Monday, October 30, 2017

medelay

A medley for Monday, I think.




1. From a brochure for exclusive holidays in rural Andalucia (aimed, I venture, at the elderly and wealthy), and run by the extended A-- family.


The A-- wives are the inpiration behind the delicious food for which they have become known producing just the right balance of lightness and quantity. Their husbands' appreciation of good wine ensures variety, quality and a plentiful supply!



Is it just me, or do others too find the words "wife" and "husband" somewhat bizarre? "Partner", sure, but what are those other words about?  Will I be expected to teach this old-fashioned vocabulary in TEFL? (Obviously yes, but I cannot say these are exactly everyday terms in my own part of the world, it will be rather like teaching "commissionaire" or "docking clerk" or "seamstress".)


2. Biscuiterie de l'Abbaye: Galettes des Vikings au Sarrasin.  A packet of bisuits I picked up at a motorway services in Normandy.






[Image source: http://www.boutique-biscuits-abbaye.com/acheter-gateaux.aspx?l=galettes-des-vikings-au-sarrasin&prod=8540 , which also notes: En mémoire du Moulin de la Porte à Lonlay l'Abbaye, autrefois spécialisé dans la mouture du sarrasin, est né un délicieux biscuit, sur lequel figure le célèbre drakkar des Vikings.]


So "sarrasin" is buckwheat. Even in 2010, France's production was exceeded only by China, Russia and Ukraine. Nevertheless, France is a net importer. Buckwheat growing is said to have declined with the arrival of chemical fertilizers, which boosted the productivity of true grain crops. Unlike them, Buckwheat is not a grass but a plant in the sorrel family, originating in Sichuan. (On this and other matters I found the French Wikipedia entry more persuasive than the English one.) Buckwheat retains an association with Brittany, but also Normandy, Augergne etc. It can grow on poor soils and the cycle from seed-time to harvest is only three months.


The French name "Sarrasin" also means "Saracen" and this may reflect a  popular memory (true or not) of the plant being introduced from Morocco.


"Drakkar" (a word known to the English-speaking world only as the "pour homme" cologne Drakkar Noir) is the French word for a Viking long-ship, specifically the Old Norse drekar, the kind with a dragon or snake carved on the prow. Though this has become the iconic image of a Viking long-ship, the drekar is known only from descriptions in Norse sagas; no archaeological remains have ever been found.


Normandy is so-called in reference to the Scandinavian colonization of the 9th-11th centuries. (Or rather Anglo-Scandinavian, since many came from the Danelaw.) The duchy of Normandy came into existence as a forced royal concession to the Viking leadership.  On the evidence of names most of the Vikings who came to Normandy were Danes.




*


3. With which slender connection, onto a symphony I've been listening to recently, Carl Nielsen's No. 4, titled Det uudslukkelige : "The Inextinguishable".


I quote Neilsen's further interesting remarks from a Guardian article by Tom Service (these come from Gerhardt Lynge's program note of 1/4/1938).


"Music is Life. As soon as even a single note sounds in the air or through space, it is result of life and movement; that is why music (and the dance) are the more immediate expressions of the will to life.

"The symphony evokes the most primal sources of life and the wellspring of the life-feeling; that is, what lies behind all human, animal and plant life, as we perceive or live it. It is not a musical, programme-like account of the development of a life within a limited stretch of time and space, but an un-programme-like dip right down to the layers of the emotional life that are still half-chaotic and wholly elementary. In other words the opposite of all programme music, despite the fact that this sounds like a programme.

"The symphony is not something with a thought-content, except insofar as the structuring of the various sections and the ordering of the musical material are the fruit of deliberation by the composer in the same way as when an engineer sets up dykes and sluices for the water during a flood. It is in a way a completely thoughtless expression of what make the birds cry, the animals roar, bleat, run and fight, and humans moan, groan exult and shout without any explanation. The symphony does not describe all this, but the basic emotion that lies beneath all this. Music can do just this, it is its most profound quality, its true domain … because, by simply being itself, it has performed its task. For it is life, whereas the other arts only represent and paraphrase life. Life is indomitable and inextinguishable; the struggle, the wrestling, the generation and the wasting away go on today as yesterday, tomorrow as today, and everything returns. Once more: music is life, and like it inextinguishable."


...men et uprogrammæssigt Greb helt ned i de Lag af Følelselivet, som endnu er halvt-kaotiske og helt-elementære. Altsaa det modsatte af al Programmusik, till Trods for at dette lyder som et Program.


Symfonien er ikke et Tankeindhold, uden for saa vidt som Bygningen af de forskellige Afsnit og Ordningen af det musikalske Stof jo er Frugten af en Omtanke fra Komponistens side paa samme Maade, som naar en Ingeniør sætter Diger og Sluser for Vandet under en Oversømmelse. Den er paa en Maade et fuldkommen tankeløst Udtryk for det, der bringer Fuglene til at skrige, Dyrene til at brøle, bræge, løbe og kæmpe, og Menneskene til at jamre, stønne, juble og raabe uden al Forklaring. ...




http://img.kb.dk/ma/cn/forord/CNU_II_04_pr.pdf


*


Nielsen's 4th symphony "The Inextinguishable" came out in 1916.  It was a pretty brilliant time for Nordic symphonies. Sibelius had completed the first version of his 5th (fp 1915), but would continue to revise it for another three years. Stenhammar's marvellous 2nd was completed in 1915. Peterson-Berger's 3rd ("Same Ätnam") appeared in 1915 and Atterbeg's 3rd ("Västkustbilder") in 1916; their best symphonies, and both of them highly programmatic.


The Nordic countries had managed to stay out of the world war, until Finland's civil war of 1918 in the wake of the Russian Revolution. There was plenty of indirect impact, and the War and its unprecendented horrors was anxiously discussed, but Nordic neutrality was steadfast so far as the conflict between Allies and Central Powers was concerned.


*











Friday, October 27, 2017

balmy sleep



Anne Brontë, aged about 13 (drawing by a 17-year-old Charlotte in 1833)








[Image source: http://kleurrijkbrontesisters.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/anne-bronte-william-weightman.html]




More info on portraits of Anne: http://www.mick-armitage.staff.shef.ac.uk/anne/ann5face.html . There are none of her as an adult.






No hope, no pleasure can I find;
I am grown weary of my mind;
Often in balmy sleep I try
To gain a rest from misery,


And in one hour of calm repose
To find a respite from my woes;
But dreamless sleep is not for me
And I am still in misery.


(from Anne Brontë, "A Voice from the Dungeon")


The Gondal speaker is a certain Marina Sabia, otherwise unknown.


This exemplifies what makes us warm to Anne, an eighteenth-century (say, Cowperian) firmness of diction, a penetrating insight, a bold straightforwardness of statement,  and all this completely without ego (unlike both her sisters).


The repeat of the word "misery" at the end of successive stanzas, but varied by being made to rhyme with different vowel-sounds, actually recalls to me a mid-sixteenth-century music, maybe Wyatt.


I tried to look up the rhetorical device that Anne uses when she says "balmy sleep", but I failed to find it.  "Balmy" applies to sleep as it ought to be - as it is in books - but clearly not as it's experienced by Marina, whose dreams are terrible, turmoiled things. Even the happy dream of her child and her child's father goes wrong, in the space of a single stanza:


I thought he smiled and spoke to me,
But still in silent ecstasy
I gazed at him, I could not speak;
I uttered one long piercing shriek. ...









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Thursday, October 26, 2017

believing the words

Hubbel Palmer as Mr Collins in the 2003 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, transposed to modern-day Utah


[Image source: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol29no1/chan.html]


In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Collins proposes to his cousin Elizabeth Bennet and, of course, she turns him down. Collins, however, doesn't seem to understand the refusal, suggests that young ladies say No when they mean Yes, and ponders aloud: "perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character".


Collins is ridiculous, complacent, and utterly lacking in sensibility. But still, his difficulty is genuine. Since he possesses a theory that would fully account for why Elizabeth might refuse his proposal while still intending to marry him, in what sense should he understand her?


A bad situation, this lack of trust in a person's words, and it can lead to worse things than an unduly prolonged proposal.


Collins might have been helped if he had had a little insight into body language and other non-linguistic clues, but that was what not many men of his time did have. Indeed, the question of whether a woman liked a man was deliberately censored from thought. as being indelicate towards the woman as well as uncomfortable for the man to contemplate seriously.


But everyone, not just Mr Collins, is stupid and blind in some respects and to some degree. Collins' difficulty is our difficulty.


What if you believe in despite of the words, or (most likely) you don't know what to believe?


There's no safe advice. You cannot say, for instance:  If in doubt, abide by the words.


And the principle No-one ever got sacked for choosing IBM just doesn't apply when it comes to human relationships.


Cue for another Claes Andersson poem!




*


Nowadays I don't trust you any more
than I always trusted myself
As soon as I turn my back you deceive me
And right you are
I would do the same if I were I
Someways I'm not me anymore
I get extended bouts of faithfulness and caring
It's some kind of revenge
Now when there's nothing more to massacre
we could have it fairly good together, you and I
But you! You don't mean a word of what I say!
Go to hell but come back




(Trans. Lennart and Sonja Bruce, in Poems in Our Absence, Bonne Chance Press 1994)




*




Recent dramatizations of this scene have wanted to emphasize the force and conviction of Elizabeth's refusal. Collins' maddening refusal to understand her (in the novel) has tended to be underemphasized.












Jennifer Ehle and David Bamber (1995)







Keira Knightley and Tom Hollander (2005)




Recommended: An edit that combines the above two renderings along with the same scene from the 1940 film featuring Melville Cooper as Collins and Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

the hyperreal -- Gildas








When I was writing about St Martin of Tours recently, it occurred to me that these early saints exist, not quite but almost, entirely in the hyperrealis. We don't know much about the real person or their world. We don't know their character or personality. Most of the stories about them are not designed as biography in any modern sense but to convey pious messages. Management of the hyperreal, that sphere that feeds no-one but has an addictive effect on people's imaginations, --- this management was already being skilfully exercised by the medieval church.  Though today we are swamped by the hyperreal (so that, for example, nearly all news and public debate is about mainly unreal topics) it's nothing new.


The saint can be pictured as a very small stick-figure (representing what is concretely known about the person) who is dwarfed by a loosely attached but very large, billowing nebula of hyperreality; that is, the saint's myths and legends, traditions, associations, iconography, feasts and customs, patronage and so forth.


This large hyperreal element, projecting far into the future, touches the lives of millions of people across the millennia. As the saint's hyperreal nebula grows, it absorbs more and more material, and this material derives not from the original saint but from the lives of others, so that in the end the hyperreal nebula is not only an influential control on larger communities, but is also itself a communal creation.


Shakespeare understood the mechanism of it well. With reference to today's feast:


This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;




[Quoted this morning on Radio 3, which I was listening to on the way to work. By the way, there was also mention of the prominence of St Crispin, as patron saint of cobblers, in Wagner's Die Meistersinger ..]


*


Peter Philpott, re Arthur (in Wound Scar Memories):


Probably, if he existed (ie a dude called something Artorial doing some important stuff against the "Anglo-Saxons"), a little earlier than Cerdic. Probably, too, also not a king, but a warband leader, a dux. OK -- so Gildas doesn't mention him: his On the Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae), written early or mid Sixth Century, is the only British/Welsh contemporary narrative of the post-colonial period dealing with the early "Welsh" kingdoms. It is a splenetic sermon, a rant addressed to those who know what he's talking about, in which actual leaders are transformed into political cartoon monsters. It is like trying to obtain historical information from the cartoons of Steve Bell or Martin Rowson.



("Not a Note on Some Matters with Britain", Wound Scar Memory p. 68).


PP's casual language is the perfect vehicle for engaging with and just about emerging from the stew of hyperrealism that passes for Dark-Age history. The language tacitly acknowledges, too, that any statement about a hyperrealized topic tends to become meta-statement, ie it is apt to be only about the hyperreal component that it feeds, while the core matter slips away. (That's why nearly all media stories are about media stories.)  PP recognizes that we live in "circulating words".  Cue for more seasonal verse.


1. wound scar memory

OK, then, it's dying down into winter now so
turn on the fairy lanterns to light our way
ignore this darkness, spike it all with glow
the day shrivels so we can transform our nights


that's it; that something may resist, survive
hold our lives awhile in something like delight
even if only in our most common struggle
holding off our end for what we choose as life


here, this is us as people, all of us to enjoy
circulating words, bodies & our food
that we have made together as we wish: night
with all its force awaits; we don't but
hesitant at first, then rushing, reach out & share
human solace over fate, all our delight in the air


(from the sequence "Action in the Play Zone", in Wound Scar Memory)


Let's have some sentences from Gildas, or at any rate the Englished version of Gildas.


http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/gildas_02_ruin_of_britain.htm


"It is protected by the wide, and if I may so say, impassable circle of the sea on all sides, with the exception of the straits on the south coast where ships sail to Belgic Gaul."


Not so very well protected, if Gildas himself is to be believed. Here is Gildas's influential account of the Saxon incomers' rapacity and deceit.


"Then there breaks forth a brood of whelps from the lair of the savage lioness, in three cyulae (keels), as it is expressed in their language, but in ours, in ships of war under full sail, with omens and divinations. In these it was foretold, there being a prophecy firmly relied upon among them, that they should occupy the country to which the bows of their ships were turned, for three hundred years; for one hundred and fifty----that is for half the time----they should make frequent devastations. They sailed out, and at the directions of the unlucky tyrant, first fixed their dreadful talons in the eastern part of the island, as men intending to fight for the country, but more truly to assail it."


Happily, this rascally crew of foreigners were utterly routed at Mount Badon. But...


"The recollection of so hopeless a ruin of the island, and of the unlooked-for help, has been fixed in the memory of those who have survived as witnesses of both marvels. Owing to this (aid) kings, magistrates, private persons, priests, ecclesiastics, severally preserved their own rank. As they died away, when an age had succeeded ignorant of that storm, and having experience only of the present quiet, all the controlling influences of truth and justice were so shaken and overturned that, not to speak of traces, not even the remembrance of them is to be found among the ranks named above..."


Gildas' address to one of the five evil rulers, "Aurelius Caninus":


"Thou also, lion whelp, as the prophet says, what doest thou, Aurelius Caninus? Art thou not swallowed up in the same, if not more destructive, filth, as the man previously mentioned, the filth of murders, fornications, adulteries, like sea-waves rushing fatally upon thee? Hast thou not by thy hatred of thy country's peace, as if it were a deadly serpent, or by thy iniquitous thirst for civil wars and repeated spoils, closed the doors of heavenly peace and repose for thy soul? Left alone now, like a dry tree in the midst of a field, remember, I pray thee, the pride of thy fathers and brothers, with their early and untimely death. Wilt thou, because of pious deserts, an exception to almost all thy family, survive for a hundred years, or be of the years of Methuselah? No. But unless, as the Psalmist says, thou be very speedily converted to the Lord, that King will soon brandish his sword against thee; who says by the prophet: I will kill and I will make alive: I shall wound and I shall heal, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. Wherefore shake thyself from thy filthy dust, and turn unto Him with thy whole heart, unto Him who created thee, so that when His anger quickly kindles, thou mayest be blest, hoping in Him. But if not so, eternal pains await thee, who shalt be always tormented, without being consumed, in the dread jaws of hell."






Gildas' idealism, disappointed by the clergy of his time:


"But let us also see the following words: Ruling his own house well, having his children in subjection with all chastity. The chastity of the fathers is therefore imperfect, if that of the children is not added to it. But what shall be where neither father nor son (depraved by the example of a wicked parent) is found to be chaste? But if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he show care of the church of God? Here are words that are proved by effects that admit of no doubt. Deacons in like manner must be chaste, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not following after filthy lucre, holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. But let these first be proved, and thus let them serve if they are without reproach. With a shudder, indeed, at having to linger long at these things, I can with truth make one statement, that is, all these are changed into the contrary deeds, so that the clergy are (a confession I make not without sorrow of heart) unchaste, double-tongued, drunk, greedy of filthy lucre, having the faith, and, to speak with more truth, the want of faith, in an impure conscience, ministering not as men proved good in work, but as known beforehand in evil work, and, though with innumerable charges of crime, admitted to the sacred ministry."







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Sunday, October 22, 2017

morning in somerset


All through the night the van had been stealthily clawed by branches. The first time I heard that soft skreeking sound, back in the summer, I nearly jumped out of my skin; but now that I was back I found it soothing. It was quite deliberate to wedge the van up among the trees behind the billboard at one end of the lay-by; I didn't want to be parked where a half-asleep HGV driver might cannon into me. As I sat in the darkness drinking hot chocolate, I realized there were other advantages.  A regular  commerce of vehicles proceeded through the night, and I was as far away as possible from that. More than once, large convoys pulled in, blazoned with flashing orange lights and signs saying "Exceptional Load", men in high viz gear piled out for a piss and a smoke, stood around chatting and larking about. The reflective bands around their trouser legs made them look like a circus troupe, and their high vehicles might, to my wandering imagination, be funfair attractions or carnival floats but were more likely something to do with civil engineering. Evidently this generously-sized lay-by had been remarked by others as well as myself. Midnight was the preferred time for making these awkward multi-vehicle flits through the small, winding A-Roads of rural Somerset. At last I put up the sunshield for extra privacy (ruefully thinking of warmer nights in the south), and turned in with the Life of Buonaparte on my smartphone.

I got up in the morning and examined the screecher. It had leathery leaves on thick knobbly twigs, and in fact it was this crab-apple with streaked fruit. The apples dangled on long thin black stalks (very unlike domestic apples). The taste was sharp but sweet and delicious.


Attempt 658

Some problem with the Blogger app on Android... it will add a new snap but not a photo from gallery.

.. I then found that using the traditional web blogger on my phone was actually pretty easy and has much more functionality. I wonder why the app is so feeble. Maybe not many people use Blogger any more, but I'm content with it.



Thursday, October 19, 2017

archipelago of stories: the eastern front.



Red Army soldier near Dnieper hydroelectric dam


[Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaporizhia . When the Red Army blew a hole in the dam it resulted in a flood-wave that killed 20,000 - 100,000 people;  soldiers from both sides as well as Ukrainian civilians.]








Stories from the Eastern Front, from that inexhaustible fount of stories, The Gulag Archipelago (1973).




We soon discovered that there really were Russians fighting against us and that they fought harder
than any SS men. In July, 1943, for example, near Orel, a platoon of Russians in German uniform
defended Sobakinskiye Vyselki. They fought with the desperation that might have been expected if
they had built the place themselves. One of them was driven into a root cellar. They threw hand
grenades in after him and he fell silent. But they had no more than stuck their heads in than he let
them have another volley from his automatic pistol. Only when they lobbed in an antitank grenade
did they find out that, within the root cellar, he had another foxhole in which he had taken shelter
from the infantry grenades. Just try to imagine the degree of shock, deafness, and hopelessness in
which he had kept on fighting.

They defended, for example, the unshakable Dnieper bridgehead south of Tursk. For two weeks we
continued to fight there for a mere few hundred yards. The battles were fierce in December, 1943,
and so was the cold. Through many long days both we and they went through the extreme trials of
winter, fighting in winter camouflage cloaks that covered our overcoats and caps. Near Malye
Kozlovichi, I was told, an interesting encounter took place. As the soldiers dashed back and forth
among the pines, things got confused, and two soldiers lay down next to one another. No longer very
accurately oriented, they kept shooting at someone, somewhere over there. Both had Soviet
automatic pistols. They shared their cartridges, praised one another, and together swore at the grease
freezing on their automatic pistols. Finally, their pistols stopped firing altogether, and they decided
to take a break and light up. They pulled back their white hoods — and at the same instant each saw
the other's cap ... the eagle and the star. They jumped up! Their automatic pistols still refused to fire!
Grabbing them by the barrel and swinging them like clubs, they began to go at each other. This, if
you will, was not politics and not the Motherland, but just sheer caveman distrust: If I take pity on
him, he is going to kill me.

In East Prussia, a trio of captured Vlasov men was being marched along the roadside a few steps
away from me. At that moment a T-34 tank thundered down the highway. Suddenly one of the
captives twisted around and dived underneath the tank. The tank veered, but the edge of its track
crushed him nevertheless. The broken man lay writhing, bloody foam coming from his mouth. And
one could certainly understand him! He preferred a soldier's death to being hanged in a dungeon.

They had no choice. There was no other way for them to fight. They had no chance to find a way
out, to safeguard their lives, by some more cautious mode of fighting. If "pure" surrender was
considered unforgivable treason to the Motherland, then what about those who had taken up enemy
arms? Our propaganda, in all its crudity, explained their conduct as: (1) treason (was it biologically
based? carried in the bloodstream?) ; or (2) cowardice — which it certainly was not! A coward tries
to find a spot where things are easy, soft, safe. And men could be induced to enter the Wehrmacht's
Vlasov detachments only in the last extremity, only at the limit of desperation, only out of
inexhaustible hatred of the Soviet regime, only with total contempt for their own safety. For they
knew they would never have the faintest glimpse of mercy! When we captured them, we shot them
as soon as the first intelligible Russian word came from their mouths. In Russian captivity, as in
German captivity, the worst lot of all was reserved for the Russians.


In general, this war revealed to us that the worst thing in the world was to be a Russian.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago trans Thomas P. Whitney, pp. 254-256.


Full online text:


https://archive.org/stream/AleksandrSolzhenitsynTheGulagArchipelago/Aleksandr_Solzhenitsyn_The_Gulag_Archipelago_djvu.txt







Vlasov detachment soldiers, with accordion accompaniment








[Image source: http://viriatosmilitaria.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/voluntarios-sovieticos-na-whermacht.html]

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

two poems









One night in late September. The insects are
flying among the people, and it's a warm night
blanketed in low cloud.


The air still dark and the night still quiet.


What do you seek when you don't seek love,
in these webby passageways and in bathrooms?


Feng-shui of bathrooms... find them resting in
the plughole and the shower-curtain, smelling
the water, the nudity and toilet. Here is life, they
conclude.


The long-legged stars are looking for
something deeper than love. But that is love!








*




Above the blanket cloud, the starry sky is colder.
You pent your love in.


You were loyal,
your rainbow brightened,
by draining the sky of light. You loved so much,
that to prove it,  you made a bonfire.


Feudal to your love, you feuded,
neglected the concourse and slighted the glade,
stared through and scarified until
your heaven was empty of all but the one fierce car.


The debt for this desert falls due,
at last you will hate even the one you love.









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Friday, October 13, 2017

Claes Andersson

Claes Andersson in 2007


[Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Claes_Andersson#/media/File:Claes_Andersson_(vanst)_Finland.jpg . Photo by Johannes Jansson.






How could I forget about Claes Andersson? But so it is. I haven't read his poems for ten or fifteen years, and yesterday the forgotten book (translations by Lennart and Sonia Bruce) comes off my bookshelf, falls open, and I begin reading, and I remember how strongly and passionately I love this poetry that I had nevertheless forgotten all about. Wasn't there, though, a perceptible if undiagnosed emptiness in the years between? Or am I misremembering it all, and the truth is I love Andersson's poems much more today than I ever did before? Has love opened up in me that I express it so, or is there something histrionic about all this, has love in fact narrowed -- whereas, back then, I inhabited a whole world of love, I didn't need to make such a noise about it?




A couple of poems translated by Rika Lesser


http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/1983/03/poems-11/


Here's part of one of them:


(summary)


Have sat at meetings, ticked off items on the agenda, recommended,
                         turned down
Approved the minutes (change "should" in §123 to "ought")
Gone to movies, museums, bars, libraries, homes, deserts, caves
Shoveled snow, played with the children, screamed at the children
                         been bitten by dogs 
Traveled in Europe, the States, Africa, met people
Bought and sold junk and cars, waited for buses, trains, have biked
Given speeches, lectures, been dumbstruck, signed petitions, demonstrated
Read (tons of) books, papers, brochures, hares' and crows' tracks
                         in the snow
Stared at TV, drunk beer, wine, schnapps, kefir, tasted sperm
Awakened in my own bed, in another's, up to now have always awakened
Dozed off over books, steering wheels, bottles, women, in buses,
                         closets, on guard duty
Put on pounds, lost them, exercised, lifted weights, brides over
                         thresholds, odds and ends
Been disappointed, happy, angry, indifferent, enraged, in love,
                         indifferent, empty
Been to funerals, weddings, soccer games, visiting, to crayfish
                         dinners, outhouses
Witnessed deliveries, death throes, christenings, autopsies, orgies
Written plays, traced hearts in the snow, poems, demand notes,
                         prescriptions, crib sheets
Shot rifles, pistols, water guns, mortars, slingshots, blowpipes
Had the mumps, the shakes, anxiety, depression, paranoia, inflamed urethra
Fought with conservatives, radicals, myself, Finns, windmills, my wife
Rented rooms, laundry rooms, apartments, tuxedos, cars, bought
                         houses, potted plants
Been plagued by guilt, small children, nightmares, red-headed lovers
Have asked the meaning of it all
Brooded, deliberated, pondered, constructed, conceived, stopped
                         thinking
Found the questions irrelevant and answered with the answer of
                         the senses








More poems translated by Rika Lesser:


http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/1997/03/i-am-a-happy-person/




(positive thinking)


Brussels is famous for its sunny weather and
      its waste disposal.
My potency and my teeth have never
      been better.
Every moment I have free I listen to Wagner and
      read Proust without stopping.
It is not tragic to be smothered and consumed
      by small animals.
As far as I'm concerned, the panic attacks are
      a stage that has passed.
Politics is about respect for those who think
      differently and about being honorable.
I never feel like smacking my wife.
Autumn is my time of year, a time of clarification, of self-control.
What I enjoy most is the solitude of an early morning
      in the churchyard.
I am a happy person.
*
The problem with our war was that they could
      not defend themselves.
Nonetheless, we carried out the war entirely
      according to plan.
We did it for our credibility and so that
      we could restock the depots.
Man is not a commodity in short supply.
Land mines were not a problem for us who
      conducted operations from the air.
 War is always a tragedy but even a tragedy
      can be beautiful.
The pictures you saw were slightly out of focus.
Any sharp boundary between the military and civilians
      is hard to draw.
*
I was inside when the department store collapsed.
I was aboard the passenger ferry when it vanished
      in the deep.
I lay on the operating table when rockets hit the hospital
      in the city under siege.
I was riding the subway when nerve gas seeped into
      the cars.
I had hidden myself in the cellar when soldiers set fire
      to our house.
I saw the tidal wave that would drown us as it approached.
I was one of the children put to death because a friend
      needed my heart.
 I remained in the sand after the desert storm.
 What you are I was, what I am you will become.
*
Our childhood photographs lie where we left them,
      in an attic in a cellar.
With their features half dissolved, those closest to us,
      our demons, oxidized to silver nitrite.
In the attic in the cellar, in the dark ice-cold goddamn
      cellar in the attic.
Brothers, cousins, sisters, moms, dads... oxidized,
      disarmed, destroyed.
Of mother's wondelful shining kitchen only the hearth remains.
The cat drowned in the well along with the rag doll,
      the kids' bicycles, the rats.
Maybe someone ought to remain, withstand the oxidization when
      the others flee, drown, dissolve.
Why do cars and houses with people in them explode every day
      everywhere.
One fine summer day the children found a dead soldier
      in the cellar in the attic.




More poems, translated by Rika Lesser:


http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/2002/09/selling-to-the-lowest-bidder/




More poems, translated by David Hackston:


http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/2009/05/the-personal-and-the-political/




Claes Andersson on reading and writing poetry:
http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/2002/09/on-the-uselessness-of-poetry/
http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/2007/03/subterranean-pre-verbal/


Claes Andersson on Pentti Saarikoski's alcoholism:
http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/2001/06/a-drinking-life/


Andersson is a Finland-Swedish author (i.e. a Finn who speaks and writes in Swedish).


Förtvivlan är ett alltför stort
ord, men jag vet inte.... Ty sorgen är
obotlig, den går aldrig över
Därav dess styrka, dess bördighet för det
som ännu inte förstörts inne i oss
Den som inte har sorgen har intet
Den som inte har sorgen kan ta sig till
med vad som helst! Med vem som helst!
Den som inte har sorgen har aldrig förlorat
någonting, aldrig ägt någonting
Smärtan och försoningen finns inte hos den
som aldrig haft sorgen Och dikten
växer bara ur sorgen, ur den sorg
som beretts ett rum i glädjens hjuls nav
och där klarnat till blick och förståelse. (Ur "Under"- 1984)




Swedish text sourced from:


http://ingridsboktankar.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/ett-par-dikter-av-claes-andersson.html














The Claes Andersson Trio:



















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Thursday, October 12, 2017

St Martin of Tours

There's a few churches of St Martin in the UK, of which the best known are possibly St Martin's in Canterbury, considered the oldest place of continuous worship in the English-speaking world, and the iconic church and concert venue in Trafalgar Square, at one time (long before its neoclassical remodelling) an isolated place of worship in the fields between Westminster and the City of London.




But the patron saint of those distinguished churches is little more than a name to us, or maybe it just evokes a faint recollection of the attractive legend about Martin dividing his coat with a beggar (while still a soldier of the Roman Empire).  As recounted by Sulpitius Severus:


ACCORDINGLY, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar.



That night Christ appeared in a vision to Martin. He was wearing the half-a-cloak.


In the following chapter (IV), Martin resigns his commission with the memorable words to Caesar: "Hitherto I have served you as a soldier: allow me now to become a soldier to God.." 




Sulpitius begins his Life of St Martin with the reasonable though large question: "What benefit has posterity derived from reading of Hector as a warrior, or Socrates as an expounder of philosophy?"


*


In Europe St Martin (316 or 336 - 397 CE), third bishop of Tours, has signified much more. The monastery at Marmoutier (where Martin went to escape the crowds in Tours) became influential and Martin became an icon of Frankish royalty. The half-a-cloak that Martin retained became one of the most revered royal relics, preserved in the royal oratory of the palace (hence known as capella) and carried everywhere that the king went by a cloak-bearer or cappellanu (the origin of the words "chapel" and "chaplain" respectively).  This association of Martin with French royalty would last as long as the royalty itself. Then, rather belatedly, St Martin was adopted as an icon by French republicans. More recently Martin has been re-cast as a symbol of pan-European unity (because he was born in modern-day Hungary).




The churchmen of those pre-national days did move around, though perhaps Martin was exceptionally far-flown.  Of the early worthies of Tours, Sulpitius  (c.363 - c.425) was relatively local (an Aquitanian); Gregory of Tours (c. 538 - 594) was born in Clermont; Alcuin (c. 735 - 804) came from York. It was Gregory who most diligently nurtured devotion to St Martin. Tours became one of Europe's top pilgrimage sites.


[Obviously royalty moved around in Merovingian days too. The palace was wherever the king and his household decided to set up shop. There was an early Merovingian palace in Paris (the Palais de la Cité) -- ultimately Sainte-Chapelle and the Palais de Justice are its successors. There were numerous others in Clichy, Compiègne, Berny, Ponthion, Soissons, Chalons-sur-Saone, Trier, Metz, Vienne etc.  See Ross Samson´s thesis http://theses.gla.ac.uk/1373/1/1991samsonphd.pdf ]


*
Martin was a heathen convert (his parents were Romans stationed first in Pannonia then Pavia), and he was a devotee of early monasticism. Sulpitius portrays him as a reluctant churchman who really wanted to spend his time in monastic isolation. Historically, he's associated with the spread of monasticism into the west.
*


St Martin's other relics (e.g. his bones) were first housed in a wooden chapel, then the basilica of St Perpetuus, burnt by Vikings in the 10th century. Then a medieval basilica was built; it was sacked by Huguenots in 1562 (and most of the relics were destroyed), but restored. The vaults fell down in 1797, bad timing since France's post-Revolutionary government was still uncompromisingly anti-clerical. The basilica was unceremoniously demolished. Roads and houses were built on the site. What remained of the relics having gone to the cathedral for safe-keeping, St Martin's medieval "tomb" was forgotten and was only rediscovered in 1860, leading to a new surge of Catholic piety in Touraine and beyond, and to the shoe-horned neo-Byzantine basilica (1886 - 1924) of Victor Laloux that visitors to Tours see today.


*


Sulpitius met Martin and wrote his Life while he was still living (according to what I've read, Martin died the year after publication). Yet the miraculous contents inspire scepticism.




Could the following tale be true, at least a bit? I'd like to think so.


For, first of all, having followed some devious paths among the Alps, he fell into the hands of robbers. And when one of them lifted up his axe and poised it above Martin's head, another of them met with his right hand the blow as it fell; nevertheless, having had his hands bound behind his back, he was handed over to one of them to be guarded and stripped. The robber, having led him to a private place apart from the rest, began to enquire of him who he was. Upon this, Martin replied that he was a Christian. The robber next asked him whether he was afraid. Then indeed Martin most courageously replied that he never before had felt so safe, because he knew that the mercy of the Lord would be especially present with him in the midst of trials. He added that he grieved rather for the man in whose hands he was, because, by living a life of robbery, he was showing himself unworthy of the mercy of Christ. And then entering on a discourse concerning Evangelical truth, he preached the word of God to the robber. Why should I delay stating the result? The robber believed; and, after expressing his respect for Martin, he restored him to the way, entreating him to pray the Lord for him. That same robber was afterwards seen leading a religious life; so that, in fact, the narrative I have given above is based upon an account furnished by himself.  (Chapter V)
While taking refuge from persecution on the tiny island of Gallinaria (modern Isola d'Albenga / Isola Gallinara) "Here he subsisted for some time on the roots of plants; and, while doing so, he took for food hellebore, which is, as people say, a poisonous kind of grass. But when he perceived the strength of the poison increasing within him, and death now nearly at hand, he warded off the imminent danger by means of prayer, and immediately all his pains were put to flight." (Ch VI)


Sulpitius meets Martin:


  His conversation with me was all directed to such points as the following: that the allurements of this world and secular burdens were to be abandoned in order that we might be free and unencumbered in following the Lord Jesus; and he pressed upon me as an admirable example in present circumstances the conduct of that distinguished man Paulinus, of whom I have made mention above. Martin declared of him that, by parting with his great possessions and following Christ, as he did, he showed himself almost the only one who in these times had fully obeyed the precepts of the Gospel. He insisted strongly that that was the man who should be made the object of our imitation, adding that the present age was fortunate in possessing such a model of faith and virtue. For Paulinus, being rich and having many possessions, by selling them all and giving them to the poor according to the expressed will of the Lord, had, he said, made possible by actual proof what appeared impossible of accomplishment. What power and dignity there were in Martin's words and conversation! How active he was, how practical, and how prompt and ready in solving questions connected with Scripture! And because I know that many are incredulous on this point,--for indeed I have met with persons who did not believe me when I related such things,--I call to witness Jesus, and our common hope as Christians, that I never heard from any other lips than those of Martin such exhibitions of knowledge and genius, or such specimens of good and pure speech. But yet, how insignificant is all such praise when compared with the virtues which he possessed! Still, it is remarkable that in a man who had no claim to be called learned, even this attribute [of high intelligence] was not wanting.
*


Martin spent a good part of his career engaged in combatting heathenism and the Arian heresy. He succeeded in converting his mother to Christianity, but not his father.


According to a pamphlet from the Museum of Saint-Martin in Tours:


Martin was once again at the Court of Trier during the trial of the Priscillianistes, begging Maximus not to spill their blood. These Spanish ascetics, accused of practices considered to be fanatic, condemned by the councils of Saragossa in 380 and Bordeaux in 384, had appealed to the Emperor. "As long as he was at Trier, the trial was deferred and on leaving, he obtained from Maximus, thanks to his extraordinary authority, the promise that no condemnation would demand the shedding of the defendants blood". Later, however, they were executed.



The pamphlet is indifferently translated, so I'm not sure if that final sentence manifests irony or an unblushing determination to stand your ground.


There are various accounts of this ugly business at Trier. Some say that Martin's well-meaning if ineffectual intervention nearly led to him too being condemned as a heretic.




Sulpitius Dialogues III
http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/35033.htm
the Wikipedia entry on Priscillianism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscillianism


*


Martinmas, or St Martin's day (November 11), remains an important day in many European cultures, but has been largely forgotten in the UK. [Supplanted by Remembrance Day. The "eleventh minute of the eleventh hour.." was also a Martinmas idea originally.] The day was associated with the end of autumn harvest and wheat sowing, the slaughtering of Martlemas beef and geese, hiring fairs for agricultural labour, and the beginning of winter: work indoors for the women, forest-labour for the men. It was often combined with Hallowmas-type traditions and feasting.


"St Martin's Summer" (été de la Saint-Martin) means a spell of warm weather in early November. It was connected with a legend that when Martin's coffin was transported from Candes to Tours the banks of the Loire came unseasonably into bloom.   (Martin died on 8th November.)  [In English- speaking countries this term has now been supplanted by "Indian Summer":  an American phrase whose origin is obscure, but "Indian" definitely meant Native American.]







































St Martin and the beggar, stained glass at Varennes-Jancy, 1220-1230




[Image source: http://www.christianiconography.info/martin.html]





















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Friday, October 06, 2017

bale-fires and football





The Lay of the Last Minstrel. A page from the 1922 Kings Treasuries of Literature edition, intended for school use. This is the book I was reading on our van travels around Europe (though I've almost destroyed the cover).




[Re the illustration, the falchion is the curved sword, not the one "giving the stab" (in Marlowe's expression).]




In Canto 3, when Branksome Tower is threatened by an approaching host from England, beacons (variously called bale-fires or need-fires) are lit to summon aid from Scottish allies.


XXVII




The Seneschal, whose silver hair
Was redden'd by the torches' glare,
Stood in the midst with gesture proud,
And issued forth his mandates loud:
"On Penchryst glows a bale of fire,
And three are kindling on Priest-haughswire;
        Ride out, ride out,
        The foe to scout!
Mount, mount for Branksome, every man!
Thou, Todrig, warn the Johnstone clan
        That ever are true and stout;
Ye need not send to Liddesdale,
For when they see the blazing bale,
Elliots and Armstrongs never fail.
Ride, Alton, ride, for death and life!
And warn the Warder of the strife.
Young Gilbert, let our beacon blaze,
Our kin, and clan, and friends to raise."

XXVIII

Fair Margaret from the turret head
Heard, far below, the coursers' tread,
While loud the harness rung
As to their seats, with clamor dread,
The ready horsemen sprung:
And trampling hoofs, and iron coat,
And leaders' voices mingled notes,
        And out! and out!
        In hasty route,
The horsemen gallop'd forth;
Dispersing to the south to scout,
And east, and west, and north,
To view their coming enemies,
And warn their vassals and allies.

XXIX
The ready page, with hurried hand,
Awaked the need-fire's slumbering brand,
And ruddy blush'd the heaven:
For a sheet of flame from the turret high
Wav'd like a blood-flag on the sky,
All flaring and uneven;
And soon a score of fires, I ween,
From height, and hill, and cliff, were seen;
Each with warlike tidings fraught,
Each from each the signal caught;
Each after each they glanc'd to sight
As stars arise upon the night.
They gleamd on many a dusky tarn,
Haunted by the lonely earn;
On many a cairn's grey pyramid,
Where urns of mighty chiefs lie hid;
Till high Dunedin the blazes saw
From Soltra and Dumpender Law,
And Lothian heard the Regent's order
That all should bowne them for the Border.



(Canto III)


In his later poem The Lady of the Lake Scott has another summoning scene, this time describing the use of the Gaelic crann-tara . This was a wooden cross, scorched by fire and quenched in blood. It was a summons that could not be refused; fire and blood awaited those who did. This tradition has analogies with the bidding sticks of Scandinavia, which were likewise charred.


[I sometimes wonder if Scott's thrilling scenes might lie behind Hagen's summoning of the vassals in Wagner's Götterdammerung.]


Possibly, too, Thomas Dixon remembered them when he wrote The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan in 1905. His book, adapted as a play, and later as  D.W. Griffiths' film Birth of a Nation, seems to have instigated the later Klan practice of  burning crosses.  These became part of bonding rituals and intimidations, visible from a long way off (a bit like beacons). However the original crann-tara involved delivering a summons to hand, in the form of a charred bit of wood.




*


VI

Now, noble Dame, perchance you ask
How these two hostile armies met?
Deeming it were no easy task
To keep the truce which here was set;
Where martial spirits, all on fire,
Breathed only blood and mortal ire.
By mutual inroads, mutual blows,
By habit, and by nation, foes,
They met on Teviot's strand;
They met and sate them mingled down,
Without a threat, without a frown,
As brothers meet in foreign land:
The hands the spear that lately grasp'd,
Still in the mailed gauntlet clasp'd,
Were interchang'd in greeting dear;
Visors were raised, and faces shown,
And many a friend, to friend made known,
Partook of social cheer.
Some drove the jolly bowl about;
With dice and draughts some chas'd the day;
And some, with many a merry shout,
In riot revelry, and rout,
Pursued the foot-ball play.


(Canto V)




This passage describes what went on during a truce between two armies of inveterate foes.  The tales of football matches between British and German troops during the Christmas Truce in 1914 may have been founded on true events, but Scott's 1805 poem had already supplied a literary analogue.


*


A little earlier, Scott's flexible tetrameter, rippling into anapaests, incorporates a marching tune whose title sounds a bit like a football chant.


To back and guard the archer band,
Lord Dacre's bill-men were at hand:
A hardy race on Irthing bred,
With kirtles white, and crosses red,
Array'd beneath the banner tall,
That stream'd o'er Acre's conquer'd wall;
And minstrels, as they march'd in order,
Play'd "Noble Lord Dacre, he dwells on the Border."

(Canto IV, Stanza 17)

Scott knew the impressive march tune, "Noble Squire Dacre", played on the pipes at Dacre family funerals. If there were any lyrics to it originally, they don't survive.

Sheet music: http://tunearch.org/wiki/Noble_Squire_Dacre 
More info: http://tunearch.org/wiki/Annotation:Noble_Squire_Dacre

"Noble Squire Dacre" performed by the Twaggers in Chiddingly:



Noble Squire Dacre/Biddlestone Hornpipe from Will Fly on Vimeo.






A map of the border region referenced in the poem.


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Thursday, October 05, 2017

impulse









A couple of poems by Bruno K. Öijer (b. 1951), from his 2008 collection Svart som silver (Black Like Silver).




SVALT OCH VACKERT




du går nerför
den här långa breda avenyn
det är svalt och vackert
träden skummar
över dom vita husfasaderna
som om stammarna skakats
fyllda med ett kolsyrat grönt vin
du tänker inte på något speciellt
och låter blicken glider över trafiken
över uteserveringarna
och havet av fönsterrutor
det är en bra dag
en dag när man bara följer med strömmen
allt svävar och flyter
och tanken har aldrig slagit dej
men i ett av fönstren
många våningar upp och bort
står en kvinna eller man vilken some helst
och använder sina ögon som saxar
klipper ut dej från trottoaren
och håller upp dej i handen
synar dej som en pappersfigur
och går tillbaka in i lägenheten
följer en impuls
bränner upp dej över ett stearinljus
eller nynnar och kysser dej
stoppar in dej under kudden






COOL AND BEAUTIFUL




you're going down
this long wide avenue
it's cool and beautiful
the trees foam
over those white housefronts
as if the stems had been shaken
and were filled with carbonated green wine
you're not thinking anything in particular
you let your gaze glide over the traffic
over the outdoor seating
and the sea of windowpanes
it's a good day
a day when you just go with the flow
everything hovering floating
and the thought has never struck you
but in one of the windows
many floors up and back
stands a woman man whatever
using their eyes like scissors
they cut you out from the sidewalk
they hold you up in their hand
look at you like a paper figure
and they go back into the apartment
following an impulse
and burn you above a candle
or they mumble and kiss you
stuff you under the pillow








ANNAT I TANKARNA


jag råkade
snudda vid dej
en sen natt för länge sedan
och vad jag minns
hade du druckit för mycket
och var ledsen över att du glömt bort namnet
på den som sytt den här världen
jag tror inte jag var ut efter
att trösta dej
jag hade annat i tankarna
men jag sa att någonstans måste
nålen ligga kvar
och varje gång vinden skakar tag i marken
kan du se den här nålen kastas upp i luften
och slå ned
som en hisnande kort bländande blixt
flera mil bort härifrån






SOMETHING ELSE IN MIND




i managed
to get with you
one late night long ago
and what I remember
you'd had too much to drink
and were feeling down because you'd forgotten the name
of the person who sewed this world
i don't think i really meant
to comfort you
i had something else in mind
but i said that somewhere
the needle must still be there
and each time the wind lifts the thread from the ground
you can see the needle flung up in the air
and coming back down
like a whirling short flash of lightning
many miles off






* The final line means literally "several mil from here". A mil  (aka "Scandinavian mile") being 10km, I've tried to imply a distance of 15-20 English miles.

















Öijer in action in 1996:







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Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Perennial Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis)




My favourite of the many dandelion-like Asteraceae species. (I do have several favourites, though.)  Of those native to the UK, this one has the biggest flowers.  It's also the tallest one that you're likely to meet on a regular basis, growing inland on wasteland, arable and road verges, as well as in coastal locations. (The rare Marsh Sow-thistle (Sonchus palustris), a specialist of tall waterside vegetation, can grow much taller).


It's common all through the back half of the year, flowering from late July onwards, but I value it even more as autumn draws on, and here it is still looking good in October.









A particularly immaculate flower that I noticed in N. France.







More commonly, the longer ray-florets round the edge give the flower a slightly shaggy appearance compared e.g. to dandelions.





Like other Sow-thistles, S. arvensis is edible (young leaves and roots are less bitter).  It has medicinal properties similar to dandelion. It can be an arable weed.






(Above..) Photo taken at 9 am, before the flowers are fully open.




Unlike many similar composites, this one has no red on its stems or leaves or buds. The interesting combination of olive-greeny bracts (clothed in yellowish glandular hairs) with bright yellow flowers is one of the plant's subtle attractions. 

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

a frozen smile



Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Doorenbos') - East Sussex






Today's post is a makeshift helpless sort of thing, and it begins with a joyous notice seen outside a church and passed on by Lawrence Upton in his latest newsletter.


YOU ARE WELCOME TO OUR SERVICES





A straw poll in the workplace revealed that most people didn't see the joke, which in turn meant that my mirth died in mid-chuckle, overtaken by a sense of isolated and reprehensible old age.  Most likely the person who wrote the notice is a second-language English-speaker. Whether or not, they don't deserve my pointing fingers.


I don't really want this post to be about this, I want it to transmit the other things that were in my mind before I began to write, the hundred vivid and particular realities I think of each day, the enormous things they might mean, the joyful connexions they could make in our lives,  if only I could open up my language and composition to bring them through.


That theme, the theme of writing inadequacy, has directed my reading of both the books that I've spent time with this morning.


In Denise Riley's Say Something Back (2016), the lyricist is driven by the desperate need for a response, not from her audience of living people, but from those who don't respond: somebody we love who has died, God when you don't have faith, the flat blue sky...


Yes, the scenario for most lyrics is talking to the wall.  You're addressing or apostrophizing someone who can't hear you and who doesn't answer back.  Maybe they're an animal or a cloud or star, or a nation,  or society in general, or Toussaint L'Ouverture, or someone dead, someone in your past, or maybe they are an icy unattainable Petrarchan object of desire, or maybe they're an old flame that you once had something with, or a child too young to understand, or even someone you do talk to every day yet can't talk to about the things you say in your poem.


The engine of the lyric has always been this frozen need.  "Things I'd like to say but don't know how, except in a poem". But it isn't just a need to express ourselves, who wants that for its own sake? It's a need for a response that most likely we'll never get. 


The poem can enclose the lyrical engine in half a dozen wrappers and frames, ironic or complicating or allusive not - it can be the fictional Old Minstrel who sings of his native land, not the poet - and some level of fictiveness is nearly always there, isn't it? - but still, you read the poem and it's like peeling off all those wrappers and sitting transfixed looking into the frame not at it. And there it is: the frozen need.




                            I couldn't spot
the obvious - obviam, in the way; plain
sight goes blind through chasing clarity.
I looked for you, so couldn't see you gone.


I sensed your not-there in its burning life.
I listened out to feel its silence beat.
It does not speak with any human mouth.




(Denise Riley, end of "Hiding in Plain Sight")




[Latin obviam can be translated as "on the way, in the way towards" or "against"]


*


The other book is Richard Makin's Mourning (2015), the final part of his trilogy. I don't know this book particularly well. Despite its name, the book is rich (if that's the word) in Makin's peculiar kind of humour.




More rainfall, exhaustive and noisome. His quest to join the guild of mastersingers was frustrated by petty rules and technocracy; it's a terrible time to be on the earth if you've no wish to know anything.



---


Answers are raised here, more than I could ever question. His concept of history is a struggle between two opposing forces: thesis and antithesis. (Look, an arctic!) That noise must be the building swaying in the solar wind he once spoke of.



I too was unsought. That's quite funny; I meant to say this is macrofiction.





(extracts from Richard Makin, Mourning, p. 57, p. 58)


Makin's books are more like sculptures than books you read from cover to cover.  You visit them and look. They are determinedly non-narrative: there is no place out there, real or even imaginary, that the text describes. Its extraordinary ingenuity goes with an unbending resolve not to open the shutters. Or should I say an unbending incapacity to open them?


Makin's deadpan version of the Fichte triad (synthesis is conspicuously absent) is one way, perhaps, of expressing the frozenness in his astonishing sculpture. A frozen need I suppose.


As with a lyric, what happens is obscure. The triumph, if ever a triumph is conceded, arises from the inadequacy. Something is beautiful, and that's an obscure says-nothing sort of word too.




I asked for decapitated so I wouldn't have trouble sleeping.



(Mourning, p. 61)













































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