I love the sun. So much so that I ended up in prison on Crete in the early ’70’s – for skinnydipping. Ah well – I was just a long-haired student then, up against the Greek Junta generals – and anyway it was only a few months.
Now I love the sun for different reasons: the power to ripen and the painterly light and that warmth in the bones – and yes, the tan that dignifies the wrinkles – whilst adding to them.
But there can be Too Much of a Good Thing. We’ve had no proper rain for four months, and this endless succession of fine warm days is wonderful – but alarming. So I went searching for descriptions of the long summer of 1939 – that breathless spell known in Britain as the Phoney War, before the horror began – and came upon a poem by Carlos Williams I’d not read. It seemed tinged with the curious dislocation that I have been feeling these last few weeks, basking in the glorious weather while the world stumbles towards disaster :
He has on
an old light grey Fedora
She a black beret
He a dirty sweater
She an old blue coat
that fits her tight
Grey flapping pants
Red skirt and
broken down black pumps
Fat Lost Ambling
the upper town they kick
their way through
fallen maple leaves
still green – and
crisp as dollar bills
Nothing to do. Hot cha!
William Carlos Williams, ‘Late for Summer Weather’ from An Early Martyr , 1935
The date is as significant as the down-beat, jazz-tinged set of the words. The Crash of ’29 blighted the following decade, and this aimless couple in the street – caught in late-summer’s glare – are its victims. How uncomfortable in their hot clothes the couple seem, and dislocated from the unexpected munificence of heat. Their shabbiness jars with the crispness of those dollar bills at their feet. And then! – that final impish release of street-jive throws an erotic light back over the pair – dislocating us, the spectators of this brief charged scene.
This is the poetry of the New Realism, which insists on the particular, the concrete, the palpable, that which is there. It shuns the blandishments of an abstract kind of mind that is all too proud of itself and all too unwilling to keep itself connected to and rooted in life’s everydayness.
I’m now re-reading the books we have in our library that speak of this forgotten era. It is what’s coming, and what will remain when these days of high-adrenalin, high-finance drama fade to drab debt.
It’s here I should again acknowledge my inspiration and information: I am profoundly influenced by and endebted to Ilargi and Stoneleigh of TheAutomaticEarth for the work they have been doing to bring the severity of the world’s financial situation to the attention of the public. And the affecting photos of the Great Depression on their site: Arthur Rothstein, Marion Post Wolcott, and particularly those by Dorothea Lange.
Carlos Williams stressed this about his writing : ‘We poets have to talk in a language which is not English. It is the American idiom. Rhythmically it’s organized as a sample of the American idiom. It has as much originality as jazz.’
As a footnote : Cab Calloway recorded ‘Hotcha Razz-Ma-Tazz’ (Lyrics by Will Hudson, Irving Mills & Andy Razaff) in 1934. It’s an up-beat cha-cha-cha.
Calloway continued to perform until his death in 1994 at the age of 86.
Say, don’t be among the late ones,
Change your dancing ways,
Keep up with the up-to-date ones,
And learn that brand-new craze,
Listen, pal, you gotta swing and grab your gal,
And do that thing,
Learn that jig-time dance
They call hotcha razz-ma-tazz.
No excuse for dignity,
Just get loose and follow me.