Sunday, January 27, 2013

So, what are the lessons to be learned from this exercise?

1. That discarded material can acquire a new life and therefore the time spent before was not wasted as such.

2. That you can begin without any clear idea of what you are going to do & a shape & a way of proceeding will suggest itself.

3. That it is possible to find 30 minutes of an evening to do something (only to find that 30 minutes expands further).

4. That short periods of work accumulate & produce a larger whole.

5. That the materials dictate.

6. That concentration on little bits of paper opens up a greater sensitivity for surfaces, lights, tones, shadows, textures ...

7. That working to the same piece of music can be beneficial.

8. That the format - in this case the concertina pages - suggests unforeseen possibilities.

9. That working within limits releases (that there were only a few sheets to tear up & options dwindled with each collage). Too many options & things stall.

10. That this project would probably never have seen the light of day had I not been working with the other books in the lead up to Christmas.

11. That it is not a matter of producing The Great Work but a process of making which satisfies of and in itself.

12. That working hands on with paper also wakes up greater sensitivity to language and sound.

The moral: just shut up & do it.

... it is finished ... 




inside cover, flyleaves, last spread & end paper


Saturday, January 26, 2013


collage 26/1/13


Another grumble ...

Typically, I have the opportunity to go and hear Ian Bostridge singing in Brussels during the week but can't get my act together, dither & then discover the concert's come and gone.

Then, this lunchtime, I sit listening to him present a programme on Radio 3 based around Benjamin Britten's compositions for tenor voice. I'd no idea about Britten's deep dislike of Vickers' interpretation of Peter Grimes nor really appreciated just what made Pears' voice so particularly suited to the works as a whole. In short, it was a fascinating and illuminating programme. Ian's commentary was predictably intelligent, articulate and considered, the contributors equally well-informed. Excerpts illustrated and further clarified the points being made. Good job all round.

This is radio as it should be: you finish the 45 minutes feeling better informed, revitalised, your appetite whetted to listen to more Britten and to listen more attentively. Your world has grown - a little but appreciably.

How rare it is to hear broadcasting that seems so stoically indifferent to marketing imperatives or self-imposed audience appeal.

And I wonder how many such programmes you can fund for one edition of Top Gear, Strictly Come Dancing, ...

See if you can access it via Listen Again/iPlayer in the UK (I doubt we can out here in Belgium).

Friday, January 25, 2013

Just finished Geoff Dyer's The Colour of Memory which arrived on Monday & I've been swigging since. It's good in that first novelish way (it is his first, I think). So obviously worked up from journalings of wasted months - a point he makes in the Note to the Revised Edition. I like his aesthetic of the "inch from life - but all the art is in that inch". How true.

Compared to - say - Iain Sinclair, the writing is easy going, in places pretty functional. Dyer apologises for there being no plot as such but it's a ruse. He knows that at the core of the book is a pervasive aimlessness of that period in one's life when time expands to fill the void. Jobs are picked up & dropped, people come & go, there's not even a rumour of mortgages, babies, & other stuff that hold you down to place & responsibility. Why then even think of a plot?

And yet, he's clever in not filling in the gaps. The held glance between Steranko & his sister Fran is left in the air at the close of chapter 007 but it's clear that things have changed by 005 & his kiss with Foomie. Or the way he closes the novel entering Freddie's apartment & discovering the journal (which is/isn't) the manuscript we're reading. What of corduroy jacket Freddie? We're not told explicitly - moved abroad, died? - & are better off left guessing.

So much of the later GD is already here: frequent little riffs off jazz records that are on a turntable or bought in the market; worked up passages on photographs or - like Monica's bedroom seen through a window - life that is becoming photogenic; the allergy to regular employment; the cultivated delinquency. And there's even the hint of Tarkovsky - a Brixton Nostalgia? - at those points when the writing stalls & time seems to stop & an epiphany is hinted at yet never quite arrives ...

The annual system failure. Shut down. Bed. Reboot.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why do you make a book? Because my Hands can extend a few score Inches from my body; because my poverty keeps those Hands empty when my Heart aches to empty them ...

(Coleridge, Notebooks, entry Spring-summer 1811)

turning this statement over all day ... & the stranger & more suggestive it gets ...


collage 22/1/13


Monday, January 21, 2013

Among the obits for Michael Winner this caught my eye:

"In 1957 he directed his first travelogue — This is Belgium — shot largely on location in East Grinstead."

Imagine had he continued in this vein ...


collage 21/1/13


Friday, January 18, 2013

E. is just back from her class trip down in the snowy Ardennes and deeply puzzled at the news that some parts of the UK are on red alert with blizzard warnings.

"But they like hot places .... so why will they be coming?"

That's blizzards not lizards ...

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Next to the stuff coming out on John Zorn's Tzadik label, this has to be among the most beautiful calligraphic CD covers I've seen in quite a while. The music's damn good, too.

Given editions such as this designed by the wonderfully named oficina tresminutos who would want to buy music off iTunes? 

(Check out their page at:


collage 17/1/13


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

... more or less six folds to go. However I'm starting to run low on the scraps. Honour has it that I don't generate more, so the collaging becomes ever more desperate as options diminish.

Looking back through the ones so far, some work, others don't. Or some work when read as part of a series, others stand alone.

I'm tempted to paint different tone backgrounds (greys & oranges) but fear this will upset the balance. Another option is to work in some pencil lines as framing devices or threads connecting one image to another. Then again, maybe not. Text? But that risks making it all decoration.

Or to put it another way, it's starting to become a bit too self-conscious - always a danger.

Maybe it should simply peter out. Or ...



collages 15/1/13


Monday, January 14, 2013

... waiting for the snow to arrive: punctual at 9pm or like a tardy guest turning up some time after, making apologies, the traffic was bad ...

Sunday, January 13, 2013




collage 13/1/13 (i)



collage 13/1/13 (ii)


Among the CDs I find at the Mediatheque is a recent Zorn issue inspired by the works of William Blake. This sets me off catching up on what he's doing these days, memories of a geeky teenager sitting in front of a staggering record collection in the 80s talking about composition on file cards still linger. In fact, this very sequence is available via YouTube plus a not so long ago print-based interview ...

"And people don’t appreciate that. They think we’re out here balling, you know? It’s not that way. It’s hard work, and you get isolated. And you get distracted by the normal human need for companionship and love and understanding and appreciation. Those are distractions from doing the work, I feel. That’s why I can’t read magazines or newspapers, I don’t look at TV. I try to focus on what’s important, which is really the work itself. Making sure that you do the best possible thing in the purest possible way with the most imagination and technique and honesty that you can pull together. ... We live with it every single microsecond of every day. I’m constantly in doubt about what I’m doing, I’m constantly tortured, and that’s why I say happiness is irrelevant. Happiness is for children and yuppies. I’m not striving for happiness, I’m trying to get some work done. And sometimes the best work is done under doubt. Constant rethinking, and reevaluating what you’re doing, working and working until you feel it’s finished. And that’s an interesting point too, that you’ve got to know when to stop. Sometimes there’s a magical moment when everything comes together."

(John Zorn speaking to with Mike Goldberg in Bomb magazine - Google & you'll find it)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sunday, January 06, 2013

"Besides, I dwell not in this study, Non hic sulcos ducimus, non hoc pulvere desudamus / I am not driving a furrow here, this is not my field of labour/, I am but a smatterer, I confess, a stranger, here and there I pulled a flower; I do easily grant, if a rigid censurer should criticize on this which I have writ, he should not find three sole faults, as Scaliger in Terence, but three hundred. So many as he hath done in Cardan's Subtleties, as many notable errors as Gul. Laurembergius, a late professor of Rostock, discovers in that Anatomy of Laurentius, or Barociius the Venetian in Sacroboscus ..." (p33, Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621-).

Typing this out you physically feel the distance ... I have no Latin & thus each word is doubly foreign (to the mind and the fingers) and Burton's predilection for ever-unfolding clauses means reading is a form of map reading (a point he himself makes: "And if you vouchsafe to read this treatise, it shall seem no otherwise to thee than the way to an ordinary traveller, sometimes fair, sometimes foul; here champaign there enclosed; barren in one place, better soil in another: by woods, groves, hills, dales, plains, etc. ..."p32). So who, in their right mind, reads this stuff anymore? Anthony Burgess and Borges have gone ... George Steiner perhaps? And so why do I - at approximately 4:45 pm - have the urge to tackle all 1,132 pages of the NYRB paperback edition. A calculated act of absurdity? A deliberate hankering for the recondite? A last desperate flailing of independence of mind before the shades of the prison house begin to close upon the middle-aged boy? Or a thirst for something truly toothsome against the pap of quotidian twitter?

And yet, despite the near on 500 year gap, how immediate much of it feels: Burton's concerns at the decay of learning, the loss of originality, accusations of plagiarism, the flood of second-rate publications, the impossibility of reading even a fraction of what is 'out there' ... sounds familiar? What about that lovely moment of self-deprecation "a smatterer" from someone who's launching a volume of such stupendous proportions and which implies so many hours reading - or, to use his phrase, "breathing libraries". Or did he say that? So many are the citations and attributions you start suffering from a kind of biblio-vertigo - how many of his own words are faint echoes of illustrious predecessors? And who now - or even then - would have the textual mastery to know? Which, I suppose, is the point I am leading up to: the constant litany I hear within contemporary education about turning kids on to the vast data base 'out there' (where exactly? ... good question ... and who does it belong to? ... even better question). As if education was suddenly transformed by the internet and all that Information. As Burton's Anatomy makes clear it was always thus - certainly from the printing press on.  Read in a certain way and you realise Burton is already writing in HTML - put your colophonic finger on any citation, name, simply a word and see where it takes you. However, what does Burton do with this vast array of texts? What does it mean to read Burton - certainly more than those Read-A-Book-In-A-Day techniques of page-scanning and skimming for 'sense'?

So I'm going to persevere ... at 50 pages a day it should take me most of January especially if I cut back on the frittered hours e-grazing (but don't be surprised if the project gets hi-jacked by something else).


collage 6/1/13


Saturday, January 05, 2013


collage 5/1/13


... today it comes quickly (I already knew as I finished yesterday more or less what was needed next) ... 

Working at this scale and with such colours and shadings I find I'm becoming hyper-aware of usually overlooked phenomena: the tea stain that is left in a ring around the white tea bowl ... the mottled froth of this morning's capuccino left at the rim of the cup ... the particular quality of grey walls in the damp January Saturday centre of town ... odd how concentration on the small scale opens the eyes wider ... 

Friday, January 04, 2013


collage 4/1/13


... another one and a half hour battle with little bits of paper & clumsy thumbs for fingers ... not my style of working at all .... but a good exercise in patience.

Thank God for that. All day I have been humming the first bars of what I know without the slightest hesitation of doubt is a Thelonious Monk tune: dum-dah // duh-dah-dee-dah-dee-dah // duh-dah ... But which?

Epistrophy? Bemsha Swing? Straight No Chaser? ... no ... but it is (appropriately enough) Nutty!


The arrival of John Wilkinson's collection of prose writings The Lyric Touch over Christmas has sent me back to the poems with renewed vigour & interest - Proud Flesh, in particular. (It had been rereading John James in early December & Wilkinson's essays on the aforementioned which occasioned the purchase). In turn, such are the contrived workings of my mind, I spend a good half an hour upstairs searching through boxes of old photocopies & magazines trying to track down an interview with JW. I am adamant that it's in Parataxis only to discover it was in Angel Exhaust and then that the particular paragraph I was after (concerning JW's habits of composition) occurred not in an interview at all but the introductory speech he delivered before a reading.

I hope that's clear to everyone. Phew.

Anyway, what I'd forgotten was JW's thoughts on government mental health care policy and the pervasive influence of managerialism. I read these paragraphs now - ten years after initial publication - almost with tears in my eyes for the lucidity of his writing and the way he diagnoses and predicts how this infection will spread into every nook and cranny of what we call modern society.

And the wonderful defiance against goal-oriented thinking and predictable outcomes that comes at the close of his penultimate paragraph:

"To feel alive means to say, I went looking for this or that which I thought I wanted, and instead I found something which mattered to me more."


Surely one of the best definitions of why poetry - indeed art in general - matters.

Thursday, January 03, 2013


collage 3/1/13


Started listening to the first track on Nils Petter Molvaer's album Khmer when I had the urge to go upstairs & start fiddling about with another sketchbook. Not knowing where to begin I decided to limit myself to botched pages & simply start tearing & arranging. Here's the first two-page spread. 

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Sitting in the Ikea cafe this morning thinking I could be herding reindeer.


The sounds from the coffee machine resemble a particularly virulent bout of diorrhea ... diaorhea ... diarrhea (that's it - there is no 'o' in diarrhea but there is in diorama).


Ikea sells boiled eggs for breakfast but does not provide teaspoons. E. abandons the dessert spoon after two attempts, then improvises first with a wooden stirrer, then the slightly concave wrong end of a knife. Success! A true bricoleur.


I notice the sprigs of parsley carefully placed adjacent to the salmon or meatballs in the display photos. The semiotics of such cafeteria imagery: connotations of freshness, Nature, haute cuisine all in an attempt to conceal marketing connivance and portion controlled servings.


Unusually we elect to follow the arrows on the floor - obediently taking the prescribed path through this wonderland of pre-fabricated self-constructed living. Imagine John Ruskin shopping in Ikea ...

We still manage to get lost somewhere in Shelves.


Back home I build my desk with (unexpected) assistance from L. It is simple and white and nothing to write home about. But it does the job as desks go. It will do.

Sitting at it I could be back at school or in a bay of a college library.


Far away, reindeer are grazing. I can see them from my desk.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A morning of resolution & soup making (lobster bisque from the remains of last night's indulgence; leek, celery & potato; lentil & tomato). Begin to despoil a new notebook. Rain unremitting.

After lunch, e-mails & scanning pages from last year's journals. Sudden inspiration to move the shelf unit from behind the main table to across the room & replace it with a small desk (free of computer & other gubbins). Unfamiliar sense of zest & purpose.

Listening to Part's Credo on the eponymous Helene Grimaud CD with new-found enthusiasm when the sun breaks free of the cloud for the first time in what seems ages. Minor key epiphany of sorts.

Tomorrow: off to find a desk ...

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