Site Meter

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, Bamako

I am ‘it’. George Szirtes has tagged me and asks me to name seven songs I’m listening to at the moment and give reasons why. Assuming that ‘Dido’s Lament’ from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, which I’m listening to as I type this, doesn’t count as a mere song, I am forced to inflict some of my less high-minded listening tastes on you.

Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola, ‘Bean Pháidín’, from An Raicín Alainn.

I was a contemporary of this woman’s at some institution of tertiary education or other I used to attend. She is a sean-nós singer from Inis Oírr, and I was reminded of her recently when I discovered that the man I was having an increasingly desperate conversation with in the Irish-language bookshop in Bray (I’m talking about the state of my Irish here) was her brother, Macdara. Planxty fans will know Dónal Lunny’s throaty version of this song from The Well Below the Valley, though I notice Lasairfhíona’s lyrics are slightly different. Thankfully they still have the bit about breaking the other woman’s legs. Always a useful skill to have. And go on, try pronouncing her name. You know you want to.

Oumou Sangaré, ‘Denw’, from Worotan.

This woman has had a car named after her in China, I believe. She is also currently touring the UK but doesn’t seem to be coming to Hull. I wonder why.

Super Rail Band, ‘Mansa’, from the album of the same name.

I think this is my single favourite piece of Afro-pop. The Super Rail Band, or more formally the Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, Bamako, are easily the best group named after a railway line in West Africa, ever.

Staff Benda Bilili, ‘Je t’aime’, from Très Très Fort.

This is the group of paraplegic street musicians from Congo I mentioned on here a while back. The song appears to be a version, on some obscure level, of James Brown’s ‘Sex Machine’.

Bob Dylan, ‘Shake Shake Mama’, from Together Through Life.

Much as it pains me to confess that I listen to anything at all in English, I think this is one of two outstanding tracks on the new Dylan album, the other being ‘I Feel A Change Comin’ On’. It’s true, as Alexis Petridis was pointing out in The Guardian, that not a few sufferers from Dylan Derangement Syndrome lose possession of their faculties when Dylan does anything, just anything, but it’s not a bad album. And this is a great track.

Bray Vista, ‘This Time is the First Time’, from Let It Ride.

My brother is in a country rock band this is from their new album. Dig it.

Mayra Andrade, ‘Dimokransa’, from Navega.

The youtube clip up above. This is slightly older. Mayra Andrade is from Cape Verde, and sings in a creole language with Portuguese elements that is very easy on the ear. Youtube clips of her are also (sorry, bro) slightly easier on the eye than any amount clips of my brother playing keyboards for Bray Vista, it has to be said.

The one part of this tagging I can’t really handle is asking seven other people to join in and give their own play-lists, for the simple reason that I don’t actually know seven people. But nevertheless, as custom dictates, I hereby tag the authors of Deconstructive Wasteland, Stonechat, War Poets, Isola di Rifiuti, Cuckoo Spell, Lightbox and Bibliophilic Blogger. (Maybe if I don’t tell them they won’t notice.)

Justin Quinn, The Months

Typeface matters. I could publish a pizza menu in Jannon Text Moderne and still manage a modicum of plausibility, whereas a proof of Fermat’s last theorem in Courier would surely have mathematicians averting their gaze in disgust.

Justin Quinn’s The Months is in Jannon Text Moderne and comprises twelve sonnets by way of a tilly, or thirteen poems, since we get one of them twice, in Petr Borkovec’s Czech (‘Lido di Dante v listopadu’) and then Justin’s English:

Milence už ty nevystřídáš
v lodičkách nebo bez nich – i kdyby sis nohy
uběhal po pinetě. Křida

pěšinek, mokrá, beze stop, i kmeny změkly,
ty, o něž – na očich všem – opíral sis bohy.
Je po hře. Ještěrky se rozutekly.

You won’t swap lovers round here any more –
in high heels or without – not in these woods,
not if you searched until your legs were sore.

The footprints gone. The trunks are wet and soft
against which - openly – you laid those gods.
The show is over. The lizards have slid off.


Long-time Quinnophiles will notice two old poems, nos. 1 and 4, the second of which (from The ‘O’o’a’a’ Bird) originally masqueraded under the title ‘Masturbation Sonnet with Viburnum Blossom’.

The poet begins with a walk to an island, a child on his shoulders:

I skate and veer
out to the small island,
saddled on my shoulders

riding the troughs and rollers
is a child, tiny and silent,
carried over from last year.


Two Goyaesque churls knock the bejaysus out of each other in no. 2, until ‘After an hour or so the fighting ends /and they shake hands like colleagues or old friends.’

What makes Justin’s sonnets so rewarding, among other things, is their kinetic quality. The variation between run-on and end-stopped lines, the quality of the rhymes, the eye for a reversed foot (that sounds like one of the nastier ordinances from Leviticus, doesn’t it, reserved for eaters of shellfish or women who menstruate on a Tuesday), sorry, the eye for a reversed foot at just the right moment: these he does incomparably well.

No. 3 is a song of ‘hardly’ exile: ‘And in the dark, at home and hardly exiled, /I sing in Englished Irish to my child.’

I could go on, but am reminded of the joke about Rudolf Hess in Spandau, losing a leg, then the other leg, then an arm etc., until a camp guard works it out: he’s trying to escape! I’d only end up quoting the whole thing, in other words.

The Edward Thomas connection is pass-remarkable, as the poet wanders the Bohemian hills and goes a-gathering simples for the dinner table (he is an excellent cook). The closing image is one of overflowing Horatian plenitude:

Outside the trees and mountains disappear
in darkness. I place the stew on the table.
This is a good way to end the year.


There is a beautiful cover illustration by Tereza Límanová. I wonder if the black disk is meant to be the sun or moon. Or possibly both.

Scarcely anyone I know has done more, or better, in poetry and prose in the last fifteen years, and here is more again. This is certainly not more than enough, because there’s always some more just down the line, but it’s also certainly plenty.

Image shows St Cyril taking time off from the invention of the Glagolithic script to conduct an inter-faith initiative with a Bogomil or some other local heathen, in St Nicholas’ Church in sublime Malá Strana.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


-His lethargic display of apathy and lack of industry is shameful!

-It is a legitimate response to the harsh and inconsequential nature of being. I celebrate his tenacity!

-The air is crisp, like fresh spring leaves.

-Do you know the time in Zurich?

-It is you! no one believed you would survive.

-We have little time, you must get these microfiche of the sub plans to Moscow


Rolcats are Soviet-flavoured lolcats. Thanks to Philip for the tip-off. Brilliance of second caption makes amends for low-resolution image, I think.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Kiribati, Poet Laureate Of

In 1996, a British student, Daniel Wilson, wrote to the government of Kiribati applying for the post of poet laureate. Although they had never had a poet laureate previously, they offered him the position. However, when he arrived, the islanders did not like the publicity he brought and he had to leave.

(from the Guardian)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Once Bittern

The above photo, not taken by me and found here, shows a bittern in flight, and is just one of the many I have been examining this morning to confirm that I did, in fact, see a bittern overhead yesterday along the Pocklington canal, near Bielby. It had the same body size and shape, the tucked-in U-bend neck, the lighter colouring on its undercarriage, the same everything. This leaves only the small matter of the corncrake, I suppose, on my wish-list before I ascend miraculously into birders’ Nirvana. Anyone owed money by me is thus advised to make contact before I next set foot in the Outer Hebrides or Inishbofin. O bittern:

A bhonnán bhuí, is é mo léan do luí,
Is do chnámha sínte tar éis do ghrinn,
Is chan easba bidh ach díobháil dí
a d'fhág i do luí thú ar chúl do chinn.
Is measa liom féin ná scrios na Traoi
Tú bheith i do luí ar leaca lom',
Is nach ndearna tú díth ná dolaidh sa tír,
Is nárbh fhearra leat fíon ná uisce poll.

The Death of J.G. Ballard Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Song of Lunch

Mutt: Have you been reading those scripts?

Jeff: Pfft.

Mutt: Anything of... note?

Jeff: Those scripts. Ah yes.

Mutt: I saw this laughable howler. No wait, I’ve forgotten it.

Jeff: Don’t think much of these tortellini.

And they call that lunch.

[Jeff tilts forwards gently into his plate and goes to sleep.]

Alas, with dining companions like me feeding him lines these days, I fear Christopher Reid’s The Song of Lunch Redux: The Staff House Days may be a long time coming, longer even than an attractive choice of vegetarian options on the staff house menu. (I tell a lie. The quorn bake is passable.) But as for The Song of Lunch itself, just out from CB Editions, well, let me tell you. It’s a fantastic book. Christopher recently published A Scattering, a book of elegies, with Areté Editions, a volume for which I don’t yet possess an adequate critical vocabulary, and by following it up so soon with The Song of Lunch reminds the world, again, of the lamentable absence of a Selected never mind a Collected Reid (yes I know there was a Stateside Selected, but that was ages ago now).

Literary status anxiety and failure. A boozy lunch with an ex, now married to a successful novelist, in a so-so Italian restaurant in Soho. Wrily lecherous glances at the waitress. Unpromising stuff, isn’t it. I mean, name the contemporary poets who’ve written well about the literary world, its pettinesses and bêtises. Not too many Seamus Heaney poems about the tedium and fakery of book launches, literary croneydom, and academic log-rolling, are there (if only there were). And saeva indignatio has hardly been Christopher’s key-signature over the years, has it. Yet The Song of Lunch pulls it off – humane but scathing, grotesque but believable, its protagonist laughable but no more (no less) so than you or I:

It’s an ordinary day
in a publishing house
of ill repute.
Another moronic manuscript
comes crashing down the chute
to be turned into art.
This morning it was Wayne Wanker’s
latest dog’s dinner
of sex, teenage philosophy
and writing-course prose.
Abracadabra, kick it up the arse –
and out it goes
to be Book of the Week
or some other bollocks.
What a fraud. What a farce.
And tomorrow: who knows
which of our geniuses
will escape from the zoo
and head straight for us
with a new masterpiece
lifeless in his jaws.

Waiting for a waiter. Dramas of the bread stick, a penile peppermill, the love affair of wine and tongue. A marvellous ripple of Ulyssean stream of consciousness:

Tippling, however

He lifts, tilts, gulps.

I take it you’re

Refills own. Not a lot left.

Antidote to all life’s ills!

Another gulp.

Are there so many?

Ha! Funny!

I wasn’t trying to be

I suppose, in number, not many

That’s reassuring.

Just one big

Then, master of ceremonies:

Drink to me only!


Seems to help.

Our poet has published one book, many years since, which received ‘One shitty review in the TLS – /The poetry, we assume, /Is in the self-pity.’ I think of Krapp’s ‘Seventeen copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries beyond the seas.’ Why do readers of that play assume that Krapp is merely a failed writer? Maybe the book is question is fantastic, and maybe that TLS reviewer was wrong too. (Most critics are failed artists, someone suggested to Eliot: so are most artists, he replied.) There is real pathos and humanity in our poet’s predicament, not just cheap laughs at a washed-up old fraud.

Not that the question is left as open as all that. There is the small matter of the ex’s verdict on the slim volume. It is devastating. P. 59. I will forebear from quoting it. Read it yourself. I hereby proclaim The Song of Lunch an instant classic. This is Christopher Reid’s Krapp’s Last Tape.

I also feel duty-bound to point out to Christopher that the waiter in that Italian place we go to on Newland Avenue, La Perla, is, like the waiter at Zanzotti’s, called Massimo. The Italian guy, not the Bosnian, obviously.

Right, who’s for lunch?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Girl on the No. 13 Bus

I’m very grateful to An Sionnach for publishing a group of my poems, in particular a five-page sprawler about County Wicklow: magazine details here. Here’s one of the group. This poem is an unprincipled mugging of a French original by Max Jacob, I might mention.

O majorette, flexible friend,
leggy lass, o legs without end!
legging it at half past nine
for the bus from Orchard Park to town.
Don’t you miss out girl, I ask you,
on the ride now pulling out of Tesco.
Your swelling heart does karaoke
to its own beats for getting lucky,
and off you speed into the night
that pulses to the Humber’s tide;
and though I’m not about to wallow
I’ve longed too long already, willow.
People of Drypool, Drypool folk!
promise me someone gives a fuck.
Bus-stop queues, go whistle Dixie,
wait for the next one or get a taxi.
When next you see her flick her mane
she’ll have crossed the finishing line
with the yellow jersey on her chest
to join the boy that she loves best,
her toyboy and our bouncing kid.
She may live here but she comes from Brid.
This girl don’t go off on one neither.
Look at those lips. That’s why I bother.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

'An Actual Survey of the County of Wicklow'

The fairies came by theodolite. Shone
from peak to peak the sappers’ lanterns
seemed a door ajar on the furnaces
of faeryland. The people did not want maps.
To hill farmers the Ordnance Survey meant
the land agent and rent, a quill pen
scratching menacingly at what was once
‘unprofitable bogge and mountain’.

Gaelic Wicklow had no use for cartography,
last county to be incorporated
and most vexatious and warlike of territories.
Conquest brought no campaign maps; Petty’s
survey skirts over unforfeited land.
‘3 counties meet here’, Jacob Nevill
writes of Dublin and Kildare not once
but thrice in 1760, defying all

possibility. In far west Wicklow
the Dean of Christchurch decreed his estate
to lie in Dublin and so the map reads,
a cartouche of cherubs looking on
approvingly, but there is no colour
or relief to be had: where the mountains
loom, the scab-covered head screams
from its great jaw into Carlow.

Here though at least are Roundwood
and Blessington before their manmade lakes,
but the great oak forests are disappearing
or already gone: to be found, or where
they would have been, only in Ptolemy;
his Wicklow misshapen, its place names
and people a wilderness of conjecture,
drawn unseen, but drawn, rendered, mapped.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Papa Was Breaking Stones on Prince William's Seat

The stones, the flat stones, and the skyward arrows to drive you on. For up read sideways, evidently, into the scar, the brushland, the conifers razed and removed, all but one, that gives you the finger. The hillside lets out it belly, fold after fold of it, and you walk the line between valleys, the long apron of Glencree and, past the lead mine and pine forest, the shimmering chaos of Dublin below and the spilt crumbs of its islands. Is it, is it, the esker (est-ce que?) asks and vanishes over the ridge again and again. Thrash in its wake through the calf-high gorse and startle the kite that lifts rustily over the lamb-skull and spine. The swallow hole will, if not swallow, nibble an ankle, bog water gathering under your feet. Can you see us from the car park yet? Still south I went and west and south again, sinking as I went. The huge stones, how did they get there, elsewhere there are railway sleepers, airlifted maybe, unless there are chain gangs, swinging a feeble hammer while the splay-legged deer career down the hillside, leaving me, stuck fast and sunk, and the April sun, fitful and weak, on the stones, the flat stones, Papa was breaking stones on Prince William’s Seat.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Shamelessly Repeated Michael Donaghy Anec(yawn)dote

I am in Ireland, dossing around, and will resume posting properly on Monday. In the meantime though, further thoughts on Micheal Donaghy, who would appear to be going through an Elvis impersonator phase in the above picture.