Archive for the ‘John Stammers Page’ Category

Samhain

Posted: October 27, 2020 in John Stammers Page

They cannot abide the fires we raise
birds, trees, insects, worms, mice –

our joys do not quicken the earth; love, praise,
rise to the skies, colour crops, make meat taste
less like slaughtered trust. 

Fires mark appeasements to fate, 
we say, as we bargain for better futures
with the Potentialities, 

hoping to erase failure altogether.

Commander in Chief

Posted: October 20, 2020 in John Stammers Page

At last, a hard-hitting repost.

Now, where’s that one about Boris Johnson?

Reblog: Brutalism

Posted: October 8, 2020 in John Stammers Page

He walked out of there into a mechanical world. It should have been a new world, the old world new again. But it was a mechanical world.

The hearing aids were the new part; they were calibrated to the loss of the higher frequencies, and so upped the treble for him. The simple laws of materials and their resonances meant those upper frequencies had the tinny sound of some ipod ear pieces.

He walked out of there expecting to hear the world as he had known it; it was not that world. What he heard was a mechanised version: a bird flew by, flapping its wings for take-off and height-gain. There was instant visual and environmental recognition, here was an urban pigeon entering onto a length of flight, the road to the next junction, maybe. It was too built-up for wood pigeons, though they had the same flapping-slap of flight. But this time it sounded like a rustling newspaper, a large broadsheet. This was not that familiar sound to vision connect he knew so well.

His cotton trousers brushed soft cotton socks; it was a rasping sound. That was wrong. He was so intent on this hearing phenomena, these anomalies, the car just missed him. The slightly off-centre focus of his hearing, a little further to the back of his head, skewed his balance; he felt he was lurching around. By the side of a road this was not good.

He came to that junction in the road and turned, off the curb again, on then off.

‘Did you see that fool, then?’

‘Drink. Or drugs.’

‘Shouldn’t be out.’

‘What a tosser.’

He walked away quickly. This is what he got the aids for, to hear conversations again. But this…. All those times outside of conversations, anything not one-to-one, anything with background music, or just sounds blanking out all finer sounds…. And this is what he needed them for? To hear this kind of thing? Everything has its plus, and its minus.

He was in the shopping precinct now; all around were conversations. He was no longer shut out, separated by a blurred barrier of sound, now he could hear. And what did he hear? Conversation as social glue, as recognition codes among women, and among men; the youths uttered a kind of blank-faced vowel-heavy monosyllabic talk. Back with their girlfriends they were animated and fully vocal again. This was bonding, rather than intercourse: all had come outdoors to re-register themselves as social beings of a certain type, place, age, social level.

That hiss. What was it? It was the hair over his ears, the ear pieces. Whenever his ears moved, and it was surprising how often, or his scalp moved – that too – whenever all the continual physiological responses of his head occurred it gave a hissing sound, like a simmering. It should be a lower sound, a rustle of hair on plastic, on packed plastic, not hollow; but a rustle.

It was then he began to notice the changes in the new sounds, a mismatch of known sound from recognised stimuli, and this altered sound. His sense of balance, ok, that was expected and explainable: his mind listened to these new sounds despite himself. His mind was so taken up with this that it left his vision to fend for itself. And so, that object glimpsed for a second, and which he had glimpsed so many times and knew to be a faded flower head over his high garden wall, now gave him a sudden alert.

He was home, and brushing up the soil he had just walked in with a hand brush. What was that? A crow cawing somewhere close. It was his shirt brushing the flock wall paper as he moved. Nothing was matching with anything else. His mind supplied the correct explanations, but the cause was not the right one. Although vision was always king, sound was the council of ministers, the underlying sense and explanation to everything seen.

Now every sound had borders again. Things you are not aware of, things taken for granted, things slowly accustomed to, building up, accumulating, as your own sense of self grows. And now how very untidy this house – everything overspilling. My god, he thought, Where’ve I been?

The week was taken up with tidying, only, the clarity was like a razor. He became ruthless; everything went. His comfortable apartment became… stark, sharp edged, with high-lumin light bulbs that gave no mercy.

A part of him found he could not stay indoors longer than needed. He interpreted this as being focused, energized. This mismatch set up a sense of restless energy that frequently tipped into acts of anger, sudden bursts, that made no sense to him. He’d leave whoever he had hurt, and walk away amazed at himself, appalled at himself, and thrilled.

He searched out the cleaner parts of the city. The Business sectors? No; vacant buildings accumulated there, closed-downs. It became a tumbleweed centre. No, the places he gravitated to were the financial sectors. Behind their black windows they generated as much energy as they had before. This time, they did it clandestinely. Their offices were… sharp-edged, minimalist, with high-lumin light bulbs. This was his new home.

But even there, a part of him shrank away from full commitment.

The straight abrupt angles of the building in front of him was the promotion of common sense and business confidence, of four-square achievement; solid, dependable. This was the crown of the great city.

Now, however, it and many of the ones in this style, especially in close proximity like this, their own financial sector, now radiated to all an overbearing feeling of dullness, of deadness of spirit and enterprise. They had come represent the hubris and failure of an economic system that was flawed at heart.

His hearing was now like that; it dictated to sight a different, diminished repertoire of sounds to meaning.

I’ve always liked putting different things together, and seeing what happens.
Years and years ago when I had a passing interest in such things I had a wondering-moment about the Tree Alphabet.
This alphabet was proposed by Robert Graves in his The White Goddess book; it is constructed from ogham practice and text references in Irish.
It is an alphabet that uses tree names as the letter names. I never could work out why which tree was used where, their leafing, flowering, growth do not seem to coincide with the specific months Graves gives.

There are 13 lunar months; each is a letter of the alphabet, and a sequence in the tale of the growth to maturity of the year, represented as a god. He is then supplanted at midsummer by the god of the waning year. Until New Year when it starts again..
It goes like this, from late December on through the year:

Beth -birch
Fearn – rowan
Luis – alder
Nion – ash
Saille – willow
Uath- hawthorn
Duir- oak
Tinne- holly
Coll-hazel
Muin-vine
Gort-ivy
Ngetal-reed
Ruis-elder

Of course, he then arranged this sequence into what he called a Dolmen Arch:

Saille Uath Duir Tinne Coll
Nion                               Muin
Luis                                 Gort
Fearn                              Ngetal
Beth                               Ruis

So, this arrangement puts Duir, the oak tree as the all-important capstone of the (square) arch. This accords with his midsummer fight between waxing and waning year gods. Ok.

So, I thought, how does the tarot’s major arcana fit in with this?
Let’s see:

Lovers/Saille-Chariot/.Uath-Strength/Duir-Justice/Tinne-Hermit/Coll
Willow             Hawthorn                Oak                       Holly               Hazel
Emperor/Nion                                                                               Temperence/Muin
Ash                                                                                                   Vine                                                   Hierophant/Fearn                                                                         Hanged Man/Gort
Alder                                                                                                Ivy
Magician/Luis                                                                                 Death/Ngetal
Rowan                                                                                              Reed
Fool/Beth                                                                                          The Tower/Ruis
Birch                                                                                                 Elder

A few are missing, you say.
Graves has what he called Cross-Quarter Days, special days in each sector. They rule the following months, until the next cross-quarter day, and so on.
From the Fool’s late Dec/early January Birch month, we have The High Priestess: the young year.
The Lover’s March-April Willow tree month has The Empress: the mature year.
The Hermit’s August Hazel month has Wheel of Fortune: the fall from greatness.
The Tower’s November/Dec Elder tree month, has The Devil, as god of the fallen year, darkness, death. Think of him as a god of the underworld: Pluto, Hades, of all things inimical to life, rather than all-out evil.

With this being an alphabet of consonants, we also have the five vowels These make the lintel, or door step:
The World-The Moon-The Sun-The Star-Judgement.
These, like the extra days, do not have tree names. But with this arrangement the Sun vowel is opposite the Strength/Oak consonant; The Moon is opposite The Lovers/Willow and Chariot/Hawthorn; The Star is opposite Justice/Holly and Hermit/Hazel.
The World covers the gaining year’s upright pillar, and Judgement the falling year upright pillar.
The vowels cannot have to one-to-one matches, because they breathe life into all the consonontal word-clusters.

This all made a kind of sense to me. Most appropriate seemed to be The Emperor with the old Ash god, and most of all Strength with the Oak and Sun connections.
The Rowan tree with the Magician also had a resonance.
On the other side The Hermit with Hazel seemed to fit. Not sure about Death, followed by The Tower, though. What do you think?

You have to know Graves’ construction of the story to fit it in. And there you have it: can you believe the man? Was he back-arguing ie fitting things in afterwards?
I have caught him out on a few things over the years. Enough, anyhow, to make me back off.

You can tinker with things forever, seemingly, and it’ll still get you nowhere.

Full title: Kanteletar taikka Suomen Kansan Wanhoja Lauluja ja Wirsia

(The Kanteletar, Being Some Old Songs and Ballads of the Finnish People)

Published in 1840/1, the Kanteletar is considered the sister book to the Finnish national epic Kalevela. The name Kanteletar is paraphrased to mean ‘zither-daughter’, from the name of the zither, kantele, and feminine participle ‘tar’.

Both works were the collection and selection of scholar-physician Elias Lonnrot. And both were collected from the eastern Finnish Karelia region of lakes and forest.

K4
k5

The Kanteletar comprises three books of songs, ballads and lyrics.
Their subject matter can be startling.

The Kantelatar is published in English in the World’s Classics series, translated and Introduced by Keith Bosley. He also provides very useful Notes, and indicates all parallels between several ballads and episodes in The Kalevala.

The first book of the collection is concerned with lyrics sung by both sexes;
– the second book is in four sections and covers Girl’s Songs, Women’s Songs, Boy’s Songs and Men’s Songs.
– the last book contains a small selection of ballads, some of which are quite long. The oldest recorded, Bishop Henry, is dated by inclusion in the oldest collected manuscript of 1671, and deals with the (attempted) introduction of Christianity into the region.  Amusingly Bishop Henry was a missionary from ‘Cabbage-land’; you may think this is Germany with its traditional sauerkrauts, but no, it is England!

The songs are, the Introduction states, ‘alliterative, astrophic trochaic tetramemeter‘, sung to simple tunes ‘built… on five basic notes, corresponding to the five strings of the earliest kantele‘, a ‘five-beat bar of six short and two long notes’. This is the rhythm Sibelius copied in the last section of his Rakastava, Op 14 based on several of the songs.

There is an extraordinary song called Paying For The Milk. There are both girl’s and boy’s versions of this. The girl’s version begins:

How to pay for mamma’s milk
make up for mamma’s torment
for the pains of my parent?

Then follows a series of possible payments, none of which are found anywhere near suitable or sufficient. The last verse gives us:

Jesus, pay for mamma’s milk
make up for mamma’s torments
Lord, pay for mamma’s pains
all the cares of her who carried me!

Which is as much as saying no price on earth can pay.

The boy’s version is much longer, five verses of which the first and last are long, and the central one is where the mother replies to his questions of ‘what will pay?’.
It begins:

Lauri, an excellent lad
fair husband-to-be
thought this in his mind
put this into words:
‘The happy, the lucky pay
for their mother’s milk
for their mother’s blood with cloth
for her labour with velvet
.…………………………………………….

Keith Bosley notes that the boy’s version has a happier ending, ‘but is less convincing’. How happier is it? He has to look after and tend for her up till and after her death, on top of all the feats he has already done for her.
A mother’s labour is literally her ‘sauna-path’, a kenning: the sauna was amongst other uses the place for giving birth.
The girl’s song convinces more because it deals with the ‘debt’ without deflection; the Notes state the singer, the girl, is leaving her mother for her husband’s household. This then, is one of the marriage songs which feature strongly in the book.

.The marriage songs are all paralleled in the Kalevala text. The Kalevala is particularly memorable for its unstintingly dour attitude to marriage: the girl is to live in the husband’s house-hold, to be the lowest in status until she has proven herself – by having children probably. But in this between-time she must work twice as hard as the others to prove her worthiness.

The girl’s songs have a poignancy all of their own:

The Birch and the Bird Cherry

I was a bough on a tree
fostered by a lowly birch
in a naked glade
on land with no strawberries.

Next door  a fair bird cherry
grew, a proud tree rose
on turf as thick as honey
on land the hue of liver.

   With its bushy boughs
and its spreading foliage
it blocked the sun from shining
it hid the moon from gleaming.

In short, everyone admired the bird cherries and no one noticed the other. The bird cherry, however, succumbed to rot, and

The bird cherry felt a pain
and filled it with care:
I remained standing
with my small future.

Note that ‘fostered’ in line two: what a wonderfully economical way of positioning status, vulnerability and demeanor! The descriptions are glorious: ‘turf as thick as honey’ etc, and then the ending, ‘small future’ so full of implication.

k3

There is a group of poems in the girl’s section under the heading of The Victim. These deal head-on with a rape and its consequences. The girl falls asleep whilst tending sheep and ‘a stranger/ from the birches a bounder/ came and took what was my own….
Another form of this is ‘… a dog came from the army/ a frog from Savo’s border/ a bastard from Kuopio/ some war-scum from Helsinki…
And the result?
no refuge in the cabin/ no mercy under the roofs…. I’ll find refuge in the wind/ mercy among the billows…’. The temptation is to drown herself, to be a sister to the whitefish; then, though, her mother would have to carefully check the water she put in her dough for her daughter’s tresses.

There an interesting ballad that replies to this, the man getting away free whilst the maid suffered the consequences of his actions: The Thoughtful Dragon. The imagery here is also quite wonderful:

Let us go to the vale, young ones
us grasshoppers to the cliff

They strip the bast from a lime tree to make ropes to tie up a young man, and leave him where the king walks by. The king asks Why have they done this to him?
The response is:

This is why he is bound
the woman’s son held:
he laid a young maid –
a young maid, a bride.
The poor maid was doomed
to the dragon’s (literally ‘salmon-serpent’) jaws;
but the dragon sighed –
it sighed and it gasped:
“I’ll sooner swallow a young
man, a young man with a sword….’.

And then there is the shocking Instructions to a Bridegroom:

Bridegroom, dear youngster
fair husband-to-be
don’t hurt our maiden
don’t you ill-treat her
with lashes don’t make her squeal
with leather whips make her mew!
…………………………………………………….

And goes on to say if you must do then do where no one will hear; and do it where it will not show when she goes out.
This song is meant as a marriage jest, a wedding night tongue-in-cheek ribaldry, to scare the girl.

How I Was, a woman’s song, plays with change, deception and age:

I was once as barley-land –
as barley-land, as oat-land
as fair cabbage-land
as the best bean-field; but I’ve
ended up as mixed-crop land
……………………………………………
I’ve become grassland
turned to a mossy hummock.

……………………………………………….

But the ending is depressing: old age is a curse because, as we saw implied in the boy’s version of Mother’s Milk, there is no one to look after the old – other than the unmarried daughter, and all the pejoratives that go with that.
In the Lyrics by Both Sexes there a similar bleak song on ageing, A Plank of Flesh:

Whoever created me
whoever fashioned this wretch
………………………………………………………..

k2

One remarkable work is the six-part  Ballad of the Virgin Mary.
This would require quite a feat of memory to recite.
Mary is introduced as a farm girl dressed in her finery, a:

She looks out into the farmyard/ listened out at the lane’s end./ A berry called from the ground/ a cowberry from the heath:/ ‘Come, maid, and pluck me/ red-cheek, and pick me…. Ere the slug eats me/ the black worm scoffs me!

The berry became the means of conception. Of course, when her mother noticed her pregnancy at last she spurned her; and a serving maid ran to tell Herod.
The whole piece tells the Christ story to the end. It is a remarkable feat of song writing. The imagery as in all the songs is rich and wonderful.

We cannot end without obeisance to Sibelius, his Karelia Suite and Tapiola.
the lyrics he used are here reproduced. The Herding Songs are set in the First Movement of  Rakastava. Some of his Nine Part-Songs are also in this collection .
In a number of the ballads and songs we encounter pagan forest god Tapio. The Christian God is usually ‘Old Man’. The two co-existed in relative peace – in the songs.

This a book to savour and enjoy: bitter-sweet, surprising, and very life enhancing.

LOUIS PAUL BOON

Posted: September 2, 2020 in John Stammers Page
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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, is difficult to get hold of.

lpb2

Louis 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. Died 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’ storylines are anything but linear: they move 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 to take at times; it is not the cruelty of a child, nor the beast, but a knowing human 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.

lpb3

There 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 (Spoiler Alert!).

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, deep in drink, when he found his party had been dipping into party funds for their own benefit (Spoiler Alert!).

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

And now Aalst is known for an active group of alt-Right.
Yup, people.

Louis Paul Boon, 1912 – 1979

lpboon1

Farrukh Dhondy is multi-facetted. He is a writer for young adults, and adults, a playwright, screen writer, journalist, as well as a prominent activist, engaged in front line political movements.

His activism covers his roles in The Indian Worker’s Association, The British Black Panther Movement, and the Race Today Collective.
On the employment side he has been a lecturer at Leicester College of Further Education, and taught at Archbishop Temple School, in London.

He was born in Poona, India, in 1944. He attended school and university there, coming over to Leicester to take a MA at their university.
In the 1980s he was commissioning editor with Channel 4, creator of Tandoori Nights TV series, and has always worked tirelessly to bring Asian culture into the media.

(What is about Leicester? Initially a shoe-making centre – yet Jeremy Barnes, founder of A Hawk and a Hacksaw, accordionist player of Middle and East-European music, and originally from Albuquerque… was a postman there for a while.
I met a witch from Leicester once.)

One of his earliest books was a collection of short stories for young adults: East End at My Feet, from 1976.
This was an eye-opener for me.

Reading this book was one of those instances when the familiar iniquities of class inequality took on a new dimensionality.
– Up to that period the opportunities in education and employment were stultifyingly limited. Then the Labour government brought access to higher education for all, and the EU market opened its doors.
The small, suffocating world of little England was opening out.

But what do I mean by dimensionality?
It’s a term used to attempt to catch that sudden opening: the world suddenly seeming a bigger place. And issues were no longer the class-based warfare we knew.

There is a story in the book exemplified all this for me:
a local upper school, and an after-hours poetry group, run by the English tutor. The narrator went along. The approved writing was to express the angst of high-rise urban living.
But the narrator’s contribution to the readings was a piece full of the zest for life, early rap perhaps, but from the Asian and Black experience.

There are bigger concerns – after the Marxist world had shut itself off, to consolidate socialism within set confines, what else was there? The reactionary Right wing were marching, and the whole culture was jostling to accommodate new cultures, new influences – new ways of looking at the world.
That last one in particular.

Think of the gritty anger of Punks, and the histrionics of Glam Rock, and then think of the sheer joy of Bhangra. Think what Reggae brought, that deepening and richness.
In a way it could be argued that we need the austerity in order to appreciate the richness.

Through his work with The Indian Worker’s Association he met Mala Sen. She was a powerhouse in her own right. They married, had children… and powered on.
Among her many writings and work, she researched and wrote articles, books and the screenplay for the film Bandit Queen.
Sadly, she died too soon.

Farrukh is still active.
Here’s to you, Farrukh.

And here’s to the power of writing to completely alter and change perspectives, to open minds, to connect us to the world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farrukh_Dhondy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mala_Sen

https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/farrukh-dhondy

The Penguin Classics edition of the Gilgamesh story identifies five different and fragmentary versions, from different time periods. None are complete.
Another fragment has been found since publication.
Notice that all are fragments, that there is no complete version.
Not only that but many of the fragments are from different time periods, of different periods within both Sumerian and Babylonian periods.

My novel is an urban fantasy using these fragments as a springboard.

This fragmentary nature of the Gilgamesh story, with its newer episodes interleaved with older text, gave a great amount of freedom to create. Although I have kept abbreviated names and city names from the Gilgamesh story, the characters, setting, cultures, histories, even geography, are entirely fictional.

It was enjoyable to write. I hope that carries through into the story.

It all started with a comment by Stephen King in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He commented that only one of his novels – up to that point – had been consciously structured; all the others had been allowed to develop as they would.

I thought I’d try a structured piece.
I’d done an amount of research on the Gilgamesh story for my Rings book: Gifts of Rings and Gold
Gifts-Rings-Gold-Introduction-Ring-composition-ebook/

I had intended to write a ringed and chiasmus-laden piece, but the story took over.
You could say the story is an amalgam of structured and free-form development.

It begins:
First Things

‘First thing they did. I mean I was already pretty freaked by then,’ he was saying. It was a warm, calm night in The City, and they were sat on the old river wall, a part not closed off, a part not structurally unsafe. ‘They took me up the Tower. You know…’ he nodded towards it in the distance, black on black in the night, its two upper floors dimly lit; watchful. 

‘I’d been running wild, getting into bother, just the usual sort of things. You’d know. Only, I kept getting told, I always took it too far. Then the Men in Suits called round. It was at my ma’s. I was trying to squeeze home nosh out of her, ok, but I was in. Knock at the door. Shapes outside the back door too. I was ready for shinning up the loft ladder, skylight onto the roof, and over. I had this all planned out. Just in case. Then a lamp post and down. And I had on my Angry Antonys; I was good. It was quite a jump; not sure I’d make it.’ He looked down at the river, watching slick after foamy slick coasting past. 

‘The daft… opens the door. And they were in. One grabbed my ankle on the loft ladder. He was a strong monkey, that one; built like an office block too. Yanked me clean off to his manly bosom.’ He paused, grinned, his teeth a sudden flash in the dim light from the street lamp below. ‘What was the point in struggling? Let him hold me.’ 

‘Boss wanted me.’ He looked across at his friend, his cheek, the line of his jaw, the slightly crooked nose, 

‘They gave my ma a funny look – and she stared them out.’ 

‘Let him see the lad.’ she said. ‘Then he’ll believe.’

‘What the…? What was all that about? I was thinking.’ He laughed.

Yup, what indeed?
To find out, the ebook is available on Amazon kindle:

https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/books


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German writer, poet, Elke Erb won the Büchner prize for literature in May.
This is a prestigious German writer’s prize, and a prestigious literature prize overall.

She has lived most of her life in East Germany, managing a living working on translations from e.g. Russian and Soviet writers in German.

What first grabs me about her poetry is the pared-down and essentialness of the writing. She address that most fundamental question in writing, that of how to address the voice, to whom do we write, and how is that voice pitched. These considerations determine the range and type of imagery appropriate to the the poem, as well as the psychological impact and invitation of the poem.

Take, for instance, Incomprehensible (1)

‘Between the gas stove and the table the thought

a lonely donkey at the edges of a field
a distant – Bulgaria! – memory
Apparently lonely donkey –

Between the gas stove and the table the thought
that we die
– …………..’

(Translation by Rosemarie Waldrop, for Poetry International.)
Many of Elke’s poems are available at:

https://www.poetryinternational.org/pi/poet/22585/Elke-Erb/en/tile

This poem excerpt gives so much:
the basic setting, and the ranging memory;
the simple, single-person address, and the fundamental realisation of all our personal dying.

The donkey did belong to someone, we find. It was a working donkey. Here we get the impact of contrasts between the industrial, modern, urban, world, and the seemingly unmechanised world of the east European life-experience.

This in itself is an illusion that we collude in: our lives, no matter where or how we live: East, West, are propped up on these building blocks of how we are seen and read by others; how our lives depend on others, whether machines or animals; how our whole economic and industrial systems are formed from our bodies and minds in space, in place, and in ordered functions.

We can read here how the simple domestic setting and activity can also release the mind, the memory, the creative faculties. This is something that has bubbled away in the back of my head for quite some time. It was while washing up the breakfast dishes I found time to think through the implications of these five and a half lines.

Karen Margolis, who I would like to address as my friend, posted the news of Elke Erb.
https://karenmargolis.wordpress.com/2020/07/12/welcome-to-my-21st-century-sweatshop-latest/

Karen’s own poem to Elke calls to many lines from Elke’s works.

In Elke’s writing another technique she uses is that of repetition. A recursive process is in motion. We could read this as how the mind wanders, and is repeatedly brought back, or grounds itself again and again in what is unclear, not understood, ‘Incomprehensible’.
Recursive loops are also part of neuro-phenomenology: how the body and sensory import of the world weave a sense of self in the world.
Is this part of Elke’s references? we cannot dismiss or rule-out it out, but look for signs elsewhere in her work.

‘the mind fell silent
self-love at an end’

she ends her poem …Where After the Town

Neuro-phenomenology, existentialism, and post-Marxism – awareness and immediacy, the self in the world.
Her writing continually seizes on the concrete, the hard world and its shadows. There is almost objective-correlative at work here, but the distance between T S Eliot’s concept, and the 21st century experience, is too great, too difficult to get a clear signal, if there really was one.

In Theme, she writes

‘potter round: then you become things. Their prey.
Take care or your eye
as you potter will pop.

The light of your eye: a lantern. Outside.
Good for the night. And passenger traffic.

………………………………..’

I find this constant switching of register: the private thought-voice, the public and outward brought in, quite invigorating.
It requires a quick ear, an attentive ear.

I am all ears.

BAME and Covid-19

Posted: June 29, 2020 in John Stammers Page

We really do have to look out for our brothers and sisters, colleagues and associates, better than this.
Covid-19 is really horrible, not to be treated lightly.

This is the only house we have; we all live here together. We need each other.