Feel Like I’m At A Party Where Fewer People Than Expected Have Turned Up

May 7, 2012

Still, those of us who are there are not letting that dampen the atmosphere – here’s a nice long post at The Midnight Bell. Can’t work out which bit to quote, maybe this bit, cos it starts with the main thing I’m wondering about right now, then moves on to something I hadn’t really thought that much about:

So, you’re a classic, but not much more than one at the moment, and that bothers me. You’re in the canon, but there are no festivities, no seasons of your works, no big articles in which a minor novelist or thoughtful actor tries to sell you to an indifferent public.

I don’t get it. You’re dynamite, a poet who absolutely answers to us. You know how we’re all middle class now? (HA! RIGHT!) You’re the pre-eminent English poet of the middle class, & I don’t mean how-the-middle-class-sees-themselves, because if you were you’d be popular, I mean you are the great artist of the urban bourgeoisie, the revolutionary class that Marx told us to learn from, the one that took over and transformed the world, 1688-1900, who built the hegemon we’re trapped in; you’re their/our artist (not a laureate, not telling us what we want to hear) because you are all about the doubts, the terror, the one who gets how everything is collapsing even as it is being built, the contingency of it all, Clive of India about to get a bullet through his skull in a card game, Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, a tyrant of compromise and laodicean cowardice…


HAPPY 200th BIRTHDAY ROBERT!

May 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Robert. Even the memorials are fading. It’s almost invisibly located next to a fried chicken shop, under a junction box.

And NOTHING in the papers, apart from an okay-ish I guess bit in The Scotsman, [EDIT: to be fair, that Scotsman piece is considerably better than ‘okay-ish I guess’, esp considering the lack of anything else] and some weird aside in The Guardian that the browning variations nails here. And another bit in the Guardian, which seems on the face of it a little more sensible, but in fact barely manages to say a single thing that’s true or pertinent to Browning.

“Browning is not flashy and highly coloured, like Dickens .. But he was a great poet, and his ordinary bravery makes him a hero for all time.”

I mean seriously, what the fuck is that? No, he is, he is both of those things. He is fireworks! What the hell’s that last bit? What the fuck does it mean?

I’m glad that you like him and everything, Margaret, I really am – cos no one else is writing about Browning – but what exactly do you like him for? DON’T say his ‘ordinary bravery’ or i will vomit ALL OVER YOU.

And to echo TBV – Is that all we get?


How Do I Shot Sordello? Book II

May 7, 2012

I read Book II last week, but didn’t have time to write anything. It was one of those weeks where sportive gods shy what shit they can your way. I’m going to have to refer to my more or less haphazard notes and riff on them as I see fit.

WARNING THIS ENDS UP V LONG-WINDED, TALKING ABOUT SORDELLO’S POETIC PSYCHE. IT’S BROWNING’S FAULT.

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Sordello – Book the First

April 22, 2012

Browning’s early long poem Sordello has got a bit of a reputation for being difficult. I started it yesterday and suspect that reputation must be built largely on its notorious reception – I won’t rehearse the usual anecdotes, but Opta stats show of an edition of 500 copies only 157 were sold, while 86 were given away to reviewers and friends since the publication of the poem. Poor Browning! We’re not talking ziggurats at the front of Tesco here. And he really thought he was writing something accessible:

in 1850 John Westland Martson told Rossetti [DG] that ‘Browning, before publishing Sordello, sent it him to read, saying that this time the public should not accuse him at any rate of being unintelligible (!!)’.

I started reading it yesterday and I’m not really sure it’s as unintelligible as all that, tho there are admittedly difficulties. Here are some appropriately disordered thoughts having read Book 1:

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Poetry: Reading

February 20, 2012

Oh, and I’ve been picking through the third volume of Peter Reading’s Collected Poems (1997-2003). It’s fantastic in all sorts of ways, and it vexes me considerably that I only found out about him after he died.

Only wanted to say for the moment, this poem really nails it:

At the Reading

The sham-coy simper,

the complacency

the frisson titters,

the sycophancy.


Walter de la Mare – Another Ramble

February 14, 2012

A problem with London in winter is that the low sun leaves many streets unlit for much of the day. You get strange lozenged corridors of light, passing through the interstices of  buildings, or sudden golden and blinding boulevards appearing for half an hour, then as suddenly losing their magic. Some London squares net quantities of the sun for longer, and the current Crossrail work, with its impromptu demolished areas of brick dust and rubble, has opened up some unusual angles of visibility and light in novel places. Nevertheless, on a day such as today, with the sky a glorious, ringing blue, and the sun’s clear light transmitted without impediment of warmth through the cold and crystal air, the only thing to be done is to get out of London and into the countryside.

I’ve always liked England’s winter landscape: black, green, damp and stark, even in its darkness strangely lucent. I thought I’d take some poetry with me and first of all grabbed Hardy, but he wouldn’t fit in my inner pocket, so I subb’d in Walter de la Mare, some of whose short stories I’d read at the beginning of last year and liked a lot. I’d flicked through his Collected Poems before and enjoyed what I’d read, but as I had a train journey ahead of me I thought I’d go from the beginning and work my way through.

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Leave the Capitol! Exit this Roman shell!

April 28, 2011

The view south-eastish from the Capitoline Hill, from which the auspices of the flight of birds in the skies were taken by the augur from the Auguraculum.  It also held, *gazes down quickly at a book held beneath table level*, a Temple of Juno famous for its sacred geese, who had raised the alarm when the Gauls tried to attack the citadel one night in 390 BC and were thence looked after at State expense, carried each year on litters with purple and gold cushions in a ceremony at which dogs were crucified as a terrible reminder of the guard dogs who  had failed to bark.

So, birds basically. On the Capitoline Hill. Look, I can’t help it if it’s boring, I just wanted to use that Fall line.

Anyone drunk Fernet? It’s utterly revolting and rather more-ish. Here’s the wikipedia list of ingredients:

Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and coloured with caramel colouring. Ingredients rumored to be in fernet include codeine, mushrooms, fermented beets, coca leaf, gentian, rhubarb, wormwood, zedoary, cinchona, bay leaves, absinthe, orange peel, calumba, echinacea, quinine, ginseng, St. John’s wort, sage, and peppermint oil.

The effect of taking it down in one was once memorably described by Kingsley Amis as being like ‘throwing a cricket ball into an empty bath’.

The way it works is this: you take a sip and think ‘that’s disgusting, it’s just like black mouthwash’. Then you put it down, vowing never to drink any more. Then you think, after a suitable interval, ‘There was something else there, I wonder what it was’. Whereupon you take another sip. ‘No,’ you say to yourself, not mouthwash, what’s that bitter taste?’

Sip.

‘Coffee?’

Pause.

Sip.

‘Or, wait, is that … marjoram?’

Pause.

Sip.

‘Surely that can’t be…’

Sip.

Sip.

Sip.

‘My tongue’s gone numb! That’ll be the wormwood! Pour me another!’ (crawl to kitchen singing Twa Recruiting Sergeants)

Because I was reading Wallace Stevens while drinking Fernet, and my mind couldn’t stagger too far from the immediate set of stimuli, it occurred to me that the way the flavours both mingle and rub abrasively up against each other was a little like the sonic effects of Wallace Stevens’ poetry. There’s little of the Fernet’s murkiness of course, the precision of the way the sounds explore each other is part of the appeal:

Insinuations of desire,

Puissant speech, alike in each,

Cried quittance

To the wickless halls.

The Ordinary Women

The way ‘insinuations’ and ‘speech’ each fight over/seduce/tug at the word ‘puissant’, so that a sort of exploration of the mouth, an articulation of unusual sound flavours akin to reading the perfumed auspices of the Fernet, occurs in the mind of the reader. The way also ‘quittance’ and ‘wickless’ have clearly been chosen for each other, their comparative obscurity, not least so close together, making them look like choices of sound more than whatever sense, which in turn paradoxically leads the reader to a greater secondary emphasis on meaning than might otherwise be the case…

So my mind ran drunkenly on.

Sip.

I searched for some more or less satisfactory formula: The way in which his poetry revels and toys with the specific sounds of words tests the meaning of those words… maybe. ‘Tests’ isn’t quite right, ‘weighs’ or ‘proves’ maybe. I read Sunday Morning several times. It’s more lyrical than many of his poems, and I felt that at least part of the mystery was described  in lines given the woman of the piece:

She says, ‘I am content when wakened  birds,

Before they fly, test the reality

Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;’

Fields are words, poetry the sweet questioning of their reality. The lines continue:

‘But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields

Return no more, where, then, is paradise?’

Several more or less trite paradises are sketched before a half-answer given:

There is not any haunt of prophesy,

Nor any old chimera of the grave,

Neither the golden underground, nor isle

Melodious, where spirits gat them home,

Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm

Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured

As April’s green endures; or will endure

Like her remembrance of awakened birds,

Or her desire for June and evening, tipped

By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

By following the analogy of poetry’s sweet questionings above not too hard, these lines contain I think at least some sort of sense of the importance of poetry. Very often the paradise of a poem is found just after the poem has been finished, in its remembrance. Of course the lines in themselves contain a greater sense of the power of poetry than any half-assed drunken analogy drawing.

But birds, you see, birds again… and you thought I was just rambling.

Pass the Fernet.

Barp.