Thursday, 26 February 2009


a couple of years ago t and me found ourselves in the back of the modern art museum watching douglas gordon's zidane. i was all prepared to hate it having heard much (mostly negative) hype and having developed a loathing of things gordon prior.

as it was, we were ensnared.

so to today and it's on tv. we start to watch it. no, it's not the same we agree, not on the small screen. but, imperceptibly, it again exerts its mesmeric effect. it's not a film about football nor is it a film about a football match (one could argue that even if it resembles one it's not actually a film at all) even if it does, more or less follow the events of one. all the cameras for almost the whole of the film are focused on zidane. he breathes, he spits, the sound of the crowd echoes around him. he spends long periods of time alone, struggling to find position.

and while yes, this is a film that concerns football, zidane's place in it, it becomes so much more, about performance, about a record, about identity, individal and social. the players become subversive, the referee a cipher for all authority. and zidane confronting him, saying 'you should be ashamed' transcends the world of sport as theatre.

is it the best football film ever made? i think so. but in the same way that sport itself is a metaphor the film is so much more. there's a palpable sense of loss at the end as zidane leaves the film, the words appearing ghostly on the screen

sometimes magic is so close nothing at all

i'm profoundly affected by it. we talk all over it again. i order the dvd. you should do the same

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

e.e. cummings

my father moved through dooms of love

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if(so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who,his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father's fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry f
or he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer's keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly(over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father's dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn't creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend
yes humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is

proudly and(by octobering flame
beckoned)as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he'd laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine,passion willed,
freedom a drug that's bought and sold

giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear,to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am

though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit, all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
-i say though hate were why men breathe-
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

william maxwell

not so long ago sorlil tagged me to post 'a phrase: a few lines from a poem, a song, or an overheard sentence that rings important inside you.' i'm normally rubbish at this, i can't remember the words to songs, not even my own poetry so those apt quotable phrases most often go floating out of my head. i mean to annotate my books, i really do, but it rarely happens.

only this week i am again reading william maxwell, this time time will darken it, a book i haven't picked up in a few years. i may have gone on at some length about so long, see you tomorrow but really, this is even better. why so? well you'll just have to read it. in fact you can read quite a lot if you've a mind as you could easily buy all his work, except for bright center of heaven from amazon sellers for under a tenner excluding postage, all in a lovely harvill imprint.

delighted as i was to find richard yates revolutionary road in tescos the other day, like yates, at least until the film, the lack of attention paid to maxwell is a mystery to me. i like him way better than fitzgerald and that's the level at which he should be considered. even aside from that his career as an editor is to be both appreciated and envied.

so it is that parcels have been arriving thick and fast from amazon this week and all the maxwells i've been meaning to read are now on my shelves. i don't intend reading them soon but to space them out so that i can eke out that pleasure of first reading for just that little bit longer.

anyway, back to sorlil. i was reading this in time will darken it this week and, among many such examples, the following struck a chord

There is nothing so difficult to arrive at as the nature and personality of one's parents. Death, about which so much mystery is made, is perhaps no mystery at all. But the history of one's parents has to be pieced together from fragments, their motives and character guessed at, and the truth about them remains deeply buried, like a boulder that projects one small surface above the level of a smooth lawn, and when you come to dig around it, proves to be too large ever to move, though each year's frost forces it up a little higher

Monday, 16 February 2009

vasco popa

The Rose Thieves

Someone be a rose tree
Some be the wind's daughters
Some the rose thieves

The rose thieves creep up on the rose tree
One of them steals a rose
Hides it in his heart

The wind's daughters appear
See the tree stripped of its beauty
And give chase to the rose thieves

Open up their breasts one by one
In some they find a heart
In some so help me none

They go on opening up their breasts
Until they uncover one heart
And in that heart the stolen rose

trans anne pennington

Sunday, 15 February 2009

gerald manley hopkins

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress.
And I not help. Nor word now of success:
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one -
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.

Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…

Friday, 13 February 2009

adrienne rich

The Dream of A Common Language


Whenever in this city, screens flicker
with pornography, with science-fiction vampires,
victimized hirelings bending to the lash,
we also have to walk...if simply as we walk
through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties
of our own neighborhoods.
We need to grasp our lives inseparable
from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces,
and the red begonia perilously flashing
from a tenement still six stories high,
or the long-legged young girls playing ball
in the junior highschool playground.
No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.


I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
You've been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I've been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You've kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone...
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air

ginger lesbians?

i noted the forthcoming appearance of batwoman, dc comics 'lesbian superhero'. looking at the comic it's all so yawnsome except for one thing. batwoman - ginger. but of course, because all lesbians in america are ginger

an odd assertion i know but the subject of a rant only a few days ago. i can't remember the specifics but i'd been watching something on tv and some comment was made about one of the characters 'going all lesbian'. of course, i said, it's an american tv inevitability. how so, i was asked. easy, i said, she's a ginger.

a slew of characters emerged, ginger bird from sex and the city - lesbian, ginger doctor in er, intelligent, disabled and er... ginger? why of course she's a lesbian. willow in buffy. totally. i could go on. it seems that female characters who are independent, intelligent and possessed of the gingerness in american tv are statistically more likely to have girl on girl action. are they in some way too threatening?

*excepted in any of these descriptions are the characters from the wire

and now the batwoman. of all the gay women i have known i can't remember any who were ginger. so far as i know none of them have dyed their hair as a declaration of out and proudness. they displayed a normal distribution of intelligence, fairness, independence and all those other qualities. in fact they were just like you and me, well okay, maybe not quite like me. peter tatchell, this is an issue you should run with.....

so while i applaud dc comics for having their 'gay superhero', please, please change the colour of her hair. and tv people, how about a little less stereotyping and a bit more fecking tolerance?

an addendum - any lesbian, ginger haired people or ginger haired lesbians wanting to take offence at the above please feel free to express yourself. apologies will be given freely. homophobes on the other hand will not be tolerated

Monday, 9 February 2009

what i did next

a rare outing for both me and t to rob mckenzie's great grog reading on sunday, a fine venue gained at short notice in the face of rugby related impedimenta. present and correct were alan gay, jane mckie, andrew shields, yes that andrew shields, and tim turnbull.

mutual confusion for me and andrew as this stranger introduced himself in a friendly manner not realising that andrew didn't know my name. then it was my turn as andrew said, wasn't i reading something by you this afternoon. and yes he was.

a fine reading by andrew marred only by my wandering attention. i corrected this by getting my hands on his chapbook (available on his website) a thing of fine craft and design. yes, it's true we both like a decent font and will be put off without one but as we are both of a certain age i think this is only right and proper.

a wide range of readings, something for everyone but the surprise for us came in the shape of tim turnbull. that bloke said t, he looks like boycie (from whatever tv that character comes from). i see what you mean i said but i was certain there was something of the post modernist about him. ideas of which we had to abandon as soon as he opened his mouth and especially when he did his t.s. eliot poem which, along with the yorkshire tea towel were our favourites. maybe it's some in the water in that part of england but a commitment to wordsmithery, spot on delivery and sharp comic timing seems more common there than elsewhere, either that or it just sounds better with a northern delivery. either way we want the forthcoming mormonhead ep - who can resist a belinda carlyle cover that goes i bet on a donkey, it came fourth, scarborough, it's a town up north? should we have bought his collection? yes we should. but that shall be remedied. and yes, tim, short of mass production t will embroider you a tea towel...

on monday i headed in to a snow bound edinburgh to pick up andrew at chez mckenzie. the plan was to go off on a meandering journey via linlithgow palace, stirling castle and the trossachs and back thru perth. linlithgow was snowbound but picturesque. we even managed up on the roof before being warned off, wisely, by the workers. it was a drop. we didn't have the time to properly visit stirling but i thought a wander round the esplanade might be fine. if we didn;t have to pay for our brief walk! so off to the wallace monument, not just to see the monument but also to lay eyes on possibly the worst bit of sculpture i've ever seen. but it was gone! slight tho my national conscience is i had an almost palpable sense of relief even if i was somewhat disappointed for andrew's sake that he couldn't witness this awful car crash of a thing.

off to callander to meet sally evans at her book shop, a treasure trove if ever there was one, then up and round loch earn for some scenery before heading into perth where i forced andrew, yes forced him, to drink whisky. poor fortune saw our stocks at a low ebb but them's the breaks. a most enjoyable day with andrew, a genial travelling companion if ever there was one, who talks even more than me and what's better, on subjects i'm interested in! brilliant! tho he does seem to believe roger federer is somehow better at that tennis game than the nadal fellow which is surely wrong.

back to edinburgh for the stanza gig. lovely singing from gill bowman which rescued me from post insomnia and driving tiredness, then a really quite engaging wee set from kate clanchy. she was onto a winner as soon as she did her poem about lacking a sense of smell, which from an anosmic like me, was always a winner. i will be reading more of her for certain.

all in all a fine couple of days. good poetry, good discussions and no thought of the bike. well hardly any...

and i've been listening

one of the many problems of working night shift along with not seeing anyone, no social life etc is the sudden and distressing bursts of insomnia that appear out of nowehere, your body thinking that you're still working and sometimes, luckily, if you've nothing to do, it still does and you can do things at odd hours but only in the sure knowledge you're going to crash and burn later in the day.

best to sit it out, get yourself down on the couch, wrap yourself up in a sleeping bag, put your hard disc on and let the music lull you into some sort of fugue state until the morning comes. which is precisely what i've done. mellow sounds that have eased away the wee hours include -

nathan fake
willy mason
nouvelle vague
benjamin biolay
jose gonzalez
king creosote
neutral milk hotel

Friday, 6 February 2009

what i be reading

in between the painting and the writing there is time for books which are -

scotland's books by robert crawford which i'm eking out slowly just so that i don't have to finish it. a fabulous thing, a brilliant thing, it takes a lot of reading but it's worth it, for the interested reader anyway. instantly essential. a pint for mr crawford at the very least.

i am a cat by soseki natsume. more brilliance. the world as told by a cat with no name who lives with his waster teacher (nothing changes!) owner. again, i;m reading it slow because once it's done it's done.

1848 by mike rapport. because it's always good to have at least one fat ass history book on the go. the clue is in the title and that in itself makes it a complicated read not least because of rapport's individualistic sequencing. once you get by that tho, it's engaging, if depressingly familiar stuff

the edinburgh book of twentieth century scottish poetry. very different from the douglas dunn edited version and doesn't suffer at all by it. some of the poets are the same but most aren't. plus some familiar and welcome names, yes you colin will. quirky and readable.

state of absence by tahar ben jelloun. shamefully this appears to no longer available but it's long been one of my favourite collections of short stories and comes a something of a relief after having just finished john updike's collection, trust me. not because i didn't enjoy the updike just that it seemed alien in comparison to ben jelloun's tales of the mafia and italy. some of his stuff is available in english but, if you're of a mind to get that french to work, it's worth it. he says...

Yusef Komunyakaa

My Father's Love Letters

On Fridays he'd open a can of Jax
After coming home from the mill,
& ask me to write a letter to my mother
Who sent postcards of desert flowers
Taller than men. He would beg,
Promising to never beat her
Again. Somehow I was happy
She had gone, & sometimes wanted
To slip in a reminder, how Mary Lou
Williams' "Polka Dots & Moonbeams"
Never made the swelling go down.
His carpenter's apron always bulged
With old nails, a claw hammer
Looped at his side & extension cords
Coiled around his feet.
Words rolled from under the pressure
Of my ballpoint: Love,
Baby, Honey, Please.
We sat in the quiet brutality
Of voltage meters & pipe threaders,
Lost between sentences . . .
The gleam of a five-pound wedge
On the concrete floor
Pulled a sunset
Through the doorway of his toolshed.
I wondered if she laughed
& held them over a gas burner.
My father could only sign
His name, but he'd look at blueprints
& say how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Miyazawa Kenji


Under the malicious glints of the clouds
the Kitakami, grown twice in width, perhaps ten times in volume,
bears yellow waves.
All the iron barges are being tugged to the army camp.
A motorboat sputters.
The water flowing back from downstream
has already turned into marshes
the paddies on the dried riverbed,
hidden the bean fields,
and devastated half the mulberries.
Gleaming like a snail's trail
it has made an island of the grass patch under the pines
and of the Chinese cabbage fields.
When and how they got there I don’t know
but on the warm frightening beach
several dark figures stand, afloat.
One holds a fishnet.
I recognize Hosuke in leggings.
Has the water already
robbed us of our autumn food?
I climb the roof to look.
I hauled the manure bundles to a high place.
As for the plows and baskets
I went in the water a few minutes ago, up to my waist,
and managed to retrieve them.

trans by hiroaki sato

out the back door

now that the nights are getting shorter i actually get to see the sunrise on the way home. this is what could be seen out my back door the morning before the snow arrived. yes, the sky was actually that colour - no photoshopping or anything

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

naomi shihab nye


Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that.
Someone was crying hard at home again,
raging blizzard of sobs.

I dragged the sled by its rope,
which we normally did not do
when snow was coming down so hard,
pulling my brother whom I called by our secret name
as if we could be other people under the skin.
The snow bit into my face, prickling the rim
of the head where the hair starts coming out.
And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. People would dig their cars out like potatoes.

How are you doing back there? I shouted,
and he said Fine, I’m doing fine,
in the sunniest voice he could muster
and I think I should love him more today
for having used it.

At the top we turned and he slid down,
steering himself with the rope gripped in
his mittened hands. I stumbled behind
sinking deeply, shouting Ho! Look at him go!
as if we were having a good time.
Alone on the hill. That was the deepest
I ever went into the snow. Now I think of it
when I stare at paper or into silences
between human beings. The drifting
accumulation. A father goes months
without speaking to his son.

How there can be a place
so cold any movement saves you.

Ho! You bang your hands together,
stomp your feet. The father could die!
The son! Before the weather changes.

things to do in the snow 'chaos'

judging by the pictures it seems that as much as three inches of snow have fallen in some parts of england. as a result their society collapses, the whole of the bbc seem to be out filming scenes of snow, people walking about, inevitable child after child throwing snowballs and sledging in muddy, barely covered fields. because, no matter what we must never, ever forget the children.
my best friend s, who lives in the epicentre of any panic that is essex, has remained silent. i can only put this down to the same fulminating rage and exasperation she expressed the last time englandshire had a dusting of snow. they're a funny lot, the inglese, charming and lovely yes, but still strange in their southern ways.

here the rain is coming down with all the misery of a late dole cheque. i am alone, ensconced with paint, books and dvds. perfect...