Sunday, January 24, 2010

two scenes from Ian Hamilton

If you were as bored as I was by that arrogant hack Michael Hofmann's pathetic efforts to lump himself with the Legend of Ian Hamilton via the Jan 2010 issue of Poetry (Chicago),

here are a couple Hamilton squibs by much finer sources:

first, from the TLS: Hugo Williams' column (p.16, April 17/09), recounting a story from one of Hamilton's USA pobiz-crawls wherein he encountered, quote:

a certain professor who had gone on about the work of Clayton Eshleman. "Just a tremendous poet", he said. Surprised by this, Ian asked for the title of a good poem by Eshleman. "Oh, I don't know", said the professor. "Taken as a whole, you see. Just a tremendous poet." Ian insisted on knowing the name of a single decent poem so he'd be able to understand what the professor was talking about. "Oh for God's sake", the man said. "What is this anthologist's approach to literature?"

and here, from Simon Gray's "The Smoking Diaries," page 29, where Gray, after confessing his lifelong dislike of Auden, ruefully acknowledges:

". . . anyway, I've got to face it, almost everybody I like and a lot of people I admire, like and admire Auden, I used to admit as much as I nagged away at Ian [Hamilton], nagged frenetically away, even claiming once I had evidence to prove Auden was autistic—what evidence? Ian asked,—well, I said, he liked to pick his nose and eat it in front of people, and then, well, the poems! I said triumphantly, take 'In Praise of Limestone' and off I went— 'Actually, Auden stinks,' he said, out of nowhere, during one of our very last conversations, 'but his forms, you see, the way he could play about with forms'—and that was it, for him, as a practising poet there was an astonishing skill to be admired and studied. If you weren't a poet and were after meaning, sense and feeling you [wouldn't look to Auden], but if you had a technical interest in rhyme schemes, etc., for their own sake, and for the sake of your own practice, then Auden was worth your while—and so we left it at that, for the rest of his [Hamilton's] life, or at least of my time with him."

Gray's book has other evocative pages re Hamilton . . . Gray knew/was friends with him from university days:
one of his most successful plays, The Common Pursuit (subtitled 'Scenes from the Literary Life'), features as its key character ('Stuart') a simulacrum of Hamilton.

Inexpensive copies of The Common Pursuit are available at Amazon—the used hardcover page has copies for under a dollar—if it's the same hardcover edition I have, it will have a four-page insert of photos from the first USA production (with an exuberantly-young Nathan Lane in 3 of the pics)—

it's a great play, a fun play to read, and should be particularly fascinating to anyone who's ever aspired toward 'the literary life' . . .