Friday, 30 December 2011

and inside the tin

comes the poetry.

as usual i need to have read the whole of the book for it to get on the end of year list but i was a wee bit more assiduous in my completion of poetry books this year.

honourable mentions to valzhyna mort and factory of tears. i was liking all the russian, not because i could read it, but because it looked pretty. one of these days i'll get my russian speaking buddy to read it to me and find out what it should actually sound like. i was well taken with it.

tomas transtromer's new collected poems was well worth a burl and the time i took in it. i've spent a lot of time in sweden since i first read him and the recognition of the landscapes along with the fact i could actually read some of them gave them a new meaning for me.

bargain of the year was lucie brock-broido's soul keeping company which i picked up stupidly cheap somewhere and can't keep out of my head since. i particularly her take on emily dickinson's master letters which, for me, should place her firmly on the reading list of emily fans. but to focus on that would be to ignore the great snowdrifts of language she piles up either side of this. a sublime read.

i wasn't to be missing out on alice oswald's memorial which i was after from the first. i'd kind of liked robert craw ford's take on simonides and this is a similarly slanted view of the iliad taking its perspective from the names of the dead. beautiful, beautiful to read, my only criticism would be the repetitions but even so i'll be buying this on audio as well

poetry of the year tho, goes to pauline stainer and parable island. i picked this up solely because it was something about orkney and that'll pretty much do for me. and then it came thru the post... now i'm putting up parable island as the poetry book of the year but that's only because i haven't finished the others. and i have...all of them (thank goodness for amazon and an itchy purchase finger!)

now i'll happily hold up my hand and say that as of six weeks ago, stainer had almost completely escaped my consciousness except for a couple of anthologies she appeared in. it was only when i posted her on here i got more into her. now i find myself in the position that i'm reading her in the morning, mulling it over the course of the day, coming back, reading some more, rereading...

parable island isn't about orkney, even when it is. stainer is a poet who concerned with the word and the Word and everything in between. there's a ton of stuff in here that comes flying at you but for me it's the language. there's no long poems but she manages more in these wee works than most of us manage in longer and more contrived fashion and is so much better than many more high profile poets that it's just plain depressing.

everything i like about poetry i'm reading in pauline stainer. she has that quality that makes you not only want to shift your own work up a gear but equally leaves you wide eyed with the loveliness of it. best poet i've read in years. i am a fanboy. it's official.

the cake tin

is that place you look in and there's only good things inside, things that for whatever reason conjure up the word yum or its many synonyms.

so, good things about this year. it was a good years for cycling books, indeed the first book i read last january was tomorrow we ride by jean bobet which set me up good style. david miller's racing thru the dark is another worth reading if only to see how he slides ever so easily into drug use a process he makes a whole lot more difficult than it would've been for the likes of me. you want me to ride how far? can i have some drugs please? how i won the yellow jumper by ned boulting is enjoyable fluff for the cyclist in your life and, should that cyclist be the type who pores over maps looking for that great journey that he (and let's face it's almost always a he) deep down knows he's never going to make then one man and his bike by mike carter is worth a look.

all of which is my way of avoiding the topic of uk fiction which was no more inspiring than it was last year. indeed the high point of that might have been the culture show's alternate booker selection process tat they do up the road in comrie had it not been for a.s. byatt with whom i spent a sleepless night reading babel tower while avoiding the cataclysmic snorer i was supposed to be sharing a room with. i'd recently read john fowles' daniel martin with which their makes a rather interesting pendant with byatt coming out on top. maybe, it could be argued because fowles' book and its protagonist is very much of its time but for me byatt trod similarish ground to greater effect.

by way of the comrie lot i read the sisters brothers by patrick de witt which i rather liked and jamrach's menagerie by carol birch which i wanted to like rather more than i did. both are worth a shot especially if you've got one of those days where you've got nothing better to do going on. i did a bit of kazuo ishiguro courtesy of nocturnes and liked it and i was more than happy to read robert alan jamieson's da haapie land.

i could've gone down the moby dick route again seeing as how i'm happily ensconced in close reading it again while parallel reading the utterly superb thing that is matt kish's moby dick in pictures. this last fits into no comfortable genre which, kind of like moby dick itself, is the way it should be. currently i'm thinking i really need to go back and watch the wrath of khan as it's even more closely tied to the moby dick story than i'd previously suspected.

in the end i feared i might have to be going for another graphic novel this year courtesy of bryan talbot's grandville follow up or canales and guarnido's hardboiled delight blacksad and those before i even get started on shaun tan. actually shaun tan gets it by a country mile just for the drawing! but seeing as it's my favourite fiction it'll be a toss up between bernard schlink's the weekend and manuel rivas' the carpenter's pencil. i'd like to say something kind of literary about either of these but, despite shlink's the reader being wildly more popular (possibly because of a british readerships crazy fascination for anything from 'the war') the weekend felt like something much more contemporary and something i can ask the local german's about. plus it was one of those rainy afternoons and it did the trick nicely. as for the carpenter's pencil i got that in foyle's while i was down in london - they were offering a free pencil with pencil themed books! - and i lost myself nicely in it while i was on the train. what can i tell you!

actually i'll change my mind then. fiction book of the year was effi briest by theodor fontaine in part because i'd never heard of it before i read it and also because it's just the sort of book i'd have loved when i was studying. if you liked emma bovary's shenanigans then you'll like this.
(or, as i did while writing this re-read revolutionary road by richard yates. maybe the film version is good - i can't watch it - because ethe book is so well realised that well, why would you?)

onto non-fiction then, of which i read much more and choosing one out of that lot is a much trickier business. a high bar was immediately set by sarah bakewell's how to live: a life of montaigne which, while not being better than actually reading montaigne, is a great way to get into it, feel your way round the different versions and get a view of the life and times of the man.

a different way to live came out in patrick barkham's the butterfly isles in which the author relives some of his times with his dad by trying to get out and see all the native species of butterfly in the british isles in a season while at the same time not realising his home life is heading into rocky waters. it's grand on the lepidoptera tho and it's courtesy of this book i could manage to spot most of the common scottish butterflies from the bike.

a. s. byatt pops up again with he ragnarock another addition in the canon gate myths series and possibly my favourite of them. a real need to read for anyone who's a fan of or, like me, was brought up with norse legends not only does she look at the myth proper byatt style but relates that to her first readings of it as a child. great stuff.

top of the non-fiction tree tho is andrew greig's at the loch of the green corrie. in normal circumstances greig's one of those folk i can take or leave depending on my mood so i ended up getting this when waterstone's were still doing their three for two thing. now i could tell you it's about greig's relationship with norman maccaig and maccaig's poetry. or i could tell you it's about flyfishing. either of those is true but it's about way more than that. i was glued to this from cover to cover. buy it, maybe along with a maccaig selected, and get yourself along to some wee loch or other, sit in the sun and read it. it's brilliant!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

gary snyder

Old Bones

Out there walking round, looking out for food,

a rootstock, a birdcall, a seed that you can crack

plucking, digging, snaring, snagging,

barely getting by,

no food out there on dusty slopes of scree—

carry some—look for some,

go for a hungry dream.

Deer bone, Dall sheep,

bones hunger home.

Out there somewhere

a shrine for the old ones,

the dust of the old bones,

old songs and tales.

What we ate—who ate what—

how we all prevailed.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

thomas merton

Song for Nobody

A yellow flower

(Light and spirit)

Sings by itself

For nobody.

A golden spirit

(Light and emptiness)

Sings without a word

By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun

In whose dark eye

Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color

And no thought:

O, wide awake!)

A golden heaven

Sings by itself

Friday, 23 December 2011

the delirium of swiftness

christmas is coming, the goose (curiously shaped liked a vegetarian roast) is getting fat and maybe, just maybe santa t has bike shaped goodies for me in her sack. so while i wish everyone well ifeel i should sound a note of caution prior to the christmas excesses for those who may be cycling during the christmas period.

ladies, for you are all ladies, as the good doctor says, beware the 'danger of serious bodily illness due to excessive straining' especially, i would infer, if you are not in the flower of life.

and for all of us, take a moment to raise our eyes up from the bars, 'ashen faced and haggard' and let a smile for the world at this festive time cresses the rigours of your 'bicycle face'. and do not, whatever, give in to the 'delerium of swiftness' however much you may be tempted and consider that perhaps it is time to be at the fireside sharpening a pencil, enjoying the putting down of thoughts of reflection on the passing year and perhaps a small glass of sherry.

all of which is sound medical advice so have a care.

merry christmas....

Thursday, 22 December 2011

just when you thought

poetryland couldn't get any more up itself along comes this gem.

you'd think there was no bother about the future of the book as an object, that such world weary concerns are beyond the reach of such lofty debate. and lofty it is, lofty like an m&s advert. these are not just poems but 'emblazoned on pennants along the road we have just traversed'. brilliant!

it's absolutely worth following all the wee link dinky things in the article as a variety of suspects, well known and not, cue up to give us their views as if somewhere in poetryland a fat controller figure decided that what was needed was a dose of controversy of the storm in a tea cup type that's so favoured by the keyboard warriors of the internet.

in a nutshell, somebody writes a book, leaves out some people, includes others. 'outrage' ensues. obviously by outrage i mean the type of outrage you can have that plath, ginsberg, rexroth and the like, all those poets you've most likely got or read anyway, have been left out of a book you're more than likely not going to buy. or folk like mary oliver and billy collins have been included. and just a sweet nugget of racism and misogynism and the like. all those isms. swiss is tired now - wants to go sleepy time on the keyboard...

i read some fantastic poems this week. i was also out and about in my particular section of the world where the concerns of poetryland, notions of poetry, arts and any related are about as far away from relevant as its possible to be. when i got back i liked the fact i could recognise i had the time, the health and the ability to read all that fantastic poetry.

poetry, the act of reading, the space to paint and all of that are privileges i allow myself when i finish work. i don't have kids who are sick, i don't have elderly relatives whose minds are fusing into themselves, i'm not watching a loved one disintegrate in the face of disease. i am not worried that i'm losing my job, that my home is in danger or any of those things. i'm grateful for all of that and i'm grateful that not having to face any of these circumstances means i can help those that are.

getting upset over a poetry anthology! honestly, a wee bit of perspective...

(none of which is going to stop me posting more choice quotes form the ongoing debate. obviously!)

w. s. graham

To Alexander Graham

Lying asleep walking

Last night I met my father

Who seemed pleased to see me.

He wanted to speak. I saw

His mouth saying something

But the dream had no sound.

We were surrounded by

Laid-up paddle steamers

In The Old Quay in Greenock.

I smelt the tar and the ropes.

It seemed that I was standing

Beside the big iron cannon

The tugs used to tie up to

When I was a boy. I turned

To see Dad standing just

Across the causeway under

That one lamp they keep on.

He recognised me immediately.

I could see that. He was

The handsome, same age

With his good brows as when

He would take me on Sundays

Saying we’ll go for a walk.

Dad, what am I doing here?

What is it I am doing now?

Are you proud of me?

Going away, I knew

You wanted to tell me something.

You stopped and almost turned back

To say something. My father,

I try to be the best

In you you give me always.

Lying asleep turning

Round in the quay-lit dark

It was my father standing

As real as life. I smelt

The quay’s tar and the ropes.

I think he wanted to speak.

But the dream had no sound.

I think I must have loved him.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

john clare

The Yellowhammer’s Nest

Just by the wooden brig a bird flew up,

Frit by the cowboy as he scrambled down

To reach the misty dewberry—let us stoop

And seek its nest—the brook we need not dread,

'Tis scarcely deep enough a bee to drown,

So it sings harmless o'er its pebbly bed

—Ay here it is, stuck close beside the bank

Beneath the bunch of grass that spindles rank

Its husk seeds tall and high—'tis rudely planned

Of bleachèd stubbles and the withered fare

That last year's harvest left upon the land,

Lined thinly with the horse's sable hair.

Five eggs, pen-scribbled o'er with ink their shells

Resembling writing scrawls which fancy reads

As nature's poesy and pastoral spells—

They are the yellowhammer's and she dwells

Most poet-like where brooks and flowery weeds

As sweet as Castaly to fancy seems

And that old molehill like as Parnass' hill

On which her partner haply sits and dreams

O'er all her joys of song—so leave it still

A happy home of sunshine, flowers and streams.

Yet in the sweetest places cometh ill,

A noisome weed that burthens every soil;

For snakes are known with chill and deadly coil

To watch such nests and seize the helpless young,

And like as though the plague became a guest,

Leaving a houseless home, a ruined nest—

And mournful hath the little warblers sung

When such like woes hath rent its little breast.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

w. n. herbert

The Working Self

the naked man with the briefcase

descending three flights of lighthouse stairs

his neckmuscles held by a hatstand of stress

and a new version of the Inferno blackening his cerebellum

in which the only dead are his poetic texts

and those of all the writers he has ever loved

wanting to be asleep with all the fervour of the truly middle-aged

is not

the naked man running into

the midnight sea at Teignmouth

wiht the surprisingly large breasted girl

he will not sleep wiht later in the sand

all the car-loads of friends all following The Wedding Present

from gig to gi allstoned and half-undressed and

sleepily silenusian in the cold cupping sand

is not

the student standing with a white furred uvula in

the campanile of his newly-smoking throat

before the galvanised facade of Milan cathedral

on his first morning in Italy, before visiting the Brera, the Uffizi,

focusing on the lens as it falls from his spectacles and smashes

on the delicious pasticeria of the paving stones

is not

the seventeen year old staring at Rossetti’s

loganberry compote of a dream of Dante and the corpse of Beatrice

remembering the final cold corner bust up by the bridge

by the Post Office where he stood for hours knowing

she would never feel the need to come back

not knowing that he would never speak to her again or know

her whereabouts or children or the moment of her death

is not

the boy visiting a grandfather

he hadn’t seen so long he almost had begun

to think of him as dead and dreamed about it endlessly

after the rapidly-following death

the slow hand touching the bandaged throat, the querulous witty voice

the dark, conspiratorial spectacles, always

not dead after all but still with him, talking

is not

the boy who dreamt that all his classmates sat in darkness in

a circle and the circle was so large it seemed to contain

all the people of the multis at Trottick, all the people in Dundee

perhaps all the people in Scotland and in the centre was a figure,

cowled like a monk, roating in the darkness with an index finger

pointing and revolving like a planet in an orrery

and when the figure pointed straight at him

woke up in the dark moon-streaked fourth-floor bedroom for the first time

clearly alone

Thursday, 15 December 2011

rené char

To ***

For years now you have been my love,

The vertigo I feel when I lie waiting

That nothing can make old, make cold;

Even that which was expecting our death,

Or geadually knew how to combat us,

Even that which we are strangers to,

My eclipses also and also my returns.

Barred like a boxwood shutter,

An extreme and compact fortune

Is our mountain range,

Our compressing splendour.

I say fortune, o my wrought one;

Each of us can receive

Anther’s share of mystery

Without spilling its secret;

And the suffering that comes from elsewhere

Finds at last its separation

In the flesh of our untiy,

Finds at last its solar road

At the center of our dense cloud

Which it tears and recommences.

I say fortune the way I feel it.

You have raised the summit

That my waiting will have to cross

When tomorrow is no longer there

trans by mark hutchison

Monday, 12 December 2011

czeslaw milosz


Faith is in you whenever you look

At a dewdrop or a floating leaf

And know that they are because they have to be.

Even if you close your eyes and dream up things

The world will remain as it has always been

And the leaf will be carried by the waters fo the river.

You have faith also when you hurt your foot

Against a sharp rock and you know

that rocks are here to hurt our feet.

See the long shadow that is cast by the tree?

We and the flowers throw shadows on the earth.

What has no shadow has no strength to live

trans by author

Friday, 9 December 2011

rabindranath tagore

Gitanjali 42

Early in the day it was whispered that we should sail in a boat,

only thou and I, and never a soul in the world would know of this our

pilgrimage to no country and to no end.

In that shoreless ocean,

at thy silently listening smile my songs would swell in melodies,

free as waves, free from all bondage of words.

Is the time not come yet?

Are there works still to do?

Lo, the evening has come down upon the shore

and in the fading light the seabirds come flying to their nests.

Who knows when the chains will be off,

and the boat, like the last glimmer of sunset,

vanish into the night?

trans by the author

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


i caught myself the other day, getting all soap boxed up about the state of mountain bike videos. cue - twinkly, noodley guitar music. an empty trail. close up of vegetation. then a bike wheel, the sound of tyre on trail. some more of these. amp up the guitar music. proceed. it was a nice enough video but, i told myself, if you're going to girn you need to make one yourself.

which is not what the following is (tho it does, more or less, avoid the above). this is the scottish cyclocross championships at auchentoshan. i was, as usual, not there because, as usual, i was working. true, even if i hadn't have been i'm not fit enough but that's neither here nor there. i like the scant crowds, the cloying and relentless mud, the lack of panorama over lovely scottish countrysides. i love that calf breaking slog up the wee hill. i miss cyclocross!

(better yet this vid comes from that rarest of all breeds - a scottish frame maker - i have got to have me one of them!)

Scottish Cycling Cyclocross Championships 2011 from Shand Cycles on Vimeo.

pauline stainer

The Ringing Chamber

I was four months gone -
my breasts already tender
against the bell-ropes;

we were ringing quarter-peals,
the sun flooding the bell-chamber,
the dust rippling between the joists

when the child quickened,
fluttered against the changes;
and suddenly through the clerestory

I saw that colder quickening -
random - reciprocal -

and the flaxfield
like water under the wind.

Monday, 5 December 2011

stop motion

after the cyclotrope here's this

Sunday, 4 December 2011

mary oliver

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

the bicycle zoetrope

which shows there's really no end to what you can do with some card, a pair of scissors and a bit of time...

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

you can judge a book by its cover

or at least you can when it's a penguin classic deluxe edition. which is what happened when i went into waterstones today and was confronted by a bunch of them. i was loving the cover of nathaniel hawthorne's scarlet letter so much i really wanted it even tho i've utterly failed to get thru the book at any attempt. it seems then that i am definitively one of those who can be suckered by book design.

and i make no bones about it. true, there will always be an edition that suits one and not the other but beyond that there's just that certain set of somethings that draws me in. i like an opaque high contrast paper. i like it when there's been choice of font and that whoever's made the book has seen fit to let me know (usually) at the back. i like the rough cut that you find on the finishes of (predominantly) american books. i wish more english publishers would follow. i remember when susanna clarke's jonathan strange and mr norrell came out in hardcover, loving the black edging on the paper an effect i've even managed to still like on one of the twilight books.

i like a matt cover, being completely converted back in my new york days - one of the only things i can say with assurance when i'm at the printers is 'matt laminate'. which is probably why i will never really engage with the kindle or any other such electronic reading device. it does the job but it leaves out everything else.

so, today it was the faber john clare that i ended up with. it looked pleasing, true but at the end of the day it was what was inside that counted. after the sojourn down south and listening to the wordsworth in the last post i recalled that, altho i can do wordsworth, i've never really liked him that much. clare on the other hand i always have but have never really spent a lot of time with him. picking up the book (and an excellent wee foreword by editor paul farley) that england i saw at the weekend, that's clare's england. i have my lovely wee book and it takes me somewhere else entirely...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

the green and pleasant land

so, we were off down to that england-land this weekend to visit ilkley and the loveliness that is the yorkshire dales. to be honest i was expecting sheets of rain, wind and general northern grimness but, as it happened, it turned out rather lovely.

t was off a-felting so i got the bike out and headed out with only the vaguest sense of where i was going. what i definitely wasn't doing, and doubly so after a long morning rest, was cycling the whole of the dales way. i'd hoped the sun was up a wee bit longer but really no.

first thing i noticed was the massive numbers of cyclists. not just the kind of stuffed together, badly adjusted bike, out for the weekend type tourist (of which there were none) but proper roadies. and gangs of them. i haven't seen so many cyclists outside of a sportive in the last couple of years. it was great. and for those who might grin a bit about roadie taciturnity i put it to you (for you are all inglese) that this is not because these are sullen people but rather that there are just too many of you and that to give everyone the nod would result in a neck injury!

and not just numbers but diversity. not only did i see more cyclists but i saw the biggest group of them i've ever seen (40+ on a club run!!), the full range of beardie men and best of all, actual women. this may sound surprising to those south of the border but up here the sight of a proper roadie woman, while not quite akin to coming across a unicorn, is in the general vicinity.

and all this in the space of about twenty minutes. the first place i came across was bolton abbey. the mist was just lifting and the sun was hitting the valley and, having had the good sense to stop, i was all like, this is like something out of wordsworth or turner, which of course it was. the cyclists had thinned out so i had the roads pretty much to myself. i was rowed in with dry stone walls, in fact there were walls everywhere and the fields dotted with barns. every few miles there were amazing wee villages that looked like they'd stepped out of some englandshire poster book, wee pubs, folk sitting drinking and blethering, flowers in the windows. i imagine in tourist season it must be nightmarish but not this weekend. and great names - kettlewell, starbotton, appletreewick.

i picked up a roadie guy on the way back in and we ended up cycling back. altho i'd overtaken him to ask for directions he was straight back at me. i should've noticed this. i definitely should've paid attention when he came alongside checked me, my legs and my bike. but no matter, he was local and great chat with all the places but as we were dotting along i was aware that the pace was maybe not quite so mellow and my cadence was just that bit higher. and higher. and then he bumps into his mate. he's from the club he says. and then i realised. a club guy. here we go.

to give him his due he didn't push too hard, just enough so that when we got back into ilkley, just at the last hill my legs gave out with the faintest of sighs and he had me beat. but it was great fun and i thank you, chris from ilkley, for a very pleasant hour.

the following day everywhere was slabbed in mist. we made abortive attempts to go to a tea room but ilkley was mobbed and we mainly failed. we did go to their wee museum which is in a gorgeous old 14th century building. and t got a copy of that ilkla moor baht'at thing (dominic). we couldn't make head nor tail of it!

on monday we had to leave ilkley but not without firm plans for a return visit down the dales. off we went into the mist and as we passed some stately home or other i managed to make what is possibly my only old english joke (i should point out i'd been reading david crystal's latest book not long before) it went something like this -

t: that must be where the laird lived
m: the laird? the lord on these parts
t: is there a difference
m: surely you're having a hlaf

i do apologise. and moving swiftly on we headed out of the murk and into northumberland for a quick nosey around hadrian's wall. again perfect weather, all misty and atmospheric and not a soul to be seen. england had been uniformly lovely!

getting home tho we were glad to be back. englandshire is great for a visit, esp at this time of year when there's not so many folk about but, even allowing for the cyclists, there's just too many people in such a wee space. it was odd to see all the private property, no trespassing, no going on the river signs but i could kind of understand why. the countryside down there is not like it is here and not just because of the access laws - there's a closeness of the urban and the rural that gave me a real insight into kind of englishness i hadn't been aware of, something about the specialness and preciousness of the countryside that finds a different expression in their northern neighbours.

it was a grand weekend out. i can't wait to go again.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

olympic posters

as i'm just after some quality ranting re the paralympic posters from both t and a bunch of assorted mountain bike types i thought i could do worse than share.

please feel free to vent. for what it's worth i like the howard hodgkin one....

Sunday, 30 October 2011

gellu naum

After all

After all I remember perfectly the day
when my seven mothers birthed me

(among them one, uniquely primordial,
knew the joys of conception
one who no longer knew how to read or write
her octogenarian arms rocking me
as the four-eyed cat of death
nestled on her shoulders
I worked hard to be lighter

The other six mothers sang
transfigured by labor pains
I slept serenely in each of them
slept cowering in their thighs their knees
slept purely in their maternal purity
bread, milk and honey close by
and memories of Amsterdam
the world fashioned peacefully all around

on the fourth day waters a world with fish and reeds
with the man from the Hotel Alger who lost his mouth on the sixth day

a world of suns and snows on the ninth day

but my octogenarian mother’s arms were tired
(the cat around her shoulders purring scarcely audible)
and I wanted to be lighter

Then I sat by the fire
sitting in my geomantic suit
slowly shaking a hazelnut switch
right there by the fire trying to be lighter

The other five mothers fell silent
aggrieved by my unexpected gesture
Why–I asked them–do you look at me so
My old mother’s arms exhausted
and I wanted to be lighter
would have gone to sleep in an apple
but I didn’t want to complicate your perpetual maternity

They shook their heads in remonstrance
and closed themselves off to me

Then on the tenth day
dogs started to bark
and witnesses crept into the room.

trans by martin woodside and chris tanasescu
see more of their translations here

Friday, 28 October 2011

something lazarus

it's all been a wee bit quiet on the poetry front for a wee while (hence no elvis) but that's mainly because i've been working on othe things.

today sees a lazarus out on kindle and there will be more publishing to come soon. i'd say more but i've said it already. check it out!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

ingrid jonker

The Child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga

The child is not dead
the child raises his fists against his mother
who screams Africa screams the smell
of freedom and heather
in the locations of the heart under siege

The child raises his fists against his father
in the march of the generations
who scream Africa scream the smell
of justice and blood
in the streets of his armed pride

The child is not dead
neither at Langa nor at Nyanga
nor at Orlando nor at Sharpeville
nor at the police station in Philippi
where he lies with a bullet in his head

The child is the shadow of the soldiers
on guard with guns saracens and batons
the child is present at all meetings and legislations
the child peeps through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers
the child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere
the child who became a man treks through all of Africa
the child who became a giant travels through the whole world

Without a pass

trans by antjie krog & andré brink

Sunday, 23 October 2011

michio mado

Upon Facing Death

Dear God,
I thank you
for letting me,
a scrawny spoon,
scoop from the ocean just once
The ocean
was beautiful
Carefully holding
this drop of
glorious sunset
I will come
to make an offering
to you

trans by takako lento

Thursday, 20 October 2011

snow report

in the end it wasn't quite cyclocross but the gentler gears of the mtb that triumphed. and just as well as my poor wee underused legs can't cycle for toffee! but as i went out i looked north and there, just a couple of days after moscow, the first snow of the season. it seems too early but all the same it was the first time i'd had long sleeves and long fingered gloves on - and needed them!

to be honest i still wasn't looking forward to being out - whatever weasels i've planted in my head with regard to the bike are still there - but once i got out i was reminded that there are few places more lovely to be out and about than perthshire in the autumn (when the sun's shining!). best make the most of it then as the snow is surely not far away now.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

gerður kristný


By day there’s not a peep
from Anne who lives
in widowhood overhead
– except when she dozes off
over her diary
drops it on the floor

Otherwise not a peep

It’s another matter at night
then there’s all hell of a hubbub
Anne’s friends pound up the stairs
hollering their hellos
and crack open a feast
Some with a bottle of buttermilk
others nursing eggs

Towards dawn the neighbours are fed up
of fiddles and folksongs
The guests depart in haste
melting into the walls

When the police force the door
Anne sits at the kitchen table

trans by victoria cribb

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


it's that time of year when a wee bit of controversy gets the broadsheets a-going about the booker prize. manufactured? suggest such a thing? moi? i wud neva....

but it was pleasing to see, quite by chance, the culture show's annual jaunt up the road to comrie to do their alternate take on it. i've seen these the last couple of years and found them much more amusing than the real thing, so much so sometimes i wonder why the bbc and , more pertinently, bbc scotland and their ilk, can't get it together to do more of this sort of thing, or on scottish tv's case, any of this sort of thing.

the books aside, it's just up the road from me, is full of nice wee necks of the woods and accompanying types who frequent these parts. you can watch it here

all of that should see me giving up on the bike hiatus and getting the cross bike out tomorrow for some late autumn action. what with the injury coupled with a couple of trip failures i've been proper scunnered with it of late. but with next month's yorkshire trip rapidly approaching i'm fancying a trip round the dales so a bit of fitness back in the legs will be required, esp with the look of some of the climbs!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

rati amaghlobeli

As soon as I open my eyes towards morning

As soon as I open my eyes towards morning
I shall open the balcony doors, then
Into the room will come voice and pavement
In its very own image.

I know it’s only existence. In the tap
There’s almost no water, but
Morning will come, which you drank,
Which can be drunk like water.

Morning will bring itself to the window,
Morning is a dream in reality:
The fountain, the street, avenue and square

Are touched by it every day at the appointed time.
It will flicker its eyes for a moment,
And that moment something
Dyes everything in its own colours.

trans by donald rayfield

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

valzhyna mort

Belarussian I

even our mothers have no idea how we were born
how we parted their legs and crawled out into the world
the way you crawl from the ruins after a bombing
we couldn’t tell which of us was a girl or a boy
we gorged on dirt thinking it was bread
and our future
a gymnast on a thin thread of the horizon
was performing there
at the highest pitch

we grew up in a country where
first your door is stroked with chalk
then at dark a chariot arrives
and no one sees you anymore
but riding in those cars were neither
armed men nor
a wanderer with a scythe
this is how love loved to visit us
and snatch us veiled

completely free only in public toilets
where for a little change nobody cared what we were doing
we fought the summer heat the winter snow
when we discovered we ourselves were the language
and our tongues were removed we started talking with our eyes
when our eyes were poked out we talked with our hands
when our hands were cut off we conversed with our toes
when we were shot in the legs we nodded our head for yes
and shook our heads for no and when they ate our heads alive
we crawled back into the bellies of our sleeping mothers
as if into bomb shelters
to be born again
and there on the horizon the gymnast of our future
was leaping through the fiery hoop
of the sun

trans by valzhyna mort, franz wright and elizabeth oehlkers wright

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

scottish cyclocross

the last laugh-a-minute email i got basically boiled down to - are you going to plean?

as my work continues to ensure i work every weekend it's physically possible my, somewhat caustic, answer was, no, i shall not. but, for those who may be cyclocross inclined it is indeed plean coming up this weekend. all the other scottish series dates are here

if anyone hasn't done a cyclocross race i'd absolutely recommend it. i note also that the cyclocross mob have managed to get some sponsorship from minx.girl. excellent news. even if you're not racing get along to one of these just to see some fun in the mud.

Monday, 10 October 2011

in the wake of london

i find myself lolling on the couch flicking thru my alexander mcqueen book savage beauty. if you share a house with someone who works with textiles i'd imagine it's almost impossible to see how one couldn't be fascinated with his work. and altho, to the best of my memory, neither of us paid that much attention while he was alive, certainly in the last year or so his presence has become more palpable and, weirdly, our sense of loss at his passing has only increased.

anna wintour, quoted in this month's rouleur no less, said fashion's not about looking back. it's always about looking forward. which, while sounding oldly futurist, is a statement that could easily aplied to mcqueen. except that mcqueen doesn't just take the viewer to the future but to a range of other places entirely.

for me, looking at pictures of mcqueen's work is like looking at a landscape. but while much fashion can be reduced to a procession of skinny models plodding bovinely from one end of a plank to another mcqueen is all about the work. here's an artist (and i don't use the word loosely) who genuinely transcends boundaries. for me it's all about the colour, for t all about the textile. either is breathtaking and that's before considering the almost sculptural vision that powers the collections. put altogether like this (the book was done for a retrospective at the met) it's transcendent and dazzling.

waiting for me on my return from london, coincidentally considering what went on this week, was my copy of tomas transtromer's new collected poems which i got because i knew sorlil was reading them and i felt i'd been avoiding him too long. then along came the nobel.

frustratingly it's all in english which i hadn't realised. there are great lines, such as -

The herring gull: a harpoon with a velvet back.
In close up like a snowed-in hull
with hidden pulses glittering in rhythm

(from song) that when i read them out had both us wondering what they'd sound like in swedish. that'll be a request to the relatives then!

and the opposite of london, a place i've read so much about but spent so little time in, so that while i can draw a map of the place in my head the actual lived experience of it is entirely alien to me, the opposite is true of stockholm and reading about it thru the lense of transtromer. the poeple and places here are those that i know, the names seemingly plucked out and deposited in this book so that i feel as if i'm creeping back into my own memory in order to process the images/feelings, almost like a reverse phenomenology!

sitting scanning it tho, i find myself getting tetchy, particularly with philip hensher's snidey review in the telegraph. here is a haiku, he declares waspishly, that perhaps might have more 'swing' in swedish. except that it's not presented as a haiku but part of a longer work (section 6 - the great enigma). one's forced to question if hensher has actually read it with any attention whatsoever.

speaking to t about it later i was surprised how much it reminded me of being out on the boat (i spend a fair amount of time out on the archipelago, so much so i get the english and swedish pronunciations mixed up!), especially the earlier poems. there was also a thing in the memoir section - the title menninen ser mig, memories look at me, seems rather ideal - where he goes on about his liking for drawing when he was wee. i'm into a lot of drawing these days so this struck a chord, along with his haunting of libraries. i didn't know the word tranan (crane) either , which was a bonus.

so, new collected poems then. i'm told the translations are great but without the swedish it's hard to tell. what you have got is very readable and i have to say i was pleasantly surprised. nobel material? well, now....

what we won't be getting down to london for is the bush theatre's sixty six books which is running for most of this month and is a bunch of folk getting in about their copies of the king james bible. i have to say, this looks fabulous and i am saddened to be missing it. it is worth a scan around the website tho just to see what they're up to. it's great to see the bible getting used in this way, true it's a bit of a trawl at times but always around the corner is some fabulous chunk of language which makes it all worthwhile. plus those big old narrative paintings make a lot more sense when you know the references!

so we're still a bit pining for london. would we up sticks and move? that's a bit up in the air and seems unlikely in the short term but in a couple of years who knows. in the meantime it may be that i have to go back to sweden - unless of course last year's winter makes its predicted return early and i don't have to!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

louis simpson

Carentan O Carentan

Trees in the old days used to stand
And shape a shady lane
Where lovers wandered hand in hand
Who came from Carentan.

This was the shining green canal
Where we came two by two
Walking at combat-interval.
Such trees we never knew.

The day was early June, the ground
Was soft and bright with dew.
Far away the guns did sound,
But here the sky was blue.

The sky was blue, but there a smoke
Hung still above the sea
Where the ships together spoke
To towns we could not see.

Could you have seen us through a glass
You would have said a walk
Of farmers out to turn the grass,
Each with his own hay-fork.

The watchers in their leopard suits
Waited till it was time,
And aimed between the belt and boot
And let the barrel climb.

I must lie down at once, there is
A hammer at my knee.
And call it death or cowardice,
Don't count again on me.

Everything's all right, Mother,
Everyone gets the same
At one time or another.
It's all in the game.

I never strolled, nor ever shall,
Down such a leafy lane.
I never drank in a canal,
Nor ever shall again.

There is a whistling in the leaves
And it is not the wind,
The twigs are falling from the knives
That cut men to the ground.

Tell me, Master-Sergeant,
The way to turn and shoot.
But the Sergeant's silent
That taught me how to do it.

O Captain, show us quickly
Our place upon the map.
But the Captain's sickly
And taking a long nap.

Lieutenant, what's my duty,
My place in the platoon?
He too's a sleeping beauty,
Charmed by that strange tune.

Carentan O Carentan
Before we met with you
We never yet had lost a man
Or known what death could do.

Friday, 7 October 2011

the poetry thing

two things come thumping into my inbox on national poetry day that remind me why i won't be putting anything up for national poetry day. aside from the fact i'm not fussed for the numbing compulsory nature of these 'days', a bit too contrived, a bit too generic. even burn's night, at least in scotland, seems too much of an excuse to wallow in nationalist sentiment and generally get shit faced.

so, one of the things i got was a poetry give away. the publisher doing this has done it before so i was pleased to see them doing it again. free stuff is free stuff after all! what bothered me more was that they were having a big sale of their other material all available at a mere £2.99. now that's a decent price to buy a bunch of books any day of the week but looking at it i wondered what exactly was happening with their margins when they are to all intents and purposes giving their product away. which leads to that old saw, that people like reading poetry far more than they like buying it. or perhaps i'm wrong and just missing how it's possible to get something printed and sold and still cover your costs for that price!

another thing that arrived was some announcement about something or other, couched in that language that can best be described as poetspeak, complimenting the poet on his or her 'admirable risk taking'. now maybe it's just me but i'm struggling to think of any activity that's more risk free than poetry. even reading such reviews it seems carries inherently more risk as your hold on the book might loosen as you drift into slumber and then hit you in the face. or perhaps there's a movement, of which i'm as yet unaware, of extreme poetry writing, that maybe i can find on the extreme channel, that famously obscure collection 'haiku written while doing a double back flip over a gnarly tabletop'. yes, i'd read that. or maybe there's an as yet unappreciated risk that one can become so absorbed in the poetry world that it's actually possible to absorb oneself. who knows? it could be true. i have an notion to do something like the bad sex prize for bad writing about poetry/literature. i think that could fly....?

talking of which today's the day after the welcome news that tomas transtromer has won the nobel prize for literature. now i kind of like transtromer but i wouldn't claim to be super familiar with his work, beyond an annoying desire to write his name as tomas transformer and evoking an image of the old poet turning into some of sort of mechanised killer robot laying waste and destruction in the streets of central stockholm. and maybe it's just me but i kind of like the idea that transtromer has managed to keep working in the face of really quite disabling ill health. it occurs to me - last time a writer with significant physical disability won a prize?

which is the sort of thinking you can only get from some of the critical response to transtromer's win, as if certain writers have entirely forgotten that any judging process is entirely subjective and will always leave at least some people a bit stunned (i still can't read elfriede jelinek but i'm not, and i'm sure she isn't, losing any sleep over it). this infighting and general cattiness (which really, is nothing compared to the recent poetry shenanigans) seems to cleave to a rather negative image of poetry types and oddly at cross purposes with an activity that seems to me to sublimely engaging and really rather pleasant. whether it's reading or writing it i really rather recommend it!

goodness me, a post about poetry. and here's me who wud neva...!!!! i must get myself a soothing cup of tea. and much while i'd like to claim it for me maybe i'll just set it as a poetry challenge for those who like that sort of thing. tomas transformer, alien giant robot, wins nobel. can you do anything with that? too risky?

halyna petrosanyak

A tiny town that once was the center of the universe, right now is clinging
to the very corner of the map, and its streets
full of holes like certain souls are out of favor in space time,
they bump into the mountains as through into absolute helplessness.
And they end up there, even the one called Freedom Street.
It’s just the river, as always, carrying off its green waters in the winter,
avoiding obstructions.

The grayness even oppresses the colors of fall. In the center
of the town a monument not for the person for whom it was once designated.
His facial expression confirms when one’s on the battlefield alone one’s
not a great warrior.

In the park the benches are painted blue and yellow.
In the mornings, especially on Sunday, the highlanders descend downtown
(most of them are Marijkas and Ivans, or Vasyls and Hannas).
They’re heading to the bazaar, less often — to church, to light a candle
for a departed soul.

The men, as a rule, go to the Smerichka Café.
You would never even come back here, if you knew no guilt
But something holds you firmly — evidently it’s a navel-string.
You suddenly make a powerful jerking movement — and behind you
your own innards will stretch, the way they do behind a wood nymph.

trans by michael m. naydan

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


one has to ask on occasion do we do things that only serve to make us irate, in my case this seeming to be almost anything to do with watching or reading the news, in particular the guardian. now just to make it clear this doesn't mean i'm off cruising the pages of the express or the mail, papers which easily succeed in making the likes of the guardian look like the complete works of tolstoy but just because something can look like something else it doesn't mean it is. and the guardian's lazy. complacent journalism certainly isn't.

today's offender was what looked like a fairly innocuous article about archery. now that's as maybe but the subtext of reading that article is that yours truly, once upon a time, was an archer of some repute and, in both athens and beijing, was fascinated by the archery competitions. not so for the guardian, for whom archery is posh darts, apparently favoured mainly by koreans. even schools can't be bothered watching it they tell us. because it's just not good viewing.

well of course not, especially if you don;t know what you're looking at. t, who is long inured to my liking for tv's minority sport, is these days, a big fan of the cycling when she has time to actually watch it. it was not always thus but the curiousity of seeing the person you live with engaged with a bunch of blokes seemingly doing nothing but cycling along a road had her looking for explanation.

maybe i wasn't quite as successful with the archery it's true but t was in no doubt as to the majestic performance of the koreans last time around. watching them shoot was transcendent. total stillness, total focus, if ever there was a zen sport it's this one.

in athens you could go along to the archery for nothing. beautiful venue, totally atmospheric. maybe lords isn't quite that but sports fields are where you do your archery in britain for the most part so as venues go, it's a good one. empty stands? archery isn't a jumping up and down sport! of course given the pricing for london you could buy yourself a set of cheap kit and join an archery club for the price of their tickets. i would recommend the latter.

archery is a beautiful sport that, once it's got a hold of you, is difficult to let go. it also, if you're going to do it at national level and beyond, requires massive commitment for very little outward gain. if the guardian and their ilk really want to be writing about olympic sport they should maybe start asking people who actually participate in them what it's all about.

me, i gave it all up years ago. i did have a brief return a while back but the club structure did nothing for me. i used to shoot every day, get coaching input every day so the notion of social shooting was completely alien to me. back then i could put three arrows in a milk bottle top at 20m seven times out of ten. that was good for juniors but nowhere near where i needed to be. back at the archery club they were about hitting the target, any notion of grouping was beyond them. whatever i did there it was never going to get me back to competition level.

but, that was me. everyone else there seemed to love it. and it was great to be back among the targets and nets, to listen to the quiet of shooting, to try and blank the mind so there is only draw and release.

watch the archery. be puzzled over what it's about. don't read lazy british journalism but get down to a club and give it a go. don't worry about hitting the centre of the target (tho please hit the target!). take three arrows, try and get all three within the space of the palm of your hand. achieve this. now do it again. and again. becoming a bit obsessive about that? now you understand....

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

what do you call it

when you lose fifteen degrees and get a bucket of rain in return? that'll be scotland. only two days before i found myself lying in t's mum's back garden in the blazing sunshine listening to old school reggae so loud it'd blister paint. true there was a bit of interchange from the originator of the music and his dad but that just added to the local colour,

it's been years since i was down in london town and prior to going i heard all the usual stories of crowdedness, poor air quality and general unfriendliness. the first two can be debated about but the last has never been my experience and certainly wasn't again this time. not only were the people lovely but there were so many of them and from so many places, it's been ages since i lived in a proper city and returning i saw exactly why i miss it, as if some part of myself had magically been coloured in.

naturally doing the family thing it meant it was three whole days before t hinted strongly that i should maybe have a day on my own, using the not unreasonable gambit of saying 'i think it's better that you have a day on your own' and it was great. i love that feeling in a city of being set adrift, set free, just wandering about and seeing where you wash up, eating different foods, listening to different languages (languages murdered by me = spanish, french. italian. i drew the line at mandarin but it was great to hear so much of it spoken)

we saw a load of stuff. from tate modern to a rather excellent craft exhibition at the v&a (this last contributing to a bit of an ongoing rant about the attitude to craft in this country some of which may appear on here if i can tone down the inflammatory content!) and everything in between. we dropped in at the british library on the way to see thomas heather wick's bleigiessen and this, as is the way of such things, was a bit of a highlight, even if we only managed to see a couple of things these being a rather excellent mervyn peak exhibit that had originals drawings and text for gormenghast and the like and then one of their larger exhibits that had the originals of, among others, the manuscript for mrs dalloway and jane eyre (yes, i've now seen the actual handwritten copy of reader, i married him). we both got proper excited about this and got a few bemused stares from servitors and punters alike. no bother tho - being scotch in london town has a few advantages!

it was the wee things that caught up with us tho. why, we wondered, when island communities up here are doing such consistent bitching about the price of fuel is petrol only 8p cheaper along the length of the a1 and, more astonishingly, diesel a full 20p dearer than where we live. this compared to the food prices which, across the board, were stupidly cheaper. and then wandering around other things started to emerge.

black guys on bikes. which might sound a bit odd but there's a discussion in the cycling world about the whitey nature of the sport. not in london town tho. put enough folk together and no matter what ethnicity they'll soon all be on their bikes. i passed thru herne hill a few times but,as is the way, no time to go to the velodrome. there seems tho, amongst pedestrians and car drivers as well as cyclists a wilful ignorance of other people. folk wander into the street, bikes, jump thru lights, cars seem to assume people walking and cycling are mad of oxygen. it was a bit mad. but equally i didn't see anyone i couldn't have taken in a spot of commuter racing. i was dying for my bike!

and the cultural melting pot that i'm such a fan of wasn't so shiny, shiny. where t's mum lives is where the riots were happening and the reverberations of that are still very evident if not worthy of the attention of the media anymore. and while me and my 'funny accent' might have drawn a few odd looks there when i made it over to the more well to do area of town it was fairly obvious that if you look like me then you're most likely in the back of a van or up some scaffolding. and if you've got any colour you'll be making a delivery. it felt weird and schizophrenic, to me vibrant and alive, but speaking to the folk in the local area made for a level of tension, esp if they had kids. talking about the differences between here and there made me much more aware of my outsiderness and the difficulty, if not foolishness, of drawing any conclusions based on such a short visit. that said, i'd have paid money to put a couple of shifts in at some salty local hospital!

but it was brilliant. given only slightly different circumstances i'd move there in a flat second. true it's dirty, a bit stinky, the public transport is possibly the most oddly set up (outside scotland - see edinburgh trams - and yes how i laughed when we in croydon and the joke that never got old for t was - what's that thing on the rails, moving, with folk inside? what is that?) i've seen in a major city and there's no countryside but the inglese themselves are just a pleasure with their funny accents, red buses and omnipresent politeness and definitely eased a certain part of my scotch wolfishness (t's phrase, not mine!)

next time i want to do one of those bus tours, go to a football match (or at least watch one with next doors serbian chelsea fans), have a posh cup of english tea, take the train down to brighton. and yet for all of that when i got back up the road and came down into the valley, seeing all the trees and hills again, the river curving round like glass, just waiting for us to stick the boat in it, clouds rolling over the landscape in strange and wonderful wave forms, despite the cold and the rain, it was good to be back.