Tuesday, 23 December 2008

list two

but who really cares what i liked? where's the interest in that? what didn't i like

i'm not going to name individual poets because they're fragile wee souls and at the end of a day reading a poem doesn't take much time or drain that much from your life. that said, particularly towards the end of the year, i read some of the worst poetry i've seen in my life. i'd expect better from teenage school children, i've read much better by teenage school children! so bad has it been i've been considering a book burning. i welcome the credit crunch if, at the very least, it silences the complacent, slovenly, selfish voices of the middle classes. everyone else should reclaim the word and riot in the streets

books. not much better. the british equivalent of gialli seems woefully absent. something along the lines of a hardboiled midsummer murders if you're lucky. a word for the genre. shit. and heaven preserve me from anything along the lines of i grew a lemon tree while travelling with gypses of kazakhstan and bought a house in bulgaria. are there any books like this that are any good? only the ones where the people actually do something. in which case they're probably too busy working to think about writing down their 'insights' now that they've spent the money they've made speculating. a pyre of such books should be made and nigella lawson and all her ilk driven thru the streets to be burnt upon them. okay, not burnt, seared, in a light hand reared olive oil with bunny's ears. cook books!? are you kidding me. a plague on all their houses

films. this bearing in mind i'm an afficionado of shit films. yes i have watched the crow:wicked prayer (yes, it was dreadful) and yes, i have watched much of the oeuvre of the pony tailed pudding that is steven segal. but...

charley wilson's war. hang your head in shame tom hanks. not quite the right wing wank fest that is red dawn but they made that up! we've funded a war in afghanistan. ho ho ho! i was aghast. then there's the 'genius' that is michel gondry. yes mr gondry i truly loved eternal sunshine of the spotless mind you the same could not be said of the misogynistic tit odyssey that was science of sleep or the turgid stink bomb that was be kind rewind. no it could not. then there was no country for old men and there will be blood. cruelly boring films, teasing the viewer with flickers of what might have been but instead drowning them in leaden layers of I'M TELLING YOU SOMETHING. yeah, i'm telling you something too, i'm sure the neighbours can hear me shouting it...

as for the dylan biopic, and i use the term loosely, i'm not there. all the reasons dewey cox was good = all the reasons i'm not there was unwatchable. and really, it takes a talent of some depth to make the dylan even more of a cock than he actually is. using richard gere to do it tho, that'll work. but using midgets in dream sequences. are you joking todd haynes!!!! awful, worst film of the year by a country mile but still not anything like the bloated shit fest that was the fountain.

will i go on about it again? why not. at least i'm not there even if it was less than the sum of its not very impressive parts seemed at least to be doing something, even if that something was to be actually employing richard gere or making me want to punch that 'rimbaud' character almost as much as i wanted to punch richard ashcroft in the drugs don't work video. no, i just want to punch richard ashcroft. a lot. but that's by the by, at least i'm not there didn't scar me with its badness. the fountain on the other hand... perhaps it's interdimensionally bad. i was watching event horizon the other night and it came to me that the fountain may have slipped through a hole in imaginative space to insult us with its presence. but some nice backdrops i've heard it said. yes, yes, it's biological photography, like someone's ejaculated into weak tea.

so, yet again, the worst film in the world. EVER. the fountain. aronofsky, for you, there is a special hell

list one

i read a fair amount of poetry this year. most of it, it has to be said, was older and, maybe because it's stood the test of time, better. best of the (new-ish)bunch came early on with soirbheas by meg bateman. i loved it from the first and nothing else has come close.
honourable mentions to robert alan jamieson for nort atlantik drift.

of the old stuff open world by kenneth white is something i've browsed most of the year, i was very happy to get octavio paz's collected works and i was, as usual, stunned by margaret atwood's poetry but, just because of sheeer enjoyability, my favourite collection of the year (old school or dead) was raymond carver's all of us. tess gallagher sold me on it sufficiently at this year's stanza that i got a copy over from the states and i haven't looked back since. everyone should have one.

books. i got even less lucky with books this year, especially fiction. on the non-fiction front i started the year with geert mak's in europe, which i enjoyed so much i'll be reading it again, even if i felt it flagged a bit towards the end and i don't necessarily agree with his conclusions. i'd also recommend his, much smaller, the bridge, about istanbul and i'm currently enjoying his history of amsterdam. if you haven't read him i'd thoroughly recommend him .

fiction. while kc constantine's hardboiled dialogue driven grievance sparked a late interest my fiction(esque) book of the year has to be marie carter's the trapeze diaries. small, perfectly formed, perfect. i enjoyed it so much i owe her a story in return, something i'm having to write from memory no less!

non-fiction. i was luckier with non fiction. robert crawford's scotland's books is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in the subject. peter conrad's creation is compulsive if maddening and not as good as his book on modernism. there were many but the clear winner was richard holmes age of wonder. utterly fabulous, assuming an interest in science and romantic poetry and the crossover of the two. if so you need to steal a copy of this if you can't afford it

film. early on i very much enjoyed the squid and the whale but beyond that there wasn't much in the way of quality english language cinema i enjoyed. genre wise shoot 'em up managed to distill the whole of the action genre so that it was as stylised as noh theatre. from the immortal line 'fuck you, you fucking fuckers' i was transfixed. for those without genre sense it will be utterly hateful, but for me it's triumphant, hilarious genius. and while i'm on the subject, in the year of obama if i see a better satire about race relations than the harold and kumar movies, esp the guantanamo bay effort, it'll be a surprise. throw away your copy of crash (really, just throw it away) and get this. honestly.

the others seem kind obvious - ne le dis a personne and das leben der anderen probably my favourites of the year. all health care workers should watch the diving bell and the butterfly and i was engaged and entertained by paris je t'aime. i was also surprised by the assassination of jesse james, a slow and compelling look at celebrity, rather than just a western. worth a look

special mentions - the savages (laura linney again), in bruges, flawed, under-rated and not the painterly film it might've been but quality. and fur, which it appears only me and the cast have seen. not quite the diane arbus story but if i've seen better set design i don;t know where

film of the year tho? a musical. walk hard - the dewey cox story. funny, knowing, a delight

Monday, 22 December 2008

adrian mitchell

adrian mitchell has also died this week. michael rosen writes a touching obituary here. i wasn't much of a fan but i still find myself reading him from time to time. i meet him years ago and found him to be an extremely pleasant and engaging man. one of the poems he read was this one, which caused some discussion between someone from the sixties and someone who wasn't. he'll be missed.

To Whom It May Concern

I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I've walked this way
So stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain,
Couldn't find myself so I went back to sleep again
So fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Every time I shut my eyes all I see is flames.
Made a marble phone book and I carved out all the names
So coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

I smell something burning, hope it's just my brains.
They're only dropping peppermints and daisy-chains
So stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Where were you at the time of the crime?
Down by the Cenotaph drinking slime
So chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women
Chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

william maxwell

What we, or at any rate I, refer to confidently as memory - meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion - is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end.

william maxwell

so long, see you tomorrow

one of the advantages of reading a collection of books that others have liked or been influenced by is that at least you either get to revisit works you've previously read in order to compare or confirm your impressions or you get entirely new things to add to a reading list.

in this case i got to revisit william maxwell. it seems not many people read maxwell any more, least ways i've only met one other and she only because i introduced her to him. whether she still does i'm unaware, i hope so, but i don't know her any more. perhaps because of that association so long, see you tomorrow has lain on the shelf for a long time. reading it now i'm reminded why i liked maxwell in the first place. something the same as when i read harper lee and in maxwell's fiction i can imagine her scribbling away in her house, letting no-one see

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

not davy graham!

just days after going on about davy graham on rachel's blog i find out he's dead too! i wouldn't expect the coverage that oliver postgate got but there should be. the term maverick genius is applied to all manner of no mark lightweights but davy graham is the genuine article. british popular music, especially folk music music couldn't, wouldn't be the same without him.

get yourself to amazon....


sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

there's a rather nice reading of this on that last post, which is why it's here

i saw, i read, i listened

am just after finishing the book that changed my life ed by roxanne cody and joy johannessen.

i came across it in the library in the you cannot remove this book section, a challenge in itself, but one that i can't help but approve of as it forces the halfway interested reader to sit their ass down and get reading in a public space. and by doing so i managed to get speaking to someone who'll be doing some singing at forthcoming performances. nice.

as to the book itself. it's not a book of criticism nor is it really a book about books that changed my life but more a book of anecdotes, short stories, insights into why and how books can affect the life of the reader. several things were immediately apparent as themes - access to books, the omportance of reading out loud, the nature of the book as escape, the book as ameans of realisation (particularly for the young) that we are not alone

what i also liked was the manner in which many of the contributors didn't talk about the significance of the book, its importance, why everyone should read it but more about why they liked it, what it meant, specifically to them. there were many books for children. very worth a read. very worth a purchase, esp given the charity it supports. they're even good enough to credit calvino's why read the classics which appears on far too few bookshelves

i found this individualistic approach again on my favourite tv this week, okay my only tv this week. here, and worth watching for carluccio's history of italy as told through the medium of biscuits, chef antonio carluccio takes us into the world of lampedusa's the leopard through the medium of the food mentioned within it. quirky, informative and funny and, after the above, yet another book on my to read (again) list.

one of the few perks at work is the computer's continuing ability to play iplayer. i like to sit in my office in the wee hours and catch some radio. this programme took me many attempts to get through it but it was so well worth the effort i may even have to tape it in order to listen to it again. as derek walcott is questioned about omeros, the same themes emerge, the voice, the story. he's sharp and witty. it's a real radio treat. and there's omeros on that list

the carluccio will only be available for another few days and i can;t say for walcott but follow that link into world book club and there's a wealth of other material just waiting....

finally, i was browsing for some poetry today and i came across this. i've no intention of going over the tired old laureate discussion but really how is it even possible we don't have something like this in the uk, let alone scotland. not only that but unlike the usual celebrity driven readings so beloved of the bbc, these are just ordinary folk reading a poem and telling a story. fantastic. this is what poetry should look like

so last week

prior to the recommencement of work, and my, wasn't that a charming experience, i got myself back to edinburgh and off to the pamphlet fait and payback's best of the open mic nights. the payback thing i wish i could've stayed longer for but i'd been late all evening and by the time i got there i had to stand and the swiss spine will just not put up with that! (more money to my physio i fear). but it was all very good. mike dylan, who i'd last seen singing at vox box did, i thought, an excellent set in front of a crowd who definitely were more up for the singing than the spoken word. i'd quite like to see his work written down as he seems to have a rhyming dexterity that'd bridge the gap between performance and page.

as to the poetry fair i'd gone done to eyeball the quality of product rather than content. as such i was as broadly dissappointed as i'd been at a similar event at stanza earlier this year. simple things like paper quality and font choice matter and to compromise in these seems to me to show a lack of aesthetic consciousness at the very least. and as for poor age alignment, well there's just no excuse! i have at least two pamphlets sitting that i can't bring myself to read for all the above reasons

roncadora press stood out in this respect right away. good quality paper, interesting lino cuts, obviously a bit of thought had gone into the look and feel. it didn't matter to me that the poetry really wasn't for me, the thing itself made me want to involve myself in it.

stand out for me then was the rather excellent truth and hope collection by priscilla chueng-nainby. and i didn't get it for the design, but for the poem she read first which tho i might not have liked it so much in english, i was well impressed by her decision to read it again in mandarin. a language i never get to hear slowly. i was transported!

but it was only, on the strength of the reading, that i thought, i'll be having that, that i came across the gem that is this collection. it consists of two groups of poems, mirror imaged against each other so that the back and front are both front covers. there's a cloud/wind motif on the front that she continues thru each and the pages (a nice contrast of warm gray against the ivory of the cover) are layered (can't remember the word for this off the top of my head) so that there's an image beneath the poem. in random corners there are fragments, which may be poems or aphorisms, which you don't notice at first and some of the poems you get in both english and mandarin - handy given that,after indians, the group i work most with are malaysian chinese so i can take this in and get it read as it should sound. to finish it all off when she was selling it she had a red wax seal to mark each copy. i was sold and should've bought more. sadly tho i can't find a link where you, or i, can get it.

and that for me encompasses many of the problems i saw at the pamphlet fair. people will always pay money for well designed things so why does it seem like so few pamphlets pay much attention to this. further, why is marketing and distribution so stunted - i was shocked by the tiny numbers of sales that somehow constituted a pamphlet success. plus i think it's no coincidence that amazingly i was in the bottom ten per cent of the age range present at what was a pleasant and well attended event.

to be honest i came away vaguely disillusioned. i'm unsure that any other response was possible

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

billy collins


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

here's one for rachel seeing as she's mentioned both emily d and marginalia. i can't quite believe it's not here somewhere else as it's one of my favourite billy collins.

oliver postgate

In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires, and they tell a tale...

the swiss lounge was a sadder place this morning with the news that oliver postgate had died. not that 83 isn't a good age but it seems a shame that he ended up in a nursing home rather than just keeling over

i was reading the book that changed my life anthology the other day, mainly because i've been thinking about posting something about the how books can impact what we do in our daily lives, when i came across a quote from billy collins. it wasn't so much a book that changed his life he said, but every book.

so while there are several keystone literary moments that i might pick it's as well to remember that these all came from somewhere and, along with jackanory, the littlenose books, postgate in particular opened my eyes to stroy telling and the possibility of imaginative fiction

so you'll forgive me a tear in the eye today as i remember noggin the nog, nogbad the bad, ivor the engine, the clangers, the soup dragon and the genius that is bagpuss.

goodbye oliver postgate and thank you

Friday, 5 December 2008

back to edinburgh

comprehensively burst by three days of bike in the snow i head off to edinburgh to get some writing done.

where i finally meet claire. and realise that my potential for small talk outside of the stated interests of poetry and cycling (okay and maybe the painting) are few. but that's okay as we get a grand blether. and i'm reminded again why the internet has such great potential for bringing folk together who might otherwise never have met. it's good to finally see the inside of the forest and i'm liking that they've made a go of the do-it-yourself ethos. it's easy and a comfort to surf all of claire's enthusiasm - i was so not as together when i was a student. it was good to get an insight into the creative writing ma as well. i've never been super into the idea, even tho i've considered it, and i'm less convinced now and certainly not for me. but as a means to an end who knows?

but writing it was i came to do and off i go, passing by the national gallery to clap eyes on diana and callisto, one of the touted 50 million quid pictures of which more later

and then to the vox box, an open mic claire's recommended. what a great time that was. i get to meet kevin cadwallender, robin cairns, jim oates and many more. some great readings, particularly gary death's protect the trees rap, gangsta oak, tawona sithole and sophia, whose spoken word i very much look forward to seeing again. and claire's poem about websites, which her tutor doesn't like, but it seems everyone else does. good on her for putting up with that. highlight of the night for me tho was the wild myrtles. the last thing i was expecting was to hear any swedish and maybe it's the time of year but the swiss eye definitely misted. oh yes, and maybe it was the more...mature age of some of the readers but i liked the number of poems dealing with children. i find writing about my daughter difficult and it was good to see how others did it.

a fine day. shame i didn't get to the poetry library tho. and on a day of learning many things i was reminded with all the cycling this walking business is not so easy. ouchy legs!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

i am the walrus

the country in the grip of ice sees me gingerly out and about for a twenty-ish training ride yesterday. caution sees my average at a withered 16.8 but, as my top speed was apparently 43.8mph, perhaps i wasn't all that cautious, or maybe just stupid. anyway, the lurgy seems to be losing its grip as my legs felt merely stiff rather than non-functional. which is good.

except. i went out for an off road training ride on saturday as i thought maybe, just maybe i could stand a cross race on the sunday. but no. courtesy of my 'coaching' i've changed the bar/brake/shifter arrangement, been too lazy to alter my grips and have ended up with ulnar nerve palsy in my left hand. very, very sore. i could manage the road bike as above but couldn't feel my pinkie and had no grip. not nice

but tonight, after three days of anti-inflammatories, large dose of painkillers, icing and what will be major strapping, i'll be out for the first night ride in over a month. naturally the boys will be looking to exploit any weakness. of course i should be taking it easy. but that's not my plan. oh no. they are weak in the cold and frightened of the ice. i will destroy them!

truly we are such bairns.....


qarrtsiluni an online project i have a deep affection for (it's the voice thing) have put out a call for collaborative submissions. it should be no secret that i like this approach in all its forms so not only will i be open to any collaborative suggestions but, if i'm out of time/unavailable i'll be more than happy to facilitate collaborations between other people

go on

you know you want to

george herbert

Affliction (IV)

BROKEN in pieces all asunder,
Lord, hunt me not,
A thing forgot,
Once a poor creature, now a wonder,
A wonder tortured in the space
Betwixt this world and that of grace.

My thoughts are all a case of knives,
Wounding my heart
With scattered smart;
As wat'ring-pots give flowers their lives.
Nothing their fury can control,
While they do wound and prick my soul.

All my attendants are at strife
Quitting their place
Unto my face:
Nothing performs the task of life:
The elements are let loose to fight,
And while I live, try out their right.

Oh help, my God ! let not their plot
Kill them and me,
And also Thee,Who art my life: dissolve the knot,
As the sun scatters by his light
All the rebellions of the night.

Then shall those powers which work for grief,
Enter Thy pay,
And day by day
Labour Thy praise and my relief:
With care and courage building me,
Till I reach heav'n, and much more, Thee.

Monday, 1 December 2008

things i've been listening to...

my dad - my dad and i haven't got on so well across the years but i've kept at it (being as i've only got one!), frustrating as at times it might become. recently i've been kind of worried about him as all the fight and self centredness seemed to have gone out of him. was across yesterday and found him back in fine fettle, better even, if anything. he even gave me sage advice. and i listened! i;m going to phone him today to thank him just to surprise him!

the archive hour - in terms of storytelling studs terkel was a major, major influence on me and i can still remember the thrill of reading of reading hard times and the good war for the first time. i remembered terkel and the power of the voice all thru my burroughs/gysin phase without really thinking about it and i've come full circle to making my own recordings now. the archive hour's a decent review of him and his work and is online for the next week

voices of a people's history - still sort of with terkel... i was having a conversation at work the other day about obama, the usual thing, she convinced that obama would make a difference, me not. looking forward to howard zinn's the people speak and coming back to listen to the speeches on this website reminded me both why obama's election matters and why i don't think it will. i'd throughly recommend sitting down with the headphones on for a prolonged listen to this - alice walker's fiery rendition of sojourner truth's speech is a good one to start

Friday, 21 November 2008


so off we go to st andrew's to see inklight's open mic night. being used to spartan attendances i took some stuff in my bag but didn't need it as it was packed! we were highly entertained. we particularly liked the bloke who managed to get a rhyme in with oubliette, the boy callum who was on for far too short a time and my favourite, the girl who managed to get a poem out of whatever it was she was studying in maths. no mean trick!

plus, they had a bunch of people reading for the first time which has to be a good sign. there was totally none of the tenseness (or aggression!) i remember from when i started - no hecklers either in the venue or coming in from outside! they even had people reading a bit of prose. i was far less convinced by this than the poetry, it being trickier to get right i think, but i came away feeling very positive.

or at least i did until the drive back. you realise we probably stuck out a bit said t. you think so i said. yes, she replied, they probably thought we were someone's mum and dad. ouch!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

full on!

it may be that i'm getting more sedentary but i'm reassured that i can live vicariously through others. you can get a flavour of the drop here. outside of concern about my spine at the bottom would i have tried such a stunt? absolutely!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

jayanta mahapatra


Awaken then; they are knobs of sound
that seem to melt and crumple up
like some tropical jellyfish of tropical seas,
torn from sleep with a hand lined by prophecies.
Listen hard; their male, gaunt world sprawls the page
like rows of tree trunks reeking in the smoke
of ages, the branches glazed and dead;
as though longing to make up with the sky,
but having lost touch with themselves
were unable to find themselves, hold meaning.

And yet, down the steps unto the water at Varanasi,
where the lifeless bodies seem to grow human,
the shaggy heads of the word-buds move back and forth
between the harsh castanets of the rain
and the noiseless feathers of summer -
aware that their syllables' overwhelming silence
would not escape the hearers now, and which
must remain that mysterious divine path
guarded by drifts of queer, quivering banyans:
a language of clogs over cobbles, casting
its uncertain spell, trembling sadly into mist.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

jorge luis borges

Nadie a tu lado.
Anoche maté a un hombre en la batalla.
Era animoso y alto, de la clara estirpe de Anlaf.
La espada entró en el pecho, un poco a la izquierda.
Rodó por tierra y fue una cosa,
una cosa del cuervo.
En vano lo esperarás, mujer que no he visto.
No lo traerán las naves que huyeron
sobre el agua amarilla.
En la hora del alba,
tu mano desde el sueño lo buscará.
Tu lecho está frío.
Anoche maté a un hombre en Brunanburh.

Nobody at your side

Last night I killed a man in battle
high spirited, of the bright blood of Anlaf
The sword entered his chest, a little to the left
He fell to the earth, no more a man,
carrion feast for crows
You will wait for him in vain, unseen woman
the ships that fled on the golden water
will not return him
In the hour of the dawn,
your hand will seek his only in dreams
your milk stilled and cold.

Last night I killed a man in Brunanburh

version by me

i don't know anything about this, where it comes from or if it forms part of a larger work. found it last night during a quiet moment at work

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

the battle of brunanburh

The Battle of Brunanburh

In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors,
ring-giver to men, and his brother also,
Prince Eadmund, won eternal glory
in battle with sword edges
around Brunanburh. They split the shield-wall,
they hewed battle shields with the remnants of hammers.
The sons of Eadweard, it was only befitting their noble descentf
rom their ancestors that they should often
defend their land in battle against each hostile people,
horde and home. The enemy perished,
Scots men and seamen,
fated they fell. The field flowed
with blood of warriors, from sun up
in the morning, when the glorious star
glided over the earth, God's bright candle,
eternal lord, till that noble creation
sank to its seat. There lay many a warrior
by spears destroyed; Northern men
shot over shield, likewise Scottish as well,
weary, war sated.

The West-Saxons pushed onward
all day; in troops they pursued the hostile people.
They hewed the fugitive grievously from behind
with swords sharp from the grinding.
The Mercians did not refuse hard hand-play to any warrior
who came with Anlaf over the sea-surge
in the bosom of a ship, those who sought land,
fated to fight. Five lay dead
on the battle-field, young kings,
put to sleep by swords, likewise also seven
of Anlaf's earls, countless of the army,
sailors and Scots. There the North-men's chief was put
to flight, by need constrained
to the prow of a ship with little company:
he pressed the ship afloat, the king went out
on the dusky flood-tide, he saved his life.
Likewise, there also the old campaigner through flight came
to his own region in the north--Constantine--
hoary warrior. He had no reason to exult
the great meeting; he was of his kinsmen bereft,
friends fell on the battle-field,
killed at strife: even his son, young in battle, he left
in the place of slaughter, ground to pieces with wounds.
That grizzle-haired warrior had no
reason to boast of sword-slaughter,
old deceitful one, no more did Anlaf;
with their remnant of an army they had no reason to
laugh that they were better in deed of war
in battle-field--collision of banners,
encounter of spears, encounter of men,
trading of blows--when they played against
the sons of Eadweard on the battle field.

Departed then the Northmen in nailed ships.
The dejected survivors of the battle,
sought Dublin over the deep water,
leaving Dinges mere
to return to Ireland, ashamed in spirit.
Likewise the brothers, both together,
King and Prince, sought their home,
West-Saxon land, exultant from battle.
They left behind them, to enjoy the corpses,
the dark coated one, the dark horny-beaked raven
and the dusky-coated one,
the eagle white from behind, to partake of carrion,
greedy war-hawk, and that gray animal
the wolf in the forest.

Never was there more slaughter
on this island, never yet as many
people killed before this
with sword's edge: never according to those who tell us
from books, old wisemen,
since from the east Angles and Saxons came up
over the broad sea. Britain they sought,
Proud war-smiths who overcame the Welsh,
glorious warriors they took hold of the land.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

and further

just to add the icing to the cake of disenchantment i've been baking this week, this gem from the bbc featuring, for a change, that other 'religion of peace' christianity. er, i think not, these boys seem to have missed the point a bit. maybe there's something in the water in jerusalem...

Saturday, 8 November 2008


still agog at the vacuity of the coverage of the obama compaign by the british press (or the obama fan club as they should rightly be known) and the bbc in particular - i believe there's something in their charter about impartiality but i'm guessing as in so much else it doesn't apply
to johnny foreigner. esp when we're bombing them.

but today, on the day trevor phillips announced there couldn't be a british obama (referring to the speed of his ascent), in response to which some labour wag responded that 'it's called the parliamentary system', i was further astonished by the coverage of the anniversary of WWI. not only did the announcer not appear to realise that sunday wasn't, in fact, 90 years 'to the day' when WWI ended, apparently forgetting all that eleventh hour business, but he also banged on about how we were still learning the lessons of all those ninety years ago. now call me cynical but i'd suggest that if we haven't learned a lesson in ninety years chances are that lesson is not going to be learned

Friday, 7 November 2008

claribel alegria

I Am Root

More than polished stone
more than morning dusk
more than the dream of the tree
and those of flower and fruit
I am root
a winding, crawling root
without luster, without a future
blind to any vision
hardening to the ground
as I work through it
testing the fallen bread
of misfortune
the opacity of wingless birds
the overshadowed dawn
and its leaden clouds
hours that pass without dark messages
an undulating, twining root
perhaps bringing up from the ground
that lightning, that stone
once on the beach moving among
weeds, alone among the rubbish, searching
cinerous root, mortal root
diver of my darkest regions
obscure calligraphy
inheritance of gallows, of cabala
poison root, imprisoned
by the time of a place
mirror of myself without water, thirsty
your blood tastes of the earth
your bark,summer
imprisoned, you don't look
for openings, you look for death
a quiet death, disguised
as days without omens
and as time without dates
and the gray willing faces of the hours
without birds where an instant
simply dissolves
the life I've yet to live
does not inspire me
in my lips there are crevices
and my face is stone
I do not allow a storm to enter
silently, I submerge myself
in a sea which no longer moves
the murmur ends
the appearances and disappearances
all dreams in which we can only
dream of ourselves
the remains of that daggered love
and the other, hidden love
the names of Eros and Thanatos
everything vanishes
your crystal song never reaches me
nor your wet touch, nor your lips
nor the teeth of your love
I gather my fragments and slip away,
I slither, I smell the sea
in which one day my memory will be
buried and I will not know pain
demands, or fear
and I will then be no more
than a calm spin in a tomb of water

trans carolyn forche

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

was there an election?

i do believe there was. it seems like lots of people were getting excited about it. apparently there's a big change afoot. there must be because both the candidates were telling us there would be. especially that obama fellow. we will change america he said, and then the world. brilliant, more of america changing the world, that's just what we need.

it all seems so familiar. all so... tony blair. i hear obama and i hear blair's voice in monkey dust. the same thing over and over and over. and listening to mccain wasn't much better. ummmm, policies?

i go to work and i ask one of the iraqis i work with if he feels obama's election will make a difference. he is instantly animated ,angry. two years ago, he says, your troops were supposed to leave my country. they're still there. do you think i believe the americans will leave? and if they do what will they leave behind?

two of his cousins, he tells me, were killed by americans, shot in the street as they got into their car. his father who is seventy five and no longer opens his business because he is tired of finding bodies in the street ,has been shot at in his car three times. it's only luck he hasn't been injured or killed. his sisters, who are lecturers, have just been given a pay rise. they're not happy as they fear it may result in kidnap or killing. but people know this, he insists. no they don't, i think, they just see it on tv.

another iraqi guy i know, who i can't really talk about because of the danger to him in this country, he wants to go back, to help rebuild. but they'll totally kill him i say when i hear. he knows this, i am told

so forgive me if i don't join in with the delight that's sweeping the globe. the faces may have changed but the message remains the same - america first, change the world. i think the world's had about enough of the rich telling it what to do when it's expedient for them.

as for my iraqi colleague he says, after all this who knows, maybe we were better under the last guy

magic beans for everyone...

Monday, 3 November 2008

hafiz of shiraz


Do not, puritanically disposed ascetic, censure the depraved:
The sin of others will not be recorded against you.

Whether I am good and whether bad, you go and test yourself!
In the end everyone harvests what he has sown.

Everyone, sober or drunk, is in quest of the Friend:
Every place is the house of love, whether mosque or temple.

My head in submission and the brick of the wine-shop's door;
If the disputer doesn't understand this, say, 'Beat your head against the wall.'

Do not make me hopeless of Eternity without Begninng's erstwhile kindness.
What do you know who behind the veil is good and who bad?

Not only have I tumbled out of the secluded abode of piety:
My father also let Paradise slip from his grasp.

If your mind is on all this, fine for the mind!
And if your nature is on all this, good for a good nature!

O Hafiz, if the Day of Doom you raise a cup,
From the street of the tavern go at once straight to Heaven.

trans peter avery

Friday, 31 October 2008


so, after a night of insomnia i take it into my head to go and visit edinburgh. i want to see an exhibition at the fruitmarket called close-up. that's all i know about it. seeing the subtitle - proximity and defamiliarisation in art, film and photography - may have given me pause but as i i didn't, then it didn't. after that brief tour i head over to the city. they have the usual edinburgh paintings, all of which i've seen, then a quality couple of floors of rcahms material that is rather lovely. i could've spent more time but lack of sleep is catching up on me along with the beginnings of a nagging and persistent headache. this affects floor four, which is a very interactive drawing thing but i am soothed by floor five, which is entitled space age and is filled with all manner of paraphernalia from round tvs, models of moonlanders, various clockwork robots and a loop tape featuring the clangers. there can be few thinngs in life as soothing as the tones of oliver postgate, be they in the clangers, or my more favoured bagpuss and noggin the nog. there are children dressing up as astronauts. easily the best thing i see all day. the poetry library will not compete so i do not venture there.

it's not the exhibition itself that dismays me in close-up, more the lack of imagination. there are old botanical pictures that, to me, though interesting are pedestrian. there's nothing modern and no electron microscopy! wild and crazy close up forms this is not going to be, except maybe one of spines on a shrimps head. the rest of it is close ups of the body, none of which have any real anatomical worth and i don't see anything aesthetically pleasing. plus i'm reminded yet again just how much people are fascinated by their genitals, or rather those of others. mona hatoum has a close up of a scrotum, some other woman has a vidiot of her husband perusing her body with a camera. guess what? he's fascinated by that vagina. t puts it to me that perhaps i have seen too much in this field and i'm inclined to agree.

however outside i'm reminded of why cities are so much more interesting than towns. despite the cold i spend much time gawping at all the faces. i used to notice it more when i was on the islands, where there's much more homogeneity - we referred to it as the 'cousin factor'. as when i lived there i have the notion that i couldn't be bored so long as i had a window that overlooked the street. it even distracts me as i languish in traffic, thanks to the installation of the trams. i have my visit to fopp and beyond words, then get off home, not even bothering with a stroll in portobello. i saw no-one i knew, most have either left, are on holiday or even working. any that remain will probably only come out later and i don't think any of us would be that happy with re-acquaintance. it's like being in a memory, all the same things are being repeated, i even hear someone on the radio who sounds spookily like me. no wonder i don't visit much these days, it feels too much like repetition

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

denise levertov

In Summer

Night lies down
in the field when the moon
leaves. Head in clover,
held still.

It is brief
this time of darkness
hands of night
loosefisted, long hair

Sooner than one would dream,
the first bird
wakes with a sobbing cry. Whitely

dew begins to drift
Leafily naked, forms of the world
are revealed
all asleep. Colors

come slowly
up from behind the hilltop,
looking for forms to fil the day,
must rise and
move on, stiff and
not yet awake.


it may be that there's a poem that might be recognised here.

Friday, 24 October 2008

octavio paz


More transparent
than this water dropping
through the vine's twined fingers
my thought stretches a bridge
from yourself to yourself
Look at you
more real than the body you inhabit
fixed at the centre of my mind

You were born to live on an island

With Eyes Closed

With eyes closed
you light up within
you are a blind stone

Night after night I carve you
with eyes closed
you are a frank stone

We have become enormous
just knowing each other
with eyeys closed


More than air
more than water
more than lips
lighter lighter

Your body is the trace of your body

With you

Turquoise blasts of wind
parrots in pairs flit by
the world in flames
A tree
seething with crows
balzes and does not burn
amidst the tall sunflowers
you are
a pause of light
The day
is a great clear word
a fluttering of vowels
Your breasts
ripen before my eyes
My thoughts
are lighter than the air
I am real
I see my life and death
The world is true
I see
I inhabit a transparency

trans eliot weinberger

all this talk of poems of love lately. here's some more poems from paz. if anyone wants the originals let me know and i'll post them up when i've more time

as i said elsewhere paz's collected poems appear to be no longer available tho you can get them second hand. this is surely a wrongness. demand more paz in your bookshops!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

read this book

octavio paz

Cima y gravedad

Hay un árbol immóvil
hay otro que avanza
un río de árboles
golpea mi pecho
es la dicha
el oleaje verde

Tu estás vestida de rojo
el sello del año abrasado
el tizón carnal
el astro frutal
en ti como sol

La hora reposa
Sobre un abismo de claridades
Puñados de sombre los pájaros
sus picos construyen la noche
sus alas sostienen al dia

Plantada en el cresta de la luz
entre la fijeza y el vértigo
tu eres
la balanza diáfana

a request from rachel. if anyone's looking for it, i couldn't find it anywhere else on the internet. it appears in paz's collected poems in the hacia el comienzo section. translation here

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

wislawa symborska

The Acrobat

From trapeze to
to trapeze, in the hush that
that follows the drum roll's sudden pause, through
through the startled air, more swiftly than
than his body's weight, which once again
again is late for its own fall

Solo. Or even less than solo,
less, because he's crippled, missing
missing wings, missing them so much
that he can't miss the chance
to soar on shamefully unfeathered
naked vigilance alone.

Arduous ease,
watchful ability,
and calculated inspiration. Do you see
how he waits to punce in flight; do you know
how he plots from head to toe
against his very being; do you know, do you see
hwo cunningly he weaves himself through his own former shape
and works to seize this swaying world
by stretching out the arms he has conceived -

beautiful beyond belief at this passing
at this very passing moment that's just passed

trans by stanislaw baranczak and clare cavanagh


it occurs to me that the tuesday night group are aged collectively at around 175 years, possibly more. i do this calculation in my head as we banter about the fact that, for one of us, this'll be his last night ride in his forties. i've told them in advance that i'm not on form, that my legs are poor, but as i should've expected this is like blood in the water and we go up the hardest hill they can find. all's fair!

it's a great night, not quite freezing but not far off, the sky is clear and once we're out in the forest there's no light pollution out to the stars. in the trees there's all manner of bird life but quite what we can't tell. it is wet tho with multiple river and splash crossings. j assures us 'it wasn't like this on saturday'

on the way back we hammer it down some wee back lane. in cycling terms the definition of a race is two people on bicycles on the same road. it's just wide enough for overtaking but this is complicated by the large and abundant potholes. inevitably the jostling for position leads to some detours through the water which of course descends into the spectacle of us bunny hopping into the puddles to splash each other on the way past.

we cruise back in. true we're getting older and, for at least one of us the economic situation has brought the spectre of redundancy very close but for a brief waterlogged moment we're still daft kids soaking our mates. i find this very reassuring

Monday, 20 October 2008

the fife diet

up until very recently any mention of the fife diet would, for me, have included pies, chips, probably more pies, washed down with buckfats. now this is a terrible way to dismiss fife, which is a lovely part of the country but at the same time for every east neuk there's a kirkcaldy

but anyway, i was gratified to hear about the fife diet on R4 this week. i knew something similar had been happening in the borders but hadn't suspected anything like this so close to home. i think it's great and not too dissimilar to what me and t are doing anyway. doubtless it'll be discussed if t makes it to the organic gardeners squad we found about when i bought another kayak at the weekend.

i wouldn't have thought many years ago that in later life direct action would come to mean getting it together to source comfrey for composting. overgrow the government indeed!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

elma mitchell

This Poem...

This poem is dangerous: it should not be left
Within the reach of children, or even of adults
Who might swallow it whole, with possibly
Undesirable side effects. If you come across
An unattended, unidentified poem
In a public place, do not attempt to tackle it
Yourself. Send it (preferably in a sealed container)
To the nearest centre of learning, where it will be rendered
Harmless by experts. Even the simplest poem
May destroy your immunity to human emotions.
All poems must carry a Government warning. Words
Can seriously affect your heart.

Friday, 17 October 2008


it's a wet day, a miserable day. full of cold, claustrophobic damp, the type of day that northern european countries, but especially scotland, seem to specialise in at this time of year. what better way to get round it than to stay in, get the paint out, do some work.

i pre-empted today by having a good visit to the library yesterday. as usual around national poetry day, they've made a fuss about it, bought some new books, laid out all the poetry day postcards. i spent a bit of time last night bemoaning that these weren't as good as previous years but then i gave myself pause and thought, well they may not be what i like, but at least they're there. not unlike the poetry library, which has given me much cause to girn over the years. but in the girning it's easy to forget all the time i've spent at peace there, wrapped up in my own thoughts

so on that positive note, i thought i'd give special mention to the places that've been inspiring me lately. there are many, of course, but these are the ones that are currently catching my eye

Feltbug - i say currently, but looking at feltbug's site has been something of a daily ritual for a long time. it is a treasure trove, particularly the masterful mosaic monday posts. the day i can't get ideas from here will be the day i have truly lost hope

pintame al dia - esti's blog is both personal and hauntingly beautiful, filled with drawings that look as if they should've stepped out of an au revoir simone video. i'm particularly taken with the hand project which, for me, is without equivalent, anywhere else

one nights stanzas - i love the unrelenting upbeat nature of claire's blog. i find it the perfect antidote to any occasional grumpiness i may suffer from! quite how she manages it so young, at an age where i was concerned only with how many intoxicants i could shove down my face, is brilliant. she makes me want to do stuff and for that alone has surely paid for the coffee i will certainly buy her whenever i catch up in edinburgh

Thursday, 16 October 2008

burn after reading

so what's a 24hr race in scotland look like? something like this
but don't believe the fellow at the beginning who said it was cold. no, it was not, it was rather perfect weather, if your body was working that is. and despite what the video might suggest there were some women competing. not many but a few. they also missed the guy who got married the day before, who was squeezing in a race before the honeymoon. truly that is love!

so what's the connection with the coen brothers movie? i would go and see it anyway but making a joke about a schwinn. genius. cyclists are idiots. i'm there.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


so these are just some of the things to see in birnam. the theme of the show was 'in transit'. after that you were pretty much eft to do what you wanted. there's all manner of other interesting things going on this weekend but as i'm cx racing i think i'll be missing it

rutger kopland

Ulumbo, a Cat

Like us he had his
quirks, but more

In the winter he loved
stoves, in summer
little birds.

Sick and as indifferent
to death as to us.
Dying he did himself.

trans by james brockway

Monday, 13 October 2008

anne frater

The Shelf

A map on the wall
following the course of each ship my father was on:
across the Atlantic;
through the Mediterranean
and down through the Suez Canal;
the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean,
the Pacific–
while we waited for his return
to the island in the Minch.

A doll for me from each country he visited,
sitting on the shelf like an invitation
to countries which I only saw
in an imagination quickened by his stories.

The Spanish dancers
frozen in a Flamenco reel;
a gaucho from Argentina on his black horse
sitting as he has done
for over twenty years;
two old ladies from Japan
the worse for age and careless handling
(although there is still one beautiful one-
her face white, her lips red),
the ones from Korea
brightly coloured in a glass box.

The world in a corner
of a small corner of the world,
images which set my feet to travelling
so that I could set my own memories
on the shelf.

trans by the author

a novelty

i surprised t on the way to the race by taking us into the place where i'm taking part in my first group show, due almost entirely to persuasion by her, and also because she'd had her gardening incident, she couldn't make anything herself (which in its way makes my point about having plenty in reserve should the need arise!). it may not seem like much but people have been trying to get me to do this for ten years, at the very least, meeting with a resistance that makes my can't-be-botheredness about writing seem almost casual!

but anyway. i rather loved it and i think, seeing as i'm still lurgied up, i may even go back today for another, longer look. of course i'm not happy that i'm one of the few who chose to use a canvas but i am happy that almost everything, well in fact everything maybe, is non-representational. there's all sorts, textile work, craft based things, found objects. it's a real treasure trove and just goes to show the wealth of imagination we have here and beyond.

anyone passing birnam and has ten minutes or more, should go and have a look

Sunday, 12 October 2008

but what actually happened...

so i kind of had it in my head that seeing as relentless was happening later this year we'd maybe just leave it until saturday morning to head north. but oh no, i get excited at the campingness so off we leave on friday. which is fine, initially as we get the tent up, the awning up and all is restful. yes, that is all fine. but then the weather starts.

we knew the tent could take it, it having been in worse before, tho not when it was anchored with rocks. the awning tho, was another matter and surely would've been in the trees had i not secured it to the van. didn't mean i wasn't up every couple of hours checking it tho. and the rain, well it was just comedy rain. ideal preparation for a 24hr race is not two hours sleep, no it is not.

even then it's not an excuse. not that, nor t's assertion that my diet wasn't right. the course was perfect, not least because they'd taken all the bits i don't like out. perfect but, it has to be said, a bit boring. i don't know who's done the fastest time but i think around 35 minutes for a fast team round. faster if you're a loon.

as it was my first lap was about 48minutes but i'd stopped for two crashes so i wasn't too bothered. my second tho was closer to an hour which i thought was a bit odd. i felt a bit cold and a bit stiff when i came in but put it down to just warming into it. the problems started (and finished) on lap three. no power in my legs, grannying the climbs, and lots, oh yes lots, of pain. no go at all. when i got back i crawled into my sleeping bag and passed out, waking up to lots of nausea and thumping head. even tho i wanted to i couldn't go back out.

i'm very, very disappointed, even ashamed. this was the best course i've raced in a couple of years and i should've bombered my way thru it. but nothing, nothing at all. i can't explain it. i don't feel viral and i know i'm fit enough. it's easy to say it's just one day bu the reality is it's just frustrating and depressing.

we packed the van, assisted in the speed of our task by a truly depressing soundtrack courtesy of nofuss, on loop tape throughout the afternoon. just how often could t put up with some dire remix of sweet home alabama? temper was showing after three! honestly, you come out to the forest to race and chill out, not feel as if you're in some dire club without hope of escape. i didn;t have to put up with it as long as t but even after a short period i was wanting to kick the speakers into scrap. leo sayer!

anyway, the future. short of getting into a team situation, which i'm not fussed for as it's bad enough having a disaster when you're soloing, i'm unsure if i'm going to keep on with the enduros. certainly i can't say i've enjoyed any of them this year with the possible exception of tenundertheben even if it was just another way to get cooked. in the short term i think it'll be cyclocross, longer term who knows? maybe even tt!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


of the twenty four hour endurance races next weekend. no short summer nights (and hopefully, no first lap wipeouts) for me now. having not looked forward to it all summer, indeed having sworn off this race, in the end i couldn't resist it. and aside from all the cycliness of it, of all the things i get to do, packing up the van and going off with t to a bike race has to be one of my favourite things.

a fact i shall endeavour to remember at three in the morning as i slog my way thru a river...

james wright

On the Skeleton of a Hound

Nightfall, that saw the morning-glories float
Tendril and string against the crumbling wall,
Nurses him now, his skeleton for grief,
His locks for comfort curled among the leaf.
Shuttles of moonlight weave his shadow tall,
Milkweed and dew flow upward to his throat.
Now catbird feathers plume the apple mound,
And starlings drowse to winter up the ground.
thickened away from speech by fear, I move
Around the body. Over his forepaws, steep
Declivities darken down the moonlight now,
And the long throat that bayed a year ago
Declines from summer. Flies would love to leap
Between his eyes and hum away the space
Between the ears, the hollow where a hare
Could hide; another jealous dog would tumble
The bones apart, angry, the shining crumble
Of a great body gleaming in the air;
Quivering pigeons foul his broken face.
I can imagine men who search the earth
For handy resurrections, overturn
The body of a beetle in its grave;
Whispering men digging for gods might delve
A pocket for these bones, then slowly burn
Twigs in the leaves, pray for another birth.
But I will turn my face away from this
Ruin of summer, collapse of fur and bone.
For once a white hare huddled up the grass,
The sparrows flocked away to see the race.
I stood on darkness, clinging to a stone,
I saw the two leaping alive on ice,
On earth, on leaf, humus and withered vine:
The rabbit splendid in a shroud of shade,
The dog carved on the sunlight, on the air,
Fierce and magnificent his rippled hair,
The cockleburs shaking around his head.
Then, suddenly, the hare leaped beyond pain
Out of the open meadow, and the hound
Followed the voiceless dancer to the moon,
To dark, to death, to other meadows where
Singing young women dance around a fire,
Where love reveres the living.

I alone
Scatter this hulk about the dampened ground;
And while the moon rises beyond me, throw
The ribs and spine out of their perfect shape.
For a last charm to the dead, I lift the skull
And toss it over the maples like a ball.
Strewn to the woods, now may that spirit sleep
That flamed over the ground a year ago.
I know the mole will heave a shinbone over,
The earthworm snuggle for a nap on paws,
The honest bees build honey in the head;
The earth knows how to handle the great dead
Who lived the body out, and broke its laws,
Knocked down a fence, tore up a field of clover.

Monday, 6 October 2008

anne carson

Father's Old Blue Cardigan

Now it hangs on the back of the kitchen chair
where I always sit, as it did
on the back of the kitchen chair where he always sat.

I put it on whenever I come in,
as he did, stamping
the snow from his boots.

I put it on and sit in the dark.
He would not have done this.
Coldness comes paring down from the moonbone in the sky.

His laws were a secret.
But I remember the moment at which I knew
he was going mad inside his laws.

He was standing at the turn of the driveway when I arrived.
He had on the blue cardigan with the buttons done up all the way to the top.
Not only because it was a hot July afternoon

but the look on his face—
as a small child who has been dressed by some aunt early in the morning
for a long trip

on cold trains and windy platforms
will sit very straight at the edge of his seat
while the shadows like long fingers

over the haystacks that sweep past
keep shocking him
because he is riding backwards.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

nazim hikmet

On Living


Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example-
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people-
even for people whose faces you've never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you'll plant olive trees-
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don't believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.


Let's say you're seriously ill, need surgery -
which is to say we might not get
from the white table.
Even though it's impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we'll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we'll look out the window to see it's raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast ...
Let's say we're at the front-
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We'll know this with a curious anger,
but we'll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let's say we're in prisonand close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We'll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind-
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.


This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet-
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space ...
You must grieve for this right now
-you have to feel this sorrow now-
for the world must be loved this much
if you're going to say ``I lived'' ...

trans. randy blasing and mutlu konuk

Thursday, 2 October 2008

martin o'neill

on a brighter note

i've been blog browsing and come across a few finnish sites which have got me all misty eyed for a return visit. it must be so gorgeous in the autumn.

plans are in the air for a scoot along the scandinavian part of the north sea cycle route for next year but i'd love a bit of time somewhere out of helsinki where i could watch the sun set and listen to the nature

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


is good for you! after stalker i feel sufficiently ennervated to go out for a night cycle with the dunkeld squad. maybe it's better rest or maybe it's the cyclocross intervals i've been doing. whatever it is, i cycle the wheels off them. which is good but now means at least two of them'll be training to beat me the next time!

better yet i discover the virus of road cycling is getting to them and another one has succumbed. we should all emerge fitter and stronger from the winter. it's all good!


okay, here we go. style : fast and rambling

so i decide to have a lazy day (until that is, i decide to go out on the bike), tucked up watching stalker.

i haven't seen this film since i was in my teens. something tells me i'm most likely to have seen it at the university film club as we favoured such things but i can't be sure. i'm certain had i seen it with others i'd recall talking about it so maybe i saw i rare showing on tv. i do remember thinking 'what the hell is this?' but that's about all

and maybe i associate with my university days because what a great film for us to have talked about. because watching it now it seems just so... adolescent! which is probably harsh but it just felt like such a boys film, well actually, let's face it it is a boys film, and i can just imagine my young peer group getting all earnest about it.

look at the references we'd say, but you can say that about the simpsons. but what about the philosophy we'd say - because (and it isn't necessarily a bad thing) the philosophy is easy enough for teenage boys to access. and we'd have got into the characters, oh yes we would, any one of the three of them. last of the mohicans ref? even better!

today i hated them all. what a bunch of wankers! how i wished there really was actually an alien beast there to kill them. which is pretty good characterisation in my book! lol (or it might be if you didn't have to include the wife in that. did i like that portrayal? er no i didn't) and i don't think young me noticed or even would've have liked that much all the cinematography going on. do i remember a film where faces were filmed better? not off the top of my head i don't. but the ending. i look at the wee girl and i think - don't you dare. what a cop out!

but did i like it? i live in a country where the x factor is one of the most popular programmes! so even with reservation i'm looking forward to sitting down to watch it again, tho this time without the many year hiatus. would i watch it before i;d watch the likes of terence malik? i'm unsure

what i would like to do is remake it. i couldn't watch it without the idea of beckett thumping around in my head. why not take some of those ideas and make a shorter scottish fanboy tribute version? now that sounds interesting....

paul celan

Mit wechselndem Schlüssel

Mit wechselndem Schlüssel
schliesst du das Haus auf, darin
der Schnee des Verschwiegenen treibt.
Je nach dem Blut, das dir quillt
aus Aug oder Mund oder Ohr,
wechselt dein Schlüssel.

Wechselt dein Schlüssel, wechselt das Wort,
das treiben darf mit den Flocken.
Je nach dem Wind, der dich fortstösst,
ballt um das Wort sich der Schnee.

With a variable key

With a variable key
you unlock the house in which
drifts the snow of that left unspoken.
Always that key you choose
depends on the blood that spurts
from your eye or your mouth or your ear.

You vary the key, you vary the word
that is free to drift with the flakes.
What snow ball will form round the word
depends on the wind that rebuffs you.

trans michael hamburger

for roxana, who has another version of this, along with yet more entrancing images, here

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


i'm not convinced it's good for you (my inner voice is now reminding me of what i was doing at the weekend which may well be related!). everything hurts! so rather than work in the garden, finish a painting, source canvas, write some poetry i'm going to lie down in my quiet house, smother myself in blankets and watch some tarkovsky.

Monday, 22 September 2008

nizar qabbani

Clarification to My Poetry-Readers

And of me say the fools:
I entered the lodges of women
And never left.
And they call for my hanging,
Because about the matters of my beloved
I, poetry, compose.
I never traded
Like others
In Hashish.
I never stole.
I never killed.
I, in broad day, have loved.
Have I sinned?

And of me say the fools:
With my poetry
I violated the sky’s commands.
Said who
Love is
The honor-ravager of the sky?
The sky is my intimate.
It cries if I cry,
Laughs if I laugh
And its stars

Greatens their brilliance
One day I fall in love.
What so
If in the name of my beloved I chant,
And like a chestnut tree
In every capital I, her, plant.

Fondness will remain my calling,
Like all prophets.
And infancy, innocence
And purity.
I will write of my beloved’s matters
Till I melt her golden hair
In the sky’s gold.
I am,
And I hope I change not,
A child
Scribbling on the stars’ walls
The way he pleases,
Till the worth of love
In my homeland
Matches that of the air,
And to love dreamers I become
A diction-ary,
And over their lips I become
An A
And a B.

trans by ellisar


i get the kayak in the water. it's a close run thing, after the last west coast escapade i'm cautious about going out to the pub so, fortuitously as it turns out, we limit ourselves to limited stocks from the off license. i limit myself to vodka but the boys break out the whisky and it gets messy.

no surprise then that i'm first up and we're away before there's any sign of movement. t stocks up on rocks and shells for future craft projects as well as delving into rock pools while i gingerly make my way out to sea. despite it being nigh on ten years since i last put a paddle in the water even that phrase, going out to sea, reminds me of that excitement. and after a few minutes i'm getting my confidence back and the sheltered bay seems confining. i sit out at the buoys, cormorants pass by and there's nothing but the sound of the water. i disappear into the moment and i'm reminded just why i like the bike so much.

no sign of the boys so i decide to paddle back to town. we realise pretty quick we need to get some radios, better and more waterproof than those we currently use. my arms feel odd, like my legs on a long bike ride, except in the wrong place! i hug the shore, aware that i just don;t have the juice for a long push. the wind and waves pick up. adrenalin happens! but i stay calm and easily complete my transit (all of two miles! lol). and finally the boys appear so we pile the boat back into the van and return to the beach. no cycling for me!

saturday night is far more chaotic. we go off to see shooglenifty who cope well despite an oddly muted venue and the fact they themselves seem strangely schizophrenic, as if there's two bands playing on stage. there's the first band with all the usual scottish tunes and accoutrements, to whom the dancers can stomp around merrily to, but there's the other band who're bringing in all these other sounds, almost eastern european, who are much more interesting! i tell them so but by this time the lake of vodka and red bull we've been putting away probably make it sound like gargling.

much stupidity ensues. in the morning we feel like we've been assaulted. our plans to get my picture to exhibition disappear in a hungover haze and we can only piece together the night before with glimpses in between the blanks. we get back and can only sit on the couch nursing ourselves back to health in tv land. no wonder i don't do this anymore! i don't like it, not one bit, even less so than last time and i really think that it's reaching the time when the swiss drinking boots are put away once and for all. there's just too much else to do without wasting time and money pouring the day down my neck.

so, the sun is up, maybe i can get some cycling in before t wakes up, then maybe, just maybe a paddle down the river and some time to look at the wildlife. sounds like a plan...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

more alastair reid

What Gets Lost/Lo Que Se Pierde

I keep translating traduzco continuamente
entre palabras
words que no son las mias
into other words which are mine de palabras a mis palabras
Y finalmente de quien el texto?
Who do words belong to?
Del escritor o el traductor writer, translator
o de los idiomas or to language itself?
Traductores, somos fantasmas que viven
entre aquel mundo y el nuestro
translators are ghosts who live
in a limbo between two worlds
pero poco a poco me occure
que el problema no es cuestion
de lo que se pierde en traduction
the problem is not a question
of what gets lost in translation
sino but rather lo que se pierde
what gets lost
entre la occurencia – sea de amor de agonia
between the happening of love or pain
y el hecho de que llega
a existir en palabras
and their coming into words

Para nosotros todos, amantes, habladores
for lovers or users of words
el problema es este this is the difficulty –
lo que se pierde what gets lost
no es lo que se pierde en traduction sino
is not what gets lost in translation but more
what gets lost in language itself lo que se pierde
en el hecho en la lengua
en la palbra misma

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

octavio paz

The only possible translation is poetic transmutation
or metaphor. But I would also say that in writing
an original poem we are translating the world,
transmuting it. Everything we do is translation
and all translations are in a way creations

alastair reid

Speaking in a Foreign Language

How clumsy on the tongue, these acquired idioms,
after the innuendos of our own. How far
we are from foreigners, what faith
we rest in one sentence, hoping a smile will follow
on the appropriate face, always wallowing
between what we long to say and what we can,
trusting the phrase is suitable to the occasion
the accent passable, the smile real,
always asking the traveller's fearful question -,
what is being lost in translation?

Something, to be sure. And yet, to hear
the stumbling of foreign friends, how little we care
for the wreckage of word or tense. How endearing they are,
and how our speech reaches out, like a helping hand,
or limps in sympathy. Easy to understand,
through the tangle of language, the heart behind
groping towards us, to make the translation of
syntax into love.

and again....

so you have this idea and it turns out to be a good idea and you work it all out and it's fun but at the end you think to yourself - i'm never doing that again

so how is it i find myself back at the same task, new, expensive and ever so short lived materials in hand, doing exactly that? total concentration but mind numbingly boring! and a dead line to make it worse

james wright

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

marin sorescu


Today, I photographed only trees
Ten, a hundred, a thousand.
I'll develop them at night
When the soul is a dark room.
Then I'll sort them
According to leaves, according to circles,
According to their shadows.
Oh, how easily
Trees merge one into another!
Look, there's only one left
That one I'll photograph again
And then observe with terror
It resembles me.
Yesterday I photographed only stones
And the last stone
Resembled me
The day before yesterday - chairs -
And the only one left
Resembled me

Everything is so much
Like me...

I'm afraid.


Wherever I go
I take my body with me,
Because I've nowhere to leave it.
The earth, the sky,
And the water steal it.

In happiness, in love,
In sadness, and in agony,
I must feel my hands and forehead close to me,
I must feel my heart beating
Otherwise I worry.

We tremble, the way we tremble,
For the earth of our body,
Not yet evolved,
From which after every shower
Worms still appear.

trans andrea deletant and brenda walker

Saturday, 13 September 2008


Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas
Il faut oublier
Tout peut s'oublier
Qui s'enfuit déjà
Oublier le temps
Des malentendus
Et le temps perdu
A savoir comment
Oublier ces heures
Qui tuaient parfois
A coups de pourquoi
Le coeur du bonheur
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Moi je t'offrirai
Des perles de pluie
Venues de pays
Où il ne pleut pas
Je creuserai la terre
Jusqu'après ma mort
Pour couvrir ton corps
D'or et de lumière
Je ferai un domaine
Où l'amour sera roi
Où l'amour sera loi
Où tu seras reine
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas
Je t'inventerai
Des mots insensés
Que tu comprendras
Je te parlerai
De ces amants là
Qui ont vu deux fois
Leurs coeurs s'embraser
Je te raconterai
L'histoire de ce roi
Mort de n'avoir pas
Pu te rencontrer
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

On a vu souvent
Rejaillir le feu
D'un ancien volcan
Qu'on croyait trop vieux
Il est paraît-il
Des terres brûlées
Donnant plus de blé
Qu'un meilleur avril
Et quand vient le soir
Pour qu'un ciel flamboie
Le rouge et le noir
Ne s'épousent-ils pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Je ne vais plus pleurer
Je ne vais plus parler
Je me cacherai là
A te regarder
Danser et sourire
Et à t'écouter
Chanter et puis rire
Laisse-moi devenir
L'ombre de ton ombre
L'ombre de ta main
L'ombre de ton chien
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

rita dove

Then Came Flowers

I should have known if you gave me flowers
They would be chrysanthemums
The white spikes singed my fingers.
I cried out; they spilled from the green tissue
And spread at my feet in a pool of soft fire.

If I begged you to stay, what good would it do me?
In the bed, you would lay the flowers between us.
I will pick them up later, arrange them with pincers.
All night from the bureau they'll watch me, their
Plumage as proud, as cocky as firecrackers.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

philip levine

A Theory of Prosody

When Nellie, my old pussy
cat, was still in her prime,
she would sit behind me
as I wrote, and when the line
got too long she'd reach
one sudden black foreleg down
and paw at the moving hand,
the offensive one. The first
time she drew blood I learned
it was poetic to end
a line anywhere to keep her
quiet. After all, many morn-
ings she'd gotten to the chair
long before I was even up.
Those nights I couldn't sleep
she'd come and sit in my lap
to calm me. So I figured
I owed her the short cat line.
She's dead now almost nine years,
and before that there was one
during which she faked attention
and I faked obedience.
Isn't that what it's about-
pretending there's an alert cat
who leaves nothing to chance.

carl sandburg


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches

and then moves on.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

bo carpelan

'The old man asked...'

The old man asked: 'Are the oaks still there?
There were forests in my time. Are they still there?'
He was sitting in a mini-house in Monterey,
no longer remembered Swedish, spoke a few words of Russian.
He sat there like his own shadow, watching,
with unseeing eyes the scorched garden -
the surge of sea scarcely reached here, brought no coolness.
'They used to dance, the farm-lads, of a Saturday.'
He cleared his throat, his hands were restless.
'Bagpipes? or something like that, don't remember
the trees, I remember them, the huge oaks, the forests,
it's as if they could still give us coolness - '
He looked at me with an almost furious glance
as if he suspected the truth. I replied as he wanted:
'They're still there, it's good to rest beneath them.'
There was a pause. Then, already far away, he said:
'When the wind moves through an oak forest, you remember that always.'

trans robert fulton

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

did i?

write a bunch of poetry? why yes i did.

did i finish a painting. ah well, you can't have everything, the light's gone, i wasn't in the zone.... all those usual excuses. still eight poems in 24 hours (plus two i haven't written up yet). not too bad

the hiatus? i put it down to the computer disaster. sure yes i've got some of the things back but it kind of took the mood away from me.

what else is new?

in the interim

i did not cycle from john o'groats to land's end as planned. i had to cover some sick time which led, directly or indirectly, to me getting sick, missing training and generally feeling unpleasant. what did happen was a bit of a northern scottish epic. one of the elvis lot was there but photo opportunities didn't materialise due to forgetfulness, the epic nature of the landscape, midgies and the fact that all i could really do off the bike was sleep

planned kayaking did not happen. boat got delivered late and as a result (in conjunction with my motorcycle being back on the road) i have affected all the weather systems in the country. for the worse.

food happens! our erratically planned garden bears fruit, or at least vegetables. and they're great. possibly the least toxic things i've ever eaten. which leads me to scavenging fruit from my mum and dad's garden and onto further culinary odysseys. i'd never have thought i'd be having a conversation with my mum about making crabapple jelly but now i have and very enjoyable it was

mmoneypenny does not visit. we are disappointed but at least i manage a brief actual person to person conversation which was a bit odd given that it was the first time in who knows how many years. but at least it wasn't on the day of catastrophic drunken-ness

which occurs on a solitary mission to see geo, ostensibly an overnighter before i catch the ferry to one of the islands. beware of conversations that begin - we'll just have one before you pack the bike! maybe i am getting old but the hangover lasted more than a day!

and that will be the end of the summer. i feel sunshine is not compatible with bloggery