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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Larkin Toads Redux

My previous reports of the extinction of the Hull toad, or at least a halt to its further proliferation, turn out to have been exaggerated. Henry the Prince’s Avenue toad was auctioned off by mistake, to the annoyance of local traders who clubbed together for a replacement, Alfie, whom I initially mistook, pre-unveiling, for some manner of burqa toad, but no. I trust the sex shop across the road lobbied for Alfie to be a ‘horny toad’, let me add. Obligatory monkeying around with outsized novelty cheque safely out of the way this fine batrachian specimen was unveiled outside the Old Zoological pub earlier this afternoon.

Geese in Snow

Monday, November 22, 2010

Farmed Wind

‘The fact is, people don’t really like farmed wind. They prefer wind that is naturally occurring.’ (Harry Hill)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Keats and Chapman, African-Style

The foremost living exponent of the kora was experiencing a loss of self-confidence. I’m no good anymore, he would tell himself. Strangely enough, he even didn’t seem to know who he was. A sad spectacle, and no mistake. Only reading some Yeats can cure me, he thought, and sure enough it did. Standing before the mirror, à la Travis Bickle, he began to recite: ‘No one can tell who has talent, if any. /Only one thing is certain: we are Toumani.’

And as chance would have it, I’m off to hear Toumani (and the Afrocubism roadshow) later today. I must try my little gag out on him down the Camel and Touareg afterwards.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Here Lieth the Ould Jeremy Who Hath Eight Times Married Been

Above picture taken on a mobile phone in Welton, a village near Hull and scene of the apprehension of Dick Turpin for the crime of obstreperous behaviour in the Green Dragon tavern, shooting the landlord’s poultry in his cups. What the landlord’s poultry was doing in... (insert remainder of Groucho Marx elephant-in-his-pyjamas joke here).

Married eight times though, eh. I am reminded of ‘Upon Batt’, a couplet I know from Geoffrey Grigson’s excellent The Faber Book of Epigrams and Epitaphs:

Batt he gets children, not for love to rear ’em,
But out of hope his wife might die to bear ’em.

Mark Granier kindly helped me out here by touching up the original photo for enhanced legibility, knowing much more about these things than I do.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Language of the Gutters

A story in the Hull Daily Mail about poems in bus shelters prompts the following deathless ditty (not by me - if only) in the comments stream.

Poets at the bus stops?
It may improve the scene
But I see that Larkin’s one of them.
I hope they keep it clean!

‘Twas recently reported
In my Hull Daily Mail
A bus called ‘Philip Larkin’
Which surely cannot fail

To enthuse our kids poetically
And keep them in their seats.
‘Twill stop them misbehaving
And ending up as NEETS.

If the folk had really read his poems
Who chose to name this bus
I’m sure they’d be less eager
To promote him with their fuss.

I think that I was on this bus
A couple of days gone by
The air was blue with profanity
Foul words in rich supply.

A young girl sat beside me
Barking into a phone
Bragging the sort of exploits that
She should have kept at home.

I seem to be a magnet to
The ignorant, foul and blaring
Polluting other people’s space
With obscenity and swearing.

So why name a bus for Larkin
And the foulness that he utters
To promote him is to celebrate
The language of the gutters.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Revelation Occurs (See Last Post). I Believe in Fernando Torres (See Last Post)

What Do I Believe In? Nothing. I Am a Hollow Soul

Grimacing panjandrum-in-waiting of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Charlie Windsor has delivered himself of a piece of diverting New Age hokum, I see, called Revolution, of all things. I’ve always had a soft spot for New Age guru types and prophets of new world orders, especially when they give us the chance to eat biscuits by royal appointment and generally rampage through the back catalogue of religions that don’t involve Jesus, and whose practitioners tend to be found slumming it in far-Eastern absolutist monarchies (‘the magical mountain kingdom of Bhutan’, as Terry Eagleton notes) or Wellness Centres in the Cotswolds or the Lake District (I like a good caffeine enema as much as the next man, I’m sure). (Since I mention Eagleton’s review, I can’t very well pass over his final zinger on ‘Bertolt Brecht’s parable about the troubled king of the east who summoned his wise men and commanded them to inquire into the source of all the miseries in the world. The wise men duly investigated, and returned to the king with the answer that the source of the miseries was him.’) But much as they add to the gaiety of nations (and there’s a lot of it about, to judge from the spirituality sections that infest bookshops these days with the rapacity of that patch of mould that’s been infesting my kitchen window), Chuck Windsor’s screeds nevertheless have the useful effect on me of making me wonder what if anything I believe in. Nothing, I suppose, is the answer: sorry, but nothing. I am a hollow soul. How do I feel about this?

I was having a discussion in a seminar the other day about Larkin and ‘Coleslaw’ Miłosz’s objections to him, as partially repeated by Seamus Heaney in his great Yeats v Larkin bake-off, ‘Joy or Night’. Larkin does not share the Pole’s zealous Catholic faith. Fine. But his spiritual hollowness is too great an affront, transports the bushy-eyebrowed Miłosz too far beyond the realms of agreeing to disagree: Larkin is worthless, vile. It’s an interesting one-way street, and not necessarily a defining condition of the conservative religious mind. Some of my favourite (‘some of my best friends...’ moments coming up, I feel...) modern artists are, by any definition, religious fundamentalist types: Messiaen, Rouault, Reverdy. But despite the hierarchical and authoritarian nature of their church, I find each of those three examples humble, ingenuous, open, whereas I find the personality I am describing, the religious nostalgist attempting to bludgeon this empty world of ours, this world of nectar points, free DVDs of The Midsomer Murders in Sunday newspapers, and Bill Oddie not being on Autumnwatch anymore, bludgeon it, I say, into submission with protestations of the supremacy of the spirit: I find them, I say, narcissistic, deluded and closed. Also reviewing HRH’s book in The Observer, Rowan Moore notes how ‘he treats his views (...) as personal revelations’, which sums it up for me. They are not revelations. They are the entirely banal and tedious second-hand insights of a second-rate brain. And this is where I can return to and now stand over my self-diagnosis as a hollow soul. Art is not about revelation. On the contrary, it’s about learning to see in the dark. ‘This imminence of a revelation that does not take place’, Borges suggested, ‘is perhaps the aesthetic experience’. The great temptation, Adorno said in a quotation I can’t find now, is to make the spirit explicit. Or as he said in Hegelian mode in a quotation I can find, from Minima Moralia:

The shift to existence, always ‘positive’ and justifying the world, implies at the same time the thesis of the positivity of mind, pinning it down, transposing the absolute into appearance. Whether the whole objective world, as ‘product’, is to be spirit, or a particular thing a particular spirit, ceases to matter, and the world-spirit becomes the supreme Spirit, the guardian angel of the established, despiritualised order (...). In passing off determinate being as mind, or spirit, [occultists] put objectified mind to the test of existence, which must prove negative. No spirit exists.

{Quotation ends}

And that’s my life then, the collected mauvais quarts d’heure of a randomly agglomerated bake of chemical scum. Send me a consolation packet of biscuits if you must, HRH, but given a straight choice between your spiritual vision being true and lingering in the vestibule of the unenlightened, I choose darkness. Or as Beckett’s Krapp put it: ‘clear to me at last that the dark I have always struggled to keep under is in reality my most – ’, except of course he can’t bring himself to say it. Much more of this kind of thing from me, though, and I’ll have to write some manner of... spiritual manifesto perhaps? I trust so.

The revelation will not be taking place.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Oliver Reynolds

When Ian Gregson and Carol Rumens edited their anthology of Hull poetry, Old City New Rumours, a while back, one poet with Hull connections who didn’t find his way into its pages was Oliver Reynolds (who took a drama degree there). But he’s someone who has tended to go missing on all manner of fronts in the last decades. It’s a pleasure, then, to see him break cover with a new collection, Hodge, which I review here. Small repetition of the word ‘again’ from sentence four to sentence five owing to interpolated sentence (i.e. not by me). Unfortunately too, a sentence about his poem ‘This poem has won no prizes’ has lost its second half: the poem ‘takes a laudable stand against prize culture, and one I would happily neutralize by awarding a prize, if I could.’ If anyone cares about these things (poetry prizes or missing half-sentences: take your pick).

A tin of sardines would be a more useful gift to the Johnsonian kitteh pictured above, surely.