R.I.P. Martin Amis

Here’s the first thing I thought of when I heard the news and it may be tangential but whatever:

I was reading an interview with him once, and he went on and on for about 2 minutes about a poem he loved. He said it helped him as a writer. Every time he read it, it reminded him of the mindset one should have as a writer. See things fresh, or try to. Don’t fall back on received wisdom. NEVER rely on the pat phrase. NEVER resort to cliche. Being like this takes discipline. It’s not automatic. It’s a practice. And the poem Amis talked about was there for him as an example.

I was very intrigued by how Amis talked about the poem. I had never read the poem. I hadn’t even heard of it. I looked it up immediately, read it, and it instantly became an all-time fave. I was stunned by this poem and every time I re-read it I feel the same awe, I feel what Martin Amis said he felt.

So thank you Martin Amis, and for lovers/personalizers of literature everywhere, for loving stuff like you do, and for passing on the word.

A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (1979)
By Craig Raine

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings –

they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on ground:

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.

Model T is a room with the lock inside –
a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet, they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly. Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt
and everyone’s pain has a different smell.

At night, when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves –
in colour, with their eyelids shut.

UPDATE: My brother was the big Martin Amis fan, and I was familiar with him mainly because I was a fan of Christopher Hitchens, and they were, famously, BFFs, along with Salman and Ian and a couple others. I also paid very VERY close attention to what writers supported Salman Rushdie during the fatwa and which ones wussed out. (Same thing with Charlie Hebdo, but I digress.) But what’s interesting to look back on and remember is just how huge he was, how omnipresent, that even someone like myself – who didn’t specifically follow him – was aware of what he was doing. I read his essays. I remember some of the reviews of his book on Stalin. And the furor he seemed to cause periodically. He had BEEFS with people. All those guys did, sometimes with each other. But what I am struck by is how … the culture, as they say, was so different then – and it was such a short time ago, really. The 1990s. Where there wasn’t some central place for a “discourse” being whipped into a frenzy on a 24-hour news cycle (i.e. Twitter). There were dust-ups and headlines and scandals, but you found out about them the old-fashioned way. Newspapers. And so books came along which seemed to just TAKE OVER. Like Infinite Jest. And you could read a couple of reviews, but you didn’t have the noise of “discourse” in your head. You were just kind of a part of the culture, and so you were aware of things that got big enough for you to be aware of, and you weren’t up-to-the-minute up to date on every mean thought, hot take, fanboy gush, and etc. This was all brought back to me (again, it’s amazing how long ago it feels) when I read Dan Kois’s piece on Slate about Amis, and that famously high advance he got, which made headlines around the world, and even though there wasn’t a Twitter to coalesce around a discourse, there were articles and interviews and shots fired and long pieces quoting every writer on the planet, weighing in on the huge advance, and Amis’ expensive dental work, and … and … and … My point is: I wasn’t even reading Martin Amis’ books at the time but I remember the scandal, I remember following it, because it interested me. It was a time when scandals had to get huge enough to even MAKE IT to people. Twitter is all-scandal all-the-time and then the collective whirls on to the next thing. Anyway, I thought I’d share Kois’ piece because I thought it was good and really captures a certain moment in time and Amis’ dominance in it.

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