All 155 entries tagged Poetry

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June 18, 2010

Poetry from the Dark Side

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or Finger Counting in the Dark...

moonProfessor David Morley presents the eighth Poetry Challenge "in which we play, very seriously, with language. This episode is a two for the price of one podcast about writing poems using syllabics and subverting forms of poetry.

Prof Morley challenges you with an exercise in precise patterning and also to write a sequence of Dark Side Limericks, the kind of limericks Darth Vader might write between battles.

Don't be shy about sharing your responses to this poetry challenge here on the blog where others will be able to appreciate them.

June 14, 2010

Playing Tennis with the Nets Down

Writing about Playing Tennis with the Nets Down from Warwick Challenges

The view from Robert Frost

David Morley presents the seventh Poetry Challenge "in which we play with language and make it into toys and little machines called poems". This episode is about finding ways to create free verse without ignoring the fact that free verse is also a form of poetry.

DM challenges you to write two poems in free verse using repeated phrases to pattern your poem: "I wish that..." and "I curse you with...". Follow link above or below:

June 07, 2010

One Million Downloads for Warwick on iTunes U

[copyright: University of Warwick]

Just picked this up from the Warwick University News and Events, so it's their story:

Warwick has reached the digital milestone of one million downloads on its iTunesU channel. Since launching on the site fourteen months ago the University has firmly established its position as one of the leading high quality content providers on the service.

iTunesU was first launched by Apple in 2007, intended as a place for higher education institutions the world over to upload video and audio content for public access. Content includes course lectures, language lessons, lab demonstrations, sports highlights, campus tours and much more.

Warwick now has over 600 programmes available for free download on the Warwick channel, with video footage and audio recordings from across the faculties and student-generated content.

A million downloads later…
Portrait of Shakespeare

The biggest success story for Warwick so far has been the film "Shakespeare Found" which was about a recently discovered life portrait of Shakespeare and features an interview with Honorary Graduate Professor Stanley Wells. Made in collaboration with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the video had over 20,000 downloads in one weekend in March alone.

Since then, the collaboration with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has continued and videos celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Bard's Sonnets and, more recently, Searching for Shakespeare: The Dig and The Documents with the Capital Centre's Professor Carol Rutter have been added to the collection.

Chocolate-Powered Formula 3 Car
Portrait of Shakespeare

Another massive success came from WMG's video of their environmentally sustainable formula 3 racing car, powered by waste products from the chocolate industry. This film became a worldwide success, topping the engineering channel and receiving the most downloads of anything on iTunesU in June 2009.

Sex in the Ancient World

Professor Peter Pormann's series "Classics in Discussion" has had a resurgence of interest this year and his podcast on "Sex in the Ancient World" has risen to number three in the total worldwide downloads chart. His series of includes topics such as the poetry of Homer, Graeco-Arabic Studies and Medicine and classical civilizations.

Subject Highlights

Professor David Morley's "Writing Challenges", set up to lead listeners through a series of creative writing exercises and designed to develop creativity and writing ability have become increasingly popular. They have generated, on average, around 2,000 downloads per week since they launched and have been followed up in 2010 with "Poetry Challenges" which aim to discover the inner poet in us all.

In Health and Medicine, Peter Abraham's anatomy films using plastinated specimens were for most of 2009 never out of the top 2 Warwick downloads and in Mathematics Professor Ian Stewart's "Maths Challenges" have proved equally popular.

Recently the Complexity Science Conference, ECCS ’09, held here at Warwick became the most popular download for Warwick's channel. The video caught the attention of the world due to its more than relevant topic: how to solve the current climate crisis.

June 06, 2010

In Case You're in Bath This Week…

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The next reading of this highly successful series will be held on Thursday June 10 2010 at the Duncan Room, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute, 16-18 Queen Square, Bath, Tickets at the door: £7.00, £5.00 concessions.

It is our very great pleasure to announce that poet David Morley is our guest this month.

David Morley is a poet, critic, anthologist, editor and scientist of partly Romani extraction. He has published eighteen books, including nine collections of poetry. His bestselling textbook The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing has been translated into several languages including Arabic. A forthcoming collection—Enchantment—is due this year. He read Zoology at Bristol University, gaining a fellowship from the Freshwater Biological Association. He then conducted research on Acid Rain. In 1996 he was appointed Arts Council Fellow in Writing at the University of Warwick. He is currently Director of the Warwick Writing Programme and Professor of Writing. Morley has received fourteen literary awards, including a major Eric Gregory Award, a Tyrone Guthrie Award from Northern Arts, a Hawthorden International Writers Fellowship, an Arts Council Writers Award, the Raymond Williams Prize, a Creative Ambitions Award and an Arts Council Fellowship in Writing at Warwick University. Morley is himself the Director of the Warwick Prize for Writing. His most recent collection of poetry— The Invisible Kings—was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

Come along for an evening of wine and superb poetry.

For further information please email

June 04, 2010

The Water Measurer

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splashDavid Morley presents the sixth Poetry Challenge "in which we splash about in nouns before going deeper and learning to swim with verbs". This episode is about finding forms and shapes for your poems and challenges you to explore pantoums, sonnets and villanelles.

Don't be shy about sharing your responses to this poetry challenge here on the blog where others will be able to appreciate them.

May 28, 2010

The Inner Truth of Tomatoes

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Neruda would have loved these

The Inner Truth of Tomatoes

Professor David Morley presents the fifth Poetry Challenge "in which we explore the wonderful word-world of poetry." This episode is about finding subjects for your poems. "It is what your poem is, not what your poem says, that makes it work. That also goes for subject matter. There is no subject off limits."

Prof Morley challenges you to "break out of the usual poetic subjects and make something new from something that is defiantly and wonderfully unpoetic". Click here to get started:

Pablo Neruda's poem in full:

Ode To Tomatoes by Pablo Neruda
The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
its juice
through the streets.
In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,
a cool
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it's time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

May 14, 2010

'Mirrors to Nature': New Poetry Podcast by David Morley

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David MorleyDavid Morley presents the third Poetry Challenge "in which we begin listening more clearly to the poet in ourselves." In this episode David asks "Where is the truth of the self? Is it located in the observer or the observed, or in the act of observation or the act of observing?".

Don't be shy about sharing your responses to this poetry challenge here on the Poetry Challenges blog where others will be able to appreciate them!

Click the link above...

May 07, 2010

New Romany Poem in London Review of Books

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A page-long excerpt from one of my new long Romany poems 'The Library Beneath the Harp' appears in the current London Review of Books.The poem as a whole appeared in a recent issue of The Long Poem Magazine. Thankfully, both sets of editors were kind enough to allow this miracle of cooperative publication.

As blogged earlier in the year, the subject of the poem is the poet Bronisława Wajs (1908-1987) who was known by her RomaniPapusza name Papusza which means ‘doll’.

She grew up on the road in Poland within her kumpania or band of families. She was literate and learned to read and write by trading food for lessons.

Her reading and writing was frowned upon and whenever she was found reading she was beaten and the book destroyed. She was married at fifteen to a much older and revered harpist Dionízy Wajs.

Unhappy in marriage she took to singing as an outlet for her frustrations with her husband often accompanying her on harp. She then began to compose her own poems and songs.

When the Second World War broke out, and Roma were being murdered in Poland both by the German Nazis and the Ukrainian fascists, they gave up their carts and horses but not their harps.

With heavy harps on their backs, they looked for hiding places in the woods. 35,000 Roma out of 50,000 were murdered during the war in Poland. The Wajs clan hid in the forest in Volyň, hungry, cold and terrified.

A horrible experience inspired Papusza to write her longest poem "Ratfale jasfa – so pal sasendyr pšegijam upre Volyň 43 a 44 berša" ("Bloody tears – what we endured from German soldiers in Volyň in '43 and '44”), parts of which are used in my poem ‘The Library Beneath the Harp’.

In 1949 Papusza was heard by the Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski who recognized her talent. Ficowski published several of her poems in a magazine called Problemy along with an anti-nomadic interview with Polish poet Julian Tuwim.

Ficowski became an adviser on “The Gypsy Question”, and used Papusza's poems to make his case against nomadism. This led to the forced settlement of the Roma all over Poland in 1950 known variously as ‘Action C’ or “The Great Halt”.

The Roma community began to regard Papusza as a traitor, threatening her and calling her names. Papusza maintained that Ficowski had exploited her work and had taken it out of context.

Her appeals were ignored and the Baro Shero (Big head, an elder in the Roma community) declared her “unclean”. She was banished from the Roma world, and even Ficowski broke contact with her.

Afterward, she spent eight months in a mental asylum and then the next thirty-four years of her life alone and isolated.

Her tribe laid a curse on Papusza’s poems and upon anybody using or performing her work. My sequence of songs called ‘The Library beneath the Harp’ partly borrows and reshapes some of Papusza’s introductory autobiography from the Songs of Papusza as well as three of her poems. 

It's my heartfelt wish that the curse can be lifted. Let's hope it can. Part of my publishing in the London Review of Books, Long Poem Magazine and this blog is part of a campaign - alongside the Romany Theatre Company and others - to lift this curse.  

May 06, 2010

What Is The Secret Of Poetry? New Podcast Poetry Series Unveiled

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David Morley by Jemimah KuhfeldWhat is the Secret of Poetry?

"What is the secret of Poetry?" - this is the question that Prof David Morley asks in the first of his series of Poetry Challenges on Friday 30 April 2010.

The Poetry Challenges follow on from Prof Ian Stewart's successful Maths Challenges series set on the Warwick Challenges blog and via the social networking site, Twitter.

Each Friday for the next 11 weeks there will be a new poetry podcast workshop where Professor David Morley will explore the wonderful word-world of poetry, share some of his own poems and challenge you to find the poet within you.

The challenges will be published on the Warwick Challenges blog and on the University Twitter account (@warwickuni). To be the first to hear about each new challenge, follow the University of Warwick on Twitter and don't forget to use the #warwickchallenges hashtag.

There is space on the Warwick Challenges blog for people to share their responses to the poetry challenges where others will be able to appreciate them and Professor Morley will make an appearance from time to time.

Professor David Morley

David Morley is Director of the Warwick Writing Programme at The University of Warwick where he is Professor of Writing and was Director of the inaugural Warwick Prize for Writing.

Professor Morley is the award-winning writer of nine books of poetry and the editor of six anthologies of new fiction and poetry. He writes criticism, essays and reviews for The Guardian, PN Review and Poetry Review. His next book of poems is Enchantment from Carcanet and he recently published a new book of Romany poems The Invisible Kings, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing.

In 2008, Professor Morley produced a series of creative Writing Challenges designed to help listeners develop their creativity and talent as a writer and reader.

May 04, 2010

'How Successful Writers Maintain Confidence' – Alan Rinzler

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Dream of the poetThis is excellent advice from Alan Rinzler at Forbes Magazine. I'd throw in some old fashioned cold-hearted discipline, an angel, and a room of your own.

Self-confidence is the single most essential ingredient an author needs to succeed, since good writing is never quick or easy. To write well requires energy, discipline and a sense of humor.

The most accomplished and productive writers I work with are able to sustain a level of assurance and optimism. And that's even when they’re feeling blocked, burned out and unappreciated.

There are no universal, cookie-cutter techniques writers can use to keep up their hopes and dreams. Each writer is unique, with an individual temperament, culture and developmental process. But here are some general suggestions all writers can consider to help soldier through periods of doubt.

Stay Connected

Withdrawal and isolation can debilitate and reduce creative energy. Writers can work with other people doing research, brainstorming plot ideas, and building characters, but, ultimately, writing is a solitary occupation, with hours alone facing a blank screen or empty notebook.

Consequently, a conscious effort to reach out is the only way to prevent isolation and loneliness. Maintain contact with other people, loved ones, family, friends and colleagues. You don’t have to ask for help, just engage as much as possible in regular human relationships. Look for people who can make you laugh out loud. Get out of your head, get out of the house, go and talk to another person. You don’t have to be alone. I repeat: You are not alone.

Keep Writing

Even if you don’t love what you’re turning out, keep putting those words on the screen or down on paper, regardless. What may feel like a massive writer’s block may be only the need to pause, or to work out the story on an internal, unconscious level. You can always polish or delete what you’ve written, but sustaining the discipline will be encouraging and ultimately valuable. You will actually build confidence by sticking to the task at hand.

Revive Your Passion

Go back to the source of your motivation, your real reason for writing and the thing you are determined to produce. Whether it’s a novel or narrative non-fiction, a well-argued polemic about something important, a love letter to a lost relationship, an angry response to a perceived hurt, or a desire to understand and make meaning out of your life, be honest about it and renew your devotion to this mission.

Maintain Good Mental Health

Some writers exercise, while others maintain a spiritual practice like meditation or positive visualization. Others devote themselves to a righteous cause, or become passionate about domestic arts like gourmet cooking or building beautiful things with their hands. Many paint or make music to relieve their creative tensions. Some go to therapists, either regularly or on an as-needed drop in basis. Whatever it takes, do it.

Get Editorial Help

The best writers I know use developmental editors. Not family and friends who love you no matter what, not other colleagues who may have a personal agenda, such as flattery or competition, but professionals with proven experience. Writers under contract may already have an editor at the publishing house. Other writers can engage an editor on a freelance basis. Choosing the right editor is crucial, so track record and compatibility are a top priority.


Good writers love and appreciate other good writers. It’s inspiring, not necessarily as a direct literary model, but as a process example and goal achieved. It can be done!

Expect Rejection

Even the best writers have their work sent back as unacceptable, in some cases after acclaim and riches. Bad reviews, a fickle market, unpredictable changes and abandonment from their publishers--it’s a jungle out there!

Get used to it. Agents and editors don’t always behave rationally, and they occasionally say things that just don’t make sense, like “This isn’t a good fit for us.” What does that mean, anyway? Learn to distinguish constructive criticism from glib and thoughtless remarks.

For a reality check, consider the fact that Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 140 times before a publisher finally took a chance. So take heart!

Be Patient

All evidence and historical example shows us that it takes many years of rewrites and heroic perseverance to endure the creaky, slow, risk-aversive decision-making process of the book business. To get published, it’s essential to have realistic expectations about how long it will take. Think years, not months.

Embrace Irrational Exuberance and Obsessive Compulsions

During the course of writing a book, it’s okay to be a little over-the-top in your focus and devotion to the work. What may seem to others as a bit crazy can actually serve you well. Many writers succumb to an extreme level of behavior that really keeps up their confidence during the hard work.

Then, when it’s done, they relax, wind down, take a vacation and enjoy their time off--at least until they are compelled to start again.

May 03, 2010

'The Only Thing to Had on Earth / Is Love': Discovering Lesley Saunders

No DovesThe poet Lesley Saunders creates surprising, inventive poems-as-machines in No Doves, published by the beguiling Mulfran Press. To quote Mulfran's very friendly website, 'Metamorphic rather than anthropomorphic, these poems depict the ‘creatureliness’ of all existence: how distinctions between the non-human and human worlds dissolve as you look at them — rather like ‘the act / of walking through walls’. Yet the book as a whole is really a meditation on the notion that ‘the only thing to be had on earth / is love, leafless, wintering’'. That's as inviting a summary as any reader needed. I'm in.

She has three published collections before No Doves -The Dark Larder (Corridor Press, 1997); with Jane Draycott and Peter Hay, Christina the Astonishing (Two Rivers Press, 1998); and Her Leafy Eye (Two Rivers Press, 2009), a collaboration with artist Geoff Carr.  Dark Larder’s title poem won first prize in the George MacBeth poetry competition and Christina was featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘A Good Read’. Her Leafy Eye was inspired by Rousham Gardens in Oxfordshire, landscaped in the 1730s by William Kent.

No Doves is a quite dazzling collection and I'm as surprised (as I usually am) that it isn't - yet? - considered for poetry prizes. She shares with fine poets like Jane Draycott and Charles Tomlinson an incredibly clear-eyed perception in language which is as musical as it is exact. Writing of 'Ice' she observes: This is the white gold of the poles, the water that rings / like metal having first mastered the stillness of crystals, / and this the discipline of the slow freeze, whose splinters / leave no trace of travel through the muscle of the heart...'. Lesley Saunders is a very exciting and interesting writer who deserves your closer attention.

May 02, 2010

'Omens In Your First Words Each Morning': Discovering the Poetry of David Briggs

David BriggsDavid Briggs was born in 1972, and grew up in the New Forest. He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2002, and has placed poems in magazines (print and online), including Poetry Life, Poetry Wales, Agenda Broadsheets, Limelight, The Guardian and Notes From the Underground. His work has also featured as a Showcase in Magma, in the anthology Reactions 5, edited by Clare Pollard, and on BBC Radio Bristol. He gained a commendation in the 2007 National Poetry Competition, and four poems have been selected for the forthcoming anthology Identity Parade, edited by Roddy Lumsden. In the hours between sitting down to write, he is Head of English at the Grammar School in Bristol. His first collection The Method Men was recently published by Salt Publications and it's excellent.

I first met David Briggs on an Arvon Foundation course probably a decade ago in deep Devon. He possessed a natural relationship with language, ideas and poetry that made him the best kind of company. What his new book shows is that his sense of poetic vocation has sharpened to a point at which a real kind of poetry makes its way through him, being shaped and shorn with enormous skill, but possessing its own life and duende. The duende comes to especially fierce life in the title poem. This is the close to that poem: 'Me, I always learned enough by firing / my full quiver of arrows at random // and observing the manner of their falling. / Or, when that failed, I could always find // omens in your first words each morning.' This is a powerful, very telling and often moving collection of poems. David Briggs is a strong poet and it will be very interesting to read what comes next.

What Happened to Clowns
i.m. Miroslav Holub

when nobody laughed any more?
When even the act of pouring
hot custard down Pantalone’s
hoop-waisted trews
failed to simmer even a snigger?
Clowns took to the streets.
Hyperbolic, red and yellow boots
flip-flopped uptown; the afternoon so hot,
buckets of confetti couldn’t cool them off.
And they congregated at the railings
of the offices of the Minister for Circus.
Years of inadequate investment
had whittled their craft to politics
they didn’t have the heart for.
Perhaps, they ought to have become
taxi drivers? Writing had been on walls —
or had been, before Scaramouche blacked
the writing over with arches of paint
to connote railway tunnels,
against which they had squandered
engine-red and canary-yellow striped,
plywood locomotives.
While they disputed for spokespersons
through mime, Pierrot posed forlornly
at the Doric-framed doorstep
of the offices of the Minister for Circus,
only to pirouette abjectly back
to mutinous crowds when the bell-push
streamed water that smudged his mascara,
tickled the wrinkles of his face.
Tweedledee and Tweedledum took
to beating each other’s craniums
with styrofoam crowbars, blundering
about pavements in elaborate plays
of faux semi-consciousness.
No one so much as smiled.
It was merely tragic — two ageing clowns
resorting to cliched slapstick.
Even those veterans who claimed
to have trained with Aristophenes
failed to find euphemisms
by which to allude to the shifting paradigm
of their times. In the distance,
four pantomime horsemen came
careering and whinnying toward them.

April 30, 2010

'The Same Slow Vow, Letting Go': Discovering Adrian Blamires

I have recently been highly impressed by two collections from Adrian Blamires who was born in Cornwall and now lives inPangValley Reading.

He is published by the marvellous independent publisher Two Rivers Press. The title of his first collection The Effect of Coastal Processes drew me like a magnet. For those of you who don't me, I'm a trained ecologist - a freshwater biologist who often gets mistaken as a marine biologist.

For me, scientific titles have their own measure and magic. The Physics of Blown Sand. The Topography of Lakes. Such titles allure by their promise of discovery, and Blamires achieves much within his book and within his second collection The Pang Valley (pictured).

As Carol Rumens commented in The Guardian on his first book, 'Blamires is most interested in the human condition' and that's so, but only to a point. I'd say Blamires is specifically electric in the act of observation - he can manage internal and external observation with a precision that is as surprising as it is revealing and unsettling.The Pang Valley is certainly an advance on his first collection but that's coming from a high starting point.

He also serves out intricate patterns and motifs that work across the length and breadth of each collection; there are lattices of thought, feeling and language which are wholly created rather than merely selected and presented. In some ways he reminds me of another very fine poet Terrence Tiller, in that he shapes an entire poem as a 'singing mesh' yet also creates a massive yet delicate architecture out of the book itself - the book as a poetic form in fact. I very much recommend the poetry of Adrian Blamires. Here is a poem taken from the Two Rivers website.

Kennet Mouth

Tonight a pair of swans, heads tucked back,
Pillowed on white, float a long eddying swell
Of oblivion, black as a river of Hell.

Here, where the Kennet meets the Thames,
A river of forgetting meets a river
Of regret, Lethe meets Acheron,

An announcement I can’t quite follow
Carries downstream from Reading Station
– Is this the train you’re leaving on?


Slowly it approaches, old rolling stock,
The last train all but empty of souls,
Sparking the sky above Brunel’s bridge

Beneath which, one Halloween, the Pandemonium
Marching Band (sax, tuba, accordion, drum)
Struck up a spirited dirge, struck up

A spectral replica on the other side,
Echoing to Kingdom Come in the damp arch
As torches threw shadows on the far wall.

I followed, wheeling the accordionist’s bike
– The cycle path strewn with broken glass –
Past Blake’s Lock and The Jolly Anglers,

The gas monitor’s persistent hiss,
The lifebelt holder with its stump of rope,
The scrap of grass where we turned and kissed,

Things still in place, the things we list
To stem the haemorrhage of memories,
Words that were spoken, light on a face.


Issuing from the throat of the bridge,
The Kennet, brimming with volume, mouths
The same slow vow, letting go,

As it did before – the same I do –
Giving itself up to a greater flow
Whilst I, knowing myself undone,

Knowing it’s time to go, hold back
On the brink of a cold consummation,
The clank of the train dwindling to London.

April 29, 2010

And Sorry I Could Not Travel Both And Be One Traveler: So I Voted Labour

6 May

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, 'The Road Not Taken'

China Mieville Wins Arthur C. Clarke Award for Third Time

Here at Warwick we are celebrating our colleague China Mieville who, last night, won the Arthur C. Clarke AwardOur pal for the third time - an unprecedented achievement. Alison Flood of the Guardian writes:

His first venture into crime fiction – albeit with a fantastical edge – has won China Miéville the UK's most prestigious science fiction prize, the Arthur C Clarke award, for an unprecedented third time.

The City and the City is set up as a straightforward crime novel: in the dilapidated city of Beszél in eastern Europe, Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad is trying to solve what initially looks like a routine case. But as he looks deeper into the murder of a mysterious woman, he discovers that she has links to Ul Qoma, a city that exists in the same physical space as Beszél but whose inhabitants studiously ignore any sign of overlap.

The novel won the British Science Fiction Association prize for best novel earlier this month, when BSFA journal editor Niall Harrison predicted it was set to take a slew of further prizes. Miéville pronounced himself "absolutely gobsmacked" and "incredibly honoured" to win the Arthur C Clarke, an award originally established by Clarke himself to help promote science fiction in Britain. "It's very different from most of my other books," said Miéville, who has previously won the Arthur C Clarke with more traditional fantasy novels Perdido Street Station and Iron Council. "It was very much written in an effort to be absolutely faithful to works of crime fiction. Crime readers will denounce a book because it has 'cheated,' and I wanted to write a book that didn't cheat, that was faithful to crime rules and that if you'd never read any fantasy you could pick up."

Miéville triumphed over a shortlist also featuring former winner Gwyneth Jones, American author Kim Stanley Robinson, Adam Roberts, Chris Wooding and Marcel Theroux to take the prize, an engraved bookend and a cheque for £2,010, this evening. "It was particularly difficult for judges to pick a winner this year," said chair of judges Paul Billinger. "China eventually won because of the intricacy of the book and the way the whole of the concept expands from the initial premise into the different types of city. The way that was done was so clearly and cleverly written."

Billinger called The City and the City "superb" and "very different from China's other books – almost more restrained, in a good way. The judges have always been open to any type of book which comes within the realm of science fiction – the crime element doesn't exclude it – so we are really pleased it's won." The novel is also shortlisted for major American science fiction and fantasy awards the Nebulas.

Miéville said that some people had questioned whether The City and the City was really science fiction or fantasy. "I think these debates are silly – genre is a moveable feast, but some people do ask these questions," he said. "What I don't want to do is disavow the fantastic tradition I come from. This is a book from within the fantasy tradition, which hopefully can also be a perfectly faithful crime book – and a good book."

Previous winners of the Arthur C Clarke include Margaret Atwood, who won the inaugural award for The Handmaid's Tale in 1987, Christopher Priest, Geoff Ryman and Richard Morgan.

April 28, 2010

The Night of the Day in Wokingham

Driving to Wokingham, every farmer’s field between Warwick and Henley with a blue harvest of ConservativeWokingham church plaques. Untouchable of course; tucked behind high fences or barbed wire; hammered into the soil by farmhands, many of them migrant workers. And Wokingham itself already seemed in a post-Election party, with a Tory banner rippling and unquestioned across the high street. I was there to perform poetry in the town’s Arts Bar, a relatively new venue for poetry and stand up.

That poetry is the opposite of money does not mean it cannot find a home in what might seem unlikely places. After all, Peregrine falcons fledge from high ledges in the Square Mile. Families of mice skitter between high energy lines of the London underground. Why not? I’m not such a prude I can’t see the joy behind a certain incongruity.

Poetry is performed regularly in Wokingham and finds an audience that is refreshing and keen, as keen I would say as in Aldeburgh and Ledbury. The organiser Allison McVety developed the Arts Bar poetry series with her husband, and the series is a striking success. Not only is the venue packed but the audience, drawn largely from nearby Reading, is informed, attentive and talented.

My fellow reader, Peter Carpenter, and I had a wonderful time. I delivered some of my darkest new poems (the circus poems from The Night of the Day) in the second half and these were absorbed with care and attention. I spent a happy hour among the audience both at the interval and after the event, discovering several exciting poets whose names I’d heard about; and whose poems I’d admired in magazines.

Over the next two blogs I’m going to write about two poets who kindly sent me some books: Lesley Saunders and Adrian Blamires. Then I am going to have a look at David Briggs’ first collection from Salt.

April 26, 2010

“A broken/ Will in one and in the other a broken heart”: Peter Porter, 1929–2010

The loss of a fine poet.

From The Times today:Peter Porter

Peter Porter held an individual place in both the British and Australian poetry of the past half-century. Like Germaine Greer and Clive James who came to England a decade after him, he was among those Australians who established a reputation in London before being taken seriously in their own country.

From the autodidact outsider and social satirist of the late Fifties and early Sixties, Porter transformed himself into an almost Establishment figure — critic and broadcaster as well as poet — before stepping to one side of British metropolitan literary fashion in the less public pursuits of his mature work. His later career was marked by increasingly frequent visits to Australia, where his reputation continued to grow.

Porter developed the meditative tone that characterised his poems from W. H. Auden’s intellectual allusiveness and Wallace Stevens’s fictive expansiveness, but as he said: “A poet is a fish who has to create his own water.”

His response to the cultural dislocation of the mid-century was not despair but a deeper belief in the continuity of the humanistic tradition. He used collisions between popular and learned culture partly for satirical effect. A sceptical punning humour spotlighted fashionable absurdities. As a critic he famously courted the odium of experimentalists by the contention that poetry is a modest art.

Peter Neville Frederick Porter was born an only child in Brisbane, Queensland, in 1929. His childhood was marked by the death of his mother, Marion, in 1938, when he was 9, and by an unhappy period as a boarder at Toowoomba Grammar School. He immersed himself in music and literature, developing a voracious appetite for European culture.

He worked as a journalist on a Brisbane paper before sailing for England in 1951. On the boat he met the future novelist Jill Neville, and they developed a close relationship while Porter worked at a series of menial jobs. When the relationship ended Porter returned briefly to Australia, coming back to London in 1954.

While working at Bumpus bookshop, he fell in with the work of the poets (Martin Bell, Edward Lucie Smith, Peter Redgrove and others) who, under the chairmanship of Philip Hobsbaum, became known as The Group. Porter soon began publishing and broadcasting poems. He achieved brief notoriety in 1960 when a BBC Third Programme broadcast of his nuclear protest poem Your Attention Please was mistaken for a real nuclear warning. His first three collections were published by John Rolph’s small Scorpion Press, and a selection of his poems was included in the second Penguin Modern Poets series.

His poems were also included in Alfred Alvarez’s influential anthology The New Poetry (1962), which claimed to break with the “gentility principle” in English verse. Porter’s early poems, such as Death in the Pergola Tea Rooms and Annotations of Auschwitz are strikingly of their time: their style a badge of period irreverence, packed with brand names and sharp observations of a contradictory social scene. It is the social tone and the emphasis on observed detail that dominate, but a persistent awareness of death and a sense of self-disgust coexist with, and undercut, the poise of the mocking outsider.

It is not difficult to see an affinity between Porter’s concerns in these poems of the early Sixties and those of his slightly younger contemporary Sylvia Plath. Both were outsiders in a Britain still shadowed by austerity yet on the verge of a social and sexual revolution. Each bore the scars of a childhood riven by the death of a parent.

Porter next gained a job as a copywriter for the advertising agency Notleys, where he worked with the novelist William Trevor and with Gavin Ewart, whose career as a poet Porter was partly responsible for reviving. At Bumpus he had met Jannice Henry, whom he married in 1961, the year he published his first collection of poems, Once Bitten, Twice Bitten, and they had two daughters. When he received what he once described as “the asbestos handshake” from his advertising agency in 1968 he became a freelance writer and broadcaster.

The early 1970s were a high-water mark of Porter’s London literary career. From his 1970 volume, The Last of England, his poetry was published by the Oxford University Press. He wrote columns for the New Statesman and The Times Literary Supplement — where he succeeded Ian Hamilton as poetry and fiction editor in 1973. In the same year he became the regular poetry reviewer of The Observer in succession to both Hamilton and Alvarez, where, he said, “he often felt ashamed that I didn’t have Ian’s conviction that a mediocre poem was an offence in the nostrils of God”. He also broadcast frequently.

Porter was by this time renowned for his fierce erudition. Alan Brownjohn commented on how “he seemed to know everything, not just about literature, but also about music and painting ... talking to Peter was a quick way of finding out how ignorant we really were.”

From the Seventies onwards his work reflected this learning with an allusiveness and a syntactic daring that became part of a continuing debate within his poems about the reliability of language itself. The surface of the poems was continually busy, yet they veered away from easy resolution or coherence.

The poems that Porter wrote after the suicide of his wife in 1974 include some of his most celebrated work. Formal and lucid poems such as An Exequy and An Angel at Blythburgh Church became natural anthology pieces, but Porter explored his memories of their life together in a range of forms and moods, both in The Cost of Seriousness (1978) and the volumes that followed it. The bereavement and the sense of self-blame he inherited from the early loss of his mother and then his wife (“a broken/ Will in one and in the other a broken heart”) provided a poignantly recurring point of reference in his work.

Porter collaborated with the Australian painter Arthur Boyd on four books of poems and illustrations between 1973 and 1988. He had edited a selection of Alexander Pope for Faber in 1971, and he revised The Faber Book of Modern Verse (1982) and edited The Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse (1996).

Honours began to come his way. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and held honorary doctorates from the universities of Melbourne (1985) and Loughborough (1987). He won the Duff Cooper Prize for his 1983 Collected Poems, the Whitbread Poetry Award for his 1988 volume The Automatic Oracle, the Gold Medal for Australian Literature in 1990 and the Queen’s Gold Medal in 2002.

His 70th birthday in 1999 was marked by an emeritus award from the Australian Government and the publication of a two-volume Collected Poems, 1961-99. A volume of Paeans for Peter Porter also appeared, edited by Anthony Thwaite, and with contributions by Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Wendy Cope, William Trevor and others. Yet not everyone admired his work, Kingsley Amis in particular being sharply dismissive.

Saving from the Wreck, Essays on Poetry, appeared in 2001, and Max is Missing (poems) in the same year. It won the Forward Prize for 2002. It was succeeded by further volumes of verse, Afterburner (2004) and Better than God (2009). He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2004 and appointed a Companion of Literature in 2006.

Porter’s ebullient conversation, natural kindness, curiosity about others and self-mocking humour meant that he was appreciated as a teacher on visiting fellowships at universities in Britain and Australia.

He married Christine Berg, a child psychologist, in 1991. Later poems such as To my Granddaughters Sweeping Spelsbury Church celebrate a hardwon happiness, a self-critical spirit surprised at the unexpectedness of returned love.

Peter Porter, OAM, poet and critic, was born on February 16, 1929. He died on April 23, 2010, aged 81

April 25, 2010

Poetry Challenges

Writing about web page

Follow me on Twitter as a new series of podcasts is released about writing poetry.

Here's the article from the University of Warwick and the link:

In the last series of challenges we invited you to take part in Professor Ian Stewart's Monday Maths Challenge. This time we have something a little different for you all...

Starting on Friday 30 April we invite you to take part in the Friday Poetry Challenge from Professor David Morley.

Each Friday for the next 12 weeks we will set a new challenge in the form of a podcast workshop. Professor David Morley will explore the wonderful word-world of poetry, share some of his own poems and challenge you to find the poet within you.

The challenges will be published here on the Warwick Challenges blog and on the University Twitter account (@warwickuni). To be the first to hear about each new challenge, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to use the #warwickchallenges hashtag.

Don't be shy about sharing your responses to the poetry challenges here on the blog where others will be able to appreciate them and Professor Morley will make an appearance from time to time.

If you want a taster of what to expect, visit Professor David Morley's blog or try our previous series of Writing Challenges.

April 14, 2010

Lorca: Theory and Play of the Duende


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Between 1918 when I entered the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, and 1928 when I left, having completed my study of Philosophy and Letters, I listened to around a thousand lectures, in that elegant salon where the old Spanish aristocracy went to do penance for its frivolity on French beaches.

        Longing for air and sunlight, I was so bored I used to feel as though I was covered in fine ash, on the point of changing into peppery sneezes.

        So, no, I don’t want that terrible blowfly of boredom to enter this room, threading all your heads together on the slender necklace of sleep, and setting a tiny cluster of sharp needles in your, my listeners’, eyes.

        In a simple way, in the register that, in my poetic voice, holds neither the gleams of wood, nor the angles of hemlock, nor those sheep that suddenly become knives of irony, I want to see if I can give you a simple lesson on the buried spirit of saddened Spain.

        Whoever travels the bull’s hide that stretches between the Júcar, Guadalfeo, Sil and Pisuerga rivers (not to mention the tributaries that meet those waves, the colour of a lion’s mane, that stir the Plata) frequently hears people say: ‘This has much duende’. Manuel Torre, great artist of the Andalusian people, said to someone who sang for him: ‘You have a voice, you understand style, but you’ll never ever succeed because you have no duende.’

        All through Andalusia, from the rock of Jaén to the snail’s-shell of Cadiz, people constantly talk about the duende and recognise it wherever it appears with a fine instinct. That wonderful singer El Lebrijano, creator of the Debla, said: ‘On days when I sing with duende no one can touch me.’: the old Gypsy dancer La Malena once heard Brailowsky play a fragment of Bach, and exclaimed: ‘Olé! That has duende!’ but was bored by Gluck, Brahms and Milhaud. And Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife spoke this splendid sentence: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that.

        Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’

        So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.

        This ‘mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched Nietzche’s heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet’s music, without finding it, and without seeing that the duende he pursued had leapt from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz and the headless Dionysiac scream of Silverio’s siguiriya.

        So, then, I don’t want anyone to confuse the duende with the theological demon of doubt at whom Luther, with Bacchic feeling, hurled a pot of ink in Eisenach, nor the Catholic devil, destructive and of low intelligence, who disguised himself as a bitch to enter convents, nor the talking monkey carried by Cervantes’ Malgesi in his comedy of jealousies in the Andalusian woods.

        No. The duende I mean, secret and shuddering, is descended from that blithe daemon, all marble and salt, of Socrates, whom it scratched at indignantly on the day when he drank the hemlock, and that other melancholy demon of Descartes, diminutive as a green almond, that, tired of lines and circles, fled along the canals to listen to the singing of drunken sailors.

        For every man, every artist called Nietzsche or Cézanne, every step that he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende, not with an angel, as is often said, nor with his Muse. This is a precise and fundamental distinction at the root of their work.

        The angel guides and grants, like St. Raphael: defends and spares, like St. Michael: proclaims and forewarns, like St. Gabriel.

The angel dazzles, but flies over a man’s head, high above, shedding its grace, and the man realises his work, or his charm, or his dance effortlessly. The angel on the road to Damascus, and that which entered through the cracks in the little balcony at Assisi, or the one that followed in Heinrich Suso’s footsteps, create order, and there is no way to oppose their light, since they beat their wings of steel in an atmosphere of predestination.

The Muse dictates, and occasionally prompts. She can do relatively little since she’s distant and so tired (I’ve seen her twice) that you’d think her heart half marble. Muse poets hear voices and don’t know where they’re from, but they’re from the Muse who inspires them and sometimes makes her meal of them, as in the case of Apollinaire, a great poet destroyed by the terrifying Muse, next to whom the divine angelic Rousseau once painted him.

The Muse stirs the intellect, bringing a landscape of columns and an illusory taste of laurel, and intellect is often poetry’s enemy, since it limits too much, since it lifts the poet into the bondage of aristocratic fineness, where he forgets that he might be eaten, suddenly, by ants, or that a huge arsenical lobster might fall on his head – things against which the Muses who inhabit monocles, or the roses of lukewarm lacquer in a tiny salon, have no power.

Angel and Muse come from outside us: the angel brings light, the Muse form (Hesiod learnt from her). Golden bread or fold of tunic, it is her norm that the poet receives in his laurel grove. While the duende has to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood.

Reject the angel, and give the Muse a kick, and forget our fear of the scent of violets that eighteenth century poetry breathes out, and of the great telescope in whose lenses the Muse, made ill by limitation, sleeps.

The true struggle is with the duende.

The roads where one searches for God are known, whether by the barbaric way of the hermit or the subtle one of the mystic: with a tower, like St. Teresa, or by the three paths of St. John of the Cross. And though we may have to cry out, in Isaiah’s voice: Truly you are a hidden God,’ finally, in the end, God sends his primal thorns of fire to those who seek Him.

Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks, or strips Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer stark naked in the cold of the Pyrenees, or sends Jorge Manrique to wait for death in the wastes of Ocaña, or clothes Rimbaud’s delicate body in a saltimbanque’s costume, or gives the Comte de Lautréamont the eyes of a dead fish, at dawn, on the boulevard.

The great artists of Southern Spain, Gypsy or flamenco, singers dancers, musicians, know that emotion is impossible without the arrival of the duende. They might deceive people into thinking they can communicate the sense of duende without possessing it, as authors, painters, and literary fashion-makers deceive us every day, without possessing duende: but we only have to attend a little, and not be full of indifference, to discover the fraud, and chase off that clumsy artifice.

Once, the Andalusian ‘Flamenco singer’ Pastora Pavon, La Niña de Los Peines, sombre Spanish genius, equal in power of fancy to Goya or Rafael el Gallo, was singing in a little tavern in Cadiz. She played with her voice of shadows, with her voice of beaten tin, with her mossy voice, she tangled it in her hair, or soaked it in manzanilla or abandoned it to dark distant briars. But, there was nothing there: it was useless. The audience remained silent.

In the room was Ignacio Espeleta, handsome as a Roman tortoise, who was once asked: ‘Why don’t you work?’ and who replied with a smile worthy of Argantonius: ‘How should I work, if I’m from Cadiz?’

In the room was Elvira, fiery aristocrat, whore from Seville, descended in line from Soledad Vargos, who in ’30 didn’t wish to marry with a Rothschild, because he wasn’t her equal in blood. In the room were the Floridas, whom people think are butchers, but who in reality are millennial priests who still sacrifice bulls to Geryon, and in the corner was that formidable breeder of bulls, Don Pablo Murube, with the look of a Cretan mask. Pastora Pavon finished her song in silence. Only, a little man, one of those dancing midgets who leap up suddenly from behind brandy bottles, sarcastically, in a very soft voice, said: ‘Viva, Paris!’ as if to say: ‘Here ability is not important, nor technique, nor skill. What matters here is something other.’

Then La Niña de Los Peines got up like a madwoman, trembling like a medieval mourner, and drank, in one gulp, a huge glass of fiery spirits, and began to sing with a scorched throat, without voice, breath, colour, but…with duende. She managed to tear down the scaffolding of the song, but allow through a furious, burning duende, friend to those winds heavy with sand, that make listeners tear at their clothes with the same rhythm as the Negroes of the Antilles in their rite, huddled before the statue of Santa Bárbara.

La Niña de Los Peines had to tear apart her voice, because she knew experts were listening, who demanded not form but the marrow of form, pure music with a body lean enough to float on air. She had to rob herself of skill and safety: that is to say, banish her Muse, and be helpless, so her duende might come, and deign to struggle with her at close quarters. And how she sang! Her voice no longer at play, her voice a jet of blood, worthy of her pain and her sincerity, opened like a ten-fingered hand as in the feet, nailed there but storm-filled, of a Christ by Juan de Juni.

The arrival of the duende presupposes a radical change to all the old kinds of form, brings totally unknown and fresh sensations, with the qualities of a newly created rose, miraculous, generating an almost religious enthusiasm.

In all Arab music, dance, song or elegy, the arrival of duende is greeted with vigorous cries of ‘Allah! Allah!’ so close to the ‘Olé!’ of the bullfight, and who knows whether they are not the same? And in all the songs of Southern Spain, the appearance of the duende is followed by sincere cries of: ‘Viva Dios!’ deep, human, tender cries of communication with God through the five senses, thanks to the duende that shakes the voice and body of the dancer, a real, poetic escape from this world, as pure as that achieved by that rarest poet of the seventeenth century Pedro Soto de Rojas with his seven gardens, or John Climacus with his trembling ladder of tears.

Naturally when this escape is perfected, everyone feels the effect: the initiate in seeing style defeat inadequate content, and the novice in sensing authentic emotion. Years ago, an eighty year old woman came first in a dance contest in Jerez de la Frontera, against lovely women and girls with liquid waists, merely by raising her arms, throwing back her head, and stamping with her foot on the floor: but in that crowd of Muses and angels with lovely forms and smiles, who could earn the prize but her moribund duende sweeping the earth with its wings made of rusty knives.

All the arts are capable of duende, but where it naturally creates most space, as in music, dance and spoken poetry, the living flesh is needed to interpret them, since they have forms that are born and die, perpetually, and raise their contours above the precise present.

Often the composer’s duende fills the performers, and at other times, when a poet or composer is no such thing, the performer’s duende, interestingly, creates a new wonder that has the appearance of, but is not, primitive form. This was the case with the duende-haunted Eleonara Duse, who searched out failed plays to make triumphs of them through her inventiveness, and the case with Paganini, explained by Goethe, who made one hear profound melody in vulgar trifles, and the case of a delightful young girl in Port St. Marys, whom I saw singing and dancing that terrible Italian song ‘O Mari!’ with such rhythm, pauses and intensity that she turned Italian dross into a brave serpent of gold. What happened was that each effectively found something new that no one had seen before, that could give life and knowledge to bodies devoid of expression.

Every art and every country is capable of duende, angel and Muse: and just as Germany owns to the Muse, with a few exceptions, and Italy the perennial angel, Spain is, at all times, stirred by the duende, country of ancient music and dance, where the duende squeezes out those lemons of dawn, a country of death, a country open to death.

In every other country death is an ending. It appears and they close the curtains. Not in Spain. In Spain they open them. Many Spaniards live indoors till the day they die and are carried into the sun. A dead man in Spain is more alive when dead than anywhere else on earth: his profile cuts like the edge of a barber’s razor. Tales of death and the silent contemplation of it are familiar to Spaniards. From Quevedo’s dream of skulls, to Valdés Leal’s putrefying archbishop, and from Marbella in the seventeenth century, dying in childbirth, in the middle of the road, who says:

The blood of my womb

Covers the stallion.

The stallion’s hooves

Throw off sparks of black pitch…

to the youth of Salamanca, recently killed by a bull, who cried out:

        Friends, I am dying:

        Friends I am done for.

        I’ve three scarves inside me,

        And this one makes four…

stretches a rail of saltpetre flowers, where a nation goes to contemplate death, with on the side that’s more bitter, the verses of Jeremiah, and on the more lyrical side with fragrant cypress: but a country where what is most important of all finds its ultimate metallic value in death.

        The hut, the wheel of a cart, the razor, and the prickly beards of shepherds, the barren moon, the flies, the damp cupboards, the rubble, the lace-covered saints, the wounding lines of eaves and balconies, in Spain grow tiny weeds of death, allusions and voices, perceptible to an alert spirit, that fill the memory with the stale air of our own passing. It’s no accident that all Spanish art is rooted in our soil, full of thistles and sharp stones: it’s no isolated example that lamentation of Pleberio’s, or the dances of that maestro Josef María de Valdivielso: it isn’t chance that among all the ballads of Europe this Spanish one stands out:

If you’re my pretty lover,

why don’t you gaze at me?

The eyes I gazed at you with

I’ve given to the dark.

If you’re my pretty lover

why aren’t you kissing me?

The lips I kissed you with

I’ve given to earth below.

If you’re my pretty lover,

why aren’t you hugging me?

The arms I hugged you with

Are covered with worms, you see.

Nor is it strange that this song is heard at the dawn of our lyrical tradition:

                 In the garden

                 I shall die,

                 in the rose-tree

                 they will kill me,

                 Mother I went

                 to gather roses,

                 looking for death

                 within the garden.

                 Mother I went

                 cutting roses,

                 looking for death

                 within the rose-tree.

                 In the garden

                 I shall die.

                 In the rose-tree

                 they’ll kill me.

Those moon-frozen heads that Zurbarán painted, the yellows of butter and lightning in El Greco, Father Sigüenza’s prose, the whole of Goya’s work, the apse of the Escorial church, all polychrome sculpture, the crypt in the Duke of Osuna’s house, the ‘death with a guitar’ in the Chapel of the Benaventes in Medina de Rioseco, equate culturally to the processions of San Andrés de Teixido, in which the dead take their places: to the dirges that the women of Asturias sing, with their flame-bright torches, in the November night: to the dance and chanting of the Sibyl in the cathedrals of Mallorca and Toledo: to the dark In recort of Tortosa: and to the endless Good Friday rituals which with the highly refined festival of the bulls, form the popular ‘triumph’ of death in Spain. In all the world only Mexico can grasp my country’s hand.

        When the Muse sees death appear she closes the door, or builds a plinth, or displays an urn and writes an epitaph with her waxen hand, but afterwards she returns to tending her laurel in a silence that shivers between two breezes. Beneath the broken arch of the ode, she binds, in funereal harmony, the precise flowers painted by fifteenth century Italians and calls up Lucretius’ faithful cockerel, by whom unforeseen shadows are dispelled.

        When the angel sees death appear he flies in slow circles, and with tears of ice and narcissi weaves the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats, Villasandino, Herrera, Bécquer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But how it horrifies the angel if he feels a spider, however tiny, on his tender rosy foot!

        The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.

        With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work.

        The magic power of a poem consists in it always being filled with duende, in its baptising all who gaze at it with dark water, since with duende it is easier to love, to understand, and be certain of being loved, and being understood, and this struggle for expression and the communication of that expression in poetry sometimes acquires a fatal character.

        Remember the example of the flamenca, duende-filled St. Teresa. Flamenca not for entangling an angry bull, and passing it magnificently three times, which she did: not because she thought herself pretty before Brother Juan de la Miseria: nor for slapping His Holiness’s Nuncio: but because she was one of those few creatures whose duende (not angel, for the angel never attacks anyone) pierced her with an arrow and wanted to kill her for having stolen his ultimate secret, the subtle link that joins the five senses to what is core to the living flesh, the living cloud, the living ocean of love liberated from time.

        Most valiant vanquisher of the duende and the counter-example to Philip of Austria, who sought anxiously in Theology for Muse and angel, and was imprisoned by a duende of icy ardour in the Escorial Palace, where geometry borders on dream, and where the duende wears the mask of the Muse for the eternal punishment of that great king.

        We have said that the duende loves the edge, the wound, and draws close to places where forms fuse in a yearning beyond visible expression.

        In Spain (as among Oriental races, where the dance is religious expression) the duende has a limitless hold over the bodies of the dancers of Cadiz, praised by Martial, the breasts of those who sing, praised by Juvenal, and over all the liturgies of the bullring, an authentic religious drama, where in the same manner as in the Mass, a God is sacrificed to, and adored.

        It seems as if all the duende of the Classical world is concentrated in this perfect festival, expounding the culture and the great sensibility of a nation that reveals the finest anger, bile and tears of mankind. Neither in Spanish dance nor in the bullfight does anyone enjoy himself: the duende charges itself with creating suffering by means of a drama of living forms, and clears the way for an escape from the reality that surrounds us.

        The duende works on the dancer’s body like wind on sand. It changes a girl, by magic power, into a lunar paralytic, or covers the cheeks of a broken old man, begging for alms in the wine-shops, with adolescent blushes: gives a woman’s hair the odour of a midnight sea-port: and at every instant works the arms with gestures that are the mothers of the dances of all the ages.

        But it’s impossible for it ever to repeat itself, and it’s important to underscore this. The duende never repeats itself, any more than the waves of the sea do in a storm.

        Its most impressive effects appear in the bullring, since it must struggle on the one hand with death, which can destroy it, and on the other with geometry, measure, the fundamental basis of the festival.

        The bull has its own orbit: the toreador his, and between orbit and orbit lies the point of danger, where the vertex of terrible play exists.

        You can own to the Muse with the muleta, and to the angel with the banderillas, and pass for a good bullfighter, but in the work with the cape, while the bull is still free of wounds, and at the moment of the kill, the aid of the duende is required to drive home the nail of artistic truth.

        The bullfighter who terrifies the public with his bravery in the ring is not fighting bulls, but has lowered himself to a ridiculous level, to doing what anyone can do, by playing with his life: but the toreador who is bitten by the duende gives a lesson in Pythagorean music and makes us forget that his is constantly throwing his heart at the horns.

        Lagartijo, with his Roman duende, Joselito with his Jewish duende, Belmonte with his Baroque duende, and Cagancho with his Gypsy duende, showed, from the twilight of the bullring, poets, painters and composers the four great highways of Spanish tradition.

        Spain is unique, a country where death is a national spectacle, where death sounds great bugle blasts on the arrival of Spring, and its art is always ruled by a shrewd duende which creates its different and inventive quality.

        The duende who, for the first time in sculpture, stains with blood the cheeks of the saints of that master, Mateo de Compostela, is the same one who made St. John of the Cross groan, or burns naked nymphs in Lope’s religious sonnets.

        The duende that raises the towers of Sahagún or bakes hot bricks in Calatayud, or Teruel, is the same as he who tears apart El Greco’s clouds, and kicks out at Quevedo’s bailiffs, and Goya’s chimeras, and drives them away.

        When he rains he brings duende-haunted Velasquez, secretly, from behind his monarchic greys. When he snows he makes Herrera appear naked to show that cold does not kill: when he burns he pushes Berruguete into the flames and makes him invent new dimensions for sculpture.

        Gongora’s Muse and Garcilaso’s angel must loose their laurel wreaths when St. John of the Cross’s duende passes by, when:

                 The wounded stag

                 appears, over the hill.

Gonzalo de Berceo’s Muse and the Archpriest of Hita’s angel must depart to give way to Jorge Manrique, wounded to death at the door of the castle of Belmonte. Gregorio Hernández’ Muse, and José de Mora’s angel must bow to the passage of de Mena’s duende weeping tears of blood, and Martínez Montañéz’ duende with the head of an Assyrian bull, just as the melancholic Muse of Catalonia, and the damp angel of Galicia, gaze in loving wonder at the duende of Castile, so far from their warm bread and gentle grazing cattle, with its norms of sweeping sky and dry sierra.

Quevedo’s duende and Cervantes’, the one with green anemones of phosphorus, the other with flowers of Ruidera gypsum, crown the altarpiece of Spain’s duende.

Each art, as is natural, has a distinct mode and form of duende, but their roots unite at the point from which flow the dark sounds of Manuel Torre, the ultimate matter, and uncontrollable mutual depth and extremity of wood, sound, canvas, word.

Dark sounds, behind which in tender intimacy exist volcanoes, ants, zephyrs, and the vast night pressing its waist against the Milky Way.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have raised three arches and with clumsy hands placed within them the Muse, the angel and the duende.

The Muse remains motionless: she can have a finely pleated tunic or cow eyes like those which gaze out in Pompeii, at the four-sided nose her great friend Picasso has painted her with. The angel can disturb Antonello da Messina’s heads of hair, Lippi’s tunics, or the violins of Masolino or Rousseau.

The duende….Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.

April 03, 2010

The Amazing Samuel Menashe

Sam Menashe

‘I never thought it was a poem. I thought it was just [Menashe slides arm slowly downwards] a sigh’. This is Samuel Menashe speaking in the film Life is Immense: Visiting Samuel Menashe by Pamela Robertson-Pearce which comes packaged with the book. Menashe writes concise poems. It’s rare in a review to be able to quote a poem in full but with Menashe it’s open season. Here are two untitled poems that possess the sigh of pure brevity:

The sea staves

Concave waves

     * * *

A pot poured out

Fulfills its spout.

Ian Hamilton Finlay wrote that ‘I feel more and more that the purest poetry exists in single words or seemingly minute effects. These are what lodge in one’ (quoted from Thomas A. Clark’s suitably spare edition of Finlay’s letters on poetry and making A Model of Order.) For Menashe, purity of diction requires a purity of contraction:

The niche narrows

Hones one thin

Until his bones

Disclose him.

‘The Niche’

Eleven words. Fourteen syllables. This is a poem about which Donald Davie once commented, ‘[Menashe’s] poems have to be compact and close because only in that way can English words—any English word, if the right tight context be found for it—show up as worshipful, as having a wisdom and an emotional force beyond what we can bring out of it when we make it serve our usual occasions’. As Menashe might have said, less is more as God is love. (Being a tireless reviser and refiner Menashe would probably file this down to ‘Less is love’.)

Reading this excellent selection of poems, you can’t help but admire Samuel Menashe’s integrity of perception, his self-possessed seriousness, and the precise, often playful awareness of the importance of space—space as another means for stating, imparting, whispering.

Menashe’s restrained epiphanies come over strongly and unstrained in performance. I met this fine poet at the Ledbury Poetry Festival last year. His resonant, gentlemanly, measured delivery woke rich meanings and sounds from the stringed air of each poem. This is what so-called Slow Poetry should sound like, honed not only in drafting but in delivery.

It helps to hear him, and it is a pleasure to watch him articulate his working methods andMenashe transcribes his poem aesthetics. The film of Menashe reading his poems in his tiny New York apartment is a welcome extra and shows fine moments of generosity and insight. Any open-minded reader of poetry will warm to this man and this book.

New and Selected Poems, Samuel Menashe, with a film on DVD by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, Bloodaxe Books, pb., 240 pp., £12.00, ISBN 978-1-85224-840-6

My thanks to Fiona Sampson of Poetry Review where this piece first appeared.

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