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...