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Friday, September 26, 2003

Perhaps Mr. Plimpton's career was best summarized by a cartoon that once appeared in The New Yorker. In it, a patient looks at the surgeon preparing to operate on him and demands, "How do I know you're not George Plimpton?"

(The wonderful) George Plimpton, 18 March, 1927-25 September, 2003

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

At the moment I'm struggling with The Mask of the Beggar, the latest novel from the ever-inscrutable Wilson Harris. A dozen pages in, I'm ready to conclude that the book is almost literally unreadable, & banish it forever to a dark & dusty shelf. Fred D'Aguiar seems to have fared better.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

The Museum of Lost Art is a low glass building set in parkland, a place you drive past on the motorway, barely registering it. Approach across the rape fields and what at first had seemed to be a greenhouse turns out to contain not tomatoes but paintings. Hanging low in pale daylight are vanished masterpieces by Rembrandt, C├ęzanne, Manet, Braque and Vermeer.

The museum extends deep underground. Inside, Bill Gates, Charles Saatchi and Osama bin Laden sip champagne at a very, very private view. In the cafe, the salt-cellar is a stolen work by Cellini, and in the bookshop, Thomas Pynchon signs copies of the catalogue which he has written. Everything in the Museum of Lost Art is invaluable and everything is illegal. There are even masterpieces the world believes to have been lost in floods and fires. As you wander through, paintings take on the appeal of something wrong and sinful. It is my favourite museum.

Monday, September 01, 2003

I have never separated the writing of poetry from prayer. I have grown up believing it is a vocation, a religious vocation. What I described in Another Life--about being on the hill and feeling the sort of dissolution that happened--is a frequent experience in a younger writer. I felt this sweetness of melancholy, of a sense of mortality, or rather of immortality, a sense of gratitude both for what you feel is a gift and for the beauty of the earth, the beauty of life around us. When that's forceful in a young writer, it can make you cry. It's just clear tears; it's not grimacing or being contorted, it's just a flow that happens. The body feels it is melting into what it has seen. This continues in the poet. It may be repressed in some way, but I think we continue in all our lives to have that sense of melting, of the "I" not being important. That is the ecstasy. It doesn't happen as much when you get older. There's that wonderful passage in Traherne where he talks about seeing the children as moving jewels until they learn the dirty devices of the world. It's not that mystic. Ultimately, it's what Yeats says: "Such a sweetness flows into the breast that we laugh at everything and everything we look upon is blessed." That's always there. It's a benediction, a transference. It's gratitude, really. The more of that a poet keeps, the more genuine his nature. I've always felt that sense of gratitude.

-- Derek Walcott, interviewed by Edward Hirsch in the Winter 1986 Paris Review. An excerpt is currently available online at the Paris Review website.