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)

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