September 10, 2016
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
May 6, 2016
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…
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.
April 26, 2016
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!
April 24, 2016
Diary 24th April
In the industrialised nations most people die by the age of twenty-five…we just don’t get round to burying them until they’re in their seventies or eighties.
I’ve been reading (or rather rereading) the “Complete Plays” of Joe Orton:
“Reading isn’t an occupation we encourage among police officers. We try to keep the paperwork down to a minimum.”
From “Loot” first performed at the Jeanette Cochrane Theatre in Holborn, September 1966, with Gerry Duggan as McLeavy, Sheila Ballantine as Fay, Kenneth Cranham as Hal, Simon Ward as Dennis, and Michael Bates as Inspector Truscott.
Geraldine: We must tell the truth!
Prentice: That’s a thoroughly defeatist attitude.”
From Orton’s “What the Butler Saw”…it was his final, most accomplished play. Written in 1967, it was first presented in March 1969, at the Queens Theatre, London, one and a half years after Orton’s murder.
“You were born with your legs apart. They’ll send you to the grave in a Y shaped coffin…”
Recently read Graham Robb’s biography of Rimbaud. Fluent, well researched, humane and above all marvellously entertaining. His concise, almost clipped style is the perfect antidote to the kind of gushing, impressionistic hagiography that is the scourge of Rimbaud studies.
Mallarmé, the other great poet-thinker of that time, marvelled at how the young Rimbaud had “amputated himself, alive, from poetry”. Robb shows us the filthy peasant boy in Paris or endlessly on the road, with lice in his hair deliberately cultivated “to flick at passing priests”; the scourge of polite Parnassian poets; the vagabond years with Verlaine in Belgium and London; the prematurely wizened, knuckle-headed trader in east Africa; finally, the haggard, semi-delirious amputee, dying of leg cancer at the Hpital de la Conception in Marseille.
April 15, 2016
One thing that Marxist criticism has not succeeded in doing is to trace the connection between “tendency” and literary style. The subject-matter and imagery of a book can be explained in sociological terms, but its texture seemingly cannot. Yet some such connection there must be. One knows, for instance, that a Socialist would not write like Chesterton or a Tory imperialist like Bernard Shaw, though HOW one knows it is not easy to say. In the case of Yeats, there must be some kind of connection between his wayward, even tortured style of writing and his rather sinister vision of life. Mr Menon is chiefly concerned with the esoteric philosophy underlying Yeats’s work, but the quotations which are scattered all through his interesting book serve to remind one how artificial Yeats’s manner of writing was. As a rule, this artificiality is accepted as Irishism, or Yeats is even credited with simplicity because he uses short words, but in fact one seldom comes on six consecutive lines of his verse in which there is not an archaism or an affected turn of speech. To take the nearest example:
Grant me an old man’s Frenzy,
My self must I remake
Till I am Timon and Lear
Or that William Blake
Who beat upon the wall
Till Truth obeyed his call.
The unnecessary “that” imports a feeling of affectation, and the same tendency is present in all but Yeats’s best passages. One is seldom long away from a suspicion of “quaintness”, something that links up not only with the ‘nineties, the Ivory Tower and the “calf covers of pissed-on green”, but also with Rackham’s drawings, Liberty art-fabrics and the PETER PAN never-never land, of which, after all, “The Happy Townland” is merely a more appetizing example. This does not matter, because, on the whole, Yeats gets away with it, and if his straining after effect is often irritating, it can also produce phrases (“the chill, footless years”, “the mackerel-crowded seas”) which suddenly overwhelm one like a girl’s face seen across a room. He is an exception to the rule that poets do not use poetical language:
How many centuries spent
The sedentary soul
In toils of measurement
Beyond eagle or mole,
Beyond hearing or seeing,
Or Archimedes’ guess,
To raise into being
Here he does not flinch from a squashy vulgar word like “loveliness” and after all it does not seriously spoil this wonderful passage. But the same tendencies, together with a sort of raggedness which is no doubt intentional, weaken his epigrams and polemical poems. For instance (I am quoting from memory) the epigram against the critics who damned THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD:
Once when midnight smote the air
Eunuchs ran through Hell and met
On every crowded street to stare
Upon great Juan riding by;
Even like these to rail and sweat,
Staring upon his sinewy thigh.
The power which Yeats has within himself gives him the analogy readymade and produces the tremendous scorn of the last line, but even in this short poem there are six or seven unnecessary words. It would probably have been deadlier if it had been neater.
Mr Menon’s book is incidentally a short biography of Yeats, but he is above all interested in Yeats’s philosophical “system”, which in his opinion supplies the subject-matter of more of Yeats’s poems than is generally recognized. This system is set forth fragmentarily in various places, and at full length in A VISION, a privately printed book which I have never read but which Mr Menon quotes from extensively. Yeats gave conflicting accounts of its origin, and Mr Menon hints pretty broadly that the “documents” on which it was ostensibly founded were imaginary. Yeats’s philosophical system, says Mr Menon, “was at the back of his intellectual life almost from the beginning. His poetry is full of it. Without it his later poetry becomes almost completely unintelligible.” As soon as we begin to read about the so-called system we are in the middle of a hocus-pocus of Great Wheels, gyres, cycles of the moon, reincarnation, disembodied spirits, astrology and what not. Yeats hedges as to the literalness with which he believed in all this, but he certainly dabbled in spiritualism and astrology, and in earlier life had made experiments in alchemy. Although almost buried under explanations, very difficult to understand, about the phases of the moon, the central idea of his philosophical system seems to be our old friend, the cyclical universe, in which everything happens over and over again. One has not, perhaps, the right to laugh at Yeats for his mystical beliefs—for I believe it could be shown that SOME degree of belief in magic is almost universal—but neither ought one to write such things off as mere unimportant eccentricities. It is Mr Menon’s perception of this that gives his book its deepest interest. “In the first flush of admiration and enthusiasm,” he says, “most people dismissed the fantastical philosophy as the price we have to pay for a great and curious intellect. One did not quite realize where he was heading. And those who did, like Pound and perhaps Eliot, approved the stand that he finally took. The first reaction to this did not come, as one might have expected, from the politically-minded young English poets. They were puzzled because a less rigid or artificial system than that of A VISION might not have produced the great poetry of Yeats’s last days.” It might not, and yet Yeats’s philosophy has some very sinister implications, as Mr Menon points out.
Translated into political terms, Yeats’s tendency is Fascist. Throughout most of his life, and long before Fascism was ever heard of, he had had the outlook of those who reach Fascism by the aristocratic route. He is a great hater of democracy, of the modern world, science, machinery, the concept of progress—above all, of the idea of human equality. Much of the imagery of his work is feudal, and it is clear that he was not altogether free from ordinary snobbishness. Later these tendencies took clearer shape and led him to “the exultant acceptance of authoritarianism as the only solution. Even violence and tyranny are not necessarily evil because the people, knowing not evil and good, would become perfectly acquiescent to tyranny. . . . Everything must come from the top. Nothing can come from the masses.” Not much interested in politics, and no doubt disgusted by his brief incursions into public life, Yeats nevertheless makes political pronouncements. He is too big a man to share the illusions of Liberalism, and as early as 1920 he foretells in a justly famous passage (“The Second Coming”) the kind of world that we have actually moved into. But he appears to welcome the coming age, which is to be “hierarchical, masculine, harsh, surgical”, and is influenced both by Ezra Pound and by various Italian Fascist writers. He describes the new civilization which he hopes and believes will arrive: “an aristocratic civilization in its most completed form, every detail of life hierarchical, every great man’s door crowded at dawn by petitioners, great wealth everywhere in a few men’s hands, all dependent upon a few, up to the Emperor himself, who is a God dependent on a greater God, and everywhere, in Court, in the family, an inequality made law.” The innocence of this statement is as interesting as its snobbishness. To begin with, in a single phrase, “great wealth in a few men’s hands”, Yeats lays bare the central reality of Fascism, which the whole of its propaganda is designed to cover up. The merely political Fascist claims always to be fighting for justice: Yeats, the poet, sees at a glance that Fascism means injustice, and acclaims it for that very reason. But at the same time he fails to see that the new authoritarian civilization, if it arrives, will not be aristocratic, or what he means by aristocratic. It will not be ruled by noblemen with Van Dyck faces, but by anonymous millionaires, shiny-bottomed bureaucrats and murdering gangsters. Others who have made the same mistake have afterwards changed their views and one ought not to assume that Yeats, if he had lived longer, would necessarily have followed his friend Pound, even in sympathy. But the tendency of the passage I have quoted above is obvious, and its complete throwing overboard of whatever good the past two thousand years have achieved is a disquieting symptom.
How do Yeats’s political ideas link up with his leaning towards occultism? It is not clear at first glance why hatred of democracy and a tendency to believe in crystal-gazing should go together. Mr Menon only discusses this rather shortly, but it is possible to make two guesses. To begin with, the theory that civilisation moves in recurring cycles is one way out for people who hate the concept of human equality. If it is true that “all this”, or something like it, “has happened before”, then science and the modern world are debunked at one stroke and progress becomes for ever impossible. It does not much matter if the lower orders are getting above themselves, for, after all, we shall soon be returning to an age of tyranny. Yeats is by no means alone in this outlook. If the universe is moving round on a wheel, the future must be foreseeable, perhaps even in some detail. It is merely a question of discovering the laws of its motion, as the early astronomers discovered the solar year. Believe that, and it becomes difficult not to believe in astrology or some similar system. A year before the war, examining a copy of GRINGOIRE, the French Fascist weekly, much read by army officers, I found in it no less than thirty-eight advertisements of clairvoyants. Secondly, the very concept of occultism carries with it the idea that knowledge must be a secret thing, limited to a small circle of initiates. But the same idea is integral to Fascism. Those who dread the prospect of universal suffrage, popular education, freedom of thought, emancipation of women, will start off with a predilection towards secret cults. There is another link between Fascism and magic in the profound hostility of both to the Christian ethical code.
No doubt Yeats wavered in his beliefs and held at different times many different opinions, some enlightened, some not. Mr Menon repeats for him Eliot’s claim that he had the longest period of development of any poet who has ever lived. But there is one thing that seems constant, at least in all of his work that I can remember, and that is his hatred of modern western civilization and desire to return to the Bronze Age, or perhaps to the Middle Ages. Like all such thinkers, he tends to write in praise of ignorance. The Fool in his remarkable play, THE HOUR-GLASS, is a Chestertonian figure, “God’s fool”, the “natural born innocent”, who is always wiser than the wise man. The philosopher in the play dies on the knowledge that all his lifetime of thought has been wasted (I am quoting from memory again):
The stream of the world has changed its course, And with the stream my thoughts have run Into some cloudily, thunderous spring That is its mountain-source; Ay, to a frenzy of the mind, That all that we have done’s undone Our speculation but as the wind.
Beautiful words, but by implication profoundly obscurantist and reactionary; for if it is really true that a village idiot, as such, is wiser than a philosopher, then it would be better if the alphabet had never been invented. Of course, all praise of the past is partly sentimental, because we do not live in the past. The poor do not praise poverty. Before you can despise the machine, the machine must set you free from brute labour. But that is not to say that Yeats’s yearning for a more primitive and more hierarchical age was not sincere. How much of all this is traceable to mere snobbishness, product of Yeats’s own position as an impoverished offshoot of the aristocracy, is a different question. And the connection between his obscurantist opinions and his tendency towards “quaintness” of language remains to be worked out; Mr Menon hardly touches upon it.
This is a very short book, and I would greatly like to see Mr Menon go ahead and write another book on Yeats, starting where this one leaves off. “If the greatest poet of our times is exultantly ringing in an era of Fascism, it seems a somewhat disturbing symptom,” he says on the last page, and leaves it at that. It is a disturbing symptom, because it is not an isolated one. By and large the best writers of our time have been reactionary in tendency, and though Fascism does not offer any real return to the past, those who yearn for the past will accept Fascism sooner than its probable alternatives. But there are other lines of approach, as we have seen during the past two or three years. The relationship between Fascism and the literary intelligentsia badly needs investigating, and Yeats might well be the starting-point. He is best studied by someone like Mr Menon, who can approach a poet primarily as a poet, but who also knows that a writer’s political and religious beliefs are not excrescences to be laughed away, but something that will leave their mark even on the smallest detail of his work.
W. B. Yeats
February 26, 2016
Diary 25th February
White, white, frosty white across the moor this morning. Four in the AM. And colder here than a mother superior’s posterior!
Tomorrow’s forecast is for sleet, snow and rain – sleet and snow especially over the moors! I shall have to batten down all the hatches, curl up with a good book and a bottle of brandy on the sofa…better include a glass, too, with that; I’ve run out of straws.
Talking of brandy, last Sunday I sheepishly confess to drinking a veritable vat of red wine: started a little before lunch, got the bit between my teeth, as you do, and switched to brandy…Cheap Spanish brandy. I eat lunch (I think) but continued to imbibe the brandy through the course of the afternoon. Big mistake. Come supper time I was starting to nod off, had to return to my hotel room, meal unconsumed. Once there, I fell into a death-like sleep…and got a bit of a bollocking next morning.
‘Honestly, Peedeel. Drinking like that on an empty stomach. You really do need looking after. You shouldn’t be allowed out of bed without a fulltime minder.’
‘My stomach wasn’t empty,’ I replied quietly, forlornly but determinedly. ‘I eat a good breakfast…’ I knew I had because it was the last thing I could clearly remember before my mind fogged.
‘Well, it won’t do you any good drinking like that. You never had any of your meal last night…’
And so it continued. Deservedly so. Mea culpa.
The House of Lords attempted to ‘water down’ the worse parts of Ian Duncan Smith’s cuts to Employment and Support Allowance. Back in the Commons, MP’s rejected the Lords amendments (well they would, wouldn’t they) and £30 per week will be slashed from the allowances of the terminally ill and the disabled.
Priti Patel tasked with defending this onerous cutback, claimed it would ensure: “support is focused on the most vulnerable”.
More vulnerable than someone dying of cancer? Or those suffering with Parkinson’s, or with mental health problems – because that’s who we’re talking about here. People with illness or disability so serious that it makes it quite impossible for them to work!
Failing to have the guts required to introduce a bill for the euthanasia of disabled or seriously ill people in receipt of benefit, perhaps the government’s ultimate aim here is to pile on so much financial pressure and hardship that these unfortunate individuals will go off and quietly top themselves? Yes. Suicide is painless – it can also save money…
Have recently read and enjoyed Green for Danger (1945) by Christianna Brand. A script writer for the Beeb recently pinched the central idea for an episode of Father Brown. Enjoyed it immensely. See review HERE
I’d also recommend another of Brand’s books: London Particular (1955) which I read towards the end of last year. Not just a whodunit, but a great how’d they do it, too.
February 25, 2016
Ah, not exactly a PC title, boys and girls, no, but you can purchase this book under the safer, later title of The Doll’s Bad News! From the cover:
“When a curvaceous, beautiful girl walks into your office, strips, and offers you a 6,000 retainer to help her out of the trouble she’s in, it’s hard to refuse. Especially if you’re private eye Dave Fenner, the man who busted the notorious Blandish case. But by the time Dave had been beaten half to death and been forced to shoot his way out of a load of unhealthy situations, he realised that chivalry – even if it was paid for a hard cash – was no way to stay alive.
Only one man could satisfy Glorie Leadler’s craving for love and affection. And though this golden-haired bit of feminine dynamite could have had a dozen men at her feet for the asking, it was a solitary Asian who made her heart beat fast. When jealous rivals tore that midnight love from Glorie’s arms, her over-heated emotions burst forth in a volcano of love-stricken vengeance that rocked Florida and left a mark on many men’s souls.”
So hardboiled the pan must have run dry. Even the cops keep out of Dave Fenner’s way. Very topical in many ways: people smuggling – the 12 Chinamen of the naughty title refers to the number of people who can fit in a boat from Cuba to the States; once in the United States the passengers (who are all chained together so they can easily be thrown overboard if the boat is intercepted by the US Coast Guard) are “sold” as slave labour to various concerns around the country.
Be warned: it is a product of its time, and misogyny and racism abound. It is also very, very violent!
February 25, 2016
And so Mr Cameron announces, “A reformed EU…” I must have misheard, mustn’t I? It’s a bit like Gordon Brown saying he had “twenty-four hours to save the world!” You can never, NEVER reform the unreformable.
So, our Prime Minister has reached a deal that…“Protects the city of London” Did I mishear yet again? No, I didn’t. He’s got an agreement that’ll stop UK firms being forced to relocate into Europe, ensuring British businesses do not face “discrimination” for being outside the eurozone.
A seven year “emergency break” on migrants’ in-work benefits for four years when there are “exceptional” levels of migration (how do you define exceptional, I wonder?).
Child benefit for the children of EU migrants living overseas will now be paid at a rate based on the cost of living in their home country – applicable immediately for new arrivals and from 2020 for the 34,000 existing claimants. In the scheme of things the cost of this is peanuts when compared to overall UK budgetary spend; it’s penny pinching and frankly embarrassing.
Ever-closer union will “not apply to the United Kingdom”, meaning Britain “can never be forced into political integration”. A really minging agreement that will please a few of the little Englander’s, I s’pose, but not many. Ultimately, I suspect, it’ll prove worthless.
Not exactly what was promised in the Conservative Manifesto, is it? But dear old Mr Cameron has said it again:
“The British people must now decide whether to stay in this reformed European Union or to leave. This will be a once-in-a-generation moment to shape the destiny of our country.”
The EU has NOT been reformed. Any “reform” would require an EU-wide referendum. No EU leader in his or her right mind would countenance such an action at this point in time…it’d be far too risky with so many euro-skeptic people in the mix…In Spain, Greece, Ireland and now even Germany.
Instead the UK government has protected (once again) the banks and financial services industry from any nasty EU legislation, or so they hope! We won’t have to join the Euro, but one day we might anyway because it makes life so much easier for firms selling and buying goods within the EU. No political integration – but Europe will still be our lawmakers, will still control our fishing and agricultural legislation, for example. Business will still be wrapped up in miles of red tape, courtesy of the gnomes of Stasbourg…
Actually, nothing very much will change. It’s a shite deal, and if you were really looking for reform, you’ll feel very disappointed. This whole sad fiasco smells very dodgy indeed to my sensitive nose.
Morning ablutions. I have a “toilet book” which I read each morning while sitting on the loo. At the moment it is Brian W Aldiss’ “Billion Year Spree” (I have his updated version “Trillion Year Spree somewhere, but can’t find it just now; so I’ve gone with the earlier version). Aldiss’ prose is quite fine, and this is a wonderful book for a bowel movement. Unlike “My Life” by Leon Trotsky which it replaces. I found Trotsky quite constipating. Not a good book for the toilet at all.
Conversation (Last Saturday)
She said to me, ‘What was that?’
Glancing up from my drink, I said, ‘Sorry, pet?’
‘What did you just say to me, Peedeel?’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘I didn’t speak.’
Frowning at me, she said, ‘You think I’m hearing things, do you?’ She turned to L as she returned to the table from the washroom. ‘I know he thinks I’m a little mad,’ she said. ‘I know he does. Now he’s trying to convince me I’m hearing voices…’
‘No, I don’t think you’re mad,’ I said. ‘I’ve never ever said anything of the sort. I just didn’t speak, is all. I was miles away, yeah. Off with the fairies.’
‘But I heard you.’
‘You couldn’t have. I didn’t speak.’
‘So I’m hearing things, am I? Hallucinating? Is that what you’re accusing me of?’
‘Christsake. I’m not “accusing” you of anything. If I spoke out loud, I wasn’t conscious of doing so. I was daydreaming. I’m not aware of having spoken…but perhaps I did. Perhaps that’s what you heard.’
‘Okay. So what did you say…?’
On reading “The Bell” by Iris Murdoch:
Realistic novel but overflowing with symbols. Including the bell of the title, of course. Inscribed: Ego Vox Sum Amoris. Gabriel vocor. – “I am the voice of love. I am named Gabriel. Which is the central theme of the novel. The bell, however, has drowned in the lake, situated in the grounds of a convent. Its drowning was miraculous…and this bell is central to so many complex problems, not least of which is the character of Michael Meade’s conflict between his homosexual tendencies and his desire to become…yes, you guessed it…a priest!
The main question of the novel: how should you best live as a spiritual being is ineffectually answered by Michael Mead and James Tayper Pace (both lay preachers) in separate sermons, but is nailed down by the Abbess whose advice is: We should all learn to love one another.
Intensely poetic, well constructed novel of ideas and emotions. Highly recommended.
September 21, 2015
Emma Lee has always loved listening to stories. “Before I could write,” she tells us, “I built houses with toy bricks and invented stories for the people who might have lived there.” Her most recent collection of poetry, “Ghosts in the Desert”, explores the events, sometimes tragic, calamitous or touching, occurring in the lives of a variety of ordinary people – but filtered via the media, newspapers, cinema, etc.
“Some stories stay with you long after you’ve finished reading the newspaper or closed the book,” she acknowledges. “Ghosts in the Desert explores this, beginning with ghosts from news of wars, the aftermath of tsunamis, bombings, or ill-served by political decisions of others, and how these haunt survivors. One sequence explores fan fiction, written by fans who find characters from films staying with them long after the credits have rolled.”
So, we the reader are confronted by an horizon ringed with ghosts – ghosts that both quantify and unify our culture, presiding as they do over the lives of each and every one of us. Here we find characters easily recognised, their idiosyncrasies and individuality reminding us of friends, family and casual acquaintances. Reminding us, too, of the eponymous “ghost in the machine” and how quickly our perceived security can disintegrate into chaos, become the absurdist dream it truly is.
In this fine collection the painful poignancy of a poem like “Father Ghost” – the title of which calls to mind the half-forgotten childhood ghosts of Mother Goose nursery rhymes and the stock Christmas pantomime character – is set in stark contrast to the more upbeat “In a name”.
We are shown suicide, the Iraq conflict, hurricane Katrina from 2005 – the fifth most deadly hurricane in the history of the United States; a woman haunted by her husband’s debts –
“He earnt phone number bonuses.
Didn’t know he also had
phone number debts.”
We meet the Rutland Panther; a horse rider out riding during the rush hour; we’re introduced to “The Weather in Dublin”; and we coolly observe Neo from the “Matrix”.
She asks us, her readers, “Does the story finish when the credits roll?” And the answer is most definitely, NO! It does not. We are haunted by multitudinous ghosts and Emma Lee holds up a mirror of verse for us to glimpse their terrible reflections.
In “As Evening Falls” we:
feel the warmth
left by your skin,
a faint lingering
like a trace of scent.”
And even one as cynical and hardened as Peedeel had tears in his eyes reading “Select your ending” a poem, I know, that will continue to haunt me.
And what about the humorous horror of “Living with a Dalek”?
“It turned up one day
barged in when I opened the door,
refused to leave
Its voice box stuttered
Over the soft vowels of ‘Please’.
Isn’t that a fear we all recognise? The stranger uninvited on our doorstep. Isn’t that the reason we have a spyglass fitted in our frontdoor? The stranger who might barge his way in…!
But Emma Lee’s poem travels beyond that base fear. Her stranger is a Dalek. Fantasy spills across the fragile fabric of reality: the improbable mingles with the mundane. But making the assumption that our narrator is female, Ms Lee’s Darlek becomes a symbol of aggressive masculinity. So that the poem’s “master race intent / on dominating the universe…”takes on a whole new meaning for us.
These ghosts, often unsatisfactory, frequently tormenting, puzzle and haunt the minds of those they encounter. They are as haunting as Emma Lee’s verse. Her words are like stones dropped into the still pools of our minds, and the resulting ripples disturb the oh so comfortable fabric of our lives; make us look again (with a certain apprehension) at the world surrounding us.
This really is a collection worth having, boys & girls. Emma Lee is a consummate artist of modern angst, here weaving intimacy, humour and pathos together, then setting them against the unaccountable forces of chaos in the world – in order, ultimately, to demonstrate the indestructible nature of the human spirit!
What are you waiting for?
Go purchase a copy today!