The weather has turned, and not for the better. We’ve had a very nice run of low humidity and cool nights – sometimes you want to put socks on, or even a sweater. But today the humidity squatted right back down on our little strip of asphalt between the swampland and the sea. It was muggier and hotter at 5:00 p. m. than it had been at noon; by tomorrow I imagine we’ll be back to standard-issue South Florida purgatory.
I’ve been listening my ears out on Richard Thompson lately, having taken in his latest solo tour in West Palm Beach this past weekend. I’ve followed the man’s career for I suppose twenty-five years now, and it just seems to get deeper and richer as time passes. Certainly his singing is better now than it has ever been, and his guitar playing has always astonished this bad rhythm guitar player. At the merchandise table I picked up several live CDs (also available from his website), including the wonderful 1000 Years of Popular Music, the record of a concert show he put together in response to a 1999 request from Playboy magazine for his list of the ten best songs of the millennium. Bugged by the notion of “best songs of the millennium” – which he knew would mean “best songs of the past twenty years” – Thompson put together a set that goes from “Sumer Is Icumen In” to “Oops! I Did It Again,” with stops along the way for lots of traditional tunes, musical hall novelty numbers, a Gilbert and Sullivan song, and covers of the Who, Squeeze, the Beatles, Abba, and Prince. Much of the fun is hearing the veddy British Thompson covering this zany range of material; but he does it pretty darned well, for the most part, and I’d take his version of “Oops! I Did It Again” (or in its medieval version, “Marry, Agayn Hic Hev Donne Yt”) over Brittney’s any day.
Recently over the reading table: John Wilkinson’s Sarn Helen (Equipage, 1997) and Barrett Watten’s Progress/Under Erasure (Green Integer, 2005). The Watten is a one-volume reissue of two books from the eighties and nineties that ought to be required reading for any beginning poet. There’s something so massive, relentless, even brutal about Watten’s project that I hesitate to say anything about the book right now – except that it should be read. Wilkinson is one of the more radical English poets I’ve encountered recently. Sarn Helen, a handsome little chapbook from Rod Mengham’s Equipage series, is a single longish poem with an astonishingly varied diction and syntax that twists in consistently surprising ways:
Retsina. Amber sperm. Who were the butt of a stress
contour, mendicant. You top brass best dive below,
aspirate hit dumdumming mouths scoops of casualties,
rolled out the yellow matting so to doff their sprigs
towards the mainstay, ribboning its bulb It blazons
the exilic camp. Whose proprietory bales were those?
I gather that Wilkinson has joined the English faculty of Notre Dame, where his wife the modernist psychoanalytic critic Maud Ellmann holds an endowed chair. From a great distance, welcome! Here’s hoping the weather is more hospitable in South Bend.