Archive for April, 2016

thinking of better days….

A strong slow gliding of white cloud eastwards,
the sky in the zenith amethyst, but then look
stratus slide across at right angles on high levels;
the blue shows through thin worn floc-white.

The cloud in the blue amethyst I keep for later.
Coffee on the hob, aromatic, the still morning
hanging spice; birds build roosts of noise
to nest in; the blue hole deepens to indigo.

Skeletal beech trees, a rose bush breaks bud.
Bushes of evergreen in disturbed air, a cup full
of agitations; starlings follow their sounds around,
sparrows chuch, a thrush tunes its clacking wheel,
knocking, solid, dull. Clots of cloud in the west
turn peachy, discolour.

A chill just beginning, a high somewhere
zipping open, not settling into any garment.
What’s left of April — everywhere dew-wet,
and another dampness damping down staleness,
slinking to gaps between soil grains malts the mash
of simmering rot.

I have been caught up in writing a novel for the past, oo, several months now.
I went through a stage of trying out different fonts for the different voices telling/re-telling the story of the novel. It got too messy as the novel has grown and grown.


Here it is: it became unworkable due to scale. this is a taster:




Now, I want you to remember this: I am Sin-li-unni, and currently, though I expect not for much longer, Under-Under-Secretary for the Minister for Home Affairs. I am great-great-great grandson of Lugal, recorder of these events. Lugal was, family tradition records, an inner member of the ruling party in the city at that time. He was not, I repeat, not, a member of the ordinary city people. This is a gross distortion and slander. And I want to quash it once and for all. Those reports are Wrong. They are part of the great injustice and distortion done to our noble nation’s illustrious history and culture.

The following report is the True report, passed down in my family for generations. The Minister himself was very impressed when I could present him with my own chronicle. He had demanded a new publication of the heroic deeds and acts of our great ancestor Gil Games, to create a sense of pride and manly honour, in this time of troubled affairs in this Great Nation.

I could provide him with the true version. I expect to be elevated to a higher position in the Ministry any time now.

Here then, is the True account of the illustrious life of our great ancestor, Gil Games.



Let it be said, dear reader, that the fraudulent, biased and recessive account here presented to you as truth, is a gross distortion of the facts of the case.

We can never know, now, the thinking processes, bases for decision making, and judgements, of the period in question. We can be certain that the account, presented by Sin-li-unni as authentic, is anything but that. It is a version, no more. 

The account we present here we do under great duress. Should any of the contributors be unmasked…. Let it be known that we risk out lives to give the fullest version that we can.

Indeed, we would have preferred the story remain untold, than told in Sin-li-unni’s gross distortion. The real tale is a tale of the people’s lives, not of overbearing, cruel and preening overlords.



I came across this strange document late one evening in the library at Alexandria.

As you can see there appear to be two different hands at work here. Whether they muddy the waters further, or, as the second suggests, clarify the story to any extent we maybe now can never know.

Both writers seem unaware of what to us are now basic facts about the story and time. One of these concerns the claims of their leaders’ ancestry to Games. It is well-attested, and backed up by records from the time and proceeding times, that he never married nor sired any children. Indeed, his inclinations were elsewhere.

Our best researchers can now perhaps fill in some of the gaps in the story, and new tablets and documents by other hands that have come to light in recent years can also give a fuller picture.

I have taken the liberty in presenting the documents as a fictionalised story. This is to demonstrate that the early account is wholly unhistoric. It had been revered and re-published over time as factually correct, and as an authentic record.

To preserve something of the narrative structure of the story I have interleaved the earlier version with other versions of the tale, and filled in gaps in the narratives in line with our enlightened attitudes to diversity and equality. I think you will agree this version is far superior and acceptable for our enlightened times.



In John Stammers’ first two books, Panaromic Lounge Bar (Picador, 2001; Stolen Love Behaviour, Picador, 2005) the runs of street-life images echo the work of mid Jeremy Reed at his mid-best.

In Panoramic Lounge Bar, we have ‘House on the Beach’: ‘The shadows mediated by the black slats of the venetian blind/ stripe the silk finish ceiling; / I am reminded of the sheen on the ocean….’. In Jeremy Reed’s Red-Haired Android (1992) we find perhaps an earlier prototype: ‘The louvers of the venetian blinds snap shut,/ phasing out a beach scene, a turquoise sea…’ (‘Love in the Afternoon’). Jeremy Reed’s love of colour (‘A Coke can’s red paint peeled to a glitter…’: ‘Things That Stay’, Red-Haired Android, 1992), and intricate sound modulation, do find echoes in John Stammers’ first two books, taking the form of an obsession with light itself: ‘The mackerel sky elides lackadaisically across.’ (‘Spine’, Panoramic Lounge Bar), where image and sound, the emphasised ‘a’ and emergent ‘i’ sounds, set up a lightness of tone, a concordant sound-to-image relationship. Also, we have ‘…trinkling glass/ do nothing but vie with the C-sharp of Lambrettas/ that dopple off down the street to G.'(Furthermore the Avenue, ibid)

The main difference between these last two particular pieces is in the use of the ‘i’ sound. In Jeremy Reed the vowels moves towards a nervy high, like a suddenly fizzing coke can; in John Stammers the high becomes a stretched out level that is modulated by the insistent ‘a’ sound. Both carry an onomatopoeic charge. Stolen Love Behaviour is indeed very much a summer book, it is lit up with images of glorious skies, with hot days, sunshine and cloud shapes.


I think Jeremy Reed wins out with his attention to detail: ‘Indoors, indispensible utilities, / the glint of car-keys, a bracelet of change…’: ‘In and Out’ (Nero, 1985), or; ‘Wristwatch off, silk shirts, head slanting back/ beneath a regulated eye-dropper – /your bathroom scene, mirrors frosted with steam,/ a cologne bottle minus its stopper;..’: ‘Bathroom Scene’ (Nineties, 1990). Compare with John Stammers’ ‘tiny crabs are spots of cochineal on saffron rice...’ (Further the Avenue, Stolen Love Behaviour.’, ‘your profile against the duck-egg blue sun blind… (ibid)

Jeremy Reed:


But then : ‘…the shadows mediated by the black slats of venetian blind/ stripe the silk finish ceiling’ (: ‘House on the Beach’), must come very close behind. John Stammers appeal to the larger vista: ‘... the stucco wedding cakes of Campden Hill...’ (Younger, Stolen Love Behaviour; ‘The air today is so brilliant you have to breath it in sunglasses,/ the clouds in their short-sleeved cotton shirts...’ (Flower Market Street, ibid). Larger vista, and different order and intent. He aims, and succeeds, to capture the event of the human response as part of the experience.

They both share this fascination with colour, and the effects of light; they seek out contrasts, sometimes configured by Japanese people, as if seeking out the exotica of the everyday: ‘Two Japanese girls at Bank Station provide an instance/ of ultra-black with their hair, their acidity/ all expressed in the citrus colours of their clothes…’: ‘Two Japanese Girls at Bank Station’, (Stolen Love Behaviour, 2005) and Jeremy Reed’s, ‘Your dresses spilled across a hotel bed/ were like a hectic dispersal of flame….Your Japanese lover’s black kimono…’: ‘Blue Lagoon’, (Engaging Form, 1988); ‘Mostly it’s the accidental attracts/ a Japanese girl bending to a rose…: ‘Kodak’ (ibid), and ‘The lilac ash cone on a black cheroot,/the Japanese girl flicks it on her boot,//and purses her mouth to a strawberry’: ‘Nineties Shade’ (Nineties, 1990).

John Stammers:


So what do I imply when I say echo, and prototype, here? Is there any direct evidence John Stammers knows Jeremy Reed? Apart from both being born almost the same year? There is a minor sexually ambivalent charge to be found in Stammers, compared with the major sexually ambivalent tone of Jeremy Reed’s writing. In John Stammer’s ‘The Tell’ (Panoramic Lounge Bar, 2001): the photos of a same-sex kiss are kept and valued. It could be argued that the poem charts more the time period, the sexually experimental nineteen-seventies, than any commitment to sexual ambiguity, as in Jeremy Reed.

The valuing lies in the life-experience contained in the encounter: the writing of oneself, in true psychological practice. John Stammers is charting his points in time, the cultural high moments of time and place. Hence we have ‘Out to Lunch Poem’ whose details capture the yuppie phenomena of the nineteen-eighties boom years. The admirable poem ‘Younger’ is the market-stall poem of Stolen Love Behaviour, and the younger self/selves the main theme of the book. All we can say for certain is that there are similarities of approach, detailing, choice of subject.

For Jeremy Reed, as his introduction to Black Sugar makes plain, the intent is to write from within the experience, and not as the alienated outsider, the position inherited from previous generations. John Stammers inherits “language-games”; he engages with the experience on different levels. Jeremy Reed asserts a source of poetry within an experience, that the writing is the poetic aspect of the experience, a responsive aspect that falls within a paradigmatic role and dynamic. For John Stammers the poetry inhabits the experience in a different way; the focus of the paradigm is towards the recognition of a shared dynamic. His use of language is always expressive of identifying markers: “I speak, as most of us do, in the ironic, Americanised, pastiched mode of that culture’s diction (adolescent sarcasm being the most primitive form)”: the Wolf Magazine interview. Even such a poem as XEMAE (Stolen Love Behaviour), utilizes a recognizable and accessible pattern; the terminology and referencing may be obscure, generally unknown, but the sense of the poem is easily retrievable.

There is one degree of separation between John Stammers and Jeremy Reed; it their appeal to the writing of Frank O’Hara and the New York School; this also expresses itself in an openness to the poetry of Baudelaire. There is also one degree between John Stammers and Mark Ford. That also is Frank O’Hara; Mark Ford edited and selected Frank O’Hara in 2009. But then we also have Mark Ford’s Soft Sift book of poetry from 2003, and Stammers’ selection of Gerard Manley Hopkins (2008), from whose ‘The Wreck of the Deautschland’ this is a quotation. It is becoming to seem that there is no degree at all.

See also:



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, difficult to get hold of.


lpb2Louis 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- 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 are anything but linear: they moves 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 at times; it is not the cruelty of a child, nor the beast, but a knowing 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.


lpb3There 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.

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, of drink, when he found his party had dipped into party funds for their own benefit.

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

Louis Paul Boon, 1912 – 1979



Posted: April 2, 2016 in Chat

So it went like this:

I had made a comment online, and the person in turn commented that my response was ethnocentric.
Fine; it may well have been.

This was all because I had used the term ‘modern mind’. It was a lazy, end-of-day term, I admit. So many things go wrong when I am tired.
So then you become aware of the response-reasoning setting in – that is, a mix of jumping up, and of sitting down calmly. Because, let’s admit it, nobody likes to be pulled up, do they! Not even if it is a presumed pull-up by someone making an end-of-day tired comment.

The context was a discussion of cultural considerations.
Then I got to thinking of the millions of people out here who don’t have access to the latest thinking, arguments, developments in techniques and discoveries, nor the new concepts, in Cultural and Historical Studies.
Are they therefore invalidated as commentators by this?
Of course not.
So, am I, therefore, just as right to state the response was Academic-centric?
There is no pejorative note to that, of course.
Until it is used as an accusation.
Was the ‘ethnocentric’ term as an accusation? Why else use it? And why use it by choosing one part to devalue the whole of what was said? This is a traditional rhetorical device, of course.
Is the person using education as a weapon? That is, using current knowledge, thinking skills, and the academe, to criticise another rather than engage with them?

We are all inescapably a product of our time and place, our culture(s) and histories. And so, a part of me suggests (the naughty part?), that maybe even this ethnocentric awareness itself is… ethnocentric? This, I think, was at the back of the ‘academic-centric’ term, above.

Engage with the original comment, by all means. But to give a value-judgement? Is that acceptable?

What was the discussion about?
It was about MacPherson’s OSSIAN. The blog is truly fascinating and very well researched. I urge you to read it here:

The FB page gave a little snippet of the discussion, and it was that snippet I responded to.
I had stated that the wide-spread support for the book, from Napoleon down, surely argued for its value at the time: it filled a gap, fitted a purpose. Maybe it even paved the way for the idea of Scotland in ‘the modern mind’.

Why did this rankle me? Because I am afraid.

I am afraid of getting left behind.

I am afraid because I do not have access to these levels of study (hopefully, just for the present time) when I feel I need them.

But I am also afraid for Scotland: was I ‘ethocentric’ because I did not fall in with the nationalistic mind-set? The responder (the writer is Technical Lead at University of North Carolina) is not even based in Scotland. Has this rankle picked up this nationalism-passenger by way of my own weak link?
There is also a quiet majority in the arts and sciences in Scotland who were afraid of the Yes vote, afraid of being shut out of research grants and access to funding.

And I am afraid that if I did live there, as I have so often longed to do, that I would indeed ‘fall in’ also.

As products of our time and place etc, we are also divided creatures, as I suggest here: we cannot rest in the knowledge that we are as we were. Integration is a state few of us can attain – an inner integrity is the best we can hope for. Even that is a minute-by-minute fight. I cannot say I last as many rounds as I would like.
But I keep on getting back up.