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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Breakfast.

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Emma draws & helps sort socks.

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Coffee (the Illy cafe).

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

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Siesta.

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

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

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

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

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Girls in bed.
Type this.

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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 ...

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

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

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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.

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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 Amazon.co.uk 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') ...

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I have made a heap of all that I could find

(citing Nennius – or “whoever”)

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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?

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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...

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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 ...

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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’...

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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.

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

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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 ...

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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.

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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?