Wednesday, June 29, 2005


"Dreaming is a back-formaisher" was the coda that I half-dreamed and half-reflected as I was struggling to wake up. It was true. My dreamwork had been full of invented words that were significant and concise but in total defiance of the real state of English, just like when someone intuits a word from a back-formation ("I could see that, while not exactly disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled..."). Some of those words I could almost recall.

The dream's previous-day occasion (every dream has one, Freud said and I believe him) was trying to translate a poem by Bertil Gripenberg. The poem is in Swedish, I can read it and I understand it, it makes sense, but I can't say it in English because English doesn't have the right words.

My attempt at translating proceeds like this:

"I need a word that means solitary but does not mean single."

"I need a word that means steeps but sounds like stepths. (Like deeps and depths - that's not so unreasonable, is it?)"

"I need a word that means away but is more occluded, i.e. it lets down more of a curtain between us and it, like the Swedish word bort. Away keeps hinting at line-of-sight, like it might suit wi-fi.)"

"I need a word that means narrows into the distance but does not imply any movement. What I am talking about is .... "

Yes, what am I talking about? I drop into Swedish to say it to myself. But does it even exist in Swedish, or do I just seem to see it there? After all my command of Swedish is not so great. Perhaps I prefer it that way. It makes the poems better when I release in them what I think the words might say. As if they were poems back-formaited in dream-language, and I'm fluent in the bort.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Two things I learnt this week-end

So this is how you tell Lolium perenne from Elymus repens:

1. L. perenne (ryegrass) is in your lawn, outside your door, beside every path and all the fields and verges too. E. repens (couch) is around fields, especially arable, and probably Not IN YOUR GARDEN. I can't say the books have misled me over this. The misleading goes back to me, aged about six, and someone (my grandmother, I think) telling me that that the tough creeping stalks in lawns were "couchgrass". She was unconsciously transmitting (and miscommunicating) information from a century before her time, when people lived on the land and would have spoken of couch as a much-to-be-dreaded weed. In the households of suburban Croydon (circa 1900) the memorable sound of "couch" (pronounced "cooch") was far too good to give up, so it came to be applied to troublesome grass in lawns, not so much any one species in particular as the older grasses with creeping stolons and rhizomes,which invade a newly sown lawn, replacing your tender little plantation of spears with tough, shock-headed survival specialists. See how many years it's taken me to manage to get a fix on the un-wisdom learnt in childhood! (Why am I sure it was my grandmother? Because my mother wouldn't know an English word like couch, and my father didn't do domestic things like gardening....)

2. L. perenne is that deliciously scruffy-looking plant whose leaf-blades lie all towsled and greasily shining on beaten paths and on play areas - when the housing association has run out of money, stops mowing the grass, gets taken over by another housing association, and dreading the accusation of incompetence hastily delivers possession orders to every tenant who is behind with the rent. E. repens looks nothing like this, with its generally bluish tint and white hairs on the leaves.

3. The main at-a-glance diagnostic difference is the disposition of the spikelets. In L. perenne the narrowest part of the spikelet (in fact, the lower glume) abuts the axis of the stem. In E. repens the spikelets are as it were twisted 90 degrees - it's the broadest part of the spikelet that abuts the axis. This is in fact what the guidebooks show in the pictures, but you can't understand it until you see it for real. Oh, enlightenment!

That was the first thing I learnt. The second is this. If you are made to stand still for forty hours the blood drains to your feet and eventually pressure builds up and it leaks, and then spurts, out of the toenails. I learnt this from a memoir of the gulags by Kasimierz Zarod.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

grass more

I've been tuning and adding to the previous post for several days, working on it just the way that I'd work on an essay or poem or story, until I realized that unlike all those forms that I'm familiar with, this is not how you do it with a Blog. Though I've kept republishing the entry, re-visitors waiting excitedly for the latest stuff from me will just take one glance and see that the title of the top entry hasn't changed, and then go away thinking disappointedly "oh, there's nothing new then." As a blogger I need to de-fictionalize my own time-sequence and signal to you quite clearly: Here I am. Sitting up here on my bone-heap. This is today.

The literary implications of blogging are seismic. Immediately the lecture-room, the novel and the book of lovingly crafted poems are all seen to be forward-pointing, teleological, goal-directed literary forms with a stringent requirement for study, commitment and supposedly a pay-off when you get to the last page. Perhaps an epiphany. And all the supposition that lies behind these forms is suddenly seen to be - unjudgmentally - Archaic.

The disjunction of the Archaic temporal sequence in a Blog requires re-training (for the writer) all down the line. As readers, it probably further undermines our already modest ability to attend to sequential argument. But as readers, not as writers, we have cast our vote. Blogs are what we want. A Blog with its insistence on privileging immediacy opens new possibilities so far as the relationship between writer and reader is concerned - it is participatory and a conversation, more like break-time and less like the classroom. Haven't all of us felt a certain sinking at the thought that it isn't worth us reading page 578 of some huge and reputedly glorious great novel until we've found time to plough through the previous 577 pages? It really was becoming essential to free ourselves from the overwhelming burden of long, difficult, rewarding writing. On the other hand, by further demoting the archaic forms we cast adrift many lovely things, almost everything good that's ever been written.

Stuff it.

Now we've got the blog, and it's becoming rapidly clear that though the "poet" appears to write the blog about poetry, what's really a truer description is that the new blogger writes the blog and part of the blog-theme is to celebrate its own effortless consciousness of its own power, by composing a majestic elegy on the archaic forms that it is literally displacing (every time the "poet" steps on to the blogspot the trickle of poetry breaks up, stagnates, evaporates...) . For example, we rush to read the Silliman family Blogs (don't miss out on Dan's), but will the poem Ron Silliman's working on ("Universe") ever see the light? - the answer's effectively No, even if he does write it. An archaic form is still something to read and write and enjoy, but the whole meaning of "archaic" is that it's evening, the light of our attention is draining away. It's all focussed on blogs instead.

[What I wanted to say followed straight on from the "apple silver" of yesterday's meditation. Driving the same stretch of road in the evening I noticed that the same verge was now a pale bronze and what's more, you could no longer see the meadow-grasses; everywhere was false oat-grass. I thought that was a striking illustration of how times of day affect the filter that we optimistically call "perception" - my mood changes, the grass changes, the light changes... Also I want to say that (though this is not very conducive to road-safety) you ought to keep looking at roadside grasses as you speed past, keep trying to observe and training your eye to recognize them and name them, just as you automatically name moon daisies or an elder-bush.]

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Brief History latest

I know people find it hard to work out what's newly arrived in the "Brief History". The latest articles (some of them half-built) are:

Wolfram von Eschenbach - Parzival (1198)
Shakesp. - III Henry 6 (1590)
Molière (1670)
Wordsworth - "Strange Fits of Passion" (1799)
Scott - Marmion (1808) - and the young Whitman...
Scott - The Abbot (1820)
Luke Rhinehart - The Dice Man (1972)
Finnish Poets - Mirkka Rekola and Kai Nieminen (2001)
Hairy tare (Vicia hirsuta) (June 2005)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Wild Star

You roved in the screen grass knees in meadow-grass rough-welling old kettle older trysts.

Before, rubbery slid down the soft clawed Kaffir Fig banks to the path where they were waiting for you. Help me up,dear.

YOU ARE IN DANGER OF BEING SHOT. You pissed timidly at the edge.

There isn't a soul left here. Get home. Call someone. Admit yourself.

The grasslands lined up together the complex archways most developed. Exploration hasn't begun.

The sun came down and suddenly turning a corner fired a white screen at your face the lorry's tail-lights in snow-blind you braked braked.

Her fingers were hot and damp you were young she just had an American University pulled over her perfect you kissed and spoke French.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

spicy roots

"her music is an intoxicating gumbo of spicy roots and wide-eyed emotiveness..."

It was four-thirty in the morning. He sat there motionless, as if he brooded over the rugged terrain of some huge thought. In reality his brain was starting to sleep-stall and then shear across itself. After a few moments he managed to add one more phrase; it was about "after-midnight ambience"; then he stood up and went over to the window. It was deep grey outside, the world was so asleep that the thought of being out there felt deathly. Yet in a happier time you might at this moment be hauling your bags up the steps to the terminal, flying off to somewhere bright. He sat down again, lit up and scrolled through the whole feature; he found it distasteful to read what he'd written, he had learnt to pick out the errors at a glance. It was a bit long - better too long than too short. He sent it.

He got up and stretched, then gunned down the TV with the remote. He found himself watching grainy highlights of Argentinian football. The commentator pre-empted any stirring of interest by announcing the score in advance. 0-0, in this case. Someone shot up to the moon. He turned the sound down.

It was normal practice to take the words straight from the PR material, but because he'd seen her play he decided to say it in his own words. She was one artist among hundreds, just another person trying to work her market. What could he say? He re-captured an image of her; her body was bending, reaching for a beaker of water between songs. He could not express what any music was, in words. He didn't know. He didn't think anyone knew. Instead, he typed the words like "spicy" and "wide-eyed" that slithered and enticed the chosen market; every preview he'd ever sweated through was really just a variant on the same thing: something for everyone. The market in this case was professional couples in their 30s to 50s. She played small venues around the region, theatres in market towns where the foyer enticed you with images of the arts, of plazas and the great cities of Europe.

He had enticed the women because they were the ones who decided what to go and see; the men just tagged along, enjoying the feel of their own charitable smiles. In five years they would be with someone else. Afterwards everyone talked about the amazing musicianship, but no-one gave a toss about the back-catalogue. This age-group didn't stretch to fanzine completism, they went home chattering loudly and sometimes stopped for a drink depending on the sitter.

Between this commonplace audience and the life-weary singer who maintained her self-respect between songs by confiding her passion for the folk-music of Guatemala, grew the miracle that was still a miracle though it polluted the earth with its too-familiarity. A bassist pushed a fat note into the air - F#. A bossa-nova rhythm began to shuffle, her body search-lit the auditorium and her voice went hoarse and warm. In a year or two she'd give this up and move on; you could see she was already thinking it over. She would move into a coastguard's shabby cottage along the bay; do batik, complain about her children's schools. The garden would have burnet-roses, she'd smoke roll-ups and her boy-friend would make oak chests of drawers.

But going back to the window, it seemed that the miracle of music still hung in the prelude of morning, a shot-glass that was distilled out of the base swamps of the people. Every person alive was as unconscious and wretched as the numberless coffee-beans or chilli-peppers that happened to make a prize-winning photo. Sometimes a sweaty teenager or a wrinkled old man would be found crying over some imaginary volte-face in the melody that had suddenly gutted them; it was there in the music, the thing that broke them, as they supposed, by telling them their real name.


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