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Letter from London (Ten Years On) [by David Lehman]

London PubIt was spring in November, raining but once in the course of five days and that a mild midnight sprinkle, and one day the temperature climbed almost to the sixties, and you needed only a scarf, a cap, and a sweater to weather a brisk wind. Some things don't change: what Waugh called "the braying for broken glass" continues on Saturday evenings when between Covent Garden and Leicester Square we saw numerous individuals falling down drunk, and in the underground a male and female bobby were handcuffing some male and female hooligans when Stacey and I entered. I told the concierge at the hotel and he said, "this is England, and it's Saturday night."
Wilfred Owen        It was Remembrance Week, which is what we used to call Armistice Day, and now call Veterans Day, but in the States it's a day off whereas they take it very seriously here. I joined in, spending an hour with Wilfred Owen (right), the most talented of the poets who fell in World War I.To commemorate their war dead the British wear paper poppies on their lapels, and a controversy broke out when FIFA, the football governing board, declared that England's team members would not be allowed to wear poppies over their black armbands when they played a "friendly" (which is what we more ponderously call an "exhibition game") against Spain on Saturday. Well, Prime Minister David Cameron, young Prince William, and a lot of other worthies were having none of that, and the players did indeed sport their poppies during their 1-nil victory. It gave the columnists something to chew about, and this they did, and loudly. England invented scare journalism -- hell, maybe they invented journalism altogether  -- and they can certainly give US columnists lessons in raising the roof from 0 to 100 in record time, as when one such writer asserted that Germany has initiated a "stealth" program for establishing a "Fourth Reich." Joke of the week: Greece has a new Prime Minister. Angela Merkel. Repeat, this time replacing Greece with Italy.
          What surprised me was the vehemence of the hatred of Tony Blair we encountered among even people of moderate disposition. One friend even felt that the ex-PM should be brought to The Hague for war crimes.
          Last trains on the underground now leave five minutes past midnight, which is a good thirty five minutes later than in my benighted day. The food is better though expensive, and the weirdest thing is that it is easier to get a latte or any of a dozen varieties of brewed coffee than an honest cup of tea as opposed to what they quaintly call "instant tea." Favorite pub names of the week: The Fox and Anchor. The Angel and Crown. The Camel and Artichoke.
  Blackwells-bookshop-on-broad-street-oxford-england-uk-B7ARF8        In Oxford, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the century's eleventh year, I took part in a colloquium on peace and war in modern poetry.  Stacey and I had a lovery long lunch with Jon Stallworthy, chatting about Wilfred Owen in addition to reminiscing about days spent together in Ithaca in the 1980s. Then it was back to work. I had forgotten how early it gets dark on a November afternoon in Oxford. We had barely half an hour in the deer garden at Magdalen, and then we went to Blackwell's and bought a daybook and a volume of Schopenhauer edited with an introduction by Thomas Mann.
          And Joe Frazier died and every paper ran a full page obit, and there was Sinatra in the front row at the Garden photographing the "fight of the century," with Burt Lancaster doing color commentary for closed circuit TV back on March 8, 1971. -- DL
from the archive; first posted November 16, 2011. 

April 15, 2016

December 19, 2015

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December 26, 2014

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June 16, 2014

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March 11, 2014

August 16, 2013

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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