Wednesday, 23 December 2009

what i did today

winter solitude -
in a world of one colour
the sound of wind

Friday, 18 December 2009

buying poetry

do i need to say anything? got from overheard in the office

Borders customer: It's by... I don't know her name, but she's the new Poet Laureate.

Borders clerk: Her name is "Laureate"?

Borders customer, sighing: Never mind.

karen solie

Under The Sun

Rain is the merging of cool air with warm
under general conditions of humidity. Try to remember
it has nothing to do with love
or grief. This is the consolation of philosophy:
it's out of our hands. The business of bars
and stores, our separate beds, the garbaged
offices of alleyways, is aging. It sighs
in the blood like salt, slows us, and is why
our hearts are heaviest on the moment
of waking: the weight we ferry, the fright,
the long vowel opening at the centre
of a consonant world that draws the hurt up,
an empty bowl, while history's rebar is replaced
and a species coughs its lungs out
in another room. Private lives of insects
and the single notes that move them, hard-won
courage of raccoon and crow who eat our garbage
and hate us, are foreclosed. We are lonely. We
are here. Inside a vestigial swimmer bears
memory like the phantom pain of when the earth
was new and we were a promise in the sex
of its making, its heat and pools. Cells' random
liquid birth. In the molecular ache of land
as it cooled, when, before tears, before
property, it rained for more than a million years.

it's a wonderful life

so t says to me, no she hasn't seen it's a wonderful life.

yes, i know she didn't have a tv when she grew up and there's various other reasons why world of cinema is unknown to her but it's a wonderful life? that's like, that's like, not having heard of christmas trees i splutter.

so straight after she finished work we're off down the movie house to become part of, not being an addition to, the five people who get it together to see a rare big screen showing of this christmas classic. i can scarce believe it, even if i like an empty cinema.

and, despite there being no heating, t is rapt. characters she says, people talking, little in the way of music. a narrative! so different she says from anything we're likely to see get made now.

i've seen it so many times i stopped watching it years ago but there's enough time to have past for me to get over myself a bit. i ease myself around the ending which, really, is as nothing compared to what they'd do with it now, in favour of looking at the minor characters, the faces. and seeing on the big screen is great. some of the stuff james stewart does is sublime. there's a scene where he goes to speak to his brother's wife and just for an instant as his face passes he has such an expression, totally immersed in what he's doing.

it's a shame so few of these old classics get a big screen airing these days probably because when they do, no one goes. i had a list spooling in my head of stuff i'd like to see but, as i've found out in the past, it's easy enough to organise a print and hire the place but, no matter what anyone says, nobody goes. what a pity.

we get back to the house and discover that t's brother and his partner, after much trying, have finally got themselves pregnant. much excitement ensues. we're definitely spending more time in sweden this coming year. i listen, i worry they've got ahead of themselves announcing it. i feel apart, seen it all before, as if i'm back in the cinema watching someone else's life, someone else's hopes and dreams, flicker on the screen.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

list two

the good being over, let's get to the bad and the ugly.

books. i read some turgid nonsense this year and no mistake. quite how i managed to get myself to the end was beyond me. stand up john avde lindqvist. not only am i stunned that tomas alfredson managed to get let the right one in into the form it finds in the film, i'm even more amazed after reading lindqvist's handling the undead. oh. dear. god. alien maggot things arrive and the dead come back to life. they wander about. people aren't happy. and then, fortunately, it finishes. to be fair perhaps it's just not my cup of tea. nor t's, who threatened to beat me round the head with it for 'making' her read it. maybe we were just missing something...

but i'd have lindqvist round the house to chastise me and show me the error of my ways before i'd read the following again.

the possibility of an island by michel houellebecq. older bloke. likes young women. a lot. not so keen on the older version. doesn't appear to think they can be intelligent. doesn't like arabs. likes porn. possibly read some books once and quotes or alludes to them now and again to gull the reader into thinking there might be something worthwhile going on. there isn't.

jeff in venice, death in varanasi by geoff dyer. another one who seems to be working out his longing for sex with young women out in his fiction tho perhaps not as flagrantly as houellebecq. this does contain however possibly the least convincing drug taking i've read anywhere in fiction. no seriously, i've seen the 'drug' episode of inspector morse and it was better than this. if there was an award, like the bad sex award, for truly shit depictions of drug taking (by wankers) then this would win hands down. and it only gets worse from there. cue half a book of some tit in india 'finding himself'. maybe he starves to death. i hope so.

the question remains : if given a free plane ticket to go and beat either one of these around the head with their own work of fiction who would it be? tempting as it might seem, given i've liked some of dyer's other books, it'd have to be houellebecq, just for general bleating whininess. even his mum doesn't like him.

yes, yes, as t points out, the fault is mine for persevering in the first place but really..? these boys owe me for stealing bits of my life.

bad films. a rich and wonderful vein this year. from (see above) the beat my heart skipped - middle class wanker wannabe gangster (but isn't - property speculation ffs!) but it's okay he can play the piano. a shocker! transformers 2. holy jesus, i've done that. and the day after tomorrow. again (why? why? why?). oss 117 cairo: nest of spies, a film with a houellebecqian view of the middle east. been there. fast and the furious. i do take my life a quarter mile at at a time. small beer!

and then the rarefied oeuvre that is jason statham in any of crank/transporter/death race. death race was mince as it lacked the humour of the original, which was a shame, transporter 3 let itself down because they had that whole is he/isn't he gay action man thing going on in the first two and now he gets the girl!!? but it was still funny. esp the arch villainess who runs about in her pants. crank tho, was truly atrocious, like grand theft auto but with people. ridiculous story, tho not as preposterous as crank 2, stupid characters, jaw droppingly stupid. i've made myself a promise that sometime next year i'm going to dodge the whole look after myself, not drink etc thing and get you'll be arrested if you go out in public like that wasted while watching all the transporter and crank movies. now that's commitment!

but the worst film of the year? korean film let me down with both kim ji-woon's the good, the bad and the weird and more especially park chan-wook's i'm a cyborg but that's okay, esp the latter after the vengeance trilogy. howard mcain's spin on beowulf, outlander, was just, well bollocks really, but the worst film?

easy. step up guy ritchie. rocknrolla. you what guv? not quite as bad as revolver but in the same ghastly vein. do a double bill of those if you think the statham is so bad. go ahead. i dare you!

i love bad films, films you can drink all over, talk through, fast forward, laugh with, laugh at, re-enact, fall asleep to. if i really was going to get marooned on a desert island i would take a couple of special books, a special film or two but you can be sure in the false bottom of that suitcase there'd be a stack of bad movies and a bottle of vodka!

list one

it's that time of year again. it's going to be a bit of a bust festive season so an early list....

so, books. the year started well as i made my way through the collected william maxwell. i was taken by giorgio bassani's tale of privileged folks in wwII the garden of the finzi-continis and i was doing okay on the poetry front with a collected cavafy and stephen scobie's at the world's end. after that tho my reading good fortune fizzled out and for much of the year i seemed to be going through the motions.

fiction. i don't like comic fiction that much and i certainly didn;t read richard happer's the hills are stuffed with swedish girls for literary quality. three men in a boat it isn't but the comparisons are obvious - even so for anyone who's gone hillwalking in scotland, is scottish and male, then it should be laugh out loud funny. out stealing horses by re petterson i enjoyed even if i wasn;t as taken by other books of his i read as a result. not much happens, most of it takes place in scandinavian forest but all of that was recognisable to me and i liked it for that. netherland by joseph o'neill seems to be another book that, like petterson's, divides its critics. both the characters and the setting were familiar to me and i liked the absorbing obsessiveness of the cricket.

fiction book of the year tho will be china mieville's the city and the city. i loved the central conceit of 'unseeing' of being able to train oneself to not see other people, another culture. not long back from hungary the nameless eastern european setting worked perfectly for me. enagaging and thought provoking i did try one of his other books but couldn't get past the first pages! i'd read this again in a snap.

poetry. i was desperately unengaged by much of what i read this year. even when it was well written the first person trials and tribulations of what it is to be a middle class white person left me cold. not to say that when it's done well it isn;t sublime - hello kate clanchy's samarkand but i was burnt out by it early doors. i was taken by tim turnbull's stranded i sub-atomica but without him reading it, it wasn't the same. possibly my poetry book of the year would have been songs of earth and light by barbara korun but, as i;ve been more inspired by pamphlets this year my poetry collection of the year is going to be david c purdie's the godothin.

poetry for me, should be something that takes me somewhere else and should show something that looks like graft to me. purdie's godothin did both for me in spades. i love all that old poetry anyway but this was the one thing i really settled to with the feeling i was really going to enjoy. and did.

non-fiction. and not unlike last year but maybe even moreso, the non-fiction occupied me much more than the fiction. from the earthbound entertainment of a bunch of cycling books to david whitehouse's the moon: a biography. i was thoroughly entertained. special mentions to - when skateboards will be free by said sagrafezadeh, a bio of an iranian american growing up with his communist dad. kate clanchy's antigona and me which i've mentioned on here before. Roger Crowley's rollicking and informative empires of the sea which deals with ottoman expansionism in the mediterranean in the 16th century, a real boy's own thriller of a read which leaves you wondering how on earth europe managed to survive at all let alone why the ottomans seemed to love to shoot themselves in the collective foot.

but non fiction book, and book of the year easily was paul fournel's need for bike. short, perfectly formed, yes, it's a cycling book but it's also a meditation on movement, masculinity, fatherhood and everything in between. i adored it from cover to cover.

film. i watched some honest to god quality bad films this year but the list of good films i saw was astonishingly brief. starting with jun ichikawa's tony takitani, slow but lovely. sergei bodrov's mongol was epic and lovely to look at. t watched them! for the first time and we both agreed, even allowing for the giant ants, it should be remembered better. lots of us went to see the last star trek movie and we all laughed. let the right one in ticked our swedish language boxes and scored well with me for being one of those rare films that's better than the book.

top film i'll split with a documentary. gary hustwit's helvetica is a crafted labour of love and consists of a series of interviews with people who both love and loathe the above font. it's graceful, measured and a reminder of just how much work and thought goes into really good design. and the other would be philip claudel's il y a longtemps que je t'aime. i took a while to get round to this and, despite a plot hole you could drive a bus thru, i loved it from beginning to end. it would be easy to say the two central characters were great but they all were, a mercy when so much of the film i watched this year was devoid of anything like characterisation, narrative or anything else!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


There was a movie theater here once. It played silent films. It was like watching the world through dark glasses on a rainy evening.

One night the piano player mysteriously disappeared. We were left with the storming sea that made no sound and a beautiful woman on a long, empty beach whose tears rolled down silently as she watched me falling asleep in my mother's arms.

The eyes cannot be philosophically trusted, but in the meantime they can be entertained.

These are dreams that a child would know. Dreams in which objects are renamed and invested with imaginary lives. A pebble becomes a human being. Two sticks leaning against each other make a house. In that world one plays the game of being someone else.

The clarity of one's vision is a work of art.

all quotes from Dime Store Alchemy - The Art of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic

Thursday, 10 December 2009

quiet day in the house

true, i have foregone the cycling but it seems like an age since i've had the house to myself.

so the wood fire's on and i've spent a happy afternoon co-reading anne sexton's biography, collected letters and complete poems. i haven't done this before and i'm really enjoying it. the poems as she wrote them, the events in the biography coincident with the letters she wrote at the time.

alongside this i've been looking at w d snodgrass, whose poem heart's needle i need to read more closely. you can listen to pt5 of it here

tree poems

yes i know it's not monday or even friday but seeing as i've been doing a bit of work with wood today i picked up the following at sunny dunny's blog and i'm quite taken with it so i'll reproduce it here

Write down three things you know about one kind of tree
Who else lives in your tree, or depends on it?
Imagine your tree as a character or spirit. What would it say?
What does your tree do in each of the seasons?
What does the future hold for your tree?
Put everything together into a poem or a story for telling. It should be in four verses or paragraphs, with each verse or paragraph having four or five lines.
What kind of illustration would accompany your writing? Can you do it yourself, or would you like to work with someone else in the group?

anyone who can manage any form of tree hugging (and yes i mean actual hugging) in whatever vein they choose will deserve the special swiss badge of respect....

opal palmer adisa

all this

living in oakland
i never know
when i leave my home
if i’ll return alive
i’m less valuable than gum
on the sidewalk that sticks to your shoes
three friends were killed this year
they weren’t into dope or gangs
and i saw my first dead person
when i looked down at ron
in his coffin i couldn’t move
i thought i would faint
felt like a piece of paper
being blown on the street
someone in the line nudged
me forward
afterwards several of us
drifted to the park
by school and i just cried and cried
none of it made sense
ron was the captain of our
soccer team
i might be dead tomorrow
or the next
but i want to live
i want to go to college
for ron
for myself
i want a chance
to fall in love
play soccer at college
travel to senegal or kenya
make a wish on the full moon
like my mother says
focus on staying alive
staying alive
stay alive

off we go to the pamphlet fair

organisationally we're spot on. i pick t up from work, car stocked with food after her long day, and off we go to the scottish poetry pamphlet fair, an event to which she's not been before.

and much busier than last year. lots more readings, a two minute limit, rigorously enforced by the employment of a cymbal, worked well for me but caused perhaps a few slightly ruffled feathers elsewhere. perhaps, we gently suggested later, it was a bit raucous for the more mature ear and that maybe the duck caller employed at the poetry library recently would work better. or a loud yawn and tumbleweed as one wag suggested!

but, it seems, the readings served to get people to actually buy the pamphlets, which can only be a good thing. we bought many things. perjink press's rather lovely wild flowers, featuring poetry from giles conisbee and kirsty lorenz. in the south apparently they have two pamphlet prizes, one for the poetry and one for the design. if that was the case here then surely this would be in with a shout just by virtue of sheer loveliness. we were equally taken by the forest mob's selection of pamphlets where they'd opted for a see thru plastic cover with a contrasting design on the paper below. very much liked that. and they had lots of short fiction, which was even better. i walked away with dave coates' cover story. i've heard him mentioned on claire's blog but this is the first i've read. i'd highly recommend it.

calderwood press was well represented. kevin cadwallender's dog latin has a number of poems i've heard him perform before but which, i'm happy to report work equally well and maybe, whisper it, even better on the page. very much in contrast, performance wise, was jane mary wilde's words, words, words. i'd already bought it but by the time she did bone woman (i think) i was ready to buy it again. i've only flicked thru it today as i'm saving it but the breadth and depth of it so far are really impressive. it was a great shame there was no-one there to read david purdie's the godothin, a work which surely begs to be read out loud. if david purdie needs a proxy reader, colin will, i'm your man.

i was happy to see the words on canvas group's pamphlet and snapped that up. a quality product and no mistake as well as a project i'm very keen on. i'm hoping to go to some do of theirs in january so more of that later my shifts all being well. last but definitely not least i got a c clarke's aleph to zayin a reflection/humorous aside/acrostic something about the history of the alphabet. with illustrations! i couldn't resist it!

i had a lovely wee conversation with claire's partner, whose name i should know, but thanks to her blog shall always be 'the boy'. we noted that while there was a good turn out he, claire and the forest lot were perhaps in the youthful minority. a shame but how to fit in more readers? for me tho, halfway i guess on the age ladder, while i like the energy of the younger poets, there's something about the quieter insights of the 'more mature' that i'm finding increasingly more attractive.

and the readers? too many to list. kevin, almost singing, a highlight. gavin bolus we very much liked, jane mary wilde as above, whoever the woman was at the end who did the thing in scots. someone who looked not unlike my mum, who both t and i thought was going to do somethig much different when she said 'incident with a roadie' but which turned out to be 'incident with a roe deer'. dave coates, who i didn't realise was dave coates, did a surprisingly. in my head, low key reading given his material. jenny lindsay, who has something coming out on red squirrel once she's finished fiddling with it, who i jinxed by thinking, she's really good at this memorising thing. and colin donati, who i didn't request to do it, but t would have, and wasn't disappointed to hear, his scots version of jabberwocky. if there's a prize for a single poem in scots then the campaign for colin to get it starts here.

and many more.

a fine event and t bubbling with enthusiasm on the way home. with any luck it'll have been reflected in sales for those on the stalls. stanza next. can't wait.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

george gascoigne

Gascoigne's Lullaby

Sing lullaby, as women do,
Wherewith they bring their babes to rest;
And lullaby can I sing too,
As womanly as can the best.
With lullaby they still the child,
And if I be not much beguiled,
Full many wanton babes have I
Which must be stilled with lullaby.

First, lullaby my youthful years,
It is now time to go to bed;
For crooked age and hoary hairs
Have won the haven within my head.
With lullaby, then, youth, be still,
With lullaby content thy will,
Since courage quails and comes behind,
Go sleep, and so beguile thy mind.

Next, lullaby my gazing eyes
Which wonted were to glance apace.
For every glass may now suffice
To show the furrows in my face.
With lullaby, then, wink awhile,
With lullaby your looks beguile.
Let no fair face, nor beauty bright
Entice you eft with vain delight.

And lullaby, my wanton will:
Let reason's rule now reign thy thought,
Since all too late I find by skill
How dear I have thy fancies bought.
With lullaby now take thine ease,
With lullaby thy doubts appease
For trust to this, if thou be still,
My body shall obey thy will.

Eke lullaby my loving boy,
My little Robin, take thy rest.
Since age is cold and nothing coy,
Keep close thy coin, for so is best.
With lullaby be thou content,
With lullaby thy lusts relent.
Let others pay which hath mo pence;
Thou art too poor for such expense.

Thus, lullaby my youth, mine eyes,
My will, my ware and all that was.
I can no mo delays devise,
But welcome pain, let pleasure pass.
With lullaby now take your leave,
With lullaby your dreams deceive,
And when you rise with waking eye,
Remember Gascoigne's lullaby.

this was the guardian's poem of the week last week and i was rather taken with it. more gascoigne here


i decided to waste my early start today by watching games britannia on iplayer, not solely because i was overcome by torpor but because it tapped into a long and recently defunct history of board gaming. i didn't find it the most engaging documentary - i wasn't convinced by his discussion around the alea evangelii, given that hnefatafl and its other more local variants didn't get a mention and mistaking a senet board for a chess board? that just won't do! - but its worth a watch, esp for the british museum games guy, who sports a proper beard and looks precisely how a games guy should look!

i love board games, always have. for years, mainly with my friend euan we played just about every board game we could get our hands on. true we had other players who came and went but the enjoyment for us was watching our gameplay evolve. euan won more that much is true but his observation was that he only won because i enjoyed playing too much, so that assuming he didn;t force me into a position where i had to win all he had to do was wait long enough in order to beat me so that we could play again. i loved all those games so there's never a time when i think about games when i don't think of him. if there's an afterlife he's waiting for me, dice at the ready!

i went thru a scrabble phase for a few years, mainly with my friend s. we had a thing for old games, played the roman tabula, the egyptian senet, variants of mankala, fanorona (which we could never get our heads round). s couldn't win at tabula, but the mankala/senet battles were legendary, mainly because she beat me silly on a regular basis and we had some spectacular fall outs as a result. but it was the scrabble we thrived on. we had no time for other players, it interfered too much with the game play as by then we'd moved well away from a simple word game into a fierce no holds barred territorial battle.

but it's backgammon that's sustained me thru the years. i learned it when i was wee, played my sister constantly on the board i still have. i practised like a mad thing and got good enough to know that i wasn't good enough when it came to playing for money. not because i couldn't play but because the money changes the dynamic. i kind of lost my way with it after the street gaming experience and the only time in recent years i've played in any way seriously was with my friend t, who beat me comprehensively and inexplicably the one time we played. i've never been beaten so consistently. sure i was out of practice but backgammon, whatever else it may appear, isn't a game of chance. i put it down to all that maths education she's got.

anyway, i'm watching this games programme and there's a scene where the narrator guy is in this cafe in london where the people are just playing and there instantly was the desire to play again, the notion to get on a train and go there right now. what i do instead is check what's around locally and it turns out there is a local backgammon club, even a league!

of course i could play online but who wants to do that? i can't be doing with computer games. they seem just so... pointless. euan and i used to talk around this all the time. the best thing about games is people. you can tell a lot about a person by the way they play, the strategies they employ, the ones they don't. or you can just set the board up and, back in the day, drink some coffee, smoke a (lot of) cigarettes and just pass the time. a machine can never substitute.

now, what about that nine man's morris....

Friday, 4 December 2009

he crashes, he breaks!

i've been neglecting the mountain bike of late. not only has the weather been rubbish but, as i;ve said before, i've no upcoming races etc coming up so little motivation to drag myself out in the cold and wet. i've been out on the road bike a couple of times, neglected the trainer.

and got fat......

which won't do. so off today to destination x. it's been a bit frosty so i'm hoping for a bit of bone in the ground but unfortunately no. my less environmentally conscious bike compatriots, coupled with horses and at least one motocross bike have, in conjunction with the rain, annihilated large bits of the trails. annoying.

but at least it's a big bit of forest. off i go down my favourite fast bit, not too fast as it's chewed up, but fast enough. out of practice tho. sure enough i sink my wheel into something, brake (why? why? why!?) and next thing i know i'm head butting a log. then all the feeling returns and i cant say i'm happy about it beyond having sensation and movement and nothing obviously broken. i look up. i do this when i'm post-crash, let the soreness wash over me, take a breath look up. there's the trees. it's a wonderful thing to see them from this angle, the perspective, the blue sky, the lack of sound beyond the swish, swish of the branches, the slow creaking of the trunks.

best back on the bike before i get too cold. no more crashes.

at least tonight i'll be able to avoid the ignominy of having to use a stick to walk but my walking isn't pretty. my head hurts and my chest feels like someone's hit me with a bat. fortunately there's nothing super obvious as yet or i'd be hearing about it from t. but still. i don't, these days, crash that often and no matter what happens at work today (friday, hurrah!) some part of me is still with those trees.....

Thursday, 3 December 2009


so i was wading my way through an interview with sting on the culture show the other night in which he's wittering on and on about his new 'folk' album, his follow up to his lute album songs form the labyrinth. i have to say i'm not a sting fan, not from the police days and certainly not anything in between but the lute thing? i'm not shy of a lute so fair play to him but really, if it's lute music you're after, look no further than rob mckillop

anyway, so sting's got this folk album out and he's in the pub singing away with a bunch of folk musicians, looking a bit embarrassed i somewhat uncharitably thought but not unpleasant nonetheless. but then at the end he slips in the title - if on a winter's night. eh? did i hear that right? sting's named an album after an italo calvino book? now i'm now expecting giant intellectual leaps on the bbc but surely someone might have thought that might have been of interest? but no....

off to spotify then for a listen to sting's christmas album of old english folk songs and... what's going on with his voice? is he trying to do gravitas? i'm unsure. and it's not overly pleasant. for me. other people might like it and probably do. good for sting for doing something different tho, if only more people did, or were allowed to, either by their record companies or more specifically by the public.

it did put me in the mood for the north tho, so back i went to bloodaxe's new version of briggflatt's by basil bunting which handily includes a rather excellent cd of him reading and a dvd about him which i haven't watched yet. bunting's big contention was that poetry should be heard and on this outing no wonder. on the page it's dense stuff but when he reads it, it's rather wonderful, like one of the ents, but from the north of england, from the lord of the rings movies.
apparently he structured it, among other things, around scarlatti's sonatas. that's bold i say so back to spotify and a bit of scarlatti.

and even if i'd need four hands to play it, that is lovely. so thank you sting for getting me here. and that maybe is a bit calvinoesque....

and something from the man himself

It is only through the confining act of writing that the immensity of the nonwritten becomes legible, that is, through the uncertainties of spelling, the occasional lapses, oversights, unchecked leaps of the word and pen. Otherwise what is outside of us should not insist on communicating through the word, spoken or written: let it send its messages by other paths