Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Iceland, or Norway as it was then, in what is now modern Denmark
The sacred festival of Spendgasm is almost upon us again, and with it the need to recycle all my lines about much how I hate it, turkey-murdering arse-end of the year that it is. For me, Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling noted, Christmas was always all about commercialism, but in recent years I see a note of religion creeping in, and I don’t like that. Speaking of the great Sir Arthur, the recent death of his interlocutor on the Twelve Days of Christmas, Ludovic Kennedy, is surely pretext enough for embedding one of those deathless interviews here. ‘Season’s Greeblings.... Iceland, or Norway as it was then, in what is now modern Denmark... Underwear, really, wooden underwear... I do have a smoettering of Loep... I imagine if I were to find myself in fourth-century Lapland I could get by, probably... proebably... Can I tell you my second reason first?’
To hurry along, before my funny fuses, some recommendations for Spendgasm spending based on my own recent servicing of at least two of my senses.
My old mucker Christopher Reid, in between honing the art of stepping onto every passing poetry shortlist with the alacrity of Henry James stepping onto the veranda after a particularly good dinner for a brandy and cigar, has also, I believe, invented a genre: the exaugural lecture, with his new O&G pamphlet A Box of Tricks for Anna Zyx, as its poems ‘were to have been presented by the author at his inaugural lecture as Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Hull’, an occasion that sadly miscarried for reasons of illness, and continues to miscarry for reasons of his no longer being around (though his spirit lingereth). This alphabet counts down from Z to A, passing the ‘ur-letter’ X (‘meaning whatever you want’), an Old English Wen ‘more negligible /than a gnat’s kneecap’, inventing a genre on Q (the ‘Quatrina’), translating from Valéry, Caproni, Rimbaud (what a fine translator Christopher is), and... let me pause on k for ‘Kandy’, with its salute to the Buddha’s tooth:
I can’t say that I saw the Tooth itself,
but I did see the bedizened elephant that carried it –
as important a performer, surely, as Chesterton’s donkey –
and hear the clamour and trumpeting
of the accompanying throng.
Our balcony was high above the road
along with the procession passed like a turbulent river
bearing away an unseen holy relic,
bearing elephants, bearing everything away.
The rising flood-line of Christopher Reid books and pamphlets in recent times from O&G, CB Editions and Areté makes the absence of any larger Selected, never mind Collected, a matter of some national urgency. Do something about this, someone. O&G are contactable at 161 York Way, London N7 9LN.
Flarestack, Smokestack. Smokestack Lightning. Howlin’ Wolf. Cliff Forshaw, the Howlin’ Wolf of Hull poetry, whose Wake has just been published by Flarestack Poets:
You are to wander,
entering and departing strange villages.
Perhaps you will achieve nothing.
Here is Larkin’s poetry of departures, taking off for the Far East but emphatically not wanting to be back for tea, yelling ‘Hello! Moto!’, at motorbike taxis in downtown Saigon and ‘putting the Ho Ho Ho in /Ho Chi Minh City’ while the Vietnamese, it is very much to be hoped, get Spendgasm all wrong in stereotypical ways and string that bastard Santa Claus up on a crucifix where he belongs. Here are Memiadluk and Uckaluk, nineteenth-century stumblers upon Hull from the Davis Straits in Greenland, and look what happened to them. Here is Victoria Pier, site of Peter Didsbury’s ‘At the Pierhead’, and of the mercifully now reopened Minerva. Here are rainsoaked bouquets for those the sea has claimed: ‘bladderwrack, the colostomy /where cellophane traps /what rainwater’s steeped to tea.’ And here is the Cabinet of Curiosities at Burton Constable. List poems can be horribly limp and passive affairs, but not this one:
Rhino horn, coco-de-mer, shark jaws,
tailfins, swordfish, swords, sawfish saws,
quadrants, astrolabes, a huge ‘book camera’,
manuscripts, microscopes, a Concave Mirror
all of Twenty-Four inches in Diameter,
antiquities, dried reptiles, thermometers,
fossils, rocks, minerals, shells, the Claw
of a Great Lobster...
There is more, but that’s your lot for now. Cliff Forshaw is a poet of rooted non-attachments, a nomad of the suburbs and a boulevardier of the wild places. As maps go, Wake is the one that will get you lost, but you’ll thank its author for it, later, or maybe even at the time.
Béla Fleck is and will surely remain the only bluegrass banjo-player to be named after a Hungarian modernist composer, and the third volume of his Tales from the Acoustic Planet series, Throw Down Your Heart: Africa Sessions, is superb. Let me direct you straight away to track five, a virtuoso performance on the thumb piano by Tanzanian musician Anania Nogogia. I couldn’t find any youtube clips of this man, so you’ll have to take it from me when I say he makes a noise not unlike the possible results of Butters from South Park inventing an instrument from a shoe box and a knitting needle and singing as he plays. The man is a phenomenon and needs to be recorded at album-length immediately.
How excellent too to see Mayra Andrade, Cape Verdean chanteuse (and, cough, world’s most attractive living human being) has another album out, Stória, Stória. Cape Verde appears to be principally famous for being the country code where sex chat-lines in the back pages of tabloids eventually redirect you. I believe this is mentioned in a Paul Farley poem. Her music triangulates Africa, Brazil and Europe in a marvellous way. In fact she is so wonderful I will (cough) embed some of her at the bottom here now.
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s The Sun-Fish is also out, but since I’m hoping to write about that elsewhere I will do no more here than point out that the fish in question is not the puffy, swivel-eyed creature, mola mola, you’ll find in tropical waters, but a basking shark. I mention it here because of its Irish name, liamhán na gréine, which sounds suspiciously like Leviathan to me. Could they be related? I also recommend this book.
Aistriuchán suntasach ó ‘Shelter from the Storm’ Dylan in eagrán nua Iris Éigse Éireann, uimhir a nócha naoi. Gabriel Rosenstock an t-aistritheoir:
Saol eile ar fad a bhí ann, sclábhaíocht agus cró
Suáilce ab ea an dorchacht
Is bhí guta ar an ród.
Isteach liom ón bhfiántas
Mar neach a bhí gan fhoirm:
Gabh i leith, ar sí, is tabharfad duit
Bheith istigh ón stoirm.
Má chastar orm aris í
M’fhocal duit ’s mo lámh
Go ndéanfadsa mo dhícheall di
Oíche agus lá
I ndomhan na súl crua marbh
Bíonn teas ar fáil sa choirm:
Gabh i leith, ar sí, is tabharfad duit
Bheith istigh ón stoirm.
I am now so exhausted by inserting all those fadas that there’s only time to mention a long piece on Michael Longley by the always-excellent Maria Johnston, and a typically erudite piece by the most cosmopolitan poet in Ireland, Peter Sirr. Everyone not already doing so should reward these fine editorial efforts with a subscription.
And that’s your Spendgasm sorted out for you. May you choke on your turkey and be given something you already have and never wanted in the first place anyway by the various carbon-based lifeforms who take sufficient pity on you to buy you a gift.