I’ve always liked putting different things together, and seeing what happens.
Years and years ago when I had a passing interest in such things I had a wondering-moment about the Tree Alphabet.
This alphabet was proposed by Robert Graves in his The White Goddess book; it is constructed from ogham practice and text references in Irish.
It is an alphabet that uses tree names as the letter names. I never could work out why which tree was used where, their leafing, flowering, growth do not seem to coincide with the specific months Graves gives.

There are 13 lunar months; each is a letter of the alphabet, and a sequence in the tale of the growth to maturity of the year, represented as a god. He is then supplanted at midsummer by the god of the waning year. Until New Year when it starts again..
It goes like this, from late December on through the year:

Beth -birch
Fearn – rowan
Luis – alder
Nion – ash
Saille – willow
Uath- hawthorn
Duir- oak
Tinne- holly
Coll-hazel
Muin-vine
Gort-ivy
Ngetal-reed
Ruis-elder

Of course, he then arranged this sequence into what he called a Dolmen Arch:

Saille Uath Duir Tinne Coll
Nion                               Muin
Luis                                 Gort
Fearn                              Ngetal
Beth                               Ruis

So, this arrangement puts Duir, the oak tree as the all-important capstone of the (square) arch. This accords with his midsummer fight between waxing and waning year gods. Ok.

So, I thought, how does the tarot’s major arcana fit in with this?
Let’s see:

Lovers/Saille-Chariot/.Uath-Strength/Duir-Justice/Tinne-Hermit/Coll
Willow             Hawthorn                Oak                       Holly               Hazel
Emperor/Nion                                                                               Temperence/Muin
Ash                                                                                                   Vine                                                   Hierophant/Fearn                                                                         Hanged Man/Gort
Alder                                                                                                Ivy
Magician/Luis                                                                                 Death/Ngetal
Rowan                                                                                              Reed
Fool/Beth                                                                                          The Tower/Ruis
Birch                                                                                                 Elder

A few are missing, you say.
Graves has what he called Cross-Quarter Days, special days in each sector. They rule the following months, until the next cross-quarter day, and so on.
From the Fool’s late Dec/early January Birch month, we have The High Priestess: the young year.
The Lover’s March-April Willow tree month has The Empress: the mature year.
The Hermit’s August Hazel month has Wheel of Fortune: the fall from greatness.
The Tower’s November/Dec Elder tree month, has The Devil, as god of the fallen year, darkness, death. Think of him as a god of the underworld: Pluto, Hades, of all things inimical to life, rather than all-out evil.

With this being an alphabet of consonants, we also have the five vowels These make the lintel, or door step:
The World-The Moon-The Sun-The Star-Judgement.
These, like the extra days, do not have tree names. But with this arrangement the Sun vowel is opposite the Strength/Oak consonant; The Moon is opposite The Lovers/Willow and Chariot/Hawthorn; The Star is opposite Justice/Holly and Hermit/Hazel.
The World covers the gaining year’s upright pillar, and Judgement the falling year upright pillar.
The vowels cannot have to one-to-one matches, because they breathe life into all the consonontal word-clusters.

This all made a kind of sense to me. Most appropriate seemed to be The Emperor with the old Ash god, and most of all Strength with the Oak and Sun connections.
The Rowan tree with the Magician also had a resonance.
On the other side The Hermit with Hazel seemed to fit. Not sure about Death, followed by The Tower, though. What do you think?

You have to know Graves’ construction of the story to fit it in. And there you have it: can you believe the man? Was he back-arguing ie fitting things in afterwards?
I have caught him out on a few things over the years. Enough, anyhow, to make me back off.

You can tinker with things forever, seemingly, and it’ll still get you nowhere.

Full title: Kanteletar taikka Suomen Kansan Wanhoja Lauluja ja Wirsia

(The Kanteletar, Being Some Old Songs and Ballads of the Finnish People)

Published in 1840/1, the Kanteletar is considered the sister book to the Finnish national epic Kalevela. The name Kanteletar is paraphrased to mean ‘zither-daughter’, from the name of the zither, kantele, and feminine participle ‘tar’.

Both works were the collection and selection of scholar-physician Elias Lonnrot. And both were collected from the eastern Finnish Karelia region of lakes and forest.

K4
k5

The Kanteletar comprises three books of songs, ballads and lyrics.
Their subject matter can be startling.

The Kantelatar is published in English in the World’s Classics series, translated and Introduced by Keith Bosley. He also provides very useful Notes, and indicates all parallels between several ballads and episodes in The Kalevala.

The first book of the collection is concerned with lyrics sung by both sexes;
– the second book is in four sections and covers Girl’s Songs, Women’s Songs, Boy’s Songs and Men’s Songs.
– the last book contains a small selection of ballads, some of which are quite long. The oldest recorded, Bishop Henry, is dated by inclusion in the oldest collected manuscript of 1671, and deals with the (attempted) introduction of Christianity into the region.  Amusingly Bishop Henry was a missionary from ‘Cabbage-land’; you may think this is Germany with its traditional sauerkrauts, but no, it is England!

The songs are, the Introduction states, ‘alliterative, astrophic trochaic tetramemeter‘, sung to simple tunes ‘built… on five basic notes, corresponding to the five strings of the earliest kantele‘, a ‘five-beat bar of six short and two long notes’. This is the rhythm Sibelius copied in the last section of his Rakastava, Op 14 based on several of the songs.

There is an extraordinary song called Paying For The Milk. There are both girl’s and boy’s versions of this. The girl’s version begins:

How to pay for mamma’s milk
make up for mamma’s torment
for the pains of my parent?

Then follows a series of possible payments, none of which are found anywhere near suitable or sufficient. The last verse gives us:

Jesus, pay for mamma’s milk
make up for mamma’s torments
Lord, pay for mamma’s pains
all the cares of her who carried me!

Which is as much as saying no price on earth can pay.

The boy’s version is much longer, five verses of which the first and last are long, and the central one is where the mother replies to his questions of ‘what will pay?’.
It begins:

Lauri, an excellent lad
fair husband-to-be
thought this in his mind
put this into words:
‘The happy, the lucky pay
for their mother’s milk
for their mother’s blood with cloth
for her labour with velvet
.…………………………………………….

Keith Bosley notes that the boy’s version has a happier ending, ‘but is less convincing’. How happier is it? He has to look after and tend for her up till and after her death, on top of all the feats he has already done for her.
A mother’s labour is literally her ‘sauna-path’, a kenning: the sauna was amongst other uses the place for giving birth.
The girl’s song convinces more because it deals with the ‘debt’ without deflection; the Notes state the singer, the girl, is leaving her mother for her husband’s household. This then, is one of the marriage songs which feature strongly in the book.

.The marriage songs are all paralleled in the Kalevala text. The Kalevala is particularly memorable for its unstintingly dour attitude to marriage: the girl is to live in the husband’s house-hold, to be the lowest in status until she has proven herself – by having children probably. But in this between-time she must work twice as hard as the others to prove her worthiness.

The girl’s songs have a poignancy all of their own:

The Birch and the Bird Cherry

I was a bough on a tree
fostered by a lowly birch
in a naked glade
on land with no strawberries.

Next door  a fair bird cherry
grew, a proud tree rose
on turf as thick as honey
on land the hue of liver.

   With its bushy boughs
and its spreading foliage
it blocked the sun from shining
it hid the moon from gleaming.

In short, everyone admired the bird cherries and no one noticed the other. The bird cherry, however, succumbed to rot, and

The bird cherry felt a pain
and filled it with care:
I remained standing
with my small future.

Note that ‘fostered’ in line two: what a wonderfully economical way of positioning status, vulnerability and demeanor! The descriptions are glorious: ‘turf as thick as honey’ etc, and then the ending, ‘small future’ so full of implication.

k3

There is a group of poems in the girl’s section under the heading of The Victim. These deal head-on with a rape and its consequences. The girl falls asleep whilst tending sheep and ‘a stranger/ from the birches a bounder/ came and took what was my own….
Another form of this is ‘… a dog came from the army/ a frog from Savo’s border/ a bastard from Kuopio/ some war-scum from Helsinki…
And the result?
no refuge in the cabin/ no mercy under the roofs…. I’ll find refuge in the wind/ mercy among the billows…’. The temptation is to drown herself, to be a sister to the whitefish; then, though, her mother would have to carefully check the water she put in her dough for her daughter’s tresses.

There an interesting ballad that replies to this, the man getting away free whilst the maid suffered the consequences of his actions: The Thoughtful Dragon. The imagery here is also quite wonderful:

Let us go to the vale, young ones
us grasshoppers to the cliff

They strip the bast from a lime tree to make ropes to tie up a young man, and leave him where the king walks by. The king asks Why have they done this to him?
The response is:

This is why he is bound
the woman’s son held:
he laid a young maid –
a young maid, a bride.
The poor maid was doomed
to the dragon’s (literally ‘salmon-serpent’) jaws;
but the dragon sighed –
it sighed and it gasped:
“I’ll sooner swallow a young
man, a young man with a sword….’.

And then there is the shocking Instructions to a Bridegroom:

Bridegroom, dear youngster
fair husband-to-be
don’t hurt our maiden
don’t you ill-treat her
with lashes don’t make her squeal
with leather whips make her mew!
…………………………………………………….

And goes on to say if you must do then do where no one will hear; and do it where it will not show when she goes out.
This song is meant as a marriage jest, a wedding night tongue-in-cheek ribaldry, to scare the girl.

How I Was, a woman’s song, plays with change, deception and age:

I was once as barley-land –
as barley-land, as oat-land
as fair cabbage-land
as the best bean-field; but I’ve
ended up as mixed-crop land
……………………………………………
I’ve become grassland
turned to a mossy hummock.

……………………………………………….

But the ending is depressing: old age is a curse because, as we saw implied in the boy’s version of Mother’s Milk, there is no one to look after the old – other than the unmarried daughter, and all the pejoratives that go with that.
In the Lyrics by Both Sexes there a similar bleak song on ageing, A Plank of Flesh:

Whoever created me
whoever fashioned this wretch
………………………………………………………..

k2

One remarkable work is the six-part  Ballad of the Virgin Mary.
This would require quite a feat of memory to recite.
Mary is introduced as a farm girl dressed in her finery, a:

She looks out into the farmyard/ listened out at the lane’s end./ A berry called from the ground/ a cowberry from the heath:/ ‘Come, maid, and pluck me/ red-cheek, and pick me…. Ere the slug eats me/ the black worm scoffs me!

The berry became the means of conception. Of course, when her mother noticed her pregnancy at last she spurned her; and a serving maid ran to tell Herod.
The whole piece tells the Christ story to the end. It is a remarkable feat of song writing. The imagery as in all the songs is rich and wonderful.

We cannot end without obeisance to Sibelius, his Karelia Suite and Tapiola.
the lyrics he used are here reproduced. The Herding Songs are set in the First Movement of  Rakastava. Some of his Nine Part-Songs are also in this collection .
In a number of the ballads and songs we encounter pagan forest god Tapio. The Christian God is usually ‘Old Man’. The two co-existed in relative peace – in the songs.

This a book to savour and enjoy: bitter-sweet, surprising, and very life enhancing.

What is it about?
It is an attempt to chart a journey, both inward and along the coast of Wales, north to south.
This was many years ago, but the memories are there, they have grown, developed, deepened.
And so…

Snowdonia

A bite of rock eyries the eye,
a sudden rock face reeling the senses

its steep, shallow slopes, tilting
abruptly upwards. A hot sun glinting

from quartz-grained summits, layering
its deep thick blanket of heat

over each thin seam of valley green.

Bare rock, bare sky, a naked sun
eraser mountains chafing blue sky white

only hawks, or buzzards, occasional crows
notate this passing between high rocks,

a rowan tree cradled by boulders,
and a labouring car beetling

the back of this sleeping monster.
I hug an overhang of shade

wading through summer from here to there
in the hot held vacuum of dragon’s breath

the sun’s stopped clock

I’d written this on the journey.
It is only afterwards you begin to see what you saw there, that it was as much a journey into and through oneself. It is also a journey beyond oneself, into the world, where objects rule.
And so…

Prelude

‘A bite of rock eyries the eye,’ I wrote, and 
‘Eraser mountains chafe blue sky white,’ –
attempting to capture nature in a written note;
immediate impressions, with a high-light.

This was nature’s window display,
but landscape is a door, you leave your shoes there. 
There is more than one means of missing your way,
to never go home. But gain more than lose, there.

On kindle, now.

LOUIS PAUL BOON

Posted: September 2, 2020 in John Stammers Page
Tags:

I’m always coming in on things half way through.

First time I read The Lord of the Rings my local library only had The Twin Towers at the time. I started there (strangely, the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring read rather flat after that). But there have been many examples of this.

Take this one: the first of Louis Paul Boon’s major books is Chapel Road. I started with Summer in Termuren, the follow-up. And, strangely, despite all the voices saying, No, Chapel Road is the best! I prefer Summer in Termuren.

His other books in translation are: My Little War, Dalkey Archive, 2010; Minuet, a 1979 translation, is difficult to get hold of.

lpb2

Louis Paul Boon.
Famous Belgian writer? Tipped for Nobel Prize for Chapel Road?
Yes, everyone has heard of Hugo Claus, George Simenon, Maurice Maeterlinck, of Felix Timmermans, even Camille Lemmonier, Margueritte Yourcenar.

Born in Aalst, near Brussels, 1912. Died 1979.
Maybe you don’t know of him because he is usually classed as a Flemish writer. Is that it?
The curse of categories.
His two major novels are written in Flemish, with his local, regional dialect. His online interview has, he warns the interviewer, Flemish, and with the regional words , phrasings, accents.

This makes translation, let’s say, difficult rather than impossible.

The Dalkey Archive publishes both books in excellent translations.

What is it about Louis Paul Boon?
He’s a modernist. That dates him now. But modernism is still so refreshing to read.
He looked to the American pioneers (John Dos Passos in particular) – he wrote regular newspaper columns exploring among other topics the new thinking, new ideas, new writing.

Chapel Road opens with several of the main inhabitants of this tiny town of the two mills, meeting up with the writer Boon/Boontje and discussing how a book might be written at that time. We have not only the setting of the intellectual and cultural environment of the book, but of the establishment of characters, their relations, backgrounds, and vested interests in the book. We also have discussion of fiction theory, cultural theory, writing theory – and also the rejection of most of this for the sake of ‘the book’.

The publication date was 1953.
Time in the novels can be anything but linear. The books’ storylines are anything but linear: they move in segments, interspersing with Ondine’s story.
Boon was a member of the community of the growing town so was naturally a character in the book.

The discussions among characters about the progress of the book, among general and particular reflections on life in the little town, in the country, the nation, carry on throughout the books.
The main character is little Ondine, along with her poor brother Valeer. This is the anchor. In Summer in Termuren it becomes Ondine and Oscar/Oscarke, the sculptor she married.

The two mills are owned by one a Catholic family, the other a Protestant. Behind the scenes of this obvious cultural, historical  fissure and dichotomy, the sons of the mill owners are best of friends. They are moneyed, spoilt and can get away with anything.
And Ondine wants in.
We have all felt at some time in our growing up we don’t belong with this family we are in. This is what horror stories and mysteries feed from. ‘What if I really belong to…?’ And what if you take it too far in your desperate struggle to climb out of the unremitting poverty the political and social world concretes you into?

Against this background we see the birth and growth of the socialist ideal; and its death, as war reconfigured class and privilege. Then its rebirth after the war. Which war? Both wars are here, cutting off the new green shoots each time. If you look for jeopardy to spur the action in the novel, look to history and its vicious trampling of hopes.

Boon interweaves with the movement of Chapel Road the story of Reynard the Fox,  which was set in the same vicinity.
Reynard’s is a hard tale, it has its own cruelty and amorality: the cruelty is difficult to take at times; it is not the cruelty of a child, nor the beast, but a knowing human cruelty.

How about the cruelty of the mill owners? One takes all his mill-workers to church on the town’s saint’s day. Ah, but then they have to work into the night to make up the time.
He employs child labour below the legal age. Ah, but, he says when an inspector comes across one, They are so keen to work here they sneak out of school.
Why is he believed? Why is the government minister who molests young girls (the ‘pepperpot’) believed when he protests innocence?
Because of wealth, position.

Then there are characters who traverse this yawning gap between the haves and the never-will-haves, people like the painter Tippetotje. She lives later with her Baron in Brussels, but cannot get the town of two mills out of her system.

lpb3

There is another tantalising cover to Summer in Termuren that is almost identical to the one above. Almost, because the other cover contains a human figure to the left of the pole.

One classic, superb, episode for me is in Summer in Termuren. Boontje was returning by train from giving a reading of his work-in-progress to a local group. A fellow traveller was a scientist who has just been reading his paper. They conversed, the train jerked. And Boontje’s papers scattered everywhere. The following segments of the book has his main characters all swapped around, acting and speaking as each other. That takes a big risk in establishing characters. But it works.

So… what happened about the rumoured Nobel Prize?
It is rumoured the judges heard the rumour of his ‘other’ interests. There still are copious and carefully catalogued books in boxes he collected over the years in his home museum… of naked women.

It spills into his books a little: the growing up of Ondine; but especially Oscarke’s interest in the daughter of the monumental mason he worked for in Brussels. What happened to her? He went back after the war; she had married a German Officer (Spoiler Alert!).

When you mean to depict all life, you cannot pick and choose.
Take the socialist councillor, full of hope and striving and struggle for a better future – and later, deep in drink, when he found his party had been dipping into party funds for their own benefit (Spoiler Alert!).

What was it Boon said? Something like, ‘I believe in socialism; I just don’t think people are capable of it.’

And now Aalst is known for an active group of alt-Right.
Yup, people.

Louis Paul Boon, 1912 – 1979

lpboon1

Farrukh Dhondy is multi-facetted. He is a writer for young adults, and adults, a playwright, screen writer, journalist, as well as a prominent activist, engaged in front line political movements.

His activism covers his roles in The Indian Worker’s Association, The British Black Panther Movement, and the Race Today Collective.
On the employment side he has been a lecturer at Leicester College of Further Education, and taught at Archbishop Temple School, in London.

He was born in Poona, India, in 1944. He attended school and university there, coming over to Leicester to take a MA at their university.
In the 1980s he was commissioning editor with Channel 4, creator of Tandoori Nights TV series, and has always worked tirelessly to bring Asian culture into the media.

(What is about Leicester? Initially a shoe-making centre – yet Jeremy Barnes, founder of A Hawk and a Hacksaw, accordionist player of Middle and East-European music, and originally from Albuquerque… was a postman there for a while.
I met a witch from Leicester once.)

One of his earliest books was a collection of short stories for young adults: East End at My Feet, from 1976.
This was an eye-opener for me.

Reading this book was one of those instances when the familiar iniquities of class inequality took on a new dimensionality.
– Up to that period the opportunities in education and employment were stultifyingly limited. Then the Labour government brought access to higher education for all, and the EU market opened its doors.
The small, suffocating world of little England was opening out.

But what do I mean by dimensionality?
It’s a term used to attempt to catch that sudden opening: the world suddenly seeming a bigger place. And issues were no longer the class-based warfare we knew.

There is a story in the book exemplified all this for me:
a local upper school, and an after-hours poetry group, run by the English tutor. The narrator went along. The approved writing was to express the angst of high-rise urban living.
But the narrator’s contribution to the readings was a piece full of the zest for life, early rap perhaps, but from the Asian and Black experience.

There are bigger concerns – after the Marxist world had shut itself off, to consolidate socialism within set confines, what else was there? The reactionary Right wing were marching, and the whole culture was jostling to accommodate new cultures, new influences – new ways of looking at the world.
That last one in particular.

Think of the gritty anger of Punks, and the histrionics of Glam Rock, and then think of the sheer joy of Bhangra. Think what Reggae brought, that deepening and richness.
In a way it could be argued that we need the austerity in order to appreciate the richness.

Through his work with The Indian Worker’s Association he met Mala Sen. She was a powerhouse in her own right. They married, had children… and powered on.
Among her many writings and work, she researched and wrote articles, books and the screenplay for the film Bandit Queen.
Sadly, she died too soon.

Farrukh is still active.
Here’s to you, Farrukh.

And here’s to the power of writing to completely alter and change perspectives, to open minds, to connect us to the world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farrukh_Dhondy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mala_Sen

https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/farrukh-dhondy

OAMENI ŞI MARIONETE/ MEN & PUPPETS by DANIEL DRAGOMIRESCU. Orizant Literar Contemporan, Bibliotheca Universalis, 2017

This is a dual-language publication, produced by the excellent and indefatiguable Contemporary and Literary Horizon, of Romania. For their background, see:

https://revistamulticulturala.wordpress.com/

http://contemporaryhorizon.blogspot.co.uk/

Every so often a book comes along that makes you feel good to be alive. This is one of those.

The best books broaden and deepen our sense and understanding of the world. I was going to go on and write ‘and add destinations to our bucket list.’ But no, these best books have already taken us there; we feel we know the places, the people, with our hearts. The place? North-eastern and central Romania.

I feel privileged to have a copy of Men and Puppets, by Daniel Dragomirescu. The book is a collection of reminiscences, autobiographical snippets, and is well worth the time and effort in getting hold of. Elegantly presented, and well translated, this is part of a series of books by Orizant Contemporan Literar. All are dual-language, and by writers from many countries.

Daniel Dragomirescu grew up in the north-eastern Vaslui region of Romania, in the 1950s and 60s. He writes of life from the inside; the autobiographical angle gives a necessarily limited view of the times, limited to one’s interests, activities, and to the villages and small towns of the time.

Big Politics, the State, the Eastern Bloc, are not words or concepts of everyday life. He does come up against them (A Meeting with Cerebrus); they are also, on another level, a basic part of that life. Yet they are everywhere, especially for the generations from before the War, his parents’ and grandparent’s generations. It is they who have to watch what they say.
We see the unquestioned fate of pre-War bourgeois families, in their disgrace (Sandals). All is accepted as a part of life. The State restrictions have their circumnavigations, but they can be suddenly enforced due to the arbitrariness and fickleness of officials (At the Nadovari Camp). But they are not ‘officials’, they are people one’s father might know from school, from ‘before’ – their fickleness is the fickleness of everybody, everywhere.
We read also a first-hand account of a devastating earthquake hitting Bucharest. People at their most vulnerable. We read also the hidden threats made by people themselves.

One of my favourite stories, Marilena, has its own ways of handling the hopes, passions and lost opportunities that are always with us. And this is one of the heartening aspects of the stories: how love, hope of love, arranged love that could grow into itself, are always a part of our lives, our world. These things are instantly recognisable, and they go to the core of who we are.

What becomes clear through the reading is the seamless identity we all wear and are part of: here we all are, with all our hopes, woes and lapses of understanding. The details may differ, but the responses are so very recognisable. And because we can identify, our hearts are also in these stories, as we respond to the same things they did.

The last chapter, Typewriter, brings the whole book into focus. I had begun to wonder at the book’s title, Men and Puppets. Well, here it was, spelled out.
I wrote, above, how the fickleness of officials is the fickleness of man; there is the fickleness of officials themselves, though. I also wrote of the State being just the background to people’s lives. So it was, but as they took on more responsibility, became adults, the State became a major interference in their lives. Take Ceausescu’s decree that all typewriters should be officially registered.
It smacks of a Nazi-era dictat, and it is little surprise we find a militia chief admiring Nazi-era tactics.
After the Fall of Ceausescu, the militia excuse themselves as puppets of the regime. Officials, militia, puppets, anything rather than just ordinary people.

Daniel Dragomirescu has a masterful technique. The use of the motif of his meeting with a stray dog in a cemetery, in A Meeting with Cerebrus, becomes the key for opening up the whole part of his life at that period. It is this mastery that is the secret, it works behind the scenes to bring the chapters to life.

A most enjoyable book, full of the fears, hopes, loves and doubts of lives.
I will certainly be re-reading this one.

The Penguin Classics edition of the Gilgamesh story identifies five different and fragmentary versions, from different time periods. None are complete.
Another fragment has been found since publication.
Notice that all are fragments, that there is no complete version.
Not only that but many of the fragments are from different time periods, of different periods within both Sumerian and Babylonian periods.

My novel is an urban fantasy using these fragments as a springboard.

This fragmentary nature of the Gilgamesh story, with its newer episodes interleaved with older text, gave a great amount of freedom to create. Although I have kept abbreviated names and city names from the Gilgamesh story, the characters, setting, cultures, histories, even geography, are entirely fictional.

It was enjoyable to write. I hope that carries through into the story.

It all started with a comment by Stephen King in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He commented that only one of his novels – up to that point – had been consciously structured; all the others had been allowed to develop as they would.

I thought I’d try a structured piece.
I’d done an amount of research on the Gilgamesh story for my Rings book: Gifts of Rings and Gold
Gifts-Rings-Gold-Introduction-Ring-composition-ebook/

I had intended to write a ringed and chiasmus-laden piece, but the story took over.
You could say the story is an amalgam of structured and free-form development.

It begins:
First Things

‘First thing they did. I mean I was already pretty freaked by then,’ he was saying. It was a warm, calm night in The City, and they were sat on the old river wall, a part not closed off, a part not structurally unsafe. ‘They took me up the Tower. You know…’ he nodded towards it in the distance, black on black in the night, its two upper floors dimly lit; watchful. 

‘I’d been running wild, getting into bother, just the usual sort of things. You’d know. Only, I kept getting told, I always took it too far. Then the Men in Suits called round. It was at my ma’s. I was trying to squeeze home nosh out of her, ok, but I was in. Knock at the door. Shapes outside the back door too. I was ready for shinning up the loft ladder, skylight onto the roof, and over. I had this all planned out. Just in case. Then a lamp post and down. And I had on my Angry Antonys; I was good. It was quite a jump; not sure I’d make it.’ He looked down at the river, watching slick after foamy slick coasting past. 

‘The daft… opens the door. And they were in. One grabbed my ankle on the loft ladder. He was a strong monkey, that one; built like an office block too. Yanked me clean off to his manly bosom.’ He paused, grinned, his teeth a sudden flash in the dim light from the street lamp below. ‘What was the point in struggling? Let him hold me.’ 

‘Boss wanted me.’ He looked across at his friend, his cheek, the line of his jaw, the slightly crooked nose, 

‘They gave my ma a funny look – and she stared them out.’ 

‘Let him see the lad.’ she said. ‘Then he’ll believe.’

‘What the…? What was all that about? I was thinking.’ He laughed.

Yup, what indeed?
To find out, the ebook is available on Amazon kindle:

https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/books


https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/profile

Sur(rendering), by Mario Martin Gijon. Published by Shearsman Books, 2020. Translated from the Spanish by Terence Dooley.
ISBN 978 1 84861 704 9.

Every writer will know the difficulties of their craft, finding the right word, the one with the nuances, cadences, sound, and syntactical relatedness to the whole.
How do you express many variations of an experience in, say, one word? 
The Spanish poet Mario Martin Gijon, in this new dual-language book, Sur(rendering) (originally published in Spanish in 2013), gives an example:

compusimos 

And so, how does a translator then convey just what the writer means? Translation theory attempts the conclusion that there can only ever be a rendering of the work, if you like, a work based on the original. Look at that ‘rendering’ word, with its breakdown into rend, render….

Terence Dooley, renders the Spanish term ‘compusimos’, with its roots similar to English ‘compose’, as in write, as

(w)ri(gh)ting

And so, look at that term, with its wright, write, and also the contextual sense of right-ness of two people together. And that is the ‘write’ of the author’s presence in the work.

The whole poem in Spanish is seven short lines, and this degree of concentration/consideration could only work in short pieces:

Contra viento y marea (recuerdo comun)

siempre unidos

di

   vertidos

del mun

                do

                     loor

compusimos

The translation:
into the wind, against the tide (shared memory)

always one

two

a(muse)d

in(fuse)d

in the hurt

            earth

             we t(w/o)o

(p)raise

            (w)ri(gh)ting

The book, Sur(rendering), consists of four sections of such concentrated poems that respond to the breakdown, loss, rediscovery, celebration and re-establishment of a relationship. The form and meaning-concentration portray the switch-back emotions, momentary doubts, self-doubts, feelings of unworthiness, of regressive anger, in a phrase the whole gamut of the whirlwind emotions that can occur in such an experience.
The form and meaning are one.
This is the aim, and rare success, of poetry to attain this level of reciprocity.

padecir la espera is rendered as hearing the w(a/e)i(gh)t, and it is surprising how the mind tunes into the usages, reads their equivocations and shuttling meanings. They do not encumber but enhance.
Another short poem: five lines –

enardecerme
para enardecirte
en al ard(ol)or
que me (re)ce
tu aus(es)encia

is Englished as:

(h)ard(ou/e)r
to (ki/ca)ndle
in you the cand(i/e)d
fire fanned
by your incandescent
(ab/es)sence

We get a sense of the music of the piece in the Spanish original, the careful rhythm, the silence and space in and around the piece that is full to brimming with potential expression.

So, how does this use of words differ from, say, punning on a word? There is a more elaborate system in use, for one. For two, the intent in use of words yoking together/bringing forward meanings, has far greater semantic range.

The last section poems incorporate lines, phrases from the poems of Paul Celan, in the original German. The translator has kept that, but added A short note on quotes at the end of the book, citing sources.
I had first thought he had used these refererals to Paul Celan because of that author’s technique and skill in ‘coining’ (Terence Dooley’s phrase) new words. In Paul Celan’s case he was purportedly making a usable German language, that is, remaking an oppressor’s and destroyer’s vocabulary into one laden with conscience and responsibility.

One excerpt is from Paul Celan’s early poem Corona, translated as ‘It is time’; it is used because it illustrates his referral-use, though. Corona is from the period of Paul Celan’s full relationship with Ingeborg Bachmann, and the line comes at the end of the poem, that is, the defining emotive stance that the development of Corona achieves: a statement of readiness, stating the need for grounded fulfillment i.e. commitment.
It is apposite and entirely appropriate to the usage by Mario Martin Gijon.

Recent translations by Terence Dooley:
10 Contemporary Spanish Women Poets, translated by Terence Dooley, Shearsman

German writer, poet, Elke Erb won the Büchner prize for literature in May.
This is a prestigious German writer’s prize, and a prestigious literature prize overall.

She has lived most of her life in East Germany, managing a living working on translations from e.g. Russian and Soviet writers in German.

What first grabs me about her poetry is the pared-down and essentialness of the writing. She address that most fundamental question in writing, that of how to address the voice, to whom do we write, and how is that voice pitched. These considerations determine the range and type of imagery appropriate to the the poem, as well as the psychological impact and invitation of the poem.

Take, for instance, Incomprehensible (1)

‘Between the gas stove and the table the thought

a lonely donkey at the edges of a field
a distant – Bulgaria! – memory
Apparently lonely donkey –

Between the gas stove and the table the thought
that we die
– …………..’

(Translation by Rosemarie Waldrop, for Poetry International.)
Many of Elke’s poems are available at:

https://www.poetryinternational.org/pi/poet/22585/Elke-Erb/en/tile

This poem excerpt gives so much:
the basic setting, and the ranging memory;
the simple, single-person address, and the fundamental realisation of all our personal dying.

The donkey did belong to someone, we find. It was a working donkey. Here we get the impact of contrasts between the industrial, modern, urban, world, and the seemingly unmechanised world of the east European life-experience.

This in itself is an illusion that we collude in: our lives, no matter where or how we live: East, West, are propped up on these building blocks of how we are seen and read by others; how our lives depend on others, whether machines or animals; how our whole economic and industrial systems are formed from our bodies and minds in space, in place, and in ordered functions.

We can read here how the simple domestic setting and activity can also release the mind, the memory, the creative faculties. This is something that has bubbled away in the back of my head for quite some time. It was while washing up the breakfast dishes I found time to think through the implications of these five and a half lines.

Karen Margolis, who I would like to address as my friend, posted the news of Elke Erb.
https://karenmargolis.wordpress.com/2020/07/12/welcome-to-my-21st-century-sweatshop-latest/

Karen’s own poem to Elke calls to many lines from Elke’s works.

In Elke’s writing another technique she uses is that of repetition. A recursive process is in motion. We could read this as how the mind wanders, and is repeatedly brought back, or grounds itself again and again in what is unclear, not understood, ‘Incomprehensible’.
Recursive loops are also part of neuro-phenomenology: how the body and sensory import of the world weave a sense of self in the world.
Is this part of Elke’s references? we cannot dismiss or rule-out it out, but look for signs elsewhere in her work.

‘the mind fell silent
self-love at an end’

she ends her poem …Where After the Town

Neuro-phenomenology, existentialism, and post-Marxism – awareness and immediacy, the self in the world.
Her writing continually seizes on the concrete, the hard world and its shadows. There is almost objective-correlative at work here, but the distance between T S Eliot’s concept, and the 21st century experience, is too great, too difficult to get a clear signal, if there really was one.

In Theme, she writes

‘potter round: then you become things. Their prey.
Take care or your eye
as you potter will pop.

The light of your eye: a lantern. Outside.
Good for the night. And passenger traffic.

………………………………..’

I find this constant switching of register: the private thought-voice, the public and outward brought in, quite invigorating.
It requires a quick ear, an attentive ear.

I am all ears.

Malina, by Ingeborg Bachmann. Published by Penguin Modern Classics, 2019.
ISBN 978 0 241 36624 0.

The novel, Malina, published in German in 1971, is considered by many to be a seminal work in the oeuvre of Austrian writer, Ingeborg Bachmann.
She is mostly now known for three volumes of post-War poetry. She has also written radio works, essays, short stories, two operas, a ballet. She was also very close to Paul Celan, and associated with major German post-War writers.

The novel is part one of a projected three-part trilogy, temporarily entitled Ways of Dying. The other two parts were incomplete on her death, but have since been published from notebooks and papers.

Oh yes, she is also known for her death. 
Since 1951 she had mostly listed her residence as Rome. It was here in 1973 that she died, alone, due to an apartment fire. The official cause was given as being due to smoking in bed. 
Readers atuned to her works have long wondered about that given cause.

Malina is not a comfortable read.
It is a novel in three sections – well four, if we accept the Cast prefix. They are:
Happy with Ivan; The Third Man; Last Things.

It is uncomfortable because as the book opens we meet the narrator, who incidentally shares many attributes with the author, in a period of withdrawal, leading to crisis. She refuses all invitations out to address talks, ceremonies, awards. Even the letters she dictates or attempts to write herself are unravellings rather than explanations.

Is the narrator happy with Ivan? It is a toxic relationship, and yet she is fixated on him; her every action and thought is centred on him. And yet he abuses her verbally, is dismissive of her personality, abilities. And she seems quite accepting of this, and dotes on this.
This is a deep exploration of toxic relations.

And it gets worse in Section Two, The Third Man. Here, Malina the character, is cool, objective, says little. The whole section is a deep exploration of the character’s relationship with her father. It is given in a wide and varied series of abusive vignettes. The narrator approaches the term ‘Incest’ early on. Yes, she writes, There was incest
And there was also the game of jealousy, of gaming for affection, playing off each other. With Ivan. With Malina. With the sister Melanie, whose father flaunts as his new source of affection. And there are the violent outbursts, breaking furniture, throwing of household objects to hurt by the act, rather than contact.
And yet, as the section works through its nightmare scenarios, we see the narrator gain self mobility again, the strength to fight back. To leave.

But what of Malina?
Published in 1971, we see here the period’s reliance on therapy as cure-all, the psychiatrist as psychopomp walking the therapee through traumas.
Malina has that about him: cool, rational, reasonable; not dismissive but gently easing the narrator back to the centre of the problems. Walking through the battlefields together.

Ivan, in turn, in retrospect, comes to assume something of the mantle of the abusive father: that relationship being played out again. And the narrator is the willing, indeed, even eager, participant.

Did Ivan want that? Did he fall into a toxic hole? Was he also incapable of climbing out? We do not know.
Was it, possibly, a post-war psychic turmoil that wrapped them all in its coils? Was this the fall-out , the further play-out, of the War?

Or is that serpent with all in its coils the Nazism of past experience, or Western post-War capitalism, or, further, patriarchy itself?

There are no discernible big Politics in the novel. The father-figure as authoritarian, and, by extension, as leader, is written out clearly.
And Ivan, the name? The character is married, with children. He is Hungarian. Is he suggestive of Soviet-model authoritarianism? 
As the novel was being written Leonid Brezhnev was Soviet leader. The Hungarian Uprising had been bloodily crushed (as had the Prague Spring).

This Soviet period is what is now known as the Era of Stagnation.

How does this help? Other than as re-emphasising the intial A in authoritarianism?
The Cold War was dropping down further degrees on the thermometer, and any youthful hopes of a glorious turn to the red – in Germany in particular – were becoming ossified. After 1968’s disintegration of hopes and revolutionary fervour, all was played out.
Later, of course, the extreme groups emerged out of the frustrated hopes: The Red Brigade etc.

A static situation, under authoritarian power; loss of hopes of change; and the unresolved foment of psychic horrors from the war. Ingeborg Bachmann’s own father had been an early and willing Nazi Party member.

Why is the second section called ‘The Third Man’? Is there a connection with the Carol Reed film of 1949?
Both book and film are set in Vienna. Ok.
Both have one of the central characters – Harry Lime, The Father – as betrayers, morally repugnant, and who degrade all who they come into contact. And yet, they also have devoted friends/relations who seek them out. The outcome, in each case, is disillusion and broken relationships.

It may be that the setting of Vienna has a meaning I cannot as yet ascertain. The narrator is insistent on this setting; Ungargasse in particular acquires an importance. It maybe the importance of groundedness, that is, of a specific that she clings to for safety, security.

There are two forms of conversation exchanges in the book. One consists of fulsome and developed sentences, and is the ME:, (other): form. The other form is of truncated conversations, fragmented and half said things the reader must fill out.
In light of Ingeborg Bachmann’s great interest in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s works, I was wondering whether this latter form was an approach to the ‘private language’ that Ludwig Wittgenstein suggested was an impossibility.

If a language was private to oneself, then communication would be impossible. In the novel we see innumerable attempts to communicate inner turmoil, to move from private language/world experiences, to common speech communication with others. Ivan’s responses tend to be evasive, colluding. Malina remains objective, he companions the narrator through her difficulties, but does not judge, control, nor direct her.

Is he the ideal therapist, or philospher? For Ludwig Wittgenstein the philosopher must become a therapist in order to untangle the knots of reasoning that hamper philosophical discourse.
The Ungargasse in Vienna is in part very close to the Wittgenstein family home, between Parkgasse and Kundmanngasse, on the Geusaugasse corner.

The book opens with letters that cannot be written, and ends, in Last Things, with a postman who cannot deliver letters. He stores them up, unread, unopened. Communication, with one self, and with others, as social glue, as life-saving, is paramount here.
The book opens with the narrator fully taken up with Ivan, and by Last Things has turned against men altogether, finding their limited range of romantic and sexual responses ridiculous, a symptom of men’s ‘sickness’. She admits an interest in men, oh yes, and cites examples, but in the telling it becomes a matter of observation, as of another species.

We find in her telling of post-War Vienna Sigmund Freud’s case-studies incorporated into the text; we find direct reference to Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. Is there Robert Musil here as well? Does the desultory interest in chess reference Stefan Zweig’s short story? Interestingly Stefan Zweig’s Post Office Girl novel’s title has a different meaning in the German: The Intoxication of Transformation. Is this intoxication what we find played out in Last Things?
Does the change in the narrator, then, play with bildungsroman formats?
It is also possible that the general tone of the book, of enervated and denigrating references the works of Thomas Bernhard.

The narrator’s character has developed in Last Things, she is more outward-looking, out-going, extrovert, even. And so has that of Malina; he is no longer the objective, cool character, but rather limited in response, outlook.
At one point in this last section the narrator makes some rather strong comments.
Ooo-kay.
So she’s provoking, challenging, confronting. But to what purpose?
This is part of the piece where she takes on Freudian case-study.
Shortly after this section Malina slapped her face. Was she furious? No. Was she distressed? No. Was he? No.
Both carried on as normal – she looked for a suitable blusher to hide the marks so she could go to a meeting; he suggested a shade.

The toxic-relationship is still being played out, on another level.

Does Ivan appreciate how difficult to is for a woman to have integrity, autonomy? Does Malina? Each time the answer is No.
How can a woman exist as a whole person in that world? The narrator approaches the dilemma of the options available: to be a ‘part-ner’, or to try to be a whole person. There seems little to possibility of the two being one.

The crack in the plaster – is it an indication of demise/complete collapse? Or a way out of an enclosed space?

*

One other thing struck me – the father-vignettes in Section Two of Malina remind me of the extensive father-vignettes that make up a huge section of Hungarian writer, Peter Esterhazy’s Celestial Harmonies, published in 2000. Here the novel fictionally negotiates the true-life Esterhazy patriarchal family line. In particular, and colouring the vignettes, is the discovery of the author’s own father’s role as secret police agent: betrayer and smiling State accomplice. Or entrapped, caught in the coils of State security machinations?

Why do I find the book so difficult to read? The subject matter, obviously. But there is also that, as readers, we unable to help with the distress. We are held as helpless witnesses to partially seen scenarios, and experience some degrees of the suffering of the narrator.
The writer also had periods of hospitalization due to psychological states.

We become party to degrees of that, and those states of distress. We are unable to help or assist, and so the narrator’s inability to cope becomes ours, by our empathetic reading.

This is part of the power, and responsibility, of a work of fiction.

Publishers Weekly, noted, on the book’s publication:
Part of the problem derives from the veiled yet critical references to Austrian history, which are satisfactorily explained only in the excellent afterword.

We no longer have that ‘excellent afterword.’ A pity.