Thursday, 9 September 2010

From Walt Whitman to Walt Disney in Three Easy Moves

 Arrived back from my first trip to the States last weekend, feeling rather bloated - physically and mentally - from the sheer supersizedness of everything in America: the theme-parks, the meals, the roads, the vehicles, the people, the egos, the skies. Not all in a bad way: it feels like there's so much room to manoeuvre, so much latitude for exploration, you inevitably gain a sense of expanded possibility out there. Whereas (I know this is very far from original) England does feel like Toytown in comparison when you return, all constricted, claustrophobic and undernourished.
  No wonder English poets like Auden, Thom Gunn, Christopher Middleton and Geoffrey Hill all started writing in freer, more expansive modes when they moved to the States: what was it William Carlos Williams said about American reality not fitting into iambic pentameters? (I touch on this in the piece on the Yale Selected Poems of Geoffrey Hill I've been working on for The Wolf - how does the early highly-wrought English Hill accord with the later prolific, looser-tongued American one?)
  On departing for Gatwick back in the middle of August, I somehow forgot to pack any books so had to buy one in a rush at WH Smiths at the airport. The only paperback that even remotely appealed was Martin Amis's Money - it proved fantastically apposite in the chapters where John Self hits America in a maniacal booze-fuelled pinball-bounce from comical disaster to disaster - the rambunctious, rambling, foul-mouthed prose is Amis at his best. Somewhat as I said in reference to Hoffman's Acrimony, how acidulously prophetic of our recent economic collapse is Money's narrative arc - remarkably though this is the late 70's recession John Self gets caught in, not even the 80's one. The boom-bust cycle really is ongoing.
   Didn't see many signs of recession in Florida, either among the Americans or our fellow Disney-worshipping Brits. But then the paradox is (and which Amis manages to show in Money ) in how apple-pie wholesome and 'have a nice day y'all!' America is on the surface and what a seething turmoil of social inequities and illiberal prejudices festers beneath. Did you hear about 'Burn a Koran Day'?!                                                                                                                                  

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