David Crystal (always worth a read or a listen to, especially when when he's talking about language), writing in last Saturday's Guardian Review, reported on the Ledbury poetry festival, introducing his remarks with a small modern parable:- A spaceship is approaching a planet on which two races are known to exist, one being beautiful of countenance and friendly to us humans, the other being very ugly and hostile. One is known as the Lamonians and the other as the Grataks. But which is which, we do not know. The point of it is that most people assume that the Lamonians are the nice guys and the Grataks the baddies, it all being all a matter of sound associations - or as Crystal had it, of sound symbolism. The l,m,n sounds in the word Lamonians, together with its long vowels or dipthongs and its pollysyllabic rhythm are interpreted as being nicer than the harsh sounds and abrupt rhythm of Grataks.
At the festival poets were asked to say which words they hated most and why. Which I now invite you to do, either here in the comments box or at The Guardian books blog or both.
Now two snippets from The Independent last Friday:-
Arifa Akbar reorting a conversation with Alain de Botton concerning the latter's School of Life, a modern day literary saloon, an idea that he derived from a conversation with Kylie Minogue's father. Something Mr Minogue (who is also her manager) said about performance caused de Botton to realise that the future for lterature too, lay in live performances. Their business had fallen by 60%, Mr Minogue said, because of internet downloads - and the same was about to happen to books. Writers should: Do what musicians do, start a new revenue stream.... maybe there's a community for books, rather than it being a solitary thing.
My other Independent snippet is of a 16 year old Graffitit artist named Cartrain who, it seems, nicked a rare packet of pencils from Damien Hurst's Pharmacy exhibit at Tate Britain. He had intended to replace them with a packet of genuine Tesco pencils, but the security was too tight and he was unable to do so. Hurst was not a happy bunny about this and Akbar was asking whether this should go down in the annals as a) an act of vandalism, b) guerrilla art or c) a shameless publicity stunt. What thinkest thou?
From the TLS (July 10): a review of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's book Poetry as Insurgent Art (a book of aphorisms (and some poetry) such as Don't slip on the banana peel of nihilism, even while listening to the roar of nothingness. and Poetry is the anarchy of the senses making sense) rephrases the old question What can poetry do? as What are poets for? He is thinking of them in terms of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. His answer (which I like) is the the poet should be: a reporter from outer space, filing dispatches to some supreme managing editor who believes in full discourse and has a low tolerance of bullshit.
And from the same paper one week later, A N Wilson reviewing two books on Isaiah Berlin relates a Greek fragment by Archilochus told to him (Wilson) by Lord Oxford: The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. There follow two lists, one of poets and thinkers classified by Berlin as foxes and one of hedgehogs. Shakespeare, Goethe and Aristotle, for example, are among the foxes. Plato, Ibsen and Proust weigh in as hedgehogs. I wonder who your favourite(s) might be for each group... and if you agree with Berlin?
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