Sunday 17 August 2014

Fighting Death with Excess

In a recent exchange with Michael Lista about his new collection, The Scarborough, Jason Guriel notices that, for a book with such a grim subject—one "trespassing on sacred ground," as Guriel puts it—the poems are "fizzing with style and formal energy." Lista explains that's not a coincidence.
One of my favourite moments in art, any art, period, of the last little while, was the final scene of this season’s finale of Mad Men, a show that I normally find too long on design and too short on art. Anyway (spoiler alert!), Bert Cooper has died while watching the moon landing and in the final moments of the show, his ghost returns to sing Don “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” replete with dancing girls and a soft shoe in socks. It was so beautifully human and stupid that I cried. It reminded me of a song from one of my favourite albums, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, the concept album about Anne Frank that I thought a lot about when I was writing The Scarborough; as the album builds towards its terrible finale in “Ghost,” Jeff Mangum sings: "I know that she will live forever / All goes on and on and on / And she goes /And now she knows she’ll never be afraid / To watch the morning paper blow / Into a hole where no one can escape." And then over the roaring reverb, a pipe organ and a bagpipe careen into a punk Barnum-and-Bailey Klezmer jig. It’s in moments like these, when death is met with a gaudy surplus of artistry, that you can see the fine membrane that separates art from religion, what Larkin called “That vast moth-eaten musical brocade/ Created to pretend we never die,” something he could never quite bring himself to sneer at because he realized he’d been knitting one for himself his whole life—his poetry. I’m a fan of any art—any poetry—that tries to do that, too, marshal a decorous consolation against emptiness.

1 comment:

El.Eyne said...

I don't know Larkin's work very well... was his poetry really a brocade/pretense, or did his poetry point to any truth beyond death,which would make it eternal, and hence not artifice?