Tuesday, 30 October 2007

bill holm

The Icelandic Language

In this language, no industrial revolution;
no pasteurized milk; no oxygen, no telephone;
only sheep, fish, horses, water falling.
The middle class can hardly speak it.

In this language, no flush toilet; you stumble
through dark and rain with a handful of rags.
The door groans; the old smell comes
up from under the earth to meet you.

But this language believes in ghosts;
chairs rock by themselves under the lamp; horses
neigh inside an empty gully, nothing
at the bottom but moonlight and black rocks.

The woman with marble hands whispers
this language to you in your sleep; faces
come to the window and sing rhymes; old ladies
wind long hair, hum, tat, fold jam inside pancakes.

In this language, you can't chit-chat
holding a highball in your hand, can't
even be polite. Once the sentence starts its course,
all your grief and failure come clear at last.

Old inflections move from case to case,
gender to gender, softening consonants, darkening
vowels, till they sound like the sea moving
icebergs back and forth in its mouth.

wyslawa symborska

True Love

True love. Is it normal
is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?

Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions but convinced
it had to happen this way - in reward for what?
For nothing.
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not on others?
Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

Look at the happy couple.
Couldn't they at least try to hide it,
fake a little depression for their friends' sake?
Listen to them laughing - its an insult.
The language they use - deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines -
it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!

It's hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? What renounced?
Who'd want to stay within bounds?

True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn't populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.

Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there's no such thing.

Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.

stephen crane

A man said to the universe

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

robert penn warren

robert penn warren had much to say about the self, some of which i might repeat at a later date but in the mean time i found i was quite taken with this...

true love

In silence the heart raves. It utters words
Meaningless, that never had
A meaning. I was ten, skinny, red-headed,

Freckled. In a big black Buick,
Driven by a big grown boy, with a necktie, she sat
In front of the drugstore, sipping something

Through a straw. There is nothing like
Beauty. It stops your heart. It
Thickens your blood. It stops your breath. It

Makes you feel dirty. You need a hot bath.
I leaned against a telephone pole, and watched.
I thought I would die if she saw me.

How could I exist in the same world with that brightness?
Two years later she smiled at me. She
Named my name. I thought I would wake up dead.

Her grown brothers walked with the bent-knee
Swagger of horsemen. They were slick-faced.
Told jokes in the barbershop. Did no work.

Their father was what is called a drunkard.
Whatever he was he stayed on the third floor
Of the big white farmhouse under the maples for twenty-five years.

He never came down. They brought everything up to him.
I did not know what a mortgage was.
His wife was a good, Christian woman, and prayed.

When the daughter got married, the old man came down wearing
An old tail coat, the pleated shirt yellowing.
The sons propped him. I saw the wedding. There were

Engraved invitations, it was so fashionable. I thought
I would cry. I lay in bed that night
And wondered if she would cry when something was done to her.

The mortgage was foreclosed. That last word was whispered.
She never came back. The family
Sort of drifted off. Nobody wears shiny boots like that now.

But I know she is beautiful forever, and lives
In a beautiful house, far away.
She called my name once. I didn't even know she knew it.

mr la-di-dah gunner graham

a phrase that will be instantly familiar to those who endured a childhood of what the bbc once called light entertainment but which really wasn't light or entertaining at all.

none of which would be any concern except that courtesy of strangemaps i came across geographical fun. of itself geographical fun is interesting but becomes even more so when it turns out that the maps were apparently drawn by the fifteen year old lilian lancaster for her sick brother.

and why gunner graham? because lilian lancaster is reputed to be the first to sing lardy dah in new york, this being the origin of la-di-dah. you can read or listen to the whole story here tho if you follow the link through to the bbc you need to do a search for lilian lancaster once you get there

yes the days are long and slow when my legs are sore....

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

race day

a bit of bonk, a dodgy bike and well, to be honest, a healthy dose of fear curtailed the night cycling so after a disappointing first day i woke up to a lovely scottish october dawn.

stuffed myself with cake and red bull and was off on the back up bike for a fine morning's cycling. felt even better as i'd been the one ensconced in a sleeping bag all night while quite some number of those left were showing the effects of a night in the forest. i sympathised with them and they called me a solo-ing loon

lessons learned:

more night time riding
better lights
more balanced food intake
get rid of santa like belly

next race is another twenty four hours in january 'the toughest endurance race in britain'.
what could possibly go wrong!

ilam peruvaluti

This World Lives

This world lives
Some men
do not eat alone,
not even when they get
the sweet ambrosia of the gods;

they've no anger in them,
they fear evils other men fear
but never sleep over them;

give their lives for honor,
will not touch a gift of whole worlds
if tainted;

there's no faintness in their hearts
and they do not strive
for themselves.

Because such men are,
this world is.

trans A.K. Ramanujan

etre et avoir

if this isn't my favourite documentary i don't know what is

Monday, 15 October 2007

edna st vincent millay

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light!

stephen crane

There Was a Man Who Lived a Life of Fire (The Black Riders LXII)

There was a man who lived a life of fire.
Even upon the fabric of time,
Where purple becomes orange
And orange purple,
This life glowed,
A dire red stain, indelible;
Yet when he was dead,
He saw that he had not lived.

gary snyder

John Muir on Mt Ritter

After scanning its face again and again,
I began to scale it, picking my holds
With intense caution. About half-way
To the top, I was suddenly brought to
A dead stop, with arms outspread
Clinging close to the face of the rock
Unable to move hand or foot
Either up or down. My doom
Appeared fixed. I MUST fall.
There would be a moment of
Bewilderment, and then,
A lifeless rumble down the cliff
To the glacier below.
My mind seemed to fill with a
Stifling smoke. This terrible eclipse
Lasted only a moment, when life blazed
Forth again with preternatural clearness.
I seemed suddenly to become possessed
Of a new sense. My trembling muscles
Became firm again, every rift and flaw in
The rock was seen as through a microscope,
My limbs moved with a positiveness and precision
With which I seemed to have
Nothing at all to do.

things i am afraid of

dying in my own country

sound bites

is the name of a book by alex kapranos, he of franz ferdinand, and is basically a collection of his guardian columns about his various eating experiences around the world. as such it's not particularly good but it passes the time even if you find yourself constantly thinking it could've maybe been better if it'd been tidied up a bit

anyway, that's by the by. it was enjoyable in its way so fair play to him. i was however struck by the following quote which takes place as he's moseying about in a parisian street looking at the people :

If you stare at someone in a street in Glasgow, it's an invitation for a fight. If you stare at someone in Paris, it's because you want to look at them

many years ago i was engaged in some research about aggression and eye contact in humans and primates. i gave it up partly due to laziness and partly down to depression. are other countries so different? maybe not but at least they're not here. time for a change i think.

steps must be taken!

shakespeare map

i haven't put any pictures on here yet so here's this variation on harry beck's rather lovely underground map

Friday, 12 October 2007

the night before race night

that bit if the night that is only left to anticipation. there's no more training to be done, no excuses to be made that'll make the time go easier. we have the organisation down now, just a matter of packing the van and getting the back upbike to the shop for some last minute adjustments.

cycle round a forest for twenty four hours in the dark in scotland. in october? there's something wrong with you they say. but not as wrong as when i tell them this is just preparation for the race in january which'll be much, much harder. i was at that course on tuesday. i wish i could've had T with me to see the trees, an autumnal riot, the west coast is spikier, more coniferous.

my dad has this strange idea that i'll be trying to win, which cracks open old hurts from way back when i actually was winning in other sports. he has no conception that this isn't about winning, just finishing. that those night time sufferings are not about competing, but self abnegation, of revelation, in a space where out in the darkness there really is only you and you're never closer to yourself. and then that wild and crazy doing something wilfully daft just for the sake of it. there are no books here, no strategy, no philosophy. but he's from a different generation, a different mindset and can no more understand what i'm about than me him

i can't wait to hear to hear the sound (more of this on the forthcoming post about sound) of the cyclists, the noise of the chains, a hundred breaths drawn together, the sound of the trees in wind at night time, the ben looming above in the darkness.

it could be colder, i'm afraid of cooking but no moon means no frost. and mud. i'm worried about some of the technical sections, i'm worried about falling, though the fall a couple of days ago wasn't so bad (tho the bruise is worth a picture!). how many laps? who can say? so long as i'm not last!

last race of the year. can't wait!

Monday, 8 October 2007

the coolest thing i've heard

it should be no surprise that in the life of the swiss there's a strong element of the motorcycle. a story that's soon to reach its end it's true but the fact remains that since my early teens and the first time i 'borrowed' my mother's moped two wheels good, four wheels bad would become a credo i've stuck to ever since

the doubters may question but my response is that, despite my great affection for the van it is no more than a tool for moving bicycles, boards, kites and me, to provide shelter from the wind and tentless accommodation. i love the van but it's a daytime love whereas the love of the motorcycle is more obsessional, moves in a darkness that isn't even reached by that of the bicycle.

the bicycle i can appreciate for its apartness, the fact that the truly beautiful bicycle can only be appreciated in use, a context in which a rational aesthetic is useless, fit only for non-cyclists. or cardrivers. i can't talk about how i feel about the bicycle, it's too personal, too revealing and even so even attempting to do so is like describing dropping into a good wave - that moment beyond time which really is indescribable and the attempts to do so have only resulted in decent waves across the world cluttered up with people who indulge the activity solely for its sign value

but the motorcycle. the motorcycle doesn't even need the functional. i used to go down to the local shop just to gaze at the mv agusta F4. sure it didn't work, but look at it! and to drive a ducati 996, uncomfortable, feet numb, unbelievable brakes, but in memory, in sense, just that quality of red, of speed. and then the noise. the gsxr at foolish speeds, the whine of the japanese, standing with my daughter listening to the triumph daytona, the starting of the ducati. the best motorcycle noise i've ever heard? i used to own a moto guzzi 1100 supersport, two into one exhaust. coolest bike i ever owned. worst bike i ever owned. but the noise. the noise would stop people in the street and then the bike itself, all black with the gold logo. i started it for a friend to let him hear the sound. that doesn't sound like a motorcycle he said, that said like all motorcycles!

but anyway, i came across frederick seidel the other day. i like what i heard and googled a bit to find out a bit more about him. then i came across this

Finally, there’s Ducati. Seidel not only writes poetry about the Italian motorcycles but owns four of them, and he will describe the bored-out, street-illegal, uncomfortable pro racers that reach 210 mph in minute detail. He rides them along out-of-the-way roads near his house in Sag Harbor and sometimes on Montauk Highway, occasionally hitting 150. His new ride, the six-figure 999FO5 factory Superbike racer, one of only eight made every year, was built for him in Bologna by hand. “When the mechanics found out they were assembling the bike for Seidel, the American poet,” he tells me, “they dubbed it Moto Poeta.”

in connection with poetry this is the coolest thing i've ever heard. better than money, better than prizes. i don't care for either of these things but something like this, if even the possibility that something like this could happen then the creative life would be worth enduring...

alice munro

i like alice munro. i like alice munro because she writes so much better than many other short story writers who try to write in her style. here she is in hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage writing about disease in the story comfort

The disease had three styles of onset. One involved the hands and arms. the fingers grew numb and stupid, their clasp awkward and then impossible. Or it could be that the legs weakened first, and the feet started stumbling, soon refusing to lift themselves up steps or even over carper edges. the third and probably the worst sort of attack was made on the throat and tongue. Swallowing became unreliable, fearful, a choking drama, and speech turned into a clotted flow of importunate syllables. It was the voluntary muscles that were affected, always, and at first that did indeed sound like a lesser evil. No misfirings in the heart or brain, no signals gone awry, no malicious rearrangements of the personality. sight and hearing and taste and touch, and best of all intelligence, lively and strong as ever. The brain kept busy monitoring all the outlying shutdown, toting up the defaults and depletions. Wasn' t that to be preferred?

thomas hardy

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.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

judith saunders

and here's judith saunders with something not so dissimilar to billy collins

Mathematicians at Work

hunker down on their hands and knees
and sniff the problem
poke it with ungentle fingers
rub it raw with steel wool
wad it up in a ball and cackle
then pound it flat with little mallets
watch it rise like dough (uh oh)
resume its original shape
screech, swing at it with hatchets
spatter the walls with oozing fragments
stare horrified at the shattered bits
reassembling themselves, jump up
attack the problem with icepicks
gouge holes six inches deep
and seven inches across
(chew the mangled matter
spit it out and belch) kick the thing
into a corner, remove their belts
and beat it senseless, walk off
with the answer in their pockets.

billy collins

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Saturday, 6 October 2007


and i like autumn. so here's this and if you follow the link there's a bunch of stuff about translating it. i chose this translation because i like it without the rhyme and metre


Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird Es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Lord, it is time! The summer was so vast.
Lay your shadows on the sundials,
and on the fields let loose the winds.

Command of fruits a fullness,
give them two more southern days,
urge them to completion, and chase
the last of sweetness into heavy wine.

He who has no house will not build one,
and he who is alone will so remain,
will wake, read, write long letters,
go back and forth in avenues,
driven, restlessly, by falling leaves.

full suspension

despite the tooth i get a new bike. full suspension! and what a difference. what i pick my way over and hope for the best on the hardtail i can get the head down and hammer over on the full sus. climbing seems easier too tho i can;t quite reason out why (maybe it's the distracting sculptures that are popping up where i train)

on the down side. it doesn't feel as direct as the hardtail and the view that it's bad for your skills i'll definitely support if only because i've been going so fast that if i didn't have my hard nardtail acquired skills i'd have stacked by now for sure. but while fast is enjoyable it isn't necessarily as much fun so the hardtail will definitely stay alarge part of the training schedule

will i use the full susser for the race tho? given the interruptions to trainign and worrying signs of some sort of post viralism - absolutely!

the tooth, the tooth

it's been a slow few days and pre race training has suffered what with the gap in sweden, nasty cold on return and to cap all of that, an infection in my wisdom tooth.

colds bother me these days but if you've indulged in a hefty nicotine habit you have to expect fragile lungs and mostly i manage to avoid them or grin and bear it. teeth now are a different thing. i've got pretty good teeth and me and dentists don't have to see each other much except that is for a recurring wisdom tooth infection. i get it maybe once, twice a year especially after prolonged drinking or illness. so i was none too surprised to feel a swelling starting after the cold.

most times i don't bother with the dentist. it's a struggle to get them to part with a prescription for metronidazole and analgesia i can manage for myself. but not this time! after a day i had to get T to get me to the dentist who, looking in my mouth only said 'oh dear'. it wasn't pretty. i worked the next four nights which, though painful, was better than being at home with nothing to do but pain. more dentist and i welcomed the injections and removal of bits of gum. small beer compared to the previous pain. a week later and it's finally receding but i'm left thinking about the whole experience.

i'm used to pain. if i've not fallen off, run into or been hit by something, it's chronic damage due to all of the above. but it's distant pain, feet, back, not my face. plus it's musculoskeletal pain and dealable with. at the most basic level i can rub the hurt, or rest it. not my face! no, the infection hit the nerve so it's nerve pain and there's just nothing going to be working for that. i think about how we treat pain at work, what we give, how long it takes, what it must be like to lie in a room while some stranger takes their time or won't give you what you want because they know better/it's not in the protocol/it's not your prescribed time

and then how pain affects us. i'm heartened to say that people at work notice something is wrong. i'm the leader and i don't do problems from home, it's old school, most likely stupid but i've got my professionalism and that's how i like to be seen so if i'm off form they notice. and it's difficult, difficult not to be snappy, difficult to maintain the things that make me me. normally i'm out and about blethering, at least it looks like blethering but i rarely have a non-planned discourse at work! but i found myself spending more time in the office. i felt i was failing me, failing them. i wished i had a copy of daudet's land of pain. i remembered a man with facial neuralgia, screaming and screaming.

i found myself thinking of a friend of mine who died a few years back. he had undiagnosed back pain. he lived in very rural scotland so it's safe to say his care wasn't what it might have been in a city but whatever, he never got to the bottom of it. i hadn't seen him in a long time but shortly before he died S asked me to maybe look in on him the next time i passed town. i didn't and when he did die i must've driven past where he was lying while the police were searching for him. we don't call it suicide, he just died of an illness he couldn't live with any more.after he was dead his wife dug out some old photos for the kids and one of them remarked that she couldn't remember daddy smiling and how much better he looked. S said that he couldn't stand what he'd become

i'm thinking about this just now, after a day in the sun, how fragile we are, how quickly even who we are can change. we are so lucky for those moments, take them so much for granted. maybe that's what the hospital gives me, the vision of what's coming, and to make the best of it while there's a chance

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Yves Klein

bachelard on immensity -

Baudelaire's daydream does not take place in contemplation of a universe. He pursues it - as he tells us - with closed eyes. He does not live on memories, and his poetic ecstasy has become, little by little, an eventless life. The angels whose wings had once shown blue in the sky have blended into a universal blue. Slowly, immensity becomes a primal value, a primal, intimate value. when the dreamer really experiences the word immense, he sees himself liberated from his cares and thoughts, even from his dreams. He is no longer shut up in his weight, his own being.

i read this and i immediately thought of Yves Klein. i remember first seeing his work in the pompidou years and years ago and it stopped me in my tracks. seeing him again recently my reaction was exactly the same, wordless, calm. i could try to rationalise it but in doing so i'd lose some of that effect, get involved in those divisional dialectics

for years i've painted mainly in blue. more recently i've had some experiments in red but it seems a different, less satisfying process. painting in blue, indigo is to be, as bachelard says, liberated from cares and thoughts. looking at yves klein feels much the same