The first London pilgrimage: Ezra Pound

Tuesday 31 May 2005

This is Christine. She lives in Ezra Pound’s house. Well, it wasn’t his house exactly but he did live there for five years, on the first floor, according to Christine. She happened to be popping down to the shops at the time I was photographing her house and asked if I was a Pound fan.
I don’t care much about biography, particularly when it comes to “understanding” or learning more about writers or composers I’m interested in. It’s always the work I want to find out more about, not how the person who made it was living at the time. The one exception I’ve made is for Ezra Pound, my favourite poet. Yes, I know he was a mad, fascist anti-Semite, but he’s also a revolutionary, beautiful and fascinating writer (although some of that fascination comes from the writing’s frequent difficulty and wildly variable quality), and just about everyone writing over the past century has been influenced by him to some extent, whether they like it or not.
I was compelled to read Pound biographies because appreciating his work becomes inextricable from understanding his political and economic opinions, bizarre and repugnant as they often are. Untangling the issues of what he did or did not do, and how and why he did them, becomes essential when arguing with people who think he’s an unintelligible Nazi loony.
I remembered from one biography that Pound spent many of his years in London at 10 Kensington Church Walk, hanging out with an esoteric bunch: T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Hilda Doolittle, Rabindranath Tagore, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Ford Madox Ford, Robert Frost, and D.H. Lawrence (the last sleeping on his floor from time to time). One sunny afternoon I went over to Kensington to find the spot. This has been made easier because just last year a blue plaque was unveiled to commemorate his residence. The lingering controversy about him can be seen in the amount of time it took to get this official recognition – English Heritage has refused previous applications.
During his life and for the 33 years since, Pound has had the additional unfortunate tendency to be a crank magnet, so I was worried the plaque may be defaced or surrounded by graffiti about social credit. But no, just a quiet courtyard off a quiet walk behind the church (whose bells Pound complained about to the vicar, in an angry letter written in Latin).
Christine very kindly postponed her shopping to invite me in for a cup of tea and to look through the photographs of the unveiling ceremony. She said she had people stopping by every now and then, and were no bother: she rather enjoyed the attention. The committee from English Heritage gave her a bouquet, in case you’re wondering what’s in it for you if your house scores a plaque. We then turned to photographs of her cat, and her family living in the USA and Sydney.
Now I’ll have to get hold of a copy of Julian Rios’ novel Poundemonium, and go on a homage to a homage.
If you want to know what I’ve been reading, Humphrey Carpenter’s A Serious Character is the most detailed and dispassionate Pound biography currently available. The other books commonly found suffer from being written while Pound was alive and the author having an axe to grind, for or against the subject. Even Carpenter’s book is badly flawed by his evident dislike for Pound, and his inability or unwillingness to explain what his life amounted to. The Wikipedia entry is a pretty good summary but I’m getting worked up again now so I’m tempted to send in corrections on some small but niggling points.

Adventures Close To Home

Friday 27 May 2005

Another item I can cross off my list of things I never thought I’d ever do: jumping onto the back of a double-decker bus between stops. They were designed for this, but conductors these days don’t seem to be happy when you actually do it. In all likelihood they’re never happy but I don’t intend to stand around them for long to find out.
Most of these buses are gone now, replaced by boring new buses with lower insurance premiums and no conductors: the few remaining ones will be gone in the next few months. I intend to ride them as much as possible, even though they go only to horrible, out-of-the-way places like Hackney.
The photo below is taken from the front top window of one of the old Routemaster buses, showing another old Routemaster bus; proving the rule that you wait and wait and two old buses come along at once. For your convenience, a guide to this complicated piece of machinery is attached.

1. All the travel guides agree: the best way to see London is through a filthy, filthy bus window.
2. Ad for crappy musical you’ve already been taken to see against your will, with the same cast of nonentities as in the provincial touring production you once endured. (It’s this or We Will Rock You.)
3. Conductor in a fluorescent netball vest who yells at you when you get on between stops.
4. Male virility snake-oil ad, sadly not endorsed by a C-list celebrity so I cannot calibrate the British equivalent of Ian Turpie, Tim Webster, or Ugly Dave Gray.
5. The legendary open platform at the rear. If it doesn’t kill you, the conductor lurking inside will.

News Flash! (Of interest to low-level druggies only)

Friday 20 May 2005

I was so distracted by Basil Brush’s Boom-Booms the other day that I didn’t notice something very important: British supermarkets stock Sudafed on the shelves! Wheeeeeeeee! Why don’t the Lonely Planet guides mention this?
This has brightened my whole day. I was about to post a rant about the difficulties of opening a bank account in the UK: basically, you need to present your passport, birth certificate, parent’s birth certificates, a personal letter of introduction from your local MP or Peer, a photograph of yourself shaking hands with a player in a premiership league football team, evidence of your income, and evidence that you are a customer of good standing at another bank – which you must then renounce by burning all your other passbooks and bank cards in a bonfire verified by three independent witnesses. On the other hand, considering that these are the same requirements demanded by jumped-up shampoo salesmen in Australian pharmacies when you try to buy Sudafed, it’s a swings-and-roundabouts kind of deal.

More about British cooking, deduced from the smells and sounds from next door

Wednesday 18 May 2005

“Kids! Dinner’s burned! Come and get it!”
“I’ve burnt your favourite tonight, love.”
“Mmmmm, burned to perfection!”
“Honey, I’m afraid I’ll be late home from work tonight.”
“Yes dear, I’ll leave dinner burning in the oven for you.”
“Ah, nothing like coming home and putting your feet up in front of a nice, cosy fire blazing away in the saucepan.”
“That was a beautifully burned dinner, dear. Now I’m going to spend the next hour playing Towers of Hammurabi with all the pots and pans.”

The centres of tradition

Tuesday 17 May 2005

After arriving in London, it didn’t sink in that I was living in another country until I visited the Tate Gallery. It wasn’t the vast collection of art that did it, or even the view of St Paul’s from across the Thames. It was the cafe, which prominently offered up a bain-marie of baked beans for the punters to dine on. Moreover, I was surrounded by tablesful of punters actually noshing down on beans, all making yum-yum noises. Clearly, I was not in an Australian art gallery.
It’s not that I have a problem with British food: any place where tea is plentiful and they like putting bacon on top of everything is OK with me. However, I suspect that some of their eating habits have a lot to do with the Royal Family, and I’m not talking about the “by appointment” insignia on bottles of HP Sauce. I’m talking about tradition for the hell of it. In the same way that you can be wandering down the street minding your own business only to find yourself barrelling into the arse of a Royal Life Guard in full uniform, ceremonial sword extended, so too can you wander into the local supermarket and find oldies that haven’t been seen in a Coles New World for decades and were long decreed inedible. Mutton – yes! Gammon – yes! And while I was fondling the pickled pork I overheard a couple saying “Must get some kippers for breakfast tomorrow.”
The down side is occasionally finding a product like this:

But back to the Tate: I was going to talk about the actual art they had hanging on the walls, but every time I stepped up to admire a picture Matthew Bloody Collings sprung out of nowhere, with lighting, camera and soundman in tow. He’s that bloke who presented This Is Modern Art on the telly a while back:

He was filming some new TV program with the working title Every Single Frickin’ Picture in the Tate that Ben.H Specifically Wants to See in his inimitable style, namely by standing squarely in front of the work and blathering on about the baked beans he’d just eaten in the cafe.

Let’s get this over with

Saturday 14 May 2005

I hope you have all enjoyed my month’s holiday as much as I have. Just joking! Of course, I don’t take holidays. Ever. In fact, I’ve been hard at work parlaying my modest investments into some serious capital, so I cd spin this thriving internet concern into one those hateful yet lucrative insta-bookoids that clog up the shelves by the cash registers at Dymocks. The perfect gift for an infrequently-visited relative or workmate you have no real connection with. A show on Foxtel, too, was not out of the question.
Unfortunately, I had a “misunderstanding” with my “business partners” over some supposedly “misappropriated” funds in “brown paper bags” and a “racehorse”. Like any bold, forward-looking Australian entrepreneur I have fled the country and moved to London. To be precise, a cosy and modestly-priced bunker in the small, sleepy suburb of Robson Green, NW2.

Within these walls my empire shall rise from the ashes.
Bookworms: the Penguin on my night-table is Milne’s Mr Pim Passes By. The bookmark is a small, creased photograph of Julie Dawn Kemp.