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Breaking Bad's claim to be the best TV series ever is perhaps weak - there have, after all, been many zeitgeist shows like M*A*S*H, All In The Family, Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Get Smart, Star Trek, X-Files, Twin Peaks, Brideshead Revisited, Columbo, Prime Suspect, House of Cards, Prison Break, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Inspector Morse, The Killing, Mad Men, The Wire, Homeland, The Sopranos, etc, to vie for such an accolade.  However, if the category is changed to best American drama series of the contemporary era (post-80s), then the list narrows - and one is left with perhaps a shortlist of Mad Men, The Wire, and The Sopranos, to seriously contest its supremacy; and then it becomes clear just how good these 62 episodes, as a whole are.

It is a very Aristotelian tragedy - for the most part, it centres on an extended family, in one general location, over a limited time span of two or so years, from cancer diagnosis, to cancer remission, to cancer return, to death by machine gun wound.  The main character starts good, and due to a tragic flaw best summed up as hubris (he discovers he is good at cooking Meth, and organising criminal activity, and enjoys it too much to stop), ends up very bad.  The writing is consistent across all episodes, the acting always excellent, and most episodes begin well and end on a stunning twist.  Each season advanced the plot, increased the moral tension, and also always ended on a high note.

At times, the machinations of the lead character, Walter White/ Heisenberg (a Whitmanesque everyman) astonished the most clever prognosticators among the fanbase - the series was always one step ahead, and, in the last eight or so episodes, reached a sublime state (except for episode 61, the weakest) of expectation and fulfilment that seemed like the crowds waiting for the latest Dickens instalment by the ports.  It is unlikely, as other critics have said, that we will experience such a seamlessly-crafted, morally driven, visionary, original, and concise show again in our lifetime.  It never strayed.  It always knew what it was doing.

For instance, there is no sexism and little sexual violence in any of the episodes - it was never exploitative.  Instead, the series relentlessly asked a good question - what happens to a man's soul if he does whatever he can, and keeps getting away with it?  What happens next?  Well, he ends up with dead friends and family, traumatised loved ones, and millions of dollars in barrels stolen by neo-Nazis. He ends up dead.  Crime did not pay.  Some will complain that White offed the gang at the end too easily, and that the contraption he devised was not chemistry.  He was an engineer of his own human soul's descent, he could build a toy gun if he wanted to.  I will miss this show deeply.  It is classic.


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Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
I shrunk to the sizethat disappeared

of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
too buoyant to sinktoo waterlogged for land
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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.