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Perhaps A Great Age

March 18, 2012

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A great age of literature is perhaps always a great age of translations.Ezra Pound

The ever-wise Inez, seeing that I’m in a near-fluent frame of mind at the moment, urged me to return to the practice of encouraging you all to try your hands at translations again. More fodder for Perp Walk.

So here’s one from me:


Brise Marine

La chair est triste, hélas! et j’ai lu tous les livres.
Fuir! là-bas fuir! Je sens que des oiseaux sont ivres
D’être parmi l’écume inconnue et les cieux!
Rien, ni les vieux jardins reflétés par les yeux
Ne retiendra ce coeur qui dans la mer se trempe
O nuits! ni la clarté déserte de ma lampe
Sur le vide papier que la blancheur défend
Et ni la jeune femme allaitant son enfant.
Je partirai! Steamer balançant ta mâture,
Lève l’ancre pour une exotique nature!
Un Ennui, désolé par les cruels espoirs,
Croit encore à l’adieu suprême des mouchoirs!
Et, peut-être, les mâts, invitant les orages
Sont-ils de ceux qu’un vent penche sur les naufrages
Perdus, sans mâts, sans mâts, ni fertiles îlots…
Mais, ô mon coeur, entends le chant des matelots!

— Stéphane Mallarmé

…and from the sublime to:

Sea Breeze

The flesh, alas, is sad, and I’ve read too many books.
I should flee, break-out, escape somewhere far away.
To be as sky-intoxicated as the birds, quite at home
amidst strange clouds and foam and craggy nooks.
Not even old gardens, reflected in my eyes, I see,
shall keep me from soaking my arid heart at sea.
Nor the dimming lights of lamps on empty paper,
guarded against me by their virginal white,
nor the feeding child and the young wife.
I will depart, masts swaying, the singing of rope;
the anchor weighed and taut with hope
for strange lands and stranger lives.

Only ingrained tedium believes in the sadness
of the farewell handkerchief waved; and perhaps madness
in seeking storm and gale, masts down and vessel sunk…
But, oh, how the song of the sailor makes me drunk.

What the hell: beats doing crossword puzzles or counting the lies politicians tell in a single day.

Anyway, anything’s better than driving you all into politely bored (albeit doubtless genuine) concern with my personal problems. We must all try to choose to be brave or into doing a passable impersonation of bravery.

Go to it, my dears…

The Touch That Topples Man and Rock

March 16, 2012

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Happiness consumes itself like a flame. It cannot burn for ever, it must go out, and the presentiment of its end destroys it at its very peak.

August Strindberg, A Dream Play

Yet with petty misery
At heart, a petty misery,

Ever the prelude to your end,
The touch that topples man and rock.

Wallace Stevens, The Man With The Blue Guitar (1937)

I’m exceedingly fond of all of you and I felt that I need to explain my lack of engagement and communication. I feel that I owe it to you for all that you’ve given me over the last few years.

This is, I cannot deny, an almost insurmountably difficult post for me to write. I’ve always been of a melancholy disposition: the product, I suppose of education, experience, life and natural inclination.

But it was never a ‘problem’. I recognised it and fought it with humour and an understanding of life’s inherent absurdity.

Over the last year, however, I have been subjected to something that I find almost impossible to describe: if you’ve never been there, then you can never know it.

I’ve been having prolonged periods of what doctors call ‘clinical depression’. The whys and hows of it don’t signify: all that matters is the terror it induces.

When Inez came downstairs at 3 AM to find me sobbing uncontrollably and incapable of explaining why, she insisted I see a doctor.

It is almost impossible for me to describe the sensation; not mere ‘futility’ or ‘hopelessness’; these are commonplace.

What this is is a negation of life: a feeling that life is not simply ‘futile’ or ‘pointless’, but inimical; bleakly and malignantly hostile.

I now understand something that I never had before; why people kill themselves for no discernible reason.

I’m on medication that the doctors, with their touching faith, have prescribed. It allows me to function; it keeps the horror at bay.

But it makes me less than what I was. I feel dull, moving through a fog; listless and incapable of interesting myself in anything. The ability to enthuse is absent.

The doctors believe that my system will rebalance itself, after a long spell of self-abuse. I have to believe this. There was never a man with less reason to be unhappy.

I just wanted you, my friends (albeit digital) to understand why I’ve been so unengaged and uncommunicative.

I know you’ll wish me well and I’m determined to get through this and return to myself. I will or die trying.

Love, Mishari

The Brutish Bile Of Britain’s Worst Newspaper

February 19, 2012

“a flagellated protozoan parasite that colonizes and reproduces in the small intestine…”

How very apt. A paper that produces shit.

These are the poems of mine that the vermin at the Guardian deleted from Poster Poems (the theme was February), because they dislike me; why wouldn’t they? Mediocrity always hates talent. Luckily hic liked them enough to save them: I had no copies. Welcome to Con-Dem Britain, the Guardian paradise.


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Yesterday’s Guardian front page informed us that the Dutch Crown Prince had been ‘injured’ skiing.

Truly, a paper for these degraded times and worthy of the gossip-columnist Pooter Rusbridger. I think I’m going to be very ill now: excuse me…

PS: Here’s another poem the dullards deleted; alright, the username was a bit of effrontery, but, hey…I’m an effrontery kind of a guy.

The point is: it’s a goddamn poem; maybe not a good one, but a poem. To delete art, however minor, merely out of slavish rule-loving and spite is the mark of the degraded and base.

Anyway, thanks to the ever-wonderful hic, it was saved and here it is, for better or worse (worse -Ed.):

I think it’s much better than the rewrite that I tried from memory for hic’s sake.

Break Me In Pieces With Words

January 23, 2012

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How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words?Job 19:2, The King James Bible

I’ve decided to conduct a little experiment. I was inspired by a news story in The Grauniad about a writer of ebooks who had just sold her millionth ebook. However, all was not leeches and cream in the world of self-published ebooks. According to The Grauniad:

Hocking became so burned out by the stress of solo publishing that she has turned for help to the same traditional book world that previously rejected her and which she was seen as attacking. For $2.1m, she has signed up with St Martin’s Press in the US and Pan Macmillan in the UK to publish her next tranche of books. The deal kicks off this month with a paperback version of Switched. It’s a fast-paced romance featuring changeling trolls called Trylle who are switched at birth with human babies. The novel cannot be classed as literary…

That last line is a beauty: “The novel cannot be classed as literary…“.

What? A “…fast-paced romance featuring changeling trolls…“? Sounds pretty literary to me, buddy.

Curiosity piqued, I searched out and read some of this woman’s prose. Merciful God, it was wretched stuff. I was both appalled and intrigued.

Appalled, obviously, by the eye-wateringly duff writing; but intrigued by the notion that any idiot, be they ever so inept and talentless, can (and evidently does) upload and sell an ebook (or a multitude of ebooks) on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iPad bookshop, Sony’s ebook shop etc etc, at virtually no cost to themselves.

I got to wondering just how easy it would be to write and publish a best selling ebook.

So, I did a little research. First off, I looked at Amazon’s best selling ebooks. They fell into four distinct categories: Romance (which includes the sub-genre of ‘vampire’ romance); Crime (fiction); Fantasy; and Spritual Journey/Self-Awakening (How Ah Wuz Saved Bah Jeesus; that kind of thing).

Then I bought and downloaded the best-selling ebook in each category and read them (God help me).

I opened a ‘Publisher’ account with smashwords (this allows me to upload any number of books by any number of pseudonymous authors but with all royalties. copyrights etc accruing to me)

Then I bought the latest version of Dragon Naturally Speaking, far and away the most advanced speech-recognition software on the market (Apple’s ‘Siri’ is build around Dragon’s code).

Then I bought 10 grams of ethylphenidate, an isomer of methylphenidate (Ritalin), a powerful central nervous system stimulant, structurally related to cocaine and perfectly legal, from a UK website; it really is remarkable stuff; one small line (about 100 mgs.) and I scoured the house for things to fix/clean/tinker with/re-arrange.

Finally, having driven Inez crazy with my get-up-and-go, she urged me to get-up-and-go. “For God’s sake, go and ride your new bicycle; it’s exhausting to watch you.”

Talking to a graphic designer friend gave me one last pre-mission task: make sure that the books have arresting covers.

So I got some ebook cover-making software and roped Inez and the children into my project. I instructed them to go online and look at ebook covers, at Amazon, at Barnes&Noble etc; right-click-and-save the ones that catch your eye, ones that get your attention; don’t think, I told them: just respond. I want at least a dozen covers from each of you.

When the time comes, I’ll analyze these covers and try to work out what makes them arresting. According to my graphic designer friend, an eye-catching cover can boost sales by %30 to %50.

Now all I have to do is write four books in a month (the mission I’ve set myself). But fueled by a powerful CNS-stimulant and with Dragon transcribing my dictation at 300 words-per-minute, a daily total of 100,000 words is eminently do-able. But I think doing 20,000 words-per-day, five days a week is more than sufficient

We’re not talking about deathless prose here.

Joyce, Stendhal and David Foster Wallace are not going to be fearing for their laurels. This is a cynical experiment in creating, designing and selling a ‘product’. The product happens to be words, in the form of books.

Part of me feels a fleeting sense of shame, as though I’m betraying a lifetime’s love of books, as I imagine I’d feel if I slept with a prostitute when I have a wife I don’t deserve at home.

But I take some comfort in the thought that no matter how awful, how mawkish, how cliched, how conservative (because one thing I learned was that ‘best sellers’ are inherently conservative, in every respect), no matter how shamelessly trite these books might be, nothing I write will ever, ever be as aesthetically repugnant, as morally bankrupt and as stylistically inept as the works of Dan Brown. I couldn’t be that bad even if I wanted to.

But I have one last task: the choice of noms de plume, so I’m asking for suggestions. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Romance/Vampire: Cruella Hawksmoor, Circe Warmbloode, Jocasta De Sade; Selene de Pudenda

Saved By Jesus/Recovered From (you name it): Billy Ray Earl; Earl Ray Billy; Ray Billy Earl; Jimmy Lee Hushpuppy, Billy Bob Cornpone

Crime/Thriller: Harry Slade; Jack Sharpe; John Broke; Nick Fang; Chuck Dick; Ray Clit

Fantasy novel: Alex de Crise-Cardiaque; Theodore Bildungsroman; Wolfe Hundekuchen; Reymondo Galleta Paraperros

Let me have some ideas. The first million earned will go towards chartering this yacht and taking you all for a two-week cruise (extensions possible)…so get cracking.

R.I.P. Johnny Otis, ‘Godfather of Rhythm and Blues’

January 21, 2012

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Johnny Otis, the musician, bandleader, songwriter, impresario, disc jockey and talent scout who was often called “the godfather of rhythm and blues,” died on Tuesday at his home in Altadena, Calif. He was 90.

Leading a band in the late 1940s that combined the high musical standards of big band jazz with the raw urgency of gospel music and the blues, Mr. Otis played an important role in creating a new sound for a new audience of young urban blacks. Within a few years it would form the foundation of rock ’n’ roll.

With a keen ear for talent, he helped steer a long list of performers to stardom, among them Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Esther Phillips and Big Mama Thornton — whose hit recording of “Hound Dog,” made in 1952, four years before Elvis Presley’s, was produced by Mr. Otis and featured him on drums.

At Mr. Otis’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Ms. James referred to him as her “guru.” (He received similar honors from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and the Blues Foundation.)

Mr. Otis was also a political activist, a preacher, an artist, an author and even, late in life, an organic farmer. But it was in music that he left his most lasting mark.

Despite being a mover and shaker in the world of black music, Mr. Otis was not black, which as far as he was concerned was simply an accident of birth. He was immersed in African-American culture from an early age and said he considered himself “black by persuasion.”

“Genetically, I’m pure Greek,” he told The San Jose Mercury News in 1994. “Psychologically, environmentally, culturally, by choice, I’m a member of the black community.”

As a musician (he played piano and vibraphone in addition to drums) Mr. Otis can be heard on Johnny Ace’s “Pledging My Love,” Charles Brown’s “Drifting Blues” and other seminal rhythm and blues records, as well as on jazz recordings by Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet.

As a bandleader and occasional vocalist, he had a string of rhythm and blues hits in the early 1950s and a Top 10 pop hit in 1958 with his composition “Willie and the Hand Jive,” later covered by Eric Clapton and others. His many other compositions included “Every Beat of My Heart,” a Top 10 hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1961.

As a disc jockey (he was on the radio for decades starting in the 1950s and had his own Los Angeles television show from 1954 to 1961) he helped bring black vernacular music into the American mainstream.

Johnny Otis was born John Alexander Veliotes (some sources give his first name as Ioannis) on Dec. 28, 1921, in Vallejo, Calif., the son of Greek immigrants who ran a grocery. He grew up in a predominantly black area of Berkeley. Mr. Otis began his career as a drummer in 1939. In 1945 he formed a 16-piece band and recorded his first hit, “Harlem Nocturne.”

As big bands fell out of fashion, Mr. Otis stripped the ensemble down to just a few horns and a rhythm section and stepped to the forefront of the emerging rhythm and blues scene. In 1948 he and a partner opened a nightclub, the Barrelhouse, in the Watts section of Los Angeles.

From 1950 to 1952 Mr. Otis had 15 singles on Billboard’s rhythm and blues Top 40, including “Double Crossing Blues,” which was No. 1 for nine weeks. On the strength of that success he crisscrossed the country with his California Rhythm and Blues Caravan, featuring singers like Ms. Phillips, billed as Little Esther — whom he had discovered at a talent contest at his nightclub — and Hank Ballard, who a decade later would record the original version of “The Twist,” the song that ushered in a national dance craze.

Around this time Mr. Otis became a D.J. on the Los Angeles-area radio station KFOX. He was an immediate success, and soon had his own local television show as well. He had a weekly program on the Pacifica Radio Network in California from the 1970s until 2005.

Hundreds of Mr. Otis’s radio and television shows are archived at Indiana University. In addition, he is the subject of a coming documentary film, “Every Beat of My Heart: The Johnny Otis Story,” directed by Bruce Schmiechen, and a biography, “Midnight at the Barrelhouse,” by George Lipsitz, published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2010.

While he never stopped making music as long as his health allowed, Mr. Otis focused much of his attention in the 1960s on politics and the civil rights movement. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the California State Assembly and served on the staff of Mervyn M. Dymally, a Democratic assemblyman who later became a United States representative and California’s first black lieutenant governor.

Mr. Otis’s first book, “Listen to the Lambs” (1968), was largely a reflection on the political and social significance of the 1965 Watts riots.

In the mid-1970s Mr. Otis branched out further when he was ordained as a minister and opened the nondenominational Landmark Community Church in Los Angeles. While he acknowledged that some people attended just “to see what Reverend Hand Jive was talking about,” he took his position seriously and in his decade as pastor was involved in charitable work including feeding the homeless.

In the early 1990s he moved to Sebastopol, an agricultural town in northern California, and became an organic farmer, a career detour that he said was motivated by his concern for the environment. For several years he made and sold his own brand of apple juice in a store he opened to sell the produce he grew with his son Nick. The store doubled as a nightclub where Mr. Otis and his band performed.

Later that decade he published three more books: “Upside Your Head!: Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue” (1993), a memoir of his musical life; “Colors and Chords” (1995), a collection of his paintings, sculptures, wood carvings and cartoons (his interest in art had begun when he started sketching cartoons on his tour bus in the 1950s to amuse his band); and “Red Beans & Rice and Other Rock ’n’ Roll Recipes” (1997), a cookbook.

Mr. Otis continued to record and perform into the 21st century. His bands often included family members: his son John Jr., known as Shuggie, is a celebrated guitarist who played with him for many years, and Nick was his longtime drummer. Two grandsons, Lucky and Eric Otis, also played guitar with him.

In addition to his sons, he is survived by his wife of 70 years, the former Phyllis Walker; two daughters, Janice Johnson and Laura Johnson; nine grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandchild.

Long after he was a force on the rhythm and blues charts, Mr. Otis was a familiar presence at blues and even jazz festivals. What people wanted to call his music, he said, was of no concern to him.

“Society wants to categorize everything, but to me it’s all African-American music,” he told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1993. “The music isn’t just the notes, it’s the culture — the way Grandma cooked, the way Grandpa told stories, the way the kids walked and talked.” -The NYT, today

Everything Must Fuckin’ Go…

January 9, 2012

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What can I say? The Japanese take their after-Christmas sales very, very seriously.

Hope Springs Infernal

January 4, 2012

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A Lexington man is accused trying to use a fake $1 million bill to pay for his purchases at a Walmart.

Michael Anthony Fuller, 53, of 3 Parker St., walked into the Walmart on Lowes Boulevard in Lexington on Nov. 17. He shopped for a while, picking up a vacuum cleaner, a microwave oven and other merchandise, totaling $476, an arrest warrant says.

When he got to the register, Fuller gave the cashier the phony bill, saying that it was real.

Store staff called police. — Winston-Salem Journal, December 31, 2011

Now, there’s a fellow who decided to start the new year in an optimistic frame of mind. For the rest of us, Kali, goddess of time, has simply turned the page and started a new chapter of this ongoing farce we call ‘life’.

So, where do we stand at the dawn of 2012? Well, Saudi Arabian lingerie shops are to employ women. Fabulous news for the hardline Islamic clerics who abhor the thought of women buying anything from male sales-clerks…or so you’d think; but you’d be wrong. The Islamo-nutcases still aren’t happy.

According to Saudi’s Arabia’s most senior cleric, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh:

“The employment of women in stores that sell female apparel and a woman standing face to face with a man selling to him without modesty or shame can lead to wrongdoing, of which the burden of this will fall on the owners of the stores,” he said.

Better news is that the great Aretha Franklin is getting married (at 69): “not because I’m pregnant” she said. Let’s wish her well and remind ourselves of just how great she is HERE and HERE.

Further, there’s good news for British men who felt that they were losing out in the exotica stakes: A Swiss genetics company has claimed that up to 70 per cent of British men are related to the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Not such good news for Norwegians in the northerly district of Nordreisa: they woke up the other morning to find 20 tons of dead herring on the beach. That’s a lot of kippers.

Nor was there good news for THIS GUY, winner of the 2011 Darwin Award. You have to watch this 40 second video: you’ll laugh; then you’ll feel guilty; then you’ll shrug and laugh again.

In politics, all is gloom and foreboding. We are governed by thugs, buffoons, charlatans and crooks. Inevitably, they all bleat about the joys of ‘democracy’, for all the world as though the game wasn’t rigged.

Obama’s latest enormity, the signing into law of the National Defense Authorization Act , allowing indefinite detention to be codified into law, is just the latest contemptuous spit in liberty’s face from a Wall St. lackey.

His excuse (the same excuse that Bush and Cheney used to enact the Patriot Act, which trampled the Constitution and the Bill of Rights into the dirt) was, inevitably, security: terrorism, a straw-man so huge that one could burn an infinity of Edward Woodwards in it.

Here in the UK, Cameron and Osborne lie and lie while enacting gratuitously cruel legislation and our lapdog media allows them to get away with it.

The real problem was lucidly set out by Rudolf Rocker almost 70 years ago:

“Political rights do not originate in parliaments; they are, rather, forced upon parliaments from without. And even their enactment into law has for a long time been no guarantee of their security.

Just as the employers always try to nullify every concession they had made to labour as soon as opportunity offered, as soon as any signs of weakness were observable in the workers’ organizations, so governments also are always inclined to restrict or to abrogate completely rights and freedoms that have been achieved if they imagine that the people will put up no resistance.

Even in those countries where such things as freedom of the press, right of assembly, right of combination, and the like have long existed, governments are constantly trying to restrict those rights or to reinterpret them by juridical hair-splitting.

Political rights do not exist because they have been legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet with the violent resistance of the populace . Where this is not the case, there is no help in any parliamentary Opposition or any Platonic appeals to the constitution.”

– Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory & Practice, 1947

Personally, I believe that the general populace–‘doped with religion and sex and TV’ in John Lennon’s words–have lost Rocker’s ‘in-grown habit’ of liberty. Witness the ease with which the New Labour chipped away at civil liberties with hardly a peep out of the general populace. As G.B. Shaw once wrote:

…if Despotism failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance has Democracy, which requires a whole population of capable voters: that is, of political critics who, if they cannot govern in person for lack of spare energy or specific talent for administration, can at least recognize and appreciate capacity and benevolence in others, and so govern through capably benevolent representatives? Where are such voters to be found to-day? Nowhere.

G.B. Shaw in the Preface to Man and Superman (1903)

Goebbel’s ‘big lie’ is as effective today as it ever was: tell the people they’re under some terrible threat, frighten them enough and watch how fast they knuckle under to a suspension of habeus corpus, how quickly they turn informer and spy, how rapidly they come to hate the ‘other’, the ‘stranger’ in their midst. As Charles Mackay put it in his indispensable Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841):

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Of course, in the age of nuclear weapons, people might not have the luxury of ‘recovering their senses slowly, one by one‘.

That’s why the charlatans and shills like Cameron and Obama are a menace, as mediocre as they are: they peddle a lie, a lie that seeks to lull people into bovine acquiescence, dull-eyed and ready for the slaughter.

Benign governments and ethical corporations, the toxic neo-liberal fantasy: fuck that for a lark.

I suppose we must take what comfort and consolation we can in poetry.

“The mind has added nothing to nature. It is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without. It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality. It seems, in the last analysis, to have something to do with our self-preservation, and that, no doubt, is why the expression of it, the sound of its words, helps us to live our lives.”

Wallace Stevens, from “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words” (a lecture given at Princeton University in 1941)

Here’s to ‘helping us save our lives’ over the coming year. I don’t suppose this will help but one has to start somewhere:

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Boneyard Tango

Slithering through the splintered past,
the ancestors come calling;
ditch the buggers, ditch them fast:
their manners are appalling.

Tamp them down,
stamp them down,
plant the bastards underground;
sink them in the briny deep:
their secrets are their own to keep.

Over memory’s broken wall,
the old ones hop and bound and crawl;
trip them, block them, watch them fall,
they’ve got no common-sense at all.

Slow them up,
blow them up,
clamp their mouths and sew them up;
shovel them back in their graves:
for we all know that Jesus saves.

The past is dead, let’s keep it so,
there’s things that we don’t need to know,
the present’s hard enough to bear:
the future? Hell, let’s not go there.

Knock them out,
block them out,
the ghosts are dead so lock them out;
stop the clocks and burn the books:
the past’s all lies writ down by crooks.

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