Tuesday, 16 February 2021

PANCAKE DAY - CIVIL COMMOTION from John Taylor's 'Jack A Lent'

 Moreover, it is a goodly sight to see how the

cooks in great men's kitchens, do fry in their master's 
suet, and sweat in her own grease, that if ever a 
cook be worth the eating it is when Shrove- Tuesday 
is in town, for he is so stewed and larded, roasted, 
basted, and almost over-roasted, that a man may eat 
the rawest bit of him and never take a surfeit. In 
a word, they are that day extreme choleric, and too 
hot for any man to meddle with being monarchs of 
the marrow-bones, marquesses of the mutton, lords 
high regents of the spit and the kettle, barons of 
the gridiron, and sole commanders of the frying- 
pan, and all this hurly-burly, is for no other purpose 
but to stop the mouth of this land- wheel Shrove- 
Tuesday. At whose entrance in the morning all the 
whole kingdom is in quiet, but by that time the clock 
strikes eleven, which (by the help of a knavish 
sexton) is commonly before nine, then there is a bell 
rung, called the pancake bell, the sound whereof 
makes thousands of people distracted, and forgetful 
either of manner or humanity : Then there is a 
thing called wheaten flour, which the sulphery 
necromatic cooks do mingle with water, eggs, spice, 
and other tragical magical enchantments, and then 
they put it by little and little into a frying-pan of 
boiling suet, where it makes a confused dismal 
hissing like the Lernean snakes in the reeds of 
Acheron, Styx or Phlegethon) until at last by the skill 
of the cook, it is transformed into the form of a 
flap-jack, which in our translation is called a pancake, 
which ominous incantation the ignorant people do 
devour very greedily (having for the most part well 
dined before :) but they have no sooner swallowed 
that sweet candied bait, but straight their wits for- 
sake them, and they run stark mad, assembling in 
routs and throngs numberless of ungoverned 
numbers, with uncivil civil commotions. 

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

THE DEVIL'S TATTOO by Brett Evans

 My review of this pamphlet, from 2017, for Ink, Sweat and Tears, is no longer available online, so I'm re-posting it here.  






The Devil’s Tattoo

by Brett Evans

(publisher: Indigo Dreams)

 

Reviewed by Wynn Wheldon

 

It is hard to escape the feeling that Brett Evans – or, at least, the poet Brett Evans, if you will accept the delicate distinction - was born in the wrong place at the wrong time, or perhaps in the right place at the right time with the wrong constitution.  He is, properly speaking, a blues singer, part Delta, part Chicago, who has found himself instead a “fat, pink alkie” in a small town in North Wales at the beginning of the twenty-first century.  As he says in the same poem (‘Reading Sean O’Brien in the Bath’), “something is amiss”.

         This short collection is very much of a piece, the themes pulled “over troublesome stones” through it, like the Gele river itself: myth, Wales, pubs and drink, jazz, religion, poetry, and desire.  And perhaps the displacement is perhaps not so great, perhaps he’s a Celt from across the sea, and should have been a Dubliner.  His tipple after all is stout (even in his erotic fantasies he lathers his lover’s hair “to a Guinness foam”).  One way or another these poems are written from the Celtic twilight.

         The melancholic confessional is a hard thing to pull off without self-pity, but there’s none of that here.  The collection’s first poem, ‘Marshes’ starts in childhood – “we swashbuckled summers across the weir” – and powerful fantasy, and ends in two connected sadnesses which can never be erased: the defeat of Wales and the realisation that “we’re who we are” – an end to childhood.  

         Dreams and fantasy fuel much of Evans’s poetry, the paradox being that they earth him in the single place he writes from.  He dreams of being in bed with the great blues “moaner” Ma Rainey; he rides “on the trail of the buffalo” with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot; he is an extra in a Spaghetti western “with an unforgettable score”. He dreams simply “of a song”.

         Do you notice? Music is a constant – the devil’s tattoo. Most of the drunks are singing (usually “A lament for, and from, the anonymous”), Ma Rainey is singing Jelly Bean Blues, Coltrane’s sax is here beautifully kissing the breeze, Armstrong’s doing over ‘Stardust’, even a scarecrow sways like “a metronome to an orchestra / of gale and sleet”.

         Like the dreams of music, the myths of Wales, and the “ugly, lovely children’s world”, desire too keeps the poet busy.  The barmaids “come and go” (probably not talking of Michelangelo), and he dreams of pampering them all. Or, peering from a pub window in the touching ‘Not Raglan Road’, he watches a woman in suede boots: “There is only her moving through this world”.  The poet imagines “a handful / of raindrops may just find their resting place / in her hair”.  This image, almost clumsily described – “may just” is perfectly awkward – is delicately erotic. As is also the “fantasized unclothing” of the sycamore stem in ‘Carving a Lovespoon’. ‘Positions in Bed’ contains not only “an imagined lover” but also “dream pubs”.

         My favourite poem, and one I think would do well in schools (that sounds faintly praising but is not at all meant to), stands a little apart from the rest of the collection.  It is not confessional, and yet, insofar as Evans does come close to self-pity it may be the most confessional of them all.  It is called ‘Scarecrow’.  There is explicit analogy with the crucified Christ – “arms outstretched, forsaken, / he wears his unkempt crown”, and later “This son of Man // is blind to purpose, rooted in solitude” – but here there is no redemption.  The suggestion is of a godless world, and God does pop up more frequently in these poems than one at first notices.  How could he not, given the presence of the blues, of Guinness, of Wales?  But he’s here in passing, in ghostly form. The devil is much more real.  There is, in ‘Anticipating Pints of Stout’ a marvellous description of the drink lined up on a bar: “a lechery / of pint-sized priests to knock back without repentance”.  Drink, not religion, brings salvation.

         The collection ends as it began, in childhood, or rather in the memory of childhood, and reflections on the present:

 

I haunt our stomping grounds, my shadow striding

out before me: a giant ghost, coat flapping in the wind.

And the water before the weir forever lapping at the child.

 

         Do we have a word for nostalgia without the fleck of sentimentality that makes nostalgia kitsch? The Welsh word hiraeth is often translated as homesickness, but it may also denote a longing for the past.  Might it do to describe the spirit of these lines?  I don’t know.  I am not a Welsh-speaker, but maybe.

The devil’s tattoo drums through all our lives, and the poet’s desire that “the familiar must become the unfamiliar” – which I take to be one of the things poetry does -  is what defies that beat and makes the real tolerable.  Sean O’Brien and Dylan Thomas are both presences here, both poets capable of seeing wonder in the quotidian.  It is an ability, a tendency, that Brett Evans aspires to, and often achieves, in this short, punchy, thoroughly engaging and coherent pamphlet.


Tuesday, 5 January 2021

BOOKS 2021

 Adele by Leila Slimani

The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence

Let Go My Hand by Edward Docx

Monday, 4 January 2021

From'Autumn Journal' by Louis MacNeice

 Louis MacNeice takes on a persona in the first part of 'Autumn Journal'.

And the train’s rhythm becomes the ad nauseam repetition
Of every tired aubade and maudlin madrigal,
The faded airs of sexual attraction
Wandering like dead leaves along a warehouse wall:
‘I loved my love with a platform ticket,
A jazz song,
A handbag, a pair of stockings of Paris Sand—
I loved her long.
I loved her between the lines and against the clock,
Not until death
But till life did us part I loved her with paper money
And with whisky on the breath.
I loved her with peacock’s eyes and the wares of Carthage,
With glass and gloves and gold and a powder puff
With blasphemy, camaraderie, and bravado
And lots of other stuff.
I loved my love with the wings of angels
Dipped in henna, unearthly red,
With my office hours, with flowers and sirens,
With my budget, my latchkey, and my daily bread.’

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Friday, 27 November 2020

Matilda Box

 Searching for for my great grandmother, Matilda Box, I came across this one, whom I suppose may have been one of my 32 great great great grandparents.  If so, thank you Mr Broderip



Wednesday, 18 November 2020

A MONTH IN SIENA by Hisham Matar

 


This is a remarkable, contemplative book. After finishing 'The Return', a book in which Matar returns to the land of his childhood, Libya, seeking, unsuccessfully, his father's fate at the hands of Gadaffi, the author goes to stay in Siena for a month to look at the city's art, which he has been longing to do for many years. He meets the city, he meets one or two of its people, and he looks at paintings for a long time. His look is not, however, strictly aesthetic, but rather that of a storyteller. His description of Ambrogio Lorenzetti's 'Madonna del latte' is a short classic of interpretation. As I read this book I found myself imagining I was inside a poem. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

EARLY SKETCH FOR SGT PEPPER ART WORK

Happy New Year, 1936 - deep in the heart of Merton
 

Trinity Ward Junior Imperial League members had their annual fancy dress dance in Gladstone Road on Saturday.  
Prizes were awarded for the best impersonation of film stars.

Harry Stroud's Bohemians in attendance, Beatles not having been born yet