The Crone

February 24, 2018

I am the silence of midnight,
and black velvet skies.
I am the shadow of vision
that tempers your eyes.
I am the darkness of secrets
that draw the veil thin,
The coldness of winter
that shakes on your skin.

I am Grandmother, Weaver,
Enchantress and Crone.
The knowledge of Justice
that strikes at the bone.
Destruction is mine when its time comes to be:
Death to the living, who all come to me.

Mine is the hand of the spinning of fates.
Mine is the passage between life’s fragile gates.
I am the giver of magickal sight,
The slight sliver of waning moonlight.
I am the branch of ageless worn trees.
Hear my voice and know me!

I am the Raven that flies through the woods,
Black silken wings opened up to the sky!
Bearer of closure, competition, and truth
Dreamscapes and Banshee am I!
Mine is the wisdom that comes in the dark.
Mine is the dying that calls to your flesh.
Mine are the hidden remains of your heart.
Mine is the mist that will take your last breath.

Give unto me what is old and outworn,
And I will return it with new life reborn.
Give me your sorrows, your sadness, your grief.
And in the dark hour, I will give thee relief!

I am the giver of death and rebirth,
Mine are the last things, before they are first.
See me in the shadows, and in the dark sea.
I am the Crone!
Hear my voice and know me!

Venice, Unaccompanied

February 24, 2018


on the train, I thought

we were attacked

            by light:

chrome-winged birds

hatching from the lagoon.

            That first day

the buoys were all

that made the harbour


pennies sewn into a hemline.

Later I learned to live in it,

            to walk

through the alien city —

a beekeeper’s habit —

            with fierce light

clinging to my head and hands.

Treated as gently as every

            other guest —

each house’s barbed antennae

trawling for any kind

            of weather —

still I sobbed in a glass box

on an unswept street

            with the last

few lire ticking like fleas

off my phonecard I’m sorry

            I can’t

stand this, which

one of us do you love?

Monica Youn


February 24, 2018

desecrate it at a touch

February 24, 2018

Dreams, memories, the sacred – they are all alike in that they are beyond our grasp. Once we are even marginally separated from what we can touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the unattainable, the quality of the miraculous. Everything, really, has this quality of sacredness, but we can desecrate it at a touch. How strange man is! His touch defiles and yet he contains the source of miracles.

Yukio Mishima
Spring Snow

a questionable occupation

February 24, 2018


For many decades now I have been a fiction writer, and from the first I was aware that mine was a questionable occupation. In the 1930s an elderly neighbour in Chicago told me that he wrote fiction for the pulps. “The people on the block wonder why I don’t go to a job, and I’m seen puttering around, trimming the bushes or painting a fence instead of working in a factory. But I’m a writer. I sell to Argosy and Doc Savage,” he said with a certain gloom. “They wouldn’t call that a trade.” Probably he noticed that I was a bookish boy, likely to sympathize with him, and perhaps he was trying to warn me to avoid being unlike others. But it was too late for that.

From the first, too, I had been warned that the novel was at the point of death, that like the walled city or the crossbow, it was a thing of the past. And no one likes to be at odds with history. Oswald Spengler, one of the most widely read authors of the early ’30s, taught that our tired old civilization was very nearly finished. His advice to the young was to avoid literature and the arts and to embrace mechanization and become engineers.

In refusing to be obsolete, you challenged and defied the evolutionist historians. I had great respect for Spengler in my youth, but even then I couldn’t accept his conclusions, and (with respect and admiration) I mentally told him to get lost.

Saul Bellow
Hidden Within Technology’s Kingdom, a Republic of Letters

his novel of alienation

February 24, 2018


Two startlingly similar short novels appeared in France in 1942, at the centre of each a conscienceless and slightly creepy young man, unattached and adrift, the perpetrator of a meaningless murder. One was Albert Camus’s L’Étranger, the other Georges Simenon’s La Veuve Couderc. Camus’s novel rose to become part of the literary firmament, and is still glittering, intensely studied and praised – to my mind, overpraised. Simenon’s novel did not drop, but settled, so to speak, went the way of the rest of his work – rattled along with decent sales, the occasional reprint, and was even resurrected as a 1950s pulp fiction paperback with a come-on tag line (“A surging novel of torment and desire”) and a lurid cover: busty peasant girl pouting in a barn, her skirt hiked over her knees, while a hunky guy lurks at the door – price twenty-five cents.

Camus had laboured for years on his novel of alienation; his Carnets record his frustration and false starts. “The fewer novels or plays you write – because of other parasitic interests – the fewer you will have the ability to write”, V. S. Pritchett once wrote, lamenting his own small output of fiction. “The law ruling the arts is that they must be pursued to excess.” Simenon had published three other novels in 1942, and six others the previous year. La Veuve Couderc (in English variously The Widow and Ticket of Leave) became another title on the extremely long list of Simenon works, none of them regarded as a subject for scholarship. If reading Camus represents duty, Simenon represents a frivolous indulgence, a greedy satisfaction that shows as self-consciousness in even the most well-intentioned critic: awkwardness over a pleasurable text, together with a shiver of snooty superfluity, and the palpable cringe, common to many introductions to Simenon’s novels, What am I doing here?

Simenon takes some sorting out, because at first glance he seems easily classified and on second thoughts – after you have read fifty or sixty of his books – unclassifiable. The Camus comparison is not gratuitous – Simenon often made it himself, and André Gide brought the same subject up a few years after L’Étranger appeared, favouring Simenon’s work, especially this novel. And (in a 1947 letter to Albert Guerard) he went further, calling Simenon “notre plus grand romancier aujourd’hui, vrai romancier”. Born ten years apart, Camus and Simenon had arrived raw and youthful in metropolitan France from the distant margins of literary Francophonia – Camus a French Algerian polemical journalist with a philosophical bent, Simenon a self-educated Belgian who began his writing life as a cub reporter with a taste for crime stories; the pedant and the punk, both with an eye for the ladies. Camus seems to have taken no notice of Simenon (no mention at all in any Camus biography), though we know that Simenon was watchful of, and somewhat competitive with, the decade-younger Camus, whose complete works (he must surely have noted) can be accommodated between the covers of one modest-sized volume. The indefatigable Simenon, confident of winning the Nobel Prize, predicted in 1937 that he would win it in within ten years. It went to others – Pearl S. Buck, F. E. Sillanpää, Winston S. Churchill. Then in 1957, hearing that Camus had won it, Simenon (so his wife reported) became enraged. “Can you believe that asshole got it and not me?”

Paul Theroux
Georges Simenon, the existential hack