Sunday, 30 December 2012

from 'Wolf Hall'

"There's a feeling of power in reserve,
a power that drives right through the bone,
like the shiver you sense in the shaft of an axe
when you take it into your hand. 
You can strike, or you can not strike,
and if you choose to hold back the blow,
you can still feel inside you
the resonance of the omitted thing."

This seems to me to be very close to poetry.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

A review of 'Tiny Disturbances'

So here is the first published review, by Colin Will, of my pamphlet 'Tiny Disturbances'.  It appears in the Summer issue of Other Poetry, a mag well worth keeping an eye out for.

This is an agreeable collection by an accomplished poet.  Family histories, memories and desires are among the subjects covered in 27 poems.  The poems are accessible and the tone is generally positive.  I particularly like 'Reply: A Found Poem', which the author says is adapted from a letter from his father to his mother.  There are some pleasing non sequiturs and accidents of syntax which make it very fresh.  I like the ending:

and as usual, it implies the world
not to mention what the hell to do
about the lupins, and eternity.

Even in my own book of poems, the best thing in it was written by Dad.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Some thoughts on 'Wolf Hall'

In the end I succumbed.  I was off to Germany for a long weekend and I wanted an intelligent airport book.  People whose opinion I respect had enjoyed Wolf Hall, and so I bought it at Heathrow, a big fat slab of a thing.

Needless to say, it is tremendously good, a historical novel in the sense that War and Peace is a historical novel - in short, not at all. 

It reminds us that the practice of virtue in public life is far from straightforward, and that just as evil often comes disguised as good, or as a man of wealth and taste, so good may occasionally take the form of the seemingly bad.

So rich, thick, complicated a book deserbes the adjective 'important'.  But why?  What is important about it? 

Thomas Cromwell, from whose point of view the book is entirely told, is presented as a Modern man, in the sense that it is Reason rather than Faith that dictates his actions. Implicit is the idea that Reason has more moral heft than Faith. At the same time, in a war it is not enough to be neutral, whether that is a war of words and ideas or a war of arms.  If your sympathies are more for one side than the other, then you must commit yourself wholly.

Cromwell, the pugnacious brewer's son  became the most powerful man in England by following both his Reason and his sense that whatever promoted Reason was for the general good.  Hilary Mantel's book is important because it reminds us that the light of Reason sometimes burns.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Jonah's Hands

This was written not long after Jonah's death, and originally published in London Magazine.  It is also in my pamphlet, Tiny Disturbances (Acumen).  Of my own poems, it is a favourite.


JONAH’S HANDS

Jonah Jones, sculptor, 1919 - 2004

Jonah’s hands make rock soft.
He stops on the Roman Steps,
Runs big-bulbed digits over Cambrian stone
As though over lover’s flesh
And presses with his palm,
Gently promising union.

And in the workshop
Is enacted the consummation,
In which mineral and animal couple
To make art; the miracle made
From mind through touch to object.

And on the traeth the whippet
Tears through the air, slate thin
On the wide hard sand,
The sculptor’s pet the art
Beyond the sculptor’s hand.

Jonah Jones

Just opened at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff is an exhibition of work by Jonah Jones.  Details can be found here. There's an interesting little piece on the BBC website, here. I'm slightly baffled by the Museum not approaching me or my sisters for examples of his work (I think we have five or six between us, most of which featured in a big retrospective in Mold some years ago).  Still, there is certainly plenty of other work to look at.  If you want to know more about the relationship between my father and Jonah, you might find something in my preface to Jonah's 'Gregynog Journals', which you can find on the right hand side of this here blog.  Peter Jones, Jonah's son, has written an excellent biography of his father, published by Seren earlier this year.  Details here.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Prole

Issue 9 of the magnificent Prole, a magazine of poetry and prose, is now available.  It is edited by Brett Evans and Phil Robertson and invariably contains good stories and engaging poetry, including, in this particular issue, poems by ME. Go to the Prole website, here, for further informations.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Nobody Does it Badder

The difference between Bourne and Bond, as expressed in an amusing piece from the New York Post, to be found here.

The Rialto

Number 76, Late Autumn 2012, is out now, and features poems and prose by Gillian Allnutt, John Mole, Peter Scupham, Penelope Shuttle, John Siddique and ME, among many others.  The Rialto is edited by the terrifically discriminating Michael Mackmin.  If you are going to subscribe to only one poetry magazine, subscribe to this one. The website is: www.therialto.co.uk

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Love's Comedy by Henrik Ibsen


 I like going to the Orange Tree theatre and I like seeing my friend Jonathan Tafler acting.  I have seen my sister in a number of Ibsen plays, but Ibsen's not on my list of heroes - not because he doesn't deserve to be, of course he does, but because I've never got into him.  So Orange Tree & Jonathan and seeing my sister and niece, all well and good.  But Ibsen?  A very early Ibsen?  Never before performed in this country?  Why not, one wondered.  Presumably because it wasn't up to much.  So: I had reservations.


I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There were no longeurs when I had to look around the audience guessing what everyone did (or once did - the OT audience is not a young one) - even during some ridiculously long speeches about the nature and/or meaning of love, destiny, life, etc..  This was one of those plays about being young and kicking down the traces of convention and so on, thoroughly ant-bourgeois.  Except for two things: a) it was by Ibsen, and so not entirely dogmatic and b) the bourgeois, ironically, emerge a little brow-beaten, but nonetheless in one piece.  Rather like 'The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie' in which the cast simply keep on walking...

So, although the words were fundamentally of the student-play variety, they were richer than the usual fodder (hardly a sentence was allowed to pass without a metaphor or simile tanking it up), and the cast was thoroughly up for them, even the rhyming couplets that they quite often took to being.

The set had an apple tree blossoming and bits of garden furniture, and a van-goghy sky, plus there was a twittering (traditional sense) bird.  I wasn't bored for a minute.  Sarah Winter as Swanhild (the lead female) was excellent though her voice occasionally grated, and Mark Arends (male lead) was thoroughly inflamed as revolutionary poet / lover, etc.  Mr Tafler, as always, was terrific. 

More Simon Gray

"...you can learn nothing from experience, at least in my experience."

"...that suspended mood when you know there's much to worry about but you can't quite remember what it is - not exactly serenity, more a gentle vacancy of spirit."

"One's always thinking one's heard that someone's dead, and then they turn out to be alive, and vice versa, of course."

all from The Last Cigarette

Monday, 26 November 2012

Simon Gray on Jane Austen

"...she speaks to you as if you were a woman - her sister, an equal, her confidante."

from The Last Cigarette

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Wales 10 All Blacks 33

This is not a whinge, because NZ were quite obviously the better team.  However, having watched the TV coverage on return from Cardiff, it is obvious that the crowd was right: the ref was a kiwi.  Quite apart from Joubert's inability to identify different Welsh players, NZ should have been playing with 14 men from the first minute.  It is a shame that this thuggery is so often a part of the AB game because they don't need to cheat.

Anyway, who cares - it was a great occasion.  Wales looked like a proper rugby team again, they scored one of the most memorable tries in the history of rugby, and Priestland has surely played his last game. I hadn't at all been looking forward to seven hours of driving in the incessant, merciless rain, believing we were going to be thrashed.  It was definitely not a thrashing, and indeed I believe NZ were a little flattered by the score.  We have a good shout against Australia.  Congrats to Tonga!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Short Story Competition

I'm delighted to say that my short story, A Moment of Doubt, has been awarded second prize in the Rome Short Story Competition 2011-12: Italian Women

I understand that an ebook containing the winners and short-listed entries will be published before the end of the year, and of ocurse I shall keep you all posted.

The Jolly Jovers


Monday, 12 November 2012

Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Hobsbawm

This is from Simon Gray's 'The Last Cigarette', and it put me at once in mind of Eric Hobsbawm, the unrepentant communist historian who died recently, amid praise from all quarters, from Niall Ferguson to Ed Milliband

Let me resist lighting a cigarette by thinking about Mao, Stalin and Hitler.  The other day, on a radio phone-in, I heard the old argument repeated - Hitler was the most wicked because he murdered millions in the name of fascism and racial superiority.  Mao and Stalin were less wicked because they murdered millions in the name of communism, a noble if possibly imbecilic ideal.  Therefore people who supported fascism and Hitler are much more wicked than people who supported communism - in fact, people who supported the USSR, those of them in this country who are still alive, are to be considered rather endearing, to be cherished and even honoured.  Their hearts were in the right place when they argued, with decent regret, that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs - which actually is only a domestically pleasant way of saying that Lenin and Stalin couldn't make a communist state without breaking heads, legs, lives, families, spirits - without maiming, torturing, starving, killing - all the things that Hitler did but in one respect more terrifyingly because more arbitrarily.  If you were Aryan and an indifferent servant of Hitler's state you were safe, and knew what to do to remain safe, at least until the war came.  If you were a good servant in Mao's or Stalin's state you were in danger every minute of your life, and if it decided to extinguish you because, say, of a joke you were rumoured to have told, or to have laughed at, you went to your end knowing that your legacy to your parents and your children, your friends, colleagues, even your neighbours, was likely to be torture or death, or a labour camp, certainly ostracism and penury - their crime, of course, being you, knowing you and perhaps loving you.

from The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray (Granta Books, 2008)

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Skyfall

Just back from this big beautiful beast of a movie.  Knocks the Dark Knight into a bowler hat.  Somehow the team - Mendes, Deakins, Newman, Logan et al - have managed to, yep, 'resurrect' Bond, marrying the old with the new in an almost seamless, er, bond.  Plus we had no less than four Hamlets to enjoy.  I missed Ralph Fiennes at the theatre, but I saw Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear.  Is four top Hamlets in a single movie a record, I wonder?

Henry Jackson Society

This is a cross-post from the Henry Jackson Society

The ugly face of anti-Semitism appeared at our university campuses again this week, with a radical minority of students celebrating the stifling of Jewish opinion in Scotland. On Wednesday evening,  Student Rights, a campaign of the Henry Jackson Society, broke the news that a group of protesters had disrupted an event at the University of Edinburgh at which Daniel Taub, the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, was due to speak.

Chanting anti-Israeli slogans including “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, activists shouted down the Ambassador and refused entreaties from university staff and students to allow him to continue. Organised via Facebook, campaigners described Ambassador Taub as “a propagandist for an apartheid state and a defender of war crimes.”

An individual present at the event told Student Rights that the protestors continued shouting for an hour, creating an intimidating and hostile atmosphere for the Jewish students who had attended the event. Of course, this was not just about frightening those on campus who are sympathetic towards Israel, but about stifling any debate at all which contradicts their radical opinions.

This is not, of course, the first time that such behaviour has been seen on the UK’s university campuses, or the University of Edinburgh itself. In February 2011 an event featuring the Foreign Ministry advisor Ishmael Khaldi was abandoned after 50 protestors surrounded him and began chanting “Israel is a racist state”. Student supporters of Israel have been assaulted whilst protesting against ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and told that “the best thing the Jews have ever done was go into the gas chamber”.  Other representatives of the Israeli government have been attacked after giving talks on campus.

Marginalising the opinions of Jewish students on their own campuses has become something to be proud of for these ‘activists’.  In refusing to allow Ambassador Taub to speak these students showed their true nature: their interest is not debate but intimidation.  It is high time that the university authorities took a stand on this thuggish-ness.  It is not only poisoning constructive research and discussion but poisoning the reputation of UK universities as places of education rather than propaganda.  Whether the Edinburgh university authorities take action against those involved in this week’s protests will be the clearest signal possible of whether they take this issue seriously or not.

Joneses



The best tight head in the world is out of the Autumn internationals.  As Kingsley Jones says, Jones  is the man Wales would least want to have injured for these games.

Also, I watched and enjoyed The Terminal last night, and just by way of fizzogish contrast I include a picture of one of its stars, the equally dazzling (and Welsh) CZJ

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Tears, Idle Tears

A hundred years before Philip Larkin, Tennyson packs a punch even more powerful. The older one gets, the more resonant this wonderful poem becomes.

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Sports Personality of the Year

Come Saturday...


Invincible Lithuania

The latest Guardian rugby 'Breakdown' begins thus:

The All Blacks face Australia in Brisbane on Saturday having won their last 16 Test matches, two short of the record held by Lithuania.

The rest can be found here.  More interestingly, read about the unbeatable Lithuanians here. Delighted to see they scored 13 tries against Serbia.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Who's a good boy?


Denise Stephenson posted this on her Facebook page, and I've nicked it because I like it very much.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

NINE YEARS - A STORY

This story appeared first in Orbis 159 and appears to have been enjoyed by several readers, so here it is, be-blogged.



Nine Years

She was the daughter of a friend of mine, and we found ourselves standing together at a book launch in an art gallery in the currently fashionable part of town. I’d taken a cursory look at the art, and I wasn’t really interested in the book (something about Rothko?), simply biding time until my friend finished networking. We were going out for supper later.
His daughter looked as bored as I felt; somehow we’d gravitated towards the same non-place by a door marked ‘Private’.
 ‘Well,’ I said, with a sigh, as though it was the obvious thing to say. It turned out it was.
 ‘Yeah, exactly.’
Late teens, with bobbed dark hair, she wore red canvas shoes, blue jeans and a vaguely ethnic-looking scarf on top of a fibrous brown sweater.
 ‘A bit dull,’ I said.
 ‘Tedious garbage,’ she said. That seemed to deserve a response, but all I managed was ‘yep’.
For half a minute or so we stood in silence, watching proceedings.
 ‘Are you coming to supper with us?’ I asked eventually.
 ‘No. Just wanted to see Dad for five minutes.’
 ‘I saw you arrive with a big bag – have you been somewhere?’
 ‘Germany. Burying my grandmother’
 ‘I see. But your father didn’t go?’
 ‘Obviously not. He never had much time for Mum’s side of the family. Or Mum for that matter.’
 I let that pass. I didn’t like her much myself.
 ‘Was your mother upset? Were you? I mean, did you like your grandmother? Were you close?’
 ‘My mother is upset because she suddenly feels free, and she feels bad about suddenly feeling free.’
 ‘Ah.’
 ‘She looked after her for nine years.’
 ‘That’s a long time.’
 ‘Grandmother’s revenge.’
 ‘I don’t follow’. I grabbed a glass of Valpolicella off a passing tray, and offered it to the girl. She shook her head.
 ‘Rachel, isn’t it?’
 ‘Yeah. Anyway, the thing is, my mother spent a lot of her life trying to escape from my grandmother.’
 ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
Rachel hadn’t looked me in the eye yet. She had been looking around the room, her tone dispassionate, the story told as though with a shrug, as though it didn’t matter – just information. Now she was looking at me.
 ‘My grandmother was a bitch.’
 ‘Sorry to hear that too. That’s why you didn’t like her?’
 ‘No.’ She left it that but I was curious now.
 ‘Was it something she did or said?’
 ‘Something she said. When I was about 12. She was already ill. I’d told her that I loved going to see her. I loved that she cooked for us and gave us toys and seemed to like, you know, go out of her way to please us. She said she hated doing it. And it wasn’t what she said that made me hate her, it was that I like couldn’t think of any way of answering. What was I going to say to that? I hated her from then on. I really hated her, you know?’
 ‘I can see that, yes’
 ‘Can you? I bet you can’t. Although, actually, most of my friends have a story like this.’
 ‘Do they?’
 ‘Everyone does.’
 ‘I don’t.’
 ‘Aren’t you lucky then?’ That mild aggressiveness of youth can take you by surprise in the middle of an otherwise civilized conversation. I said I supposed I was.
 ‘Thing was, my grandfather was a mechanic on a boat…’
 ‘A naval mechanic?’
 ‘That’s what I said. He was away for months at a time, and so my grandmother made a lot of my mother. Sort of smothered her. And as soon as she could leave, my mother did, she came to England and became an artist and married Dad and everything, and so these last nine years have been like my grandmother's revenge.’
 ‘That seems a harsh way of looking at things. I mean, don’t you think your mother had a duty to your grandmother? To look after her?’
 Rachel looked at me with a curl of her lip as though she thought I was being stupid. Perhaps I was. Then her face relaxed.
 ‘They should have been my nine years’.
 And she walked away.

© copyright, Wynn Wheldon, 2012
 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Perks of Being a Walfflower

This is a terrific movie about the power and need for kindness and friendship. I wept almost from beginning to end.  It is not, however, sentimental.  It takes a first-rate storytelling ability to render good people interesting, and this is what the director-writer, Stephen Chbosky, obviously drawing on his own experience of teenagerdom, has achieved with aplomb.  A grown-up movie for the youthful and reminder to those of us no longer so of what it was like, both the good and the bad.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Popular Triumph

Am delighted to say that my poem 'Night Sky' has been voted 2nd in the Orbis 159 Readers' Award.  Orbis is edited by the indefatigable Carole Baldock, and is well worth a subscription. Issue 160 is just out.  Details here.

And here is the poem, or at least a version thereof:


NIGHT SKY

Occasionally, I am adrift. Look up:
the star-splintered sky is full of time,
whole generations speeding away.

On a warm evening you can hear a beat
rising and falling on the breeze;
drying my sweat, there’s a gust of Welsh

through the open window. Look up:
Gandaberunda in flight above Kilburn,
a phoenix rising above Edgware.

North west London is alive with wings.
Astonishments, I suppose, but this happens
when looking for gods or reasons.



Note: Information on the magical, mythological Hindu bird Gandaberunda, here.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

CYRIL FALLS IS INNOCENT!!

In what possible sense can throwing an apple core into a hedge be regarded as "littering"?  Cyril Falls'  punishment for having done so (described here) makes a mockery of the law and of Down District Council.  I'm fairly sure civil servants have better things to do than to sneak on the perfectly reasonable actions of the people who pay their wages and pensions.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Judith Cash Paintings

Then and Now Now and Then 
Exhibition runs: 9th - 16th Oct 2012
Opening evening: 11th Oct 6 - 9pm
Location: Gallery & Project Space

TC's mum

More info here.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Trilling on Polonius

My lyric-writing son has been thinking about the way he writes songs.  Recently he read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and was much taken with Ernest's earnestness about 'truth'.   Applying this to song-writing, Son finds it best exemplified in songs by Bruce Springsteen.  In the light of this, I thought I'd have a look at Lionel Trilling's Sincerity and Authenticity, which I haven't read since 1977, and on page 3 came upon the following passage.  It is something we all know and recognise in Polonius's famous speech, but I think Trilling puts it terrifically well. It has not much to do with song writing, although  the phrase "the way the lines sound" might be useful to any aspiring Cole Porter or Paul Simon.

There is a moment in Hamlet which has a unique and touching charm. Polonius is speeding Laertes on his way to Paris with paternal advice that has scarcely the hope of being heard, let alone heeded.  The old man's maxims compete with one another in prudence and dullness and we take them to be precisely characteristic of a spirit that is not only senile but small. But then we are startled to hear:

This above all: to thine own self be true
Anmnd it doth follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

We naturally try to understand that concluding sentence of Polonius's speech in a way that will make it consort with our low opinion of the speaker - 'If you always make your own interests paramount, if you look out for Number One, you will not mislead your associates to count on your attachment to their interests, and in this way you will avoid incurring their anger when, as is inevitable, you disappoint their expectations'.  But the sentence will not submit to this reading.  Our impulse to make its sense consistent with our general view of Polonius is defeated by the way the lines sound, by their lucid moral lyricism.  This persuades us that Polonius has had a moment of self-transcendence, of grace and truth.  he has conceived of sincerity as an essential condition of virtue and has discovered how it is to be attained.

Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (1972) 
 

Casablanca Dates

PLEASE NOTE that the 12th December gig has been cancelled.

Forthcoming Casablanca gigs

-->
9th October, London – The Garage, Holloway Rd W/Glitches
11th October, London – The Old Queens Head, Essex Rd W/Bluebell
15th October, London – Hoxton Sq Bar + Kitchen W/A Silent Film
17th November, London – Barfly, Chalk Farm W/Crocodiles
20th November, London – O2 Academy 2, Islington W/Spinto Band
21st November, Manchester – Ruby Lounge W/Spinto Band
6th December, London – Electrowerkz, Angel W/Theme Park
12th December, London – Hoxton Sq Bar + Kitchen W/Hey Sholay
-->
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Monday, 1 October 2012

The Miracle of Medinah

This is what television is for.  Live coverage of great sporting events somehow justifies all the gutterstuff.  Last night's Ryder Cup victory was up there with Headingly 81, the Rugby World Cup, Redgrave's 5th, United in '99, 2005 Ashes, the London Olympics.

There are people who mix up golf as a game with golf as a social activity (and the stereotype that attaches thereto), and determinedly avoid it, but the sheer dramatic tension - it is so slow (99 percent of a golf game is taken up with walking) - in which every single moment of play is crucial make it not only a great sport to play but also an astonishingly compelling one to watch.  The estimable Butch Harmon, one of Sky's commentators, told us last night that we were watching "great theatre" and he was dead right.  This was a play with 12 strands to it, and glorious arcs of drama, and drive of narrative.  There was even a powerful spectral presence in the form of Seve Ballesteros.

And of course Ian Poulter is a god among men. But then so is Justin Rose.  And Martin Kaymer.  And Paul Lawrie.... and Jose Maria Olazabal.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Win an Old-Fashioned 45

Yep, you can win an old-fashioned 45 rpm vinyl single of Casablanca's double a-sided release 'Yes' and 'Natalie', here.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

GRASS by Chrys Salt


Chrys Salt launches her terrific new collection GRASS at
The Actors Centre on Saturday October 13th 5.00pm – 7.00pm

The Actors Centre
1a Tower Street, London WC1H 9LP 

RSVP: chrys@chryssalt.com or Tel: 0208 969 9221
Chrys Salt


With Adrian at the Peace Festival
i.m. Adrian Mitchell

if you saw him running it was because he'd spotted truth in the crowd and
was chasing it if you saw him smiling it was at a good deed waving from a
balcony if you saw him jumping it was in a playground with all the other
daft kids on the block raising anarchy if you heard him singing it was girls
and boys come out to play if you saw him laughing he was laughing he was
really laughing if you saw him waving it was to say HELLO come in and join
the feast of the human race if you saw him writing it was a love letter to
the world on the day of its crucifixion if you saw him dancing it was to a
Beatles tune about giving peace a chance and waiting for that moment to
arrive

Monday, 24 September 2012

NIB Magazine

A new literary webzine appears for the first time today.  
It is called NIB, it is American and it can be found here

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Soul of the Age


TO THE MEMORY OF MY BELOVED
MASTER WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE,
AND WHAT HE HATH LEFT US
 by Ben Jonson

To draw no envy, SHAKSPEARE, on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy book and fame ;
While I confess thy writings to be such,
As neither Man nor Muse can praise too much.
'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these ways
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise ;
For seeliest ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right ;
Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ;
Or crafty malice might pretend this praise,
And think to ruin where it seemed to raise.
These are, as some infamous bawd or whore
Should praise a matron ; what could hurt her more ?
But thou art proof against them, and, indeed,
Above the ill fortune of them, or the need.
I therefore will begin: Soul of the age!
The applause ! delight ! the wonder of our stage!
My SHAKSPEARE rise ! I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further, to make thee a room :
Thou art a monument without a tomb,
And art alive still while thy book doth live
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mix thee so my brain excuses,
I mean with great, but disproportioned Muses :
For if I thought my judgment were of years,
I should commit thee surely with thy peers,
And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine,
Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line.
And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seek
For names : but call forth thund'ring Aeschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To life again, to hear thy buskin tread
And shake a stage : or when thy socks were on,
Leave thee alone for the comparison
Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show
To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time !
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When, like Apollo, he came forth to warm
Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm !
Nature herself was proud of his designs,
And joyed to wear the dressing of his lines !
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other wit.
The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please ;
But antiquated and deserted lie,
As they were not of Nature's family.
Yet must I not give Nature all ; thy art,
My gentle Shakspeare, must enjoy a part.
For though the poet's matter nature be,
His art doth give the fashion : and, that he
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses' anvil ; turn the same,
And himself with it, that he thinks to frame ;
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn ;
For a good poet's made, as well as born.
And such wert thou ! Look how the father's face
Lives in his issue, even so the race
Of Shakspeare's mind and manners brightly shines
In his well torned and true filed lines;
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandisht at the eyes of ignorance.
Sweet Swan of Avon ! what a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
But stay, I see thee in the hemisphere
Advanced, and made a constellation there !
Shine forth, thou Star of Poets, and with rage
Or influence, chide or cheer the drooping stage,
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourned like night,
And despairs day, but for thy volume's light.

Thoughtfulness


An Englishman of the 1960s contemplating his next riff

Salman Rushdie

Now that the apparently much misunderstood Iranian Republic, provoked it seems by some amateur film of YouTube, has upped the bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie, I note that even Guardian readers are getting upset (though obviously not Germaine Greer, John Berger or John Le Carre, all of whom took against Rushdie for writing his unreadable novel, although not because it was unreadable).

Despite attempts to blame the crappy film on the Israelis (by the BBC, among others) there seems an astonishing absence of the usual "blame it on the Jews" stuff that greets most Islamist outrages, though I suspect it is only a matter of time.

The moronic reaction to the you tube 'film' is terribly depressing*.  Perhaps even more depressing is the reaction of the United States to the murder of its Ambassador in Libya.  And I am preparing to be depressed by the British Government's response to Iran's upping of the bounty on the head of a British citizen - and a knight, to boot!

Now excuse me while I get back to my Christopher Hitchens...

Read up about all this in The Guardian, here and here.

* "moronic reaction to the you tube film" is not quite right, because it is fairly obvious that the Mullahs, ayatollahs and other assorted fascists have pounced on the film in order to stir up the rabble. Which is not to say that the rabble is not moronic, but rather that the reaction is not to the film, but to their leaders' rabble-rousing nuremburging.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Prom: Haydn & Richard Strauss

Bit late with this post, but that just goes to show that the experience it describes has been lingering pleasantly. We were invited by a good friend to a Prom on 7th Sept: Haydn Symphony 104 and Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony.

The Haydn was of course gleeful.  Appropriately for the Great Wen's magnificent year, 104 is known as the London symphony.  Haydn wrote it while in London, and it premiered here.  Haydn was delighted with the response: "The whole company was thoroughly pleased and so was I. I made 4000 gulden on this evening: such a thing is possible only in England."

I was especially delighted with the third movement which has a lovely swirling minuet that reminded me of Smetana's much later Ma Vlast - all continuous sound, rare in anything before Beethoven (he says not knowing a damn thing about this).

HOWEVER - my knee being not what it was or indeed ought to be, I was rather uncomfortable, and as the second half, the Strauss, was almost an hour long, I decided I'd be better off in the gods at the very top of the Albert Hall.  The Gallery is something all classical music venues ought to have. In the Gallery you can take off your jacket, fold it up as a cushion and lie down.  Some sorts of music really are better with the eyes closed.  And anyway, I couldn't get near the rail, and rather than spend an hour on tiptoe with a view of two and a half cellos and the occasional flourish of a baton, it was altogther more sensible to get prone.

The Alpine Symphony is a gigantic German work about going up a mountain, getting lost, being stuck in a storm and finally coming home.  All very Caspar David Friedrich and almost too grand to be sublime.  It is a cracker, commencing with Night turning to Day (darkness to light, don't you know), a tiny sound becoming an enormous one.  The piece requires a gigantic orchestra, including quite unnecessary pieces of equipment I read about in the programme, but the names of which escape me for the moment.  There is also an offstage brass band.

Lying on one's back, surrounded by Japanese students and people who really know their stuff (ie musicians who can't afford the posher seats), is a great way of taking the journey up and down the Alp.  At home it is easy to be distracted, and anyway live music is just so much more energetic.  It fills the space around you.  The whole thing was splendid, and I am most grateful to KF for the chance to have experienced it.

Jane Gibbs


This is a painting called 'In the Beginning' by Jane Gibbs, whose work is represented by The Stour Gallery, which can be found here.  If you like abstract painting with a hint of meaning, this is just the job.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

STUPENDOUS WEDDING PHOTO





Last month in Angelsea my first cousin once removed (I believe), Tomos Wheldon Williams, married Sara Jones.  As wedding photos go, this takes some beating in my view.  It was taken by Darren Williams.  His website is here, where you can see other pictures from the wedding.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

TIMON OF ATHENS

National Theatre, Olivier
Simon Russell Beale
Dir: Nicholas Hytner
 
 
 
Well, first things first: SRB is terrific.Manages to engage our sympathy for a stupid and hateful man.
 
It is fairly rare to see a Shakespeare play not a word of which one has heard or read before, and so this was intriguing.  Of course, being a drama rather than a book, I missed most of the poetry, straining to hear almost anyone but SRB.  I do not lay the blame with the actors, however, as I left my hearing aids at home (as usual).
 
What is obvious about Timon is that it was in some sense a dry run for the play that followed it, King Lear.  I think the director fathomed this.  The Beckettian squalor of the second half set invited thoughts of Lear and his cheese, and Timon's rages at ingratitude, are full, as in Lear, of disgust with the sexual act that brings forth humans.

I didn't care for Flavia at all: she had a kind of whine in her delivery that grated.  I'm afraid I didn't much like Flaminia either.  Hilton McRae enjoyed himself as the Cynic, as did I.  But this was a one-man show really.
 
It has a curious ending, but I think had the friendship between Alcibiades and Timon, which is there in the text, not been played down, then there might have been a resolving sense of pathos which would have made the close more satisfactory.
 
I think we're unlikely to see Timon again.  SRB's nailed it good and proper.
 
"...the learned pate
Ducks to the golden fool..."

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Hampstead Heath in August by Edward Thomas

I have filched the following from a copy of the Ham & High.  The original article by Paul Jarman can be found here.



Hampstead Heath is too good in itself to be made or obliterated by associations. When you have gone up nearly to the top of Heath Street — put in a certain humour by oldish, quiet shops, and flagged pavement in place of asphalte — you forget Keats and Leigh Hunt, ’Arry and ’Arriet and Mr. Kipling. The street goes steep and straight up to perhaps the highest point of the heath, and when you are almost there the walls of the last pair of houses frame the milky blue of the high harvest sky. Then, suddenly, they seem the last houses in the world; for only a hundred yards of ground lies visible between you and the sky.

This patch, containing a pond, is of hard, dry, bare, undulating gravel like a sea beach, and because nothing is to be seen beyond it save the unclouded blue, it creates instantly and powerfully the belief that beyond the edge of this beach the sea is hidden, whether at the foot of a cliff or of a gradual slope is uncertain. The belief lasts a quarter of a minute, and once at the top of the street and on this bare patch, the horizon is seen to be not a curve of sea, but serrated woods upon a long line of hills, all swiftly revealed as if by a miraculous command at blast of trumpet. Almost in the same moment, over the edge, the hollow land of the heath appears below you. Houses unmistakably bound it. Sometimes they look over it as if they regarded it as a possession. Sometimes as if they felt some dull astonishment at being separated only by the road from these billowy trees and wild hollows.

Were the heath level, this sense of possession would be lasting and complete. But the uneven wildness due to nature and excavation makes up for its small extent and saves the heath from the humiliation. Thus the houses are nothing but a frame: they do not combine the heath; they neither influence it nor receive any influence from it. They stand bald and impotent at the edge of this fragment of the wild. They are indifferent to the dry air, spiced with harvest, which divides all the little leaves of the trees and carries the bright notes of swallows and scattering linnets.

The last sheet but one of August Bank Holiday paper has been picked up. The dust, though harsh to feet and eyes and nostrils and fingers, is sweet to the mind because it is the dust of summer; and the linnets sweeten it like a fount breaking out of dry sand. This wind, though soft as sleep, is one of the great winds of the world: it touches the cheek with the tip of a light wing dipped in coolness, though the air is as fiery as it should be at St. Bartholomew-tide. It is no mere afterthought from the first illusion of distant sea: this August air extends from sea to sea over the world, linking the streets and these suburb glades to the upland corn, league beyond league, and to the waves shimmering around the coast.

Paul Jarman writes: This is taken from a series of five similar pieces which were given the title London Miniatures when they were first published in a posthumous 1928 collection of Thomas’s essays, The Last Sheaf. The originals are extant in an undated manuscript in the New York Public Library, so that it is impossible to be certain when Thomas might have composed them. The London Miniatures were all republished last year in England and Wales, the second volume of Oxford University Press’s on-going Edward Thomas: Prose Writings, edited by Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

CASABLANCA - YES - THE VIDEO

The Casablanca posts just keep coming.  Here is the video for 'Yes' (dir: Julian Dyer), which will be released on Party Politics on 17th September.


Saturday, 25 August 2012

In Huw's Music We Trust

Huw Stephens is a god among men. Not only does he wear glasses and a beard, but he is Welsh and is called Huw.  What is more he has first class taste in popular music. But above and beyond all this he is a Gentleman.  This may be an old-fashioned idea, this idea of the Gentleman, but it is not a bad one, and Huw Stephens embodies it.  I am not in a position to divulge my reasons for promoting Huw in this way, but should you find me in a crowded bar, after a couple of pints of Guinness, it is likely that I shall tell you.  In the meantime, listen in to Huw on weekdays between 1.00 and 4.00 pm and on Thursdays for two hours after midnight.  BBC Radio One. You will hear something you like, mark my words. Diolch yn fawr Huw! 

Laura Trott - World Cup

Not the Olympics, not the World Championship but the World Cup 'test' event for the velodrome at the Olympic Park in April.  Spectacular race from tiny Laura Trott who of course went on to win two Gold medals. She really is terrific. Makes you laugh and cry at the same time.



Friday, 24 August 2012

H.L. Mencken

My pal Mr A.K. just sent me this email.

This is nice. A quotation that turned up in THE WIRE. I thought I better catch up with it on DVD while I had the time. It's from the final season and comes from a newspaperman with the Baltimore Sun, as he drinks away the night after being fired because of cutbacks. It's by H.L. Mencken.

“If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.”

N2





East Finchley's very own poetry organ, edited by Shereen Abdallah.  It contains poems by Jill Bamber, Dennis Evans, Susanna Roxman and myself, among others.  The standard is high, it hardly needs saying.  Where you can buy it I have no idea, but you'd get a copy if you went to the launch at East Finchley Methodists Church on September 1st, and I am sure that rather wonderful bookshop in the High Road, the name of which escapes me, will be stocking it. I just looked it up: Black Gull. Number 121 High Rd.

CASABLANCA AGAIN

You'd be mad - mad, I say - not to pre-order your fancy vinyl copy of Casablanca's single 'Yes / Natalie', to be released worldwide on September 18th.  Go here and order.  You will not regret it.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Snow


Perhaps not quite the right time of year for this post, but this Geoffrey Jones film from 1963 was shown recently at the BFI's 100th Birthday party for photographer Wolfgang Suschitzky, with whom my wife worked years ago (she has also worked with his son and grandson). Love the fact that one of the trains is called 'Barbados'.

Anonymous/Assange/Atkin and George

Good to know for certain what side 'Anonymous' are on, as they attacked British government websites, apparently to show their support for Julian Assange, who is wanted in Sweden to answer allegations of sexual assault.  There is a good deal of talk about sexual assault at the moment, what with George Galloway making it clear that "not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion", and his soul mate Todd Atkin in the USA suggesting that "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Why, one wonders, does Anonymous not turn its attention to the Government of Ecuador, which is in the process of returning Belarussian dissident Alexander Barankov to almost certain execution in his own country. Details in The Guardian here.

Perhaps Barankov can be persuaded to seek asylum at the British Embassy in Quito, and then we could swap a fugitive from Swedish justice for a fugitive from Belarus tyranny. But then of course Wikileaks have already given details of other Belarus dissidents to the Belarus government, through the good offices of notorious right-wing anti-semite Israel Shamir (see Index on Censorship, here), so Assange and Anonymous and Galloway and assorted cronies are all one-up on democracy as it is and it seems there's bugger-all legitimately elected governments can do about it. I suspect Anonymous regards itself as a left wing operation.  Doesn't smell like that does it?  Then again, perhaps it does...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Prelude und Liebestod - Wagner

Prelude und Liebestod - orchestral version   From Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde', the story of which my son told me today while playing a football game on his telephone. Played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti, who I once met!  He and my father got on very well.  This piece of music is on my Desert Island list. Unlike Bach, who can make you believe there is a heaven, Wagner keeps you firmly on earth while at the same time making you feel that there are passions that can take you to the highest limits of experience. Does that make sense?  Possibly not.


CASABLANCA LIVE



Casablanca launch their single 'Yes / Natalie' on
18th September at
Admission free

Friday, 17 August 2012

New Dog

I have been told that to honour your last dog it is right and proper to get a new one as soon as possible, along the lines of the king is dead, long live the king.  Recently, I met a dachshund, and despite a lifetime's dismissal of the breed, I fell in love.  So I now want a dog a little like this one:


YES - CASABLANCA

Casablanca's first release is 'Yes' and 'Natalie'.  Details here.  The music blogs appear to like the former, and so they should, but wait until they hear the latter.  You can listen to 'Yes' here.




Thursday, 16 August 2012

Assange and Ecuador

I note that rather than return to that well-known hotbed of injustice and human rights violation, Sweden, Julian Assange of Wikileaks has been granted asylum by Ecuador. I am sure he is aware of article 230 of the Ecuadorian Criminal Code – under which anyone who “offends” the president or other government authorities may be sentenced to up to three months in prison for offending officials and up to two years for offending the president. I'm confident Mr Assange would never offend so liberal a government.  For more information on the enlightened approach to freedom of expression and human rights in Ecuador, see Amnesty International here and Human Rights Watch, here.

Excellent Guardian editorial, here.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Knowledge and Wisdom

"Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn't belong in a fruit salad."

Monday, 13 August 2012

TEAM GB

Frankly, I feel a little ashamed of myself.  I'd been paid well to come up with pertinent snippets of poetry to adorn the walls and signs of the Olympic Park.  I'd enjoyed the work (despite the fact that none of it was used).  Nevertheless, at a couple of poetry readings before the games started I was introduced as having something to do with them, and I mumbled apologies in a particularly craven and British sort of a way.  The truth was that while I detested all the naysayers and doom-mongers and Morrissey-types (he and that idiot tweeting MP are made for each other), and pretended to be gung-ho for it all, really I was rather dreading the whole thing.  I thought it might be a terrible flop, felt as though i was the host of a party to which nobody would come.

What to say then about the most astounding two weeks in British cultural life.  Public weddings, funerals, wars, elections, football and rugby competitions - even the Ashes! - nothing in my lifetime has matched this in terms of emotion, pride, exhilaration, disbelief and hoarseness, not to mention the emptying of tear ducts. 

I know we are supposed to thank the volunteers, the people of London, and the athletes first, and I don't especially like Sebastian Coe - I was always an Ovett man -  but he was a beautiful runner, and he deserves every plaudit he gets for winning the bid in the first place and for heading up this preposterous triumph. I read a story about him in The Guardian, about his queuing to get into some venue, and it struck me that there are very few countries (any other country? Norway perhaps?) where the Head Honcho of the whole caboodle would be seen queuing for anything, let alone to get into his own games.

So: Sports Personality of the Year?  I know it is crummy, but I'd vote for Seb.  I won't be allowed to though, because he won't be up there with Wiggo and Mo, Jess and Ben etc..  So I'll go for Jess because the pressure on her was by some degrees the greatest.

My favourite remark of the whole thing was that of an old Yorkshireman of my acquaintance, whose views are somewhat to the right of the Daily Express: "Nicola Adams? She's my new heroine. She's from Yorkshire you know."


Poetry Reading






Should you happen to be in the vicinity.  I've no idea how long I'll read for.  probably five minutes or so, but there are other poets worth listening to, and isn't it time you visited the East Finchley Methodist Church anyway?

E, it rather escaped my attention when I posted this, but the fact is that I shall be in France, so I shan't be reading.  Probably for the best all round.  Do go if you can.  Little mags need big support.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

THE POINT OF A DOG

-->
i.m. Boaz 
1 July, 2002 - 30 July, 2012


Some ten years ago, baffled and irritated by the acquisition of a dog for my son Caleb’s sixth birthday, I wrote a piece entitled ‘What’s the Point of a Dog?’, sent it around, and found that commissioning editors to a man and woman were obviously dog owners.  No-one wanted my wise words.

I was non-plussed. The article seemed to me eminently sensible.  Dogs were a hassle weren’t they?

They had to be walked, groomed, fed, cleared up after, prevented from frightening small children, trained, and found a home for when one went away. But then one could say exactly the same for one’s children (and at least dogs don’t answer back or say “No!” and stamp their feet). I cannot now for the life of me remember what was specifically troublesome about having a dog.

This morning our dog was put down.  Riddled with lumps of cancer in his abdomen, anaemic, and lethargic almost to the point of unconsciousness, with no appetite and a “seriously disfigured liver”, Boaz had come to the end of his days, threescore and ten dog years after his birth, and the point of a dog becomes clear.  A dog is a vessel for the unspent affection, the love, that is so often hard to bestow on one another.  (It strikes me that maybe this is an affliction particularly affecting the shy British, which might explain our reputation as dog lovers).  Our grief at the death of our dog made us dumb, but also breathless with sobs, and was real.

I daresay this will be considered by all the non-commissioning editors out there as rank sentimentality.  Ten years ago I would probably have agreed with them.  However, it was ever the case that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and this is especially so of love. Dog lovers tend to warble on about the faithfulness of dogs, but frankly dogs would be damned foolish not to be faithful to their principal food source.  I have never doubted that Boaz attached himself closer to my wife than any other member of the family because he knew damn well he was more likely to get a tidbit from her than from the rest of us.  Then again, my wife is chief of the Wheldon pack, and a good dog always follows its leader.

So, yes, whenever other members of the family either are not present or do not deserve affection, for one of any number of reasons, there is the dog to receive it.  Boaz, a larger-than-usual Tibetan terrier, was particularly suited to the receipt of love, for he was shaggy and handsome, with a thick black coat marked by streaks of brilliant white on his chest (his ‘bib’), head, and the tips of his tail and one paw.  He was good-natured except when he had fearlessly hunted down his own food, such as half-finished yogurt pots or misplaced packets of digestives.  This once meant our cleaning lady Elena’s sandwiches.  She received a nasty nip attempting to retrieve them, and had to phone for help because Boaz took up guard of said sandwiches by the front door and would not let her pass.

It is thought that dogs are ‘clever’ but I never saw that particular quality shining in Boaz.  He seemed to me to be a bit dim.  This was often in truth because he could not see very well, his shagginess often obscuring sight.  He was occasionally stubborn, refusing to move unless bribed.  When walking he would invariably be behind, sniffing, examining, scenting, and if you called him to catch up, he’d trot towards you, but only so far.  He was very much himself.  (On those rare occasions when he walked in front he would sometimes affect a mincing gait that was frankly excruciating).

He occasionally went missing, although he probably would not have called it that.  He had simply wandered off, following one bouquet after another, with no sense or indeed need for destination. The frightful hollowing out of one’s body that comes with a child gone astray, and the rising sense of panic, made itself felt on these occasions in only slightly diminished a form.  One’s negligence in allowing such a thing to happen was awful.

Such self-recrimination was a symptom of our need for an object to love that would happily accept that love, requiring nothing in return other than food and shelter and the occasional throwing of a ball.  In a family a dog acts as a bonding agent. He can be the subject of talk (including argument, fantasy, drama, and so forth), and the cause of laughter (frequently so with Boaz) which is the most powerful of all adhesives, but chiefly he can be the resource for otherwise unspent affection.  And as the scientists now attest, being affectionate is good for you.  One way or another, dogs make life better.
          
Boaz was company for all of us, in both different and similar ways, and we are lonelier without him, closer to each other in our grief, and further away without his adhesive presence. He was a real, physical being, a tame animal, a peata, to use the Scottish Gaelic word, which feels more appropriate than the mere ‘pet’.
          
For of course as well as all the mollycoddling and stroking and laughing a dog provokes and inspires, he will also take you out walking into the world. This is the single thing I am personally most grateful to Boaz for.  He showed me Hampstead Heath, and, mawkish as it may seem, we shall spread his ashes there, in that benign, tame, handsome and gently mysterious place which suited him so well.