Books cluttering my desk


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Books cluttering my desk

marraskuu 23, 2019, 3:57 am

Pile of books on my desk as usual

Harrap's Shorter Dictionaire Its huge I hate to think what the longer version is like.

The Poetry of the Faerie Queene - Paul J Alpers Critical study of Spenser's Faerie Queen good in places.

Force Of Circumstances - Simone de Beauvoir. I have read it but it's still hanging around.

A reader's Guide to W H Auden - John Fuller Dipping in to this

W H Auden Selected Poems

Poems of Sir Philip Sidney A collection of most of Sidney's poetry.

Allegorical Imagery; some mediaeval books and their posterity - Rosemond Tove. looking forward to getting to this one.

Vingt Mille lieues sous les mers - Jules Verne. the original french version at over 600 pages and likely to remain on my desk for some time.

Fleur Adcock selected poems nearly done with these.

Edmund Spenser's poetry a Norton Critical Edition

The reader's companion to twentieth century writers - Peter Parker

Arden of Faversham - Unknown

Cassandra at the Wedding Dorothy Baker my next novel

marraskuu 23, 2019, 6:46 am

I can't do that. My desk has two little book cases on it, so the unread books are to my left among the major shelves, on a sort of table next to my bed, overflowing a little shelf in the bathroom in front of the throne, on top of the disabled dryer next to the throne, on the balcony, and on the dining table.

marraskuu 23, 2019, 9:08 am

>1 baswood:
A reasonable case has recently been made that about a third of Arden of Feversham is early work by Shakspere the Player from Stratford. Roughly the middle third.

marraskuu 24, 2019, 12:08 am

>2 RickHarsch: LOL, I recognize the situation.

Here, just to my right between the mandarine peels and the empty glasses my boys left last night,...

- A rare book on Sea Monsters by Heuvelmans
- One hundred years of solitude ( the folio edition ) that I started 5 times, never been able to keep my attention long enough
- 2 of the 3 Braudel's Rick recommended - half read and intriguing
- A recent book on human exploitation on the open sea by Ian Urbina. Not started yet.
- L'Afrique fantôme ( Magical Africa ) by the famous ethnologue Michaël Leiris - half finished -
- The Gabriela book by Jorge Amado. Not started yet.
- Simenon : Les demoiselles de Concarneau. After three other Simenon, I came to a halt here midway, although it is captivating story.

Instead of reading last night, I watched the Milos Forman - Amadeus movie again, thrilled by the beautiful music. I don't like how Sallieri is presented as the bad guy in the movie, but that is cinema I guess.

marraskuu 24, 2019, 8:21 am

You have Braudel's Mediterranean I hope...

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 24, 2019, 10:32 am

Yes. "La Méditerranée".
reading it in French

marraskuu 24, 2019, 1:36 pm

I am sure he would approve.

marraskuu 25, 2019, 7:05 am

Another book arrived today cluttering up my Desk

Shakespeare: The Drama of his time by Martin Wiggins.

marraskuu 5, 2020, 6:59 pm

Caroline Moorehead - Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France
During the second world war some villages in unoccupied France sheltered jews from Nazi persecution. The Vichy government in collaboration with the Germans ruled the unoccupied area which covered roughly half of France. The Village of Secrets is really a collection of villages on the Plateau Vivrais-Lignon which succeeded in frustrating some of the Vichy government's attempts to round up jews for deportation to the German death camps. The villages unique position in the mountains of the central massif and the religious culture that was prevalent inspired the inhabitants to do more than most frenchmen to save Jews from the holocaust. The Vichy government were intent on carrying out the bidding of their German masters and some might say they were overzealous. Although the Vichy government were ruling their country in collaboration with the Germans they saw themselves as protecting the nation of France. It is not difficult then to understand why French officials and the police force fearing occupation and the loss of their identity as a nation would carry out, and in some cases encourage the persecution of minorities who were not french. Unfortunately there are many examples of racial hatred as a tool used by politicians to cling on to power.

After the end of the war while France was busy taking revenge against the collaborators it was also trying to move on from some actions regarded as shameful during the occupation. There was a collective denial of the events surrounding the rounding up of the Jews to placate the voracious Nazis final solution. Moorehead's book was published in 2014 when France had belatedly admitted to the role of the Vichy government in the holocaust. It was therefore not as controversial as it might have been, but would have added to the unease of many inhabitants of villages and towns in rural France that were in Vichy territory, because many were far more compliant with the Nazis aims. It should also of course stir up unease in many readers who might well ask themselves what action or non action they would have taken in a similar situation. This was a horror story that happened in living memory.

I found Village of Secrets a well organised book. The first few chapters fill in the background to the Vichy Government's policies and the setting up of the French internment camps, from there we learn of conditions inside the camps and start to meet some of the individuals who will feature in the story of the 'Secret' villages. We follow the lucky ones who made the journey up into the mountains and are with them when they meet the people who will be responsible for trying to save their lives. Chambon the most important village is described along with the characters who will play an active part in the story. The unique protestant culture is explained with the pacifist pastor André Trocmé being an inspirational preacher, but in surrounding villages there were Darbyists and Ravenist; protestant cults who new the price to be paid for being different. When the first of the Jewish children arrived in Chambon it was not too difficult to find safe houses for them with the reclusive religious families. On to 1942; it is the Vichy officials who are the main threat with a system of informers and collaborators, more children arrive through an unofficial network and by 1943 conditions have become so desperate that a network of people smugglers is set up to get children and Jews on a wanted list across to Switzerland. In 1944 it is the Germans who are the enemy, facing defeat they desperately try to complete the extermination programme themselves, while the Vichy armed police fight it out with the maquis. Morehead tells her story through incidents in the lives of the refugees during the four years of German control. We follow their stories and the stories of the villagers that helped them. Characters emerge and just as tragically disappear as Moorehead chillingly documents numbers of the convoy train carriages that take them to the death camps. Some just disappear, but many are kept alive through the hard work and risks taken by the villagers. The liberation of France while stopping the immediate threat to life and limb did not solve the long term issues for children who have lost their parents and adults who have lived in fear for four long years and Moorehead provides some living testimony to this.

There is an after-word that ties up some loose ends, but also questions the veracity of some of the stories. It is still not clear who among the Vichy officials lent a helping hand when they could. There were double agents and some acted pragmatically, but by the very nature of clandestine actions it will never be known who were the good guys and who were the traitors. Publications and films made of the events have tended to cloud the issue. A book by Philip Hailie an American historian published in 1979 based on an autobiography by Andre Trocmé, which seemed to claim that the pacifist views of the pastor were the main reason the villages were successful: caused much distress amongst the villagers. Moorehead has tried to let the villagers and the jews speak for themselves when she can, but their stories are couched with her own research of the events. It is probably even more difficult to arrive at a true version of events when people are still alive to give their versions; relying on a memory that stretches back 70 years or the stories of their parents.

Caroline Moorehead's book is a sobering account of life in an area of France where people had sometimes to make life or death decisions. At the time the German extermination camps were not common knowledge, but the evidence was everywhere to be seen of the ill treatment of the jews, identified by the Nazis as an inferior race. The people of the Plateau Vivrais-Lignon did better than most areas of the country in the preservation of human dignity, by taking risks to save others. Moorehead provides a lively background to her history and the events are described in a style that bends towards journalism, which makes it an enthralling and realistic read. The lists of primary sources and secondary sources at the back of the book is evidence of her research. Perhaps not the last word on the treatment of jews in Vichy France, but being tied to a relatively small area with characters brought alive by their stories it makes for a good book and so 4 stars.

joulukuu 10, 2020, 7:21 pm

Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House (the novel)


Published in 1959 the storyline is very familiar to many mystery readers or film buffs. Doctor Montague invites three other people to spend their vacation at a so called haunted house. The story is told largely from Eleanor's point of view as the story starts with her travelling in a borrowed car to Hill House. Eleanor has been invited by the doctor because of a paranormal event that she witnessed as a child and he has asked his guests to help him record events at the house during their stay. Theodora another of the guests has a slight reputation for telepathy and Luke is a relation of the owner of the house which will soon come down to him as an inheritance.

Doctor Montague has no special equipment and apart from relating the back history to the building and being fascinated by paranormal activity, he has no real qualifications for his ghost hunt. Four people and a weird housekeeper alone in a house 6 miles from the nearest town is the stuff or springboard for plenty of mystery/horror stories, but Jackson imbues her story with many atmospheric descriptions of the house and some puzzling conversations between the four characters. The novel has a tension created by some ghostly events and some surprising reactions from the invited guests. Eleanor seems to be affected most by the house and the book closely follows her experiences as she starts to lose a grip on her situation.

It is a very well written gothic horror story with a 1950's flavour, but am I the only reader who is inclined to read more into the story than is actually there. Much is unstated and yet the story has a conclusion that brings the tale to a satisfactory ending, but I can't help wondering who was the ghost or who were the ghosts, or were there any ghosts at all. A fine mystery and 4 stars.

marraskuu 21, 2021, 9:07 am

Less is More - How Degrowth Will Save The World - Jason Hickel.
I am assuming in our heart of hearts that the majority of us know that we must consume less to save planet earth from ecological disaster. Jason Hickel outlines the history of the rise of capitalism whose central tenant is that we must all consume more. It is little wonder then that he is of the belief that capitalism is going to destroy the planet. I don't think he ever uses those words exactly, but this is his message. This all chimes very neatly with my own views and so for the majority of the book I was nodding my head in agreement. However a book with such a dramatic title and subtitle is bent on changing the minds of other people who do not hold the same views: this I think is where it might fail. It can seem a bit simplistic with perhaps not enough gravitas, although there are pages of references and end notes.

The book is divided into two parts; More is Less and Less is More, but in my view there is a third part to this book, which continually threatens and then succeeds in tipping it over into the realms of an anthropological conclusion, which strays too far away from the issues of climate change. So lets start with the first two parts of the book as stated in the contents list. More is Less is Hickel's take on the rise of capitalism; a history that neatly reflects my own views, because at many points I was thinking to myself I could have written this. He starts or should that be; we start, with a long definition of capitalism and how it is based on continued growth: the breakdown of feudalism in the late middle ages which gave rise to the enclosure acts in Britain and the wealth created by the merchant class. The early capitalism fuelled more inequality and the continued race to expand, led to colonisation in the search for raw materials and cheap labour. This section concludes with the authors view that: the over reliance on a country's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a measurement of well being is hopelessly flawed. He concludes by asking the question: Why do we need to keep expanding the economy year on year. The Second Section; Less is More starts with the premise:

"We know exactly what works: reduce inequality, invest in universal public goods, and distribute income and opportunity more fairly.
What’s exciting about this approach is that it also has a direct positive impact on the living world. As societies become more egalitarian, people feel less pressure to pursue ever-higher incomes and more glamorous status goods. This liberates people from the treadmill of perpetual consumerism."

He then explores alternative approaches to capitalist consumerism, before running through the obstacles to any new initiatives: noting the richest 10% of the population are responsible for over 50% of carbon emissions, the richest 1% have their hands firmly on the levers of power and will do all they can to stifle democracy. He says the reason why we are starring down the barrel of an ecological crisis is because our political systems have become completely corrupted.

Jason Hickel is an economic anthropologist by training and what is bubbling beneath the surface of his text and which finally breaks through towards the end is his belief in the interconnectedness of nature. He gives examples of anthropological studies of peoples who have learned to live with their environments, people that see little difference between humans, other animals and plant life. People that believe in reciprocity: what you take away from the planet you should put back in. He believes in the more than human world:

"It gestures towards how we might begin to heal the rift from which this crisis has ultimately sprung. It empowers us to imagine a richer, more fertile future: a future free from the old dogmas of capitalism and rooted instead in reciprocity with the living world. The ecological crisis requires a radical policy response. We need high-income countries to scale down excess energy and material use; we need a rapid transition to renewables; and we need to shift to a post-capitalist economy that’s focused on human well-being and ecological stability rather than on perpetual growth."

Hickel does stray into the realms of Gaia a sort of personification of the earth that might deter some readers. I understand where he is coming from, but have not the understanding of the issues to make any sort of valid judgement. I am more at home with the historic, economic and practical information that is contained in this book. The book is easy to read and I wish some of my friends would read it. A four star read

marraskuu 24, 2021, 5:25 am

How To Save Our Planet: The facts by Mark Maslin
The book amounts to a series of bullet points, backed up by further references, these further references took up over 40% of the book according to the information on my kindle. Bullet points perhaps for an audience with a short attention span, some of the points are recycled as one page only images, so as to further grab the attention of the reader. In his preface Mark Maslin says he wanted to write a book that makes people feel smarter, more knowledgable and empowered to act: this is a book you can quote in the pub or at a dinner party or even in parliament.

There is nothing radically wrong with a book like this although it does feel more like a pamphlet. It was just not the right book for me. There was nothing here that I did not already know and I found the one sentence bullet point annoying me fairly quickly. If you are the sort of person who like to quote newspaper headlines in an argument then this is the book for you. It provides links in its reference section for those people who wish to explore further: I was intrigued to follow the link to the company website for BP which has an aim of attaining net zero carbon emissions by 2050. All quite laudable but probably too little far too late. I could not help noticing the language and the bullet point feel of their website to be very similar to Mark Maslin's book.

As a quick reference guide I think the book works well enough. Don't expect any radical solutions here, or much of a call to arms, but as a middle of the road compendium of where we are and what needs to be done it serves its purpose and so 3.5 stars.

joulukuu 11, 2021, 9:10 am

joulukuu 11, 2021, 9:11 am

Andreas Malm and the Zetkin Collective - White Skin, Black Fuel: on the danger of Fossil fascism.
As I am reading my latest book on the imminent dangers of a climate catastrophe, the rain is battering down on the skylight window above my desk. It has been raining in heavy bursts for the last four days and when I was out walking yesterday the fields down in the valley were sodden with water. Today the region is on an orange warning to the dangers of flooding and there is no doubt that the local rivers will burst their banks again. We have reached the stage now where it is not a question of whether there will be flooding, but now, how often it will occur?

Andreas Malm is a Swedish author and an associate professor of human ecology and sits on the editorial board of the academic journal Historical Materialism and has been described as an original thinker on the subject of climate change. His political stance is decidedly left wing with the weight of the history of fascist movements sitting heavily on his shoulders. His premise in White Skin, Black Fuel is that there is an historical link between the petrol chemical industries and racist politics. He refers to this as fossil fascism. The idea that the burners of fossil fuel will continue to burn their way to the destruction of the planet by exploiting prejudices against migrant populations and climate denialism. According to Malm it is a tactic that has an historical precedent in the fascist movements in Germany and Italy after the first world war. We can witness history repeating itself today with the rise of right wing political movements that have succeeded in electing Trump in America, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Andrzej Duda in Poland and the UK's Brexit government. Malm comes up with his own definition of fascism and it is interesting to consider how closely these political movements resemble his ideas:

"fascism is a politics of palingenetic ultranationalism that comes to the fore in a conjuncture of deep crisis, and if leading sections of the dominant class throw their weight behind it and hand it power, there ensues an exceptional regime of systematic violence against those identified as enemies of the nation."

Much of the book is a history lesson, a history lesson according to Malm that walks the reader through the story of imperialism: the discovery of coal and oil that powered the might of industrial nations and enabled them to dominate and subjugate much of the southern hemisphere. This is a fascinating story, but feels at times like a thesis written to prove an academic point. I think the links between fossil burning industry, right wing politicians and their resort to fascist policies are there in plain sight, however the historical linkage even if proven adds minimally to the important questions that face the world today; one of which is how are we to divest the power of the fossil fuel extractors from their influence over governments. Malm's book certainly enables us to recognise the enemy (the fossil fascists) and to understand the methods at its disposal to protect its interests. His own ideas from his historical perpective are that: capitalism, not human beings are changing the climate; industrialisation itself is less of a problem than the fossil system that powers it. The overwhelming focus on climate activism must be on dismantling fossil infrastructure.

Malm asks; why do so many parties and politicians of the far right traffic in climate denialism and he refers to the various stages of climate denial based on the ideas of Stanley Cohen's book 'States of Denial: knowing about atrocities and suffering. His three stages of denial are:

If someone asserts that a bad thing does not happen and is not true, her denial is literal; if she accepts that it happens but gives it a lower degree of meaning – rewriting the event, obfuscating the effect, exculpating the perpetrator – it is interpretive. But the most insidious form is perhaps the third. Here the facts and gravity of the matter are accepted, but not acted upon. Knowledge is not an issue. The harm is fully acknowledged, but the obligation to intervene is suppressed through one cognitive technique or other.

On a personal level he uses an anecdote:

Imagine that your neighbour beats his wife badly every Saturday. Each Sunday morning, you wake up and think: what a wonderful neighbourhood this is, peaceful and prosperous, a blessing to live in! If someone asks whether you heard strange sounds yesterday evening, you shake your head vigorously. Or you might respond that some couples behave that way, fighting it out with fists and tableware – it is just one way of conducting an argument. They seem happy enough when he’s not drunk. Or you might recognise to yourself and others that there is grave violence inflicted on that woman and it ought to stop, but then you go about your daily life, month after month, and you listen to the muffled cries without acting – or perhaps you slip in the business card of a therapist through the letter slot, or talk to another neighbour who is also content just talking about the matter, and even if the assaults continue and you glimpse the woman in a state of physical collapse, you imagine that you have done your part.

Malm's thoughts on this are that right wing political leaders today who started out as literal deniers, have moved on to stage two and even stage three. Certainly the publicity emerging from the large petroleum companies Exxon Mobil or BP for example will highlight how they are combating climate change, a phrase now used for much of this would be greenwashing and therefore the third stage of denial.

The final section of the book entitled "Death at the Steering Wheel" is bristling with ideas and attempts to draw the various strands of the book together. This is not a book to instruct the reader as to what they can do to challenge climate change, although there is a section on activism and what is being done at the moment. It is a book that attempts to sketch in an historical perspective, to provide an understanding of the connections between right wing politics, an imperialist past and fascist policies that will blame and then attempt to eradicate the "citizens of nowhere"

Andreas Malm would seem to be the guiding hand behind this book, but it will I presume have contributions from the Zetkin collective, which probably accounts for my impression that the books lacks a little structure. The final section however focuses the readers attention on the difficulties facing those who say: we must act now. There is still much public support to keep the fossil fuel status quo and I know this from my own experience as I can hardly get the people around me to talk about it. I say to them: forget about the anti-vaxxers what you should really be concerned about is the climate deniers, in what ever form they take.

The rain has stopped at last, but the people in the valley are flooded. I am fortunate to live on a hill. However the house is old and it rained so hard the water poured in underneath the front door and flooded the hall. 4.5 stars.

kesäkuu 18, 2022, 7:39 pm

Holiday beach reading last week and it was only when I got to the three books I had taken with me that I realised that they were all short story collections:

John Collier - Fancies and Goodnights.
Another book from 1951, but these short stories were mostly written a decade or two earlier. They now appear in a kindle version in two volumes. I read the 32 stories in volume 1. John Collier was British born but lived for a time in Hollywood where he earned his living as a screenwriter for film and television, but he had success as a short story writer with many of these stories being published in the New Yorker.

The stories could be classed as entertainments with many of them having elements of fancy. Some of them were adapted for the television series 'Alfred Hitchcock presents' and they would have been equally at home in 'The Twilight Zone'. They are generally well written with Collier showing his screenwriting skills by introducing his scenarios quickly and effectively. Several of the best stories are crime dramas, for example The Touch of Nutmeg Makes it. In this story two friends working in a research library befriend a newcomer from out of town, he is difficult to get to know, but eventually opens up to reveal that he has recently been acquitted in a big murder trial; he tells his new friends it was a particularly frenzied murderous attack and they cannot believe that there new friend would be capable of such a crime, he invites them up to his apartment and mixes some drinks......

About half way through the collection I came across Great Possibilities and things began to get a little weirder; stuffed animals coming to life. Then there is Gavin O'Leary which is a story about a performing flea called Gavin O'Leary and Thus I Refute Beelzy which is a story of a child's imaginary friend coming horribly to life. This vein continues with Special Delivery where a shy young man falls in love with a mannequin in a Department store; Green Thoughts tells of a man eating plant that holds its victims, still half alive within itself and we seem to have spilled over into Alien territory. There are a couple more crime stories before the final story The Chaser where a loving celebrity couple have acquired just one potion of eternal youth, which one of them should use it?

The stories are clever rather than being emotional portraits and they all work towards an interesting ending, which does not always feature a plot twist, but can leave the reader to make up his own mind how it might end. The dialogue is handled well enough and these scenarios take place in America, England and France; all places familiar to the author. I suppose the stories may seem a little old fashioned now, with many of them familiar to television audiences, but I found them amusing to read and so 3.5 stars.

A.S. Byatt - The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye: Five Fairy Stories.
The first four stories are indeed pure fantasy fairy stories that take the reader back to a simple childhood fantasy land. They are beautifully and precisely written, but at the end of the fourth story Dragon's Breath I was wondering whether these tales were just an exercise in the execution of fairy tales; something along the lines of a famous author proving to herself that she can write in this vein. However the title story which is of novella length is worth the money spent on this collection. Byatt once again shows how she can mix literature, literary history and fantasy into a satisfying concoction that draws the reader into a compelling story.

The Djinn in the Nightingale's eye features Gillian Perholt; a story teller whose profession as a narratologist takes her to a conference in Ankara Turkey. She is described as English and stolid and a little nervous of flying, but thoughts of tales from the Arabian nights has piqued her interest. She is presenting a paper on Chaucer's tale The Patient Griselda which allows Byatt to retell this piece of literary history whilst adding her own thoughts to the relevance of the story. Gillian meets an old colleague Orhan Rifat who takes her to Istanbul, to museums, to the famous covered market and to Hagia Sophia. Their fascination for stories lead them to re-tell the story of Gilgamesh and his love for Enkidu. A young student of Orhan presents Gillian with a dirty small glass jar which may be very old and here starts Gillian's own fantasy story, because when she uncorks the bottle a huge Genie (Djinn) appears and grants her three wishes for releasing him from his prison.

Gillian of course wants to know more, wants to know the history of the Djinn, she wants to know his stories. She falls in love with the Djinn, her life has become a fantasy story, how should she frame her wishes, how should she keep her connection with the Djinn, what wonderful things will happen to her now and how can she avoid the pitfalls of wishing for too much or too little. Byatt takes the reader on a wonderful fantasy ride with a knowledgable protagonist ready to ask the questions one might wish to ask if ever you were lucky enough to enslave a Djinn: the right sort of Djinn that is, because Gillian's Djinn is kind, thoughtful and everything you might want a Djinn to be. It becomes a love story and a story that will gladden the heart of the reader and effortlessly take him/her back to childhood fantasies, with the added bonus of delving further into the myths.

The interest and depth of the Djinn story made me wish to re-read the more simple first four fairy stories and so 4 stars for this collection

Stanislaw Lem - The Cyberiad
Stanislaw Lem was a Polish writer of science fiction and essays on various subjects including philosophy, futurology and literary criticism.
The Cyberiad is a collection of short stories linked by the two central characters of Trurl and Klapaucius who are described as 'constructors. Published originally in Polish in 1965 the collection was a turning point in Lem's career. Trurl and Klapaucius are two cyber machines that have the power to invent almost anything for almost anybody. They sometimes work together and sometimes in competition, but their sphere of operation is all known space and their work is often planetary in scope. They pride themselves in being a power for good but their ego's often lead them into situations where more harm than good is done.

This is fantasy science fiction a bit like an adult version of Le Petit Prince and like that book the stories have a moral or philosophical bent that makes them worth the telling. Lem's universe is peopled by rulers very much in a hierarchy of absolutes: they are kings, emperors, military commanders, who request help from the constructors. These two are so powerful that extinguishing or kindling stars is as easy for them as shelling peas. They have requests to build a machine that can grant every wish or to construct the most powerful quarry for a lord of the hunt to test his skills. Trurl takes it on himself to construct a machine that writes poetry, he invents a machine that can do anything as long as the anything starts with the letter n.

If this all sounds like nonsense then the stories are probably not for you. Lem was however an imaginative writer, and his imagination stretched to not only inventing worlds and crazy situations, but also inventing words and whole new areas of scientific research. In the original Polish there was much word play and the translator Dr Michael Kandel has focused on trying to mirror the invented words and the word play. The stories being pretty much nonsense anyway probably do not suffer too much from this approach. There are jokes, there are puns and even the most ridiculous ideas can be amusing and sometimes thought provoking. I tend to judge science fiction by the amount of wonderment that it can produce, perhaps there is a bit too much wonderment here. I have so far read 70% of the stories and so will hang in there until the end.

tammikuu 21, 6:34 pm

Miles Davis: A Critical Biography - Ian Carr
This morning I was listening to a recording of Miles Davis concert performance at the Carnegie Hall in 1961. It was the concert that also featured Gil Evans big band as well as Davis's working quintet. On the CD it is evident that for some tracks Miles played solo backed by the band, on other tracks his quintet was playing out in front of the band and on others just the quintet was performing. I wondered how the concert was arranged, because it was clear that the original record did not include all the pieces played that night. I could not find the order of the performances on the internet, but I remembered I had an unread biography by Ian Carr. I still did not find the answer, but I could not put down the biography and finished it tonight.

The biography that I read was published in 1982 when Miles Davis was still alive. It was subsequently repackaged with additional information and called The Definitive Biography in 1998 after Davis had died in 1991. The Critical Biography concentrates on the music, Ian Carr is a well known jazz trumpeter and would have an inside track on both the music and some of the musicians that played with Miles. Where Davis's private life impacts on the music then Carr gives us the necessary information; for example Davis was critical of the treatment of black people in America and wanted his music to speak to them and sometimes for them. His music appealed mainly to the white jazz listening public and Miles, as he became more well known tried to shift the balance. There are of course instances of Davis falling foul of the police, the authorities and white service men, but this is not the main focus of this book. Ian Carr is a white jazz musician and he writes about what he knows best and that is the music.

The musical development of arguably the greatest jazz trumpeter is well documented. His early association with Charlie Parker in the bebop groups, and then moving beyond that to leading his own groups in what is now known as cool jazz. The winning of most jazz accolades quickly followed and then his first great quintet with John Coltrane. We follow him searching to take his music further after the break up of this group and the next great quintet with Wayne Shorter. The music has changed with the personnel and Miles is forging his own path steering away from the avant garde players and looking over his shoulder at the younger rock musicians. He takes on board electric instruments and once again a period of transition where the rhythmic pulse drives him towards more skeletal stripped down music; his music becomes funkier taking on board some of the sounds from rock music and he becomes more interested in group improvisation. Ian Carr takes us through all the important recording sessions, describing the music played and the people playing it. He includes comments from Miles' sideman digging to try and get inside Miles' own thoughts on the music he was making. The critical bit of the biography is criticism of the music, not the lifestyle of the musicians

Ian Carr gives musical examples and there is an appendix at the back with written musical examples. Some knowledge of how jazz and music works will enhance the reading experience, but it is not essential because Carr explains as well as he can the sound created and how the musicians went about their work. For me this was the perfect biography, yes it does concentrate on the music, but there is enough background to give a feel for the characters of the individuals who make that music. There are some of Miles famous quotes scattered through the text and one at the start of each chapter:

"When it comes to human rights, these prejudiced white people keep on acting like they own the damn franchise"

" I don't buy polish .......Polished negroes are acting the way they think white people want them to act, so they can be accepted"

" An artists first responsibility is to himself"

I am glad that I read the original publication of 1982, which stops while Davis was still alive with the last item in the discography being the 1981 session that produced Man with the Horn. Miles was still making music, but his health was failing and his important work was behind him. I don't like being in at the death when I read a biography. Ian Carr's love of the music is evident all through the book, but he is critical of some of music without being prejudiced against a certain style or trend. I can vouch for the accuracy of some of his observations because he describes a Miles Davis concert in London in 1967 where I was in the audience and it was just how I remembered it. This is a fabulous biography for anyone interested in jazz and/or Miles Davis 5 stars.

tammikuu 24, 12:05 am

>16 baswood: Bravo, a nice one Bas.
Jotted down " I don't like being in at the death when I read a biography.", I know exactly what you mean.

maaliskuu 2, 11:23 am

Selected Poems - Fleur Adcock
Fleur Adcock now 89 years old has eighteen collections of poetry behind her and her collected poems were published in 2019. Born in New Zealand she has lived in England during her later years. This selection of her poems was published in 1983 and so is missing all ten subsequent books of poetry. There are 146 poems crammed into 124 pages. I started reading the poems over three years ago and have read them all now, mostly in short bursts. I do think that you need to spend more time with a book of poetry than when reading a novel, but three years is perhaps a bit too long, especially when there are more than 150 poetry books in your TBR.

It was not the difficulty of reading the poems, nor was it a lack of enjoyment that kept me from finishing the selection. The book just kept getting buried under piles of other books. Fleur Adcock's poems will not cause much difficulty for most readers, but some are complex enough to make the reader unsure of an interpretation, a meaning or the tenor of the piece. I found the poems strong on description with frugal use of exotic imagery. Much of her later poetry is in free verse, but some of her earlier work does use rhyming schemes; she uses different stanza forms, choosing them to fit the subject of the poem. She is a poet very aware of the world around her, the natural world in particular, she is inspired by places that she visits and some of the poems are small travelogues: This is from her book Below Loughrigg the lake district in England.

I am the dotted lines on the map
Footpaths exist only when they are walked on.
I am gravel tracks through the woodland; I am
field paths, the muddy ledge by the stream,
the stepping stones. I am the grassy lane
open between waist-high bracken where sheep
fidget. I am the track to the top
Skirting and scaling rocks. I am the cairn

here on the brow of the world I stop,
set my stone face to the wind and turn
to each wide quarter. I am that I am.

She writes about human relationships her own love affairs and about sex. She is pithy about her partners and very aware of her self as a woman. In her poem Against Coupling which vaunts the joys of masterbation; she ends with:

I advise you, then to embrace it without
encumbrance. No need to set the scene,
dress up (or undress), make speeches.
Five minutes of solitude are
enough - in the bath, or to fill
that gap between the Sunday papers and lunch.

She writes about children, she writes about grandparents, she writes about other women, keenly observing people in isolation, her subjects are far and wide, but usually make reference to the natural world. She is skilled in the use of irony and it is this skill that sometimes makes the reader wonder as to how he should read some of the poems. She writes in the first person and much of the poetry makes the reader feel that he is there with her when she is describing what she sees and what she feels, however her strength is as an observer, she is not always concerned with 'the meaning of life'. She can be funny and she can be witty and most of her poems work well. I never felt out of my depth when reading, her poems have a point to them that can readily be understood.

My only criticism is that these 146 poems seem a little cramped in their 124 pages. I think many of the poems would benefit from a little more space around them. I will keep this book handily within reach for a while longer and dip back into its pleasures 4 stars.

maaliskuu 10, 4:54 am

Vermeer, Gregor J.M. Weber
This is the catalogue to the Vermeer exposition at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam which is on this spring with all the tickets having been sold. We have tickets for next week, but with the train strikes happening all over France at the moment we have I think a fifty per cent chance of getting there.
I ordered the catalogue in advance because it is a large coffee table size book of over 300 pages and it will stay on our coffee table.

I was a little disappointed when I received the book to discover that the reproductions of all the photographs are in a dull matt finish, but having read through the catalogue which contains many enlargements of specific areas of the canvases I can understand that this was the best option. There are 37 paintings in the exposition and they are all examined in some detail by the various contributors to the book. I should call it a book rather than a catalogue because the chapters are arranged by various themes that cover the working life of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). It starts with a short history of his life with a little of the background and this is followed by a description of the interior of his house. Historians know a lot about this, because shortly after Vermeer's death his wife filed for bankruptcy and there was an inventory made of all her possessions room by room, this document was published for the first time in 1957, therefore we discover that in the attic room upstairs, there were two painting easels: this has led to some conjecture as to whether Vermeer had a pupil. Gregor J. M. Weber then follows with a chapter on the pictorial world of Vermeer, highlighting the innovations that he made and explaining his mastery of perspective.

The following chapters then discuss the paintings in the exposition, starting with the four early historical paintings before moving onto his breathtaking picture of the 'View of Delft'. The chapter entitled 'In Search of the Perfect Illusion of Space' by J.M Weber takes some of Vermeer's early interior scenes examining them in some detail, which is useful in guiding the eye of the reader as to what to look for specifically in the paintings; for example his innovative way of using different thicknesses of paint to emphasise the feeling of space that he attains in his pictures. There is a chapter on the various position of windows and how they brought light into the paintings and how Vermeer used this to make his compositions. There are chapters on the people in the pictures, what they are doing, their relationships to one another, their clothes and possessions and how they are situated in the rooms. There is a discussion on his portraits (Tronies) for example the famous 'Girl with the Pearl Ear Ring'. The final chapter is devoted to another masterpiece 'The Art of Painting'.

All the chapters are preceded by page size reproductions of parts of the painting or sometimes the whole paintings, within the chapters there are smaller productions of other artists works that complement Vermeer or give some insight to his innovations. Various contributors to the book have individual chapters, but apart from some differing opinions on whether Vermeer used a camera obscura or other historical details, the chapters flow together very well. The book is of course aimed at the more general reader, but there is plenty of information, certainly enough to enhance the enjoyment of the paintings. The books starts with smaller reproductions of the 37 works on display and serve as a useful reference. There are no shortages of all Vermeer's work available on the internet and having one of these reproductions to hand while reading the text is very useful. There is of course an extensive bibliography and copious notes at the end of each chapter. The main purpose of a book like this; that purports to be much more than just a catalogue is to inform the reader in preparation for his visit and to provide a keepsake afterwards and I think this book serves that purpose very well. It is not a book to lug around the exposition itself. 5 stars.

maaliskuu 10, 4:06 pm

your lucky, I couldn't get hold of a ticket.
But your review makes it up

maaliskuu 19, 9:42 am

Just back from a four day trip to Amsterdam to see the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijks Museum. We were fortunate that none of the four trains that we took were cancelled as we had chosen the week where it was predicted there would be social unrest in France due to the Government passing the pensions bill into law. We had one scare when we received an alert on our phones just as we exited the exhibition to say that the French train for the following day was cancelled, however while in Amsterdam we had changed our phones to English language and the translation had missed out a negative. The message should have read the train will not be cancelled. We enjoyed the train journeys which were clean, comfortable, cheap and lightning fast. After having avoided big cities for the last couple of years due to Covid we found ourselves visiting three big cities in four days - Bordeaux, Paris, Amsterdam. We were a little taken aback by the numbers of people surrounding us, especially in Amsterdam, but we soon got used to it.

The tickets for the Vermeer exhibition were timed entrance and when we arrived for our 9.30 slot there was already a large queue and so we expected that the number of people in the exhibition rooms would be considerable. A wing of the museum has been devoted to the 37 pictures on display and although there were usually just one or two pictures on each wall the rooms were still half full of people and so the crowd in front of each picture was four or five deep, but a wait of three to five minutes was enough to be able to edge into the front row, where you could be in touching distance of the paintings. Apart from the four early religious paintings and the large landscape of 'The View of Delft' the canvases are not very large. Many of them must have been brilliantly restored because they shone out as though they had been painted yesterday. The attraction of these 17th century paintings to viewers today is their accessibility. Most of them are interior scenes, showing one, two or three people in a room seemingly going about their everyday business. They are painted with all the accuracy of a photograph, but with the added depth of perspective and the feel for the materials and furnishings that only a good painting can provide. They really do seem to be a snapshot of everyday life. The lighting and positioning of the paintings was exemplary.

The crowds of people in the exhibition were well behaved in the main and considerate to other viewers, no one lingering too long at the front of the queue, however I was amazed by the number of people taking photos on their phones. It seemed to be the main point of the exercise getting in prime position to take the photograph, without really looking at the paintings. I could not see the point as there are many superb reproductions available on the internet. I had to be careful that my overriding impression was not just the views of the paintings on other peoples telephones as they took their pictures.

The day before we saw the Vermeers we had timed tickets for the Van Gogh museum which is the next building in the park and I have to say I enjoyed this experience even more than the Vermeers. Plenty of the artists pictures are on display along with those of his contemporaries and the story of his life and work is very well captured. This is a permanent exhibition and so allows more time and thought for the display and it shows.

'The best painting in the world' claimed our Dutch art historian friend.
Vermeer - View of Delft

maaliskuu 19, 11:38 am

Nicholas Blake - The Dreadful Hollow
Published in 1953 this is the 10th book in the detective novel series featuring Nigel Strangeways. After reading the selected poems of Cecil Day-Lewis I wondered how his detective novels would read, under his pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. The short answer is that this one was an entertaining read.

Nigel Strangeways is a private investigator and is hired by a financier Sir Archibald Blick to travel down to his village in Dorset where he is the major landowner. Blick has been informed that a vicious series of poison pen letters has been unleashed, causing a suicide in the village. He has two sons Charles and Stanford living in the village and in the past there had been a nasty incident between the Blick's and the other wealthy family the Chantmerle's. In part one of the book Strangeways easily solves the mystery of who sent the poison pen letters, but when Sir Archibald Blick comes down in person to receive Nigel's report he is promptly murdered. In part 2 Strangeways assists the police in solving the murder.

The writing is good and the characterisation is excellent. Blake painstakingly describes the village and all the interviews with the characters. There are plenty of instances of summing up the story so far, for those readers who have not been paying attention. I suppose many veterans of mystery stories would solve this case even before Strangeways makes the big reveal. It is of course very 1950's British and Blake does a good job in creating an atmosphere of mystery. There is no suspense and everybody behaves quite well, but I enjoyed it all and would quite happily read another in the series. 3 stars.

maaliskuu 19, 2:41 pm

>21 baswood: Envious applause

huhtikuu 8, 4:42 pm

Orson Scott Card - Speaker for the Dead.
It is ten years since I read Ender's Game and so I am a bit late in getting to the second book in the series: Speaker for the Dead; published in 1986. It is generally a well liked novel with over 200 reviews and won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. I was not disappointed as Orson Scott Card has come up with another scenario that fires the imagination. There was a moment in Enders Game when we learnt the secrets behind the alien invasion and it was genuinely surprising and had been skilfully fashioned in the lead up to the big reveal. Card does it again in Speaker for the Dead; the actions of the alien race can only be explained when more is known of their story, however until that moment their mysterious behaviour is intriguing.

Ender Wiggins is the Speaker for the dead still trying to atone for the xenocide (the destruction of an entire alien species) that he carried out in the first novel. This time he is summoned to a planet where another alien species is proving just as hard to understand as the Buggers were in the first book. Yes Buggers was the name given to the alien species in the first book and this time round the alien race are called Piggies (no high marks for nomenclature then). Lusitania is a planet where power is shared between a catholic priesthood and a civil administration and a group of scientists are studying an alien race under a strict policy of no intervention. The Piggies have killed two of the scientist in particularly gruesome rituals and Ender sees it as his task to solve the dilemma. He must first overcome the hostility of the priesthood and of the family who have summoned him to speak for one of their dead.

Enders straightforward psychological approach leads to immediate positive results within the family and the catholic priesthood are also soon won over. If these scenarios achieved within a four day period are a little beyond belief they are nevertheless good background to the uncovering of a startling alien life form. Orson Scott Card handles the dialogue and characterisation smoothly enough in order to fit together all the loose pieces in this puzzle. It is a story with a moral that does become a bit Spielberg like, but I can forgive this because of some intricate storytelling and huge dollops of the sense of wonder that makes for excellent science fiction 4.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 1, 5:13 am

Hugh Merrill - The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D Macdonald.

A biography of John D Macdonald a prolific author of crime and suspense novels. I was interested to read it because I wanted to get an insight into the life of an author like Macdonald who was able to sit down in front of his typewriter and just write: 8 hours a day, which must have been just like turning up to the office. He wrote at a time before computers put this facility in the hands of many more people. One wonders where he got his inspiration, where he got his ideas to write so many books: well over 60, plus many more short stories. The book is not able to give much information on the inner workings of Macdonald's mind, but it does a good job in explaining the situation of a person who wanted to earn his living from writing.

The biography follows his life in chronological order. It tells of his education, his restlessness, but finally his award of an MBA at Harvard university in 1939. He had got married in 1937 and with a family to support, needed to earn a living by his writing, hence his discipline of sitting down in front of his typewriter to churn out and send off his short stories to the pulp magazines. There were many more magazines in the crime/detective genre being published and so that is the genre in which Macdonald wrote, with a brief flirtation with science fiction. He had his first standalone novel "The Brass Cupcake" published in 1950 and then there were 3/4 novels published every year until in 1957 when he had a big success with 'The Executioners' which was filmed as Cape Fear. Hugh Merrill says that Macdonald had built up a steady following of readers, who knew what they were going to get with a Macdonald crime novel: a well written entertainment. Many more novels followed before he started the first of his Travis McGee series in 1964, which really hit pay dirt.

Merrill only briefly refers to the books (there would be far too many to analyse in any depth) being more intent on putting his career into the context of his life and times. He does however compare him to other writers in the genre, particularly with his Travis McGee books, which he claims are more sympathetic to female characters than most of the hard bitten crime novels published at that time. Macdonald was also anti-racist but struggled to find a voice for this in his work. He was also interested in the environment, particularly in Florida where he eventually made his home and some of this is reflected in his novels. There are plenty of quotes from his letters and some from the forwards to his novels in a book that seems well researched, however I did not get much of a feel for Macdonald as a person, as the biography seems more of a paper exercise.

Macdonald was one of those popular authors that at times attracted the attention of literary critics. He sold over 70 million books and so he could hardly be ignored. I have only read one of his early science fiction novels, but found his writing to be more than competent. I am tempted to try one of his novels from the extremely popular Travis McGee series. This biography is useful background material and so 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 4, 8:03 am

Flann O'Brien - The Third Policeman
Published in 1967, O'Brien's weird novel was written in 1939-40 and published a year after his death. I found myself losing patience with it, struggling to understand what was going on in the macabre world that O'Brien portrays. As I approached the final couple of chapters I had a good idea of where the novel was going; I don't want to spoil it for other readers, but I wish someone had spoilt it for me. I might then have been able to appreciate more of the silliness that had gone on before; particularly the conversations in the police barracks. I am not going to re-read it in order to discover the pearls of wisdom that some other readers have found, it wasn't that intriguing for me.

It is difficult to pigeonhole the book although it often appears in the genre of science fiction. I would be more inclined to think of it as a horror story with plenty of black humour. It would certainly appeal to bicycle lovers and to readers who might be in-tune to O'Brien's sense of humour. Perhaps the notion that people become as one with their bicycles because of the continual displacement of atoms as they ride their bone-shakers on the rough roads make it appear as science fiction, after all O'Brien goes out of his way to explain through one of his characters how this happens, or perhaps the continual reference to the madder than most scientist de Selby clinches it for some people. I remain unconvinced

My own view is that the book has been overhyped as a rediscovered masterpiece of modernist literature, but I did in the end learn to like it better, the more I read of it, but not enough to give it more than three stars.

toukokuu 28, 7:48 am

Waiting for Columbus - Thomas Trofimuk
A beach read, but the beach was the beautiful city of Paris. We took a short break to take in some art galleries and for me to buy a new saxophone and we also met up with FlorenceArt. I suppose that Waiting for Columbus would be considered as a Romance with a flavour of the 15th century, there is also a mystery element and the rather tired trope of unravelling the story of a person who is institutionalised in a mental hospital, believing himself to be a famous historical figure; in this case it is Christopher Columbus.

The story mixes elements of the 21st century with a telling of the story of Christopher Columbus, through broken fragments from the memories of the mental patient. It is romanticised, because the mental institution is described in the same dreamy prose as the rest of the novel and of course the beautiful unmarried nurse Consuela is earmarked for a romance with her patient. The mystery element will pull many readers on through the book and this reader was not disappointed with the quality of the writing. The soft, sensual language can make this story seem more like a fairy tale than a modern day romance, but there are one or two sex scenes that introduce elements of reality. The characters are well developed and the dialogue works well enough. This is a love story, teetering on the edge of tragedy and kept me entertained during those inevitable downtimes when travelling. 3.5 stars.

kesäkuu 3, 9:29 am

Penguin Modern Poets 1- Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings, R.S. Thomas
Penguin Modern Poets was a series of 27 poetry books published by Penguin Books in the 1960s and 1970s, each containing work by three contemporary poets (mostly but not exclusively British and American). The series was begun in 1962 and published an average of two volumes per year throughout the 1960s. and beyond. Each volume was stated to be "an attempt to introduce contemporary poetry to the general reader, by publishing some thirty poems by each of three modern poets in a single volume. In each case the selection will be made to illustrate the poet's characteristics in style and form."

This was a new departure; publishing contemporary poetry in paperbacks and so should be lauded for making the poems affordable to many, being priced originally at 2 shillings and sixpence (half a crown). I must certainly have been able to afford them as I have managed to track down nineteen of them on my bookshelves. I have certainly not read them all, but a few do bear some notes that I made at the time. They are of a nice size to slip into a pocket and I usually took one of them away on holiday. One of them still bears the stain and the faint smell of sun tan lotion and brings back fond memories. Most of the books now have a fairly battered appearance and reading again this first volume has resulted in a few pages coming away from the binding.

I remember being excited to buy them the first time around and then being a bit dismayed when I got around to opening them, to discover that some of the poets were writing in a style or language that I could not get to grips with and so although we can congratulate the publishers for making the poems available, a few paragraphs serving as an introduction would have been useful. After all the aim was to introduce the poets to the general reader. The approach here seems to have been "just print the poems". They are nicely spaced out with each poem starting on a new page and there is a list of all the poems at the front of the book.

The first poet in the first collection is Lawrence Durrell who is perhaps not the easiest of poets to appreciate and by the time the general reader had got to his third poem 'Carol on Corfu' he may have found himself as all at sea as I was. Remember in the 1960's no internet connection to help with background knowledge and any Encyclopaedia to hand would not have covered contemporary poetry. Information easily available today would alert the reader to some of Durrell's themes. His ability to connect the past with the present, his love of Greek mythology and his ability to evoke the atmosphere of Greece and its islands; its light its colour and its nature and of course the sea. He sometimes looks at life with amusement, but death is also not far away and he is a poet who feels his his aloneness in the world, love seems to be important, but ephemeral I think that all this is expressed in my favourite poem from this selection:

This unimportant morning

This unimportant morning
Something goes singing where
The capes turn over on their sides
And the warm Adriatic rides
Her blue and sun washing
At the edge of the world and its brilliant cliffs.

Day rings in the higher airs
Pure with cicadas, and slowing
Like a pulse to smoke from farms,
Extinguished in the exhausted earth,
Unclenching like a fist and going.

Trees fume, cool, pour - and overflowing
Unstretch the feathers of birds and shake
Carpets from windows, brush with dew
The up-and-doing: and young lovers now
Their little resurrections make.

And now lightly to kiss all whom sleep
Stitched up - and wake, my darling, wake.
The impatient Boatman has been waiting
Under the house, his long oars folded up
Like wings in waiting on the darkling lake.

In many of Durrell's poems there are stanzas of vivid beauty and thoughts that coalesce with the atmosphere he has created. Other poems where he achieves this are Sarajevo and A Water-Colour of Venice. I have on my shelves his collected poems and I love his novels that form the Alexandria Quartet. I have to acknowledge that some of his thoughts in his poems and his novels still remain just out of reach for me; I can almost see them but they remain just out of focus, but that is the beauty of poetry.

Elizabeth Jennings is represented by thirty poem here and I think she is more approachable than Durrell. She is said to be a religious poet and although I do not share her faith this does not prevent me from enjoying her poems. She is noted for her so-called emotional restraint, but this does not stop her from tackling highly emotional subjects for example her poem entitled 'For a Child Born Dead' where typically she keeps her distance from the event itself but still expresses thoughts that are quietly caring. She was a poet that paid great attention to the form of her poems making them a joy to read. She is also a poet who can lead the reader by the nose through a poem and then suddenly in a couple of lines take away the ground from under your feet, making you think outside of the box that she has created for you.

Here is one of her most popular poems included in this selection

My Grandmother

She kept an antique shop – or it kept her.
Among Apostle spoons and Bristol glass,
The faded silks, the heavy furniture,
She watched her own reflection in the brass
Salvers and silver bowls, as if to prove
Polish was all, there was no need of love.

And I remember how I once refused

To go out with her, since I was afraid.

It was perhaps a wish not to be used

Like antique objects. Though she never said

That she was hurt, I still could feel the guilt

Of that refusal, guessing how she felt.

Later, too frail to keep a shop, she put

All her best things in one narrow room.

The place smelt old, of things too long kept shut,

The smell of absences where shadows come

That can’t be polished. There was nothing then

To give her own reflection back again.

And when she died I felt no grief at all,

Only the guilt of what I once refused.

I walked into her room among the tall

Sideboards and cupboards – things she never used

But needed; and no finger marks were there,

Only the new dust falling through the air.

This is another poet that has become a favourite of mine and I also have her collected poems.

The final poet is R. S. Thomas and he seems to be the most approachable poet of the three. His poems in this collection could be summed as: Life is hard for a peasant farmer and he can look forward to a lonely death especially if he lives in Wales. Ok I know that this is a bit flippant as some of his poems can reach right to the bone. Women do not figure much in his poems and a couple of his poems verge on misogyny. The search for the fertile earth in barren conditions seems the lot of Thomas's peasant farmers. The poems are in sharp contrast to the two previous poets and seem to belong perhaps to an older generation. Here is a poem simply entitles Song:

We, who are men, how shall we know
Earth's ecstasy, who feels the plough
Probing her womb,
And after the sweet gestation
And the year's care for her condition?
We, who have forgotten, so long ago
It happened, our own orgasm,
When the wind mixed with out limbs
And the sun had suck at our bosom;
We, who have affected the livery
Of the times' prudery,
How shall we quicken again
To the lust and thrust of the sun,
And the seedling rain?

A nature poet who saw life in the raw: R. S. Thomas seems to be celebrating the hardness of life. He says at the end of his poem entitled 'A Peasant':

Remember him, then, for he, too, is a winner of wars,
Enduring like a tree under the curious stars.

Looking back and re-reading or perhaps reading some these poems for the first time I feel that these books are a treasure trove for poetry lovers. One hopes that the series as a whole did introduce contemporary poets to a wider audience, they certainly broadened my horizons as a young man and these battered, ink stained little poetry books are among my favourite books on my shelves. This volume 1 was a great start to the series, introducing three great poets who stamped their individual genius through all the poems here: 5 stars

elokuu 25, 6:15 pm

Penguin Modern Poets 2: Kingsley Amis, Dom Moraes, Peter Porter.
Kingsley Amis is first up with 25 poems. I Think of Amis first and foremost as a novelist and perhaps that is why I soon got tired of reading his poems. I found it hard to discover a poetic voice, yes there are plenty of good lines, but I never experienced the thrill and the flow when reading one of his poems all the way through. Nothing made me want to re-read them and I was never able to glimpse themes emerging from this collection. I didn't wish to spend any more time with him and so I quickly moved onto the 25 poems by Dom Moraes.

By contrast after reading a few of Dom Moraes poems I felt a connection to the poetic voice. A poet who not only comes up with some brilliant lines but weaves them through poems that sing of poetry. I could soon get to grips with the themes that emerged from his poems; alienation certainly, a keen observer of society, perhaps a man who would not quite fit anywhere. You would never call Dom a happy man or an optimistic man; but these thought would apply to many poets, what was peculiar to Moreas was a sense of regret, a sense that things could have been different. He is a poet who looks into his dream world and also a poet that has been guided by his catholic faith, but this seems increasingly in abeyance as I read through this selection.

A few lines from the poem Afternoon Tea are typical of his thoughts and his use of language:

'She poured the tea. Vaguely I watched her hands.
The mask was fitted: In my wandering dream
Were boulder-broken valleys, a strange land.
Remote, astonished, I stood by a stream
Holding her hand in mine. ............'

There is the poet in his own dream world; in a strange land where things could have been different, however he is only vaguely watching her hands pouring the tea, he is not really in this world or the world of his dream. Water is an ongoing theme in his poetry as is rocks and stone as he wavers between a reality and his own inner world.

The second poem in this collection entitled Autobiography is a poem of 4 stanzas of eight lines whose subject is what has led him to write poems and the final stanza makes it clear how he sees himself:

'I have grown up, I think, to live alone
To keep my old illusions, sometimes dream
Glumly that I am unloved and forlorn,
Run away from strangers, often seem
Unreal to myself in the pulpy warmth of a sunbeam.
I have grown up, hand on the primal bone,
Making the poem, taking the word from the stream,
Fighting the sand for speech, fighting the stone.'

The poem 'One of Us' pins down his feelings of alienation, when he recognises another man who is not really part of a group of friends that drink in the same establishment as him. Moreas says 'I never spoke to him' but recognises someone so like himself. There are other poems where he observes lonely figures, outside of the normal friend or family connections, there is nothing malicious or wrong about these men (they are always men) but they do not seem to fit anywhere and then they disappear. There are poems about sex with women, perhaps even love, but 'Snow on a Mountain' starts in typical fashion:

'That dream, her eyes like rocks studded the high
Mountain of her body that I was to climb.
One moment past my hands had swum
The chanting streams of her thighs:
Then I was lost, breathless among the pines.'

Moraes stretches his visionary imagination with a three part poem entitled The Island where he imagines a primitive society that have let their hero become the prey of a dragon; "The unwieldy hero pyred upon the sand" It does not auger well and when conquerers come there is only the dragon to protect them.

This selection is taken from Poems published in 1960 and so is an early collection. Moraes died in 2004. In 1961 he reported on the trial of Eichmann and travelling through Israel and then translating poems from Hebrew gave him a new sense of seriousness and discovery, which you wont find in this early selection. Moraes was a journalist and a travel writer and struggled with alcoholism. Worth further investigation?

Peter Porter is perhaps the most established poet of the three and like Dom Moraes he was not born in Britain; an Australian by birth he emigrated to England in 1951 and by the time his first collection of poems were published in 1961 he was an established member of the "Group" a London based collective of poets. His 26 poems are selections from that first publication titled Once Bitten, Twice Bitten.

The first poem; 'Forefathers' View of Failure' takes as its subject the settlers in Australia building churches and trying to impose their way of life onto the new land. They do take root and set the future for the new country. After this tour de force of a poem the following selections are more concerned with life in Britain and the immediate impression is one of satire. Perhaps only an outsider (non British born) would be able to gather such a clear picture of a society slowly rotting, but determined to hang on to what it has got. In the poem John Marston Advises Anger, Porter compares the Elizabethan society that Marston exposed in his plays with the London scene in 1961 and the poem ends with:

'His had a real gibbet - our death's out of sight
The same thin richness of theses worlds remains -
The flesh packed jeans, the car-stung appetite
Volley on his stage, the cage of discontent.'

The poem Made in Heaven is a satire on a pretty young girl giving up her opportunities to settle for a rich wedding and a well kept life. He satires religion in Who Gets The Popes Nose:

'And high above Rome in a room with wireless
The Pope also waits to die
God is the heat in July
And the iron band of pus tightening in his chest
Of all God's miracles, death is the greatest.'

Death is a recurring themes especially death from cancer; nowhere better depicted than in 'Death in the Pergola Tea-Rooms.' In 'The Historians Call up Pain' he makes the point that today we cannot know the pain that religious martyrs felt and he cannot resist a jibe at his former countrymen in the brilliant; Phar Lap in the Melbourne Museum:

'It is Australian innocence to love
The naturally excessive and be proud
Of a thoroughbred bay gelding who ran fast.'

The poem "Your Attention Please" is a satire on a governments final instruction to its population before an imminent nuclear attack. It was used as a lyric to a song by the Scottish group The Scars; a song that I knew well before discovering it was a poem by Porter. 'Somme and Flanders' is an anti war poem which starts:

'Who am I to speak up for the long dead?
Three uncles I never knew say I'm right.
Their tongues are speaking in my head
I'm related to their flesh by fright.'

There is even a poem entitled 'Reading a Novel' and a wonderfully entitled sonnet; 'A High-Born lady Condenses her Memoirs For Readers Digest.' Arresting images keep on coming and I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of the 26 poems selected here. Most of them work really well and I sort of wish I had read these poems more closely back in the 1960's. I am going to make up for this now; having just ordered a copy of Porters' collected poems.

All in all Penguin Modern Poets 2 is an exhilarating read; it may start off with a questionable poet in Kingsley Amis, but follows with some gorgeous dream-like poems from Dom Moraes, before roaring out with Peter Porter. A five star read.