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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nameless Boors and Broken Glass

Peter Barry has written an account of the six-year battle at the (British) National Poetry Society during the 1970s: the takeover of the Poetry Society by radicals, the backlash by assorted Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells, the unseating of Eric Mottram as editor of Poetry Review, and the long concussion of reaction that followed. Before returning to the subject in a later post, I can’t help proffering the following extracts.

The doughty Kathleen Raine on reading at the Mottramite Po Soc:

I went to read poems in the company of Robert Gittings. I was frankly disgusted at the dirty state of the premises (a beautiful house and formerly well cared for), and by the nameless boors who hung around the bar until they deigned to come upstairs (late) bringing their beer with them. One vomited over the floor during Mr Gittings’ reading. I left as soon as possible, courteously escorted to a cab by Mr Cotterell.

An anonymous Po Soc staff member on domestic anarchy:

The lack of hygiene in the kitchen is disgusting. The housekeeper does her best to keep it open, but it is an impossible task for her. On Monday mornings the kitchen is full of unwashed beer glasses. The counters by the sink are used to store pages of Poetry Review and other publications. Beer crates and empty cans are left in the middle of the floor. On occasions I have gone to use a dishcloth and found it has been used to mop up printing liquid, and coloured inks are left in the sink. Frying pans are left for about a week at a time with fat in them (after having been used to fry sausages and onions – sometimes for use in the bar). Broken glass is regularly left lying about. Dirty crockery is left piled up in the sink.

And, most irresistibly of all, the following entry in an ‘Alphabetical Who’s Who’:

Bernard Brooke-Partridge
GLC Tory Counsellor well-known for his outspoken cultural conservatism, most notably a ‘classical rant’ against the Sex Pistols; he had said on TV in August 1977 that ‘The Sex Pistols would be vastly improved by sudden death, they are the antithesis of human kind’, etc. Later in 1977 (Daily Telegraph, 28 October 1977) he was again in the news, seeking to explain why the supplier of ‘more than 4,000 canes for use in ILEA-controlled schools’ was a Leeds firm which supplied identical items to the porn trade.

(Peter Barry, Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court, Salt Publishing)

The Genesis of Stupidity

Stupidity is a scar. It can stem from one of many activities – physical or mental – or from all. Every partial stupidity of a man denotes a spot where the play of stirring muscles was thwarted instead of encouraged. In the presence of the obstacle the futile repetition of disorganised, groping attempts is set in motion. A child’s ceaseless queries are always symptoms of a hidden pain, of a first question to which it found no answer and which it did not know how to frame appropriately. Its reiteration suggests the playful determination of a dog leaping repeatedly at the door it does not yet know how to open, and finally giving up if the catch is out of his reach.

(Adorno and Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment)

Almost without exception, children become more intelligent, almost day by day, and if you watch them, you can see this happen. I have even noticed myself becoming cleverer, and now, at the age of nearly 60, I have almost thrown off adolescent habits of moral certainty and political priggishness.

But my cat never learns. He insists on sitting on the mat where the mat might slam on him, and on challenging the same old bruiser of a female four doors down, who duffs him up every time, leaving him cut and scabby.

I admire this determination not to develop, and reflect how simple it makes his life. Those of us who try to do a little better every day, and who break our hearts in failing, could learn a lot from him.

(Fred Sedgwick, ‘Why I Love My Cat’ , Guardian 6 September 2004)

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Lego Bible

But knowing that the child would not be his, whenever Onan had sex with his brother's wife, he would spill his semen on the ground to avoid giving offspring to his brother.

What he did offended Yahweh, and Yahweh killed him too.

For more see here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Status Anxiety

John Wilding, The Bridge to Obscurity

The defining condition of poetry in Britain today, if this is any indication, is status anxiety. What is the status of poetry? Who reads and values it? Who dismisses it, and why? If the better-known faces of British poetry are published by large commercial presses (Picador, Faber, Cape), heavily marketed, and prone to being awarded prizes, they at least (in contrast to the more rarefied world of US poetry) stay true to an ideal of 'retaining a contract with ordinary readers [...] which keeps [poetry] at the heart of literary culture.' In spite of this, and a defiant reclamation of the label 'mainstream', acceptance remains hard to come by. A writer born in Liverpool could not read his work there without 'risk[ing] having my head twisted off at the gristle [...] Poetry is still a kind of backwater.' Academics and other critical nay-sayers are having none of this 'mainstream' poetry business either, dismissing it as 'hopelessly in thrall to a long-discredited lyric "I"'. A first step towards overcoming the marginalisation of mainstream poetry in Britain today is this academic conference in Oxford.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Banksy in Disneyland

Well-known prankster government the 'USA' places surreptitious Disneyland funpark in British artist Banksy's Guantanamo Bay installation.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pernod Hour

Beckett fact no. 69.

Ten streets, addresses and landmarks in Beckett.

1) Martin Ignatius MacKenzie, author of The Chartered Accountant’s Saturday Night, and correspondent of Dum Spiro, gives his address in Watt as ‘Lourdes, Basses-Pyrénées, France.’ An Irish politician once tabled a motion that travel from Ireland to Lourdes be reclassified as domestic and hence should not require a passport.

2) The Rue d’Assas in Text for Nothing XI, with its ‘two-stander urinal… with the leak making the same gurgle as sixty years ago’ (la vespasienne à deux places rue Guynemer in the French).

3) In More Pricks Than Kicks Mr and Mrs Olaf bboggs request ‘the pleasure of Walter Draffin’s company’ at their daughter Thelma’s marriage to Belacqua in the church of St Tamar, Glasnevin, with a reception to follow at 55 North Great George’s Street, a short step and jump from the Joycean institution of Belvedere College and the Gate Theatre, where there’s bound to be a Beckett play on sooner or later if you wait around long enough. Krapp’s Last Tape was originally set in North Great George’s Street.

4) Another stop on the Texts for Nothing Paris walking tour is ‘Place de la République’ (text eight) ‘at pernod time’, not far from the ‘noble bassamento of the United Stores’ (Magasins Réunis) beneath the ferrule of the stroller’s cane.

5) Employed as a sign outside ‘Madeleine’’s restaurant, the French Unnamable wonders if the looks he attracts mightn’t constitue a Berkeleyan proof of his existence: Tant d’égards, tant d’acharnement à me remarquer, qu’est-ce qui m’interdit d’y voir une preuve suffisante de ma présence réelle, Rue Brancion, drôle d’île…

6) Rue Brancion is in the fifteenth district, near the abbatoirs and horse butchers of whom ‘the hippophagist Ducroix’ (The Unnamable again) was one. It’s also near Rue de Vaugirard, which gives its name to a charming early French poem.

7) Since we’re on foot in Paris, why not take in the Vendôme Column too, which is ‘to the ideal perpendicular’ what ‘the words of a libretto are to the musical phrase that they particularize’ in Proust.

8) ‘Nowhere in particular on the way from A to Z. Or say for verisimilitude the Ballyogan Road. That dear old back road. Somewhere on the Ballyogan Road in lieu of nowhere in particular’ (Company). In lieu of the hellish nearby M50 will do nicely these days.

9) Murphy’s West Brompton address in English becomes the Impasse de l’Enfant Jésus in French.

10) ‘Was Youdi’s business address still 8, Acacia Square?’, Moran asks. A valiant Christian, Helene L. Baldwin, writes in Beckett’s Real Silence: ‘According to George Ferguson’s Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, the acacia is a symbol of immortality and ‘eight’ is the number of the Resurrection. If the explication seems absurd, it cannot be helped: Beckett probably laughed when he wrote it. Writing religious allegory does not, it seems, deprive one of a sense of humor.’ Another possibility, if the explication seems absurd, is that yes indeed it is.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Name Without Delay

Beckett fact no. 68.

‘Water, said Mr Conaire (the name without delay)’ (Mercier and Camier).

When Gabriel Conroy arrives at his aunts’ house for their Epiphany party in ‘The Dead’, he is struck by how the Galway maid pronounces his name in three syllables under the influence of the name’s Gaelic form, Conaire. Paul Muldoon latches onto this in his extended reading of ‘The Dead’ in To Ireland, I, and suggests Samuel Ferguson’s poem ‘Conary’ as an intertext. The poem is a version of the Old Irish tale Togail Bruidne Da Derga, in which King Conaire Mor breaks a series of taboos, or geasa, only to have his hostel overrun by marauders: ‘The hostel is set on fire and the water source runs out. Conaire dies of thirst, and is then decapitated.’ Ferguson puts in an appearance at the end of Beckett’s ‘Recent Irish Poetry’ as the co-deviser, with Standish O’Grady, of the patent Celtic Twilight Gossoons Wunderhorn, and when Beckett’s Mr Conaire turns up he too is in a hostel. Still standing at the bar, Mr Conaire asks for ‘Water first… then floods of liquor.’ The Irish dimension is heightened by the presence of a barman called Patrick (who suddenly dies) and a barmaid called Teresa, subject of Mr Conaire’s bawdy approbation. Though not decapitated, he does suffer the reverse of failing to hook up with Camier, whose private detective’s business card he displays, and curses the pseudocouple as ‘hogs’ (castrated male swine, raised for slaughter, as Willie clarifies in Happy Days) when George, sent upstairs to their room, finds them ‘snoring hand in hand’ beside an empty bottle of malt (more specifically, ‘JJ’ in the French text).

None of which has anything to do with another Galway Conaire, short story writer Pádraic O Conaire, whose statue sat until recently in Eyre Square, Galway, but now that they’ve finished revamping the square has disappeared. A crime against the geasa of hospitality if ever there was one.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Pietro Perugino

Beckett fact no. 67.

Perugino had very little religion, according to Vasari, and openly doubted the immortality of the soul. The figure at the centre of his Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, a favourite of the young Beckett's at the National Gallery in Dublin, looks like he could do a good job of sleeping through his own resurrection. Here's Beckett writing to the future director of the gallery, Thomas MacGreevy:

the Xist and the women are lovely. A clean-shaven, potent Xist, and a passion of tears for the waste. The most mystical constituent is the ointment pot that was probably added by Raffaela... a lovely cheery Xist full of sperm & the women touching his thighs and mourning his secrets.

Ruby Tough is described in More Pricks Than Kicks as a double of Perugino's Mary Magdalene, though readers keen to make the comparison are forewarned of the visual prophylactic awaiting them in the gallery:

This figure, owing to the glittering vitrine behind which the canvas cowers, can only be apprehended in sections. Patience, however, and a retentive memory have been known to elicit a total statement approximating to the intention of the painter.

Readers here will have similar problems with the sludge bucket colours of the above reproduction, but you get the idea.

Hat-tip to Samuel Beckett: A Passion for Painting, published by the National Gallery of Ireland to go with the exhibition I spent an afternoon wandering round last week.

Monday, September 04, 2006


'The poet is like a mouse in an enormous cheese excited by how much cheese there is to eat.' (Czeslaw Milosz)

'It is perfectly right to demand accessibility when you are designing a public lavatory... But what is a proper term in civics and architecture is not necessarily a proper term in literature or painting or music.' (Geoffrey Hill)

'the grades assigned /to meats will do nicely [for poetry]: /Prime /choice /good /commercial /utility /canners' (Ed Dorn)

'Violent movements which contain poets are more dangerous than ones which don't.' (Conor Cruise O'Brien)

'Poems, like experiences, can be good or bad but they cannot be right or wrong.' (John Redmond)

'Form is a straitjacket in the way that a straitjacket was a straitjacket for Houdini.' (Paul Muldoon)

(from Dennis O'Driscoll's Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations, just out)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Suri Cruise to Feature on Vanity Fair Cover

Tom Cruise/Vanity Fair strike deal: Suri Cruise to feature on magazine cover on strict understanding of 'no eye contact' between magazine readership and magazine cover.