Monday, January 30, 2006

brief history latest

Latest additions to the world's longest drone*:

Ben Jonson - the Alchemist, Catiline
Dickens - Old Curiosity Shop (now finished)
Frederik Pohl (SF writer)
Tony Conran (Welsh poet)

I've also finished the review of Rosmarie Waldrop and Mark Ford but I'm holding it until at least April so as not to pre-empt hard copy publication (in PN Review).

*The intention is to go past Galen (22 vols in Kühn´s 1829 edition) but of course Galen worked very fast because dismembered gladiators go off so quickly in the sun.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

UK poetry blogs?

I asked this on BRITISH-POETS but no response as yet, so I guess I ask it here too:

I visit a lot of US blogs that are engaged in a wide-ranging debate about poetry and poetics and culture. E.g. R Silliman, M Scroggins, P Lu, S de Deo, B Watten, L Jarnot, K S Mohammad, G Huth, E Tabios, JP Kervinen to name a few good ones. And their focus is naturally US poetry though the philosophy might be more international. Now the question is, do you know of any UK Blogs with a focus on UK poetry that are operating anything like this kind of wide-ranging but detailed debate? I expect there must be some around, but I don't happen to know them - the good ones I know are mostly quite unambitiously anecdotal (great book, terrible news, what's on my hifi). I would really like to know which your favourites are.

Possibly it's significant (but only if my perception isn't totally skewed) that I didn't want to undertake that kind of blog myself - I thought it was just me being me, but maybe it's a national reluctance? Or maybe the moment you try and stand back and take a broader conspectus, you find yourself gravitating towards talking about US poetry because that's where the cultural sharp end in English-language poetry tends to lie? Not a thought that would ever have bothered Andrew Duncan (brilliant but dormant pre-blogging site - the link's over on the right). Or do we just go about things differently? Or do we enjoy dipping our toes in the US openness but still retain a Marvellian thought: "I still my silent judgment keep"? It seems like a damaging one.

(Edmund Hardy wrote to commend Robert Sheppard's Pages, now in its third series; it began as folded A4 in 1987 but is now a blog, and this is definitely one I'll be keeping an eye on.)


As Google searches for "UK poetry blogs" still bring visitors to this ancient post, I thought I'd add an update. About a week after I wrote this post Edmund Hardy started up Intercapillary Space, a co-operative UK poetry blog to which I still contribute regular posts. Obviously I think it changes the picture to some extent - at any rate, I think it's a great publication - but for one reason or another, it has never become a forum for discussion about poetry. People generally don't comment on anything we write; something about the format discourages interaction. Maybe it feels impersonal. Anyhow. There are a lot of good UK poetry sites around now, not necessarily blogs but web-places. The best list (because it tells you a bit about each link) is

Oh, and BRITISH-POETS is now the BRITISH-IRISH-POETS forum on JiscMail, in case you were wondering what on earth I was talking about.]

Monday, January 23, 2006

new weird thing

Small beech trees don't drop their leaves. Perhaps that's too much of a personification. Let's try again: within a region of 5m or so from the base of the plant, the leaf-fall mechanism doesn't operate. If a beech is pruned so that its growth always lies within this region (which is known as a "juvenile cone"), then it will retain its leaves through the winter, and that's what happens in a beech hedge.

So because I was used to seeing beech leaves in winter, I didn't at first pay much attention. Then it began to occur to me that this year something was different: why had I gone all through the winter without stopping to notice the shaggy silhouette of tree-lichens against the white sky?

Basically, a lot of beech leaves just haven't come off the trees, and these are mature trees, it's not just within the juvenile cone. I supposed it was due to a hard early frost that killed the leaves before the tree instructed them to fall (leaf-fall is triggered by hormones and is a sign of life, not death). This is perhaps a frequent sight in colder counties, but I don't remember seeing it here before.

(Those tree-lichens are on sycamore not beech, but the trees are all mixed up together.)

The dead leaves are shrivelled and a uniform russet. They are only a remnant of last years' crop, but they are quite evenly distributed through the crowns, and they make pretty, drifting mobiles among the bare walks.

They're also like airy raisins such as you eventually discover scattered on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

mission control

zanahorias bróculi puerros o cebollas patatas nabos (en realidad "swede", híbrido entre nabo y remolacha)

but the plates are really broken

es necesario un compromiso para escribir una poesía que no es solamente el resultado del ocio

Like a brave waning moon it rides the sunrise and comes to the eyes musing and towelling their hair at a window

La luna, menguante,
monta en triunfo 25 reps
sobre el crecimiento
de la luz y la conmoción
de criaturas.
Su rostro grabado por tonos sombrosos

Be like that, then." "I don´t need to be like that, I am like that

de momento que se decide hablar
se hace una mancha de cal.

Jonson se burló de los puritanos en una sucesión de obras muy forzadas

Monday, January 16, 2006

the red eye of taurus

I left work late on Friday night, and walked along the corridor with the caretaker, switching the lights off.

Thank God the week-end's here. - time to boogie on down, eh?

I laughed uncomfortably.

or getting stuck into the proof-reading? Or whatever you do?

That seemed closer than she could have imagined.

Earlier in the day I'd picked up some new glasses, worried about my dodgy driving. Around 21:30 I went outside to bin some stuff, useless scraps of unused carpet and old calligraphy ink-bottles. I was wearing the new glasses and I saw clear pinpricks in the sky. It was the first time I'd seen them for ten years. The sky had grown all mothy, I realized.

I'd never been interested in stars, but it made me think of something. It was a cold, clear, frosty night.

Well, what else was I going to do? Why the hell not?

There were some Xmas presents for Lil that I hadn't yet seen her to give; she was up in North Uist. I tore open my own wrapping-paper and pulled out the pocket star atlas. Then I buried myself in coats and scarves, grabbed a clip-on book-reading light that I'd never used before, a thermos and some fags. I went out to the sidings feeling horribly furtive. At my very first step away from civilisation a dog behind the terraces sounded the alarm with all its might: SOMETHING TERIBLY WRONG HERE! EVIL ABROAD! SOMETHING WIKED THIS WAY COMES! it barked. (Dogs can't spell.)

I slithered muddily through the thicket and out along the shuntings, and was most unpleasantly disturbed to hear behind me the hasty steps of someone else coming the same way. I crunched along with as much noise as possible, to indicate how right-minded I felt about being here. So did he. I got out into the wide gravel and veered off to one side and halted. For a moment he seemed to be coming my way, but no, the long shadow went past and away and the steps dwindled. God knows what he was doing here but he must have crossed over the river using the rail bridge, which isn't something I'd fancy doing myself because it's high, long and narrow. Perhaps he was scared shitless too.

My nerves shaken, I wanted to find a spot with horizons all round but somehow occluded from passers-by. I ended up on the ballast at the top of a steep bank. The grass was already creaking with frost. I hadn't thought to bring anything to sit on. The clip-on reading-light was too dim to read the star-maps. But I was warm and began to look about.

The whorl of stars around the pole was upside-down. Eventually I followed the line from base to lip of the Big Dipper and found Polaris. I only knew the Dipper and Orion, so I turned round and looked at Orion. I took off my distance glasses and peered at the tiny names on the map. Gradually I began to make a chain of bright stars. It began with Sirius in Canis Major in the SE - I made a big triangle with Procyon in Canis Minor and Betelgeuse on Orion's shoulder, then I topped it into a diamond with Castor and Pollux in Gemini. Gemini! That was a zodiac sign, wasn't it? Where were the rest of them? Meltwater seeped into my jeans from stone and bramble.

I tesselated another triangle which took me out to Capella in Auriga, This, I learnt, was looking away from the centre of our galaxy and out towards its far end. It was a strange feeling; like for the first time in my life I could see where I really was; at the same time, "where I really was" turned out to be a movie, rather a long one (maybe Serge Leone) but I could still feel the tension. I was hooked.

My eye snaked off through Perseus and got to where I'd wanted to get to, that big W or M that I'd admired distractedly in my youth, without ever knowing its name. I had to leave the equatorial map and go back to the circumpolar one, but now I knew: it was Cassiopeia. Then westwards again towards the Pleiades - and what was that? It was the big red eye of Taurus, Aldebaran, and for ten seconds it wasn't me watching, it was me being watched.

I went home and packed up the star atlas for Lil again. The next two nights were cloudy.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

another world

And now that five-and-fifty years were gone, she spoke of the dead man as if he had been her son or grandson, with a kind of pity for his youth, growing out of her own old age, and an exalting of his strength and manly beauty as compared with her own weakness and decay; and yet she spoke about him as her husband too, and thinking of herself in connexion with him, as she used to be and not as she was now, talked of their meeting in another world as if he were dead but yesterday, and she, separated from her former self, were thinking of the happiness of that comely girl who seemed to have died with him.

My essay on The Old Curiosity Shop, perhaps not quite finished, is here.


Carting along the river at night it was cold and breathy, he dragged over gates and held on traipsing his toe-caps through dewy white kex-fields of reed and hemlock, butted on hidden slabs and went in among the alders. It did not seem that anything was wrong. Bowling along the alders hand to hand the meadow came to a neck and the bank steepened.

Then he was warm enough to stop. Beneath was the full moon, swimming through the ripples as it meant to for several hours and he suddenly felt terrified at the loneliness and breathed it under the branches like a wrong, winking eye.

        Baby lies so deep in frost
            that any touch 'ld grieve her.
        No more we leave this clouded coast
            than we won't never leave her.


Thursday, January 05, 2006


j makes a pint of lemon, honey and ginger smoothie after waking up all night with a scag in his throat

what shall we think of, g says repeatedly, mad keen to play 20Q.

what shall we think of

no-one can think of anything to think of. finally g thinks of a donkey.

are donkeys comforting? he wonders aloud.

can donkeys swim? we all think so, but no-one has ever seen a donkey swim.

are there any songs about donkeys? i google and say yes.

can donkeys climb? t says yes, they climb in morocco all over the mountains. but does it really count as climbing. (They're better at getting up than getting down.)

A mule isn't a donkey, I start to lecture. I know, says g, but now it's on question 25 and i just can't be bothered any more.


My mind's still on the trees of Frome, so I decide to think of Aesculus flava (yellow buckeye). You don't see buckeyes around much in England, but someone sacrificed all their daylight to one on Locks Hill; synapse of peach-coloured leaves in the wind. It turns out that one of g's mates lives in that house.

The only tree in the 20Q machine's database is "christmas tree".


who's that? ask him if he's had a drink since the party!


liam got his face kicked in

g was a witness.

no i wasn't - I was just outside on the steps and i saw him come out of the dark all bloody.


who said there were any regrets?


it certainly does contain liquid!

john it's asking is it a mussel!


We start work.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

goodbye fromebase

I live in a town called Frome which is in Somerset which is in SW England which is in the UK.

Somerset people know that the name Frome is pronounced to rhyme with "groom" (and not with "loam"), and this is a sure way of identifying in-comers who are only rawly arrived from London.

I was most delighted to discover today that some younger inhabitants commonly refer to Frome as Fromage. (This has a sort of official laugh-ingredient because of Frome's famous annual Cheese Show, and a slightly less official chuckle that refers to the Cheese & Grain, which is a music & booze venue in an old warehouse, but the real comedy is to do with the deadly dull OK-ness of growing up in Frome, which seems crap and yet comforting and vaguely off-the-wall.)

Frome once had a flourishing LETS scheme (it was that kind of alternative sort of place, if that's what you wanted to see). The units of exchange were called Fromes. Things went well as people helped to dig out each other's ponds and if they were on invalidity benefit signed up for Shiatsu or learnt the piano. Eventually someone decided that this was an unimaginative name for the local currency, so they changed it to Shuttles and the scheme promptly collapsed.

When I ran an e-zine called Fromebase (for two whole hours, spaced a year apart) I loved the unresolvable pronunciation of the masthead. The e-zine existed solely for the shimmer of its polyphony and I could never think of anything to put in it.

"Frome" is a common name of English rivers, and perhaps it means "swiftly-flowing". Our river is one of the two rivers Frome that flow into the Bristol Avon - the north-flowing one that joins the Avon at Bath, not the south-flowing one that comes down from the Cotswolds and has its confluence somewhere underneath the pavements of central Bristol.

People tell you not to bathe in rivers (they're full of agricultural run-off) but in hot weather kids & alternative people head for the river and swim and get stoned. It's safer, anyway, than cliff-jumping into flooded quarries. In England as in the US, rivers (unlike coasts and mountains) tend to connote blue-collar neighbourhoods. Even the tiny river in Frome tends to wind along the back of industry and to be a scruffy and teenage kind of place full of leaking tanks and other bits of gear that don't show on the postcard's swept brow with its hanging baskets and medieval streets.

One of the things that I thought I'd put in my e-zine was TREES OF FROME. There are in fact no outstanding trees in Frome (that is, uncommon species or unusually big or well-grown or old) and this was my point, really; I wanted to suggest that in Frome and every other town individual trees were nevertheless powerful characters once you let them get at you. One difficulty I had was that many of these trees were in small private gardens and it didn't seem right to publish the addresses. Another was that trees disappeared so fast that I kept missing them; just as they started to pop with vigour they cast too much shade and got felled. However, the principal difficulty was in the end a poetic and technical one; I just didn't have a way of talking about what I wanted to say. Even if I'd been botanically competent (and whenever it got tricky, I wasn't) I was trying to break away from a species-based way of apprehending the world; but I still needed the botany, just like a poet needs to know how to speak a language conventionally, because botany had the only word-hoard that attempted to speak comprehensively about vegetative forms and cycles. Probably I wasn't thinking right; I was getting too tangled and the whole stupid idea was something I was deliberately making into too much trouble to embark on. It might have helped me if I'd seen Chekhov's letter to his brother:

You will bring life to nature only if you don't shrink from similes that liken its activities to those of humankind.

It was just the opposite of what I believed, but since this is Chekhov I've pondered those words and now I kind of believe them alongside their opposite.


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