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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.

There Is No Sanity Clause

December 23, 2011

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So, another year of good conversation and good verse comes to an end. Three years; who imagined it would last this long? Not me.

Thanks to all of you. Have an enjoyable Festivus and we’ll meet again in the new year…same time, same place; you’ll know me because I’ll be wearing a red rose in my button-hole and carrying a copy of The Collected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke; the password is sic semper tyrannis. Until then…

I Listen To Money Singing

December 17, 2011

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I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

from Money by Phillip Larkin

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Thinking about the insanity of Capitalism as it stands today is enough to drive you, gibbering and tearing out your hair, into an early grave. The whole set-up verges on the surreal. Verges? What am I saying? ‘Verges’ be damned: the whole shebang has gone, Gadarene swine-like, over the fucking cliff.

In the 1930s, someone (memory fails me but I’m guessing Larry Durrell) asked Henry Miller to write an essay on economics (‘the dismal science’ appellation is half right: it is dismal) for one of those literary magazines that used to spring-up overnight like mushrooms…and vanish just as quickly.

Initially, Miller took the job seriously; but after hacking his way through a few thickets of economic ‘analysis’, ‘history’ and ‘philosophy’, Miller baulked–the stuff was dross on an epic scale.

What he wrote instead was a very funny, tongue-firmly-in-cheek essay called Money and How It Gets That Way. I wish I had a copy to hand or even remembered where in his works it appears, but I don’t and can only recall laughing uproariously and being impressed at the astuteness of some of Miller’s insights.

Faced with the same task today, I suspect that even Miller, a happy-go-lucky sort if ever there was one, would have turned to the rope, the razor or the revolver.

Consider, for example, the ‘markets’, whose volatility, petulance and capriciousness have governments shitting themselves in terror; the ‘markets’ to whom governments must turn to ‘borrow’ money to carry-on the business of government.

How is this ‘borrowing’ accomplished? Through the sale of government ‘bonds’, which are essentially I.O.U.s. The markets purchase these bonds and demand a sum of interest be paid on the bonds that the markets (via the medium of the credit-rating agencies) decide is commensurate with the degree of ‘risk’ involved in buying bonds from (i.e. lending money to) this or that sovereign government.

And here’s where things become so warped, so bizarre, so flat-out fucking insane that it makes my brain hurt to think about it.

How do the ‘markets’ (i.e the various banks and bond-dealers) pay for these bonds? As things stand (and have stood for the last 4 years), they use money, issued by governments, that they have ‘borrowed’ (in a process called, for some reason known only to God and Mammon, as ‘Quantitative Easing’) virtually interest-free…from governments.

Think about this.

The Government, who profess themselves to be in dire need of money, print money.

They then lend that money to banks and financial institutions at almost zero-interest.

The Government then announces that it will be holding a sale of government bonds.

The markets, guided by the ratings agencies, declare that the government’s finances are in a parlous state and the markets demand a higher return of interest on the bonds.

The government acquiesces and offers the markets a higher return on the bonds.

The markets then buy the government bonds, while at the same time announcing that the higher rate of interest being paid on the bonds is evidence that the government’s finances are in a precarious state; that lending to the government is increasingly risky and that the markets will require a higher return of interest if they are to buy the next tranche of bonds.

In a swift, swivel-eyed, howling-at-the-moon nutshell, I repeat: the government prints money; the government then lends that money to the markets at zero-interest; the markets then lend that money back to the government at increasingly high rates of interest.

Meanwhile, the markets are demanding that the government institute more ‘austerity measures’ because the government–you know…the government that printed the money and lent it to the markets so that the markets could lend it back to the government: that government–is a bad loan-risk.

Every time I try to process this lunatic scenario a little bit of my brain turns to tapioca and I have to begin again.

It’s official: the whole fucking world has fallen down a rabbit hole and has started having conversations with hookah-smoking giant caterpillars and talking playing-cards.

Time for poems about money or the lack thereof…again; and here’s an old one of mine…again:

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A La Carte

Money is tight and it’s going to get tighter;
cinch-up your belt and get set for the storm.
Your pockets are light and they’re going to get lighter;
our passions are cold and our soup is luke-warm.

Bodies are stacked in the street like cut fire-wood;
burn them for fuel when they’ve dried out enough.
The parks are all deserts where trees had once stood:
denuded entire of all burnable stuff.

Eat all the rich and the fat and your pets:
we’d eat humble pie but the pies are long gone;
stone-soup and dream bread are as good as it gets;
we ate all the frogs: now there’s none left to spawn.

I’ve eaten the kids and the wife was a treat;
the postman was quick, but not near quick as me;
I’d eat my own leg if it had any meat:
Oh, for a fat politician or three.

Seasonal Procrastination Post

December 11, 2011

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Dream Song 122: He published his girl’s bottom in staid pages

He published his girl’s bottom in staid pages
of an old weekly. Where will next his rages
ridiculous Henry land?
Tranquil & chaste, de-hammocked, he descended—
upon which note the fable should have ended—
towards the ground, and

while fable wound itself upon him thick
and coats upon his tongue formed, white, terrific:
he stretched out still.
Assembled bands to do obsequious music
at hopeless noon. He bayed before he obeyed,
doing at last their will.

This seemed perhaps one of the best of dogs
during his barking. Many thronged & lapped
at his delicious stone.
Cats to a distance kept—one of their own—
having in mind that down he lay & napped
in the realm of whiskers & fogs.

John Berryman (1914 – 1972)

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I suppose we could have some seasonal poems, if you’ve any inclination to versifying…here are a couple of my oldies:

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There Is A Sanity Clause

I like having a tree;
its significance (for me)
is far from the rites
of bear-skin berserkers
and cold forest nights;
but the bedouin dream:
growing things; green.

I enjoy the children’s hints
and oh-so-casual asides:
isn’t the new Powerbook nice?
I pretend I’m distracted
and become absorbed
in something at the end of my leg;
Is that a foot? Good Lord:
How interesting.
They see through my fraud.

I like the smells, the sounds, the tastes;
pine needles, brandy and burning log;
excited children, a sense of place;
purring cat and fat warm dog;
and I like lying in bed later on
as my wife, that fine and rare jewel,
gently strokes my face and looks fond
and says ‘You’re not so bad for a fool.’

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…and now, for a more typical School of Pepper effort:

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The Night Before Christmas In Bethlehem Hospital

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T’was the night before Christmas when all through the wards,
not an inmate was sleeping, not Mowbray, not Swords,
and Henry Lloyd Moon hung himself from the tree,
while one far-gone loon wailed that Poland was free.

In the doctor’s lounge shivered Rumens and Mills,
gargling vodka and inhaling pills:
It’s freezing and frankly this whole thing’s a bummer;
couldn’t the bugger have been born in the summer
?’

Come Fly With Me

November 19, 2011

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I watched the first 5 or 6 episodes of the new US TV drama Pan Am but gave up on it because, frankly: it’s absolute crap. Glossy soap-opera for easy-to-please nostalgics and the credulous young.

This sort of infantile, trolly-dolly romance was being written in the 40s, 50s and 60s —Shirley Flight: Air Hostess was the British version; Vicki Barr: Flight Stewardess, the American– and the genre hasn’t improved with age.

The premise of the series is that the 60s were the ‘golden age’ of air travel but this is arrant nonsense. If anything, the 60s were the end of a golden age of air travel–at least, to anyone who values the civilised pleasures of comfort, good food, legroom and headroom. Although, to be fair, the 60s trolly-dollys did look rather good, in that primped and coiffed, girdle-strangled, sheer-stockinged way that they had.

The truth is, the 1960s weren’t even the ‘golden age’ of Pan Am; that was the 1930s and 40s, when Pan Am had its ‘Clipper’ service of flying boats:

While Pan Am’s flying boats generally came to be known as Clippers, the planes, themselves, were actually comprised of three different models: the Sikorsky S-42, the Martin M-130, and the Boeing 314. Luxury was the common theme to all three planes. In the 1930s, Pan Am founder Juan Trippe believed in providing his customers an extravagant travelling experience, one which rivalled the comforts of a grand luxury ocean liner. Passengers enjoyed the finest food, drink and amenities while traversing the seas.

The largest of Pan Am’s flying boats was the Boeing 314, which entered service in 1939. Not until 30 years later with the arrival of the 747 would a commercial plane surpass the 314 in size. It could carry up to 74 passengers during day flights while offering sleeping accommodations for up to 36 passengers. Unlike today’s commercial planes, the 314 – as well as the other Clippers – were divided into several luxurious cabin compartments including a stateroom, dressing rooms, and men’s and women’s restrooms. The 314 featured a separate dining room where passengers were served full-course meals. — pbs.org

But to see really luxurious air-travel –room, comfort and service to match an ocean liner– you have to go back a little further, to the age of the airship. Have a look at these photos of the interior of the Hindenburg: now, call to mind your last flight. Depressing, isn’t it?

I took my first flight in 1958, on a BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) Vickers Viscount: it had propellers. I remember being excited as a 7 or 8 year-old, to fly on a BOAC Comet, the first jet-powered commercial airliner. I became blasé about flying at a very young age and only expressed mild interest when I first flew on BOAC’s latest jet marvel, the VC-10 with its rear-mounted quartet of engines. Jaded at the age of 12: mine has been a sad life.

Flying from Boston, Mass. to Beirut, on my way back to school, I had the Pan Am stewardesses in stitches at my urbane 15 year-old ways. Asked if I wanted a drink, I’d place an unfiltered Lucky Strike between my lips, raise a quizzical eyebrow the way I’d seen Cary Grant do it in the movies, and ask for a highball: then I’d set fire to my nose. After they’d stopped laughing, they’d ask me if I was serious: I was.

“Rye whisky and ginger-ale”, I’d explain; a friend of mine, the son of a prominent Boston restaurateur, had introduced them to me over the summer and I thought they were the height of sophistication. Previously, what we’d drank had been the most gag-inducing combination of spirits that we’d stolen from our parents’ drinks-cabinets and mixed together: vile stuff but it got you drunk. In a way, the highball was a step into young adulthood.

The stewardesses would all come over to gaze at this modern marvel–the boy who smokes and drinks–and they spent more time with me than was entirely proper. In truth, they weren’t much older than me and compared to fat, drunken businessmen grabbing their bottoms, I must have been quite refreshing: I wasn’t a ‘grabber’, I had nice manners and I listened to the same music that they did.

But it wasn’t a ‘golden age’. I missed that. I fly as little as I can now: I much prefer trains–more civilised. There’s been talk for the last few years of bringing back the airship. I hope they do. In the meantime, let’s have poems on air travel. Up, up and away…

Little Big Man

November 9, 2011

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Thinking about Billy’s poem on Poem of The Week and trying to analyze just what it was about it that so signally failed to move me, I started thinking about childhood.

It make not seem like a natural progression but I was wondering what part or parts of me responded so strongly, so unequivocally to poems like Vachel Lindsay’s The Congo or Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman; to Lear’s The Akond of Swat and Eliot’s Macavity The Mystery Cat.

If you’d asked the 8 or 9 year-old me why I loved Noyes’ The Highwayman, I suppose I might have said: ‘because it’s a good story’; but I imagine that’s all I could have told you. Because the truth was, I didn’t know. My response to the poem was visceral and had nothing to do with reason or analysis. I loved it because I loved it.

I think that my responses, to this day, are more visceral than I care to admit. After all, I’m a grown-up and my responses should be those of a grown-up, at least that appears to be the consensus. So I’ve learned to rationalise with the best of them, as though there’s something shameful about instinct or gut-feeling.

Having reached a man’s estate, I can explain at great and tedious length why I love (or detest) a poem or a song. I can even be fairly plausible. But I suspect that behind the glib verbiage is the old visceral response. I love it (or hate it) because I love it (or hate it). The covert child’s response still underlies the overt response.

And maybe, just maybe the child’s response is more trustworthy, more truthful, more genuine than the ‘considered’ response. After the child’s response comes only artifice. However, one cannot, without appearing a fool or a philistine, simply say ‘I don’t like this poem because I don’t like it’.

But that is the reason that Billy’s poem does nothing for me. I can try, and did try, to explain my reaction in mature, adult terms but any such explanation is doomed to failure because it is post hoc rationalisation of a response that I can’t baldly state without appearing, well…childish.

Anyway…

It’s time we got back to writing verse. I’m getting slack. Partly, it’s been the absence of our old friend and frequent inspiration, Mowbray. Partly it’s because I’m a lazy bastard. Well, no more.

Let’s have childhood poems, please. About your own childhood; someone else’s; an imagined childhood or one you read about. Possibly even your (or should that be ‘my’) never-ending childhood. No matter. Hurry…you’re already late for classes and you’ll get no sick-note from me.

Here’s an old one of mine:

The Boy In The Bunker

I enjoy kicking my way through drifts
of dry and dead leaves, memory shifts:
I’m a small boy again, leaving a wake
that rustles noisily, brown and dry,
under a damp leaden November sky.

I still look at trees and think:
Is that a good climbing tree?
The qualities I see are a link
with the boy; with the animal joy
of feeling my gibbon ancestors.

I still look at hill-tops and woods
and weigh their merits as robber dens;
I kept thinking, on a visit to the Fens,
a fellow could hide out here for good:
It makes absolutely perfect sense
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I still look at tunnels and wonder:
where does that lead? If I need
an escape route, will that do?

I can’t see a derelict house without
imagining long-lost treasure hoards:
gold coins beneath the floor-boards.

The boy never really grew up nor
went away; he’s still there today,
regarding me with a mocking eye,
scorning pretension, guarding the door
that opens on dismal, on false, on grey;
quick to say: hate this, hate that; dunno why.
All I can tell you: I know it’s a lie
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Joseph William Frazier: Bloodied But Unbowed

November 8, 2011

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It’s a pointless speculation, but it might be interesting to wonder just where Joe Frazier would be today without those little run-ins with Muhammad Ali. Well, he’d probably be alive, for one thing. That’s a good theory for starters.

Word came Monday that Frazier died of liver cancer at 67. Maybe that would have overtaken him in any event. But anybody who saw any of those three fights, particularly the two horrifying bookends of their heroic trilogy, would not be insulting medical opinion if he guessed Ali somehow had a hand in Frazier’s ultimate mortality.

Those two fights, especially their first meeting in the Garden 40 years ago, and even more especially 1975’s Thrilla in Manila, the fight that essentially ended their careers, were such violent affairs, such protracted examples of desperation, that any seasons lived beyond them have to be considered a kind of boxing gravy.

They were not heavyweight title fights so much as near-death experiences, a brutally choreographed and lightly regulated self-destruction, their pride and ambition so inflamed that survival was no longer part of either fighter’s plan.

It was bad, bad. Frazier won the first fight and spent three weeks in the hospital. Ali won the last and spent most of the rest of his life locked behind the mask of Parkinson’s, shut up for good. Collateral damage is an insufficient descriptor.

Forever after, those run-ins became a catchphrase for an exaggerated style of competition, for when athletic urgency just went a little too far, got out of hand, produced something both awful and wonderful, created injury disproportionate to any possible rewards. We hear it to this day: It was good, but it was no Ali-Frazier.

Whether or not he’d still be alive without Ali, it’s probably more of a certainty that he’d have been happy. The two had begun as friends, Frazier something more than a place-holder while Ali endured a political exile smack dab in the middle of his prime.

Frazier, the son of a South Carolina sharecropper, had easily captured the heavyweight title in Ali’s absence, his relentless style a slightly reconsidered version of a threshing machine. It was not at all obvious that Ali, even if he were reinstated, could cope with this new and improved whirly-gig. Frazier was not called Smokin’ Joe for nothing.

That the fight did happen was more a result of Frazier’s respect for Ali, the champion willing to forgo a bigger split to help a guy out. Frazier had befriended Ali on several occasions, throwing timely lifelines, notably petitioning President Nixon to reinstate the former champ, but this one was the most important. And Ali was not unappreciative, the two of them more like brothers than rivals during Ali’s suspension from boxing.

Yet when it came time for the fight, Ali went off the promotional rails and began marketing the bout — in 1971 after all — as a cultural and political referendum. Ali would be the revolutionary, the man of the times; Frazier would be the Uncle Tom, a sociological and perhaps athletic throwback. Frazier was stunned, aggrieved, hurt.

Perhaps the fury of that fight was heightened by the back story, though most likely it was simply what happened whenever you put these two guys in the same ring. But it opened a wound in Frazier that never healed.

When they met again in 1975, the intervening years not kind to either man (Frazier lost his title to George Foreman, Ali gaining no purchase on history either, and their second meeting so insufficient to memories of the first that it is rarely remembered), it was Ali who again resorted to a campaign of ugliness, his famous teasing gone unforgivably bad, his foe now devolved from Uncle Tom into the Gorilla in Manila.

The pain of those taunts outlasted even Frazier’s disappointment in the result, 14 rounds of sheer recklessness, first Ali’s fight, then Frazier’s, then miraculously Ali’s again. Ali later said it was the “closest thing to dying I know of.” It was a question of who would quit first, and the answer was neither; Frazier’s corner had to cut his gloves off before the final round, surely a lifesaving event. Yet it was probably Ali’s mockery that kept Frazier awake so many nights later.

That fight was pretty much the end of their careers (Frazier lost once more to Foreman then gave it up; Ali stuck it out several more years, though never again as brilliant or determined), and Frazier was left to a life of resentment.

He never got over the losses, the insults, the legacy that was left him. Ali became a world hero, lighting Olympic flames, an example of political courage the rest of his mute life. Frazier, a bitter, old warrior, instead had to consider the inadequacies of grit in a time that was more inclined to reward glamour.

What would we think of Frazier, without those run-ins? As it is, he ranks among the top 10 heavyweights of all time, his remorseless attack usually punctuated by one of history’s greatest left hooks, properly celebrated in boxing’s Hall of Fame. His record of 32-4 would have been improved by Ali’s nonexistence for sure, and without those losses might have been able to coast a bit further on the championship franchise.

He made money and was famous, but more is always better. And maybe, had Ali not been allowed to dictate the ridiculous terms of their debate, he could have represented his race and his generation (which, after all, were exactly Ali’s) to greater appreciation. Why couldn’t Joe Frazier be the young black hero the counterculture wanted?

Pointless speculation. This is how it turned out, Frazier both ruined and elevated by Ali, marinating in his bitterness all those years later. He dabbled in music, dabbled in training (most disastrously with the failed career of his son Marvis), dabbled in character reconstruction. To no great effect.

It’s too bad. Frazier forever confused defeat with disgrace, as if he wasn’t as ennobled in Manila as in Madison Square Garden. Well, that is how we usually keep score. But not many who saw those fights, such demonstrations of human determination that even today we wince at their extremes, would make the same mistake. — Richard Hoffer, Sports Illustrated, today

Early Winter Procrastination

November 3, 2011

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Aspects Of Robinson

Robinson at cards at the Algonquin; a thin
Blue light comes down once more outside the blinds.
Gray men in overcoats are ghosts blown past the door.
The taxis streak the avenues with yellow, orange, and red.
This is Grand Central, Mr. Robinson.

Robinson on a roof above the Heights; the boats
Mourn like the lost. Water is slate, far down.
Through sounds of ice cubes dropped in glass, an osteopath,
Dressed for the links, describes an old Intourist tour.
—Here’s where old Gibbons jumped from, Robinson.

Robinson walking in the Park, admiring the elephant.
Robinson buying the Tribune, Robinson buying the Times. Robinson
Saying, “Hello. Yes, this is Robinson. Sunday
At five? I’d love to. Pretty well. And you?”
Robinson alone at Longchamps, staring at the wall.

Robinson afraid, drunk, sobbing Robinson
In bed with a Mrs. Morse. Robinson at home;
Decisions: Toynbee or luminal? Where the sun
Shines, Robinson in flowered trunks, eyes toward
The breakers. Where the night ends, Robinson in East Side bars.

Robinson in Glen plaid jacket, Scotch-grain shoes,
Black four-in-hand and oxford button-down,
The jeweled and silent watch that winds itself, the brief-
Case, covert topcoat, clothes for spring, all covering
His sad and usual heart, dry as a winter leaf.

Weldon Kees (1914 – 1955)

Autumnal Procrastination Post

October 24, 2011

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Late Autumn In Venice

by

Delmore Schwartz

(After Rilke)

 

The city floats no longer like a bait
To hook the nimble darting summer days.
The glazed and brittle palaces pulsate and radiate
And glitter. Summer’s garden sways,
A heap of marionettes hanging down and dangled,
Leaves tired, torn, turned upside down and strangled:
Until from forest depths, from bony leafless trees
A will wakens: the admiral, lolling long at ease,
Has been commanded, overnight — suddenly –:
In the first dawn, all galleys put to sea!
Waking then in autumn chill, amid the harbor medley,
The fragrance of pitch, pennants aloft, the butt
Of oars, all sails unfurled, the fleet
Awaits the great wind, radiant and deadly.

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