Friday, August 29, 2008
The same anthological whim I mentioned the other day drove me to track down a copy of Christopher Logue’s Ode to the Dodo: Poems 1953-78 in search of what I assumed would be its title poem. Except there isn’t one, I discover. But that I can live with, given the wealth of material in that volume not to be found in his plum-covered Selected Poems of 1996.
The praise routinely heaped on his (non-Greek-speaking) version of Homer’s Iliad leaves Logue’s own poems a shade overlooked sometimes, bar a few anthology favourites. I love their caustic battiness, their finger-in-your-eye nastiness, but their poster art immediacy and snappiness too. Three examples from out-of-print poems. ‘In the Restaurant’, now culled from ‘Singles’:
‘Snow on toast?’
‘Two snows on toast.’
‘No snow on toast.’
From ‘When I Was Serving My Country’:
On the way to Port Said they showed me a photo;
an overhead take from the side of a troopship
moored in the roads of Singapore harbour.
On the water below us,
a two-eyed bumboat heaped with souvenirs;
and in its bows a woman, naked, arms upspread,
holding the seamed edge of a muslin sheet
that billowed outwards from her hands, and tugged
against the regulation belt strapped round her hips.
I am for sale, too!
they cried she cried.
She must be dead now.
And I am sure that what she cried was true.
And finally, from ‘The Crocodile’:
Beneath a palm, beside the Nilie,
a viridescent crocodile
relinquished 40 winks,
to heed a brace of divorcees
engrossed by their accessories
before an ancient sphinx.
And in the twinkling on an eye
the requisites such ladies buy
became his Apogee;
and when they swore the cream were kept
‘In Krokodil, in France,’ he leapt,
without a bent rupee,
aboard abaft a mite caïque
that wafted aft a like caïqe
that waft towards the sea.
That last one is a ballad, as you can tell, but you’ll have to track the ending down for yourself. Suffice to say it is gory.
Logue has also written as Count Palmiro Vicarion, I learn from the British Council’s Contemporary Writers site. (A site that I think is a total disgrace: it features not just listings but profiles of authors who have published one or two books, but doesn’t so much as mention Roy Fisher and Christopher Middleton, to mention only two names – a total disgrace).
What is the crocodile for crocodile tears, I wonder. And what would it take to make a crocodile cry anyway, I also wonder. I shall address these questions over my snow on toast.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
At the Blew Ball in Whale Bone-Court, at the Lower End of Bartholomew Lane, near the Royal Exchange; Liveth W. Ebny, Professor of Physick, of known Integrity: Who most safely and expeditiously Cures Deafness and Noises in the Ears in any, of what Age soever (if Curable) and at first sight, by Inspection, resolves the Patient if so or not, as most eminent Persons of Quality can testify. The Ear is the Organ of Hearing, the most Spiritual Sense, the Agent of Understanding, the Gate through which Sense, Truth, and Virtue, hath its Entrance into the Soul. He hath likewise a Pill which Cleanseth the Blood from all Impurities, infallibly curing the Scurvey: It cures the Head-Ach to Admiration, taking away Vapours Offensive to the Brain: It creates a good Stomach and Digestion; takes away Sharpness of Urine, and Cleanseth the Reins; and being a certain and present remedy for the Gout. It cures all Joynt-Pains, resists Feavers and Surfeits; and preserves the Body in perfect Health. He hath Boxes of several Prices, according as Necessity requires, with Directions, from 1 s. 6 d. to 3 s. Also a most excellent Gargarism or Mouth-water, which will make Black or Yellow Teeth as White as Ivory in a few times using; and it will certainly cure the Scurvy, and all other Diseases incident to the Mouth, Teeth, and Gums. The Glasses are of several Prices, with Directions.
From coverage of the Democratic Convention in today’s Independent:
There it is a cacophony of chants against abortion, against the war, against whatever you like, including birdwatching. Yes, Aneida Krok has parked herself on the 16th Street pedestrian mall to distribute leaflets calling for a ban on this "sexual voyeurism". Honestly. "Adults, disguised as birdwatchers, mask their debauchery by taking trips in groups," her flier warns. "They can then achieve climax in the safety of the woods. Particularly disturbing is the high number of senior citizens using binoculars to observe birds mating. These horny Peeping Toms satisfy their craving for sex by focusing their debasement on birds. This perversion must be halted, otherwise the entire moral fibre of our nation is going to hell.
Picture shows a kakapo, a flightless New Zealand ground parrot, and one of my favourite feathered pervert-abettors.
Operator: Go ahead sir
LBJ: Mr. Haggar?
JH: Yes this is Joe Haggar
LBJ: Joe, is your father the one that makes clothes?
JH: Yes sir - we're all together
LBJ: Uh huh. You all made me some real lightweight slacks, uh, that he just made up on his own and sent to me 3 or 4 months ago. There's a light brown and a light green, a rather soft green, a soft brown.
JH: Yes sir
LBJ: and they're real lightweight now and I need about six pairs for summer wear.
JH: yes sir
LBJ: I want a couple, maybe three of the light brown kind of a almost powder color like a powder on a ladies face. Then they were some green and some light pair, if you had a blue in that or a black, then I'd have one blue and one black. I need about six pairs to wear around in the evening when I come in from work
JH: yes sir
LBJ: I need...they're about a half a inch too tight in the waist.
JH: Do you recall sir the exact size, I just want to make sure we get them right for you
LBJ: No, I don't know - you all just guessed at 'em I think, some - wouldn't you the measurement there?
JH: we can find it for you
LBJ: well I can send you a pair. I want them half a inch larger in the waist than they were before except I want two or three inches of stuff left back in there so I can take them up. I vary ten or 15 pounds a month.
JH: alright sir
LBJ: So leave me at least two and a half, three inches in the back where I can let them out or take them up. And make these a half an inch bigger in the waist. And make the pockets at least an inch longer, my money, my knife, everything falls out - wait just a minute.
Operator: Would you hold on a minute please?
[conversation on hold for two minutes]
LBJ: Now the pockets, when you sit down, everything falls out, your money, your knife, everything, so I need at least another inch in the pockets. And another thing - the crotch, down where your nuts hang - is always a little too tight, so when you make them up, give me an inch that I can let out there, uh because they cut me, it's just like riding a wire fence. These are almost, these are the best I've had anywhere in the United States,
LBJ: But, uh when I gain a little weight they cut me under there. So, leave me , you never do have much of margin there. See if you can't leave me an inch from where the zipper (burps) ends, round, under my, back to my bunghole, so I can let it out there if I need to.
LBJ: Now be sure you have the best zippers in them. These are good that I have. If you get those to me I would sure be grateful
JH: Fine, Now where would you like them sent please?
LBJ: White House.
LBJ: Now, uh, I don't guess there is any chance of getting a very lightweight shirt, sport shirt to go with that slack, is there? That same color?
JH: We don't make them, but we can have them made up for you.
LBJ: If you might look around, I wear about a 17, extra long.
JH: Would you like in the same fabric?
LBJ: Yeah I sure would, I don't know whether that's too heavy for a shirt.
JH: I think it'd be too heavy for a shirt.
LBJ: I sure want the lightest I can, in the same color or matching it. If you don't mind, find me somebody up there who makes good shirts and make a shirt to match each one of them and if they're good, we'll order some more.
LBJ: I just sure will appreciate this, I need it more than anything. And uh, now that's a..about it. I guess I could get a jacket made outta that if I wanted to, couldn't I?
JH: I think that - didn't Sam Haggar have some jackets made?
LBJ: Yeah you sent me some jackets some earlier, but they were way too short. They hit me about halfway down my belly. I have a much longer waist. But I thought if they had material like that and somebody could make me a jacket, I'd sent them a sample to copy from.
JH: Well I tell you what, you send us this, we'll find someone to make it
LBJ: - ok
JH: We'll supply the material to match it
LBJ: Ok, I'll do that. Uh now, how do I - can you give this boy the address because I'm running to a funeral and give this boy the address to where we can send the trousers - don't worry, you'll get the measurements out of them and add a half an inch to the back and an give us couple of an inch to the pockets and a inch underneath to we can let them out.
JH: What you 'd like is a little more stride in the crotch
LBJ: Yeah that's right. What I'd like is to give me a half a inch more then leave me some more. Ok here he is.
JH: Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed the others
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Those with fond memories of the ‘Speak Your Brains’ feature on The Day Today will be pleased to learn of the ‘Twat-O-Tron’ feature on the excellent ifyoulikeitsomuchwhydontyougolivethere (the there in question is North Korea), a website devoted to harvesting the moronic best of the comments left on the ‘Have Your Say’ pages of the BBC website. For those not in the know about such things, let me break the sad news to you that your once proud country has been taken over by a bunch of ‘Bliarite’ pinko Europhile degenerates, who even as I type are handing out the whips to child molesters and asylum seekers with which you will shortly be chased down the nearest high street.
The Twat-O-Tron generates random ‘Speak Your Brains’ comments such as these:
QUESTION I READ THAT FRENCH FARMERS ARE MAKING OUR STREETS UNSAFE THE SILENT MAJORITY MUST ELECT JEREMY CLARKSON AS PRIME MINISTER WHAT NEXT GIVING BENEFITS OUT WILLY-NILLY OOPS THEY DO IT ALREADY
In my opinion women ar getting rch off the hard working population because hey are barely human. when will this government bring back flogging and thed eath penalty i say. Next stop CHAOS
Question! I read in the Sun that Iran is going to put us all in Death Camps. Two wrods: leave the country.. Anybody on the other hand, who awnts to have a relationship with a chidl, ought to be exterminated!!!
This just shows us the BBCs real agenda.. IMO im sick of the bloody liberal lefty whingers who are hugging hoodies. Simple answer: send them to Irq. what's it going to be - only you can choose!!!!!
Monday, August 25, 2008
I mentioned William Buckley the other day, escaped convict, friend o’ aboriginals and frequenter of Indented Head (and speaking of odd Australian place names, I’ve since discovered some others: Middle Intercourse Island, Chinaman’s Knob and, drum-roll please, Tittybong). One aspect of his memoir that gets people’s porkie-detector twitching is his account of going on a bunyip hunt. Reader, the bunyip does not exist. It is a mythical lake monster with flippers and tusks, much beloved of cryptozoologist types, of which there are many down under. It has been suggested that, rather than an outright hoax, the bunyip could be a folk memory among aboriginals of extinct Australian species. (The same benefit of the doubt might be extended to the multiple ‘crypto’ sightings of the thylacine or Tassie tiger, officially extinct since 1936, but whose alleged lingering presence in the bush offers the nostalgic a symbolic mandate for the ‘otherness’ of Tasmania.)
(One problem with sightings of the thylacine, by the way, not to mention the bunyip, is their frustrating tendency never to be accompanied by any scat, which is to say scat of the non-Cleo Laine variety. I mention this since a thread on the Poets on Fire discussion board the other day about odd book titles turned up a handy book about animal dung called What Shat That?)
Anyway, I was skimming through the poems of Weldon Kees in search of a poem about birds, for an anthological whim of mine, and found, not a bird but a bunyip poem. The bunyip was ‘feathered and gray’, WK says, and possessed an ‘emu’s head’ covered in fur. ‘From its back //a plume of water sprouts’, to general consternation. And more:
It crosses oceans into inland waters,
Crying sometimes, after dark, that it is not
Extinct, imaginary, or a myth –
Its feathers ruffled, and its voice
Not like a thousand drums at all,
But muffled, dwindling, hard to hear these nights
Like far-off foghorns that the wind throws back.
I think we have the effects on the young Kees of the Nebraskan bush to thank for this one.
And speaking of the thylacine, here it is, the very last one.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Harper’s magazine is always good value for a long-haul flight, and a piece about the Daniel Boone National Forest in the latest issue cheered up my passage over Afghanistan, Chechnya or wherever no end the other week, and in particular this audacious bid for the post of constable in McCreary county, Kentucky:
‘So Bill Roberts was running for constable and Harry Vanover was his opponent, and Bill got to speak first. He said, “Ya’ll know me. You know I ain’t much. You know I ain’t never been much. You know I don’t ever want to be much. And if you don’t want much for constable, vote for me. If you want less, vote for Harry.”’
Thursday, August 21, 2008
There is a kind of writing corresponding with acts of fraud & debauchery on the part of the writing-shed. The moan I have more and more to make with mine is there – that it is nearly all frigged up, in terram, faute d’orifice, heat of friction, and not the spontaneous combustion of the spirit to compensate the pus & the pain that threaten its economy, fraudulent manoeuvre to make the cavity do what it can’t do – the work of the abscess.
That’s Beckett writing to MacGreevy in 1932, as quoted in an article on ‘Beckett, MacGreevy and the Stink of Joyce’ by Seán Lawlor’ in the feature on Beckett’s poetry in the new Fulcrum. In the same issue is the (uncollected) text of Beckett’s Ceiling, Christopher Ricks on Ceiling and Human Wishes, Mark Nixon on the uncollected late poetry in English, Marjorie Perloff on ‘Beckett’s Yeatsian Turn’, Octavio Paz remembering the Anthology of Mexican Poetry, and much more.
The issue also features a section on poetry and myth edited by my two old muckers David Kennedy and Cliff Forshaw. Have your postbox surgically enhanced (the thing is 730 pages long) and buy a copy today.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
New from Carol Rumens: Blind Spots (Seren). On a cursory first dip (though I’ve seen many of its poems before), I think this is something new and very striking for CR to have written. I am especially taken with the long opening sequence, ‘Thinking About Montale by the River Hull’. Montale, readers of Larkin’s letters may remember, was the ‘Eyetie’ whose good fortune in the Stockholm lottery drove Larkin to splutters of indignation, but the arranged marriage between the two (the poems consist of versions and responses to Montale, with occasional ghostings and flittings from Larkin) makes for a combustible mix. These obscure earth-bound flashes are certainly not the fizzles of a wet match, to paraphrase ‘Piccolo Testamento’. From the sequence’s concluding poem, ‘Word Flashes: A Montale Lexicon’:
Great stars, beheld, not seen, scentless, seedless –
Mosca, too, with her strained, frayed retina,
has fields planted with your whirling gold
It was always important not to enter because
It was always important not to shut the gate
I Fantasmi (Ghosts)
Song, moonlight on sewage, louse of history, who,
deafened by the manic shelling, whimpers
again, begins to sing you, my no-longer song?
Goodbye to the stain that was the customs house, goodbye
to foundry, fish-scales, waves: the opera-singer
prepares the sails of his voice for a different cosmos.
The students have never heard, nor heard of, Gigli.
The tall wheat of the octave is not yet sown.
On another note, I find it thrilling to see Montale’s Ligurian landscapes, which were such a part of his appeal to me when I first read him as a teenager, transplanted to the so seemingly different estuarine sludge of the river Hull, which has become such a sacred site to me in recent years.
I recommend this book warmly.
And on another note again, blogger seems to have cancelled the option for right-justifying paragraphs of prose. Pah!
Monday, August 18, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
I was dreamt by no white man’s god.
I sat bone-dry through Noah’s flood.
Here your Christ could rise from the dead
to only buzzards above his head
and an afterlife he’d quickly trade
for a waterhole by a tree in the shade.
Inside my mirage of heat
I do not speak: I hallucinate
inside your skull. For I am mute.
My heart is stone. I bleed stone blood.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Saw a wedge-tailed eagle in the wild the other day. It started by circling another one on the ground, then dive-bombed it a couple of times before sitting sulking very high up in a branch, waiting for its rival to depart, which it duly did.
Which reminds me to mention Helen Macdonald’s book Shaler’s Fish, which it took this trip to Australia for me to discover, at Kris Hemensley’s incomparable Collected Works bookshop on Swanston Street here in Melbourne. Macdonald’s book has to be one of the best published by an English poet in the last fifteen years, let me opine, confidently sidestepping any hyperbole. Here are the beautiful last three stanzas of ‘letter to america’:
& you were scraping the ice from the leading edge a.m.
printing an image of the mansions of the dead a.m.
looking for a small world in the uninhabited air
trying to extinguish some deeper desire for fire
with something as cold and as hard and as temporary as flight
& what you were hoping is that the air would recolonise you
recognize you and welcome you into the sunlight
and all would be forgiven. ink in the thick air would curl
into glyphs of desire & the lightly starred heel
would dip into the sea at dawn as it spoils
into a blaze of mute objects
in the pure suburban heavens
Monday, August 04, 2008
One of the fine Australian poets I’ve been reading over here is Elizabeth Campbell, author of Letters to the Tremulous Hand (John Leonard Press). The Tremulous Hand of her title refers to an anonymous thirteenth-century scribe working at Worcestershire Cathedral and known only by the distinctive tremor in his handwriting. Her sequence on him is a marvellous piece of textual ghosting between the lines of history, of harmonics, feints, palimpsests and silhouettes. Here’s an extract from section five, ‘gewyrdelic (historical)’ which uses found text from the scribe glosses:
Gaelsa, ‘lust’, glossed once
As fabula, ‘story’. Fracod, ‘infamy’
Rendered as versions of fragilitas.
The poem torn and gummed to stuff
The cover of a parish register.
Hraew, ‘corpse’, never glossed correctly.
The tremor misdiagnosed
As age: the left hand,
Wynstra, he mistranslated
As dextra, the right.
And from the end of the previous section, ‘address to the hand as a fellow scholar’:
Do you tremble? Good. Better
to write by: the hand moving without end, griefwheel
milling the past. Glossing
heolstor hiding-place, your mark the ghost
of living thought, Time thought’s winding-sheet.
No-one at court loves our language.
Schools sold, teachers punished, scholars shamed:
I am all your subject: you are mine –
life and works and time – each the others’
elegy and grave and afterlife.