There is a decommissioned train line, the Elham Valley Railway, running south from Canterbury to the coast near Folkestone. Survey maps from the 1890s and 1920s show a branch line from Canterbury West to a Canterbury South station and then on to Cheriton Junction (Canterbury South was actually south of the city centre, though the still operative Canterbury West is in the north while Canterbury East is south. I keep thinking of the line from ‘Substitute’ by the Who where ‘the north side of my town faced east and the east was facing south’). Remains of the Elham Valley line , which closed in 1947, are shown on the current survey maps though it now consists largely of tunnels and embankments the rails having long been removed. Some parts of the line are now private property, others are so overgrown that they would be impossible to traverse anyway. But, miraculously, there’s still a station at Bishopsbourne (though the building is privately owned) complete with signals and platform buildings. Bishopsbourne itself is a short diversion off the A2. Joseph Conrad once lived there and you can make out a blue plaque on a white building on the northern side of the village. It was also a home (or at least a holiday home) for Jocelyn Brooke, author of the wonderful Orchid Trilogy of autobiographical novels (his more modest residence is also marked out). I used a passage from this book describing a mysterious water tower, another piece of industrial archaeology once visible from the village and now obscured by trees, in my own Crab & Winkle:
It was an extraordinary structure: not ‘functional’ at all . . . but built with the solidity . . . of a stockbroker’s villa in Surrey . . . Four columns of brick-work, converging at their summits, formed four corresponding arches: the tower had the look of an arcade or a viaduct folded in upon itself to form a quadrilateral . . .
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Johan de Wit and Allen Fisher read at last night’s Blue Bus session. de Wit’s work consisted mostly of sonnet-length rapid-fire pieces with, well, ‘wit’ shining through. Compression was as evident in Fisher’s work though this was delivered at a relatively measured pace with the poet modestly telling us how many sections each piece had so we should know when it was almost over. Earlier, as I made my way to the reading through light drizzle from London Victoria, I noticed this almost parodically English headline:
Sunday, 15 February 2009
I should have added to the previous item some comment on the poems themselves. I’ve written at length about Alan Halsey’s work elsewhere (in Poetry Salzburg #11, Spring 2007: on Not Everything Remotely and Marginalien). Suffice it to say that Lives of the Poets is further evidence of Halsey’s ability to inhabit the work of other writers great and small. He spoke, with reference to Coleridge in particular, of the ‘specific density’ a poet’s work has. These Lives are condensed senses of what the poet’s work exhibits. They are each a kind of masque rather than paraphrase or imitation.
Thursday, 12 February 2009
Another evening of choice in London. At the Wheatsheaf in Rathbone Place a reading hosted by Poetry Wales and Wolf featured Carol Watts and Harry Gilonis among others (the pub had been a centre of literary activity in the 1940s). I was unable to get there but I did go to the launch of Alan Halsey’s Lives of the Poets at Birkbeck College. Glenn Storhaug’s Five Seasons Press must do some of the best looking books on the planet and this volume is no exception. The Press is all the more worthy of praise since it now does this without Arts Council funding, having to raise its own subscriptions. Appearing below: Glenn Storhaug beneath a venerable ancestor and Alan Halsey just before (or maybe just after) the reading.
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
These photographs, taken in Australia in late December last year, look across from Yering (near Yarra Glen), towards the Yarra Ranges. A few kilometres over the mountains to the left of the top picture is (or was) the township of Marysville which has since been largely destroyed by the Victorian bushfires. Behind the photographer farm land is gradually overtaken by the outlying suburbs of Melbourne. The photographs were taken on a hot day, probably in the mid-thirties, but in the last couple of weeks temperatures have been some ten degrees hotter. A dry forty degrees Celsius is not unusual for the Melbourne region and this, together with relative dryness, prevailing winds etc, can make the summer season potentially dangerous. Over the last century or so there have been perhaps five or six major bushfires, the most notable occurring in the 1890s, 1926, 1939, 1964 and the early 80s. I had collaged a piece from contemporary newspaper items and later accounts concerning the 1939 fires in my book The Ash Range. The sentence from one of my sources that comes to mind now is ‘For some days before the big fire actually occurred matches burned with a white flame’. When fire is ‘in the air’ it can seem as though the laws of nature have been overturned.
Wednesday, 4 February 2009
A few years ago I was half-listening to (or reading – I can’t remember) a classical music review when suddenly my attention was drawn to a phrase of the reviewer’s that noted a certain violinist’s ‘self-regarding vibrato’. This idea stuck with me: that an artist can draw attention to his or her personal skills to the detriment of the art. It struck me then, and still does, that this concept is perfectly descriptive of the kind of poetry produced by the average Faber author of the last few decades. These so-called ‘mainstream’ poets almost all fall over themselves striving for the startling effect though it ends up being to the detriment of poetry itself.