Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dead Poet Envy

Today the Guardian tells me offhandedly about a work-in-progress play based on the life and work of WWII poet Keith Douglas, to be performed at the Hay festival by Joseph "Shakespeare in Suck" Fiennes.

I should be all kinds of pleased by this: Douglas deserves attention. His death at Normandy aged 24 robbed us of a flaying, hotly lucid vision we could urgently have used post-war, an antidote to Eliot's (beloved but hegemonic) tortured verities. 'How to Kill' is just fucking scorching.

However, I find instead I am grudging. With not the slightest justification, I had been accustomed to consider Douglas as belonging personally to me and my lover, who found 'How to Kill' on the Ultraweb a while back, and has been reading to me from the Complete Poems I swiftly acquired thereafter. (Is there greater [or poncier] joy than your lover reading poetry to you, skillfully? Nope, none.) Hence that queasy cocktail of vindication and '49er claim-grubbery arising from the wider culture suddenly slobbering all over a feature of your private pantheon.

Douglas, though, is a one-off for me. In general I vastly prefer my lit to feature the exquisite, palely-expiring trenchmeat of the Great War over WWII's bathetic manichaean gloryboys. Call me a perv, I just can't get enough of that good old-fashioned death of historical innocence shtick.

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