Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Perfect Elegy

It's Poetry Month and I have been remiss, failing to write until today about this annual occasion that gives such joy to so many, including me.

The inspiration that moved me to action is a blog post by New Yorker Editor David Remnick. He was writing about an April 20 memorial he attended for the brilliant Christopher Hitchens. He included a poem written and read by the excellent British poet James Fenton, who was a friend of Hitchens in life.

Fenton has written about Hitchens, for example in this post about why Hitchens chose to become an American. But the poem he read at the memorial service is a deep and touching remembrance he wrote about someone else.

This poem is, to me, exactly what one wants to hear at a memorial service, so I'm posting it here.

For Andrew Wood
by James Fenton

What would the dead want from us
Watching from their cave?
Would they have us forever howling?
Would they have us rave
Or disfigure ourselves, or be strangled
Like some ancient emperor’s slave?

None of my dead friends were emperors
With such exorbitant tastes
And none of them were so vengeful
As to have all their friends waste
Waste quite away in sorrow
Disfigured and defaced.

I think the dead would want us
To weep for what they have lost.
I think that our luck in continuing
Is what would affect them most.
But time would find them generous
And less self-engrossed.

And time would find them generous
As they used to be
And what else would they want from us
Than an honoured place in our memory,
favourite room, a hallowed chair,
Privilege and celebrity?

And so the dead might cease to grieve
And we might make amends
And there might be a pact between
Dead friends and living friends.
What our dead friends would want from us
Would be such living friends.

You can hear James Fenton read this poem in a long but rewarding podcast produced by Oxford's Bodleian Library. This poem starts at approximately 22:10 — but I encourage you to listen all the way through.

Also intriguing and enlightening is Stephen Metcalf's 2007 review of Fenton's Selected Poems in The New York Times Book Review

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Fools of April 2012

"This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are the other three-hundred and sixty-four."
– Mark Twain

As has become my custom for the past few years, I've taken note of some of the April Fools mischief on the Internet during the day. What follows is a list of pranks that simply appeared unbidden in my inbox, on my Facebook page or in my Twitter stream.

My favorite was the first: Science 2.0 (renamed Seance 2.0 for the day) clocked in before midnight EDT with Right Under Our Eyes: Nibiru On Its Way?, about the planet Nibiru, formerly known as Neptune. According to the story, Nibiru has wobbled off its axis and is "behaving according to the Mayan and Nostradamian prophecies." It will approach but not collide with Earth on December 21, 2012, causing massive tsunamis. The key to survival: Get out in the middle of the ocean.

Music business pundit Bob Lefsetz announced "I Quit" in his newsletter today. It's a hilarious piece of self- and industry parody that starts with a complaint about being persecuted by Taylor Swift and concludes with the revelation that he's taking a job with a hedge fund.

Comedian Andy Borowitz reported that "as an April Fools prank, Fox News will switch to an all-truth format for the day."

NPR reported that "Tweets Will Shrink to 133 Characters."

Scientific American got into the act with a report titled: "Neuroscientists: We Don't Really Know What We're Talking About, Either." It began "NEW YORK — At a surprise April 1 press conference, a panel of neuroscientists confessed that they and most of their colleagues make up half of what they write in research journals and tell reporters."

The Planet Nibiru

"If every fool wore a crown, we should all be kings."
– Welsh proverb