Swanline Offering Because of the coronavirus pandemic, more and more artistic material is appearing online. The BBC’s hastily published response, Culture in Quarantine, is now beginning to bear fruit and its latest presentation comes courtesy of Birmingham Royal Ballet. The Dying Swan (as it’s usually called) was originally created by Mikhail Fokine in 1905 for […]

The Swan – Birmingham Royal Ballet: BBC Arts – Culture in Quarantine, 8 April 2020 — Dancing Review

There are many, many problems with our time and people that I have struggled with over the years.
How can we move ahead if still held back by these… they must be glitches, plummets into madness? ‘The blindness of God,’ perhaps.
If we think of ourselves as planing onwards towards better futures, – think of a slow low and elegant curve upwards, of improvements in general technological, scientific, especially ethical and moral codes. Then does this leave us open to misrepresentation and misinterpretations of our basic human nature? And so, prone to perpetuating these same horrible acts?

One of these ‘problems’ I have been struggling with has been how people could, that is, certain officials backed up by the rank and file officers, think it acceptable to release poison gas onto battlefields, into trenches, of the opposite forces.
The recent Times Literary Supplement has an article on Einstein’s brief stay in England. Mentioned in a sideline is Fritz Haber who helped develop this ‘tactic’. So, we have a name.
https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/the-public-and-private-lives-of-albert-einstein-p-d-smith/

How could anyone think that was acceptable behaviour under any circumstances?
Is my problem a lingering belief in an agreed gentlemanly conduct, even in wartime. The two 1929 Geneva Conventions, perhaps?

I began to wonder whether there was something about the German make-up, at that time, beset by War reparations, the Financial crisis, and the Soviet Union’s internationalist programme.
And then, of course, there was the Holocaust.
Completely unimaginable how that could be perpetrated, on such scale and over such a length of time. How was that possible?
Not that there have not been pogroms of great brutality throughout history. They are easy to forget, especially if one’s own history glosses over such self acts.

The scale, I think, is the problem.

I have come across incidents in history, going way back, of equal and sustained barbarity. All smaller scale, but as bad in their ways. Precedents, then.
And then I came across this book review:
Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare 1932-45, and the American Cover Up

https://contagions.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/japanese-use-of-plague-during-world-war-ii/

That the Japanese military had indeed been conducting biological tests on prisoners using ‘plague, glanders, anthrax’ etc to see which was most effective, i.e. quicker, and most contagious. They extended these tests to villages, to find which could decimate larger areas.
This was conducted in Manchuria/Manchukuo, preWar.
Now, Manchuria was bordered, in the West and North, by the Soviet Union.
They also were carrying out similar tests, and along this same border.

So, is the German make-up exonerated?

It is the military mind, then, surely…
how it isolates itself from common morality ( how could you kill wholesale otherwise?) but in time becomes self-sufficient in its own utilitarian ethics and morals.

And so, in a little way, but nonetheless revealing, is myself looking for cause (blame?) in the German make-up, that gives a quick glimpse into my failings (get the hint? Conjugate my) – a lack of sufficient background knowledge.

I reviewed a book some years back, The Causes of War, by Professor Hidemi Suganami, published by Oxford University Press:

https://pure.aber.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/the-causes-of-war%28486854c0-7420-4dc2-b947-48ff5f1b0090%29.html


His conclusion? Wars exist because they are continue to be seen as a viable option.
It sounds banal, especially after the hugely meticulous research and arguments he perused and conducted.
Wars seem as viable an option now as they ever have.
Short-term thinking and blinkered reasoning.
It is the aftermath, though, that takes generations, centuries, to struggle to accommodate, or reject, that wars leave behind is the real face of war

And so, that is where I begin here, as part of those attempts to accommodate the problems of my time , and yes, as can be seen, even attempt a brief rejection (German make-up).

We are all prone to these creeping errors of thought. We all must be constantly on guard – against ourselves, that is, our mono-cultural attitudes, backgrounds, and prejudices.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/11/european-colonial-powers-still-loth-to-admit-historical-evils


This is not something that needs to be started now – it is the common practice of modern historians and cultural materialists, and has been for many years. It’s already on its way.
Let’s climb on board.

Music for self isolators

Posted: March 28, 2020 in Chat

Latino beats and rhythms for life and love

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTlNMmZKwpA

Here’s to you all.

Best wishes, hope, and better days.

Alfred Giraud’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’, translated by Gregory C Richter. Published by Truman State University Press, Kirksville, Missouri, 2001.
ISBN  1931112029

This is the first full translation into English of this seminal book of poems, originally published in France, in 1884.
The translation, ‘renderings’ he terms them, is by Gregory C Richter, professor of linguistics at Truman state University, Missouri.
He presents here a bilingual, at times trilingual publication of the complete book, Pierrot Lunaire.
He gives the original French text with English ‘render’ per poem per page. As a selection of the poems were early-on translated into German, he also publishes the German version of the poems selected. The German translator Otto Erich Hartleben, he points out, did not stick to straight translation but gave ‘versions’ that at times vary from the the originals.
For those readers with German, this is a special for you. There are translations of several poems by other German writers here also.

1

Alfred Giraud was a Belgian writer. Alfred Giraud was the pen name of Alfred Kayenbergh, from Louvain, Belgium. He was born in 1860, and died in 1929.

Originally a law student, literature was his obsession, and he happily embraced the role of Decadent writer, after Baudelaire, and owned influences by contemporary Symbolists such as Paul Verlaine, Stephen Mallarme, Leconte de Lisle.

Pierrot Lunaire was, surprisingly, his first major publication, in 1884, when he was aged 24. It was a success, and continued to attract attention and influence the European art scene for decades.
He continued to write poetry, plays and critical articles throughout his life.

The German writer Otto Erich Hartleben translated a selection from the work not long after publication, in 1893. He translated the whole book eventually, but it was the selection that became the main source for other artists.

And, yes, I am thinking of Arnold Schoenberg, here. He used Otto Hartleben’s translation of twenty one selected verses for his magnificent sprechstimme Pierrot Lunaire Op21, in 1912. 

Alfred Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire is based on characters from the traditional Italian commedia dell’arte. As well as Pierrot himself, we find here also arch-rival Harlequin. Columbine, though, plays a minor role. We find another, unfamiliar character, the elderly Cassander.

The commedia was experiencing one of its periodic returns to popularity: witness Pablo Picasso’s use of the troupe in his Rose period (1904-6) paintings. Of course, connected with this is Rainer Maria Rilke basing one of his Duino Elegies on the painting, circa 1912-22.
Paul Verlaine’s Claire de Lune, after Theodore de Banville (1842), captures some of the essence of the period, and, of course, Claude Debussy made the essence more concrete, so to speak with his Pierrot song (1881) and the Suite bergamesque.

The commedia was a key cultural element throughout the period.

2
The poems were written in a very strict rhyme pattern, adapting the French syllabic basis of a strict syllabic line of seven syllables.
The rhyme scheme with one or two variations only, is as follows:

A
B
b
a

a
b
A
B

a
b
b
a
A

A thirteen-line poem.

Within this scheme, though, there are other disciplines: the first line is repeated in line seven, and line thirteen. Lines one and two of the poem are repeated in lines seven and eight.

The structure is like that of a Rondel. In poem 50, Bohemian Crystal, the poem’s narrator speaks of rhyming in roundelays/rondels.

Le serenade de Pierrot (poem 6)

D’un grotesque archet dissonant
Agacant sa viole plate,
A la heron, sur une patte.
Il pince un air inconvenant.

Soudain Cassandre, intervevant,
Blame ce nocturne acrobate,
D’un grotesque archet dissonant
Agacant sa viole platte.

Pierrot la rejette, et presenant
D’un poigne tres delicate
Le vieux par sa roide cravate.
Zebre le bedon du genant
D’un grotesque archet dissonant.

(I give the repeating lines in bold.)

Gregory C Richter’s ‘rendering’ is as follows:

Tormenting his viol
With grotesque, discordant bow –
Like a heron standing on one claw –
He pinches out a painful air.

Suddenly Cassander intervenes
And scolds the nightly acrobat
Tormenting his viol
With grotesque, discordant bow.

Throwing aside the viol,
With ultradelicate grace
Pierrot now takes him by his tie
And zebra-stripes the oldster’s paunch
With grotesque, discordant bow.

Rhyme scheme nor syllabic count could be saved, but sense and intent have been. Whatever you think of these translations/renderings they do convey theme and line-sense throughout.
It is also interesting to see this Pierrot not averse to taking the upper hand.

The Introduction notes how the book divides into three parts. The opening poems and last poems are more peaceful in mood, whilst the central section, poems 17-30, veer into the grotesque. Think of Belioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Here we find poems on Absinthe, Suicide, Decapitation.
Poem 23, Begging for Heads has some wonderfully grotesque imagery:

A bucket, red and full of sawdust
Lies within your clenched embrace,
O Guillotine, mad escapee,
Wandering before the prison!

Could we say of the form, that the first stanza establishes the scene, the second one examines the scene, and the third one explores it further?

3

I was so looking forward to this book; it has been prohibitively expensive.

You could say the tone, rather than the characters, capture that period when Romanticism blended into Aestheticism. There is also the influence of more classical attitudes here, the Parnassian writing the younger Alfred Girauld admired.
Pierrot, himself, although quite a ‘dandy’, does not have the effete quality that later works delimit for him.

How would you characterise the work?
It is not a psychodrama, except in the most basic sense: the author plays lightly with personal themes, but more robustly with cultural elements and atmospheres of his place and period.
There is no main narrative, or through-line as such; each poem encapsulates the ‘mood’ of the theme. Some veer off into different directions: there are several boat-based poems.
The Ménage à trois of the commedia story: Pierrot-Columbine-Harlequin, is alluded to (poem 11) but not central to the book.
In its way it is a very Roman Catholic book: Pierrot’s suicide, whether real or emotional appears in poem 18, but this is followed by the increasingly diabolical poems of the central section.
Poem 31 returns to images – decor – of the opening poems, and the chance to begin anew, but not necessarily changed by the experience: we still have Cruel Pierrot, poem 45, a mocking moon, poem 43. In poem 50, Bohemian Crystal the author has done with the character Pierrot, and steps forward; or another narrator does.
The image of the Bohemian crystal – symbol, he calls it – is an interesting re-take on the crystal flagons of poem 3’s Dandy from Bergamo.

There is a suggested circling of structure, but it is unproductive to look for paralleling as in chiasmic structures. Although poem 6, Pierrot’s Serenade (above) where Pierrot thrashes Cassender, does hold a close position in the structure of the book to poem 45, Cruel Pierrot, where once again Cassender is pummelled.

Tacitly acknowledging the classic commedia storylines, Alfred Giraud here produces an original work.

I place the book with Federico Garcia Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads, in that they both create their own landscapes out of the known world, and fictionally explore characters and events occurring there. These landscapes are part based on known, ‘real’ times and places, just as, say, Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, was a created place based on a number of Border Ballads, and his real environment, including his time’s current themes and attitudes.

And yet, I find myself disappointed by the book.
I expected, that is, wanted, something harder, something more realised and concrete, like in the Gypsy Ballads, the moon glinting like tin, perhaps.
Pierrot’s moon is of another kind: Moonstruck is translated

The wine we drink with our eyes
Flows from the Moon in green waves…

an absinthe moon perhaps – but there is not the passion of Green, how I want you green of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Somnabular Ballad.

Pierrot The Dandy, poem 3, begins:
A fantastic Moonbeam
Lights up the crystal flagons

Of the sandalwood washstand
Of the pale dandy from Bergamo.

And I have to admit, I love the detail.


But perhaps it is the cumulative effect of the verse form, that it is limiting the emotional and imaginative ranges possible.

There are very welcome footnotes throughout – many references are no longer current. The opening poems refer to Breughel, but it is Jan, Breughel The Younger, known as Paradise Breughel, more famed for his flower and landscape pantings.

Alfred Giraud’s images are literary, whereas Federico Garcia Lorca’s are more tactile, drawn from oral sources and then transposed through surrealist techniques married to his own idiosyncratic responses.

There are many gems to be found in Pierrot Lunaire, make no mistake. It is a book to keep going back to again and again.

4

And now here’s my challenge to readers: have a go at the verse form, see how it works for you.

Here’s mine, one for the present times:

A Man From Wuhan

A man stands at his window
I wave, he does not wave back.
We chatted a day back;
He stands at his window.

The street is quiet down below
only TVs answer back.
The man is at his window,
I wave. He does not wave back.

That lull after they all go;
They cleared our block an hour back.
My wife, he‘d said… bad attack.
None come, one by one they go.
A man stands at his window.

There is a lot to be learned through imitation: compare the effects of my use of static verb-structures and tenses, and Alfred Giraud’s active, moving ones, for example.
Try it.

Keep well, my friends, and stay safe.

Blackbird Song

Posted: March 13, 2020 in John Stammers Page

Like mown grass, could the odour of this rose
carry the signature of its sufferings?
Degrees of sweetness a measuring-out of pain?

Like the revelling surges of a blackbird’s song
to a crow’s ear, is there always this fear
our best works register as ugliest, somewhere?

The Life And Times Of Fishgate Billyboy, by Fishgate Billyboy. Published by arlecchino press, 2020. £12.00
Copies available from arlecchino press, 6/1 Jamaica Mews, Edinburgh EH3 6HN. Scotland, UK

A biography is as much an historical document as biographical. It need not be chronological; indeed some of the best ie most revealing of their time and subject, have been thematic. With a biography we get a slice of time, era, a contexualising that broadens as far as the subject’s interactions with events and peoples demands. 
To impose a narrative on events, for readability, say, is the easy way, of course.


What of autobiography? We have there the added psychological dimensions, in themselves a deepening of one’s interactions with one’s time, responses to events and people, beyond the scope of biography. We also have a narrowing down of viewpoint. What we can know of our moments of life, and how reflection views them, are two very different aspects, and often create tensions seeking resolution.

So, what of a fictionalised autobiography?
Fishgate, surprise-surprise, is a pseudonym. The writer has changed names, rearranged the course of events at times. The main substance is, we can assume, as it stood for the writer. In other words, other aesthetic and psychological factors have come into play in the structuring of the book.

The story begins for the writer in 1944. Other factors and events occurred to lead up to this, and have great impact on events.
How did young people cope with young families, having lost husbands in the War?

In the 1950s and 60s in the UK on the big stage, we saw the implementation of the national Welfare system, the creation of safety nets for inequality in the economic structures then in place. We saw the growth of the National Health Service, of the Social Security and Benefits systems.
There are always those who fall through the gaps, the sink holes, the blind-sides, of systems. Then, as now, they tend to be either the very young, the old, or those who struggle to understand what the majority take for granted.
Fishgate fell through the gaps early on in life.

It makes harrowing reading to witness someone so lost to the world we know. The writer makes no big rumpus about that period of his life; indeed it set the course for some of the more eventful later episodes. To have no home base, was also to be freed from the crippling static lives many were caught up at the time in 1950s, early 60s, UK.

This is a book about the growth into self; about the uncovering of one’s own identity amidst the burgeoning cultures, influences and pressures of one’s time. It is a document of the gay experience. Really? No, it is a document of one man’s growth into his gay self.
This needs noting because the writer takes nothing for granted from the reader; his coming to realise and then acceptance of his nature are played out, not glossed over with cliche.
‘Identity’, also, would seem to suggest an element of choice.
And with this he developed a keen political sense. The political challenges of the 1970s and 80s were sufficiently forceful to create and engage people from all backgrounds.

It is also a chronicle of the growth and development of a writer.

That last point is very important. This book cracks on at a great pace; the writer has honed his skills, and learned techniques, to create a great read. He does not dwell – that is to say, he does not interrupt his book’s pace and become trapped in the emotional landscape he takes us through. He is unsentimental towards his own failings – and maybe a little too humble over his successes.

And there are many successes.
Academically, he grew into himself as an educated person, taking his BA as a mature student at the justly famous Newbattle Abbey Academy, Dalkieth, Edinburgh. The MSc, well, those who know will certainly empathise here. What is an education, unless it has application? So once again he side-stepped the obstacle (– like Peer Gynt with the formless dark on the mountain road – ) and went into the new growth field of EFL teaching.
There begins another huge period of travelling, adventures, friendships.

All this while he was also establishing a position within the writing networks, with readings and publications. Later was to come his wonderful Chanticleer – Ole Chanty – poetry and writing magazine.

If you are at all curious how other people live through their time, then this book could hold you, and leave its mark.

If you enjoyed this book, you may also like:
Incidents in a Crowded Life, by John Howard

https://www.amazon.co.uk/INCIDENTS-CROWDED-LIFE-John-Howard/dp/1910406724/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=jon+howard%2C+incidents&qid=1583065797&s=books&sr=1-1-spell

What Was It?

Posted: February 24, 2020 in John Stammers Page
Tags: , ,

‘Venetian ‘merchants’, besieging Athens’
their artillery scoring Acropolis hits. 
Imagine it.
                       Sneering; 
we were always good at that.
Commerce and culture, ‘Bean-counters, 
and creators, makers.
’ 
Both bear our scrutiny.

How these thin columns hold their lintel
of argument. The frieze of warriors
that overlays bare stone, chisel marks,
the industries of art – overlaying
the sophist’s forgotten blind alleys,
with only the successful, useful
remaining.

                    What was my argument, again?
I forget, my concentration overlaid 
by an artillery of marketing 
and contemporary concerns, moments.

The Nib:
/https://thenib.com/she-dared-to-be-herself-shirley-chisholm-s-legacy/

Combray

Posted: February 8, 2020 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

On the church steeple of Saint-Hilare, Combray:
And in the evening, when I was coming home from a walk…it was… so soft, in the close of day, that it looked as if it had been set down and crushed like a cushion of brown velvet against the pale sky which had yielded under its pressure, hollowing slightly to give it room and flowing back over its edges; and the cries of the birds that wheeled around it seemed to increase its silence, lift its spire to a greater height and endow it with something ineffable.

And later:

A little tap against the window-pane, as though something had struck it, followed by a copious light spill, as of grains of sand dropping from a window above, then the spill extending, growing, regular, finding a rhythm, turning fluid, resonant, musical, immeasurable, universal: it was the rain.

Yes, I’m spending my late evenings in Combray.
At last I’ve got around to reading Proust., In Search of Lost Time, rather than the older Remembrance of Things Past.
This is a newish translation: Lydia Davis, for Penguin Modern Classics. And instead of the evocative Swann’s Way, she translates Volume 1 as The Way by Swann’s.

Different weightings of a phrase tell so much of a time period, the dynamics of the time. This, I was tempted to write conjugating of the phrase, denotes our moment in time as one of reappraisal, sitting back and looking around at what is, what we have carried with us, as opposed to a time of movement. That itself is revealing; we may think this is a moment of change, and yet what we actually do suggests one of reappraisal.

The contrasts of image in that second passage: sand – fluid; close-by – far away; immediate moments – immeasurable, universal.
And the similar images, developed from one another: window pane – window above; rhythm – musical; copious (light) spill – extending (sound); a little tap – resonant.

There are also the uses of polysyllabic set within monosyllabic structures, skilfully deployed.

What fine writing, though. It is solace for these testing times.

But then the writer followed that up with a ludicrously stretched joke on the difference of the Saturday routine at Combray.
Then Francois chased around and messily slaughtered a chicken for their meal.
Ok, time to skip-read, perhaps.

Au Revoir Europe

Posted: January 31, 2020 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

I used to have this kind of ‘joke’:
If ever England left Europe, then they’d all be dead within 5 years.
They’ll have bored each other to death.

I think now, though, there is enough of an ethnic mix to prevent that.

Au revoir, Europe. For now.

England used to feel like a stagnant pond, when I was growing up.
Then it went international, vibrant, so alive.
There’s always this blossoming, then dying off, then all over again.

People say ‘There is something different about living on an island.’
So don’t judge too harshly.
‘Something different‘: bit of the old je ne sais quoi, then? That’s quite ironic.

Don’t judge too harshly, I wrote… then I thought of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and, well… how on earth did that/did they happen?
The Conservative Party got a bit of a landslide victory at last election.
But did they?
It was an end to the Brexit chaos people voted for.
And Johnson made damned sure he was heading that one. So, no, people who would never normally vote for them, voted for the only one with the remote possibility of giving them peace from the dithering.

– Dithering – this is One thing the politicians did right: the referendum vote-divide was so close that to go all out for one side or the other would have been shamefully authoritarian, to say the least. The politicians ‘dithered’ in order to find a fair solution to both sides.
I think they should have held out longer, fought harder, but….

The Conservative landslide: the trouble is that so politically naive are most people, it didn’t dawn on them that to allow a foothold was to give permission to take the whole wall off if necessary to get in – and all their ‘policies’ with them.
An old, old, story.

I’ll not bore readers any longer with this sorry business.
Oh no, it’s started, the boring!

Au revoir – for now.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-51303555/brexit-meps-sing-in-unison-ahead-of-brexit