Friday 31 July 2009

Bobby Robson

What is it with certain old men? Particularly the boyish old men, who are never really old men but boys in shabby skin with a broadening ever-more brittle frame? Maybe they remind us of what the spirit goes on doing after the body has stopped doing very much at all. That's to say it gets excited about childish things, it weeps and laughs over absurdities, it plots and schemes and gets knocked down, but then it cocks a snook and gets on. It loves wonderful nonsense. It manages prose perfectly well but its secret vice is dreaming, which is almost poetry.

I took a glance at a partisan Manchester United fan-site where almost everyone has gone off topic to raise a metaphorical hat to him, though he had nothing to do with them, not even as England manager since one of their running adverts continually declares United>England. The club means more than the nation.

I think he won just enough and failed just enough. That's an honest state of affairs. When he didn't know something he didn't pretend to know. He came before mind games and he came before huge fees. He was successful abroad which was something everyone could respect. He managed Gascoigne in the latter's wounded naive idiotic pride. His players sometimes advised him and, apparently, he took their advice while retaining their respect. He managed small clubs and he managed big ones. He was passionate to the point of inarticulacy but good natured and good hearted. He was of that kindly, outgoing, generous, working class that represents as much good as the country has to offer.

The crab got him in the end, but the crab knows nothing. It's a plotless enfeebler that has never built a team out of a bunch of tractor boys and a couple of dutchmen.

A few apocryphal (and possibly true) Robsonisms:

"They've probably played better than they've ever done for a few weeks."

“Ray Wilkins' day will come one night.”

“I'm not going to look beyond the semi-final - but I would love to lead Newcastle out at the final.”

“He never fails to hit the target. But that was a miss.’

“We didn't underestimate them. They were just a lot better than we thought.”

“Eighteen months ago Sweden were arguably one of the best three teams in Europe, and that would include Germany, Holland, Russia and anybody else if you like.”

"We can't replace Gary Speed. Where do you get an experienced player like him with a left foot and a head?"

“If you count your chickens before they've hatched, they won't lay an egg.”

“Alan Shearer has done very well for us, considering his age. We have introduced some movement into his game because he has got two good legs now. Last season he played with one leg.”

“He has four lungs and two hearts – no doubt about it.”

“He's very fast and if he gets a yard ahead of himself nobody will catch him.”

"I've had to come out of the dressing room because I don't want to get too excited."

"We've dropped two points against Ipswich and I mean that sincerely."

“Some of the goals were good, some of the goals were sceptical.”

“I'd say he's the best in Europe, if you put me on the fence.”

And, pure Beckett:

"We are all in the same bucket."

OK, pure Bucket. Quotes from here (but probably, I suspect, from everywhere and nowhere.)

There it was. There goes life!

More Wrestling


The new book will contain five poems on wrestling, all spin-offs of the aborted wrestling novel that might yet turn into something else, granted the time. All five begin from the same character, József Szabó, a Hungarian-born professional wrestler working in the UK for over twenty years (1956-1978).

Aspects of Szabó are based on the real wrestler, Tibor Szakács (1928-1981). In the poems the character and narrative of Szabó / Szakács are both secondary to the sense of certain events, the first of which being the bombing of the Szakács house, as told to me by Tibor's brother. The poems themselves will go on the front page of the main site for some days each. Each has a date attached to it.

The first is available now. A 'rabbit' in wrestling is a fighter assigned to be a loser. Szakács was in fact Royal Albert Hall champion five years in a row in his heyday and had top billing on national wrestling bills and television. In his later career he was sometimes given the role of rabbit, especially against wrestlers like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki who, inadvertently, injured Szakács so he was blind in one eye and could no longer fight.

Assisted Suicide

I do of course understand that the Law Lords' Debby Purdy verdict regarding her appeal is about clarification not about the rights or wrongs of assisted suicide.

Two points, the first personal, the second about the idea of clarity.

1. The personal

My mother was ill for a very long time, long before she gave birth to my younger brother and I. She had suffered near fatal rheumatic fever at 14 in Romania, spent a year out of school, then, at 16, ventured to Budapest all by herself, to train as a photographer, but some four years later was caught up in a fascist-militia raid, and spent months in two concentration camps, being reduced to a skeleton in the process, but surviving. After the liberation of the second camp she made a very dangerous Primo Levi-like journey back to Hungary. Back in Budapest - where she married my father -she was advised not to have children but had two and became a press photographer. But her heart was in a very bad state - the camps would not have helped - and she couldn't keep up the physical work of following the news so she worked in the press lab instead (and occasionally at home). In 1956 she walked, as we all did, across the Austrian border and when we set up a new life in England, she worked in photo labs again as long as she could. But she was ill. Her mitral valve hardly worked and she went through a series of operations under the pioneering heart specialist Magdi Yacoub, whom she adored. But these were the early days of valve transplants and she caught infections.

I mention this because people arrive where they are by various routes. They are not just the problem at the end. I think she led a heroic life and, for all the difficult times we had, I eventually developed the highest regard for her. (note: How exactly to put this? I loved her of course, but I had no real idea of her as a person with a full history until much later. The highest regard? Respect? Admiration? All that.)

The problem for us was that she was in great pain and did not want to live. She kept talking about euthanasia (a topic we abhorred) and made attempts on her own life, one of which eventually succeeded. The worst of these times were after I left home. While home we were firmly against euthanasia, but now I think back on it, it was not for the best of reasons. Maybe I had better just speak for myself. So then, I (speaking for myself as a teenager) regarded the euthanasia talk as being in some way about me. It was morbid talk. Her desire for death was impinging on my desire to live. It also put me - and this may not have been entirely to my discredit - in a difficult position, in presenting me with a moral problem I was incapable of facing at the time. It was like being asked whether I approved of her desire. It was not that I didn't (though I didn't) it was simply being presented with the problem at all that was hard.

It is hard when young to have any conception of other people's suffering. Hard any time in fact, though it is possible to learn a little.

Since then I have lost a good number of friends, some in pain, desperately suffering, some stripped of dignity. Now, selfishly enough, I can imagine their suffering in so far as how I might feel were I in their situation. 'Don't get old,' has been said to me by both father and late father-in-law, inevitably with a smile. But the alternative, as Churchill once pointed out, is not necessarily better.

So now I think assisted suicide can be desirable. I think Dignitas has a right to refer to dignity in its name. I think the law's view, as I understand it, that people have a right to deal with their own lives while they are alive is the right one. Yes, we need safeguards, yes plenty of them, but the reverse of my teenage moral dilemma also holds true. I don't think we have a right - that anybody has a right - to insist that others should suffer so we feel better about it. If you have a religious conviction that is fine. You are welcome to hold it and try to persuade, but no right to dictate.

2. Clarity

I am for clarity rather than fudge. I know fudge allows for human frailty, human uncertainty, complex circumstances, and normally I find all these things - human frailty, human uncertainty and complex circumstances - far preferable to demands for perfection, purity,certainty and simplification. But fudge in law means fear and arbitrariness. I think it is an obligation, in law at least, to be as clear as humanly possible. Fudge will still remain because we cannot always be absolutely clear about anything, but at least we will have tried to be consistent.

I have sometimes wondered whether to prefer an anarchic (small a) state with arbitrary punishments or a byzantine (small b) state with minimal corruption. I suspect that is the kind of choice we are often having to make. School rules, game rules, ethical rules, laws of the land etc. The old discussion in Eastern Europe was between a legal state and a party state. There was general longing for a legal state for obvious reasons. You couldn't just be arrested and disappear in a prison for a start.

It might be argued that the precedent in the case of assisted suicide was entirely on the side of no prosecution. I don't think that is a good argument. Precedent is good. It can be very good. But it only works if it is crystallised - as far as it can be crystallised - in law, after discussion. Discussion is good. Is always good.

Unless you prefer the idea of the Good God / Good Emperor / Good Gauleiter with absolute authority. An idea of last resort. Not first, or second.

The last part (last part only) of the poem 'Apropos Palladio', in the forthcoming Bloodaxe book, The Burning of the Books and Other Poems.

Come to me, whisper the stones. Spread out your hands
And measure me, I will be conformable.
You can wash yourself in my light.
I am clean as the sky after clouds have passed.
I am a model of the universe in which there are
No black holes, no rogue meteors. My sun
Has no storms, my oceans shift to song
That settles in your educated ears
Like the music of the spheres.

My oceans shift to song. Song is what has been
And what continues whatever the price tag,
Whoever the singer. Clarity of form is clarity
In all and every light. Even clouds have clarity
That comprehends. The meteor has clarity.
The black hole in the mind is a hole in clarity.
Seabirds hang on thermals and hear the clarity
Of the storm. See, I can draw a clear line
Around your hand that washes the world clear.
The eye cleansed by the music of the ear.

Thursday 30 July 2009

ps Cat

Found this on Stumble. I have occasionally felt exactly like this:


Poor. Old. Tired. Horse.* Idea and Soil

Lilian Lijn, Sky Never Stops, 1965

It's good, it's interesting, yet it's no good, it's dull. The story of concrete poetry in the current ICA show is essentially a 60s-70s story in which the main figures are Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dom Silvester Houédard, Henry Chopin, Lilian Lijn (see above) plus miscellanea from Alisdair Gray, Carl André, Robert Smithson, but for those last three it is a minor side-line. Others too, some to be mentioned.

These are just first thoughts not an essay, and brief thoughts at that. The chief argument for concrete poetry, as someone in the catalogue says, I think it's Finlay, is simply that it is 'beautiful'. Well, Finlay often is beautiful and, generally, the more simple the more beautiful. Of the others Dom Silvester seems to me a decent old buffer making patterns with a typewriter and adding mystical references. Vito Acconci is sprightly with lists of marginalia in telephone books (I like marginalia in any form and want to write more myself). Both André and Smithson induce a certain tedium in me as do Henri Chopin and Lilian Lijn. I know it's ideas, and I know it is play, but it seems dull play to me. Vieux jeux. Francis Stark plays a buffoonish straight face.

Ideas are good, but ideas without soil go dry and grow arid. Finlay - who is head and shoulders above anyone here - has his feet on a kind of solid ground. He loves things. He loves boats. He loves the names of boats. He loves revolutions. He loves stone. He loves gardens. The man loves life and there is clean air in him.

I think I know what bores me in much of this exhibition! It is - strange to say - verbose. Words as things are OK but they are disposable without things beyond them. The theory is verbose, the product is verbose. Which may be a good point at which to stop pounding this keyboard.

In the meantime four cheers for Ian Hamilton Finlay. Let him have the last stone (not from the exhibition).

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Little Sparta, The Shady Grove

*Poor.Old.Tired. Horse. Periodical founded by Ian Hamilton Finlay.


Reading last night at SoPo, which is actually the PR company Elmwood in Carlisle Street. Clean airy space and soon very full, almost wholly - and very pleasingly - with under forties. Laura Forman who arranges the events does the introductions. First up Nathan Penlington, part magician, part stand-up comic, part performance poet doing a mixed act of all three. He gets around quite a lot and is very practiced so his 20 minute slot is full of variety. A nice thing with large cards with diary notes / poems on them. Then Emily Berry - stern, almost unblinkingly military, the poems just as disciplined, very strong clear work. Then brief break and I go on and that does fine.

All this plus drinks and fancy nibbles. Gary McKeone is there and some old students: Sally and Ben and James and Catherine. Outside it is pouring. We stop at the Nellie Dean for a drink and talk then a taxi back to H and R's, where pizza is quickly heated up and we look at the wedding photos as well as R's new apocalypse book. Now the morning. To ICA and to meet Tom.

Might slot in pictures later.

eg now.

Not this audience but a previous one (*the lower picture is Colette Bryce). Ours was like this (ambience etc) but different. In fact possibly even fuller. Pictures from SoPo website, this part.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

From Márai - Jealousy, Death and Indifference

Judit, the maid the central male character of The Intended had long been in love with, has returned after several years of silence abroad. She rings him out of the blue from a cheap hotel near the station and he comes straight over, leaving his wife, as it turns out for ever. As he speaks with Judit it eventually emerges that during her time in London she had taken a lover. The man reflects on this many years later in conversation with a close friend at an all-night cafe.

Today I can see all this clearly, at least a few moments of it. For example when she told me that she had a lover in London, a Greek teacher of singing. That was near the end once she had decided to come home. But first she wanted clothes: shoes, some decent luggage. The Greek music master bought her everything she wanted. Then she came home, took a room near the station, picked up the phone and rang me, saying ‘Hello!...’ in English, as though she had forgotten Hungarian.

What effect this news had on me? I’d like to be honest with you. I am trying to recall, to look into my heart, to check my recollection, and can only answer in a single word: none. It is hard for people to understand the true significance of actions and relationships. Someone dies for example. You don’t understand it. The person is already buried and you still feel nothing. You go about in mourning with a ceremonial solemnity, you look straight ahead of you when you are in society but then, when you’re at home, alone, you yawn, you scratch your nose, you read a book and think of everything except the dead man you are supposedly mourning for. On the outside you behave one way, properly sombre and funereal, but inside, you are astonished to note, you feel absolutely nothing, at most a kind of guilty satisfaction and relief. And indifference. A deep indifference. This lasts a while, for days, perhaps for months. You fool the world, but secretly, slyly, you don't care. Then one day, much later, maybe after a year when the dead one has long decomposed, you are just walking along and suddenly you feel dizzy and you have to lean against the wall because you have understood. What? The feeling that had tied you to the dead one. The meaning of death. The fact, the reality of it, the knowledge that it is useless to scrape away the earth with your fingernails and uncover what is left of that other, you will never again see that smile, and all the wisdom and power in the world is incapable of raising the dead man to make him walk down the street towards you with a smile on his face. You can stand at the head of an army and conquer every corner of the globe but it’s still useless. And then you cry out. Maybe you don't even do that. You simply stand in the street, pale, aware of a loss so great it seems the world has lost all meaning, as if you were left alone, the only man on earth.

And jealousy? What does that mean?... What lies behind it? Vanity, of course. Seventy percent of our body is made up of fluids, only the remaining thirty percent is constituted of the solid matter that makes up a human being. In the same way human character is comprised of seventy percent vanity, the rest is made up of desire, generosity, fear of death and a sense of honour. When a man in love walks down the street with bloodshot eyes because a woman just as vain as he is, just as needy, just as lonely, just as desperate for happiness, just as unfortunate a creature as everyone else, has found brief solace in another man’s arms somewhere in town, it is not that he wants to save the woman’s body or soul from some imagined danger or humiliation, but fear for the vanity, his own, that he would wish to preserve from harm. Judit told me she had a Greek music master for a lover. I nodded politely as if to say, yes, naturally and changed the topic of conversation. And indeed, right at that moment, I felt nothing. It was much later, once we had divorced, and once I knew that other people loved too, when I was alone, that I remembered the Greek music master, and groaned in fury and despair. Well then, I would kill them both, both Judit and the Greek music master, if I ever laid hands on them. I suffered like any wounded creature, a wild animal shot through the thigh, because a woman with whom I had nothing more to do, whose society I avoided because we had failed each other in every respect, had at some time in the past an affair with a man whom, she, Judit, would only faintly remember now, the way one remembers a dead man one hardly knew. But then, at the moment she actually confessed to the affair, I felt nothing. I carried on peeling an apple with a polite, agreeable expression on my face, as if this were precisely what I expected to hear and was happy to get the news I was hoping for.

Monday 27 July 2009

Birthday Party

Did a rare thing last and watched TV for a couple of hours, an old production of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party to be exact, with Pinter himself as Goldberg and a grand cast of Joan Plowright (Meg), Kenneth Cranham (Stanley), Colin Blakely (McCann), Julie Walters (Lulu) and Robert Lang (Petey).

Pinter's genius, as everyone knows, was for comedy of a faintly threatening kind, not for overt violence, heavy didactic symbolism or outright surrealism. The writing in The Birthday Party is a blend of Ionesco, Stan Barstow and the Goons. The dialogue is brilliant when banal, but when Goldberg and McCann turn the heat on Stanley it begins to feel a bit schoolboyish, or at least period, as if the author were trying too hard to arrive at some Francis Bacon moment complete with squirming torso and torn flesh. It might be better getting there by implication rather than by grimacing and automatic writing. Maybe it is just too close to a willed sort of poetry:

GOLDBERG. We'll watch over you.
MCCANN. Advise you.
GOLDBERG. Give you proper care and treatment.
MCCANN. Let you use the club bar.
GOLDBERG. Keep a table reserved.
MCCANN. Help you acknowledge the fast days.
GOLDBERG. Bake you cakes.
MCCANN. Help you kneel on kneeling days.
GOLDBERG. Give you a free pass.
MCCANN. Take you for constitutionals.
GOLDBERG. Give you hot tips... etc

If I were Stanley I'd be tempted to retort: Come off it you pretentious gits! rather than turn catatonic. Stanley, my boy, I want to say in faintly Goldbergian tones (my own Goldberg variation), you are too impressionable.

And yes, we get the idea that Goldberg and McCann are sadistic gangsters looking to catch up with Stanley; we also get the idea that this is not merely a one-off story but a representation of something behind British society, a kind of alien or foreign violence in which language itself turns violent. The violence is overtly foreign since Goldberg is clearly a caricature East End Jew (in other words a second generation immigrant) and McCann a homicidal Fenian (an immigrant Irishman): stereotypes we might think of today as faintly racist. Granted Pinter was Jewish himself but Goldberg is potential food for fascists. Interestingly, I think Goldberg would be an acceptable stereotype in today's climate (try Seven Children of Goldberg?) while McCann would not.

The play holds attention throughout. The banal shreds remain compulsive and darkly funny. It is genius, even if a little laboured. All it lacks is humanity. On TV Pinter was performing Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape straight after. But that's the difference: Beckett was a humane genius, a great writer, a proper noun, a world. Pinter is not a world. Pinteresque remains an adjective.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Sunday night is... Early blues with...

Blind Willie Johnson, Big Maceo Merriweather and Muddy Waters (nice slide show)

Thin wash of sky, milky like a dirty window. Occasional scampering breeze.

Saturday 25 July 2009

Dream on

'Out of this wood do not desire to go,' says Titania to Bottom. The wood is the place of confusion and change. Once we enter it we are lost in the dream. '...Shakespeare availed himself of the title of this play in his own mind, and worked upon it as a dream throughout....' said Coleridge,

So here we are in a wood which is no more than a tiny copse in the garden in South Burlingham, watching and listening to another interpretation of the dream, this time with tiny Goth fairies flittering like flies or scrambling like spiders. The lovers yearn and hate and yearn again, their raw youth torn this way and that. The worldly powers outside the wood, now absolute, now complaisantly benign, think they have it all sorted, but are themselves subject to powers within the wood. Here is where things are turned upside down, yet righted.


The hurts appear small, but to the lovers they are piercing and bitter. Such rapid about-turns of passion might seem shallow. Surely if an affection can turn as quickly as this it cannot be worth much. We know this of course: it is just that they don't. They feel their lives breaking, and we - in this production particularly - feel it with them. Mortals may be fools, but then we know what it is to be both mortal and foolish. Demetrius, Lysander, Helena and Hermia are hard to play. Sometimes they seem no more than leaves flung about by an arbitrary wind. Their scenes are quite long. They could, given a poor production and performance, seem, well, long. Here they didn't, and don't.

The lovers love each other: we love the mechanicals. Here a spare, capering Bottom and an ancient Lion move to the gentle if frustrated directions of a sprightly and giggly Mistress Quince. The mechanicals are a harmless, knockabout troupe whose task is the carnivalesque - and therefore comic - dismantling of both language and social order, but who are so anxious not to cause fright or offence that they never quite become carnival. Carnival of a rather hierarchical sort is saved for the spirits of the wood. As for the mechanicals, they never stop being mechanicals. Throw them together this way or that, they still come up reliable and decent and well-intentioned, a carnival as faithful to worldly laws as a hopeless but affectionate dog is to its master. The mechanicals know their place. Moon appears, Wall appears. Here come Ninnies and Thisnes and and all the pre-malapropisms of the clumsy,

Pyramus and Thisbe make one of four sets of lovers. The others sets are Oberon and Titania, and Theseus and Hippolyta (who, we should not forget, is a war bride, a piece of booty). The fourth set is the young lovers who, being part of the same conundrum, count as a single package.

In terms of power, Theseus and Egeus wield naked power outside the wood,: Oberon and Puck within it. As Theseus to Egeus, so Oberon to Puck. Titania is the rampant ghost of Hyppolita reborn. That, to me at least, seems to be the pattern.

Bottom - this Bottom - doesn't bluster as much as some Bottoms do. He isn't a poor man's Sir Toby Belch: he is a poor man, albeit one with moments of high energy that burst from a poor man's tired body. He is the most plaintively human Bottom I have seen for a long time. Next to Snug he is the oldest of the mechanicals.

Oberon - this Oberon - is part daemon, part Jacobean schemer, part fly, part Prospero. Well, why not? I am sure we can imagine ourselves as all these at once. But it takes some acting to hold them together. He is not exactly the dark side, no more than any insect might be. This Lord of the Flies is not the devil himself. He says what he has to say precisely between speech and music - which is, after all, the province of poetry. And that is the key. He is an embodiment of poetry not of theology. He has whims instead of dogmas.

Puck - this Puck - is a slightly camp aesthete. Well, I suppose I'd better serve you. OK, OK I'm going already. Lord, what fools these mortals be... Like Oberon he is silver haired. Like Oberon, he understands poetry, that is to say understands it as verse as well as speech: in other words he has the music of it. He has heard plenty and enough of it in his life time, has been the subject and mediums of it. Puck the Mischief, the trickster, is subject to the Lord of the Flies, but his mischief has a residually independent life. Nothing serious. Nothing fatal. Nothing, at least, unforgivable.

The best of Shakespeare is forgiveness. Here there isn't really very much to forgive. Nothing serious happens, there is only a gift begrudged and a passion rejected. Powers are countered by powers. The better powers - those in the wood - must win, and do win. Nature is carnival. Nature is silver-haired mischief.

Ageing, silver-haired men are the very devil of course. What with an ageing Bottom and a positively ancient Snug (director P in Lion-mode) there is a case for calling the play, as P had it, A Midzimmer Night's Dream, but then this smattering of age actually adds something to the play, rather humanising it. These three silver men, plus Snug, are the zimmers, the props of the play. They ground everything, even the magic.


In that respect it is a male - indeed patriarchal - play, but of the lovers it is the women who are more individuated - at least in so far as one is tall and one short: one fights, the other runs away. Lysander and Demetrius, the young male lovers, are young and sportif blades, which is all you really need to know. All the more reason then to provide them with the full music of verse maturely understood. The poetry remains poetry in their mouths, as in all mouths.

The female principle finds its chief embodiment in Titania who has to be, and is - in this production - imperious, commanding not only her train of fairies, but the very ground she walks on. Jan Kott, in that marvellous essay of his, 'The Bottom Translation', described the erotic themes of the play. If that erotic power finds embodiment anywhere it must be in Titania - there isn't anyone else - who remains regal despite having bedded an ass. Very well, she can brush herself down and declare the affair done with and move on. The latent sympathy between Hippolyta and the female lovers has no space in which to expand though it was lightly touched in here: all the women are subject to war and patriarchs. That sad resentful energy is converted into erotic power in Titania. Nobody has to underline this. Given a commanding Titania, it's just how it is, at least within the ambit of the wood.


Towards the end of his essay Jan Kott says: There will always remain two interpretations of A Midsummer Night's Dream: the light and the sombre. And even as we choose the light one, let us not forget the dark one.

The dark is there in the poetry: the poetry is light freighted with dark. This production, like all P and M's past productions of the play, understands it very well. This probably as well as any as I remember.

The dark is there in the poetry. You could practically shut your eyes and still be in the play, but then you open them and there is dark Oberon and proud Titania and that insect-horde of fairies flitting about like magical flies. And humans go on living in passion and folly, under naked and hidden power. As Puck says:

Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide:
And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate's team,
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream,
Now are frolic: not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallow'd house:
I am sent with broom before,
To sweep the dust behind the door.

Hey, that's our dust, Puck. Go easy then. Dream on.

Friday 24 July 2009


It is a genuine relief to see an innocent man escape punishment, so a particularly great sigh of relief at the jury's verdict on Liverpool captain and all-round-hero Stephen Gerrard. There can hardly be a man in the country more innocent that Gerrard. As this report tells us:

The footballer had been drinking Budweiser and a sweet liqueur-based shot called a Jammy Donut. In police interviews, he estimated his level of drunkenness as seven out of 10; one being "sober as a judge" and 10 being "legless".

However, at around 2am, the mood soured when Gerrard walked up to the bar and asked McGee, a customer who had been asked to take charge of the music, for a card to control the CD player. McGee refused.

Six minutes later, Gerrard approached McGee, who was still at the bar. Gerrard's friend John Doran landed the first blow, jabbing his elbow into McGee's face. As McGee reeled backwards, Gerrard thought he was about to be attacked and reacted with punches.

Ian Smith, another member of Gerrard's party, joined in. Doran and Smith then kicked McGee.

And how good to know that his innocence has been so stoutly defended by the man prosecuting him:

During the trial, the prosecutor, David Turner QC, paid homage to Gerrard's skill, describing him as a world-class footballer and "a star". He added: "Wherever you go in Liverpool, and indeed the world, there are little boys proudly wearing that red Liverpool shirt with No 8 and the name Gerrard on the back of it."

And as for the judge, good egg that he is,

"The verdict is a credible verdict on the full facts of this case, and you walk away from this court with your reputation intact."

Intact indeed. Absolutely intacta. Seven (7) men attack one (1) man and not one of the seven is hurt. The one man is hurt. Six of the seven are guilty, all except the one who hit him three (3) times. He is innocent because he was acting in self-defence in case the one man, who had already been hit and 'reeled backwards', hit him. Quite understandable. People who reel backwards after being hit are bound to hit you. Could this have been in Liverpool Crown Court? It could. So that's all settled then. Positively cuddly.

Thursday 23 July 2009

61% Calvinist

I am, so it seems from this test that I took from Shuggy (53%) and Norm (56%) who are both less Calvinist than I am. On the other hand there was no question on predestination. Shouldn't there have been? And should I, as a good 61% Calvinist, have been doing the test at all?

All these questions to answer! I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition!

Our chief weapons are...

Wednesday 22 July 2009

From Malloch to Moloch in one easy lesson: Browniana

I really and truly cannot imagine how Lord Malloch-Brown reversing his earlier opinion is of any help whatsoever to Gordon Brown, for either the latter has been fiercely twisting the former's arm in public, or he has no common agreed line with his ministers to start with, neither of which possibilities reflects well on him.

I wished Brown well, hoped him well, thinking him a man of some, possibly hidden, principle, or as much principle as a leader of the contemporary Labour Party can afford, but I really and truly cannot regard him as anything but a walking disaster. The disaster may not be all his own fault but, every time he moves, something else falls over and smashes. I am beyond feeling sorry for him.


Last night we had dinner a few miles out in the country at a friend's along with a writer who is a Vietnam vet, furthermore one with medals - a very good writer judging by the sample of the first chapter of his novel that I read last night. He has been here since the early eighties. His partner is a strong, instinctive long-time Labour supporter who works in social services. When the conversation touched on Brown she gave an involuntary shudder. The name was a hideous embarrassment. She wished it wasn't. I wish it weren't. Of course I wish it weren't.

But it is both, both hideous and embarrassing, and this is regardless - or almost regardless - of helicopters. It cannot quite be regardless, since if it is true that people are dying for lack of them, or are fatally hindered by lack of them, it is worse than useless repeating: they have enough, they have enough, they have everything they need, especially when a number of those closer to the situation than he is have said precisely the opposite. In other words it is no longer embarrassing, it is hideous and arrogant and wrong. If there was an ounce of honesty in him, he would have to say something like: It is hard to be certain whether we have enough helicopters or not, but we simply can't afford more. These are bad times. We don't have the cash..

But prime ministers don't say things like that. This one certainly doesn't. He blusters. And goes on blustering. And the more he blusters, the more he sounds like he is lying.


Yesterday afternoon discussing collaboration with two artists, Caroline Wright and Helen Rousseau. Today discussing writing an introduction - not a conventional introduction - to Justin Partyka's marvellous photographs of Norfolk's last small farmers, due for exhibition at the Sainsbury Gallery at the end of September.

Computer images can't do justice to the extraordinary quality of the photographs themselves as he laid them out on the table this afternoon.

It's wonderful working with artists and composers and musicians. If only there was time to do everything, and to do it all well!

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Two Gordons: intergalactic news

Gordon, of Peter and Gordon, has died. Peter Asher was Jane Asher's brother, Jane going out with Paul McCartney. Gordon was not the Gordon referred to by Jilted John.

A moment of sixties silence. The potency of cheap music.

Another sad item on intergalactic news.


Gordon Burn was a stunning writer. I read his Alma Cogan quite a few years ago but he seems to me, even at this distance, a far superior version of David Peace. Lots of celebrity-fascination there, which I don't go for, not even in the darkest and most obscure crannies of my imagination, but in Burn's hands it was haunted imagination, fully equipped with all the senses and fully literary in a way no film could do justice to: sheer prose, nudging at tough poetry.

Monday 20 July 2009


I am doggedly translating a single sentence of 27 pages (this must be the new world record, even for Mr K, beating his own old world record by almost fifteen pages) but I have Cricinfo running on the tool bar just above the text, and watch the wickets-down figure rise and the name Flintoff recur.

Look, I am a Hungarian, and it took me seven years to understand cricket (1963 on Brighton beach, if you want to know, listening - not watching - as Cowdrey went in to bat with a broken arm and Brian Close strode down the wicket to Hall and Griffiths), and I know from the withering looks I have received from the true-born English, even the true-born Anglo-Welsh, that it is not my place to comment on that which has not been in my blood for at last three generations. Nevertheless, sneakily I have kept an eye on the sport while keeping my mouth shut, but the Flintoff story is, well, rousing. The blond giant, the green man, the stout-hearted boozing dare-devil combination of Little John, Samwise Gamgee and Henry V, is injured but bowls the spell of his life, consistently over 90 mph (that's almost as fast as the nuns in the story below) to take five wickets. The big-hearted boy that is for ever pastoral England wins it.

As to the win, excellent of course, though it would be even better if it had not been for a few questionable umpiring decisions. But then it is the first England win over Australia at Lords since 1934, so damn the quibbles, and back to the 27-page sentence with a new bounce in my stride.

Ford Fiesta: A Mission from God

I'm not sure any major paper except The Telegraph does stories like this:


Three nuns who hurried towards Pope Benedict XVI's holiday home after learning that he had suffered a minor accident were stopped by police for speeding at 120mph.

Sister Tavoletta, 56, was at the wheel of the Ford Fiesta, and two other unnamed nuns, aged 65 and 78, were passengers when police pulled them over.

When stunned officers asked why they were speeding, Sister Tavoletta said: "We had heard how the Pope had fallen over and we were on our way to make sure he was OK."

The nuns were stopped while an hour's drive from Pope Benedict's summer holiday chalet at Les Combes. Earlier, the pontiff had slipped in the bathroom and fractured his wrist – news which caused great consternation at the nuns' Salesian convent. The trio immediately jumped in a car to try and visit him.

A spokesman for Turin's police, said: "Hopefully Sister Tavoletta will be making sure she confesses her bad driving the next she goes to confession. But in the meantime, she will have to pay the Euros 375 fine (£325)."

120 mph in a Fiesta? Hit it, nuns!

Sunday 19 July 2009

Sunday night is... Keith Jarrett running away with himself and everything else

The not uneccentric Mr Jarrett beginning with a torrential Art Tatum-like downpour such as we have just had, of music in his case, of rain in ours, then deciding to get on with 'All the Things You Are (and are hurriedly being)'. Keith Jarrett, the Leo Messi of the piano, definitely a shimmering winger rather than a midfield dynamo or a reliable shot-stopper.

Two Penned Books

From Penned in the Margins, a book each by Stephanie Leal and Sarah Hesketh. Quite different poets: Leal playful, experimental, questioning of 'poetry' as a specialised, rarefied state enjoyed only by sensitive types, her poems with a touch of theatre and bravura, some natural for - and intended for - performance; Hesketh... well, my own blurb for it says:

Her terrain is not ... exactly Jane Austen’s ‘two inches of ivory’ because Hesketh’s imagination ranges far and wide into some fairly exotic real and literary spaces, but the sense of ivory is there, as is the fierce, delicate carving. It is a melancholy but rigorously beautiful world her poems describe. We also know that every tiny part of every line has been fiercely fought for and that that is the source of the authority.

Read more about Hesketh here and about Leal here.

It's nice to be able to mention these. I don't do advertisements but these are good books by very promising poets, both of whom I briefly taught, and it has become a very rainy Sunday indeed. Let them brighten it.

Saturday 18 July 2009

A little poorer still... Poems, jokes, toads, safe landings.

Here is something I have sometimes thought about and discussed with students. It is the elementary question of what makes something a poem. We start from the most obvious apparent signs. The text in the poem being divided into lines. The prevalence of some form of patterning - stanzas, metres, rhymes. The heightened use of language in the form of alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc. Relative lack of narrative (though this depends on what kind of poem we mean). And more.

And then we might say something about jokes, about how it's the way we tell them that matters. What is the way we tell them? What are the good ways? Well, we say, we might look for features such as timing, emphasis, detail. We expect relative brevity and relative compression.

Yes, but all that applies to poems too, so what's the difference? Is it the punch line? Poems don't have punch lines. They do however have exit lines, a point at which the poem stops. At this stage I might introduce one of my patent wise saws: Enter firmly, step off lightly, meaning: establish place and tone quickly and don't make a huge fuss in letting the poem go. No drum rolls please. No morals. No heavy closures.

Nevertheless, though this does for a start, things are rarely so simple. So what makes one thing a joke, the other a poem? Take this from yesterday's Python clip:

We were evicted from our hole in the ground. We had to go and live in a lake...

You were lucky to have a lake. There were 150 of us living in a shoe box in the middle of the road... We used to have to get up out of the shoe box in the middle of the night and lick the road clean with our tongues... and when we got home our dad would slice us in two with a breadknife.

I had to get up at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed eat a lump of cold poison, work 29 hours a day down t'pit and pay t'millowner for permission to go to work and when we got home our dad would kill us and dance about on our graves singing hallelujah.

and this, again, from yesterday's Simic:

We were so poor I had to take the place of the bait in the mousetrap. All alone in the cellar, I could hear them pacing upstairs, tossing and turning in their beds. “These are dark and evil days,” the mouse told me as he nibbled my ear. Years passed. My mother wore a cat-fur collar which she stroked until its sparks lit up the cellar.

The Python is a cut and paste from different parts of the mounting, trump-the-man-before conversation between the four Yorkshiremen.

The first sentence of the Simic is no different in kind from 'We had to go and live in a lake...' or 'There were 150 of us living in a shoe box in the middle of the road'. We recognise both the Simic and the Python as ventures into the absurd. Entering firmly.

Nor is the second sentence of the Simic wildly different from the Python equivalent, though by the standards of comic writing '...I could hear them pacing upstairs, tossing and turning in their beds' is potentially an embellishment (the tossing and turning in the beds) too far. Simic is aiming at unease. Python for the absurd.

Licking the road clean with the tongue works principally on one comic principle, the one the Python joke generally does work on, that is by piling on ever more unlikely detail, until maximum crescendo has been reached at which point the whole balloon-machinery either explodes or rapidly deflates. The exploding toad principle. The narrative line is straight but remains interesting because we cannot tell how far the toad can expand before it blows up. There is suspense and relief involved, suspense and relief being one of the key elements in humour. So licking the road clean is a step up (a little step) from living in a shoe-box. Although, having said that, I am not quite sure. There are photographs during the Nazi persecution of elderly Jews on their hands and knees being forced to polish the road with a toothbrush. One touch of darkness for Python there, a serious risk. It is the risk that might well be heightening expectation, blowing the toad out that extra degree, not the extra touch of the absurd.

Simic then does three quick turns. First we hear a voice saying something portentous, whether serious or comical it is hard to gauge at first hearing, but then, still within the same sentence, he presents us, perfectly naturally, with the information that the speaker is a mouse (that is to say one of the kind for whom the trap was intended). Let us assume this is a cartoon mouse for now since real mice do not speak except in fairy tales or in cartoons, though Tom and Jerry's Jerry tends not to utter dark prophecies like: These are dark and evil days. So maybe it is a fairy tale mouse after all, fairy tales being open to mysteriously dark, cloudy pronouncements hinting at violence whereas cartoons - especially Tom and Jerry, tend to concentrate on the violence.

Then, in the third act of the sentence, he shows us the mouse nibbling the speaker's ear. Under what circumstances do we find our ears being nibbled? There is a faintly erotic turn here, odd for a comic mouse, albeit a prophetic one with a Jeremiah complex.

None of this is registered immediately or distinctly, but if we listen, we hear, and hearing poems is to do with a specially focussed kind of listening. Simic has suddenly expanded the field of operations. To put it another way, there is no longer one toad in the room but three or four at once.

Python meanwhile is busily pumping air into its own more single-focus toad. It escapes from the predictability of the process by suddenly introducing a wonderfully absurd yet graphic act of violence: '..and when we got home our dad would slice us in two with a breadknife'.

Now that sort of thing does happen in fairy tales (see The Juniper Tree for similar acts of grotesque violence). At this point Python is seriously flirting with poetry. We know that it would be impossible to be surgically sliced in two. With a breadknife. The fact that our dad is doing it invites nicely Oedipal echoes. Or there is the Goya image of Saturn Devouring His Own Children. Violence visited by the father. It was touches like these that made Python into a great inventive comical force.

But it is, after all, comedy, not poetry they are after: laughter not haunting. The trumping of the breadknife with pure absurdism (getting up before we've gone to bed, working 29 hours a day) reduces the haunting. We are back with reason. Reason is the only victim here. Comedy is safe landings. Poetry is not landing at all just being aware of the ground.

And Simic goes on touching various buttons. The cat-fur collar relates to the mouse of course, but stroking cat fur and producing static electricity keys in lightly with the light, childlike, eroticism of the whole. I don't want to get too Freudian about the cat-furred mother figure. Just a little. As Simic does.

The Pythons have a clearly definable aim, which is to produce laughter. Their exit line about the youth of today is a bit feeble but the sketch has to end somehow. Jokes end. It is the poetry of the joke that remains hanging in the air, not quite landing, unable to land.

Simic has no such clearly defined state of mind to aim at. He invents as he goes along, feeling his way along touching the buttons that seem appropriate for reasons he himself cannot quite articulate while in the act. His joke cannot afford to finish or land. The text has to stop at just the right awkward point that explains nothing but holds the machinery in the air. The landing place is in our own heads, and God knows where our heads are. Stroking cat fur, it seems, and watching the sparks. Stepping off lightly. Still in the air.

Friday 17 July 2009

We Were So Poor... All Ears


from The World Doesn't End


We were so poor I had to take the place of the bait in the mousetrap. All alone in the cellar, I could hear them pacing upstairs, tossing and turning in their beds. “These are dark and evil days,” the mouse told me as he nibbled my ear. Years passed. My mother wore a cat-fur collar which she stroked until its sparks lit up the cellar.


Cat-fur? Cellar? Ear? You were lucky...


My mother was a braid of black smoke.
She bore me swaddled over the burning cities.
The sky was a vast and windy place for a child to play.
We met many others who were just like us. They were trying to put on their overcoats with arms made of smoke.
The high heavens were full of little shrunken deaf ears instead of stars.

(Simic again...)

Thursday 16 July 2009

At the Ambassadors (Wrestling 2)

Larry Magnolia has poured himself into his gold suit. Mal Gallicott is snarling in his leopard skin lapels. And what does Larry say? He is pointing at the gaffa tape on the mat.

You want tawdry, ladies and gentlemen? we give you tawdry.

You could dance, you could go out for a decent meal, or drive out into the country in search of an appropriate fairground, looking for the acrid taste of raw nostalgia. And you could find it. It doesn’t have to be real. Nostalgia is happiness at the edge of language, a tip-of-the-tongue elusive flavour. You could even find it here if that was what you wanted. Nostalgia as tawdriness worked into a glossy routine. It’s not what they want though. Not exactly. What they want, what they have become addicted to, is truth, and truth precisely in this guise.

A boy in a white mouse outfit runs about the room. He has a slight paunch and a long ratty tail. A man at one of the tables pretends to pick fights with him: the mouse hides behind pillars or flaps at him with his little hands.

An elderly man three chairs down, his face impassive, immobile. A couple opposite with the same statuesque stillness. They’re dotted here and there. Their faces have slipped and settled.

The wrestlers have entered the ring. The first has a sweet, effeminate softness in his body. He is known as Boy. He is neither particularly tall nor particularly wide. His wears his hair mullett style. He looks like a boy on the market, nothing more, but he plays hero in a Union Jack costume. The softness and ordinariness is what Larry Magnolia is picking at. But the irony is more complex than he knows. It’s there in the costume. We are Brits, the costume says. We are not enormous yankee myths projected onto glossy limbs nor are we Braveheart leading a bunch of brittle vainglorious Scots. But just in case you’re thinking you can mess with us, we carry this smelly old linament bottle full of irony, and should it come to that, we’ll smash your fucking face in with it.

His opponent for tonight, the heel of the contest, is Todd ‘Skull’ Harte, nineteen stone and rising. Skull wears black and has a small but engaging repertoire of sneers: the sneer contemptuous, the sneer threatening, the sneer puzzled for when he’s thrown, the sneer twinkling for when he has inflicted some pain on his opponent and the sneer jovial which quickly shades off into the sneer ironic that undermines the rest.

And I tell you what. It frightens me, says Larry Magnolia.

Nineteen stone Skull and twelve stone Boy are father and son.

Father charges at son. Throws him once, throws him twice. Suplex. Suplex. Quick, like that. Holds him in a standing headlock, then applies a double wristlock and head scissors. You don’t want to hurt your lad too much. Throws him again. The Boy goes hard on his back. The round consists entirely of Skull playing rag doll with him. So does the next. If you were coming for the first time you’d wonder how it is that the Boy survives, especially as he has already been thrown out of the ring twice. But when you get used to the rhythm of the thing, you see there is less contact than you imagine. The choreography is fine. You get a body slam and the arms go down hard to make a wonderful boom that makes you think your vertebrae have just impacted with your sacrum so you’re fused forever, you and the mat below you,. But give it a head shaking three or four seconds and you’re up delivering a forearm smash or a flying mare or smashing your opponent’s head against the ropes. Your timing has to be right.

By the third round things have changed. The Boy spins away from his father, leaps over him, rolls under his legs, bounces off the rope and tips him over, so both his shoulders are touching the ground. That’s one fall to The Boy.

Hero: one, villain: nil.

Perhaps the twist in the proceedings has come a little early for you? Myself, I don’t think it’s too bad. In fact there’s nothing shamefully below par here, not by today’s standards anyway. The moves are good, the timing’s pretty well on the spot. As for the plot, the narrative if you like, it has a certain flow and tension.

The girls in the audience fist the air. One middle aged man at a table takes Skull’s side and encourages him, but Skull loses this one because the story demands it. He returns to the dressing room. The fat man slinks back, a whale moving through the water which divides before him.

Poetry Season

Nathan Hamilton wrote a sensible Guardian Blog about BBC TV's poetry season that is well worth reading. Commenters include Michael Rosen, the excellent Billy Mills, and now myself. Nathan keeps the conversation going. Read the lot - and contribute?

Incidentally, the picture of the television above is taken from a web site called anything but poetry. Those Vogons have a lot to answer for.


And, while on the subject of poetry, here is a very nice personal piece about Wallace Stevens by Sridala Swami in an Indian magazine called Pratilipi.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

A little wrestling (1)


For a few years I was trying to write a novel about wrestling, but it turned out I wasn't a novelist. Which doesn't mean I can't write about wrestling (in fact I have written a number of poems about it and pieces of journalism). Of that mass of material I want to resurrect a few pieces that seem to me still to be worthwhile.

A snippet, clearly not fiction, but not necessarily fact either...


Sociologists of the structuralist school believe that wrestling is a social ritual and therefore carries the values of the ruling elite. All rituals do this but professional wrestling, with its expanded theatre of stereotypes, provides the richest illustration of their thesis. The bibliography is long. Michael R. Ball’s hard-to-find book Professional Wrestling as Ritual Drama in American Popular Culture lists 170 relevant articles, putting aside fanzines or fictional occurences. It does not include Angela Carter’s ‘Giants’ Playtime’ essay from a 1976 issue of New Society. Shame to have missed that. Ball was only after American examples of course but he would have found much to learn from the Brits.

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction and the subjects of sociological research are almost invariably wiser than the sociologists. Gray mentions a late forties tag team in Baltimore, calling themselves the Bolsheviks who sang the Russian National Anthem for WWF as their entry theme. Blindly arrogant villains, they stood in sharp contrast to the honest Nikita Koloff, who was likewise Russian, but remained a solid favourite.

Long after the Bolsheviks, in the late sixties, there was a British tag team called The Righteous Brothers. The Righteous Brothers consisted of Che and Ho, men with beards and a certain limited knowledge of the technical aspects of wrestling. They were before their time in this respect, as soon you would need no knowledge at all. They would enter the ring with a Black Power salute, strip off scarlet gowns to reveal T shirts with screenprinted images of their adopted characters, set off by psychedelic patterns. Their ankles were yoked together by a single chain that they ritually broke as they were being announced.

The Righteous Brothers’ real names were Mackenzie and Howe. Colin Mackenzie had been a stevedore in Liverpool and Crispin Howe was a bricklayer from South London. They had been brought together by their manager Julius Fowler, who was a genuine innovator, the first of the ‘character’ managers,. He arrived in top hat, opera cloak and cane and a heavy fob watch, the archetypal capitalist driving his victims before him. His stage relationship with The Righteous Brothers was clearly exploitative. He made a great fuss of sneering at the SWP table outside and occasionally upending it. He would hold the chains discarded by the Brothers during the contest and strike at their opponents with it, working up a roar of fury from the crowd. Having been employed in the theatre as a scene shifter and attended WEA classes in the development of socialism as ideology, he was perfectly aware of his social and ritual function and could quote large chunks from the 1848 manifesto. Some time in the early mid-sixties Fowler had made friends with a group of artists wearing Chinese ‘revolutionary’ outfits who had erected co-operative Mao tents at the ICA. He met Mackenzie and Howe later, Mackenzie at a dockers’ strike where he was distributing leaflets and Howe at a pub in Deptford. Fowler loved wrestling and so did they, two strapping lads without money. Mackenzie played football and kept fit at the local baths and Howe had done a little judo. That was enough. Fowler’s friends say that the idea for the tag team came from toying with the names and appearances of Mac and Howe. Howe sounds a little like Ho, and Mackenzie looked like Che Guevara.

Fowler knew that entering a commercial web meant playing by commercial rules. He would adopt the biggest grinning capitalist mask and play it straight. The Righteous Brothers was just perfect as a tag name. ‘You never close your eyes when I touch your fingertips - you’ve lost that loving feeling” was a terrific song and made fine entrance music (Fowler was an innovator in this too.) He had photographs taken of the boys, Mackenzie in camouflage gear and a beret and Howe in Mao jacket and cap with a red star on it. He even had Howe holding a little red book. The fliers said, The Revolution is Coming! Justice with The Righteous Brothers! The major promoters considered the idea, but were not taken with it. They knew their audience. Exotic was fine but not if it was serious. Class was irrelevant.

Patriotism was far more appealing. Big John Cox, the ex-ambulance driver from York, Angela Carter tells us, had memorised thirty six of Churchill’s speeches. She had read this in Mick McManus’s The Mick McManus Wrestling Book (another item missed by Michael R. Ball). There had been an American a few years before, a vast twenty stone man. He had been told to generate some passion on his debut at the Wythenshawe Hall in Manchester, and his idea of doing so was to introduce himself as an ex-soldier, which indeed he was. He had fought with our boys in the war. This got a big cheer. Up on the beaches. Another cheer. He waited for it to die down. And they were the biggest lot of dirty cowards he had ever seen, he added. The audience rose to its feet and wanted to murder him. It was never the same afterwards. He went about in fear of his life. He and his tiny wife scrambled about the country in a filthy caravan. She was never heard to say a word to him, but he was under her tiny thumb, or so they say. After a year he returned to America.

The Righteous Brothers were mediocre wrestlers. Fowler worked hard to get them bookings, but their only regular bouts came in the South West. It was respectable Liberal country with a transient population of bohemians who were attracted to the idea of seeing Che and Ho’s namesakes in the ring. Ho and Che were rarely allowed to win in any case, so Fowler milked them for sympathy (One Day They Will Rise and Finally Break Their Chains). The odd excursion to London, to Croydon or Hackney, brought out the SWP crowd and a few journalists. They did once feature in a photograph in the Mirror, linked to another story, but that was as far as it went. The hard core was a small following in Plymouth and Bude.

The Righteous Brothers worked three summer seasons and the occasional winter gig, but it was disheartening for them. One day in 1974 they had a call from a wrestler acquaintance in the USA suggesting a visit. The American promoter was definitely interested. So Che and Ho left Fowler behind and got a flight out. Their movements became ever more difficult to trace. One day, after a card in Alabama, they were cornered in a bar by a group of drunks. Having drunk a fair amount themselves they took some punishment. They drove off into the dusk, missed their road - someone remembers being asked for directions - and must have got lost in a swamp. The car was dragged up later but they weren’t in it. They had simply disappeared.

The real Ho died soon afterwards. Fowler did once attempt to trace The Righteous Brothers. He found himself in front of a vacant lot where another bunch of drunks were hanging about. He was drunk too. A scorpion scuttled by in the gutter. The revolution eats its children. He turned round and came home.


A miscellaneous piece that didn't - couldn't - get into the book. A touch heavy and possibly not usable in most contexts, but the idea that I could go off into anecdotes, some entirely spurious, still seems appropriate to wrestling and appeals to me.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

A game between two football seasons...

Literary Equations pinched from here, with thanks.

Vladimir Nabokov - John Updike = Walker Percy

Margaret Atwood + Margaret Drabble = Iris Murdoch

Jane Austen/Helen Gurley Brown = Helen Fielding

(Foucault * Derrida * Lukacs * Barthes * Heidegger * Lacan * Bataille * Bourdieu) - (Nietzsche + Marx + Freud) = Australopithecus afarensis

Bob Dylan - Woody Guthrie = Robert Zimmerman Ph D, Mathematics

Samuel Beckett + (William Shakespeare/10) = Tom Stoppard

Samuel Beckett / Alfred Hitchcock = Harold Pinter

Peter Ackroyd + Hunter S. Thompson = Iain Sinclair
― the firefox, Wednesday, 16 March 2005 15:56 (4 years ago) Permalink

James Joyce - Flann O'Brien - Laurence Sterne - Jonathan Swift - ... = Frank McCourt

(Walker Percy - Harper Lee) + (Henry Miller - Samuel Beckett) = Tom Robbins

Shall we add a few poetry equations (or political ones if you prefer)? Some shots in the dark, getting-the-hang-of-it efforts follow.

(Sylvia Plath + Lewis Carroll) - Anne Sexton = Jo Shapcott

Walt Whitman + Sigmund Freud - Robert Frost = C.K.Williams

Theodore Roethke + Jack Benny = Billy Collins

W.H.Auden - Goethe - Brecht = Edward Lear


Elmer Gantry + Hughie Green + Peter Mandelson = Tony Blair

No, not sure about any of these... Play among yourselves, or with yourselves.


Informed that The Guardian covered the launch of The Burning of the Books and indeed it has, in its own bemused, provincialist, ageist, pressed-trouserist, slightly edge-of-sneerist (I love these -ist terms, perhaps I could be an Istist), but on the whole approving metropolitan way. And I may be being a touch uncharitable to an article that may be just a touch charitable. I don't know. I do think it is very Guardian though. Come on, young Master Sam. This is not Aldeburgh-at-bay: it is Canetti-Vienna-Thirties-Fascism-Visionary-Violent-Apocalyptic-Budapest-Brazil-Nightmare-Cosmopolitanism of the highest order. Let it be known that The Burning of the Books is the last word in zeitgeisty, crunchy, salivatingly mind-blowing cool. As for myself, I could very well pass for thirty-three in a fog with the light behind me.

In correspondence with Bill Herbert about pro-wrestling we point each other to websites, and me having pointed him to one Kendo Nagasaki site, he points me to Nagasaki's own, that has its own Mystics Corner, where he says:

Kendo Nagasaki is, of course, a spiritual entity..
As am I, Sam Jordison, as am I...

Monday 13 July 2009

Wild traffic, white noise

Attended a speeding awareness course at Cambridge today. Four hours in a classroom with sixteen others of roughly my age and a kindly advanced driving tutor at the front, distinctly earning her money. What had I done? Back in the wild days of my youth I drove fast. I was a young male of the species and had accidents of a minor kind without killing or even hurting anyone very much, without seriously damaging myself, except on one occasion when I arrived at a university interview with my hand covered in blood after some knock that resulted in broken glass. I was applying for a place and was late because of the accident. They must have been impressed by my sang froid, or at any rate my sang, because they offered me a place in Psychology which I then didn't take.

Over the last few years I have generally been a law-abiding citizen-driver and the only two times I have sped was when I wasn't aware of the speed limit and thought I was within in. I haven't had an accident for decades. Nevertheless I was speeding, late middle-aged, doddery speeding, but speeding nonetheless, hence the re-education, some of which was genuinely enlightening. A good thing.

But it is interesting how we behave when in a class. There we are, striving to give the good answers, all the while knowing that the truth is something else, something not necessarily wicked, nevertheless something else, something more complicated, something a little wilder, less certain. We are asked to observe scenes of potential hazard. We do our best to observe and enumerate, and we do all right by and large, saying the right things, but it is not what happens in real life. In real life our minds wander and we act on automatic pilot much of the time. We are thinking creatures, hence we think. If anything ever makes me dangerous it is thinking.

So I go on thinking all the way home from the centre which is some fifty miles away, chiefly aware that life is not all consciousness, that much of it is wild traffic and white noise; that consciousness bears roughly the same relation to the world out there as language does to its referents. But I'm keeping to thirty on the urban roads and to seventy on the big dual carriageway and am still alive.

Sunday 12 July 2009

Sunday night is... Two jokes about time

Possibly three... Depending on the time.

It is the Goons, Sellers and Milligan and a piece of paper.

Saturday 11 July 2009

New poem on front, launch and anniversary

The Cinema Gallery at Aldeburgh rapidly fills up with the great, the good, the bohemian, the louche, the soigné, the artistic, the professional, the player and the played-for. Introduced to Glen Baxter (see above) who, along with Biff, has kept me amused for decades. His hair is spiky and he sports a moustache. He should be signing books for me but I sign one for him. This is quite wrong. Also there among the names that won't be dropped chiefly because I can't remember them, Neil Powell, with whom I used to teach at the vegetarian, progressive etc school that was opened by Mrs Besant and once kept its own goats for milking purposes. NP is a poet though latterly more a biographer, of the Amises pere et fils, of Roy Fuller, and next, it seems, of Benjamin Britten, while being about to return to poetry in the grand fashion via PN Review. A literary Berlin Wall has stood between myself and PN Review (aka Michael Schmidt) for almost thirty years. NP threatens to remove a brick from it. Which of us is East Germany, Schmidt or I - is a subjective matter. Also meet once fellow student at Leeds, Rose English, for whose work see here and, more gloriously, here. As for my collaborator, the artist Ronald King (whom I once called "the Pozzo of the printed page" in a magazine article), see, grandly, here. That is far too many linked here's.

Liz Calder stands on a box and makes a brief speech. I stand on the box and read one poem from the book, this one:

In tall angular letters

Where books are gathered there gathers also the dust
That sieves through the pores of the skin and the head,
The absolute dust of the language that falls apart
In your hands, that settles in your palm
Like a promise. Ideas are dust. Words dust,
A universe of dust between planet and planet,
Precious dust certainly, gold dust, a dusting
Of light filtered through eyelashes batting over
The damp-smelling page, the foxing, the marginals,
The improvised shopping list of the dead,
The dead themselves, the dust of the prisons,
The workhouses of dust, the dust bowl, the dustbin
Of history, the dust of the poor who have wasted away
Into particles, molecules, atoms, the dust of the birds
In their nests, the dust of the hotel where the dwarf
And the scholar fossick among motes
Among invisible books, the books of the imagination,
The trapped dust of the folded page, the folded umbrella,
The folds of the skin that are clogged with dust,
The dust of the ovens to come, the dust of the scouring pad,
The citizens of dust in the dusty streets,
The dust of the city you shake off your sandals,
The dust mites, the silverfish of the imagination,
The dust of the station where a speech is in progress,
The dust of the mountain pass with its butchered soldiers.

Librarian of the universal library, have you explored
The shelves in the stockroom where the snipers are sitting,
The repository of landmines in the parking bay,
The suspicious white powder at the check-out desk,
The mysterious rays bombarding you by the photocopier,
The psychological disorder of the filing system
That governs the paranoid republic of print
In the wastes of the world?

So I might be East Germany after all, though this poem is from a book about a book that is set in Vienna, in the Thirties.


After the event it suddenly dawns on us that we may as well go to Liz's down the next B road, and since it is others who press us to this dawning, we happily acquiesce and stand and happily chat round the long table filled with garlic bread and salmon and chicken salad and other nibbles. Outside the moon is staging a particularly golden-coppery appearance and some of us hang about in the garden looking at it. It does its moon act to perfection, so when eventually we drive home we stop the car, mount a small wall by the hotel and watch it, more silvery now, hold a clean straight line over the sea, almost Edvard Munch, with just a touch of Edward Ardizzone. It is beautiful. It hangs, we perch. Inside, a couple of people are still leaning on the unattended hotel bar. Midnight.


This morning to Dunwich. It is extraordinary that having lived here fifteen years we have never been to Dunwich, albeit once we get there, it turns out exactly as I always thought it would, that is to say as a beach, a heath and two car parks. Redolence is what people come for, the legendary silent bells that, once in a blue moon (not a silvery or golden-coppery one) may be heard to ring from under the sea where the great medieval city of Dunwich lies drowned, as will eventually the museum displaying the scale model of the medieval city in its pomp. Upstairs, a short film about the erosion that led to the drowning of Dunwich, runs on a loop and there is a small hut, a smuggler's tableau, in which, when you enter, you are addressed by the voice of a Norfolk-cum-Cornwall smuggler. Also upstairs, a selection of natural life in taxidermented form, and paintings of the Dunwich that was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The voice of the lady below starts her brief informative lecture for the sixth time since we have arrived.

The faces of over 180 dead British soldiers stare out at us in the copy of The Times at the Dunwich pub. There will always always be faces. It suddenly brings to mind the faces of the dead we ourselves have known.

And now we are tired, and C feels a bit sick, so we have abandoned plans for an orgiastic night of cinema and dinner out and have narrowed our horizons to the latter only. The wedding on the front page was in fact ours of course, and much like that. I don't do much autobiography but the church and the way of being it stood for is a proper subject. As is that many splendoured thing, love, of course. Only differently. With its proper, mad, sober, ragged and rugged appurtenances.


ps I notice that NP is PN back to front. Is this an omen? Is it sinister? It is certainly significant in a way I cannot quite put my finger on.

Friday 10 July 2009

Conversations, etc

At Elspeth's, about the mysterious, the haunting, the ghostly, the uncanny. J who saw herself from two rooms' height having a baby and almost dying in the process, who had also seen a recently dead cat leap over a chair and who waved back to her grandma in the upper window thogh grandma was dead. And then the burning (or was it drowning?) of the husband's lover's shoes which was an event of supreme satisfaction. And, from R, the story of the prisoner who made a large sculpture out of snot (his own) and from someone else, about those who have made sculture from their own hair. On my right book-artist / photographer H, who lives in Scotland, and N who is a painter and R, the minimal sun-ray-burning artist, and his partner S who plays piano but does something else important that I did not find out. And E, and B, who is writing the autobiography (or is it biography) of their dog, and played the piano in the other room - Chopin, I think and maybe some Rachmaninov. The house old and damp and haunted and ragged with small irrational rooms. Ghost of one black pig, whom I remember, who ate the typescript of a short story by BT, consumed it whole, then grew melancholy and died facing the wall.

Norfolk. The region time brushes then flits past.

And in less then an hour to Aldeburgh for the launch of this:

Overnight, overlooking the marshes with the sea behind us. Tomorrow C and I will have been married for thirty-nine years. New poem will go up on the front either late tomorrow or Sunday.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Character: my cup runneth under

Following the Kevin Pietersen Test Match story yesterday. Man is top scorer with 69, plays a bad shot to get out. Which do you imagine is the bigger story? Much much MUCH the bigger story? Glass half full? Nay, our cup underfloweth, runneth under, runneth traumatically, tragically, comfortingly under.

There is something quintessentially English in the half-full glass. What is really required in England is an 'honest' toiler who prods his way to 35 on a sticky wicket in dying light against a furious pace attack. The Henry Newbolt story. The square that broke. That is the test of character. Shall I repeat that? CHARACTER. There, it feels much better in bold caps doesn't it? Perhaps we could append an adjective to that. What about sterling?

I am not against CHARACTER, or even against STERLING CHARACTER. I even know the words are no longer spoken in quite this Colonel Mustard voice, but underneath it all the sense of it remains undimmed. Mild mannered, eccentric, harmless, tormented, absent minded genius is OK; sometimes even savage temperamental genius (perfect embodiment: Eric Cantona) may be celebrated. Lower class flash, delicate foreign fancystuff, and colonial bravura are more than suspect. And yet it isn't entirely class-based either. Lower class flash (Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles etc) does get some passing respect.

I follow football fan sites - well one* - taking a sneak look between particularly difficult Hungarian sentences, or at a frustrating moment in a poem or an essay - and it is there too, the admiration of CHARACTER; the preference for CHARACTER over ability, the demand for certain virtues that trump certain gifts; virtues that are all but classless: visceral, instinctive, proper, scornful-fearful, xenophobic to a point ("we don't want any more Argies after the disgraceful behaviour of Heinze and Tevez") but not entirely, never entirely xenophobic. Some United fans feel relieved to have 'purged' themselves of the Ronaldo genetic strain. Back to Gary Nev genes. Roast beef in the blood.

Maybe it is the remnant imperial spirit; the Newbolt residue. And it is not - how to put this in the ancient English double-negative style - not unadmirable. The honest yeoman is indeed better than the flash crook. But sometimes, just sometimes, it might be worth not griping quite so much, to drop the little vindictive dance around imperfect talent.

* The other sports (chiefly football) site I follow is of a different, richer, more scholarly order. Recommended in the links and now here.

Back late...

...from the indomitable Elspeth's at 01:33. Late enough for now. Almost ran over rabbit, but there is no shortage of volunteer potential corpses by the roadside. Where is Richard Adams when you need him?

More tomorrow.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

With guitar

C has now sold 11 (eleven) works at her exhibition. That's better than in London. Last night poetry and music in the chapel along with the art. Reading with Esther Morgan and Keith Chandler, the music by Andy Kirkham, who sounds like this (It's MySpace, so pick your own). Given the right amount of reverberation in a medieval chapel the guitar fills it like water fills a bowl. Meanwhile rain and thunder outside, just a little. The whole a touch impromptu, everyone performing free to draw attention to the chapel that might be converted into a centre for arts of various sorts. Chapel as below:

Handily next to pub, as below:

Further encouragements from people to put myself forward for the Oxford Chair. I am extremely flattered and deeply uncertain.

Otherwise working at home, translating and writing and trying to catch up with countless commissions and commitments.

This is one of the duller entries. Mind in too many places at once.

Monday 6 July 2009

Apropos teechers

Couldn't resist this, having found it on the web. Messrs Miles and Abrams, the latter of whom taught me Latin. The eloquence of photographs: it is as if time itself were curling in the autumn rain.

The weekly Latin vocab test. Mutual marking. Call out your scores. Decem? Bene. A certain torpor. Ink smudges and graffiti on the desk.

A Neat Segué

Yasmin Alibhai Brown in todays Independent argues for limits on freedom on the basis of this case:

Libertarians and free expression campaigners were jubilant last week. An obscenity case was due to be heard against Darryn Walker, a 35-year-old civil servant who had posted an essay on a website, titled Girls (scream) Aloud, imagining the sexual torture and mutilation of the each of the women who make up the pop group...

She carries on

...In his fantasy, they are slashed and dismembered and, according to Don Grubin a consultant psychiatrist, the singers "are sexually aroused in spite of and, indeed, because of the humiliation, pain and domination". This apparently modern erotica known as "popslash". Cool, man.

The case was dropped and is celebrated as another important knock-back for censorship. Sadly I felt unable to join in with the good cheer. Something is deeply troubling about the validation given to Walker and those who think they have the right to say whatever they wish and excitedly share with others the thrills of extreme violence against women.

The formidable Geoffrey Robertson QC (who rose to fame fighting the case brought against Oz) is very pleased indeed. Jo Glanville, editor of Index Against Censorship (an organisation I support but not blindly) righteously asserts: "The prosecution should not have been brought in the first place. Since the landmark obscenity cases of the 1960s and 1970s, writers have been protected so they can explore the extremes of human behaviour. This case posed a serious threat to that freedom."

And then a fascinating shift:

Hmmm. Is that so? So If Walker had written, say, the same fantasy but on the sexual torture of Anne Frank, would Index have backed him? Or if a wannabe Muslim fiction writer had done the same, would he have the right to "explore the extremes of human behaviour"? I hope the answer to both these hypothetical questions is No
From Girls Aloud to Anne Frank. I am not sure of the rhetorical term for this kind of contextual shift but the argument is chosen for a reason. Anne Frank? Jewish, wasn't she? Gets special protection for reasons we all know. The case regarding the Muslims takes off from there. Jews protected: Muslims persecuted. Now, how did we get here?

Sunday 5 July 2009

Sunday night is... Lunatics

As has ever been the case.


Long drive to Chepstow yesterday for the reading, staying at kind hosts' W and J's medieval gatehouse, up three floors by spiral stairs, with extra ladder to tower from where grandiloquent view of all and sundriest even unto the old Severn Bridge. Mullions, transoms, passages, the whole reclaimed from sixties updating of sixteenth century and before.

The reading with Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch. This has been a week for reading with two outstanding younger female poets and I expect Wynne-Rhydderch soon to be at a peak similar to Jen Hadfield's. Where Hadfield is precise, liturgical, visionary and roguish with her language in a post-Edwin Morgan Modernist manner, W-R is passionate, funny, wickedly sharp and tragic, somewhat in the bardic tradition. It was quite marvellous reading with them both in their different ways - as indeed my own way is different from either's. Both sets of readings worked very well as a pair. I left both feeling happy. Both places were good places to be.

This is not a review or a survey, just notes, but if I were writing an essay I would try to explore the poetry of the younger generation of female poets whose work is now, in many cases, independent, beyond polemic or conscious self-assertion. The subject is not 'being women': it is nature, or history or incident, but the voice is a female voice being itself. W-R is older than Hadfield, a sort of 'older-sister by a few years' older, but still very much the same generation - my children's generation. Both write out of a sense of independence as poets. As persons too they are independent. I wouldn't use terms such as 'post-feminist' because that implies something specific, something more directly political, something less to do with the quality of their poetry, than with an argument that may or may not be proceeding in their own minds. Impossible for me to comment on that.

Poetry and politics are not, of course, entirely distinct fields, but good poems are not illustrations of political positions. The positions embedded at depth in them must float on language with the openness of a language that can never be certain of itself, because uncertainty is its very essence. That uncertainty cuts left as well as right. But it can shimmer and sparkle and sing in all its multifaceted uncertainty and it can rise out of conviction. The higher the tightrope, the fewer the nets, the better. The world in all its power and complexity is the ground beneath. We can never forget the ground.