Wednesday 31 August 2011

Being translated into oneself 1

Seeing LK off at the station early this morning and spending the rest of the day translating Yudit Kiss's The Summer My Father Died, it is hard not to reflect a little on what I am doing and why. And beyond that to wonder what has happened to me - is happening to me - as a result of some twenty-six years of translation.

The question of what translation does to the translator is rarely asked, chiefly because no one cares. As to why they don't care, one answer might be that the translator exists only as a window onto something else. You don't spend time at a window looking at the glass, not even if the glass is not absolutely clear or straight. It doesn't matter if you are, according to another occasionally used, more romantic analogy, the fine piece of silk through which two pairs of lips kiss, or the echo chamber to someone else's voice - you are still the medium. The silk is not interesting in itself, nor is the echo chamber, unless it is echoing.

The translator need not become invisible but must be aware that he or she is not the object on which eyes and ears are fixed. I rule out here translations that are essentially imitations or dialogues, where the name of the writer-translator is bigger than that of the author of the thing being translated (I mean, for instance, Shapcott's Rilke or Paterson's Machado). That is a valuable activity but it is not what I do when I am translating Hungarian. There is so little Hungarian literature available in English that I cannot big myself up in front of it or use it as a personal laboratory in which I construct works to add to my own oeuvre. I'll do it with Apollinaire or Mandelstam, with texts already established and explored, but not with obscure Hungarians who might be being met for the first time.

I ask the question about the effect of translation on the translator because I am, in my own mind, and, thankfully, in many people's minds, perhaps most people's minds, more a poet than a translator. But if I am a poet, what am I doing translating?

Consider the positive effects of translation first. Working as a translator I have come into very close contact with certain works and have, in effect, learned new ways of speaking and singing, some of which ways have soaked into my own range of voices, enriching them, offering them more possibilities. It has made those voices - voices that can seem to the outside world a single voice - more supple and more playful. I have learned a great deal about the effect of the very long sentence, about how it suspends the world before turning it into a complete event, and how its modulations can echo the flows and counterflows of sensibility and perception. I have learned some formal poetic devices, including some counter-formal devices, that show how form works against itself to become new form. I have learned about pace and distance, about intimacy and measure. Translation has been an academy of shadow devices that have slowly become my own shadow.

Translation has been a part-livelihood. Not for poetry - I have never made anything worth calling even pocket money translating poetry. Poetry was always done out of love and curiosity. But fiction and prose generally have offered a modest - extremely modest but not insignificant - supplement to a proper income. If that money was worth having, this has been a very good way of having work worth doing. Not that it is a major consideration. I could stop translating tomorrow without any real change in our circumstances.

Translation has opened the door to new territories, new people, new understandings, new travel: a different field of recognition. It has felt good to offer new life to works in a language as little spoken as Hungarian. I am glad new people have been introduced to the works of those I have translated. I am glad that those I have translated have sometimes found opportunities to extend their readership to England and other English-speaking territories. So territory. I too live here. I live here with them and I like being with them.

For myself alone, the exercise of making good poetry and prose, or maybe something even better, has been deeply satisfying. Reading some of the verses or prose works I have translated makes me feel like a good craftsman or indeed as another artist - a sort of fellow artist. I love the way certain phrases seem to have rolled into being in English, or how certain lines have found themselves airborne. Would I feel different if I were, say, a wood carver or a top engineer? I don't know. I know that language is my field, and that my fine engineering and my best carving involve words and that words are, after all, magical.

I know these to have been benefits. But that doesn't fully answer the question of how they have changed me - how they might change any translator - as a person. More on that, and the negatives tomorrow.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Tuesday with LK

Yesterday László K arrived on a late train but we had the whole day today - mostly talking and occasionally resting. We talk about books and Hungary and music - what else would we talk about? - and he admires the locality. He marvels at the streets, the abbey, the meadow, the house, the cedar of Lebanon on the road out, the little brook we are pleased to call a river. He brings gifts. After the abbey we call in at The Green Dragon and order soup and main course which is a great mistake since soup is big with two slices of bread and the main courses would keep two giants going for a week. The result is we can't finish them.

He had a great event at Edinburgh with Colm Toibin. People were forming long queues for his book, Animalinside, and since the long New Yorker article appeared the publisher has sold out of every copy. The times are propitious for Satantango, due for February 2112.

Monday 29 August 2011

The tribulations of Arsene

So it was 8-2. Eight! It was C who first looked for the result on the mobile phone while we were away yesterday. She showed it to me and asked if it said 3? No, it was eight. Eight is like a cricket team scoring seven hundred. It very rarely happens. United were excellent, as the highlights partly showed, but not utterly irresistible. They let in two goals and if Van Persie had scored with the penalty it would have been three. Or there might not have been eight. But eight it was. Yes, eight goals, each excellent in its own way.

So now it's crisis Arsenal. While I always had the deepest respect for Wenger's teams, admiring the style of football he got them to play - the closest thing we had to 'the beautiful game' - I have never quite grown to like him. It was the prissiness that slightly repelled me - the tremble of those thin lips, the natural assumption of superiority (one of life's self-made aristocrats, I thought) and the tendency to whine at any bruising tackle by the opposition, as if to say: How dare you filth mess with my objets d'art!

Like all managers (yes, bless you Sir Alex) he was paranoid and like all managers he was a hypocrite in failing to notice any depredations by his own side. But a capacity for paranoia and hypocrisy have long been managerial requirements in football. Demonstrations of both are expected, and in the nervous fury of the modern game and straight after it, it is hardly fair to ask for objectivity. Who, after all, is interested in objectivity when you can have drama instead?

But of course he was, and probably still is, a terrific manager, a genuine thinker and aesthete who rightly thought that- given certain conditions, which in his case would include a free hand in the upbringing of his footballing children and a degree of protection from the journeyman-cloggers of the world - it was possible to win with beauty. Barcelona have in fact proved his case for him, but under different conditions.

His teams were often French in composition and style which is no bad thing in itself but less effective, as countless others have pointed out, in December mud at Stoke, Bolton, or even Old Trafford. Especially at Old Trafford. It did work for a while when he had fierce defenders at his disposal, some of them inherited from earlier teams. He needed a genius or two, a Bergkamp, a Henry, an in-form Ljunberg, a youthful Pires, plus a tough Vieira, a Keown, a Petit, a Campbell, a Cole and Fabregas with Lehmann in goal. There were matches in which there was no British player in the team. Arsenal could win by simply bedazzling the opposition.

It's sad to see him now He looks like a man wrung out by circumstance and his own decisions. As a human study there will be few better illustrated documents of distress. He desperately needs some luck. And some help. Though I suspect he is not a man who welcomes help.

Oh, and the goals. I am of a sensitive disposition and understand how Wenger must feel, so I won't make the video too big:

Manchester United - Arsenal 8:2 by FootballKing1892

But then I can't not have it!

Sunday night was.... Cziffra playing Liszt

Gyorgy (Georges) Cziffra playing Liszt's "Grand Galop Chromatique," in E-flat major S. 219.

It is well worth reading the Wiki entry for the summary of Cziffra's life, for example:

Georges Cziffra was born into dire poverty in 1921. Before he was born, his parents had been living in France. During World War I the French government expelled all residents whose countries of origins were fighting against France. Cziffra's father, a Hungarian citizen, was imprisoned and his mother was forced to move to Budapest with her two daughters and only five kilograms of luggage. She was billeted into a single room built on stilts above a marsh, where the Cziffra family would live for years. His father was released from prison and Georges arrived some time later.

His earliest training in piano came from watching his sister practice. She had decided she was going to learn the piano after being lucky enough to find a job which allowed her to save the required amount of money. As she practised, Georges, a weak and often ill child, watched from his makeshift bed in fascination. When he felt strong enough, he would try to mimic his sister, and became greatly enthusiastic about the sounds he could make. He learnt without sheet music, but by asking his parents to sing him tunes and playing them back, improvising additional material as he became more adept.

By the time he was five he attracted the attention of a travelling circus who hired him as the star of their show, and his improvisations (on tunes suggested by the audience) were very successful. This involvement with the circus at an early age (and for only a few weeks) was to haunt the rest of his career, as some critics used it as an example of his poor musical heritage and low taste, while others saw in it a remarkable and prodigious talent.

Cziffra came to mind because of a conversation in the car. We had picked up Elspeth Barker and Bill Troop from their house in Itteringham and drove them to Voewood where Elspeth was quite magnificent, reading from the coming book and answering questions in her devastatingly droll fashion. Afterwards we took Elspeth and Bill to Amanda and Nick's party (Nick's second birthday party) then all the way back home to Itteringham. All very social, darling, and quite untypical but in view of the people involved, very nice.

At Voewood Bill had found the grand piano and gave a brilliant, brief, and quite unofficial concert to himself and to anyone else in earshot. I think he was playing Liszt and Chopin. And that is how Cziffra got into the conversation. Later, in the car, I mentioned the Liszt radio programme I was taking part in and Bill suggested that Cziffra was the finest Liszt exponent. This is not the conventional view among pianists for precisely the reason given in the last sentence of the Wiki extract above: "[S]ome critics used it [Cziffra's circus experience] as an example of his poor musical heritage and low taste, while others saw in it a remarkable and prodigious talent."

There are several cans of worms embedded in the distinction between poor and low on the one hand and remarkable and prodigious on the other. I have no authority to pronounce on music, except in the most everyday sense of knowing what I like and being prepared to like a lot more. But how to distinguish between snobbish connoisseurship and the idea of grace? How to tell the difference between brutal, sentimental self-display and rampant, brilliant vigour? How far is it a question of social class and social exclusiveness, the psychological rule of the over-refined over the earthy, of the cold intellect's disdain for the passionate? Or, to turn things round, the impatience of the grossly sentimental to have done with fine distinctions, the brute materialist's abhorrence of philosophical or spiritual terms?

Tonight we expect a rare visit (the second to be precise) from László Krasznahorkai who is staying over this night, tomorrow, and tomorrow night before returning to Hungary from Edinburgh.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Swollen river, rainbow

with thanks to Literary Norfolk

A full day of work on Wymondham Words Festival, then translation and reading competitions. In the afternoon a wave of sleep hits me hard. I go upstairs to lie down and see C has fallen asleep on the bed. The blinds are up and the room is quite bright. She doesn't shift as I enter so I turn and go into the upstairs sitting room and lie down on the settee. I turn on TV which is showing the rugby league final. I watch it drowsily while outside the thunder continually grumbles but produces nothing. Eventually C drifts in and offers a walk. At that point the rain comes down hard and we wait for half an hour before the sun appears once more. On with anoraks and shoes and down our familiar short walk by the river and round by the abbey.

There is hardly any wind and it is cool yet balmy. The sunlight has that light toast-like glow on the walls as we pass. The river is high, in so far as it gets high - last flood in 1912, affecting only the houses immediately next to it - and we walk past delphiniums and roses in gardens, all a little ragged. To our right are brambleberries and blackberries, not quite ready to gather. Some are black but have no sweetness. Not enough sunlight this summer. But who can tell? Within a week they might be burned by a late burst of summer heat. The rain has clouded the water that burbles through. A very melancholic man passes and we greet each other but he doesn't smile. There is something about him that goes deep. He is within himself and things are bad there. The sheep on the other side of the river look almost prehistoric. They move awkwardly, as if they were a new life form not quite sure of itself.

Moving back onto the road by the level crossing we drift towards the abbey when the rain start gently then a little more purposefully. The anorak hood amplifies the sound. The Abbey Hotel is almost empty but there is a party going on in The Green Dragon. The rain is pattering more lightly now and the sun is shining. There should be a rainbow.

And there is! A big one, arcing behind the butchers and over Market Street, beyond the stationers and the Chinese take-away. We pass the melancholy man again. This time he doesn't look up. Makes no eye contact.

Now it is dark. Tomorrow to Voewood, but first to Itteringham to pick up Elspeth Barker and Bill Troop. Their very old Mercedes has a range of eight miles. I've yet to work out what to read. I'll do that tomorrow.

Meanwhile in Lybia each day brings its new media crisis. Yesterday the terrible hospital. Today life is rough in Tripoli without power and shops. I suspect that may scarcely be surprising. News loves a disaster. Ordinary ones won't do. They're not stories. Lybia is a story. Tomorrow's exciting instalment awaits. And I read of the death of Hisham Matar's young cousin, fighting on the rebel side. Matar writes severely and beautifully. What is a writer to do other than write beautifully? Severity never comes amiss though. Hold back the tears. Speak with a dry mouth.

Friday 26 August 2011

Events, dear boy, more events.

Today to London to the RA to meet Timothy West, Prunella Scales and Christian Roe as well as Colin Ford and Pele Cox. We are working out what to do next Friday for the photography / poetry evening, Double Exposure, in the Reynolds Room.

But first into university where everything has changed except my room. People are not where they were, offices have migrated to a lower floor and become conjoined, as have the people who used to occupy them. I think this is part of the economy drive but how it actually works, or will work, is a puzzle. A lot of excellent administrators will either be administering something they haven't administered before, or will be administering several things at the same time. The learning curve sounds dizzying.

I have driven in through heavy rain that grows lighter as I go. The car park is being worked on so entering and leaving is rather maze-like, but I find a space and pick up one PhD student's examiners' report and thesis, and print out another's collection of poems to put in order on the train to London. Faintly disorientated I drive home before quickly heading out again.

One peculiarity of the railway system is that different companies operate different ticket arrangements. So I find that leaving from W it doesn't matter if I return in rush hour, it costs the same, whereas if I had gone from Norwich to Liverpool Street I'd have to pay a lot extra. This pleasant idiosyncracy is explained to me by the conductor. If, however, you were to ask Information at Kings Cross they'd tell you you'd have to wait till rush hour was over (or so they told me last time). If your left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, why not grow a third hand?

The meeting is for 3pm and I arrive at 2:15 so I stop for a bite down Piccadilly because there'll be no food at the RA. When I arrive prompt at 3, Timothy, Prunella, Colin and Pele are already there. Christian turns up a few minutes later. It's fun in a Mad Hatter's Tea Party sort of way. I can't quite follow the alterations to the programme: I know I am to read some passages from my essay, and that either Timothy or Christian, or both, are going to read a couple of my poems, and that I read one of my poems at the end. Pele is writing it all down so it will be fine. I smile and agree to everything. I am, of course, flattered to be in such company and if they'd like some wine served I could go and fetch some. They're perfectly nice. Prunella looks a little stern, but her smile is lovely and bright. We go to see the Reynolds Room. Nice room. I'm sure we'll be fine. The actors will be marvellous and it will be moving fun.


On the way home everything goes well most of the way. It's a very tight connection at Cambridge but we make it and I find a seat, but at Ely something extraordinary happens. There is an enormous crowd waiting to get on - some train earlier had gone astray. It is like that Japanese film showing how guards jam passengers onto a train. I am already seated at a window. A girl comes and sits next to me before the rest of the crowd get on and soon there is no room to move. Then two acts of chivalry. The girl next to me offers her seat to an older man (he refuses) as does another woman behind him (he refuses). I am touched by this, not only as an act of kindness but as the reversal of centuries of custom. I can't offer anyone my seat because I am squeezed up against the window so follow this with interest. Soon the seventy year old man and the girl are chatting. He's from Walsall on a visit, she has come up from London where she works - in Hackney (she mentions the riots) - to visit her family in H, near Attleborough. She trains dogs for Crufts. She finds some pictures of her dogs on her mobile phone and shows him. He is a sweet gent with a fine black country accent, just been to Cambridge. Meanwhile at the really packed standing area by the door there is a lot of banter. Pure Blitz spirit.


Oh, and on Sunday I am Voewood in the Poetry Tent with Jack Underwood, Helen Mort, Matthew Gregory and Rhian Edwards. We are being curated by Sam Riviere and Nathan Hamilton. Seeing as I taught Jack and Matthew and Sam and Nathan, my fear of performance goes up a notch. I will probably trip over the guy-ropes. Voewood is BIG. I mean THIS BIG. Other poets appearing include Emily Critchley, S.J. Fowler, Kate Kilalea, Luke Kennard, and Christopher Reid (Saturday) Lorraine Mariner, Tim Cockburn, Molly Naylor, Tom Warner and Ruth Padel (Monday).

There are also a lot of famous people - writers, artists, musicians - too many to mention, but you can see that for yourselves via the link.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Audio: Four Poems from The Burning of the Books

Four poems from The Burning of the Books by George Szirtes

There are fourteen poems in the full set that was first published by Full Circle Press with prints by Ronald King, then, in slightly modified form, along with other poems, in the Eliot Prize short-listed The Burning of the Books and Other Poems (2009)

The poems annotate Elias Canetti's Auto da Fe, his story of the monstrous scholar, Kien; his housekeeper, the iron-skirted Teresa, who takes over his flat and kicks him out; the hunchbacked, chess-playing dwarf, Fischerle who helps Kien by carrying his invisible books around and wraps them in brown paper in a hotel room, and a collection of terrible others in proto-Fascist thirties Vienna. In that sense it is a prophetic work, a vision of human society with no consolations. Kien's library burns down at the end. The Nazis burned books. Rushdie's book was burned. Books continue to be burned.

For me it was, initially, a prompting by Ronald King who had long been fascinated by the book. Auto da Fe is not an easy or pleasing read, but it has enormous power. There are times I feel we are living a new version of the thirties. More fanaticism, a greater psychological vacuum, a more drifting kind of shallowness, a more pervasive sense of group-think. We sense more than ever that our lives are determined by factors beyond our consciousness. That is to say we are more conscious than ever of that lack.

Somewhere at the edge of the fourteen poems is a memory of Goya's Tristes presentimientos de lo que ha de acontece.

But cheer up, lad! Things aren't as bad as all that!

Nor are they. But a vision is that which presents itself, and plugging into Canetti lights up that part of one's own imagination. Besides, these tumbling improvised poems, have a funny side and do their own mad little dances. I chose these four because one has to choose some. The first poem is there, and Madhouse which is the one I read most often in public. The other two might have been replaced with two different ones.

Wednesday 24 August 2011


I am simply linking here to Peter Ryley's Fat Man on a Keyboard. Peter continually demonstrates that it is possible to be of the Left and not simply buy into whatever package whatever is currently calling itself the Left is declaring itself to be the one true faith.

The Alex Crawford video linked to on Peter's blog is famous by now and it is fascinating being there in the truck with her, the cameraman (we never see the cameramen), and the rebels riding into town. It is in these dizzy revolutionary moments you catch the word 'freedom' and see people illuminated by it. Their faces blaze as though lit by a passing firework. It is brief and bright.

None of the potential resolutions of this - or any other - uprising is likely to be as good as the hopes of those whose faces are suddenly illuminated. No doubt in some dark unfilmed corner someone is being burned or tortured or hanged or shot as we look elsewhere, but that happens whether there is such a revolutionary moment or not. It is what brings revolutions about.

Nor does it matter that revolutions do not produce utopias. If they improve matters that is something. I know how broad the definition of democracy is and how impossible the ideal. But it is still better than anything else. It is still worth fighting for.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

The Hour does Suez: White Hat

The Hour treats of Suez. There is, of course, a heroic woman producer and a wimpy male presenter who bottles it.

There is, of course, only one line on Suez. It’s evil.

There are, of course, only duplicitous people supporting it.

There is, of course, a man from the Tory party who calls his government liars and murderers. Decent old reactionary stick with a wobbling lip. He'll soon be dead, of course.

There is, of course, defiant and admiring applause when the programme is whisked off the air and the producer is fired. She is, of course, proud of what she has done.

There is, of course, no real democracy in the country, quid est demonstrandum.

Except, of course, at the BBC.

More applause.

It’s good to put all these ‘of course’s in. It’s ever so reassuring to be told exactly what is so good about good and so bad about bad. I am very reassured. It is only the hats I miss, the white ones and the black ones.

Surely we could run to a few hats.

With Lidija Dimkovska at the Poetry Library

Macedonian-Slovenian poet Lidija Dimkovska and I are reading at The Poetry Library at The Southbank Centre on 7 September. Some information:

Lidija Dimkovska was born in Skopje in 1971. Apart from poetry she writes essays, works as a translator and edits the Macedonian literary internet magazine Blesok/Shine. Dimkovska studied general and comparative literature in Skopje and took a Ph.D. at the University of Bucharest, where she taught Macedonian language and literature. She now lives in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana.

Dimkovska’s poetry collections include The Offspring from the East (1992), The Fire of Letters (1994) and Bitten Nails (1998). In Rumania she published a collection of translated poems, Meta Hanging on Meta Lime Tree (2001). Her poems have been included in anthologies published in several countries.

She acts within the cultural context of the Balkans, while belonging to a generation of poets who address themselves to European and American literature.

Dimkovska’s poems have been characterized as post-modern, or even as post-poetry. They can be presented as prose (as is sometimes done in quotations), but with the lines themselves creating a sensible – and poetic – organization of their content.


So she was barely twenty-one, if that, when her first book appeared. Here's a poem:

Lidija Dimkovska

My memory is a soldier’s tin of bully beef
with no best-before date. I return to places
I have trodden with only one tongue in my mouth
and beat egg yolks for the natives to give them a good voice.
In a snow of the whites Jesus lies crucified as if in jest.
It takes two tongues for a French kiss,
now that I have several I’m no longer a woman but a dragon.
Like St George, I never learned
to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, my nose being blocked for years
I myself only breathe through others’ nostrils, the EU’s paying.
Aha! There’s something fishy about you, something’s fishy here,
the little fallen angels
collecting old paper and plastic cry after me,
I love them best when they take their cots
out into the corridor to air the DNA
then A. and I sprawl out on them, a side each,
and in a carefully worked-out act of love
all our porcelain teeth chip off,
our gums turn into wide-open eyes, before which
our tongues in the darkness trip each other up,
growling, whimpering and moaning, and we
feel neither fear nor sorrow.
My memory is the black box from a crashed war-plane
with no best-before date. I return to places I trod
with only one blood under my skin,
I cross off fertile days for the natives on the calendars
with their name days and family feasts,
tame animals crave for the wild, the wild for the tame.
Like a Jewish couple during fasts and monthly periods,
so God and I have been sleeping in separate beds for years.

Translated from Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid
- from Verse

Peggy Reid, her translator above, will also be there. There is poetry and conversation, as is right and fitting.

Monday 22 August 2011


Having escaped from the aftermath of one revolution without seeing much at the age of seven (just one day off eight) because I was not only a child but recovering from scarlet fever at the time, I have been at the prelude of a bloodless one in Hungary in 1989, returning to watch on TV other bloodless ones in Czechoslovakia (as it then was) and in East Germany (as it then was). In June that year, still in Hungary, I watched the massacre at Tienanmen Square on Hungarian TV twelve days before attending a big rally - Imre Nagy's reburial service in Budapest. I watched the Romanian revolution on TV after that and went to protest outside the Romanian Embassy while the siege of the TV building continued.

I am not sure whether I would call the invasion of Iraq a revolution though the immediate aftermath looked like one. Since then the Arab Spring - the falls in Tunisia and Egypt, and tonight, probably, the last thtroes of the Gaddafi regime in Lybia. Syria still goes on. In the meantime our own quite different riots have come and gone like summer snow for most of us, though not for their victims.


The mixture of exhilaration and terror, exultation and despair, the momentum of victory and comradeship and the breaking up of the forces of stable power. Surely you could take any series of photographs in any revolution and apart from the costumes and the weaponry they'd be identical. The great surge of joy at the downfall of an apparently impregnable power must be one of the most ancient of feelings and the core of other feelings that resemble it - victory at sport, the destruction of a building, even the lighting of a fire. The inner energy finds its outer vehicle. And in much the same way, I can't help being excited watching the scenes from Tripoli nor can I help comparing these feelings with those I felt at the fall of the Berlin Wall or the capture of Ceausescu.

There are differences of course. The Berlin Wall and the fall of Ceausescu were dramas in a world I knew and had internalised in my imagination. The revolutions struck me as absolute goods, the liberation of the better part of the spirit. The were, despite parallel feelings of apprehension, moments of high optimism. I had no doubt that there would be something better after Honecker, after Husak, after Kádár and the rest, never mind the backward hell-holes of Bulgaria and Albania. Thigs could only get better, couldn't they?

I cannot feel that about the Arab Spring. I see mostly educated, intelligent, humane people brushing aside a brutal, dull, inhumane enemy, or that is what I want to see. And so it may be. But I haven't internalised their problems and values and I have no absolute certainty about the outcome. Nor was I absolutely right about what would follow the fall of Europe's Berlin Walls. Not that I would put the clock back - not for one second - but I can quite see that the moment of exultation did not lead to a condition that could in all respects be described as better. Certainly not in the ex-Yugoslavia. Or if better elsewhere, still not as good as I had hoped. As anyone hoped. Because in such moments hope is everything.


The book this makes return to is Canetti's Crowds and Power. Here he is describing the Crowd erupting:

The open crowd is the true crowd, the crowd abandoning itself freely to its natural urge for growth. An open crowd has no clear feeling or idea of the size it may attain; it does not depend on a known building which it has to fill...
He then goes on to the eruption:

I designate as eruption the sudden transition from a closed into an open crowd. This is a frequent occurrence, and one should not understand it as something referring only to space. A crowd quite often seems to overflow from some well-guarded space into the squares and streets of a town where it can move about freely... Since the French Revolution these eruptions have taken on a form which we feel to be modern... The history of the last 150 years [Canetti was writing this before 1960] has culminated in a spate of such eruptions...
The whole book is fascinating on the animal mechanism of the crowd. The section in which he discusses The Pack and Religion is pertinent to our times.

My personal brief experience of the revolutionary pack has not led me to any trust of crowds. People in crowds tend to behave worse, as we know from our recent experience.

And yet I still feel the exhilaration, the exultation and joy of a crowd in celebration. The end - or even the beginning of a football match, the sinister delight of a Busby Berkeley dance routine. Visceral events. You don't get anywhere without the viscera. Not in art. But art teaches the viscera its great formal, sometimes quite cold-blooded dances.

Revolutions are not like that.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Sunday night is... Ella's Summertime

The picture fuzzy, the voice as clear and pure as ever.

It has been a summer to remember but not for the weather. Even now, as we are heading for Peter Scupham's for the launch of his new book, Borrowed Landscapes, and John Mole's new The Point of Loss, at a poetry picnic - I am to take my accordion, which I do with fear and trembling, and a poem - the weather is the same thin grey we have had most of the season, one that looks on the edge of sunlight and might even, for a few minutes at a time, actually produce it. The clouds are delicately piled: there is no malice in them, only a kind of hesitancy. It is calm weather, if something as faint and tremulous looking as the sky outside my window just now can be described as calm.

It reminds me a little of the two women - mother and daughter - who lived above us in our Leeds flat in our last year there. Both were depressive, both nervous. We had, by miracle, a piano but I had to creep upstairs and ask them every time if it was all right to play it. That depended on how close they were to another ECT appointment. They would sit there, quite still and smile, but the hands of the daughter were always on the edge of trembling. Thus the sky. One should creep up there and ask it in a quiet voice if it's OK to play the accordion below.

Ten Books of Coincidence, History and Transformation for Henry

Henry Layte, the owner of Norwich's The Book Hive asked me to be one of the local writers to recommend ten books in some thematic group. He then ordered the books in and displayed them with the notes below. As it is very late I thought I'd put the list up here.

Ten Books of Coincidence, History and Transformation

Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita
Magic and satire under Stalin, a cult book in Russia, hair-raising and funny. The Devil himself appears. The Master writes a novel about Pontius Pilate and Christ. Margarita is the Master's lover who becomes a witch. We enter the world of the novel and Pontius Pilate, horrified, purged and laughing.

Bruno Schulz: The Street of Crocodiles
The imagination transforms everything into obsession, dream, nightmare in these short stories set in Galicia, yet everything remains intimate and all the more disturbing for that. It is as if you discovered your very socks had nightmares.

David Grossman: See Under: Love
Picks up the figure of Schulz. An extraordinarily ambitious hallucinatorily clear and occasionally dense book. There's this Israeli child, Momik, of the 1950s, who becomes obsessed by Schulz as an adult. and writes a wonderful fantasy based on Schulz's life. His Scheherzade-like grandfather is unkillable and tells stories, and, and...

W G Sebald: Austerlitz
The last and greatest book by the German East Anglian author of The Rings of Saturn. Two essential characters, the figure 'I' and the eponymous Jacques Austerlitz. The two keep meeting each other and history opens under their feet everywhere they step. Part suspense story, part elegy, part magical encyclopaedia of coincidence and loss.

Martin Gardner: The Annotated Alice
Like the Sebald, partly an encyclopedia but this time fixing itself firmly to the body of Lewis Carroll's two Alice books. Think of memory as a set of annotations on life, how this thing leads to that thing. The contemporary references are not just scholarship but tunnels in time. How does thinking actually work?.

Lord Byron: Don Juan (the Anne Barton edition)
Byron was the greatest comic poet in the English language, and much more than that. In his unfinished Don Juan (pronounced Don Jew-one so as to rhyme with 'new one') he perfects his airy digressive matter while telling extraordinary funny and terrible stories of Juan's travel and return. His rhyming is virtuosic, his sense of timing magnificent.

Graham Oakley: Magical Changes
For children-cum-adults. A picture split-page book without words in which the top and bottom of every page fit with every other to create a funny, dreamlike, faintly disturbing set of coincidences that seem full of endless (actually 512) possibilities. Children love it because everything fits together. Adults love it because the fit is strange.

André Kertész (Phaidon 55s)
A cheap introduction to one of the great photographers of the 20C. You could have his book 'On Reading' but that is more specialised. Kertész was Hungarian by birth but an internationalist by fate. His long career goes back to the First World War and beyond and extends into the seventies and early eighties. His range is enormous from early realism, through post war idylls, urban scenes, surrealism, isolation in New York and even includes polaroids.

T S Eliot and Valerie Eliot: The Waste Land Facsimile
The poem and all the poems it might have been with Pound's notes and editings, Vivienne's scribblings, and all in aid of what? The key poetic vision of the Twentieth Century that remains insistently valid in our own times. It shows a global world imploding and transforming, bearing down on the personal, splitting identity. Fragments shored against ruin.

Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters (Library of America)
Elizabeth Bishop is one of the greatest poets of the last century. Her work in both poetry and prose is miniature yet enormous. She is a precise and humane observer, fascinated by maps, but also by encounters with the transformed world, whether those be Manmoths, Fishes or The Moose met by a long-distance bus at night. In her the hallucinatory and the familiar find that calm sphere of being in which the imagination lies down with reason begetting wisdom.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Wine and ketchup

First the good news from The Poetry Society. Stage 1 completed with the reinstatement of Judith Palmer, full of praise, an apology, and also a statement praising the editorship of Fiona Sampson. All this is good. Meantime the President and the Vice-Presidents have all gone - Jo Shapcott, Don Paterson, Sean O'Brien, Anne Stevenson and Gwyneth Lewis. It will be hard getting people as good as that, but essentially it's a clean slate for the new board who will be voted in at the AGM. They will have a tough task.


Not so good news. Things are far from clear regarding funding of the PBS and there are more battles to be fought there. You have years without a crisis then, like buses, two come along at the same time - just when you least need them. Not to mention the battles for survival of Arc and Enitharmon, Flambard, The Poetry Trust, and the Lancaster LitFest.

Poetry will survive of course - it always does because it is deep in the human spirit. Organisations and institutions, on the other hand, are not eternal but their experience and skill are part of the fabric, and it is not until they are gone that people realise what they made happen and what has stopped happening.

None of the dramatic events tells you much about poetry or poets. It tells you far more about society, the cultural bodies that it deploys to represent itself, and the kind of mindset bred by bureaucracy and short sight, producing the crudest system of values and the shortest term notions of success.

Bureaucracy and short sight is where we are. It is what we live with. Cuisine for the privileged and fast food for the rest with only the thin ketchup of cheap piety giving an illusion of flavour.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Events, dear boy, events...

Not too late, but feels late. Bad and anxious nights recently with too much to do. Yesterday I spent the day setting up the Facebook page for the Wymondham Words Festival, today I spent translating parts of the interview we did in Hungary with Peter Szuhaly, the curator of the Liszt and Gypsy Music exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum. It's slow working from a CD that I have to keep stopping. At the time I translated impromptu and that seems mostly all right but every so often I miss something and there are moments I did not completely understand what he was saying. The drive in translating from recorded conversation is to clarify and make articulate, but one has to be careful with that since what people say remains improvised, not literary.

At the same time I am thinking of affairs at The Poetry Society. I have enough proposers to be nominated but the white nights are due to thinking of all that's coming up. I am currently judging the Stephen Spender Competition an the Essex Poetry Festival Competition. Next week I am at Voewood. I am also part of a reading at the Royal Academy with poems about photography. More details on that tomorrow. I am also translating a book to a deadline, am due to make appearances in London over the next two months,with Lidija Dimkovska, being part of the Escalator residential weekend, and then the festival itself! More to come on all these things.

That's before October starts.. And so to bed.

Monday 15 August 2011

Picking over the pieces

Or Carrion carrying on.

Snapshots from a riot: reading the papers for profit

13 packets of fruit gums, 21 Yorkie bars:
this was the spree and all around the loot.
Below, the street, up there the sparkling stars
among the broken glass and burning cars,
the spree too small, a week’s supply the loot,
13 packets of fruit gums, 21 Yorkie bars.

The good samaritans arrived, they helped him up
and took most tender care,
once he was walking, to open up his bag
and share the spoils, or what there was to share.

Sheneka Leigh, aged twenty-two,
was simply trying on a shoe,
footwear her besetting sin:
this is the box they threw her in.

He was peripheral,
a dot at the rim of vision,
with a stolen bottle of wine
a twelve year old before the district judge.
He’d punched some 1 in the chest 2 times.
Now see him move back to the periphery.
You watch your fucking face, his mother cries.
You watch your fucking face.

Brought up in circumstances more humble than they,
the righteous proclaim their humility.
The looters consider then pass on their way
this exercise in futility.

The fatter, the fitter, the fleeter, the flitter
all of them suitably humble
as buildings and businesses crumble,
delighted and crowing and ever more bitter.

Payback time for not being taken on
by the job no-one wanted but you.
So payback is paid
with both parties through.

CCTV is on the case. Watch the figures emerge
from the wallpaper then merge back in again.
Caught! Caught! And the commentary that chimes in:
Scum! Feral rats!
It is as well to distinguish them from the domestic sort
who are not about to flee the ship.

Zero tolerance on Ground Zero:
the proper platform for a proper hero.
The toiling masses gather in the Forum
without ever quite forming a quorum.

A boy holds up a pair of jeans appraisingly.
It goes with the hood and the mask.
It is an aesthetic matter.

Or the man running along with bottles of, is it,
Black Bush Mills?
A man of taste, I'd say,
albeit in a haste.

It is, as Empson said, not the slag hills
but the waste,
the waste remains and kills.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Train drain

I am on the Birmingham to Ely train. The joys, the joys! The train to Birmingham was twenty-five minutes late. I rush from platform to platform and miss my connection by half a minute. Kind employee tells me the next train in an hour's time will probably be on the same platform but he can't be sure. Fine, as it is now 3:30 I might as well eat something.

If anyone knows Birmingham New Street they will know it is the most hideous and inconvenient major city station in the country - and I have been to all of them. There is no architecture to look at, no major hall to watch the crowds swirl and disappear onto trains down long romantic platforms. You have to climb up and down stairs with all your luggage because there is no passing between platforms otherwise, nor are there convenient escalators nearby. Oh no, you don't want to spoil your passengers. I saw a youngish man go up and down the steps in a tearing hurry because he was rushing for a train but his luggage was too clumsy. As for the elderly, lame, inform - there is a lift somewhere. Probably.

So I am stuck there for an hour. You want something hot to eat? Forget it, unless you want a burger. I buy a burger. But you know what burgers are. You have your luggage and must work with one hand. Why? Because there is nowhere to sit. Nowhere in the whole station. I sneak my burger and cup of tea into another establishment - the very establishment at which I did not particularly enjoy a meal on the way to Windermere. But at least you can sit and the kids behind the counter are not going to chase you away. Then I buy a paper, bump into Rosie, one of my MA students, then sit in another bar and sip a cold lemon tea because they don't do hot ones.

Eventually I make my way down to the platform which, because it is too narrow, is naturally crowded. I get on what seems to be the right train - the girl in the aisle opposite checks with me that it is. She isn't certain. How would she be? Nor am I. I hope so. It is so.

Then the predictable happens. This train too is delayed and sits half an hour in a field. I am going to miss my Ely connection. That's two out of three connections missed and two hours added to a seven and a half hour journey. And there is precious little on Ely platform on a Sunday evening. I dream I have been there before. I have in fact been there before.

At least I have a plan. When I get to Ely I will riot and go on a looting spree. I shall text myself first to make sure I am there. Then once I, me, and myself have formed a proper gang, I will nick a train, take it home and flog it to some unsuspecting naive idiot who will fondly imagine it actually goes somewhere.

Travelling in this poor bloody country is - take this advice from me, Monsieur, Signor - not advisable.

I take my pulse. I find I am dead.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Still in Wordsworth country

In the only local hostelry with wifi. I am looking out over their lawn where the table umbrellas are gathered like grey witches of distinctly ill omen. But there are people at tables and glasses next to them. Mild weather. Matt Monro on the lobby speakers.

I can't quite get used to mountains, even those of relatively modest size, as here in Grasmere. I love the fact that they are comprehensible mountains covered in green, and rugged rather than absolute. To have the land buckle around you is exciting. There must be so many places to hide! It's childhood again, like playing with toy soldiers in bed, raising your knees and placing figures at the top. It is comforting without being too peachy.

Folk come here to walk or climb. Some like fell running, like Helen Mort who is resident here but away just at the moment. There is a pun on 'fell' rumbling in the background. The verse: I do not love thee, Dr Fell, / The reason why I cannot tell, / But this alone I know full well: / I do not love thee, Dr Fell. And somehow I am sure I would not love him either. All that in four lines of which two are the same. Dr Fell is fell, a felon, a defile. I'd keep clear of Dr Fell.

All these travels like interstices in what could be the seamless fabric of home life - rising early, sitting at desk for hours, then retiring with just a short walk and a meal or two in between to interrupt the even tenor of an all but featureless way, apart from the interior landscape which remains thankfully unpredictable. A few fells and Fells there too.

At home C is kitten sitting while our two homies go into grouch and terror states. Somehow I can't see cats running a comfy B&B.

Home tomorrow, another seven and a half hours in the very lining of the those interstices with its sense of suspended time.

Friday 12 August 2011

Preston to Windermere

Brief note here. This is the most beautiful part of the journey. Steep fallings away, water everywhere, louring sky, everything tinged with dark under high grey cloud. Aberdeen Anguses, caravans, dense green foliage, the bank rising then dropping to reveal hills and mounts.

On second leg of the journey a plump young blonde woman with a young son sits over the aisle. She is constantly barking at him though he is no trouble. 'Play your game! 'Shut up!''Just eat!'. She is reading a magazine. I wonder what expressions he will be using once he is bigger and stronger. But that's too quick a judgment. After forty minutes or so she becomes very tender, takes him on her knee. From fierceness to caresses. Capable of both in an instant.

Reading papers (riots, looting, faces, disgraces) and Richard Mabey's 'The Unofficial Countryside' which must be the predecessor to 'Edgelands' just with more nature. Mabey is a lovely writer and scholar. (Now passing sheep - this must be official countryside.) You can tell real feeling in writing. It is never general or full of high sentence/ It savours words and applies them, precisely.

Farms of grey stone. Great mammary hills. Enclosed spaces. Hedges snaking up and down, like lines drawn in chalk. Heather. It is darkening all the time, the clouds growing spongier. Now at Oxenholme. Enough for now - also keeping an eye on the cricket.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Words associated with food (not for vegetarians)

Words can be a meal in themselves and when I came across a website asking readers for words associated with food, I was immediately curious. However, imagine my disappointment when this list came out top. No flavour, no texture, no voluptuousness, no grossness, no sheer salivating enjoyment, Here it is anyway:

cook, bake, broil, heat, sear, saute, recipe, ingredients, pans, plate, dinnerware, silverware, eat, meat, vegetables, grain, calories, carbohydrates, plant, sow, reap, harvest, minerals, vitamins, farms, ranches, grill, slice, serving, obesity, bulima, nervosa anorexia, gut, digestion, bite, teeth, chew, swallow, choke, vomit, tables, stove, cookware, tablecloth, kitchen, campfire, microwave, refrigeration, left-overs, feed, shopping, restaurant, store, fields, silos, barns, game, wash, knives, scraps, bones, gristle, shell, fertilizer, marketing, butcher, grocer, check-out, carts, receipt, produce, packaging, raw, shelves, lockers, baskets, candy, holidays,

See what I mean? Someone follows up with:

appetite..bon appetit..culinary..dining..eating..fine-… dinner..linguine..mussels..nachos..onion… carrots..vegetable..waffle..xtra cheesey..yams..zucchini

Well yes, well yes, but then it tails away just when it was getting interesting. I think we could do better, so, experimentally, somewhat along the lines of sheep-counting, as in yan-tan-tethera..., let's see if we can get some rhythm going, and some of that vowel and consonant mouth-dance I am so keen on in poetry.

raw, brawn, chow, cheek, custard, mustard, /
greased, larded, crunchy, succulent, chewy, /
toothsome, sour-sweet, piquant, /
hock, flank, chuck, chick, duck, neck, yam, whelk, /
rump, ramp, jerk, quiche, quenelle, anchovy/
eggplant, zucchini, blini, bolt, bouillabaisse,/
roulade, roux, ragu, ratatouille, roast /
frites, fricassee, forcemeat, homini, hummus, /
offal, oxtail, pork, pancetta, epicure, /
shin, clod, silverside, loin, leg, breast,/
belly, knuckle, wing, sweetmeat, lights, glutton.

It's a miscellaneous enough list, but never mind, let it sing! Good. Now I feel hungry again. And this is only the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Children of Albion

Children of Albion, the future is yours,
It’s safe now to wander and gambol outdoors,
The streets are all empty, the shops are all bare,
There’s nothing to take but a breath of fresh air,
And nothing is broken that time won’t repair,
Children of Albion
Sleep easy.

Children of Albion, the future is bright,
There’s plenty of fire to light up the night,
The goods are all free, the watches, the shoes,
The TVs, the iPhones, the music, the booze,
There’s plenty to gain when there’s nothing to lose,
Children of Albion
Sleep easy.

Children of Albion, your life is your own,
You’ve nothing to do with the lives you have blown,
You can blame it on God, the Tories, the state,
On parents, on culture, on school, or your mate,
On coppers, on joblessness, weather, and fate,
Children of Albion
Sleep easy.

Children of Albion, you can take off that hood,
The world is your oyster, you’re out of the wood,
Directors and bankers have run off with more,
They’ve been there before you, they’ve cleaned out the store,
They’ve lit their own fires on the trading room floor,
Children of Albion
Sleep easy.

Children of Albion, sleep well in your beds,
There’s nothing to fear, no price on your heads,
No price and no buyer, you’ve romped and you’ve played,
And there in your hands is the loot you can trade,
Let none be deceived, let none be afraid,
Children of Albion
Sleep easy.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

      Mony Mony: A sonnet draft


Mony Mony

When Mony Mony starts up the room stops
whatever it’s doing and begins to frame
something it needs to say. The music is a game
it learns then forgets. The temperature drops
inside it as if time were running backwards
to where Tommy James falls through a trapdoor
of memory and disappears through floor after floor
till he ends up here with these notes and these words.
The Shondells tremble with electricity. The drums
generate entire bodies in the dark
holding a grey diffuse space and charging all
of it. Here she comes now. Here is the spark
that passes between them. Here are the magical
ingredients: death, fury, yearning. Here she comes.

That idea of sonnets about peripheral popular music. Maybe more to come. This is a draft

Monday 8 August 2011


Debenhams, Clapham Junction, 8 August 2011, 23:12, via Guardian

You can't blame it on the long hot summer since there isn't one. Can you blame it on the police shooting? We have yet to find out what happened there, in what order, and how. Can you blame it on police community relations? Seems less likely than it did in the 80s but not impossible. In the meantime a third night of burning and looting. Chiefly looting it seems.

Not of food and the necessities of survival as it was, mostly, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It's consumer goods, those symbols of affluent, fashionable well being. Get me a satnav! one woman shouts as a mob break into a shop. Another woman examines a pair of shoes straight from the looted shoebox. Designer brand.

Sometimes fury strikes a group and spreads like a contagion. The fury is generally monstrous, indiscriminate, but, in its way, comprehensible. At a certain critical point one set of social codes crack and another, more spontaneous set, takes hold. Taboos down, everyone rushes in. The taboo itself is like a shop window. Break the window once and the shop is not a shop but an invitation to carnival. It isn't so much loot anymore as booty from the pirate's party. Go mama, shake your booty!

And afterwards it will be told with pride, not shame. It will be projected as heroism, the heroism of a bout of energy that takes its symbolic pickings from the real lives of others it will never recognise. It won't do the looters any good in the long run, though runs can be very long. Years. Decades. The looters will, in most cases, still be the poor, the semi-criminalised, the ones on the unemployment register, the mothers with poor child care, the children with little to aim for but consumer goods and the lifestyle such goods are supposed to embody but don't.

It may be an interesting warning of times to come. There is in people, I suspect, a certain bottled up resentment at the danger they have been put into by the actions of wealthy unaccountable others. Consumer goods are not the noble stuff of life but people are used to them. People regard consumer goods as their human rights, or what they should have to show by way of human rights.

Let's hope no one gets killed, or maimed, or finds their life ruined by these events and that the social fabric is repaired sooner rather than later. Any patch up job will do, and usually does.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Sunday night is... Swing Cats Jamboree with Luis Prima

Louis Prima and company - Shirley Lloyd (Way Down Yonder in New Orleans; I Can’t Give You Anything But Love; You’re An Education; Please Be Kind; Loch Lomond. And the rest of the Swing Cats (1938)

Wild stuff for seeming gentlefolk. The two dancers in the middle of the clip (presumably Ted Gary and Mitzi Dahl) are terrific. In 1938 my father was 21 and my mother still in Transylvania aged 14. Under the YouTube clip, the following:

Is there a way to download this video in good quality? Do you mind sharing this with me and my brothers? that is my father, Louis Masinter on bass and we would LOVE being able to have this for all time. Daddy played with Frank Frederico on guitar and Godfrey Hirsch on xylophone for many many years and Frank attended his funeral 14 years ago. They are now playing with Louis on the big bandstand in the sky now.

- from Suze9088 'a year ago'

And Louis Masinter then. And Frank Frederico and Godfrey Hirsch. And all those dancing round the stage at the end including the manic drunk on his girl's back.

Saturday 6 August 2011

An afterthought on Danny Baker and frivolity

Panes et circenses. Bread and circuses. '[A] metaphor for a superficial means of appeasement' Distractions. Trivial pursuits. Frivolities.

Listening to part of the last Danny Baker Saturday show on the website replay, I am first of all confirmed in my guess that there is no point in a 'Finest Moments of Danny Baker'. Baker needs a long runway before take-off, but once flown he remains flown, the air ever more giddy. His phone-in callers fit into his world and, to a great extent, make that world for him. They are practically co-pilots. He trusts them and they generally repay the trust. He can take the controls back when he needs to: he knows the plane inside out. He has, after all, made it. It's a package flight really, without a first class section. His callers can afford it.

He doesn't even have to talk that much. Some of the time he is simply annotating what he is given, slipping in anecdotes like footnotes, or adding a link to some encyclopaedia of trivia. Amazing that such an encyclopaedia should exist. Proper in-flight entertainment.

Of course we know it's trivial. Baker does not deal with weighty matters. He is far more interested in the incidental than the essential. Indeed it feels over-solemn to be discussing him in such terms at all: one should be slipping in the odd remark, becoming part of that world, that flight, rather than observing it from here, on ground level, or possibly from some impossibly grandiose cloud.

But here is an interesting principle. Auden was more likely to be impressed by a young aspiring poet who expressed an interest in words than in one claiming to have great things to say. There is skill and delight in doing anything well and doing frivolity well is delightful. It is a key part of understanding what it is to have things to say.

Very well, says Blake, Fun I love, but too much fun is of all things the most loathsome. Granted. I can't go on forever saying: It's not the subject but the language, because I don't really believe it. Not all the time. I whisper this as an aside: There is enough terror and sadness in the world to haunt the nightmares of any god worth the name. Are the brackets around that aside comic or tragic? Hard to say.

But the frivolous in Baker's hands is the product of precision and love which is good enough for me. It's why the plane flies and why the flight is so enjoyable.

Friday 5 August 2011

Farewell Ginger Prince

The great, so far taciturn, Paul Scholes played his last game - his benefit match - against the New York Cosmos tonight. The result (6-0 to United) doesn't matter in the least but the first goal - and what a goal! - was scored by the man himself. I'll put it up here once I get it.

Scholes is one of the most unusual figures in modern football. Shy to the point of being self-erasing, he hated any fuss and made no public statements. He was one of that young batch of players along with Gary and Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Lee Sharpe, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, (who had already made his first appearance at the age of sixteen two years before) about whom Alan Hansen remarked 'You'll not win anything with kids.' They won the Double that year.

Scholes was not only the quietest but the subtlest of the group. Everyone could see what the others were good at from the start: Giggs, a genius joyful winger; Beckham, a master of the long pass and dead ball; Lee Sharpe, a flash, talented, but more brittle version of Giggs; Nicky Butt a tough intelligent midfield grafter; and the two Nevilles, fierce, solid international backs capable of thinking and attacking, full of great drive.

But what exactly was Scholes brilliant at? The trouble was it wasn't any one thing but everything. He has been called one of greatest players of the last thirty years in the world by everyone from Zidane to Xavi. His tackling could be terrible. Arsene Wenger spoke of the dark side of Paul Scholes. The more general opinion is that he just couldn't time a tackle so simply flew in trying to get something. The rest was, quietly, out of this world.

Giggs is still there, amazingly enough. But Ginger Prince Scholes has moved on with the briefest of words. Those passes in the compilation can speak for him.

Yesterday night. The game's first, his last.

In Praise of Danny Baker

Just listening to the Friday repeat of Desert Island Discs, where he talks about his linguistic gift. Full of honest self-knowledge without calling it that. I have long listened to him whenever I had time or remembered when he is on. There is something in his speed of thought, delivery and invention that is a joy. If energy is eternal delight, as Blake suggested, Baker is full of it. He takes up space of course. He is something of a monologuist whoever he is with. He rattles on like a wagon on catherine wheels. But then he listens. Listens, thinks and replies. Dad a docker, mother a factory worker. Memories of bomb sites and sitting in a burning car, playing chicken. Offered place in grammar school but turned it down. Could have got double first at Cambridge, suggests Kirsty Young. Dismisses the thought. No fear of money. Spent to the hilt on a moment's whim for presidential suite in New York for his family. Borrowed £30K, gave it back. Won't waste money on insurance. Cancer? There's no lesson in it. Life has been far more than that. You live once, you give once, best thing in life is being a good host. Has done some dreadful TV, but doesn't believe he'll be defined by failures. No one will be. It's what you've done well that survives. 'I live like Bertie Wooster'.

A working class Wooster then. Very much a man's boy. Love of football, games, nonsense, drink, words and the specific. A terrific disregard, suggests Kirsty Young. No, he answers. She insists. He thinks. No, he says. Not a terrific disregard. Just disregard.

That's the man for me. No point replaying him or compiling 'The Finest Moments of Danny Baker'. You have to catch him as he flies, as Blake (again) said of something else.

Takes S J Perelman as his book. Loves finding unfmailiar phrases in it. I didn't know language could be used like that. Luxury: looks down at feet. I'll take my blue suede shoes.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Instead of an article or letter

Try convincing newspapers that the sensational angle is not the right angle. Not possible. The story is all that counts, whether the story is true or not. Ever since the Poetry Society debacle started the press story has been feuds between poets. I tried to write to The Guardian, offered a brief article. No acknowledgment. Wrote a letter to The Times about their disgraceful article. No acknowledgement. Yesterday sent the petition letter to The Guardian headlined by Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Jo Shapcott, Liz Lochhead and Simon Armitage et al, as well as a number of prominent writers, hoping it would be published on the day of the Board of Trustees meeting. No letter appears. Still in queue. Blog does appear, noting the petition and linking to it, but without saying anything about who has signed it. Tucked away there.

It's like pointing to a burning building and the press writing about a half-imagined fight in one of the windows.

The only place I could make anything like a rational comment is in the Comments box. If anyone is interested, this was the comment:

KatyEB is quite right, I haven't acted alone. [Katy Evans-Bush is the first to raise this point in the Comments section]. The thousand people who signed, including all the well known poets, have worked together to try and rescue the Poetry Society. The petitioners have never represented the situation as a spat between individuals and certainly not one between poets, since the former Director, Judith Palmer, is not a poet, nor is the acting Chair of the Board of Trustees, nor was the finance director who also resigned, nor are a good number of the current board. Both Judith Palmer and Fiona Sampson (who is a poet and a very fine one) have said publicly that they are happy to continue to work with each other.

But in any case the Poetry Society is so much more than a place for poets. Try looking at its range of activities, including its work in education. It is one of the two major institutions of poetry in this country and since the other one, the Poetry Book Society, has been deprived of public support (though people are energetically working for its survival), the Poetry Society has become all the more important. If, of course, the country no longer cares for its own major cultural product over the centuries, then so much worse for the country. I write this in my Hungarian voice and also as someone with no other stake in the Poetry Society than having been a member for thirty odd years.

It shows the pitiable state of things that I have to come to a comment board to point this out. And the press coverage, Richard, has been the usual opportunistic personality stuff. Feuds are news: constitutions may not be. But public bodies stand or fall by their constitutions.

Both the society and the review were successful. However, it seems to me - and to many many others - that Judith Palmer has had a particularly raw deal, directly after her success (together with her staff of course) in not only saving an institution but increasing its potential scope. The first civilised step is to reinstate her and let a new board, due to be elected this month, resolve any specific difficulties.

Forgive the slight exasperation. We shall see what happens in the meantime. Maybe even what has happened today.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

All MP's have sexual magnetism

Paul Flynn (Lab), position A

As claimed here by 76-year old Labour MP, Paul Flynn. It is the way the admirers are fanned around the sexually charged electro-magnetic body that is the clue. Do watch out for this key pattern as the MP emerges from the Lobby. It is the inevitable configuration. In Flynn's own words,"It's a complete mystery but there's not much doubt that the two little letters [MP] after the name do enhance the allure of women and men when they get to this position". (Position A as above.)

Mr Flynn is also fond of tweeting. "If you do it this way your questions are much more pithy. You make every word count, without any verbal Polyfilla," he said, picking the Polyfilla out of his mouth.

Power, as Henry Kissinger once noted, is the greatest aphrodisiac.

Tomorrow, Eric Pickles: Babe Magnet. Needless to say Mr Pickles is a blue magnet.

Eric Pickles. Note the blue sexually magnetic tie.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Skip a day to Roby Lakatos

Roby Lakatos performing Brahms's 'Hungarian Dance No.5', á la Lakatos.

Missed yesterday because of the last minute press release details about the Poetry Society petition to have Judith Palmer reinstated. (All links here - the press release is a downloadable PDF link.)The release went out about 8am this morning. The Poetry Society board also have a copy. Now we'll see what they will do. In the meantime people are telling me about dreadful innuendos here and there on the net but never point out where they are. Frankly I wouldn't spend a lot of time searching. It is not unusual for people to call each other names, but it is rarely to the point. Amazingly enough the world is still orbiting the sun and the plague of frogs is holding off. The best model, if you can do it, is firm respect and courtesy. It should be attempted now and then.

About ten minutes after the press release was released I was off to the BBC in London to interview the virtuoso Gypsy violinist, Roby Lakatos. Since he was arriving at St Pancras from Brussels at much the same time as I was arriving at Kings Cross, a taxi had been arranged to take us both to Broadcasting House.

Yes, but taxis between Kings Cross and St Pancras are so plentiful it's like moving through an ants' nest. They queue on both sides of two roads on either side of St Pancras International. Consequently RL and I couldn't find each other for fifteen minutes and once we found each other we couldn't find the taxi for another fifteen.

The universal principle governing famous people is that they are always shorter than you imagine them to be. Having seen RL perform I expected him to be pretty enormous, but he was a little shorter than me and not at all enormous in any respect. The ends of his moustache are waxed which gives him a faintly Mephistophelian air (that's Roby in 1999 in the top clip - darker of hair) or would do if he didn't look so friendly. Being relaxed and friendly we were immediately on first name terms and tutoyer-ing each other (I know you knew what that meant and didn't need the link to explain) in Hungarian. Which is always a delicate question in Hungary. Being older than he is I am entitled to ask whether he wishes to be on tutoyer terms, but he is far more illustrious than I am so he could stand on ceremony and be a little stiff about it. But no. I asked and he said, of course, so we got on with it.

He bore the searching for each other and the searching for the taxi with great patience, especially as he had only got back from concert in Switzerland the previous night. He gave a marvellous interview in the studio and illustrated an important point by playing his violin. His range of playing is considerable which is why I am putting on two clips, one classical but given the Gypsy violin treatment, the other jazz A great fan of Django Reinhardt.

Roby Lakatos playing 'Nouages', composed by Django Reinhardt.

Afterwards a Thai lunch then he goes back to St Pancras in a taxi. Elizabeth (the producer) and I sit down for a coffee. I suggest a series of programmes on European Gypsies, their travels, their lives, their culture. I know one should call them Roma politically, but you wouldn't do that with RL, who is the latest in direct line from generations of great Gypsy violinists going right back to the first great Gypsy violinist, János Bihari. RL plays a mid-nineteenth century violin that has passed down the generations of his family. RL is royalty. RL's brother is Tony, the saxophonist, as below.

That's enough music for one post.

Incidentally I read there is now a worry about under-tens suffering from anorexia. Meanwhile others are worrying about obesity. I see an awful lot of normal looking kids in the street, healthy as puppies. Everyone is pretty these days and generally pretty in much the same way. They live longer too. I can see the day when thinness and chubbiness will become, first social, then real indictable crimes. Like smoking. Or crossing the road while whistling.

I know, I know, I am dismissing serious issues - yes sir, I am talking to you - with more than usual flippancy. As Will of the late Drunken Trotskyist Popinjays website used to say: Just saying, like.

Some clouds above but no frogs yet.