Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

the Italo-Welsh connection

Last night's reading at the Lamb featured (from top) Angela Gardner, Elizabeth James and myself. It was a pretty good turnout for August. Angela has a new book, Views of the Hudson, from Shearsman that will be launched in London in October. She read from this as well as her earlier book, Parts of Speech (University of Queensland Press). The reading was a reunion of sorts. Angela and I had gravitated together in Brisbane where she still lives. And it turned out that she and Elizabeth James were school friends in Wales. Angela is back in the northern hemisphere for a few months and currently working on a project in Ireland (to see some of her visual works among other things try the above link). It was a great gig too, even if the accordionist at the adjacent Italian restaurant struck up while I was reading some shorter stuff.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

cat food, chili & ice

I started collecting records as soon as I had the money to do so. Before that my parents would buy me things like the latest Beatles albums that would come out conveniently close to my birthday and Christmas. When I went to Monash University I met Rob Smyth and another couple of people through the poetry scene who were beginning to import records from the UK and the States. A couple of years later they would set up one of Melbourne’s first import record stores, Euphoria (named after a track by the Youngbloods). The imports were cheaper to start with than the Australian releases (and the local branches of the record companies, as I discovered, further showed their contempt for the market by dispensing with gatefolds and even skimping on colour for the rear covers). By the time I left University I had been introduced to various other musics: to jazz via Miles Davis (played to me by Margot and John Scott); to ‘classical’ music through Debussy (discovered on a demonstration disk engineered by my uncle), late Beethoven quartets and Anton Webern (an older fellow student), and Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (again, the Scotts). My friends were mostly unsnobbish about music and would juxtapose all kinds of sound in the course of an evening.

In 1987 on my first trip to the United States I visited August Kleinzahler in the Haight and was duly regaled by him with tracks from his extensive record collection. August was not a rich man, as his new book of essays Music I-LXXIV (Boston, Pressed Wafer, 2009) testifies. I can testify to this as well. August’s rent-controlled apartment (where he still lives) was furnished humbly but comfortably. But what stood out at the time was the content of the refrigerator: cat food (for the moggie), chilli (for himself) and ice (for the whiskey). August has had to sell off his collections at least twice, through necessity mostly. Yet he has also been an inveterate taper over the years, teaching himself things by hearing them over and again and in differing versions. His musical education was also inseperable from learning his own art. When he attended classes held by Basil Bunting in Canada the old poet would spend most of the time reading poems then playing music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods (mostly), especially the work of JS Bach. Back in San Francisco August would pester the knowledgable proprietor of a small store with questions as simple as ‘What’s that?’, ‘How does he do that?’ He’s been asking such questions ever since and these brief essays published mostly in newspapers file some of the answers. They are a testament to his researches though there is nothing at all dry about them. When my copy arrived yesterday I was going to hold off reading until we went for a holiday but I find I’m now two-thirds of the way through it.

Friday, 7 August 2009

they call it summer

A miserable wet Thursday night in London is nonetheless the occasion for this, my 200th post. With Greg O'Brien's ever amenable company I checked out the X-ing the Line's reading which, it turned out, was pretty well attended for a late 'summer' event. The readers were Johan de Wit (top picture, which may well have been entitled 'The collars of Johan de Wit AND Woody Guthrie' - see Jeff Hilson's account for the sense of this), Nat Raha (extreme left of the lower image) and Alan Hay (the reader).

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

mirabile dictu

can you hear the shadow
of the wall she asksXX yes I say
taking the white cane from her
and trying againXX yes I hear
shadowXX two nights later
I walk home in the darkXX listening
to walls and the scent
of wintersweetXX exactly
where it should beXX two runners
call outXX the neighbours say
helloXX it’s rough and ready
but it worksXX we are walking
the road to implementation

its unmarked steps
are scaryXX I’ve fallen
down too many of them
to be trustfulXX shut your eyes
she saysXX and try again
next week we’ll do
an evening lessonXX the steps
chuckleXX not difficult
to read that oneXX a whiff
of jasmine in front of
a fenceXX a flat white
in Exchange LaneXX a sugar
cone from Valentino’s
are you ok they askXX we weren’t
sure you knewXX where you
wereXX the water smiles

chi chi chi chiXX the quarter
arc swingsXX collecting data
from a field of performance
opportunitiesXX chichichichichi
the roses are lacework
in the gift of linenXX made
as the 9.15 batXX pipistrello
flew over the table at
Il PalombaroXX these fabrics
persistXX they are steps
on a talking surfaceXX they read
back and forthXX back and
forthXX no mulberry trees

in the Val di Niccone
they were chopped down
after the landlordsXX no more
donations of body warmth
to incubate silkworms
the squirmy bodices
were tossed outXX the valley
went on to sunflowers
and tobaccoXX the arc widens
rough and readyXX I want
to put the museum back
she saysXX the shadow
roarsXX we know
exactly where we are
taffetas and handkerchiefs
waveXX the road is crowded
with weavers warpers cleaners
stretchersXX degummers
combers folders teaselers
the stick swingsXX chi chi
chi chiXX a smoke tree
brushes my faceXX the way

she makes
spring shimmerXX between
strips of darkness
and lightXX and calls it
Persephone 1XX chi chi chi
chiXX Orient 4XX chi chi
Drift 2XX chi chiXX Breathe
chi chiXX FĂȘteXX the steps
call outXX as if
everything depends on it
I find the top edge
line up the stickXX and
descendXX chichichichichi

Imagine if Britain had a laureate capable of writing something like this; capable indeed of writing something more than the one-dimensional if the last couple of incumbents are anything to go by. New Zealand has from the evidence here been considerably more fortunate. And now some of the work done over Michele Leggott’s time in that position appears as mirabile dictu with Auckland University Press. I was going to quote sections from this particular poem, ‘smoke tree’ but found myself incapable of editing it satisfactorily. Leggott has, over the last several years, been gradually losing her sight, and the poem obviously refers to this. But it does so much more. There are through the poem (and the book which it is a part of) so many concatenations and reverberations. It wouldn’t be far-fetched here to detect traces of the Pisan Cantos in ‘smoke tree’ (Pound does appear elsewhere in the volume). Elsewhere stray lines from various sources indicate what is at work through the book. A trace from Briggflatts (‘each pebble its part’) as a single example works as a kind of synechdochal signal: that mirabile dictu is also a great condensation, an entwining of family, the New Zealand poets, the outside world. Pound’s words ‘It is dawn at Jerusalem while midnight hovers above the Pillars of Hercules. All ages are contemporaneous in the mind’ are not far afield here. The book is available in North America from IPG Books, in Australia from Inbooks, and in Europe from Eurospan.