Friday, 28 February 2014

Reading at Port Launay

Interrupting Ellroy, I sense and then find the
decomposing body floating ass-up at a hook
in the river, definitely the stench speaking out
between the lines to stop my reading: flies
laying eggs on darkened feathers where he is
sans mate but where French kisses once
hen-pecked him to love [hickeys sure as shit,
James echoes from what I managed to take in
so far] recalling this swan-pair last time I read here.
At first I’d contemplated a human corpse from
its distant floating shadow – some other upstream
terrorism – but it makes little sense, knowing, to
feel worse now. Many relationships reach an end
yet this one pains more than any story somehow.

Nebraska 18 - Ted Kooser, 'So This Is Nebraska'

Having decided to take on the theme of Nebraska and run with this, initially because of the often comic references to it, especially in film and song, as a rather remote nothingness, I have increasingly reflected on the State, and especially Omaha, as the place of my birth and therefore significant in defining that part of me which remains inherently and often surprisingly American, not surprising because of any resistance – far from it – but because I have lived most of my life here in England.

In then researching other reflections on the State and its largest city, as well as different areas where my family and I have lived, I came across the fine American poet Ted Kooser, born in Nebraska and someone who writes about it with great affection but also visual and emotional clarity. I should also stress what a fine poet he is in general, tagged the ‘Poet Laureate of the United States’, and whose collection Flying at Night I am currently reading and from which I will at some stage post a non-Nebraskan poem. But for now, here is one aptly titled

So This Is Nebraska

The gravel road rides with a slow gallop
over the fields, the telephone lines
streaming behind, its billow of dust
full of the sparks of the redwing blackbirds.

On either side, those dear old ladies,
the loosening barns, their little windows
dulled by cataracts of hay and cobwebs
hide broken tractors under their skirts.

So this is Nebraska. A Sunday
afternoon; July. Driving along
with your hand out squeezing the air,
a meadowlark waiting at every post.

Behind a shelterbelt of cedars,
top-deep in hollyhocks, pollen and bees,
a pickup kicks its fenders off
and settles back to read the clouds.

You feel like that; you feel like letting
your tires go flat, like letting the mice
build a nest in your muffler, like being
no more than a truck in weeds,

clucking with chickens or sticky with honey
or holding a skinny old man in your lap
while he watches the road, waiting
for someone to wave to. You feel like

waving. You feel like stopping the car
and dancing around on the road. You wave
instead and leave your hand out gliding
larklike over the wheat, over the houses.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Live at the Cleveland Agora [1974]

Sensationally Scottish

This morning I'm listening to this great live album, and as I write, listening to the rousing track Anthem, a Scottish rocker, with bagpipes, in honour of the great Scottish singer Alex Harvey born in Glasgow in 1935.

Alex Harvey was one of the finest rock vocalists and rock raconteurs of the notional glam rock period, though I would place him more broadly in Rock, accepting the theatrical in the songwriting and performance. The band was definitely sensational. I saw them once in Ipswich and it was a memorable experience.

This recording finishes on a stonking cover of Jumpin' Jack Flash. And the Cleveland audience are having a stonking time too, this being the one place in America that took Alex to their very loud and warm hearts.

Alex died in 1982, aged only 46.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Some Figures

[So the Academies aren't adding up.... Here's one from the past that seemed apt]

Some Figures

At midnight the rain hadn’t stopped and so another day would play like a bad song you couldn’t get out of your head. I wondered if I should pour another one or just coast as far as the last ones would roll me. It was a liquid idea that spread away before I could shape it into a decision. All I could think about was the job later today – all those needs and all those years I tended to them and now all I had to do was make sure I could add up beyond however many fingers I could still count with because that’s all that matters. All that adding and all those numbers. They didn’t have a teacher telling me how to do that when I became one.

Sometimes I think teaching is just like living in L.A. There are mornings when the sun comes up from behind the foothills and it’s like the Christmas lights have been turned on by god. The air can be as crisp and clean as sheets from the best Chinese laundry on the block. Mornings such as this and I don’t mind being paid like a waiter. It was a job where a client who just happened to be an honest dame could persuade you to drive her around town in a convertible, the sun shining down on the two of you like a couple just married and believing there was a future. And then it would rain. Thunder might warn you like a snitch on look-out at the street corner or just come up and hit you with brass knuckles. The gutters would fill and clog and the debris from one day would pile up to remind you the streets weren’t paved with gold, even on Hollywood Boulevard where the same rain filled the same gutters and soggy newspapers washed by writing the same sad lines about what happened every day.

All this thinking was giving me a headache. At least I hoped that was it. I didn’t want to give up my acquaintance with Mr Rye when I had shoes that still had miles I was expected to take them through. I was about to try very hard to go to sleep and pretend tomorrow would be more than a dream when the phone rang. I picked it up.

‘Excuse me, is that Mikey the Dick?’

‘Uh-huh,’ I said.

‘I’m sorry to bother you at this time of night, but I wondered if you could help me?’

‘Well, I have an umbrella but there must be someone nearer who could be of assistance.’

‘No, it’s not that,’ the voice ignored my wit and charm. ‘I have some questions to ask you about your job.’

‘I do get paid to answer questions but my night rate is over the odds so I try not to charge it. Perhaps you’d like to ring me in the morning after I haven’t slept and the rain will remind us that we’ve had this lovely if brief chat.’

‘You are Mikey the Dick,’ the speaker persisted and I could tell I’d have to hang up or say a few words only bums in a headlock growl at me before they faint.

‘Uh-huh. We have had that little dance.’

‘I’ve got some figures here that tell me you haven’t been doing your job properly…’

I hung up the phone before the voice could continue. I also managed to say ’Go --- yourself’ before I hung up to see what it felt like to be in a headlock and about to faint. It was more fun then I thought. I’d have to try something less amusing with lowlife in the future.

I didn’t know who it was. I didn’t care. The voice sounded like it was used to being in charge so I guessed it was used to being heard. I also guessed what it was trying to say about my job but I wasn’t going to listen to any of that. It had some figures. That said it all. Perhaps those figures appeared in a fortune cookie at some cheap Chinese joint where people like that eat and sneer and tip like aspiring movie stars in-between films.

I know my job. I know what I do. It may not be the most important job in the world, yet it’s all I’ve got and that’s still more than a dame dolled up in a fancy dress for a night on the town, saying hello but not having any conversation for later.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Nebraska 17 - Norfolk and Pepper

Another poem I have posted here previously - just over 2 years ago which I find scarey, thinking it much more recent - but it fits into this running theme that has captured my interest at least: the first wild dog mentioned was in Niobrara [see most previous Nebraska post] and the other references to that place are accurate, and my wild dog was called Pepper - which I think I have just remembered now and not when I wrote the poem - and I had him when I lived in Norfolk and he did kill my pet red squirrel, and the rest of the story is true too.

Wild Dog

My dog was wild – not quite the wolf
chained up under Uncle Clyde’s porch in that town
where you had to collect water from a pump and
shit in an outhouse the local boys would push
over whilst you were performing – but it was
obvious the day I got home and found my tamed
red squirrel torn to pieces. So it was time to let
the dog go, doing unto another like that unacceptable
even in my childlike take on the rights and wrongs
of things [and a double tragedy in such a concurrent
loss] but it was around a week later when the farmer
returning its lead said his dog now was chasing sheep
and running free and living a life that eviscerating my
other pet was just the manifestation of what should be.

And this is interesting as well, but it also just occurred to me - these apocalypses -  that I would never have called it a dog lead back then but instead a dog leash, so does the English naming alter things, even if in such a small way? All this reliving the past mixing memories of time, place and language.

Doug Tuttle - Doug Tuttle

Fest Feast

Hailing from the same Trouble in Mind stable as Morgan Delt, reviewed here yesterday, Doug Tuttle provides a very similar psyche-fest, though this east coast native presents us with a more West Coast pop and earlier 60s sound. And Doug is Doug. Delt and Tuttle’s albums were released on the same day too and this double fest is a feast for those who enjoy these forays back to the past for inspiration, as I do. The touchstones are everywhere, and if you reach out to fourth Where You Plant Your Love...Is Where It Grows you will feel and hear the Beatles’ Rain, and the title is a flashing neon for the time it nostalgically embraces. Less intense than Delt’s, but more soft-psychedelically soothing.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Two Coleridge Books

The Treachery at Nether Stowey, by Matthew Greenwood [Blue Shed press, but I don’t think the book is available here anymore, so you can buy here]
From Culbone Wood – In Xanadu, note books and fantasies, by Tom Lowenstein [Shearsman, and can be purchased here]

Both of these authors create narrative ruses to present their reflections on Coleridge, and as a reader your inclination to the formal or to the philosophical will determine which you will want to pursue. I think the poles I have just drawn are important to exaggerate so because both writers treat those styles to extremes.

Matthew Greenwood presents a range of forensic, transactional pieces that are authored by various people watching and documenting the political and irreverent activities of S.T. Coleridge. The snippets of information come via imaginary letters, extracts from journals, memoranda, transcripts from meetings before The Board of Interrogation of the Privy Council and records of conversations with the Prime Minister, to name a selection. Their imagined authors range from the Duke of Portland to the Government Code-Breaker ‘Maddison’ and then anonymous sources, to name a selection. It is cloak and dagger stuff throughout and if this kind of relentless information-gathering and accusation is of interest you will probably be carried along by the varying sources and intrigue this can generate. I found the repetitive nature of such styles of writing – differing only in their type but not in voice or pace or even emotive impact – quite flat and ultimately uninteresting. But if the detailed and informed content of those imaginary observations are of themselves intriguing, then the studious representation of them will engage. 

Tom Lowenstein presents a prose narrative in Coleridge’s voice [or not, it could be a more generalised if sympathetic voice, but I prefer to read it as STC] so it is singular as well as philosophical, though that isn’t to say it reads poetically all of the time. Indeed, this is a bravura piece of writing in many ways, but the intensity of Lowenstein’s encapsulation of Coleridge’s thoughts and expression can be rather academic and, perhaps for some, too learned. For example, there is a wonderful section early on where our author Coleridge ruminates on the syllabic considerations of changing Purchas’s Xaindu, as he puts it, ‘exfoliating to become Xanadu – a tri-syllable which was easy enough to tessellate into an iambic sequence.’ Now, I rather liked this learned launch into the mechanisms of metre, but it is easy to understand how some would prefer the imagined expose of treachery over the expose of measuring feet in a poetic line! Lowenstein’s research into and knowledge of Coleridge is impressive, as is Greenwood’s, but the imagined depths of Lowenstein’s explorations into the writing of Kubla Khan hold an intrinsic interest for this reader because it seems in such empathy with Coleridge as poet and philosopher whereas Greenwood is observing and examining from the outside. It is worth noting that there are also expansive poetic passages in Lowenstein's book which are beautiful and evocative in their own right.

I can only repeat, reading either is very much a matter of personal choice as the extremes of each focus will alienate if you do not share in the intense ruse of the narrative.