Thursday, January 22, 2009

William Maxwell The Chateau



The allotment has been on my list of worries - neglected since the autumn when the council began to change the locks and had not got round to sending letters to me instead of the friend I used to work the plot with. But hooray! I now have a working key and on Sunday was there, cutting the raspberry canes and clearing brambles. There's so much to do and this must be the year of raised beds, especially if there's another wet summer and slugs are rampant again.

What has happened to time? In between cooking, shopping, washing clothes, cleaning the house (badly, it has to be said), feeding the cat and attempting to earn a living.....I stop around 8.30 at night, I reckon, when kids and cat are fed, washing up's done and I have a couple of hours to watch a film before bed and an hour or so of reading. Maybe the film should go. That would leave my existence pared back to the absolute basics. Being hard up is time consuming. You have to cook proper meals because they're cheaper. You have to shop carefully. You have to walk places rather than take the car, you repair clothes.

I was glad to see that a novel I found in a charity shop and loved, The Chateau, by William Maxwell, was in the Guardian's top 1000 novels list. But I was sorry that Moniza Alvi didn't win the TS Eliot prize this year. She deserves it - her book, Europa, is brilliant and relevant in a way that very, very few collections of poetry are. Alvi is consistently under-rated and ignored and I don't understand why. I guess this is the fate of writers who are ahead of their time. Writers who maybe make their contemporaries feel uneasy because their work is so original. Europa deals with post-traumatic stress, rape, the anxieties and pressures of modern life...... I guess at least the winner was female.

Anyway, back to Maxwell - an editor for the New Yorker for 40 years and it shows. His prose is so sharp, his eye absolutely clear. Another New Yorker I've been reading is Mark Doty. What a good poet he is....and a nice man. I met him only once at the 1995 TS Eliot award when my first book was shortlisted. He said nice things about my dress - a sleeveless shift of big black sequins. It's folded carefully away for my daughter. But you can't sit down in it because you bend the sequins, so it's a propping up the wall or dancing party dress. Doty's latest book is Theories and Apparitions. I'm reviewing it for Warwick Review, edited by Michael Hulse. Good to have space to do it justice. Good to have time to really think about it. Anyway, the book's incredibly thought provoking and humane. It's big (metaphorically speaking, not literally) and generous, open minded and kind. Some of his Apparitions poems, though, reminded me of the Brighton poet John McCullough's wonderful homage to Frank O'Hara.

Today I lose my last milk tooth. A week off 54 and one of the first teeth I had, the little one at the bottom in the centre of the jaw, is still in my mouth. But by this afternoon it'll be out. For a tooth that's meant to last about five or so years, it hasn't done badly. In fact I'd like my dentist to give me a pat on the back, really. But it's feeling loose. He reckons it might last another year, but I'm nervous biting an apple nowadays and I don't want it coming out the day before I have to go and interview someone for work. So he's going to glue a false one to the teeth either side, somehow. Rather that than a plate soaking in a glass by the bed overnight. I'm not ready for that yet.