Archive for January, 2017

WHY IS THERE NOTHING RATHER THAN SOMETHING?

If there ever was something
then it was in this place, here

– We left it in the hall, we said
we didn’t know if it’d be use to you

If there ever was a place
it was just here, the space left

– We got smashed, stoned, then fell asleep
when we came down
it’s as though it never was

No, they said, you don’t understand
this is where everything was
Why is there nothing now

Why have you taken it all away
Where have you the locked the world up

Denial, pain, anger, blame,
indifference, disgust –

the bran-tub of passed-down characteristics
and not the prizes

They said
This is what is left behind

the memory-smell on hands of money, coin
wall-shapes of lost furniture
rumours of four walls and roof, bought, owned

no sense of  difference, of space,
or certainty in the mind

 

Out at the back of this village/small town where I currently live is a long hill. It is still used for quarrying – the local stone has a pink/grey colour, and is quite appealing.
Of course higher up is where the wealthier people live – they can look down on us all from there; it is their natural ‘inclination’.
There are leafy lanes and cart tracks. There are also, criss-crossing these land-owner’s fields, public pathways. These are hard-fought-for, still-being-fought-for public rights of way. Otherwise all this land would be private, prohibited, shut away from people who have lived here generations.

Not far from here is an area of the Peak District known as Kinder Scout. That was all privately owned land, kept for huntin-shootin consortiums.
Well, in 1932 the local Ramblers Groups had had enough, and it came in the Great Depression when many were out of work, and politics was on everyone’s doorstep. The great dream of fairness and equality that Socialist countries were exporting fell on this fertile ground (no matter it never really existed).
In 1932 was the great Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout, when hundreds (for the time that was a significant amount) turned out and walked those forbidden acres. It led to Acts of Parliament granting legal Rights of Way.
Appeasement, maybe; but it worked.

If it wasn’t for the great ideal, even this would not been won. As a great man once said, If you do not aim for the mountains, you will not even make the foothills.

I was walking these leafy lanes and here by an old well at the road side, found this:

cowboy-1

It may be clumsy, but it’s fun, it’s vibrant. But what’s it for?
Later, down a similar lane I came across this one:

owl

Carved out of an old tree stump, an ever-vigilant owl.

I know what these are for: any ideas, anyone?

I must go and find more.

 

Poems B H Fairchild W W Norton and Co 2003

bhf

B H Fairchild has been hailed as an exemplar of the ‘plain style’. His acknowledged predecessors are James Wright, Richard Hugo, and especially Philip Levine. He made a big splash with his previous collection The Art of the Lathe; this new collection has added to and cemented his reputation. He was a finalist in the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Kingsley Tufts and William Carlos Williams Awards amongst others.

We must distinguish between ‘plain style’ and the ‘ornery’. Fairchild’s themes are of the Southern States blue-collar worker’s experience; but there is no caricature in his work. We encounter narratives, but they are by no means Frost’s Calvinist legacies:

(…)

After the year of troubles – the family business drowning
in red, the broken plates, black words, slammed doors,
my mother and father in separate rooms, the terrible silence
that grows like a clutch of weeds choking the little house –
(…)
from: The Big Bands: Liberal, Kansas, Summer of 1955, Pt1

So, anecdotal then? No, this excerpt is an interlude in a narrative, a yarn that roams the Kansas plains and records:
a pipe seal somewhere making a sobbing sound (…)
(ibid)

He can rhapsodise:
The green Packard I have just washed dries by the curb,
and the evening makes a bronze plunder
of brick streets (…)
(ibid Pt2)

A loose, freewheeling of memory, then? Well, no, not that either; his poems centre on very real events, times, places, but they also explore what it is about them that makes them memorable. And a very assured use of rhythm, metrics; knowing just where to place that caesura for maximum effect in catching the tone of those places, those times.

‘Holy Rollers, Snyder, Texas, 1951’ begins:
Shades of brown: rust of the dirt road in
and the gulleys deepening to umber,
the taupe of winter grass along the shoulder (…)
(ibid)

And the details redolent of authenticity:
Nightmare fades to memory: the grey-brown hair
of Mrs Hill pasted to her neck, the cracked
porcelain of her hands (…)
(ibid)

We encounter Mrs Hill again:
(…).hammering
on our front door shouting (…)
(…) oh I’m so sorry, so sorry
so sorry (…)

(…) He said
he was going to shoot me. He had a shotgun
from: Mrs Hill

This becomes:
In the kitchen now Mrs Hill is playing
gin rummy with my mother and laughing
in those long shrieks that women have
that make you think they are dying.
(ibid)

while her husband:
my father (…)
(…)  his shadow envelops Mr Hill (who)
(…) bows his head and sobs into his hands (…)
(ibid)

It is not straight narrative; I have missed out the sections that plumb the child’s responses. The laughter-shrieks and dying-women association is very much a writer’s connection; the shifts of grammar between present infinitive and immediate modulate our understanding: this not just a poem about marital crisis, but about the relationships between husbands and wives, of family and lack of family.

Similarly, in The Welder, Visited by the Angel of Mercy, the narrative of a truck wrecked by a blown tyre at speed, takes on a greater significance

The red dust of the city at night. Roy Garcia,
a man in a landscape, tries to weld his truck and his life
back together. (…)

(…) and the arc’s flash hammers
his eyes as he stumbles, blind, among the fruit of the earth

We are set up by the title to pick up on a secular Saul, blinded by what he cannot see, but is readily apparent. It is the contextual detail that renders this accessible to us.

And when Fairchild rides we cannot help but go with him over those Kansas plains:
Rumbling over caliche with a busted muffler,
radio blaring Buddy Holly over Baptist wheat fields,
(…) Boredom grows thick as maize in Kansas, heavy as a drill pipe (…)
from: Rave On
The event this poem records is a very scary episode of young kids hungry for kicks, turning a car over at speed with themselves inside.

In that long, strung-out first sentence we travel a long way: from the hot head of youth, to a more muted, reflective age; from the self-absorbed tone to a more abstract tone; from the mid fifties, to the present day.

The book is divided into five parts, which map out wider and wider circles of knowing, from the immediate vicinity where one grew up, to Paris, London, Nuremburg… but at the centre always the same sensibility:
(…) he gazes deep into the Seine,
the face of a glassworker’s son stares back,
and the river that runs through Paris runs
through Ohio past Jimmy Leonard’s shack (…)
from: A Wall Map of Paris

Like Mrs Hill’s hands transfigured into a (secular) saint’s hands, Roy Garcia, stoned truck- driver, transfigured into a Saint Paul figure, Fairchild acknowledges how memory changes what is remembered. But also, by acknowledging and re-identifying with the Southern Baptist religious background, Fairchild avoids the modernist dilemma of alienation from one’s background through the nature of one’s awareness, and revivifies a sense of oneself within one’s past, and the past of one’s community.

The last section of the book is a long poem that narrates the back story to the earlier sections. Here B H Faitchild gives the chronology of an inspiring relationship with secret epileptic, small-towns drifter, and his wife. They had tried Hollywood and film writing, but returned to the small towns.

So where does he stand politically? What of his social awareness? Southern State politics are strange, there are no obvious distinctions: a Republican can display strange Libertarian tendencies, and vice versa. Fairchild’s long ‘narratives’ acknowledge, record, these blended affiliations but refrain from comment.

B H Fairchild                    bhf1

Also, see:

 

bhf2

Harold Nicholson, The Congress of Vienna. 1948

I’ve had this book for years; it was bought second-hand, when there were second-hand book shops, before the charity shops took on books and drove them out, and then Amazon sent them spinning into oblivion.
It’s a hard back; as I read the pages were still squeezed together – maybe it had never actually been read or even opened fully.

The Congress of Vienna was a favourite topic of mine when I was studying International Relations. And Harold Nicholson was a writer I respected, based on his earlier study of diplomacy .

1
Even so, as I read this book over November and December 2016 (one of my bed-time reads), it really brought home the extent of the huge shake-up, the major disruption to Europe as a whole, that Napoleon’s careering around the continent and beyond had created.

map-1810_and_1817-after_congress_of_vienna
This disruption of nation, national territory, identity, continued up-till and after the Second World War: 130+ years.
We read here of the tragic fate of Poland under Napoleon, and then Tsar Alexander  1;  of the machinations behind the establishing of Prussia as a major force in central Europe; we learn the reality/meaning, of the extent of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
This latter is so ably expressed in the novels of Joseph Roth, his Radetzky March in particular, and the lovely novels of Stefan Zweig; or, say, Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb.

Harold Nicholson, in his 1948 book, The Congress of Vienna,wrote:

Nobody who has not actually watched statesmen dealing with each other can have any real idea of the immense part played in human affairs by such unavowable and often unrecognizable causes as lassitude, affability, personal affection or dislike, misunderstanding, deafness  or incomplete command of a foreign language, vanity, social engagements, interruptions and momentary states of health.

All these are conclusions drawn from events, observations, reports, letters. Nothing is made up.

2
Left field events in a novel I have always relished: the unexpected, something leaking in from a larger pattern, tie-ing the micro to the macro. The relativism that gives lives meaning.

And yet this excerpt above seems to suggest the opposite of a pattern? These notes by Harold Nicholson plot out how decisions skew, and how such skews are then accommodated, and produce the end result’s wobbling, teetering edifice. Time factor also comes in: this or that was meant as a stop-gap, and yet to alter it afterwards would be to endanger the whole. And so it remains.
And how the ad-hoc has more to say than the rationalised and reasoned. Decisions were made whilst fighting with the major and minor shifting, and conflicting, demands of others.
At an early point in the Congress, three major leaders had painfully thrashed out the basis for reasoned discussion of the whole Congress. Then  France’s new representative, Talleyrand, arrived. He quickly but expertly threw all into disarray simply by questioning the bases of their concepts: against who? France is no longer a threat; then who are the agreements being put up to contain?.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord:
charles_maurice_de_talleyrand-perigond

What fascinates are the courage and psychology of these people: to walk in among the major powers, leaders, kings, emperors, and still hold one’s own. To hold one’s nerve, and one’s sanity.
Englands’ Castlereagh came home broken, and committed suicide some time afterwards.
Shelley may have hated him, but on a positive note he did insist on the Congress tackling the topic of Slavery.
He was very disparaging about the fate and status of Italy.
But then, everyone was about the Spanish representative, Marquis Pedro Gomez de Labrador, and tended to leave him out of everything.
Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh:

casreagh

We can read in this the politics both real and imaginary that have so drawn people: The Game of Thrones is here, maybe most of the conflicts we see around us.