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Sunday 31 January 2010

Haiku #35

Shakespeare's audiences snacked
on oysters, sturgeon, steaks and pies
while bantering Sir Toby Belch.

Saturday 30 January 2010

Body and Soul

Someone threw dice, handfuls of them, at the moon.
White boxes, windows set like pock marks in their sides.
The dice were loaded, missed the dream
and fell to earth among these hills -
a windfall for a gambler -
And where they fell we christened them a town.

Earth-creatures crawling out of slimy caves
occupied the empty boxes by first light,
revelled in them, thought them fine,
and, peering through the pock-marks,
found the scenery divine.
The boxes caught the feel of life within,

refused to stay inert. Between them, underground,
live cables ran for power and light,
which feelings somehow infiltrated. Grill
and fissure fanned intoxicating draughts -
essences so close to breath
that brick and mortar softened into life.

The scattered cubes were drawn together,
cell to cell with common boundaries,
into some kind of body.
Excitement like an earthquake shook
the stone and rattled
the small windows to their bones.

The creatures felt the life of brick and stone,
but knew that theirs was more,
that theirs was married to a soul of unknown kind.
From soul come dreams
whose contents are the things we do by day.
(And what they did was cover earth in boxes -

both earth and earth's sublime austerity.)
Soon flights of fancy flew them to the moon,
for moon could understand what earth could not,
and moon knew barren beauty like a tapestry knows thread -
and beauty is not fazed by petrifaction or its threat,
but works in simple ways:

the same repeated subtleties bring anarchy to law.
Self-replication. Moon as blueprint for the earth,
that first earth, Eden-earth. For them,
our ancestors, the nearly-men, becoming men,
the caves were Eden, soulless Eden, Eden
replicating semblances and presences,

impressions and facades, in their new city.
They could not free themselves from it,
it followed them down every street
and slid into their boxes - boxes
time would blend in with the hills. Theirs was
the truth that homes make strangers of us all.

Haiku #34

After the recession...
divorce rates falling
suicides increasing.

Friday 29 January 2010

Haiku #32 and #33

I blame the Scottish legal system!

Car stopped in traffic
Driver gets a fixed penalty -
£60 for nose-blowing.

£10 falls from a rear pocket
man receives fixed penalty -
for littering.

(Ayreshire : Same policeman, different miscreants.)

Thursday 28 January 2010

Haiku #30 and #31

Yesterday I read something incredible: the team studying the melting of the Himalayan Glaciers concealed awkward data to strengthen the case for action. No, that's not the incredible bit. This is: members of the do-nothing brigade took that opportunity to suggest that as it now seems that the worst scenario is only 90% certain (sic!), we should wait and see what will happen. I.E. Do nothing. This suggested the following lines to me.

Because the data might be faulty
earth survive a decade longer
would you leave it all to chance?


Space-ship Earth is boarding now
ten percent survival chance.
Like to buy a ticket sir?

For those who might be new or recently returned to my blog, my daily "Haiku" do not meet the criteria for a true Haiku. They are meant to be topical and the message more important than the format. If you missed my intro' you can catch it here

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Haiku #29

Barak Hussein Obama
declining jury service -
otherwise elsewhere engaged.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Playing around

The sun warms

Man warns

Who's listening?

("Haiku" #28)

The first image is simply a negative version of the first.

Monday 25 January 2010

Burns Night Spectacular : Three for the price of one!

Great songs you left us Rabbie lad,
some natty verse, an annual binge -
but you yourself... I'm no so sure!

Wee, sizzling, brazen sausage beastie,
what shame lies hidden in thy breastie
beside thy manly cousin, Haggis?

Oh Rabbie, all the world loves thee
for bringing Johnson's English in
to help thine Ayrshire Scots tongue oot.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Haiku #24

Most given gift - a mobile
shrunken to a lucky charm.
Soft choice or superstition?

Saturday 23 January 2010

Haiku #23

On a slow news day*
when there's little to tell
how fortunate the Haiku's short!

*some stuff, like the earthquake for example,
can only be written about when the spirit is upon you.

Friday 22 January 2010

When I Die...

When I die
I shall be sure to vet the next place
more comprehensively
than ever I did this.
I shall be asking searching questions,
have no fear -
questions I shall put
both to the nobs,
those propping up the golden gates
or twanging squeaky tunes,
and to the plebs',
the wingless people in the street. I shall
be wanting some straight answers,
will not be easily put off.
These post-code lotteries, for inst...
Do you have any truck with those?

That's just to limber up, of course;
relax them; get them off their guard
before I hits them with the likes of:
Is life as fugitive as ever was?
Does brevity retain its status as the breath of life?
And are we still immortal souls
attached to dying animals - or is
this really our eternal rest?
Or maybe we don't qualify?
This rest perhaps is really for the rest?

I let them get away with murder, coming here,
didn't ask them one damn thing.
I'll not be making that mistake again!

And whose in charge here?
And how does she get chosen?
Your politicians: are they fools or knaves?
And are there those who say
exactly what their masters mean?
Or do they all have twin remote controls
quite separate for actions and for words?

How many would you say -
in rough percentage terms -
are out to change the world?
And why? What axes are they out to grind?
(And by "the world" I mean
whatever has replaced the one we knew on earth.)

Religion now... our brains,
do they still need their daily dose?
Is knowledge still a mist that clings?
Or is it possible to live in truth that sets us free?
And scientists...
are they quite safely fenced off from the farms,
and from the warrior-breed, confined in studio and playroom
where they can do some good and little harm -
and given the free run of hospitals and medical research?

And all those T.V channels that you have...
are they set up to cater for all tastes?
Or do all fifty thousand of them harp
on from the latest hymn sheets on the streets?

And shops now, what of them? Are all the goods
so sealed and packaged that you cannot see
in detail what you buy? Or can you see right through them -
like I forgot to, coming here!

I've heard it said that here the more you spend
your riches, the richer you become -
so how does that trick work out in the end?

The vicar says I'm flogging a dead horse,
there is no point to asking all these questions,
that there are no alternatives, I cannot turn it down,
there's simply nowhere else to go!
Funny sort of Heaven that: Take it or leave it, eh?
Of course, you might expect it from the other place...but, no,
not here... Good God!

Haiku #22
One photograph, one story
Tiger Woods in all the papers -
all claiming an exclusive.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Haiku #21

The law protects a child
from being smacked in school -
though not if it's a faith school.

For those who may have missed my disclaimers on the haiku here

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Haiku #20

Ten minutes does a Catholic
A Baptist can take hours
Some use sermons for a nap

Tuesday 19 January 2010

When the spirit is strong and the flesh is willing : Haiku #19

Buckfast Tonic Wine
mainstay of the needy monks
too potent for the secular.

Monday 18 January 2010

Beauty and Desolation

Do you have a pile of books beside your chair that you are currently reading or to which you are just now referring for some reason ? Like the pile beside your bed, only in my case for a wider variety of purposes and therefore larger and forever spilling out of the pile to the occasional annoyance of my best beloved? Among the assorted tomes there is always one, more often two, whose purpose is ensure that I do not for too long allow any author to languish forgotten on the shelves. That particular little scheme does not work to my complete satisfaction, but it is modestly successful. At the moment the pile consists of Birdsong on the Seabed, China's Classic Anthology of T'ang and Sung Dynasty Verse (You know about both of those), Jorie Graham's Sea Change, Kathleen Raine's Collected Poems, The Oxford Book of English Verse, George Szirtes The Budapest File and The Hugh Macdiarmid Anthology. This is a smaller collection than normal as a result of a recent spillage and the consequent clear-up operation.

The last two mentioned are the two currently off the shelves for a refresher. As it happens, they are the two most often brought down off the shelves for a that very purpose. (Incidentally, they also happen to be the two containing the largest number of lines that I have thought it necessary to commit to memory - though Seamus Heaney and Wallace Stevens might run them close.)

It was whilst refreshing my association with The Budapest File that I thought it might be worth while to post on it again. (The doubt suggested by that word might is occasioned only by the fear that I might not - will not - be able to do it justice.) And whilst I am on the subject, some of you may have realised that I did post on George Szirtes (and sort of on this book)about a year ago. here I felt then, and feel more strongly now, that I did not do either him or the book full justice. Hence this, in part, recycled post.

You may know that George Szirtes was born in Hungary and that his early childhood was spent there, that he came to England as a refugee and that during the eighties he began to write about the city, from his memories of it, and of its history. The blurb on the rear of my copy proclaims that: The Budapest File is like no other book. Certainly, it is like no other book that I have ever read. We have all read - probably too much - of the world's recent tragic history, of man's inhumanity to man, of loss and destruction, vanished hopes and criminal stupidity, but to be able to convey those things in such a way that they come home to us and become part of whatever it is that constitutes our soul, is an extraordinarily rare gift. How much more extraordinary must it be then, to be able to convey that desolation in words of great beauty. The poems in this book are tragic, desolate - and hauntingly beautiful. Beyond which, I do not intend to say much more, but to leave you with a few snatches of that beauty. Please be aware, though, that the beauty - and, indeed, the gravity - of these verses is in large measure cumulative. It will not all come through from these extracts.

The second verse of Undersongs
The empire underground: the tunnelling
Begins. The earth gives up her worms and shards,
Old coins, components, ordnance, bones and glass,
Nails, muscle, hair, flesh, shrivelled bits of string,
Shoe leather, buttons, jewels, instruments
And out of these come voices, words,
stenches and scents,
And finally desire, pulled like a tooth.
It's that or constancy that leads us down
To find a history that feels like truth.
The windows cannot speak because we pass
Before them all too often but the bricks know
What they stand on. There is no town below,

It's only bits and pieces as above.

More from Undersongs
Desire again, the Undersongs. The lost
Children feel it in their sleep,
and turn uneasily to the wall through which
Symbols pass and cool their blood like ghosts.
My mother's family has passed through it,
No one remains, and she is half way through.
Her brother disappears, the glove has closed
About him somewhere and dropped him in the ditch
Among the rest. The ditch becomes a pit,
The pit a symbol, the symbol a desire,
And this desire's the thread. The tunnels creep
Under the skin, the trains with their crew
O passengers can glide through unopposed.
This from part 5 of The Courtyards
Think of an empty room with broken chairs,
a woman praying, someone looking out
and listening for someone else’s shout
of vigilance; then think of a white face
covered with white powder, bright as glass,
intently looking up the blinding stairs.

There’s someone moving on a balcony;
there’s someone running down a corridor;
there’s someone falling, falling through a door,
and someone firmly tugging at the blinds.
Now think of a small child whom no one minds
intent on his own piece of anarchy:

Think of a bottle lobbing through the air
describing a tight arc – one curious puff –
then someone running but not fast enough.
There’s always someone to consider, one
you have not thought of, one who lies alone
or hangs, debagged, in one more public square.
From The Photographer in Winter
Your camera is waiting in its case.
What seems and is has never been less certain -
The room is fine, but there beyond the curtain
The world can alter shape. You watch and listen.
The mirror in the corner seems to glisten
With the image of a crystalline white face
As I said above, these snatches convey but a pale flavour. Context changes things. Poems in the collection to which they belong often blossom beyond themselves and mean more than when read in isolation. That is certainly true of the poems in this book.

Haiku #18

Earth continues to heat up
while delegates talk on
and cool towards each other.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Haiku #17

My snow pile thaws
slowly turning man-shaped -
neighbours mutter: Second Childhood!

Saturday 16 January 2010

Haiku #16

Thinking of Haiti - and the news that at least one politician on the extreme right has advised people not to give...

A great many images
One catastrophe
Diverse reactions

Friday 15 January 2010

Haiku #15

screams from fox at fluffy cat
cat strolls sedately on
oblivious - stone deaf

Thursday 14 January 2010

a matter of some concern

School camp. A fort. Napoleonic,
the moat now wooded. Tents:
ridge type, set on concrete bases.

Tapes at either end to tie at night.
One eight year-old, a Filipino,
makes the job his own.

Each night, a story as he ties the bow.
The tapes are lovers. Deftly weaves
them round and under each

the other as they overcome
the many obstacles to love.
The bow in its completion

signifies their marriage:
intricate and perfect; sealed in heaven.
One night another hand, outside the tent,

has tied the tapes - and later on
unties them as a voice asks who
would like to go with him

to see the badgers. Silence.
The police are told, but will
not come... He's miles away

by now. Still, if he does return,
hold on to him and let us know,
we'll be along sir, rest assured.

Haiku #14

Chekov: Medicine my wife
Literature my mistress
No doubt who lived the longer.

Born 150 years ago on the 29th

Wednesday 13 January 2010

The "Haiku" - As I see it

The Haiku of my title is, of course, my regular Haiku. I partly sketched out my thoughts concerning my not-quite-daily, not-quite-Haiku (NQD NQH) when I launched myself, rather intrepidly as I thought at the time, upon this project. Nonetheless, I have had some correspondence about what is and what is not a Haiku. So here goes, not definitively, but to the best of my ability. There is some confusion about the Haiku, some of which I share. What follows is, as the title says, the way I see it. Nothing more and nothing less than that.

  • Writing in English, there is nothing to be gained and much to be lost by sticking rigidly to the 5-7-5 format. Japanese is a syllable-based language and English a stressed-based one. The Japanese on (sound unit) does not relate well to the English syllable - or so I am told on good authority!
  • A true Haiku has a kigo word somewhere - a reference to the season or an atmosphere. It (the haiku) is seen as an image, a snapshot of a fleeting moment experienced in the natural world. It should appeal to the senses. Verbs should be kept to an absolute minimum - or excluded altogether.
  • A true haiku relates to some sort of epiphany.
  • The Japanese versions make great use of puns.
  • A haiku which does not contain a kigo word or phrase and which has as its subject some aspect of human rather than physical nature is not a haiku at all, but a Senryu - which is what most of my NQHs are! However I have used - and will use - the term Haiku, on the grounds that most will know the term, whereas senryu will mean nothing or very little to most - or so I imagine, though I may be doing a lot of people a grave injustice by writing that.
  • Interestingly, the term Haiku is a contraction of haikai no rengu. Literally: Not a serious poem
The Haiku of my title
needs quote marks for restraint
of an obvious imposter.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Haiku #13

Neanderthal man
knowing he was worth it
adorned himself with jewels.

Monday 11 January 2010

Haiku 12

(some farts can be excused...)

Methane-producing cows
gain green credentials -
a carbon sink a pasture is.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Birdsong on the Seabed

Everybody knows not to judge a book by its cover, but what about by its title? I've never done it before, and it's highly probable that I'll never do it again, but I must confess that I put this book on my wish list knowing nothing about it but its title. I reasoned - in that strange way of mine - that anyone who could come up with a title like Birdsong on the Seabed had to be a poet of the first order. I am, of course, aware of the faults in that particular piece of non-logic, but fortune favours the brave or maybe he who hesitates is lost or even fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Something like that, anyway. Faint heart perhaps, for I did then do a bit of research (after putting it on my wish list) to discover that the title was in fact that of the title poem to Elena Shvarts's first collection. Since when there have been other collections whose poems have been graced with titles no less alluring: Solo on a White-Hot Trumpet, for example. The Circulation of Time in the Body being another. And what about: Memory's Sideways Glance?

There is a reason for these titles - well, there had to be, didn't there? They are not just eye-catchers. Shvarts is a visionary. Her titles are what her poems are, and often what they are is ecstatic. I see parallels in her work with that of William Blake, perhaps the main difference being that in hers the ecstasy predominates. Sasha Dugdale, the translator puts it this way in her useful and insightful introduction: In many of her poems the lyrical persona is in the grip of a spiritual vision: the writing is tense, racing, elliptical and maintains the super-observant detachment of the fevered mind. That will no doubt commend it to some, and just as surely deter others. Let me give an example, lest I encourage and deter the wrong ones!
Better to shed all flesh
And enter the dandelion
And with a simple breath
Be scattered far and wide.
Shvarts is a myth-maker extraordinaire. Religious myths, though the religion has more to do with poetic faiths than with organised or established ones. Another aspect in which she is, to my mind, very Blake-like.

We see this clearly in a poem like The Circulation of Time in the Body. It is a short poem, but typical of Shvarts being most extremely her true self. Here is the final verse.
And her forehead is a garden before dawn -
Look - dawn is breaking, the sun must rise.
But the back of her head is purple evening
And midnight is crawling up her spine.

Perhaps the main point which Dugdale seeks to establish is that Shvarts is a St Petersburg poet. The importance of this fact is that it refers to far more than the accident which is the geography of one's birth and childhood. The reference is really to the fact that Shvarts is steeped in the history, the traditions and the myths of St Petersburg. A granite city established by Peter the Great, it is, Dugdale points out, a symbol for man's uneasy relationship with natural forces. Primarily there is the River Neva forever threatening to flood and to overwhelm the city. Shvarts uses it to represent violence, even death. Then there are the marshes insisting down the years on their right to a regular supply of victims. For Shvarts, Dugdale points out, the river represents the struggle of order against chaos, light against darkness, reason against madness, civilisation against sheer brutishness. And in this she is representing nothing new to the world. She is following in the footsteps of those giants of St Petersburg: Pushkin, Gogol, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Dostoyevsky and others.

What Shvarts does wonderfully well is exemplified in the title poem: she conveys an ecstatic vision of the poet's true calling. I was going to write that it is a very un-English vision, but realised that I meant a very un-Western one, so I am resigned to the fact that it may not appeal to all - though my wish would be that this particular snippet of birdsong manages to break out of the narrow confines that poetry sometimes gets itself into. It deserves to have a very wide appeal indeed.Birdsong on the Seabed is an image of a poet-bird singing of the wonders of the land above to the dull witted and cold-blooded life of the seabed. They, however, do not wish to know. Like many others in the book it is a miraculous, almost fairytale poem:

Whirlpools softly spinning,
Oh, give in to the sea,
To the moon, the water, the grief
Circling, I am falling
To the algae-blanketed seam
The muffled war-like ring
Of bells draped in weed.

Bird slides under the waves
Bends them by force of its wings.
The poem's final four lines ask the question that every poet, every artist, must ask at sometime, even though he only ask himself:
Is it worth singing where no one can hear
Unrolling trills on the bed?
I am waiting for you, I lean from the boat -
Bird, ascend to the depths.

Haiku # 11

A foot of snow
people panic buying.
Where now the Dunkirk spirit?

Saturday 9 January 2010

Haiku # 10

Joys like those of sex are known
- if no less fleetingly -
by those involved in art.

Friday 8 January 2010

Haiku # 9

As with death snow levels all -
garden and neglected plot
so wildly contrasted in June

Thursday 7 January 2010

Haiku # 8

Ancient law invoked:

disturbing the peace of the dead -

for spitting on his mother's corpse

The Door

I don't know what to think about this one. In fact, I don't think I feel anything, so I shall not mind what you say about it! You have carte blanche!

In every aspect nature welcomes me,
the door is opened, lights turned down,
the music on. She flirts with me,
she dances lightly dressed, lays sweetmeats
at my feet and fills my eyes with visions
of great beauty, such that artists cannot
in their wildest dreams aspire to emulate.

In every aspect nature welcomes me -
save one. One door there is that leads into
a garden (so the gossip is), a studded door
that is forever locked to me. She will not open it,
nor talk of what it is that lies beyond.
Some giants have passed that way and not returned.
What could lie outside, but the very mind of God?

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Haiku #7

Astronomers find planet

"light" as polystyrene -

but of academic weight.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Haiku #6

Image from the Wrenbury Village Website

Faith is hanging on
to what you once believed:
ever colder - global warming!

Monday 4 January 2010

Haiku #5

Airport body scanners
flout civil liberties -
of Barbie doll dead ringers

Sunday 3 January 2010

Last Lines

A play to get his teeth into, he liked,
and films that went somewhere and took you with
them. But towards the end, we sensed a change:
the sort of film that had been favourite,
the type of play that once excited him,
became not up to much - beyond which, words
would fail him (reason being, that the words
were porky pies, the problem not so much
with play or lines as with his fading sight -
and concentration). Now and then he'd spark
the old way, when a film would grab him un-
awares and make him sit bolt upright in
his chair - would galvanise him, if you like.
But even that seemed not the same to us.
The mind that had been sharp and critical
would comment like a child at pantomime:
Oh, look at that... she's thinking that he's got
the papers in his pocket!
Sometimes, though,
he'd take the stage, become a presence there,
involved; a mentor to the stars: Check out
the bedroom, pal!
So very different
from how he'd been before - an audience
of one, but one who would appreciate
the world-within-a-world created there.

What did come as a shock was our last time
together watching some slow-moving film,
a deadly melodrama which I can
not summon-up beyond his summing-up:
They could have cut that scene beside lake,
do you not think? It took us nowhere, told
us nothing. And that ending... nothing there...
too weak by far, an anti-climax, that!

I asked what sort of ending he'd have liked.
I'd rather not have had one, if I speak
the truth. I don't like endings much these days,
I'd rather write my own - not write them down,
you know, just dot them roughly in my head

I thought him disappointed at the end.
He had been calm all through, but his last lines,
though spoken like the trooper that he was,
must have been dotted in his head in much
(too much) confusion. And confusion led
to fear, the thing he'd feared most from the start.

Haiku #4

Apophenia : a search
for meaning in  the disparate.
Theories of Everything?

Saturday 2 January 2010

Haiku #3

Sauna soberly,
the Russians are advised -
who die too often in the tub.

+ local news

The cat this morning
examining the snow
as something unexpected.

Friday 1 January 2010

Haiku #2

By common  consent
the earth is warming.
Why not all its people?

(for explanation, see yesterday)