Saturday, September 30

E & D has moved!


From October 1st,2006
Exultations & Difficulties has a new web address and a new look. You can go quickly to the new site by clicking here.

The site you are now on will stay here, because it has all the poems and things previously published, and moving them to the new place is, frankly, more work than anyone I know wants.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 24

The Big Day (well, not that big, actually)

I've decided to re-launch Exultations & Difficulties on Sunday 1st October, for no better reason than it's a Sunday and it's the first day of a new month. Also here in China it's National Day, which is not at all relevant but there it is.

Sunday, September 3

Here is something

So here is the latest news. It's very hot here in China.... oh no, that's not what I meant to say. It's this:

E&D will be back soon with a new look. My son Tim has been brilliant and designed (with me being a fussy client) what we think is a rather attractive new site. So when E&D re-launches it will have a new web address but of course I'll fix all that as and when.

Also, the genius that is Luke Kennard is E&D's new "reviews editor" -- so, any publishers wanting to have their books reviewed here (I guess it doesn't have to be just books; records would be good; or clothes. But I guess mainly books) should send them to Luke at

Flat A
44 Pennsylvania Road

and you can email him (should you so wish) by clicking here.

OK. That was the news and the weather.

Friday, August 25

What Will Happen

I'm a little bit worried about that definite sounding "will", but I'll put my worries to one side and carry on.

I got back to China yesterday (or was it the day before? I've lost track) and somewhat by accident connected to a site, which has never been possible from here before. So, I checked further. I can now access this site, and my Home Page, and all other things blogspot. Someone somewhere has unblocked something, that's for sure .... which means ....

well, it means that one way or another Exultations & Difficulties will be back in business before long.

It's going to take a little while to get things organised, because I was originally planning if Typepad worked ok to start up in January at a new web address. But if this site stays open to me here then maybe it'll be sooner.

I will, as they say in blogworld, keep you posted.

Mind you, I'm still just a little bit worried ....

Monday, August 21

What Might Happen

Today is August 21st, 2006. I've been back in England for three weeks visiting family and friends, and tomorrow I'm going back to China for another academic year.

I've not touched this E&D site since last September for all the reasons mentioned previously, the most practical of them being that I can't access it from China.

But my son Tim is now blogging using Typepad, and as far as I know I CAN use that in China. So, when I get back I'm going to check things out, and if everything goes okay E&D will resume its activities at the start of 2007.

Of course, anything can happen between then and now, and life in China is great but not wholly predictable, but as of today that's where I am and where this is. If you have any enquiries, feel free to email me.

Saturday, September 3

So That's That

I've been trying to figure out for a couple of weeks how to say this, but the simplest and easiest is the most direct. Although it's not easy.

"Exultations and Difficulties" is stopping, as of now.

I am going to China. I have a teaching post at a University in Zhuhai, which is across the way from Hong Kong. I'm going to be teaching English (mainly conversation) to undergraduates, and I have a contract for the academic year, which will take me up until July (unless I hate it and run away).

As for "E&D", I'm not exactly sure what to say. For one thing, my pal Jez just came back from China and told me he'd not been able to access the site while he was there. China does have some restrictions on internet access, that's for sure. So, it may turn out that the decision's been made for me. On the other hand, I can't imagine getting review copies of books sent to China, then dishing them out.... OK, I know there are ways around that, but....

On the other other hand, let's face it, I'm going to be busy. And I'm going to be in China! There will be so much to see and do!

And some people have said they can't wait to read my blogs from there. But I don't want "E&D" to be a travel blog. The idea makes me almost fall asleep with disinterest.

So all this comes to this. "Exultations & Difficulties" is stopping, as of now. I've really enjoyed it, and I hope you have. I want to thank everyone who has been here, supported it, and contributed to it. And who knows? Maybe this time next year it'll be back...

Much love

Friday, September 2

Solitude and Love: anything's possible

Review by Ian Seed

Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950 by Cesare Pavese (Carcanet, £14.95)

The stars are alive,
but not worth these cherries which I’m eating alone.
- from “Passion for Solitude”

Cesare Pavese grew up and lived mostly in Turin, a city where I once worked and lived myself. I should say at the outset that I feel a special attachment to his writings Each day on my way to teach English to classes of boisterous teenagers, my tram passed the Hotel Roma on Via Nizza where Pavese hung himself in 1950. He was the first author I read extensively in Italian once I learnt the language well enough to do so. Pavese was much easier to read than, say, Alberto Moravia. This is because, like his friend and fellow writer, Natalia Ginzburg, Pavese wrote in a way that captured the speech rhythms of the people from Turin and the Piedmont region. When I read Pavese or Ginzburg I can hear the words and phrases as I am reading them, and I can see the streets of Turin in exactly the way he describes them.

This is true of both Pavese’s poetry and his fiction. Indeed, the line between the two is a blurred one. Many of Pavese’s poems read like stories or novels in miniature. Pavese referred to them as his “poem-stories”. In the era of Mussolini, he wrote poetry about the outcasts of society he saw around him on the streets of Turin and the surrounding countryside, the voiceless who would never fit into the clean, homogenised world of Fascism: drunkards, the unemployed and homeless, drifters, prostitutes, ex-cons, toothless men dreaming of their youth. He was influenced by the realism of the American authors he translated extensively, writing in a very different tradition from his Italian contemporaries such as Montale and Quasimodo. Although Pavese claimed to be apolitical, saying that politics was for fools, the subject matter of his poetry couldn’t help but be a protest against Fascism. Take this from “Idleness”:

All the big posters pasted up on the walls
with the muscular worker rising up toward the sky
above a factory background – they’re shredding
in the sun and the rain. Masino curses
to see that face, prouder than his, on the walls
of the very streets he has to walk to look for a job.

Indeed, Pavese spent time in prison because of his associations with people who were actively engaged in combating Fascism.

Pavese is a master at getting deep into the hearts of people at the bottom or the edges of society. He does so easily and naturally, without any kind of patronising tone, capturing the sadness and helplessness of their lives in a thought-provoking, disturbing way. From “The Country Whore”:

The languor of bed saps the sprawled limbs,
still youthful and plump, like a child’s.
The clumsy child used to smell the mixed scent
of tobacco and hay, used to tremble when touched
by the man’s quick hands: she liked playing games.
Sometimes she played lying down with the man
in the hay, but he wasn’t smelling her hair:
he’d find her closed legs in the hay and pry
them open, then crush her like he was her father.

A major subject matter for Pavese is the conflict between his desire for solitude and his need to be loved. Some of the poems read like a mourning for his own incapacity to return love when it was offered. Instead, he would fall in love with women who rejected him or who abandoned him after a short time. He sought solace in the sweetness of casual encounters. From “Words For A Girlfriend”:

I walk without saying a word with a girl
I picked up on the street. It’s evening,
the boulevard’s lined with trees and with lights […]
The crowd passes by,
pressing and crushing, and you too are the crowd,
like everyone else you’re walking beside me.
Not that I hate you – could you ever believe that? –
but I’m alone, and I’ll be alone always.

Towards the end of his life, after years of writing short stories and novels, Pavese returned to poetry, but it was poetry of a different kind, its meaning more elusive, driven by a dark, haunting lyricism. From “Earth and Death”:

And then we cowards
who love the whispering
evening, the houses,
the paths by the river,
the dirty red lights
of those places, the sweet
soundless sorrow –
we reached our hands out
toward the living chain
in silence, but our heart
startled us with blood,
and no more sweetness then,
no more losing ourselves
on the path by the river –
no longer slaves, we knew
we were alone and alive.

However, my own favourite poems of Pavese remain those which bring back to me today the atmosphere of the streets of Turin. I can still picture the fog invading the city from the River Po on damp Autumn mornings as I waited for my tram:

This is the day the fog rises up from the river
into the beautiful city, surrounded by fields and hills,
and blurs it like memory. In this haze, all green
melts together, but still the bright-colored women
go walking. They walk through the white penumbra
smiling: anything’s possible here on the street.

(from “Landscape”)

With this new rendering of Pavese’s poems into English, Geoffrey Brock has finally done justice to Pavese’s work, which has previously suffered from being poorly translated. Of course, there are times when it is impossible to communicate the richness of words which have different associations and meanings in the original language. For example, ‘Toleranza’, the title of one poem about a prostitute, is translated as ‘Tolerance’. In Italian there is the expression ‘casa di toleranza’, which means ‘brothel’ or literally ‘house of tolerance’. Any Italian reader will of course already have these points of reference, lost on the English reader. However, we are fortunate enough to have both the Italian and the English texts to refer to in this bi-lingual edition.

I would very occasionally contest the odd word chosen in English. For example, when Pavese writes of his cousin’s memories of hunting whales in the South Pacific, Brock translates ‘lottare alla lancia’ as ‘fighting the launches’. I believe that what Pavese meant by ‘lancia’ in this context is ‘harpoon’. But this is a minor quibble. Overall, Brock’s translation captures the tone of Pavese’s work in a way that hasn’t been achieved until now.

For both new readers and for those already familiar with Pavese, it is difficult to recommend “Disaffections” too highly. Cesare Pavese is one of those writers whose world, once we have entered it, we want to return to again and again.

© Ian Seed, 2005

Thursday, September 1

About Mairéad Byrne

Two or three weeks ago Mairéad Byrne sent me a couple of new chapbooks of her poetry. I’d been angling for a review copy of her recent thing from Wild Honey, but I got more than that.

Over the last two years or so Mairéad has been one of the lights of my poetry life. I’ve not visited her website often enough, but whenever I do, and I read her, the sun comes out and my brain remembers how things can be good. Sometimes poetry world is nonsense. Mairéad Byrne reminds me it is also capable of sense and delight.

She is one of those poets who is able to take hold of what is around her and put it on the page passionately and dispassionately at the same time. She’s able to retain her wit and humour, sometimes (often) against the odds. The pleasures and functions of language are a part of her life, and she is happy to share them. She knows all about innovative poetic strategies, and uses them when she feels like doing so. Unlike a lot of innovative poets she does it with a light touch. She writes poems that are a pleasure to read. If they happen to be about the tragedies of war-torn Baghdad this is not paradoxical. But they are just as likely to be about milk bottles. The thing is, she is a good poet, making a good poem. I see no point in making a poem about war-torn Baghdad that is horrible to read, or unreadable.

The same goes for poems about milk bottles, of course.

"Vivas", by Mairéad Byrne, is published by Wild Honey Press.

"An Educated Heart", by the same author, is published by Palm Press.

Wednesday, August 31

Coleridge Cottage -- More

I suspect everyone who has written to the National Trust about the proposed changes at Coleridge Cottage will have received the same reply, but here it is anyway:

Dear Mr Stannard,

Thank you for your email concerning Coleridge Cottage and Derrick Woolf,
our Custodian, and his partner, Tilla Brading.

We are immensely grateful for the dedication and resource that Derrick
has committed to Coleridge Cottage in his time as Custodian, and to the
support and hard work of Tilla Brading. They have done a great deal to
engender interest in Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Romantic poetry, and
enriched the experience of those who have visited the cottage.
Furthermore, I am aware that they have supported and encouraged many
poets, established and aspiring, with their kindness and generosity,
with organised readings and publishing ventures.

We are developing plans for Coleridge Cottage, and the interpretation of
Coleridge's life there, which are very much in line with the National
Trust's learning strategies. These have been exemplified by our approach
to education at centres of excellence such as Dunster Castle, Montacute
House and Stourhead, where we have received awards for our student
placement programmes and work with people still in education. We hope
that the new arrangements will continue to provide a stimulating
interest in Coleridge and his time at Nether Stowey.

I am not able to enter into correspondence with you concerning the
National Trust's tenancy arrangements with Derrick Woolf, as these are
private. I can assure you that we are in active communication with him
and Tilla Brading with regard to the transition from the existing
tenancy arrangements. We are very sensitive to their position and will
do our utmost to work with them to balance their needs with the need to
move forward our proposed change to the property.

Yours sincerely

Steve Andrews
Area Manager, Somerset
The National Trust

Which I think means they're going to do what they like.

Tuesday, August 30

Here we go again: mixing it.....

Review by Sandra Tappenden

by Andre Mangeot (Egg Box Publishing, £5.00)

‘How promising’, I thought, and ‘What a fab cover,’ and ‘Mr. Mangeot is certainly a very fine specimen of a poet, judging by his picture.’ Inside, I was greeted by tasteful typography, and many recipes for cocktails. I went back to the rear cover, where George Szirtes is quoted: “There is an element of Raymond Carver about these poems” Gosh, that’s even better, as I really admire Raymond Carver. Also, “His poetry shakes the ground, as only good poetry does.” (R.V. Bailey, of whom I have no knowledge, sadly. Unless it is Rosie Bailey, with another hat on, which conceal her earplugs.)

O my dears, I was quite soon overwhelmed to discover poetry of a mediocrity which I would have happily put down and forgotten about, if it were not for the rage which consumed me regarding the presentation. And the subject matter, and the treatment of it. I think what upset me most was the pointed trendiness, and the fact that someone had gone to all this bother to dress up dowdy poems, trying to pass them off as life-enhancing. Also, I felt quite keenly the dishonesty lurking behind all this. It reminded me of reality TV; Show Us You Care, presented by Shaun Ryder, perhaps.

Justification is required, so here we are in the Bar, watching all the funny punters who come and go. This is from “Babies”:

Me, I never had children, he says, nodding at mine
as I ease in beside him, hunched on his barstool …
Pretty wee things. He draws on a roll-up. Music swims
from the jukebox. And a fine handsome woman. Barely catch
what he says, read his lips asking Twins? – take a deep
inward breath though of course, like the rest, he is curious
and in truth we are used to this now. Yes, I say
Bo and Mai. Cambodian. Orphans. Been nearly eight years …

I want to ask
1) how is this poetry?
2) is it alright to use orphaned/adopted children as fodder for a poem?
3) wouldn’t it be more interesting to use this space to discuss the ethical concerns of cross-cultural adoption, rather than expect us to feel sorry for the pissed geezer?
Or impressed by the fact that the children were adopted at all?
4) doesn’t this stray a little too close to life-style porn?
5) is there such a thing as good taste anymore, or am I some kind of dinosaur?

By the way, Raymond Carver would never have given us quite so much (emotional) direction; that “hunched”, and “in truth”, for starters.

It’s not just that I think the poems are poetically impoverished; I think they are poor because they are trading in on goodwill, which is an ugly thing to be doing, and something I find despicable. The humanity which I’m sure Mangeot feels quite genuinely is smeared with gloss (of the lip variety), turning deadly earnest topics of weight into trendy fluff.

There is not much evidence of craft here either. In “AWOL”, the poem starts off with an introductory passage which should have been cut entirely. We jump from a list of poets who drank (drinks and drinking being the central theme of the collection) to what should have been a separate poem about Hart Crane.

“Clap of Thunder” should have been a good poem, but it is laid out like a missile/knife-blade/bullet up the page, causing line-breaks which are forced to fit the pattern, rather than enhance the possible meanings. Well, all the poem’s have only one level, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.

I find there is a self-regarding quality to some of the poems which is a real turn-off. Here’s a bit of “Ward Eight”:

For panic, rage, self-pity, shock
(an absent wife)
take four days on the ward
with manic Phoebus

Right, so the wife’s away, and we are being told that four days on a ward is going to cure us all of our self-pity. Fuck off. Four days on a ward isn’t going to tell anyone reading this poem anything, unless they’ve been sectioned, and I bet even then they’d write a better/truer poem. Anyway, Phoebus plays the guitar, and says

So why you cryin’ man?
you got real style …

And in the end, what’s revealed here is the voice in the poem’s applause for his own pity of someone else. Fuck off twice. The same problem occurs here, for me, regarding the right to use another’s misfortune, or just their life really, without recourse to a deeper investigation. I just don’t think it’s on, really, I don’t.

I suspect (I don’t really, but I am trying to be fair-minded) that Mangeot’s aim is to show us how lucky we are, and that we should count our blessings. I mean, there are poems about being with a woman so beautiful you just have to tell everyone else, and poems about friends who were brilliant at University and then something went wrong (zzzz, eh? oh, sorry) and really what I want to know is

1) where are we in this? us lot, who have shelled out a fiver? (Supposing we have)
2) where is the poet in this? Andre Mangeot, the man we have trusted, expecting him to show us something, apart from his mirrored image, in a way which surprises us?

When I first made notes toward this review, which I subsequently refused out of charity, then decided no, it ought to be said, one comment was “A triumph of style over content.” I think, on reflection , that is true. Being a performance poet (Mangeot is a member of ‘The Joy of Six’ performance group, the blurb inside the cover tells me) is not any guarantee of worth on the page. I wonder sometimes if these ways of expression can ever meet up, and get along, but then I think about Jean Binta Breeze, Linton Kwezi Johnson, John Cooper Clarke, and all those other poetry performers with three names. And then there’s wonderful Matt Harvey, whom I have seen perform several times, heard on the radio, and read lots. So there is a big something missing from these poems, and I have to say it is a heart. Writing about issues is one thing; making them ring true is another. It isn’t enough to have a nice cover photo. It isn’t enough to have an idea and a theme. Consider Joolz, who can be ghastly even in performance; she is what she is, without trying to be something else. I fear this is the problem with Mr. Mangeot; he wants to have his cake, eat it, write about it with a concerned frown, and get us to buy the book about the frown, which has also been turned into a smashing black and white photo.

I do not enjoy rubbishing any poet’s work. I have reacted personally, and admit it. What else can I do? I exit miserably, with another extract, from “Crossbow”:

… please -
show ultimate courage,
save us one cruelty:
don`t write it down
and don`t call it

© Sandra Tappenden, 2005

Monday, August 29

Paradise Promised

Review by Ian Seed

PARADISE FOR EVERYONE by Lisa Samuels (Shearsman Books, £8.95)

In the garden of longing, I found you bent and leaning […]
It was never a tool or an instrument, the hills came and took over. Do you want to inculcate a steadiness? The scene is far away and the frame is broken.

(from "The Operator in Question")

Tantalising, enchanting and strangely addictive might describe the best of Lisa Samuel’s "Paradise For Everyone", a tastefully produced book from Shearsman. Reading Samuels is a little like chasing a phantom lover through a maze. Each time you turn a corner she is turning the next. You are convinced that if you could catch her you would finally understand the great secret of the universe. Although you know that this is impossible, you keep chasing, desire intensified by each glimpse of her you have. Paradise promised is always just out of reach.

The whole is pervaded by a haunting, fragmentary lyricism, which contains a plea for us to see the beauty and worth of those parts of ourselves that we would rather disown. From "Glasnost":

it was a story scene, it stood amazed

cultivate the ruined parts of yourself

forgive me for looking so much like someone
who doesn’t understand.

Or, from "Nuns Walking Naked OutOf The Ahead Of Time And What She Is Thinking"

the city is as miraculous as the ignorance you say I have.

I find lines like this irresistible.

Even if I am not really sure some of the time what Lisa Samuels’ poems are saying, even if they hardly ever make prose sense, I don’t really care. They still resonate and touch through the beauty of their images and the music of their lines. From "The Rager, The Constructor, And The Sacrificer":

when I took your hand it fell like water, and this last gesture is free.
Stable marks are left-hand sided, the way I turn
toward sleeping in your stead.

Much of the work seems to be about the breakdown of love and the effects this can have of isolation, hopelessness, and anger. From the same poem:

When I go to sleep your conscience talks to me: “wake up!” it cries,
“I have something to tell you!” But when I open my eyes I am always
in that same house, or variations of it: one is set up on a hill,
not known for the grey of its marbled interior, with all the stairwells,
staircases, stairs, vaunting down and upward, circling around,
with always another room beyond. “Do you recognise this one?”
[…] a function-place, where tightness circles around itself and I am
inside sitting and outside on my way in towards myself

Samuels handles well the ambivalent feelings that come from painful happenings. Loss also brings a freedom to celebrate:

her legs grow weak from loss
but so deliciously she keeps on walking, and the trickle
of white grows larger, the possibility of leaving

(from "Nuns Walking Naked...")

It has to be said at this point that Samuels’ work does have its low points. The effect of otherwise fine poems can be weakened by melodrama and well-worn phrases. From the same poem:

you come screaming up the stairs, knife in hand,
and instantly you are a memory, unreal in the instant

Even if this actually happened (do we care?), it still reads, to me, like a cheap thriller. In her weaker moments, Samuels has a tendency to overwrite and descend into self-parody. From "Complete Meaning":

when emptiness finds constancy and drinks it
deeply down the mouth, forward by the teeth
swishing avariciously like gargoyles –
he eats those too, and sweeps
his baleful eyesight back and toward you

"when emptiness finds constancy" promises something much better than the rest of the poem delivers.

Sometimes I wish she had edited out a little more. Lines like:

The enormous room is full
it is empty.

One poem has the title ‘The Blue Sky Above’ So the sky is blue and above! So what?

Phrases which are perhaps supposed to be innovative can, on occasion, sound merely clumsy, spoiling otherwise powerful work. For example, ‘and hold us / clasply’. Why not simply “clasp us’or ‘hold us’? What does ‘clasply’ actually add to our understanding or appreciation?

Apart from these moments – which, mercifully, are not too frequent – there is a visionary poet at work here, prepared to take risks with language. I shall let Lisa Samuels have the last word. From "The End of Distance":

…I’ve taken to adjusting from afar

the work we vitalize or will not keep
among us like appropriated tasks
we spill our lives across, wanting to watch

what happens when the will is washed
like blue jeans, tightens up, and hold us
clasply in its fit, our haunches rectified
uneven, like something proved by what we have not given.

© Ian Seed, 2005

Saturday, August 27

Intimidated? Me?

Review by Martin Stannard

Secure Portable Space
by Redell Olsen (Reality Street Editions, £7.50)

I suggest, first, that you don’t look at the back cover, unless you like to be intimidated. Not only are the poems in the book alleged to “refigure gender covers and gender codes”, but they also “(stretch) poetry’s power and capacity to play with and expose the shapes words make on their way to making meaning.” Whatever this all means, it’s nothing compared to the information that Redell Olsen teaches an MA in Poetic Practice, and is the managing editor of How(2), “the internet journal for contemporary and modernist innovative writing by women”.

If you’re thinking that I ought to give up now, while I’m (well, actually not at all) ahead, I would understand. But the thing is, these back-cover claims shouldn’t put you off this book, even if they appear to be trying to do exactly that with their so-serious language and intimations of a brain the size of a football. (Planet is such a cliché.)

The book comprises four sections. Everything is based on the assumption that the reader is prepared to work hard and read receptively rather than defensively. This is a poetry, sometimes even a prose, that is more bothered about the moment of reading and the engagement it entails, the work that is done, than notions of narrative or message or, heaven forbid, content that one might comfortably paraphrase.

“Corrupted by Showgirls” explores questions of identity and gender, as far as I can make out.

Sum: a realisation that she is signing her name with letters that are not her own… At other times, in order to put myself across the footlights I have to imagine that I am a man who sews.

It plays with the forms and conventions of film script and plot synopsis, which temporarily offer the reader a hook upon which to hang one’s reading, but the hook is soon taken away and replaced by a cloakroom attendant who can’t be trusted. In other words, what matters is the words and what you do with them. For myself, each time I read them I find myself thinking something slightly different from the time before. I am not always sure if I am being clever or stupid, but I like the experience:


Ready, Willing and Able, Busby Berkely (1937)

(Crane Shot)

Not to anticipate narrative but to find it coagulated in a mass of legs you
took for a flower, or some gigantic machine. A typewriter perhaps. To
appear as a coin, a car, a lobster, a skyscraper. Bodies as building material
for parts of columns, the wooden frames of harps. The keys for writing on
make a series of uniform taps. The concealment of faces kicks in.

Much of “Corrupted by Showgirls” is blessed with a lightness of touch that makes whatever labours you find yourself engaged upon reasonably pleasing:

musician’s life is ruined because he resembles a hold-up man tries to
prevent the kidnapping of a nuclear scientist flashbacks explain why
one woman shot another hideously scarred woman runs a blackmailing
ring woman helps police find husband who is in hiding because he saw…

“Spill-Kit”, a sequence of ten poems, I found resisted me almost completely, which perhaps somewhat fulfils a certain poetic criterion. Which is fine, but sometimes one is resisted and it’s energising, sometimes one is resisted and it’s simply dispiriting. Having said which, the third time I tried my luck something happened. I’m not sure what it was, but it was good. I can’t make up my mind whether or not what happened was prompted or facilitated by what I had been reading an hour or so beforehand. I’d been reading a little magazine of the somewhat conventional type, filled with poems so easy to understand it was hard to stay awake, filled with poems so filled with things I already knew or things I had no interest in knowing about that it was hard to stay awake. But one benefit of reading such nonsense is that it can refuel one’s appetite for something better, and so I picked up the Olsen book and I was ready for it. Of course, the first four lines of “spill kit” remained (and remain) opaque:

the onely spill
or bone (as it
were) between
spongeful type

and, like anyone might, I wondered about that “onely” and I considered “only”, “lonely” and a misprint. But only briefly, because I carried on:

for living matter
mops forecourt
in attendance
and slips inked

I had already given up any hope of narrative here, but there are tentative word associations able to be made, but even that’s not always the point, I think. As I read through this set of poems, somewhat rapidly, I found myself paying attention, glimpsing signs, blinking, enjoying moments of illumination followed by moments of blankness. A bit like life. But I think the important thing was the paying attention, and an understanding that was obscure but exhilarating. I thought back to my reading of that little magazine earlier, and then thought a little about the different demands being made. One sort of poem wants you to think about the little finite thing its maker has to say, and which they think is worth saying. The other kind of poem wants you to pay attention, glimpse, see (even if only momentarily) and be there. It forces you to look beyond it and around it. At best, it forces you awake.

Next up in a book I am coming increasingly to like is “Era of Heroes”, the text of a performance piece best described by the poet herself:

I put on Mickey Mouse Ears and walked in circles around the Bookartbookshop in Pitfield St. London. I read continuously from the following list of contemporary heroes and superheroes that I had compiled from other people’s lists and from searches on the internet. My voice was relayed into the bookshop and people could choose to stand outside on the street and watch me pass, or to listen to my voice from the inside of the shop. In the window was a neon sign that spelled out eraofheroesoferror. It alternated between reading eraofheroes and heroesoferror….

The list starts off with Ace Barlow and ends up, 14 pages later, at Zoro, which I always thought had two Rs. I have, as it happens, read all 14 pages. I’m not sure why. I suspect it all worked a lot better live, on the day.

Finally, section four is “The Minimaus Poems”. It’s what the back cover (I revert to it) calls “a brilliant rewriting of Olson’s Maximus Poems into Olsen’s Minimaus Poems. You’d be crazy to miss it!” In it, Olson’s Gloucester is replaced by the UK’s Gloucester, and I suspect you have already figured that Olson’s surname is very similar to Olsen’s surname. Yes. Let the fun begin.

For those of you who don’t happen to be familiar with it, or have it to hand, Charles Olson’s “The Maximus Poems” begins thus:

Off-shore, by islands hidden in the blood
jewels & miracles, I, Maximus
a metal hot from boiling water, tell you
what is a lance, who obeys the figures of
the present dance

“The Minimaus Poems” begins:

Inland, by Iceland hidden by the blood of
jewels & discounts, I, Minimaus
sitting on hot metal, boiling in a vest,
ask you who speeds obediently
are we past ENTRANCE?

One or two things need to be made clear. This is not a parody, although if one came across the above examples out of context one might be forgiven for thinking it was exactly that. (At least, I hope it’s not a parody. If it is … No, it can’t be.) Anyway, leaving that aside, “The Minimaus Poems” runs to some 30 chapbook-sized pages. Charles Olson’s “The Maximus Poems” is I don’t know how many times longer but it’s lots and lots. My 1960 Jargon/Corinth edition has big unnumbered pages and is quite hefty. I’ve never got around to reading much of it because I always get bored. And I’ve made no attempt, apart from a superficial one, to trace all the mirrorings and parallels that exist between the Olson text and the Olsen text. This point also should be noted: I have never quite “got” Olson in my earlier attempts at him. I’ve been able to discuss “open field” poetics in student essays and theses and classrooms and pubs, but connect? “Get”, in the way one has connected with New York School, for example? No. But I’m not dead yet. There’s still time.

Having said all of which, I suspect the best thing to do with Redell Olsen’s “The Minimaus Poems” is to try and forget the Charles Olson poem. Or at least, don’t bother too much about the mirroring and such like. Take it on its own terms, even if its own terms are pretty much the same as those upon which one has to read Olson. (I am, by the way, fed up with saying Olson and Olsen, and then checking if I’ve spelt them right. I wanted and needed to say this.) Whether writing “Corrupted by Showgirls” or re-writing “The Maximus Poems”, Redell Olsen manages to be readable and unreadable in almost equal measure. I mean, how often have you come across something like this by an innovative poet:

you island of me & plants
you island of me &
you island of me
you island of

which then becomes, further down the page

you is land of me & plants

etcetera. Yawn. And then you come across the almost obligatory old document stuff:

1839 Recipe for 8 ends of black felts
Logwood 54
Shumac 12
Copperas 12
Ros. Vitriol 10
Alum 1
Tartar 2

If I had a quid for every time an innovative poem used old documents… There are times I think I misunderstand the word “innovative”. But never mind. For all my misgivings, I actually like this book. The day I wrote this review, which is a few weeks back now, I sat in the park in the afternoon, in the sunshine, and re-read “The Minimaus Poems” from beginning to end. I felt it was a worthwhile thing to do before I did it, and after I’d done it I was pleased I had. I can’t tell you what it all means, and if I could it would be almost a shame.

Friday, August 26

An Australian poet reviewed. It makes a change.

Review by John Lucas

The Ash Range and Compared to What: Selected Poems 1971-2003 both by Laurie Duggan (both Shearsman Books, £11.95 & £12.95 respectively)

In "Spirit in Exile", his excellent study of Peter Porter’s poetry, Bruce Bennett reports Germaine Greer as having observed on an American TV channel that Australians, unlike Americans, don’t give “a shit” about their past. This has all the charm and accuracy you’d expect of the author of "Slipshod Sybils", in which Greer argues that most women poets are no good and, in order to prove her case, manages to avoid discussing any of Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, Marianne Moore or Elizabeth Bishop. (On the other hand, given the level of her comments on those she does discuss we should probably be grateful for small mercies.) Although her contention scarcely avoids being ridiculous it may be worth setting her words against the American Charles Olson’s well-known claim that where other nations had history, America had Geography. I suspect that both Greer and Olson are in their different ways testifying to that distinctively modern sense (anxiety?) that the present is not merely ignorant of the past, but is rootless, isn’t bedded into the “soil” of its own culture, although this bothers Greer more than it does Olson.

Laurie Duggan’s concern with Australian history can’t be characterised as bother. But "The Ash Range" is about a place that in its time knew more than a spot of bother, and his claim is, I take it, to draw this to our attention by telling us what happened to those who settled the area of SW Victoria known as Gippsland (pronounced with a hard G). It’s a tale well worth telling, involving as it does shipwrecks (numerous), heroic journeys over inhospitable terrain, the hacking of settlements out of forest and scrub (after due lapse of years more than one reverted to its original state), the discovery of gold and then the fights – and murders – over land claims, plus drought, flood, and survival against the odds. To adapt the comment of the nineteenth-century English lady who witnessed the goings-on at Cleopatra’s court: very unlike the home life of our own dear people.

But of course they were our own. Whether settlers or deported convicts who’d worked their freedom, those people whose stories Duggan touches on for the most part originate from the UK. Aboriginals are largely absent. I don’t think this greatly matters: "The Ash Range" is, after all, a story of pioneers, and although this story involves the murders of people who had been in Australia for thousands of years before the white men arrived, (murders which are given their place in Duggan’s book) what happened at Gippsland doesn’t compare with the organised horror of what, at about the same time, was being done to the Tasmanian aboriginals. (Even if the melancholy explanation for this is that there weren’t so many aboriginals in the particular part of Australia that engages Duggan.) And for all the back-sliding, the brutality, the descents in lawlessness, I can understand why the story of the pioneers is one Australians are proud of, whether it is evoked in the numerous “can-do” tales that between them create a folk-epic of survival against all odds, or whether it is saluted through the affirmation of “mateship”, that laconic, even unspoken avowal of allegiance exemplified in Les Murray’s marvellous poem, “The Mitchells”. You have only to look at the photographs on the front cover and then frontispiece of "The Ash Range" to get some sense of the improbable achievement of those who, much later than the American settlers Scott Fitzgerald extols in one of the most famous of fictional sentences, came face to face with something commensurate to man’s capacity for wonder.

The difference is, of course, that those who stepped ashore from the Mayflower were, they believed, entering a chosen land. Most Europeans who found themselves in Australia had no choice in the matter. Even for those who went as free men went not so much to make a new life as in a last, desperate hope to retrieve the wreckage of their former lives. If you truly wanted to discover Utopia under the southern cross, New Zealand was your destination, whether you were Tom Arnold (for which see Clough’s great poem, "The Bothie of Tober na Vuolich"), or those who came to the land of W.H. Hudson’s The Crystal Age. Australia was more likely to feature as last-chance saloon. It is where the Micawbers and the Peggottys sail to at the end of "David Copperfield", (1850), at which moment Nottingham’s own William Howitt was setting off Down Under with his son, hoping to find gold and so fill a purse emptied by publishing and other ventures.

As was customary with him, Howitt failed to make his fortune, and before long he was back in England. The son, however, stayed on. Indeed, he features in "The Ash Range", though if you didn’t know who he was you’d have no means of discovering from Duggan’s book. And it’s here that I find myself not entirely in sympathy with what is undoubtedly an ambitious attempt to make a particular history come alive. In his Introduction, Duggan recalls that in 1973 he read about Walter Benjamin’s Project: “to realise an ambition to compose a work entirely out of the writings of others. Unlike an anthology this work would present itself as a cohesive argument where the assembled passages would complicate and develop lines of thought through their placement.” There is a contradiction here which I think Duggan doesn’t spot and which certainly can’t be resolved by his decision to add in “sections of my own composition (roughly 10% of the book) and [annotate] its sources.” Benjamin’s idea after all was to disrupt the notion of cohesiveness. As a Marxist, he thought there were major narratives but that these were discoverable only through the dialectic process of history itself: they couldn’t be imposed because such imposition would imply that whoever formulated the imposed, “cohesive argument” was somehow outside history.

Nevertheless, Marxist historians have to take responsibility for the voices they produce which between them challenge the “single line” narratives of liberal or conservative historians. They have, that is, to explain why and how they have chosen these voices. Duggan may think he is following Benjamin’s example but in fact "The Ash Range" is post-modernist in its arbitrary presentation of different voices: reports from newspapers, letters, speeches, journals etc. each of which is set out differently, so that each pages takes on a collagist aspect. Collagism, it’s true, is part of Modernism (it complicates and even confuses narrative and other perspectives) and is used deliberately in order to dismantle and disrupt. But this is in order to clear the way for a new look at the world. It’s overall effect is not negative. Nor can it be applied to historical narrative. A purportedly historical work that is merely collagist merely baffles. We are left with the disjecta membra of narratives, and for all Duggan’s appeal to “cohesive argument” and his apparent belief that his narrative interpolations can act as guidelines (and if they aren’t meant to do this then why are they there at all?), the fact is we don’t know how to put the parts together again. The book’s twelve chapters move in roughly chronological order but are often given organising themes that cut across chronology. The result is that we frequently don’t know why we are being given information here rather than there, now rather than then. (I don’t think it a coincidence that the maps on offer should be totally bloody useless.) This isn’t to deny that "The Ash Range" is full of fascinating material. But I can’t go along with the claim, made by a reviewer of "The Age", and quoted on the back cover, that “Such is Duggan’s skill in snipping and pasting that the whole thing reads like a rapturous experience, even when crime and disaster are its subject matter.” In my dictionary “rapturous” means “experiencing or manifesting ecstatic joy or delight.” If Duggan experienced this, then good luck to him. But my guess is that most readers, at all events those who have no immediate access to the ethos on which Duggan is able to call, will have to make do with a rather cooler response.

Such readers are however likely to feel much warmer towards the poems, though they will almost certainly make others hot under the collar. Duggan makes no bones about his own preferences: there are poems dedicated to or including appreciative comments on the Americans Ed Dorn, Robert Creeley, Ted Berigan, and, on this side of the Atlantic, Roy Fisher and Gael Turnbull. As to dislikes:

“This country is my mind”
just two minutes after
Les Murray became a republic
somebody cancelled my visa

Murray famously declared Australia a republic of sprawl, and for him the true Australia, from first to last, is to be found in the outback. Duggan is a city poet, sceptical, even contemptuous, of the Bard of Bunyah’s professed ruralism; anyone wanting to understand something of the Australian poetry wars – again, very unlike the home life of our own dear poets – will find much to entertain them in "Compared to What". Not that there is anything here to rival Porter’s “On First Looking into Chapman’s Hesiod”, with its urbane suggestion that Australians “are Boeotians,/Hard as headlands”, and that though “The Age of Iron is here … oh the memories/of Gold – pioneers preaching to the stringy barks,/Boring the land to death with verses”, but then Porter’s is quite simply a great poem, as even Les Murray, the poet who is bound to feel most uncomfortable with it, is generous enough to accept.

Having said this, however, I must add that Duggan’s "Martial" can certainly stand comparison with Porter’s "After Martial", and in some ways outstrips his fellow countryman’s versions by going the whole hog and cutting free of the bonds that might be thought to constrain any translation no matter how loosely tied to the original. Duggan opts for “imitation”. His versions are determinedly contemporary, although they retain the kind of rasping, anti-rhetorical note which as Michael Grant notes in his study of Roman Literature sets Martial apart from other poets of his age. Porter, it should go without saying, is also able to sound this note, and he is moreover the master of witty concision, as here:

Lycoris darling, once I burned for you.
Today Glycera heats me like a stew.
She’s what you were then but are not now –
a change of name requires no change of vow. (VI. Xi)

Because Duggan doesn’t translate any of the Martial to be found in Porter, exact comparison between the two is impossible. But here, to give a taste of just how good Duggan is, and how well he’s caught one side of Martial, are a couple of examples of what he can do:

Borrowing a poet’s name O’Connor
you think yourself a poet;
a set of dentures
might call itself a smile. (I lxxii)

Dransfield who wrote
200 poems each day,
was wiser than his editor
who printed them.

For non-Australian readers I should perhaps explain that the O’Connor here excoriated is Mark O’Connor who produced what certain Australian poets of my acquaintance think must be among the top ten worst lines of all time: “severe and nookless in the midday sun.” (My own view is that this comes some way below the intendedly reverential obeisance to the Cross in Richard Eberhart’s opener: “Oh, Christ, I have walked around your erection”, but readers will no doubt wish to nominate their own favourite – Ed. please note). Dransfield is Michael Dransfield, who in 1973 died aged 25 from a heroin overdose. He was a poet whose image as the tearaway Rimbaud of New South Wales greatly exceeds his actual accomplishment. (Although the manner of his death inspired John Forbes’ great poem, “Speed, A Pastoral”.) Like other Australian poets who between them seem to have cornered the market in laconic insult, Duggan is a master of this kind of epigram. It goes with the determination to cut down all “tall poppies”, and, although by no means confined to the urban experience, is undoubtedly honed by what Porter calls “the permanently upright city where/Speech is nature and plants conceive in pots”.

But Duggan is by no means confined to or by Australian experience. Many pages of his Selected Poems are taken up with diary-like jottings of wanderings about America and Europe. He is a good deal more open to such experiences than the speaker of John Forbes’ scabrously funny “Europe: A Guide for Ken Searle” (“we pity the English though they get on/our wick, pretending to understand us//& Scotland is old-fashioned like a dowry/ but unusual, like nice police.”) In this context I especially recommend the prose of “West” and the loose free verse of “Irwell & Medlock or Darkness Visible”, though I wish Duggan hadn’t bothered to quote Stephen Spender’s ludicrous image of pylons as “nude giant girls”. (Perhaps he doesn’t realise how ghastly it is.) And as he records going to Liverpool to meet Matt Simpson he might have said more than that his host is “poet of these parts”, which is about as sharp as Longfellow who, gazing on Monte Casino after he’d crossed the Atlantic in order to see the place, called it a “venerable pile”. Was his journey really necessary? Simpson is not merely a very good poet, he has a follow-my-nose indifference to reputation that Duggan ought to admire. Still, there’s more in "Compared to What" to enjoy than there is to complain about, and while I tire of the almost obsessive preoccupation with other poets and their poems – there is a world elsewhere, honest – if you’re going to hand a Grigson-like billhook to anyone, you can be sure that Duggan will wield it pretty efficiently.

© John Lucas, 2005

Monday, August 22

Coleridge Cottage

I've known Derrick Woolf and Tilla Brading for I don't know how many years. Quite a few. They have published my reviews and my poetry in Poetry Quarterly Review. On more than one occasion they have been hospitality personified and welcomed me and whoever was with me at the time to be their guests at Coleridge's Cottage in Nether Stowey, where they live and which they look after on behalf of The National Trust. A few years ago, I read there with Paul Violi to a magical audience on a magical evening. If ever there were two people perfect to live in Coleridge's Somerset home and carry on his philosophy of enlightenment, of sharing, and of spreading the only thing that matters at all about poetry -- "No sound is dissonant which tells of life" -- it is Tilla and Derrick.

And suddenly The National Trust are kicking them out.

Below I am reprinting an e-mail from Keith Jebb, which explains itself, and makes the case for petitioning The Trust much better than I can. If you feel able to lend your support, please do.

Dear friend of Derrick/Tilla/PQR/Odyssey,

The National Trust has asked Tilla and Derrick to vacate Coleridge Cottage by the end of October. This decision was come to with no consultation, and they were given only three months to make atlernative arrangements for accommodation. Needless to say, this sudden turn of events has come has something of a shock to them.

The rationale given by the National Trust for doing this is that they have a different vision for the property. They claim they wish to install a student in Coleridge Cottage, by all accounts a student of Romantic Literature, who would oversee the museum, whilst studying at the cottage. For a number of reasons this claim does not ring true. Most obviously, there are no facilities for the study of Coleridge’s poetry at Coleridge Cottage. The museum has no library (apart from a few gifted volumes): there are only those books on Coleridge and the Romantics owned by Derrick himself, which of course will move on when he does. There are also no arrangements with an accredited university with regard to Coleridge Cottage, which means that it is difficult to see the student being able to claim any grant/fees or other funding for the duration of their study. Even if this could be arranged, how would this be done within say, one or two years? The Trust has said nothing about what it sees as happening next season, or even who will look after the property over the winter, when it will apparently be uninhabited for 5 months. One can only presume that they expect that the volunteers (many of whom are organised by the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies) will not only run the museum next year, but look after the upkeep and contents of the property. This of course is the cheapest possible solution, but also the most irresponsible.

Regarding the long term vision for Coleridge Cottage, the Trust claims to want it to be more about ‘the man’ than ‘the place’. Exactly what that means remains to be seen, but the potential of the Cottage to become a centre for Coleridge and Romantic studies, in the face of the vastly superior resources of Dove Cottage, is virtually zero. There is however, one thing that Coleridge Cottage can do better than Dove Cottage, and as you all know, it is already doing it. I’m writing to you because you are people who have all had contact with Derrick and Tilla in a continuing poetic context. Either you have been published by Odyssey, reviewed for or been featured in Poetry Quarterly Review, have read your work at Coleridge Cottage or the Poetry Picnics organised by Tilla, or have experienced the hospitality of Tilla and Derrick at the Cottage itself. Maybe several of the above, as I have.

If the National Trust wants Coleridge Cottage to be about ‘the man’, then it would be good for them to remember that the man in question was a practising poet, and that his fame is based upon that fact. He allowed what has since become one of his most famous and popular poems, ‘The Ancient Mariner,’ to appear first in a collaborative project; he is renowned for his friendships with other writers. And this spirit of friendship and collaboration has been revived and built upon by two people who are now being threatened with—let’s be blunt about it—eviction. They have never been paid for this work, have received no arts grants or funding for it, apart from occasional grants for readings from Sedgemoor District Council. Their sole benefit received from the trust is a reduced rent on the property itself as a condition of being custodians.

If Coleridge Cottage is to develop as both a cultural and tourist resource, it needs to build upon this work of the last fifteen years, not throw it away as if it had never happened (after all, Coleridge’s stay there was a mere three years). A viable short-term strategy would be for the National Trust to continue and support the work that Tilla and Derrick are already doing. The current premises could support an extended program of readings by published poets, plus participatory events, speaker meetings and creative writing workshops run by established poets and creative writing teachers. There would be scope for a writer-in-residency, who as well as working on their own creative projects could participate in and support these activities. Tilla has already offered to her sevices in both administrating and teaching on such projects. Over the medium to long term this could be extended into writing summer schools (or even out-of-season ‘winter’ schools) and perhaps a poetry festival with significant tie-ins to Coleridge. A dedicated poetry bookshop could be set up on-site.

From an educational point of view, creative writing courses could be set up at school, community education and university levels. As course leader in creative writing at Luton University , I for one would be keen to investigate the possibilities for setting up summer school courses at the cottage for Luton students, local writers and visitors. These could be university accredited. These are just some ideas for trying to further the work that all of us have to some degree participated in. As a museum, Coleridge Cottage will never be financially self-supporting; as a centre for creative writing it could be.

But right now I am writing to you to ask that you support Tilla and Derrick by contacting the the National Trust Officers at the email addresses below, giving them your own experiences/ideas with respect to Coleridge Cottage, or even cutting and pasting parts of this message which you feel are relevant into an email. Things are moving fast, so I would ask you to do this asap. Those of you who hold National Trust membership may have further things to say. It would be a great help if you could cc both Tilla (at st.col) and the Chair of the Friends of Coleridge (Tom Mayberry) at the addresses below. Those of you who may know other interested parties, please do distribute this message on as widely as feel fit.

Thank you for your time

Keith Jebb, Course Leader in Creative Writing, Luton University

Send to:


[Update Monday evening: Some of us who have sent off e-mails to the National Trust today have had the mails bounce back as undelivered. I'm trying to find out why. M.S.]

[Update Tuesday: by all accounts, the e-mails for the bods at the National Trust should be of the variety. However, one of them still bounces back. But one gets through, which is better than nothing.]

Friday, August 19

Where Was I?

I just got back from a few days in Brighton, which always seems to be in the grip of a heatwave whenever I'm there. Unless it’s Winter, in which case of course it’s in the grip of the opposite of a heatwave. So anyway, I went to see my kids, and to sit on the beach with them drinking beer and topping up my poet's tan, and otherwise not doing much. This was achieved with more or less one hundred per cent success. My youngest son, Andy, has just got back from six months in Costa Rica, so it was especially good to catch up with what’s been happening to him.
And Tim and Charlotte have the most remarkably wonderful rabbits…

It was also delightful to spend a few hours with Lee Harwood. I met Lee for the first time when he read in Nottingham earlier this year. He lives around five minutes walk from Tim, so it was a kind of longstanding arrangement to try and hook up whenever I was in town. Last time I was there, he wasn’t. This time he was. And it was really nice… coffee, a walk along the promenade at Hove, and beer and a sandwich in the sun.

I took a couple of hefty books to Brighton with me… although I intended to do not much at all, I thought I might perhaps just possibly (at a stretch) read something. I’m supposed to be writing about Coleridge for "Poetry Nottingham", and about Jeremy Prynne for Stride. So I hauled along two big (and not at all light) books with me, and thought I might read something those times when I wasn’t with someone else. I had this idea of sitting quietly in the sun, with a cup of tea and a book… Did it happen? Did it fuck.

Oh, and there was an Elvis. And yes, he was crap.

Monday, August 15

from "Risk Assessment"

by Rupert Loydell and Robert Sheppard


Quality with a silent E     thinking path diversion
rare intuition absent     fair intonation absolved
slinking past 'Diversity'     rediscover and claim 'Identity'
slide into serial thinking     don't get around such many

core'zzs (splat!     sick in sink...     voices silenced
luminous dance across the carpet    Quantity with a
roaring N refunctioning 'Inclusiveness'     wrong-headed translation
surrealism an assumed given     take up The Little Book

of Dada Qualia     feed the imaginary fish
swallow the calm dark whoosh of Mammoth Books
with fish-hook spines     shattered living fragments
hooked line and splinter     on flatter shivering segments

dead swan of my reflection gazing back from empty page
and the moth books' dust cloud settling on my shoulder
annotated collections fade in the circling light
another unqualified dead duck swallowed by risk


R(is)k assessment weekend s(pen)t     k(is)s pre(sent)s its weakened sprint
Tryst thinks little i n k (sic)k     Tom is (her)e as well
taking F orm/rom one curve     Form is opportunity     From Taylor
b(end)ing (as)lant     sm(ash)ing keys     Farm To Let     let go

Tristan risks asking (Tom)orrow     Is older than today to go
w(here) far m(is)sives br(in)g tor(men)t    (tent)ative (part)icipation
stamp (ping!) image on flung see(ping)    see(king) presence m(is)sed
I(sold)e s(old) her c(older) he(art)     (I s)(old)ier on regard(less)

no less a success     a m(as)terpiece is an ex(per)i(me!)nt
that succeeds     (risky Gil Evans     miles to go (and I
no pre(tense)     (comb)i(nation) ))     Tristia in print
in exile Tristano emotes     perfect Tom(fool)eyrie

w(as)te manage(men)t in (plea)ted in(for)mation j(us)tice
eagle (eye)d eager (be)aver(s in) for(mat)ion dance team fri(day) night
dum(pin)g the pois(on)o(us) detritus of our dispos(a)ble (wor)l(d)
w/out (try)st or promise     kis(s or e)mb(race)     high risk factore(d in)


Violence is a wasting disease     with headbanging flesh-meets
with wigs like Pharoahs' stones    and paper cut fingerprints
with bruised shadow sightlines     snatching from yourself what's
given as little unforgiveables     human life's distilled from it

Violet is a burning light     with scorched splinters
with swallows from tilted microphones     and cut glass senses
with heavy blue shadows     fossils lifted like kippers
onto smoking walls     humane files dictated for it

Viola is a wooden mask     with antidotes to vision
with scratched veneers of bones     a voice that scars
with highly-strung fractures     humming the epic ballad
all the way to China     where man directed: fire it

Violate each pile of chaos once it's stopped smouldering
Vindicate each other once you have hit the concrete
Vitiate bimbo men with suntan streaks firing plastic guns
Votive offering to war and power voracious need


Z-men, X-men and cybermen     it's unhealthy to be
the Ventriloquist and the Dummy     the pitcher and the catcher
be both sides of the net     the complexity in simplicity is
in the timing (he said)     (well he would, I said)

(but you disagreed)     'like a bine of twine'
Lightnin' sang     missing his fret groanin' and moanin'
throughout the days     feeling shapes of unwritten blues
the unceasing beginning     (no end ever in sight

no sites worth the trip)    a time-based text
an A-Z of Utopia     a guide to nowhere and
everywhere you can imagine     Sinatra ventriloquising Gatsby
at a quarter to three     (that's my kind of music)

to be Bill Evans with you (reader) as Tony Bennett
said before breakfast and then doing the dishes
the ABC Song Book of the XYZ Universe
dancing yesterday's tune     (my kind of muse - hic)

© Rupert Loydell & Robert Sheppard, 2005

Friday, August 12


Jez and I went to see The Dandy Warhols at Rock City, I guess it was maybe a couple of years ago. Like loads of people we liked “Bohemian Like You”, even though it was the track on a TV commercial, and the LP it came from, “Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia”, was (and still is) pretty good. It’s the only time I’ve ever walked out of a gig at Rock City. (I’ve since walked out of one at The Rescue Rooms, but this was my first ever let your feet do the talking….). God, they were so up themselves. They managed to play all their best tunes inside the first half hour or so, maybe even sooner, and they were really good, but then they descended into, as far as I can recall, self-indulgent long-winded twaddle. It just got boring. So we left. I heard later they’re renowned for playing long sets. "Renowned" is not always a compliment.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre are a different kettle of fish. They’re "renowned" (or were, when they were around) for playing sets that would descend into band brawls, abuse of the audience, and general mayhem. I have a dozen or so songs by them, and I really like them. But they’re not famous, and The Dandy Warhols are.

Last night Mr. Belbin and I went to see “Dig”, a documentary movie that charts the relationship between the two bands. They were big buddies back when they started out. Their respective leaders, Courtney Taylor of The Dandys, and Anton Newcombe of BMJ, each thought the other great songwriters and potential stars. The mutual love and respect between the bands was palpable. There's footage in the film of Taylor on stage singing with the BMJ. But Newcombe appears to be one of the most neurotic and self-destructive of lost souls; Taylor, on the other hand, is almost alarmingly sane and together.

The careers of the two bands reflect these two personalities. The Dandys get down and work hard and concentrate and, after a while, they make it big. They may not be great, but they buckle down and do the business. The BMJ, on the other hand, fight and break up, and brawl, and get back together, and brawl again, and while the Dandys play to bigger and bigger audiences around the world, and one of their songs is the soundtrack of a cellphone commercial, The BMJ play to ten people in the back of nowhere, literally.

“Dig” follows all this, over a period of seven or eight years. It’s a pretty remarkable thing to do, to follow two unknown bands like that, and then one of them makes it big, and the other falls apart in alarming fashion. And alarming it is – Newcombe is amazing. At one point he kicks an audience member in the head, he’s always storming around like a lunatic dictator, thinks he’s a genius, which he might be but probably isn’t, and it’s all hugely entertaining. His band members do their bit, too. Of course, they take loads of drugs, which doesn’t help them much. Everything revolves around Newcombe and his manic personality. Late on in the movie, they’re filming a (cheap) video on a hilltop, and everyone is dressed in white, and Miranda Lee Richards, who's with the band at this time, says that someone stopped by in a car while they were filming and asked her if they were making a video or are they a cult, and she says with only a hint of irony she had to think about it, because she wasn’t sure.

Courtney Taylor and The Dandy Warhols actually come across as articulate and likeable in a harmless kind of a way. That kind of surprised me, but so it goes. They describe themselves as a lucky band, unlike The BMJ. The chasm between the two is shown glaringly when they're both busted for drugs. The BMJ are driving through Georgia, USA, touring, and are pulled over by the police. Newcombe invites the cops to search the vehicle, as if they have nothing to hide, and their stash is found. Tour ends, band fragments, it’s a shambles. The Dandy Warhols are in France, and are shown being lectured by a French customs official to the effect that if they are caught again they’ll be in big trouble. They’re fined the monetary equivalent of two Dandy Warhol tee-shirts and allowed to keep the dope. And to add to the mayhem, Newcombe decides somewhere along the line that the Dandys have sold out, and starts dissing them in public, and a kind of rivalry kicks in which is all pretty much in one man’s head.

This is such a cool film. I think it’s been around a while, but it's only just got into the local independent movie theatre here this week. And if anybody out there has any Brian Jonestown Massacre stuff they can let me have copies of, then please let me know. I’m sure I’ll have something to offer by way of return. Or I could publish your poems!! (This last comment is a joke in poor taste.)

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