Sunday, August 29, 2010

A's point - Wednesday evening (I nearly forgot) - that in making, shaping, the pot or painting or poem, the maker is shaped & changed. Each act of making is a process of learning (what can or can't be done). Thus each object stands as testament. The maker/ artist transformed in a reciprocal relation to the object. As with Heraclitean flux, the myth of Pygmalion harbours a double secret. The artist him/herself as material for fashioning. "It's alive!" is as much as to say "I'm alive!".

(Tuesday lunch)

I think Ruskin would have approved.

(That's a chunk of the wonder loaf)

The Oxford Selected Writings of John Ruskin and The Stones of Venice were waiting in the Post Room this week - but it's only this afternoon that I've had the time & frame of mind to start exploring. The Selected overlaps with the Penguin edition to an extent but there are plenty of new things to catch the attention.

From the opening trio of excerpts from Modern Painters I - Of Truth of Space, Of Truth of Water and Of Truth of Skies (of which the titles alone suggest a triptych of poems?)

"And hence in art, every space or touch in which we can see everything, or in which we can see nothing, is false. Nothing can be true which is either complete or vacant; every touch is false which does not suggest more than it represents, and every space is false which represents nothing..." (Of Truth of Space)

"It is a strange thing how little in general people know about the sky ...

... Hence the sky is to be considered as a transparent blue liquid, in which, at various elevations, clouds are suspended, those clouds being themselves only particular visible spaces of a substance with which the whole mass of this liquid is more or less impregnated ..."

Ruskin is good on clouds - no, correction, he is extraordinarily good on clouds. There's a later lecture in the volume entitled The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (1884), part apocalyptic warning, part poignant memoir for a (now polluted) atmosphere. I love the excerpts from the diaries (published in their entirety somewhere?) in which Ruskin records the skies he observes, the times of day, the activities he was engaged upon. The type of observation, the particularity of detail and attention, the very fact of bothering speak of very different times:

"Yesterday, an entirely glorious sunset, unmatched in beauty since that at Abbeville, - deep scarlet, and purest rose, on purple grey, in bars; and stationary, plumy, sweeping filaments above in upper sky, like "using up the brush," said Joanie; remaining in glory, every moment best, changing from one good into another, (but only in colour or light - form steady,) for half an hour full, and the clouds afterwards fading into the grey against amber twilight, stationary in the same form for about two hours, at least. The darkening rose tint remained till half-past ten, the grand time being at nine. ..."

It's hard to read such passages without being profoundly moved. You sense the man looking - that moral imperative of Ruskin's to pay attention. That evident desperation at what is passing even at the very moment of being perceived (surely the very essence of clouds). There are similarities to Thoreau's Journals but also a Victorian English 'plush' quality the American lacks (not necessarily a bad thing).* That two page set piece from The Lamp of Memory in The Seven Lamps of Architecture where Ruskin paints - for that's really the word - the pine forest above the village of Champagnole in the Jura. Too long to type in here, it's on pages 16 & 17 in the Selected. Read it.

Then read on into his discussion of the importance of Architecture (capital 'A', for Ruskin, of course) and more baleful predictions - this time of national corruption due to the decay in its buildings (public and private):

" ... it is ominous, infectious, and fecund of other faults and misfortune. When men do not love their hearths, nor reverence their thresholds, it is a sign that they have dishonoured both ...".

Ruskin then, typically, Christianises his argument although you increasingly see his struggle to draw reassuring conclusions. Ruskin's intelligence and creative perception simply cannot be contained within religious orthodoxy. Pound has been mentioned in an earlier post as a Ruskinian inheritor. I'm also thinking now of Robert Duncan - that kind of mind sprawl, zipping across the tracks, and multiplicity of projects (the HD Book his Fors Clavigera? He'd agree with Ruskin about hearths, that's for sure).

Ruskin lecturing:

"Perhaps some of my hearers this evening may occasionally have heard it stated of me that I am rather apt to contradict myself. I hope I am exceedingly apt to do so. I never met with a question yet, of any importance, which did not need, for the right solution of it, at least one positive and one negative answer, like an equation of the second degree. Mostly, matters of any consequence are three-sided, or four-sided, or polygonal; and the trotting round a polygon is severe work for people any way stiff in their opinions. For myself, I am never satisfied that I have handled a subject properly till I have contradicted myself at least three times ... " (Cambridge School of Art: Inaugural Address 1858)

There's Whitman in there but also (sadly) Carroll's cast of Mad Hatters and crazy Queens. I like the idea that Ruskin's thinking is "at its most characteristic when it's oblique" (Birch, Introduction) but suspect it's also a delicate balancing act with madness. That Woolf-like susceptibility to drown in sensation straining against inherited right thinking and moral propriety. Something had to give. And did. (The photo I saw a few weeks ago in a little gallery on Guildford High Street, taken by Carroll/Dodgson, of a crippled-looking John Ruskin in a chair).

And you see it in the prose style, too. Soaring rhetoric giving way to abrupt sentences, sudden disclosures that ache on the page:

"... this diagram ... shows you an old-fashioned sunset - the sort of thing Turner and I used to have to look at, - (nobody else ever would) constantly. Every sunset and every dawn, in fine weather, had something of the sort to show us. This is one of the last pure sunsets I ever saw, about the year 1876 ..." (note the parenthetic nobody else ever would).

and this:

"Blanched Sun, - blighted grass, - blinded man."

He's worth reading, that's for sure.


* I'm thinking, too, of Joseph Cornell's annotation compulsion: the shifting moods and tenses of a day, the glimpses, the findings, moments of quotidian transcendence.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Apologies for the break in transmission but here's a great new bread recipe. Watch the video and get the print version at:

We made one yeasterday (yeasterday?) yesterday and - guess what - it WORKS! You won't taste a better bread & what's more you made it!

Thanks to Benedict & Mark for the tip off.

(Another is going in the oven in ten minutes ...).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Childhood amusements

"I soon attained serene and secure methods of life and motion; and could pass my days contentedly in tracing the squares and comparing the colours of my carpet; - examining the knots in the wood of the floor, or counting the bricks in the opposite houses; with rapturous intervals of excitement during the filling of the water-cart, through its leathern pipe, from the dripping iron post at the pavement edge; or the still more admirable proceedings of the turncock, when he turned and turned till a fountain sprang up in the middle of the street. " (Ruskin, Praeterita Chapter One)

No Nintendo, then ...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I want to be able to draw clouds

"Indeed I rather want good wishes just now for I am tormented by what I cannot get said, nor done. I want to get all the Titians, Tintorets, Paul Veroneses, Turners, Sir Joshuas in the world into one great fireproof Gothic gallery of marble and serpentine. I want to get them all perfectly engraved. I want to go and draw all the subjects of Turner's 19,000 sketches in Switzerland and Italy, elaborated by myself. I want to get everybody a dinner who hasn't got one. I want to macadamize some new roads to Heaven with broken fools' heads ... I want to play all day long and arrange my cabinet of minerals with new white wool. I want Turner's pictures not to fade - I want to be able to draw clouds ... and I can't do anything and don't understand what I was born for ... ".

Thus John Ruskin in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton, Christmas 1858. Sadly, according to the editor of The Lamp of Beauty volume, this was Ruskin beginning to lose his mind. However, it's pretty much that feeling that arises at the beginning of the summer break and intensifies as the final week evaporates. "I want to ... I want to ... I want to ..." - the list extends: books to read, projects to execute, music to listen to, films to watch, vast fields of ignorance to address ... . What Work (capital W) one might do if one didn't have to work ...

Work that key word for Ruskin and I find it strange to be reading him after all these years (so many ironies here) with a sudden interest and enthusiasm. Something in Rome rubbed off on me? A hankering for someone to educate me in how to look at buildings? The Rilkean imperative to learn to see? An extension of Thoreau's criticism of 19th Century industrialisation and commerce? The prose style which dazzles as it persuades? Or a mind so wide in its enthusiasms and penetrative in its way of looking - creatively perceiving - which is a poetry of its own? Guy Davenport suggests Ruskin as that shadowy figure behind Ezra Pound's massive undertaking in The Cantos (see Mark Scroggins' Blog for further elucidation). He might just be right.

More Ruskin excerpts to follow ...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

One of a series of books I picked up while over in the U.K. last week. I suspect it's a work that divides opinion amongst the academics/professional translators/Rilke obsessives - Gass' tone veers between adulatory and glib. Never mind. There are passages where the reading is close, attentive and illuminating. I haven't read it all - up to page 94 Inhalation in a God - but there's plenty to dwell upon (as Rilke might say) and digest. The short chapter Transreading is a particular favourite where Gass slows his reading down to a few lines, a line, a few words, the placement of a word. Manna in the wilderness. And what about this from Lifeleading:

' "To see" means to taste and thereby to "dance the orange", to touch and feel at one's finger end a little eternity, to smell ourselves cloud like steam from a warm cup, to hear voices, to listen so intensely you rise straight from the ground.'

Frank O'Hara's love of Rilke ... Pasternak ... Mayakovsky ... Rachmaninoff ... "Do you know young Rene Rilke?" ... "Against the winter I must get a samovar" ... Rilke's movement from Prague to Germany to Russia, O'Hara's via the Cedar Tavern and "Mike's painting" and the word ORANGES ... on to Tarkovsky's Mirror and the fading circle left from the cup lifted by the woman seated at the window ... The Rose discloses ...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A poem should be a holiday of the mind ...

... said Valery - or something like that.

If so, then here is the result. After a rather idle, distracted & unfocused week an 'occasional' volume of pwoermds (or plain fresh spun puns) by way of a response (diagnosis?) of Geof Huth's "condition" as described in his Blog on the 10th August. The first of the fullcrumb horseries ...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Howard Hodgkin exhibition

"He's into this abstract-type thing" (overheard as I sat in one if the gallery rooms. Abstract? Looking at the assertive use of paint and brushmarks, the emphasis on frames, or the simple choice of what looks to be a kitchen bread board for 'After Ellsworth Kelly', "abstract" isn't the word I'd use.


In the cafeteria afterwards - trendily extending into what was the road outside - my eyes are fixed on the now eroding single yellow line. The pocked yellow paint overlaying the grey tarmac - pure Hodgkin.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A: (reading newspaper) That's Sandie Shaw - who's she married to?

B: Rocky Beach? (pause) That's a joke, by the way.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Things put up with the doll, none of them love it, we might imagine that the table throws it down, scarcely have we withdrawn our glance, before it is lying once more on the floor.
(Rilke, Some Reflections on Dolls)


Pictures of the tiny doll repair shop just on the corner of Via del Vantaggio in Rome. The old woman was just closing up as we walked past. I noticed an old black and white photo of Roman Polanski stuck to the wall inside.

Friday, August 06, 2010


I cleared out three bookshelves in the bedroom and then re-arranged the books upstairs.

Absurd sense of accomplishment accompanied by an exhilarating feeling of cleansing.

Like finally having a hair cut.

(Which I also did).

Thursday, August 05, 2010

14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

What about this? Yesterday's posting from Rob in Australia and today a delivery of tea. (Oddly enough, from Rob in Bristol!).

Iron Goddess and Silver Needle - the names alone entice.

As for "drinking tea calms you and those around you" - let's say the jury is still out on that one ...

Anyway, the POETRY = TEA system of exchange is one I'm very happy to continue.


Post heading from Kerouac's Belief & Technique for Modern Prose

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

This is the kind of thing that makes me very happy ...

... a small envelope that arrived today containing examples of work from Rob Grant. Assuming he sent it on Saturday (yes ?) that's pretty damn quick from Australia.

Two super little books of asemic writings and - great idea! - stickers and 'faux' stamps. The execution of everything is top drawer and puts my more ham-fisted efforts in the shade.

& further to yesterday's post - another justification for Blogging.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

As I'm waiting for files to transfer onto the iPod I might as well do a post.

What's loading?
  • Eleni Karaindrou The Weeping Meadow
  • My Bloody Valentine Loveless
  • FURT plus equals
  • Chris Burn's Ensemble Navigations
It's been a day spent writing & reading - Shakespeare & Berrigan Sonnets, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Leslie Scalapino texts in pdf. Already my mind is turning to what I might teach & how to go about it. It's like a virus.


"It's always the ones you'd gladly hear more of who know the value of doing less" (written about Robert Wyatt in a back issue of The Wire)

A statement to bear in mind in this - the one thousandth - post on the Blog. (Although I'm probably flattering myself to think there's many out there that'd care one way or the other.)

Perhaps it's the time to say thanks to anyone who has been reading & particularly those who've posted Comments, given encouragement & generally kept the thing afloat. I'd no idea which direction I was going in when I began and not much more of an idea now (perhaps not a bad thing). However one thing has led to another & I've met some interesting people along the way & re-encountered a Walrus. & maybe there are some shy people out there who drop by & I never know.

I'm still in two (at least) minds about Blogging but it seems to serve a purpose for the time being - if only as a hub for the book-making & other stuff. (:nfold:ngs went out yesterday, by the way).

As the late, great John Ebdon used to sign off on the radio:

if you have been - thanks for listening ...

Monday, August 02, 2010

Just finished rereading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Relished every page of it.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Production has slowed of late & so here's a way of getting the presses turin (Turin? Italy on the brain ...) turning again. More on the Sticky Pages site.

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