Thursday, August 28, 2014

... I realise that the Dr Who post runs the risk of sounding deliberately out of sympathy with The Times - the sort of knee-jerk reaction to anything 'Now' with an It Was So Much Better Then. Hey! Chill out grandpa! So to refine the argument a little ...

My Dr Who watching years were mostly those of the Jon Pertwee & Tom Baker incarnations. I've been revisiting them with my younger daughter via the non-UK iPlayer (rip-off that it is ...). If anything they've gained in second viewing - the 50-year old self appreciating qualities missed by the child/adolescent self.

For me, what makes that era of Dr Who of interest is the utter lack of concern for popularity.* The programmes were not announced as 'cult' television. There were no pre-broadcast puffs. Blue Peter did not have items demystifying the special effects or a new creature. I sense that the people writing the series were drawing their inspiration from earlier Dr incarnations, the Sci-Fi genre as a whole & their own particular preoccupations & concerns. To put it another way, the creative energy was earthed. Not - as now - in television centre planning & strategy meetings (with that ever-ready eye to marketing).

Furthermore, the programmes were so obviously low budget. Watching now (2014) it is so evident how clunky the props, costumes & robots were. However - & this is the key point - this in no way impeded the imaginative & frightening power of the stories. Indeed, some of the most disturbing episodes were situated in 'real' suburban settings & the disjunction of ordinary & otherworldly was what proved so unsettling.

For me the whole catalogue of the Ghost Box label ...

... is proof of the continuing power of such an aesthetic. Limited means produce imaginative resources undreamed of by commissioning editors & CGI budgets. Plus, the visceral effect of texture. I've forgotten the name of the three-fingered Wayne Rooney lookalike in the Capaldi episode - about as disturbing as some Nintendo pixilated animation. Plastic through & through. Contrast this with the true ghastliness of a Cyberman, Sea Devil or Davros with his bulging veins & clawed hand. 

Or perhaps this is the real issue: Analogue versus Digital. Can a viewer brought up on digitised images respond to such material revulsions?** Or has whatever aspect of the brain-spine-heart wiring been deadened & now requires more blunt stimuli. (& I'm thinking here also of my loathing of Baz Luhrman's Gatsby, the pervasiveness of synth drumming, even the artificial ringtones, bleeps & cheeps that infest daily life. A colleague who teaches art laments the way that students find watercolour dull accustomed - as they are - to Adobe Photoshop screen brightness.)

Returning to that Capaldi first episode what potential lay there in embryo. Imagine a carefully built-up episode set - OK - in late Victorian London. Imagine various symptoms being detected amongst the population - strange skin defects, scaling ... Imagine unexplained fire debris, body parts, rooms completely gutted. Imagine a group of scientists setting to work in the underground sewers or cellars - the usual kind of scientific arrogance refusing to accept anything but a perfectly rational explanation. & then ... some kind of larvae ... a hatching ... but which (another key point) would NOT be shown but intimated - reaction shots ... sound effects ... & right when you think ... CUT! roll the title music & credits. Leave the innocent mind to spawn its own horrors until the next instalment.*** 

Instead of which we had the BIG EFFECT right from the off : a bloody great dinosaur lurching around the city. Question is: where the hell do you go from there? Top that! 

Pointless to ask what ....? how ...? but if .... then ... ? Internal logic has been sacrificed to the putative Audience Out There Who We Know Want ... But what about all those screaming at their screens No! No! No! ... & then, with a sigh, reaching for the off button. 

& of course this problem is not limited to Dr Who but runs right through mainstream broadcasting. 

Knock knock
Who's there?
Dr Who?
You - you've been doctored

The old joke - how unfunny ... but how very true. 


* My deep dislike of Friends was confirmed the day I learned that recordings of the show were constantly interrupted as scriptwriters asked the audience whether a joke was funny or not. What utter lack of courage & integrity. Could anyone imagine Monty Python emerging from such conditions? 

& by such a logic, how will we ever get anything truly new or surprising or life-transforming? 

** Although I lack the necessary technological know-how I'd even suggest the film resolution. Poorer quality television actually creates atmosphere & a sinister suggestiveness. Whereas cinemascope style clarity is the visual equivalent of vanilla ice cream. 

*** Anyone thought of commissioning Iain Sinclair to write a series? No, I thought not. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

... that the virtues of the magnet may be destroyed by rubbing it with garlic ...

(Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos - as stated in Jefferies' Field and Hedgerow

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dr Who?


I really, really wanted to give the new series my best shot but ... coming up to 9:30pm (8:30pm UK) I've had enough. More than enough.

It's hard to know where to begin the thing is so awful ... the lamentable dialogue, the CGI effects & plastified make-up, the lack of coherence & basic plausibility, and ... perhaps most galling ... the torture of watching Peter Capaldi grapple with his script (that awful sickening feeling when you see an actor far superior to his material).

The relationship between the Dr & his assistant is cheapened, there's clunky sexual innuendo, the Victorian novel has been burgled (spontaneous combustion, oh what an original idea), there's a smattering of psychobabble (veils & stuff) ... oh, & even Peter Capaldi's eyebrows threatening Scottish devolution. Not to mention a dinosaur looming over London (you thought the kitten in The Goodies was silly? ...) & yet the 'onest Londoners guv'nor is goin' abaht their biznis as though nothing much is out of the ordin'ry. I mean ... come on ... Basic rule of Sci-Fi: establish & maintain an internal realism.

One can only imagine the scriptwriting sessions: throw various focus group ideas into a bag & give it a shake. See how many presumed audience constituencies we can 'target' & let's not forget the sales to the US (no doubt a major factor in the 19thC period costume look).

The turd is ... sorry ... the Tardis has landed but I wish it would spin off again - only this time into oblivion. Rumours were that Capaldi would be the heir apparent to Tom Baker - why I was so eager to watch this first episode. Terrific actor as he is with a script like this he doesn't stand a chance.

What a missed opportunity.

If ever a volume of poems has been badly served by its cover then surely it is the Faber edition of Marianne Moore's Collected Poems. Reading the first twenty or so - absolutely smitten - I realise that the obstacle between me & her work has been ... that cover. Silly, I know. "Oh how superficial" I hear you say. Don't judge ... book ...  cover ... I know, I know. & yet...

How to reconcile the audacity of these texts, the woman who corresponded with - of all people - Joseph Cornell & this ghastly, bland, anodyne cover? That picture above all - the worst kind of photo derived portrait depicting someone who resembles some hideous laboratory fusion of Barbara Cartland, my grandmother & the Queen Mother. Agh!

Then I realised what was necessary - a bit of detournement. So I sprinted upstairs & ransacked the boxes of cuttings. Here's my slightly tweezed cover:


& here's the closing lines from MM's 'Picking and Crossing' -

Humming-bug, the candles are not wired for electricity.
Small dog, going over the lawn nipping the linen and saying 
that you have a badger - remember Xenophon;
only rudimentary behaviour is necessary to put us on the scent.
"A right good salvo of barks," a few strong wrinkles puckering
           the skin between the ears, is all we ask. 

Oh yes ... 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Page spreads from the Jarman & the Dickinson respectively.

Further additions to the library ...

1000 Sonnets & Petrarch by Tim Atkins
Echo's Bones by Samuel Beckett
Pataphysical Essays by Rene Daumal

The Gorgeous Nothings (Emily Dickinson fragments)
Not Nothing (Ray Johnson Selected Writings)
Sketchbooks by Derek Jarman

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We continue down to Folkestone, chuckling at the thought of all those zombies wandering aimlessly around the Eurotunnel terminal (just how fascinating can Duty Free & WH Smith be?), & head for the parking lot near the harbour. There's a stiff wind blowing but we're in luck. Bob's mate has been out in his boat & lugged home some mighty fine lobsters (two of which ended up with us to Brussels). A bottle of Sancerre, salad, some bread & Mme Waffle's dressing ... hits the spot.

Why, I wonder, doesn't Bob place a sign on the motorway just before the Tunnel exit? Then again, if he did, there might be fewer lobsters for us. So best to keep it a secret between ourselves, right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Oddly enough Robin Williams had been on my mind yesterday while formulating ideas about my old English teacher. Dead Poets Society is that key Williams film & one I have refused to see - too many times I've been told "oh you must see it, you're an English teacher!" & worry that it will somehow cramp my style. Which might be why I don't feel today's news quite so keenly. Robin Williams, for me, has always been one of those litmus tests for US vs British humour (Jerry Lewis another). Perhaps I've never seen his best work & it's unfair to be prejudiced by obvious only-in-it-for-the-money link man jobs or - worse - the many students & colleagues who think they can 'do' Robin Williams (how it grates). No doubt people have winced as I have done Peter Cook or Python routines. Fair do's.

However, it is always sad when a clown passes. We need these Ambassadors of Mirth (now perhaps more than ever). In my version of an Enlightened society the statues in public places would be of famous clowns & comedians rather than the politicians, statesmen & war mongers. So over breakfast I drew up a Michael Lallyesque list of those artists of the funny bone - knowing that I'm blurring categories & bending the rules in places. Here goes, see what you think:

1. Stan Laurel (the greatest?)
2. Oliver Hardy (master of the double take)
3. Jacques Tati (that walk)
4. Chaplin (when not being maudlin)
5. Buster Keaton (up there with Stan)
6. Harold Lloyd (if only for the clock sequence)
7. WC Fields (of course)
8. Mae West (now & again - would she want it any other way?)
9. Groucho, Chico & Harpo (Groucho gets the accolades but he's in a lower gear without the others)
10. Peter Sellers (of the 1950s & Goon Shows after which things go downhill)
11. Spike Milligan (the Goon Shows alone confirm his genius)
12. Ken Dodd (for himself & everything he embodies of the British music hall tradition)
13. Tommy Cooper (he simply needed to walk on stage)
14. Philippe Noiret (master of the doleful expression)
15. Steve Wright (at times sublime)
16. Les Dawson (another master of knowing when not to do anything)
17. Martin Clunes (the name marks out his destiny - a man who seems to chuckle through life)
18. Max Wall (the little I have managed to see)
19. Frank Zappa (for the Dada spirit at the heart of his music)
20. Billy Jenkins (Tommy Cooper with guitar)
21. Woody Allen (the stand up years & up to the departure of Diane Keaton. After that ... the less said the better)
22. Anna Karina (in the early JLG films - utter joy & such beauty)
23. Giuletta Masina (La Strada)
24. Garbo (the face I see behind Stan Laurel's?)
25. Tony Hancock (that great put upon voice of 1950's Britain)

Hancock also killed himself - "too many things went wrong too many times" (or words to that effect) - in a hotel room in Australia. The story usually goes that he couldn't break into the big time like Sellers & was resentful of his co-stars (Sid James, Kenneth Williams) beginning to outshine him. Yet it's clear that Hancock had his personal demons & there's that joke that he held

especially dear:

A man goes into the doctor's and tells him that he has nothing to live for, his life has fallen apart. If the doctor can't help him, he'll take his own life.

No worries, says the doctor, there's the perfect solution to our problems. This week the circus has come into town. Grock, the greatest & funniest clown of them all, will perform every night. If you go along & see Grock you will laugh so hard you'll forget all your troubles.

To which the man replies: "Thank you doctor for your advice - but I am Grock".

Which might just be what Robin Williams was thinking.

Monday, August 11, 2014

To mark the day, here is one of my Dad's favourite jokes:

The phone rings in an art gallery.

The guard answers and hears a voice at the other end: "Statue?"


(It's the way you tell 'em of course)


In my slow but sure metamorphosis into Ed Reardon I have just succumbed to the temptation of the Guardian Comment feed. Nick Lezard (old Wet a year or two before me) had posted an article on Waiting for Godot as the book that changed his life. In the piece he mentions his - my/our - old English teacher who was surely responsible for generations of impressionable sixth formers catching the Beckett bug. I can still remember his reading of - performing would be a better word - the closing pages of Molloy on a Saturday morning class after which, overcome with emotion, he simply walked out the door leaving us to digest the writing. What more need be said - if, of course, you were receptive (as many of us were).

My reason for adding my two penn'orth initially was to share this memory and to point out how little this style of teaching had to do with Learning Outcomes and other quantifying & commodifying tendencies in current education. Instead it was closer to what Robert Duncan has described in the early pages of The H.D. Book: a sharing of a secret, a passing on of the torch, an initiation of sorts. Literature was so much more than a list of prescribed texts - that was made clear from the start. Yes, we had to write essays but these, too, showed no evidence of marking criteria or other dreary grey (seeming) objectivity. Instead there were effusive red Pentel comments scribbled at all angles ("Bull's eye!" was a favourite) plus blots where a glass of wine has left its mark (sometimes these were circled & identified by grape, producer & year).

Would such teaching comply with Ofsted standards today? I doubt it. Would such a teacher even be teaching today - the inspiration & eccentricity drummed out of him long ago in favour of predictable vanilla sameness. It's terribly sad & a thought that haunts me as I prepare for another year at the chalk face (the 19th here in Belgium, the 26th or so going right back to the first tutorials). All the more reason then to try & keep that dissident tradition going. Thirty-four years on & so many of those classes remain crystal clear - the Emily Dickinson 'plank' poem, the chapter-by-chapter analysis of Emma, another classic performance - this time of Swift's 'A Modest Proposal' ... plus the walks to the Tate to see the Bacons, the encouragement to listen to late Beethoven Quartets, not to mention the after prep conversations over a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape (surely, these days, enough to be struck off?).

Enormous privilege, of course, & it comes at a cost. My fear, though, is that in the ever wider dissemination of professional standards & 'best practice' something really precious is being lost (like looking at a rainbow & noticing a colour has faded from view). If my own students will have anything approaching such fond memories of our work together I'll be ... well, really chuffed. In many cases it will be despite the prevailing winds ...

Saturday, August 09, 2014

You'll have heard it before but it's new to me ... listening (a second time this evening) to Shaker Loops - right now, 9:45 pm - as the light fades from the sky & the houses settle down into darkness.

Certainly one of my favourite John Adams pieces.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Here's a link to one of their songs. I see there's also a full live set at Montreux up on Youtube.

Browsing in Fnac today for John Cage CDs (not much luck) I'm gradually aware of something familiar coming from the Rock section ... Kevin Ayers ... Kinks ... King Crimson ...?

In fact it's ...

... The Temples a young British band from Kettering. They've put together a sound that immediately suggests 60s psychedelia (for me late Beatles, early Floyd, although they cite the Byrds as more of an influence). Vocals have that well-brought up Syd Barrett or Kevin Ayers enunciation given plenty of echo. The drumming has a fat splat Ringo thing going but the driven pulse of Jimmy Carl Black. First impressions are in fact misleading. Listen more attentively & it's clear that this is not simple pastiche. Notes are held deliberately a bit longer to subvert any easy catchiness. Rhythms shift unexpectedly. There's a lush quality to the mix which veers towards Martin Denny exotica. It's interesting music. Not the John Cage I set out to find this morning but very welcome all the same. & isn't that what Cage is about anyway - keeping the ears & mind open?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

          j    o    c    h    a    n    g   e  

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Where the Heart Beats ...

Went into school today & found the book order had arrived. I rooted around in the boxes & was pleasantly surprised to discover this item had been included after all. Not strictly a 'set text' but it will permeate the discussions during the coming months.

The very fly leaf tunes into the right frequency - two quotations:

"To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts." (Thoreau)

"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." (Cage)

Once again a book arrives exactly when I need it.
My Greek holiday (IV) ...

A cup from the Museum in Fira (Santorini). Apologies for not noting details - dates etc..  However we're talking a good 2,000 years plus before now. What elegance & refinement.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Incidentally ... for those of a gentle disposition I don't recommend Googling line 2 of the DiPalma poem as I did just now. ("Boober" had seemed riskier ...).

That old saw ... blog posts are like buses: you wait for ages & then three come round the corner at the same time.

& so ...

My Greek Holiday (III)


The Temple of Zeus 
(with the Acropolis in the distance)


Q: What does a cereal killer eat for breakfast? 



The bike ride must have done me some good as I'm now limbering up for a long overdue post bringing The Reader up to date with matters pertaining to Kulchur.

Thusly ...

On & off the shelf

Godard, MacCabe
Life of Samuel Beckett, Knowlson

Clark Coolidge - esp. Own Face, Solution Passage, Baffling Means
W C Williams - Spring and All
Devin Johnston, Tim Atkins & Miles Champion - various
Graham Foust - To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems
Gabriel Gudding - Defence of Poetry, Rhode Island Notebook
Ron Silliman - The New Sentence & then a quick dip into Kit Robinson, Lyn Hejinian, Hannah Weiner, Jack Spicer
Lisa Jarnot - that selected volume which packs well into a virtually full suitcase

(picked up in the Reading Oxfam & other affordable repositories of sustenance)
W Lewis - Apes of God
J Austen - Letters
Raoul Vaneigem - The Movement of the Free Spirit
Joyce - Ulysses (pretty fresh annotated ed.)

(saved from the school staff room bin - shameful!)
The List Poem, Larry Fagin
The Alphabet of Trees (A Guide to Nature Writing), McEwen & Statman

Norman Mailer - Mind of an Outlaw, Fire on the Moon
Sontag - various
Milam Kundera - Slowness
Henry Miller - Colossus of Marousi, Time of the Assassins

In & out & around the ears

Lennie Tristano / Lennie Tristano
Paul Bley / Play Blue
Art Pepper / The Rhythm Section
Zoot Sims / In Paris
Clifford Brown / Memorial Album
Cecil Taylor & Paul Bley Black Saint reissue box sets
Kerouac / Complete Collection on CD (at last!)

Nucleus / The Pretty Redhead (& playing right now - love it! - Snakehips Dream, Track 3, with John Marshall's drumming ... fabulous!)
Poliphony / Poliphony
Dave Holland / Prism

Philip Glass / Einstein on the Beach (the original & finally affordable)
Meredith Monk / Piano Songs, Dolmen Music, Book of Days (which is probably the best)
Vivaldi The Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter (still not sure ...)

Darius Milhaud / Miscellany CD

Xenakis / Works for Orchestra (formidable ...)

Punk 45 There Is No Such Thing As Society anthology

Julia Holter (ah!) / Tragedy, Ekstasis, Eating the Stars, Loud City Song (most especially)
Linda Perhacs / Parallelograms (because Julia says so)
Laurel Halo / Chance of Rain (ditto)

Haydn (yes, really) / Six String Quartets (Takacs Qt), The Creation (Karajan), The London Symphonies (Sir Colin Davis) 

Before the eyes

Le Petit Soldat, Histoire d'Eau, Le Mepris, Bande a Part, Four Hundred Blows

(& which allows for a perfectly gratuitous picture of Anna Karina, JLG's Muse & proof that there's more to Denmark than Lego ...)


So that's that's the current syllabus. Students wishing to enrol should send see vees (no fees!) post haste to the Open Uni-Verse City where we're all perpetual undergraduates & Mr Gove is but a fictional grotesque consigned to the erratum pages. 

Tune in. Enjoy! 

The Return of Riddles of Form

It seems something of a ritual that during each summer holiday I return to the work of Ray DiPalma. Track back in the Blog & you'll see the pattern. Thus it's no surprise that since returning from Greece I've been rereading The Ancient Use of Stone which then, in turn, has sent me back to other volumes.

I'm aware that there haven't been many poetry-related posts of late - the reasons for which I might go into later this week (reading continues & writing - it's more the tricky questions of why blog about it?).  Nevertheless, here's a tentative reading (for want of a better word) of a short poem that appears on page 97 of Number and Tempers his selected early poems published by Sun & Moon. 

Here's the entire poem:


Boober, he's the one
Tub and shay
Barnboard hay and hammer
Bale my foot
Boober, he's the one


It's not too difficult to get a general context for the poem - farmyard, US backwoods, etc.. Boober sounds to me one of those kind of hillbillyish names ("Boober, go take a look ..."). The majority of  nouns reinforce the farming location - tub, barn board, hay, hammer, bale. Not being an expert on US English, I'd be prepared to allow for "tub and shay" and "bale my foot" being accepted local expressions. So we know where we are - sort of. 

The difficulty comes in deciding well ... so what? Or and? DiPalma doesn't seem to be the kind of poet simply recording regional American English or celebrating rural customs. 

Once again I find myself paying an unusual amount of scrutiny to the very words on the page. I've written before on what seems to me to be DiPalma's way of writing (or one among many) - an extraordinary attention to motivations within words: syllables, sounds, letters themselves. So what about 'Kinfolk'?

The title is worth weighing with its suggestion of relatives, family ties and perhaps even too-close ties leading to incest. (I suppose this might go to reinforce the more general context given stereotypes of closed off rural communities). 

So a poem about incest? Or, rather, what happens when language starts to breed within itself? Maybe.  Sameness and difference.

Symmetry 1: the line structure: 5 lines with line 1 duplicated as line 5. However, it is accepted that when line 1 returns it will have acquired all sorts of other resonances due to lines 1-5. Same but different. (& there's the irony that in stating exemplary singularity - "he's the one" - the poem will contradict by doubling - he's the one (twice)). 

Symmetry 2: lines 1,3 & 5 - 4 words; lines 2 & 4 - 3 words. Then the 'and' structure of line 2 is repeated (but varied) in line 3. 

Symmetry 3: The name Boober: the doubled consonant 'b' and with contrasting vowels (the long 'o', the 'er'). The double consonant pattern is then seen in "Barnboard" with additional 'b's occurring in "Bale" and - interestingly - in a reversed position in "tub". "Barnboard" itself sets adjacent vowel sounds with 'ar' and 'or'. Pushing the reading further we have the 'h' consonant duplication in "hay and hammer" which, in turn, starts to signal another level of doubling - words with double letters (Boober ... hammer ... foot). 

Symmetry 4: "he's" seems to trigger a set of doublings with variation - "shay" shifts the vowel sound and the 's' + 'h' positions. "hay" draws from them in line three. "Bale" then fuses the long 'a' sound with the Boober-b pattern. There's also something going on in at the level of stress in the sequence: Boober - Barnboard - hammer. 

For a while I kept wondering about "Tub" at the beginning of line 2. Why was this here? Then it occurred to me that it inverts "foot" in line 4 - a very subtle modulation of the vowel sounds plus the adjacency of 'b' to 'f'. (Another thought: is DiPalma also playing with Dogberry-like mispronunciations - "shay" a comical thick-tongued yokel "say"?) 

And one more thing ... should line 1 be read as but part of the phrase unit that extends to line 2? (= Boober is the one who is tub and shay?) Or as a line separate to itself.* Once more we're back to relations - does the sense marry or not? 

Well, I'm off for a bike ride with the girls. It's good to exercise the leg muscles, too. If you have any thoughts on the poem &/or my reading please post in Comments or via e-mail ( At its very inception, this blog was intended to be a two-way street - something that has been rather lacking of late. More's the pity. 


* & it's worth noting that Sun & Moon print the poem with discernible space between each line which calls in question their relations. 

Monday, August 04, 2014

My Greek holiday (II) ...

Door in the local museum in Fira.

L & E gave me a lot of stick for taking this photo but change the expectations of pottery shards, Cycladic figures & wall frescoes & think Agnes Martin ... Eva Hess ... & suddenly the utilitarian mundane opens upon possibility (the thin 'drawn' rectangular line, the juxtaposition of tones, the play of shadows, the proportions ... ).

(& I don't care if this sounds like an entry for Pseuds' Corner. The eyes have it.)

Sunday, August 03, 2014

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