Tuesday, 29 January 2008

charles bukowski

is the ideal poet after a weekend's drinking. but which to choose. in the end choices always suggest themselves so the following came from a poem antonia posted, suggesting a landscape far warmer and more pleasant than the one we're currently not enjoying. typically, bukowski views the cicada differently....


writers love to use the word
'cicada' in a poem.
it makes them believe that
they are there, that they
have done it.
every time i see this word
in a poem, i think, damn
it, haven't the editors
caught on yet?
that it's a con?
a way to milk the game?

and look at me:
here i'm using it:

well, that means that
this poem will surely get


it works.

was bukowski ever like pagnol?

"...They were no poets. This led me to conclude that I was one, that I had been stupid not to realize it earlier, and that I had to begin my work as early as the following day if I wanted to achieve glory and fortune by the age of twenty. And I imagined myself on a picture taken in a sumptuous study, surrounded by precious books, posing beneath a sculpture of my own bust crowned with a laurel wreath."

and then the german

and as i reorient myself from all the alcohol i realise it's time to be applying for a new job. after last years canadian debacle i'm looking at a number working for the eu. in germany! i'm well qualified for it and language wise i need two of english, french and german. my french is rusty but not so rusty i couldn't get it pretty silky over my notice period. my german on the other hand....

my dad speaks german. you should learn he'd always said. and i've meant to, especially over the last ten years but when you live in a monolingual country it's hard enough maintaining the languages you do speak. but i'm keen. munich i'm thinking, that'll be handy. getting to read celan, goethe, all those guys in the original, i'm liking that.

until i realise i need to speak all three. and that's the end of that. i'm not happy...

Monday, 28 January 2008

what not to do

after all these months of constant bike training is go on a two day drinking spree. but my knees still creak, the weather's awful and i've spent friday at the funeral of the man whose house i grew up in. not only that his wife has out me on suicide watch for the sage, her remaining son. i feel dutiful, but not happy.

so off to argyll it is. as i've not been drinking ialong time i'm not going to waste my palate on decent vodka (tho later i wish i would have) so i get into some of this new russian standard stuff. i'm not hopeful, the bottle's just a bit too much, as if it's concealing something.which it is. and it's not very nice. what has happened in the world of vodka these last few months? along with tescos decision not to stock ketel one (as a result i buy all their remaining stock as i'm not about to pay thirty quid for a bottle of grey goose in this lifetime). stoli is now cheap, cheaper than this russian standard stuff, if only marginally better and wyborowa has gone up by about 50%. it's inexplicable. and that's before the zubrowka debate.....

and off we drink. i settle back to geo's tales of forests and geology and we're in fine form when fragile steve pitches up for the guitar playing. which we do, but it's the death talk that's into me and the boy geo, and we haven't had a session for a while, so the night's still not too far advanced before he starts me on the war stories and all the dead people come marching out of my skull. i can make a bad story funny but really geo's laughing because he's not me and we both know it and i'm glad for him. it's an old routine and we're so into it we don't notice fragile steve who was looking at me like some sort of awful person even before he moved onto the cask strength macallan and a bad whitey

it takes me a couple of days to get over the toxicity. was this what it was like when i was drinking? give me a day on the bike any time...

and the sage? recovers lazarus like from the funeral. tears dried, good intentions forgotten, learned nothing.

Thursday, 24 January 2008


it should be no secret i'm a fan of notebooks. everyone should carry one at all times. i had one once in which i recorded things i heard while wandering about edinburgh. i was going to publish as random edinburgh bus conversations. never did and worse, lost the book and most of the memories therein. but my favourite remains (turn away now if you don't like bad language. remember i live in scotland where swearing is like oxygen)....

walking past the local five a side pitches. a blustery cold day in the athens of the north.

man : pass!

man : PASS!


man : you! aye YOU! yer brains are in yer fucking heid!

so it was with great delight that i happened on overheard in new york while dodging studying today. as with the metro ticket guy it isn't just a walk down the street but a vista of opportunity!

maya angelou

Old folks laugh

They have spent their
content of simpering,
holding their lips this
and that way, winding
the lines between
their brows. Old folks
allow their bellies to jiggle like slow
The hollers
rise up and spill
over any way they want.
When old folks laugh, they free the world.
They turn slowly, slyly knowing
the best and the worst
of remembering.
Saliva glistens in
the corners of their mouths,
their heads wobble
on brittle necks, but
their laps
are filled with memories.
When old folks laugh, they consider the promise
of dear painless death, and generously
forgive life for happening
to them.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

i'm dismayed

by the amount of talk of boredom, the joylessness i seem to encounter on the internet these days. so this article in today's independent appealed. this fellow occupies his commute by making paintings on the backs of his metro tickets. i'm loving his notebooks also. how much better to be doing something than droning on in a modern life is rubbish, i'm so bored vein

i used to do something similar when i lived in the city. if i was ever stuck for material i'd go for a walk and watch the people go by. easy. never failed. writer's block? lack of imagination!

thinking about it a bit more i'm remembering a conversation i had a work a few weeks back, me being the only uk resident, about the numbers of overdoses/self harms we were getting in. can't remember where these particular doctors were from but all over and their basic question was - what's going on with your young people? i couldn't and i can't answer. i can be flippant, as above, about modern life being rubbish but for far too many, it really is. and it's not just the admissions we get. why do so many, many people have as what appears to be their only answer, a prescription for some anti-depressants?

not that i'm anti-medication. they have their place and i'm all for them. but they're no good for joylessness, thwarted expectations, frustration etc. the default setting for a response to this is a guardianesque, something should be done. usually by the government and almost never by the person doing the asking. so long as we have someone to blame and so long as it isn't us!

i had no answer to the doctors' question. but i did ask them one in return which addressed our own work culture as well as that around it. why are we so crap at looking after each other? it costs so little and we gain so much. like me they had no answers. so we watched some tv.

fernando pessoa


In my dark moments
When there's nobody inside me
And everything's a fog and walls
Of all life and possesses

If, for a moment, I raise my forehead
From where I'm bogged down in myself
And see he far horizon
Full of the setting or floating sun,

I come alive again, I exist, aware
And even if it's all illusion
The exterior where i forget myself,
There's nothing more i wish or ask for.
I surrender my heart to it.

trans Edwin Honig and Susan M Brown

the race

We love bikes because they are the physical representation of the subtle pleasure we derive from them. They act on us both as a symbol and as a means of fulfillment....
Charlie Woods - Bikie
I'm completely hopeless at this. I brake too often, and at the wrong moments. my back wheel keeps trying to skid out from under me, I wring my way clumsily through the curves. I started this sport too late. My muscles were able to fit themselves to my bike, they actually liked it: muscles are tractable and learn tricks fast. But racing downhill is a matter of nerves, and from the very start my nerves have thought: to hell with you and your bicycle racing.
Tim Krabbe - The Rider
but neither of these was riding for 24 hours.through a forest. in the dark. on ice.
the omens were there from the start when the campsite was too chewed up to drive on and the marquees were destroyed by the high winds before the sun even went down. we were in a hotel by this time but we knew what we were coming back to.
as the day dawned the wind had lessened but it was still raining, giving a nice glisten to the ice we were about to race up. i had already made up my mind to hang back and let the first riders chew up the ice but even so on that first lap it was like glass. i fell over within 300 metres of the start and that was while i was walking! of course my shifters broke soon after so that was me more or less single speeding for the rest of the event.
ground round for four laps. started vomiting on the fourth so decided s rest was in order. felt better but couldn't manage a fifth as my left knee felt like someone was blowing up a balloon in it. went for sleep unhappy!
woke at four. left to sleeping and went back out. legs felt good and i felt warm. had a nice fifth lap, conserving my energy. felt good for another four and was sure, if i kept my fluid and diet intake up, i could manage. foolish confidence! whether it was the constant jarring but shortly into the sixth i was getting vague pain in my right knee that got rapidly worse every time i put any force through it. then the rear tyre went. i was back to pushing and any warmth i'd built up was rapidly vanishing. i came back down to the start only able to pedal with one leg. i climbed off, turned in my timer, hirpled past the tv people and back to the van.
was i disappointed? i'd hoped for more laps but no, i'd finished the event, i'd got through the night, done more laps than last year and pushed myself further up the learning curve. i kept waking up in the van on the way back, seeing ice in front of me. i wasn't the only one!
but the plans for the next race are already being made. why do we do these things? because they're there is only an answer to fend off those who don't. there is a community amongst us,that's true and it's great to see the faces at the races, see who's done what and where. for most of us we're never going to win, never come close so it's not about that but there's something about the race that makes you push yourself that bit harder, dig a little deeper.
i've done a thing recently where i've been out with the touring guys doing the uphills. there is no hill i say to them, there is only a question. that's what the races are like. there is only the question and i'm never quite certain what it's asking. answers? irrelevant! there's only that moment of existence, of vanishing and then, really, it isn't a race at all

Thursday, 17 January 2008

race prep

racing is life. anything before or after is just waiting

as the first race day of 2008 approaches how am i spending my waiting time?

there is that awkward portfolio thing i need to finish for work. but my university email isn't working so i'm not going to engage with them as a mark of protest. i've always found that last minute is more than enough time for the university types. though i was flattered to be asked to consider teaching earlier this week even if the thought makes me want to carve out my own eyes. and who in their right head would put me in front of a group of students after all these years? it was bad enough first time round when they had minders in the room, partly because they too wanted entertainment, but mainly in case i went off on some florid flight of fancy. no, it'll be a gentle retirement for me, something along the lines of larkin's at grass

then there's the shopping. which in cycling terms, and certainly if you and your local bike shop owner are involved in the same races, means extended blethering in the shop. mt shop excelled himself today but abandoning the guy who'd come in to buy some bike or other to engage himself in selling and talking about tyres to me. not unwisely i thought as our chosen surface this weekend should be some sort of ice and mud quicksand liberally dosed with snow and rain with just a hint of gales on the horizon

and then there's the internet. no-one should miss a dose of the ascerbic blogging of bikesnobnyc, especially when he's so right. but we have to face facts, that not everyone likes the cyclists, and maybe, just maybe, some of us are to blame. why haven't the bbc released more monkey dust!!!! mummy,my legs are hot

but what am i actually doing? this fine afternoon? going to work. on my day off. something about being needed. oh god,how did it come to this?

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

meg bateman

i'm currently delighted with meg bateman's soirbheas. i particularly like this, which should, it seems to me, be familiar to anyone who grew up on an island and is mystified as much by what the town dwellers say about our place of origin as those we might have become had we stayed.

Elgol: Two Views

I looked at the old post card,
the houses like a growth from the soil,
the peaks towering above them,
a sign of the majesty of God,
before an amenity was made of mountains,
or a divide between work and play,
between the sacred and the secular ...
and I passed the picture to the old man.

'Does it make you sad, Lachie?' I asked
as he scrutinised it in silence.
'Sad? Bah! Not at all!
I just couldn't place her for a moment,'
and he pointed to a cow in the foreground.
'That's Yellow Lady, Red Lady's second calf -
I'd know any cow you see,
that belonged here in my lifetime.'

trans from Ealaghol: Da Shealladh by the author

what does elgol look like? something like that, except you can't see all the tourists. or the village

italo calvino

But what we call eros - is it perhaps only a programme of our corporeal bodies, more complicated because the memory receives messages from every cell of the skin, from every molecule of our tissues, and multiplies them and combines them with the impulses transmitted by our eyesight and with those aroused by the imagination? The difference lies only in the number of circuits involved: from our receptors billions of wires extend, linked with the computer of feelings, conditionings, the ties between one person and another...Eros is a programme that unfolds in the electronic clusters pf the mind, but the mind is also skin: skin touched, seen, remembered. And what about the tortoises, enclosed in their insensitive casing? The poverty of their sensory stimuli perhaps drives them to a concentrated, intense mental life, leads them to a crystalline inner awareness... Perhaps the eros of tortoises obeys absolute spiritual laws, while we are prisoners of a machinery whose functioning remains unknown to us, prone to clogging up, stalling, exploding in uncontrolled automatisms...

from mr palomar. palomar in the garden - the loves of tortoises

trans william weaver

meg bateman

i've always liked aotromachd but i was surprised to a find a cheeky echo in her translation of anna nic ealair's poem....


B’ e d’aotromachd a rinn mo thàladh,
aotromachd do chainnte ‘s do ghàire,
aotromachd do lethchinn nam làmhan,
d’aotrmachd lurach ùr mhàlda:
agus ‘s e aotromachd do phòige
a tha a’ cur trasg air mo bheòil-sa,
is ‘s e aotromachd do ghlaic mum chuairt-sa
a leigas seachad leis an t-sruth mi


It was your lightness that drew me,
the lightness of your talk and your laughter,
the lightness of your cheek in my hands,
your sweet gentle modest lightness:
and it is the lightness of your kiss
that is starving my mouth,
and the lightness of your embrace
that will let me go adrift.

Anna Nic Ealair’s Song

It was in the wretched poor stall
that I first came to know you;
and I took you to my mother’s house
where for a while I nursed you

It was your love, my love,
it was your love that drew me,
it was your love, my dear,
that awoke me in the morning.

You’re like the shade of a great rock
in a troubled land where I walk in sadness;
when I looked to you for help
you desired my encapture.

You gave me your love
in the juniper’s shadow,
and the company of your regard
in the garden of apples.

Sweeter to me your love than wine,
even wine at its strongest;
when you showed me you r esteem
it made my body falter.

You gave me of your love
until it overwhelmed me
and I had to call out
‘Friend stop your caresses.’

You have risen up with haste
from the grave, victorious;
likewise will your host awake,
triumphant in the morning.

And you went up to a place on high
to prepare my soul a lodging,
and you say you’ll come back again
to bring about your promise.

Anna Nic Ealair (fl c 1800)

trans meg bateman

Saturday, 12 January 2008

fernando pessoa

It's raining. there is silence, since the rain itself

It's raining. There is silence, since the rain itself
Allows no sound but peacefulness.
It's raining. The sky's asleep. when the soul's been
From what it cannot tell, feeling's blind.
It's raining. My self (who I am) I take leave of...

The rain is so peaceful it loosens itself in the air
(Not even seeming cloudy) so that it seems
It's not a rain but a whispering
Which in its whispering forgets itself.
It's raining. Nothing to long for...

The re's no wind hovering, there's no sky I feel.
It's raining far away and imperceptibly,
Like something true that lies to us,
Like something overwhelming wish deceiving us.
It's raining. Nothing in me feels...

trans Edwin Honig and Susan M Brown

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Czelaw Milosz

A Poem for the End of the Century

When everything was fine
And the notion of sin had vanished
And the earth was ready
In universal peace
To consume and rejoice
Without creeds and utopias,

I, for unknown reasons,
Surrounded by the books
Of prophets and theologians,
Of philosophers, poets,
Searched for an answer,
Scowling, grimacing,
Waking up at night, muttering at dawn.

What oppressed me so much
Was a bit shameful.
Talking of it aloud
Would show neither tact nor prudence.
It might even seem an outrage
Against the health of mankind.

Alas, my memory
Does not want to leave me
And in it, live beings
Each with its own pain,
Each with its own dying,
Its own trepidation.

Why then innocence
On paradisal beaches,
An impeccable sky
Over the church of hygiene?
Is it because that
Was long ago?

To a saintly man
--So goes an Arab tale--
God said somewhat maliciously:
"Had I revealed to people
How great a sinner you are,
They could not praise you."

"And I," answered the pious one,
"Had I unveiled to them
How merciful you are,
They would not care for you."

To whom should I turn
With that affair so dark
Of pain and also guilt
In the structure of the world,
If either here below
Or over there on high
No power can abolish
The cause and the effect?

Don't think, don't remember
The death on the cross,
Though everyday He dies,
The only one, all-loving,
Who without any need
Consented and allowed
To exist all that is,
Including nails of torture.

Totally enigmatic.
Impossibly intricate.
Better to stop speech here.
This language is not for people.
Blessed be jubilation.
Vintages and harvests.
Even if not everyone
Is granted serenity.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

altus prosator

one of scotland's earliest latin praise poems, attributed to columba, is the altus prosator. i haven't really read it, my latin being too sketchy but being the sort of person who would go down to ruthwell cross so that i could read it (the dream of the rood), in the original mind (though my old english, like my latin, failed me!), it was only a matter of time before its marvellous loopiness ensnared me. you can read about it here and you can listen to it here

can you get a better opening?

Ancient exalted seed scatterer whom time gave no progenitor:
he knew no moment of creation in his primordial foundation
he is and will be all places in all time and all ages
with Christ his first-born only-born and the holy spirit-borne
throughout the high eternity of glorious divinity:
three gods we do not promulgate one God we stare and intimate
salvific faith victorious: three persons very glorious

then there's beasts

Dauntingly huge and horrible the dragon ancient and terrible
known as the lubric serpent subtler in his element
than all the beats and every fierce thing living earthly
dragged a third - so many - stars to his gehenna
down to the infernal regions not devoid of dungeons
benighted ones hell's own parasite hurled headlong.

and landscapes

Irrigating clouds showering wet winter from sea-fountains
from floods of abysses three-fourths down through fishes
up to the skyey purlieus in deep blue whirlpools
good rain then for cornfields vineyard-bloom and grain-yields
driven by blasts emerging from their airy treasuring
desiccating not the land-marches but the facing sea-marshes

translation - Edwin Morgan

it's such a shame that stuff like this isn't better known, especially where it originates. still, i shall take my rubbish latin and when i get on my bike to cycle round mull in the spring i'll take it back to iona and give it a go on the shore. see what happens....

pangur ban

there is another well known translation of pangur ban (and here's another two) but this one by seamus heaney in poetry magazine is, i think better. i'm not really convinced that it was created in a haze of jameson's but i like the story....

Pangur Ban

From the ninth-century Irish poem

Pangur Bán and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
His whole instinct is to hunt,
Mine to free the meaning pent.

More than loud acclaim, I love
Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
Happy for me, Pangur Bán
Child-plays round some mouse’s den.

Truth to tell, just being here,
Housed alone, housed together,
Adds up to its own reward:
Concentration, stealthy art.

Next thing an unwary mouse
Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.
Next thing lines that held and held
Meaning back begin to yield.

All the while, his round bright eye
Fixes on the wall, while I
Focus my less piercing gaze
On the challenge of the page.

With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
When the longed-for, difficult
Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
Taking pleasure, taking pains,
Kindred spirits, veterans.

Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
Day and night, my own hard work
Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.

i wasn't familiar with poetry magazine until recently, with andrew's reference to pound, but not that i am i find i'm rather taken with it. not only the above but what with the talk of silence in various places adam kirsch's essay on heidegger in the current edition caught my eye. particularly liked the end quote, which is why pangur ban has made his appearance

"At bottom, the ordinary is not ordinary; it is extraordinary."

Friday, 4 January 2008

Nuala ni Dhomnhaill


bare island flesh
on ocean bed
beautiful limbs spread
eagled under seagulls circling

spring rises to the temples
deeps of blood mead
a cooling fountain furnished
in the furious heat
a healing draught
for desire

irises gleam
mountain pools
on a bright lammas morning
cloudlands shining
in deep pupils
reeds lashes
rustling at the shore’s edge

and if I had a boat
to reach this shore
hale and sound
from top to bottom
a single plume
of reddish umber
to bring me on board

hoist the broad
filling sails thrust
through foaming seas
to come beside
to lie upon this shore
longing emerald

from a translation by John Montague


Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The fire-fly wakens: waken thou with me.

Now droops the milkywhite peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaё to the stars
And all thy heart lies open to me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.

(from the Princess)

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

cesare pavese

2 poems for the price of one! because that's how long it's going to take my paint to dry

'Death shall come, using your eyes'

Death shall come, using your eyes -
the death that is with us
from morning till night, unsleeping,
muted like old remorse
or some foolish vice. Your eyes
will be an empty word,
a cry suppressed, a silence.
Like this each morning you
see it, when you lean alone
over the mirror. O cherished hope,
that day we too shall know
that you are life and nothingness.

Death has a look for everyone.
Death shall come, using your eyes.
It will be like ending a vice,
like seeing a dead face
emerge from the mirror,
like hearing closed lips speak.
We'll go down in silence.

I shall go through the Piazza di Spagna

The sky will be clear
The streets will open
below the hills of pine and stone.
No din of the streets will
change this motionless air.
The colour sprinkled flowers
by the fountains
will look on like women
amused. The steps
the terraces the swallows
will sing in the sun
That street will open,
the stones will sing,
the heart will beat, leaping
like water in fountains -
this will be the voice
climbing your steps.
The windows will know
the smell of stone and the morning
air. A door will open.
The din of the streets,
the din of the heart,
the light is bewildered.

It will be you - firm and clear.

trans margaret crosland

more pavese here including a another translation of the first poem. and here and here. other than this i haven't found anything actually in italian. it's worth reading out even if, like me, your italian's rubbish, because it's lovely on the tongue, esp the one about the cat