Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Life poem

The furious blankness of my life;
The furious blankness of my life.

The eloquent fulness of my life;
The eloquent fulness of my life.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008


SF, that sort based on technological advance, is a marvellous thing, but such advances are all ineluctably functions of wealth. Poverty is immmiscible with them. People are rich, today, in myriad exotic and futuristic ways; but people are poor today as people have always been. They starve, and sicken, and die young. SF is very bad at representing this massive constant of human existence.

Monday, 29 December 2008


To my delight I discover that the word, peptides is from the Greek πεπτίδια which means little snacks. There’s something I never knew before. Means nuts, crisps, olives stuffed with little shards of sundried tomato. Peptides means scoobisnacks

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Wordsworth's Milton

MILTON! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Fen is the key, here: or more specifically, the Fens, Cromwell's birthplace. Wordsworth is inflecting his 1802 contemporary world via Commonwealth England, such that each illuminate the other. Coeval with Milton's sublimity is Cromwell's political occlusion, violence and selfishness ('we are selfish men'). Wordsworth begs Milton to raise us up; Cromwell, famously, knew that 'no one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going.'

And where is this poem going? It follows a very curious and roundabout trajectory, almost as if denying the implied Milton stream-line straight to the sea it purports to valorize; as if formally mimicking the Cromwellian stagnant fen watersit purports to deprecate. The motion is something like: Milton, I wish you were alive right now. England in 1802 has stagnated. The church, the army and the world of literature ('altar, sword, and pen,) not to mention the domestic arrangements of the better-off ('Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower') have lost their 'ancient English' happiness.

OK. But isn't that a weird quartet? Church, Army, Literary world and Stately Homes. The third term is justified, I suppose, by the fact of Wordsworth and Milton both being poets; but the fourth is not by Wordsworth himself being fairly well-to-do. More, neither the 'Church' nor the New Model Army of Milton (and Cromwell) is hardly in either case the 'ancient English' iteration.
The octet concludes with the confession of selfishness, and the request that Milton give us the altitude of 'manners, virtue, freedom, power': another very odd quartet, a set of values that seems to go out of its way not to map onto the previous set of conceptual locations. But perhaps that mismatch is the point; a subtle dislocation. Because the sestet that follows has nothing to do with the octet, replacing a call for direct action with a rather diffuse peroration to Milton's starriness. 'Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart' articulates muddle: it is unfortunately ambiguous between 'you, Milton, dwelt apart from humanity' ... in which case why call on him, as the octet does, to engage and improve humanity? ... and 'your soul dwelt apart from you, Milton' which would imply schizophrenia. 'Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea' is more interesting, implying as it seems to that Milton lies beyond (a sort of Lacanian Real) the tortuous, fen-blocked river-line of poetry; as a wished for direction. But the last triplet, linked with a wholly illogical 'so', rams a completely other Milton, tramping 'life's common way' and happily stooping to 'the lowliest duties.' It doesn't match the lofty and removed Milton of earlier. Plus, calling a man so eikonoklasteically associated with the regicide 'majestic' just looks clumsy, even crass.

The complex and suggestively dislocated awkwardness here can be mistaken, if you screw up your eyes and don't look too closely, for a simpler, more banal poem: 'Milton was lofty but did not lack the common touch; his poetry, and his model, should inspire the compacent stagnation of contemporary England'. But I don't think that's what's going on in this sonnet. A better way of reading its tangles is to see it as a specific riff upon a specific sonnet of Miltonic starry-uplifting praise:

Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud,
Not of war only, but detractions rude,
Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,
To peace and truth thy glorious way has ploughed
And on the neck of crowned fortune proud
Has reared God’s trophies, and his work pursued,
While Darwen stream with blood of Scots imbrued,
And Dunbar field resounds thy praises loud,
And Worcester’s laureate wreath. Yet much remains
To conquer still; peace hath her victories
No less renowned than war: new foes arise,
Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains:
Help us to save free conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves whose gospel is their maw.

This is a poem that forces through obstacles (Cromwell ploughing resistless through clouds and detractions); a poem whose stream flows uninterruptedly on, although soaked red with Scottish blood. A poem that knows that the end of war is no reason to stop making war. In the face of such sublimely brutal directness, with its slipstream of human blood and misery, which poet in all conscience would not want to artculate a more circumspect, checked-and-balanced fenny poem?

Saturday, 27 December 2008


It approaches a definition of cynicism to object to Tagore's famous line about Truth coming as conqueror only to those who have lost the art of receiving it as friend. It is, nevertheless, hard to fight the sense that Truth does not come to us at all, either to embrace or to annex; that we have to make our way to the Truth, and the way is harder than many can bear.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Liberty, power

According to Hazlitt, 'The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.' [Political Essays, 1819] There's a truth in this. But of course, the opposite can also be agued: some people may genuinely love liberty primarily in order to disencumber themselves of the oppressive attention of others; and some people may genuinely love power for the good the powerful person can work in the world. In fact, I wonder whether these aren't now the main valences of 'liberty' and 'power' in the post-Romantic age ... perhaps the ideological effort ought to be made to return us to Hazlittian understandings of these two crucial terms.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Grand Old Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens

Listening to this, I was struck that Dave Swarbick actually sings: 'Last night I saw the old moon clear/with the new moon in her hair.' It struck me because the more usual lines are:

'I saw the new moon late yestreen
Wi' the auld moon in her arm;
And if we gang to sea, master,
I fear we'll come to harm.'

This is what Coleridge quotes at the beginning of 'Dejection, an Ode':

Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon
With the old Moon in her arms;
And I fear, I fear my Master dear!
We shall have a deadly storm.

That's Coleridge, I think, quoting from memory and 'improving' upon the original; for although there are various versions of the original poem there aren't any, I think, quite a leaden as this. But the question is: were Fairport quoting some alternate original version, or did they just make it up?

But 'the new moon in the old moon's arms': Wikipedia has an entry on the phrase that takes us to the earthshine. It doesn't make sense, though: a new moon is (to quote the Great Infallible again) 'when the Moon is not visible to the naked eye.' To speak of seeing a new moon would be like speaking of seeing an invisible man. But why 'in her hair'? In what sense? Possible meanings: the old English for a February moon is 'wolf moon'. 'Hair' (as the OED points out) is used astronomically of the rays of the sun, of comets' tails etc ('yet shall the aged sun shed forth his hair', Marlowe and Nashe's Dido, 1594). This latter makes more sense to me: moonshine, in the sense of lunar crepuscular rays, are a function of atmospheric interference in observation, and more likely to happen when the air is disturbed, as before a storm. The same cannot be said of earthlight.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


Wisdom from the screenplay of Thin Red Line:
Witt: Do you ever feel lonely?
Welsh: Only around people.
Of course it is otherness that provokes loneliness: it is the presence of other people (for example, people who don't know us or care about us) or the thought of other people -- these are what make us feel lonely. Loneliness is dissolved equally well by being surrounded by people who care about us; or by a perfection of solitude.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008


Oliver Cromwell's signature, of course. It's an interesting thing. I don't know enough about paleography to say whether his habit of writing his lower-case 'e's as epsilons (more time consuming, but perhaps more classical) was widespread; but that line through his terminal two 'l's is a regular-enough feature of 17th century handwriting. That, nevertheless, does give his name something of the look of 'Cromwitt'. Since a 'crom' (or 'cromb') is an old English word for 'hook', or 'crook' (or sometimes 'talon') that means he's signing his name with a classic Villain's monkier: Oliver Crookwit'. It's almost Dickensian.

Monday, 22 December 2008


Hugo's 'On résiste à l'invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l'invasion des idées' is wish, not actuality. In actuality the truth is the other way about: that ideas fail upon the implacable defenses of certain well-constructed concrete battlements (religion, habit, prejudice), whilst certain armies are now so well-armed they cannot be resisted.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Having to accept a small allowance

'What is the use of poets in a mean-spirited time?' asked Hölderlin, which makes me wonder whether he wasn't, to a certain extent, a big stupidhead. Höldy? Seriously? What other time for poets could there be? What use a poet in the golden age?

According to Wikipedia 'Hölderlin suffered great loneliness, and often spent his time playing the piano, drawing, reading, writing, and enjoyed travelling when he had the chance ... [he] was plagued by money worries, having to accept a small allowance from his mother.' If ever a person were justified in booming 'get a job, idiot' across the gulf of time ... having to accept the allowance? Did she put a fucking gun in his ear?

Saturday, 20 December 2008


'Stop looking for the sea and the waves' fleece pushing the caïques along', Seferis mildly rebukes us [p.101]. 'Under the sky we are the fish and the trees are the seaweed.'

This isn't quite right, and I don't think it's only pedantry to point it out. We don't (as fish do over the seabed) fly. Trees aren't (as seaweed is) massed clots of fluid pennants and ribbons, or olivegreen bubblewrap trailing flexibly in the air. Better to say 'under the sky we are the starfish and the trees are the coral'. Better in several ways.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Consolation poem

That many have suffered this ought
Perhaps to be a consolation, but
It is the opposite of consolation.

In fact it means a sort of pollution;
It means contamination of my grief
By the density of others' suffering.

The brute truth of emotional pain
Is the same truth of the physical:
Its eclipse of everything but itself,

Itself, and the person it's grounded in.
Only the well can properly empathise.
Only the dead are free from selfishness.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


I am cut in half like the moon; but like the moon I grow whole again.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


'First sight' (in love at first sight) implies a kind of hectic immediacy; but 'second sight', for some reason, has come to mean something not more but less solid and reliable: a seeing into the evanescence of the immaterial. By this logic 'third sight' would be the most attenuated and merest sight of all.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


Harold Bloom is haunted (he transfers, in a Freudian sense, that fascination onto Mormonism’s Joseph Smith) ‘by the figure of Enoch, who in ancient Jewish texts was transmogrified into the angel Metatron, sometimes called the lesser Yahweh. A giant in size, radiant with light, this patriarch-angel was renowned for his total knowledge of the secrets of God. If the distinction between God and man wavers anywhere in the Kabbalah, that wavering is most incessant in the figure of Enoch-Metatron. Enoch, who walked with God, is taken up by God and so does not die. The Kabbalists interpreted Enoch’s ascent as the restoration of the state of Adam, not Adam in the Garden but a preexistent cosmic anthropos, at once God, angel and man.' [Bloom, 'The Religion-Making Imagination of Joseph Smith', Yale Review 80 (1992), 29-30]

It can be hard to shake the sense that the (from certain perspectives) heresy of Mormonism is precisely the heresy of Babel: the notion that man and God are of equal stature. This makes it hard to follow the logic of the shift from sentence to sentence in this Bloomian passage:
Nowhere is Joseph’s genius so American as when he declares that God organized us and our world but did not create either, since we are as early and as original as he is. Emerson shrewdly anticipated David Brion Davis in finding Mormonism to be the last expression of Puritanism.
The superficial similarities (the strict daily rules, the centrality of lived faith and so on) are surely not so striking as the differences: that Puritanism is posited upon the gulf between God and man, the lighting of a flame of righteousness in the heart of men to signal the divine; whereas in Mormonism there is no gulf: man and God turn out to be the same thing. Puritanism a faith of soul besieged by body; Mormonism a faith founded upon an understanding of the immanent sacredness of the human form.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Hot Heart Poem

‘a shallow lake of silver in the darkness under the maples’ [Louise Glück]

Plenty of ways of living when your heart has heated:
Dig out some shadows, sit under the sealing trees;
Ice on your chest. Keep the sun’s touch off.

In the early months of the year, in times when the dawn is,
The exhalation of the fields rises as breath in the chill
Or steam in the sauna, water shocked by one hot stone.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


‘It’s only architecture. It’s not religion.’ [Robert Venturi] To go to Stonehenge, and watch the fancy-dress ersatz neodruids stalk from perimeter to center, is to be struck that Venturi has this exactly the wrong way about. Not that it'd be worth mocking the new druids. I daresay their part-researched, part-invented ritualism is meaningful for them; and if it won’t last then there’s no harm in it. Perhaps it seems particularly gauche to perform these invented, evanescent rites under the sightless solidity of the stones themselves; but on the other hand it’s only religion. It’s not architecture.

Saturday, 13 December 2008


Artemis, who loved to hunt in the silent woods, in the mountain’s-shadow: today she would ski. Off piste, of course. Today she would wear earrings (artem, ‘to dangle’, ‘earring’).

From Nabokov's story ‘Wingbeat’: ‘With a glint of her skis Isabel disappeared behind the bend of a snowbank, and when Kern, ashamed, of his awkward movements, overtook her in a soft hollow amid silver-frosted boughs, she wiggled her fingers in the air, stamped her skis and was off again. Kern stood for a time among the violet shadows, and suddenly felt a whiff of the familiar terror of silence. The lacework branches in the enamel-like air had the chill of a terrifying fairy tale.’

Fairy tales delight her; their chill, their ingenuity, the way they are always burgeoning with swift violence.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Lizard poem

The lizard’s Elizabethan ruff;
His bootlace tongue;
The way he throws his legs

From front-left/back-right
To front-right/back-left,
That stationary trot

As the starved sand
Made insane by the sun
Bites the soles of his feet.

All that tongue work, and nothing to say
Lizard? All that supple dancing
And no mate to impress?

You and I, lizard. You and I.

Thursday, 11 December 2008


In 1963 Norman Mailer said that “modern architecture is creating the empty landscapes of psychosis.” Strange way of putting it—to describe the conceptual landscapes of psychosis as empty! Rather the reverse. Perhaps he meant: creating the empty landscapes liable to provoke psychosis in people, but that’s a much less interesting observation, and not especially true.

But perhaps it is worth taking him at his word.

Psychosis is a kind of mental clutter; and psychotic beliefs a way of sorting or arranging the mess so as to make it less distressing, to give the impression of an assertion of self-control. Modernist architecture, the obsessive-compulsive erasure of ornament, the severity of neoclassical and later architectural lines, is, similarly, a mode of sorting or arranging the collective psychosis of an increasingly gnarly, tumorous and psychotic society.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Holy Grail

The Holy Grail opens its mouth terribly wide:
But hard to say whether it's Munch-screaming
Or laughing; whether its a baby bird craving
Its belly filled (wine! wine!), or whether
It is only yawning at its own gem-encrustration.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


'Yesterday': there's a simple correlative between the mood of the song and the cadence the melody line, or more specifically is rising or falling. The very simplicity of this, as a composer's device, enables its genuine affect.

So, the opening 'yesterday' falls away, at its end; but then recalling his former happiness ('all my troubles seemed so far away') the melody rises, to fall back down ('now they look as though they're here to stay'): down ('oh I') on the snag of his own misery but, a qualified rise ('believe') followed by a new inflection of the title subject: not the actuality of yesterday, but his belief in yesterday: the rising melody-line on the second yesterday inverts and contrasts the actuality of misery with the hopefulness entailed by belief.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Saintly, Just

One of the things that makes Saint-Just the true prototype of the twentieth-century dictator is that he would say things like: “You have to punish not only the traitors, but even those who are indifferent; you have to punish whoever is passive in the republic, and who does nothing for it.” What he intuited is that passivity is itself a kind of resistance, and in ways a more perilous one than opposition. Better to flush the passive out into activity, even contrary activity. Then at least you know where you are.

It does trouble me, actually, how sensible Saint-Just was: he did nothing by half-measures, but followed the logic of his principles to their blood-stained end. 'One does not make revolutions by halves,' he famously said. It is clearly a dangerous political and ethical policy, given the deathly places it leads, but there's a part of me that thinks: yes. If you're going to do a thing, then do it properly. This, I would say, is the residue of my Protestantism (the culture in which I was raised). Indeed, it approaches one sort of a definition of Protestantism, that it reacts against the human accomodations of Catholicism by saying: if you're going to have a relationship with God then do it properly. The problem is that this doesn't fit very well with how people actually are in the world. It's a very serious problem.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Clovis is Baptised

I could write an entire Fear and Trembling style book about this image (a painting from c.1500, apparently). This is the baptism of the legendary first king of France, Clovis I, who reined from the last decades of the 5th century until his death in 511. He converted to Christianity in the starting point for the tradition of Catholic France ruled by a Catholic monarch. This image, in other words, is a mythic point of origin. The king embraces Christianity, and sets the nation on its Catholic road: except that he embraces Christianity inside an already completed medieval Christian Cathedral. According to the logic of the image, the structures of Catholicism are already there, prefabricated; the tree already fully grown and waiting only to have the acorn symbolically and ritualistically embedded at its root. This inversion is enormously eloquent of the logic of the incarnation itself: the world made by God, this fantastically ornate structure, that is nevertheless void, waiting for the entrance of Christ thousands (no, billions) of years later: the owner-occupier and architect turning up to make his house on the spot on which his house is already completely built.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Man chewing gum

It is well-chewed by now. He catches it with his teeth, and thrusts his tongue through the middle of the lump and between, out of his mouth and into the air: tongue sheathed in a drumskin-coloured condom. After this breaks he cannot help but grin as he draws the ragged strand of it back inside his mouth. It is closer to him than his jugular vein.

Friday, 5 December 2008


Some things cannot be translated. The silence cannot be translated.

It is not a coincidence that the laureate of silence, Beckett, lived precisely between two languages.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Trinity 0.025 seconds

This is the Trinity blister, held; medusa, thumbnail, vast soapskin.
Frozen by film, waiting for the lance that lets the heated evils out, or in.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the firmament! [Doctor Faustus]

Superman, Superman and Superman!
Thinketh, he dwelleth i' the cold o' the moon!
His heart is his weak spot, the organ
upon which kryptonite has most purchase.

Superman's blood is packed with corpuscles
each blood cell is superpowerful:
undying blood, flowing faster than a train
propelled by a heartbeat pulsar-quick.

Now he sits in the lunar quiet. No need for air:
his lungs work and superwork, but not
to transfer oxygen to the superbloodstream.
His red-blood-cells aren't haemoglobin-red.

They're red as Martian weed is red, as red giants are.
His blood red-shifts as it flies streaming past us
(he has taken a kryptoknife and cut into his arm)
a snaking line of red, shallow-curled in an S.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


I'm struck that the Latin sibilus (the word behind sibilant) apparently meant both 'a hissing' and 'a whistling' ('sibilo: to hiss, to whistle'). I can see, of course, that whistling is a kind of hissing, or perhaps that hissing is a kind of whistling; but I wonder if 'whistling' carried the negative connotations of hissing (Lewis and Short: 'a contemptuous hissing, a hissing at or off') for the Romans. There's even a word (sibilatus) that apparently means 'a hissing whistling.' To my ear these two sounds register very differently: the hiss a blanket white-noise, the whistle capable of exquisite harmonic musical beauty. But perhaps this is only in my head, not in the sounds themeslves.

Monday, 1 December 2008


What can we say about what can we say about? (I know, I know: the question is really do we ever talk about anything else?)

Sunday, 30 November 2008


To speak a word is to break that word;
Speech is for keeping, our mind a keep.
The mountainside echoes the unheard,
The avalanche dangerously poised and steep.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


The mind is a cursor, the world a screen.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Larkin's sadness

Larkin's 'Money' ends:

I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
From long French windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

It Is Intensely Sad would be a pretty good title for a study of Larkin's verse.

But wait a minute Phil: you don't actually mean 'it is intensely sad'. You mean 'I am intensely sad.' That's really not the same thing, you know, Phil. That's really not that same thing at all. Don't you see the difference? The street, the church, the whole provincial town is doing just fine, thank you, and has no responsibility for you mournfulness, standing at the French windows there. Ah, but that's you and your poetry in a nutshell, Phil, isn't it.

Thursday, 27 November 2008


I've never really liked this Leonardo quotation: 'Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.' The sentiment is fine, of course (inaction is bad). But rust is not inaction; it is precisely the manifestation of the vigor of the oxidisation process; and when a clear pond goes green it is the continually active viriditas of life itself; and if we're talking about art, then frost is the ceaseless worker of myriad beauties. Better to accept that whilst action is certainly preferable to inaction, action often results in the contamination of the purity of the inactive. That's its glory.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Negative capability

Keats's 'negative capability' is an interesting phrase. Keats uses it to mean 'a capability for the negative' ... the emphasis, in other words, is on the negativity, and 'capability' means something like 'having the capacity for.' But because capability is the gerundive of 'capable', and because of the word-order, it looks the other way around; as if negative is adjectival and the emphasis is on the power or ability to generate an outcome (such that the phrase might mean, 'having only negative power or ability to generate an outcome': if God creates and the Devil only destroys, then we might say that God has positive capability and the Devil negative capability. But to say this would quite misrepresent what Keats meant ... unless the phrasing and order of the words is in part about generating this sort of ambiguity ...

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Pitchfork in Middle Earth

I used, poring over Lord of the Rings as a child, to ponder the map; and I remember being struck by the thought that the great line of mountains running north-south (the Misty Mountains) and then after that gap running west-east (the White Mountains) and culminating the the E-shaped range that defines Mordor .... I used to fancy that this was deliberately drawn to look like a broken pitch-fork: its shaft snapped (the gap of Rohan) and the middle tine of its fork broken off and lying against the left tine. I imagined that this enormous broken pitchfork had been laid across the landscape of Middle Earth as a symbolic signifier: the devil's tool, yes; and dominating the landscape, yes. But, you know. Broken.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Plural plural

I find myself thinking: but how has English managed without a plural plural? The plural of horse is horses; but a larger grouping of a dozen groups of horses would still be horses. Why not horsess? Or horsesi. Or horsesim.

That said there are, as it happens, certain words that do seem to suggest plural plurals: one agendum; several agenda; the filing cabinet was full of many different agendas. But couldn't this be rolled out across the whole language?

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Rain boat

The rain boat passes,
Over a fluid sky,

Grey and rust-coloured:
Moulding smoke

And tipping the boulders
To float off outboard.

Drizzle is thrown up by
The wash of its passage,

And the oil it drips
Slicks a skein of colours

Flotsam coloured
And mutlicoloured.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Looking back, stateside

US Presidents, as it might be: Dilbert Dyson, Rudehealth, Harry S McCatrthyism, Dwight D. Eigersanction, Scatterbrained Kennedy, Lyndon B. Tonkin, Illface Nixon, Flawed, The Giant Crater, President Laserpistol, President Cosh, Bill F. Clitman. But not until now has a President been given the dubious distinction of being known, like a Kafka hero, only by one letter. Such a denuded signifier.

Did I say US Presidents? I meant professional wrestlers. My mistake.

Friday, 21 November 2008


In her notebook, as she prepared to write Adam Bede, George Eliot copied out the following from Carlyle's Life of Cromwell: 'The quantity of sorrow he has, does it not mean withal the quantity of sympathy he has, the quantity of faculty and victory he shall yet have? Our sorrow is the inverted image of our nobleness.'

So. My consciousness revolts from the notion, I think because it seems to me to heroize the pathological (misery, I mean): 'yes, I sit in my room feeling bitterly sorry for myself instead of engaging with the world: my selfindulgence is the mirror-image of my nobleness. The more depressed I become, the nobler I reveal myself to be.' But I suppose, Cromwell notwithstanding, Carlyle is applying, logically enough, a Christian conceptual template: Christ's nobility was made perfect precisely in suffering and death; the last shall be first; only through sorrow is victory possible. How else does God reveal himself to the world except through sorrow? How could that not mean that sorrow and suffering are the purest embodiness of the divine?

There's a false step there, I think, and it's an important one. It is a mistake nevertheless to think that Christ's suffering was the medium for the revelation of his nobility. The incarnation, if it comes to that, was not about sorrow; but it was about ignobility (a carpenter's son, not a prince; hanging out with lowlives and prostitutes, not fine folk; washing people's feet and exploring the abjection of physical existence). Suffering is the mirror of our ignobility, of course; and in that is the divine.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


We do need to keep faith, but what we need most is a fidelity to what might happen next.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

What was the Trojan horse made of?

Vergil tells us:

ductores Danaum … montis equum diuina Palladis arte/aedificant, sectaque intexunt abiete costas ['The Danaan chiefs … build by Pallas’ divine art a horse of mountainous bulk, and interweave its ribs with planks of fir (abies: ‘the silver fir’)']. [Aeneid, 2:16]

But wait a minute:

... praecipue cum iam hic trabibus contextus acernis/staret equus ... ['… when yonder horse now stood framed of maple-beams (acernus) …'] [2:112]

And here again:

...roboribus textis caeloque educere iussit ... ['… this mass of interlaced oak timbers (robor) so huge …'] [2:186]

And once more:

inclusos utero Danaos et pinea furtim/laxat claustra Sinon ... ['Sinon … stealthily sets free from the barriers of pine [pineus] the Danaans shut within the womb…'] [2:258]

Of line 112, there, T E Page [The Aeneid of Vergil ed. Page (London 1902; 2 vols) 1:216-7] says: ‘In 16 Virgil talks of “planks of pine”, here of “beams of maple”, and 186 of ‘woven oak-timbers.” Sigdwick calls this “a natural poetic variation”: as a matter of fact it is a curious illustration of Virgil’s art. He prefers the particular to the general and therefore prefers to name some particular tree rather than to speak simply of wood.’

Preferring the particular to the general is all very well and good; but it's not too much to request he prefer the same particular. (Page goes on: ‘[he] is consequently led to this artificial and unnatural method of giving three different names to the same wood. The difficulty he labours under in endeavouring to lend a poetical character to his description of the horse is also shown by his using the same metaphor (intexunt, contextus, textis [‘woven’]) in all three passages.’) Also it seems to me that there's no warrant for assuming, as Page does here, that 'fir' is the same thing as 'pine'.

What we have, then, is a horse made of: silver fir [abies]; maple [acernus]; oak [robor] and pine [pineus]. Perhaps, Page's dismissal notwithstanding, Vergil's repeated use of the idiom of weaving means he wants us to think of the horse as actually made of four different types of wood, all platted together? That's not outside the kingdom of possibility, I think; although it strains credulity (for if that was what Vergil meant, then wouldn't he say something along those lines? 'Woven severally of many timbers', or something?)

Silver Fir was well-known to the Romans. It is common in northern Europe and grows as far south as southern Italy and as far easy as the Carpathians; though not in Asia Minor: so it doesn’t seem likely the Trojans would have supplies handy outside Troy to fashion their horse. (Wikipedia also says: ‘Silver Fir is the species first used as a Christman tree.’) Most of the 125 species of Maple are native to Asia, and some to Asia Minor, so that’s a more plausible wood: though it would be difficult to ‘weave’, being a particularly hard hard wood (Wikipedia: ‘it is the wood of choice for bowling pins, bowling alley lanes, pool cue shafts… [and] is also used for the production of wooden baseball bats, though less often than ash or hickory due to the tendency of maple bats to shatter when broken.’). Oak grows widely in northern Europe and north America (I can’t find out whether it grows in Asia Minor) and makes good ships and furniture. It’s an important symbolic tree: the tree of Thor, the thunder god, in Norse Mythology; and the sacred tree of Zeus in Greek (the oracle of Dodona in prehistory consisted solely of a holy oak.) Pine provides ‘timber that is denser, more resinous, and therefore more durable than spruce (Picea). Pine wood is widely used in high-value carpentry items such as furniture, window frames, paneling and floors.’

What can we make of this? Of course, perhaps it is simply carelessness on Vergil’s part. But let’s, for the fun of it, imagine otherwise: imagine that there’s a significance here. Beyond straining to fit these terms into improbable dactyllic hexameters:

Sic: Abies acernus [duri] robor[is] pineus
— u u — u u — u u — u u — —

(But shouldn’t the ‘e’ in ‘acernus’ be long, because it comes before two consonants? Or does ‘rn’ not ‘make’ position?) … as I say, beyond such pointlessness, what of the trees themselves? For trees are symbolic of supernatural forces. The fir, for example, stands for ‘Science or Knowledge’ (to quote Graves’s White Goddess: I have no intention of trying to justify the authority of this source): ‘a form of the Greek Elate (‘fir tree’); Elatos (‘fir-man’) was an early Achaean King of Cyllene … [the fir] may thus be equated with Osiris, or Adonis, or Dionysis, who was born from a fir and mothered by the horned Moon-goddess’ [98].

Oak is Zeus’s tree, of course; the largest in the forest. Of pine-trees, Graves quoted Câd Goddeu, ‘The Battle of the Trees’: ‘The pine tree in the court/Strong in battle,/By me greatly exalted/In the presence of kings’: Ares’ tree, in other words. Maple is harder to pin down, although the Latin name is derived from ‘acer’, meaning ‘sharp’ (because of the shape of the Maple’s leaves, perhaps) but also meaning ‘bitter, harsh, poisonous’. In other words, Vergil constellates his constructed horse, at Troy, as a trinity of Achaean gods: Zeus, Ares and Dionysis—signifying that the horse will bring dominion over Troy via war and frenzy—together with the bitterness the horse bodes for all Trojans.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Friedrich Schlegel in 1798 (“Ideen,” No. 6) argued that “all philosophy is idealism and there is no true realism except that of poetry.” Schelling later, in 1802's Vorlesungen über die Methode des akademischen Studiums talks about what he calls Plato's “polemic against poetic realism.” Of course, Plato might argue that his is the true realism, Schlegel's a sort of hallucinatory delusion. Few terms have as utterly fluid (pungently fluid, in the sense that all meanings dissolve in them) than 'realism'. Personally, I prefer the formulation 'all philosophy is realism and there is no true hallucinatory delusion except that of poetry'; not because I am any sort of Platonist, but simply because there's something lovely about that three-word-phrase as a definition of poetry: 'true hallucinatory delusion'.

Monday, 17 November 2008


The Golden Bow-Bow: a Study in Magic and Canine Rhetoric.
The Golden Bow Down: a Study in Abasement and Religion.
The Golden Bow: Ships Too Dense to Float.
The Golden Baa-aa-ow: Sacrificial Sheep in Ancient Magic and Religion
The Golden Beau: Beauty and Wealth.

Sunday, 16 November 2008


Fireworks repeatedly hammer their nail into the black board of night sky.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


We've been pronouncing this word incorrectly: it's not ameeba, it's amoybay. See here: 'early naturalists referred to Amoeba as the Proteus animalcule after the Greek god Proteus who could change his shape. The name "amibe" was given to it by Bory de Saint-Vincent, from the Greek amoibè (αμοιβή), meaning change.'

Friday, 14 November 2008


The river in the sunlight
Innumerable glow worms.

Clouds tumble and meld.
Blue and black stacked:

The kaleidoscope of air
The kakeidoscope of vacuum.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The earliest recovered word of English

Recovered, that is, from Gildas's De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae ('On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain'), and its account of Vortigern's reign. 'Gildas adds several small details that suggest either he or his source received at least part of the story from the Anglo-Saxons. The first is when he describes the size of the initial party of Saxons, he states that they came in three cyulis ('keels'), 'as they call ships of war'. This may be the earliest recovered word of English.'

It is of course attractive to think that English makes its first mark upon recorded and written language with the keel of a boat. But surely it's just as likely that this is not English. Perhaps, for instance, its the mark of some confusion: perhaps the Latin 'culeus' (or 'culleus') mangled through English-Roman interaction. This could either be a genuine misprision, for culeus means 'a ship without rigging' ('what's that culeus there?' 'what-d'ye-say? ciulis?'); or perhaps it is the result of some kind of joke, because Lewis and Short tell us the word also culeus means 'the scrotum ' I like this better, because it would mean the first recorded English word is 'bollocks'. And that's more authentically English than the keels of boats.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Gamma ray

That's an image of the moon's gamma-ray emissions; as beautiful, I think, for its irregular five-pointed crown (the image, perhaps, is ninety-degrees rotated) as for its white hot central face. Wikipedia informs us: 'surprisingly, the Moon is actually brighter than the quiet Sun at gamma ray wavelengths.' But this is not a surprise for those men seared by the sight of an unshielded Diana-Artemis.
If our eyes saw gamma rays rather than visible light rays night would replace day. And what would our vision reveal to us? Danger. ('Gamma rays are the most dangerous form of radiation emitted by a nuclear explosion because of the difficulty in shielding them. This is because gamma rays have the shortest wavelength of all waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, and therefore have the greatest ability to penetrate through any gap, even a subatomic one, in what might otherwise be an effective shield.') The moon cannot be kept out. The moon penetrates.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


"You're playing all the wrong notes!" "I'm playing all the right notes; although not necessarily in the right order."

Beethovian kettledrums rumble. The applause first,
Then the main show, in that order.

The pond's surface strains in a million places
To reach up and shake hands with the precipiation.

Cannons charging and discharging. Orderly
Disorderly. More 1815 than 6, actually.

Crinkled wires blankly incandescing
Rhizomes rooting clouds to sky. Traffic:

The wind the policeman and you the tramp.
Life inside that Jovian red roundabout.

Night storms day. Water storms land.
Napoleon storms Vienna. Beethoven's scowl.

Happy peasants are waiting in the wings.
They're there because the wings keep them dry.

Monday, 10 November 2008


—Skyscraper! The way I see it is, the sky reaches all the way to the ground. Or how else would we be able the breathe? So, you see, a bungalow can properly be described as a skyscraper.
—But do we breathe sky? Air, yes ... but sky?
—What else is there to breathe ... at the top of a skyscraper?

Sunday, 9 November 2008


He spoke Thesperanto, the universal idiom of actors. We might call it: showy.

Saturday, 8 November 2008


The fractured drainpipe sags like a corporal's stripe.

Water flees a blistering sky for cold and black earth.

Cold is more immanent here than time. The sound of it, the hiss, the sound.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Long Time 2

Time is not a matter of length
any more than breadth or depth.
Time takes length, breadth, depth
and moves all three, xyz, in a wholly
unprecedented direction. Like
a small brown hill being vectored upwards
by the movement of grass growing
every blade synchronised and pushing,
and turf-flowers in-amongst shifting
everything from thingness to beauty.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Long Time, 1

The waves cook the land:
the flame-roar of surge against rock;
the sizzle of sea interpenetrating shingle;
surf licking the beach's brown polenta.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Napoleon and Newton

Napoleon was called Napoleon because his Corsican roots are connected with Naples; and Naples was called Naples because when the Greeks founded it, it was a 'new town' (Νεάπολις). So it follows: when we look for an English equivalent ('Jean? Meet John!') for Napoleon, we should go to Newton (Wikipedia, here, say it's 'the most common placename in England ... a descriptive name of the relative type, implying a settlement that arose later than another, already existing or at least incorporating some kind of new feature'). In English, in other words, Napoleon is Newtonian. They even have (look!) a certain physical resemblance. Perhaps they were secretly related.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Art, life

'Make your life a work of art'. (Substitute any word you like, there, for 'life': state, sport, crime).

The opposite has its place in aesthetic theory ('make your art a work of life'); but the other two corners are surprisingly removed, ideologically speaking: from the radical gay 'lart pour l'art' of 'make your art a work of art' and the born-again-Christian 'make your life a work of life'. I do not understand why these last two have the ideological codings they do; or more specifically, since the other three are all, to one extent or another, conservative positions, why l'art pour l'art doesn't just fall into line over on the Far Right and leave other creators to create without particular references to the vivid or artificial.

'Vivid'; 'artificial'. The two words at the bottom of the New Right-Wing! poster

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Heavyweight Champion of the World

The bigger one swings his microwaveoven-sized fist.
The jaw-bell rings. Down the short slide, and boom.
And bust.
Splattering oily-fluid red in a moose-horn-shape
Across the canvas
Though hardly a blank canvas. Hardly a blank.
Hardly conscious at all.

Hard to point at the ceiling when your fingers are
Globed in leather.
Hard to do all the fiddly buckle-and-tongue tightening
Of this jewelled belt
When your hands are all spheres-and-thumbs.
Hard's the word.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Hebrew, Dutch, German, Greek

Mahendra Singh's ongoing Snark brings my attention to this Snarkly Carollian (Caroligian?) stanza:

"I said it in Hebrew — I said it in Dutch —
I said it in German and Greek:
But I wholly forgot (and it vexes me much)
That English is what you speak!"

Singh glosses: "Left alone in his splendidly impenetrable semiolinguistic Fortress of Solitude, the Baker is now free to concentrate his intellectual powers upon himself. Toying with the building-blocks of language and meaning, he will arrive at some sort of Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything in It … eventually … "


The word it in Hebrew, Dutch, German and Greek respectively is: hu het es auto. If we shift to Latin, the language of learning most obviously missing from this list (the barrus in the conclavum), we get Hu. Het. es auto; which is to say Humanorum hetaeria es auto: 'you are yourself the brotherhood of all men.' Wise Bakerly words, clearly referential of the crew of which he is a part, as are we all.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

The sheer scale of stately homes

Big: to wander through the rooms and halls of a stately home is to be struck by the scale of the architecture: ceilings twice as high as a normal house; corridors three times the length and so on. I used to think that this was a simple matter of using stone to brag: 'I am considerably wealthier than thou ... see, I can afford to build bigger.' But recently I've come to doubt this: size doesn't correlate simply to wealth (aircraft hangers; tesco; farmer's barns); indeed, increasingly it is location rather than size that connotes wealth. So I have a new theory: the point of these huge rooms is precisely to make the person inside them feel small ... which is to say, to feel like a child. It is architecture as a sort of time machine; not back through the ages but back to a happier, simpler, smaller time. Me, now, in the hall of Syon House = me, age six, in the front hall of my parents' home.

Friday, 31 October 2008


Every poet has to live through their fifteen minutes of obscurity. Fifteen minutes can be a long time in a poem; but then again ... after all unfamous doesn't mean the same thing as infamous.

Thursday, 30 October 2008


We shed tears as the snake its skin: to renew ourselves.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Keats's bright star

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

I'm not sure I'd previously clocked how puzzling this poem is: it is saying 'I want to be like that bright star' and then immediately qualifying with 'not in the sense of being in the sky and watching the world below' but in the rather specific sense of being upon his fair love's ripening breast. In what sense is any star like that? Obviously the main focus here is on the 'steadfast' nature of the star: but isn't it a lovely touch that the poet cannot even be steadfast about the consistent spelling of the word steadfast? ('steadfast' in line 1, 'stedfast' in line 9). To start out by saying: 'I wish I were like that enormously distant cold star up there, which is to say I wish I were warm and close to my lover's bosom' just looks contradictory.

I'm drawn to the rather banal interpretation that, whatever the implication of the opening lines, Keats has in mind a star-shaped necklace round Fanny B.'s neck and resting on her decolletage; or else (to become more fanciful still) that the poem is actually addressed to Fanny B.'s star-shaped nipple. That breast is properly galactic, of course; the Latin for nipple (papilla) is related to the word for butterfly (papilio), that lover's insect, softly fluttering like the woman's breast. Or then again, 'Stella' is the conventional pseudonym by which the masculine poet addresses his female lover. The poem then becomes: I wish I were like that star ... no not that star, the one in the hermitage of the sky ... but that star, that papilla that cleaves so closely to the object of my affections ...'

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


Niklas Luhmann writes with seeming common sense: 'It is not impossible but rather probable that humankind as a life form will someday disappear ... in any case, future societies, if they can continue to exist on the basis of meaningful communication, will live in another world, will be based on other perspectives amd other preferences, and will be amazed at our concerns and our hobbies.' [Observations on Modernity, 75]. Which seems fair enough; although I wonder whether one of Luhmann's central points in this book -- that our concepts of futurity are always contingent on the present society that constructs them -- doesn't unpick this rather. Say the future is radically different to the present. Who's to say that our concept of otherness itself (''...other perspectives amd other preferences...) will survive?

Monday, 27 October 2008


Oh, Prometheus means foresight, does it? But the essence of foresight is seeing what is not directly in front of (L&S define pro: before, in front of) your eyes ... in seeing the hidden recesses of futurity. Prometheus was, shall we say, rather unskilled at that: would he really have stolen that fire if he'd known the pain it would bring him? Or, put it another way: perhaps there's a kind of truth in the way posterity has given us episode one of Aeschylus's Prometheus Trilogy ('Bound') but taken away from our sight episodes two and three ('Unbound', 'Firegiver') ... as if the drama itself says 'I show you what is directly in front of your eyes; but I shall hide the future from you. That is the nature of my representation of "foresight".' In other words, what we take to be 'foresight' in ourselves is almost always the opposite: the things directly before, in front of (pro) our sight obscures what is to come. Anne Carson's 'Twelve-Minute Prometheus (after Aiskhylos)' seems to me to be saying something similar. This is how it ends:

Dolls, this is the end.
Tsunamis of fire engulf the stage, that's it for us.
Most of the audience already off to the bus.
Of course this is a trilogy, but as
plays II and III
are lost, looks like the rest of your
evening is free. [Exeunt omnes in flames]

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Mare nostrum

The middle sea will become the atmosphere, the high sea the space beyond. Our slowly shivering tectonic Earth, and its phlegmy oceans, will become the lower sea.

Clouds and contrails against an Atlas blue.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Sentiment and irony

In his poem 'The Definition of Love', Bernard O'Donoghue suggests love is not what has previously been suggested (not sex, not wishing someone else's welfare), but is rather fingers touching fingers across a linen tablecloth. The last nine lines of the poem are given over to this little narrative:

A young curate of a parish in West Cork
Was told his mother was seriously ill
And he must come home to Boherbue
(In fact she was dead already; they had meant
To soften the blow). He drove recklessly
Through mid-Kerry and crashed to his death
In the beautiful valley of Glenflesk.
This was because he fantasised in vain
About touching her fingers one last time.

Beautifully handled, this: the use of plain language and the plain measure of blank verse, the vocabulary titivated by the expressive use of Irish place names; the way the syllabic count contracts (11, 10, 9; and then again 11, 10, 9) until the punctus is reached at 'death', whereafter the lines are all regularly decasyllabic. It is properly touching poetry. More, its the kind of dramatic irony (as in Greene's Heart of the Matter) that is both surprisingly resonant and surprisingly rare in contemporary literature. Why should this be? I've been thinking about it, and I wonder if my first reaction -- that it is too sentimental for modern tastes (although 'sensibility' is not a criterion of aesthetic dispraise, in my book) -- hasn't got it the wrong way about. What I mean is I wonder now whether the definition of sentimentality isn't, as it is often taken to be, grounded in affective response; whether sentimentality isn't more radically the iteration of a certain sort of dramatic irony.

Friday, 24 October 2008


If is the same as some.

Thursday, 23 October 2008


Neal Ascherson summarises from Barry Cunliffe's Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC to AD 1000, focussing particularly on the role the 'creative imbalances' of 'the diversity of outlooks fostered by variety of landscape' has played in the development of the peninsular. I liked this bit in particular: Cunliffe 'speculates that the earliest shore dwellers had a distinct view of the world, richer than that of forest dwellers. Maritime communities were aware, thanks to tides and moon-phases, of natural rhythms other than the mere progression of seasons, and were intensely concerned with the identity and movement of stars as aids to navigation.'

There's something very appealing about this, although it also (of course) panders to a pretty deep rooted prejudice most people share: we all like to think of ourselves as shore-dwellers; we all feel that tingle in our souls as we walk along the beach. But the modern equivalent of forests are called 'cities', and that's where we -- most of us -- mostly feel at home.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Brother, sister

The imbalance in spelling and pronunciation is irritating: brother, sister. Preferable would be either, brother, sisther; or broter, sister. The development of the words (compare: frater, soror) seems caught between convergence and divergence.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Go on

So when you say 'I must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on', so, is it that the last clause, there, modifies the previous one? That you thought you couldn't go on, but that on reflection you've realised you can? Or that when you said 'I can't go on' you actually meant 'I'd rather not go on'? Perhaps the circumstances changed, such that before you couldn't go on, but now you've discovered new reservoirs of strength and have revised your former opinion?

What has this text to do with before and after, with revision, with going on. Going on is the point where it stops

Monday, 20 October 2008


A spondee-shaped scratch on the back of the finger, like a stitch in the skin.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Hook of love

Because of what I know about fishing I expect the hook in my cheek, a spiny gobstobber, hauling the right side of my face out of triue like matter tugged into the supermassive sinkdrain of a huge star. But the hook of love can attach itself to any portion of the body; it need not distort the face. More usually it catches in the ribs, like a badly handled bayonet; or pulls the cock long like raw pasta being strung; or wounds the gut.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Dalí's clock

See, if the fascia and the hands distort at the same rate, then there is no reason why this clock can't be perfectly accurate and useful as a timepiece. Gravity bends time equally for both members of this two-man-crew in the spaceship orbiting the black hole.

Friday, 17 October 2008


A slice of griffin, cut from the muscular thigh, or breast
Diced, seared, stewed in chillies
With stock, tomatoes, red peppers (of course these must be red)
Let the griffin meat be gamey; cook on a high heat
Let time and intensity soften the fibres of the meat.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


As Cicero says, our first transgression is leaving the womb; for the word transgression is formed from trans ('across') and grossus ('the pregnant female body; the thickened torso of an expectant mother').

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


Fish shiver in the sunlight in the cold stream.

Tadpoles cluster like whole notes escaped from the staves.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


The sky blushes at the intimacy of the sun's caress.

Monday, 13 October 2008


Over the railway bridge: the sun shining on the metal rails. The line diverges here, and the raised shiny bars and lines of the points look like a woodblock lying on its back, ready to be inked, turned and printed.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Atmospheric Feeling

Freud, referring to his Christian friend Oskar Pfister, talked about what he called 'the oceanic feeling'; 'a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of eternity, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded--as it were, oceanic ... one may rightly call oneself religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone' [Civilisation and its Discontents, 251-2]. He adds, perhaps mournfully, 'I cannot discover this "oceanic" feeling in myself.' John Schad (whose Queer Fish quotes this passage) thinks that there is something fishy about Freud for all that: his first scientific work was studying the nervous system of fish, 'and' (says Schad) 'in a sense he never stops studying nervous fish. For, as Freud reminds us, we are all fish of a kind.' [Schad, 71].

But surely a fish is the entity least well-placed to experience an oceanic feeling? If the ocean is your entire idiom, then the oceanic feeling is simply the feeling, and as a feeling parses the ordinary in a way incompatible with the transcendent apprehension Freud is yearning for. For a fish, the equivalent would surely be 'the atmospheric feeling' ...

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Snow poem

The cloud shook itself out in the air
a sheet immeasurably slowly shaken

and interference pattern of light and silver.
Then it stopped snowing, and the layer was

landscape dry as a lonely heart,
crisp like an aired and ironed sheet,

with only one person's shadow upon it like a
stain of ink seeping through cotton.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Eating France

I can't remember precisely when, but I was young: less than ten years old, I think. I was old enough to know that being on holiday in France with my family was estranging, because we were in a foreign country. It was a question, to me, of somehow fixing that fact, registering its strangeness, and preventing it from slipping away when I returned home. So, on the beach, and with an inchoate sense of the necessity for secrecy, I ate a little of France: unpalatable grains of beach (and the next day a little dirt from the campsite). If a man who eats a human leg is as much a cannibal as a man who eats the whole human, then I have begun the process of devouring France. It is inside me.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Embrace poem

I dock my mouth to hers.
Our hands zip fingers.
Our bodies press together

The wood pressed hard against its stock
The sheet held motionless between us,
A perfectly inked page of text.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


Do we assume that caterwauling is a sort of calling?
A sound like cats a-wailing, as etymologists say?
A clattering? A wet tarpaulin of expressive misery?
The mistake is in thinking that pain finds voice
In onompatopoeia, or rhyme, or association.
Pain has no association but itself; it dissolves all rhymes.
It is the solitary and single thing, and when we voice it
The last thing we resemble is an incommoded cat.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


Bob-cut brunette sitting at the cafe table. One stray strand of hair leaned, line an italicised l, from forehead across cheek and to the corner of her mouth, like a phone mike.

Monday, 6 October 2008


Crocodile is all a mud-encrusted tail that stands
On four newt-legs, and toothed at the fat end:
Mud layered and dried thick, and cracked
In regular tyreform along the flexing back.
Crocodile is snake set hard in bakelite
Pucked and stretched in use and scorched by light.
Crocosnake, crocoslug, crocopile,
A mad cluster of gnomons on the long sundial.

Sunday, 5 October 2008


Ah, how the futuristic bradshaw brightens my day; on this occasion by informing me that the Old English for 'to sneeze' was fnēosan -- a word preferable in every way to the present sibilent-topended term. I shall start a petition to have this splendid, expressive word returned to the common anglophone vocabulary.

It makes me think, though: I can't recall reading about any character from Old English, or Middle English literature who sneezes. I can't remember any sneezes from the Renaissance, but assume there are some (there must be a cold-afflicted miser in some Jonsonian or Middletonian comedy). Who is the first figure in English literature to sneeze, I wonder?

Saturday, 4 October 2008

The Future is Red-Shifted

If we move through the medium of time, then from our perspective the past will be blue-shifted and the future red-shifted. If we are stationary and time moves around us the effect will be the same.

Friday, 3 October 2008


Two ways: we move ourselves around (the old way); or we are moved around by others: the aristocrat carried in a sedan-chair, the rich man chauffered in his car. In this sense planes, trains and buses are the aristocratisation of the proletariate.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Alien

The Alien, having monitored a great quantity of earth televisual transmissions, had seen more nature documentaries than he could easily recall. Accordingly he had come to the conclusion that the main occupation of humanity was watchmen of wildlife--observing and monitoring the other forms of life on his planet. Wildlife just weren't interested in humanity the way humanity were interested in wildlife. In fact, unless man were about to provide food or posed a threat, wildlife wasn't interested in man at all. This seemed to the Alien to be the proper position. By comparison mankind's obsessive monitoring of wildlife seemed to the Alien creepy, a little unhinged, the actions of a communal stalker.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Train journey

I've long preferred to sit in the rear-facing seats in trains. I started doing this, I think, from a sense that it was safer in case of sudden deceleration or crash. But now that I come to think of it I'd say that it is because it is simply more joyful to watch the world scroll past you and away, swept backwards and disposed of in your view, than it is to watch it continually piling itself desperately upon yuou. This is how we move through time, after all: we see where we have been, we don't see where we are going.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Here's what wrong with this syllogism.

1: Socrates is a man.
2. All men are mortal.
3. Therefore ...

What's wrong is the movement from 2 to 3. It is not a question of deducing that Socrates is, or is not, mortal. You don't care whether Socrates is mortal. It's a question of: woah! Wait up. All men are mortal? You shit me, perhaps? I'm going to die? The problem, in other words, is that the syllogism requires that you consider, carefully, each step; and if you do that, there's really no way to get past step 2.

Monday, 29 September 2008


From a great height the skin of the ocean is clad in tiny fishscales. The sun is going down, and smoothing beautiful piscine colours from this texture.

And now, even though it is dark, we know it is pulsing its body, the tidal tail moving up, and then down. I have heard this action makes the world swim in its endlessly circling path, like a fish in a bowl in the night.

Sunday, 28 September 2008


What would it mean to drown in a poem? The weeds wrapped about our head and our lungs sodden and clogged with its sense. It might work upon us, and something rich and strange is all very well: but I've always read those lines and thought 'coral is too brittle and too irregularlu surfaced to make good bones, and swapping one's eyes for pearls sounds like a simile for complete ocular cataracts.' That's drowning, I suppose: blinding and weakening: as in the old story whenOdysseus asked the shades 'but what is it like being dead?' and they replied 'it is like being alive, only less so ...' It's a professional hazard of literature academics, I suppose: that we become so deeply immersed in our idiom that we lose sight of the clouds.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Blab! Blab! Blab!

The terrier has a secret. Wait til I tell you: the secret is [bark]
He wants to keep mum, he really he does, but he's too excited: he has to blab it--
Blab! Blab! Blab!

Friday, 26 September 2008


The crickets are invisible in amongst the grass, intermittently tugging up their various zippers.

Thursday, 25 September 2008


Think of the colour red. What shade are you picturing?

Blood. Most reds have nothing of blood about them.
Do you think an orangey colour? Poppy red. Flame red. Sunset red. Iron. Brown. Umber. Black. There's nothing orange about blood ...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


Tattouage of the soul: what ink? How to apply it?

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Inside the Arboretum

Inside the Arboretum: nozzles set into the roof intermittently release jets of vapour -- moisture for the planst below. Outside the glass, on the emery-board straight paths, yellow and set into bright green lawn, wind stirs up identical though inverted puffs of vapour -- dust, this time.

Monday, 22 September 2008


The baseball glove bunch of bananas has caught one single ball-shaped waterdrop.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Water water

The way this word begins with two back vowels, and hinges its 'oh'-'eh' vowels around that sharp central consonant ... sharp, but ambiguous (alveolar ejective? Personally I'd voice a glottal stop). Ambuguity is appropriate to this substance, of course.

William H Propp ['Water', in Metzger and Coogan (eds) The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OUP 1993), 792] points out that Syria-Palestine historically relied and relies upon ground- and rain-water for fertility: 'its people venerated storm gods, among them Yahweh, often accompanied by the tempest [Exod 14:21, 15:8-10 and many other examples] ... Water is God's gift par excellence ... which he may withold in punishment.'

This is a sense of water that is predicated primarily upon fresh water: which is to say, water is fresh and only in a secondary consideration brine. But the vast majority of water in the world is salt, with fresh as a minor variation. Noah's flood was presumably salt: a gift of god? A gift that went on giving. The gift that overwhelms and kills.

Saturday, 20 September 2008


Willem de Kooning said a very striking thing: 'I had my own eyes, but I wasn't always looking in the right direction'. This is the way in which the human situation informs the situation of the artist, the difference being that the artist is sometimes aware of the direction in which s/he's looking.

Friday, 19 September 2008

The way

The tao of the motortao. Innumerable cars. The moments of a person’s life pass more frequently here.

The motorroad. The motorpath. The motortrack.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Watching the Thames from Hungerford bridge. It looks as though the river possesses a skin; but I suppose it doesn’t really. It is a sort of optical illusion—simply the motion of the deforming, dappling plane where water ends and air begins. In other words, I watching a river in effect flayed—we’re seeing the muscles working without their layer of concealing skin.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Two line poem

Wind’s bright slow invisibility.

All the stones are rusted with sun.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


There are no strangers: there are only people I haven't yet forced into the procrustan bed of my preconceptions about how people are.

Monday, 15 September 2008


The niggle that science fiction has seeped down into the groundwater of my mind: I cannot read Johnson's 'Vanity of Human Wishes' (1749) couplet:

A frame of adamant, a soul of fire,
No dangers fright him, and no labors tire.

...without thinking of The Terminator. I challenge you to do otherwise.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Chain of command

Not easy to keep the mind focussed on serious concerns, when phrases like chain of command pop up. Binding—in case, what? Manacles of command? Handcuffs of command? Or the anchor chain, or the chain dangling from a toilet cistern, what would happen if you yanked the chain of command? Command would sluice the bowl, flush away the turds of insubordination, or disorganisation, or whatever it is command is supposedly prophylactic against.

Saturday, 13 September 2008


Minds are more malleable than metal. Reality is less flexible. You do the sums.

Friday, 12 September 2008


I'd happily go to my grave not reading as Fascist philosophy; but for reasons that are still a little opaque to me, Carl Schmitt keeps sticking his head into the Internet (here, say). Strange, that.

In Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. (translated by George Schwab: Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985), Schmitt gave voice to his dislike of liberalism: "the essence of liberalism is negotiation, a cautious half measure, in the hope that the definitive dispute, the decisive bloody battle, can be transformed into a parliamentary debate and permit the decision to be suspended forever in an everlasting discussion." It seems egregious to point it out, but there's a misunderstanding here. The half-measure is actually the valorising the purging, decisive violence of interpersonal conflict (very fascist, that): a half-measure because it exists halfway in myth ... a 'natural seeming' myth, the popularity of which informs (say) most Hollywood cinema: that violence directed against the Other solves problems. But liberalism is also predicated upon a decisive act of purging violence: the violent restraint of self, a trickier battle and a more important victory, but necessary to mediate civilisation and its discontents. Internalised, of course, but its a child who thinks that the external action is more important, because more visible, than the internal one.

Also: "all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts ..." Surely not. 'All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are aggrandised familial concepts' would be closer to the mark.

Thursday, 11 September 2008


The ground trembles as blades of grass grow upwards in unison. This gentle earthquake.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Personal God

So I watched God on Trial, and thought it was a brilliant TV play. The BBC (WGBH Boston who co-produced) ought to do more individual TV dramas: they can be very potent when well directed (as this was) and well acted (as this, throughout, certainly was). But Frank Cottrell Boyce gets the greatest credit for a brilliant script. True, in some of the earlier sections I found myself thinking, 'perhaps it's ever-so-slightly by-the-numbers, like a sixth-form ethical debate ... look, there's a bit from Dostoevsky! Ah look, it's Darwin's nasty wasp!' But by the time Sher's Rabbi Akiba got to his big speech I was wholly carried along with it. His listing the genocides and mass-murders celebrated in the Torah is powerful, but Boyce deserves a BAFTA for one line alone: 'God isn't good. He was never good. He was just on our side.' That line keeps coming back to me. It's not just that it's a penetrating critique of the crasser tendency to recruit God to one's own war, political campaign etc. It's more. It's a thirteen-line demolition of the very idea of a personal God.

The Greeks styled their Gods as capricious, unpredictable, quick to anger because after all: that's how the universe we live in is. A Tsunami kills tens of thousands, and then next day the sun comes out. JHWH is a little like that, in the Torah. The problems come when we wish to restyle this unpredicatble, indifferent being as all-loving, all-wise and so forth: is a contract signed with an irrational agent ever legally binding?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Zingiber spectabile

Extraordinary-looking plant: 'beehive ginger' hardly captures its weirdness. It looks, rather, like a stack of pretzels ... a wicker plant. Stackus pretzeli.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Virtual heat poem

What it is to feel heat over
The skin and cold in the bones.
Seaweed shaded trees
Waving bladdered tendrils
At a sky whose blue is not marine.

Sunday, 7 September 2008


Silence, and the cello-thrum of the overhead plane, and silence. The sky is made out of silence; the leaves do not rustle.

Saturday, 6 September 2008


The older you get the harder the thought of death -- for habitual, rather than existential, reasons, though: which is to say, only because we become habituated to living and increasingly alarmed at the prospect of our habits being disrupted. The young have a healthier attitude in this respect.

Friday, 5 September 2008


A shoal of leaves; a school of leaves.

Thursday, 4 September 2008


In the RHS Wisley Gardens, watching the negative carp ... they swim by lugubriously shaking heads with such slow vehemence that the whole of their bodies follow suit.

And the word carp means ...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

On reading Dracula

This novel is a fictionalised, fantastical version of Jack the Ripper ('Bram Stoker's Jackula'). Not that Dracula is Jack; no, the portrait of the serial killer in this novel is Van Helsing ('From Hellsing'), trotting about London with his little black bag, carving up and mutilating the body of Lucy Westenra in that horrible enclosed space. Of course, he believes he had good cause for his actions; but presumably so did the ripper ...

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Animals, animals

Fish with pleats in their flanks;
Birds with their arms longer than their bodies, like gibbons.
Birds with their their 2D arms; their leaf shaped arms
Moles that swim through loam.
Horse with castanets for feet.
The rorshach-coloured cow.
Cicadas with their sewing-machine chatter.
Pigs that snore though awake.
The delta-wing butterfly.

Monday, 1 September 2008


The crickets in this insane heat, this tarmac-melting heat, are cold: for they shiver drily and chafe themselves to generate warmth.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Reading Burgess’s Napoleon Symphony

It occurs to me that we don’t take this man – a dictator, and the author of literally millions of deaths – seriously. But then, neither do we really take Hitler seriously, with his bizarrely oxymoronic mixture of Chaplainesque psychopathy. This in turn leads me to wonder which dictators we do take seriously.

Is the ur-fascist leader an 18th invention? Frederick of Prussia may not count, not because he wasn’t warlike or autocratic, but because he was not able practically speaking to involve the whole world in his ambitions. On that criterion we have one nineteenth-century example (Napoleon), and two twentieth-century ones (Hitler, Stalin). This is a disturbing progression, assuming that its not too small a sample from which to extrapolate … which is to say, we’ll be looking at three twenty-first century dictators capable of shaking the world. This may be possible nevertheless, since the other progression here is of a technological advancement. For Napoleon to shake the world required him to assemble a machine of destruction as old as the pharaohs—his Grand Armée, a million men. By the twentieth-century Hitler and Stalin had much more efficiently destructive technologies of mass destruction at their disposal, which (although they also assembled enormous armies) enabled them to magnify the per-capita destructive power. By the twenty-first century we are soon arriving at a situation where technologies of mass-destruction are so powerful, and so concentrated, that a world-shaking dictator may be able to achieve Napoleonic destructiveness with an army no larger than an C18th-century minor state.

Saturday, 30 August 2008


People who believe in an afterlife tend to believe that it will be substantially better or substantially worse than the life we presently lead; but this is only to say that the afterlife will be different to this life. It’s not clear to me why this follows from the initial position. Why mightn't the afterlife (assuming such a thing) be exactly on a level with our life? Why mightn't it be exactly like our life?

Friday, 29 August 2008

French sky

You can see, here in the south, why Hugo as a poet is so fond of the word azure.

Contrails, some thin unbroken white lines against the blue like lines on a graph; some fuzzed along their entire length like uncarded wool.

Raybans give the sun a mane of geometrically triangular flares.

At sunset the sky becomes the colour of rosé wine: fresh and liquid.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Heart icon

♥ Two upended teardrops finding solace together.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Fat Earth

Bradshaw of the Future tells us: 'The Proto-Indo-European root *peiH- "to be fat, swell" in the extended o-grade form *poid- became in Proto-Germanic *faitaz "fat". This became Old English fæt and then English fat. In Proto-Celtic, the extended form *pī-wer- "fat, fertile" became *f–weryon- "earth, soil".'

Is soil 'fat'? Is the rotund, hippy Earth fat? Of course, of course.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Ontological proofing

Could it be that the third step in Gödel's ontological proof--because it sets up as inclusory particular exclusory sets (as it might be, mercy/judgement)--acts as the ground for the paradox, in a special sense, that ontological proofs by definition try and avoid?

Monday, 25 August 2008


Nothing is more hateful than banishment; for what is death, but a banishment from the things of life?

Sunday, 24 August 2008


Tentacles of foam where the water splashes, groping at the surface of the pond.

Saturday, 23 August 2008


It's strange to look back (strange in a properly estranging way) on my former life as a depressive. Substantial patches of my childhod, long foggy nautical miles of adolescence, much of my twenties and into my thirties, all of it given over to this foul, selfish pain-meme. Nothing, thank Providence, since then--not for a decade--but it used to be closer to me than my jugular vein. Looking back the main thing that strikes me is how obscuring the illness is. I seemed to spend all my time inwardly contemplating myself, painfully and obsessively, and yet with hindsight it is clear I had almost no accurate sense of myself. I hated myself for a whole tranche of perceived failings, and yet was blind to the major failing that used to define my personality (my selfishness, and the way that affected those around me). That's what's worst about depression; not that it was painful for me--though it was--but that it was more painful for those around me, for whom (I don't use the word carelessly) I was a kind of abomination, stuck cyclotropically between inanity and inertia. I'm less selfish now, I think (I hope), and on a much more even emotional keel. More, the silt has settled in my waters to the extent where I can now glimspe the seabed; not as deeply lying as I formerly thought.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Jewel poem

I am a jewel on your right hand
Ambiguously coloured, set in gold:
As mournful as a sapphire, and
As envious as emerald.

Thursday, 21 August 2008


How we love to tinker with the name 'Egypt'; we'd never bother to do so with 'Kettering'. It's a function of the exoticism we like to port into the concept: Aegypt; land of the Gypsies; land of the Copts' Edge-ypt, the country at the edge of the world. 'Aegypt', sounds attractively archaic to us, not just because it is a tanscription of the Latin, but because that 'ae' ligature is itself a marker of ancientness. The Egyptian Arabic word is Máṣr, it seems:

The English name "Egypt" came via the Latin word Aegyptus derived from the ancient Greek word Aígyptos (Αίγυπτος). The adjective aigýpti, aigýptios was borrowed into Coptic as gyptios, kyptios, and from there into Arabic as qubṭī, back formed into qubṭ, whence English Copt ... Strabo provided a folk etymology according to which Aígyptos (Αίγυπτος ) had evolved as a compound from Aegaeon uptiōs (Aἰγαίου ὑπτίως), meaning "below the Aegean".

The idea of this dust and dry land is named because it is in some sense under the sea is nice; but I'm struck that nobody has ever essayed the alternative spelling, and etymology, Oegypt: Oίγυπτος from Oίγυς [L&S: 'woe, misery, distress, hardship, suffering'] the land of hardship, the place of suffering.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Little dying

Odd that two such dissimilar things as sleep and orgasm should both, at various times, been called 'the little death'. 'The little depression' perhaps better describes the former; and for the latter I'm puzzled at the desire to belittle it in the first place ...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


What would it be like to look at the grass smothered with dew in the early morning and not think, 'cellophane'? Or look at the same lawn, later in the day, when the sun has come unambiguously out, and not think 'pistachio in direct light, and ivy where the fence lays that block of shadow...'? I don't believe it's different from a poet, too thoroughly immersed in her practice, who thinks of everything in terms of rhyme; or a dedicated player of the rubik's cube who puts the toy down after several hours, and looks up to see the heads of the people around them in terms of shifting and turning and rotating the different planes of ears, noses, scalps, jaws and so on.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Five lines about this fly

This fly stands on inbent eyelash legs.

This fly purses his mouth to two tweezer-points.

This fly leaps into the air on daisypetal wings.

This fly's eyes are clumps of crumbs.

The job of this fly (tzz tzz!) is to admonish

Sunday, 17 August 2008


"Madame Bovary, c'est moi" ... but really? It's tantamount to conceding that Bovary is not a woman, but a big Frenchman. As if Shakespeare were to say: 'you know that Iago? That's me, that is!' False; or at the least a misunderstanding of the process of characterisation ... that the perpetrator of this misunderstanding was an author (and a genius at the delineation of character) doesn't excuse him.

Saturday, 16 August 2008


Sexual difference is exactly like any other kind of difference.

Friday, 15 August 2008


The chromosomal dangles of common hazel catkins.

Thursday, 14 August 2008


What was Othello doing in Aleppo?

..............................Set you down this;
And say besides, that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus. [V.v.]

It's part of a matrix of oriental references in the speech (the base Judean who threw away a pearl; Arabian trees dropping myrrh. But Aleppo stands out, not for its specific historical referent (although a Venetian did visit the city in 1555, and recorded what he saw), but simply because it follows a similar verbal logic, as word, to Othello's own name: the vocalic opening, the labial, the central 'e', the doubled consonant, and the terminal 'o'. It is a piece of wordplay that reflects upon the speaker.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Escher's hands

This is used so often as an illustration for the concept of 'strange loops' that it has become dead to our eyes; but a quick glance shows that strange-loopiness has nothing to do with it. Only a clumsy viewer would think that each hand here has drawn the other from scratch. How could they? Look at the bottom hand: it is tethered at the wrist by its two-dimensional sleeve ... it could hardly reach around with its pencil to draw all the elements of the upper hand (and vice versa ...) Nor is there space on the page for both hands to lie. No: the moral here is in the ambiguity of the title ('hands' means 'many hands' just as much as it means 'two hands'; we could do with an aliter/alius distinction in our plurals). Escher's portrait is actually of the invisible third hand that set the whole in motion .... Escher's own hand, in other words. It is, as much of his work is, a self-portrait.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008


But this way was not destined to be danger-free;
In the night a flock of Fantoums had entered the forest
Staffs in their clutches, claws sharp as scythes.
At first Uif crept, and strove to be stealthy,
But then, through the green-growth, she glimpsed the monsters:
Fear filled her, terror took her and trampled judgement,
Sudden, hare-like, she struck—ran straight like a runnel,
And the hooting and savage Fantoums got her scent
Turned their goggle-eyes all at once where she was gone
And unloosed their long limbs to come loping after.
There were three of them, throating like hounds, holloping
Through the trees, bounding over bush and bole.
In an lockjaw of terror she trod the ground,
Fast as her feet could, and the boy bouncing at her back;
Once she fell on a lime limb but leapt fast to her feet
She knew that the Fantoums were afraid of the forest's-end
That if she could get shot of the trees she'd survive
Only get free to the fields where the barley bristled,
And beyond to the houses, home of the Brights
Where braves would bear blades to repel the repulsive:
Axes for tree-tumbling, knives for unlocking pig’s-leather
Ungumming their guts, getting blood for black-pudding
And slicing up the carcass for choice succulent cuts.
So she ran, and her baby bawled upon her back
But the Fantoums were not far, breathing behind her;,
She snatched a glimpse over her shoulder: they were there
Eyes like two toadstools on the flats of their faces
Brown and spark-centred; mouths like sinks in their skulls
Rimmed about with raking teeth, sharp as scissors,
One was almost upon her, when she half-turned and hefted
Her small-sword to tear its sheer skin, to sever a claw
Or otherwise warn the ogre away. But it slinked like a snake
The sword swung without biting, and it boomed,
Never lessening the lope of its immensely long limbs,
The creature clutched at her arm with its clasping claws.
She dodged, best as she could, with the baby dragging her back,
A dead weight upon her, wailing and back-dragging.
She leapt to the left, over a rotted roll of fallen tree,
And ran on rapidly, fast as her feet could fly.
The beast was behind her; she could hear it, and smell its stink,
And then it had its claws in her—or not her, but her burden,
The claws in her son, her Leman, her lovely one,
But the loathsome thing had latched on the lad
And Uif was yanked backward, her feet flying up
And down she fell, breath bashed from her body,
On her spine-base, screaming, arms out; the ape was on her.
But it had hold of her boy—no grip on her body,
And so, in a panic she strained to stand and push on,
She broke the knot that was tied at her breastbone,
Cut the cloth there that was carrying her child
And, weeping with heart’s-woe, she leapt away
And sprinted through spring-coloured growth
Leaving her love, her fine boy, Leman,
Behind in the undergrowth for Fantoums to feast on,
And so she escaped, her tears tumbling from her,
Out of the edge of the woodland and into the wide space
Where crops were cultivated, and barleycorn grew.

Monday, 11 August 2008


In Twilight of the Idols Nietzsche says: 'without music, life would be a mistake'. I understand (I think) the sentiment, but the phrasing puzzles me ('Ohne Musik wäre das Leben ein Irrtum': 'Sprüche und Pfeile', 33). Whose mistake? If we read this as 'it would be a mistake to try and live life without music' it becomes banal; but 'if there were no music in the universe, it would be a mistake for anything to be alive' surely rebukes an imagined creator? Imagine if the phrase were: 'without the ability to square the circle, life would be a mistake'; or 'without temperatures of minus 500 Kelvin, life would be a mistake' (or we might say: 'without psfugghl, life would be a mistake'). What else could we say to this except: possibly, but it is in the nature of life that sometimes we must make the best of it, mistaken or not.

Sunday, 10 August 2008


Olympic thoughts.

What the official meets test is not really athletic ability, or not only (and not primarily) that: rather they test the ability of any given athlete to peform on a day and in an environment specified by authority. Originally this was to ensure the legality of the timekeeping and so on; but presumably we will soon reach a day when timekeeping technology is accurate enough, ubiquitous enough and can be made secure enough to measure all athletes all the time. Sprinters have run 100m faster than 9.72 seconds; they just haven't done it in official environments. But, speaking personally, if somebody runs 100m in 8.99 seconds I don't care whether it happens in an official meet or in an unofficial practice session ... I'd just like to know about it.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The Corwin amendment

Given that the right to make amendments to the US Constitution is guaranteed by the US Constitution itself, I wonder (alt-historically) at what would have happened in a logical sense had the Corwin amendment been passed: ""No amendment shall be made to the Constitution..." Would this not have resulted in a sort of legislative feedback squeal, a looping recursive passage of constitutional energy that would have short-circuited the whole document? It might have left the USA without a constitution in 1861, in effect an anarchy in which might would have been right, exploitation and guncrime would have permeated the land. Doesn't bear thinking about.

Friday, 8 August 2008

From the M1

Light breaking through low cloud over the peaks, coming down in angled shafts and long rods of brightness against the darker background: sunlight that looks like distant rain.

Thursday, 7 August 2008


Bluebells with their table-lamp blue-glass hoods angling light upon the ground.

The stained hearts of Sweet William.

The very unprim primrose, small but voluptuously formed, petals lavishly akimbo.

The ox-eye daisy, with its yellow-pupil and its cream coloured iris: Coats' disease of the day.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

National Portrait Gallery

I tend to feel, when I go there, like the monkey on the other side of the glass: there I am, but there are all these eyes, all looking at me. In a normal gallery I'm the one who does the looking! This is no normal gallery; it's an experiment in metaphysical inversions.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008


No Art without exaggeration?

Monday, 4 August 2008

Linking poem

We know the linking of two things
Is always balance, never muddle:
The song the mindless prayerwheel sings;
The sun reflected in a puddle.

Sunday, 3 August 2008


If there is a limbo for Hell (the "condition of those who die in original sin without being assigned to the Hell of the damned [gehenna]... Medieval theologians described the underworld ["hell", "hades", "infernum"] as divided into four distinct underworlds: hell of the damned, purgatory, limbo of the fathers, and limbo of infants"), then there must be a limbo for Heaven as well; for those who die virtuously without being assigned the Heaven of the blessed.

I wonder what that's like. Like, Earth, maybe?

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Augustus John's Portrait of Lawrence

Not so much the blue-eye boy,
Or the custard-coloured hair
Or dust-coloured skin, and lips
Marked with innumerable vertical lines
Like rungs: he sits not quite forlorn
It focuses our eye on the shroud
That scarfs his head to keep the sun off;
The balanced golden serpent coiled
In golden segments like a crown.
He wears his dagger like the thorn
In his side refashioned as gold.
His finger is pointed languidly down.
There is nowhere else to go.

Friday, 1 August 2008

The First Seven Roman Governors of Judea

Rome permitted Judea a degree of self-governance until Augustus banished Herod Archelaus, incorporated Judea into the colony of Syria and appointed governors directly from Rome. This is what puzzles me: the seven governors who followed all had oddly plebeian names, despite being, all of them, noblemen: Coponius ('Shopkeeper'), Ambivius ('Two-face'); Rufus ('Redhead'); Pilate ('Javelin Man'), Marcellus ('Droopy') and Marullus (‘Catnipper’). Why's that?

Thursday, 31 July 2008


And talking of McCay ...

I once published an essay on the relationship between the original film of King Kong and McCay's Little Nemo books. I'm sorry I missed this image, which has the clearest relationship with one of the key iconic images of the movie. The hand reaches into our bedroom as we sleep and carries us away. What's going on? It touches, partly, on the sense we have (in sleep) of being physically immobilised, as if gripped in a giant hand; and it also literalises the idea that sleep 'carries us away'. But it is the menace in the image that startles me (are we all, on some level, afraid of sleep? Is sleep a monster that abducts us?)

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


The solar system's newest planet. The name is pronounced 'mak-ay, mak-ay' apparently, in honour of Winsor McCay whose Little Nemo strips first speculated on the dwarf planet's existence.

But wait: "unlike Pluto or Eris, Makemake shows little evidence of nitrogen ice on its surface, suggesting that its supply of nitrogen has somehow been depleted over the age of the Solar System." This is evidence of life, surely! Like several Kuiper belt objects, Makemake has a transient atmosphere: heated and subliming, giving the indigienous life time to lock down its nitrogen, then cooling and freezing, preserving them in stasis.