Tuesday, 20 April 2021
Friday, 16 April 2021
Can't resist this. An extract in The Guardian last year from Robert McCrum's terrific book 'Shakespearean' in which he introduces 'the Shakespeare Club'. I am a proud member, here identified as 'the archivist' (which I'm not really, only more so than the others).
Thursday, 4 March 2021
|A. E. Housman (1859–1936). A Shropshire Lad. 1896.|
|XXXVI. White in the moon the long road lies|
Monday, 22 February 2021
Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Tuesday, 16 February 2021
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
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.
Wednesday, 13 January 2021
Tuesday, 5 January 2021
Adele by Leila Slimani
The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
Let Go My Hand by Edward Docx
The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
Living on the Volcano by Michael Calvin
On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming
Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin
Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
Invincible Summer by Alice Adams
Monday, 4 January 2021
Louis MacNeice takes on a persona in the first part of 'Autumn Journal'.