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Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Blacksmith's Arms

Lough Dan Unreached

Not that the path was lost
but that after long
hesitation the briars
had found and embraced it at last

{Poem ends}

Image found here.

Helpful Hand

Bookseller Eric Korn writes to the TLS:

Sir, – I should be sorry to see my improbable find lost through the intervention of an overzealous normalizing proofreader; the bibliography of film noir sources, which I reviewed, attributed the praise of Raymond Chandler not to our own dear mag, but to “The Time [sic] Literary Supplement”, which has an awesome plausibility in an alternate universe. Samuel Butler had a similar disappointment: his sardonic gag “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all” (I wonder if I have this right) was corrected by a helpful hand.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Taunton Shopper Writes

I have been reading:

John Haynes’ Letter to Patience. I can’t remember an English poet writing better about Africa, Nigeria in this case. Haines is the Englishman in Ulysses, as noted by Haynes, who also signals the roots of his name in the Anglo-Saxon ‘haga’, meaning ‘hedge’ or ‘enclosure’, a factoid that explains the name’s guilty association with the Enclosures movement in the nineteenth century. He handles terza rima a lot more skilfully than Heaney did in Station Island, though Heaney’s was unrhymed, which meant it wasn’t really terza rima anyway:

Autistic were they, Tarzan, Peter Pan,
Mowgli, those hunters through our videos
and comics strips – Tammylan, Caliban,

Green Man, who come back and come back like those
ghost abikus, ‘half savage and half child’
in Kipling’s words that might just be Rousseau’s?

Emile, I thought of, sitting in the Wild
Zone fenced off in Lara’s primary school.

{Quotation ends}

In Tarzan of the Apes, Tarzan teaches himself to read but not speak English from the children’s books his dead father has left in their cabin. He calls the printed letters ‘bugs’, as Haynes tells us in a note. An abiku is a Yoruba evil spirit. Haynes writes in long, loping verse paragraphs that are hard to excerpt. You’ll just have to read the whole thing.

John Riley was born in Leeds in 1937, and these days I find him a lot more palatable than the other Leeds poet of 1937 vintage, Tony Harrison. Peter Sirr has an enjoyable tribute to Riley here, and given the small problem he mentions with the Carcanet Selected Poems (much of the stock was destroyed when the IRA decided to blow Carcanet up) I was very happy to track a copy down myself. It came with a 1997 receipt from Our Price in Taunton pressed between the pages, inscribed with the words ‘Live life as you want Make sure you are happy with Life.’ The Selected omits the Russian translations (you’ll need the Grosseteste Press Collected for them), and slightly more understandably the ‘Geoff’ letters (what the hell were they all about?!), but try ‘in memoriam’ for size:

in almost total deprivation we are all
learned survivors, the soft fruit calls, soft rain
a crystal, carried internally, a facet gleams as if
by chance, at the bark of a tree, glows in the atmosphere

when memory is of the future
then we may speak of fear and sharpening
and of love too more than of the fallen fruit
of the form that is calling and to that lovely form

{Quotation ends}

Steve Burt’s recent LRB piece on Creeley has also been sending me back to Black Mountain Bob. Could some unsuspected Norn Irish roots be showing in the final ‘so we are of ‘A Birthday’?

Now slowly
spaces occur, a ground is
disclosed as dirt. The

mountains come of it,
the sky precedes, and where
there had been only

land now sticks and stones
are evident. So we are
here, so we are.

{Quotation ends}

I’ve also been reading plenty of Tim Robinson on Connemara, Claire Keegan’s short stories, and George Oppen’s prose, but what is this, the wire service? That’s enough quotations and updates for now.

Picture found here. Ah, Smithfield.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dungfork and Sloppail

I continue to munch on Hill’s Collected Critical Writings. Much that is new on T.S. Eliot. Healthily ironic that a writer so often decried as authoritarian (Hill I mean) should spend so much time patiently and carefully anatomizing Eliot’s tragic decline, and demonstrating Eliot’s trading of a once startling spirit of inquiry for the empty postures of authoritarian fiat in his post-Nobel papal senescence.

More cheeringly, this encomium from Hopkins, who ‘repeatedly stressed the value of humble unlettered faithfulness’:

To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hands, a woman with a sloppail, give him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should. So then, my brethren, live.

{Quotation ends}

Take up your life and walk.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Light of the World

Beckett fact no. 91.

Ten Spanish and Hispanic Connections in Beckett.

1) Walter Starkie, Beckett’s lecturer in Spanish at Trinity College, Dublin. Sister of Rimbaud translator Enid and author of a memoir, Spanish Raggle Taggle, of his time in Spain. Friend of egregious anti-Semite Charles Bewley and enthusiastic fascist. Laces his translation of Don Quijote with the Hiberno-English ‘Bad cess to you!’ Beckett ‘never rated’ him, Knowlson insists.

2) Calderón de la Barca, Spanish dramatist whose tragicomedy La vida es sueño furnishes Beckett’s Proust with the adage: ‘Pues es delito mayor /Del hombre es haber nacido’ (‘For the greatest crime of man is to have been born’).

3) Francisco de Zurbarán, he of Belacqua’s ‘livid rapture of the Zurbarán Saint-Onan’, represented in the National Gallery in Dublin by a more than usually fluffy and cherub-plagued Immaculate Conception and St Rufina, as reproduced here.

4) I’ve already mentioned, many facts back, the Spanish edition of Beckett’s poems, Obra Poética Completa (Hiperión, 2000), which contains the otherwise uncollected ‘PSS’. The text is trilingual, which means English or French facing the Spanish translation, except in those cases where the original exists in both English and French, leading to pleasing textual constellations such as the shadowing of ‘elles viennent’ by ‘vienen’, and, down the page, of ‘they come’ by (italics this time) ‘vienen’. ‘diferente e iguales’ reads the first; ‘diferentes e idénticas’ answers the second. The first: ‘con cada una la ausencia de amore es igual’. And the second: ‘con cada una la ausencia de amore es la misma.’

4) Salvador Dalí, author of ‘Binding Cradled – Cradled Bound’, as translated by Beckett in This Quarter 5.1, September 1932. Award yourself the rest of the day off if you manage to track this one down.

5) ‘In Patagonia?’, asks the Director in Catastrophe incredulously. This after a reference to ‘the Argentine’ in Embers some years before. A transparent testimony to the growing influence of Jorge Luis Borges on the later Beckett, perhaps after their joint victory in the Prix Formentor of 1961. On another subject entirely, note the reference to Dupuytren’s contracture (from which Beckett suffered acutely) in French Catastrophe, but left unnamed (‘fibrous degeneration’) in English.

6) The great white whale of the Anthology of Mexican Poetry, translated in a spasm of hackwork for UNESCO (the ‘inexhaustible cheese’) in 1950. Someone, somewhere, one day will comb through this book for intertextual echoes of the rest of Beckett’s oeuvre, but… let’s just say I’ll get back to you on that one. It’s always a pleasure to dip into though. There is an abundance of psittacine life in Beckett, and ‘The Parrot’ (after Jose Juan Tablada) adds cheerfully to the ranks:

When the parrot, treading on
my feet, traverses the brick floor,
the black cat, curled up in a ball,
fixes him with amber eye,
glowering diabolic sulphur
at this green and yellow demon,
nightmare of its somnolence.

7) Fernando Arrabal, Spanish dramatist often hitched to the tumbril of the Theatre of the Absurd. Persecuted under Franco, and the subject of a letter of protest by Beckett published in French newspapers.

8) El Greco, via a tribute to the Alba in Dream: ‘Her great eyes went black as sloes, they went as big and black as El Greco painted, with a couple of good wet slaps from his laden brush, in the Burial of the Count of Orgaz the debauched eyes of his son or was it his mistress?’

9) A moment of endopsychic clarity courtesy of one of Thomas MacGreevy’s many Spanish-inspired poems, ‘Gloria de Carlos V’, as quoted in ‘Humanistic Quietism’:

But a moment, now, I suppose,
For a moment I may suppose,
Gleaming blue,
Silver blue,
And the light of the world.

10) I once unwittingly, in polite company, invited a Spanish Beckett reader to translate this quatrain from ‘A Wet Night’, in More Pricks Than Kicks:

No me jodas en el suelo
Como si fuera una perra,
Que con esos cojonazos
Me echas en el cono tierra.

{Quotation ends}

¡Ay caramba! ¡Never again!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Geoff Capes

On retiring from the life of a shot-putter and professional strong man,
Geoff Capes went into business, opening a shop called Geoff’s Capes which sold only capes. This confused his fans and admirers, who might reasonably have expected it to sell keep-fit equipment, while the dedicated cape-buying public might not, equally reasonably, have identified capes with former shot-putter and professional strong man Geoff. The shop closed soon afterwards. Geoff Capes now breeds budgerigars and has won many awards for his recessive pieds.


That’s Roy Keane playing the man and not the ball, and a painful sight it was too. Philip Larkin critics almost always play the man and not the ball, according to John Osborne in his new Larkin, Ideology and Critical Violence. Just about every speaker in every poem, he argues, gets cut down to size as the fat, bald, heterosexual, white bloke that was Philip Larkin, though the word ‘speaker’ here is also wrong, denoting as it does the readings of cosy Larkinites unable to process their man as text rather than voice. ‘Cosy’ extends to pro- and anti-Larkinites, of course. The antis, who quaff deep of the wine of righteous indignation, attack a man of their own paranoid and self-serving creation. Take Tom Paulin: faced with ‘Counting’ (‘Thinking in terms of one /Is easily done – /One room, one bed, one chair, /One person there…’), Paulin declares: ‘One is ace and masculine, two is trouble and female.’ Osborne pounces: ‘As a glance at his own poems will verify, words are not Paulin’s strong suit; but there is a serious cognitive problem here… In order to accuse the poem of sexism, Paulin has first had to sex it; the piece itself, like the majority of Larkin’s poems, is resolutely non-gender-specific, as applicable to women as to men.’

Osborne performs similar acts of sterilisation on all the familiar topoi of Larkin flapdoodles. Larkin the John Bull Englishman? He eviscerates Englishness from the inside out, in exemplary poems of non-attachment and rootlessness. Larkin the male chauvinist? He is the most feminist of poets. Larkin the Tory? Even a piece of sour late harrumphing like ‘Going, Going’ is a subtle dig at Tory brainlessness (the Tory working party that commissioned the poem ended up censoring it). That jaunty little ditty from a letter to Robert Conquest, ‘I want to see them starving, /The so-called working class’, is valiantly rehabilitated (‘look what happens if we substitute a different heading: “The Ballad of the Fascist Bastard”, perhaps, or “Colonel Blimp’s Epitaph”’), so that it becomes a satire on being rude about the working class.

It’s all a spirited and zesty performance. If Osborne is correct, Larkin’s admirers have got him completely wrong and not only does he have nothing to do with the jaded old Movement crowd, he is in fact a secret brother in arms of W.S. Graham, Roy Fisher, Christopher Middleton, Denise Riley, John Riley, J.H. Prynne even… just some of the writers, in other words, who really do turn their backs on the cosy commonplaces of recent British poetry (voice, identity, nation), and lead to slightly different contemporary poets from the ones Osborne mentions (Carol Ann Duffy, Alan Jenkins…). So why does none of these people feature in Osborne’s book, and why, if only for the purposes of receiving a good kicking, does the Movement identification win out yet again? That’s what I’d like to work out. How long do we have to spend on Tom Paulin et al’s inability to construe a simple line by Larkin before we get on to the comparative readings of The Whitsun Weddings and Kitchen Poems or The Cut Pages? I’m not sure if that isn’t one of those questions that brings the priest and the doctor running in their long coats, but I presume the answer is ‘a very long time’. It’s never going to happen, is it, and it’s not John Osborne’s fault. You know what I blame this on the breakdown of?, as Lenny asks in Moe’s tavern. Society, that’s what. Maybe radical Larkin (since that’s what’s at issue here, believe in it or not as you will) is like Daniil Kharmss bald redheaded man I mentioned a few posts back: ‘We’d better not talk about him anymore.’

Monday, March 17, 2008

Life Beyond the Study Door, My Commitment Thereto

John Banville on Seamus Heaney in today’s Guardian: ‘Heaney’s commitment to life beyond the study door is unusual for a poet, and all the more admirable for that.’

Beyond my study door lies all manner of life. Cats, usually, their fleas, on a good day, perhaps a stray mouse hitching a lift in Sam the ginger cat’s mouth. I tend to intervene to free the mice, but when I intervene with the fleas it’s usually to exterminate them, so I can’t work out quite how ‘committed’ I am to all this life one way or the other.

Mise en Abysmal

Something I was watching on television recently is sponsored by a website called ‘, I see. It helps you find the lowest car insurance, the cheapest flights, that kind of thing. But who helps you find the best deal on websites that compare the market on car insurance, cheap flights etc? That would be ‘’, I presume.

Similarly I have, I confess, a signed photograph of Steven Gerrard in my kitchen. How do I know its authentic? Because it came with a certificate of authenticity. And how do I know that was authentic? Because it too came with a certificate of authenticity of course, what do you take me for? I could do this all day but will mercifully stop now.

In other news I notice it’s St Patrick’s Day, which means about as much to me as the brayings of a hippo in Cameroon with a thrombosed pile up its arse it’s just sat down on rather clumsily.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


It needn’t be grapes, not always: his wife and children bring the man in the next bed bananas, yellow and green. The Touretter, who knows how to bark when he wants, calmly wipes the bubbles from the edge of his mouth and begins the ceremony: peels and bundles it down the hatch. He looks like he’s never felt more grateful for anything in his life. ‘Fuck you’, he tells them with tears in his eyes, ‘fuck you all.’

Friday, March 14, 2008


Philip Larkin and the residuary beneficiaries of literary Anglicanism, T.S. Eliot’s decline from ‘pitch’ to ‘tone’, ‘Sean O’Shem’… what would be next on Geoffrey Hill’s kill list, I wondered, as his Collected Critical Writings came flopping through the letter box. Tofu, was the answer. Tofu.

The onslaught comes at the end of a chapter on the OED. Hill laments the slighting of one of Hopkins’ coinages, ‘unchancelling’, when bloody old tofu can show up on a Chinese takeaway menu and muscle its way in, in a suitably crumbly and nutritious way:

Tofu, picked up by the 1933 Supplement, with citations going back to 1880, received further samplings (1981, Guardian: ‘In the United States… tofu has become an “in” food’). Is the name of an easily analysable substance that has appeared on a million menus more than a word, peculiarly resistant to analysis, which has lodged itself in a few thousands of minds?

{Quotation ends}

If only the gentleman pictured above could have spelled his name To Fu instead of Tu Fu. Jacques Chirac is an expert on the work of Tu Fu, did you know? Not many people know that.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

1920s Russian Modernism

Partly in reaction to how terrible my mobile phone photography is, and partly too in reaction to the depressingly subatomic nature of the debate currently raging around the Poets of the Century or whatever they’re called being serialized in the papers this week (Bishop versus Sassoon anyone?!), I thought I might pay belated homage to the marvellous Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde exhibition still on at the British Library. When asked if he was a postmodernist, Roy Fisher once answered that he was in fact a ‘1920s Russian modernist’, and these images too, coming on top of my reading of Kharms, remind me how much I too look on 1920s Russian modernism as a glorious lost poetic utopia. I find it depressing how many poets (Irish poets for instance) who latch onto twentieth-century Russian poetry trot out their Mandelstam and Akhmatova (great poets though they are) but never mention Khlebnikov, Khodasevich, Blok… For shame. A plague of Daniil Kharms’ projectile snot on one and all of us until we mend our ways. But first, some pretty pictures.

Kharms' Way

A dream of Daniil Kharm’s ‘Professor’s Wife’:

And she dreamed that Lev Tolstoy was coming towards her, holding a chamber-pot in his hands. She asked him: – What’s that, then? – and he pointed to the chamber-pot, saying: – Here, I’ve really done something and now I’m taking it to show the whole world. Let everyone see it – he said.

The professor’s wife also had a look and saw that it seemed no longer to be Tolstoy, but a shed, and in the shed was a hen.

The professor’s wife tried to catch the hen, but the hen hid under a divan, from which it crawled out, now in the form of a rabbit.

The professor’s wife crawled under the divan after the rabbit and woke up.

She woke and looked around: she really was lying under a divan.

{Quotation ends}

‘What big cucumbers they sell in stores today!’ Kharms exclaims after one of his characters beats another to death with a cucumber for the crime of propelling some airborne snot in his direction.

‘There was a redheaded man’, begins another tale. But this redheaded man had no hair. He had no mouth or nose either. Or arms or legs. In fact he wasn’t there. ‘We’d better not talk about him any more.’

An old woman goes tumbling past the window, shattering to pieces when she hits the ground. Then another, and another, until six have gone kersplat! against the ground, at which point Kharms’ narrator gets tired and goes to the market.

‘Art is a cupboard!’, ‘We are not cakes!’ Kharms would announce to his Leningrad audiences at performances of the OBERIU (the ‘Union of Real Art’ he helped to found).

Kharms claims to have been born twice, having nipped back inside after the first time (in 1905) before re-emerging.

His cult of Blok, Malevich and Klebnikov. Malevich’s inscription on a book he presented to Kharms: ‘Go and stop progress.’

His death in a psychiatric hospital during the siege of Leningrad, of presumed starvation.

Matvei Yankelevich’s excellent new edition of his selected writings, Today I Wrote Nothing, from Ugly Duckling Presse, whom the vigilant among you will remember were responsible for the recent edition of Ivan Blatný’s work too.

‘And that’s it, more or less.’

Coming Down

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Puthwuth na Gaeilge


Trá agus tuile níl ann a thuilleadh.
Níl fágtha anois ach trá gan tú ann.
Cloisim fós é, rabhairt thú-féin
á doirteadh uaim, tonn i ndiaidh toinn.

{Críochnaíonn dán}

Fuaireas an
íomhá anseo.

Larkin's Trousers, a Mystery

No amount of vacuous allegations about the ‘human rights’ of the bunch of Oxford-educated Korean seven-year-olds locked in a lightless basement somewhere producing the stuff can detract from the capacity of Philip Larkin’s posthumous works to amuse and enthral. No doubt a tie-in with an equally posthumous Inspector Morse mystery prevented further elaboration, but this snippet from today’s Guardian on the mystery of Larkin’s trousers in the bard’s unpublished letters, serves to whet even the most jaded of appetites (never!) once again for more (and more and more):

Some of the letters in the new collection have been seen before. The poet’s biographer, Andrew Motion, acquired a few from Larkin's sister, Kitty. Motion says Eva Larkin wrote to her son in a “similarly doting, similarly trivial” tone to his own letters. “Of course you ought not to have changed those pants,” she chides in one. “Remember that I thought it very unwise at the time.”

Read more here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

It happen so tehre

As has been widely reported elsewhere (here for instance), the Bible has been translated into Lolcats. Hereunder a sample from Genesis. The Ceiling Cat is the Lolcats version of the Deity btw.

20 An Ceiling Cat sayed, waterz bring me phishes, An burds, so kittehs can eat dem. But Ceiling Cat no eated dem.

21 An Ceiling Cat maed big fishies An see monstrs, which wuz like big cows, except they no mood, An other stuffs dat mooves, An Ceiling Cat sawed iz good.

22 An Ceiling Cat sed O hai, make bebehs kthx. An dont worry i wont watch u secksy, i not that kynd uf kitteh.

23 An so teh...fith day. Ceiling Cat taek a wile 2 cawnt.

24 An Ceiling Cat sayed, i can has MOAR living stuff, mooes, An creepie tings, An otehr aminals. It happen so tehre.

25 An Ceiling Cat doed moar living stuff, mooes, An creepies, An otehr animuls, An did not eated tehm.

26 An Ceiling Cat sayed, letz us do peeps like uz, becuz we ish teh qte, An let min p0wnz0r becuz tehy has can openers.

27 So Ceiling Cat createded teh peeps taht waz like him, can has can openers he maed tehm, min An womin wuz maeded, but he did not eated tehm.

28 An Ceiling Cat sed them O hai maek bebehs kthx, An p0wn teh waterz, no waterz An teh firmmint, An evry stufs.

29 An Ceiling Cat sayed, Beholdt, the Urfs, I has it, An I has not eated it.

30 For evry createded stufs tehre are the fuudz, to the burdies, teh creepiez, An teh mooes, so tehre. It happen. Iz good.

31 An Ceiling Cat sayed, Beholdt, teh good enouf for releaze as version 0.8a. kthxbai.

{Quotation ends}

Read more here.


I have now become, I expect, the last person on earth to see John Carney’s Once. I very much like the idea of angrily chasing a thief down the street only to end up giving him money, and enjoyed the musicians busking by the statue of Phil Lynott on Grafton Street that he invites along to a recording session who ask ‘Will you be doing any Lizzie? ’Cause we only, like, do Lizzie.’ I liked the whole thing, but the chick-flick boilerplate on the DVD box from Blockbuster was laying down some strong markers as to what a piece of schlock you could expect, which set me wondering. The film isn’t exactly about falling in love, since the couple go their separate ways at the end without having really come together, but then it isn’t about rekindling their old loves either, since Guy might come straight back from London and the Czech Dad that Girl wants to reconcile with doesn’t seem too bothered either. It isn’t quite about the agony and ecstasy of art either, given how much of the film they spend just goofing around. But when they do make music it gets serious, very serious indeed. So what I think the film is about is how one thing will always flip-flop into its opposite, and the state of irresolution between consequence and inconsequence, commitment and indifference, in which we live. It’s a tragicomedy, in other words.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Return of Dara O Briain

World’s greatest living Wicklowman Dara O Briain on homeopathy at the City Hall here the other night: ‘Homeopaths say the Chinese are so wise because they have the same word for crisis and opportunity. The Chinese have the same word for China and Tibet too and it’s China, so fuck that.’

Riffing on call-centre operatives who insist on spelling out booking codes with the Alpha Bravo Charlie alphabet, he described being stumped by a woman who wanted to know if he’d just said G as in… ‘G-string’, blurted Dara. The next letter was B as in… ‘Brazilian’. Unfortunately the final letter of the booking code was V, and now that we’ve started on this chain of thought there is of course only one word in the English language beginning with V. ‘And V as in…’ ‘(Don’t say, don’t say…) Fanny!’

East Riding Museum, Maritime Museum

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Monday, March 03, 2008

Etude for Mr White

The Gallows

Allons au jugement une fleur à la boutonnière. (Cioran)

(‘Let us go to judgement with a flower in our buttonhole.’)