Yesterday I was puzzled to hear someone talk about a fictional character dressed in a ‘foaming crap’ before realizing that the item in question was a ‘faux mink wrap’.
Friday, June 22, 2007
I do like my feculence.
Review in today’s Independent of Emily Cockayne’s Hubbub, which as far as I can work out is a history of filth and dirt. Gutters in Pepys’s London, we learn, were clogged with ‘turnip-tops and drowned puppies’, which, combined with the ‘marauding pigs’, induced pedestrians to ‘run along as if they were pursued by bailiffs’. ‘Immersing the body fully in water was seen by many as eccentric if not dangerous.’See whether Smollett’s description of a ball in Bath doesn’t remind you of the narrator of Beckett’s First Love and his disdain for the ‘sticky foreskins and frustrated ovules’ of the not-yet-dead: ‘a high exalted essence of mingled odours, arising from putrid gums, imposthumated lungs, sour flatulencies, rank armpits, sweating feet, running sores and issues, plasters, asafoetida drops, musk, hartshorn and volatile; besides a thousand frowzy streams which I could not analyse.’ Among the ailments of the day were psorophthalmy (eye-brow dandruff), scabies, impetigo and black morphew (leprous or scurvy skin). Among the ingredients for one cure were brimstone and dog-turd.
Milton’s nephew Edward Phillips’ description of a ‘drab’: she had ‘a lank belly, hemp-like red hair, a hammer head, a beetle brow, plump cheeks festooned with carbuncles and warts’ and a ‘scattering of teeth enamell’d with blew, and black, and yellow.’
Feculence. Shittiness. The stuff of life.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
In a discussion over on this forum recently, Roddy Lumsden said that, what with his fifteen year hiatus from writing, James Fenton (who recently published a Selected Poems that didn’t include his single best poem, ‘A Staffordshire Murderer’) had effectively turned himself into an ex-poet.
Ex-poets. Hiatus poets. Francis Stuart took an eighty or so year breather between his first and second poetry books. That’s some lunch-break. Trevor Joyce took a large mid-career leave of absence. My esteemed fellow blogger John Latta did likewise (was I the first person to use the Jeffrey Dahmer joke on him, I wonder, when I received a copy of his first book and thanked him with ‘Thank you for your Torsos, as Jeffrey Dahmer use to say to his fridge’). It was practically obligatory for the Objectivists, whose late flowerings were a bit like Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and Bukka White getting tracked down in the 60s, decades after their scratchy recordings in the field.
Though then again arch pisseur de copie Georges Simenon struck
Though then again arch pisseur de copie Georges Simenon struck‘writer’ from his passport when he retired as a novelist, almost defiantly. Over and out.
Anyway, when George Oppen gave up poetry after Discrete Series he went to work as a carpenter instead, down
Music, that marvel
trying to exist
out of this forest to come forth
The world is black magic
The world is half magic
The universe moved
and we moved
in this monstrosity
The ordinary words
come to mean
In a way I live on words, forget words
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Poetry editor Christian Wiman, who has written recently of ‘finding (himself) going to church’, which may or may not be the same thing as ‘finding (himself)’ (caesura) going to church, writes about poetry and religion in the new issue of Poetry Review.
I think there is almost nothing useful to be said on this topic.
Beliefs are private. The state of belief is incommunicable. You can tell me what it is you believe, but the act of inhabiting that belief and (for the sake of argument) failing to convince me to share it – your belief, from the inside – that, to me, is incommunicable.
If I am reading
Not that I consider Christianity a kind of literary walk-through museum, with the more orotund pieces of the Bible lying around unused until called on for some instant added poetic seriousness. Eliot cautioned us that we read the Bible for its prose style over the grave of Christianity. Wiman would appear to feel the same: ‘I think it is a grave mistake for a writer to rely on the language of a religion in which he himself does not believe.’ That accounts, I imagine, for the vast majority of Irish poets raised in the Catholic church, for whom the baggage of belief has shrunk to a harmless relic from childhood, to be filed under sociology, and trotted out for a bit of local colour but nothing deeper. He goes on: ‘To have faith in any religion is to accept at some primary level that its particular language of words and symbols says something true about reality.’ I’d have thought so. Go on. ‘One man’s anguished atheism may get him closer to God than another man’s mild piety. There is more genuine religious feeling in Philip Larkin’s godless despair and terror than there is anywhere in late Wordsworth.’
To the believer, religion is a privileged language, offering a deeper, truer, more final version of reality than any other form of expression. It trumps poetry every time. Except it also appears to do so for the non-believer, since even though Larkin thought he was giving God a fairly definitive brush-off in ‘Aubade’, Wiman insists on the religious nature of the poem. He tries to cover himself by saying ‘It’s not sufficient for Christianity to stand outside of the highest achievements of secular art and offer a kind of pitying, distancing admiration’, but when he lays it on the line the argument reaches straight for the transcendent, in terms I can only understand as religious: ‘At some point, you have to believe that the inadequacies of the words you use will be transcended by the faith with which you use them. You have to believe that poetry has some reach into reality itself – or you have to go silent.’ This just after a reminder that, if you take your religion seriously, you will adopt the ‘symbols and language of a particular religion.’ You will give it some content, in other words: the Virgin birth, original sin, the resurrection. You can’t just believe in belief, in the abstract.
So what is he saying? That if you have a religious belief it has to be a belief in something in particular, and if you believe in poetry then you have to believe in that too. Except he’s not saying that, because he presents the poet’s choice as a belief in a reality that, on his own terms, lies outside poetry and can only be meaningfully explained by religion.
So if you’re religious, you believe in your religion, and if you’re artistic, you believe in your art, whose ultimate meaning will be guaranteed by, if not God, then at least the ‘genuine religious feeling’ that Wiman is convinced gives ‘Aubade’ its power.
Belief is better than non-belief because it leads back to a religious truth which Wiman happens to find congenial. Non-belief is accounted for as a deviant form of belief, but one whose terms remain set by it.
‘As someone with a religious belief, I locate the meaning of poetry in a belief in God, or a belief that is shadowed by God, or something like God, or his absence.’ That’s what the article says, to me. Or more simply: ‘I believe in what I believe.’ And we have now reached the stage I described at the outset: I do not share your belief, and I think the state you are describing is in fact incommunicable.
Declan Kiberd is forever quoting the story about the old Irish peasant who’s asked whether or not she believes in the fairies. ‘Of course I don’t, she answers indignantly, ‘but they’re there.’
A variant of can be found in the story of an American visiting Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr, in Copenhagen, and finding a horseshoe nailed to the wall over his desk.
The visitor asked Bohr how he could believe in a superstition like the luck-bearing powers of a horseshoe. Of course I don’t believe that, Bohr answered, ‘but I hear it works whether you believe in it or not.’
In no particular order.
1) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mustt Mustt. There must be as many Nusrat albums as there are Maigret albums, and ideally I’d like to own them all. Jeff Buckley called Nusrat ‘my Elvis’. Nusrat always reminds me of Slovenian prankster Slavoj Žižek’s line about good and bad fundamentalists: good ones are people like Amish, who just get on with it, whereas bad ones take out their bad faith on other people by crashing planes into buildings etc. As a Sufi praise-singer in a state of apparently permanent religious ecstasy, with his twenty minute yodelling sessions, Nusrat’s one of the fundamentalist good guys. He also spends five minutes or so on one track here repeating what sounds like the word ‘Derrida’. Jackie and Nusrat, they were like that, I tell you.
2) Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, Segu Blue. You may already know this guy’s ngoni playing from Ali Farka Touré’s last album, Savane, with its almost flamenco-like ripples and twangs, but there’s nothing of the second-string or subs’ bench about his first solo album. That read like something from the Observer Music Monthly, didn’t it. Sorry about that. The singing’s great and the sleeve notes are marvellous too.
3) Tinariwen, Amin Iman: Water is Life. These guys’ guitar licks sound to me like tumbleweed snagged on barbed wire. Plus they’re all veterans of the nomad uprising in Northern Mali. Don’t mess with Tinariwen. Love that ululation thing they do too. I wish I could join the group. I could be their Bez and just hop around the stage aimlessly. And feed the camels. I could feed the camels too.
4) Khaled, Best of the Early Years. Lifetime achievement award winner from the Pan-Maghrebi moustache wearer’s guild. And the music ain’t bad either.
5) Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope. Does Regina Spektor play piano side-saddle, like Tori Amos? I hope not, for the sake of her hips. I like the quasi-glossolalic thing she does sometimes, though when the old tramp outside the 24 hour shop does it too it loses its charm ever so slightly, for some reason.
6) Amadou et Mariam, Dimanche à Bamako. I owe this pair for the discovery that someone from Burkina Faso is a ‘Burkinabé’. This record makes me do my African bum dance, every time.
7) Manu Chao, Clandestino. He produced no. 6, and having started with Esperanza, I’ve now worked my way back to this one. Music for reading Under the Volcano to, with a Zapatista flag on the wall.
8) Souad Massi, Deb. An Algerian Chrissie Hynde in a sweater. Tasty.
9) Steve Reich/Ligeti/The Aka Pygmies, African Rhythms. This has a couple of late Ligeti études not on the earlier Sony disc. The pygmies are great too, with their honking nose flutes and elaborate canons. I can’t bring myself to listen to the Steve Reich tracks though, so no comment there. Somebody tell me what I’m missing.
10) Rufus Wainwright, Poses. Mainly for the cover version of his dad’s tune ‘One Man Guy’. It strikes me, though, that even without a gay subtext there’s a big opportunity going missing in the words to the chorus. They are: ‘One man guy a one man guy /Only kind of guy to be /I'm a one man guy /I'm a one man guy /I'm a one man guy is me.’ The last line should be ‘And the one man’s guy is me’, making it clear that the guy is himself. No? I think so.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
My car is a police state. Not quite one of those police state cars that won’t let you start without your seatbelt on (too old for that), but a police state car none the less. As I listen to my mixed tapes it keeps butting in to make me listen to the traffic updates on the local radio station, aka Frontal Lobotomy FM (sample phone-in topics: What happens when you microwave crisps?, Should immigrants be allowed have mobile phones?, If drug dealers are giving our children free hard drugs to get them hooked does that mean if I go back to primary school I can get my heroin free?). Sorry, where was I. My car constantly wants me to hear what Frontal Lobotomy FM has to say about the traffic near Asda and I don’t want to know. La la la la la can’t hear you. I don’t want to know. Even if there is a thousand-foot-tall car-eating North Korean robot blocking the road outside Asda, I still don’t want to know.
If you won’t let me kill myself the way I see fit, I’ll die trying.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Even I don’t know what it is, so I don’t see why anyone else should.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
God, Rufus Wainwright loves himself. ‘I know I’m wonderful, I really am’, as he was telling an interviewer recently. Personally I think he looks like
Caught this picture, which I’ve always loved, of Faulkner over on Isola di rifiuti. What are the do’s and don’ts (look at that phrase carefully and abominate the inconsistency of the English apostrophe) of a good author photo?
Some suggested don’ts:
Do not pose with a copy of one of your books, you smug bastard.
Do not pose with your arm around someone, you gropey bastard.
Do not show us your shoulders, you exhibitionist bastard.
Do not use the same author pic for twenty years in a row, you vain bastard.
Do not put your hand on your chin, you pseudy bastard.
Do not pose with a drink, we already know you’re an alcoholic.
And so on.
Suggestions for best/worst author pics ever, anyone? And yes I know the photo here is a portrait rather than a dustjacket pic. Duh.
Suggestions for best/worst author pics ever, anyone? And yes I know the photo here is a portrait rather than a dustjacket pic. Duh.
JL also ponders the origins of the word ‘skite’, a word frequently upgraded in Hiberno-English to ‘blatherskite’. Why, you’ll find it in More Pricks Than Kicks. Just thought I’d mention that.
I found this image here.
Twenty-one random people and things I remember from
A first world war veteran and great-uncle (or something) of former TCD student union leader Ramor Dagge who ran a bookshop in Temple Bar, before it was Temple Bar. He had trench leg, I think.
The saw-player on
The heavily made-up woman who used to dress in green and play the accordion under the statue of Tom Moore, with a photo of herself and Ronald Reagan on proud display on the accordion box.
Joseph O’Gorman’s slightly shopsoiled Brideshead routine on his guided tours of
The woman who wore her grey hair up in a bun while she did her elaborate pro-life interpretive dance opposite the GPO on
The stuffed dog in the Franciscan’s ‘moving crib’ display in
The always black-clad figure of Deirdre O’Connell, Focus Theatre director and relict of Luke Kelly.
The shirtsleeved figure of Fred Hanna inclining, Mandarin-like, to his customers on
Passing the offices of 98FM just as noted clerical fascist and clandestine shagger Father Michael Cleary was going in, to host the phone-in show that used to field calls from people called Ulick McGee and Conall Ingis, and Mountjoy prisoners anxious to tell their wives not to forget the ‘baby’ the next time they visited. Reader, the baby meant heroin.
The enormous Alsatian usually to be found, paws on the counter of a shop called
Coyle’s hat shop on
Knowing someone who lived, as a child (before it happened), in the house where Collins’s flying column shot all those British secret service men in their beds on Bloody Sunday morning in 1920.
The David Lynch mental bitchslap that is the Dublin Yeast Company which, I know, is still there, with its to-die-for range of caketop decorations and, I presume, yeast, and this next door to a five-star hotel right in the city cenetre. Don’t even ask. I don’t understand either.
Some churches. The now-closed church on the northside quays on the the way up to
The carved figure of Our Lady of Dublin and the casket of St Valentine’s remains, as presented to Fr Spratt of
A grotesque yellow pram shop beside the rocket-launcher-like St Audeon’s on its hilltop redoubt.
The word ‘hygiaphone’ on the ticket desk partitions in Connolly Station. I know I mentioned this before. Now I’m mentioning it again.
Sea shells on James Clarence Mangan’s grave in Glasnevin cemetery.
The fact that the Irish version of
Con Houlihan topping up his brandy in Mulligan’s with a bottle of milk he kept on the bar beside him, his back to a plaque in his honour on the wall behind him.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Friday, June 08, 2007
Diego River, Zapatista Landscape
Currently enjoying: Manu Chao, Proxima Estacion: Esperanza
Me gustan los aviones, me gustas tu.
Me gusta viajar, me gustas tu.
Me gusta la mañana, me gustas tu.
Me gusta el viento, me gustas tu.
Me gusta soñar, me gustas tu.
Me gusta la mar, me gustas tu.
Que voy a hacer ,
Que voy a hacer
Que voy a hacer
Je suis perdu
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The epilectic fit-inducing logo for the London Olympics may be coming in for its share of flak at the moment, but even the £400,000 that cost couldn’t begin to adequately reward the genius who come up with the above logo for an Institute of Oriental Studies somewhere in Brazil. Sign me up for a degree course now.
Damien Hirst's £50m worth of ethically-sourced decadent bling puts me in mind of the peculiar skull-like shape of Co. Wicklow, where I grew up.
The Wicklow mountains are the brain matter, the Blessington lakes its (one) eye, Baltinglass, Shillelagh and Tinahely the teeth in its gummy jaw, the river Dargle the water on its brain, and my home town of Bray some manner of carbuncle under its hairline.
A landslide buried the Valley of the Geysers in
When I used to take the Wicklow bus there was one driver who would stop at the long farmhouse by the road just past
The grave of ‘Emily Dickinson’ in a small cemetery near Ballinaclash. A Ballinclashet is mentioned in Beckett’s Murphy.
The Bray Head Hotel at the end of the prom (and Bray is also mentioned in Murphy, I might point out), which appears to double as a morgue or filmset in waiting for an adaptation of J.G. Farrell’s Troubles, yet which never closes down, and whose barmaid for many years had a glass eye which she would occasionally unscrew and clean for the amusement of the zero drinkers in the bar.
The inscription ‘Christo Regi’ on the cross at the summit of Bray Head. Christo was a northsider from Clontarf who enjoyed trips on the chair-o-plane up the side of the Head and Reggie was his illiterate brother.
There was a bouncer in the Star Amusements beside the Bray Head Hotel whose surname was Beatty and who thus acquired the (very cultural) nickname of
A cousin of Beckett’s I met in Greystones Library once, first name Horner, a furniture seller by trade.I used to sit on the spur between upper and lower Loughs Bray and think of Synge. Then I’d cycle to the high land over Roundwood, around Tomriland, and do the same. If you take the woodland trail in the Devil’s glen you’ll encounter one of his poems carved on a bench:
Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities and the sites of men,
Lived with the sunshine and the moon's delight.
I knew the stars, the flowers and the birds,
The grey and wintry sides of many glens,
And did but half remember human words,
In converse with the mountain, moors and fens.
The story from Hugh Maxton’s memoir Waking of his uncle Bob stopping at Lawless’s Hotel in Aughrim for a lemonade during the War of Independence, only for the Tans to put in an appearance and start frisking everyone at the bar. Having spent the day blasting stones on his farm, he had some dynamite in his pocket. ‘When they were two paces or one away from Bob, his neighbour [whom he’d just informed of his predicament] broke out in execration heightened in the Wicklow whine of the man then and Bob telling it forty years later – No point searchin’ the fuckin’ Protestant fuckin’ bastard, ahny hoaw, fur he’s fuckin’ one of yees ahny hoaw.’
Adam Duff O’Toole, Wicklow heretic. He denied the incarnation of Christ, asserted that the Virgin Mary was a prostitute, denied the resurrection of the dead and generally made a theological nuisance of himself before being burned for his damnable teachings on Hoggen Green in
I remember the armies of sheep on the side of Djouce, and how they would flood out over the side of the hill the closer I got, always that little bit ahead.
There is a trailing branch in Kilmacurragh arboretum carved in the shape of a lizard. A Komodo dragon, I fancy.
I remember the coat of arms on the gate above Vartry Reservoir of the archers in the tower, the Grays’ coat of arms perhaps, Sir John Gray of
The man in sideways brown trousers with the shovel beard who would mount the Wicklow bus every day and alight in
The placename Aughavannagh, which I misunderstood to mean ‘blessed acre’. But that isn’t what it means at all.
The fact that it was an Irish-speaking priest in Kiltegan who saved Jack Mapanje’s life when he was allowed one telephone-call in Hastings Banda’s
John Joyce moving to Bray because, he claimed, his wife’s family were much too mean to consider paying the train fare from
Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ghost tunnel on the side of Bray Head, before he changed his mind and excavated a second one further in.
That clodhopping Christian brother who taught me in Greystones. Once I was given a box of chocolates to bring into school for him, and rather than give him the sweets or take and eat them myself I ate the top half, and handed him the opened box with a few mangy sweets underneath all the empty wrappers I’d left inside. That showed him.
A Wicklow TD and junior minister for the environment telling the Dáil, in relation to Sellafield, that he ‘didn’t hold’ with radioactive waste at all, or even at all at all, his chief qualification for the job being apparently his experience as a fertiliser salesman.
And I remember the big boats in the harbour, loading, unloading, the dance of the forklifts, the orange-peel crinkle of the waves’ skin in the breeze.
That’s twenty Wicklow things. Now that I’ve remembered them I don’t know why I didn’t remember twenty other things instead, or why I remember any at all. Ah, Wicklow. I still have an unused Dart ticket in my back pocket if anyone needs one. With it being out of date you might have to blag your way past that sourfaced Northern git who made so many people’s lives a misery in Pearse Dart Station. There’s, that’s twenty-one things. Except no it’s still twenty, because
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Sunday afternoon on the industrial estate, between the toilet seat manufacturers and the post office depot. There's always the drain and its six inches of water should I feel like throwing myself in. Stand and wait for the waters to cover my head, that or the mallards to peck me to death. Paragon Toolmaking. For all your toolmaking needs.
One form of street bingo particularly suited to where I live is O-mo-smo, which stands for obese, morbidly obese, and super-morbidly obese. You get to shout House! if you see one of each simultaneously. There are lots of fatties around, in other words, all of which makes me think of famous big men, like e.g.:
Tor Johnson, Swedish wrestler, best-selling Hallowe’en mask and Ed Wood mainstay, seen here in Plan 9 from Outer Space. In one of his many appearances in Drew Friedman’s comic strips he awakens from a nightmare of a world full of cloned versions of himself, and rings Bela Lugosi for reassurance: ‘Bela, how many Tor?’
Geoff Capes, former professional shot-putter and Britain's Strongest Man. Went into business with a shop called Geoff’s Capes, which sold only capes. It soon closed. This raises the delicious prospect of other people who might go into business on a surname-driven mission: African politician Canaan Banana, footballer Trevor Cherry, playwright Robert Bolt, writer Gillian Beer... Other suggestions in the comments stream, please.
Geoff Woad, who provides Withnail with some diverting reading material from the News of the World:
Listen to this: I took drugs to win medals says top athlete Geoff Woad. Shot-putter Woad admits to taking massive doses of steroids - drugs banned in sport - to improve his performance. “He used to act up and pick on me” says his wife, “but now he's stopped he's much better, in our sex life and in our general life.” Look at him! Look at Geoff Woad! Jesus, this huge, thatched head, with its earlobes and cannon ball is now considered sane! Geoff Woad is prepared to step back into society and start tossing his orb about again! His head must weigh fifty pounds on its own! Imagine the size of his balls... imagine getting into a fight with the fucker! “I'm going to pull your head off.” “Oh no, please don't pull my head off.” “I'm going to pull your head off, because I don't like your head.”
Sadly, Geoff Woad does not appear to exist.
Samuel Beckett’s connection to André the Giant I have already mentioned. And yes I know that fat bastards are not the same as large sportsmen. But if one of each sat on you, you probably wouldn’t be too fussed about the difference either.