Monday, 9 May 2011

corydon & alexis, redux
d.a. powell

and yet we think that song outlasts us all:  wrecked devotion
the wept face of desire, a kind of savage caring that reseeds itself and grows in clusters

oh, you who are young, consider how quickly the body deranges itself
how time, the cruel banker, forecloses us to snowdrifts white as god's own ribs

what else but to linger in the slight shade of those sapling branches
yearning for that vernal beau.   for don't birds covet the seeds of the honey locust
and doesn't the ewe have a nose for wet filaree and slender oats foraged in the meadow
kit foxes crave the blacktailed hare:  how this longing grabs me by the nape

guess I figured to be done with desire, if I could write it out
dispense with any evidence, the way one burns a pile of twigs and brush

what was his name? I'd ask myself, that guy with the sideburns and charming smile
the one I hoped that, as from a sip of hemlock, I'd expire with him on my tongue

silly poet, silly man:  thought I could master nature like a misguided preacher
as if banishing love is a fix.   as if the stars go out when we shut our sleepy eyes

Friday, 6 May 2011

"Respectability. That's what did it. I found out some time back that it's idleness 
breeds all our virtues, our most bearable qualities - contemplation, equableness, laziness, 
letting other people alone; good digestion mental and physical: the wisdom to concentrate 
on fleshly pleasures - eating and evacuating and fornication and sitting in the sun
- than which is nothing better, nothing to match, nothing else in all this world
but to live for the short time you are loaned breath, 
to be alive and know it - ..."

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

doors - part two

And welcome back to part two of our series on doors. For your viewing pleasure today, we have specimens from the Chateau de Versailles and the Cimitière du Père Lachaise.

A look out through the glass doors to the gardens beyond, and the lake where you can rent a little boat for an extortionate price for about half an hour. (So worth it if you have a half-naked, hot man to row it for you. I speak from experience. Less worth it when you are with your mother).

Rusting metal; this deep green was everywhere in the cemetery.

I love the way the metal changes colour as it tarnishes. 

Lots of the graves haven't been tended for decades; it's sad when someone has clearly broken into a grave just to - what? Sit there, drink, smoke? There would be beer cans or fast food wrappers thrown through the broken window of a tomb just like this.

With this one, I tried to get the light coming through the stained glass window behind it. We went late afternoon, when the sun was dipping, so a lot of these photos had a lovely amount of golden light: perfect for getting shadows and softness. We got there just before it closed, so we soon saw the woman on the little cemetery-mobile drive round, blasting her horn and telling us in French through a megaphone to get out because the gates were closing.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Whitsun Weddings - Philip Larkin

That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river's level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.

All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.

At first, I didn't notice what a noise
The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what's happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading. Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,

As if out on the end of an event
Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that

Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
Yes, from cafés
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never known

Success so huge and wholly farcical;
The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.
Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem

Just long enough to settle hats and say
I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
- An Odeon went past, a cooling tower, And
someone running up to bowl - and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:

There we were aimed. And as we raced across
Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Travelling coincidence; and what it held
stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

Philip Larkin was, or still is, my dad's favourite poet; I don't actually know. I have inherited all of my dad's poetry collections. I don't think he reads poetry any more.

He used to read them to me in the evenings, or else we used to have 'poetry competitions' where we'd both try to learn a poem in a set amount of time, or we'd race each other when reciting it, saying it as quick as we could and then running out of breath and laughing at the end. I can never recite 'Tarantella' by Hilaire Belloc without getting faster and faster and faster and really enjoying myself.

This meant that I was once surprised everyone around me when we happened to study it briefly in English in Year 5, and I was asked to read it out loud. Of course, I didn't read it in the way I was expected to: placing the stress carefully in the right places, doing it slowly with crisp diction. I raced through it, barely pausing for breath, loving the way my tongue and teeth and lips folded themselves around the alliterative words and the onomatopoeia, really acting it out. I remember everyone being really shocked because I was the drama-y one, the literary one who was always picked on to read out loud, and who always did it irritatingly diligently, smugly enunciating every syllable, paying special attention to enjambement rather than putting a unnecessary pause at the end of lines, never tripping over my iambs or my dactyls.

The teacher was so appalled by my special accelerated version of Tarantella that he asked someone else to read, and whenever I was asked to read again in classes after that, he would mention "the Tarantella incident" as though I had committed some heinous crime.

I don't know why that incident sticks in my mind particularly. Perhaps because it was the first time I had deliberately done something that I knew would surprise others, perhaps because I remember enjoying the feeling of not being the person that other people perceive you as, if only briefly.

Monday, 2 May 2011

an argument against the words "success" and "achievement"

Is it just me, or does anyone else see something hypocritical in the way that everyone is celebrating Osama bin Laden's death? This is not to say that I am disregarding the huge impact he has had on the Western world, and the sheer hatred (and rightly so) that some of the American people particularly have against him. 9/11 happened under his dictate, and for that, then we should view him in the same capacity that we view Hitler - he's a tyrant, and not just a tyrant, but a man with some seriously terrifying ideologies.

I am of the opinion that one shouldn't celebrate a death. Perhaps celebrate certain ramifications of his death, but not the death itself. However, I wasn't there, I doubt that it was a peaceful capture, and there is a certain horrible inevitability that the soldiers involved in that raid would not have let him live. Of course they wouldn't. They would have felt a loyalty to their country and to the thousands of people affected by the devastating events of 2001, and there's something praiseworthy in that loyalty.

But think about it this way: after 9/11, say, bin Laden could well have been celebrating himself. (You can read along with me! See Tony Blair's comments on the BBC).

"My heartfelt gratitude to my loyal soldiers and to all of those who so brilliantly undertook and executed this operation. We should never forget that the occupation of our holy sites by US troops was the worst ever form of blasphemy against our people. ...
The operation shows those who commit acts of violence against the innocent will be brought to justice, however long it takes. So this is a huge achievement in the fight against the Western powers."

BBC 1455 update: "Americans have come bearing signs: 'We got him. God Bless America.'"

"We got him?" What is this, a comic book? I suppose it is; who'd a thunk that a good old-fashioned fight between good and evil would exist in this modern day and age? Except it's not so easy to see who is good and who is evil. In computer games, it was obvious. You knew you were meant to kill the zombies, the orcs, the aliens. In the Lord of the Rings, Sauron has a bleeding great evil eye and scary black horseriders. The symbolism is impossible to miss. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Queen takes away Christmas. Come on. No child is physically (mentally?) able to imagine anything superlative to this in terms of sheer EVIL.

But we don't live in fiction, and we don't have black/white, ugly/pretty divides to help us know who's the bad guy and who's the good guy. For his supporters, Osama bin Laden was a good man, a holy man, fighting the good fight against the violent and oppressive occupying US forces. Obviously, for those of us on this side of the divide, it's something completely different.

I am in no way a fundamentalist. I haven no sympathy with the opinions and ideologies of bin Laden or his supporters. I have a laissez-faire, fairly leftish attitude towards much of politics. But occasionally, I get riled. And I find that the triumphalism on this day is sick and frankly, pointless.

I'd like to echo my friend Paul Virides' blog post (which you can find here): this changes nothing. I doubt that this will be a step towards anything good in the War on Terror. Terrorism will continue, there will be backlashes and violent reprisals, the US will not withdraw troops from Afghanistan. We need to stop feeling so virtuous and consider the terrible violence that Western troops have wreaked in Iraq. (It is like World War 2: the Blitz eclipsed the absolute devastation that British planes inflicted on German towns. Hitler's extremist anti-semitism eclipsed Britain's own racism at the time. British society was widely anti-semitic at that time, too, by the way. The difference lay in the extent of it).

Everyone is human, and the human race is capable of terrible, terrible things. People will die. There will always be war. This death changes nothing. We should stop celebrating, because there will be another fundamentalist ruler soon. We should stop celebrating, because it doesn't in any way avenge the deaths of 9/11, and the personal cost to those wives and families of US soldiers.

 The Facebook page 'Osama Bin Laden is DEAD' has reached over 320,000 likes. One comment reads, 'I hope he suffered'. That is sick. Anything, absolutely ANYTHING said against this man can be reversed. There were people in Afghanistan saying after 9/11, 'I hope they suffered'. Had we been privy to that, the Western world would be rocked to its core, wailing about the sick and twisted nature of that sentiment. And yet we are turning this phrase on its head, using it and, what's more, feeling righteous about using it.

I am disgusted by the opinions expressed by some of our political leaders in the media coverage. And also pained to see Obama - who I championed for vehemently - crowing so soon after this rare CIA/Special Forces success.

I'll leave you with Brian D. McLaren:

"'Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?"