Thursday, October 30, 2008
The woods are misty this morning, the colours duller. A new routine has established itself this week - an hour's walk between 8:30 and 9:30 after dropping the girls off.
The first morning phrases kept forming and fading. I did my best on getting home to scribble them down. Tuesday morning I deliberately took pen and notebook. Inevitably, little came - far too self conscious.
Yesterday I took the girls and a one-hour walk turned into two hours (time for hide and seek, stick finding, stitches, cold noses, groans and moans).
Yet, I've got a new idea based upon an old notebook. And other things are taking shape. I'm rethinking what this Blog is for as against the value of working more between the covers of a notebook. I'm even thinking about handwriting, looking at pages by Philip Whalen in particular. The discipline of shaping letters with the pen and hand rather than the keyboard.
So while it's hard to specify how - or why - but I think these walks have been doing me good.
Watched this yesterday afternoon with the girls. The central message seems to be: you wait for the wave and then ride it. And you do it because you love it.
Always good to keep this in mind.
Reading Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier between times.
Take an old notebook (one that seems dull or especially distant from your current interests). Go through page by page taking phrases that catch your eye. Give some phrases their own space. Others place in proximity. Number the sections. When the book is exhausted, read through the sections/phrases. Listen to what they say - at different times of day and from different perspectives - and the directions they suggest. Try to read as someone else. Then work back into them: shaping, extending, rearranging, interpolating other material.
I'll see what comes out of this.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The current Ross-Brand-Sachs-BBC scandal makes me think of this. There's the BBC's apologetic use of the word "prank". For me, "prank" covers such things as childish behaviour: the old bag of flour over the door routine as the teacher walks in. Even by university the term starts to wear thin. (I once sat through an Oxford local magistrate's court session in which a vagrant was given six months for stealing sandwiches from a local Boots, while a group of undergraduates were given a warning for having caused damages to college and public property to the tune of a several thousand pounds. Her Honour was reminded that they were due to leave for a skiing holiday the next day ...).
I've contributed to the BBC 'Have Your Say' and I see the comment is yet to be approved for appropriate language use and absence of sexual or racist content (there's an irony!). I express the opinion that Ross and Brand are - as many so-called celebrities - grossly overpaid in comparison with others working for the BBC (e.g. good old journalists) and in Britain as a whole. Pranks are fine - but not when you're on 18 million pound contracts. We're no longer talking pocket money.
However, I think it goes deeper. There's a strange twist: that the 'appeal' of Ross and Brand is (apparently) due to their common touch. The same is being said for Sarah Palin. It's a thoroughly fraudulent claim and insincere, too. As we all know (or should) Ross and Brand will be heavily supported by agents, promoters, scriptwriters etc.. They move within a highly privileged world of media insiderism. Contracts, book deals, movie projects will be organized for them way beyond the dreams of 'average' folk. No one will be more protective of their 'professional' rights (invasion of privacy issues, deals with magazines for photo shoots, negotiations for expected earnings and compensatory fees, star listing prerogatives). We're so gullible: dear old Jonathan - he's one of us ... .
Might the current credit crunch usher in a new 'realism'? That inflation in its widest sense - market values, political claims, footballers' salaries, media hype - has been revealed for the confidence trick it always was? That just because it's on a screen, talked up or blessed by 'the Media' doesn't automatically confer value.
(anyone reading remember Saturday evenings and Simon Dee?)
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
This one from 1970 ...
and this one from 2007 ...
They're about as close to Folk as I can manage and I'm not at all sure why I like them so much. Whatever. There is something persuasive about the voice - so closely miked the words keep their breath. Listening to Just Another Diamond Day it's Blake and nursery rhymes that come to mind - plus the kind of dark intimations behind Feste's songs. Lookaftering is unnerving for the emotional directness and sweetness of the couple of songs I've heard so far. (Somehow 'tracks' isn't the word - too digitalised. Unless the 'spoor' sense can be unearthed beneath).
You could make comparisons with Joni Mitchell (the early pre-jazz albums especially) and Kate Bush (minus the volume and histrionics) although neither would do her justice. Syd Barrett (the vulnerability), Viv Stanshall (the melancholy string settings), perhaps the more recent stripped-down P.J. Harvey (the step back from The Biz) ... a bit closer yet still not really hitting the essential quality.
Fascinating music - that's for sure.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I resume where I left off. The hiatus is due to the usual distractions entailed by school. I make good resolutions and then find the energy has dissipated: grading, planning, day-to-day issues take their toll.
Which is a reason in itself to find Simon Perrill’s volume ‘Hearing is Itself Suddenly a Kind of Singing’ impressive. It’s there. He seems to be able to juggle academic and family life and get the writing done (as well as some visual work I gather). I have nothing but admiration and respect.
I’m increasingly aware as to how Riddles of Form is a not so subtle act of appropriation ("hypocrite lecteur ...") . A way of mapping out the territory, taking bearings on writers, trying to see where to go. And, in a sense, I feel close to Simon Perrill without ever having met him. I opened ‘Hearing’ with a mixture of excitement and trepidation: wanting it to be good but not that good. Leave a little room! (If you follow me).
I’m going to look at the first poem in the collection – ‘i was cut out for this’ - which appears as part of ‘An Address Book’ knowing that this must be a relatively early text (1996?) and that later work might go in other directions.
My reason for choosing it is that on first reading I was left feeling decidedly lukewarm: the poem felt like a set of procedures and too evidently informed by Perrill’s reading. The poem moves fairly clearly from text and memory to linguistics and music to textual copying to text and textile to nautical metaphorics closing with linguistics and fashion. Or, to put it another way, Derrida, Barthes, Saussure, Freud, Lacan taking in J.H. Prynne and Tom Raworth on the way.
However, if the first question forming in my mind was: is this poetry anything but an illustration of theory? The second question that occurs me is: how can writing occur in the knowledge of such theory, embody it by taking it further, or somewhere else? Rather than the “score ... printed on the finest tracing paper”, it’s the challenge of a mapping as outlined by Deleuze: “plug the tracings back into the map, connect the roots or trees back up with a rhizome”.
You can find the entire poem at:
The title of the poem is instructive: ‘i was cut out for this’. Note the lower case ‘i’, of course. The personal pronoun – the index finger of identity - is problematic right from the start. Perrill plays with identity and typography in subsequent poems too: “tough on the type”, “to cap it all” (‘A Manifest O’) as just one set of examples. He seems drawn to idioms, particularly those that see-saw meaning. Thus, the title: ‘cut out for’ in the sense of chosen or excluded? Then there’s the knowing nod at collage and the construction of the Self as a process of editing. And there’s an equally knowing postmodern flattening of linguistic reference: as if – literally – a letter ‘i’ was cut out to make the word ‘this’ in some simulation of a crime novel message. (Alternatively there’s that Iain Sinclair poem ‘The Moon Rises Like The Dot On An ‘i’’). Perrill is also preparing for his final flourish – the tmesis on ‘address’ in the final line.
Collage processes seem to inform the poem in other ways. I’m not sure that the very composition owes something to excised lines which are then reassembled. However, it’s more the way Perrill works syntax and grammar. Verses 3 and 4 work by parallelism: “laughing ...” and “exhibiting ...”. Verses 6 and 7 seem intially separate sense units and then the “is” refers back to “the score”. The eye travels across the edge between the phrases and glues them together. A similar effect is achieved moving from the title to verse 1 and on to verse 2. Sense is anticipatory and delayed.
Then there’s Perrill’s love of a phrase – in fact, I get the impression that this is the driving force of the early poems I’ve read (more than, say, sound or rhythm*). Line one is a good example of his jamming of two phrases together:
“as an unpublished article of faith”
The scholarly (“unpublished article”) and the religious (“Article of faith”) are grafted together and produce a catchy third sense which is at once throwaway and knowing. We’re meant to get the jivey almost ad-man wit while appreciating graduate student reading in ideology, linguistics and language philosophy.
It’s worth for a second citing a few lines from Out to Lunch (aka Ben Watson) taken pretty much at random from ‘Nine to Zero’:
tremor of the lower lip, the spittle-
bedecked parting of the flesh-ways:
throttled beavers brook an absence
Yes, Lunch’s line is more visceral and physical – those syllabic juices set running by the assonantal odours – but the third line is recognizably Perrill. Nature, genitalia and lyricism collide although – for me at least – the effect is less ‘knowing’ more at the mercy of the language drive.
Both Perrill and Lunch seem to be indebted to Joyce (then again, who isn’t?) and – I’d say – early Prynne. Verses 3, 4 and 5 of Perrill’s poem are pretty much a statement of poetics:
laughing like a good sound
wrapped around the ears
exhibiting an emblem
of a hardly held idea
you figure it out
of all available proportions
It’s knowing linguistic play, the signifier given its head at the expense of the signified. And it’s the “you figure it out” which sounds the Prynne note for me (the opening of ‘The Numbers’ comes to mind: “The whole thing it is, the difficult/ matter: to shrink the confines/ down”). There’s that surprising directness of address simultaneous to a literal and figurative uncertainty. Vocabularies compete and coexist.
I am also interested in the way Perrill works off phrases – what you could call an ‘allusive idiomatics’. Look at verse 3 again. The two lines seem to depend on a set of unstated but ‘heard’ phrases: ‘a box on the ears’, ‘a sound telling off’, ‘a scarf wrapped about your ears’ and the punning ‘wrapped’/’rapped’. And, as often happens in his poems, there’s the street-wise use of music styles and technology. Here, Rap and – given it’s the mid-90s – headphones and Discman.
I had assumed that this was most of what was going on and not much for the ear. However, Perrill’s poems are working in some interesting acoustic ways beyond the more ‘conceptual’ sonic play of puns (one example: notice how he assumes an equally knowing reader as he slides from the “cut out” of the title to editorial excision “unpublished” to “curates” with its shadow sound ‘curettes’ which is the activity of removing morbid matter with a scoop to the final cut of “a dress”).
In this particular poem he seems to be drawn to nasal sounds – ‘m’ and ‘n’s: “unpublished”, “mnemonic”, “museum” ... “relation”, “sunnier”. This pattern declares itself also in syllabic resemblances which also play for the eye:
mne / mon + ic
mu / se / um **
em / bl / em
pro / por / tions
As well as echoic movements: “call” to “all” which occurs twice; “hardly held”; the “skin” to “tracing” to “skein” development.
However, it’s this line which is of most interest:
like that that accumulates on milk
I’ll admit that it’s not a pretty line and - in some ways – you could even say ‘bad’? Yet the clumsiness seems justified. As I see it, the whole poem risks tautology – a saying the same thing: “knowing the score/ is printed on the finest tracing paper”. Just how thin a layer separates? How far can Perrill milk it before everything sours?
That. That "that".
form a little visual poem of cloistered arches and columns the eye walks through
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I happened on this one in the Mediatheque. From the (dodgy?) cover image I assumed it was a soundtrack from some rare Godard/Anna Karin film of the sixties. The name conjured up hippy-India-psychedelic trippiness meets English folk traditions (and she is - it seems - a descendant of the John Bunyan). Then the title suggested an 80's art school-punkette collection. All rather confusing really. Is the music any good? I've only listened to a few songs and they're interesting for not quite being there. Rather like Syd Barrett's solo work - or Kevin Ayers: rough round the edges but speaking from somewhere else. Worth pursuing, I think.
Another find, this time from the art bookshop down the Rue du Bailli. One of a series of books - 10 cm x 10 cm - 'petites histoires' combining words and images. I love the determinedly handmade feel: scribbles, doodles, sticky tape & sketchbook stuff. There's a site at http://www.esperluete.be/navigation.htm.
Monday, October 20, 2008
You, armadillo, the dark and stately shape of armadillo, the street the shape of armadillo, the arm of armadillo in the cask of snow, the cask of snow in armadillo in the taxi in the snow, the taxi cab of armadillo, the shape of texas like an armadillo, the snow that falls in texas in the armadillo snow, the armadillo running through the street to zoos in arm's length near the snow, the there you are where I am not an armadillo that does not light the way, who likes to draw the armadillo in the foothills of the stars, the stars of armadillo flesh on grills and acrobats who eat them, the eaten armadillos and the circus freaks and jerks of stars, the casks of snow on stars in flames, the bus boy armadillo, the snow storm armadillo, exploding armadillo in the tent of night where stars are poles of armadillos lacking fur and walking through the galleries like pansies in the rain, the simple bird of armadillo, the armadillo armadillo in the blades of grass that drift inside the armadillo dressed like stars inside the blades of night.
Let Moses, the Man of God, bless with a Lizard, in the sweet majesty of good-nature, and the magnanimity of meekness.
Let Joshua praise God with an Unicorn - the swiftness of the Lord, and the strength of the Lord, and the spear of the Lord mighty in battle.
Let Caleb with an Ounce praise the Lord of the Land of beauty and rejoice in the blessing of his good Report.
Let Othniel praise God with the Rhinoceros, who put on his armour for the reward of beauty in the Lord.
Let Tola bless with the Toad, which is the good creature of God, tho' his virtue is in the secret, and his mention is not made.
Let Barak praise with the Pard - and great is the might of the faithful and great is the Lord in the nail of Jael and in the sword of the Son of Abinoam.
Let Gideon bless with the Panther - the Word of the Lord is invincible by him that lappeth from the brook.
Let Jotham praise with the Urchin, who took up his parable and provided himself for the adversary to kick against the pricks.
Let Boaz, the Builder of Judah, bless with the Rat, which dwelleth in hardship and peril, that they may look to themselves and keep their houses in order.
Let Obed-Edom with a Dormouse praise the Name of the Lord God his Guest for increase of his store and for peace.
Let Abishai bless with the Hyaena - the terror of the Lord, and the fierceness, of his wrath against the foes of the King and of Israel.
Let Ethan praise with the Flea, his coat of mail, his piercer, and his vigour, which wisdom and providence have contrived to attract observation and to escape it.
Let Heman bless with the Spider, his warp and his woof, his subtlety and industry, which are good.
Let Chalcol praise with the Beetle, whose life is precious in the sight of God, tho his appearance is against him.
Let Darda with a Leech bless the Name of the Physician of body and soul.
(from Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart)
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."
(The Book of James)
Caught this on the radio this morning while shaving.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I find myself asking why?
There's the Woody Allen joke about taking a speed reading course and getting through 'War and Peace' in record time. "It's about Russia".
I find myself - there I am, again - walking in the opposite direction. Reading fewer books but (I hope) better.
What's the rush? What's the prize? Who's counting? A (self) justification of tenure? A peculiar sense of reading as capital?*
As, today, I reread some poems in Lisa Jarnot's 'Black Dog Songs' - the Early & Uncollected first section items. They're the right words for the one hour I have free.
put all the tea cups and the things
still left I never cannot name.
(from 'Altered States')
* or: - as I noticed a colleague say over lunch - she was "embarrassed" not to have read Great Expectations. Why? Who can read everything that is worth reading? (And how insufferable such a person would be?)
I remember Derrida's insistence upon having read only a few books. After all, there's reading - and there's reading.
I've just listened to the Sibelius all the way through and admit to being utterly underwhelmed.
Is it due to Gould's recommendation which somehow creates false expectations? Nothing short of an epiphany will do?
Is there some kind of 'contagion' expectation - that if Person I Admire likes This then This must automatically be Good? Perhaps.
Is it something about my ears and symphonic music? Probably.
Which set me thinking about a list of orchestral music which does do something for me. In no particular order:
1. Beethoven's Symphonies: 3, 5, 7 & 9 plus the Piano Concertos
2. Stravinsky's Ballets: Firebird, Petrushka & The Rite of Spring plus Symphony In Three Movements
3. Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony & plenty more
4. Mahler: no.s 1,2,3 & 5 especially
5. Bartok: Piano Concertos, the Concerto for Orchestra
6. Britten: Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes
7. Webern: in small doses (no joke intended)
8. Schoenberg & Berg: the lush stuff
9. Ravel: Piano Concertos & plenty more
10. Debussy: Jeux (otherwise it's more the solo piano & string pieces)
11. Wagner: opening of Rheingold plus the Siegfrid Idyll (i.e. without voices!)
12. Varese: what else do you expect from a Zappaphile?
Is there any sense to the list? A predilection for colour & texture? Rhythm? Fragmentation of form?
And why Sibelius - like Brahms - leaves me cold?
If anyone could enlighten me, I'd be very grateful. What am I missing?
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Belgianwaffle & friend caught in conversation at the University Library of Leuven.
I took pictures of a tiny fragment of Homer's Odyssey and a letter in Thomas More's handwriting. Sadly, they just don't transfer well enough. (More's calligraphy is especially beautiful - the sense of the page, line spacing and the letter shapes (those 'g's'!)).
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Standing in Blackwell's Oxford browsing along the poetry shelves. Except it is not at all like the current shop. There are bare wooden floorboards, an airier feel, pale blue-grey decor. I realise that it is, in fact, the French seaside hotel in Picardy we go to once a year - Les Tourelles.
I want to buy a little City Lights volume of Sonnets - but can't identify the name on the cover. I take it to the till for gift wrapping. There's a rather precious sales assistant, he has the typical Oxford dither and mannerisms of a Bodleian librarian I vaguely remember. He's irritated by the squat format which won't fit the gift wrap sheet. He turns the book this way and that. Exasperated, I take the book and clumsily bundle it up. Then I go upstairs to pay - they're operating the old Foyles style of getting a chit.
Upstairs, the sales assistants are gorging themselves on thick slices of chocolate cake, flapjacks, jam sponges. The English bookshop cafe craze taken to an extreme. The cash point is both coffee shop and the old British Library book collection desk. It seems to be their daily routine - one endless tea party. I'm appalled at the health consequences yet tempted all the same as one assistant sinks his teeth into a wedge of cake.
(Some delayed unconscious reaction to last week's announcement about library proposals? Or darker motives ...?)
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.
I'm working with one class on some Ogden Nash poems. My belief - hope? - is that by looking at comic writing many of the essentials of poetic language (diction, rhythm, sound, etc.) stand out in greater relief.
A seemingly inconsequential poem such as 'The Cow' opens up the power of rhyme as Nash rhymes "ilk" with "milk". For me, it's the juxtaposition of the abstract noun with such an ordinary, daily, unremarkable concrete noun. Two separate orders of language and experience are suddenly brought into adjacency simply through a chance resemblance of sound. And the texture of "ilk" - spiky, awkward, still dragging on its Anglo Saxon roots - at odds with its conceptual, categorical sense.
Another example, perhaps, of the humour latent within L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry?
Monday, October 13, 2008
Unsurprisingly, I was shown the door and told to "learn some manners".
I stood outside on the stairwell cringing with embarrassment.
It just so happened that the Headmaster happened to pass by on one of his infrequent rounds. Why was I standing outside the classroom? I explained. He nodded. "See that you do" - and passed on.
I've been thinking about this incident today and wondering how times have changed.
* strangely, interviewing in my previous job, I met a candidate who'd been taught by the very same teacher. I heard again that intonation and certain turns of phrase and inflections which she'd absorbed.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
The move from Deleuze's philosophy to Ballard's fictions not - in retrospect - so strange. Predictable, in fact?
12th October & it's warm enough to sit on the terrace reading in the sun.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
In the pool by 8 am (the first swim this week due to the nagging cold). Haircut. Immediately feel better - does the massaging & fingering of the scalp trigger neuronal activity below the bone?
Get out a selection of Hooverphonic CDs & - listening to them later - realise I am famiiar with several songs. They're all BBC documentary backing track material. Ideal for a solo driving. Life as TV. Etcetera.
Dig out J.G. Ballard's 'The Atrocity Exhibition' - one of many volumes that have been sulking on the shelves for a year or two. I'm immediately captured by the fragmentary narrative and short paragraph 'chapters'. Where's this book been? Why haven't I read it before? Ballard's later annotations are as good as (even better than?) the original text. ("Deep assignments run through all our lives; there are no coincidences.")
Friday, October 10, 2008
Thursday, October 09, 2008
"People would be able to chat, drink coffee and watch videos in English libraries under a new government proposal, The Independent has learnt. Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, will today launch a consultation on changing the face of libraries which he believes are out of touch.
Under the proposals, libraries could install coffee franchises, book shops and film centres. Noise bans will also be reviewed. Mr Burnham will tell the Public Library Authorities conference in Liverpool that libraries must "look beyond the bookcase and not sleepwalk into the era of the e-book"."
You can read more in today's Independent:
How can people get it so wrong? Don't they realise that there are already so many voices in the library - and that is why you have to be so quiet to hear them speaking on the page.
That scene in Wenders' 'Wings of Desire' comes to mind.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
A description of the Joseph Cornell's boxes?
In fact, Deleuze on Whitman.
o so late ocelot oscillate o soleil
o zoo o so ozu owes who
thin in the theremin therein
I think I am starting a cold.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Friday, October 03, 2008
"If one wants to understand how desire is induced, managed and channelled into socially sanctioned avenues, then one needs to know how banking works, for it is banks that orchestrate this new arrangement of filiation and alliance." (Ian Buchanan, p 108, Deleuze & Guattari's 'Anti-Oedipus')