Saturday, 28 May 2011

dylan thomas

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

mervyn peake

Is there no love can link us?

Is there no thread to bind us – I and he
Who is dying now, this instant as I write
And may be cold before this line’s complete?

Is there no power to link us – I and she
Across whose body the loud roof is falling?

Or the child whose blackening skin
Blossoms with hideous roses in the smoke?

Is there no love can link us- I and they?
Only this hectic moment? This fierce instant
Striking now
Its universal, its uneven blow?

There is no other link. Only this sliding
Second we share: this desperate edge of now

Sunday, 22 May 2011

linda bierds

From the Vacuum Tube

Toward the painting Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768

In a carnival tent, near a village square,
on planks purpled by beef blood and a swirl
of velvet show cloths, a crystal tube shimmers,
long as a chimneysweep's leg. At its top, a coin
and feather wait, their brass clip catching the light
as a crowd gathers. And then they are falling together —
the guinea, the feather — through the airlessness,
through the vacuum space the silent crowd
seems almost to increase, each stunned breath sucked
in, in. When they land together on the tube's
glass floor — the feather, the coin — when they settle
simultaneously, someone curses the devil, someone
bites the coin, someone clips it again
in the tube's slim throat, and the falling
continues, guinea and feather, through the seconds
and days, through the decades,
until Wright of Derby pockets the coin, plumps

the feather to a white bird. He has painted
the glass — more bowl than tube —
and the slender pump, the solemn crowd,
one moon at the window, one moon
in the breast of the dying bird, slumped
on the bowl's glass floor. A girl hides her head
in a candlelit hand. A man looks up to an opening wing,
imagines the lifeless weight of the bird
falling on through the airlessness. No papery sway,
no tumble, just head and breast and tail and wing
falling together simultaneously — a movement so still
in its turbulence, he can find in his world no
correspondent: not the wavering journeys of snow
or sound, not the half-steps of dust or moonlight —
and the bird not beauty, the movement not fear,
although there in the candle's copper light, both
fall equally across his upturned face.

Friday, 20 May 2011

upcoming shenanigans

am off for a bit of family time down the borders so hopefully the bad swedish will drive me out on the bike and get my atrophied legs back in shape. not least because, bike gear being available, i'll be off an a kyle - montrose coast to coast in june (two hundred and seventy miles of off road loveliness!) followed, hopefully, by some gentler canoeing with t.

then, at some unspecified point in the future, i'll finally be doing some sort of end to end with one of the girls from work. she knew i'd been looking at it in the past but i'd always put it off as i never fancied the middle of the english leg and, being just the pair of us, me an t could do better things. this, however, is going to be some sort of team effort so should be a bit more of a laugh. watch this space and, as it's for chariteee, clear a wee space in your wallet...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

like a hammer made of drugs

as described in the guardian -

It’s like watching the opening titles to David The Gnome after being concussed with a giant hammer made of drugs. It’s got trumpets in it. People shout. A nonplussed woman wobbles past on a unicycle at one point

and one of those few songs surely where people at work will say after the event, that moldova, you liked that didn't you. if only eurovision was more like this....

you can listen to more zdob și zdub like this here. music that makes me want to drink a lot and fall about!

flavien ranaivo

Song of a Common Lover

Don’t love me, my sweet,
like your shadow
for shadows fade at evening
and I want to keep you
right up to cockcrow;
nor like pepper
which makes the belly grow hot
for then I couldn’t take you
when I’m hungry;
nor like a pillow
for we’d be together in the hours of sleep
but scarcely meet the day;
nor like rice
for once swallowed you think no more of it;
nor like soft speeches
for they quickly vanish;
nor like honey
sweet indeed but too common.
Love me like a beautiful dream
your life in the night,
my hope in the day;
like a piece of money,
ever with me on earth,
and for te great journey
a faithful comrade;
like a calabash,
intact, for drawing water;
in pieces, bridges for my guitar.

Monday, 16 May 2011

sandor csoori

A Thin, Black Band

Since I don’t wake with her,
since I don’t sit at the table to have dinner with her,
since death flowed into my laughing mouth
and I am caught between the rains,
as between slats of the iron fence in my childhood days:
I can see a thin, black band wavering for a long time
before my eyes.
It comes closer, vanishes, once again rises,
as if an eye’s swaying bloodshot vein hypnotized
me from morning till night.

I can se it, too, among the museum’s massive columns
in the slanted, falling sunshine,
before the January statues’ snow-mouths,
and near women’s faces in the market, in the street,
standing on the escalator of the subway.
America fades away within me, the Great Lakes’ light,
like when the lamp is tuned off.
Startled, I look about, and haltingly I begin to believe
that the dead, too, are fickle,
and they won’t sop their secret game
once, while living, they’ve started it.

The wind whirls, whirls upon the lean docks,
tips hats and roofs,
lures water from the middle of the Danube aloft,
and that black marvel dances there, there too, about
the prancing waterspout,
it draws my eyes, lures hem after it,
like a strand of black hair that cannot be caught.

trans by len roberts and tibor tengerdi

Saturday, 14 May 2011

helen b. cruickshank

There Was a Sang

There was a sang
That aye I wad be singin’;
There was a star,
An’ clear it used tae shine;
An’ liltin’ in the starlight
Thro’ the shadows
I gaed lang syne

There was a sang;
But noo, I canna mind it,
There was a star;
But noo, it disna shine.
There was a luve that led me
Thro’ the shadows –
And it was mine.

Friday, 13 May 2011

so, margaret atwood

and her reading today in aberdeen was kind of an early birthday present for me. atwood hasn't been an interest myself and t have shared (true, i may have read a poem or two but it's also true she may have been sleeping) but there was no way i was going on my own so it was an early rise for both of us and off up the road. t is always an excellent foil for any brittleness i might show (amy prettiness aberdeen may have has always avoided me) and coupled with the only time i've actually seen the sun shine in aberdeen, soon got me into the vibe of the university.

the atwood gig was packed. i don't think i've ever been to a reading where there were so many people, probably a lot to do with me working weekends, but all the same.. we'd been at the bookselling place and i kind of had an inkling of what was coming when i saw there was no poetry on sale which, inevitably lead to the usual banter about not reading atwood's novels. so, novels it was, with a bit from oryx and crake, alias grace and the year of the flood.

all of which was fine and good but there was still the business of seeing someone in the flesh who i've spent more than a bit of time with in print. we were both taken by the fact she arrived on stage with her bag and then another shopping bag with her books in it. she was just as she looks in the pictures, maybe a wee bit smaller but very spry. her voice sounded not appreciably different than it does in the recordings, she definitely had a presence and i had a sense that when she wanted to be she could be more than a tad spiky and proper full on. but what was surprising was how funny she was. quite why i hadn't expected that i don't know but she was and that was that. she also showed a hitherto unsuspected appreciation of the conan books, then a tale about superhero bunnies and finished it all off with a song. i looked at t and saw the same expression she had when she had seen kenneth white for the first time. winner. wouldn't it be great she said, if margaret atwood was your auntie. it would i agreed, be fine.

off to the signing where we drank coffee and waited for the end of the line which took a good hour. me, all i wanted was for her to sign my copy of entering fire. we didn't talk beyond a brief expression of surprise a poetry book had showed its face. kind of like the seamus heaney experience i was more interested than listening than asking. not so for t who was loving the notion of humans who can purr form oryx and crake and immediately fell into conversation with her about some weird bunny/cat purring hybrid and then got a cartoon drawn for her on her book. i thought margaret atwood was looking a bit weary by the time we got to her and i was impressed by that level of engagement and genuine laughter.

after that (and really what we should've done was ask her along) we sloped off to fowlsheugh to look at kittiwakes by the thousand - i'd post a picture but really it's just more cliffs with birds. but a brilliant place all the same and a truly excellent hide just being completed. had we had more time i'd have read some atwood right in there at the top of the cliff. maybe next time.

i'm fortunate these days in knowing more than one person in his/her seventies who's willing to talk about all manner of things with me. maybe i should ask more questions but in the main i'm happy enough to listen. i should've noted that atwood was off around the islands soon and maybe thought of something she should see (like my book!! lol) but i guess she'll have loads of people to do that. or i could've said that if she really wanted to see an osprey while she was here i could sort that right out. but really none of that. what i would say now is something about t's cartoon cat.

so have a good trip margaret atwood. it was good to finally see you. purrs and thank you for the cat.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

that cycle

what we'd said when we got to oban was (and this after having the same trip completely washed out in march) that normally, if you're lucky, you can get one week round about the end of april/beginning of may when the weather's brilliant in the western isles. otherwise it can be a trauma of rain, wind and dramatic numbers of biting insects. at first the omens weren't good

it wasn't the gathering clouds, the sheets of rain or the rising wind. no, none of that. the crossing to barra was really quite clement. or at least it would've been had we not got ourselves some food poisoning in oban. even a gently bobbing boat is no fun for five hours!

we wobbled off the ferry and into the hostel and immediately decided and extra day on barra would be just the thing for recovery. we settled in - and then the silence. true there are cars in barra but not many so all you have is the sea, the wind and the sky.

and then the cycling. it's easy enough to 'do' barra in a day but if all you were doing is cycling from one ferry to another (and then you'd need to be believing that calmac would let you do such a thing) you'd miss out the beaches, the islands, the birds, the crashed plane, the crazy statue up a hill, the shell jesus, the place that has my name, the castle, the barra museum, the snails and, of course, an airport that's a beach. we didn't manage to see a plane land but we did take a picture of the baggage handling area(bus shelter) and i had a cake stop in their wee cafe - not something you'd want to do in your average airport!

a special mention too, to cafe kisimul for refuelling us in grand style after the stomach unpleasantness. but anyway, the cycling, was broadly fine. true someone did try to run me off the road in castlebay (!!!!!!) but other than that it was grand. on the right day you could do a circuit that included vatersay and out to the airport in an hour and a half tops. i was more leisurely, which was as well as my legs were still full of the stomach depredations. no matter, off to eriskay

a lovely crossing with many birds. of course as soon as we got off the ferry the rain started but no matter. we'd got some banter on with a family going up the islands on bikes and some young guy who was touring round the west coast, minimally equipped, with a salvaged old school bike and not much else. great to see all of them.

and off i set. eriskay is lovely and needs a return esp as we had entered the odd world of catholic scotland. roadside shrines the works. stuff that's normal in europe. but not here. and then the wind kicked in just as i was crossing the causeway. not a bad wind, not the usual wind but a genuine boost me along tailwind. i cycled like a god!! there were innumerable things i could've stopped at along the way but the cycling was too good. back in the day we used to hear that the southern islands had terribel roads. not now. these are the comfy slippers of cycling roads. i went so fast that t, having dawdled at some wool place ahd to do a mad dash across the island to catch up. end to end? three hours twenty, including stops, getting lost and detours!

along the way i passed another family, tandemed up with two children. i nodded and had a quick chat before disappearing away. and finally, lovely, lovely berneray. blazing sunshine and a rest for me. we made our way up to stay here for the night

where we met up again with the tandem family of dave and jane and kids. dave and jane were burst. the kids despite the rain (they were all rain geared up) were straight out onto the beach, too excited to stay still. their daughter (aged 8) had the cycle of the day having insisted on carrying her own gear. how do you know when the bike's too heavy asked t. when i can't lift the back wheel said the girl. they were great and our time with them was way too short but harris was beckoning.

i was still reasonably lucky with the wind but could feel it changing but the sun was shining and the harris beaches looked as good as ever. the climb up to tarbert was a bit of a bind but at least getting up the clisham was a bit of an anticlimx after that. oddly the roads in lewis haven't improved at the same rate but they're working on it in a no compromise for cyclists manner. by the time i was hitting leurbost it was lewis business as usual and i was taking a caning from the wind. bets stop instornoway i thought and have a triumphant run to the butt so a quick coffee in the woodland centre then off to the west side for a very pleasant camp. we'd got a windbreak for a bit of shelter while cooking - the wind ate it within seconds!

the following day the weather did not continue, at least not while i was on the bike. it is lewis and the wind knows me so the road up to ness was as 'pleasant' as ever.

but still that bit of the route was done. t got stuck behind some farm machinery and didn't make it until after i did. initially i had the weary legs on as well as being cold so started to cycle back but the sight of t in a balloon clad van had me retracing my steps back to the lighthouse and the completion of the western isles leg.

we stayed at the heb hostel in stornoway - surely the best showers in the know hostel universe. super comfy and rathert lovely all round, all they need to do is lose the tv and it's be just about perfect. which was what the weather was like when we left - no wind, all sun, a last lewisian joke!

then it was battering up to durness and a well earned bit of rest. you can't complain when you're waking up to this in the morning!

the rest involved beaches, choclate and off to handa island. we'd stopped off at balnakiel, which is a wee craft village near durness, but sadly these days there seems less and less there. handa island tho, was a revelation.

a nice wee rib journey out, brilliant sea cliffs, loads of birds and barely anyone there. we had great chat with the volunteer ranger types there and generally, despite my massive fear of heights over water, had a great time.

but still back to the road, the last day, as it turned out, was back down from durness and around the peninsula at achmelvich. the sun was blazing down but this was the day i was going to get a proper battering from the wind. not that i was that bothered - the last time i came down the road from durness it was so misty i couldn't see anything.

so despite any wind, and there wasa lot of it, the views down over suilven and stac pollaidh were amazing. as was my first turn down towards the loop around to achmelvich and the circuit around quinag. in the weather we were having it was sublime, one of the loveliest parts of scotland i've ever been in and a definite spot for a return visit. naturally there's a price to pay....

and eventually, finally, that was that. we had a plan that we'd go down via loch maree and finish on the bealach na ba but we decided an early return would give us time for rest and gardening. the right choice but possibly not the best choice. but still many, many routes left to try!

alison fell

Pushing Forty

Just before winter
we see the trees show
their true colours:
the mad yellow of chestnuts
two maples like blood sisters
the orange beech
braver than lipstick

Pushing forty, we vow
that when the time comes
rather than wither
ladylike and white
we will henna our hair
like Colette, we too
will be gold and red
and go out
in a last wild blaze

Saturday, 7 May 2011

norman maccaig

Looking Down on Glen Canisp

The summer air is thick, is wads
that muffle the hill burn’s voice
and stifle colours
to their cloudier selves – and
bright enough: the little loch
is the one clear pane
in a stained glass window.

The scent of thyme and bog myrtle
is so thick
one listens for it, as though it might be
a drowsy honey-hum
in the heavy air.

Even the ravens
have sunk into the sandstone cliffs
of Suilven, that are dazed blue
and fuzz into the air around them –

as my mind does, till I hear
a thin far clatter and
look down to where two stags
canter across the ford, splashing up before them
antlers of water.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten

i had reason today to refer, yet again, to sepp herberger's words of wisdom regarding the nature of football, which i first became aware of in the opening sequence of the film lola rennt. this in turn lead me to Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel which, if anything, i have recourse to even more than the latter at work. (should i be giving the impression that german football is some sort of repository of wisdom you can find ample evidence that this isn't the case here).

and i can't really leave the french out, which inevitably leads to camus and his tout ce que je sais de plus sûr à propos de la moralité et des obligations des hommes, c'est au football que je le dois. this was much favoured by a friend of mine many years ago, who was also a goalie but not french. handily, it being football you can get this quote on a t-shirt. you may scoff but any garment manufacturer who does a product quoting nizar qabbani as a means of drawing attention to what's going on in the middle east and north africa is okay by me.

all of which is a roundabout way of not reeling out a bunch of cycling quotes prior to the start of this year's giro on saturday. am i excited? oh yes! the tv may gave fallen out of all favour in the swiss household but it remains solely on the strength of the cycling coverage from eurosport. the classics this year? excitement on a stick. i can't wait!

which isn't to say i'm neglecting the bike. i was out yesterday with family man g and noticed that last week's exertions had definitely done the job on my legs. abounding with energy i went back out with the tuesday squad in the evening for what turned out to be a brisk thirty miler around lochs we wouldn't normally go near if the weather hadn't been so dry lately. having not been on the mountain bike for ages it was a great lark. i was feeling it a bit on the way back but still gave my compatriots a proper beasting on the hills. doing a bit of road work they asked. you could say that i replied. how many miles they asked. lately, i said, about a thousand. heads were shaken but we all know that it'll soon be my turn to labour sometime soon!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

gerald manley hopkins

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep

Sunday, 1 May 2011

anne sexton

The Room of My Life

in the room of my life
the objects keep changing.
Ashtrays to cry into,
the suffering brother of the wood walls,
the forty-eight keys of the typewriter
each an eyeball that is never shut,
the books, each a contestant in a beauty contest,
the black chair, a dog coffin made of Naugahyde,
the sockets on the wall
waiting like a cave of bees,
the gold rug
a conversation of heels and toes,
the fireplace
a knife waiting for someone to pick it up,
the sofa, exhausted with the exertion of a whore,
the phone
two flowers taking root in its crotch,
the doors
opening and closing like sea clams,
the lights
poking at me,
lighting up both the soil and the laugh.
The windows,
the starving windows
that drive the trees like nails into my heart.
Each day I feed the world out there
although birds explode
right and left.
I feed the world in here too,
offering the desk puppy biscuits.
However, nothing is just what it seems to be.
My objects dream and wear new costumes,
compelled to, it seems, by all the words in my hands
and the sea that bangs in my throat.