in the rain

The four books of short stories written by Montague Rhodes James, Provost of Eton College, have been collected in a single but not overly bulky volume under the imprint of Longmans, Green & Co. One can heartily recommend the acquisition of this volume to all lovers of the weird and supernatural who are not already familiar with its contents.

James is perhaps unsurpassed in originality by any living writer: and he has made a salient contribution to the technique of the genre as well as to the enriching of its treasury of permanent masterpieces. His work is marked by rare intellectual skill and ingenuity, by power rising at times above the reaches of pure intellection, and by a sheer finesse of writing that will bear almost endless study. It has a peculiar savour, wholly different from the diabolic grimness of Bierce, or the accumulative atmospheric terror and rounded classicism of Machen. Here there is nothing of the feverish but logical hallucinations, the macabre and exotic beauty achieved by Poe; nor is there any kinship to the fine poetic weavings and character nuances of Walter de la Mare, or the far-searching, penetrative psychism of Blackwood, or the frightful antiquities and ultra-terrene menaces of Lovecraft.

The style of these stories is rather casual and succinct. The rhythms of the prose are brisk and pedestrian, and the phrasing is notable for clearness and incisiveness rather than for those vague, reverberative overtones which beguile one’s inner ear in the prose of fiction-writers who are also poets. Usually there is a more or less homely setting, often with a background of folklore and long—past happenings whose dim archaism provides a depth of shadow from which, as from a recessed cavern, the central horror emerges into the noontide of the present. Things and occurrences, sometimes with obvious off-hand relationship, are grouped cunningly, forcing the reader unaware to some frightful deduction; or there is an artful linkage of events seemingly harmless in themselves, that leave him confronted at a sudden turn with some ghoulish spectre or night-demon.

The minutæ of modern life, humour, character—drawing, scenic and archaeological description, are used as a foil to heighten the abnormal, but are never allowed to usurp a disproportionate interest. Always there is an element of supernatural menace, whose value is never impaired by scientific or spiritualistic explanation. Sometimes it is brought forth at the climax into full light; and sometimes, even then, it is merely half-revealed, is left undefined but perhaps all the more alarming. In any case, the presence of some unnatural but objective reality is assumed and established.

The goblins and phantoms devised by James are truly creative and are presented through images often so keen and vivid as to evoke an actual physical shock. Sight, smell, hearing, taction, all are played upon with well-nigh surgical sureness, by impressions calculated to touch the shuddering quick of horror.

Some of the images or similes employed are most extraordinary, and spring surely from the daemonic inspiration of the highest genius. For instance, take the unnamable thing in The Uncommon Prayer Book, which resembles “a great roll of old, shabby, white flannel,” with a kind of face in the upper end, and which falls forward on a man’s shoulder and hides this face in his neck like a ferret attacking a rabbit. Then, in Mr. Humphreys and his Inheritance (one of subtler and more inferential tales) there is the form “with a burnt human face” and “black arms,” that emerges from an inexplicable hole in the paper plan of a garden maze “with the odious writhings of a wasp creeping out of’ a rotten apple.” In The Tractate Middoth one meets an apparition with thick cobwebs over its eyes—the lich or spectre of a man who, obedient to his own rather eccentric instructions, had been buried sitting at a table in an underground room. And who, upon reading The Diary of Mr. Poynter, can fail to share Denton’s revulsion when he reaches out, thinking that a dog is beside his chair, and touches a crawling figure covered with long, wavy, Absolom-like tresses? Who, too, can shake off the horror of Dennistoun, in Canon Alberic’s Scrap Book, when a demon’s hand appears from beneath on the table, suggesting momentarily a pen-wiper, a rat, and a large spider?

Reading and re-reading these tales, one notes a predilection for certain milieus and motifs. Backgrounds of scholastic or ecclesiastic life are frequent and some of the best tales are laid in cathedral towns. In many of the supernatural entities, there recurs insistently the character of extreme and repulsive hairiness. Often the apparition is connected with, or evoked by, some material object, such as the bronze whistle from the ruins of a Templars’ preceptory in Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad; the old drawing of King Solomon and the night-demon in Canon Alberic’s Scrap Book; the silver Anglo-Saxon crown from an immemorial barrow in A Warning to the Curious; and the strange curtain-pattern in The Diary of Mr. Poynter which had “a subtlety in its drawing.”

In several stories there are hints of bygone Satanism and wizardry whose malign wraiths or conjured spirits linger obscurely in modern time; and in at least one tale, Casting the Runes, the warlock is a living figure. In other tales, the forgetful and vanishing phantasms of old crimes cry out their mindless pain, or peer for an instant from familiar pools and shrubberies. The personnel of James’ Pandemonium is far from monotonous; one finds a satyr dwelling in a cathedral tomb; a carven cat-like monster that comes to life when touched by a murderer’s hand; a mouldy smelling sack-like object in an unlit well, which suddenly puts its arms around the neck of a treasure-seeker; a cloaked and hooded shape with a tentacle in lieu of arms; a lean, hideously taloned terror, with a jaw “shallow as that of a beast”; dolls that repeat crime and tragedy; creatures that are dog-like but are not dogs; a saw fly tall as a man, met in a dim room full of rustling insects; and even a weak, ancient thing, which being wholly bodiless and insubstantial, makes for itself a body out of crumpled bed-linen.

The peculiar genius of M. R. James, and his greatest power, lies in the convincing evocation of weird, malignant and preternatural phenomena such as I have instanced. It is safe to say that few writers, dead or living, have equalled him in this formidable necromancy and perhaps no one has excelled him.

Clark Ashton Smith
The Weird Works of M.R. James
From: The Fantasy Fan February 1934

Egon Schiele - Standing Girl in Blue Dress

A mode of understanding life which wilfully ignores so much can do so only at the peril of thoroughly distorting the rest. A mode of understanding literature which can ignore the private lives of half the human race is not “incomplete”; it is distorted through and through. Feminist criticism of the early 1970s began by pointing out the simplest of these distortions, that is, that the female characters of even our greatest realistic “classics” by male writers are often not individualized portraits of possible women, but creations of fear and desire.

Joanna Russ
How to suppress Women’s Writing

strongly narrative

May 12, 2018

A poet

Bukowski’s poems are best appreciated not as individual verbal artefacts but as ongoing instalments in the tale of his true adventures, like a comic book or a movie serial. They are strongly narrative, drawing from an endless supply of anecdotes that typically involve a bar, a skid-row hotel, a horse race, a girlfriend, or any permutation thereof. Bukowski’s free verse is really a series of declarative sentences broken up into a long, narrow column, the short lines giving an impression of speed and terseness even when the language is sentimental or clichéd.

Adam Kirsch
Smashed: the pulp poetry of Charles Bukowski
New Yorker 14th March 2005

Hüseyin Sahin

Like all obsessions, Ballard’s novel is occasionally boring and frequently ridiculous. The invariance of its intensity is not something the reviewer can easily suggest. Ballard is quite unlike anyone else; indeed, he seems to address a different – a disused – part of the reader’s brain. You finish the book with some bafflement and irritation. But this is only half the experience. You then sit around waiting for the novel to come and haunt you. And it does.

Martin Amis
Review of The Day of Creation by J. G. Ballard

The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000

I was probably about 11 or 12 when I first saw a picture of Pan, and I was mesmerized by this half goat, half man god. He came to represent all that I searched for in the magical mysteries of “the Pagan”, all that I swore ran through my blood and my pre-teen sexuality, as it led down into adolescence. Any depiction of a satyr in a museum would become an icon and a little place of pilgrimage for me.

In esoteric hearsay, stories of Pan’s invocation were accompanied with cautionary tales, supposed immorality, foolhardiness, and magicians left gibbering and naked in the morning. I wonder if that still gets trotted out nowadays? I didn’t really consider Pan in quite that light, he was my favourite after all, but there was a coldness and a darkness that could accompany the goat foot god, both a loneliness and its answer, along with experiences which might get stereotyped as “enchanting” and “ecstatic”. For one period of time in my twenties I would get hurled out of sleep, like out of deep water, in a state of terror. My sister swore, years later, that she had once awoken to hear a large animal on the landing outside our bedrooms, breathing heavily in the middle of the night. It was quite an extreme time in some ways, though very creative.

Mo (aka CredenceDawg)
Hymn to an Outsider

the edge of the dark

August 15, 2017

In Welsh mythology the otherworld is known as Annwn: the not-world, the deep. It is the beyond of adventure, the locus of alterity. Its landscapes are unstill, its deities and monsters have many faces. It is a source of beauty and terror, of awe, of Awen, the divine inspiration quested by the bards and awenyddion who crossed the edge of the dark to explore its depths.

The ways between the worlds are fraught with danger. Safe passage is only granted at a cost. Those who return from the otherworld are never the same. Thus they shroud themselves in the cowl of the edge of the dark.

Those who live on the edge see our precarious reign over the land and its myths is illusory. Tower blocks and elaborate street lamps are ephemeral as Dickens’ fairy palaces. Electric lighting is no defence against the edge of the dark, which seeps in because its memories are deeper than us, its darkness more permeating than headlights.

Lorna Smithers
The edge of the dark

Working with spirits

May 30, 2017

Spirit work is such an intense and distracting line of work, that sometimes people forget to take care of themselves and think about the effects that it can have on them, mentally and/or physically. Here are some important (and highly UPG) rules/tips that I have come up with.

1. You do not owe the spirits anything.
– It’s important to remember that you do not owe a spirit anything. If a random spirit starts asking you for something, walk away. (Note: This is different from giving offerings/doing something because you want to)

2. If the spirit makes you uncomfortable/hurts you, it is well within your rights to kick them to the curb.

3. Don’t believe everything they say.
-Spirits, just like humans, can lie

4. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
– Not every spirit is an angel sent to protect you or your ultimate guide, some of them may pretend to be something else to get you to work with them or trust them

5. If they make your mental health worse, then it is not worth working with them.

6. Consent is key.

7. Don’t allow them to pull you onto the astral if you do not want to/are scared.

8. Don’t accept gifts if it is likely that there will be strings attached.

9. Don’t Travel into the Astral without any protections.

10. Discernment is important!
-Just because a spirit comes in claiming a soul connection doesn’t mean you owe them anything or that it’s true

11.You are not obligated to do spirit work 24/7 take a break if you need one.
-If the spirits breach boundaries or try to interrupt your break despite being informed that you need one… They need to go.

12. Most importantly: Watch out for yourself!

Source here

great unread poem…

September 10, 2016

reading3

This summer I plan to tackle poetry’s “great unread poem”: Ezra Pound’s The Cantos. The list of poets, seemingly influenced by this “great unread poem,” is long and distinguished. Sisson, Davie, Zukosfsky, and Olson, to name just a few. My motivation: to be properly influenced, to finally become a Poundian. Though making it new and out-pounding Pound is not on the agenda. As of now, I am familiar with cantos 1, 2, 3, 13, 45, 81 and 116. That’s about it for me. Tackling 120 Cantos in search of Davie’s proverbial “water spouts” (for instance, “Pull down thy Vanity” section of Canto 81) would be impossible even in a summer six months long. So I will be turning to one of my favorite poets, Thom Gunn, whose brief selection of cantos in Ezra Pound: Poems Selected by Thom Gunn will suffice. As per Gunn’s advice I will be armed with commentaries and Christine Froula’s A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Selected Poems.

Raza Ali Hasan
Essay for “Summer Reading Recommendations”
The Academy of American Poets

Giovanni Boldini, Ibis in the Palazzo Rosa at Vesinet

Diary 6th May

Subconscious echoes followed me from sleep. Uncomfortable dreams, last night, but with no clear narrative thread. Just unpleasant. So now I feel uneasy, jittery, and will spend my day in disquietude.

#

Beautiful day yesterday. Sun and blue skies. All very summery. Picked up my new spectacles in town and finished reading Georges Simenon’s “Intimate Memoirs, including Marie-Jo’s book”.

Simenon wrote three memoirs: “Pedigree” (1948), although fiction, was obviously based on the writer’s early life in Liège, while “When I Was Old”, is a notebook record kept from June 1960 until early in 1963, when Simenon was nearing sixty. And, finally, “Intimate Memoirs”. In later life Simenon described “Pedigree” as “not really accurate”. He also stated that “When I Was Old” was a book that should never have been published, much of it having been written “to try to keep a woman, my wife, from slipping into the abyss” of alcoholism.

So what of “Intimate Memoirs”?

The work is of little interest as an account of a public life: famous names are mentioned, Pagnol, Duvivier, Cocteau, Gide, Vlaminck, Derain, Picasso, but Simenon gives them nothing interesting to say nor does he discuss their work. They are names on a page, there to impress. Simenon never kept a diary. Instead he relied on his “almost stereoscopic memory for events in their tiniest details, for facial expressions, gestures, and the spoken word,” to fill the book with pages of conversation…

Reliable?

I don’t think so.

While Simenon’s descriptions of the assorted “harem-ish” set-ups needed to accommodate his insatiable sex-drive may hold a certain fascination for the reader, the remainder of the book is, sadly, “a sludgy bore”, the sentimental ramblings of “an uncommonly selfish man”, desperate to justify himself and his behaviour.

#

It’s looking like the Labour party will end up in third place in the Scottish parliamentary elections, having won only a single seat. The local council elections so far have seen Labour avoid the “catastrophe” predicted in the media. In the by-elections in Sheffield Brightside and Ogmore Labour won comfortable victories with healthy majorities…Labour’s Sadiq Khan is looking favorite in the London mayoral campaign, the results of which will be announced later today. He could well become Europe’s first Muslim Mayor.

2frostandsun

Diary 26th April

Very cold this morning. Expect to see Penguins on the patio…Polar bears in the sunken lane.

#

Yes, yes, the women in my life are powerful, liberated human beings. I take care of them well and pander to their needs – not because they could rip out my tonsils without uttering a word, but because I love them!

#

“If you can’t earn more, then you have to “need” less…!”

Sound advice given and overheard in the pub last Sunday. A gentleman farmer was talking to his son and his son’s fiancé. Nosey old bugger that I am, I was eavesdropping…

It was excellent, if old fashioned advice. The sort of thing that would have pleased my old grandpa in his day. Save your pennies, and the pounds save themselves was one of his favourites.

Except this is the 21st Century, and the banks have hiked bonuses for their most junior workers by as much as 150% in an effort to keep hold of young, talented employees!

According to Alice Leguay, co-founder at Emolument.com, “considering the serious downside and risk of being exposed to legal proceedings as regulation and legal enquiries come into play, the weight and stress of dealing with compliance processes and the lack of glamour of an industry largely held in contempt by the public and the press.” Larger bonuses are necessary…if not essential.

Oh, sweet cheeses, haven’t we been here before?

#

Sex in literature is as old as…well, as old as literature itself! It’s a common theme in the Christian bible, and the ancient Greeks loved to get down and dirty. Eros, after all, was a God. Although that said, the vast majority of ancient Greek writers were male…(Sappho, of course, was an exception – but more or less an honorary male). And these male writers paid a great deal of attention to the topics of love and lust, providing detailed information about sexuality.

Likewise the Latin classics put out by the ancient Romans. Here be some steamy stuff, indeed. Sallust’s portrait of Sempronia, for example, describes a woman indulging in casual sexual relationships who “had often committed many crimes of masculine audacity.”

In Shakespeare (my God, that name says it all!) the sex is “less in your face” much more discrete…But it’s still there! One thinks of Iago in Othello saying:

“I am one, sir, that comes to tell you, your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.”

Today, sex is all around us. Consider, if you will, Zadie Smith’s novel “On Beauty”: sex scenes permeate the very fabric of this work; a single sexual encounter fills two whole pages; the detail is graphic, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination. Thus we have:

“Howard, took hold of his cock and began the breech…as he entered Victoria…Howard pressed deeper…offering about half of his ample eight and a half inches…”

But an interesting novel for all of that. One filled with so many entertaining and poignant vignettes that Smith’s ability as a novelist is always clear. Her characters are alive, and their actions, with few exceptions, totally realistic. If anything, this novel is a tad overcrowded with characters and subplots…but worthwhile if only for the confrontation with that marvelous, eye watering eight-and-a-half inch cock!