Tuesday, November 29, 2005

popular Swedish poem

   A lone ski-track

   A lone ski-track that wends
   its way into woodlands deep,
   a lone ski-track that bends
   away via ridge & steep,
   via moors where blizzards rip,
   and the pines are sparse and short;
   such are my thoughts, as they slip
   further & further apart.

   An icy ski-track that slows
   in the woodlands’ solitude,
   a human life that flows
   by ways not understood.
   Far off as ever, the answers
   to my oldest questions;
   a dithering line on snowcrust,
   my travels, my investigations.

   A lone ski-track that ends
   at a sudden precipice
   where only a wind-worn pine
   reaches out beyond the cliff.
   How coldly the stars twinkle,
   the wood so huddled and black,
   how gently snowflakes sprinkle
   the snow-extinguished track!

(translation of Ett ensamt skidspår by the Finland-Swedish poet Bertel Gripenberg (1878-1947))

 I'm adding this to my category "specimens of the literature of Sweden". Literally, it's untrue, this is a specimen of the literature of Finland; and I hope I shan't offend anyone. But Finland-Swedish poets have always been widely read in Sweden, and some of their poems (like this one) are very well-known.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

dry water

It was early and a good strong frost. I sprayed de-icer all over and the whole windscreen went into tears. Things were going so well that I decided to use the wipers. Big mistake, it froze into an instant film, white and salty and seemingly dry.

I had been thinking of dry water, walking back from a place at night when you see the tarmac dark and shining but matt, like polished leather. Even if you bent to the ground and ran your finger along it (but you don't do this, weirdo alert) your finger would just be raw and chilly. The only way you really know it's moisture is because if someone drives off in a car it leaves an oblong of summer.

Another place you get dry water is in an old garlic clove. You start to peel it and it's just a mass of white dustveils that you crack into the compost-pail hoping there's actually something in there and in the end out comes a very wise old stringer which is bendy but you can still chop it. However, you can also chop clay.

Then there's you, you're a purling stream being so alive but your wrist is dry as a snake in the ordinary course of business, your breasts touching and I suppose that's why I'm lolling you here, a shoal darting between us.

The sunrise came up yellow as I drove, with a smeary sundog in the corner of a cloud.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

two photographs

Guest contribution by Gareth Hannam. The second one is a screensaver.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

poem in progress

   The blossom Bitterness

   Blossom blossom Bitterness,
   look at you now, - so full
   of ripe, golden honey,
   for all your bitter soul!
   How heavy you are with all
   that the almonds in the field
   (so gentle and correctly dressed)
   do never yield.

   Affliction and benediction –
   each receives his own.
   I cannot take life’s measure,
   but I know that you were mine.
   Your cup contained fire.
   Your nectar was like gall.
   Seven griefs you brewed for me;
   I drank them all.

   Blossom blossom Bitterness,
   how rich at last your freight
   of warm, golden honey
   that is like the sun’s light!
   Faint with sweetness, here I stand
   in all your gift’s brightness.
   I will exult with Adam, and
   with Job I’ll witness.

(translation from Karin Boye, The Seven Deadly Sins and other posthumous poems, 1941. I changed this yesterday and I changed it now, and I'm discontented with line 5 and perhaps I'm getting used to 18-20, which I sat with closed eyes and tried to improve for a couple of hours and failed. But for now this is how it is. m)

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Friday, November 18, 2005

sliding and crunching

Line of sea against sky. It runs all the way from landfall to landfall, in this case from the loading-bay cordoned by identikit mountains of salt all the way round (twisting my head) to the snobby bar on the nose of Punta Prima, known from its three tall palms. In between there´s not much going on. Due south the sea is glittering - pyramid on its head, a revolution. Nearer to the harbour end (but several miles out at sea) is a large salt-ship that is waiting its turn while the one in port is filled up. Closer to us there is a bloom of identical small sails that have arrived and await instruction before dispersing. And oh there's a speedboat ploughing through, and a screech of parakeets. Beyond Punta Prima you can make out (if you know they're there) the shapes of distant mountains. Rather indistinctly, in the quarter where you never happen to be looking, loiters a fishing boat with a shack of a cabin.

This is the quarter where (reading it made a great impression on me) a skilled Apache - or was it a Zulu? - could creep up on you without any cover, yet you'd never notice.

We need to find some answers. We need to rise above all that.

Most of it is easy enough to sketch. The line isn't really a line but a discontinuity. Sometimes you have to shade down from the sky, and sometimes up from the sea. But the sketch would be fifteen or twenty pages wide! - Like when you take a snapshot of a resplendent moon that seems to fill the landscape, but when you look at the photo the moon is lost in it, just an insignificant blob and you're lucky if it's even round.

I am neither in England nor Spain, a government walks in mist and so do I - sometimes I meet one of their dogs who is sprinkling a post. I feel incapable of weighing the gravity of any event and in my heart is a sediment of optimism that is enlivened by crises of a season; like so much charcoal and glitter, or the autumn schedules.

Unless you admit to me what you did and what I saw

During the Paris siege of 1870-71, the populace were compelled to eat strange foods, most famously rats. But mainly it was the rich who ate salmi de rat. The meat (said to resemble fowl) was not palatable without a good sauce, and salt was like diamonds in Paris. Parisians were detached from the rest of the world for four months, and though frozen balloonists drifted letters out 2000m over the Prussian lines, none could return since the balloons could not be steered.

Mr Lev, I'd like a word with you my friend

The fishermen line the rocks impassively, the long rods becalmed; nothing happening; as on the Seine that May while Thiers' troops shelled their way into the western suburbs of Paris. It was a few miles north of here, in 1939, that the Spanish Civil War ended. Franco's insurgents had rolled up and through and around until all that remained of government Spain was a terrified hubbub crowding down to the port at Alicante. But the only ship was hostile, and fired over their heads, demanding their withdrawal. Some preferred to shoot themselves at quayside rather than be taken and shot elsewhere.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

new reviews

spent out softly, they are waiting

elaborate as mollusc eyes, chosen from

among the temper hours, as though

letting go might weave a California in

and you foregrounded headily, like earth

wanders muddy oaks. You wonder how

(Lisa Samuels)

My reviews for Stride Magazine of Lisa Samuels' Paradise for Everyone and Rosanna Warren's Departure are now online.


falls from a ridge of the Radhošt’ Mountain
into an abyss, to seethe of silver, crash of dark;
the Ondřejnice dabbles through the village of Měrkovice,
past mossy banks, shallow, beery-blonde, tepid, where goslings swim

(Rosanna Warren)

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

warming up on the mower

Photos by John Higgins, April 2005

The survival of the hornet (Vespa crabro) through winter depends on young mated queens who hibernate in rotten wood, soil, or sometimes in garden sheds, where they typically hang from the rafters by their jaws.

The three simple eyes (ocelli) arranged in a triangle on the forehead are sometimes said to be horizon-detectors, useful to keep a hornet flying through wooded glades at a steady height, making its impressive droning noise. Or perhaps they are flight stabilizers, required to correct roll (left and right ocelli) and pitch (central ocellus compared with the mean of left and right).

Alternatively, Rosenzweig argues that the triangular arrangement permits detection of polarized light and therefore the direction of sun-rays. Hornets disperse widely from their nests on hunting trips, and knowing where the sun is might help with the navigation.


Friday, November 04, 2005


The world is ripeness, swelling. There is a moment when it will pass
into another broken thing but this is for later. Most cannot see it:

the large boys on kiteboards, the bleached crab shells,
naked children sifting sand cannot see it.

The swell is the bright flood time, when the horizon grows too wide to move across.


In the swell you cup your hands to your face, little eyes painted on the backs
of little fingers, so that like a moth you threaten or appease.

The insides of your palms, too, have eyes; you sprout Hamsa Hands
which may in fact be mirrors. When you blink, they all blink, in a synchronization

so perfect the idea of "you" dissipates. No one place marks the source
of action. The moth is pinned to your face in such a fashion

as to give an appearance of life. When you move your hands the wings
flutter, scales like feathers, so now you want to be a bird but are stuck.

Beyond your fingers the beach is a red place, but of course this redness
is part of you. Voices float through the air and enter your throat,

which echoes back a reply. "That's interesting," you think.
"I've never felt it like that before."


If only the swell would subside. On the warmest of days an optical effect
smears a dark line of gray over the water. Boats emerge from it

white-sailed, ready for surrender, or fishing from blue hulls.
Cormorants man the rocks like figureheads.

(guest contribution by Knut Mork Skagen)

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ripe like a fruit

Mogen som en frukt ligger världen i min famn,
den har mognat i natt,
och skalet är den tunna blå hinnan som spänner sig bubblerund,
och saften är det söta och doftande, rinnande, brinnande solljusflödet.

Och ut i det genomskinliga alltet springer jag som simmare,
dränkt i en mognads dop och född till en mognads makt.
Helgad till handling,
lätt som ett skratt
klyver jag ett gyllene honungshav, som begär mina hungriga händer.

Ripe like a fruit, the world lay in my arms —
it ripened overnight —
the peel was a delicate blue membrane that spanned — like a bubble —
and the juice was the sweet and fragrant, streaming, consuming flood of sunlight.

So I’m leaping now like a swimmer into the clear everything.
I’ve been plunged in a font of ripeness and reborn with the power of ripeness.
Holy, for doing it.
Light like a laugh.
I’m cutting into a gold sea of honey; it wants my famished hands.

Maturo come un frutto, il mondo nelle mie braccia -
è maturato durante la notte -
la scorza era una membrana blu delicata che si stendeva - come una bolla -
e il succo era il flusso della luce solare dolce e fragrante, fluttuante che consuma.

Così mi tuffo ora come una nuotatrice nel tutto chiaro.
Sono stata immersa in una fonte di maturità e rinata con un potere di maturità.
Santa, per averlo fatto.
Leggera come una risata.
Mi faccio varco in un mare dorato di miele; che vuole le mie mani affamate.

(Poem by Karin Boye translated by me translated by Anny Ballardini. More KB translations here.)

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