Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bye bye 2006

A day for resolutions - one of which is to listen & read more selectively, more concentratedly, more purposefully.

First up: Miles Davis. And 'Star People' is a revelation - from what I can gather the studio album lying behind 'We Want Miles'. I'd never bothered with it before for a variety of reasons (read prejudices). Anyway it's a great way to round off 2006 and to start in on 2007.


And this:

"Transformative moments are very rare, or they seem so due to our inattention. It takes so many processes to coincide JUST SO for us to arrive at a transformative moment (if we're watching). But maybe this is wrong, and they happen constantly, though WE are absent ... We are all players and we are all being played."

(Keith Jarrett, liner notes for 'Radiance')


A Happy New Year to any Belgianwaffle readers out there.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Brothers Quay (again)

"There was a poster there for Janacek's House of the Dead. And it just went (in our minds): Janacek – House of the Dead – Dostoyevsky. Three constellations. And we immediately went: “Never heard of them!” And we continued from there. It just exploded for us, from footnote to the next, without a precise order. There's a certain randomness which is the most exciting part about these discoveries. You can't learn these at school because you're meant to go logically from A to B. The accident is what we love. To be the hunter, the trapper, who goes out setting the traps for these little madnesses that do exist. They're the openings through which maybe life is really working, coming through. In that little moment of randomness. Sometimes you sit and read a fragment from Schulz, Walser or Kafka… I remember one text by Walser, at the beginning of The Comb. It was an essay on freedom. Every time I read it, I just couldn't understand it, it was elusive. And yet it set up a strange mystery. There are things that move you deeply because you can't trap them down. They're beautiful in their elusiveness."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Constellations (again)

Robert Walser ... Bruno Schulz ... Franz Kafka ... The Brothers Quay ...

"In a way, one's reading is totally disorganized, there's never direct relationships, but there are things you discover over years. All of a sudden you realize that your constellation has a certain consistency. In its randomness, you actually bring things together. (silence) "
(Brothers Quay in an interview)

Friday, December 01, 2006


From 'The Independent' a couple of days ago ...

As well as the odd bits of furniture, the sale included more personal items such as his notebooks, which contained jottings on subjects ranging from cathedrals to the weather, interspersed with cut-out pictures and postcards. One lot, consisting of two A5 spiral-bound notebooks, were bought by Theresa Northrop, a technical writer, who had travelled from Ohio for the event. She paid £1,300 for the two books, one of which entitled "Garden" contained just one page of notes, and the second, labelled "Art" contained nine pages of notes. "The notebooks are something different these are the original words of Syd, all hand written," she said. A collection of reference books, some signed by Barrett, went for £4,000 while a dictionary with his own abstract collage cover went for £900.

"And I'm most obliged to you for making it clear
That I'm not here" - as Barrett himself put it.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

a bibliography of sorts

The last day of November & postings have been decidedly infrequent. Thanks to Metodi for upbraiding me.

Old Year Resolutions exist too - I will try to resume more frequent entries. Honest.

Anyway, this list of books & CDs describes a trajectory of sorts for the past two months.

* Nietzsche – Birth of Tragedy & All Too Human

(to which we return, and return, and return ...)

* Tanner – Nietzsche, A Short Introduction

(pulled it off the shelf 'on the off chance')

* Deleuze – Nietzsche & Philosophy

(the book I should have read 15 years ago - makes Anti-Oedipus & Thousand Plateaus make a lot more sense)

* Holderlin – Essays & Letters on Theory; Poems

(mad poet-tower-fragment obsessions)

* O’Leary – Gnostic Contagion, Robert Duncan & The Poetry of Illness

(fascinated by accounts of Duncan's effect on students - strange unaccountable illnesses - (force fields/radiation?))

* Robert Duncan – Letters to Denise Levertov & Caesar’s Gate & Roots & Branches


* Schiller – On The Aesthetic Education Of Man

(unopened, to be honest)

* W.B. Yeats – A Vision

(memories of a lecture series by Frances Warner. Was I really listening?)

* Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)

(the light fading in Worcester gardens ... )

* Hans Christian Andersen tales etc.

(how he is misrepresented)

* Gibson – Neuromancer

(I can take about a chapter at one sitting - but more interesting than I remember)

* McGregor – if nobody speaks of remarkable things

(started it & liked it & but ultimately remain unconvinced)

* Bonney – Blade Pitch Control Unit

(wish I still had his reading on Resonance FM on minidisc)

* Graham Foust – both volumes


* Pound – Selected Prose

(going cheap in the Reading Oxfam bookshop)

* David Toop – Haunted Weather & Ocean of Sound

(he has generous ears)

* Mondo 2000 A User’s Guide

(dodgy & fascinating)

* Berlioz – Memoirs

(Nelly was right)

* Arthur Machen – The Great God Pan

(finally I get to know the books behind the name)

* The Gnostic Bible & The Gnostic Gospels (Pagels)

(like a whisper in the ear)

* Echoes of the Ancient Skies (Krupp)
* The Monthly Sky Guide (Ridpath & Tirion)
* Philip’s Guide to the Stars (Moore)
* Pi in the Sky (Poynder)
* The Mapping of the Heavens (Whitfield)

(so that's what's going on in the sky)

* Celtic Mysteries (Sharkey)

(what has been erased - or nearly)

* The Amazing Brain (Macaulay)
* The Human Brain (Corrick)

(attempt at getting medical verification for poetic hunches)

* Jakob Boehme writings

(good enough for Duncan so good enough for me)

* The Mystery of Numbers (Schimmel)

(coincidentally watching CBeebies & a show in which numbers have magic powers)

• Aphex Twin

(especially the prepared piano-sounding stuff)

• Boards of Canada

(womb radio documentaries)

• Ivor Cutler

(Peel nostalgia & English Dada)

• Joanna Newsom

(I see Ron Silliman listens to her too)

• Gravenhurst

(one lovely track - the rest 'close but no cigar')

• Glenn Gould (the Wagner transcriptions for piano)


• Jimi Tenor

(Finnish sleaze - some great brass parts)

• The Fall

(Mark E. Smith is a media detergent)

• Mark Wastell

(sadly the concepts sound more interesting than the CDs - maybe recording just doesn't do him justice?)

• Jon Hassell


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I am not a library

Finally decide what to do with some two decades of the London Review of Books. It's just too unbearable to simply pile them into yellow sacks and send them for recycling. Instead, I will go through the Contents page & fillet out whatever catches my eye right now.

As I'm going through them it's like reliving my past - certain covers set off immediate associations, articles trigger what are now lost enthusiasms. Dare I admit it but the one edition with a young Ian McEwan on the cover had a near iconic status - a kind of projected self back in the 1980s? So much for that.

On the positive side there are compensatory discoveries - Iain Sinclair's long review of Blake in '96 which coincides perfectly with current interests; articles on Iraq and Saddam which have an uncanny prescience. But I have to be honest: I am not going to write the great novel of the 80s - or the 90s - or, probably, the first decade of the 21st Century. And so all those articles on the Falklands and the Miners' strike, and Dennis Healey, and Margaret Thatcher can go - bye bye - and if I suddenly do find myself needing them, well, there are online archives or nicely bound back issues in the Bodleian. I've finally realised - it only took twenty years or more - I am not a library.

"Slightly Inperfect"

"The poetry that most moved us moved us to a need for poetry".

(Robert Duncan, Preface (1972) to 'Caesar's Gate')

Spot on.


Yesterday afternoon I read 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' & - as I go on my daily walk round the neighbourhood - start thinking of the relationship between the pairs of characters in terms of Deleuze's reading of Nietschean forces. Shakespearean Comedy working as a presentation of Becoming. Maybe.


BBC 4's bio-documentary on Ivor Cutler took a familiar path: the later work 'diagnosed' in terms of the early childhood-mother-son trauma with seasonings of Jewish immigrant memory & military service. Then the soundbites from family, friends and showbiz people (Robert Wyatt in bowler hat, Paul MacCartney in 'just a friend of his' mode, and Billy Connelly who could easily pass for the older Zappa if anyone was thinking of making such a film).

Nevertheless a few things stood out: Cutler's refusal of 'celebrity' bonhomie - "Mr Cutler, to you"; his years as a teacher of Summerhill (now that makes sense); his rolls of stickers - 'Slightly Inperfect' - ; a song about Cosmic Love revolving about a cup of tea; the bulldog clip and string method of getting his post up to his thirdfloor flat.

Syd Barrett, Viv Stanshall, Ivor Cutler ... what beautiful music they must be making somewhere.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The secret & life of organic line

"For you the cover of a book - even when it is as closely allied as the cover of a paper book is /.../ to be integral to the whole - is a question of attractive packaging of a commodity. I have had occasion before and shall always have to attack at its roots what art becomes when it becomes a commodity. ... I do not live in New York, I live in a little town on the Pacific coast; my household is not modern; it thrives, as the imagination thrives, upon images. So I had a cover in a mode close to my work, where words and scene, image and experience have something like the exchage I seek in my own medium."
(Letter from Robert Duncan to Denise Levertov, citing his own letter to Grove Press concerning their sugested cover for 'The Opening of the Field').

I read this the night before last only to receive 'Caesar's Gate' in the post from Alan Halsey yesterday morning. It's hard to convey the exhiliration I feel on getting a book such as this first thing. Partly the pleasure of acquisition, of course. More importantly it's a sense of possibility - from the cover by Jess on into the volume itself (paste-ups, typewriter fonts, handwritten pages ...) everything oozes the 'alternative'. A defiance. I'm reminded of my delight at first seeing Raworth original editions - 'The Relation Ship', 'The Big Green Day', 'Log Book' - Harwood's 'HMS Little Fox' - Jonathan Williams' 'The Loco Logo-Daedalist In Situ' - the list goes on. Why can't ALL books of poetry be like this? Or even: Why can't all books be like this? (How lifeless on the page seem the recent 'Collected' Raworth & Harwoods).

Teaching my current 10th Grades, now that they are actually engaging with Blake's original plates, I sense a dawning realisation for some of them as to what his work was really all about. This for a generation so accustomed to the 'professional' look, Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, a hundred available fonts with one click of the mouse. It's an important lesson, surely.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Gucci & Godot

Leafing through a copy of 'Le Figaro' a couple of days ago we happened upon this photo of Samuel Beckett. So, now we know ... Didi, Gogo, Pozzo ... and Gucci.

P.S. Apologies to our regular readers (are there any?) for the rather long silence. All will be explained ... .

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fifty Things

sound of rain at night upon the Velux window

taking the first strokes in the swimming pool before anyone else has disturbed the surface

glass. newly-opened bottle of chilled white wine. six o’clock.

Emma running to greet me at 4.30 pm

feeling of having shaved standing in the shower

buying new notebooks & the new notebooks themselves packages waiting in the post room

being up before everyone else – the quiet. the emptiness. stillness

coffee cup. coffee. a small square of chocolate

discovering a new writer and realizing a whole series of books which now await

starting to cook dinner and the sizzling aromas of onions and garlic

pens which sit well in the hand and flow well on the page (yet still resist)

good uncles and older men who could be uncles

women’s lips of a certain kind

moments of awkwardness and shyness from L and E

the ‘craic’ over lunch

a sudden sharp chill perfume to the air in autumn mornings

imaginative socks

understatement and irony

weekend naps

(good) hotel breakfasts

watching someone absorbed in something

funny and colourful children’s books

baby fingers and toes and smiles

clean sheets and pillow cases on the bed on Monday nights

the Lightness of Being of a good shit

the table laid: knives, forks, spoons, plates, glasses, napkins, a candle

driving. the car moving well. window open. music. sunlight. quiet roads. an avenue of trees

being called Daddy or Papa and knowing one is (now) someone called Daddy and – more strangely - Papa

memories of London in the late 70s. The Thames. The Tate Gallery. Hours out of school. Bookshops on Charing Cross Road. Upstairs on buses.

moments when you feel – deeply – despite a million other possibilities this, now, is how you want it to be

the timbre or frequency of certain voices

Chinese tea bowls. Cycladic heads.

writer’s notebooks, marginalia, drafts, compositional fragments, artist’s sketchbooks

Stan Laurel’s face and gesture of helplessness

being near the sea: walking, sitting, waking up, going to bed, the smell and sound of. wailing gulls. Cornwall. especially Cornwall

valley Welsh inflections and lilt

newly-trimmed fingernails

vigorous hair-brushing or fingers going through my hair

an impending sneeze staring into the sun

chopping onions, dicing carrots, preparing vegetables ... making soup – especially on Sunday mornings

walking through the woods, raining, just rained, leaves underfoot, damp earth smell, leaf rot, bonfires

sun on wooden floors mid-afternoon window ajar. faint breeze lifting the curtains

deft gestures of cafe staff: tug, wrist twist, bang, flick, gush of hot water and steam. bitter aromas.

lightness and poise of the dancer’s everyday movements. a way of sitting

voices on the radio at low volume while dozing

day trips (alone) to unfamiliar towns with the prospect of wandering, browsing, lunch ...

the jumble of dolls, hairgrips, shoes, Lego bricks, paper, crayons, boxes, marbles, girl things in the house

little chivalries

stars overhead on clear nights. Orion though the landing window coming downstairs in the morning

(acknowledgments to Lisa Jarnot & Larry Fagin)

Belgianwaffle invites any of its readers to supply their 'Fifty Things'

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The recipe for today

Take two handfuls of onions. Peel and slice into rings. Tip into a large thick-based saucepan and fry in a little olive oil - aiming to brown the onions but not burn them. Add a crushed clove of garlic and a peeled, diced potato.

When the onions have browned, add a tablespoon of brown sugar plus a litre (or more) of chicken stock. Sprinkle with thyme and season to taste.

Cover and allow to simmer for the best part of an hour.

While it is cooking, go upstairs and sort through your winter wardrobe - discovering which trousers now fit, sweaters and jackets you forgot you had, and throwing out any items of clothing which - admit it - you won't wear again.

The aromas from the kitchen will tell you when to descend. Cut the heat and let the pot stand while you go out for a relaxing coffee with the wife & kids.

Once more at the stove, lift out several ladles of the onions and set aside. Blitz what remains in the pot. Return the set aside onions. Light the gas and bring up to heat.

Serve with chunks of hearty brown bread.

It is a Sunday full of October sunlight. A chill is in the air.

It is a day for onion soup.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Down in France

Meaux (France). Sunday.

Early morning standing next to a river flowing down past the mill. Eight o'clock or so. Mist coming off the surface of the water. Sunlight swirling in the eddies of the current as it flowed over the rocks in the river bed. Thinking about the full moon last night low above the trees. Thinking about the Shamanistic practice of projecting the mind into the contact between elements.

Suddenly four young deer run out from behind the trees on the opposite bank.


Get home mid-afternoon eager to hear yesterday's Radio Four 'special' on Frank Zappa using the 'Listen Again' facility. Dreary & predictable. A scissors & glue effort from the archives with Germaine Greer making it all seem rather respectable (now there's an irony).

"A Smooth Operations Production" is credited with the programme. There you have it - there was nothing 'smooth' about Zappa. Lumpy gravy gets it about right.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

And again

Sat on the (still unfinished) terrace in the October afternoon sun reading - again - 'Periplum and other poems' by Peter Gizzi (the Salt reissue).

Why do I keep opening up this volume again & again? Well ...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Why it matters

Going to the car to drive home - after what has not been one of the more enjoyable school weeks - a mother of one of my ex-students winds down her passenger window and says: "You know, he still talks about your classes - he's so grateful for what you did. Have a nice weekend!"

The timing couldn't have been better. Thank you.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What could be better than ...

... this afternoon watching Laurel & Hardy (the saw mill episode) and Charlie Chaplin ('The Champion') with Emma laughing her little white socks off?

That's what Sundays were made for.

"For words alone are certain good"

Reading ... well, re-reading after twenty-odd years W.B. Yeats ('The Tower' & 'The Winding Stair' as well as miscellaneous essays) looking for ideas on poetry & cosmology. Also seeing interesting points of intersection with George Macdonald. No coincidence, either, I suppose that Duncan is photographed before an ascending stair on the cover of the New Directions 'Selected'? Also easy introductions to the human brain in an effort to relate macro & microcosmic systems of energy (solar wind, magnetism, electrical effects, synapses ... ). Stumble upon Marlow's remark (Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness') concerning travel in both hemispheres: psychogeography indeed!

Listening ... sonatas (Beethoven, Schubert) after catching part of Daniel Barenboim's masterclass on BBC4. His thoughts on sonata form, repeated motifs, the use of the keyboard all wonderfully suggestive in terms of poetic form.

Seeing ... Venus (I think!) above the roofline of the houses as I come downstairs at 6.30am.

Enjoying ... Ricky Gervais' 'Extras' and Mitchell and Webb. The repeated Fall programme on BBC 2 was good, too.

Cooking ... cod with lime & curry & rice. And I've decided prawns are viable, after all, (high in cholesterol but low in fat).

Swimming ... in the open air down in Waterloo on Thursday afternoon and early mornings in Boitsfort when - at a certain angle - the sun catches the water.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

When Belgianwaffle met David Thomas

Yes, it's that time of year again - and always a sense of a missed opportunity. Not wishing to be a killjoy ("oh really?" I hear) but wouldn't it be nice to have no cars AND no bikes - and just give the roads over to walking?

My reasoning is as follows - the car-obsessive person simply transfers their four-wheel behaviour onto two-wheels. The 4x4 driver mutates into the grimacing mountainbiker prepared to carve you up as you cross the (now car-free) road. Add to this a sense that the normal rules of the highway are no longer applicable - and you've the recipe for some nasty incidents.

A couple of years ago I had a run-in (verbal) with David Thomas of Pere Ubu - he was in Brussels at the Botanique with the Two Pale Boys. I like David Thomas - rather, I liked David Thomas - and I still like the music. However, I couldn't believe his attitude towards the one-day ban on cars. He saw this as gross intrusion by the State and extolled the joys of getting drunk and taking to the highway. Encouraging yells from the audience many of whom - I suspect - didn't quite understand his US-accented English and would be most alarmed if anyone smashed into their BMW on the Ring. (In any case, everyone now yells at concerts no matter what. It's the thing to do.)

I saw him after the show and said I asumed this was a put-on, some kind of showmanship. "No, I wasn't joking" was his reply.


Reading this week has been rather strange and circuitous. Graham Foust led me to Robert Creeley who I now see as much more 'in correspondence' with Olson and Robert Duncan. Creeley then led me to J.H. Prynne - via Prynne's exchanges with Olson and Ed Dorn.

I always approach Prynne with trepidation. His volumes seem marked 'Off Limits', circumscribed by his Cambridge acolytes, or bearing the Poodle Shadow of Out to Lunch. It's hard to simply read the poems - in the sense not just of the complexities of words on the page but also free from other people's imposed readings.

This afternoon I read through poem after poem ('Kitchen Poems' and into 'The White Stones') untroubled by (my usual) nagging doubts that I am getting only five per cent or missing some major Marxist theoretical argument. And I realise Prynne is much more interesting than many of his champions allow. And - bizarrely, given my recent readings in astronomy, the calendar, crystals etc - how often these early poems return, time and again, to such concerns. There's something about the tone, too, which is compelling. Hmmm....


Q: How do you solve a problem like Maria?

A: Switch off.


Lara: "It must be nearly Autumn as people are sneezing."


While it is gratifying to have a comment - see previous post - to find it relates to erectile disfunctioning is a bit of a - dare I say it - anticlimax.

Whoever did it: thanks but no thanks.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Lost in translation

Driving down towards the International School of Brussels this morning I catch sight of a new advertisement at the traffic lights - some beer or other - with the catchword: GOUT.

It's only when the lights change I hear the French sense.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunday. September.

Up & at the pool by 8am.
Sixteen lengths & playing around in the little pool with the Wafflettes.




Emma draws & helps sort socks.


Coffee (the Illy cafe).


Lunch (mushrooms & Catherine's tiny tomatoes). Outside on the terrace.




Read in the garden: 'The Shadows' by George Macdonald, another chapter of Hegel, Joseph Cornell book & the Larry Fagin film on DVD.


Chablis - a glass of 1999. Read Robert Duncan poems.


Chicken & salad & potatoes with last year's Irancy. On the terrace, still.


'Maria' programme recorded on the DVD. Siobhan makes it! Lara's pleased.


Girls in bed.
Type this.


Afterwards - ?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cuttings (I)

Happen upon a book on Hans Christian Andersen containing his artworks - plenty of predictable pencil drawings, the fairly well-known cut outs, but also - the collages. They could be by Joseph Cornell. A whole new dimension on Cornell's work opens up - did he know of these works by H.C.A. in addition to the stories?


Lara is worried about having to go to university - she's nearly seven, after all. She wants to be a supermarket check-out lady - like the ones she sees in Delhaize. Mummy explains you probably don't have to go to university to work the till. Good, says Lara, because then I can have all that money ...


Reading Hegel on Art - not quite so forbidding as I'd assumed.


It suddenly occurs to me that 'Moby Dick' is a shamanistic text. The whale as Ahab's 'power animal'.


Thinking about pi, crystals, stone age man, dolmens, earth stars, divining, ley lines, the Golden Mean - all in terms of 'lines of force' - and whether one can work an Olsonesque geophysics of poetry.


It looks as though Tony Blair is nearing his sell-by-date.* I can vividly remember - ten years ago in May - returning to England after my interview for the job in Belgium. There was a tangible carnival mood in the cafes along Whiteladies Road - at last the Conservatives had been ousted! Listening to the 'Today' programme there was an evident sense of relief as politicians answered questions with apparent honesty. New Labour, a New Britain, a New Start...

Today - Thursday 7 September 2006 - well ... it all went horribly wrong, didn't it?

(* in fact, he is well past it - it would be more accurate to say that the label can no longer be faked).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

In the post

One of the best ways to start the day? Surely it has to be an package waiting in your pigeonhole. The brown cardboard pack ... the uncertainty ... slitting open the flap ... ah! ... .

Monday, September 04, 2006

Me Too! Big Hugs!

We - ie the Wafflettes & I - have just discovered a new CBeebies programme: 'Me Too!'. It's obviously from the same stable as 'Balamory' - disconcerting merging of 'real' and computer generated backgrounds, Scottish actors picked for their politically-correct credentials, and a pretty flamboyant use of colour and pattern throughout. (I checked for Howard Hodgkin in the credits).

Children's television constitutes the majority of my viewing these days - with occasional forays into BBC 4. I'm increasingly convinced that a) children's television is far superior to the current 'adult' scheduling and b) it offers an interesting critique of the adult programmes and society in general.

For example: 'The Shiny Show' where a cat, a dog and a monkey compete for worthless 'shiny' objects by answering simple questions about a piece of video footage. "Give yourself a shiny too!" is the refrain.

For example: 'Balamory' (and now 'Me Too!') where everyone is unfailingly cheerful and slow on the uptake - PC Plum being particularly dim-witted yet cherubically innnocent. The actual mechanics of life must be going on - the passing ferries, the kindergarten inspections by educational authorities, Miss Hoolie's salary being paid into the bank - yet everyone seems blissfully unaware of these facts.

For example: 'Teletubbies' where life has been simplified to a succession of hugs and chuckles and where wiggling your tummy receives divine benediction in the form of ordinary life being replayed on your navel-screen. And the sun - like something seen by Blake in one of his visionary moments on the heath - is a giggling infant preternaturally bright in the ozone sky.

This is Britain today, folks, and no mistake ...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The emphasis falls on 'the'

The early 80s? Sunday evening 'tea', The South Bank Show, vague memories of a programme on David Jones. Black and white? Sequence of him working on a page of calligraphy. Slate? Overall impression of mess, dust and shabbiness. Next ... a corridor in Oxford, a pencil and watercolour 'original', seen every morning and every evening on the way to the dining hall. Recurrent ... those Faber covers ... . A couple of years ago finding 'Epoch and Artist' in a secondhand bookshop in York.

This Sunday afternoon - the first in September - while Lara & Emma sleep and the rain patters on the Velux, I read 'The Preface to The Anathemata' (the emphasis falls on 'the') ...


I have made a heap of all that I could find

(citing Nennius – or “whoever”)


Part of my task has been to allow myself to be directed by motifs gathered together from such sources as have by accident been available to me and to make a work out of those mixed data.


If one is making a painting of daffodils what is not (italics) instantly involved?


The ‘grave problems’ referred to a few paragraphs back have mostly arisen over questions of this sort. It must be understood that it is not a question of ‘translation’ or even of ‘finding an equivalent word’, it is something much more complex.


The times are late and get later, not by decades but by years and months.


But the particular quarry that the mind of the poet seeks to capture is a very elusive beast indeed. Perhaps we can say that the country to be hunted, the habitat of that quarry, where the ‘forms’ lurk that he’s after, will be found to be part of vast, densely wooded, inherited and entailed domains. It is in that ‘sacred wood’ that the spoor of those ‘forms’ is to be tracked. The ‘specific factor’ to be captured will be pungent with the smell of, asperged with the dew of, those thickets. The venator poeta (italics) cannot escape that tangled brake. It is within such a topography that he will feel forward, from a find to a check, from a check to a view, from a view to a possible kill: in the morning certainly, but also in the lengthening shadows.


The means or agent is a veritable torcular, squeezing every drain of evocation from the word-forms of that language or languages. And that involves a bagful of mythus before you’ve said Jack Robinson – or immediately after.


Poetry is to be diagnosed as ‘dangerous’ because it evokes and recalls, is a kind of anamnesis (italics) of ... something loved.


What for us is (italics) patient of being ‘actually loved and known’, where for us is ‘this place’, where do we seek or find what is ‘ours’, what is (italics) available, what is (italics) valid as material for our effective signs?


In a sense the fragments that compose this book are about, or around and about, matters of all sorts which, by a kind of quasi-free association, are apt to stir in my mind at any time and as often as not ‘in the time of the Mass’. The mental associations, liaisons, meanderings to and fro, ‘ambivalences’, asides, sprawl of the pattern, if pattern there is – these thought trains (or some might reasonably say, trains of distractions and inadvertence) have been as often as not initially set in motion, shunted or buffered into near sidings or off to far destinations, by some action or word, something seen or heard, during the liturgy...


That mote of dust or small insect seen for an instant in a bend of pale light, may remind us of the bird that winged swiftly through the lughted mote-hall, and that I suppose cannot but remind us of ...


You use the things that are yours to use because they happen to be lying about the place or site or lying within the orbit of your ‘tradition’...


You can’t get the intended meaning unless you hear the sound and you can’t get the sound unless you observe the score: and the pause marks on a score are of particular importance. Lastly, it is meant to be said with deliberation – slowly as opposed to quickly – but ‘with deliberation’ is the best rubric for each page, each sentence, each word.


Each word is meant to do its own work, but each word cannot do its work unless it is given due attention.


There are, however, many others to whom I may be as, or more, indebted. Who should say how much may be owing to a small textbook on botany; a manual of seamanship ...


For names linger, especially when associated with some sort of disciplina ludi (italics). They go into your word-hoard, whether or not you ever attempted to unlock it.


I'm thinking of Martin Corless-Smith (a professed admirer of David Jones), Susan Howe (whose 'The Midnight' I found by chance in Sterling Books), and - for some reason - my godfather 'Uncle' John who turned 80 last week.


("... with a name like Jones you got to be Welsh ...")

Saturday, September 02, 2006

White out

Reading the Thames & Hudson 'Celtic Mysteries' from the library I come upon a page heading 'The Triple God'. On closer inspection I see that someone has effaced the letters 'd-e-s-s' with Tippex.

1. Why would someone want to do this?

2. And if they did - surely such an act betrays just such a 'primitive' fear of the magical power of inscription they seek to deny?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Universal Verse of the Universe

... too busy ... not in the mood ... couldn't get on the computer ... one reason or another, anyway, to explain the lull in posting.

Here, then, a series of quotations gleaned from the notebooks & which will feed into the poetry teaching this semester.


Tide-flow under the sun and moon of the sea, systole and diastole of the heart, these rhythms lie deep in our experience and when we let them take over our speech there is a monotonous rapture of persistent regular stresses and waves of lines breaking rhyme after rhyme. (Robert Duncan)


There is not a phase of our experience that is meaningless, not a phrase of our communication that is meaningless. We do not make things meaningful, but in our making we work towards an awareness of meaning; poetry reveals itself to us as we obey the orders that appear in our work. (Robert Duncan)


The materials of the poem – the vowels and consonants – are already structured in their resonance, we have only to listen and cooperate with the music we hear. (Robert Duncan)


All deep things are Song. It seems somehow the very central essence of us, Song ... The Greeks fabled Sphere-Harmonies: it was the feeling they had of the inner structure of Nature; that the soul of all her voices and utterances was perfect music. Poetry, therefore, we will call musical Thought. The Poet is he who thinks in that manner ... See deep enough, and you see musically; the heart of Nature being everywhere music, if you can only reach it. (Thomas Carlyle)


A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. (William Carlos Williams)


In writing I’m telling something to myself, curiously, that I didn’t have the knowing of previously. (Robert Creeley)


Poems are very specific kinds of dancing, because language is that possibility most specific to our condition as human beings. But I do not speak easily of these things … It is as though I were trying to make actual a sense of wetness apart from water itself. (Robert Creeley)


What emerges in the writing I most value is a content which cannot be anticipated, which “tells you what you don’t know”.
(Robert Creeley)


And a poem can be assay(s) of things come upon, can be a stretch of thinking.
(Larry Eigner)


A poem must be a holiday of Mind
(Paul Valery)


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"You've lost weight, haven't you?"

Diets have to be one of the most boring topics of conversation - doubly tedious when the person conducting the conversation is enviably svelte and toned like an off-the-shelf Stradivarius.

But, yes, OK, let's come clean - we've lost weight & it's only fair to share the Belgianwaffle Diet & Weight Loss system (world patent pending).

Here goes:

i) cut out most of the unnecessary fats - so out goes milk on your cereal, cheese/butter in a sandwich, cheese after dinner, cream-based sauces. Discover soya desserts.

ii) reduce alcohol intake - working on about 7 units per week with regular alcohol-free days (skipping a drink for one day means your liver gets a 46-hour refresher). Good quality red wine for preference.

iii) reduce red meat intake & processed meats & portion sizes. Go for fish.

iv) eliminate 'aperitif' syndrome - crisps, salted peanuts, pate toasts, etc - and during the day snacks (biscuits, Mars bars etc)

v) for breakfast eat a plain yoghurt plus oats plus fruits followed by toast (without butter) with Marmite (we believe in Marmite!)

vi) mid-morning: drink good quality coffee with a piece of 70 per cent black chocolate (avoid milk chocolate, though)

vii) lunch - sandwich/left overs plus fruit - chopped carrots are also a good idea

viii) mid-afternoon - tea (green/fruit/Earl Grey etc)

ix) dinner - emphasizing fish, lean meats, going strong on vegetables, salads & fruit & being careful about pasta/potatoes (no point in cutting fats and simply over-loading on carbohydrates). It's best to grill, steam, poach - avoid frying.

x) eating the right kinds of nuts (without added salt/coatings) rather than high energy bars (which will send triglycerides rocketing)

xi) eating well but stopping before the 'stuffed' feeling. Many top chefs talk about this 'knack' in knowing when enough isn't quite enough. (Keep the appetite keen - there's always tomorrow)

xii) exercising - a 30 minute walk each day (minimum), a bike ride, swimming. Generally, finding occasions to walk rather than take the car. A good operating principle - walk somewhere each day

There's nothing original here. It's patched together from all sorts of sources. It won't guarantee immortality. However, you'll certainly feel better. I do.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Rainy Days

The last 'official' day of the holidays. Torrential rain on the Velux as I type this. August?


New arrivals by post:

'if nobody speaks of remarkable things' & 'so many ways to begin' by Jon McGregor

'Lilith' & 'Phantastes' by George MacDonald.


"but the speaker always hiding behind his tuft, when I looked in his direction, "Look at him! Look at him! He has begun a story without a beginning, and it will never have any end. He! he! he! Look at him" ". ('Phantastes' p.24)


"Let it be by faith too. That there is an order; /words blotted out/ but "evolution", the magic whereby forms come /words blotted out/ mean works of art as forms, but I mean also /words blotted out/ that sense. The form of Hamlet or Lear or Desdemona /words blotted out/ And you and I are forms. The art is the area of /words blotted out/ being manifest. We're called up to dance. And damn the New Critics and the professors of Literature, what has that to do with the poem in itself ... (Robert Duncan, Letter 82)

... thinking of this passage as I pause mid-page of 'Phantastes' and Wagner's 'Das Rheingold' is still in my ears ... Alberich: Caliban ... Loge: Feste or the Fool in Lear ... Rheinmaidens and witches in Macbeth ... the triple daughters of King Lear ... the daughter as the price of land ... Freia & Cordelia ... C.S. Lewis' closing quotation to his introduction of 'Phantastes' "the thing more gold than gold" attributed to Sappho ... the opening of Piers Plowman and the dream of a Field ... Robert Graves' pages on the White Goddess ... the trees you can trust and those you must shun ... tree alphabets ... the massive hand pursuing the 'I' of MacDonald's text and Coleridge's Mariner & Wordsworth rowing on the lake ...


And the verdict on the holidays?

"too infrequent idle moments that permit idling".

(as Duncan complained, Letter 33)


And this will be the 'core' to this year's introductory poetry classes - with apologies to iPhil (if he's reading - Syd Barrrett as part of the syllabus!):


Knock at the door (tap forehead)
Peep in (lift eyelid)
Lift the latch (press the nose)
Walk in (finger on the lips)
Take a chair (pinch cheek)
Sit by there (pinch the other cheek)
How-d’you-do-today-Sir? (tug the chin)


Eye winker
Tom tinker
Nose smeller
Mouth eater
Chin chopper


Thumb bold
Lick pan
Mamie’s wee man


Long Man
Cherry Tree
Little Jack-a-Dandy


This little pig went to market
This little pig stayed at home
This little pig had roast beef
This little pig had none
And this little pig went wee-wee-wee all the way home


Little Pig
Great Big Thumbo, father of them all


Tickly, tickly, on your knee
If you laugh you don’t love me!


Round and round the garden
Like a teddy bear
One step, two step,
Tickly under there!


Here is the church, and here is the steeple
Open the door and there are the people
Here is the parson going upstairs
And here he is a-saying his prayers


Ring-a-ring o’roses
A pocket full of posies
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down


Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John
Went to bed with his trousers on
One shoe off, and one shoe on
Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John


Up the wooden hill
to Bedfordshire
Down Sheet Lane
to Blanket fair


I see the moon
And the moon sees me
God bless the moon
And God bless me


Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
Down will come baby, cradle, and all


Ickle ockle, blue bockle
Fishes in the sea
If you want a pretty maid
Please choose me


Hey diddle diddle
The cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon
The little dog laughed
To see such fun
And the dish ran away with the spoon


Hickory, dickory, dock
The mouse ran up the clock
The clock struck one
The mouse ran down


Three men in a tub
And how do you think they got there?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker
They all jumped out of a rotten potato
‘Twas enough to make a man stare


There was a crooked man
And he walked a crooked mile
He found a crooked sixpence
Against a crooked stile
He bought a crooked cat
Which caught a crooked mouse
And they all lived together
In a little crooked house


Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey
There came a big spider
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away


What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails
And puppy dogs tails

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And all things nice


Ladybird, lady bird
Fly away home
Your house is on fire
And your children all gone
All except one
And that’s little Ann
And she has crept under
The frying pan


Rain, rain go away
Come again another day


It’s raining, it’s pouring
The old man’s snoring
He got into bed
And bumped his head
And couldn’t get up in the morning


The Man in the Moon
Came down too soon
And asked his way to Norwich
He went by the South
And burnt his mouth
With supping cold pease porridge


Fee, fie, foe, fum
I smell the blood of an Englishman
Be he living or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread


U and V
W X Y Z-Z-Z!


A was an archer who shot a frog
B was a butcher and had a great dog
C was a captain all covered with lace
D was a drunkard and had a red face ...


A was an apple pie
B bit it
C cut it
D dealt it
E eat it ...


Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor,
rich man, poor man, beggar man,


Eeny meeny miney mo
Catch a tigger by his toe
If he hollers, let him go
Eeeny meeny miney mo


Eenity, feenity, fickety, feg
El, del, domen, egg
Irky, birky, story, rock
An, tan, toosh, Jock


buckle my shoe
knock at the door
pick up sticks
lay them straight ...


Go to bed late
Stay very small
Go to bed early
Be very tall


Red sky at night
Shepherd’s delight
Red sky in the morning
Shepherd’s warning


Scissors and string, scissors and string
When a man is single, he lives like a king
Needles and pins, needles and pins
When a man marries, his trouble begins


A cherry year
A merry year
A pear year
A dear year
A plum year
A dumb year


A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly


If all the world was paper
And all the sea was ink
If all the trees were bread and cheese
What should we have to drink?


Oh that I were
Where I would be
Then would I be
Where I am not
But where I am
There must I be
And where I would be - I can not


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper
A peck of pickled pepper Peter Piper picked
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper
Where’s the peck of pickled pepper Peter Piper picked?


Can you make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Without any seam or needlework?
And you shall be a true lover of mine

Can you wash it in yonder well
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Where never sprung water nor rain ever fell?
And you shall be a true lover of mine ...


Lavender’s blue, diddle diddle
Lavender’s green
When I am king diddle diddle
You shall be queen



One, two, three, four,
Can I have a little more,
Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten,
I love you.

A, B, C, D,
Can I bring my friend to tea?
E, F, G, H, I, J,
I love you.

Bom bom bom bom-pa bom
Sail the ship bom-pa bom
Chop the tree bom-pa bom
Skip the rope bom-pa bom
Look at me!

All together now, All together now,
All together now, All together now,

Black, white, green, red,
Can I take my friend to bed?
Pink, brown, yellow, orange, and blue,
I love you!

All together now, All together now,
All together now, All together now,

Bom bom bom bom bom-pa bom
Sail the ship bom-pa bom
Chop the tree bom-pa bom
Skip the rope bom-pa bom
Look at me!

All together now, All together now,
All together now, All together now,
All together now!

(‘All Together Now’ by Lennon & McCartney)


Corrina, Corrina,
Gal, where you been so long?
Corrina, Corrina,
Gal, where you been so long?
I been worr'in' 'bout you, baby,
Baby, please come home.

I got a bird that whistles,
I got a bird that sings.
I got a bird that whistles,
I got a bird that sings.
But I ain' a-got Corrina,
Life don't mean a thing.

Corrina, Corrina,
Gal, you're on my mind.
Corrina, Corrina,
Gal, you're on my mind.
I'm a-thinkin' 'bout you, baby,
I just can't keep from crying.

(‘Corinna, Corinna’ by Bob Dylan)


When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day

But when I came to man's estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain, it raineth every day

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain, it raineth every day

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain, it raineth every day

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

(Feste’s song in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare)


I've got a bike
You can ride it if you like
It's got a basket
A bell that rings
And things to make it look good
I'd give it to you if I could
But I borrowed it

You're the kind of girl that fits in with my world
I'll give you anything
Everything if you want things

I've got a cloak
It's a bit of a joke
There's a tear up the front
It's red and black
I've had it for months
If you think it could look good
Then I guess it should

You're the kind of girl that fits in with my world
I'll give you anything
Everything if you want things

I know a mouse
And he hasn't got a house
I don't know why
I call him Gerald
He's getting rather old
But he's a good mouse

You're the kind of girl that fits in with my world
I'll give you anything
Everything if you want things

I've got a clan of gingerbread men
Here a man
There a man
Lots of gingerbread men
Take a couple if you wish
They're on the dish

You're the kind of girl that fits in with my world
I'll give you anything
Everything if you want things

I know a room full of musical tunes
Some rhyme
Some ching
Most of them are clockwork
Let's go into the other room
and make them work

(‘Bike’ by Syd Barrett)


Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens,
Brown paper packages tied up with strings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels,
Door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles.
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.
These are a few of my favorite things.

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes,
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,
Silver white winters that melt into springs,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the dog bites, when the bee stings,
When I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

(‘My Favourite Things’ by Rodgers and Hammerstein - from The Sound of Music)
Good evening - or morning
And now we have a choice selection
Of rivmic melodies from the Official Orchestra of the College of Pataphysics
But first is our great pleasure - and indeed we hope yours
To present in its entire and manifold entiretity
Ladies and Gentlemen 
- the British Alphabet!


(‘Pataphysical Introduction’ by Robert Wyatt from Soft Machine Volume Two)


And not forgetting what the English language shares with the French ...

Sur ma Remington portative
J'ai écrit ton nom Laetitia
Elaeudanla Teïtéïa

Laetitia les jours qui se suivent
Hélas ne se ressemblent pas
Elaeudanla Teïtéïa

C'est ma douleur que je cultive
En frappant ces huit lettres-là
Elaeudanla Teïtéïa

C'est une fleur bien maladive
Je la touche du bout des doigts
Elaeudanla Teïtéïa

S'il faut aller à la dérive
Je veux bien y aller pour toi
Elaeudanla Teïtéïa

Ma raison en définitive
Se perd dans ces huit lettres là
Elaeudanla Teïtéïa

Sur ma Remington portative
J'ai écrit ton nom Laetitia
Elaeudanla Teïtéïa

(‘Elaeudanla Teïtéïa’ by Serge Gainsbourg)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Sayings of Emma

"a dog bone"

(in answer to Lara's question: "what does your brain look like?")


"Pain d'Epices"

(in answer to Lara's question: "who was the first King?")


"everybody dies a little every day"

(while eating a bowl of raspberries)


"put a banana in your sock"

(reply to various requests to put shoes on, wipe her hands etc)


"big fat tummy"

(general term of endearment)


I'll keep you posted ...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

"That we see all around us and even attend"

It seems a while since I last posted - explained by a) looking after the girls & b) reading Robert Duncan's 'Letters' in greedy snatches.

The 'Letters' volume is absolutely fascinating - for the length and frequency of exchanges, the sense of poems taking shape, and - as with Letter 93 - extraordinarily 'open' discussions of Duncan's poetic process & creative theories.

Reading Duncan is like a 'Curriculum of the Soul'. A Letter sends me to the poems (at present The 'Selected' or 'Opening of the Field') which, in turn, send me off to Duncan's reading (Milton, The Zohar, Rimbaud, Olson, Creeley ...). Or to music - Stravinsky, Wagner. I've decided to listen once again to 'Das Rheingold' - aware that I am hearing it through Duncan's ears (his dizzying ability to fuse Cosmic and Psychological).

How long is needed to really do justice to Duncan's work? A year? Ten? A life-time of reading, re-reading, researching, mulling over, allowing a line or phrase or poem to 'dis-close' its meanings & constellations? While also being - 'being' - in the sense Duncan would have understood as - part of a house, home, other lives, daily chores. (How typical he resists Levertov's suggested edits to the 'Storm of White' - retaining the lament for his dead cat. What - elsewhere - he terms the "stink of the real").

And yes, we resume the 'day job' on Tuesday ...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

& spiders again

'A Noiseless Patient Spider'

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself.
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detatched, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them.
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Walt Whitman


"And what is amusing ourselves, actually?" Lara has just asked me.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Knitting & poetry

Another Belgian bank holiday. To the pool for 8 o'clock opening. Back for breakfast. Out to the Illy cafe on Avenue Louise for elevenses. Lunch. Then steal a couple of hours for reading.


"My sense for it is anyway to let the writing loose from its moorings if need be but to allow range; and now where it might happen above or below, nobly or ignobly to disrupt the personal. When you ask why I am writing that way or is it the right direction that all belongs to the me (italicized) who is shaped, impelld, made as I make the poem. But the words and the poem are also all other and less or more than what we use them for or how we are used by them." (Robert Duncan to Denise Levertov, 16 July, 1955)

and this:

"In the late hour left after the history of the day, taken with a will before bedtime - how transformed the world is! The silence almost reaches us in which an original, all that has been left behind, tosst about, of us remains.

Beautiful litter with thy gleam and glimmers, thy wastes and remains! The tide of our purpose has gone back into itself, into its own counsels. And it is the beauty of where we have been living that is the poetry of the hour." ('Salvages: An Evening Piece' in 'A Book of Resemblances')

Tonight? Pasta. A glass of red wine.

and finally:

"What I am picturing is a poetry spun out of an evening as a whole cloth spun out of a net of worn wool." ('Poetry Disarranged')

Wouldn't that be great?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Back home


Amongst the luggage: The Letters of Robert Duncan & Denise Levertov, The Secret Teachings of All Ages (Manly P. Hall), The Domain of Images (Elkins), Corpus Socius (Lance Phillips).

And what did we notice about the UK?

a) that you can no longer buy a newspaper without being asked whether you want to buy something else, too

b) that swimming pools are at least twice as expensive as those in Brussels

c) that the experience of driving is essentially one of negotiating roundabouts with short stretches of road in between

d) that the combined forces of the major chains (Tesco, M&S, Sainsbury's etc) are infiltrating every aspect of people's lives, living environments, daily habits & thought processes

e) that having a Belgian number plate on your car makes British drivers automatically assume you are a 'bloody foreigner' and merit a gratuituous blare of the horn as they turn off behind you

f) that the mainstream news media are guilty of blatant bias, misreporting and deliberate omission

g) that the price of admission to the Tate Modern special exhibitions - eg the Kandinsky - is (in our opinion) daylight robbery

h) that Blackwells in Oxford has a lamentable poetry section (they call it 'Poets Corner' or some such tosh)

i) that Emma Grover continues to make lovely prints which we would gladly buy if we had the room & spare cash (see image above)

The week ahead: belgianwaffle amuses the wafflettes for five days. Blogging might have to take a back seat.

Friday, August 04, 2006

belgianwaffle heads for the kingdom of Tesco

We're off to England early tomorrow (Yateley, Reading, Oxford, Marlborough, London perhaps) so posts will be unlikely until we return next Sunday.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Just noticed ...

You can find an online version of 'Belgravia' at this address:

Something between the lines

Related to something else, here are some thoughts on Barbara Guest's poem 'Belgravia' the opener to the Carcanet 'Selected Poems' ... no idea if it's available online.

‘Belgravia’ – which we can decompose into: Belle + Grave + Ear (Here) (Hear).

“I am in love with a man”

The disarming frankness of the first line – flirting with an entire genre of confessional poetry BG would (I assume) abhor. How BG then uses it as a formal structuring device & refrain (appropriate doubleness: repetition and not-doing-something). Belgravia is – in another sense – a ‘good address’. A very privileged position from which to speak. Linguistics intersects with the property market.

The string of monosyllables – see my earlier post on Grenier – here working as perhaps a beginning-to-speak testing of language. Or the first fingering of the vowel keyboard. The last line of the poem certainly suggests that one of the concerns of the poem is a movement-toward-speaking.

Aurally, the shape to the first line: “am” echoes “man”. The sounds share. Language offers a togetherness.

Topos: house. I suspect there is a specific ‘place’ in mind – the very phrase starts to undermine itself. BG asserts that there is always a ‘place’ – yet she is never intent on mere description. I’m reminded of Howard Hodgkin’s titles – how a title ‘anchors’ the memory above which the poem (BG)/painting (HH) floats. Parachutes?

The “I” of the poem – notoriously hard to identify. Guest herself? Or she temporarily ‘inhabits’ the “I” (as we all do). I wonder, also, at what date the poem was composed? Guest is born Barbara Pinson. Her first marriage dissolved, she marries Stephen Guest (later Lord Haden-Guest) the name she carries on using. Is this relevant to the poem – an accommodation to a name? The woman (wife) ‘inhabiting’ the name of the husband(s)? And the compromises involved?

Lines 2-4 sound as if they are appropriated lines – and pompous at that. An English gentleman/connoisseur/property speculator. You know, I think she is being funny – or viciously satirical. Subsequently, his preciosity is seen in the preciousness of his possessions: “crystal objects”.

“Crystal objects” hovers between Cornell-like occult symbols and/or just things. And it’s hard to imagine BG – given her modernist leanings – treasuring mantlepiece trinkets.

The syntax, so far, is pretty conventional. “Than ... which are/But more .../Yet unlike.../ Cannot be ...”

The scenario of the woman in the man’s home immediately raises textual ghosts (more guests). Jane Eyre ... Bluebeard ... Beauty and the Beast ... . Already at this early stage, Guest seems to be working off such literary/cultural ‘hauntings’.

“Interiors” – how the word hovers between glossy coffe-table magazine language and psychological space. I’m also interested in the lack of equivalency between “love” (line 1) and “fond” (line 2). Commitment vs. a more condescending ‘leisured’ liking.

Despite the syntactical logic of verse one, semantically it’s off-kilter. Surely she should be the second part of the equation rather than rooms? The woman demeaningly equated with a space in which to arrange one’s own trophies to effect? Woman is property – or, rather, property-less.

Verse two

Chairs – cane – cradle – branches. I can’t help thinking of Citizen Kane (another collector of objets d’art) and Susan Alexander (the second Mrs Kane, wannabe opera singer & whose voice Kane exploited) lost in the absurdly large spaces of Xanadu. Then there’s sugar cane (sweet) and the cane (corporal punishment typical of the male British public school tradition). And “made in Berlin” carries inevitable connotations of fascism and/or partition.

Dominant sense of fragility, that things will break. Delicate objets d’art. And yet the main verb is one of solidity: “rock” – and anticipatory of “block” and “blocks” (verse three). BG certainly seems to conceive of such distant echoings as integral to her poetic structure/technique.

Tone is hard to locate. Is it that of the awestruck visitor/newly-wed taking stock of their surroundings? Or an inventory laced with distaste?

"Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all"

Lines 4-6 of verse two clearly rely upon a distant hearing of the well-known nursery rhyme. It’s always struck me as a rather unusual choice of lullaby for a baby – disconcerting, to say the least. Certainly it reinforces the sense of fragilty – now with a real sense of imminent catastrophe. Domesticity, the safety of the nursery, seems seriously under threat.

Verse three

From Kane to Gatsby – another collector and owner of a luxurious mansion. I’m reminded of Klipspringer exercising while Gatsby and Daisy stroll through the sumptuous rooms.

Inside:outside/private:public/indoors:city – the pliability of space in Guest’s poem(s). If this is Belgravia (London) then there’s an interesting fusion of English geography and American vocabulary – “blocks”. Obstruction, oppression, thwarted desires. And so little sense of togetherness – “the one who walks”.

Definite sense of death – “marble” and “entomb”. Exercise and thought only lead to dead ends/deadened. The “one” is a prisoner, housebound, a woman ‘shut up’.

Verse four

Undecided readings – a) he knows himself better than he knows her (me)? b) he knows himself better than she knows him due to her relative youth, (in)experience, etc. Again, syntax is slippery.

She is his reflector – “glasses” could be spectacles, drinking vessels or mirrors. Whichever, she is passive, subsidiary, marginal. The ‘rim’. The rhyme? Echo to this Narcissus?

‘He’ is now identified with “European/Capitals” and their reflection upon their past. It seems possible to connect maleness with colonialism and architecture (tops of columns) and self-regarding. The dominant ‘story’ requires confirmation of itself. Notice he “alone” is “nervous with history”. Why? Guilt? What the past contains? Hers? His? Let’s throw in another book – Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and Kurtz (“all of Europe went into his making” – I quote from memory). “Filigreed” fuses elaboration, decoration and the beaux arts with greed, male possessiveness and guilt (gilt?).

By now the repetition of “I am” sounds less convincing and more of an attempt at self-persuasion. Yes, she is forthright and honest (more than 'he' seems to be) but always defining herself in terms of her feelings towards him.

Verse five

“Open house” oscillates between the colloquialism for welcome-to-all and an architecture which denies privacy and interiority. Nowhere to hide! Similarly “locks” (interiority, shutting in) and "balconies" (exteriority, looking out).

“The brokenhearted bears who tumble in the leaves”

This line seems to be a favourite – do a Google search and you’ll find people who cite it as a key moment in her poetry. I’ll confess to being utterly baffled by it: it seems simply incongruous.

The best I can do – on this re-reading – is see it as a ‘focus’ for strands of image & allusion working through the poem.

“the brokenhearted” – the speaker herself? And the culmination of impending breaks noted before.

“bears” – an embedded reference to another fairystory – 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'? Fairystory being a counter narrative to ‘official’ history. Goldilocks as the female trespasser/squatter, porridge-taster, bed-tester, and – at least in my kids’ edition – little bear’s chair-breaker. And she has been prepared for by “filigreed” and “locks”. (“Bears” can also be read as the verbs ‘bear’/’bare’– as in carries the burden or exposes.)

“tumble in the leaves” – we’re back to rock-a-by baby when the tree branch finally cracks (nasty anticipations of genealogical trees, too – think Ophelia’s death/suicide in ‘Hamlet’) and the cradle comes crashing down. (Might there even be a deliberate mis-hearing of John Clare's poem 'Recollections after a Ramble' - "Backs of leaves the burthen bear"? The consolations for the brokenhearted lie in adulterating the leafy pages of literature?)

If this is how BG’s poem is working – then it’s exciting. The line working in multi-dimensions. The conventional trajectory of the line simultaneous to the ‘vertical’ axis. It’s as if everything focuses here – a point of real energy.

Verse six

Out in the garden (with or without the bears - off to a picnic in the woods?). Trespass now seems to have replaced damage to property as the anticipated crime (“thus has escaped all intruders”). There is an implied theatricality – “entrances” and “audience” – yet the show or performance is not made explicit.

“Who only among the invited hastens my speech”

The last line – unsurprisingly – remains poised between alternative readings. a) only he does this? b) he only does it when others are present? And if her speech is hastened – he inspires her, gives energy and fluency? Or he hurries her – impatient for her words to end?

No need to draw a conclusion. I’m already thinking of equally ambiguous, self-contradictory lines such as:

“Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher”.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

and Ifs eternally

More favourite passages from 'Moby Dick':

"Oh, grassy glades! oh, ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye, - though long parched by the dead drought of the earthy life, - in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: - through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? in what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling's father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it." ('The Gilder')


"Then gazing at his quadrant, and handling, one after the other, its numerous cabalistical contrivances, he pondered again, and muttered: "Foolish toy! babies' plaything of haughty Admirals, and Commodores, and Captains; the world brags of thee, of thy cunning and might; but what after all canst thou do, but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou thyself happenest to be on this wide planet, and the hand that holds thee: no! not one jot more! Thou canst not tell where one drop of water or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon; and yet with thy impotence thou insultest the sun! Science! Curse thee, thou vain toy; and cursed be all the things that cast man's eyes aloft to that heaven, whose live vividness but scorches him, as these old eyes are even now scorched with thy light, O sun! Level by nature to this earth's horizon are the glances of man's eyes; not shot from the crown of his head, as if God had meant him to gaze on his firmament. Curse thee, thou quadrant!" dashing it to the deck, "no longer will I guide my earthly way by thee; the level ship's compass, and the level dead-reckoning, by log and by line; these shall conduct me, and show me my place on the sea. Aye," lighting from the boat to the deck, "thus I trample on thee, thou paltry thing that feebly pointest on high; thus I split and destroy thee!" " ('The Quadrant')


" "Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship, till in the sacramental act so burned by thee, that to this hour I bear the scar; I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is defiance. To neither love nor reverence wilt thou be kind; and e'en for hate thou canst but kill; and all are killed. No fearless fool now fronts thee. I own thy speechless, placeless power; but to the last gasp of my earthquake life will dispute its unconditional, unintegral mastery in me. In the midst of the personified impersonal, a personality stands here. Though but a point at best; whencesoe'er I came; wheresoe'er I go; yet while I earthly live, the queenly personality lives in me, and feels her royal rights. But war is pain, and hate is woe. Come in thy lowest form of love, and I will kneel and kiss thee; but at thy highest, come as mere supernal power; and though thou launchest navies of full-freighted worlds, there's that in here that still remains indifferent. Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee." " ('The Candles')


(About 70 pages to go. Great stuff.)


On another tack, check out: for an interesting series 'The Art of Pop'.

Jarvis Cocker is doing a very good job - none of that typical Radio 4 tongue-in-cheekness or Hampstead/Oxbridge snobbery when it comes to talking about art & modern music.

It's really refreshing - if only there could be more programmes like this.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"Sometimes we see an elephant and sometimes we do not"


“Thus the unity of treatment is to be looked for in the gradual development of the scheme, in meaning and in relevance, and not in the successive treatment of particular topics. For example, the doctrines of time, of space, of perception, and of causality are recurred to again and again, as the cosmology develops. In each recurrence these topics throw some new light on the scheme, or receive some new elucidation.” (xii)

Whitehead demands his reader to break conventional habits of reading – the first section has to be read but will only ‘make sense’ when placed in the context of subsequent sections. Thus his later claim that “no entity can be conceived in complete abstraction from the system of the universe”. It’s not too difficult to see how such ideas have applications for poetry – and why Olson & Duncan were so taken with ‘Process and Reality’.


“Nobody knows where you are/How near or how far ...” – but wherever you are, Uncle Charlie, ‘Happy Birthday’!


“my brain is thinking in paint” (Alan, yesterday)

Monday, July 31, 2006


A lot of it is making constellations. Thus:

William Blake - : - (Ezra Pound) + (Gertrude Stein) + (Sigmund Freud) + (H.D.) - : - Alfred North Whitehead - : - Charles Olson - : - Walt Whitman - : - Jack Spicer - : - Robert Duncan

Whitehead is central. As Devin Johnston notes in the chapter "Sublime Undoing" in 'Precipitations' "Duncan returned to Whitehead throughout his life".

& how about this from Emily Dickinson:


To hear an Oriole sing
May be a common thing -
Or only a divine.

It is not of the Bird
Who sings the same, unheard,
As unto Crowd -

The Fashion of the Ear
Attireth that it hear
In Dun, or fair -

So whether it be Rune,
Or whether it be none
Is of within.

The “Tune is in the Tree,”
The Skeptic - showeth me -
“No Sir! In Thee!”


Line 3 is the detonator - "only" !

Friday, July 28, 2006

Great Book

Martin Corless-Smith's books are coming into a new focus as I look back through 'Complete Travels' and 'Of Piscator' from the vantage point of his more recent 'Nota' and his latest 'Swallows'. I'm less wowed by the verbal oddity - six years ago that was what struck me most - now it's the serious historical dimension to the work. A textual politics of language, history, poetry and his own position as a writer 'here' and 'there' (the Englishman abroad). Furthermore, I see his debt to Susan Howe much more clearly - although, as he says in an online interview, their purposes are different.

I also sense his background in painting pervading the work in subtler ways. Not because of the 'arty' covers or drawings (eg 'Complete Travels') but in terms of his sense of composition, how he makes and conceives of his books.

Let's take the cover to 'Swallows' - 'A Wall in Naples' by Thomas Jones, a late 18th/early 19thC Welsh painter who really did exist (with M. C-S you're never quite sure). It's a revealing choice and directly relevant to M. C-S's poetics. You can see the cover via the Fence site:

i) a stretch of wall in what could be an exercise in realism, the picturesque or even a 19thC attempt at a snapshot. Yet it's noticeable how the door, window and empty squares left by fallen bricks move toward abstraction. Similarly, the technique effaces itself in some areas to achieve a pictorial realism while in others remains defiantly painterly in its daubs and brushmarks.

Transfer to M.C-S's poetry and there is a similar tension between depiction and surface formalism. It could be 'safe' and reactionary - a kind of National Trust revival of older Englishes for posterity. Yet, M. C-S is constantly jamming such reassuring nostalgia, problematizing it time and again (a good phrase for this writing) in terms of history, context, register and material distribution.

ii) Formal language - the painter's & the poet's. In the painting each cloth 'is' a colour. Thomas Jones subtly working with the vocabulary of the painter (the primaries etc) just as M. C-S will work his poems via vowel and consonant variations right at the same time a poem seems to be pushing out to a 'tangible' rural landscape or event.

iii) The canvas unframed, photographed (presumably for Gallery archiving?), evidence of curatorial protective brown papers & labels, and - along the bottom edge of the cover - a thin strip of a printer/artist's colour chart.
We're not given a detail - that would be the Penguin Modern Classics approach implying art as 'life-styled' paperback material. Here the image and the status of the image (a painting, on/not on display, part of musuem curatorial decisions and policy, copyrightable, available for reproduction as here, etc) are being deliberately insisted upon.

And so it is with M. C-S's poetry. Take the citations. To accuse him of bulking out a volume by using his reading notes is to miss the point (although on this, see later). Instead, these are citations which call in question themselves, their sourcing, the very act of citation (in good/bad 'faith'?), their relation to the 'original' writing, textual property. And, inevitably, just as a series of works or relics exist in a gallery deprived of their 'original' site - there is an inevitable sense of loss (argh! now I must re-read Thomas Browne, Donne, ... to 'know' the real resonance of the lines) as of gain (how these words sparkle lifted from their textual homes). No wonder one section is called 'Kunstkammer'.

Time prevents me from exhaustively listing the different sections within the volume, the initially disconcerting sequencing of citations, jottings, texts which are/are not poems, an interlude, blank pages. Nevertheless, what's clear is how carefully the volume has been thought out in terms of the significance of sequence, inter-relation of text, separation of material into a discrete entity as against allowing writing to 'disseminate' (or would 'migrate' be a better term?). How William Williamson (the doppleganger of M. C-S?) has left his texts inscribed on the walls of his house (rather like W. S. Graham pinning his poems around his caravan) and there's the (deliberately) poor photo of a putative mss. with its illegible autograph. How, later on, in 'Journal (Home)' we get a page ripped from M. C-S's notebook (reminiscent of Ric Caddell's last book 'Writing in the Dark'). Which is the more 'authentic'? And what is the status of notebook writing to final version?

...... a thunderstorm brewing ... I'll hurry the rest ...

Yes, this book is so carefully thought out. Yet, simultaneously it's pulling itself apart by questioning at every turn (of the page) what goes with what, who wrote what, what value has this (any?) writing. What really differentiates between scribble and inspired insight, holograph and apocrypha? Might the whole volume be a last effort in desperation as M. C-S chucks his work books & failed drafts at the publisher and runs off into the mountains? An appropriately Romantic gesture - nothing but fragments! The Vision has been lost!


"There is no home - there is only searching"

A lovely quote - and attributed (of course) to William Williamson (who doesn't 'exist' - but then again, who does?).

Maybe - and remember, I haven't actually read the text yet - this is M. C-S's first novel - a Gothic one, at that. I'm reminded of the interlayerings of 'Wuthering Heights' or 'Dr Jekyll' - as textual, temporal and architectural space shift and merge.

Who else is thinking this carefully about the book and the poems of which it consists? Yes, Susan Howe. Lisa Robertson - eg 'Debbie'; Lisa Jarnot - eg 'Some Other Kind of Mission'; Christian Bok? And Alan Halsey (an obvious mentor for M. C-S). Who else?

I need to.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Today I resume reading Moby Dick

"Bungle away at it then, and bring it to me (turns to go). Oh, Life! Here I am, proud as Greek god, and yet standing debtor to this blockhead for a bone to stand on! Cursed be that mortal inter-indebtedness which will not do away with ledgers. I would be free as air; and I'm down in the whole world's books. I am so rich, I could have given bid for bid with the wealthiest Praetorians at the auction of the Roman empire (which was the world's); and yet I owe for the flesh in the tongue I brag with. By heavens! I'll get a crucible, and into it, and dissolve myself down to one small, compendious vertebra. So." (Chapter CVIII, 'Ahab and the Carpenter', Moby Dick)

Thus Ahab.

Good, isn't it?

Better - breathtaking.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Hedge crickets sing"

Spent a couple of hours reading & thinking about a few paragraphs by Robert Grenier in the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E book. He takes Keats' phrase - "hedge crickets sing" - an argues for an absolute attention to sound. Although Keats respects the 'norms' of grammar and vocabulary - Coolidge will later break the word & syntax down - he nevertheless exploits the 'atomic' potential of each word.

Grenier highlights the number of monosyllabic movements in Keats' verse which allow each sound its duration, resonance, impact.

As I read it, Grenier seems to be arguing for a return to a more 'natural' language - rather strange for this volume. I'm reminded of Brakhage's experiments in cinema as a way to retrive a child's way of seeing by bypassing habits of perception. Grenier seems to want the word before common sense habits/rationality/literacy and the 'scan reading' impulse take over.

His argument seems to be that this is how nature sounds. As I'm reading in the garden so a pigeon calls - "coo hoo" I approximate - other birds go "cheep" - a bee whizzes past. Each is a sound which is heard as a sound without interpretation. 'Meaning' is identical to the physical fact of the sound (I'm paraphrasing pretty closely).

Two things. One. Is Grenier implying a kind of eco-politico-poetics - rather like Pauline Oliveros & Deep Listening? Our duty is to become 'tuned' to the sounds around us rather than subdue them into background noise. And that a more tuned listening would necessarily create more attuned living? (If I hear your sounds of pain I cannot bomb you? If I hear the birds sing I don't lay waste the forest?)

Two. A dubiously conventional argument - although dressed up in more radical guise - for onomatopoeia? Keats 'captures' the sound of crickets in the sibillant buzz of terminal and initial 's' sounds? The rub of 'ck' sounds in "cricket"? I think not - but it's not made very clear. Rather, Grenier seems to accept an unbridgeable gap between 'world' and 'word'. However, the language has its own effects. How 's' works against 's'. A micro-instance of massive potential within the language which offers a 'rhyme' with universal (in Grenier's term 'the beyond') energies. Rather than apply a competence reading (how well does Keats capture the sound of this insect in words?) work in terms of events in the language without recourse to representation. A happening said. In other words.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Reader's Digest

"I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads." (Moby Dick, 'The Mat-Maker')

Do you choose a book? The problem with book clubs, reading groups, course syllabuses, publisher's Book Of The Month. No, the book chooses you.

Take a book & sound it. Plumbing the depths while also being alert for surfaces. Making yourself available to its compulsions. If necessary to leave it alone to develop within you (its negatives) - or to develop you.

Reading to write. Reading to open. Opening yourself to what the text might transmit (Spicer). Being prepared to allow certain images, lines, words to open up beyond the confines of the text.

A paranoiac reading? An intoxicated reading? A cultivated de-regulation of the senses - common sense above all?

Narrative exposed as a lure, a distraction, cheap thrills. The reading that matters is vertical - vertiginal? - plunging without guarantee of limit, floor or reason.

The text traps energies. Reading as occult art, a conjuring, a summons.

Think Iain Sinclair. Think Clark Coolidge on H.P. Lovecraft. Think Coleridge. Think Philip K. Dick (aka Horselover Fat).

The equation: 'Out There' = 'In Here'. Universe is Mind.

Reading, opening, revealing, a re-membering of the dis(re)membered textual Body. Fragments of the text containing shivers of the Truth. The Word behind the word. The "cable" (cabal) of Scripture.

Moby Dick (the novel) as force field. Olson & Duncan Openers of the Field. Whale as prey? The hunter becomes the hunted. The reader becomes read. The whale is a prism (prison) of energies. The Impossible. The Unknowable. The whale is the Whole within which we hear the Hole. "For all these reasons, then, any way you may look at it, you must needs conclude that the great Leviathan is that one creature in the world which must remain unpainted to the last. True, one portrait may hit the mark much nearer than another, but none can hit it with any very considerable degree of exactness." ('Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales') No over-view, no encapsulating Idea, no all-encompassing theory.

Hunt the whale & you're sent off elsewhere. Shoals of red herrings. Re-read Homer. Re-read Coleridge. Who else? Each reading is a re-reading since when did you really begin - and how can you end? How can you quantify a book which itself opens into a dictionary & anthology of quotations?

Inside. Outside. You get in to get out. A Moby-us Trip indeed.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

We're still here ...

... but suffering from the effects of the Belgian summer (ie it is just too hot & tempting to sit outside or go swimming or take the girls to the park.)

Monday some sort of routine re-establishes itself. I hope.

Reading bits of Lisa Robertson's volumes - 'Debbie', 'The Weather', and 'Soft Architecture' - parallel to the feature in The Chicago Review. Discovering all sorts of possibilities.

Martin Corless-Smith's 'Nota' is also fabulous for what it suggests as much as for what it does. (I wonder whether the author photo is intentionally reminiscent of the young Auden?).

Sweaty nights. Cats squealing in the streets. Thunder.

Take out three CDs by Alanis Morissette in an attempt to track down one song which continues to tantalize me (meaning it is playing in various shops when I enter but I never get to know the title). Finally discover it is off the fourth CD 'Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie' I didn't borrow. I suppose I'm trying to make connections across Canadian L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E women poets (eg L. Robertson & Christine Stewart) to 'mainstream' popettes such as Alanis. Not the most obvious route, I know ...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

We're back & it's ...

... 36 degrees C.

We didn't read as much as we intended. We didn't write as much as we thought we might. Then again, we never do.

Anyway, lots of ideas.

Thank you to everyone in Norway for putting us up/putting up with us. And we're very pleased that Uncle Charlie is heading to Madrid for a year.

Thank you to the Chicago Review who finally got the 'recent' issue to Belgium.

And thank you to Amazon who never cease to amaze us with prompt delivery of books & CDs which await us on arrival.

And, finally, congratulations to all our IB students who did so well - the results were even better than I'd expected. Yep, it was worth it!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Homeward bound ...

As of 7am tomorrow Belgianwaffle heads home for Brussels via a one-night stop in northern Denmark and a further overnighter in Bremen. All things being equal we should be back in Belgianwaffle HQ mid-afternoon Wednesday.

The Anne Waldman book is very good indeed - her ideas about poetry & architecture very stimulating. And there's plenty more besides. I'm going to have another look at 'Fast Talking Woman' when I get back.

Weather: hot & sunny. Lake temperature: bearable.

Friday, July 14, 2006

"we breathe off language"

"Maybe the most revolutionary act these days is not to watch television and to read a book a day at least. And to study another threatened species or culture or language not your own and to keep involved with a local issue. Stay on the case. And vote. Be a guardian." (Anne Waldman, 'Vow to Poetry')

Spent yesterday reading this volume - a lucky find in the Bø college library.

Mountain, lake, sunshine, book. Just gets better & better.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

...and what exactly is a dream & what exactly is a joke?

Syd Barrett has died.

As an impressionable fourteen year-old in late 1970s London I left yellow cards printed 'The Madcap Laughs But Shall Return' in odd places - and, ironically, it's just possible Barrett would have been in and around Earls Court at this time before his long walk back to Cambridge. Who knows?

I adored (and still do) both of the 'original' albums - 'The Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett' - for their music and lyrics. I sense affinities with the early poetry of people such as Tom Raworth, Lee Harwood and John James. Maybe it's a very English take on surrealism, late afternoon sunshine, boredom, an 'insoucience' that (as Viv Stanshall lamented) seems to have vanished.

What might Pink Floyd have been had Barrett remained creatively active? A lot more interesting, surely.

If I had the CD to hand I'd be playing it now. Here's a few lines from 'It Is Obvious' which will have to do:

"So equally over a valley a hill
wood on quarry stood, each of us crying
a velvet curtain of gray
mark the blanket where the sparrows play
and the trees by the waving corn stranded
my legs move the last empty inches to you
the softness, the warmth from the weather in suspense
mote to a grog - the star a white chalk
minds shot together, our minds shot together... "

Oh well.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Isn´t it cool/Norwegian wool ...

This is Belgianwaffle broadcasting from Seljord, Norway, via David´s snazzy iBook G4.

The past few days have been spent travelling, settling in and sitting in the sun. However, right now, it is raining.

We have made Lego models, swum in the Legoland pool, and gone down rather terrifying chutes. We have driven along German autobahns, eaten pretzels on the waterfront in Bremen and been amazed by fabulous Danish breakfasts. We have sat up on the deck of the Peter Wessel and told terrible jokes for five hours ("Doctor, doctor, my dog has no nose" "How does he smell?" "Terrible") which make Lara laugh. We have kept our foot off the accelerator sufficiently to stay this side of the law on the Norwegian roads and remembered to switch our lights on when we get in the car. We have been informed that two of our students have got 7s in their exams which chuffs us enormously. We have braved the icy waters of Seljord three times and sat up until past midnight talking about fortysomething mum & dad things. We have knitted scarves in the passenger seat and bought yet more supplies and will buy still more on Tuesday (probably) from a woman who breeds goats. We have chewed the fat and sorted out the world and wondered why everyone can´t see what´s staring them in the face (unlike us). In other words: we are on holiday & it feels good.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Idea of North

Yes, back from the UK & a superb exhibition at Tate Britain of Howard Hodgkin's paintings.

Tomorrow (very early) we head for Bremen - then it's Denmark (Billund & Legoland!) before crossing over to Norway & Seljord.

We'll try to post from The Land of the Fjords but it'll depend upon computer access.

As everyone else in Europe heads South, belgianwaffle heads North! (Glenn Gould would be proud).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Barnes & Ignoble

I came across this in the LRB, 15 December 2005:

"Gertrude Stein ... wrote a word portrait of Braque in her finest mode of clotted twaddle. (Perhaps it was meant to be Cubist prose. If so, a bad idea - brushstrokes may slip representationalism, but words do so at their peril.)"

Julian Barnes and I have two things in common - we both took the same Eurostar train (he had the BBC camera crew following him up the platform and I didn't) and we both worked for the Oxford English Dictionary. How someone who has been so close to words can have such a reductive sense of language escapes me.

Let's have a dose of Charles Bernstein by way of an antidote:

"Yet my own primary and continuing response to Stein's poetry is one of intense pleasure in the music of the language: of hearing a palpable, intense, I'm tempted to say absolute sense-making: you can almost taste it; a great plentitude of meaning, of possibility for language, in language." ('Professing Stein/Stein Professing', p 142-3)

So, Barnes or Stein? I know which I'd prefer.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Chinchillas, again

Read the poem at:

Hear the poem at:

abstractions of chinchilla

Today, boys and girls, we’re going to look at ‘Song of the Chinchilla’ by Lisa Jarnot*.

I liked the poem immediately – and I’ve given it to 9th Graders who wrote some pretty stunning 20-minute poems in imitation. However, it was interesting to see one of our ‘top’ 12th Grade English students struggle with it – revealing something about how we teach poetry, what we teach. Which is as much to say how we have been taught poetry and what we have been taught.

To clear the ground right from the start. It is – just about – possible to imagine La Lisa ‘en vacances’, wandering the streets in France (Paris, most likely), seeing a woman (a Parisienne, more than likely) in a fur coat. Knowing a little about Lisa, it is hard to imagine she’d be happy about fur coats and so the poem could be a ‘lament’ (a Moaner Lisa poem?) about the fur industry, about callous consumerism, about a particular day/woman/fur coat. And this was what our student came up with in the end. Furthermore, that the poem lacked rhyme or identifiable rhythm, and was really automatic prose chopped up to make it loook like poetry. And all this said with a general disdain for the text – as if we were trying to catch him out with a secret ‘bad’ poem.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good student which makes the reading all the more instructive. And I know that – aged eighteen – this student’s reactions would have been mine.

Here are the first lines:

You chinchilla in the marketplace in france
you international chinchilla, chinchilla of the
plains and mountains all in fur you fur of the
chinchilla of the pont neuf, selling wrist
watches, on the oldest bridge of evolution that
you are, you, chinchilla ...

i) Is it an animal?

As in many of Lisa’s poems, there seems to be a deliberate use of proper nouns (places, people, animals) which make the poems immediately ‘accessible’ and – in many cases – funny. Furthemore, “chinchilla” sounds funny (or at least interestingly exotic to the English ear) – something to do with the internal echo “chin/chill” the ‘ch’ consonant sounds and the short ‘i’ vowels. You might also find chinchillas funny little animals – or armadillos or lemurs or aadvarks for that matter, other creatures that live in Lisa’s poems.

However, at the very moment the poem seems to depend upon the animal, a reader’s competence in zoology, or a Ted Hughes-like descriptive realism, the chinchilla ‘vanishes’ into language.

I make it fifteen ‘namings’ of the chinchilla and each time it is less present as the little furry animal. It starts to decompose into its constituent syllables and sounds and even into its letters.

In a sense, ‘c-h-i-n-c-h-i-l-l-a’ becomes a set of possibilities, notes – if we want to transfer to music – with which Lisa can build her variations:

‘chinchilla’ can be split into further words:

‘chin’ + ‘chill’ + ‘chiller’ + ‘in’ + ‘ill’ + ‘a’

some of which she takes others she leaves unspoken but implied

‘chinchilla’ can also initiate a series of assonantal rhyme words:

“chinchilla in” followed by “in the market place” followed by “in france” followed by “you international chinchilla”. ‘In’ threaded through the first two lines and beyond.

ii) Harmolodics?

Again, music is the best analogy. No sooner are we pulling out the ‘in’ chords, there’s the ‘ch’ chord at work subtly ‘diminshed’ with ‘sh’ and ‘ss’ sounds:

“You chinchilla” then “marketplace” then “france” then “international”.

And, to an RP English ear, a long ‘a’ sound seems to be at work in:

“chinchilla” then “marketplace” then “france”

although I accept US English might bend the vowel in “france” rather differently.

And I love a kind of ‘reverse’ rhyme effect achieved across lines 3 and 4: “all in fur you fur” with “pont neuf”. Fur neuf, as Georges Perec would say.

The poem dazzles with its harmonic play of sound. And, I suggest, a necessary part of this pleasure is the constant awareness of reference even as it is being denied. “Chinchilla” is an animal. You buy cheese at “the marketplace”. There is a country called France – and it is no accident that Lisa drops the capital. Things, places, animals are ‘evoked’ and yet the life of the poem is not ‘out there’.

iii) Apostrophes?

No coincidence that Lisa should employ in many poems the rhetorical device of apostrophe. It is the gesture of language to an (absent) referent – lover, country, King, dead poet, etc. The word stretches out to touch the ‘real’ while being forever firmly in place on the page. Thus:

“You chinchilla .../you international chinchilla .../ ...”

The effect is comical (ever talked to a chincilla?), bathetic (a chinchilla doesn’t seem to merit such epic tones), oddly wistful (even melancholic as the poem reaches its close).

Again, the reader is seduced, here not so much by reference ‘out’ to a real world, as the voice of the poet. A ‘real’ is created by means of a device true to the speaking voice.

Yet, here again, just as the poem is in danger of falling into the predictable – a kind of Disney nature film effect: “who-is-this-little-fellow-then?” – reference explodes the realism.

What is a “dark arabian chinchilla”? What are “abstractions of chinchilla”? Can you really have an “aperitif chinchilla”?

Here the signified is set at angles to the persuasive tones of the speaking voice. The more the chinchilla is addressed, the more its qualities and attributes serve to lose it among seemingly infinite equivalences.

iv) Anaconda or anaphora?

Indeed, where does it stop? How long can Lisa sustain the surrealist encyclopedia entry for “Chinchilla, noun”? And here we need to talk about anaphora – that device for creating order through repetition. Irrespective of the items or subsequent phrases, the initial word/phrase sets a sequential logic in play.

Ginsberg uses it in ‘Howl’, Smart uses it in ‘Jubilate Agno’:

For in the education of children it is necessary to watch the words, -which they pronounce with difficulty, for such are against them in their consequences.

For A is awe, if pronounced full. Stand in awe and sin not.

For B pronounced in the animal is bey importing authority.

For C pronounced hard is ke importing to shut.

For D pronounced full is day.

For E is east particularly when formed little e with his eye.

For F in it's secondary meaning is fair.

For G in a secondary sense is good.

For H is heave.

For I is the organ of vision.

For K is keep.

For L is light, and ל [Hebrew character lamed] is the line of beauty.

For M is meet.

For N is nay.

For O is over.

For P is peace.

For Q is quarter.

For R is rain, or thus reign, or thus rein.

For S is save.

For T is take.

For V is veil.

For W is world.

For X [drawn as a backwards G and a G stuck together] beginneth not, but connects and continues.

For Y is young -- the Lord direct me in the better way of going on in the Fifth year of my jeopardy June the 17th N.S. 1760. God be gracious to Dr YOUNG.

For Z is zest. God give us all a relish of our duty.

For Action and Speaking are one according to God and the Ancients.

Smart’s poem is constructed upon anaphora and belief. Belief that every moment must be given over to praise of Creation. And that way madness lies. For what cannot be included? Yet, given our time-bound existence, what can be said and done when all is said and done? (Here Christopher Smart meets Samuel Beckett. Look at the long sequences of alternatives in Beckett’s ‘Watt’). A sentence is an expanse of time. If I say this, I am not saying that. I have already fallen behind. Syntax squeezes the breath out of me like a snake in its coils.

In Lisa’s poems anaphora becomes a way of opening up the crazy independent creative logic of language. It makes sense (the structural logic) while making nonsense (the semantic value). Why not a chinchilla tractor? Or a chincilla sock? Or a chinchilla whale? Or a chincilla China chin? The categories are heterogeneous (although urban and rural geographical locations recur), potentially infinite, yet are given credit due to the formal arrangement – syntactic and grammatical.

v) “You just go on your nerve”

Thus spake O’Hara & it’s a typically throw-away remark concealing an entire aesthetics. You go on your nerve in the sense of risking the poem. Don’t step back into the predictable. Why use the safety net of established form or iambic pentameter? You go on your nerve, also, in the sense of what your blood stream is telling you. Your rhythm, your pulse, your breath and its flow with your heart and the art within your arteries. Or, as Charles Olson put it:

“Now (3) the process (italicized) of the thing, how the principle can be made so to shape the energies that the form is accomplished. And I think it can be boiled down to one statement ... ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION. It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all (italicized) points (even, I should say, of our managment of daily reality as of the daily work) get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen. And if you set up as a poet, USE USE USE the process at all points, in any given poem always ... “ (‘Projective Verse’, 1950)

I’m fascinated by the line turns in the poem:

“france/you”, “the/plains”, “the/chinchilla”, “wrist/watch”, “that/you”, “towards/the”, “the/neutral”, “of/chinchilla”, “aperitif/chinchilla”, “mind,/dark”, “tractor/of”, “the/chinchilla”, “dawn,/facilitator”, “the/food”

Listed like this the turns lose a lot. Like a spring, the poem’s wire is turned to create energy. I sense Lisa is working by breath** while also knowing how to allow a phrase to complete (line one) for sense or cadence, or to deliberately disrupt (line two, the surprise to find “chinchilla of the (pause as the line turns) plains and mountains” or the sly “wrist/watches” where “wrist” is etymologically re-activated in its writhing turn). Then, within each line, the distribution of the clauses creates sub-rhythms too complex to do justice to here.

Thus the false opposition between ‘what is being talked about’ and ‘style’. ‘Song of the Chinchilla’ is not a poem ‘about’ chinchillas, or fur coats, or Paris, or a biographically definite day. It is not a poem ‘expressing’ the poet’s paraphrasable views on the fur trade or life in France. It “is” its energy: the complex interplay of word, sound, rhythm, reference, tone. And I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is ‘purely’ language – which would invite the defensive retort: ‘oh, it's just words, so I was right it’s just playing with sound’. The energy of the poem seems to be precisely in its tension between a very definite set of signifieds and the verbal material. And I’d even say, it is – ultimately – 'expressive'. While I can relate elements of the poem to Ginsberg, or Smart, or O’Hara (and other readers will find their own echoes) it is very much a Lisa Jarnot poem, it possesses her 'poetic DNA' traceable in the articulations of its linguistic anatomy.

It is also terrific.

(*from the collection ‘Ring of Fire’)

(**I don't want to suggest Lisa is purely intuitive - look at her teaching sites for evidence of the theoretical underpinnings of the poetry)

(***chinchilla image derived from

. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...