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The Literature Director.

Fortnightly Drama.


A not-very-good, like its subject, play in one act for professed literature director
and several council members and a chef.

never the dramatic form
the fact is my husband hates drama
he calls it a cheap vulgar art
—Bernhard’s Frau Meister

the breathtaking non-intellectual spirit that
fills not only the atmosphere of the theatre
but our literature as a whole.
—Musil, Theatre Symptoms

The Literature Director: Alton Newhaven
boring ungainly disdainful joker functionary type in white tie
takes off and puts on his glasses every now and then.

A seventeenth-century stately pile now a conference centre

Set in a royal park glimpsed through the windows.
A room with several bath tubs in a circle pointing in towards each other like spokes.
A professed council member in each tub.
The men in black tie. The women in gowns or elegant black little numbers.
There is no water in the tubs. Only books.
Alton Newhaven’s tub is slightly askew. Some of the limbs of others are askew.

Apart from one line spoken by a council member only the literature director speaks.

Alton Newhaven
Yes when I am having a bath
I do use my finger
to clean out my annulus
just no more really than outside
not so much inside
of course
just round the rim
of course
after all I am in the bath
rim clean
surrounded by books by
poetry books yesterday
not one of them black
not one of them asian
not one of them female
not one of them a man
like me to speak of
not one of them a poet actually
not one of them makes a splash
today I see some are black
asian female in fact
to a man every one of them
drunk gay smoked
they have me to thank certainly
I can’t tell if one of them is jewish
if he doesn’t wear his minority status
on his face not just his sleeve or hers
of course
some jewish people do
but not all
once I directed the Africa Centre
that jazz means nothing to me
he saw me walk out while Mervyn Afrika was playing
my pullover slung over my shoulders
even if his name is Afrika

A Female Council Member in a Gown
Is there nothing he doesn’t remember?

Alton Newhaven
Then I was appointed director of literature at the Council
currently I am principal of the foundation whose patron is Her Majesty the Queen before that
His Majesty the King
situated oh yes certainly situated
in the royal park
you can glimpse through the window
I provide opportunities for moral ethical spiritual social discussion
particularly among young people and with visitors from overseas
that’s rich a bit like me I know this certainly because it says so on the web
what a boon the web glorious to post oneself
if I am honest
and I am
I am no more than a glorified hotel manager

[a female council member in a little number strikes a gong several times]

Alton Newhaven
I deserve my medals from Her Majesty

[chef brings in books and dumps them in any of the bath tubs except Newhaven’s]

Alton Newhaven
[while chef exits]

Our kitchen is good
I can’t tell the difference between the first line of a poem and the back end of an elephant
that’s what that poet and publisher who publishes books that won’t sell
because they have plain covers said in a letter to me after I threw out his dead duck of a poet
when I saw him in my office in Piccadilly
well she was dead and she had written about a duck
[searching] my duck is not in the bath
I stitched him up good and proper making him spend his money on having his accounts audited
when I had no intention of funding his hole-in-the-wall publishing in the first place what a hoot
the old school tie won’t work here even though it’s me who told him yes yes apply
let’s meet for lunch I said for old times’ sake of course I didn’t mean it
he wrote to The London Review they showed me his letter I replied I lied I lied I lied
it’s posted on the web so what
when the Council blocked his and his erstwhile colleagues’ invitations abroad it’s quite right that they did and still do only a shame those frenchies those norskies wouldn’t play ball
that was before my time losers but you can’t lose them all
of course, if he was a piece of cracked China pottery I’d support him to the hilt
I can tell the difference between an african elephant and an asian elephant
why should I just because I win a commonwealth prize I fully deserve
but still I always think of myself as a literature director above all the literature director
I know my limits
[looking around]

I have assembled you today to examine serious literary matters
think of yourselves as examining magistrates
you see I also act on behalf of the intelligence services
I send in my reports about suspicious writing activity
from Africa Asia above all from here
I have always promoted certain kinds of writing
you might say I am a neo-colonialist though I think of myself as a post-colonialist
it says so on the web
after that a neo-colonialist
I am so intelligent
I wrote my doctoral thesis at Cambridge on D H Lawrence
a journeyman doctorate a drab journeyman doctorate published by the University Press
that poet who became a publisher of plain covers gave me a book by Pirandello
I was still at school he knew my brother who became captain the year after he left
ended his teaching career as head in Shanghai
I reminded him I never looked back
it started me off that’s what he thinks
this directing this and that
that directing that and this
on behalf of the intelligence services
who singled me out for this type of work
my father a high ranking detective
certainly not often in uniform
put away dangerous criminals
I throw poets out with the bathwater
I did I don’t bother now
though certainly I still think of
myself as literature director
I know my limits
not hotel manager with a good kitchen
pots not poets
unless I have moved on already
but I would know if I had
it would say so on the web
as I say and I put my finger on it
my hands are clean
and we at least I do speak with one voice

[stands up with ungainly movements and salutes]

—written 2012

ANTHONY BARNETT is a writer and editor. He published the first collected editions of J. H. Prynne, Douglas Oliver, Veronica Forrest-Thomson. He publishes Snow lit rev. A celebration of his work, curated by Caroline Clark, is here.
© 2023 Allardyce, Barnett Publishers, to whom performance requests should be addressed.
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Brigitte Diefenbacher
Brigitte Diefenbacher
1 year ago

Anthony Barnett is the nicest and most intellectual British person poet i have ever met. Fun to work with translating Thomas Bernhard etc.
Brigitte Diefenbacher, Germany

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