Archive for January, 2016

Rudyard Kipling

Posted: January 30, 2016 in Chat
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CHANT PAGAN

of an English Irregular, Discharged

 

Me that ‘ave been what I’ve been —
Me that ‘ave gone where I’ve gone —
Me that ‘ave seen what I’ve seen —
‘Ow can I ever take on
With awful old England again,
An’ ‘ouses both sides of the street,
And ‘edges two sides of the lane,
And the parson an’ gentry between,
An’ touchin’ my ‘at when we meet —
Me that ‘ave been what I’ve been?

Me that ‘ave watched ‘arf a world
‘Eave up all shiny with dew,
Kopje on kop to the sun,
An’ as soon as the mist let ’em through
Our ‘elios winkin’ like fun —
Three sides of a ninety-mile square,
Over valleys as big as a shire —
“Are ye there? Are ye there? Are ye there?”
An’ then the blind drum of our fire . . .
An’ I’m rollin’ ‘is lawns for the Squire,

Me!

Me that ‘ave rode through the dark
Forty mile, often, on end,
Along the Ma’ollisberg Range,
With only the stars for my mark
An’ only the night for my friend,
An’ things runnin’ off as you pass,
An’ things jumpin’ up in the grass,
An’ the silence, the shine an’ the size
Of the ‘igh, unexpressible skies —
I am takin’ some letters almost
As much as a mile to the post,
An’ “mind you come back with the change!”

Me!

Me that saw Barberton took
When we dropped through the clouds on their ‘ead,
An’ they ‘ove the guns over and fled —
Me that was through Di’mond ‘Ill,
An’ Pieters an’ Springs an’ Belfast —
From Dundee to Vereeniging all —
Me that stuck out to the last
(An’ five bloomin’ bars on my chest) —
I am doin’ my Sunday-school best,
By the ‘elp of the Squire an’ ‘is wife
(Not to mention the ‘ousemaid an’ cook),
To come in an’ ‘ands up an’ be still,
An’ honestly work for my bread,
My livin’ in that state of life
To which it shall please God to call

Me!

Me that ‘ave followed my trade
In the place where the Lightnin’s are made;
‘Twixt the Rains and the Sun and the Moon —
Me that lay down an’ got up
Three years with the sky for my roof —
That ‘ave ridden my ‘unger an’ thirst
Six thousand raw mile on the hoof,
With the Vaal and the Orange for cup,
An’ the Brandwater Basin for dish, —
Oh! it’s ‘ard to be’ave as they wish
(Too ‘ard, an’ a little too soon),
I’ll ‘ave to think over it first —

Me!

I will arise an’ get ‘ence —
I will trek South and make sure
If it’s only my fancy or not
That the sunshine of England is pale,
And the breezes of England are stale,
An’ there’s something’ gone small with the lot.
For I know of a sun an’ a wind,
An’ some plains and a mountain be’ind,
An’ some graves by a barb-wire fence,
An’ a Dutchman I’ve fought ‘oo might give
Me a job where I ever inclined
To look in an’ offsaddle an’ live
Where there’s neither a road nor a tree —
But only my Maker an’ me,
And I think it will kill me or cure,
So I think I will go there an’ see.

This a poem that sticks, with me. I’m no fan of his… I was going to say ‘his writing’, but is it that? Should it be, instead ‘of the man’? But I’m sure he had great personal qualities. We must always distinguish the stance from the man.

Whatever you think of Kipling, he was a complex man. For all his war-fever, gingoism, his world crashed when his own son was killed in WW1.

Whatever you think… there is no disguising the heartfelt resentment boiling in this poem. Its criticism of England you would not think he could write: the littleness, staleness; in-turned, cut-off, spiteful- all Brexit (Britain’s Exit from Europe) supporters take note!
The criticisms are just as relevant today. People may no longer be crushed between the Parson and the Squire, but the drag-back, power of inertia is still very much there.

Also see: http://interestingliterature.com/2016/01/18/five-fascinating-facts-about-rudyard-kipling/

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ONE! HUNDRED! DEMONS!

Posted: January 23, 2016 in Chat
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Many books I blog about have been shared by my wife. This is another one.

One! Hundred! Demons! By Lynda Barry. Sasquatch Books, Seattle. ISBN 1570614598. 2002.

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What is it? What’s it about?
It’s an illustrated book drawn and fully illustrated throughout its 224 pages by Lynda Barry.
It’s all about energising yourself by clearing your workspace.
When you’re ready to get on with some work, your own work, what happens? Those little niggles, discomforts, and what is worse bad memories, negative voices, the whole shebang of undermining emotions and thoughts pop up and want attention.

This book’s raison is based on a painting exercise technique Lynda learned from a chance encounter with the book of a 16th century Japanese monk, Hakuin Ekaku.
She uses ink block and brush throughout. Her book is lovely. The more you do… the more you understand.
She catches some lovely poignant moments, just in a sketch.

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The aim is to identify these little demons that hold you back, capture them in a picture, or set of pictures as here, see them for what they are.
Her list is semi-autobiographical; she catches eighteen of her semi-own little blighters in this book.

Some are surprising, like Resilience.
“When I was little,’ she writes, ‘bad things had gone on, things too awful to remember but impossible to forget.  When you put something out of your mind, ‘she asks pertinently, ‘where does it go?’
Kids are young enough to bounce back, we say. Ok, some are, yes. But once we bounce we have to keep bouncing, every time it comes back to us. A lifetime of bouncing. How do we learn to cope?

Acknowledge this demon and have a good look at how it works, and how it works you.
This is why this illustrated narrative format is so good: if you have the skill to draw you can do this. And some of them are the ones that say/shout You’re Wasting Paper And Time! And also You Can’t Draw!
The trick is the time you put in to drawing, catching the drawing, undermines its hold on you. You look intimately at its contours, its space/environment, you ‘know’ it. After that the question is: just who is in control now, eh?

Then they need to have their own little place, as you put them back. And not all mixed in with the others causing a rumpus.

Divide and Conquer?

The little Lynda in the book isn’t a pretty, a princess, a girly girl, she’s toothy, gobby, weak, credulous but also heartbreakingly hopeful – and constantly let down by the world. Sound familiar?

In another section she ponders Hate. Authority denounces hate from on high: parents, teachers: Thou Shalt Not Hate!
This just confuses growing emotions all the more. A substitute teacher stood in: It is possible to Hate something about a person you Like. And to Like something about a person you generally… Don’t Like.
It was a revelation to growing minds!

The teacher, of course, was reprimanded.

What about the little girl she used to play with? She was a couple of years younger, but lived nearby, and was a good playmate. Until that age when those two years began to make a difference, and maturity stepped in. And the young person felt so let down by you going off with the others – after all, in your young days you had sworn everlasting friendship. That sense of betrayal.
You were becoming one of those grown-up who let kids down.
Oh, it was years ago, kids forget. But here it is. Again.

 

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And what about Lynda Barry?
Part Filipino, part Irish, a bit of Norwegian there too. And Wisconsin – Seattle based for her earlier life
After graduation her cartoons were taken on by some American newspapers. A friend of Matt Groening from college days.
She has taught in and been Artist in Residence at several American colleges.

Oh, and she hates wind farms.

 

Hans Christian Andersen

Posted: January 8, 2016 in Chat
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There is in the tales of Hans Christian Andersen a very short tale, called Heartache. The Danish title is Hjertesorg. In other translations it has other related titles, such as The Great Grief for instance.

The story itself is barely a page and a half in length.
The narrator addresses the reader as part of a company throughout: ‘we have a story for you’. There is a name for this usage, but I wish to keep this post friendly, accessible; an open invitation for all to reread Hans Christian Andersen’s work.
The story the narrator tells is in two parts; indeed, he says, the first part can be left out altogether.
He relates the two parts together, though.

Whilst staying at a grand house a lady arrived one day, with her small dog. She was wanting to sell shares in her tannery.
She was asked to write her request down, as the house’s owner was away. The narrator asked her to address her request to…  and he read her the title. She asked him to repeat it while she wrote, then asked again for a repeat because she said “I’m only a woman!” The title was indeed , long-winded: General War Commissary, Knight etc.
Her little dog, Moppsie, we are told, died.

The second part of the tale saw the narrator and company staying in the town at an inn. Their window overlooked the tannery. Moppsie the dog had died, and children were burying it in their tannery yard, in a spot away from the skins, hides, equipment. The lady was a widow, and those were her grandchildren.
They had made such an elaborate grave that they invited other children in to view it. Each was charged entry fee of one trouser button. On the road outside the yard a young poor girl wept – she had no buttons, so could not gain entry. She so wanted to view the grave. She wept with ‘the kind of heartache that usually is experienced only by adults.’
The narrator watched all this from above. He said: ‘How many a grief of our own and of others can make us smile.’ Then the last line, a cracker: ‘That’s the story, and whoever doesn’t understand it should go buy a share in the widow’s tannery.’

A simple, sentimental story?
The centre of the story is the tannery. People of the tannery create something wonderful (out of filth comes forth … ) then charge for viewing. This is business, industry, in the raw. The next linkage we see is between that something wonderful and the street girl. The time spent on her description, her curls, pretty face, the gentle feelings  she inspires, connect with the marvel that the grandchildren made. This linkage is essential to the meaning, it gives us the aesthetic dimension. That the street girl is the most legitimate recipient of the marvel is pointed up here. Then to deny her this is, to the Romantic idealist, the chief sin of an uncaring world.

Like all ’s Hans Christian Andersen’s writing it is all in the telling. One of his greatest innovations was to write orally, as the storyteller speaks. Of course, in King Christian VIII’s locked-down Denmark, this was just not on. His time was one of classicism, and only classicism. It took years and years for Hans Christian Andersen to win the recognition at home that he was given everywhere else.

As an orally written piece the tale depends a lot on tone of voice, phrasing, audience recognition of motifs from his earlier work, from society, from the times. He can put in what looks like a throw-away line on the page, and in a reading it can take on sudden implications.
What are we to make of the story?
The tale has so many switch-backs: are we to empathise with the girl on the street? The narrator spends a lot of time on her. Then what of that penultimate line, the smiling at misfortunes?
We read this in light of his earlier depictions of the plights and fates of street children.
The far majority of Hans Christian Andersen’s street tales were written in the plush surroundings of big houses. It was as though he needed that distance, or that his surroundings acted on his never absent sense of undeservingness.
There is always a degree of his own autobiography in his tales, more so in these street tales.

He grew up in the large but left-behind town of Odense. His mother was illiterate, his father a poor tailor. He died early. As did his step father. His mother worked to keep them alive as a washer-woman. That was not a scullery occupation, but  open air all winter and summer. It was also at times a river occupation. Winter, and summer.
She took to gin to keep herself going.  Like the Little Match Girl, she had had to sell on the street  as a child – she could not return home until all were sold. If she had, she would have been beaten.
Hans Christian Andersen has a tale, She Was Good for Nothing, based on this theme of the drinking woman who died without her story being told, recognised or appreciated.

He left home aged fourteen, alone, and moved to Copenhagen, to make his name. It is significant that at fourteen alone in a city he was at no time accosted, abused, raped or mugged. Not that he was unaware of these sorts of things. He constantly wrote how cruel other children could be; and how thoughtless to the point of malicious, adults.
Those first three years were terrible, full of knock-backs, mockery and being ignored.
Poverty at that time was a locked-in relentless round. That Hans Christian Andersen, with hardly anything going for him beyond his own self-belief…  could break through and out of this, was nothing short of stupendous. Others had managed it, but they were few, and once they recognised one another, stuck together. No one else could possibly understand what they had gone through; certainly no one in the upper class worlds.

Hans Christian Andersen constantly juggled his public persona, carefully and painstakingly nurtured; his personal story; and his nature. He took great pains to foster connections with wealthy families; but could never fit in. Poverty leaves its mark on one – forever.
He wrote in his diary around the time of the story, ‘Tears  came into my eyes, I thought that I , the poor shoemaker and washerwoman’s son, was being kissed by the Czar of Russia’s grandson. How the extremes are meeting.’
His great Danish friends, the Collins family ‘…understood at last Andersen’s fame… regretted that (they) had ever been less than respectful to him.'(Hans Christian Andersen, The Story of a Storyteller, Jackie Wullschlager)

Another of his innovations was the depiction of the real-life living conditions of the poor in Denmark.
It was this Hans Christian Andersen also recognised in Dickens, and why he clung to him as ‘some one who could understand’. Dickens, in true English manner, that is, generous to a fault, ahem, was appalled at H C A overstaying his welcome; at his need for attention.

This story, Heartache, was part of the sudden writing fervor after 1853. That date is significant. Denmark had just been through the catastrophic wars with Prussia over Schleswig-Holstein. The 1848 tumult had shaken Europe. H C A’s patriotic commitments were torn apart by these: his reception in Germany was his greatest achievement at that time, whilst that of Denmark was lacklustre.
And then King Christian VIII died. The King has been generous to him; he depended on the royal stipend.
Denmark began to open up, censorship was relaxed. And the plight of the common man became more and more the topic of the time.

From this time Hans Christian Andersen’s writing changed; he phased out the magical elements as stark realism came to the fore, but ameliorated by the telling, as in this tale.

Many people have had problems with The Little Match Girl – that he presents a seemingly calm and forensic picture to the reader of a dead beggar girl on the street. And so as we see here: what do we smile at when he invites us to, in that penultimate line?
Ourselves. Our own sense of grandiosity.
Hans Christian Andersen was adept at flipping the focus on a phrase, half a line. He often whipped away the scene presented – he had an excellent  pictorial eye – only to show there was a mirror there all the time. Think of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Also, is he suggesting, that human nature being what it is, there will always be that little beggar girl on the street? Always the unrelenting round of poverty in the world?

How well do you know the world?
Think about that inn overlooking the tannery. The stench; the seething maggots. And in an urban centre, too.
Think of that ‘I am only a woman!’ and then think of the gender divide, of the education divide; think of the chasm of expectations between men and women, and its implications for issues of equality, for all social intercourse. Andersen was acutely aware of these levels and sub-levels of the social scale.
And think of how death was so much a part of daily life, there. That a grave could be so decorated, and that therefore all would want to come. To do what? Pay homage? No, but just to view it. This is children not understanding why adults visit graves, and thinking it to do with their decorativeness. This is how well Hans Christian Andersen could articulate the child’ s world, and not by explaining, judging, but by presenting it to us it in action.

There is the characteristic Hans Christian Andersen humour here too. The boys paid with trouser buttons, and so went around thereafter with their braces half-fastened. No doubt their parents would have had something to say about that also.

This is Hans Christian Andersen’s greatest strength, that he could look on the most heart-breaking realities, ‘The Great Grief’s, and present them to us. His attempts at engaging the more uplifting parts of our natures required the magical elements, the fairy tale elements.
He does not explain, nor excuse, in his stories. In his public life he clung to decency and good manners, respect. In his shadow life he dragged Denmark into the modern world.
It is significant that from 1853 he titled his collections Historier, stories, rather than the earlier Eventyr, tales. He made the shift from children’s tales emphatic by this.
He would revive the tales again, but deepened.

And so, with that last line: do we now ‘understand’ his story? Can we read it as fully as he wanted us to? Or are we still buying those shares?

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PS
Is it possible that there was implied criticism in his last statement of the story?
The tannery shares were presented to the owner of the grand house the narrator was staying in. Did this make the grand house owner implicated in the continuation of social deprivation? Or at least in the artistic impoverishment of ordinary people?
Hans Christian Andersen was a constant guest and had found much support for his work among the grand house owners. Many were his patrons over time, a bit wrong-footed at times, but….
Even so, his experience of the neglect and dismissal of his work in Denmark among the literati and those dependent upon the  literati for guidance, had been long and relentless.
Was this also a critique of capitalism in its infancy, as he found it in his wide travels throughout Europe?

I do not myself believe these; these themes were the vehicles for exploring his own, closer to home issues.
I am sure that he played with this ideas, though, in such formats as these tales and stories.
Yes, I can have it both ways.

Happy New Year!

Posted: January 2, 2016 in Chat
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