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Very little art is pure - most art, as TS Eliot observed in a famous essay - is a response to something of the past - and the relationship between individual talent and tradition is a fascinating, febrile and often festive one. Peter Jackson's film-making talent is obvious, but neither is it startling original (not that it need be). However, the Tolkien estate has openly decried the impurities the filmic adaptations of Tolkien's best-known books seem to have introduced. This is nonsense.

Professor Tolkien was an amiable and brilliant eccentric, who borrowed almost all his best ideas from the ancient and medieval myths and legends of the Germanic, Norse, and Judaeo-Christian cultures (sometimes these overlap). He borrowed a great deal, as well, from Wagner's cycle, The Ring, including the idea of dwarves obsessed with gold. What was new was that Tolkien saw the evil of the Nazi-German powers, and so created an especially English, anglophile response to the foreign legends, in the form of a provincial modest tribe, the Hobbits of the Shire.

Jackson's genius, not unlike Tolkien's, has been to cobble together myriad influences, in his case from classic war and horror and fantasy films.  Having see the final film in The Hobbit trilogy, I can now say it is one of the greatest adventure films ever made for a family audience.  As an aside, I did want to note how many of the key scenes with the Orcs are based on Zulu (see my post on that war film) - for instance, in the second film, when the Orcs clamber over homes then drop through the family roof in Laketown and the Elves and Dwarves fight them off close quarters, that is a direct lift from Zulu.

So too, whenever the Orcs appear on the horizon, and then, with sinking horror we see more and more horrible creatures appearing, that is fully Zulu.  In fact, it seems obvious to me that Zulu is one of the five or four key films for Jackson. Raiders of the Lost Ark and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad would be two others.

But Jackson makes these his own, with his gleeful bad taste that sees some naughty little sight gags and puns and bad jokes break in ("Sting. That's a good name" for example, in the second film of the trilogy). There is no pure Tolkien or Jackson, but that's because impurity is the way of all great art.


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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.