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A Defense of Instagram Poets, the Next Massively Popular Social Media App, and How Aldi Took Over the UK

Anna Leszkiewicz takes a stab at—sorta, kinda—defending Instagram poets [1] with the old what-is-poetry-anyway trick. She’s right that poetry should be defended or criticized individually, but that does not mean that the term Instapoetry is either hopelessly muddled (no, Frank O’Hara’s work is not Instapoetry) or useless. And I doubt very much that it is some sort of racist “dog whistle,” as one poet claims.

James Tate’s last poems [2]: “When James Tate died on July 8, 2015, at the age of seventy-one, he left behind more than twenty collections of poetry and prose, including Dome of the Hidden Pavilion, published right around the time of his death. Most of us assumed that this was his final book. But it turned out there were more poems, which have been assembled into a truly final volume, The Government Lake, to be published by Ecco in July of 2019 . . . I’m going to say something sacrilegious, at least to the lost pilots of the world: The Government Lake might be the best introduction to James Tate.”

Mary, Queen of Scots documents found at Museum of Edinburgh [3]: “A group of documents believed to have been signed by Mary Queen of Scots have come to light at the Museum of Edinburgh after decades spent unseen. Files showed they were gifted in 1920 but they had been lost in storage until recent inventory work by curators.” (HT: David Davis)

Will the Library of Congress’s attempt to attract more visitors undermine its mission [4]?

Carl Rollyson reviews [5] the second volume of Zachary Leader’s biography of Saul Bellow: “I was hard on the first volume, The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915–1964, in the June 2015 issue of The New Criterion. Let me summarize the charge sheet: A book promulgated by Bellow’s agent, Andrew Wylie, and as such designed as damage control, minimizing Bellow’s faults as writer and human being that James Atlas revealed in Bellow: A Biography (2000). Leader, it seemed to me, had not shaped his biography very well, shifting too much between different periods of Bellow’s life, telegraphing the future before the narrative could adequately handle it. In short, too many narrative interruptions. Well, either Leader has absorbed my criticism or I misread him in the first place. The second volume seems to me almost impeccable in its narrative drive, unsparing in its revelations of Bellow’s failings, and most generous to Bellow’s previous biographers, especially James Atlas.”

The next massively popular social media is here, John Herrman writes, and it is TikTok [6]: “It’s been a while since a new social app got big enough, quickly enough, to make nonusers feel they’re missing out from an experience. If we exclude Fortnite, which is very social but also very much a game, the last time an app inspired such interest from people who weren’t on it was … maybe Snapchat?”

Molière comes for Highgate [7]: “John Donnelly and Blanche McIntyre’s adaption and direction of Tartuffe moves the action from Orgon’s high-end bourgeois home in Paris to Highgate, at a time that feels vaguely now but so stylised in the design vernacular of the early 2000s that it looks as if Kate Moss might have been the previous owner. The addled Orgon (Kevin O’Doyle), unhappy wife Elmire (Olivia Williams) and daffy but well-intentioned daughter Marianne (Kitty Archer) are collectively a marvellous send-up of trendy wealth, with Tartuffe (Denis O’Hare) reincarnated as a Shamanistic yoga teacher. You will never hear the peaceful injunction ‘namaste’ uttered with such sinewy contempt.”

Essay of the Day:

In The Guardian, Xan Rice explains how Aldi—which arrived in the United Kingdom in 1990—has transformed the way Britain shops [8]:

“On a Thursday morning in April 1990, in the suburb of Stechford in Birmingham, a strange grocery chain started trading in the UK. It only stocked 600 basic items – fewer than you might find in your local corner shop today – all at very low prices. For many products, including butter, tea and ketchup, only a single, usually unfamiliar brand was offered. To shoppers accustomed to the abundance of Tesco and Sainsbury’s, which dominated the British grocery sector with thousands of products and brands, delicatessens, vast fridges and aisles piled high with fresh fruit and vegetables, the range would have seemed dismal.

“The managers of this new shop, which was called Aldi, had not bothered to place a single advert announcing its arrival – not even an “Opening soon” sign outside the store. Strip lights illuminated the 185 sq metre store, and from the ceiling hung banners listing prices for the goods stacked on wooden pallets or displayed in torn-open cardboard boxes on metal shelves. A £1 deposit allowed you to borrow a trolley but there were no baskets. The checkout assistants, who had been trained to memorise the price of every item in the store, were so fast that shoppers experienced what some would come to call ‘Aldi panic’ – the fear that you cannot pack your goods quickly enough. The store accepted cash but not cheques or cards. Customers seeking itemised receipts left disappointed.

“Information on Aldi’s owners was as limited as the decor. Most news reports noted merely that the company belonged to a frugal and spectacularly rich pair of German brothers, Karl and Theo Albrecht, who had both fought in the second world war and whose desire for privacy had reached extremes after Theo’s high-profile kidnapping for ransom in 1970s. The Albrechts had an extremely popular chain of bleak discount stories in Germany: the brothers had divided the country into separate fiefs, with each controlling the market in one half of the territory.

“But most people were confident they would fail in Britain, where there was a discernible snobbery about discount stores. When a reporter from the Times visited an Aldi store in Birmingham the following year, he thought it represented the ‘anonymous, slightly alarming face of 1990s grocery shopping’, without any pretence of sophistication. ‘One looks in vain for avocados or kiwi fruit.’

“The British supermarket giants, whose 7% profit margins were the world’s highest, were even more dismissive. Sainsbury’s remarked on the absence of service, which was important to British customers. ‘We welcome the advent of Aldi and others to come,’ said Tesco managing director David Malpas. ‘We can live quite happily in our part of the market and they can live in theirs.’

“For a long time it looked like he was correct.”

Read the rest. [8]

Photo: Porthcawl [9]

Poem: Vernon Scannell, “Makers and Creatures” [10]

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