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Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair

March 6, 2009


Our friend @pinkroom suggested I set a poetic task, something a bit more demanding than simply a subject, which too often opens the door to every tin-eared free-verse merchant in Christendom. I have no objection to free-verse but in my experience, only the finest poets can actually bring it off.

I am not among that august number and require structure to focus an essentially undisciplined mind. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

So I want Sonnets on the subject of posterity.

Sonnets should be 14 lines, although a Hopkins-esque curtal sonnet is fine. Any rhyme scheme will do–English, Occitan, Petrarchan, Spenserian–but there must be a rhyme scheme.

A prize, the coveted Winged Victory of Bethnal Green Road (hand-carved out of ossified cat-dung and an adornment to any mantelpiece) will be awarded to the best effort as chosen by myself and a hand-picked panel of my minions and creatures.

And to get the ball rolling, here’s my own paltry effort…

Rhyme And Punishment

When I have left this vale of tears
I hope that it is said:
His sins were scarlet all the years;
At least his verse was read.

And though he often sacrificed
Good sense for a good rhyme:
A kind of well-planned verbal heist,
The mildest sort of crime;

The victims never made a fuss
Nor called the bardic cops
And any feelings of disgust
Were put out with the slops.

Now his cracked voice is put out too
And some would say, long overdue.

Here are the formatting codes, should anyone wish to use them:


  1. freep permalink
    March 6, 2009 7:15 PM

    Excellent, Mishari. I have always wanted a Winged Victory, to place atop my garden shed. But competititon is bound to be stiff, so I will keep my hopes tightly in check. (Yet, I cannot help but hope the ossified dung is weather proof. …)
    I will put my poetic engine to work, just as soon as I have consumed a loathsome beanburger and three bottles of Sicilian plonk. I have just spent the day discussing Gray’s Pindaric Ode ‘The Bard’, and it is far too long, so a sonnet is just what the ice-cream vendor ordered.

  2. March 6, 2009 8:29 PM

    When I have left this vale of tears
    I hope that it is said –
    “He hasn’t had an idea for years
    The thought fills him with dread.”

    “He chose the artistic marginals
    Of whom no-one had seen.
    His claim to have created originals
    Bordered on obscene.”

    ” He said it once, he said it twice,
    Pinching conceits like this was his vice
    – So many it was unreal.”

    “So underground we hope he thrives
    In a world of second-hand lives.”

    (A cruel dig at our beloved emperor. Tread carefully. We know where you live–Ed.)

  3. mishari permalink*
    March 6, 2009 8:37 PM

    freep, as it was the weather that ossified the stuff in the first place, I suspect the climate North of Watford (wherever that is) will prove no challenge.

    But as you say, sonneteers the world over will be sharpening their quills in anticipation of this glittering prize. Still, I have every faith that age and guile will always trump youth and enthusiasm…

  4. March 6, 2009 8:43 PM

    Bloody hell you do don’t you? But O paranoid one it was actually more a dig at myself.

    (On mature reflection, I realised that might be the case and called off the Oprichniki. Founded by my ancestor Ivan The Terrible, they dress in black garb, similar to a monastic habit, that bears the insignia of a severed dog’s head [to sniff out treason and the enemies of the Tsar] and a broom [to sweep them away].–Ed Rex.)

  5. Zephirine permalink
    March 6, 2009 10:04 PM

    I think it’s a bit discouraging to illustrate your challenge with one of the best sonnnets ever. How can we write with the shade of Charlie Baudelaire staring morosely over our shoulders? (Is that his handwriting? A graphologist might have fun analysing those capital letters.)

    I’ll see if Inspiration comes round this weekend and if so I’ll try and lock her in the kitchen till she comes up with something.

    You guys are missed on the Billyblog, it’s starting to be slightly, I dunno, sad.

  6. mishari permalink*
    March 6, 2009 10:56 PM

    Zeph, yes, that’s Charles “A dozen carnations and some Flowers of Evil, please” Baudelaire’s handwiting. I rather hope it’ll inspire rather than daunt.

    I’m really the only one properly absent from Poster Poems, through no fault of Bill’s, I hasten to add. But the only way I have of protesting against the arbitrary, unaccountable stupidity of the moderators is by shunning what is now a degraded newspaper and website.

    There was a time when the Grauniad had us over a barrel. If, like me, you were of a Left-ish disposition and wanted a quality daily paper, it was the only choice. The web has changed that utterly.

    They haven’t yet caught up with the reality that we don’t need the Grauniad, the Grauniad needs us. Their policy (and it must be seen as a policy) of alienating long-time readers is having predictable results. The book blogs are moribund and will remain so until the moderators are all sacked and some literate, responsible and responsive mods who are prepared to properly engage are hired.

    Today’s search terms:

    sting + bumblebee sweater

    his mind contaminated gil brewer

    half man half sheep

    …his mind contaminated Gil Brewer? Do they mean my mind? Anyway, Brewer’s been dead for over 25 years. Baffling.

  7. pinkroom permalink
    March 7, 2009 7:37 AM

    Great theme/form combo. Challenging but not impossible. Here’s my shot for that victory pot:


    What is it I leave behind, precisely?
    Several thousand tender minds shaped by
    a liking for words used well, poetry
    the last thing left amidst barbarity.
    For that was the choice we had, and so made:
    stand together and face whatever came
    or take whatever came instead to blame
    and turn the sly dog’s eye as others fade.

    Can I pick a moment? A single time?
    A foul fruit I can pluck and say, that this
    was the tip-point, I lost what was mine
    leaving me this side in a trickle of piss,
    on that side happy, a steady incline.
    I think of a crossing; one hillside’s kiss.

  8. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 7, 2009 10:01 AM

    I’ll have a Scotch. I see old Melton’s gone.
    Gin for me. Melton? Doesn’t ring a bell.
    Tonic? Oh, come on, you know old Melton,
    elderly chap, in here most evenings, well,
    until the dreaded lurgy took him off,
    ha ha.
    Sorry, old boy, I still can’t place…
    He used to spout off about books and stuff,
    beardie, bloody lefty, corrugated face…

    Books, eh? Was he a… Oh no, wife and kids,
    of course, that’s no guarantee these days, eh?

    Sorry, old man, feeling a little glazed,
    I’m blank.
    Never mind, put that one on the skids
    and let’s have another, my turn to pay,
    here’s to Melton.
    Yes. Whoever he was.

  9. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 7, 2009 10:03 AM

    The sober version. Can you scrap Mark One, Ed? (Done–Ed.)

  10. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 7, 2009 11:31 AM

    Thanks, Ed. Or do you prefer Edward?

  11. mishari permalink*
    March 7, 2009 11:45 AM

    On the whole, I think I prefer ‘Sire’…good unsentimental sonnets from you and @pinkthinkpod, by the way…

    Forward Into The Present

    The gilded busts of princes, the marble heads of kings,
    Provide a useful perch for pigeons and toilets for the birds;
    The Great, The Wise, The Conqueror–all the usual things–
    Mute under a grey sky and spattered white with turds.

    The cities they named after themselves–Alex this, Peter that,
    Don’t mean much to those who walk the ancient stones:
    Postmen, housewives, the puce-faced drunk, the stalking cat,
    Bright-plumaged children gay as birds, ears to mobile phones.

    We leave brief footprints in the sand upon this beach of time,
    The trails of struggle and of strife, of pleasure and of play;
    The tidal future will always rise, relentless in its climb
    And clean the slate of every date, wipe all our prints away.

    Cultivate your garden, forget the future and to yourself be true;
    There’s one prediction it’s safe to make: the future will forget you.

  12. parallax permalink
    March 7, 2009 1:47 PM

    yay, I have internet connection – only to find out that I have to write a frigging sonnet … still, I’ll be out of wireless reception for another week or so which’ll give me time to compose … but should I be arsed? By the time I get my sonnet together you’ll have moved on to bigger and better things.

  13. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 7, 2009 2:09 PM

    In 1881, Beatrice Gilchrist
    Student of medicine, aged twenty-six
    Took her own life, retreated into mist
    And voiceless drifted out across the Styx

    The holy church had laws that fixed self-death
    Outside its comfort. So, her rites were scorned.
    My grandfather felt her ancestral breath
    Her short, unrounded, life must be full-mourned

    Her grave was found in Edinburgh’s loam:
    ‘A plain cross – broken off, plot 148’
    His letter claims a sense of ‘coming home’
    As he, a priest, her exile did negate

    Posterity erodes us all to grains
    Which grow to wheat; we nourish what remains

  14. mishari permalink*
    March 7, 2009 2:30 PM

    Good to have you back, para. Do write one. I think I’ll leave this as the headline post for a while…

    Baron, up to your usual infuriatingly high standard…(Bastard–Ed.)

  15. March 7, 2009 5:46 PM

    Fucking A, as they say. That Charlus effort is spookily good.

  16. March 8, 2009 1:44 AM

    Marcel Proust
    wasn’t used
    to sitting down to tea.
    James Joyce
    used a hoist
    to live in a tall tree.
    had a fresco
    painted of his knee.
    Andre Gide
    used his speed
    to beat Alfred Jarry.
    Daniil Kharms
    used his arms
    to ward away a bee.
    Frank Kafka’s
    manic laughter
    disturbed Andrei Bely.
    Samuel Beckett
    shouted, Feck it!
    with accustomed glee.

  17. March 8, 2009 10:24 AM

    Court artists

    An artist at court is a job
    Painting at the behest of other’s whims.
    Compared to before it’s worth a few bob
    Saving bacon, life and limbs.

    Dreary but there are a few surprises
    Draw an animal called the rhinoceros
    Get it right, it’s worth several prizes.
    Never seen one that’s your loss.

    The advantage of artistic depiction
    With the unknown rhinoceros
    No-one knows fact from fiction
    So get it wrong and no great loss.

    But is this an artist who’s been bought?
    Freedom at times, always in court?

  18. mishari permalink*
    March 8, 2009 10:53 AM

    Through A Scanner Lightly

    Dreams to ashes, ashes to dust–
    Even stone and concrete crumbles;
    The future’s going to be a bust:
    Backward looks and awkward fumbles.

    Just one hope: that linear time’s
    A myth–that time’s like a scanner
    And jumps between lives and lines
    In a searching sideways manner.

    We don’t die: our signals drop
    When time hits another channel:
    A light may flicker, it doesn’t stop
    Showing on the great control panel.

    There’s no heaven nor eternal blaze:
    We never die– just go out of phase.

  19. March 8, 2009 12:11 PM

    Consider the dead cat by the road
    Too big to ignore,to want to remove
    Puffed up by maggots til it might explode
    Road cleaning amenities need to improve.

    The break down of flesh, no dignity.
    As unpleasant an end as you’re likely to get.
    The end of existence in plain view to see
    The decomposition of a family pet.

    A drive-by thought is the most it receives.
    Let’s hope that it’s gone by the end of the week
    Thrown in a bin-bag with roadside leaves
    No sentiment – this is not unique.

    Its epitaph, an A4 photocopied sheet
    “Have you seen our beloved cat called Pete?”

  20. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 8, 2009 12:29 PM


    Once in a while I catch a glimpse of you,
    a moonlike presence always behind me,
    pale, lightly cratered, and, perhaps a stern view,
    a little less muscled than formerly,
    possibly a touch fuller in profile,
    but still a model for the ectomorph:
    indeed, once a draw for the glutophiles,
    though strict no-contact limits were in force.

    Let’s consider your role at the junction,
    leaving aside your primary purpose,
    of meditation and locomotion:
    fundamentally your binary part
    is as seat and motor: for these services
    I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  21. mishari permalink*
    March 8, 2009 2:09 PM

    Ah, MM…arse longeurs, Mowbray brevis…a cracker, BTW.

    Please, Al…no more dead cat sonnets..that one put me through the wringer…

    How’s a chap supposed to shine if you bastards keep setting the bar so fucking high? It’s all most unsatisfactory…

    The Past Is All Arse

    Regard Mowbray’s flaccid arse,
    (by all accounts, a former peach),
    Symbolic of the stone-dead past:
    At last an arse can teach.

    Firm and shapely in youth,
    The cynosure of all eyes;
    A lodestar (although in truth
    only for those kinds of guys.)

    Now gravity has had its way;
    His rear is more reflective,
    (although that’s not to say
    it’s any more effective.)

    Hard to soft, that’s the sum:
    The calculus of Mowbray’s bum.

  22. March 8, 2009 4:10 PM

    Christ, I was eating (two fried eggs, as it happens)…(Augustine the gourmand–Ed.)

  23. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 8, 2009 9:01 PM

    Fabulous rejoinder, Ed, though a little cheeky.

  24. March 8, 2009 9:05 PM


    Bach’s Booty

    Three barrels of beer was Bach’s pay. Still now
    A dim shadow falls across the bright festal tone
    As we follow the figured bass part down
    Memory lane, where the art form’s short term losses,
    Simulating his disputes with authority,
    Preclude the purple laurels victory brings.
    Don’t blow your wig, scholar. Let the beer fiddlers play
    “The Warrior Minstrel of the Forlorn Hope.”
    Life remains long, but now and then as the silver
    Chords gather and are sprinkled above the planet
    Like sparks pinned to a blue velvet canopy
    We get these inklings, self regard drifts away
    From a boreal winter night’s cold lucid frame
    Into postromantic darkness, and real stars come out.


    Getaway Package in the Blogosphere

    The long vacation turns into a way of life
    The nervous beauties of the seasons amble
    Precisely past like flamingos or mannequins
    Commissioned by the gods to keep the view
    Ever various in its several lights
    To edify just this one tender watcher
    Who smiles at them as she adjusts the picture
    Observe how seemingly radical the way
    They’ve modified their old rude manners
    The way in which when she inspires their mirth
    It almost looks as if they’re falling over
    Each other in an absurd effort to please her
    As though whether or not it’s in her interest
    They’d do anything to keep her here

    (Thanks for these, Tom. I only just found your post being held as spam, God knows why. Sorry about that. BTW, do you mind if I link to your blog?–Ed.)

  25. mishari permalink*
    March 8, 2009 9:14 PM

    Ah, well, MM…I never have developed a proper and seemly respect for my elders.

    BTW, I’m shooting A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals: A Taste For Paris down to you. I’ve managed to get a hardback copy so the paperback’s spare. It’s a terrific introduction to his writing…

  26. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 8, 2009 10:54 PM

    Hi all,

    No more poems yet (thanks for the kind words Steven, Mishari), but I wanted to share something else I’ve been working on….

  27. mishari permalink*
    March 8, 2009 11:04 PM

    Baron, do you mind if I put up a link to your site?

  28. March 8, 2009 11:15 PM


    No problem; and yes, please do, one would of course be honoured to be so linked.

  29. mishari permalink*
    March 8, 2009 11:38 PM

    Great, although I must admit I’m a little intimidated having a proper (i.e. published) poet here. It’s a bit like discovering that the guy you’re shooting pool with is actually Minnesota Fats. Just have to try and raise my game, I suppose…

    I’ve been enjoying your poems on Europe’s discovery of the South Seas. They put me in mind of a book I’ve got somewhere called The Fatal Invasion by (I think) Alan Moorhead.

    BTW, Baron, what’s the significance of the word ‘hyagog’? Google’s no help…

  30. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 8, 2009 11:38 PM

    That would be great, Mishari. May I reciprocate? (By all means–Ed.)

  31. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 9, 2009 12:00 AM

    Thanks for the Liebling. I’ve read Bobby Z (good) and the Dave Barry (curate’s egg). Mrs enjoyed Frankie Machine, which I shall tackle next. There’s quite a difference between Power of the Dog and the others-much less in the way of humour and much more in the way of serious comment. I wonder why.

  32. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 12:11 AM

    I think you’re right and I felt that The Power of the Dog verged on polemic, understandably, I think, given that the McGuffin (the trade in illegal drugs) has been and still is being handled so catastrophically badly.

    The whole thing is so deeply bound up with politics, economics, foreign policy etc…reading the news from Mexico, one can see why Winslow didn’t find much humour in the subject.

    Cocaine production has surged across Latin America and unleashed a wave of violence, population displacements and corruption, prompting urgent calls to rethink the drug war.

    More than 750 tonnes of cocaine are shipped annually from the Andes in a multi-billion pound industry which has forced peasants off land, triggered gang wars and perverted state institutions.

    A Guardian investigation based on dozens of interviews with law enforcement officials, coca farmers, refugees and policymakers has yielded a bleak picture of the “war” on the eve of a crucial United Nations drug summit.

    Almost 6,000 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico last year alone, an unprecedented level of mayhem that is showing signs of spilling northwards into the United States. More than 1,000 have been killed already this year in Mexico.

    A new trafficking route between South America and west Africa has grown so quickly that the 10th latitude corridor connecting the continents has been dubbed Interstate 10.

    Almost all those interviewed agreed that insatiable demand for cocaine in Europe and north America had thwarted US-led efforts to choke supply and inflicted enormous damage on Latin America.

    “We consider the war on drugs a failure because the objectives have never been achieved,” said César Gaviria, Colombia’s former president and co-chair of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy.

    “Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalisation have not yielded the expected results. We are today farther than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs.”

    The commission is urging a “paradigm shift” from repression to a public health approach, including decriminalisation of marijuana. Dismal statistics about coca cultivation, cocaine exports and murder rates have amplified calls to replace a policy which dates back to Nixon with one which focuses on curbing demand.

    “The strategy of the US here, in Colombia and Peru was to attack the raw material and it has not worked,” said Colonel René Sanabria, head of Bolivia’s anti-narcotic police force.

    A report by the Brookings Institution, and a separate study by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron which was endorsed by 500 economists, have joined the chorus demanding change.

    The Grauniad, 9.3.2009

    Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalisation have not yielded the expected results.

    It would almost be funny were it not so tragic. The truth is, prohibitionist policies have yielded exactly the expected results. Any simpleton with a working knowledge of the US’s disasterous experiment with alcohol prohibition could have told these imbeciles what to expect.

    What was it Heine said?
    “against stupidity the gods themselves war in vain”?

  33. ISA permalink
    March 9, 2009 1:14 AM

    In Mexico everyone has drug traffic stories. Everyone has heard the snap crackle and pop of gun fire.

  34. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 2:20 AM

    Easter Island

    Massively silent, they urge us to ask:
    Who and what and why?
    But we’re not equal to the task
    Beneath this empty sky.

    Were they gods or were they men?
    What did those dead eyes see?
    Was there a time, an era when
    They loved as you or me?

    The hollow stare, the baleful glare,
    Suggests their Aztec hearts;
    But wild presumption can’t repair
    Truth fractured by the arts.

    Perhaps their rule was wise and just
    And they’d be horrified by us.

  35. parallax permalink
    March 9, 2009 4:59 AM

    Ivan (reworked)

    Wet wood floor underfoot, an icy draught
    creeps in from the porch, all night it had snowed.
    Outside, grey dogs bare fangs in snarling laugh.
    Shukhov, cold, hunches his shoulders. Trod road
    worn hard and smooth, to the left, to the right
    blank expanse for miles, not a single tree.
    ‘Sunrise is the coldest point of the night
    always the sharpest frost’, says Buinovsky.

    Blue tint sclera snow rubs the horizon.
    Can a warm man understand one who’s cold?
    False warmth rappels down the rope of Wolf’s sun.
    Prisoners assemble, each name is called.

    In line, Shukhov sets out. Another day.
    Marching orders will be strictly obeyed.

  36. parallax permalink
    March 9, 2009 5:03 AM

    ps – new pictures of trees and snow on Michelle’s blog.(Thanks for the tip-off–Ed)

  37. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 9, 2009 9:04 AM

    Hi Mishari,

    I’d be spooked if you did find hyagog in a dictionary.

    I had a dream when I was fourteen or fifteen; someone terrified running towards me shouting ‘the hyagog are coming’.

  38. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 10:47 AM

    Great stuff, para. You’ve distilled what I remember being a very long book into a sonnet.

    Baron, I didn’t think it had anything to do with Chinese construction:

    …or a Facebook clone,gleidson-dos-santos

    Today’s search terms:

    mr. dithers

    misharialadwani despair

    lynn kellys easy cleaner kuwait

    sheep angry

    misharialadwani homicidal freep suicidal

    “ancient evenings” lettuce

    …I’ve given up even trying to speculate.

  39. March 9, 2009 11:31 AM

    Farewell to the dead cat sonnet
    Which caused some of us to grieve
    There’s a poem of a moose on a bonnet
    Waiting up my sleeve.

    A Hedgehog crosses the road
    Tension hangs heavy in the air
    An especially grisly ode
    That will drive you to despair

    Another involves a primate
    Which predictably is dead.
    But given the current climate
    I’ll knock it on the head.

    The poem not the primate….oh dear
    Too much latent violence…..I fear

  40. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 11:40 AM

    Al, Al…why this hostility to the animal kingdom? Lie down on the couch. Tell me all about it while I stroke my beard and look thoughtful…

    Rimbaud Checks Out

    Arthur’s list of things not packed
    Was long but what came last,
    Were trumpets, rifles, hopes that cracked,
    And finally: the past.

    The present, he could hardly lift–
    The future went ahead;
    Memories can’t heal the rift
    Between the quick and dead.

    Here lies one whose name was writ
    In Garamond, 14-point;
    And like a man whose throat’s been slit,
    His time was out of joint.

    Somewhere he’s doing shady deals,
    Showing the past a clean pair of heels.

  41. parallax permalink
    March 9, 2009 1:32 PM

    Rehab and MM’s arse

    I’m going back to .. ah .. rehab
    I’ll see you in a week or two.
    I jest, the picture’s not that drab
    I colour in a trick or two.

    I checked out Baron’s hyagog;
    a dungeon worthy of spook Poe.
    I was tempted to post ‘first’log
    but thought this would be uncool. So

    I’m back thinking of other stuff:
    Mowbray’s slack arse came into view.
    My God there’s more to life than fluff
    and pimples.Looks like there’s a queue

    waiting in line with tickets paid
    avoiding MM getting laid.

  42. Zephirine permalink
    March 9, 2009 1:36 PM

    Nope, sorry, Inspiration did pop round but I needed her to do something else…

    Thought you might like to be reminded of this one, though, surely one of the best Posterity poems:

    And Yet the Books – Czeslaw Milosz

    And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
    That appeared once, still wet
    As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
    And, touched, coddled, began to live
    In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
    Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
    “We are,” they said, even as their pages
    Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
    Licked away their letters. So much more durable
    Than we are, whose frail warmth
    Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.

    I imagine the earth when I am no more:
    Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
    Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
    Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
    Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

    more Milosz poems in the OtherStuff Annexe,

    (Lovely, Zeph…but your link didn’t work because it was inside parentheses..fixed now–Ed.)

  43. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 9, 2009 1:44 PM

    Dear Parallax, your hipness never
    Can be by ‘first comment’ toasted
    Posterity will mark you out
    Amongst the wise, once you have posted

    But thanks for the visit

  44. parallax permalink
    March 9, 2009 2:16 PM

    Trust me Baron – when I found myself in your pristine site I had the urge to sully it with a ‘Yo First’ comment – it’s a bit like a graffiti artist confronting a blank wall – no … hold that thought … it’s more like a dick head with a can of spray paint. See, I recognise the difference :)*

    *that’s one of them fucking awful smileys, mish:)

    (No kidding? I thought it was some kind of rustic antipodean punctuation. BTW, I see kangaroos have taken to home invasions–Ed.)

  45. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 2:20 PM

    I feel I ought to point out that Tom Clark (AKA beyond the pale) was poetry editor of The Paris Review for 10 years (1963-1973), so we’re going to need poems of a more elevated sort and fewer poems about bottoms (this means youse two, Mowbray and para)… alright…as you were…carry on…

  46. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 9, 2009 2:31 PM

    I see, Parallax, you meant the noble tradition of ‘firsties’. Well, I thank you for your restraint.

  47. parallax permalink
    March 9, 2009 3:05 PM

    Tom Parker is in the building?
    I’m fumbling darkly with meaning.
    Yet … I don’t seem to grip purpose
    with posture … it’s so demeaning.

    I’m sorry we’re not up to scratch
    (is this a positioning match?)
    You know, I’m really quite famous …
    just a shame you don’t know my patch.

    Tom? Well he probably knows me,
    by most accounts, why shouldn’t he?
    I’m shy, but my books are well stocked,
    and, close by, is Review Paree.

    Carry on as we are? well thanks.
    You’re sure that’s Tom Parker, not Hanks?

    (Philistine-ish. Happy?–Ed.)

  48. Zephirine permalink
    March 9, 2009 3:20 PM

    BTP is Tom Clark. Tom Parker edited Elvis, didn’t he?

    Thank you for fixing my parentheses, Mishari!

    (Sorry. Yes. No sweat. Now where’s your sonnet, you idle minx?–Ed.)

  49. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 3:24 PM

    para, surely you understand that To Be Invited To The Right Parties One Must Say The Right Things…now go and wash your hands and remember our new watchwords…Cleanliness, Manliness (or in the case of women, Womanliness) and a fanatical devotion to the numinous to be expressed in surpassingly lovely verse. Like this…

    Formerly Superior Inferior Posterior

    Did I compare you to a summers day?
    I guess I plead guilty to that charge;
    The kind of thing I used to say
    Before you grew so very large.

    Did I liken you to a winter morn?
    Cold, austere, lovely and limp?
    Before your addiction to gastro-porn
    Turned you into the Goodyear blimp.

    Did I say you were like nights in spring?
    Dark and soft and so much fun?
    Maybe I did but here’s the thing:
    You now weigh more than half-a-ton.

    My dear, how once our love was fabled
    But now you need your stomach stapled.

  50. parallax permalink
    March 9, 2009 4:03 PM

    Philistine – Ed. – as the mitchelmore said to the obooki – who, it must be said, soundly rebuffed the accusation.

  51. parallax permalink
    March 9, 2009 4:23 PM

    oi, you’ve edited my poem which replied to your (now edited comment). You’ve taken out Parker and put in Clark – that’s frigging replacing two syllables with one in my poem – and”‘Clark’ is in the building” doesn’t make any sense without the Elvis/Parker connection – then you put the ‘philistine ed’ bit after you’ve fucked with it. Out of order mish – fucking with scansion and poetry to cover yer arse – not happy.

    Delete it by all means if it helps – but, seriously disappointed in your cringe factor towards a 1973 “name”.

    estimation free-fall (Jesus. Bit of a fucking prima donna for a colonial. Anyway, Parker’s back so stop yer whining. Of course, now it doesn’t make much sense, which is why I changed it in the first place, but ce la vie–Ed)

    (PS: Would you say that being impressed by Ezra Pound was evidence of my ‘cringe factor’ to a 1923 ‘name’?
    In case it had escaped your notice, one of the very first links I put up on this blog was to The Paris Review, a journal that I’ve admired and respected all my life. So, yes, the fact that Tom was their poetry editor for 10 years does impress me. I should be blasé just to satisfy your ferocious ‘tall poppy syndrome’? There are lots of things I’m genuinely blasé about, equally there are things that impress me, rightly or wrongly. ‘cringe factor’ is an unecessarily offensive way of characterizing my editorial functions. Fine, I acted thoughtlessly in the case of your poem but if your estimation is in free-fall, there can’t have been much supporting it in the first place. Let it fucking plummet–Ed.)

    • parallax permalink
      March 10, 2009 3:20 AM

      (whoa impressive. Okay, your hissy fit beats mine – paraEd.)

  52. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 5:45 PM

    Anyone know who NFA at:

    …is? Not a problem, just curious, as they’ve linked to this blog, but I’ve no idea who it is.

  53. March 9, 2009 5:59 PM

    I love the fact that a serious (?) call for poems ended in a load of old arse! Personally the prize is no lure to me as the neighbourhood cats award me in similar fashion about 10 times a day in the jungle I call a garden.

  54. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 9, 2009 5:59 PM

    Could be someone linked to Steven. His latest post is filmed in Berlin with an artist or two and NFA gives Berlin as his/her location and also links to Steven’s site.

  55. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 6:11 PM

    Ah, that might be it, Baron. Tink, there’s cat dung and then there’s lovingly hand-crafted cat-dung art. Big difference…

  56. March 9, 2009 6:26 PM

    Too funny… I was just clicking over to post the question ANYONE KNOW WHO NFA is? I’ll take this as an “erm, no…”, then.

  57. March 9, 2009 6:37 PM

    Whoever she/he/it is, I hope it’s nobody I’ve famously bitched out on the GUblog (back when I bothered), because the writing It’s up to is pretty fine. And btw anyone else notice that quite a lot of the writing pouring out of these various little virtual portals *gratis* is leagues above the shyt people are paying for on paper… or looking to from the gargantuan mainstream litblogs affecting to have been passed The Torch? (You’ll have to imagine a cocked eyebrow here)

  58. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 6:38 PM

    Well, this is mysterious, Steven. I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that it was someone you know. Whoever it is apparently lives in Berlin (as do you, I think I’m right in saying), they’ve linked to your blogs and blogs you’re linked to…So, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. X, then…

    (Our posts crossed, but, yes…the writing is high-quality and yes, the writing on small independents is unquestionably better that the sub-literate crap on the Grauniad. NFA= No Fucking Answers)

  59. March 9, 2009 7:04 PM

    Yes I’m in Berlin and there’s every chance I breathed NFA’s recycled air as I walked, today… was it that sinister feller in a red velvet coat in the window of that Internet Cafe? Or the soignée Moroccan on the tram?

  60. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 7:18 PM

    Start to worry if a little blonde girl in a bright red raincoat starts turning up everywhere you look (cue low-frequency almost bowel-loosening music and liberally douse Augustine with simulated rain)…

  61. March 9, 2009 7:34 PM

    Nice flick, that. How did you like Donald in Freddie’s Casanova?

  62. March 9, 2009 7:43 PM

    This is no comment on Donald’s acting but the polythene sheet sea in Casanova is the thing that stuck with me. Mind you I have not seen it for 30 years.

    Strange how Fellini is now completely out of fashion over here. He used to be an art cinema staple in the 70’s but you can only find his films as DVD’s now – the only advantage being that they are cheap as a result of him taking a back seat critically

  63. March 9, 2009 7:46 PM

    So then… Beyond the Pale’s true identity, now that it’s been approximately rooted out, may as well become, er, “public” at last. Yes, in “real life,” BTP was/is (as the diabolically clever Mish suggests) the entertainment impresario known as Colonel Thomas Andrew “Tom” Parker, hatched from his mother’s otherwise innocent womb in Breda, Netherlands as Andreas Cornelis (“Dries”) van Kuijk on June 26, 1909 and allegedly deceased on Jan. 21, 1997–but in actual fact alive and functional to this day in a catacomb in Argentina, whence he continues not only the management of the business enterprises of the late singer Elvis Presley but the ghost editorship of The Paris Review. It was indeed the revelation in 1997 of the historic role of the latter pseudo-literary journal as a clandestine “front” operation of the Central Intelligence Agency that occasioned the abovementioned retreat and migration to South America.

    Listed among the more notable probable achievements of this semi-legendary figure (BTP, of course=Beyond Tom Parker) are: having accrued a vast private fortune from the under-the-counter marketing of a pirated VHS tape depicting Elvis’s invidious attack in a Las Vegas hotel room with an unlicensed firearm upon the televised image of his arch-rival Robert Goulet; and, more recently, having having transacted the acquisition of worldwide distribution rights, in all media, to the complete Strictly Homicidal archive regarding the storied posteriority of one Melton Mowbray.

    As we say here in Grace(less)land, then, the saga continues…

    (None of this is as improbable as it may sound. God knows, Parker was/is one of the shiftiest, slipperiest, conniving varmints alive and certainly some literary mag (Encounter? Partisan Review?) was discovered to have taken lots of CIA loot and if Elvis didn’t shoot the oleaginous Goulet, he should have…what we want to know is, where were you on Nov.22, 1963? Anywhere near a grassy knoll?–Ed.)

  64. March 9, 2009 7:58 PM

    Al: polythene sea in Amarcord, too. Fantastico! Had an “argument” with an academic a while back: I was calling The Dark Knight an adolescent fantasy (parents dead and unlimited funds and you get to dress like a bat!) with gallons of fascism bucketed in and he was calling Juliet of the Spirits “ludicrous”. Difference being that he’s teaching at the Uni level. Passing that smouldering, stinking, blindingly-smokey torch to the next generation to wield in their caves.

    Meanwhile, I’ve got my Fellinis on disk and They can all go fcuk they ignorant selves.

  65. March 9, 2009 8:01 PM

    “VHS tape depicting Elvis’s invidious attack in a Las Vegas hotel room with an unlicensed firearm upon the televised image of his arch-rival Robert Goulet”

    I thought it was The Beatles he screen-shot!

  66. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 8:12 PM

    It all comes a full circle. Didn’t The Killer get arrested for either shooting up one of Elvis’ Caddys or waving a gun around at the gates to Graceland?
    One of the most glorious images of the late 60’s early 70’s was Nixon handing Elvis an honourary DEA badge. Beautiful.

    Fellini does seem to have unaccountably gone out of fashion along with De Sica, Visconti and Pasolini. I expect in 10 years or so, some bright young spark will ‘re-discover’ them…(and Buñuel)

  67. March 9, 2009 8:22 PM


    It was the Beatles, those attention-grabbing little mop-topped sods, who perverted the truth by fostering that malicious distortion. Elvis never cared a whit about them, it was RG in whom he detected the Source of All Evil.

    Naturally the literary annals abound with annotations upon this event. One’s own favourite is this poem by the late Edward Dorn, from his 1978 collection Hello, La Jolla.

    In Defense of Pure Poetry

    The guards can say what they want
    And so can Vernon and so can NBC
    But whatever it is they have to say
    Nobody can fault the King
    For squeezing the trigger on Robert Goulet.

  68. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 8:27 PM

    I think that Wayne Newton is inherently more evil than Robert Goulet, although they’re both clearly enemies of all that’s good and fine…

    (What about the unspeakable Pat Boone?–Ed.)

  69. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 9, 2009 8:41 PM

    Are Fellini and Pasolini uncool? I find them boss. Pasolini’s Life films are amongst my favourite.

    Mishari, a former housemate of mine had the Elvis & Nixon photo on his wall. Jerry Lee’s last album was called Last Man Standing. I think he believes that he personally (with Satan’s help of course) put each of his Sun/R&R contemporaries into the ground.

  70. March 9, 2009 8:45 PM


    As to the PR and the CIA, the not exactly apologetic public admission of this connection–long rumoured, then variously documented until eventually looming as so unavoidable a truth as to be unhappily confirmed even by founding editor George Plimpton, who had it seems been kept in the dark long after Others Knew what Covert Doings had been going on under his own nose–was made by the original CIA operative in the affair, the novelist Peter Matthiessen, who, for those who are interested, speaks openly of the whole sordid business in an interview contained in a documentary about another early editor, Harold “Doc” Humes, made by Humes’ daughter Immy and released last year.

    And as to the Dark Secrets of Pat Boone, where shall one begin…

  71. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 9:00 PM

    I didn’t know, although as I said, an English lit mag was guilty of something similiar. Matthiessen was a CIA operative? Geez…I liked his books or the 2 or 3 I read (The Snow Leopard and ?).

    I hope you don’t mind my asking and feel free to tell me to mind my own fucking business, but I’ve always cherished all those great interviews The Paris Review did. Were you involved in the interviews with poets (as editor or whatever?). I mean, I know William Carlos Williams was interviewed in ’64, when you were poetry editor…

    I agree, Baron. I love them and have most of their films on DVD, but when was the last time you saw any of them screened anywhere?

    Jerry Lee’s still Shakin’, Rattlin’ and Rollin’…it must mean something…

  72. March 9, 2009 9:02 PM

    Steven the local burger chain was selling plastic Batman toys to tie in with the film – summed it up for me. I suppose your academic could use them as illustrations in his lectures on the film.

  73. March 9, 2009 9:11 PM

    Jerry Lee is still one of the most worryingly wild men I’ve ever seen. Little Richard is the same. Hair raising performers – Sid Vicious had that same kind of out of control demeanour but didn’t have their musical chops.

    I’ve mentioned this before but Little Richard’s autobiography is a treat. Personality swings on virtually every page from born-again chaste to coke-sniffing gay-orgy participant. He was on that grim Ned Sherrin radio programme many years ago promoting it and they just couldn’t keep up with him.

  74. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 9:14 PM

    Yeah, Al…Mr. Penniman’s a gas, isn’t he? It’s as if he got a double helping of adrenal glands or something…

  75. March 9, 2009 9:36 PM

    Beyond the Pale, good to finally know the truth about where those bullets went. Now, what I love about the CIA-vs-PR-and-MS.,et al, is how people seem to believe The Company’s cultural hanky panky stopped after all that! …. Facebook, anyone?

  76. March 9, 2009 9:39 PM

    What I like about Little Richard is how he crafted that Queer-inflected persona in order to avoid being lynched by jealous crackers… read a delightful tale about Richard and Buddy Holly attending to the same groupie (Angel), at the same time, before a gig, once.

  77. March 9, 2009 10:23 PM


    Well, as it appears we’ve tumbled into one of those truth-blurting episodes that are not supposed to come before the completion of hours of tortuous interrogation, one may as well, since it’s anyway all a matter of record by now, admit the guilty secrets not only of the publications one did actually work for but of those one didn’t–unless publishing one’s poetry in Encounter (guilty as charged!) be considered as inclusion in that particular band of accessories and dupes. But yes, Virginia, that noble journal likewise was a CIA front, as history eventually revealed.

    Frances Stonor Saunders wrote a book about all this: The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. The book came out in 2000, before the Matthiessen admission re. the Paris Review’s role as his CIA “cover”. And in case I didn’t make this clear, not only Plimpton, but, as far as I know, everybody but Matthiessen himself remained blissfully unaware that this undercover stuff was going on. Mathiessen, as he relates, used his role with the Paris Review as his cover story for being in Paris, where, in fact, his actual primary activity was to spy for the Agency on those suspected of Communist activities and sympathies. This was, then, apparently a sort of Lone Ranger operation. Far more pervasive, as Saunders shows, was the Agency’s reach into the editorial offices and policies of Encounter and the Partisan Review. Interested parties might wish to consult the useful Salon review of that book:

    To quote briefly from the Salon account:

    ‘The CIA’s funds were laundered through both legitimate foundations (Ford and Rockefeller) and agency fronts (the Fairfield Foundation) and directed toward projects that advanced the anti-communist cause. While many were absurd — Russian translations of Eliot’s “Four Quartets” airdropped into the Soviet Union, a tour of the USSR by the Yale Glee Club — others, such as the Museum of Modern Art’s first show of abstract expressionist paintings, articulated a sophisticated CIA aesthetic. In the eyes of America’s cultural mandarins, abstract expressionism “spoke to a specifically anti-Communist ideology, the ideology of freedom, of free enterprise. Non-figurative and politically silent, it was the very antithesis to socialist realism,” Saunders writes. Some other CIA escapades seemed designed to benefit the organization’s in-house intellectuals, such as printing 50,000 copies of Arthur Koestler’s anti-communist “Darkness at Noon” — all of which were immediately snapped up by the French Communist Party in what may have been the first (unintended) East-West business alliance.

    ‘Encounter magazine was the jewel in the CIA’s crown, “our greatest asset,” according to Josselson. Based in London and edited by Irving Kristol and Stephen Spender (and, later, Melvin Lasky and Frank Kermode), it was a cultural journal on a par with the Partisan Review, which Saunders says also received CIA money.’

    In 1960 or so, hearing the immensely distinguished-seeming, snowy haired if a bit red-faced (surely it was the drink) Stephen Spender enunciate some poesy in public, one was amused, after his informative introduction re. his long association with his erstwhile Oxonian chum Wystan Auden, to hear him mutate the first line of the latter’s famous sonnet to “Lay your sleeping Love, my head…” Again, doubtless it was the drink. And no one in the immensely respectful and reverent audience so much as giggled. So, one later figured, when the Encounter revelations came out, evidently certain people can get away with anything. Perhaps it’s the Social Class.

    As to the PR interviews, well, in this context of dark admissions, one hesitates… but yes, one was involved, in some way or other, with several of them. Conducting, over a series of weeks in the spring of 1963, in England’s then still relatively green and pleasant land, in Cambridge, at Glastonbury (!), in a motorcycle side car speeding through Somerset, etc., the Allen Ginsberg interview, was perhaps one’s most exhausting endeavour in this regard. Also, a few years later, one launched off with several fellow scribes (Ted Berrigan, Aram Saroyan, et al.) to interview Jack Kerouac. But, as appears fortunate in retrospect, the trials of that expedition left one gasping and spent somewhere in the wilds of old New England (well, it was in the “other” Cambridge, to be exact), so that one was happily not on hand when Stella Kerouac opened the door to the interviewing parties and abruptly demanded $100 in cash for the privilege of admission to the home of the by then sadly alcohol-besotted famous writer. (A collection was taken, I believe.) Thus one’s role in that production was mercifully reduced to, apart from the foreplay, a bit of sub-editing.

  78. mishari permalink*
    March 9, 2009 10:43 PM

    Wonderful stuff, Tom. Thanks for being so forthcoming. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for being importunate, but how often does one get to chat to someone who played a significant role in the literary life of an exciting period.

    “Russian translations of Eliot’s Four Quartets airdropped into the Soviet Union, a tour of the USSR by the Yale Glee Club…”, had me in stitches. You can just imagine some poor Russian peasant getting beaned by Four Quartets and cursing the Americans for not dropping Spam or something.

    I noted that you’ve written a biography of Celine, who I believe wrote two of the best novels of the 20th century. Is it still in print? I’ll check Amazon presently. They might have a second-hand copy if it’s not. A book I definitely want to read. I recently read an account of Ginsburg’s and Burrough’s time in Paris and of their visit to Celine and how they all got along famously. Fascinating stuff.

    I discovered from your wiki entry that you were an early publisher of John Ashbery’s work. Again, more grist for my potentially endlessly grinding mill of questions.

    However, I don’t want to bore or irritate, so before I subject you to an inquisition, I must allow you the opportunity to say you’d rather not answer a lot of tiresome questions, questions that you’ve probably already answered many times and, moreover, probably in print to boot.

    I’ll understand perfectly if you find the prospect tedious and demur.

    (Amazon uk have a copy of The Exile of Celine which I’ve ordered. I see I was mistaken to describe it as a biography as it is, in fact, a biographical novel. No matter, I look forward to reading it)

    Anyway, I’m off to bed. à demain

  79. March 9, 2009 11:13 PM


    We’re musing along somewhat the same lines here, re. the wondrous CIA “cultural action” revelations; “stranger than fiction…” perhaps covers it. No doubt those knobbly old babushkas, upon being gifted from the skies with such stirring calls to democratic action (“What we call the beginning is often the end/ And to make an end is often a beginning…” etc.) were duly agog, if not put to sleep. Then again, perhaps it might have worked better, and the Cold War ended sooner, had the Agency dropped bottles of vodka with “Little Gidding” reduced to tiny agate type on the labels.

    The Exile of Céline (Random House) was a sort of docu-novel, not exactly a novel yet considerably too inventive to be regarded as a biography. It is now out of print.

    Yes, I invited John Ashbery, among many others, into the Paris Review’s staid little literary tea party, in the early 1960s, and over the years published nine longish Ashberyisms in those pages. So far as I know, however, JA never fell under the hard scrutiny of P. Matthiessen and his Agency bosses. Might have made for an interesting LeCarre parody, though, do you not reckon, had such attentions ever been extended?

  80. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 10, 2009 12:01 AM

    At last my arse is famous. Backing into the limelight as usual.

  81. March 10, 2009 12:16 AM

    This often happens: I don’t read this blog for a bit and I come back and am completely bewildered. – BaronCharlus is Elvis’ ex-manager who faked his death and wrote a biography of Celine?

  82. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 10, 2009 12:21 AM

    Near enough. Our host has dragged his enormous arse off to bed so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for a fuller explanation.

  83. March 10, 2009 1:00 AM

    Wait… is BTP Baron Charlus and NFA too?

  84. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 1:07 AM

    Goddamn insomnia…come back to confusion…Baron Charlus is Baron Charlus…beyond the pale is Tom Clark, God knows who NFA is…and Mowbray is the saviour of his country:

    Fundamental Defence Policy

    The King called for his counselors and said,
    “Well, bless my soul!
    You tell me that the danger is quite passed?
    We cannot trust to fate and lest the hour grow too late:
    We must deploy the frightful Mowbray arse.”

    “Its dizzying, dazzling whiteness
    And its sphinctre’s perfect tightness
    And its gleaming in the gloaming overall,
    Will terrify invaders and dishearten all crusaders
    And give us ample time to build a wall.”

    The countryside was scoured
    And the King’s mood quickly soured
    When Mowbray’s arse was nowhere to be seen;
    For he’d gone off to Calais
    On a booze-cruise for the day,
    To drink and sample Froggy-type cuisine.

    At last he came back over
    To the great white cliffs of Dover
    (though his arse came over on a separate boat);
    And before the massive castle
    They deployed the Mowbray arsehole
    As they poured the tax-free gin down Mowbray’s throat.

    Now four-square before Dover
    Is bold Mowbray, well-bent over,
    And his puckered hole defies the ghastly Frog;
    And sailors on the briney
    Use the arse so white and shiney
    As a beacon marking home when there’s a fog.

  85. March 10, 2009 1:13 AM

    I work while my daughter and beloved sleep, you see. (Promised myself I’d crawl to bed before 3am tonight, though).

  86. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 1:20 AM

    Yeah, I’m usually up til 3 or 4 but thought I’d hit the sack early. A couple of hours sleep and I’m wide-awake again…ah, well…

  87. March 10, 2009 1:24 AM

    There was once this cafe here in Berlin. A cafe I often walked by (but never, ahem, entered)… this was before I had a digital camera (so no evidence, sadly)… 15 years ago? In the neighborhood of Kreuzberg. A wonderful little place, I assume (second word in the name pronounced in the German fashion, accent landing heavy on the second syllable), called…yeah. Cafe Anal. Imagine debuting the Melton Procto Ring Cycle there to an audience rapt…

  88. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 1:29 AM

    I think I’ll open a Cafe des Beaux Arse just to introduce the Mowbray Ring Cycle to lovers of fundamental verse…

  89. March 10, 2009 1:43 AM

    For opening act, R. Swipe the Scat singer might be just the… I’d better go to bed.

  90. seanmurray permalink
    March 10, 2009 2:40 AM

    Quick 3 AM contribution:

    Mishari, I finally got round to Queenan’s funny as fuck ‘I Was Mickey Rourke for a Day’ (sometimes you just gotta roll the potato). The rest are less annoying than I was expecting. Cheers again for that.

    Baron: your fiction does not disappoint. Let me know if I should unlink you and we can have a really drawn-out passive-aggressive discussion here as to why (ending with me hourly unlinking and re-linking you), followed by more chat about the joint website to stir the shit.

  91. parallax permalink
    March 10, 2009 3:24 AM

    Is there no end to MM’s arse?

    On the ‘cultural action’ side of things, thanks for the revelations Mr Pale. I’m reminded of a recovered story about the link between culture and ‘base brutal politics’ during the fight against Franco’s forces. Here’s the story according to Zizek. In 2003 it was report that:

    a Spanish art historian uncovered the first use of modern art as a deliberate form of torture: Kandinsky and Klee, as well as Bunuel and Dali, were the inspiration behind a series of secret cells and torture centres built in Barcelona in 1938, the work of a French anarchist, Alphonse Laurencic … The cells were as inspired by ideas of geometric abstraction and surrealism as they were by avant-garde art theories on the psychological properties of colours. Beds were placed at a 20-degree angle, making them near-impossible to sleep on, and the floors of the 6-foot-by-3-foot cells were strewn with bricks and other geometric blocks to prevent the prisoners from walking backward and forward. The only option left to them was staring at the walls, which were curved and covered with mind-altering patterns of cubes, squares, straight lines, and spirals which utilized tricks of colour, perspective, and scale to cause mental confusion and distress. Lighting effects gave the impression that the dizzying patterns on the walls were moving. Laurencic preferred to use the colour green because, according to his theory of the psychological effects of various colours, it produced melancholy and sadness.

  92. March 10, 2009 7:30 AM

    Fascinating stuff this. With Mr. Parallax’s arresting citation of Zizek on modern “geometric” art as a torture device–indeed eerily recalling nearly every Paris Review cover of the Cold War era–the pieces of this only seemingly meandering discussion begin curiously to lock into place. Thinking here of the CIA’s promulgation of abstract expressionism, remarked upon by Frances Stonor Saunders; Zizek’s notorious fondness for Lacanian deconstruction of the 1958 (note the date) film (of course, Zizek quaintly pronounces it “fil-um”) Vertigo; and the uncanny vertiginous sensations reported by Nikita Khruschev on several occasions when taken to view modern abstract art–especially his repeated attempts to describe such sensations via otherwise inexplicable anal references. One remembers for instance being a bit taken aback to hear at the time of his 1959 visit to the US his recommendation, reported by Time, that the perpetrator of a certain dizzy-making abstract painting ought to have his trousers pulled down and be forced to sit upon a sharp object. In fact a fresh review of Khruschev’s observations on modern art, uttered between 1959 and 1963, provides a rich harvest of similar comments, clearly reflecting the Soviet prime minister’s continuing state of discomfort and disorientation and compulsion to express same by resort to figures of speech touching upon the nether anatomical regions: he refers to paintings that resemble “dog shit,” “looks like a boy did his business on the canvas,” “appears to have been painted by the rear end of a jackass,” etc. And thus emerges the dark pattern of connection: CIA/ Paris Review/ torture/ Soviet resistance/ abstraction / vertigo / scatology/ back door cultural theory/ Slovenian meta-academic charlatanism. Oh, and pains in the arse. (Haven’t yet sorted out where Elvis fits into all this, though; perhaps up the junction of Kandinsky with MM’s fabulous posterior–the decadent West’s prime cut of cultural rebuttal, if Mishari is correct.)

  93. March 10, 2009 9:00 AM


    Many thanks and how dare you presume to link to my site. You leave me with no alternative but to retaliate in kind.

    Regarding the rest of this fascinating discourse, I think I’m going to need stabilisers and water wings.

  94. March 10, 2009 10:14 AM

    If you walk down from Euston Station towards Holborn you’ll pass the Cunty Hotel ( or at least you did 2 months ago ).

    Given that the Vorticists found gainful employment designing camouflage patterns it is but a short step to the creators of disorientating art to be the inspiration for more sinister uses.

    Weren’t the editing techniques of Kuleshov in Russia put to sinister uses as well?

    I used to have blazing debates on the GU arts blog with Stewart Inman of the London surrealist group who objected to my suggestion that some of the techniques of surrealism ( creating desire in the subconscious, juxtapositions of 2 unrelated objects ) permeates most modern advertising.

  95. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 10:24 AM

    Re: para’s post about modern art as torture, I remember someone who worked in the Virgin Megastore in Picadilly Circus telling me that when they wanted to clear the store at closing, the one sure way to drive the lingering spotty teens out the door was to play Stockhausen very loud. Said it never failed…

    Sean, I thought ‘Micker Rourke For A Day’ would make you laugh…

    Apropos of nothing, really except BTP mentioned Kruschev. A western statesman, can’t remember who, visited China during Mao’s rule. During a meeting with the Great Helmsman, he asked Mao what he thought might have happened if Kruschev had died in ’63 instead of Kennedy. Mao considered for a moment then said:
    “I do not believe Mr. Onassis would have married Mrs. Kruschev.”

    Al, I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure that the whole idea of subliminal messages in film was proven to be ineffective. I’m happy to be corrected, though…

  96. March 10, 2009 10:35 AM


    “…some of the techniques of surrealism ( creating desire in the subconscious, juxtapositions of 2 unrelated objects ) permeates most modern advertising.”

    Surrealism was long ago re-appropriated by commercial forces; dream-logic and money go extremely well together. Here’s a piece of paper with a drawing on it and a number five: it equals a sack of rice; and here’s a piece of paper with a drawing on it and the number fifty thousand: it equals a car. And this brown woman stitched leather in a car factory for a day for the five, and this white man sat in a room talking on a phone for a few minutes for the fifty thousand. And the numeralized art they carry around in their pockets is not only the basis of their relationship but a means for calculating their relative worth as humans. Surreal.

  97. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 10:48 AM

    It’s all a consensual hallucination, Steven. If we stop believing it en masse, it doesn’t work.

    I believe this piece of paper with the Queen’s head on it is worth X. The shopkeeper believes it too and is willing to exchange goods or services worth notional X for the paper…and so on, ad infinitum. If everyone stops believing that a piece of paper is worth any more than its potential use to roll a cigarrete, the whole hallucination fails…

    Which we might actually be in the early stages of witnessing…Marx’s last great crisis of Capitalism..

  98. March 10, 2009 11:10 AM

    A neuro-psychologist friend of mine provides this link, although I haven’t had a chance to read it, yet. To partially counter the argument presented, in his email to me he adds

    “there is now some fairly convincing evidence for a subtle influence of unconscious primes on subsequent behaviour in controlled experiments. It’s the evidence that it can influence things like brand choice that is lacking…”

  99. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 11:16 AM

    Oh, dear…I suspect, Baron, that it’s one of those things that is proved/disproved over and over again, like butter is/isn’t bad for you. I can’t help feeling that it must work on some level and to some degree, but what do I know?

    BTW, Steven, just read your very entertaining and thoughtful little essay on poetry. Silliman is a great name for a twit, though I’ve never heard of him.

    But have I understood you correctly? Do you think that poetry’s no longer viable or plausible because A.) its practioners are all up themselves or B.) that all that can be done with the form has been done and there’s nowhere left to go? Or both?

  100. March 10, 2009 11:26 AM


    Quite. I could counter my own post by telling you that, whilst watching the Wire (season 2, poor Frank) with my beloved, one of us (I won’t say which) marched to the kitchen and said ‘I really fancy a donut’. This is not a common demand in our home. The other then pointed out that, five minutes previously, a Dunkin’ Donuts packet had been placed on a desk in the Wire, relatively close to the camera.

  101. March 10, 2009 11:27 AM

    ha ha! That was a bash at Silliman (who’s set himself up as the one-stop source of all things POOETRY online), primarily… and at the general scam of the POOETRY world and its prizes and reputations and authority figures. I’d never heard of Silliman before 2006; have you visited his site?

  102. March 10, 2009 11:28 AM

    erratum: POOETREE

  103. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 11:35 AM

    Nope, but I’ll seek Sillyman out.

    Interesting article you linked to, Baron. Seems pretty persuasive that the whole subliminal triggers thing has been comprehensively debunked. Calls the whole thing ‘cargo cult science’ and a follow-on from mesmerism and a replacement for lost religious faith…and yet, and yet…

    Sufferin’ catfish…just had a quick look at Silliman’s blog. On the left-hand side is a list of links to poet’s blogs. It must have damn near 5000 names on it. That’s when I lost the will to live and scarpered…

  104. March 10, 2009 11:45 AM

    “Do you think that poetry’s no longer viable or plausible because A.) its practioners are all up themselves or B.) that all that can be done with the form has been done and there’s nowhere left to go? Or both?”

    I think people should do it for their own pleasure and the pleasure of their friends or a small audience. The belief that poetry is just another path in the life-affirming journey towards fame is responsible for flooding the world with dire, *dire* vertical typography and sweaty shirtless so-called Slams, so of course I’m “against” that. But not in a placard-carrying way.

    Also: what I see happening in the litblogsphere is a reproduction of all the worst aspects of the old-school “print” world (the cliques, the hackery, self-appointed mavenry, logrolling and consensus-as-truth-mongering) with little or none of the ameliorating professionalism or flashes of genius we got in the old format. Traffic Behemoths like Silliman are absorbing an awful lot of bandwidth and band-wagonning will mean that it snowballs: the bigger he (and his ilk) get, the bigger they will continue to get. There’s some astonishingly illiterate (or anti-literate) crap blazing out of these popular portals. I like to take my popgun potshots now before the targets are omnipotent.

  105. March 10, 2009 11:48 AM

    We certainly seem locked into buying things we don’t need and the concept of must-haves in all things from seeing the latest films, to the unread pile of books to the latest fashion is a powerful motivating factor these days so something in advertising is working even if it isn’t tied to specific brands.

    Adam Curtis’s documentaries ( one is The Power of Nightmares ) are quite interesting on this subject. He ties it into political advertising as well.

  106. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 12:04 PM

    You’ll get no argument from me, Steven. My models (purely in the sense of how a poet might arrange his or her life) are Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, poets who had successful careers that had sod all to do with poetry.

    In a way, I think that the fact they wrote out of whatever need or impulse drove them, not depending on the poetry world and academia to sustain them while they said what they wanted to say, gave them a kind of purity and focus.

    Poets like Geoffrey Hill, the very model of the academic/poetry world habitué, leave me cold (although Mowbray likes him and I must accept that I may be wrong) . While I can see the skillful use of form and the benefits of a large vocabulary and a wide frame of reference….ultimately, the work strikes me as inert, like all those perfectly adequately executed 19th century landscape paintings.

    I’ll take one Delmore Schwartz over a hundred Hills.

  107. March 10, 2009 12:04 PM

    Erratum (sigh): bandwidth (sorted–Ed.)

  108. March 10, 2009 12:05 PM

    “In a way, I think that the fact they wrote out of whatever need or impulse drove them, not depending on the poetry world and academia to sustain them while they said what they wanted to say, gave them a kind of purity and focus.”

    Truth to its core.

  109. March 10, 2009 12:09 PM

    Poetry is such an odd art-form. If you paint or do what I do you need to put the hours in, find somewhere outsisde of the home to practice your art and use a lot of materials so you have to figure out ways of financing it directly.

    Whereas the best poets seem to have worked full-time and written when they could.

    Odd too that to be poetic is one of the highest aspirations ( visual poetry, poetry in movement etc. ), most people know a poem but as an art-form it is at risk of fading away almost un-noticed.

  110. March 10, 2009 12:12 PM

    A while ago I interviewed an academic poet (r.i.p.) and what really struck/perplexed me was how much better he was as an interviewee than a poet; not to speak ill of the dead. His poems were the sort of thing I already knew better than to mess with (lyricism undiluted by experience and peppered with the standard classical references) the year before I entered college. The answer being that mediocrity works, whether or not it delights. Especially where creativity strives for tenure.

  111. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 12:15 PM

    You’re right, of course, Al. It is passing strange that poetry is used as an indication of the highest attainment in almost any field…”it’s pure poetry” and yet very few people actually read let alone write poetry.

    It’s as if we have some kind of race-memory (I mean human-race) of poetry as the noblest and purest of art forms.

    “more honor’d in the breach than in the observance…”, as the man said.

    “…whether or not it delights..”. Ah, there’s the pity of it, Steven. If poetry doesn’t delight, then what’s it for?

  112. March 10, 2009 12:18 PM


    “Whereas the best poets seem to have worked full-time and written when they could.”

    You’d be surprised how those left-over hours (especially if sleep is not an issue) build up. Like the sand in an anthill that ends up being taller than the NBA. If you aren’t in a rush, and don’t need money for it, *anything* is possible.

  113. March 10, 2009 12:35 PM

    Steven I understand that very well believe me but artists are always in a rush aren’t they? I can’t believe poets are any less compulsive/aware that time is dribbling away/dissatisfied with what they’ve done previously than those of us who ponce around in front of people or paint hyper-realist historical tableaux.

    Perhaps they were in a permanent state of frustration that no opportunity to write full-time materialised. But it’s not apparent in the letters of Wallace Stevens or TS Eliot. Egon Schiele’s letters from prison are full of whining about how he can’t paint and I think he was only imprisoned for a few days.

  114. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 12:35 PM

    I’d be very interested to hear BTP’s take on this ‘whither poetry?’ conundrum. As an amateur doggerelist who’s never even dipped a toe in the literary or poetry worlds, my opinions on the subject are obviously less informed and less interesting than his would be…

    Something BTP said about John Ashbery as a CIA operative inspired this:

    The Debriefing Of Agent Ashbery

    “Now, see here Jack. We need to clear up a few things.
    For example, your reports to Station Chief Matthiessen.
    What does this mean, Jack?”

    The first of the undecoded messages read: “Popeye sits
    in thunder,
    Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
    From livid curtain’s hue, a tangram emerges: a country.”

    “What country, Jack? Are we talking Commies?”

    He scratched
    The part of his head under his hat. The apartment
    Seemed to grow smaller. “But what if no pleasant
    Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my

    “OK, Jack. We’ll assume you mean the Russkies.”

    A note was pinned to his bib.
    And tears are unavailing,” it read. “Henceforth shall
    Popeye’s apartment
    Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or

    “Can you clarify, Jack? Should we be worried about
    a chemical attack?”

    “I have news!” she gasped. “Popeye, forced as
    you know to flee the country
    One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened,
    duplicate father, jealous of the apartment
    And all that it contains, myself and spinach..”

    “OK, Jack. Now we’re getting somewhere. So the agent
    code-named ‘Popeye’ is on the run. Is he coming over
    to our side, Jack? What’s ‘spinach’, Jack?”

    I wouldn’t be preachy,
    or worry about children and old people, except
    in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe.
    Instead I’d sort of let things be what they are
    while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate

    ” So this ‘spinach’ is a plan for a clockwork universe? Jesus, the
    goddamn pinkos’ll stop at nothing. This is good stuff, Jack.”

    I thought I’d stumbled into, as a stranger
    accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back,
    revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
    somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside
    and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.

    “Bingo! The secret lab! Can you remember where it was, Jack?
    Never mind. We can hypnotise you.”

    But then you remember something
    William James
    wrote in some book of his you never read–it was fine, it had the
    the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet
    still looking
    for evidence of fingerprints. Someone had handled it
    even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and
    his alone.

    “We’ll leave that stuff to the lab boys.
    So how do you see this panning out, Jack?”

    Well he’s
    got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him–
    this thing works both ways, you know. You can’t always
    be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself
    at the same time.

    “Goddamn right, Jack. OK, fellows, let’s take a break.
    Good work, agent Ashbery. Uncle Sam appreciates it.”

  115. March 10, 2009 3:19 PM

    “Egon Schiele’s letters from prison are full of whining about how he can’t paint and I think he was only imprisoned for a few days.”

    Good old Egon… he got prison and Klimt got ___ jobs! Larf.

  116. March 10, 2009 5:50 PM

    I can thoroughly recommend dustbuster’s comment on the current AL Kennedy blog on the books blog if anyone is bored

  117. March 10, 2009 6:04 PM

    I’m beginning to get a little jealous of NFA’s ability to make people wonder who the hell she/he/it/they is. Just received this from the masterful Edmond Caldwell (Contra James Wood and The Chagall Position):

    “By the by, do you know anything of the fellow who keeps the Flying Pig, Folding Chair blog? He’s got another blog, More Modern Lore, where he posts his prose bits, which I like.

    He links to us both, and the Modern Lore profile has him living in Berlin (which of course I know is a small town where everyone knows everybody elses’s blogging business…).”

  118. March 10, 2009 6:14 PM

    Al: if that comment isn’t deleted mere minutes from now, I’ll eat my tinfoil hat. Slap-yerself funny, though, innit?

    PS Kennedy’s new hairstyle is disorientingly Volvo-owner.

  119. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 7:12 PM

    I just listened to some politician say “…we want a new future…”

    Yeah, well…obviously the old future that we had was rubbish…erm…

    I dunno, I can never decide who the worst offenders are when it comes to violent assaults on the English language, sports commentators, politicians or Grauniad subs and scribblers…

  120. March 10, 2009 7:16 PM


    Your debriefing of Agent JA smacks of the real thing, though, as I learned from a cautious wallow last night through a quagmire of publicly-disclosed Fifties and Sixties Agency Eastern European Field Reports (this pursuant to our colloquy of yesterday), your JA may well give himself away as a probable mole by making far too much sense. Too put it a bit Bluntly, he doth perhaps verify his own inauthenticity too much.

    As to the present discussion on poetry, rarely does anything even approximately as intelligent (and impartial) occur on the “actual” soi-disant poetry sites. For example, I agree with your high estimation of Delmore Schwartz, but try finding anyone else who does on any of those American “avant garde” franchise outlets. Speaking (vide Parallax’s post) of psychological torture.

  121. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 7:38 PM

    I’m always a bit leery of the soi disant ‘avant garde’. One so often discovers that it’s just a re-hash or re-working of something older and more obscure. Equally, the older I get, the more wary I am of innovation for the sake of innovation. Schwartz is wonderful, isn’t he? I’m also very fond of John Berryman. How can you not love a guy who can write like this?:

    Filling her compact & delicious body
    with chicken páprika, she glanced at me
    Fainting with interest, I hungered back
    and only the fact of her husband & four other people
    kept me from springing on her

    or falling at her little feet and crying
    ‘You are the hottest one for years of night
    Henry’s dazed eyes
    have enjoyed, Brilliance.’ I advanced upon
    (despairing) my spumoni.—Sir Bones: is stuffed,
    de world, wif feeding girls.

    —Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
    downcast … The slob beside her feasts … What wonders is
    she sitting on, over there?
    The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
    Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
    —Mr. Bones: there is.

    John Berryman, Dream Song 4

    I also love Charles Simic and Theodore Roethke. I suppose one of the reasons I’m always suspicious of the avant garde is the alacrity with which its enthusiasts are prepared to dismiss the past, as if they themselves weren’t part of a continuum and sprang full-blown from the forehead of Zeus.

    It’s stupid and worse, it’s ungrateful. As someone once put it, “History isn’t dead. It isn’t even history.”

  122. March 10, 2009 9:49 PM

    Mishari aren’t the avant garde there to be ungrateful? Yer man Wyndham Lewis was especially disrespectful about his forebears.

  123. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 10:06 PM

    I suppose so, although I suspect a lot of it is posturing. I think it’s understandable to want to differentiate ones own work from what came before.

    But artists as diverse as Picasso, Miles Davis and Giacometti never made any bones about owing a great deal to those who came before them and from whom they learned so much.

    I’m a great admirer of Wyndham Lewis and Marinetti and the Futurists, for that matter, who suggested blowing up the libraries, museums and galleries and talked up the glory of mechanised warfare…that doesn’t mean I take them very seriously. More posturing, I believe…

    In my teens, I sneered at lots of things, jazz, gothic cathedrals, classical music, Van Dyke–the list goes on and on– mainly to disguise my ignorance but also, I suspect, because I thought it was almost the duty of the young to disrespect the old and all their works.

    Noisy, arrogant and ignorant. I was a very unappealing young man, I fear…

  124. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 10, 2009 11:06 PM

    Dick Van Dyke was a God, blasphemer.

  125. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 11:13 PM

    Yes, indeed…his devotion to Method Acting, as demonstrated in his storming performance as a..ahem..lovable Cockney chimney sweep in Mary Poppins is evergreen in the memories of devotees of thespian excellence…altogether now, chimchimeree-chimchimeree etc, etc…

  126. March 10, 2009 11:35 PM

    And you’re writing about the avant-garde being rude. I’ve read it all now.

  127. mishari permalink*
    March 10, 2009 11:37 PM

    When you get past 50, Al, you’re no longer ‘rude’, you’re curmudgeonly or cantankerous or peppery (my favourite)…but not ‘rude’.

    Today’s search terms:

    bottom of the neck malady

    sheep stupid cartoon

    sheep cartoons

    running sheep

    imdb gross receipts appaloosa

    beauty with a book and a sheep

    knock here

    This blog is rapidly becoming a magnet for ovine obsessives. Who knew there were so many of the bastards?

  128. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 11, 2009 12:09 AM

    It’s those Somerset lads looking for sheep porn. Who did that Penis Van Lesbian joke? I’m definitely not going to google it.

  129. mishari permalink*
    March 11, 2009 12:18 AM

    Apparently and to my surprise, it was Mary Tyler Moore who gave him that nickname on the set of the Dick Van Dyke Show. Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes. Who would have thought?

  130. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 11, 2009 12:25 AM

    Blimey. I had the feeling it was Gore Vidal.

  131. March 11, 2009 1:13 AM

    MTM as Laura Petrie (a little bit of a Kingston Trio album cover ingenue in those leotards; a little bit of Jackie Kennedy on dancer’s speed instead of debutante’s downers) is embedded in the hoariest soft crystal of this boy’s libido… along with Julie Newmar, Ronnie Spector and the android who died of a circuit overload: torn between a romantic yearning for Kirk and a filial love for her creator.

  132. mishari permalink*
    March 11, 2009 1:19 AM

    Me too. As a small boy, I thought she was far too good for that clumsy putz Penis Van Lesbian, who, if I remember correctly after a lacuna of over 45 years, opened the show every week by tripping over a footstool or pouf or whatever the hell it was…she was trim and spunky (in the old-fashioned sense. The words have a rather different resonance now)…

  133. March 11, 2009 8:31 AM

    I am past 50 and I still think you’re being rude about Male appendage Bigger than a car smaller than a lorry Friend of Dorothy.

  134. March 11, 2009 9:33 AM

    I’ve meant to find out more about Berryman ever since this Nick Cave lyric:

    Bukowski was a jerk
    Berryman was best
    He wrote like wet papier mache, went the Heming-way
    Weirdly on wings and with maximum pain

    Isn’t the tension between the avant-garde, or anything new, and the past just the old anxiety of influence? And also, with young artists starting out, with less broad knowledge of the past, it’s easier to believe that a new work is wholly new. If understanding of the vast breadth of the achievements of the past comes too soon, it can enervate.

  135. mishari permalink*
    March 11, 2009 11:43 AM

    Good point, Baron. The last thing we need is more enervated young artists–moping, sulking, saying ‘what’s the point? Why didn’t I become a dentist?’ Don’t mind me. I’m just an irritable middle-aged man…

    BTW, here are about 200 of Berryman’s poems. He’s terrific.

    Thinking about it, it occured to me that perhaps the only field in which genuinely startling insights and discoveries happen isn’t the arts but the sciences. I’m trying to recall where and what it was, but I saw some so-called ‘primitive art’ where the artist had tried to illustrate the passage of time in a way that instantly made me think ‘Cubism’, ‘Futurism’ ‘Nude Descending A Staircase’…

    Then again, various strands of mysticism and religion believed that energy amd matter where the same thing, later confirmed by Einstein, so maybe there really is ‘…no new thing under the sun.’

  136. March 11, 2009 12:08 PM

    ‘instantly made me think ‘Cubism’…’

    Quite. Don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Sainsbury centre at UEA; many objects from J Sainsbury’s private collection are displayed there – modern art but mostly tribal art and stone tools, ancient Roman, Egyptian objects, etc. Some of the most ancient tools – knives, harpoon heads and such, have designs more elegant that a Brancusi. And yet they are entirely functional. It’s as near-miraculous a thing as i’ve seen. There are prehistoric axe-heads in the Museum of London of equal beauty.

    Of course, most good artists know perfectly well what they’re taking from (it’s the AoI that stops them admitting it). In my experience it’s the followers who become doctrinaire. Here’s Rimbauld:

    ‘For a long time I found the celebrities of modern painting and poetry ridiculous. I loved absurd pictures, fanlights, stage scenery, mountebanks backcloths, inn-signs, cheap coloured prints; unfashionable literature, church Latin, pornographic books badly spelt, grandmothers novels, fairy stories, little books for children, old operas, empty refrains, simple rhythms…’

    Match that vital, rude joy against the sour, dessiccated and label-slapping view of the arts (and artists) that the ‘admirers’ of so many artists display.

  137. mishari permalink*
    March 11, 2009 12:30 PM

    Well put, Baron. I still take joy in all the things Arfur listed and more besides.

    I remember seeing the wall of a small adobe house in Andalucia that had, over the years, been coated (probably annually) in various shades of blue. Over perhaps a century, the combination of different shades and parts of the wall coming away to reveal many different layers of different shades underneath created this astonishly lovely sort of palimpsest. A bit like this , but layered with shades of blue, rather like the pastry the French call mille feuilles

    I remember thinking that I could have taken a segment of that wall, framed it and sold it for $100,000 in any upmarket gallery in London or NYC. Beauty and delight are everywhere. You just have to tune your receiver properly.

  138. March 11, 2009 2:07 PM

    Thinking back to Picasso – although he borrowed heavily from the past he was also extremely competitive about it as well. His series of “hommages” to Dejeuner sur l’herbe, las Meninas or the women of Algiers almost seem like an attempt to paint them into submission. He had a painterly go at Matisse as well but couldn’t get to grips with him – an entirely different temperament.

    The rude energy of young artists is their strength I feel – I’m never convinced that the accumulation of experience is always for the better in art. Many painters who started off vibrant ended up elegant at best or weary at worst. Balthus is a case in point or Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, Francis Bacon or Rolf Harris. Not always the case but enough to make me wonder.

  139. mishari permalink*
    March 11, 2009 2:13 PM

    Very true, Al. But against that you have to set artists like Rembrandt, whose late self-portraits I find some of the most profoundly moving paintings in all art or Goya, whose late work is so dark and disturbing or Hokusai, who said:

    “From the time I was six, I was in the habit of sketching things I saw around me, and around the age of fifty, I began to work in earnest, producing numerous designs. It was not until after my seventieth year, however, that I produced anything of significance. At the age of seventy-three, I began to grasp the underlying structure of birds and animals, insects and fish, and the way trees and plants grow.

    Thus, if I keep up my efforts, I will have an even better understanding when I am eighty, and by ninety will have penetrated to the heart of things. At one hundred, I may reach a level of divine understanding, and if I live a decade beyond that, everything I paint-every dot and line-will be alive. I ask the god of longevity to grant me a life long enough to prove this true.”

  140. March 11, 2009 2:28 PM


    ‘almost seem like an attempt to paint them into submission’

    That’s the anxiety of influence precisely expressed. First you are in thrall to your influence, then – if you have the talent – you try to obliterate it by outdoing, or satirising, it. Then, if you’re a strong creator, you synthesis the both into something new. Jonathan Bate traces out a – to my mind – wonderful sequence of observations on this pattern regarding Shakespeare’s furtively acknowledged debt to Marlowe. There are plenty of examples – the initial Marlovian rhetoric of RIII as mimickry, then satirisation (with sly improvement)- Barabas the mighty anti-hero becomes Shylock, deeply human yet a comic villain – to the wonderful observation that Faustus’s ‘I’ll burn my books’ is echoed as late as the Tempest, with Prospero’s ‘I’ll drown my books’.

  141. March 11, 2009 2:30 PM

    re: Rembrandt/ Hokusai No question of that or argument with it. But to be honest I’m not sure I could tell offhand what a late Hokusai looks like in comparison to an early one. Inspiring bit of writing though.

    Picasso’s late “fuck it I no longer give a shit” period or late Phillip Guston where he threw a successful abstract expressionist career in the bin and embarked on some extraordinary paintings with Robert Crumb-like figures in them are wonderful examples of another use of experience.

  142. March 11, 2009 3:00 PM

    Baron – that’s true although I’m not sure Picasso was especially influenced by any of those artists, certainly not Manet – I wonder if it’s more macho than that, more of a fight with those also considered to be greats – Picasso was extremely well regarded by the time he painted them.

    You could be right but to put my amateur psychoanalyst’s hat on for a moment I wonder if they were done out of insecurity. Don’t believe that I’m the best there is? Then I’ll prove it. In my own way of course.

  143. March 11, 2009 3:13 PM

    ‘I wonder if they were done out of insecurity’

    For sure. That’s why it’s called the anxiety of influence.

  144. mishari permalink*
    March 11, 2009 3:15 PM

    Actually, Al, Picasso did a half-dozen versions of Manet’s Déjeuners sur l’herbe, as seen here as well as at least one sculpture of same.

    Is that inspiration or influence?

  145. March 11, 2009 3:23 PM

    It’s the influence part of that I’m not getting. I don’t see any influence of Manet, Velazquez or Delacroix in any of his work and by the time he painted those series of paintings 50’s-70’s he was in the latter part of his life. I think they are …. well as you’ve probably guessed I don’t know! But the anxiety comes from somewhere else I feel.

  146. mishari permalink*
    March 11, 2009 3:27 PM

    But surely the influences are just as likely to be invisible as overt? Perhaps in the way Picasso thought about rendering light or shadow or how volumes occupy space or perhaps Manet served as a springboard for a line of exploration? No? Is that not influence? Even if Manet’s work convinced him of a way not to do things, I’d call that influence…

  147. March 11, 2009 3:57 PM

    My art history ain’t good but wasn’t Dejourner sur L’herbe scandalously erotic. Wouldn’t that have been an influence on Picasso, who – I’ve been told it is said, by a man somewhere – introduced a new level of eroticism to western art?

  148. mishari permalink*
    March 11, 2009 4:02 PM

    Nah…that’s yer typical French piqnique. Fully-dressed men and naked women, sprawled on the grass eating foi gras to the sound of les trompettes. Works for me…

  149. March 11, 2009 4:33 PM

    Could be all those things – I don’t know either but it was the timing of those paintings that made me wonder. He would have been 60 or 70 when he painted the Dejeuner series – I think there would have been hints of imagery in his early work if they were direct influences, in the way that the African masks appeared pre-Cubism or the Ingres-style portraits of the 20’s.

    There’s something more pugnacious about his approach. Maybe it’s the anxiety of being considered not as good as??

  150. Billy permalink
    March 13, 2009 11:59 AM

    Sad? Sad? I know where you live, young woman (well, not really).

    Either I’m missing something, or there aren’t many sonnets here. So I thought I post this found poetry sonnet, with thanks to the various authors I’ve stolen from:

    I have always wanted a Winged Victory
    in anticipation of this glittering prize
    if Inspiration comes round this weekend … I’ll try
    pigeons and toilets for the birds; the Great, the Wise.

    You bastards keep setting the bar so fucking high,
    Christ, I was eating (two fried eggs, as it happens).
    Why this hostility to the animal kingdom? Lie;
    Provide a useful perch for pigeons.

    Still, I’ll be out of wireless reception for another week
    (Fabulous rejoinder, Ed, though a little cheeky);
    refugees and policymakers ha[ve] yielded a bleak
    “not equal to the task beneath this empty sky”.

    It would almost be funny were it not so tragic;
    I have just spent the day discussing Gray’s Pindaric.

  151. mishari permalink*
    March 13, 2009 12:17 PM

    Excellent, Bill…a sonnet trouvé , so to speak. But asking for sonnets is really just what Hitchcock called a ‘McGuffin’, something to kick the plot into action.

    If people want to write them, that’s great. If they’d rather talk about other stuff, that’s great, too. Basically, I’m attempting to provide what our much-missed friend cynicalsteve provided us with over @thedoggerelsbollocks, a lampost where all are welcome to come and cock a leg. Now, get cracking on a villanelle…

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