Posts Tagged ‘Book review’

The Song Weigher, The Complete Poems of Egill Skallagrimsson. By Ian Crockatt, Arc Publications, 2017

Egill Skallagrimsson, writes Ian Crockatt in his Introduction, was the most original, imaginative and technically brilliant of the old Norse skalds.

It is no small feat then, that he has taken on this task of rendering the complete poems of Egill Skallagrimsson, in as close a Norse metric as possible.
The oldest, earliest, of the old Norse sagas is Egil’s Saga. As we have it, it is a wholly prose translation. Egill’s poems, scattered throughout, also have this form.
It was Ian Crockatt’s task to render the prose form into the recorded poetic metrics of this consummate writer. Our English cannot reproduce the old Norse sound, nor syntax, and so Ian Crockatt had to call upon his own great skills and expertise to render accessible and understandable, indeed appreciable, all Egill’s poems, in translation.
He has succeeded brilliantly.

Unlike the skald of Ian Crockatt’s previous book in this field, Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney (Crimsoning the Eagle’s Claw), Egill Skallagrimsson is not a very likable man. He is too red in tooth and… well, sword. He is too intent on his warrior trade, and lacks the leavening of Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson’s poems to Ermingerd of Narbonne, his journeys to Jerusalem, his humour, and playfulness.
He does, however, have his own laments for his lost sons, as well as his unstinting praise of friendship, and rare poems of love. The life was not easy for those of more liberal dispositions; these poems chart the ups and downs of the life a warrior led, if he was to survive. And Egill was a survivor.

Egill’s main antagonist in his poems was Erik Bloodaxe (Eirikr Blodox).
He’d actually killed Eirikr’s son at one point, then later, shipwrecked whilst sailing to offer his sword to British Saxon King Adalsteinn, ended up seeking some accommodation in Blodox’s own halls. Understandably, his wife, Gunnhildr, wanted Egill’s head.
He was able to save the day through his reputation.
What reputation?
His reputation as the best, most gifted, inventive, skald of the day.

His ‘accommodation’ was to take the form of suitably outstanding verses for Eirikr’s family. These are the Hofuthlausen – the Head Ransom – of Egill Skallagrimsson.
Such was the value of a skald’s work in-the-day, that it could save a life.
He composed 21 verses for his own head. And obviously lived to tell the tale.
He lived long enough to bemoan the loneliness and neglect of the old warrior’s fate.

His own father was also a highly prized skald.
These verse forms were notoriously complex, involved, tightly controlled, with rules and strictures. But mercifully few were longer than 8 lines in length.
For the Head Ransom he produced a new form, with shorter verses interspersed between the regular length verses, and introducing a greater preponderance of end-rhymed lines. It is suggested that this last embellishment echoed the dominant British form of the period, and so was a gesture towards Eirkir’s British base in England.

For deeper discussion of the verse forms, see my earlier post on Rognvaldr:
https://michael9murray.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/crimsoning-the-eagles-claw/

If, like me, you are a bit of a metre-geek, you’ll love these.

And so, I had a go, using the dominant Drottkvaett form. Eight six-syllable lines, tied in couplets by alliteration, and each even line with two full rhymes. Trochees tend to be the dominant metre.
A recent trip to London gave me these:

Sea-toadstools, slow-flowing
seep of traffic-halted
jet-black, wet, jellyfish’d
jacks. Belligerent
brolly-bargers billow,
hail-stone and sleet harassed:
the City trawling home
to suburban harbours.

Ok.
So what about the use of kennings – you know, the allusions to, but not actually naming of, things known to one’s audience?
I actually state in the piece what the subject is, in the second part.
I tried to keep the sea-theme throughout.
Hmm.

A kenning is a compound word, made from a base word for a thing, and its ‘determinant’ ie what modifies that base word. In Icelandic there is also a highly allusive element, usually to an element in another saga, and/or their world of myths and gods.
Kipling’s ‘old grey widow-maker’ for the North Sea, is fairly easy for a British person.
Ian Crockatt lists and explicates the kennings used in the poems in a very useful appendix. He also has an excellent appendix on Verse-Forms. Invaluable.

So I tried this one, in a similar setting. What do my kennings refer to?

Canyons of steel and concrete
caught blue-red rain. It blew
to yelps under yellow lights –
baffled us battling
back through. Don’t be seduced,
strangeness does that. Estrange
sight’s stranger: blood’s seen there,
someone’s hurt; someone’s own.

Or, grimly, ambiguously –

Hail and sleet half the day –
how the light is slighted.
What we see’s how wishing
works its superstitions.
Outside worsens: our take
on the season. Reason’s
tangled with belief. Truth?
We’ve wrecked the weather?

 

Ok, these are first tries, and I was trying for more subtlety.
There is still so much yet to learn about these verse forms.

I hope I have passed on the spark of these to you.
They are certainly a great way of ‘keeping one’s hand in’ in those times of drought.

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Reposted from 2014 – because I think it’s a good ‘un.

ROADSIDE PICNIC, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Published by Gollancz Sciene Fiction, 1977

CAUTION Contains Spoilers!

RP1

For such a short book this is extraordinarily provocative.
Published in the Soviet Union by two technical and science professionals, the novel keeps close to the real world. And this allows any deviation to appear even more devastating.
The book gives us a number of accounts over a period of time, of an event that happened in the recent past.
Style-wise we hear ‘70’s gritty Americana, full of dime-store fiction traits, and reeling with unregenerated gender mine-fields. The setting of the book is in fact i’n undisclosed areas.

The basic premise is given early on, and we learn the details and consequences as the different narratives develop.
Twenty year’s previously the Earth was visited by an alien race. It seemed to happen on a sudden and be over before anyone realised.
The opening narrator is a Nobel Prize winning scientist, whose work revealed the origin of the Visitation to have been in the region of Cygnus. Coming in on the earth’s transit the Visitors landed in an arc of six separate places across the surface of the earth.
What was discovered in these places afterwards was so anomalous and dangerous that these landing places had to be fenced off, isolated: people had to be protected from them. The Zones were the site of strange artefacts, substances, occurrences.

Local people not caught in the original Visit became ensnared in a fascination for the Zone. Stalkers would enter in secret , learn safe pathways, where the danger areas were, and bring out objects. Red Schuhart was one of these. Stalking was punishable by imprisonment, but it was a compulsion. The objects retrieved developed their own black market system, because some, like the batteries that never ran out, showed great potential.  But there were also spillages: ditches full of ‘witches  jelly’ which we later learn was colloidal gas – no matter what the name, its effect on the human body was devastating.

Stalkers developed their own terminology for what they came across in the Zone: ‘witches jelly’, ‘so-so’s’, ‘mosquito mange’, ‘black sprays’.
Scientific Institutes provided a legitimate outlet for interest in the Zones. Red took a post at the Institute. His boss was a Russian, Kirill, the only one Red could respect and admire. Kirill’s motives were purely scientific, but he was careful, knew how to play the game with the authorities, and yet retain his integrity.
They were working with ‘empties’, until  Red mentioned he knew where there were some ‘full empties’. What were these? No one knew – the Zones contained areas of a completely unknown kind of physics. ‘Empties’ were like glass jars, with metal top and bottom – only the glass, or whatever was the container material was not visible or accessible to analysis: two metal discs held in an unbreakable relationship; but Red had seen them contain blue material in between.

In one of the witty concepts of the book they gained a license to enter the Zone, and used the ‘flying boot’, a kind of hover car. The ‘full empties’ were obtained, and Red was paid handsomely, but the consequences were severe: a moment’s lapse of concentration led to disaster. And guilt. Money, guilt and a mind increasingly disordered by Stalking in the Zone, left Red to count the continual cost.

What was the Visitation? At one point Red runs through the possibilities – was it a statement of intent by an alien race, of contact? Will they come again? It was certainly an indication that we are not alone in the universe, and that there were other intelligent beings out there. That they had an interest in us.
Later he wondered with a jolt – was it the beginning of an invasion? A slow seep of poisonous ideas and materials into our ordered world?
Or was it, as someone else said, just a roadside picnic site – that they never even knew or cared we were there? That all these objects, anomalies left behind, were just the garbage and refuse of lazy, loutish picnic-ers?

All this alien technology threw our own scientific knowledge and certainties into the waste bin. And along with them our ideas and hopes of progress. Our own civilisations can be seen to be no more that errors, blips, on the universe.

On a political level, the book, written in the coldest parts of the Cold War, gives us the greatest achievements of two civilisations: the American, and the Soviet. If these are only roadside picnic spots, then in the way the alien science throws all earth’s discoveries in physics, chemistry, all the hard sciences, out of the window, we glimpse a metaphor for the wanton waste and failure of those two huge political systems.
In the way these greatly more advanced species act, we see the concepts of morals and ethics, of diplomacy, of value, of all we hold most dear, thrown into question. Advancement in the sciences need not equate with advancement in behavioural attitudes. If that is so, then what is this term ‘advancement’?

And we begin to see the ecological impact implicit in this – a mirror of our own impact on the earth. The spill-off materials altered the soil, composition and environment, of the Zones in unpredictable and unimaginable ways.
It was found that the children of Stalkers were different; there was no detectable radiation in the Zones, but things were beginning to happen. Red’s own daughter changed – she was born with a hair covering, but a child despite that. In time she became less human, but not some other species. One night Red’s father appeared; he had died years before the Visit. ‘They aren’t people’, scientists declared. ‘We call them moulages’ they were the bones of the dead, and flesh material had gathered around them again. They walked, ate, breathed. What were they?
Like Red’s daughter they were not human, nor an alien species, but existed in some form, in some definition.

And the denouement was a final trek into the Zone for the fabled Golden Ball.
It granted wishes, the legends said. As Red made the perilous journey it was to be a journey into the self: they will not be any old wishes it grants, they will the deepest wishes, the deepest most unknowable of the heart’s desires. He was the last of the real Stalkers – only he now had the nous, the  knowledge, for a protracted, perilous journey through the Zone.

All along, with the terrible price he was willing to pay, he had to prove he was worth this, that he was fundamentally a ‘good’ man – even with his petty, lowdown history, with the last ultimate deed that he was prepared to allowed happen, he had to be fundamentally ‘good’, ‘honest’, one of the few, the book reveals, of the surrounding sharks, gangsters, and abusers of the community around the Zone.

The book leaves us with this.
We now realise he never intended to come back; his last act was to be one of sacrifice for the sacrifice he committed in order to gain access to the greater good.

Was that a wish to wipe away the Zones altogether, as if they had never happened? Was ignorance preferable? Or did he wish something else?

Theodore Sturgeon, in his Introduction, writes of the book’s ‘deft handling of loyalty and greed, of friendship and love, of despair and frustration and loneliness…’. Another angle of the book is that between the ideal, the desired, and reality. The book opens with Doctor Valentine Pilman trying to deflect the interviewer from pinning him down as the originator of the Visitor-origin area: it was not so straight-forward or simple, a boy came up with the idea, but he himself got the Prize.
Throughout we see the desired life, rewards, and then the reality at odds with these. At the end we see the Golden Ball –… only then Redrick looked up at the ball. Carefully. With caution. With a sudden fear that it would turn out wrong – that it would disappoint him… it was not golden, it was more a copper colour…’.

The influences of the book can be seen in Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’, based on the Red’s character.

RP2

The witch’s jelly/colloidal gas’s effects can be seen in the the ‘mineral acid’ blood of the aliens in the film Alien . The Zones uncannily reflects Chernobyl’s own devastated zone.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky:

RP3

The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe, by Richard Scholar, Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780199274406

Richard Scholar is Fellow and Tutor in French, at Oriel College, Oxford.

The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe : Richard ...

In the realm of Philosophy ours has been called the age of the method. That is, method as the chosen vehicle with which we locate and explore our understanding of our position in the world.

What is the je ne sais quois? It is the inexpressible, the ‘I do not know what’ of a situation, event, and even, as Richard Scholar shows with Montaigne, of a relationship. Or, if you prefer, it is the ‘I know not what.’ In English there is the phrase he uses as subtitle of the book: a certain something – The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi – Encounters with a Certain Something. This phrase pales against the French, though.

How can we know the je ne sais quoi? We can hunt out its provenance… this, after all, is accepted method. The phrase can be traced back to origins in the Cicero’s example of his use of the expression nescio quid: I do not know what. Richard Scholar qualifies, however: It owns its literary prestige partly to its Latin ancestor and its Romance cousins, but, unlike them, it goes on to establish itself as a vogue-word and an organising topic. (Page 25)

And there we have the tone and tenor of the book. We can trace the literary prestige of the phrase more easily than the vernacular usage. How prevalent was the phrase in ordinary/everyday usage? We would need to see how and if it was used in each and every instance in context, time, speech, manuscript, and print. And so he restricts his search to early modern Europe, examining its use in Montaigne, Corneille, Moliere, Descartes, Pascal, even Shakespeare.

Take those Englishings, above: the ‘I do not know what…’, and the ‘I know not what.’ The second is more succinct, comfortable; is more self-contained-seeming through its use of form. To our ears it has a sound-bite quality to it. The first seems more exploratory, more open, questing. The first expresses a vulnerability towards knowledge, self-knowledge – therefore a vulnerability before a greater, omniscient knowledge. In this way can we extrapolate therefore, a more theistic quality to it, whereas the latter has a more renaissance quality: more au-fait with classical rhetorical forms?
For me this gets to the heart of the question. I use the phrase ‘sound-bite’ etc – it is a contemporary journalistic phrase. Hopefully it will not be known in ten year’s time, as it was not say, twenty years’ ago. It limits. My worry is: do we limit our thinking to what we can only express in words, language? That would be a grievous error. I posit thought as experienced event, full of multiplying connections, and not as ordered and expressible formulation of the event.

Read the excerpt I gave above again; take, for instance, the need of the super-defining Latin writers of the phrase, nescio quid. Something even escapes their forensic practice. In fact, quite a lot did, And this is the fate of so much of our, Europe’s, early heritage, circumscribed by Latin thought, expression, and the vicissitudes of transmission.

In the sixteenth century France, Richard Scholar comments, the phrase became vogue; as with the later vogue for conversatione (see Peter Burke, The Art of Conversation, Cornell University paperbacks,1993:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Conversation-Peter-Burke/)
it spread throughout Western Europe. It changed costume, definition, commercial value, as it crossed cultures.

David M Possner, Chicago University: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/212681, writes: The first part of the book presents itself as a word history: using Starobinski’s notion of the tripartite life cycle of a word — from its emergence as a lexical entity, through a period of currency, to its demise in what Merleau-Ponty calls sedimentation….

And so we have the burgeoning of the great dictionaries at the turn of the seventeenth century. The phrase cannot be so restricted, we find: it retains its ability to disturb, disrupt, by remaining indefinable. And so ‘society’ fights back. We have what is called a parlour game of polite conversation, where the new philosophical writing becomes a polite topic. The game is of nescioquiddity, of applying the phrase to ‘cultured’ phenomena, the world of gentility.

The move from ‘I know not what’, to ‘a certain something’ is a very definite, provocative one. Kant and the Age of Reason are taken wholesale, you might say, and produce their own particular paradigms for conceptualising the essence of the relationship of self and the world.

The phrase throws into relief our relationship with knowledge of the world, of self knowledge, and the relationship between: our basic epistemology.

With this book, and his next, Montaigne and the Art of Free-Thinking (Past in the Present): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Montaigne-Art-Free-Thinking-Past-Present/
Scholar enrolled himself in the realm of histoire des mentalites, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_mentalities
of cultural history’s  investigations.

2016-09-06-13-39-15

Negative Energy, by Richard Livermore.
24 Essays and Blogs. Elefantasia Press, 2016

ISBN: 976-1911357-17-9                  Price £.7.99 (Postage free in the UK)

The book can be purchased from:
Richard Livermore, 6/1 Jamaica Mews, Edinburgh, EH3 6HN, Scotland, UK.
livermore.chanticleer.richard@gmail.com
http://www.chanticleer-press.com/

 

https://michael9murray.wordpress.com/2016/09/24/book-review-negative-energy/

3 Reasons you should buy this book

This book is a great place for skinny-dipping  in The Western Canon, as Harold Bloom calls it  Swim without prejudice; just your own sweet self.

The book is a great reminder why people are so great when they create.

The book is a treasure-house of known things, things unknown,  and things we thought we knew but didn’t really.

Discover, re-discover, and savour.

If you need any more reasons, then try these:

These are the most stimulating pages you will probably come across… until his next book.

Brain-food here in quantity and quality. Give them a try.

Pages glinting with the riches of a life lived, a life of thought, and a life exploring the limits of life, and beyond.

 

Recommended book.

 

This is a dual Romanian/English publication.
Available from:
Colectile Revistei ‘Orizont Literar Contemporani’, Bibliotheca Univeralis

Effs

There are so many untold stories.

Early mornings I would be waiting, shivering, for the early bus to go to work. One companion of those mornings was a Romanian man. Once he told me, ‘Boating was my life, then. I would have happily spent my whole life sailing on the Black Sea.’
‘One year,’ he said, ‘everyone was issued with iodine tablets. No exceptions; no explanations. That was thought to be sufficient. I remember it; it was 1986. The year of Chernobyl.’

*

Daniel Dragomrisecu has set himself a very important task, in this book. He is rescuing the memories, the works, the reputations of people lost to the old regime. People who fell out of favour. People lost to time’s relentless tumble.
He gives us eight recollections, and revaluations.

Romania.
The Ceausescu regime, with its grand empty palace and boulevard. Claudio Magris, in his book Danube, writes: “Hiroshima” is the name  bestowed by the people of Bucharest on the quarter of the city  which Ceausescu is gutting, levelling, devastating … building his Centre, the monument to his glory.

But what of the starving villages’  untold stories?

What Daniel Dragomirecu has done here is collect together articles and memoirs he has published in newspapers, magazines, journals, and published them in a dual translation book, called Effigies in the Mirror of Time.

Ok, we started with Romania, but we need to narrow-down, zoom-in. Let’s find Moldavia, and in Moldavia, the region of Vaslui. This is the hub for all the stories, the personalities.
How often do we hear or read news from Moldavia?

We have here writers, intellectuals, philosophers, engineers, and a comedy actor: the exuberant, gifted, Constantin Tanese.
This sketch-song of his could well be a timeless anthem:

Nothing has changed / Everything is the same
/ Everywhere the same lies / So what have we done? /
Revenge is plotted behind the scenes / As it has not
been seen before / The country is full of VIPS / So
what have we done? / Our people leave, our people
come! / This is the famous slogan, / We have been
fools to vote again / So what have we done?

The story was that he was shot whilst on stage – he was doing a satire on Russians, the new power. A Soviet officer in the audience stood, up and shot him dead.
Did it really happen? Was that how we wanted him to go?
Or was the end of the great man more prosaic?
Truth and legend, both are necessary, both are stories from which we gain life and sustenance. But truth must take precedence; always.

When communism was abandoned, many here in the West hoped that the best of that regime – or was it the most durable? – would be combined with the best/most durable in the West, to create a better society. The old Marxist dialectic, with its synthesis: how people love to make patterns.
Now, it seems, many feel what they have instead is another lost possibility. Because what modern capitalism has to offer is repugnant in many ways. And durability does not promise anything, either.

In the West these ideas, the dialectic, were never put into practice; we did not witness its effects on people as with the people Daniel here rehabilitates.

Take, for instance, Cezar Ivanescu (1941 -2004). He was an uncrowned prince among academics: Don Cezar. Writer, philosopher, critic, academic par excellence. He was severely beaten in the 1990 Miner’s Strike, and hovered between life and death for weeks.

As a less violent example, take Nicolae Malaxa (1884 to 1965). Born in humble circumstances he grew up and developed an acute managerial sense combined with a dedicated engineering skills. Train engine maker, car engine manufacturer, heavy-engineering magnate. Only to lose it all when all his great enterprises were nationalised under the new regime.
What the man could have done for Romania.

Many here were academics, writers, poets.
We ask now, what is the worth of such work? We ask that because everything now is monetarised, including health-care, basic necessities. Cultural value differs from monetary value; there is also the value of a persons’ life in itself.

And the irony of free-thought. In the context of the early part of last century when these people were young, free-thought still meant mostly left-wing ideas. And so when left-wing ideas became a (supposed) reality, they found themselves once more on the margins. Why was this?
Left-wing practice had its own very special character. Only those who legislated knew what it was; this is a well-known managerial tactic, to keep everyone slightly off-balance.
What was one of Stalin’s first acts as leader? Get rid of all the old Bolsheviks.
The old and out-of-place ideas and idealists had to go. The last thing they needed was free-thought.

Teodar Rescanu (1887 to 1952) was such a left-wing idealist. And writer: it is heartening to see his books being re-discovered.
He was out-of-step with the new regime. He had been imprisoned for his support of the left, but even that did no good with the new boys. He was black-listed, and the ostracism became increasingly brutal as conditions hardened.  Suicide was always an option, and he chose it.

One of the many virtues that stand out among these exemplars, is their dedication to the people, and to the idea of Romania. It almost becomes as if the whole communist experiment has a hiccup in history, a glitch, that all are quickly working at eradicating.
That is, until you see the human dimension.
The people in this book are ones who lost out to that glitch, and the ones who follow – this is especially illustrated in Daniel Dragomirescu’s relationship with Don Cezar, and in turn with poet Ion Enoche – are left to reconcile this loss, and rescue from it a sense of human value.

V I Catarama – it is very hard to find general information on the man. And yet at one time he was an esteemed man of letters, and teacher – an Apostle of Education, as Daniel Dragomisrecu entitles him.
He fell foul of the system in 1958, and was held until 1964. He was the son of a farm worker, a left-wing supporter. It was not enough.
His reinstatement was marginal; he was allowed to teach. Although the continued scrutiny this entailed must have been oppressive.

Ion Enoche is an interesting case: on the fall of the old regime, he still had no place. He had become such a thorough non-conformist he could no longer adapt to any system. Daniel Dragmirescu implies that the over-riding  atmosphere after the fall of the regime was predominantly political, and busy with rebuilding the new Romania.
Enoche could not adapt to this, he was singular, and one-directional; his sole focus was poetry, a poetry cleansed of any politics, official or otherwise.
How was this possible?
Daniel Dragomirescu gives a moment from one of his works:

a poor, bedraggled, and starving Roma woman was riffling through a garbage can
for ‘a ray of sunshine.’

The set up of contrasting elements, and steering of image out of one circumscribed field of imagery towards another, more open and encompassing one, one of human values, is masterly.
It is, still, we could argue, political.
See also:
https://ion-enache.blogspot.co.uk/

Another online source related to this book is:
Ion Iancu Lefter: https://cumpana.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/pagina-121.pdf

*

This is such an important and necessary project.
It only tells a fraction of the story, of course; he acknowledges this.
It is a work of love, as well as rehabilitation.

May I suggest that he follow it up with a companion book, on the subject of notable women?
I would eagerly look forward to such another book.

*

I met a bedraggled man at the bus stop. I knew him vaguely. He had just come from the police station.
My house boat was robbed last night. They were banging on the doors, the sides. They’re a group of Romanians. They’re doing all the house boats.
What did they take?
I had no money or food; they took my chairs. They live over the back, in tents in a quarry. I phoned the police, when they were there. They laughed, Your police are pussies, they said.

It is a small town, and yes, they are pussies. It is a tacit understanding: we don’t do anything too bad, and they don’t come in too heavy.
It’s better that way.
The capitalism may be repugnant, but this works. For the time being.

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.

Warning: Contains Spoilers.

sttrain

This was one of Graham Greene’s first novels to win great acclaim.
Published in 1932, it is still a gripping read. His list of characters is wide, varied, and their depictions, like the overall storytelling, accomplished.

It does have major problems, especially for the modern reader. Remember the date of publication.

It is a classic ‘Orient Express’ story: characters trapped on the great journey to Constantinople, as it was then: a three day journey.
The book opens after the ferry crossing, in the Ostend dock yard, as passengers shuffled through rain to the train. We met there the main characters. The ferry purser wondered after their passing whether a big story had just passed him by. This sets us up: something is afoot.

Passengers joined, and left, as the train travelled through pre-World War II Europe. Chapters take us from Ostend, to Cologne, Vienna, Subotica, then Constantinople.
Who are they? Why this journey?
Graham Greene makes several attempts at giving credible female characters. The best perhaps is Coral Musker. She is a dancer, going the whole journey to join up with the Dunn’s Babies dance troupe. She does not reach there. Her journey was long and winding. The cold, for a start. Her background, for another: remember the date. Impoverished, underfed, thin and alone. Then she collapsed on the train from the cold. Weak heart, the doctor said.
Here we have a story in itself: a dancer, with a weak heart.

She was offered a bunk for the night, she could not afford one herself. She accepted; the man slept outside. In the morning she woke to the implications. There would be a price to pay; this was her life, as accessory, as a woman alone. And yet, we learn, on paying the price it was her first time. The man was aghast, after all, he had expected….
He hoped he had not hurt her – because, of course, at the time he would not notice the pain, blood; he would be enjoying himself.
And here Graham Greene gives her a classic line: ‘Well, it was no picnic.’

There is an anomaly in the story-line: Richard John, the schoolmaster, had joined the train at Ostend. He attended to Miss Musker when she collapsed. And yet he then joined the train in Cologne. Had he got off for a snack, and most importantly, a newspaper? It is not clear; he had been drifting off to sleep at the end of the previous chapter as the conductor announced the station arriving: ‘Koln, Koln, Koln’.

One of Graham Greene’s greatest failings is his naivete in certain matters. One of those matters is Mabel Warren, British journalist, based in Europe. It is she who recognises the person behind Richard John.
The problem here, you see, is that Mabel Warren is gay. A later conversation with her companion journeying to meet her uncle, centres on ‘But what can she do, a woman like that?’
The male prurience.
‘Kissing.’ Answers her companion, ‘Endless kissing.’ This sense of impotence is assumed of gay love.
And yet, it is also in Shakespeare’s Sonnets to the fair youth, the sense of physical need but complete lack of means. Shakespeare, as the 1920s, was fully aware of the possibility of a complete gay relationship.
Graham Greene shows a degree of squeamishness with the physical. He counters this with a slightly over-the-top worldliness; but here, as we see, he was out of his depth.

So, what of Richard John, schoolmaster? And where exactly was he travelling?
He said Vienna, but Mabel’s news nose told her, Belgrade. And his real name was Dr Czinner. A medical doctor, hence his aid to Coral Musker, but one who had realised the people of his country needed greater help than medical. They needed political help.
The threat that was turning Europe upside down was the recently established Soviet Union. It was still  in its internationalism phase.
Richard John/Dr Czinner was returning to head an uprising. Only, it had already happened, and failed, he discovered in his newspaper. And he was trapped on this train heading into who knew what reprisals.
For Mabel here was a front page story.

And then we come to Carleton Myatt. Myatt was travelling all the way, on business. He was wealthy. Well, he would be, because Graham Greene takes every opportunity, and more, to tell us that Myatt is… A Jew.
I expected… I had to check the date of publication several times… that the atrocious Nazi race propaganda was at work here, seeping through into every aspect of professional life. But 1932, and written 1930-1?
Myatt cannot help his race’s splayed hands gesture, we read; he catches himself at it. At the end of the book he is asked to be charitable, he answers to the effect that I am a Jew, Charity is a Christian virtue.
What utter and obnoxious nonsense is this?
So why did he give his bunk, indeed his First Class ticket, to Coral Musker at the beginning? She assumed there was a price. That particular price. Because that was what was expected of a poor working woman. But he did not expect it; companionship would have sufficed. All to do with reading social expectations.
But what did Graham Greene give us with Myatt? A caricatured stereotype. He attempted to get inside the man, but could not get around this gargoyle he had made, and was busy shoring up.
More importantly, why did Myatt pay over the odds for a car journey back to Subotica, to search for her?

Because Coral, and Dr Czinner, were arrested at an out of the way station near Subotica.
Subotica was just over the border into Yugoslavia/Serbia. Next stop was Belgrade. The military were waiting for him. He saw them coming and slipped a letter to Coral. It was seen.

I suspect we are to read that Coral goes out of the frying pan into the fire, at the end. She is rescued, but by the newly deserted Mabel. Mabel wants the exclusive on the news story, naturally. But she was also quite taken with Coral.
Good luck to them, I say.

And that is an indication of how deeply the reader invests with the characters. So when we get such a crass caricature like Myatt, we either react against book and author, or we wonder about the moral responsibilities of the writer of realist fiction.
The anti-semiticism, I read elsewhere, is to reflect attitudes prevalent in Europe at the time. And yet the internal dialogues Graham Greene gives us is of one who’s very essence is based around this attitude.
Are we to read sociologically, here: is it that it is one’s environment makes one? It is difficult to determine how much of the public attitudes to his Jewishness en route is Greene, and how much observation.
Then what of Graham Greene’s Catholicism? It is shoe-horned clumsily into the story at points, that stretch credibility, like shoe leather. Does it make a fit?

That we are to read it sociologically is backed up by the character of Dr Czinner. He was the one who described Coral as having a bad heart. His reaction we then read in hindsight. She had a bad heart partly through poverty, poor and irregular meals, the circumstances of her trapped position in life. All these had turned him from a doctor to a political fighter.
It is from that initial kindness of his that she took the smuggled letter. She was subsequently held, questioned, and was to be deported. Back to the clamouring for bit parts again at stage doors. As it is….

There are humourous interludes in the book. One led to a brief legal case: was the character of cockney popular writer Q C Savory originally a poke at J B Priestley? He thought so. The character was re-written later.

Graham Greene described the book as a deliberate attempt to make money by tailoring it to popular reading, and film, taste. In succeeded on both counts.
Such a motive does indeed work in your favour sometimes.
We also read here the dangers of courting popular tastes: did Graham Greene reflect what he saw, or further promote bigotry by writing about it so pointedly, and without any form of condemnation? Once again, the question of responsibility.

The writer, publisher and all-round good man Richard Livermore has very pertinent comments to say on this issue:
There is nothing in the rule-books which says that to appreciate a good novel you have to be in agreement with the ideas expressed in that novel. In fact, you can even think the ideas are insane and yet thoroughly enjoy the novel in question. What’s important is the quality of the writing and the presentation of the characters and also the situations within it. Never forget that you are reading a work of fiction and as such it requires a suspension of disbelief. Verisimilitude, or the appearance of truth or reality requires it. Outside of the novel you can be as sceptical as you like, but if the novel holds your attention and makes you believe in it while you are reading it that is all that finally matters. That goes for whether you agree with the point of view of the author or not. Louis Ferdinand Celine was a Nazi, but Journey To The End Of The Night is nevertheless a really good novel.

For more on Richard Livermore, and I urge you to go, see: http://www.chanticleer-press.com/contact-page.html