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Culture & Religion

How to Impress Terry Teachout

Drama critic Terry Teachout has seen just about every “Hamlet” there is: “Hamlet” with the cast dressed all in black, “Hamlet” set in Nazi Germany, Hamlet with a Jeep driving onto the stage. In his interview with Big Think, Teachout described what he hopes to witness with each new production of Shakespeare: something that may not be conceptually original, but is “just perfect.”

Teachout also explained the writing process behind “Pops,” his new biography of Louis Armstrong, which allowed him access to the tapes Armstrong recorded privately throughout his life—and to a side of the master the public never suspected. (A jazz critic and aficionado, as well as a former musician himself, he went on to describe his favorite moment from Satchmo’s music.) Finally, Teachout offered some sensible advice on how to write a libretto, having just completed his first, for the Santa Fe Opera.

“They f**k you up, your mum and dad,” poet Philip Larkin wrote in the late work “This Be the Verse.” “They may not mean to, but they do./ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you.” Larkin kidded that those lines would be his best remembered, a guess not too far off 30 years after his death. Where others see in those lines a perfect portrait of the sour, sad curmudgeon poet, in the new biography Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love, James Booth sees something different. “The poem’s sentiment is sad, but the poem is full of jouissance,” Booth argues. “This must bid fair to be the funniest serious English poem of the 20th century.” Likewise, Larkin — target of posthumous charges of racism, misogyny, and assorted cruelties — could lay claim to being the “funniest serious” English poet of the 20th century. Booth, who knew and worked with Larkin, shows the sweet, happy side of the sour, sad poet and makes a strong case for learning to love Larkin again, if not for the first time.

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