Friday, 31 December 2010

derek walcott


The full moon is so fierce that I can count the
coconuts' cross-hatched shade on bungalows,
their white walls raging with insomnia.
The stars leak drop by drop on the tin plates
of the sea almonds, and the jeering clouds
are luminously rumpled as the sheets.
The surf, insatiably promiscuous,
groans through the walls; I feel my mind
whiten to moonlight, altering that form
which daylight unambiguously designed,
from a tree to a girl's body bent in foam;
then, treading close, the black hump of a hill,
its nostrils softly snorting, nearing the
naked girl splashing her breasts with silver.
Both would have kept their proper distance still,
if the chaste moon hadn't swiftly drawn the drapes
of a dark cloud, coupling their shapes.

She teases with those flashes, yes, but once
you yield to human horniness, you see
through all that moonshine what they really were,
those gods as seed-bulls, gods as rutting swans -
an overheated farmhand's literature.
Who ever saw her pale arms hook his horns,
her thighs clamped tight in their deep-plunging ride,
watched, in the hiss of the exhausted foam,
her white flesh constellate to phosphorous
as in salt darkness beast and woman come?
Nothing is there, just as it always was,
but the foam's wedge to the horizon-light,
then, wire-thin, the studded armature,
like drops still quivering on his matted hide,
the hooves and horn-points anagramed in stars.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

robin robertson

for Cait

The brimstone is back
in the woken hills of Tuscany,
passing the word
from speedwell to violet
wood anemone to celandine.
I could walk to you now
with Spring just ahead of me,
north over flat ground
at two miles an hour,
the sap moving with me,
under the rising
grass of the field
like a dragged magnet
the lights of the flowers
coming on in waves
as I walked with the budburst
and the flushing of trees.
If I started now,
I could bring you the Spring
for your birthday.

Monday, 27 December 2010

lu yun

The Valley Wind

Living in retirement beyond the world,
Silently enjoying isolation,
I pull the rope of my door tighter
And stuff my window with roots and ferns.
My spirit is tuned to the Spring-season:
At the fall of the year there is autumn in my heart,
Thus imitating cosmic changes
My cottage becomes a Universe.

trans by arthur waley

Sunday, 26 December 2010

liking those books got for christmas but not sure where to put them. ease yourself into some booklover bliss here.  i don't know how tumblr works so i can't read any of the notes - anyone figures this out please tell me. in the meantime t and me will be utilising our current book storage system (other wise known as the floor) to be reading this and this. anything but mroe food....

Saturday, 25 December 2010

edward lear

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long have we tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Friday, 24 December 2010

lola haskins

Sleep Positions

This is how we sleep:
On our backs, with pillows covering our chests, heavy as dirt
On our sides, like wistful spoons
Clenched, knees in-tucked, arms folded
Wide, like sprawling-rooted lotuses

In Iowa on top of pictures of Hawaii, huge white flowers on blue
In New York on black satin
In China on straw.

This is how our dreams arrive:
As hot yellow taxicabs;
As sudden blazing steam, we who have been pots on a stove,
looking only at our own lids;
As uninvited insects, all at once on our tongues.

O hairdresser, auditor, hardknuckled puller of crabtraps, you who
think poetry was school, you who believe you never had
a flying thought,
lie down.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

and that was that

so, it's the time of year when i like to reveal my best and worsts except that this year as i started getting into good flow about those films, especially films, and books i hadn't enjoyed (or downright loathed) i found myself becoming drawn into the relentless net of girniness that seems to have accompanied the cold weather in scotland. icy frowns, frigid moaning, it's not for me so, entertaining as a good rant can be, i can't bring myself to it with any enthusiasm. and so to the film and book highlights of the year...

it's a reasonable certainty i'll pick up an epistolary novel so the year was off to a good start in the form of teru miyamato's kinshu: autumn brocade. a divorced couple meet by chance and exchange letters that explain the roots of their separation and the course of their lives after. nothing much happens other than that and it's not the less for it. the characters behave like adults and the exchanges are so well balanced it's easy for the reader to be drawn in.

similarly i enjoyed yoko agawa's the diving pool, described as three novellas but really just big short stories. but again a focus on getting the job done, telling a story, rounding out a narrator, drawing the reader in rather than focusing on a theme or location and letting that do the work. in both of these the reader's left to make up their own mind rather than getting beaten round the head with the writer's leaden point.

the selected works of t.s. spivet found much favour with me, even if i wasn't fussed for the ending. it concerns a young boy with a penchant for mapmaking who manages to win a competition at the smithsonian without anyone realising he's a child. off he goes across america. normally i can;t be doing with these quirky american journey novels but i loved the first half of this and the dodgy ending was more than made up for by the design of the book itself which is clustered with maps and footnotes made by the protagonist (who surely must be loving joseph cornell). it's a beautiful thing to idle thru on a rainy day and if you're ever short of a book for the map afficionado in your house then this'll fit the bill.

another thing that made me smile was grandville by brian talbot which is an anthropomorphic conspiracy tale set in a steampunk britain defeated by napoleon and featuring as its main character the bodybuilding badger, lebrock of the yard. not only is this the only british fiction that made it anywhere near my faves for this year it was very nearly top of my list and was easily the most entertaining from the daft (but curiously compelling) set up and a graphic style from cover to finish that was old school but never old.

sadly i finished all my wllliam maxwell's this year after managing to eke them out over the course of a couple of years. the chateau is possibly the weakest but that's only in comparison with the others. collected stories adds valuable insight and the element of lavishness, his collected letters, which i've gone on about on here before is a classic which everyone should own. buy them, but them all and then off and read them, preferably on a verandah.

a tail end surprise was intuition by allegra goodman. usually if a novel has anything to do with lecturers, universities and the like i feel a twinge of depression but this one appealed to my inner geek set as it was in a lab and featuring debatable results. sure there were the usual relationship shenanigans but these didn't overwhelm the plot and served in large part to illustrate the central dilemmas. i think a lot of my entertainment from this came from its recognisability but i wouldn't let that put the non-anoraks amongst you off.

but there was only one winner for fiction. and that winner was moby dick. no, not the melville (that was a favourite years ago)one but this one. yes, it's in french but it's illustrated by bill sienkewicz who is perfect (have a look at the images) for capturing the psychological elements of moby dick that you'd imagine the truncated form of a graphic novel couldn't. the effect is mesmeric, so much so that the language is incidental - of you know the book you know what's being said anyway but even for t, who hasn't read it before, the effect was visceral. even better just to get you in the mood there's a cd of incidental music. you could strip out the dialogue, play the cd and show this as an installation. best book of the year by a country mile.

on the non-fiction front my year was more reassuring. i got peter hill's stargazing early in the year and it found a lot of favour with both me and t. it details the author's experiences as a trainee lighthouseman in the days just before the system was automated. a grand read and the best £1 i spent in a charity shop this year.

i followed the whale theme with philip hoare's leviathan which was worthwhile. graham robb's parisians and simon winder's germania got me thru the holidays while at the same time, with any of these three, perhaps contributed to my lack of fiction reading by proving that true stories are often more interesting.

there were many cycling books as usual but the standout among them was laurent fignon's autobiography we were young and carefree. poignancy was added by fignon's recent demise but he came out as an engaging and mercurial figure. which is pretty much how i remember him!

but really it was the year of eduardo galeano. i read a few of his but it was mirrors that stood out for me. still polemical but historical as opposed to football or overt politics. kind of like watching a coked up slavoj zizek in its delivery but, if anything, more entertaining. like having a distant, well-read uncle in your house sitting in a corner having a rant and all of a sudden you realise he's not drunk. each segment comes fragmented and not necessarily connected but there's a passsion and a joy in it that had me laughing out loud.
non fiction book of the year. accept no other.

films. i have to say that for mainstream american cinema this was the most dire year i can remember with a truly staggering lack of imagination on show. one might be forced to conclude that notions of narrative, character and the ability to make an original film as opposed to a remake or sequel were absent. thankfully they have alternatives.

thomas mccarthy's the visitor and also the station agent. the first of these concerns damaged lecturer going to a conference in new york to find that his apartment has been sublet to an immigrant couple. i can't say more for fear of spoilers but this is the best film i've seen that deals with contemporary american domestic policy in years. it is brilliant. but, if you're not so much in for a bit of drama, check out the station agent which, if anything, is even better. peter dinklage is a young guy with restricted growth who inherits a railway wagon that he goes to live in. he meets other people and becomes less isolated. that's it, that's all you get. i adored this film, as did t. a proper couplet of films to watch if you want to see no car chases, nothing blowing up and actual characters!

stuff did blow up in district 9 and we liked that. i sold the selkie theme for ondine which despite a hasty and non too satisfactory end saw something of a return to form for colin farrell and an excellent supporting cast but still a beautiful and well balanced wee gem if a film.

not so much as a return to form as a total shock to the system was colin firth in tom ford's a single man. ignore any impression you may have had of him as mr darcy or his many clones, firth is nothing short of amazing in this. like the last film i wasn't fussed for the end but who cared. this film was staggering beautiful to look at and firth burns up the screen with pathos and loss. julianne moore is great in a support role also. find this and watch it. if you don't like you should most likely be watching the expendables, or maybe 27 dresses. or space chimps. whatever, if you don't like this you're just plain wrong.

also in my top three is jacques audiard's a prophet. i took my time getting round to this having roundly hated the beat my heart skipped but it was worth the wait. sure there are prison drama tropes in here but so what, this was powerful film making. uncomfortable, unsettling and definitely not the most enjoyable experience i totally lost myself in this. off the top of my head i can't think of a prison film that better explores the notion of what a prison is about (no, shawshank doesn't count!).

but my favourite film of the year? kick ass. yes, you can watch it as a (kind of) standard action film, though i don't see how, but for me it had some of the care and attention to detail of a single man both in terms of use of colour and placement of artworks while not flinching away from the detail of violence that was present in a prophet. but at the same time undermining both. yes, it was laugh out loud funny but, for me, there was never a moment (and esp on repeat watching which it bears) when it wasn't engaged in our culture's fascination with violence and the consequences of that. not the easiest film to get your head round in that context but worth the effort to do.

and poetry you ask,seeing as there's some amount of that on here? i don;t usually include much of that as i'm no good at finishing poetry books and to be on the year end list a thing has to complete rather than just looked at. but of those that i did....

mario susko's eternity on hold. lovely.
small expectations by donald s. murray. which wasn't just poetry and did involve an exhibition called the net mender parts of which we saw and enjoyed rather a lot
and i also rather enjoyed child of nature by luljeta lleshanaku, which you can read more about here
but my favourite poetry came late and in the form of a pamphlet rather than a book, courtesy of mariscat press at the scottish poetry pamphlet fair. it is r. v. bailey's the losing game and concerns the death of her partner, u.a. fanthorpe. doing poems about dying and loss is always going to be a hard sell for someone like me but this is poetry that sears off the page. it is staggeringly good.
and you can get it for the stupidly reasonable price of £4 here

robert hayden

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

rhina p espaillat

Rachmaninoff on the Mass Pike

It calls the heart, this music, to a place
more intimate than home, than self, that face
aging in the hall mirror. This is not
music to age by - no sprightly gavotte
or orderly pavane, counting each beat,
confining motion to the pointed feet
and sagely nodding head; not Chopin, wise
enough to keep some distance in his eyes
between perceiver and the thing perceived.
No, this is song that means to be believed,
that quite believes itself, each rising wave
of passionate crescendo wild and brave.
The silly girl who lived inside my skin
once loved this music; its melodic din
was like the voice she dreamed in, sad, intense.
She didn't know a thing, she had no sense;
she scorned - and needed - calendar and clock,
the rules, the steps, the lines, Sebastian Bach;
she wanted life to break her like a tide,
but not too painfully. On either side
the turnpike trundles by, nurseries, farms,
small towns with schools and markets in their arms,
small industry, green spaces now and then.
All the heart wants is to be called again.

Monday, 20 December 2010

judith pordon

After Their Death

You might be covered
by eyelids closed
over your whole being,

or reach with desperation
for something alive
to hold onto.

Your fingertips will hide
in a fist. No more palms
open to life.

Humbled, the very ground
will seem so large. Someday
the earth will own you.

Or you see theres no time
to waste, and plow
into previously feared goals.

Try to be patient
if it takes you years
to return.

This is the exit from Eden,
when you have chosen life
while wanting to die.

This is the fall that gives
wisdom, perspective, gratefulness.
It is worth the crawl, back to life.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

jean nordhaus


Would it surprise you to learn
that years beyond your longest winter
you still get letters from your bank, your old
philanthropies, cold flakes drifting
through the mail-slot with your name?
Though it's been a long time since your face
interrupted the light in my door-frame,
and the last tremblings of your voice
have drained from my telephone wire,
from the lists of the likely, your name
is not missing. It circles in the shadow-world
of the machines, a wind-blown ghost. For generosity
will be exalted, and good credit
outlasts death. Caribbean cruises, recipes,
low-interest loans. For you who asked
so much of life, who lived acutely
even in duress, the brimming world
awaits your signature. Cancer and heart disease
are still counting on you for a cure.
B'nai Brith numbers you among the blessed.
They miss you. They want you back.

Friday, 17 December 2010

bill mohr

Big Band, Slow Dance

Were you close? I'm asked, as if grief
Would sting less deeply were we friends
As well as son and father. Further apart
Two men could never meet, though blood bends

Through arteries, veins and capillaries
Summoned into Presence by his pleasure.
Oh that I could have grown more slowly -
Remember being held, and cradled like treasure.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

al purdy

Trees at the Arctic Circle
(Salix Cordifolia - Ground Willow)

They are 18 inches long
or even less
crawling under rocks
groveling among the lichens
bending and curling to escape
making themselves small
finding new ways to hide
Coward trees
I am angry to see them
like this
not proud of what they are
bowing to weather instead
careful of themselves
worried about the sky
afraid of exposing their limbs
like a Victorian married couple

I call to mind great Douglas firs
I see tall maples waving green
and oaks like gods in autumn gold
the whole horizon jungle dark
and I crouched under that continual night
But these
even the dwarf shrubs of Ontario
mock them
Coward trees

And yet- and yet-
their seed pods glow
like delicate gray earrings
their leaves are veined and intricate
like tiny parkas
They have about three months
to make sure the species does not die
and that's how they spend their time
unbothered by any human opinion
just digging in here and now
sending their roots down down down
And you know it occurs to me
about 2 feet under
those roots must touch permafrost
ice that remains ice forever
and they use it for their nourishment
they use death to remain alive

I see that I've been carried away
in my scorn of the dwarf trees
most foolish in my judgments
To take away the dignity
of any living thing
even tho it cannot understand
the scornful words
is to make life itself trivial
and yourself the Pontifex Maximus
of nullity
I have been stupid in a poem
I will not alter the poem
but let the stupidity remain permanent
as the trees are
in a poem
the dwarf trees of Baffin Island

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

louis macneice


Forty-two years ago (to me if to no one else
The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night
And the westward train was empty and had no corridors
So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight
Of those almost intolerably bright
Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the textbooks
How very far off they were, it seemed their light
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.

And this remembering now I mark that what
Light was leaving some of them at least then,
Forty-two years ago, will never arrive
In time for me to catch it, which light when
It does get here may find that there is not
Anyone left alive
To run from side to side in a late night train
Admiring it and adding noughts in vain.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

czeslaw milosz


Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesnt matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesnt always understand.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

eiléan ní chuilleanáin

Man Watching A Woman

The sound of everything folding into sleep,
A sense of being nowhere at all,
Set him on his way (traffic far off, and wind
In tall trees) to a back gate, a dark yard.
A path goes past the bins, the kitchen door,
Switches to a gravel walk by the windows
Lit softly above the privet hedge.
He stops and watches. He needs to see this:

A woman working late in the refectory,
Sewing a curtain, the lines of her face
Dropping into fatigue, severity, age,
The hair falling out of its claps at her poll.
The hands are raised to thread the needle,
The tongue moves behind her lips.
He cannot see the feet or shoes, they are trapped
In toils of cloth. He is comforted.

He can move on, while the night combs out
Long rushing sounds into quiet,
On to the scene, the wide cafés –
Trombone music over polished tables.
He will watch the faces behind the bar, tired girls,
Their muscles bracing under breakers of music
And the weight of their balancing trays, drinks, ice and change.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


i fear a certain time of life has arrived. while i'm loving working on the picture i'm doing at the moment it does require quite a lot of close work. in combination with the need to be quite specific about the shades of colour that i'm using i'm finding my glasses need to be on then on the floor, balanced on the easel, perched on my head and falling off all of the same and narrowly avoiding stepping on them.

i need those things that hold your glasses around your neck. yes, the ones that wee old grannies use. some of them. preferably without the beads.

or i need to get my eyeballs lasered!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

al purdy

The Dead Poet

I was altered in the placenta
by the dead brother before me
who built a place in the womb
knowing I was coming:
he wrote words on the walls of flesh
painting a woman inside a woman
whispering a faint lullaby
that sings in my blind heart still

The others were lumberjacks
backwoods wrestlers and farmers
their women were meek and mild
nothing of them survives
but an image inside an image
of a cookstove and the kettle boiling
- how else explain myself to myself
where does the song come from?

Now on my wanderings:
at the Alhambra's lyric dazzle
where the Moors built stone poems
a wan white face peering out
- and the shadow in Plato's cave
remembers the small dead one
- at Samarkand in pale blue light
the words came slowly from him
- I recall the music of blood
on the Street of the Silversmiths

Sleep softly spirit of earth
as the days and nights join hands
when everything becomes one thing
wait softly brother
but do not expect it to happen
that great whoop announcing resurrection
expect only a small whisper
of birds nesting and green things growing
and a brief saying of them
and know where the words came from

Monday, 6 December 2010

raymond carver

What The Doctor Said

He said it doesn't look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I'm glad I wouldn't want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I'm real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who'd just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

Sunday, 5 December 2010

a week goes by

and i remain marooned in the house. true i'm out briefly on the bike and i'm commited to the trainer but by friday my legs feel off and there's a persistent hint of sneeze about me. of course there's the heating to blame but really what i need is a couple of days off. but i've been off all week and can't go anywhere and digging snow has completely lost its appeal.

what to do? something, anything. t drops broad hints about me being 'out'. even i can recognise this so off we go for some lunch and a bit of library. the library saves us. i'm no good at lunch, it's all that sitting still and eating faster than everyone else but at least there's books to talk about and the cup cakes are good, if only to spur t into baking activity. but i have to do something. i know this. i'm no picnic to live with at the best of times but a week of cabin fever and something's got to give.

except it doesn't. t gets herself off to the kitchen for some proper cookie baking while i settle down for an afternoons drawing. not just drawing as i'm prepping a canvas but layers take time to dry so drawing seems like a good way to absorb time. plus i've set myself the challenge of trying to draw in a different style. and it works. these are good t says. i would never draw anything like this i say. do some more she says. and so the day goes. it turns out my canvas/embroidery project will be much more light based and non embroidered for the time being. if anyone knows a safe way to get a light source round the back of a canvas that provides a uniform light field please tell me.

but the drawing. back when we were wee it was my sister who did the line drawing and me who did the colour. true we could both do both but we knew where our strengths lay. and i really like my sister's drawings so never felt the need to do more than she already could. but getting back to the drawing took me back to windy houses on isolated islands with no tv, the excitement of getting a new set of pastels or coloured pencils. writing, drawing, playing an instrument, all those things are infinitely better than the computer, the tv or their many proxies.

and then today finally we get the car out. it's brilliant to be back in the world, see what it all looks like again. at least until we get to tescos and then it's not so great. this week we've gotten into walking to the shop, doing stuff around the house, cooking, reading montaigne out loud, playing the guitar, feeding the birds, going for a walk, a bit of writing, a bit of painting, drawing. it's as if the daily routines we slip into so easily have been buried along with everything else under the snow. a week on and i'm not mad keen for them to re-appear...

Friday, 3 December 2010

and only yesterday

was the day when i gave up on the other bike, put my snow tyre on the front and the bad boy that is my ice tyre on the back of my race bike and abandoned the dubious joy that is the trainer and off out into the snow.

true i got a few strange looks from the blokes digging out their cars on the streets but i knew that i had better gear for the weather than they had. and so it proved right to the end of the street, down the beginning of the path and the bottom of the hill. and then the problems started. the path itself is just about doable. or it would be if trees hadn't fallen down on it due to the cold and the weight of snow. picturesque but otherwise unhelpful. plus a crust of snow on the inclines that even my ice tyre couldn't cope with. but, i thought, i'm outside, once i get to the top of the hill surely it'll be better.

foolish words, foolish words. more overnight snowfall saw the top track knee deep in powder. madness!

so back down the hill. tricky but doable, then off down the town through the ice and slush. again people look at me like i'm some sort of mirage. or brain damaged lab monkey. on a bike. and i feel like an organ donor. no, really. and if i wasn't sure then the few cars remind that really i am by trying to push me into the snow banks. not nice!

but i do make it to the next hill which, i assume, no car bound idiot will be foolish enough to attempt. i look up and away in the distance two snowboarders are carving beautiful turns into virgin snow. i know there's no possibility i'll be cycling up there but it's still some sort of beautiful as i get my head down, catch some rhythm and get into the hill. oh yes, until at least when i come across the car bound idiot who thought he'd take his dog for a walk. brilliant.

so me and a couple of other guys mull about for a half hour as he fails to free his car. what is it about the overwhelming majority of car drivers that the notion that it's a bad thing to spin your wheels madly just doesn't penetrate? fortunately a tractor comes and i get on my way. the cycling is terrible. the snow has turned into that awful cloying sugary stuff and once i get off road there's an easy two foot of snow before the drifts. but the sun is shining through the pine trees and there's not a soul. i have the bike on my back old school style for long periods and the day gives me just enough of a break that i get a few wobbly metres down the track.

the downhill on the way back is ugly. lots of freezing slush and so, so cold. but brilliant.

and today? overnight was a balmy -18 so what do you think? it's a rest day, feet up in front of the fire. go out there again? no chance!

nguyen quyen

Pairs of Shoes

My future lives come to me in dreams
Come silently with torn soles.
I am like a skilled shoemaker
Greeting the wandering breath of these feet.

These dreams-my other selves
Sprawl out to sleep like a litter of puppies,
Pinches of ashy fur standing up in tufts
Their young hair like hens fluffed feathers
They lie on their stomachs, pressing against my shadow.

Pairs of shoes from yesterday will come tomorrow
Am I their native land, or a land foreign to them?
Their house, or an inn?
Which road guided them to me?

Tonight I decide to open myself to these dreams,
As anxious for their arrival as a child yearning for milk.
Perhaps fireflies will draw them in a different direction
And perhaps the shoes are no longer ripped.

I feel as empty as a new-born creature.
I spread out like a homeless evening
To meet these footprints turning toward me.

translated by ben tran

game changer

nasa kindly dropped this in my inbox today


once upon a time i could've explained just why this is such big news but i'm just a bit too thick these days. but i'm still not so biochemically illiterate that i'm not (very) geekily excited to see precisely where these organisms are using arsenic and what for.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

pj harvey

it should be no surprise to anyone that pj harvey floats near the top of my most listened to female artists. i did nearly meet her once and maybe i should've done but i kind of subscribe that you should never meet the people you build your imaginary soundscapes around.

anyway, i was delighted to hear another track from her forthcoming album today

i am marooned. i hate the snow. i am fabulously restless!


i'm very happy to to discover recently that a) my old copy of montaigne had vanished and that b) getting a new and better copy from amazon would be a right and fine thing to do.

and it was with montaigne buzzing about in my brain (one day it is true i will do a cypress hill/montaigne spoof) that i got to thinking about copyright and the like with respect to poetry and the like. coincidentally when my big book of montaigne had thudded thru the door it was this passage that it opened to at first glance.

La fama, ch'invaghisce a un dolce suono

Gli superbi mortali, et par si bella,
E un eco, un sogno, anzi d'un sogno un'ombra,
Ch'ad ogni vento si dilegua a sgombra."

["Fame, which with alluring sound charms proud mortals, and appears
so fair, is but an echo, a dream, nay, the shadow of a dream, which
at every breath vanishes and dissolves."
- Tasso, Gerus., xiv. 63.]

and that was followed by the more oft quoted -

Even those who argue against fame still want the books they write against it to bear their name in the title and hope to become famous for despising it.

and while i'm spending more time in on solitude than on not sharing one's fame it was back to these i came when the copyright issue, with specific respect to poetry, came to mind.

it's a funny game poetry, what with being so popular and all, so many readers, so many books sold, indeed in scotland it's almost impossible to walk the streets without some poetry reading going on or some poet coming up to you and rattling off a few lines. it's a great thing that the government invests so much in supporting its poets and artists but one would expect no less given the heightened respect and public love for culture that exists in this little plot of geography.

except of course none of that happens. people don't read it, even less buy it, bookstores don't stock it and publishers won't publish it. and then there's the poets, or as they're known in the collective - a disagreement. yet while i can take all those little divisions - the rhyme/don't rhyme, i know you/i don't know you, the squabbles, the endless positioning and on and on. and on - the copyright thing for me is one that gets me going. now i'm not suggesting that anyone should be able to reproduce a work, or that any organisation or the like should be able to appropriate work for their own ends but this odd position (i'll call it the wendy cope) that you read a poem you like and then stick up on your blog/site/twitter etc is something wrong and you should pay for seems to me like the all too familar (to my generation) home taping is killing music argument. which it didn't. not even remotely. in fact, as far as my own personal experience it spawned an entire generation of people who listened and as soon as they were able bought and talked about a load of music.

imagine then, if back in the day, when you were making up your c90 of top tunes that someone came knocking on your door and said not only that you couldn't but if you did you needed to be paying for it (i'll call that the metallica defence). of course, paying. because the bottom line is the bottom line and it is, was and always will be about the money.

and of course where's there's money, there's power. not being able to put a poem on a blog is one thing but the ramifications are wider and more insidious.

take the case of horacio potel, whom i'll now quote at length

- - - - - - - - - -

Do you see your case as part of a wider-reaching debate on the dissemination of and access to culture?

The Internet gives us the means to free ourselves from the clutches of the self-proclaimed cultural intercessors and delegates and to chose our own cultural heritage. This makes the old cultural industry nervous, as does the fact that the dissemination of information is taking place so incredibly more efficiently and inexpensively that ever before, makin the dream of free culture potentially available to everyone.

Nothing is being done to bring 20th century libraries up to scratch. They don't have enough of anything, their stocks are outdated, and at the same time, the libraries of the future are being stifled in their infancy by putting injunctions on librarians. And the ultimate insult is that this is being facilitated by laws with such pompous-sounding names as "the law for the advancement of the book and the culture of reading" which, by defending the monopoly on the right to reproduction, is ultimately rubber-stamping the disappearance of texts and the culture of reading. One should not forget that my trial was intended to close three public libraries. That was the intention of the Argentinian Book Chamber and the cultural attache of the French Embassy. Luckily they failed.

As much as we should avoid the trap of thinking that "the book" belongs to the representatives of the publishing industry, we should also guard against the false belief that copyright defends the rights of the copyright holder. The opposite is the case. Copyright favours the control of our cultural heritage by an ever smaller number of private owners. The copyright is the medium that book-printing corporations use to appropriate the works of writers for purely commercial ends, so that all other companies, and the authors themselves, are robbed of the right to reproduce even their own work. Copyright confers a monopoly on the utilisation of content, and like every monopoly, it prevents competition which could at least bring down the exorbitant price of books. This is particularly pertinent in a country like ours where the majority of philosophy books are printed by foreign companies who compel us to pay through the nose for their products.

Culture, knowledge and tradition are not the work of "authors". It is astonishing that the same gentlemen who carried the enlightened idea of the free and sovereign individual to the grave so as to sell us the consumerism of the subordinated subject instead, are now appealing to the metaphysics of subjectivity with an eye on maximising profits. And it is astounding that they are choosing to do so in a case that involves Heidegger and Derrida who both opposed the notion of creative subjectivity as the origin of the "work" or the "book". There are no privileged atoms which are kissed by the muse and spread light among the passive masses. There are no atoms and the constitution of the "author" grows, like everything else, out of the metamorphosis of things that came before.

Heidegger and Derrida showed that before or in the process of the formation of a subject that calls itself "I", an entire world was already in place, that we are formed before we are, by heritage and tradition, through the passing down and continuation of messages. Moreover, for Derrida everything begins with a summons: with a "come". His "come" is the signal which calls for sending, the first email which calls for the correspondence in which we are already involved, correspondence with an other which is always there. To put an end to this correspondence is synonymous with death, and this is precisely what the militant copyright fundamentalists want to impose on the Internet in order to domesticate it and use it as a tool for selling their own bric-a-brac. But as Derrida said: "I inherit something which I must pass on: this might sound shocking, but there is no proprietary right to inheritance." It is this inheritance that belongs to no one and influences all of us; it is this common heritage on which the new is built which is the focus of the attacks on free culture

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

for me the poem, the book, culture should belong to everyone. it begins a dialogue, it gets people talking in a way that mere possession cannot and will not allow.

it's not too difficult to find evangelists for the form in music, art, writing, those people who are not into it for the money, the fame, but who spread the word, that creative effort is a mode of human being that lifts us up and out and into each other. these people, and i'm lucky enough to know one or two, are like saints. they are not about ownership, they are not about permission but about giving people the means. and that is a kind of wonderful.

jorge luis borges

The Art of Poetry

To gaze at a river made of time and water
and remember Time is another river.
To know we stray like a river
and our faces vanish like water.

To feel that waking is another dream
that dreams of not dreaming and that the death
we fear in our bones is the death
that every night we call a dream.

To see in every day and year a symbol
of all the days of man and his years,
and convert the outrage of the years
into a music, a sound, and a symbol.

To see in death a dream, in the sunset
a golden sadnesssuch is poetry,
humble and immortal, poetry,
returning, like dawn and the sunset.

Sometimes at evening there's a face
that sees us from the deeps of a mirror.
Art must be that sort of mirror,
disclosing to each of us his face.

They say Ulysses, wearied of wonders,
wept with love on seeing Ithaca,
humble and green. Art is that Ithaca,
a green eternity, not wonders.

Art is endless like a river flowing,
passing, yet remaining, a mirror to the same
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and yet another, like the river flowing.