I'd written then.

When I was at Wesleyan, Wilbur was one of the two glamorous figures in the English department. The other was F.D. Reeve (father of the actor Christopher), whose obituary I also wrote, four years ago for the Independent. You can link to that one here. What links the two, apart from their patrician elegance, is Robert Frost and Russia. Reeve was Frost's translator when the older poet went to Russia, Wilbur translated Russians, especially Yevtushenko. But more importantly, Wilbur really was the heir to Frost's position as an American poet. His work has the same precision of language, the same sensitivity to the natural world, the same sense of some sort of moral agency behind it, though crucially I find Wilbur's world-view far less dark and far more approachable in our time than Frost's. I almost see it more in Wilbur's blank verse, and occasional free verse, than in the rhymed poems, but it's certainly there. That he was never able to assume Frost's centrality in America's public arts world speaks more to the changes both in American poetry and American society than it does to Wilbur.

I saw him compared to both Auden and Larkin in some obituaries, and it's easy enough to see why. But he's not as showy with his language as Auden, and he's nowhere near as misanthropic, as presumptively world-weary as Larkin. Somehow it's hard to imagine either of those poets translating Moliere with the playful verve Wilbur managed--I do recommend those to anyone still reading this far!

I was lucky enough to take two courses with Wilbur. One was his basic poetry course, where as I say in the obit, his breakdown of a wide range of poets was stunning: his command of the deeper meaning of words, their roots, their sounds, their usages was comprehensive, and he liked poets who could use words deftly and unusually: Hopkins and Cummings, I recall. I then came back and got into his verse writing course the following year, by which time, after the student strike of 1970, I had decided I should be studying those subjects I wanted to study. Wilbur had been one of the professors most supportive of the strike; I remember cycling round campus with the strike paper the morning his poem 'For The Student Strikers' appeared, hawking it like a newsie with a headline: 'Strike paper! Wilbur Poem! Getcher Wilbur poem here'.  The photo above left shows the documentary film-maker Stephen Talbot leading an anti-war march in Middletown in 1969: if you closely behind him you'll see Wilbur, a few rows back, unprepossessingly marching with the students.

I had published a poem when I was 16, in the New Haven Register, but I should have realised just how big a step a class with him would be. Wilbur was not a touchy-feely kind of teacher, but each assignment came back with thoughtful (and gentle) criticism of my work. I can recall one short exercise I wrote for him, a riddle, and he took great pleasure in guessing it, correctly of course.

At some point after that class, I discovered Charles Olson, a Wesleyan alumnus, and my view of poetry changed completely. I wish I'd been able to start making that leap while I was submitting poems to Wilbur, because his input probably would have spurred me on. But though the style I began to absorb from Olson was very different to Wilbur's I never lost my desire to be able to express myself with a mere fraction of Wilbur's acuity, grace, and precision.

It was a privilege to be able to write Wilbur's obit and note his passing for a British audience. I hope I did him justice. I just wish the paper would occasionally use a younger photo of poets who lived nearly 100 years! The first photo at top right is of the young poet; the one just above to the right is from about the time I was a student at Wesleyan, and how I remember him. RIP