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Larkin in Poets' Corner

Thursday, 1 December 2016 at 18:55

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Philip Larkin gets his place in Poets' Corner today.

Any poet associated with Hull naturally has to deal with him one way or another. I was amused by a review of Wake, which described my work as having "the spirit of Larkin, perhaps, re-emerging, muscular and revitalised". Nice to be more muscular than Larkin.

Anyway, my most recent collection Pilgrim Tongues plays around with some of Larkin's themes, and includes two sequences about him. Here are some fragments from those sequences:

Still Here

You’d hardly recognise some parts,
though other streets would take you back
between the bombers and the planners.
We needed then, of course, a brand new start;
those times would soon be history, we thought.
The shining future was already overdue
the day you lugged your case of shirts, socks, suits,
books, LPs, spare specs, those Soho mags;
that struggling with umbrella, flapping mac
− all the impedimenta of being you.
We may have lacked the phrase, but, boy, we knew,
before your train stopped shy of our docile buffers,
we were already ready. It was time to move on,
the day you hailed that cab at Paragon.

Awkward Reverence

In the shed, the bike, upright
with honest crossbar awaits: bolts tight,
chain oiled beneath the trouser guard;
wheels ready to slice
off-days into dull glitterings: life,
like sun, somewhere between the spokes.

Geoff the Leveller

A February Sunday brings the snow;
crash-landed, sky means soft debris,
tiny mountains, your head at thirty
thousand feet. All that was high brought low.

Forget extinction’s alp, Western Cemetery’s dead flat.
− Not quite: the hallowed ground is riddled, holed;
headstones so intent on touching base they further fall
where earth is truant, plays hide and seek with the ground
of our being, shrinks into the voids between drained clay.
Think absences, the waves that drop, the shoreless days.

This is Hull. (Nor are we out of it in Cottingham.)
Acquainted with this great suburban spirit-leveller, did you,
chatting to the grave, yet matey overseer,
finally find your level too?


Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 18:41

Bacchanal with Silenus - Durer

“Let Custards quake, my rage must freely runne”
W.Kinsayder (a.k.a. John Marston) The Scourge of Villainie (1598)

‚Äč(illust. Bacchanal with Silenus - Dürer)

In the Renaissance, an etymological confusion connected satire with classical satyrs as certain writers adopted the persona of a savage malcontent.

“[Satire] is very railing, onely ordained to rebuke vice… The Satires had their names of uplandysshe Goddes, that were rude, lascivious and wanton of behaviour.” Thomas Langley (1570)

I'm just returning to Satyr, a project I've been involved in, on and off, for many years. At Oxford I researched Elizabethan verse satire, and how it attempted to imitate the Juvenalian savagery of classical satire. My main focus was the persona of the Malcontent and psychopathic Barking Satyrist as exemplified by the playwright John Marston's alter ego Kinsayder. I published a chapter or two from my thesis as academic papers, but was more interested in seeing how I could use the material for my own satires, and over the years various fragments and versions have fleetingly appeared. I'm very pleased that John Lucas has agreed to bring a new version of Satyr out as a Shoestring chapbook in the spring - together with illustrations (perhaps some accompanying pen and ink drawings?). There's a great history of satirical art: from Rowlandson and Gillray to Ralph Steadman. Something new for me to think about.

In Satyr, Marston's Kinsayder returns to appraise the modern world. I've tried to replicate some of the oddness of Kinsayder's spiky style with its changing registers slipping from slang to bombast. Kinsayder revels in his anger, while his prurient descriptions of the sexual misdeeds of others hint at the sort of hypocrisy once familiar from the pages of the News of the World. Unlike gutter journalists, however, he seldom makes his exuses and leaves.

Satyr is a sort of companion piece to my Dantean satire Hole

Here are two brief sections from near the beginning of Satyr. Kinsayder arrives during a seance courtesy of the renowned psychepomp Dr Quodlibet:

Coming in. Coming in...

See them in their bold effrontery,
these Meteors, Gloworms, Rats of Nilus,
with their lingos, winks and elbow nudgery:

slinking through this city without a skin,
jiving greasy guns. O the blatant cockery
of these Nightshades, Chameleons, and Apparitions.

Hoodie-boyos, chaveris, adipose hussies with their open purses,
the Scally jazzing with Blunt and Redtop
till beer o’clock and time to slop

stilton tattoos along brass-top or naugahyde;
his proud shout drilling the barkeep’s dischuffed dial,
unenrapt without pourboire or promises thereof;

then on, with Latvio-Lithuo-Sengali-Ivorian cab-driver
(PhD in Astronomy, Agronomy, Homiletics or Dark Matter).
Drop him the change from one lonely deepsea diver,

then on, always on,
to badly-packed kebabs or bacon banjos.
Takeaway. Takeaway. Graze on the hoof.

Another blunt, a toot, another blow on the bugle:
hoovering the kermit for the last of the Devil’s dandruff
− confuzzled in the karzy, gone completely hatstand.

Carking it on the big white telephone to God,
in technicolour prayer. Thou art translated
to some new Beast. Behold the Bog Ostrich!

O Shapes transform’d to Bodies straunge!
O godly Creatures! O brave new World!
My new-found Land! My Ingerland!


An Aside in which the Satyr Discourses upon his Ancient Art

Both incense and the human reek
Are best described in Attic Greek.
Autre temps, autre moeurs,
Those ancients knew just how to curse.

But way back then in Classic Times,
They thought it vulgar to use rhymes.
However, this barbaric Tongue
Has dealt us Spades for shovelling Dung.

With Rasp & Scratch it hardly sings,
But bang it hard and Iron rings.
As much as any metric choice,
“Iambic” meant a tone of voice:

An ancient and sarcastic focus
(Since Hipponax and Archilochus).
From IAPTO: “to assail”,
Iambicists lampooned and railed.

Between their tragedies, the Greeks
(When Oedipus seemed to last for weeks)
Liked a little vulgar farce:
Carry On Tits, a farting Arse.

We Satyrs mocked the tragic Fates:
Silenus, myself, a dozen mates.
Priapus did a magic trick
And comic stand-up with his dick.

The audience, easily amused,
Kept our goat-skins filled with booze.
No one dared to get their coat,
They knew that would get our goat.

Uz Satyrs can be really snide
– oh yes, we have our nasty side.
You see that when we’ve had a skinful
We take delight in being sinful.
Likewise Man, when he gets pissed,
becomes a snarling Satyrist.



Tuesday, 27 September 2016 at 18:06

Tibor Csernus

Tibor Csernus Ujpest Quay, 1957.

September and back in Hull after trains and heatwave in Eastern Europe.

Highlights included seeing Berlin after the best pasrt of three decades and speaking a little German again. I'm thinking of extending my cityscapes project to include the juxtaposition of neoclassical buildings and cranes in the massive reconstruction going on in what used to be East Berlin. It would mean a few painting trips back to Berlin - meanwhile I'm working through Deutsche Welle's fine free German courses. I was very pleasantly surprised just how easily it is to get into German conversations - not everyone in Berlin can or wants to speak English. One memorable conversation was with "The Blood Brothers" a couple guys who deliver plasma to hospitals and were taking a longish train ride to a training course. We all had booze and they had a sound system.

Much interesting art along the way. I'll come back to some of that in subsequent blogs, but here is a painting I saw in Budapest by an artist I had never heard of before Tibor Csernus (or Csernus Tibor, as the Hungarians have it).

Csernus (1927-2007) is a fascinating artist who, while always remaining figurative, has shifted through styles from hyper-realism, through Caravaggian chiaroscuro drama, to Expressionist paintings based on Hogarth's etchings, and much more besides. Actually, that "shifted through" isn't quite right as Csernus often seems to return to earlier idioms or flutter between them. At times, his figures and energy remind me of the great American realist George Bellows (1882 –1925). Bellows is perhaps best know for his New York scenes, and his boxing match.

For links to paintings by Csernus

and Bellows:

Meanwhile, as I've started rediscovering German, here are some versions from Rilke. These were done many years ago, before Reunification, but may be worth revisiting at this time of year.

Autumn Day

after Rilke's “Herbsttag”

God, I know it’s now time. The summer was huge.
But already the sundial scowls with shadows
and I hear Your breath in the meadows.

Fill out the last few grapes upon my vines
with just a few more days’ warmth.
Press this year’s blood into the fruit,
ferment the sun into good wine.

Whoever has no house, now has no home.
Whoever has no one, now has a long time alone:
wakeful, reading, writing long letters,
wandering the long rustling avenues,
aimless, restless through the blowing leaves.

Statue of Apollo

after Rilke's “Archaïscher Torso Apollos”

We can’t know this deafened head
with ripe apple eyes. Yet the marble’s
lit from within.The gaze is candelabra
shimmering from inside the dead

block. Otherwise the prow of breast
couldn’t dazzle, wouldn’t ripple
its slow smile down to where cool loins
are slung into the groin’s dark nest.

Else this hard brevity of stone
under the shoulders’ lively twist of bone
wouldn’t gleam like a wild beast’s pelt

– wouldn’t shoot out. These welts
are all eyes. You get daggers.
And now you must change your life!

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Friday, 22 January 2010 at 11:26

When time permits I hope to be in a position to update my blog.
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