Monday, November 26, 2007

Zukofsky & Goldfish

and this morning I come upon this:

"Children know we may see poetry with our ears: ABCD goldfish? MNO goldfish! OSMR goldfish. And that is our first delight in words that they hopscotch sequential noise - A poet, we say, has vision. Louis Zukofsky's vision came from excision of all but ears to the language itself, letter by letter: A. Like Nature, he was bent on ever more intricate goldfish. "Homer's Argos hearing/ Handel's Largo as/ The car goes". It is needless to state that this is first a telescope, before it is a poem. Behind the wheel, fiddling the syllables, the finest ears in the business is heading somewhere 100,000 years an hour (or so). Do you not hear them thunder?"

(Ronald Johnson)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

To resume ...

... where we left off.

Things that have happened:

1) discovered I like eating mussels

2) decided to read some novels (other than those I am obliged to teach)

3) realised that I should have read Patrick Hamilton years ago - most especially 'Hangover Square'.

4) finally succumbed and bought an iPod Nano

5) discovered

i) that iTunes Store is not all it's cracked up to be
ii) that you cannot buy films from Belgium
iii) that this is just as well since - given the size of the screen - you wouldn't want to watch a full-length feature
iv) how nifty having a screen is (as against the Shuffle) and the delights of Cover Flow

6) enjoyed lying in bed listening to BBC podcasts and hi-jacked Comedy

7) finally read 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase' - a book which hanted my childhood years of library browsing (starts well and then veers into sub-Dickensian pastiche) - and am currently reading 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' (another Surely You Must Have Read prep school favourite).

8) decided that Moleskine notebooks might not be just a marketing gimmick and actually rather well-made and practical

9) not got down to it (for reasons too complicated to elaborate)

10) rediscovered Bjork & decided to listen back through her CDs

11) made a resolution to resist further purchases (Amazon, SPD, etc) due to ...

12) big news that, yes, it looks for real that we'll be buying the house next door

That's it for this afternoon. There is seafood risotto to be made with yesterday's prawn shells and today's mussels.

Rain. And tomorrow is Monday.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Phase Two

Back from the UK, a couple of days in Brussels, now off to the north coast of France. Plenty of sea air, fish soup and quality time 'en famille'. What better way to begin November?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Quick visit

Belgianwaffle plus the younger Wafflette will be crossing over to the UK early tomorrow morning. The usual invitation to accompany a tour around London bookshops, CD shops, Hamleys, etc applies.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

see you Wednesday ...

... if not before.

Yes! Belgianwaffle strides into the Unknown. We're heading for Cairo tomorrow (via Milan) ETA 2pm or thereabouts.

If you're checked in to the Novotel (the less salubrious one, by all accounts) or in the general area, why not drop by for a - well, whatever one drinks in Egypt?

Plenty of Regyptian Strut.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"swallow a dose of luminous waffle"

In a sense it was all his fault.

Had I not read Miles' article on Ted Berrigan in 'Parataxis' I'd not have discovered Berrigan. And if I'd not read Berrigan I'd not have read ... and so on ad infinitum. And had I not read 'Compositional Bonbons Placate' I'd not have sought out 'Three Bell Zero' and 'Facture' and coveted this volume in the Poetry Library on the South Bank.

Having exhausted all other options, it occurred to me to do a search through AbeBooks and yesterday there it was waiting in the post room.

He makes it all seem so simple.

(but it isn't).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

During September

I have been listening to:

P J Harvey – everything up to & including White Chalk
The Fugs – First Album
Roxy Music – Roxy Music
Tim Buckley – a new compilation
Pat Metheny – The Road to You (or something like that)
Joy Division – Closer

I have been reading:

Ray Dipalma – especially the Sun & Moon early selected
Bernadette Mayer – more recent volumes
John James – dippings into the Salt Collected

I have not been writing


I have been getting vaccinated

(boosters for Egypt)

I have been swimming

(but not as much as usual)

I have been trying to find ways to make 10th Grade students connect with poetry

(and failed in most cases?)

I have been feeling oddly out of sorts and ill at ease

(and then remember that this happens every mid-late September)

and today, the last day of September, I sensed it was Autumn

(that chill to the air at 7:45 am, smell of moist leaves, sound of the year changing gear)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That time of the year again...

Poetry – ‘For’ and ‘Against’ Arguments

Some Arguments ‘For’

It contains ‘hidden’ meanings

It contains symbols

It makes you think differently

It goes beyond ‘obvious’ feelings or ideas

It can change your mood

It allows you to learn a language

Some poems are good

Poems with a story are good

Poems with rhymes are good

If the subject matter is good then the poem is good

If the poem is about love then the poem is good

Writing poems is enjoyable

Having to work with language and rhyme makes you think differently when writing poems

I wish I could ‘see’ what was going on and then be able to enjoy poetry


Some Arguments ‘Against’

Poetry is irrelevant to life in the ‘real’ world

Poetry is escapist – its ideas are too far-fetched

Poetry is too ‘fancy’ and ‘pretty’

Having to analyse a poem kills it

Having to learn and recite a poem kills it

Poets don’t intend all the meanings teachers find in the poems

Poems don’t have narratives that keep you reading (unlike novels)

Poems are too short to really get into them

Poems are too ‘open’ – there are too many possible meanings

It’s hard to know how to read a book of poems


Poetry is irrelevant to life in the ‘real’ world

What is the ‘real’ world? And whose world?
Do we mean a business model of the world?
Do we mean that poems are not commercially valuable?
Do we mean ‘my’ world, ‘my’ version of the ‘real’?

Poetry is escapist – its ideas are too far-fetched

Are we thinking about a stereotype of poetry?
Are we accusing poetry unfairly (when film or video games do the same)?
Are we really admitting our version of the ‘real’ world is limited?

Poetry is too ‘fancy’ and ‘pretty’

Again, is this applicable to only one kind of poetry?
Might the ‘fancy’ language be of another period? Might the ‘pretty’ language actually be beautiful?
Might what sounds ‘pretty’ actually be working in subtle ways?

Having to analyse a poem kills it

Think of a sports match and the post-match analysis. Does this ‘kill’ the enjoyment of the game?
Think of an excellent meal. Does talking about the ingredients, how the dish was prepared, etc, take away from the taste?
Is there not room for pleasure in unravelling, exploring, deepening understanding?
Does everything have to be immediately understandable?

Having to learn and recite a poem kills it

Perhaps this is one of the best ways to make a piece of writing your ‘own’? The poet’s words now enter your mouth and memory. The rhythms of the words become rhythms in your body. You become the ‘life’ of the poem.

Poets don’t intend all the meanings teachers find in the poems

What do we mean by ‘meaning’? Here are some different possible ways of looking at meaning:

the answer to a maths problem; a glance between two people; Paris is the capital of France; a flashing orange light; a spot on your skin; birds flying in a ‘W’ across the sky; a flashing green light on your printer; a curtain being drawn; the figure 1,000 in a bank account; the four legs to a chair; the sound of rain on a window pane; a silence when you enter the room; a knife, a fork, and a spoon as a place setting; the chalk outline of a man drawn on the floor; the smell of toasters on C level on a Wednesday morning; red is the colour blue; an elephant is the size of an ant; Mr. Ftyephuth is a ghygigkjk; “je est un autre”; a certain chord played on a piano ...

Where is meaning located in words? (Behind, above, between, inside ... ? Before, after, now, then .... ?).

Is a word its sound? Its shape? Its number of syllables? Its dictionary definition? Its spoken form? Its written form? Whatever ‘it’ is in the mind?

Might sound and rhythm and pattern also be meaningful?

Is ‘meaning’ something permanent and hidden (like a gold coin buried in a box in the sand)? Or is ‘meaning’ multiple, changing, depending on how different parts of the poem relate to each other?

Is our frustration at not ‘getting it’ sometimes part of the pleasure and/or the ‘meaning’ of the poem?

Do we sometimes miss what is there by being too clenched, or intellectual, or anxious?

Do poets ‘put’ meanings into poems? Might poets write poems to discover what they mean to say? Thus the poet becomes his/her own ‘first’ reader?

Are we confusing what we need to know to pass exams with what Poetry really is?

Can any one poem exist on its own? Don’t all poems talk to each other?

How do we understand the ‘time’ of a poem?

Is any reading of a poem always a writing of the poem?

Might every word be a poem?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pizza Update

It was good.


Thinking recently of the - at times - thin line between certain aspects of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry and comedy (Peter Cook, Spike Milligan, Eddie Izzard, Lord Buckley ...). This morning an anthology fell open at this poem - you can access a web version (and more) at Bernstein's site. I think it's great fun.


George Burns likes to insist that he always
takes the straight lines; the cigar in his mouth
is a way of leaving space between the
lines for a laugh. He weaves lines together
by means of a picaresque narrative;
not so Henny Youngman, whose lines are strict-
ly paratactic. My father pushed a
line of ladies’ dresses—not down the street
in a pushcart but upstairs in a fact’ry
office. My mother has been more concerned
with her hemline. Chairman Mao put forward
Maoist lines, but that’s been abandoned (most-
ly) for the East-West line of malarkey
so popular in these parts. The prestige
of the iambic line has recently
suffered decline, since it’s no longer so
clear who “I” am, much less who you are. When
making a line, better be double sure
what you’re lining in & what you’re lining
out & which side of the line you’re on; the
world is made up so (Adam didn’t so much
name as delineate). Every poem’s got
a prosodic lining, some of which will
unzip for summer wear. The lines of an
imaginary are inscribed on the
social flesh by the knifepoint of history.
Nowadays, you can often spot a work
of poetry by whether it’s in lines
or no; if it’s in prose, there’s a good chance
it’s a poem. While there is no lesson in
the line more useful than that of the pick-
et line, the line that has caused the most ad-
versity is the bloodline. In Russia
everyone is worried about long lines;
back in the USA, it’s strictly soup-
lines. “Take a chisel to write,” but for an
actor a line’s got to be cued. Or, as
they say in math, it takes two lines to make
an angle but only one lime to make
a Margarita.

by Charles Bernstein


On another note, I spent this afternoon making pizzas with Emma (dough base and all). Will report back on the results.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Numbers and Tempers

One of the joys of the morning - finding a packet waiting in the post room.

I'm really looking forward to reading this one. Even the cover is good.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Image problem partially rectified

Not to appear precious, here is the photo I've been trying to post as part of my Profile. The question mark looks so coy. And if you're wondering why I'm looking towards the doorway - that's where the Wafflettes are sleeping (or not).

In response

Stupid article on the BBC website about the heroics of reading fast and The Booker Prize. So, in a fit of pique, belgianwaffle went public with this:

"I see no advantage in 'speed' reading. It is as idiotic as to say I want to live in 'fast forward' mode. Why? To die earlier? Reading - true reading - is about multiple times (past, present, future). We read to find out what words were saying in the future. An impossible tense. That books are reduced to such a level of discussion shows how little The Booker Prize (and other awards) have to do with literature. Reading is re-reading anew. Now then. Tomorrow?"

I'm prepared to stand by that.

(For the article, go to We'll see if they publish the comment).

Monday, September 03, 2007

Image problem

There seems to be some glitch concerning the photo we've posted as part of the Profile revamp. It stays for a day - and then disappears. No doubt it is due to some failure on our part.

Until we've sorted out the problem, you'll have to make do with a question mark. Which might not be a bad solution, in any case.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

New Look!

So, why not?

It's the first day of a new month and I started fiddling about with the picture. Then I tried bringing the links up to date. And then I wondered about the background.

Of course, I didn't think to save the links - they were wiped with the new template. I'll have to do them again.

Just had a mouthful of the 1990 Margaux we're going to drink tonight. A fitting way to toast the new look Waffle.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


That odd lingering pain in the throat and a vague ache all over. Flu symptoms? Or purely psychosomatic?

Resolution for this academic year: talk less.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


'Scarlet Tanager' arrives in the post. I open the Amazon package & am pleasantly surprised. Does this mean I prefer Bernadette Mayer to George Herbert (whose Collected I'd assumed it was)? Or some more basic acquisitiveness?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Memory Lane

'Neutral Tones'

We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod,
- They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles solved years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro -
On which lost the more by our love.

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing….

Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree,
And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

Thomas Hardy

I can remember being given this for a Practical Criticism exercise at school. I can remember working on it at home, a Sunday morning, autumn term - so October, November? I would have been 16? So, 1980?

Now, in 2007, I'm struck by line two - and the way the consonants and short 'i' of "chidden" work against "sun was white" and the strange - but lyrically lush - line 8 "On which lost the more by our love".

I've yet to find a better poem by Hardy. Let me know if you can think of another.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I like it dry

"One of the charms of being me
I catch on late"

The Wire's feature on P J Harvey piqued my curiosity. So it was off to the Mediatheque to get some samples. I really don't know how I could have missed this the first time round. Anyway, I'm hearing it now. I love the guitar, the bass, the drums, the dry production, the sudden cuts between tracks, and a trace of 'Dahrsut' in zum uv 'em vowels. A great sound. There's Beefheart in there, Pere Ubu - but I'm most reminded of ... Iggy Pop. And I didn't expect that.

not my cup of tea

Thursday, August 23, 2007


There are no amateurs in the world of children

(Don Delillo, 'White Noise')

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Daily Bread

"In the constant interruption that it is to go to work every day, to talk in generalities of things that can only be known in specifics..."

(Robin Blaser, 'The Fire')

Monday, August 20, 2007

And so it's Monday

So ... the past eight weeks. What stands out?

- discovering Alice Notley's 'Grave of Light' and then her essays on poetry
- reading more Bernadette Mayer - those early books as pdfs
- reading Barbara Guest in the garden in the sun (those one or two afternoons)
- re-reading early Creeley and early H.D. and finding so much more
- discovering Ted Greenwald thanks to Lisa
- going back to 'Human Abstract' and hearing it now
- and, above all, realising - finally - it is going on now, around you, in front of you, beneath your nose and in and out your ears. Listen ...



Sunday, August 19, 2007

"The spider listens with her leg"

Spent most of this afternoon reading Elizabeth Willis'
'The Human Abstract'.

Take these lines, for an instance:

The work of love and the work of art

has no sleeping part

Is a drop of light

in a small silver socket,

a rosy dime

in a daylight tryst

(from 'A Maiden')

I'm really fascinated by Willis' web-like structures - how lines work in their own moment and resonate spun with echoes before and after. Receiving sounds. Sending sounds. And the whisper trembling through the lines of Emily Dickinson?


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Second Move

I know, I know ... we're a sucker for piano & double bass. There's a new CD shop opened on the Sablon. It was Saturday morning; the sun was shining, there was something 'in the air'.

Yes, the album photos are cringingly naff - a gesture towards Belgian surrealism at its worst. But the music ... is good.

That's the 'atmosphere' for today. Saturday. August. Holidays all but over.

(Jean-Louis Rassinfosse (double bass) et Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven (piano))


and, an hour later, I've just been playing the first three tracks on repeat. I hear Jarrett (most definitely), I hear Bill Evans. I hear Ravel, Debussy, Faure. I hear fragments and lifts of pop songs ("living in a duh-duh-duh ...").

Really L-U-S-H.

Friday, August 17, 2007


'Sea Rose'

Rose, harsh rose
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem --
you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Keep this in mind ...


“Hopefully I write what I don’t know. I know in teaching simply telling people again and again what you know or what they know, the whole thing sags entirely. So it’s a delight to teach in a circumstance where something’s learned. The teacher has equal possibility with the students.” (Robert Creeley)


“Ideal circumstance, man. You’ll be learning along with them. Which is the best possible state.”
(Charles Olson to Robert Creeley. Olson suggested that Creeley taught Biology in Black Mountain – Creeley replied he knew nothing about the subject).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

& so today

... begin to think about the year ahead (nearly said 'academic' and paused). And what about 'year', for that matter? It's the artificial differentiation of time, of course.

Anyway. I went through drawing up lists of poems by Creeley, Mayer, Coolidge, Padgett among others. This time we're really going to open things up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Multiple Choice

Which do you hate more?

a) traffic jams on the M25


b) the drivel on BBC local radio (while listening for news about (a))?

As you will have gathered, we're back from the UK.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Playing now ...

... and quite bafflingly good. Just what is this music? And why do I like it?

(Hommage à Piazzolla, Gidon Kremer on violin.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


"In pure painting the rhythmic interweaving of the colour scales brings the colour into an 'open' neighbourhood relationship in which colours are compositionally in accordance with a colour development upon which their formal grouping ultimately depends. The colours meet now in neighbourly relation in the sense of tensional difference (italics) - that is to say, in the sense of simultaneous contrast (italics)."
Hans Hofmann

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

And maybe finally split the rhyme

I've never bought into the Nico 'myth'. However, listening to her Chelsea Girl CD this afternoon, I'd say that 'The Fairest of the Seasons', 'It Was A Pleasure Then' and 'Eulogy to Lenny Bruce' are worth fifteen minutes of anyone's time.

Monday, August 06, 2007


“To arrange its dimensions the poem stretches (looking outwardly and inwardly), thus obtaining a plasticity that the flat, the basic words, what we call the “language of a poem”, demand, and further, depend on.”

and (the poem)

“arrives from tensions placed on the structure: variability of meter, fleeting moods of expression, mutability of consonants and vowels.”
(Barbara Guest, 'Forces of Imagination')

Friday, August 03, 2007


"Any path always risks going astray, leading astray. To follow such paths takes practice in going. Practice needs craft. Stay on the path, in genuine need, and learn the craft of thinking, unswerving, yet erring."
(Heidegger, Epilogue to 'The Thing')

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Great Book

Over the past ten years I've read this again and again. And (again) today. I think it was the first book I ever ordered from Amazon. There are marks down the margin to isolate key passages. The trouble is, each time they change.

This has to be one of the great 'How To' books - precisely because it is so much more. As the title says: on the level everyday. Every day.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kuma Kuma

A major work of philosophy masquerading as a little children's book about a bear.

Required reading.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Voice & Notley & Mayer

I'm becoming a big fan of Alice Notley. 'Grave of Light' - her New & Selected Poems 1970-2005 - has led me to her essays collected in 'Coming After'. I used to spend hours reading & re-reading Ted Berrigan's Lectures. I wish I'd also been reading her poetic theory, too.

"the point will be to locate division, variation, play within the line, and to further investigate it. For there are infinite ways to stop and play, not just to segment and articulate a line, but to be in it and enjoy the space, as if that were the whole point."

I'm also becoming a big fan of Bernadette Mayer. This poem is as good as any to get the flavour:


corn is a small hard seed

corn from Delft
is good for elves

white corn, yellow, Indian

is this kernel a kernel of corn?

the corn they sought
was sown by night

The Corn Islands are two small islands,
Little Corn Island & Great Corn Island,
on an interoceanic canal route.

any of several
insects that bore in maize is a corn borer.


I'm going to spend a week around this poem next term.

As Alice Notley says, "there's so much sound around in the world to play with, really."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Danielle-Marie Chanut

The outstanding moment of the holidays? Well, that depends. However, seeing again - this time in a gallery context - these 'detourned' books by Danielle-Marie Chanut was something special. France's answer to Joseph Cornell? Well, when I spoke to her some six years ago in her dingy 'shop' in Noyers, she denied knowing of his existence. It's possible - after all, the Brothers Quay discovered Jan Svankmajer well into their career.

Who cares? It's terrific work.

If you're in Auxerre, go and visit the exhibition:

Thursday, July 05, 2007

En vacances ...

... as of tomorrow and the delightful sound of the church bells every quarter of an hour ...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain sunshine rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain sunshine rain rain rain rain rain rain rain go for a swim rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain sunshine rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain make leek soup rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Back home

Phew! Given we arrived in London on Friday to find our lunch rendezvous right at the centre of the latest bomb outrage and Hamleys sealed off by police - well, the relative calm of Brussels has its appeal.

While we were in the UK, The Independent ran an article on Edmund de Waal - and we like not just the pots (which are very fine) but his whole subversive aesthetic. A cultivated ceramic terrorism, of sorts ...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Going through old notebooks

“He began each work ... only with the medium,
to what end he did not initially know.”

(Kurt Schwitters’ working method)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Just finished ...

... re-reading 'Nadja'.

What - many years ago - seemed distracting (the shifting narrative voice, the photographs, the lengthy summary of the play, the uneven energy of the prose, the parenthetic & digressive sentences, the closing cutting from a newspaper) now seem of central importance. Fundamentally, what is this text? How is it to be read?

And that Nadja was "really" Léona-Camille-Ghislaine D - does this 'solve' anything?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Another UK visit!

Yes, we're coming over to London on Friday (29th) with the older Wafflette. Anyone up for a coffee &/or trek around the bookshops & galleries get in touch.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Les Vacances de M. Belgianwaffle

And what better way to inaugurate eight weeks of pleasing oneself but to hear Sea and The Cake in Brussels last night. Pictured above (left to right) Sam Prekop (guitar and vocals), Archer Prewitt (guitar), and Erik Claridge (bass) - at least I think that's correct. As for the drummer, I'm not sure whether he was John McEntire or a fill-in. They're not exactly the most visually memorable band in the world - the whole set was marked by admirably low-key style. A few twiddles of the string pegs and microphone adjustment and it was on to the next song. Refreshing, really. Good tunes & I heard for the first time how the bass underscores what would otherwise be a little too amiable music.

I got home around 12.30am after a brisk walk and feeling rather exhilirated at this (rare) taste of nightlife. Usually, I'd have been in bed a good hour earlier. O middle age!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Geography of the Imagination

Somewhere there must be a list of books which you are meant to read but the individual volumes will be witheld for a tantalizing period until just the right moment arrives.

Thus, Guy Davenport's 'Geography of the Imagination'. I happened to be down in the library - looking for Hannah Arendt's 'The Human Condition' - when the assistant mentioned they'd received a book I'd asked for I can't remember how long ago. And - finally - there it was.

And it really is as good as I had been led to expect. The Olson essay alone would make it a treasure.

If you're reading, Nelly, you were right all along.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

On the radio

Listening to Radio 4 while chopping carrots, I swear I just heard an elderly taxidermist saying he did the occasional job "just to keep his hand in".

Stone Age Attitudes II

So what would be an alternative?

First, abandon the usual format and agenda. Do we really need the voice over supplying a definitive coherent narrative? No. Do we really need archive footage which is sourced from over-used archives and/or already available via DVD? No. Do we really benefit from the insights of 'those who were there' when the kinds of question they are responding to are either idiotically simple or inviting the worst kind of elderly rocker nostalgia? No.

Then, adopt a different approach. Rather than see the music simply in terms of the end product or unthinkingly reproduce the star-as-genius-wild man-drop out-acid casualty, enquire into the conditions within which the music was produced. Such things as the economic-cultural-educational circumstances surrounding the young Waters/Barrett/Bowie etc.

Thus, the role of 1950s grammar school education and subsequent Architectural studies for Waters produced the bile concerning schools (The Wall) and the sense of rock music as a 'built' object (the Concept Album in other words). Thus, Barrett's post-war Cambridge days mixing modest suburban privilege with London escapism and Art college glamour. The cups of tea, children's fiction (Alice, Wind in the Willows), boredom, picnics, aunties, old pedal bicycles injected with Carnaby Street fashion, strange chemicals, girls with flowers in their eyes. A little bit later, Peter Gabriel's indebtedness to Charter House English classes for his lyrical borrowings.

Wouldn't it also be refreshing to hear from EMI's accountants? What were the deals struck? How were the profits carved up? How did touring relate to album sales? And wasn't the second Wall concert tour directly related to the Floyd's investments plummeting? Not a word on this aspect of the development of the music.

And then take the idea a step further and involve everyone - you and me or the 'them' as Waters would see us in 'Dark Side of the Moon'. These faceless faces gazing up out of the gloom swooning at The Stars. These zeroes who shelled out their pocket money and salaries to attend the concerts and buy the albums and fatten their heros' bank balances into 7-zero figures and more. What untold histories surround these groups and albums? How many girls fell for boys who looked like Bowie as a vicarious way of living the songs? How many people lived through a group's music - the 'our song' syndrome, the anticipation of the next album, the sense of solidarity with other fans, the bootleg trading and cassette swapping, the haircuts, the moustaches, the shirts, the in-jokes and rumouring and lyric decipherings?

And finally, why not enquire into the technological conditions for the music? Thinking back to my own Floyd-obsessed days (circa 1977-1980 or whenever The Wall appeared and I realised they'd lost the plot) wasn't it my uncle's B&O hi-fi system which made those opening minutes of 'Wish You Were Here' so revelatory? Surely the development of Prog Rock owes so much to the availability and affordability of 'decent' (that was the buzz-word) systems - amps and speakers that could push out enough bass, a stylus that was sensitive enough to the twinkly bits. Listening through a Dixons headphone (singular) on my Audiotronics Cassette Radio to cassettes my cousin made me just didn't provide the same experience.

There's more besides: a bedroom of your own (to adapt Virginia Woolf's phrase), a sense of parental disapproval ("what is that appalling din? You call that music?"), unfulfilled desires which found their peculiar echo and consolation in ever-building guitar solos until "that note" (accompanied by a shake of the wrist and wincing expression).

Needless to say, I am available on a consultancy basis if anyone at the BBC is reading ...

Stone Age Attitudes I

I wish I hadn't bothered to watch part two of the BBC2's Seven Ages of Rock through to the end. I knew in advance that it was going to be a predictable cobbling together of archive footage, soundbites from the ageing (yet mostly well-preserved) stars, and authentication from bought-in consultants, all smeared together with a voice-over narration that veered between self-evident truth to blatant hype. And I wasn't wrong.

The basic ploy was to see a 'dialectic' created by Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground producing a third term: David Bowie. Bowie, in turn, bequeathing Roxy Music and the Peter Gabriel-phase Genesis.

I suppose the justification was to present the theatricalism of late 60s early 70s rock - and that any 60 minute programme was going to have be selective. However, what was left utterly unquestioned was the motivation of the development. Thus, David Bowie's craving for "success" was legitimation for the posturing and glam antics. Thus, Roger Waters' embittered feelings towards rock stadium audiences justified the gradual ossification of Floyd's music and eventual disappearance behind a wall - both literal and metaphoric. Thus, Bryan Ferry happening to have been taught by Richard Hamilton at art college meant Roxy Music had to be experimental.

What needed to be examined was the sheer egotism of these performers. Scrape away the blarney and you find some pretty basic motives: i) I/we want to be famous (whatever that really means); ii) I/we want to have plenty of sex/drugs/alcohol; iii) I/we want to be very rich indeed. At no point did any of the commentators or the voice over question Floyd's lyrics on 'Money'. How could Waters or Gilmour really sing their lines with a straight face as their bank balances soared into millions and millions of pounds? And as for The Wall, wouldn't it have been easier to simply sack the roadies and cut the equipment budget and play a few clubs? Waters might have found that a crowd of thirty genuine fans might not have been so repellent to his fastidious taste.

I was especially annoyed by the predictable treatment of Syd Barrett - simultaneously glorified and patronised. Words such as "madness" and "lunacy" were bandied around as tokens of artistic authenticity. That Syd went "mad" proved he was a "genius". I doubt he saw it that way. Furthemore, to then argue that 'Jugband Blues' was total chaos and evidence of his mental collapse, doesn't really stand up. Listen to it, see the performance, and you realise that he's being very shrewd indeed. Unlike Waters whose knee-jerk reaction to rock stardom was to become vitriolic and to devise even more absurdly inflated spectacles, Barrett took the contradictions into himself. The deadpan manner, the deliberate non-cooperation, the artistic suicide were all - conscious or unconscious - responses to the massive commodification of rock, the hook-up (one could argue perversion) of a genuine libertarian musical energy to a capitalist machine intent on channeling the creativity into product. Without wishing to sound glib, Barrett was perhaps the one 'healthy' member of the Floyd - although you get the impression Rick Wright has always felt uncomfortable on his piano stool*.

No mention was made of what Barrett was intending to do with the Floyd - by all accounts return it to an experimental 'underground' group. (This doesn't sound "mad" to me). No mention was made of Barrett's (and the early Floyd's) connections to groups such as Soft Machine or their work with Delia Derbysire (ex-Cambridge music student and BBC Radiophonic experimenter). Why? Because this would trouble the seemingly self-evident 'progress' (I use the word ironically) of small-time psychedelia to big venue stadium rock. Or, to put it more cynically, music which was exciting, was part of a scene shared by musicians and audience but didn't pay to music which was laboured, regurgitated night after night to an audience who were 'there for the beer' and which translated into Big Money and Share Portfolios and Property Speculation and Private Jets and Alimony to Pay Off First Wives ... Well, which would you choose, eh?

(to be continued)


* Wright is on record stating his passion for Bill Evans. His own tunes - to my ears - always suggest a hankering for the intimacy of a jazz club. Pink Floyd Live at the Village Vanguard, now there's an idea...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Channel tunnel

Had enough of trains and funerals and more trains and a woman talking incessantly throughout the journey back to Brussels (" and it's like ... and I say like ... and like ... like, you know ..."). On and on and on. I noticed that by the end of the journey everyone in her vicinity was wearing earphones. There are times when only an iPod will do.

Still, a space in the day to read Graham Foust's new volume 'Necessary Stranger' with Miles Davis' 'Jack Johnson' sessions like, you know, playing, like blotting out the, like, drivel ...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Roger McGough Feature!

Strolling down the South Bank, Friday afternoon, Belgianwaffle encounters Legendary Liverpool Poet Roger McGough!

In fact, other than the Foyles publicity agent & official cameraman, I seemed to be the only person aware of the Celeb in our midst. Oh well. Here's to fond memories of reading - rather furtively - 'Summer With Monika' in the Westminster Lending Library (circa 1979) when I should have been doing some 'healthier' pursuit before Prep.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spam in my Inbox

He has made himself into an imitator of non-existing men.

Early morning

I have been swimming more in the past 12 months than in the previous 42 years put together. Looking in my notebook, I see that since February I have managed 53 swims - averaging 3 to 4 visits per week.

Little by little you start to feel part of a community, a select club - especially the early morning swims. Go along to the pool at 7am (8am weekends) and there will be a group of men and women mostly in their seventies or eighties (even nineties) already queuing up to get into the changing cubicles. There are the routine greetings - handshakes, kisses, jokes, nods of acknowledgment. The younger swimmers - I'd say executives en route for a day in the office - are less chatty, eager to get in-get out and be on the road.

This morning I manage to be first in the pool. It's an amazing sensation plunging through the unbroken surface of the water and Cocteau's Orphee inevitably comes to mind. You become pure movement: arms, legs, lungs, a rhythm of strokes and kicks. Is it the reptilian brain reasserting itself? Or a return to our fish ancestry? Certainly it feels good.

And wasn't it nice, also, to be greeted by the German lady (who we'd always assumed was rather fierce), each syllable heavily accented: 'Bon-jour Yo-nat-an'. These two words conferring membership to the club!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Belgianwaffle will be in the UK ...

.. as of Thursday 17 May until Sunday 20 May with the younger Wafflette.

So any of our UK readers who feel like a coffee/lunch/wander along the South Bank/perusal of the bookshelves get in touch soon!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Oh, and another thing ... that word "ylem" ...

I notice the liner notes to the Zappa album state "This is Zappa Family Archival Matter In Living Ylem" (each initial in bold - thus: Zappa F-A-M-I-L-Y).

So - being pretty illiterate in Physics I bung "Ylem" into Wikipedia and get this:

"Ylem is a term which was used by George Gamow and his associates for a hypothetical original substance or condensed state of matter, which became subatomic particles and elements as we understand them today. It reportedly comes from an obsolete Middle English word that Gamow came across while thumbing through a dictionary, which means something along the lines of "primordial substance from which all matter is formed." Restated, the Ylem is what "thing" Gamow, et al, presumed to exist at least immediately before the instant of the Big Bang. The term has come into disfavor.

The Big Bang theory currently assumes that the universe in which we exist began from a "singularity" (a near-dimensionless point) that somehow came about and exploded, converting into the first subatomic particles and lighter elements (hydrogen and helium, possibly some lithium). "Time" as we know it, also began with the Big Bang.

In distinction from a singularity, the Ylem had finite size, with mass equal to the whole of the present universe. It is conceivable from what we now know (and George Gamow, et al, didn't), that the Ylem might have been a Bose-Einstein condensate. But "size" has meaning only relevant to some dimensional referent. Therefore, in absence of anything else existing, the Ylem can be considered to have been a singularity. Thus, Gamow's theory and current creation theory are reconciled."

Once again - Zappa bites the crux of the biscuit. I repeat: there is no single poem, there is no single song.

Why Zappa still matters

There was a period in my life when I spent large amounts of time listening to Zappa's music - a peculiar concatenation of circumstances: irregular employment, the release of his back catalogue on CD, loneliness, many hours to fill, a room in an empty house ... The music entered the blood stream via the ears and pores. It is no exaggeration to say Zappa's music provided the rhythm to my days.

These days it is different. I listen to less music. What I do listen to tends to be snatched during solo car journeys or else through headphones between 9-11pm. Zappa's CDs stand on the shelf but don't draw me in quite the same way. New releases are no longer a major event: tired compilations in a desperate effort to pique the curiosity of iTune-dependent teens.

Which is why I avoided 'Trance Fusion' up until now. In fact it is much, much better than I had assumed.

However, I'm not going to do a Wire-style review. Instead, suggest two issues concerning Zappa's music.

First, that it is 'pure product' and yet 'not-product'. Second, that there is no 'one' album.

By which I mean, no one thought more clearly and thoroughly about the conditions (internal & external) of the record or CD than Zappa. The very title of an early issue - 'We're Only In It For The Money' - made it abundantly obvious that Zappa knew what rock music meant in terms of audience, marketing and sales figures. Yet, at the very moment Zappa worked within the given consumer logic of recording-packaging-distribution he found ways to 'skew' the system. Thus, his own labels, mail order business, ironic strategies in cover art, cover statements, dialogue and insinuations ("we've gotta come up with some new shit!").

And then, to take the second point, there is no 'one' album or - more stupid still - Best Of or Greatest Hits. The Project Object - Zappa's ongoing work-in-progress (aka 'Conceptual Continuity') denied any such submission to commodification. Any one song might be mutated across albums, live vs studio takes and then further re-assembled and 'tweezed'. Since I've been reading Spicer recently - another West Coast 'Voice' - it's hard not to make the jump from his poetics to Zappa's rock aesthetics. Just as there is no single poem, so there is no single song. (And I'm not so sure but there are other very interesting affinities between the two figures - let's take the radio for a start).

Which is a roundabout way to explain why I bother to post a review on Amazon about this new CD. It's irrelevant whether it is/is not one of Zappa's best CDs. What matters is to get within the Project Object. Be carried (away) by the music. Hear one glorious chord and search for the 'original' track - which is probably a composite of drum/bass/guitar/vocal parts from different occasions with further meddling - and delight in discovering it occurs on this and this and this album which in turn turns you on to the tracks segued just before and after ... and so on. And before you know it, you'll be devoting every waking hour (and your dreams) to this fabulous music.

Who was it that said the present day composer refused to die?

Monday, April 30, 2007

A single glass of water illuminates the world

"In other words, instead of the poet being a beautiful machine which manufactured the current for itself, did everything for itself - almost a perpetual motion machine of emotion until the poet's heart broke or it was burned on the beach like Shelley's - instead there was something coming from the Outside coming in. ... That essentially you are something which is being transmitted into ... "
(Jack Spicer, Vancouver Lecture 1)


"The poem is not this word itself, for the poem is a beginning, whereas the word never begins, but always speaks anew and is always starting over. However, the poet is the one who has heard this word, who has made himself into an ear attuned to it, its mediator, and who has silenced it by pronouncing it."
(Maurice Blanchot 'The Space of Literature')


"And I would think that we probably always will be crystal sets, at best." (Spicer)


Spicer. Cocteau. Blanchot. Radio.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


This book arrived in the post yesterday. Times coincide.

"Words and rocks contain a language that follows a syntax of splits and ruptures. Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

... a place from which to wait ...

Today the inside of my head has felt like this.


"That the word "poem" means "to make" is an overstated fact—poetry is, I think, most interesting (and most vital) when it dismantles. Not that a poem should concern itself with laying waste to what is made—though that might be of some help at certain times—but maybe poems can show us how to take objects, places, one another and ourselves apart. Might we agree that a clock’s innards can be more compelling than the time of day?

I like to think of poetry as kind of anxious patience. We wait for the poem to arrive; we wait for the poem to mean. But to wait is also, in some way, to set out. Waiting, we are pitched toward coming climates, bodies, times. A poem is a place from which to wait.

In order to "interpret" a poem, readers need space in it. Too much and they’re lost; not enough and there’s nothing for them to do. But unlike, say, a luxury hotel, an incredibly comfortable poem will insure that readers won’t return—there needs to be some sort of serration along which we can drag their minds and tongues. Otherwise, the poem is just a consumable object best eaten and forgotten. I suspect that there are endless ways to make the proper spaces in poems—blank space is only one of them."
(Graham Foust)


Also worth checking out: Coolidge talking about bebop prosody at

Friday, April 06, 2007

Clark's Cool Edge

So where have you been?

Here. There.

What have you been doing?

Reading. Work stuff. Not getting down to it.



A trajectory (of sorts):

Eva Hesse.

Sol Lewitt & Carl Andre at Tate Modern. Thinking in terms of Minimalism and its influence upon L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets.

Barrett Watten ‘The Constructivist Moment’.

Peter Gizzi’s new one – ‘The Outernationale’ – sends me back into the earlier volumes.

J.G. Ballard & Borges short stories. Ballard's landscapes.

Miles Davis ‘Complete Jack Johnson Sessions’. Teo Macero & editing. ‘Love’ by The Beatles. George Martin & editing.

Gizzi’s interview with Michael Palmer in Exact Change Yearbook.

Emilie Simon. Waif vocals & glockenspieling. (same cabinet as Lisa Ekdahl, Stina Nordensten).

Michael Palmer – poems from ‘Blake’s Newton’ and the early pages of ‘Notes from Echo Lake’.

“my poetry ... tends to concentrate on primary functions and qualities of language such as naming and the arbitrary structuring of code – its fragility – the ease with which it empties (nullifies?) itself or contradicts what might simplistically qualify as intention. (And I might add conversely, its tyranny – how it resists amendment.” (Palmer p164, the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E book). McCaffery’s text, too.

Bill Evans ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’ & ‘Everyone Digs’

‘Don’t Start Me Talking’ eds. Allen & Duncan - especially Out To Lunch spilling his Mr Ben baked beans and Harry Gilonis and Sean Bonney.

Lisa Jarnot’s ‘Black Dog Songs’ on the day I went to the zoo with Lara. Inspired. Inspiring.

Robert Creeley ‘Pieces’ and ‘Words’ and essays and interviews.

And, above all, Clark Coolidge and ‘The Crystal Text’. Ten pages a day.


“Quartz is the original untampered word.
When I propose a live reading of poem I think of
going up there to cut some fine edges”


“What do you see when you look out with your language?”


“One could divide it all up into
those who know how the work should be
and those who never know before the work.
But then those who did not know began to know
the materials, an intimate action ... “


"For whatever you can’t know you do write”


“A phrase is also a wave”


“Everything that surrounds
it and is not
part of it”


(from ‘The Crystal Text’)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

New recipe?

We're big fans of Masterchef Goes Large (but why the "large"?) in this house. Once 7.30 pm comes around (Belgian time) the Waffle family are to be found crowded around the television set to see who goes through. If it's not Masterchef it's Ballroom dancing and if it's not that it was the Sound of Music nonsense.

Emma has discovered a new recipe - she's adamant Greg told the competitors to "cook their socks".

What would Elizabeth David say?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Q: Who was Frankenstein's sister?

Watching 'The Yellow Submarine' this evening with the girls - part of their IB A2 Media Option homework - I notice that John Lennon metamorphoses from the Frankenstein monster after drinking a potion. So, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein plus Stevenson's Dr Jekyll - I really should look into conceptual continuities in my teaching syllabus.

Lara goes for George Harrison. Emma likes Ringo Starr ("he's funny"). Not bad.


Album reviews:

Jarvis Cocker's new one - disappointing (sadly). We really & truly wanted to like it.
Virgil Thomson's 3rd Symphony - Charles Ives plus seasonings of Varese & Stravinsky. Worth a second listen.
'Grotesque' by The Fall - puts Jarvis into perspective. Ear rinse material.


Idly thinking about The New York poets as coffee selections. Who would be a cappucino? A macchiato? A latte?


This morning lying in bed with a sense of perfect equilibrium: the light through the curtains, bird song outside in the street, the girls chattering upstairs, synchronic movement of the interior and exterior planets.


BBC4's re-run of Nigel Finch's documentary on the Chelsea Hotel - a particular favourite ever since we saw it back in Bristol in the flat on Redland Road. It's that last sequence of the roller skater disappearing into the night wearing a cloak of coloured stars which seems to bring it all together.


(* A: Phylis Stein - who else?)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Get this!

Just spent the past 27 minutes listening to 'Right Off' from Miles' 'A Tribute to Jack Johnson' album. It is utterly - but u-t-t-e-r-l-y - stunning. So, no matter where you are, get your shoes 'n socks on people and run down to your nearest mediatheque or CD outlet and climb through the letterbox if necessary and purloin yourself a copy.

Granite, gypsum, felspar and marble - you got it, this ROCKS!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saturday afternoon

We all got in the car and went to see a Kaffe Fassett exhibition in Hasselt - about an hour from Brussels going east. As I walked around the Modemuseum I was thinking: repetition, minimal patterns repeated to create complexity, deliberate juxtapositions of colour & motif, Morton Feldman (his fascination for rugs), Howard Hodgkin (India), Klee (those watercolours creating shimmering patterned surfaces).

Certainly worth having a look.

Sayings of Emma (II)

"Showers for everyone?"

(In the bathroom this morning, listening to the BBC weather forecast - or yet another example of the Blairite Nanny State?)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Back in Brussels & bile

Yes - and already various gripes: i) why can't I just use my old Blog account - it was perfectly acceptable? ii) why am I being charged by Citibank Visa for their error with the statements? iii) why doesn't Stonemanor (Waterloo) stock Oatibix?


The train between Farnborough and Waterloo (London) brought back unpleasant memories of a year commuting in the 1980s. No doubt, some of my fellow passengers this week were doing the journey back then - and maybe some ten to twenty years before that. A life of dark mornings, fetid carriages, crumpled suits and newspapers, delays at Clapham junction waiting for a platform ... and now the obligatory cell phone bores ("Yeah, Colin, yeah, say we'll go with that, what?, yeah, 20 K, yeah, OK?, and tell Trina in Accounts, yeah, OK mate, see you in half an hour, Ciao"), the iPods (tsh-tsh-tsh-tsh-tsh), the 'alternative' ties in migraine-inducing shiney colours ... Grab the emergency cord! Jump! There has to be more to life than this. (There is).


New books: 'Body of Work' by Maggie O'Sullivan with 'A Natural History in 3 Incomplete Parts', Stravinsky lectures, a knock-down copy of W.S. Graham's Collected Poems, and 'Minimalism' ed. Meyer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sunday, February 11, 2007

noise of a ring sliding onto a finger

Watching the way the members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop went about cutting and splicing somehow made me think of Tom Raworth and his 1960’s volume ‘The Relation Ship’. That snipping apart of “relationship” is already symptomatic of the procedures and stance of this text.

I’d coveted this book – as well as the later ‘the big green day’ and ‘Logbook’ – ever since seeing it in the South Bank Poetry Library. No longer being a UK taxpayer meant I was disallowed borrowing rights and so all I could do was steal furtive readings until that astonishing December day when I found all three (plus more gems besides) going for a song (pretty much) in a secondhand bookshop in Brussels. Who’d have thought it?

I still love the book – the slightly worn cover with the 4-part dismembered rather dodgy image, the brown card fly leaves, the quotation from “piero heliczer” (sic) (“babies grow filling out a shape without having been dropped in a mould”), the poems set out on the page with plenty of room to breathe each with its own capitalized title, then – every so many pages – a collage/image by Barry Hall, and, finally, a back cover photo of Raworth (smiling?), eyes downcast, 13s. (65p) net u.k. only. Yes, I know it’s a reprint – but who cares? It reeks of what I like in poetry – a delicious odour utterly lost in the Carcanet ‘Collected Poems’ nice though that is in its own way.

I’ve been looking again at ‘Waiting’ the first poem in the book and beginning to realise quite how disconcerting it was then (and, for that matter, now). I think it is easy to misread Raworth – or, rather, to take the poems at face value, quickly jotted ‘moments’ with a quirky surreal after taste. The use of lower case and abbreviations and eccentric spacing act as a nod at U.S. poets such as Olson and Dorn – or simply a trying to be different (a literary two fingers to Larkin and Ted Hughes).

What I am more aware of now is how Raworth is using his page. Rather than the poem depending upon a captured ‘real’ moment (poem as anecdote) or a simultaneity of writing-reading (poem as record of abstract expressionist-style gestures) the poem becomes a ‘site’ – a ‘space’ – of multiple times. I’ll try to explain.

First, the left hand margin – the ‘convention’ of Western poetry – is given added force by Raworth’s phrase editing and spacing. Thus the opening two lines:

she made it a

The temptation is to either fill in the first line phrase – it is so obviously broken off – or to ‘normalise’ it by lifting the one-word second line up to it:

she made it a noise

Ignoring the objection that this, in itself, doesn’t really make conventional sense, what’s evident is the way that “noise” takes on a real value both in terms of potential referential meaning and as a word in itself. There it is – on the page. It is and is not subsumed into syntactical sense. (Extend this reading to line 5 “a cigarette” and 6 “smoke &” and 15 “versed ...” and 17 “favourable ... ”). Each time the word beginning the line has an added impact, enhanced – oddly enough – by being uncapitalized. Raworth, it seems to me, deliberately plays off poetic habits of reading whereby the new line becomes predictable either as a continuation (enjambment) or new beginning. Furthermore, he wants to exploit words for their referential possibilities while insisting on them as words.*

Having mentioned enjambment, a second – and related – feature is that of line turns. Which lines, in actual fact, return? Common sense does and does not suggest that lines 1 and 2 are part of the same phrase. Look also at lines 11 and 12:

small she
spoke he

Taken out of context they work but might as easily work in terms of their previous and subsequent lines:

he wrote small/she spoke/he cut a pack of tarot cards ...

Ten years ago I wasn’t happy with this kind of writing – why was he doing this? Now, I’d suggest it is a deliberate questioning or opening up of the possibilities within poetic language and – as, if not more important - everyday language and experience.

How does Raworth write? How did Raworth write this? I don’t know, he knows, other people might know. I don’t think it comes straight out onto the page. I am much more convinced of the lines being derived from notebooks or quick jottings done during the day (see ‘A Letter to Martin Stannard’ in ‘Removed for Further Study’ where Raworth talks the reader through his compositional processes for one poem). These are, in turn, worked upon – a process of editing, collaging, resequencing – why, I suppose, the Radiophonic programme connects.

So what? You could leave it at that and find Raworth mildly interesting. I think he's much better than that.

That the phrases are incomplete and – in ‘Waiting’ – uncapitalized and unpunctuated, the implication is that of a continuity of language and experience which writing both allows and frustrates. What is and is not potentially to be said? What happens to a lived moment the NOW – once it is trapped into language? Write one line – a jotted down record of a remark – or re-write it on a sheet of paper as a draft of a poem – and multiple possibility enters in. ** Lines 6, 7 and 8 (which will be wrecked by the Blog programme – I am resorting to brackets to suggest the white space of the original page):

smoke &
(..............) blue
he was too (......................) sound

The smoke was blue? Or he was (feeling) blue, too? Or a glimpse of blue (sky, wallpaper, cigarette packet ...) ? It’s not a case of justifying the poem by an anecdotal fact – “yes, I was sitting smoking feeling rather sad when ...”). It is what is being opened up by the poem on the page. A simultaneity.

Third. Spacing. As in the example above, how “blue” and “sound” are pushed away from the main phrase or hard left margin. It is quite difficult to articulate the effect. The words seem to ‘hang’, freed by the extra space on the page from the normalizing glue of syntax. There’s also a physiological effect – the eye dances across – thus the process of reading is being insisted upon and how the eye threads sense across and through the line. Comparisons to music suggest themselves – rhythmic like a syncopation between drums and cymbal (tuh-tuh tuh-tuh tish) or chordal (think of Monk hitting a high chord against the main melodic line).*** I’m embarrassed at my lack of musical knowledge but there is no doubt of the effect – you feel it and it is part of the ‘meaning’. As, indeed, “grey” and “blue” and “sound” start to acquire their own little set of correspondences through placement – the eye zig-zags to connect them as they float off to the right.

It would be too easy to bring in Olson’s much-quoted injunctions about Projective Verse and energy. I don’t want to seem to dilute what’s going on in the poem by recourse to Higher Authority. (“all these americans here writing about america it’s time to give something back, after all” as Raworth writes in ‘I Mean’, suggesting a sense of English Poetic defiance). However, it is clear that Raworth’s poetry here is going way beyond meretricious effects.

Fourth. Things. You could go through this poem – the whole volume – making a list of things Raworth puts into his poems. Cigarettes – lots of those. Plenty of stuff, certainly. And this again can seem like a desire to drag the poems back into a ‘Real’, the poet celebrating his surroundings, little everyday epiphanies of reading a milk bottle label. Instead, I think Raworth does want to put in whatever is going on precisely to question the idea of the single ‘moment’- privileged or not.

What is a ‘thing’? Can “cigarette” be placed in the same category as “smoke” or “children”? What is “a/noise” ? Or “sound” ? That one? This one? When? Then? Raworth sets tangible objects or beings in amongst ephemeral states or phenomena. **** Then, further down the page “prodigality/dissipation liberality un/favourable news”. More nouns but abstract moral categories. How easily we slip across the boundaries yet (I think) this is part of what Raworth is after. How language homogenizes what is so disparate and fleeting and extraordinary – and which is around us every instant.

Fifth. Simultaneity. That title – ‘Waiting’. For waiting implies relative states – I am doing this, now, in relation to that-which-is-to-happen. The dentist. A baby. The post. Godot. Bus. ... Yet this is to simplify time and being-in-time. A linear model is imposed rather than cyclical or all-happening-at-once. Furthermore, it implies a dulling of experience - as Godard complained of people feeling they were only on holiday when they 'arrived'.

of (shall we go she said) pentacles re

The parenthesis is a written device to suggest the simultaneity of living experience. In writing words have to behave and stand in line like little children at school. Related to my earlier comments on Raworth’s use (or not) of enjambment, so his use of parenthesis. What – as such – is not parenthetic? Consciousness prioritizes, that’s all. (Or rather, that’s only a part of it). It is possible to imagine a scheme for the poem as:

Raworth smoking
she enters
the door makes a noise
the smoke from the cigarette curls in the air
children are playing outside
he jots in a notebook
he turns a tarot card
she asks if they’re going

which is only to admit that a) it might be nothing like that, b) you cannot write the simultaneous events without placing one after another, c) these ‘events’ themselves are partial – what else could/was going on?, d) and that to raise this question is to hit yourself against the poem – for it is the words which are the ‘now’ and the meaning is changing as we read.

You don’t believe me? Raworth does not write “reversed” . It is:

versed meaning prodigality

And, indeed, poetry does reverse and re-verse. As the eye returns to the margin so the word slips its sense. Writing is prodigal, leaves to return as the parable tells us and is“given to extravagant expenditure; recklessly wasteful” (SOED).

Poetry gambles/gambols and spills/spells its meaning in a game of winning and losing –

“unfavourable” news becomes “favourable” through the turn of verse. Poetry’s throw. No coincidence, I suppose, that Raworth places a tarot reading in the poem – the turned card read for its truth to this moment. Which moment?

Now – then ...


* I could go even further and suggest Raworth questioning what a word is – decomposing it into its constituent letters: the w-o-r-d as typed/printed. From ‘You Were Wearing Blue’ – “when i was eight they taught me real (italicized in the original)/ writing/to join up the letters”. Thus literacy and educational competence involves a deliberate blinding (repression) not to see what is actually there on the page. Note the lower case “i”, by the way.

** Not very clearly expressed. What I’m imagining is Raworth scouring notebook pages for phrases which are then excerpted and manipulated. What occurs sequentially in the poem might be derived from different occasions but acquires a relation-in-time on the page. Any given phrase – when cut – will inevitably yield unforeseen meanings and/or simply depriving a phrase of its context frees it from its intended sense. In this I’m not suggesting Raworth is unique – by definition, how could he be? However, I am taking as read that Raworth works from text – thus the act of writing is a material one of arrangement. I may be very wrong in this! And there is a further possibility of improvising there and then from what the fragments suggest.

*** I don’t want to be too obvious by dragging in jazz – it’s another way to potentially dull what’s exciting in the writing. Nevertheless, I’m reminded of Creeley claiming to have learned so much from Charlie Parker’s records. And surely the act of typing comes in too – the keyboard (typewriter) and keyboard (piano) suggest similar manual gestures and rhythms. Hitting the space key is itself a physical rhythmic and aural pleasure for the writer.

**** The many tiny moments in Raworth – “noise of a ring sliding onto a finger” being a good example. Yet again I find myself wondering how far this a deliberate testing of language: it makes sense but can you – really – hear that? It exists in the sentence. Language allows other ‘reals’. You can link this with his ear for overheard remarks, banalities, malapropism – linguistic moments of uncertainty (“did he/she really mean what they said?”).

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Watched the BBC 4 documentary on the BBC Radiophonic Workshop last night. Fascinating stuff: John Baker, Delia Derbyshire, the Doctor Who signature tune, atmospheres for the Hitchhiker's Guide, and a room given over to the deformation and recomposition of sound (real hands-on cutting and splicing and rewinding and fast-forwarding). Was it the advent of synthesizers that put paid to the Workshop? Or John Birt's new policies of financial accountability? Or ... ?

Pogle Genius Oliver Postgate doing the commentary was the icing on the cake. Just occasionally television gets it so right.

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