The Incredible New Liverpool Scene
No one responsible for selling these goods is likely to forget for a moment that Allen Ginsberg says Liverpool is “at the present moment the center of consciousness of the human universe.” I have known the place myself without ever quite perceiving this, though the Pier Head was the first bit of England I ever saw, and might well have left me with some such fantasy. Anyway, as the poet remarked, the real is only the base, but it is the base, so it will do no harm to prospective purchasers to know more about the city thus dignified by Ginsberg.
My view, incidentally, is that an ordinary evening in Liverpool is exactly as good a topic for poetry as an ordinary evening in New Haven, but only if you refrain from running wild at the mention of some seductive place name. It is misleading to react to, say, “Penny Lane,” as Richard Poirier recently did in Partisan Review; he was deceived, apparently, by the charm of the Beatles into the belief that this suburb, which is distinguished from thousands of others by nothing but its quaint name, is a sort of provincial cockaigne. It isn’t even a tram terminus any more. In the good old days when the vast doubledecker buses (“green goddesses”) hissed and clanged from the Pier Head out to Old Swan, Knotty Ash, the Dingle, and so on, there would have been some sense in it. Now, when the Liverpool poets under discussion talk about hillbilly songs from Aigburth it is as well to know they are referring to a sedate suburb three miles upriver, glamorous only in its easy access to the castiron shore (“the cazzy”) along the north bank of the Mersey. The Dingle, hard by, is about as rural as West 57th Street, and much less interesting in other ways.
Of the population of about 800,000 most speak English with an accent wholly unlike that of Lancashire proper, an accent variously attributed by amateur philologists to the influence of its powerful Irish, Welsh, or Chinese minorities. The only certainty is that every large city has its own way of defiling the mother tongue. In Liverpool the letter t is sibilant, the word fur is pronounced fair and the word fair is pronounced fur (“the lady in the fair coat hasn’t paid her fur”). There are a great many local slang words, often of facetious origin. These, and the numerous in-jokes, help to account for the fact that a disproportionate number of the best English comics have been and are Liverpudlians (upper-class version, Liverpolitans). Their number includes Tommy Handley, the great wartime comic, Arthur Askey, and the Beatles. Private citizens also like to giggle and make giggle. There is a lot of what is called chaff (short a) in Liverpool.
HOW DOES THE PLACE LOOK? Mostly very bad. Liverpool was a late starter. Bristol, which was important in the middle ages, still, after the raids, preserves many of its medieval buildings …
Nice Place to Visit August 22, 1968