Starting from July 1st, my local town unveils its new Well Dressing  displays. The theme for 2017 is Cinema.
With the one exception.

For more on Well Dressing, see the link: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/25353303/posts/3197

And here is another link, a behind-the scenes view of Well Dressing:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/237280/posts/1512962951

We start, and the route always starts here, at Greg Fountain, Flash Lane, with a lively display capturing the vivacity of the classic film, Dancing In The Rain, 1952.
You cannot see the detail from the overall shot, but the display features three central characters from the film: Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, flanking  Debbie Reynolds, all in yellow-petal raincoats.

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As always, with this display, there is a separate side panel for the Mount Hall nursing home. Here we have the ubiquitous American pop-corn, and cinema tickets.

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Next stop on the route is the Ash Brook display. This is usually the venue for a local school to contribute. This year is another delightfully produced piece, based on Fantasia. We see Mickey Mouse as Sorceror’s Apprentice – remember that scene?

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For inside pictures follow the link:
http://www.bollingtonstjohns.co.uk/news/well-dressing-2017/26667

There is a long walk now until the next one in the Memorial Gardens. This one has a much darker theme, in keeping with its position, among commemorations for those who died in the two World Wars.
This display gives us a scene from Passchendaele, that terrible, drawn-out massacre. One hundred years ago, this year.

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Within the same vicinity is another display, back on the cinema theme, but linked to the Passchendaele display: the Clarence Mill display gives us The War Horse film. In close up, the tree trunks/bushes in the background are formed from pasta twists:

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Breathtaking blues.

We then have another and this time up-hill walk to the Cow Lane display. This is situated above a stone basin that collects the constantly running water.
This year they have chosen a meticulously executed 007, James Bond franchise theme. Again it is a double board, angled over the basin.

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Then the long trek down hill to the last display of all: Pool Bank Well.
Again this is a triple-board display, and the subject a very elaborately produced cinema bill/poster  of Laurel and Hardy.
They cannot stand alone as champions of the cinema, though. And so, they are flanked by Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton.

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And here, under a large parasol, are tables, seats and benches. Here are sandwiches, cakes, tea and coffee.
Here is the sense of repletion and completion for all who have trod the miles and hills, and have appreciated the displays that have been these past few months in the making.

A very high level of expertise, and imagination, have gone into these displays.
Come and see.
You have until July 9th.

For directions, route, and background, see:
http://www.welldressing.com/venue.php?id=13

THE EVENINGS, by Gerard Reve, 1947.
Published by the excellent Pushkin Press, in its first English translation, by Sam Garrett, 2016

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I am currently reading The Evenings, by Gerard Reve (Gerard Kornelius van het Reve, 1923 to 2006).

This is an early, outsider-novel, and a classic:
– ‘a cornerstone… of modern European literature…’  (Tim Parks)
– ‘The funniest, most exhilarating book about boredom ever written….’ (Herman Koch)

And that last comment captures my problem.
The novel is set in 1946, presumably in Amsterdam. There is no TV, no record player or records; there is  a radio, yes, that plays classical, a bit of jazz, some Latin American.
Of course no internet, iphones….
And everyone is bored out their heads.

Note that, ye critics of today’s youth.

And so the chief character, 26 year old Frits van Egters, entertains himself by needling everybody. This ‘entertainment’ takes over, to increasing degrees.
At first I had the distinct impressions of Billy Liar, by Alan Sillitoe, but no.

And so I am struggling with it; struggling to keep up the interest.
Because…. ‘I have seen the best minds of my generation…’.
Exactly.
The date, see: 1946.
The best minds of the generation before were still numbed by years of Nazi occupation, the round-ups, the transports. The best engineers, mechanics, workers, had been trucked off for the German war effort. They returned home morally ruined, physically malnourished, spiritually dead.

And Frit’s generation were beginning to stir, wake, shake themselves, look around. And what did they see?
‘He looked at her’ (his mother), ‘:  the thin face, the grey hair, the slight growth of hair around the mouth and chin, the arms that never stopped moving. “Help us,” he thought.

 – Is it me, or is it always the woman is the easy target? That she must maintain a static, constant, role, appearance, demeanor, for the narrator/character.
Woman as a distant, uncomprehended being; woman as an inhabitant of the same world, also – but surely she cannot feel what we chaps feel, how we feel. She goes on doing that house stuff as though nothing else mattered, or had happened.
Only, Frits wakes one night, to sounds in his parent’s room. He entered, to find his mother shaking and sobbing. His father, isolated in his own wrecked existence, excuses it as one her nervous attacks.
There is an unwritten novel in that, certainly. In her side of the story.

Frits looked around his world, and saw people holding onto the known and trusted traditions, but they now seemed little more than threadbare habits:
‘”Who’d like a pickled herring?…”, “”No, please, no.” But he does.
‘“… there’s a real Middenweg wind blowing…” , “…Please don’t use terms unfamiliar to the uninitiated.”

The book starts off well, with a sly, dry, ironic humour as Frits woke early one Sunday morning. Early: good, despite the bad dreams, but time to make something of the day. Then we see him every few minutes clock-checking, and the opportunities flounder, die, as the day wears on.

The story is set in late December. Even the Winter was a disappointment: the ice on the canal melted early; there was no real snow; plenty of drizzle, yes, but nothing with any energy or excitement to it.
The intention was there, but it is as though the life had been drained out of people, the world, even; the spark to ignite a creative fire, dampened.

‘“Tom ta tom tom, tom ta tom,” Frits sang to himself, “nothing ‘s good, but everything’s fine.”
– There’s definitely a modernist technique at work here. There is certainly an echo of Doblin’s ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’, in the use of vernacular, in the internal monologues, thesinging.

*

The novel is structured on ten evenings, of increasing frustration with a fruitless life, and world. Each chapter charts the route taken by the tacking and manouvering of a clumsy, mostly empty, boat.

No, the novel is a not a ‘Ulysses’; it may share some of the self-absorption of Joyce’s classic, but the scale and scaffolding are pointedly small-scale.
After the previous period’s vacuous claims to new world orders, new worlds, great futures, this is a pointedly and purposely humdrum conception of humanity.
When you build, you must build from proper materials: people as they are – and not cloud cities, a reich, built from vacuous guff shored up with people’s real blood, guts, lives.

We see Frits attend the school re-union; his peers were trying to adopt the old role of getting on, making something of themselves. Frits, perversely, does not.  It is not as definite as that, or as a much a stance. His life has no heroic gestures, statements, no focussed disavowal of old values. No, he rumbles on in a diffuse scepticism.

And it is here where the book’s strength lies.
It does not succumb to cliche, or stereotype. Frits is disagreeable, but not hateful. The story charts  the hinterland that is his life: he does not veer far from the main path, and certainly not off into the dubious byways, side roads, the district beyond the tracks.

The immediately pre-War writers grouped under the banner of Forum, were preoccupied with the relationship of man to society. The War changed all that; the War brought the Nazi regime’s Kultuurkamer and its prescription of everything other than National Socialist writing.
Reve’s book was the first one of impact to be published in that aftermath.

Reinder P Meijer, in his’ Literature of the Low Countries’ (Stanley Thornes (Publishers) Ltd, 1978) writes, ‘The dreariness of the subject matter recalls the work of the nineteenth-century naturalists, of whom Van de Reve may be regarded as a descendant.’
The directness of Gerard Reve’s depiction, though, is the main factor: ‘Van het Reve offers no explanations, no comments, no psychological key.’ (: Reinder P Meijer).
Gerard Reve also employs ornate speech – the interactions between Frits and older brother Joop, and associates, reads – as his response to the use of vernacular, above, shows – as an arch, ornate, edging-towards-parody of earlier high-flown literary styles.

It is not Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ the book shares kinship with, but perhaps Sartre’s ‘La Nausee’. They both explore the ennui. Sartre’s book has the definite stance, raison, backstory even, in the opus of Being and Nothingness. Reve eschews those grand gestures, definitions, concepts, in favour of the individual vision.
Where Sartre argues for the individualistic response, Reve gives it.

*

Gerard Reve hit the headlines again with his 1970’s quartet of books ‘Dear Boys,’ ‘Sweet Life,’ ‘I Loved Him,’ and ‘A Circus Boy,’ where he explores gay sex, with a brutal edge. It is the style, also, that grabbed attention. The books are written with a blend of fact and fiction, in the form of written letters, and fantasy, but not the standard epistolary format.  Reinders P Meije again: the books stand out because of their ‘firm structure and … skillful way(s) of preserving a precarious balance between reality and the fairy-tale elements… introduced in his later novels…’.

But I’m still stuck.

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Leaving the city for the student quarters
postponing grief, holding off horror,
by all the arts study finds emotion capable.

That night’s examination we were heads down,
ours the unquestioned rights to question,
and our right to right

woke to outrage,
found time had stolen our innocence;
witnesses unable to act, found space
had made us impotent.

Made old that morning by the escalation
between immediate loss, and the long,
slow, discovery of loss.

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TIANANMEN SQUARE, NIGHT OF 4TH JUNE, 1989

SELECTED POEMS/POEZII ALESE by Richard Livermore
Copies available from the author, http://www.chanticleer-press.com/contact-page.html
£8.00 each, plus £1.00 p and p

This is a very handsome book.
Printed in Romania as part of their contemporary literature series Orizont Literar Contemporan, the production values are high. This is a book of which to be proud.

The cover carries a copy of a Munch painting, Melancholy. A gloomy subject? But the background colours are lovely: blues, olive, yellows, and a moment of white. The colour scheme of the cover uses this as its base, an overall black is banded with blue, and the main focus of white script.
On the back cover is a photo of Richard. Look closely, here again we see a similar mood, pose, and the colours in the background, out-of-focus, once again capture the overall range of the Munch.

Inside we have a Profil cultural, rather than biographical details. The focus is different, away from self, and towards how the writer has responded to place and time. The emphasis is on where self and cultural world interact. This is healthy, and does not engage with writer-status or celebrity.

What we are presented with here is a selection of Richard’s poetry from 1973 up to 2016. It is dual language book, with Ioanna Agafitei translating poems 1 to 12, and Elena Tapean 13 to 29. So, a dual-translator, dual-language book.
Richard certainly puts them through their paces at times. On page 23 for an instance, he gives Ioanna ‘…only when life is a was will it be.’ The poem is written in 5 quatrains with occasional end-rhyme and much alliteration and assonantal play. To cope with maintaining argument and form’s playful use of language, she gives us a 9-line stanza, combining the last two quatrains, and capturing the connotations.

***

If you were to send a message to Romania, knowing what happened in 1989, Christmas day 1989… what would you send? This is a generation on, but the question remains: what would you send?
What we now know of Romania, apart from tennis players, the old guard poets, are EU open borders, workers bringing their own interpretations of what they find here.
What can we say to them? More important, how can we say it, where would be the weighting and emphases fall? This is the West – what stories did they have of us? Officially degenerate, of course.
Whatever it was, it was fairy-tale.
For people to travel all that distance for work here, and to find austerity, closing borders, scratching round for low-paid jobs….
What can we say to them?

And this is where Richard Livermore judged his selection well, for what he sends are messages of recognition, of struggle, disappointment, of the value and worth of the person caught up in the machinery of time and place.

One commentator, Ian MacFadyan, called Richard’s work ‘dark star poems… shot through with bright images of wonder….’ And they are.
In form they are short, rarely over a page in length, and often two or three stanzas each. In structure we find full rhyme, alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme. Rhythmically tight, with not a syllable wasted and yet not stifled by that; the freedom comes from the audacity of image and movement.

They are supple, as well as subtle. If you look for heritage then think of Kant’s antimonies – the form lays down the argument, but then it pivots into an unexpected image, which unlocks its depths of meanings. And as you read you become aware of richness, of exploration, insight, thought. The antimonies give you the argument and conclusion, then present you with an alternative one you had not thought possible.

‘Here we are locked/ in a prison of words’, ‘Here’ begins (did you think of Dylan Thomas?), and ends ‘here life is reprieved.’ How it gets from beginning to end is through the vehicle of language, image and sound. Yet it is aware that this is a vehicle, for it is to the inner movement that our attention is drawn. This is where people meet, in their inner experience of the world, not the immediate-demand response.

We feel locked into our habits, cultures, socially trapped. In ‘Pi’ he writes ‘I know very well/ what  it is to be  Pi/ for they keep reining in// my potential as well.’ Who cannot empathise with that? How can we move from this position? The structure, use of modern knowledge systems, are subject to the mind’s capabilities. Quantum effects, he gives us, open up other possibilities to us.

Yet don’t think all the poems use this stance – there are tender poems, see ‘Engraved In the Stars,’ and poems of mythic proportion, ‘Hidden Agendas,’ and playful poems, and poems of serious play.
There are riches to be found here.

One of the many riches is in the glorious sound textures Richard Livermore creates. How translatable are they? Take, for instance, the following from the first poem, ‘Wind/Vant’:
the burly, brusque bull-whale/ of a wind with it’s buffalo’s/ biffing and bellow, billowing…‘ Notice how the use of the line’s pause steers the rhythm, creating excitement. The translation can capture the checked flow that holds and then lets go, but cannot mimic this alliterative dynamic. Elsewhere the translation gives, rather than takes, texture; in ‘Prophecy’ we have:
What is the cloud doing/ storming the sky/ and why does it want//to bring down the moon… The Romanian has: Ce face norul/ furtuna cerul/ si de ce doreste// sa darame luna –I cannot reproduce the accents.
The line length is shorter, the metre changed, end-rhymes introduced, and the lines’ internal chiming of sounds changed.
The structure on the page informs how we read: this is poem structure, and in each case we read for the line because syntax and rhythm instruct us to do so. I leave out the vexing discussion of whether the translation is an entirely different poem, or an extension of the source-poem.

‘I don’t see why  words/ should always wait table‘ he writes in ‘Words Running for Cover’, the last poem in the book. Words, language, are the vehicle for exploring self and world, but only a vehicle. Our engagement with, our  living in, the world is the real subject. Always.

This is a book that you will go back to, often, and discover new riches each time.

For a period of time I was caught up in Elizabeth Kostava’s big-selling novel, The Historian.

Ok, I am well aware of its failings, that denouement in the crypt for one – I could not believe how perfunctory it was. And I hated that creaky, clumsy Darling Daughter postcard episode.

What kept me reading (twice!) were the descriptions of the east European villages, towns, cities.
The opening up of eastern Europe.
And there was the eastern European angle on the Dracula story. Got me scurrying through maps of Lake Snagov in Romania; to Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains, and following the route of the monks with their ‘cargo’.
One aspect of the story sees Vlad Tepes learning of the way of vampirism from a book. The book came from what was to prove Dracula’s/Tepes’ one weak spot, a monastery in the Pyrenees.
Now where could that be? If it really existed, and was not a mash-up of many.

The monastery in the book is Saint-Matthieu-des-Pyrénées-Orientales:

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Then I came across this one. The Basilique St-Just de Valcabrere, in the Haute Garonne.

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What is important about this place is it has a legend. The legend suggests this it was to this town that Herod Antipas, King Herod’s son, was exiled and died. Exiled due to his ‘association with the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus.’
It is not, of course, historically accurate by any means.
But what a hook!

On the other hand Pontius Pilate himself was said to have died in Vienne, Isere department of the Massif Central.
His body would not rest, and is said to have been relocated several times. The last to the tiny Oberlap lake on Mount Pilatus, Switzerland.
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Take your pick.
Admit it, France and environs are rich in legends and inspiring sites.

INCIDENT 10

Posted: May 28, 2017 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

In the raised brimming glass of the moon,
in the empty beaker of the day

in the sad, bedraggled evening
hot and bothered at the end of play

two bats met above the town’s rooftops
colliding on the air’s highway:

a long-eared bat in a cassock of black
and a short-eared bat with its collar turned back

collided above the rooftops
of the chic new shops in the centre of town.

And I ask you members of the jury, now,
which one of them had right of way?

Reprise

 Beyond the busy gabbling of the air waves,
the shot-off arse of time’s clearway

 in the last relinquished evening
of the not-very-bothered last day

 two bats met above the conflagration
jostling in heaven’s doorway:

 a free-tailed bat turbaned with black
and a pipistrelle with cassock on its back

 elbowed and jostled above the conflagration
in a time out of time on the edge of time.

 And I ask the jury: In this instance,
to which, if any, would you give admittance?

Not to spill unnecessary words all over grief and hurt.