Saturday, November 29, 2008

Weinberger -> Laughlin

"Their principal concerns will be to resurrect Reagan's science-fiction Star Wars defense system (against whom is unclear) and, equally terrifying, a return to Iraq. In their circles, the Gulf War is seen as a failure because it did not end with the assassination of Saddam Hussein. Bush must vindicate his father, and Cheney and Powell must vindicate themselves. On Day One of the Bush presidency, the front pages of the newspapers were already carrying stories about the buildup of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. The only spontaneous news, of course, is earthquakes and plane crashes; the rest is always created by someone. If the economy sinks, as it probably will, a return to Iraq will certainly be the most expedient distraction."

- Eliot Weinberger, Jan 27, 2001. from 9/12 (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003)


I've been growing more and more obsessed with Eliot Weinberger over the last month, even though reading the man regularly makes me feel woefully uneducated. In his 2000 collection Karmic Traces (which includes the magnificent essay 'The Falls') Weinberger includes a profile of James Laughlin, founder of New Directions and a man who, in Weinberger's words, "changed Gertrude Stein’s flat tire, identified Dylan Thomas’ body in the morgue, shipped ballet shoes to CĂ©line’s wife after the war, was saved from falling off a cliff by Nabokov’s butterfly net, paid for Delmore Schwartz’s shrink and Pound’s legal defense, and smuggled Merton out of the monastery to go drinking." With friends like these, who needs a library?

Anyway, it turns out Laughlin actually has a poem about identifying Thomas' body, that I can't resist quoting in full:


One of us had to make the official identification of Dylan's body at the Medical Examiner's Morgue
Brinnin and I tossed a coin and I lost
It was a crummy building in the hospital complex on First Avenue and the basement, smelling of formaldehyde, was a confusion of trolleys with rubber sheets covering bodies
A little old man in a rubber apron was in charge
He put on his glasses to read the name I had written on a slip of paper and looked around, trying to remember
He lifted one sheet. "Is this him?" It wasn't
Two or three more who weren't "Old Messy" of the pubs of Soho and Chelsea
Finally, we found him and he looked awful, all bloated
"Insult to the brain" was what it said on the autopsy report, too much booze for too many years
The old man sent me to a window to confirm the identification where there was a little girl about five feet high, struggling with the forms, using a pencil stub
She got me to write "Dylan" for her on the
form because she had never heard of
such a name and couldn't spell it
"What was his profession?" she asked
I told her he was a poet; she looked perplexed
"What's a poet?" she asked
I told her a poet was a person who wrote poems
She put that down, and that's what it says on the form:
Dylan Thomas - a poet (he wrote poems).

- James Laughlin


Space Bar said...

Did he actually say 'principle concerns' or is that a typo?

Falstaff said...

SB: typo. My bad. Fixed now.

Confused n Baffled said...

So many theories abound over the Bush regime's "plan" for the Middle East. A movie like Zeitgeist would be worth your watch, I think.