A po­etic rage for our time

A vet­eran poet and per­former presents his mag­num opus in the form of po­etic at­tack on our po­lit­i­cal mas­ters

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

AREVIEWED BY MICHAEL KUSTOW T THE top of this b o o k - l e n g t h poem, Michael Horovitz — jaz­zk­lez­matic poet, arts cir­cus-mas­ter, trou­ba­dour and ka­zoo-min­strel — prints a roll of hon­our of his gods and role­mod­els. From Ge­of­frey Chaucer and John Mil­ton to Allen Gins­berg and Mother Teresa, the list is headed by the prophet Isa­iah. And that is right, for A New Waste Land is, first and fore­most, a book of prophetic wrath.

It is also a mo­bile pic­ture gallery, hung with car­toons, col­lages and paint­ings; a non-stop ty­po­graph­i­cal ex­per­i­ment; and a cry for hope. But it is con­dem­na­tion that pow­ers Horovitz’s spin­ning, spindly lines. The tar­get of his rage is Tony Blair, and the legacy which, like his men­tor Mar­garet Thatcher, he has left to us.

H o r o v i t z has built his poem on that m o d e r n i s t mas­ter­piece, TS Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), with its frag­mented im­ages of hu­man­ity wan­der­ing the desert of mod­ern cul­ture — “Who are those hooded hordes swarm­ing/ Over end­less plains, stum­bling in cracked earth”. Like Eliot, Horovitz di­vides his poem into seg­ments, spurred by out­rage at New Labour’s bro­ken prom­ises — to nurses, stu­dents, teach­ers, sin­gle par­ents; its vain­glo­ri­ous mon­u­ments: the Mil­len­nium Dome, the boast­ing of City prof­i­teers, the mi­asma of spin, life as re­al­ity tele­vi­sion.

Above all, Horovitz in­veighs against the crime of the re­lent­lessly en­ter­pris­ing arms sales. Fac­ing this on­slaught on the mind and body politic, Horovitz up­holds val­ues of those iden­ti­fied by his hero Wil­liam Blake: “All builders of true New Jerusalems & all deities that re­side in the Hu­man Breast with the Milk of Hu­man Kind­ness,” as he crowns the list in his roll-call.

Horovitz is one of the Last of The Just, a Lamed-Vavnik (one of the 36 just men said by the Tal­mud to ex­ist in ev­ery gen­er­a­tion) hang­ing on to ba­sic hu­man truth and af­fec­tion — es­pe­cially in A Lit­tle Kite Mu­sic, the seg­ment pay­ing trib­ute to his wife Frances, a del­i­cate poet who died at the age of 45.

Here Horovitz’s rhetoric mod­u­lates into air­borne lines sweep­ing across and around the page like kites in the wind: “the flut­ter­ing/ lilt of a lit­tle kite/ hang-glid­ing by a thread/ spooled out/ from the hands of a ca­per­ing child”.

But such glimpses of in­no­cence and hap­pi­ness are shunted aside by the soap­box de­nun­ci­a­tions of a man em­bit­tered at the de­scent of his fel­low Bri­tons into greed, con­sumerism and folly. Horovitz de­ploys his name-call­ing skills to the max­i­mum, from ver­bal car­i­ca­ture wor­thy of Ge­org Grosz to glee­ful school­boy puns (“Gorge Bash and Tony Blur”).

Over nearly 500 pages, more than half of them con­sist­ing of ma­ni­a­cally de­tailed foot­notes, it feels at times like be­ing locked with a gar­ru­lous ob­ses­sive in a lift head­ing down to hell.

But Isa­iah and all the an­gry prophets de­nounc­ing Is­rael for aban­don­ing the True Way were also un­re­strained rant- ers, hard to read. This is an “il­lu­mi­nated book” in the tra­di­tion of Blake, him­self a great de­nouncer, whose words and pic­tures light up the mean­ness of his times with the blaze of Eter­nity.

He may pant in the foot­steps of Blake, but, like two other Jewish prophets, Bob Dy­lan and Allen Gins­berg (and the non-Jewish DH Lawrence, whose words thread through th­ese pages), Horovitz is not afraid to preach. He does so in A New Waste Land with a fer­vour, feel­ing and wit that make this book a troubling, and trou­ble­some, land­mark of our lit­er­a­ture. Michael Kustow’s bi­og­ra­phy of Peter Brook is pub­lished by Blooms­bury

Horovitz ( above) “preaches like other Jewish prophets Bob Dy­lan ( top right)

PHOTO: AP

PHOTO: AP

and Allen Gins­berg”

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