Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Meeting Dave Etter, August 2014

Sorry for the radio silence--did anyone notice? Since the start of the new year I've been drowning in marking.

Growing up in Normal, Illinois, I first met other writers when, at 15, I took an adult ed class at Illinois State University, "Women Writing Women's Lives," taught by Linnea Johnson. As soon as I began meeting other writers, I was asked if I was related to Illinois poet Dave Etter. My answers varied between "I don't know" and "Nah, I'm adopted," but I was curious. 

There used to be an event called Wordfair at the wonderful little Franklin Park (the scene of a poem from Imagined Sons, I'm so fond of it) in Bloomington, and I recall, as a teenager, seeing Dave Etter's books for the first time. He wrote about the prairie and the people who live there, in a style reminiscent of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. 

Over the decades, when I meet another poet for the first time and say my name, I've heard Dave Etter's name brought up again and again: "Do you know him? Are you related to him?" I always thought I'd meet him sooner or later, but once I moved to England I didn't hear the questions again and when I did think about it wondered idly where Dave was in the world. Was he still in Illinois? Was he still writing and publishing poems?

Sometime last year, poet Bill Sherman got in touch to ask if he could give my address to Dave Etter, as they knew each other and Dave was interested in writing to me. Dave and I swapped several letters--and books, and on my visit to Illinois last August, we arranged to meet. As there is no public transport serving Lanark, Illinois, the town where he lives, I appealed to my great friend Mike Stivers to drive me, and Adam Aspbury came along for the adventure. The photos didn't turn out very well, but I'm glad to have them!



Dave and I on his front porch

 

Dave


 


Dave and his wife Peggy, who made lunch for us all

 

Monday, 29 December 2014

Nativity scenes in Funchal, Madeira, December 2014


In many shop windows, at every church, along public promenades, we found nativity scenes after nativity scene, some very small, some surprisingly elaborate.



 The stable scene to the right is just a small part of this overall display





A nearly life-size nativity, some ten metres or more long


 

The centre of the long nativity scene. It extends to the right with angels and shepherds.


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Denise Riley's Selected Poems (Reality Street, 2000), third and final selection


A last set of passages from a tremendous collection...



A gush of water, welling from some cave, which slopped
Down to a stone trough squatting stout and chalky as a 
Morning sky: I plumped myself on lizard-ridden stone to stare
Into its old truth square that struck me as perhaps another lie
So serious did it look while it promised me, oh, everything.
That honest look of water nursed in stone excited me.

*

The heat of the day peeled off, the light got blurred and hummed,
Pounding dusk struck up then a strong swelling rose in my throat
Thick with significant utterance. So, shivery in my cool and newly 
Warty skin, I raised this novel voice to honk and boom.

*

Into the cooling air I gave tongue, my ears blurred with the lyre
Of my larynx, its vibrato reverberant into the struck-dumb dusk.

*

                                         Or should lyric well up less, be bonier?
So I fluted like HD's muse in spiky girlish hellenics, slimmed
My voice down to twig-size, so shooting out stiffly it quivered 
In firework bursts of sharp flowers. Or had I a responsibility to
Speak to society: though how could it hear me? It lay in its hotels.

*

I fished for my German, broke out into lieder, rhymed
Sieg with Krieg, so explaining our century; I was hooked
On my theory of militarism as stemming from lyricism. 

*

The scops owl in residence served up its decorous gulps.

*

                                    Then beauty sobbed back to me, shocking,
Its counterpoint catching my harmonies; I had heard a fresh voice.

*

No longer alone, not espousing Narcissus, I answered each peal
In a drum of delirium.

*

The voice hears itself as it sings to its fellows--must
Thrum in its own ears, like any noise thumping down
Anywhere airwaves must equably fall. I was not that 
Narcissus who stared stunned by his handsomeness;
Or I was, but not culpably, since as I sang, so I loved.

*

Could I try on that song of my sociologised self? Its
Long angry flounce, tuned to piping self-sorrows, flopped
Lax in my gullet....


from "The Castalian Spring"



(I should explain myself, I sound derivative? Because I am, I'm Echo, your reporter.
I'll pick up any sound to flick it back if it's pitched louder than the mutter of a dove.
I am mere derivation, doomed by Mrs Zeus to hang out in this Thespian backwater.)

from "Affections of the Ear"


What does the hard look do to what it sees?
Pull beauty out of it, or stare it in?

*

How long do I pretend to be all of us. 

*

the piney trees their green afire
a deep light bubbling to grey

long birds honking across
the scrub, the ruffled shore

coral beaks dab at froth
the pinched sedge shirring

from "Outside from the Start"


Is that clear as a glass stem cups its chill in its own throat.

*

And I must trust that need is held in common, as I think it my duty to.
That every down-draught's thick with stiffening feathers
with rustlings from pallor throats
as the air hangs with its free light and its dead weight equally

from "Rhetorical"


Stone looks speak freeze.
Not, call the sold earth hyacinthine 'to get the measure of the damaged world'.
The new barbarian's charmed sick
with his real sincerity, sluiced in town georgics fluency, solitude skills.

from "Problems of Horror"


                  I shine in this fresh equality, I figure us all
In our universal study, released from particular griefs

As we are to imagine an absolutely pure red
Like fine carmine suffered to dry on white porcelain.

*

But the girl at the inn will fade, however intently I stare.
And I go walking again all over the moors to sob

That she is a long way off, which is where we shall always keep her.
No having suffices the heart, which must keep integrally red. 

from "Goethe on His Holidays"


but it does hurt
top mid-left
under my shirt
with its atrocious beat.

last stanza of "It Really Is the Heart"



Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Views from a Cable Car, Funchal, Madeira, December 2014


On our first full day in Madeira, we took a cable car to Monte to visit the Monte Palace Tropical Garden--and enjoy the views of Funchal. Here are some photos from the ride. 






Houses higgledy piggledy up the hill




  
 Returning to Funchal is returning to the sea.




Sunday, 21 December 2014

Denise Riley's Selected Poems (Reality Street, 2000), second selection

More favourite passages from a splendid book:



One afternoon hour burns away until a rust-
coloured light sinks in towards evening

or any time at all when I fall straight through
myself to thud as onto the streaked floor of

a swimming pool drained out for winter, no
greeny depths but lined in blackened leaves. 

*

The wind sheets slap the sea to ruffled wheatfields.
Angel, fish, paradise, rain of cherries.


from "Knowing in the Real World"


It will come sobbing in my ears
calling my names to me over and over.
I'll think, and try to keep my eyes
wide open as if swimming underwater.

from "What Else"


The violet 
light of snow falling.

*

It's restless, it can't 
find whiteness.

Its grey and violet
trillion souls.

from "Poor Snow"


I haven't got a body, till it hurts--

from "Pastoral"


...it will keep your beautiful soul glazed as a 
skein of floating hill mist and as quietly as slightly
and as palely lit--

from "Well All Right"


                                --what you need you shall not get until
once you no longer need it then you will, will fall through
jampacked rivers red with thickset fish, through thrashing
muscled rivers' noisy dash pulsing from mud depths up to
air-drenched jumping surfaces in brilliant scales of scarlet
time.

*

Wait, lean from the topmost window, see over all this city
in its gravely vigorous life the moon hung orange in the 
humming sky, the deeply breathing the electric air, tall
houses dropping glow, one fox-pure shriek, dark gardens'
charcoal pools, faint droning far-off traffic, never sleep
high twists of sirens spiral down the road and palest heads
of swimming roses gape awash in their own light against
the grind of buses starting out as in this night a single
traveller flies home through everything inside one life, its
fearful hesitations, pouncing leaps of speed; at daybreak
an hour's whiteness comes to lie in folds not brushed by
any shadow screens, I act as a fan, I find soul settlement

from "A Drift"


No I don't much like this bland authoritative tone either
but it is what I took from years of reworded loss.
So if my skin slid downwards to the ground
you would see only a standing pillar of blood.
Believe that this would be true also of you.

from "Cruelty without Beauty"


...next become mildly malicious in studying the failed consolations of middle age
that at least some of the people you once mistakenly went to bed with and v.v.
now sometimes look seedier, more despairing than you, though that's only
because you get to use lipstick and hair-dye whereas they on the whole do not--
your vanities, and pleasure in theatrical self-blame, have got you where you are today
that's here: and though you've noticed now that you can breathe again, you do

*

with how to hook on to the sliding skin of the world in time
or: in time I am going to die, can you be there

*

an engine of light forgets about everything
but roaring you into it

*

Not your happy here-we-go-down-together dream of a roseate catastrophe
Not your reassuring conviction that whole governments
Will pale and stagger under the jawbones of your dismembered syntax
Vain boy! it keeps you busy, though you know
That Belgrade and Zagreb still shelter many post-surrealists, as does East Central One.

*

There was such brilliance lifting off the sea, its aquamarine strip 

*

Thickened with books again, vexed by the
grave again, falling downstairs and not looking

and going outside again there's
a world, there's one in here also



 





Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Japanese Garden at Monte Palace Gardens, Funchal, Madeira, December 2014


For me, the most beautiful part of the Monte Palace Tropical Garden was the Japanese garden. These pictures don't render how exquisite it was, so you'll just have to see if for yourself!







 A large pond of koi!







Thursday, 18 December 2014

"Permanent Winter"

My short-short story, "Permanent Winter," appears in the December online issue of Bluestem, available to read here. I wrote it last January, when my brother-in-law Reggie was complaining on Facebook about all the snow days they were having in Illinois.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A mini-interview with Patricia Ann McNair

Some months ago, Chicago fiction writer Patricia Ann McNair interviewed me, and it's now on her website here. My favourite question was "If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be?" That took some thought.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Denise Riley's Selected Poems (Reality Street, 2000), first selection

Some favourite passages as I reread Riley's Selected Poems: 


An unselfconscious wife is raised high as a flag over
                 the playground and burns up

*

today it is all grandiose domestic visions truly


from Marxism for Infants



the houses are murmuring with many small pockets of emotion


from "Affections Must Not"


                                                             I'm seeing present history
glance round it for support, I'm hearing it at work to stammer its imperfect story
go on too long, be conscientious, grab at straws, then reach its edge of tears.

*

                       ...I'll leave
as I might leave a party whose guests are venomous yet inconsolable....

*

What is it that shapes us, whether 
we will or no, that through these

opened and reopened mouths that form
the hollow of a speaking wound, we
come to say, yes, now we are Illyrian.

 from "Laibach Lyrik: Slovenia, 1991"


If I seem mirthful it is tinsel & spangles on a black ground.

*

To come to the point, avoiding the temptation to impertinent
& superfluous labour. Exactness the common honesty of art.
What is prosperity without it but a violated responsibility.

*

The solemn & inexhaustible eloquence of rains and mountain.

*

We are first green and then grey and then nothing in this world.

from "Letters from Palmer"


                                                       Now
steady me against inaccuracy, a lyric urge
to showing off. 

*

                                          This
representing yourself, desperate to get it right,
as if you could, is that the aim of the writing?
'I haven't got off lightly, but I got off'--that won't
deflect your eyes that track you through the dark.

*

Will you be good towards
these animals of unease
I can just about call them home.

*

                                                I'd thought
to ask around, what's lyric poetry?
Its bee noise starts before I can:
You do that; love me; die alone.

*

Unanxious, today. 
A feeling of rain
and dark happiness.

from "A Shortened Set"