Friday, 29 February 2008

mumon gensen

Life is like a cloud of mist
Emerging from a mountain cave
And death
A floating moon
In its celestial course.
If you think too much
about themeaning they have
You'll be bound forever
Like an ass to a stake.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

abu bakr al-turtushi


Every night I scan
the heavens with my eyes
seeking the star
that you are contemplating.

I question travellers
from the four corners of the earth
hoping to meet one
who has breathed your fragrance.

When the wind blows
I make sure it blows in my face
the breeze might bring me
new of you.

I wander over roads
without aim, without purpose.
Perhaps a song
will sound your name.

Secretly I study
every face I see
hoping against hope
to glimpse a trace of your beauty.

trans cola franzen

aonghas macneacail

tonight you being from me

although the journey of the stars
were between you and me
the thread of silk will not decay
that bound you to me
that tied me to you,
and tonight you being from me
i am in darkness
sending words to you
the heart's cargo
heavy dark words without shape,
vowel and consonant
multiplying to sense,
as the foliage of trees
bends their branches,
in darkness
in the breeze
leaves sporting their green
first flicker of dawn

trans aonghas macneacail


zbigniew herbert

The Fathers of a Star

Clocks were running as usual
so they waited only for the avalanche effect
and whether it would follow
the curve traced on a sheet of ether
they were calm and certain on the tower
of their calculations
amid gentle volcanoes
under the guard of lead
they were covered by glass and silence
and a sky without
clocks were running as usual
so the explosion came

with their hats pulled tightly over their brows
they walked away
smaller than their clothes
the fathers of a star
they thought about a kite from childhood
the tense
string trembled in their hands
and now everything was separated from them
clocks worked for them
they were left only like an heirloom from father
an old silver pulse

in the evening
in a house
near a forest
without animals or ferns
with a concrete path and an electric owl
they will read the tale of Daedalus to their children
the Greek was right
he didn't want the moon or the stars
he was only a bird
he remained in the order of nature
and the things he created
followed him like animals
like a cloak he wore on his shoulders
his wings and his

trans czeslaw miloscz

it turns out 2008 is the year of zbigniew herbert. i haven't read him in an age and it's a pleasure to come back to his writing and find it just as i remebered it, if not better. you can read the above and more here

Monday, 25 February 2008

pablo neruda

Ode to Bicycles

I was walking
a sizzling road:
the sun popped like
a field of blazing maize,
was hot,
an infinite circle
with an empty
blue sky overhead.

A few bicycles
me by,
the only
that dry
moment of summer,
barely stirred
the air.

Workers and girls
were riding to their
their eyes
to summer,
their heads to the sky,
sitting on thehard
beetle backs
of the whirling
that whirred
as they rode by
bridges, rosebushes, brambles
and midday.

I thought about evening when
the boys
wash up,
sing, eat, raise
a cup
of wine
in honor
of love
and life,
and waiting
at the door,
the bicycle,
only moving
does it have a soul,
and fallen there
it isn't
a translucent insect
through summer
a cold
that will return to
when it's needed,
when it's light,
that is,
of each day.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

terry eagleton

outside of work i haven't felt the need to post a rant for a while but the recent spat between terry eagleton and martin amis is stirring the swiss blood to ire.

i have to declare bias. terry eagleton's books still sit on my shelves and i still read them! i may not share his political allegiances, i may not like what he says, i may just not agree but i like the way he thinks and, even if he doesn't think so, i think he's pretty funny so, should i ever be in manchester and have the opportunity, i'd consider money very well spent just to have a pint with him.

on the other hand amis. massive wanker (see how me and eagleton differ in terms of argumentative strategy right there). writes dull books for guardian readers (what? yes they are. london fields you say? give me a break! i'd rather read wendy cope). enoooooormous wanker. unduly concerned with his teeth. a first order cock.

that, and amis's ridiculous views on islam aside, it transpires in the wake of their disagreement manchester universiy have decided to retire eagleton this yea. him being sixty five and all that. because presumably his brain will turn into porridge. and they're skint. or so they claim.

but not so skint they can't afford to pay amis eighty grand (yes, count 'em, eighty!) for twenty eight hours work. can you read my lips amis? you have no shame. tosser

here's a link to eagleton in the lrb. sit back, relax, see him go! very funny

it's not all doom

at the hospital coal face despite recent posts. only one person dies this set and he does so comfortably. though the nurses won't let the junior have toast until she certifies the body, which really is a bit un-necessary at the end of a night shift.

i get various body fluids in the face. sprayed and smeared. i'll say no more. the nurses are highly amused so i am happy. and it's a week for wee old wifies, who remain my firm favourites in the patient classification stakes. i have lovely warm hands according to one, who compliments me so highly burberry declares it 'sickening'. then there's old posh bird, who the nurses aren't coping with too well. she's horrified apparently because 'your uniforms contain nylon'! they're a dying breed these punters and i love them. i give her a fuss, prop her up with her daily telegraph and she's loving it. finally there's wee old bird wifie, who's full of dementia and had a fall as only really only old women can and looks like she's been hit by a bus. oh it's you she says, and it may be me, or someone completely different, and she reaches up to stroke my face. is it a chocolate cake she's been playing with? please, please let it be so. i carry on regardless. it's so infrequently these days i get to do actual stuff on the wards i really don't care. one of these days the nurses will even let me make a bed. but they'll be suspicious oh yes they will.

interaction of the week is when i get called a hoor by one of the junior nurses. i have to ask whether she is over fifty and a man but she is from the country and it's funny to hear something in the old dialect. It perhaps sounds worth than it is to non-scottish ears but in context, if you listen carefully, it goes something like this

Daivid Kinloch


to Robert Crawford

Mountainbike country, miniature monocoque
Of machair and big air, from above
Your cities are velociraptors, twister spools
Of spinergy; yellow jersey country snugged
Finger-tight, a stutter-bump off Europe.

Don Quixote of the derailleurs,
You magnetize the towns and villages
To the maypole of their TV sets;
It birls them on a Tour d'Ecosse,
Encompassing the oddity of every airt and pairt;

Kelso skids on Elgin's peewit bell,
Coll chimichangas up the Butt of Lewis
Dundee breakdances on its bars,
Grins up at the basket of your tiny
Wildflower face: primula scotica,

Kama sutra of freewheeling petals:
Old tech hip-hop, cog-country, nipple
Nation. To love you is just to race you,
Reel serious dirt time through a marram
Grass of spokes: cinemas of the real.

More Scottish cycling poetry! Though I think The Black Bicycle has this beat as a representation of mountain biking here. That said, for imagination, Kinloch's Un Tour d'Ecosse where Whitman and Lorca have a cycle tour of Scotland via Frank O'Hara and Mel Gibson,has to be a winner!

Dorothy Baird

The Fairy Lochs - Wester Ross

At the end of the Second World War, a plane crashed here carrying American soldiers home. There were no survivors.

Two adults, three children
trudge into hills
through juniper, heather, the clutch
and grasp of mud.

Bog cotton flickers like will-o’-the-wisps
and the fairy lochs watch us
with their soft eyes
where lilies are white prayers
hovering on the threshold
of two worlds.

We see it then: crumpled scraps
scattered on the slopes
like litter from death's pocket.

A propeller points to the sky
with names we read in silence:
a gravestone

where the dark water stirs
like settling memories
in the smirring rain.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

william blake

The Sick Rose

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

marin sorescu


I look at everything
Once to be cheerful
And once to be sad.

Trees have a peal of laughter
In their crown of leaves
And a large tear
In the roots.
The sun is young
At the tip of its rays
But the rays
Are implanted in night.

The world is enclosed perfectly
Between these two covers
Where I've crammed everything
I've loved

trans by andrea deletant and brenda walker

Sunday, 17 February 2008

frans masereel

which starts as a conversation about potato prints then moves, more sensibly onto using polymer clay for printing and i suggest to t that it might be an idea to look at my box of frans masereel. not only has t never spotted it but it's a chance for me to have a trip down memory lane and rediscover him

i'm reading die idee and i'd forgotten, or never looked at it properly,just how powerful it was. i some ways it reminds me of neruda's mermaid and the drunks but much darker. as if we didn't ave enough to do now we're mulling over the idea of a print project. i feel i can use it in the garden as it's nearing the time of year for the lawn nonsense to start again. ceramics ahoy!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

dylan thomas

And death shall have no dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

paul celan


Silence, cooked like gold,
in charred

Great, grey
sisterly shape
near like all that is lost:

All the names, all those
burnt with the rest. So much
ash to be blessed. So much
land won
the weightless, so weightless
of souls.

Great, grey one.cinder-

You, then.
You with the pale
bit-open bud,
you in the wine-flood.

(Us too, don't you think,
this clock dismissed?
good how your word died past us here.)

Silence, cooked like gold, in
charred, charred
Insubstantial as smoke. Like crests, crests of air
around --

Great, grey one. Wake-
gal one.

trans Michael Hamburger

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

lisel mueller


What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

Monday, 11 February 2008

primo levi

Memorandum Book

In such a night as this,
Of north wind and rain mixed with snow,
There is someone who drowses in front of a TV,
Someone who resolves to rob a bank.
In such a night as this,
Distant as it takes light to travel in five days,
There is a comet that plummets onto us
From the black womb without height or depth.
The same one Giotto painted,
It will bring neither luck nor disasters,
But ancient ice and a reply, eprhaps.
In such a night as this
There is a half-mad old man,
Fine metalworker in his day,
And now he sleeps at Porta Nova, drinks.
In such a night as this
Someone stretches out next to a woman
And feels he no longer had weight,
That his tomorrows no longer have weight.
And the flow of time pauses briefly.
In such a night as this
witches used to choose hemlock and hellebore
To pick up the light of the moon
And cook in their kitchens.
In such a night as this
there's a transvestite on Corso Matteotti
Who would give a kidney and a lung
to grow hollow and become a woman.
In such a night as this
There are seven young men in lab coats,
Four of them smoking pipes.
They are designing a very long channel
In which to unite a bundle of protons
Almost as swift as light.
If they succeed, the world will blow up.
In such a night as this,
A poet strains his bow, searching for a word
That can contain the typhoon's force,
The secrets of blood and seed.

trans by Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann


there's something about using gesso - the waiting , the not talking, the activity that itself is only the preamble to something else, something you can't quite see yet, unformed. i get to think about rauschenberg, johns, maybe even turell some days and that'll see me off in that white space back to tiree

the white space of gesso isn't like the blank page, it's not something to fill, it's already there. it is not like the story, which is a starting point to who knows where but more like an invitation. get your brushes out it says, make some light

yevgeny yevtushenko


Like a reminder of this life
of trams, sun, sparrows,
and the flighty uncontrolledness
of streams leaping like thermometers,
and because ducks are quacking somewhere
above the crackling of the last, paper-thin ice,
and because children are crying bitterly
(remember children's lives are so sweet!)
and because in the drunken, shimmering starlight
the new moon whoops it up,
and a stocking crackles a bit at the knee,
gold in itself and tinged by the sun,
like a reminder of life,
and because there is resin on tree trunks,
and because I was madly mistaken
in thinking that my life was over,
like a reminder of my life -
you entered into me on stockinged feet.
You entered - neither too late nor too early -
at exactly the right time, as my very own,
and with a smile, uprooted me
from memories, as from a grave.
And I, once again whirling among
the painted horses, gladly exchange,
for one reminder of life,
all its memories.

trans Arthur Boyars and Simon Franklin

somerset maugham

The novelist is at the mercy of his bias. The subject he chooses, the characters he invents and his attitude towards them are conditioned by it. Whatever he writes is the expression of his personality and it is the manifestation of his innate instincts, his feeling and his experience. However hard he tries to be objective, he remains the slave of his idiosyncracies. however hard he tries to be impartial, he cannot help taking sides. He loads his dice.

from The Art of Fiction

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

the black bicycle 2

as the bike bore down upon me i had just enough time to think once again of the black bicycle.

i'd been following tubeless g down a wee slope but had failed to notice him unweighting his front wheel as he went through the small ditch at the bottom. as a result i steamed into it, bottomed out the forks and catapulted off the bike. i hit my good knee (why always the good knee!?) on something but managed to land okay just in time to see the bike following me. this time, instead of gouging me with the pedals it attempted blunt force trauma to my head. to anyone foolish enough to cycle without a helmet or worse, let their kids, this should be a lesson. not a scratch to me, no loss of consciousness just a bit of rolling around going aaaah my knee, and then off again. of course i'll bin the helmet but that's money well spent.

as we discussed on our way back i think i was needing a good crash. the last race was a day of waiting for one that didn't happen, just multiple slips, slides and somehow holding it together. it was encouraging that tubeless g has exactly the same attitude. not to crash is to live in fear. when you finally do stack it most times you realise it's not that bad and you have to be really unfortunate, or doing something stupid, to really make a mess of yourself. as with life.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

robert lowell

Boris Pasternak has said that the usual reliable translator gets the liteal meaning but misses the tone, and that in poetry tone is of course everything. I have been reckless with literal meaning, and laboured hard to get the tone. Most often this has been a tone, for the tone is something that will always more or less escape transference to another language and cultural moment. I have tried to write alive English and to do what my authors might hav done if they were writing their poems now and in America.

robert lowell, from the introduction to imitations

This book has a twofold fascination: it gives access to the private realm of a major poet, showing us how he reads his masters and peers... At the same time it provides the reader with... creative echoes to a number of important poems

george steiner, reviewing imitations

here's something about translation

Monday, 4 February 2008

gerald nolst trenite

as i'm reaching for my german dictionary in order to negotiate the trickiness that is translating a language you don't speak i find this gem of a poem by trenite which makes me glad i speak english rather than having to learn it.

The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

Kenneth White

Poem To My Coat

- a grotesquerie-

My coat's all worn after so many years
shreds of it are blowing in the wind



Rain, earth and salt
have worked themselves into the cloth

the perfumes of girls
the stench of cities

old coat,
with the familiar stink of life

let us go on another journey


Let us penetrate once again
the pelagian country

the body of our early love

happy to walk among the rocks
and to move among gulls

through an easy ecstacy

heading northwards
in the arctic light


And the wind comes to meet us
the cold wind of dawn

with a bible in one hand
and a lump of quartz in the other

and a gull on his shoulder

greeting us like a brother
who's been away in foreign parts

more difficult areas

welcoming us in gaelic
(the three phrases he remembers)

and refreshing us
with a little rain distilled

by his sister the west


Walking along the shore
remembering the past

grasping it in several ways
the beter to know it

and penetrate beyond appearaces
into the secret nerve:

pelagian orgies
pushed to the limit!


Old shamanskin, listen
while we're moving farther on

this poem is for you
I'll pin it on your lining

may we remain long together
through all kinds of weather

and enjoy the travelling

Sunday, 3 February 2008


Los Puentes Colgantes

¡Oh qué gran muchedumbre,
invisible y renovada,
la que viene a este jardína
descansar para siempre!

Cada paso en la Tierranos
lleva a un mundo nuevo.
Cada pie lo apoyarnos
sobre un puente colgante.

Comprendo que no existe
el camino derecho.
Sólo un gran laberinto
de encrucijadas múltiples.

Constantemente crean
nuestros pies al andar
inmensos abanicos
de senderos en germen.

¡Oh jardín de las blancas
teorías! ¡Oh jardín
de lo que no soy pero
pude y debí haber sido!

this is, as far as i know, how this poem should read (apologies for any spelling mistakes). there are translations about but i'm not fussed for them

Friday, 1 February 2008


Before geological investigations were much attended to in these parts, it was supposed that this celebrated reef was formed by some Typhoeus, or by some other supernatural being of a worse name, with the intention of continuing it to Denmark or Norway, so that the witches, who, braving the perils of the deep, had been accustomed to come over to this country in egg shells, might arive by dry land; but fortunately this evil-disposed personage lost his hammer before his wishes were realized, so his labours ceased.

Martin Simpson 1855

sleeplessness. what a long night. i go to bed my head filled with tiny witches, swirling around in their egg boats, cackling.....