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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Inverse Translation

The following is an inverse translation. It translates and inverts as it goes. Take a look at the French down below and see for yourself what a travesty it is.

The Slip
after Baudelaire

Far from the blaring street in full cry round me,
here where I glimpsed her first and thought ‘Not bad’,
the woman dressed in black who shares my bed
chases from the door the wolves that hound me,

just by being there, day after blissful day.
But what if the thrill I need is not the storm
of all her love-bites’ cheeky brand of harm,
but one that worse than hurts – that fades away?

Thunderbolt that struck me down where I stood
and called me flaming back to life, how long
before the routine of it drags our heaven

down to same old ditch where I belong,
and you’re left cursing, wishing how you’d given
that stranger in the street the slip while you could?

À une passante

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d'une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l'ourlet;

Agile et noble, avec sa jambe de statue.
Moi, je buvais, crispé comme un extravagant,
Dans son oeil, ciel livide où germe l'ouragan,
La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.

Un éclair... puis la nuit! — Fugitive beauté
Dont le regard m'a fait soudainement renaître,
Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l'éternité?

Ailleurs, bien loin d'ici! trop tard! jamais peut-être!
Car j'ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais,
Ô toi que j'eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Time and the City

I haven’t seen the new Terence Davies film, Time and the City yet, though a while ago I mentioned him in connection with an auratic (I found) image I’d seen in the paper. And yesterday I thought of him again when I found this image of old Wincolmlee (the area round the river Hull) in an antiques shop. I strongly suspect this is what the inside of my head looks like too. Is that a human figure in the foreground on the right-hand side? Or an anamorphic smudge? A red-raincoated dwarf perhaps. Don’t Look Now meets industrial Hull.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Opening for Smart Youth

Looking for a conservatory? Inside your Mail on Monday Works by members of the East Yorkshire Embroidery Society will go on Display Youngsters with the drive to win Outstanding value weekends away, short breaks and holidays Honoured to receive top reward Residents get in a festive mood For quality tools, supplies & services Can you offer this pet a new home? This election is about who really runs Great Britain Including lenses glasses & sunglasses Brought to you by Mail Publications Free delivery within 50 miles of any branch Share your good news with us Subject to availability The society is also on the look-out for more men to join its ranks Plus many more in stock Calls from mobiles and other networks may vary Mattresses not included with bedsteads Utter in words (5) Or just spend, spend, spend! An interplanetary war looms All in all it’s a huge improvement Pictures are for illustration purposes only Don’t miss out Full wheelchair access with ramps Find it, buy it, sell it 1 lady owner, 12,000 miles Very good condition What a bargain No smokers or pets There’s also an aesthetic price to pay Dreadful sci-fi thriller, starring Val Kilmer All aspects of hairdressing Control phobias and much more Make sitting a ‘pleasure’ Roos Arms is situated at Main Street, Roos Front or back door fitted Few holidays are more spectacular than a safari The best selection of local jobs for local people Mark down beds Friendship/companionship at first then let the fates decide Lost lovebird bright yellow with red head African grey parrot, large doom cage, semi tame, approx year half old No callout fee Rubbish man Carer required Market leader in frozen Yorkshire puddings To advertise your vacancy Please apply in writing Busty Jayne, something special Now we’re motoring For all your sports action Reproduction of the contents of this newspaper in any manner is not permitted without the prior consent of the Publisher.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


after Seán Ó Ríordáin

No dead men will leave the tomb
to seek out the confines of night or day.
Abandon your designs on them
and humble your bare head to the clay.

Don’t think you can put flesh on a wraith.
The beautiful was never true.
I know that My Redeemer lieth.
No pennies will fall from heaven for you.

You want a pooka to breathe down your neck,
and all the heavenly lies he’d spin.
You’ve settled for the hump on your back;
don’t let it spread to the brain.

Amidst your pooka shadowmancy
find the pooka truth and way.
Cast a hunchshadow all can see
and humble your bare head to the clay.

Make a show of yourself. The critic rates
the hunchshadowself you hide in
that once was laid between the sheets
to kiss while deafness blew from heaven.

And a gentle hand entombed and rotting,
a dream in a separate tomb imprisoned,
the dearest dream, the rarest thing,
in a deep tomb inside the mind,

and the black chalice of night drained low,
and a crooked sleep, tossed left and right,
while Veronica mopped His brow,
while the hunchback stripped bare in the night.

Hypocrite lecteur who read
the poem I beget on sickness,
try judging that and then decide
what is failure and what success.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Fragility of Euphoria among the Different Orders of the Animal Kingdom

Our neighbour knocked: she wanted to know about our sink, whether it had been draining or not. No, it hadn’t. My spat-out toothpaste signed its way clingingly down the basin, like froth on the side of a pint-glass. First it’s the sink, she told us, then it’s the drains. How right she was: soon the drains were coughing up sewage all over the place. We were drowning in shit. Get a whiff of that! The quadruped’s black button nose flared in disgust.

Sniff of the pouch means. Shoelace dangling. Means. Thing. Something. Bumhole smell. Mine. Theirs. Enemy. Noses under the fence and paws in the door. Hate! to bleeding tatters. And deserved. Over the fence and away.

Neighbour. Has name. But not essential that know.

Sits on her cushion, the other, or mouth in trough, after dance demanding, also smells when approached. Propelled along the tiles, the iam rebounds from the skirting board. Ping! Or sit in the window for hours on end. The sky falls down piece by random piece, hopping and squawking.

Consider me approachable, available for opening of security gate round the side in case of lost keys, emergencies or. Conscientious about. I pride myself on. If we had children then conversations about, the neighbours and I. I have no children. My children are grown up. My children are dead.

The important thing is to bury the turds where no one will. Sniff. Ever. Scrape the muck over and pat or throw up. (The muck.) Behind the fridge is a hole in their eyes. No turds allowed. For going asleep. The milk bottle top that moved, that time, behind the fridge. That was the great event.

Except when the fireworks go off, Guy Fawkes’, New Year’s, never goes in there normally. Scaredy boy. Come out, come out!

First lie on the radiator, then senselessly, slowly kill you, then lie on the radiator again. Then lick the bleeding shreds dry. I might. Just don’t expect me to clean up all that shit in the garden. If that’s there where it came from, then stick it back up there!

After a leap, a series of abrupt shakes of the head has the desired effect of resettling the bones in the ear. Then all is well.

The next morning it had all gone, presumably back down the sewer. We never had any problems after that.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Saint Francis

If the heart is game
Christ is its hunter.

In your name, Francis,
the wolf is my brother.

In the name of the wolf,
the dogs and the birds

named in your prayers,
all living things

we place in your care;
except the wolf

I can endure,
but your perfection

is too much to bear.
It is Christ the hunter,

gentle Francis,
who bites and who tears.

At the close of your life
your near-blind eyes

were found to be sealed
by a lifetime of tears.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Herman Reich: ‘I have sorrowed a grievous loss; when my donkey had learned the art of going without food, it died.’

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Teller and Tale

An unwonted if not unwanted flurry in the comments box when I posted on Heaney a few days back leads me to revisit that topic, no doubt unwisely. When Larkin’s letters and biography appeared in short order after his death in 1985 and Tom Paulin and others lined up to administer a critical kicking, there was a widespread feeling that an English icon was being abused. Paulin, in his wrath, spoke of ‘The sewer under the national monument’. I’ve no wish to revisit that stale controversy now, but as many of Larkin’s defenders have pointed out, he does a very poor impression of the John Bull English everyman both his detractors and admirers took him to be. And certainly, for me, Larkin is at his most interesting when seen as a poet of marginal zones, of a radical disenchantment with the very English lares and penates he is often assumed to curate. Think of ‘The Importance of Elsewhere’. But my point is this. There certainly was an Eeyorish side to Larkin, in his interviews. He frequently used them to put readers off the scent (‘Foreign poetry? No!’). And this is entirely in order, even if it does end up faning the flames of his misreaders’ indignation. Artists often attempt to finesse or dictate the terms on which they are read, leaving it up to us to fight back and read them against the grain. Think for a moment how disastrous it would be to read a poet like Geoffrey Hill in terms of the self-image he lays down. And similarly with Heaney. I was riled, I confess, by his casual reference to the ‘rooted normality’ of the major artist. So much for Rimbaud then, or Artaud or Paul Celan. But this is just Heaney covering his tracks. North is not a work of ‘rooted normality’. It is a violently eccentric take on the Northern Irish Troubles, which if taken as sociological fact would appear to offer mythic sanction for contemporary paramilitary killings. Of course it does no such thing. But if that book comes out of dark and disturbing corners of Heaney’s psyche, as it does, his public pronouncements on the subject are designed to keep his readers away from them, insisting obsessively on his ‘rooted normality’. It’s a bluff, I’m suggesting, an aesthetically necessary and self-protecting bluff, and not one we need get overly worked up about. Because interesting though the interviews with Heaney are, it is simply wrong to expect them to yield up his poems’ secrets. Art tells one story and the artist another, and we should know better than to assume the two are going to coincide.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Curlew by the Humber

Hooped over turned earth
they stalk between tides,
unlooked for but found,
approaching, too close almost!

The stubble of worms
they take shaved clean
at the root, loose grass
on the breeze

and shifting
temporary islands somewhere
behind the high ditch
world enough for them –

in a gaze
they do not return
tracking their looped cries

upwards and peeling
away as one at last
that I might know what
I have seen.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Another estuarial away-day, through the pleasant alluvial scatter of hamlets around Blacktoft and Yokefleet. This latter was the ancestral seat of the Empson family, inspiring William Empson’s ‘Flighting for Duck’:

The darker silhouette is where a barn
Straddling two banks over a lesser channel
Stands pillared upon treetrunks like a guildhall
Empty, mudheaped, through which the alluvial scheme
Flows temporary as the modern world.
The mud’s tough glue is drying our still feet.
A mild but powerful flow moves through the flats
Laden with soil to feed the further warping...

‘Warping’ is land laid down from tidal river water, Empson explains in a note. A reference to an air-raid siren reminds us of Blacktoft’s wartime moment of fame, when Lord Haw Haw mentioned it in one of his broadcasts, apparently mistaking it for Hull.

That’s a sparrowhawk in flight, I believe. Unless it was a kestrel.

I wrote a poem about the place, a while ago now, which featured ‘A man and his dog – always one man and his dog’, so imagine my delight at having just such a couple oblige me by ambling along the dyke from the Hope & Anchor pub. Dropping into this Laurel and Hardy-themed hostelry, the curious can pick up a copy of Historic Blacktoft and read of local worthies such as the Merry Miller, Thomas Hardeslow. This merry man was a strong believer in ‘Holy Day’ festivities, ‘where he not only got drunk, drinking the ale the village bracatrices had brewed, but he also expected everyone else to get drunk as well. Indeed he would be very sorely grieved with anyone who remained sober.’ As the 1363 ‘Yorkshire Sessions of the Peace’ record: ‘Just as the Ascension Day festivities had ended, Thomas Hardeslow, the Lord’s miller did flog and wound Alan Rede of Blaktoft at Blaktoft, because he hardly ever turns out drunk with his way of life.’

For shame.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sigh, Calamity, Jeremiad

A first dip into Stepping Stones, Dennis O’Driscoll’s interviews with Seamus Heaney. I excitedly seek out any evidence of a Heaney other than or dissenting from the emollient, diplomatic Heaney only too familiar from his public walkings-on-air of these last few decades, if only in the interests of rounding out his persona a little.

SH Comparing Larkin’s treatment of him in his letters to Berryman’s Dream Songs:

Larkin’s masks allow for something a lot more brutal and unlikeable than Berryman’s. Substitute a Mr Bollocks for Mr Bones, a National Front man for the frontman Henry, and you have the team and the permission.

On Prynne, of all people, and the ‘avant-garde’:

These poets form a kind of cult that shuns general engagement, regarding it as a vulgarity and a decadence. There’s a phrase I heard as a criticism of W.H. Auden and I like the sound of it: somebody said that he didn’t have the rooted normality of the major talent. (...) Now that’s what I yearn for – the cement mixer rather than the chopstick.

On Beckett and Irish modernism:

It was a single partisan review from the Beckett of ‘Whoroscope’ that foisted this fantasy of a ‘tradition’ of Irish ‘modernist’ poetry on us. It seems to me that in the final uptoss, as Kavanagh might have said, those thirties modernists get marks for effort, and effort in the right direction, but the stuff they actually wrote is generally of period interest.


This is a good deal of ‘something almost being said’, as Larkin might have put it, about his move away from Northern Ireland, and sometimes more than almost, as in the fairly brisk dismissal of James Simmons and his childish attempts to reel the superstar Heaney back into the manageable orbit of a dressing-down in the pages of the Honest Ulsterman or some such local occasion. There is a valiant but embarrassing attempt to square that belief, above, in ‘rooted normality’ with whatever it is makes Paul Celan a great poet. I’m grateful to that ‘rooted normality’ soundbite, as it sums up for me the grounds of my disagreement with Heaney about, well, everything I disagree with him about (Heaneyesque chiasmus, that). If ‘rooted’ and ‘normal’ are no guarantees of anything, as I would have thought, ‘rootless’ and ‘abnormal’ aren’t either, but since explaining my reasons why all the great Heaney virtues, of confirmation, being ‘forwarded in ourselves’, redress and authentication etc, are for me by a distance the least interesting thing about his work would take a couple of thousand words, I should probably stop. A couple of thousand words I’d like to write, but some other time.

Besides, there is much more that’s new to read too. George Szirtes’s enormous new doorstopper of a New & Collected, and a marvellous supplement to the latest Stinging Fly, Marks, in which poets are paired up with visual artists. One last surprise from Stepping Stones though. How odd to find Heaney quoting Emil Cioran. And yet he does, from The Temptation to Exist:

Routine of the sigh and of calamity, jeremiads of minor peoples before the bestiality of the great! Yet let us be careful not to complain too much: is it not comforting to oppose to the world’s disorders the coherence of our miseries and our defeats? And have we not, in the face of universal dilettantism, the consolation of possessing, with regard to pain, a professional competence?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Walk On

Are you a dustbin? It appears so, as the following is a dead poem, which I am hereby dumping on you. Its vintage can be guessed at from its featuring this man in a red shirt, recent shock! horror! rumours of his possible return notwithstanding. A match report for the game in question can be found here.

{Premable ends}

‘Walk on, sir?’ ‘Walk on.’
We are the Kop End Stand
of reception desk camaraderie,
she and I. I walk on
alone from the choking diesel
transport pens, their huge
gross cattle nose to rump,
rattling their chains, past the stairwell’s
You Are Here and shadow
a cleaner through the ferry’s
intestinal tract to my oubliette,
its tucked-away, ironing board bunk,
a smoker’s cough haunting
the pasteboard divide, and my unwashed
face spotlit over the brutalist sink.

But you are not here, and wherever
I am you are not. The barmaid
slips the beer pump out of dry dock,
the counter awash in frothy slops.
Yes plenty more at home like her,
she pacifies my van driver friend,
back where she comes from,
Manila or Monkstown. Someone
has to do all the shitty jobs!

Out at sea prime Japanese-
reject BNFL
cesium-137 closes on Sellafield,
throbbing in time to the Brave
Merchant’s grampus rumble
(clearing the buoys and
leaving its TV signal and Liverpool-
Bolton highlights behind);
throbs, checking its pulse against
the .01 of a second’s
small change refunded
that same afternoon from
the world hundred metres record.
Through the static: And Heskey must score…

How many electron heartbeats
divided us on the Irish Sea,
sunbursting into extinction,
that Saturday night of hulking containers
under the water line,
their secretive cargo, of surly
drivers and last-minute goals,
how many beats of my mobile’s pulse
in search of a signal, leaving me
silently boxed-in, counting the hours?
More than enough, as I reckoned
again my tally of half-lives
jettisoned one by one
in the ferry’s sightless wake,
my something to declare, the one thing
bumped from me the next morning
by the prow door: Isotope,
my irreducible isotope,
who will whip our overheated
sub-particles up to a storm
for miles round the sealed chamber
that, month after month, you have kept warm.

Foul Underpants Stain

Antonin Artaud speaks. It ain't pretty. In fact it’s hair-raising. Is that you Papa Lazarou? I very much suspect so. Hereunder my version of his poem 'Love':

As for love we’ve got to be rid
of that foul underpants stain
drenching the milky way with its load
of the selfish, slacker gene.

The barrel organ grinding the wind
and a raging sea’s head of steam
are all the soundtrack you’ll get behind
its vague, uneasy dream.

Between her and what soul I have left
our love-in’s on the money,
but who, love, is the more deceived?
O fountain of ignominy:

you in whose bed I idly dream
of escaping my own stale air,
abolish with one dice-throw my shame
and make paradise now and here.

Benefits of Sectarianism

The Independent reports on a Scottish town so sectarian that the local Subway cannot be painted green, for fear of attack by Rangers fans. Better, or worse, or better worse:

Traffic lights, with their green bulbs, are another victim. Between 2004 and 2007, 205 sets of traffic lights were smashed, costing the council nearly £17,000 to repair. There have even been claims that drunken youths have attempted to set fire to grass.


Presumably down the road, rabid Celtic fans stand around throwing stones at the sea or poking themselves in the eye.

The report did, however, remind me of this episode from Hugh Maxton’s memoir Waking, in which for possibly the first and last time in history sectarianism demonstrates its innate benefits. ‘Bob’ tells the writer how he had been blasting stones all day in Ballymorris (in Co. Wicklow) and stopped into Lawless’s hotel in Aughrim for a mineral water (he was a teetotaller):

When the Black and Tans arrived suddenly in front of the hotel, there was no time for anyone to slip away or to hive off from suspect acquaintances. Bob breathed to his neighbour ‘I’m done for, I’ve the remnants of dynamite in my pocket.’ The Tans advanced down the bar, throwing this one or that across the bar to be rummaged or searched. When they were two paces or one away from Bob, his neighbour broke out in execration heightened in the Wicklow whine of the man then and Bob telling it forty years later – ‘no point searchin’ the fuckin’ Protestant fuckin’ bastard, ahny hoaw, for he’s fuckin’ one of yees ahny hoaw’. I meet Cousin John and he confirms the story. But now it is Bob’s brother Jim who has the lucky escape.


Photograph of Mullaghcleevaun found here.

Saturday, November 01, 2008