Archive for September, 2012

Nigh-No-Place  – Jen Hadfield         Bloodaxe Press        2008

Winner of the 2008 T S Eliot Prize; Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

There are many things to like about this book, not least the cover picture of one sassy horse in an open landscape, that we can only take to be part of the Shetlands.

What else is to like? Cats and dogs. Jen Hadfield likes them too, they are everywhere, from Canis Minor to the sign-off poem In the Same Way. And it’s not only cats and dogs; we have sheep, cows, horses, not to mention huskies and a polar bear. We also have, predominantly, the weather.

Ok, we all have weather. Yes, but the weather she writes about is weather one has to be out in, like the animals, with the animals; because we have committed them to this with our adhoc husbandry methods. Grazing animals would normally seek out trees, bushes etc for shelter in bad weather. We have them penned in open fields.

What else is there to like? There is her confidence in her craft. Her use of rhythm combined with rhyme, in for instance Paternoster:

Wild asparagus, yellow flowers

of the flowering cactus

where the placing and choice of the rhyme words, displays a playful insouciance.

A Bad Day for Ice Fishing:

stroll this across the wasted lakefloor

while stealthy, the hole in the ice heals over.

She takes risks, larks about with form. There is the picture she presents us, of her herself in baggy longjohns: what is there not to like?

Reviewers write about the freshness of her writing, her vision. And it has that.

There are also redolences of other writers. ‘Redolence’ I now take to be a Seamus-Heaney word, this is apposite as we have echoes of early Heaney, in Bridge End, October:

I draw behind me a delicate rain –

hooves drumming lightly the steep, dry lane –

and Heaney’s Gifts of Rain:

………. steady downpour now

…………………………………                                                   

                                                        Still mammal,

straw-footed on the mud

In Hadfield’s Kodachrome

………a herd of astounded hills

can you hear Ted Hughes?

Older writers. And it is so good to see young writers reading and finding something that chimes for themselves, in older writers. There is definitely an echo of Auden’s magisterial tone, and the rhythm of Consider this and in our time, in Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is a Horse as Magritte May Paint Him:

Consider this percheron in the climate –

Paternoster,the prayer of a work horse, cannot help but remind us of M R Peacocke’s Goose Hymn (from Selves, 1995):

Paternoster. Paternoster.

Hallowed be dy mane.

dy kingdom come,

dy draughtwork be done

………………………….

with

We lub us ogre

It like we    two legs

Two blue eye

It dict us born

from:  Goose Hymn (from ‘Selves’)

Hadfield’s Odysseus and the Sou’wester carries many of the tonal elements of Simon Armitage’s version of The Odyssey.

What I have been pointing to are just echoes of other writers. Hadfield has another order of relationship with older writing.

With Glid, we have very much the excitement of the found poem, but combined, I would argue, with the revelation of language, its sound and ability to catch the ‘colour’ of an experience of phenomena, that Christopher Murray Grieve found in dictionaries, and usage, of Lowland Scots speech: the language that formed Hugh MacDiarmid, and Lallans.

‘Redolent’: the word, is also latinate, ecclesiastical.

Like Heaney, Hadfield presents us with a vitalised vision of the world. Description is not revelation here however, with its sacramentalism of the secular, allowing bog queens to speak, wood and ditch spirits to roam; in Hadfield there is a rhapsodic use language. That is, a language whose reliance is on song as much as description. It is the patterning of sound, the rhythm and rhyme, the tonic value of language, which becomes the revelation in this book. The way she breaks a poem is in essence, musical:

Kodachrome:

James and Mira ran off into the wood. You’d told them

      heybear, heybear – and did they ever –

                      Hey bear!        

               Hey bear!

A godawful wriggly thing fell in Moira’s hair.

The phrasing, use and placing of rhyme, the rhyme sounds that modulate from ever to bear to emphatic bear, to hair, give a playfulness to the piece. Nor is she averse to simple tunes: the “row, row, row your boat”, in Glid for instance.

So much for the echoes; the main person behind the writing has to be Edwin Morgan. We see him everywhere, in the suggested layout of parts of Burra Moonwalk (compare with Strawberry Fields Forever), and in the structure and form of Love’s Dog:

What I love about love is its diagnosis

What I hate about love is its prognosis

What I love about……..

What I hate about…………

 compare with Morgan:

What I love about dormice is their size

What I hate about rain is its sneer

What I love about………..

What I hate about……….

from: A View of Things

The former by Hadfield also catches on the page the strict layout of the concrete poem, of which Morgan was an excellent ambassador.

Her Dogwalk II opens

Dervish lilac!

                     Local

                                  lightening!

This is a take on Morgan’s expostulation-rich earlier poems, for instance, The Trio, with its Orphean sprig! Melting baby! Warm chihuahua!. This is an echo also of Adrian Henri’s practice, and the heritage of the Beat poets.

The formation of this particular opening also captures the fortuitous glimpses that sudden lightening allows of one’s surroundings.

Blashy-wadder also has echoes of the Liverpool poets; it can be heard in the way an image is manipulated:  a gritter… rolled a blinking ball of orange light/ ahead of, like a dung beetle/ that had stolen the sun.  It is in the use of dayglo colour, and the way the emphatically ordinary is suddenly transformed into a mythical image.

But where is Jen Hadfield herself, in all this? And what is the Nigh-No-Place? The whole landscape of Britain spells out emphatically that it is a landscape formed and conditioned by man; it has been stripped bare, organised, ‘farmed’ extensively. It is now possible for non-farm animals to starve in what we would consider rich farmland: their normal diet has been disrupted to such a large extent. Crows, the traditional ‘undertakers’ of nature, are now anathematised for attempting to feed, with the little that is left them of their traditional diet. The lines from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh capture it well: … if you seek for any wilderness/ You find, at best, a park. 

In one sense she is the book. Her divided background (Canadian-British) allows no resting place; she inhabits no place, or nigh-on no place; we have all the unhoused images of the book to bolster this, as well, of course, as the sectional, divided format. She has to be her own country. She inhabits the width and wealth of the language that is available to her.

In this way the extended, exploratory The Mandolin of May piece, as well as being one of the most successful pieces here, maybe allows her a way forward.

Banks in Meltdown?

Posted: September 15, 2012 in Chat
Tags: , ,

1

It started about 25 years ago, buying a house – ok, mortgaging a house. Then last June it came up that it was paid for.

They had been misadvised on type of mortgage from the start, it turned out.

There would be a short-fall. Ok, they knew it was coming, how much; so they budgeted for it.

Back to last June: paying in their last mortgage payment. Next day they paid off the shortfall. All paid up. A few days later the official letter: nothing now owed, you will receive the Deeds to the house in a few days time.

So they waited, and waited, and waited. You know how it is, other things get in the way, you lose track.

Come September still nothing – so they decided to ring the mortgage brokers/ bank.

Then it began. What started as a phone call to check on the progress of the delivery of the Deeds, turned into a huge wrangle.

Firstly the employee said there was a deficit. But they have a letter stating all was done, and the Deeds… I am sorry, but there does seem to be something still owing. What is owing; they were assured all was paid up?

The account is still active, which means there is still something unfinished; there is still a deficit. What deficit? There was an unpaid shortfall. Do you mean this amount, for which Your receipt number is…?

Really? (No, I’, being too generous, they would Never be so disingenuous: one must always suspect the client).

So a lot of argument, to-ing and fro-ing got them to look back over their records and … Yes, there it was!

So, what IS the problem? They’ll send a letter explaining it. No, they didn’t want thay hanging over them, after having paid for 25 years Without Missing A Payment. AND as you can see, having paid the shortfall! SO What Is The Problem?!

A long and increasingly irate argument ensued.  In the long and protracted end they had to call their supervisor.

So, start all over again.

Ah yes…  it seems… the closure of the account was not triggered.

How? Why?

It seems to be human error.

YOUR human error?

Yes.

– The minions who answer phones are not allowed to admit error in the system – that must come from above.

We’ll send you a letter.

Is this the same letter we received last June saying All was paid, and the Deeds will come in a few days? But updated to now?

Yes.

Oh goody.

– Ok, it’s all in a days’ work. Banks, eh?

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Well here’s another one:

They knew there was a lot going out of their account, so put a cheque in to more than cover it. He was standing in line to pay in, when the person from the Help Desk said Why not pay it in by Quick Deposit? Here, I’ll show you. So she took his cheque, filled out the chit, sealed it up and put it in the box. He had the receipt. Good.

So, when the account  details came in they found they were overdrawn, and had accrued interest on it.

Back to the phone and Hey, we covered this, they said. Here’s the receipt number for the paying in slip.

Eventually they found it. Ah, it has not been entered onto the system.

Sorry. What? Oh yes, we’ll cancel all the interest.

The cheque had been lying around in the bank system unattached for about three weeks. Drifting, daydreaming, la-la-la ing through its days.

Quick Deposit box, we charge you with being a misnomer! Bank, we charge you with… not being a bank!

3

She took out a life insurance policy. Later, new managers said Hey this isn’t the best one for you. This other is better. So it was agreed. The other one closed.

Later she got a letter – it turned out she had been having to pay into Both – because the MANAGER who dealt with it had not closed the first policy.

You can imagine what it was like because the first 2 happened within a few weeks of each other. They were by related ‘banks’, in that the bank had taken over the Building Society.

 

 

These are what you might call small-scale events – but they are also metonyms, symptoms, of a whole-scale state of… collapse?

I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

WHAT IS HAPPINESS/ Wat Is Geluk?

Because happiness is a memory
it exists because at the same time
the reverse is also true
……………………………………………………………

 ………………… I mean this: happiness
must exist somewhere at some time because
 we remember it and it reminds us. 

Rutger Kopland (Until It Lets Us Go, 1997)

1

A circling argument, circular reasoning; he is attempting to capture here the processes of actual experience. It is a meld between learnt things ie the particular blends that give the sense of well-being, and the sense of already existing well-being within the person.

And notice that it is one long sentence. Is it a sentence? It’s more properly described as a gestalt, a knot of argument.

Maybe we have a harking back here to something like R D Laing’s collections of problems in his book Knots:

They are playing a game. They are playing at not
playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I
shall break the rules and they will punish me.
I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.

But this seems to be a different order, similar, but different. Unless, the difference is in the ambience that translation gives. James Brockway’s translation of the poem here is more a kind of, what he called, a collaboration: both writer and translator find the most appropriate new terms with which to convey the original poem.

What Kopland is doing here is expressing the thinking processes of emotion. That is, emotion in a broad sense.

2

There have been times in my own life I have forgotten what various things look like. One of them has been happiness. Many of us know this – if you haven’t you most probably will. Wait, especially until some loved one dies.

What was it Brecht said? The Happy man has not heard the bad news yet.
I quoted that to a colleague once and they asked in all seriousness what the bad news was.  What can you say!

To forget happiness. We all assume it is our right as a human being. That we are entitled to it, and to go to extraordinary lengths to gain, retain, or find it.
And yet it can be lost.

That last stanza in particular of the poem makes perfect sense: we have a capacity for it, or have developed one, therefore it is something we must need.
And let’s admit a life without happiness is not much of a life.
But is this just because we feel we are no longer getting our usual quota, whether it is necessary for us or not? Can we live a full life without  it?
To have ring-fenced what is necessary for a life; how narrow is that space? Or how over-big?

And then if we look back to, say, St Augustine, and his Confessions, we come across… someone overfond of describing themselves, of wallowing in their own specialness. But we also come across Chapter Ten.
What is Chapter ten? It is where he contemplates Memory.

Subsection 8 of chapter 10 begins: So I must also go beyond this natural faculty of mine… The next stage is memory, which is like a great field or a spacious palace, a storehouse for countless images of all kinds….

And if that isn’t a description of a memory system, then I don’t know what is! Those of us familiar with Patrick Jane from The Mentalist, will recognise the reference to the ‘memory palace’ in this, that he constantly goes on about.

Memory contains, says Augustine, amongst everything else we know, what we know as happiness. The chapter description reads –  Since all men long for happiness, they must know in some way what it is…

Even the phrasing seems to be echoed in the Kopland poem. Augustine’s reasoning in the chapter, subsection 20, runs:
Am I to seek it in memory, as though I had forgotten it but still remembered that I had forgotten it?

It seems what is being considered in all this is whether happiness is a constant presence in our psyches, or a memory of, say, well-being, that we had once, and constantly refer to when we mean ‘happiness’.

This last bit reminds me of so many things we value, that in actuality were singular and temporary, limited occurances.

We constantly hark back to happier times in our lives, which we then project onto our environment, society, history, culture. These were probably a few days/months/at most a few years when certain pleasure chemicals took precedence in our lives, and we were able to live almost blissfully.

I’ve heard people in the UK recall the 1950’s as ‘good times’, yet when we look at those times they were pitifully bad in most respects.

A general loss of energy and with it the capacity to take on the multiplicity of thought and experience, leaves a simplified, narrowed and shallow picture: a ring-fenced concept .

3

I am interested in moving forward, or, as a ‘forward’ probably doesn’t exist, opening up the present more and more.

Against this is a constant reference to what are thought to be past glories (: Jerusalem – see last posting); someone’s glory is someone else’s defeat. But also there is the meld between the victor and the defeated, that accounts for some of the sense of difference that victory brings.

I still maintain that what Kopland was investigating, especially in his later work, was a Phenomenological stance.
Phenomenology kind of grew out of european existentialism, the work of Husserl.

You find with modern Phenomenolgy this constant vacillating between one’s idea of one’s body in the world, that we get from sensory feedback, and the brain’s sense of  self’s existence, that is maybe generated from sheer sense of itself functioning.
This can lead to a looped vacillation; but there is this extra ingredient, and that is our being’s sense of… curiosity, for want of a better term. It is this keeps us going on.

One thing that seems to move us on better than most, is a sense of fun, play.

Bring on the fun!

I would have dearly loved a picture of Snoopy from Charlie Brown here, you know the skipping, gleeful ones?Copyright.

Jack Zipes in his excellent book Why Fairy Tales Stick (Routledge, 2007) has a chapter entitled To Be Or Not To Be Eaten: The Survival of Traditional Storytelling.

In this chapter a subheading, The Problematic Role of the Cultural Transmission of Tradition, tells the tale of a radio talk he heard.

Bruce Feiler was being interviewed about his work on trying to heal the breach of 9/11 by finding a common denominator between Christianity and Islam, and Judaism. This denominator was the figure of Abraham, father of all ‘people’s of the book’.

You remember, it was Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his commitment to God.

1

An earlier radio interview transcript included that of a caller, Mimi, who had called him out over the use of this figure of Abraham, his attempted violation of his son’s trust. She had not been taken up.

Zipes comments that Mimi’s recourse was to the writings of Alice Miller, her book The Drama of the Gifted Child. Indeed, Zipes opens this chapter with an excerpt from Miller’s The Body Never Lies. The excerpt cites: Naturally we no longer sacrifice our sons and daughters on the altar of God, as in the biblical story…But at birth and throughout their later upbringing, we instill in them the necessity to love, honor, and respect us… in short to give us everything our parents denied us.

Mimi’s response was that, as Miller had pointed, all representations of Abraham sacrificing Isaac has him gazing into the eyes of heaven; she said if he had lowered his gaze to his son’s eyes he would have become aware of the monstrousness of his act.

The killed child, the sacrificed child, murdered child, indeed the eaten child, occurs throughout traditional storytelling: think of Hansel and Gretel, Jack the Giant Killer, even Red Riding Hood. Old ballads tell the same tale; Lorca’s Gitano Romancero/ Gipsy Ballads, also picks up on this: Little Preciosa is almost a violated child; The Ballad of the Moon, the Moon has a young boy threatened by gypsies. In England it was Jews, in the ballad of Little Sir Hugh (of Lincoln). Our daily life still bears this out. The violator is often a family member: to personify him as an outsider… who knows, has this helped perpetuate it?

Throughout Zipes-Miller discussion there is a line drawn very firmly between adult and child. No doubt many mothers will find this perfectly fitting: the mental, emotional and physical adjustments she must undergo in those fraught first few months after birth draw a very distinct line between who/what she was and who/what she must now become. Not every mother is this paragon; postnatal problems cause all kinds of damage, whether temporary, or not.

With the father it is not so sudden or dramatic, but a much slower process. Those few months are the time new awareness becomes accessible; new regions, depths and areas of emotional response develop. Most cultures, being patriarchal by long standing, have served to minimize the male emotional responsiveness, self-awareness. The period of adjustment is more problematic because denied, fought-against, and full of the seeming possibilities of detachment from the situation, predicament.

‘Duty’ and ‘Responsibility’ were the key-words that kept the unit together through the very frought time of a new birth. It is possible to see these ethical constructs as purposely placed to deal with this. Once those are dispensed with, though, for whatever reason (usually a rather feeble, unthought-through one) then the family unit becomes unstable, even dangerous.

2

I am minded here of part of a poem by Yehuda Amichai; one of his ‘Poems of Jerusalem’, examining the heritage of that much fought-over city. The poem is Tourists, this is the second part, a prose piece:

Once I sat on the steps by the gate at David’s Tower. I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing with their guide and I became their target marker. “You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!” I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them: “You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

This poem, as seems fitting for a teacher of biblical studies/Hebrew, is very much a take on the Psalms, and their veneration of Jerusalem under the various stages of Jewish dispora and banishment. Not only the Psalms, but the Jewish Haggadah; the Passover Seder always ends with the phrase ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ – that desire/aspiration sent out from every corner of the world down the generations!

I think we are here approaching a secularist, even humanist perspective.

3

I am a little wary of the Miller-Mimi position – only in that I doubt if the valuing of  life in this way is enough basis for a whole new conception of the hugeness of the whole of humankind’s aspirational nature.

That sounds awful, but I come from a background where I have sought to value life above and beyond all else; and have found people, the basis for the human sphere of that life, extremely exasperating, and even at times downright obnoxious. This had come as a shock, a long delayed shock because I have not been willing to let go of those early notions.

I supposed tiredness and growing enervation has made me less conscientious.

But, also, the position of Abraham was untenable: He was to sacrifice His child, to prove His commitment to God. Abraham’s being, status and potential was to come before everything.

Sounds very familiar. The overbearing egotism of this; Isaac, his mother Sara, the tribal mores, the physical/emotional bond between father and son, the highest moral bonds of trust and nurture – all to be dispensed with.

This is one of the very dodgy areas of religion. In Christianity the believer must be willing to leave behind family, friends and one’s people. Ultimate cultism; the beginning of brainwash techniques.

And the clarion call to sacrifice. In the case of Abraham he was to sacrifice Isaac, who indeed was all those things to him. He would have nothing left but himself and God, after this. He knew that.

Too big a call.

What can be achieved by complete commitment: those magnificent cathedrals and  Mosques; the deep blend of Judaism. What wonders would be lost if we said of these things It’s not important, as in the poem?

And yet we have seen the huge overhaul of everything within 100 or 150 years as technology and science has taken us away from dependence, to a measure of stability (note I avoid the term ‘mastery’). When we consider quality of life, of what still in some parts of the world passes for this, and what is shown to be possible in others parts, (hastily denying any kind of cultural supremacy in this!) we cannot deny what was been done in these past few years must surely have been our biggest achievements so far.

Do we have to learn to let go, to move into the valueless and shallow waters of our present time, in order to move on?