Harold Nicholson (1886-1968), in his Chichele Lectures, Oxford University, 1953, and published as The Evolution of Diplomatic Method, Constable, 1953, repeated several anecdotes from his earlier book, The Congress of Vienna, 1812-22: A Study in Allied Unity. Constable, 1948.

The anecdotes are all about the fights for precedence and position among ambassadors.

He writes, to begin with:
In 1504 Pope Julius II had composed a table of precedence, under which the (Holy Roman) Emperor (Maximilian I) came first, the King of France second, the King of Spain third, and so on down to the smaller dukes, despots and princes. Under this table the King of England came seventh on the list, after the King of Portugal, but just in front of the King of Sicily….

This would be the last years of England’s Henry VII.
How different perspectives give completely different evaluations! On what did Pope Julius II base his table?
Contemporary England certainly seems determined to get back down here.

The real juicy quotes are as follows:
Ungainly incidents were always occurring, one of the most notorious of which took place in London in 1661, when the coach of the Spanish ambassador tried to push in front of that of the French ambassador, a battle occurred with loss of life among the footmen and postilions, diplomatic relations were severed between Paris and Madrid and a very real danger of war arose.

All in one breathless sentence, note!

He gives a further, hilarious, example:
As late as 1768, at a Court Ball in London, the French Ambassador, observing that the Russian Ambassador had established himself in front seat next to the Austrian Ambassador, climbed round over the back benches and inserted himself physically between them. This led to a duel at which the Russian Ambassador was severely wounded

Interesting to note that the second anecdote is a direct follow-on from the first, and yet the term ‘ambassador’ has been capitalised/upper-capped in the second. Copy-editor, anyone?

And we thought we had seen it all!
President Trumps’ barging the Montenegro President out of the way, for his celeb photo-shoot is peanuts next to this.

 

Harold Nicholson was the husband of Vita Sackville-West, based at Sissinghust, Kent. He was a knighted as Sir Harold for his diplomatic duties. At one point he was First Secretary to the League of Nations. He became a Labour MP after resigning from the Diplomatic Corps.
His was a ‘colourful’ life.

This is a re-posting from earlier. I took it down to make way for a time-specific post on Cinema-Based Well Dressing.
And so, avoiding further confusion, here we are:

The Sequence of St Eulalia is one the earliest surviving French hagiographies, in the vernacular. It dates from 880AD.
It is called a sequence because the manuscript contains three poems based on the St Eulalia legend. The first is a Latin fourteen-line poem, followed by the French vernacular poem, and then one in Old High German. It is surmised the Latin poem was the original of the manuscript, and the others added in response.

Poem is a wrong description: the Latin piece was written as prose but in assonantal couplets, and the whole piece ending in an unpaired coda verse form. The lines are mostly ten syllables in length, but this admits variations of eleven, twelve, even thirteen at one point.
Internal evidence of the French vernacular shows the composition to have been in the northern French region, indeed beyond, in modern Belgian Wallonia.
This is initially puzzling, because the Sequence manuscript was found in 880AD, in Barcelona.

1
Eulalia was a twelve year old girl, from Merida, in northern Spain. She was known to be especially devout.  She was martyred for the intransigence of her belief, during the persecutions of Diocletian, around the year of 304AD.
Merida was the capital of Roman Lusitania; its ruins, part of an amphitheater, its bridge, and aqueduct  were still impressive in the 1850s.

The French vernacular begins:

Buona pulcella fut eulalia.
Bel auret corps bellezour anima
Voldrent la veintre li deo Inimi.
Voldrent la faire diaule seruir

This has been modernised:

Bonne pucelle fut Eulalie.
Beau avait le corps, belle l’âme.
Voulurent la vaincre les ennemis de Dieu,
Voulurent la faire diable servir.

It is interesting, instructive, even, to see how the French language has developed over time.
I made an attempt at Englishing the piece from the modernised French:

The good girl Eulalia
lovely of from, lovely of soul,
and ready to overcome the enemies of God,
was intent to make the devil serve
her, nor listen to his bad counselors.
She denounced them to God, who dwells in heaven.
Not for gold, nor silver, nor finery,
royal threat, nor prayer,
no thing could ever make her bend,
the young nun, from the love of God’s ministry.
And for this she was presented to Maximilian
who was at that time king of all the pagans.
He uttered: It matters little to me.
What he did not want
was to be called a Christian man.
And so he summoned together his forces
better to put her in chains,
and put her virginity in danger.
For that she died, in great honesty.
In the fire they threw her, but it would not burn
her, nor cook her flesh.
But that did not please the pagan king,
he ordered them with swords to cut off her head.
The young girl did not try to stop them
she wanted to leave her life, as ordained by Christ.
In the figure of a dove, she flew to heaven.
All pray for her, who deign to pray.
This you can thank Christ for
after death, that we can only leave
by his clemency.

There is an excellent paper on the background and context of the St Eulalia legend, transmission, and period, on Academia.edu, by Fabian Zuk, of the Universite de Montreal.  I give the link below:

https://www.academia.edu/30143399/Eulalia_and_her_Sequence_a_Bridge_between_the_Marca_Hispanica_and_the_Carolingian_Heartlands

There is an earlier version of the legend, as Fabian Zuk points out in his paper. This is the poem contained in the Peristephanon (Crown of Martyrs) by the Hibernian Latin writer, Prudentius (348 to 410AD).
Prudentius was another devout Christian; he was born in Saragossa, highly educated, and became an innovative writer for his period. It is claimed that he introduced a trochee-dominant prosody to the established Latin classical forms.
The Peristephanon is a collection of fourteen lyric poems by Prudentius, on Spanish and Roman martyrs.
Anyone who has translated Latin will know that a line’s word order is wholly dependent on the writer’s intent, emphasis, within that line. For those, like myself, without a classical education, the initial impact is one of chaos.
The following is from a literal Google Translate version of Prudentius’s ‘O in Honour passionis of Eulalia blessed martyr’, written in the 4thCentury AD:

next Southside location it is and took this ten excellent; city powerful; people abundant; and more blood martyrdom maiden powerful title. coursing tribe , and the nine three winters?quarter adtigerat; and clinking pears The distressed terrified rough butchers; execution himself sweet rata

As you can see….
The poem was written as a dedication of the remains of St Eulalia recently unearthed, transported, and then placed in a prepared tomb, in Barcelona. That explains the reference to placement at the beginning. Fabian Zuk investigates all this in great detail in his paper.

2
So why all this interest in St Eulalia? Especially as, until not many years ago, I had never even heard of her.
Blame it on Federico Garcia Lorca.
I was analysing the structure of his famous Gypsy Ballads collection, for my book on chiasmus and rings: Gifts of Rings and Gold:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gifts-Rings-Gold-Introduction-Ring-composition-ebook/dp/B01IRPODPW

The poem on St Eulalia occurs in the last three historical poems of the collection: Martyrdom of St Eulalia; Joke about Don Pedro on Horseback; Thamar and Amnon.

Lorca’s poem is in three parts. This is a form that the French form, above, cannot accommodate. The Prudentius poem, however, has a more discursive treatment. Here we begin to see how it can be opened up into a tri-partite structure. There are still details that do and do not coincide, however. One example is the Lorca addition of the double mastectomy of Eulalia/Olalla; her intransigence is also toned down, almost to oblivion.

Herbert Ramsden, in his ‘Lorca’s Romancero Gitano, Eighteen Commentaries’ (Manchester University Press, 1988) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lorcas-Romancero-Gitano-Eighteen-Commentaries/dp/0719078245
writes that Lorca purposedly labelled Eulalia/Ollalla ‘la gitana Santa’, a gipsy saint, even though she had lived and died over a thousand years before the gipsies entered Spain. He also notes that Lorca, ‘characteristically ahistoricist’, integrated the gipsy into mainstream culture this way, so ‘elevating the gipsy’. By adapting a more popular form of the name, Olalla, he further cemented the connection. The gipsy is, paradoxically, a symbol of the eternal outsider. Yet Lorca’s ‘ahistoricism’ identified the moment in time that such outsider-ness was becoming a dangerous position.

There is one point of connection between the vernacular French, Prudentius, and Lorca, and that is the potential assault on Eulalia/Olalla’s virginity. From the French, I give
‘and put her virginity in danger’ Englished from Qu’elle perdît sa virginité. Prudentius gives us, ‘The grace of [Eulalia’s} maidenhood [shielded]  behind the covering  of her head’.
Lorca wrote of Olalla’s sex which trembled as a bird ensnared, and her hands leap across.
Reader, take heart: she was only burned, decapitated, and masectomied.

This last detail, an addition by Lorca, occurs nowhere in the records. There is that terrible painting, though, by Bernadino Luini, where St Agatha carries her severed breasts on a tray, as Olalla in the poem. And interestingly, St Agatha was a patron saint of, among many places, Zamarramala, a province of Segovia. St Agatha was also a young girl, fifteen at the time of her own martyrdom.

What can we say about this assault upon young, outspoken, women?
It is not necessarily their vehicle for their opposition we notice, that is, their religiousness, but the form the oppression takes. It is their female identity that is attacked – their breasts, the threat of rape.
All the authority of the Church is here, but it is subtly enforced. They are applauded for their devoutness, but the indictment is still there: the terrible cost of female outspokenness, and of having a female body, with its possibilities. It is this sexuality the poem addresses partly, with that ‘Beau avait le corps’,  ‘Bel auret corps’, and the body-assault.
So why was she matryred? It is only in the Prudentius poem you get an indication: she was not just a devout believer, intransigent, but she openly mocked and attempted to over-turn the altars and images of the ‘pagan’s’ gods. Prudentius has her vehemently abusing the pagan leader, verbally.
Here we have it, the prize cannon in a woman’s armoury: speech. Not only has she the body of the fallen Eve, Eve as Magdalene, but also the gift of speech that can run rings around poor little man’s abilities.

In her way Eulalia can be said to inhabit the ambiguous transitional space between Mary and Magdalene figures. As Mary figure she connects with Lorca’s young female-centred poems of the first half of his collection. This is particularly clear in the sexual threats of the Preciosa poem. But also she connects with the gipsy nun, and with the gipsy madonna of one of the centre poem, St Gabriel. Soledad Montoya of the Black Pain, and the unnamed woman in Sleepwalking Ballad, introduce more nuanced, transitional, even median, characters. The faithless wife in the ballad is most certainly a Magdalene figure, as are, I would suggest, the grieving mothers in The Feud. This ambiguity of the Mary and Magdalene transitional moment is more fully drawn in the last poem of the collection, Thamar and Amnon, with the rape of half sister by half brother.

The Lorca Olalla poem plays also with time periods: he gives us a before martyrdom, during, and glorification in future times. This structure connects with the central poem of the collection, St Rafael. In this poem Lorca introduces another marginalised religious figure, St Tobit.
Each of these three centre poems is based on a city’s patron saint  – except St Rafael, the St Tobit poem, who was not the patron saint of its linked city of Cordoba. Lorca envisages Cordoba as Roman, Muslim, and modern city, each glimpsed in the water (a major motif in Lorca). Three time periods, again.
The tale of St Tobit/Tobias is fascinating for its own sake, a two-part story of father and son, linked by an angel in disguise. The angel exorcises a demon from the son’s wife, which caused her to kill her previous husbands. Definitely a Magdalene type woman, then rendered as Mary.

If anyone has a decent translation of the Prudentius Eulalia poem, I would be most grateful to them if they would point out a copy to me.

 

Bluedot festival COSMOS project, Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope, with Daito Manabe

http://shift-digital.co.uk/?event=world-premiere-cosmos-2017-international-art-science-residency&event_date=2017-07-09

Daito Manabe:
100_1065

Translation was the keynote.

Daito’s English, although servicable, was not thought sufficient for him to discuss the COSMOS Project he had been working on. He had therefore a first class translator from and to his native Japanese. I am currently trying tom find out her name:

100_1064
And what was his project? He was commissioned to work with Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope. He chose to produce an art work that rendered radio data in the visual medium.  He collaborated with – again I am hoping for a name – to use the data to produce synchronised sound work to Daito’s digital visuals.

100_1066

It was essentially a work of translation.

In Japan, he explained through translation, this work would not be possible. In Japan art and science are kept strictly separate, apart.

The Radio Telescope not only picks up radio-waves from space, constellations, the Milky Way. It also picks up ‘interference’, that is, unexpected and unwanted ‘noise’ from passing airplanes – there is an international airport nearby – but also mobile phones and other terrestrial sources. Phones are not allowed on site. But air waves bleed into each other depending on atmospheric conditions.
The task of cosmological engineers at the telescope is to identify what is wanted, and what not.

Screen-Shot-2017-05-31-at-12.11.22

Similarly, in translation from one language to another, equivalents have to be found for phrases used, of a particular culture’s usages. Take our term, Milky Way, for the edge-on view of the constellation we are a part of, and so used to by now. In Japan it is known as the River of the Sky. There are a great many stories based on it.
But choosing the right word that carries most of the meanings and intentions of the one being translated is a matter of sifting out ‘noise’, that is, unneeded meanings and implications.

So, Daito received the raw data – like a fax transmission, he joked. Here again is ‘noise’: it sounds like a  fax transmission, he had meant to say, but there are also implications in the basic phrase ‘like fax transmission’: it could also mean that visual data was also being received. Working on visualising sound data, was Daito’s mind here working metaphorically in this choice of phrase?
This was not raw data, though, because it had already been sifted electronically, translated into digital data from radio transmissions. There are many levels of sifting and translation of the transmissions involved here. |The telescope is tuned to radiom frequencies only, and so already a sifting of kinds of data occurs.
He then sought to conceive of this data in other mediums. To bring this about required the creating, writing, testing and application of new computer programs.

Not all translation systems function.
Daito brought his achieved art piece in computer format to give us a taster. The room was set up for a large-screen visual display. It did not work. Somewhere along the long transforming of information between outlets there was a glitch.
He used his two laptops to show the artwork instead: how it was put together from source data, and the final piece.

Nor did we have the scale of the finished work.
That was with the Radio Telescope.
It was also an interactive work, where visitors?… viewers?… interactives?…  could move via a console, through the constellations, and hear and see how the energy transmissions differed, altered, fitted into a whole.
This gave the regular musical beat of Pulsars, for instance, to work with and from. Each had a different rate of pulsation: when its radio wave flickered across our area of space, and a different degree of energy emitted.

*

On a personal note, in this instance my hearing was impaired: it shifts between ordinary to impaired with no pattern discernible. I have hearing aids but they only help at certain times.
One presentation was given at the talk where the speaker – a lovely soft southern Irish accent, I believe – spoke so soft, and low I heard little more than the odd consonant. I gave up trying to listen on that one. The rest of the talk I made great efforts to listen.
There are degrees of interpretation of recognisable sound clusters in operation when we listen. We interpret by what we know/remember/recognise. I interpreted from what I heard, translating – once again – to a continuing narrative of informative content.
Another and earlier project Daito had worked on was to create a changing visual representation of a period of, I think, the Japanese Stock Exchange data. He also tracked the rate of Bit Coin movements, and represented it as a moving graphic.
For more on Daito, see:
http://www.daito.ws/

*

The River of the Sky
On July 7th every year one of these stories is marked. This is the story, one of the many connected with the Milky Way/River of the Sky, that Daito alluded to.

It is the Tanabata Festival. It is the story of two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who represent the stars Vega, and Altair. They are only allowed to meet on the seventh day of the seventh month, every year, at the River of the Sky, our Milky Way. It is a based on poems in the Manyoshu volume, ‘Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves’. It is based on an old Chinese tale, The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd. She was, of course, weaving the pattern of the stars and constellations, whilst he herded the cows of heaven. They fell in love and were allowed to marry. On marriage, however, they neglected their duties. They were separated, and only allowed to meet once a year. On meeting they found themselves on opposite sides of the Sky River. She wept so much that a flock of magpies made her a bridge with their wings.
If it rains on the seventh day of the seventh month, the magpies will not be able to come.

People write messages, poems, and hang them from trees on this day.

Starting from July 1st, my local town unveils its new Well Dressing  displays. The theme for 2017 is Cinema.
With the one exception.

For more on Well Dressing, see the link: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/25353303/posts/3197

And here is another link, a behind-the scenes view of Well Dressing:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/237280/posts/1512962951

We start, and the route always starts here, at Greg Fountain, Flash Lane, with a lively display capturing the vivacity of the classic film, Dancing In The Rain, 1952.
You cannot see the detail from the overall shot, but the display features three central characters from the film: Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, flanking  Debbie Reynolds, all in yellow-petal raincoats.

100_1040
As always, with this display, there is a separate side panel for the Mount Hall nursing home. Here we have the ubiquitous American pop-corn, and cinema tickets.

100_1041

Next stop on the route is the Ash Brook display. This is usually the venue for a local school to contribute. This year is another delightfully produced piece, based on Fantasia. We see Mickey Mouse as Sorceror’s Apprentice – remember that scene?

100_1043
For inside pictures follow the link:
http://www.bollingtonstjohns.co.uk/news/well-dressing-2017/26667

There is a long walk now until the next one in the Memorial Gardens. This one has a much darker theme, in keeping with its position, among commemorations for those who died in the two World Wars.
This display gives us a scene from Passchendaele, that terrible, drawn-out massacre. One hundred years ago, this year.

100_1047

Within the same vicinity is another display, back on the cinema theme, but linked to the Passchendaele display: the Clarence Mill display gives us The War Horse film. In close up, the tree trunks/bushes in the background are formed from pasta twists:

100_1045

Breathtaking blues.

We then have another and this time up-hill walk to the Cow Lane display. This is situated above a stone basin that collects the constantly running water.
This year they have chosen a meticulously executed 007, James Bond franchise theme. Again it is a double board, angled over the basin.

100_1050

Then the long trek down hill to the last display of all: Pool Bank Well.
Again this is a triple-board display, and the subject a very elaborately produced cinema bill/poster  of Laurel and Hardy.
They cannot stand alone as champions of the cinema, though. And so, they are flanked by Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton.

100_1049

 

And here, under a large parasol, are tables, seats and benches. Here are sandwiches, cakes, tea and coffee.
Here is the sense of repletion and completion for all who have trod the miles and hills, and have appreciated the displays that have been these past few months in the making.

A very high level of expertise, and imagination, have gone into these displays.
Come and see.
You have until July 9th.

For directions, route, and background, see:
http://www.welldressing.com/venue.php?id=13

THE EVENINGS, by Gerard Reve, 1947.
Published by the excellent Pushkin Press, in its first English translation, by Sam Garrett, 2016

Avonden_eerstedruk

I am currently reading The Evenings, by Gerard Reve (Gerard Kornelius van het Reve, 1923 to 2006).

This is an early, outsider-novel, and a classic:
– ‘a cornerstone… of modern European literature…’  (Tim Parks)
– ‘The funniest, most exhilarating book about boredom ever written….’ (Herman Koch)

And that last comment captures my problem.
The novel is set in 1946, presumably in Amsterdam. There is no TV, no record player or records; there is  a radio, yes, that plays classical, a bit of jazz, some Latin American.
Of course no internet, iphones….
And everyone is bored out their heads.

Note that, ye critics of today’s youth.

And so the chief character, 26 year old Frits van Egters, entertains himself by needling everybody. This ‘entertainment’ takes over, to increasing degrees.
At first I had the distinct impressions of Billy Liar, by Alan Sillitoe, but no.

And so I am struggling with it; struggling to keep up the interest.
Because…. ‘I have seen the best minds of my generation…’.
Exactly.
The date, see: 1946.
The best minds of the generation before were still numbed by years of Nazi occupation, the round-ups, the transports. The best engineers, mechanics, workers, had been trucked off for the German war effort. They returned home morally ruined, physically malnourished, spiritually dead.

And Frit’s generation were beginning to stir, wake, shake themselves, look around. And what did they see?
‘He looked at her’ (his mother), ‘:  the thin face, the grey hair, the slight growth of hair around the mouth and chin, the arms that never stopped moving. “Help us,” he thought.

 – Is it me, or is it always the woman is the easy target? That she must maintain a static, constant, role, appearance, demeanor, for the narrator/character.
Woman as a distant, uncomprehended being; woman as an inhabitant of the same world, also – but surely she cannot feel what we chaps feel, how we feel. She goes on doing that house stuff as though nothing else mattered, or had happened.
Only, Frits wakes one night, to sounds in his parent’s room. He entered, to find his mother shaking and sobbing. His father, isolated in his own wrecked existence, excuses it as one her nervous attacks.
There is an unwritten novel in that, certainly. In her side of the story.

Frits looked around his world, and saw people holding onto the known and trusted traditions, but they now seemed little more than threadbare habits:
‘”Who’d like a pickled herring?…”, “”No, please, no.” But he does.
‘“… there’s a real Middenweg wind blowing…” , “…Please don’t use terms unfamiliar to the uninitiated.”

The book starts off well, with a sly, dry, ironic humour as Frits woke early one Sunday morning. Early: good, despite the bad dreams, but time to make something of the day. Then we see him every few minutes clock-checking, and the opportunities flounder, die, as the day wears on.

The story is set in late December. Even the Winter was a disappointment: the ice on the canal melted early; there was no real snow; plenty of drizzle, yes, but nothing with any energy or excitement to it.
The intention was there, but it is as though the life had been drained out of people, the world, even; the spark to ignite a creative fire, dampened.

‘“Tom ta tom tom, tom ta tom,” Frits sang to himself, “nothing ‘s good, but everything’s fine.”
– There’s definitely a modernist technique at work here. There is certainly an echo of Doblin’s ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’, in the use of vernacular, in the internal monologues, thesinging.

*

The novel is structured on ten evenings, of increasing frustration with a fruitless life, and world. Each chapter charts the route taken by the tacking and manouvering of a clumsy, mostly empty, boat.

No, the novel is a not a ‘Ulysses’; it may share some of the self-absorption of Joyce’s classic, but the scale and scaffolding are pointedly small-scale.
After the previous period’s vacuous claims to new world orders, new worlds, great futures, this is a pointedly and purposely humdrum conception of humanity.
When you build, you must build from proper materials: people as they are – and not cloud cities, a reich, built from vacuous guff shored up with people’s real blood, guts, lives.

We see Frits attend the school re-union; his peers were trying to adopt the old role of getting on, making something of themselves. Frits, perversely, does not.  It is not as definite as that, or as a much a stance. His life has no heroic gestures, statements, no focussed disavowal of old values. No, he rumbles on in a diffuse scepticism.

And it is here where the book’s strength lies.
It does not succumb to cliche, or stereotype. Frits is disagreeable, but not hateful. The story charts  the hinterland that is his life: he does not veer far from the main path, and certainly not off into the dubious byways, side roads, the district beyond the tracks.

The immediately pre-War writers grouped under the banner of Forum, were preoccupied with the relationship of man to society. The War changed all that; the War brought the Nazi regime’s Kultuurkamer and its prescription of everything other than National Socialist writing.
Reve’s book was the first one of impact to be published in that aftermath.

Reinder P Meijer, in his’ Literature of the Low Countries’ (Stanley Thornes (Publishers) Ltd, 1978) writes, ‘The dreariness of the subject matter recalls the work of the nineteenth-century naturalists, of whom Van de Reve may be regarded as a descendant.’
The directness of Gerard Reve’s depiction, though, is the main factor: ‘Van het Reve offers no explanations, no comments, no psychological key.’ (: Reinder P Meijer).
Gerard Reve also employs ornate speech – the interactions between Frits and older brother Joop, and associates, reads – as his response to the use of vernacular, above, shows – as an arch, ornate, edging-towards-parody of earlier high-flown literary styles.

It is not Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ the book shares kinship with, but perhaps Sartre’s ‘La Nausee’. They both explore the ennui. Sartre’s book has the definite stance, raison, backstory even, in the opus of Being and Nothingness. Reve eschews those grand gestures, definitions, concepts, in favour of the individual vision.
Where Sartre argues for the individualistic response, Reve gives it.

*

Gerard Reve hit the headlines again with his 1970’s quartet of books ‘Dear Boys,’ ‘Sweet Life,’ ‘I Loved Him,’ and ‘A Circus Boy,’ where he explores gay sex, with a brutal edge. It is the style, also, that grabbed attention. The books are written with a blend of fact and fiction, in the form of written letters, and fantasy, but not the standard epistolary format.  Reinders P Meije again: the books stand out because of their ‘firm structure and … skillful way(s) of preserving a precarious balance between reality and the fairy-tale elements… introduced in his later novels…’.

But I’m still stuck.

ts

Leaving the city for the student quarters
postponing grief, holding off horror,
by all the arts study finds emotion capable.

That night’s examination we were heads down,
ours the unquestioned rights to question,
and our right to right

woke to outrage,
found time had stolen our innocence;
witnesses unable to act, found space
had made us impotent.

Made old that morning by the escalation
between immediate loss, and the long,
slow, discovery of loss.

tiananmen_square1

TIANANMEN SQUARE, NIGHT OF 4TH JUNE, 1989

SELECTED POEMS/POEZII ALESE by Richard Livermore
Copies available from the author, http://www.chanticleer-press.com/contact-page.html
£8.00 each, plus £1.00 p and p

This is a very handsome book.
Printed in Romania as part of their contemporary literature series Orizont Literar Contemporan, the production values are high. This is a book of which to be proud.

The cover carries a copy of a Munch painting, Melancholy. A gloomy subject? But the background colours are lovely: blues, olive, yellows, and a moment of white. The colour scheme of the cover uses this as its base, an overall black is banded with blue, and the main focus of white script.
On the back cover is a photo of Richard. Look closely, here again we see a similar mood, pose, and the colours in the background, out-of-focus, once again capture the overall range of the Munch.

Inside we have a Profil cultural, rather than biographical details. The focus is different, away from self, and towards how the writer has responded to place and time. The emphasis is on where self and cultural world interact. This is healthy, and does not engage with writer-status or celebrity.

What we are presented with here is a selection of Richard’s poetry from 1973 up to 2016. It is dual language book, with Ioanna Agafitei translating poems 1 to 12, and Elena Tapean 13 to 29. So, a dual-translator, dual-language book.
Richard certainly puts them through their paces at times. On page 23 for an instance, he gives Ioanna ‘…only when life is a was will it be.’ The poem is written in 5 quatrains with occasional end-rhyme and much alliteration and assonantal play. To cope with maintaining argument and form’s playful use of language, she gives us a 9-line stanza, combining the last two quatrains, and capturing the connotations.

***

If you were to send a message to Romania, knowing what happened in 1989, Christmas day 1989… what would you send? This is a generation on, but the question remains: what would you send?
What we now know of Romania, apart from tennis players, the old guard poets, are EU open borders, workers bringing their own interpretations of what they find here.
What can we say to them? More important, how can we say it, where would be the weighting and emphases fall? This is the West – what stories did they have of us? Officially degenerate, of course.
Whatever it was, it was fairy-tale.
For people to travel all that distance for work here, and to find austerity, closing borders, scratching round for low-paid jobs….
What can we say to them?

And this is where Richard Livermore judged his selection well, for what he sends are messages of recognition, of struggle, disappointment, of the value and worth of the person caught up in the machinery of time and place.

One commentator, Ian MacFadyan, called Richard’s work ‘dark star poems… shot through with bright images of wonder….’ And they are.
In form they are short, rarely over a page in length, and often two or three stanzas each. In structure we find full rhyme, alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme. Rhythmically tight, with not a syllable wasted and yet not stifled by that; the freedom comes from the audacity of image and movement.

They are supple, as well as subtle. If you look for heritage then think of Kant’s antimonies – the form lays down the argument, but then it pivots into an unexpected image, which unlocks its depths of meanings. And as you read you become aware of richness, of exploration, insight, thought. The antimonies give you the argument and conclusion, then present you with an alternative one you had not thought possible.

‘Here we are locked/ in a prison of words’, ‘Here’ begins (did you think of Dylan Thomas?), and ends ‘here life is reprieved.’ How it gets from beginning to end is through the vehicle of language, image and sound. Yet it is aware that this is a vehicle, for it is to the inner movement that our attention is drawn. This is where people meet, in their inner experience of the world, not the immediate-demand response.

We feel locked into our habits, cultures, socially trapped. In ‘Pi’ he writes ‘I know very well/ what  it is to be  Pi/ for they keep reining in// my potential as well.’ Who cannot empathise with that? How can we move from this position? The structure, use of modern knowledge systems, are subject to the mind’s capabilities. Quantum effects, he gives us, open up other possibilities to us.

Yet don’t think all the poems use this stance – there are tender poems, see ‘Engraved In the Stars,’ and poems of mythic proportion, ‘Hidden Agendas,’ and playful poems, and poems of serious play.
There are riches to be found here.

One of the many riches is in the glorious sound textures Richard Livermore creates. How translatable are they? Take, for instance, the following from the first poem, ‘Wind/Vant’:
the burly, brusque bull-whale/ of a wind with it’s buffalo’s/ biffing and bellow, billowing…‘ Notice how the use of the line’s pause steers the rhythm, creating excitement. The translation can capture the checked flow that holds and then lets go, but cannot mimic this alliterative dynamic. Elsewhere the translation gives, rather than takes, texture; in ‘Prophecy’ we have:
What is the cloud doing/ storming the sky/ and why does it want//to bring down the moon… The Romanian has: Ce face norul/ furtuna cerul/ si de ce doreste// sa darame luna –I cannot reproduce the accents.
The line length is shorter, the metre changed, end-rhymes introduced, and the lines’ internal chiming of sounds changed.
The structure on the page informs how we read: this is poem structure, and in each case we read for the line because syntax and rhythm instruct us to do so. I leave out the vexing discussion of whether the translation is an entirely different poem, or an extension of the source-poem.

‘I don’t see why  words/ should always wait table‘ he writes in ‘Words Running for Cover’, the last poem in the book. Words, language, are the vehicle for exploring self and world, but only a vehicle. Our engagement with, our  living in, the world is the real subject. Always.

This is a book that you will go back to, often, and discover new riches each time.