BACK IN 1953
Pretensions To Knowing The Score
Alfred Hayes (1911-1985), a British writer for film and television, published what was perhaps his best novel In Love in 1953. It was a story set in Manhattan during the 1940s about a middle-aged man who tells a young stranger the story of a love affair that was full of lust, emotion, depression and a dysfunctional relationship. The book was reissued by Peter Owen publishers with a foreword by Frederic Raphael in 2007. I was 9 when the book was first published and 63 when it was reissued. My mother had just joined the Bahá'í Faith in ’53 and the Baha’is took their new religion to over 100 countries that year.
Some critics consider Hayes’ work a masterpiece but Hayes himself figures neither in the textbooks of post-war literature nor even in the indices of modern biographies. He wrote no curricular books and he failed, or did not care, to hang out with those whose company makes people famous by association. He slept with no notorious women (or none who said he did) and he did not win prizes or accrue honours. Born in England, in 1911, he was taken, at the age of three, to America, where he attended City College in New York. As a young man, he became a reporter with The Daily News and on the now defunct New York American. He seems to have remained in the U.S. until he died in 1985 except for a period during the mid-to-late 1940s, when he was in the U.S. Army Special Services in Europe.-Ron Price with thanks to Frederic Raphael at CliveJames.com, 18 December 2009.
You were quick, Alfred, to encapsulate
the essence of a story and you worked,
seemingly anonymously and indifferent
to fame and popularity, in film in the 40s.
In Love is a work by a man who had no
political or personal kites to fly. You are
and were a hazy figure whose obscurity is
due perhaps to lack of thrusting ambition.
Perhaps you were one of those who knows
the score but doesn’t expect to make a score.
You continued to be prolific, unrenowned, a
poet: with that lyric for the ballad “Joe Hill”
--about a Union organiser executed in Utah
in 1915--was a Joan Baez hit in the 1960s...
In Love is your slim claim to lasting fame, if
you have any at all, in a period of well-turned
fiction with its very solitary drinkers in midnight
bars who were cousins to your characters depicted
with the similarly distanced sympathy to In Love.
Art, Ezra Pound said, is “news that stays news.”
In Love is a period piece: it belongs to a time
when one’s fortieth was a birthday one dreaded.
Art doesn’t require surprise. You make sexuality
some kind of frustration. Your lovers shadows
clutching shadows. The pointillist refinement
of your prose and the perspicuity of your self-
effacement were abruptly out of fashion. Your
book can be dated by its economy of eroticism.
The malaise of your characters never to be cured
by political activism, feminist rebellion, blokeish
booziness. Your masterpiece reads like a writer’s
tribute to the Blues; it’s a very tersely syncopated
lament calls for a sound track improvised by those
bepop founders-Thelonius Monk or Dizzy Gillespie.(1)
(1) -Ron Price with thanks to Frederic Raphael at CliveJames.com, 18 December 2009. Dizzy Gillespie became a Bahá'í, the year I made arrangements to move from Canada to Australia, 1970. He was one of the most famous adherents of the Bahá'í Faith which helped him make sense of his position in a succession of trumpeters as well as turning his life from knife-carrying roughneck to global citizen, and from alcohol to soul force. Like Hayes, I see myself as one of those with pretensions to know
the score but I don’t expect to make a score. I, like Hayes, continue to be a prolific, unrenowned, poet.
18 December 2009
married for 42 years; teacher for 35 years; Canadian living in Australia for 38 years; Baha'i for 50 years.