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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Christianity, Role of Guinea Pig In

As this image from Cuzco cathedral shows, representations of the Last Supper in South American art frequently depict Christ and the apostles tucking into a tasty helping of guinea pig.

I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows you will betray me three times. But first, guinea pig. Mm, guinea pig.

A Verdict

John Redmond sums up Carol Ann Duffy in a contribution to Neil Corcoran’s Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century English Poetry:

Characteristically, these monologues try to close the distance from their audience by imagining the reader to be immediately present (here, close enough to punch the speaker’s stomach). Like many of her other works, it adopts an attacking stance, the effect of which is to establish a sense of collective superiority which is shared with the intended audience. Duffy’s targets are the usual ones of Left-wing Britain in the 1980s and have much in common with those chosen by the ‘alternative comedians’ of that period. ‘Ash Wednesday, 1984’, for instance, hits out at the Catholicism of her upbringing: ‘Miracles and shamrocks ‘and transubstantiation are all my ass. /For Christ’s sake, do not send your kids to Mass.’ Because her works do not require any special sources of knowledge to be understood, this sense of superiority is widely available and the invitation to share it is often taken up.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Peter Rose

Peter Rose is someone I’ve always enjoyed for his urbanity, his another-emblem-there-style Italianate carnival, his catspawing social satire, and his cheeky under-the-radar way of being easily one of the best Australian poets around. His books are The House of Vitriol (1990), The Catullan Rag (1993), Donatello in Wangaratta (1998) and a New and Selected from Salt, Rattus Rattus (2005), which I’ve been belatedly catching up with.

Mozart, nearing death, told Constanze
that what he savoured in the stalls
was the approving silence, not applause. (‘The Prize’)

The signature tailing, trailing away of a string of adjectives, like a Renaissance cardinal pouring away a perfectly good glass of burgundy all over a marble floor:

Either you were
too tactful to remark on my faux pas
or failed to notice, but I knew,
lowering a foreign abject unavailing hand. (‘Homage’)

Or the verbal equivalent:

The facing island, a mortal blue,
beckons, intensifies, vanishes. (‘
Balnarring Beach’)

The words ‘wavous’, ‘tortive’ and ‘solity’, their careful addition to the catalogue raisonné of poetic hapax legomena, if there can be a plural of that phrase, and surely there can’t.

The saline tang of imminently silver era Latin disillusioned wit, ‘recognizably unrecognizable’, and due some kind of jump to the top of the queue of Australian imports over more than a couple of more familiar poetic bushrangers. Peter Rose, ever beckoning, intensifying, but not to be allowed to languish vanishing down the rabbit hole of amazon Australia. Let me end this brief salute (sorry, brain still off backpacking) with the end of ‘The Prize’:

In my rusticated dream all that wafts
towards us is a relic of tourism,
an assiduous cuckoo loyal to its vineyard.
They were serving this Müller-Thurgau
long before
Meissen or art nouvea.
Imagine crossing the slicked historical river
and conquering other interiors of the self,
ones long boarded up and forgotten,
oblivious to blandishments of the sun,
the silvered city’s vitiating notes.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

At Filey Brigg

Here melted the ice-age assassin’s
weapon leaving only
its glacier’s dross to point
the promontory’s finger of gritstone.

Here sea and shore grew impacted
like a sideways-on tooth,
the very rocks capricious, erratic.

I have lost all perspective.
Only the green sea’s heave could turn
these crosshatched cliffs to a plumb-line.
There is no telling how far down
the screaming gannets will dive.

The Roman signal station on the point
has seen the hordes coming.
Its fires are out. There is no
time for escape. Its rodent bones
are owl pellets, barbarian mice
gnawing at the ablative absolute.

Razorbills and guillemots in their dozens
have fallen dead out of the sky,
propped eyeless in rockpools.
I trace the clotheshorse folds
of their wings, hung out to dry.

Their breasts and wings are untouched.
Only their cause of death takes flight,
and the sewage outflow’s sunken capstan
gushing through scarves of loo-roll
steers our ship of fools
safely onto the rocks.

A group fans out on a shelf.
They are scattering ashes.
Sheen for sheen the brightness
missing from a dead auk’s eye
but all around me catches the waves’
green surge, is thrown upwards
with them, breaks on nothing
at all and scatters like ashes.


Little auk found here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bill Evans

In the continuing absence of my brain, which appears to have gone on a backpacking holiday in Patagonia, I thought I might embed this Bill Evans track, which I think is one of the most deliciously melancholy pieces of piano jazz I know. The overdubbing is a mystery to me, though, and is nowhere to be found on the album version I have. What is it doing here, anyone know?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Letting Go

what does a ghost
giving up
give up

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Writing at the Speed of Thought

Odd the courtesy
by which the sentence
agrees to move down
the page at the same
speed as your eyes
moving over it.

Brain Gym, Snot Gym

Heaving, puling and retching my way through a miserable cold, I am forced to take my comforts where I can. By revisiting the comedy Disneyland of Brain Gym, for instance, which passed me by when it made an appearance on Newsnight a while back, and which comes with a ‘Fish in a Barrel, Shoot Now’ label attached for anyone who took even Inter Cert science. Brain Gym is a programme currently in use in hundreds of state schools in Britain (and elsewhere) under which pupils are trained to enhance the flow of oxygen to their brains by rubbing on their chests, stimulating activity in the carotid artery, which one scientist in the clips embedded here compares to rubbing on the wallpaper to make your central heating work better.

When the [total fraud] educationalist behind Brain Gym finally gets to maunder and ramble his way through a chat with Jeremy Paxman (second embedded clip) we are treated to exchanges like the following (1.25 in):

‘It’s my opinion that we are electrical, that we do have circuits, connections, and when we bring our energy to the midline, to the central point, we are breaking out of the reflex to… to… go from one side to the other and bring things back to the centre, where we can relax.’

‘You say it is your opinion that we are electrical. Are you medically qualified?’

‘No I’m not medically qualified, I’m an educator, but I study and read.’

And this (3.40 in):

‘You believe processed foods don’t contain water?’

‘I had a context for that statement… Fifteen years ago that was the best information I had.’


I would describe my own theory, Face Gym, which involves rubbing a dead fish up and down the face of teachers in state-funded schools who want to teach this stuff, but I see it’s time for some Snot Gym and must be going. More anon.

Monday, April 14, 2008

On Not Translating

We swam a river from opposite banks,
met halfway and kept going.
There was no awkwardness.
We did not have words.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Identity Politics

Seven-page piece in the new Poetry Ireland Review by Rita Kelly, ‘Eavan Boland: A Voice of Courage in Our Time’. It seems to be a riposte to a review by Maria Johnston that appeared PIR a few issues back. At issue, among other things, is Boland’s addiction to dictating the terms, in her prose, on which her poetry is read. Kelly quotes a 1997 essay from American Poet beginning, in classic Boland style: ‘I was in a flat in Dublin for a few years…’, going on to describe the blinding revelation that she wrote a few poems there. That would be, let me see, In Dublin. In the 1960s. Before she moved to the suburbs. The centrality of the male poet. Had yet to be. Questioned. It’s a familiar tale, and I don’t know why Kelly is repeating it. There really is nothing more to say about it. A letter from Matthew Arnold to his mother is quoted, with mutton chops reassuring the old lady that like Alf Tennyson and Bob Browning he too will have his time in the sun. ‘It is difficult to imagine an Ireland, especially then, rather than even now, when Boland could write such a letter to her mother or to anyone else.’ Maybe we should interpret Boland’s one-note critical prose as a self-addressed letter in this vein. This is a debate about self-esteem rather than poetry. Boost your self-esteem all you want if you think it’s going to improve your poetry, but I can only review your art, not your self-image. Maria Johnston had quoted a stray remark by Dan Chiasson on an anthology of German poetry Boland had edited (though she speaks no German), calling EB someone ‘who had suffered her share of atrocious events in her own country’. This is a ridiculous statement, but it’s hard to blame Chiasson overly. This is what happens when art is offered as a testimonial to good character. Eavan Boland’s poetry has spent decades sheltering under a good cause (feminism) in defence of the much more important right of Irish art to remain forever defined by and in hock to identity politics, first and last, and enough, I say, please let us and the world at large, which includes Ireland, get over this now, and never, ever have these pointless debates again!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Arsenal/Liverpool Six-Day Trilogy of Doom, Condensed

They are in the moaner’s room. It is they who live there now.

They have just been quite stuffed in spite of all.

They can’t go out, they’ve gone out.


He who swallows a pineapple trusts his anus.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Oppen at 100

The planet’s

Blood from a stone, life
From a stone dead dam. Mother
Nature! because we find the others
Deserted like ourselves and therefore brothers. Yet

So we lived
And chose to live.

These were our times.


George Oppen is a hundred later this month, and I salute him.

The Biggest Douches in the Universe

Britain’s Fraudulent Mediums Act is being repealed, to be replaced by new Consumer Protection Regulations. Mediums (media?) have complained that, rather than targeting fraudulent (genuinely fraudulent?) members of their profession, these regulations will leave them open to frivolous law-suits from [every member of the human race still in possession of a brainstem] skeptics and anyone else who feels misled, coerced or taken advantage of. ‘We have to fight it’, one medium is quoted as looking up from her crystal ball/premium rate call line royalties statement long enough to say, ‘If not, we will go [forward] back [no really, she means ‘forward’] to the Dark Ages, where we will be [who said progress was dead] persecuted and prosecuted.’

As well as being scum-sucking emotional rapists and the biggest douches in the universe, mediums are also, one and all, frauds.

‘It is taking [a scum-sucking money-making fraud] a religion, a way of life, and making it a commercial transaction’, someone else is quoted as beating off messages from your long-dead grandmother long enough to say. ‘There are bad mediums out there, and we would like to [muscle in on their premium rate call lines and general emotional racketeering] regulate them. But this is very unfair on [total frauds still working the rubber chicken circuit in the North of England] genuine spiritualists.’

When I saw (world’s greatest living Wicklowman) Dara O Briain recently he did a routine on mediums, in which he described the cold reading antics of some total fraud he was forced to appear with on a Belfast chat show. Asked to explain one of the all-too explicable failures of her technique (given that she is a total fraud) the psychic in question said that sometimes she receives so many messages all at once that it’s hard to tell the right ones from the wrong. She was such a great psychic, in other words, that she was shit at being a psychic.

Psychics are total frauds whose government approved licenses should be handed out by very large hungry bears in very small unlit, locked rooms.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

To the M62

Grant me the slipstream of the lost,
the godspeed of all who have driven
east for
Ireland and west for sunrise.
You will know your fellow travellers by
the backs of their heads and recognise
that face to face means only goodbye.
The hawk winging over the forecourt
flecks with a single drop of red
your diesel stain and its rainbow bleeds.
Watch in the truckstop’s turning circle
the cabs’ huge brows nod resignation
and slip right off, a brainpan of wires
earthed to a pair of tatty mudflaps.
A layby is a bed in air
hungry for your transient cargo
of sleep. I turn in eight feet up
and will not wake while the traffic lasts.
Find me beyond the service station
where the radio late shift drifts
to static. Take the space I have kept you;
arrive with me before dawn nowhere
but here, that is nowhere, but ours, alone.


Photo found here.


This at my place of work yesterday. Well, wouldn’t you have photographed it too? What were they thinking – just imagine the acoustics in there!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Brad Mehldau

Yet another album from Brad Mehldau, Live, and a double too. A bone-shaking version of Coltrane’s ‘Countdown’, with what sound like Charles Ivesian super-chords detonating every other beat in the left hand and a shudder and judder like waiting (it’s coming, it’s coming) for an elephant to sneeze.

If he and I hung out I would say to him, as I waved this eleventh or twelfth album of his that I’ve bought in his face, Brad Mehldau, you were born one week after me (23 August 1970) and have spent your whole life over-compensating.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Distant Planet

In a New Yorker piece about Frank O’Hara, Dan Chiasson calls Michigan (where O’Hara spent a year) ‘a distant planet settled for the manufacture of master’s degrees.’

Bert Ahern

This is Bert Ahern. Unlike the outgoing (how outgoing, I wonder? does he do karaoke?) Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Bert is not resigning, despite forty years’ service in the history department at the University of Minnesota. He may not ever have been a minister of finance or prime minister in his time, but I’m willing to bet he at least had a goddamn bank account, unlike that other you-expect-me-to-believe-that slieveen.

Bert Ahern. Deserving of the thanks of Irish people everywhere for his contributions to historiography and the University of Minnesota history department.


It was a golden age
of lead. Prospectors
striking lucky

in the distant mines
would try
to look pleased.

Leadsmiths resigned
themselves to the mild

of ages to come
at their leaden displays,
until at last

the lead in the pots
and pipes leaked
into our brains

and we became
settled and heavy;
a background

against which
our showier children,
turning to copper

and bronze,
could not but
brilliantly shine,

an unwitting homage
we took as our due,

receding into
the long
leaden night.


Dip dip dip, fussy-insistent,
an avocet’s beak. Enough
is never enough: why can’t you
savour your food?

This man in the hide has been here
ten hours among avocets,
oystercatchers and redshanks:
he knows why.

Thumbnail-sized black frogs
sprinting, which is to say inching
along the path don’t know
but still come

tumbling into the rushes
where the rabbits come too.
Safe at last! Which is to say
ready to die

at an avocet’s beak, the frogs
that is, who understand
nothing. Hawks come
for the rabbits,

and they too understand nothing,
the rabbits, dying, devoured.
The hawks on the telegraph pole

when a train of thought has gone on
long enough. Dinner is served,
the white rumps by the ditch

and the vegetarian hawk
can go without. More
than that they can take or leave.

You they’re not bothered with.
Strictly speaking your sandwich
isn’t part of the food chain.
In fact you’re not here.

Beak goes down, tail up,
beak tip up too. Superb.
Solder this basin of twilight,

each lucky-dip splash.
Except ten hours is enough.
The wellingtoned twitchers have flown.
(I know a good pub.)

But it’s never enough. First
there’s a marsh to be drained. Splash.

Dip dip dip. Slurp.
I’ll drink to that.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Counsel of Despair

The Sentinelese people of the Andaman Islands are one of the world’s few remaining uncontacted tribes. Essentially nothing is known of their culture. Their fate became a news story during the 2004 tsunami: nearby Andaman Islanders had moved inland prior to the flooding, despite a lack of any advance warnings, and in their unknowable way it seems the Sentinelese too were able to take evasive action. They made the news again in 2006 when two fishermen strayed into their waters and were killed by the tribespeople. No attempt has been made to recover their bodies.

When the anthropologist Bruce Parry visited a remote Brazilian tribe, the Matis, for his television series Tribe, he had to sail past the territory of another such uncontacted tribe, the Korubo, known to their neighbours as the ‘headbashers’. Long may they remain uncontacted, he hoped. Rather than endure the Matis’ disastrous history of contact with people like him, presumably.

It is too easy to dwell on the contradictions of our concern for things that, in our well-meaning way, we nevertheless conspire to destroy. A more constructive solution might be to take steps not to find out about things like the Sentinelese in the first place, or failing that, to wipe them from our memory. The Iberian lynx. A dying Aboriginal Australian language. Choose something endangered every day and purge it from the servitude of our impotent concern. Forget to visit the fragile Alaskan ecosystem. Forget to visit the zoo to ponder the fate of the caged Siberian tiger. Let us ignore the world into a state of wellbeing. Ignorance has brought us to this and only ignorance will set us free.