I Read a Book! Kingsley Amis’s One Fat Englishman

The English Novel, 1740-1820

The open road winds down from Wilson’s farm
To neat lawns and a gilt-edged paradise
Where Pamela walks out on Darcy’s arm,
And Fanny Goodwill bobs to Fanny Price.

               – Kingsley Amis

Until last summer Kingsley Amis was an author I felt I should have read. Note the “should have.” I was never possessed by an urge to actually read anything of his. I just felt like knowledge of his works was something I should have in my quiver. Lucky Jim upset all the type of people I think should be regularly upset so I finally gave in and picked it up sometime in July. I’ve read two more of his novels since along with a collection of essays on science fiction, a decent amount of poetry, and thumbed through a roguish reference book on English usage. There’s another of his novels and his collected poems on my “to read” stack. I really should have gotten around to his stuff earlier.

The reviews of One Fat Englishman fall into one of two categories: those where the reviewer says that he thought the book was okay but not nearly up to the standard set by Amis in his other novels or those where the reviewer says that he thought the book was okay but not nearly up to the standard set by Amis in his other novels until for whatever reason the reviewer picked up the book for a second reading some years after the first and realized he badly misjudged this sardonically cutting and brilliant work. I’ve read it twice in the span of a month and enjoyed it thoroughly both times so I’m only a reliable judge of literary worth half of the time. Reader beware.

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POETS Day! Elizabeth Bishop

At The Fishhouses painted by Elizabeth Bishop

[This entry is cross posted at ordinary-times.com]

It’s POETS Day once more, that welcome weekly wonder when we wrap ourselves in awed gratitude, warmed by thoughts of Henry Ford, visionary businessman, architect of the modern, and inventor of the weekend. Is it ingratitude towards Henry’s memory to want just a little bit more free time? Sure, the weekend is wonderful as he made it, but we all know that nothing really gets done those last few hours before the sanctioned release. People check out mentally before they clock out officially and since you’re not getting any actual work done there’s no reason for you to be there. Who’s it going to hurt if you leave at three instead of five or six? Two? Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. Dissemble, obfuscate, fudge the truth, and gleefully trespass the norms and delicate pieties that preserve our hopefully durable civilization. It’s okay. If you didn’t do everything in your power to get out of that prison you draw a paycheck from you’d be a participant in the lie that you are going to do anything of value for the company in those Friday afternoon workish twighlight hours and lying is bad. If you think about it, being there and not working is kinda like stealing. Get out. Hit a bar and catch a mid-major basketball game at happy hour prices, stroll through the zoo and make faces at the lions, call your mom. When was the last time you called your mom? The weekend begins when you say it does, assuming your boss falls for whatever shenanigans you get up to in service of your premature but deserved escape. Do with it as you will, but in homage to the mighty acronym may I suggest setting aside a moment for a little verse? It’s a particularly good way to pass time waiting on friends who may not run as roughshod over the delicate pieties and were not as successful as you were in engineering an early exit.


Today’s featured poem is “The Map” by Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop is yet another poet who rankled mid-last-century at being included among those known as The Confessional Poets. It seems like they all objected to the name to various degrees claiming that poetic personae was separate from the poet’s and further claiming, often laughably, that obviously autobiographical narratives were some sort of ill-defined coincidence, but Bishop seems to have a point in her objection. I’ve seen her referred to as loosely associated with the Confessionals and even wrongly held up as one of them. She lost her father before she could know him. He died when she was eight months old. Her mother was institutionalized due to mental illness when she was five, and as a defacto orphan, she spent some of her childhood in Nova Scotia with her maternal grandparents, moved to Massachusetts to live with her paternal grandparents, and later to another part of Massachusetts to live with her mother’s sister and her family. An inheritance from her father left her well off. She travelled widely, moved around the U.S., and spent fifteen years in Brazil. Her homosexuality was an open secret. All of that made it into her writing at least obliquely, but who doesn’t reference their life at all? I should mention that I’ve read about twenty of her poems, of which she published only one hundred and one titles, but none of her prose, which I’ve read is more biographical than her verse. I’m not claiming to be an authority on her body of work, but from what I’ve read and what I’ve read about what I haven’t, she’s no exhibitionist and no more “confessional” than most widely-read poets of her time. She doesn’t seem to air her life out there for all to see. Certainly not enough to be grouped with John Berryman or Sylvia Plath.

She does invite you into her mind, though. It’s intimate.

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