Saturday, September 11

Sometimes to be alone

It’s Saturday. I slept late, and I preferred not to go outside the apartment today. I’ve been out every day this week – in fact, I’ve been out every day for the last two weeks, come to think of it, and sometimes I need to stay in, and today I was determined to stay in and ignore the outside world apart from the football results. I have a silly amount of reading to do, for one thing, and ached to crack on with it. But I’m not a very disciplined reader sometimes. Often, no sooner do I start in on reading than I think of something else I want to read, and turn to that instead. As a result, some things aren’t seen through to the end. Actually, that only accounts for the things I have to read, not the things I want to read. I’m reviewing a book of poetry for someone, and I can’t get half the way through that at all. This summer, however, I did read all of Mark Paytress’s biography of Marc Bolan (“Bolan: The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar”). I like to read about poets who died young, especially if they had corkscrew hair.

Anyway, I have enough food and drink, and I could hang in here for a couple of weeks, unless the vegetables go rotten more quickly than they should. But I could live off this organic yogurt for ever, it’s so good, and I have lots. Because I was in a mellow and contemplative yet enquiring frame of mind, I spent the morning reading George Herbert. He kind of died young, too, although maybe forty isn’t so young. In 1633 it might have been older than it is now. I have no idea. But I do have a great edition of his poems, published in 1903. On the flyleaf it’s inscribed by hand, and was evidently a Christmas gift to one Edith Goodwin in the same year. It has as an Introduction Isaac Walton’s “Life of George Herbert” which is somewhat out of this world. I’ve not read it before, but for some reason this time I started on it and stayed there. It’s as much about Herbert’s friends and God (who was his best friend) than Herbert himself. People don’t write like this any more, except for the occasional maverick in a writing workshop:

“Thus, as our blessed Saviour, after his Resurrection, did take occasion to interpret the Scripture to Cleophas, and that other disciple which He met with and accompanied in their journey to Emmaus; so Mr. Herbert, in his path toward Heaven, did daily take any fair occasion to instruct the ignorant, or comfort any that were in affliction; and did always confirm his precepts by showing humility and mercy, and ministering grace to the hearers.”

People don’t write like this any more either:

By all means use sometimes to be alone.
Salute thyself. See what thy soul doth wear.
Dare to look in thy chest; for ’tis thine own:
And tumble up and down what thou find’st there.
Who cannot rest till he good fellows find,
He breaks up house, turns out of doors his mind.

After lunch, I had an all-the-way-through play of the Fiery Furnace’s new LP, “Blueberry Boat”. It’s the second time I’ve heard it. I know: it’s quiet a leap from George Herbert to Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, but the ability to leap (gazelle-like) is one of life’s great blessings. To land flat on your face, get up and dust yourself off, and make like you intended to do it, that’s another one.

I have the new Furnace’s record filed under Easy Listening in my CD library, but only through a sense of enormous irony. This is a very interesting and somewhat challenging record. The thing about the FFs is you probably either love or loathe them. It’s unlikely you kind of don’t care much either way. I’ve seen them play live twice, and reckon “Gallowsbird’s Bark” is a great record. But even that took a few plays before I got completely into it. When I arrived home on Thursday with the new record in my bag I figured I’d certainly not bought a record that was worth playing and listening to with one ear while I cooked tea and pottered around. I’d heard enough of it on download & live to know I’d have to give it my full attention. So I put on the headphones and listened to it, and even followed the lyric sheet. As expected, it was very long songs and shorter songs, the long songs going through more than one change of tempo, tune, movement, whatever….. Often it’s melodic and rocking, it’s mainly very hard to describe, and occasionally it seemed almost wilfully tuneless. Maybe it’s “a concept album”, too, or a record centring all around one narrative, but it’s kind of hard to tell. The words are sometimes bewilderingly wonderful:

And I’ll stop riding side saddle if they don’t stop the clickety clattle,

I’ll jump in the undertow penguin paddle and drown in my wedding gown

and just as often mind-numbingly ordinary but real:

I wanted to be a typewriter mender when I grew up,

but things didn’t work out

It’s hard to interpret and work out or fully understand the narrative drift of the whole record, if there is one. One commentator has remarked more generally upon a style of pop lyrics that “traffic in a kind of literary cubism, halfway between abstraction and archetypical literalism” and I’m sure that’s what happens here. Oh, ellipsis…. Yes. Perhaps. If there’s a storyline it dashes along but doesn’t let you in on the context or setting for most of the time, so it’s kind of left to you to interpret any way you like. If you can be bothered.

But I have to say loud and clear that on second hearing of the record I was blown away. Parts I thought were unmelodic first time around turned out today to be tuneful; I picked up on recurring musical motifs (albeit vaguely, and possibly even imagined) and on a couple of occasions I was simply knocked out by the bravado of what was going on. Which I think is it: the Furnaces are not only wonderful, they are wonderful completely on their own terms. They know you might hate what they do. But someone else will love it.

It’s the evening now and I haven’t been out. The football results weren’t good. Or at least, one of them was pretty damn disappointing. But now I’m in the middle of congratulating myself on how well I have taken to cooking tofu. I’ve not been a vegetarian for long, and there were things to learn. Eating the right food so you don’t waste away was one of them. But I had a good teacher. And this evening I’ve made a strong effort to get into the poems I’m meant to be reviewing, but as so often happens I found myself beginning to have dark and dangerous thoughts about poets and poetry. Then I think I’m being ungenerous, or just stupid and missing something great in the poems that other people can see and I can’t. Then I read

Unthinkable jewels,
these pellets laced with a trinkum of mouse-spines
and the black jeel eyes of creeping things.

which is about owl droppings, and I remembered that I know what I’m talking about. But the poet I’m reading isn’t always this bad; often he’s pretty damn good. But he evidently thinks he’s always good, which is a dangerous trait. Actually, probably nobody much cares anyway. But I hope children don’t come near that owl shit kind of thing. It could put them off poetry and owls. And it could do irreparable damage to their future lives when there’s such great writing out there being largely ignored. I’m kind of lucky. Reading stuff like this only makes me feel weary to my bones, but I have ways of re-energizing myself. After the football, I’m going to bed with George Herbert:

Fly idleness; which yet thou canst not fly
By dressing, mistressing, and compliment.
If those take up thy day, the Sun will cry
Against thee: for his light was only lent.
God gave thy soul brave wings; put not those feathers
Into a bed, to sleep out all weathers.

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