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February 25, 2013

Last Blog Entry

Writing about web page http://www.zoebrigley.com

This is just a note to say that I will no longer be using this blog. I have now moved over to my website and blog at zoebrigley.com

June 09, 2012

Etch Dance Company

Writing about web page http://www.etchdance.org/etch_dance/Home.html

I have been meaning for a while to write about a dance company here in Pennsylvania called Etch Dance. I have been to see a few of their shows and I was really impressed by the choreography, much of which is inspired by literature – writers like Kate Chopin, Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Edwidge Danticat. The dances explore female identity and how to express different aspects of that psyche. What particularly struck me about the dances too was how they allow the female body to be athletic, muscular, strong in a way that is very female. Many of the shapes and poses reminded me of female dancers in art – the strong women of Paula Rego or Tamara de Lempicka.

(All the photos of the dancers below are publicity shots from their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/134406240544/photos/ ).

Etch Dance 1
Etch Dance 2
Etch Dance 3
Tamara de Lempicka 2
Paula Rego

April 29, 2012

Four copies of Conquest to give away….

Writing about web page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Conquest-Zoe-Brigley/dp/1852249307/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335706442&sr=1-6

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Conquest by Zoë Brigley (Thompson)


by Zoë Brigley (Thompson)

Giveaway ends June 07, 2012.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

April 06, 2012

Conquest and Repeated Words…

Writing about web page http://www.amazon.com/Conquest-Zoe-Brigley/dp/1852249307

Someone asked me recently about the repeated words that appear in Conquest, and I am posting my answer here. I recently created a Wordle to see exactly which words are repeated most in the book.

Conquest Wordle

It is certainly true that repeated words like ‘garden,’ ‘window,’ ‘long,’ ‘flower,’ ‘never,’ and ‘dreams’ feature prominently in Conquest. I have always liked repetition in poetry: the sense that in reading an entire book you are circling round and round the same ideas. I think that’s why I chose to use the sestina form twice in this new book. You can find out more about the sestina on poets.org .

There are two versions of a double sestina form in Conquest – I say versions because each stanza has fourteen lines like a sonnet, and fourteen repeated words, so it’s a hybrid form different to those used by Swinburne and Sidney . The first (found in the ‘Conquest’ section from p. 35 to 43) uses the words (with variations in brackets):


*plot (plotted, plotting);
*land (onland, Disneyland, scrubland, dreamlands, garlands, land-burning);
*fat (fattening, fatten, fattened, fattest);
*gold (golden, golden eyes, gilds);
*graph (cartography, sonograph, autograph, geography, photographs, choreography);
*man or men (bondsmen, woman, ottoman, kinsman, women, workmen, figure, cattlemen);
*cell (sells, call);
*script (description, inscription, conscripts, scripture);
*bear or bore (harbour, harbouring, born, borne);
*thing (nothing, anything, everything, something);
*shore (onshore, shore up, shoreline, sure, lakeshore);
*colony (colonists, colonies, colonise);
*and one wild card for words that had something to do with the body: most often I use ‘mouth’, but I also use ‘teeth’, ‘burst’, ‘tongues’, ‘faces’, ‘lips’, ‘open’, ‘hair’, ‘touch’, ‘body’, and once I use the word ‘bereft’ which is an obvious cheat but was necessary for the poem.

There are words related to geography (land, earth, shore) and the civilizing of place (colony, plot). Some of the words relate to the greed of imperialism (gold, fat), and to the suffering that it causes (bear, cell). There is also a feeling in some of the words that the protagonists are trying to chart a course away from such an oppressive way of living (script, graph, thing). This is a physical journey too , as indicated by the bodily words in the wild card list.

The second version of a double sestina is ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ sequence, and the repeated words (with variations in brackets) are:

*garden (gardener);
*year (yearly);
*day (today, Sunday, daylight, weekday);
*plant (planted, plantations, replanted, transplanted, Jardin des Plantes, planting, pieplants);
*time (thyme, night-time, mistimed);
*flower (flowers, Mayflower, flour, fleurs, marigold, flowering, flowerbeds);
*sweet (sweetest, sweetcakes, sweetnesses, unsweetened, sweeten);
*wreck (wreckage, wrecked);
*out (outside, outed);
*walls (walled);
*and a wild card for words related to the senses: mainly I use ‘tongue,’ but on two occasions I use ‘eye,’ and once ‘marmalade.’

‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ is a poem about recuperation and healing. The epigraph from A Midsummer Night’s Dream reads: “It fell upon a little western flower, / Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound.” There are repeated words related to growth (garden, plant, flower), and to obstacles that prevent growth (walls, wreck). Words related to the passage of time (time, day, year) indicate that this is a slow process, but there are rewards (sweet, the sensual wild card list) and possibilities of escape (window, out).

March 22, 2012

zoebrigley.org is no more…

Writing about web page https://www.facebook.com/zoebrigley

This is just a note to say that zoebrigley.org is no more. The domain was somehow hijacked – apparently this is quite common. In the meantime, I have set up a facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/zoebrigley and a new, improved website will be coming soon.

March 18, 2012

Conquest arrives…

Copies of my new poetry collection Conquest arrived last week… Thanks again to the artist Victoria Brookland for allowing me to use her wonderful image Hawk on the front cover. There are also three pictures by Brookland inside the collection.


Alan Moore Essays

Writing about web page http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13514412-sexual-ideology-in-the-works-of-alan-moore

The collection on Alan Moore and sexual ideology is out now, and I have contributed an essay. See the contents below… I can’t wait to read the whole thing.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments 1
Introduction: The Polarizing of Alan Moore’s Sexual Politics

Part I: The “Low Form”: Moore and the Complex Relationships of the Comic Book Superhero
1. Libidinal Ecologies: Eroticism and Environmentalism in Swamp Thing
2. Green Love, Red Sex: The Conflation of the Flora and the Flesh in Swamp Thing
3. When “One Bad Day” Becomes One Dark Knight: Love, Madness, and Obsession in the Adaptation of The Killing Joke into Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight
4. “Don’t laugh, Daddy, we’re in love”: Mockery, Fulfillment, and Subversion of Popular Romance Conventions in The Ballad of Halo Jones
5. The Love of Nationalism, Internationalism and Sacred Space in Watchmen

Part II: The Vicious Cabaret of Love, Sexual Desire … and Torture
6. Theorizing Sexual Domination in From Hell and Lost Girls Jack the Ripper versus Wonderlands of Desire
7. “Do you understand how I have loved you?” Terrible Loves and Divine Visions in From Hell
8. Body Politics: Unearthing an Embodied Ethics in V for Vendetta
9. The Poles of Wantonness: Male Asexuality in Alan Moore’s Film Adaptations
10. Reflections on the Looking Glass: Adaptation as Sex and Psychosis in Lost Girls

Part III: Victorian Sexualities and the Ecriture Feminine: Women Writing and the Women of Writing
11. “Avast, Land-Lubbers!” Reading Lost Girls as a Post-Sadeian Text
K. A. LAITY 138
12. The Undying Fire: Erotic Love as Divine Grace in Promethea
13. “It came out of nothing except our love”: Queer Desire and Transcendental Love in Promethea
14. Self-Conscious Sexuality in Promethea
15. I Remain Your Own: Epistolamory in “The New Adventures of Fanny Hill”

Afterword: Disgust with the Revolution

Selected Bibliography 207
About the Contributors 217

October 13, 2011

Film Noir: Bibliography

Build Your Gallows High

Abbott, Megan (2002) The Street was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Allen, Virginia M. (1983) The Femme Fatale: Erotic Icon (New York: The Whitson Publishing Company).

Beeler, Karin (2006) Tattoos, Desire and Violence: Marks of Resistance in Literature, Film and Television (Jefferson NC: McFarland).

Biesen, Sheri Chinen (2004) ‘Manufacturing Heroines: Gothic Victims and Working Women in Clasic Noir Films’ in Film Noir Reader 4: The Crucial Films and Themes, ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini (New Jersey: Limelight): 161-173.

--. (2005) Blackout: World War Two and the Origins of Film Noir (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press).

Boozer, Jack (1999) ‘The lethal femme fatale in the noir tradition,’ Journal of Film and Video 51.3/4: 20-35.

Bould, Mark (2005) Film Noir: From Berlin to Sin City (London and New York: Wallflower).

Cassuto, Leonard (2009) Hard-boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories (New York: Columbia University Press).

Chopra-Gant, Mike (2006) Hollywood Genres and Postwar America: Masculinity, Family and Nation in Popular Film and Film Noir (London and New York: IB Tauris).

Corey, William (1999) ‘Girl Power: Female Centered Neo-Noir’ in Film Noir Reader 2, ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini (New York: Limelight): 311-327.

Diapaolo, Marc (2011) War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film (Jefferson NC: McFarland).

Doane, Mary Ann (1987) The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s (Bloomington and Indianapolis IN: Indiana University Press).

--. (1991)Femme Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis(London and New York: Routledge).

Evans, Caroline (2007) Fashion at the Edge (New Haven CT: Yale University Press).

Farber, Stephen (1999) ‘Violence and the Bitch Goddess’ in Film Noir Reader 2, ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini (New York: Limelight): 45-55.

Fay, Jennifer and Justus Nieland (2010) Film Noir: Hard Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Globalization (London and New York: Routledge).

Feasey, Rebecca (2009) ‘Neo-Noir’s Fatal Woman: Stardom, Survival and Sharon Stone’ in Neo-noir, ed. Mark Bould, Kathrina Glitre and Greg Tuck (London and New York: Wallflower).

Flory, Dan (2010) Philosophy, Black Film, Film Noir (University Park PA: Pennsylvania State University Press).

Forter, Greg (2000) Murdering Masculinities: Fantasies of Gender and Violence in the American Crime Novel (New York and London: New York University Press).

Hollinger, Karen (1996) ‘Film Noir, Voice-over, and the Femme Fatale’ in Film Noir Reader, ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini (New York: Limelight): 243-260.

Irwin, John T. (2006) Unless the Threat of Death is Behind Them: Hard-boiled Fiction and Film Noir (Baltimore MD: John Hopkins University Press).

James, Dean (1998) ‘Interview with Sara Paretsky’ in Deadly Women: The Woman Mystery Reader’s Indispensible Companion, ed. Jan Grape, Dean James and Ellen Nehr (New York: Connell and Graf Publishers): 287-290.

Kinsman, Margaret (1995) ‘A Question of Visibility: Paretsky and Chicago’ in Women Times Three: Writers, Detectives, Readers, ed. Kathleen Gregory Klein (Bowling Green OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press): 15-28.

Maxfield, James F. (1996) The Fatal Woman: Sources of Male Anxiety in American Film Noir, 1941-1991 (Madison/Teaneck: Farleigh Dickenson University Press).

Menon, Elizabeth (2006) Evil by Design: The Creation and Marketing of the Femme Fatale (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois).

Orr, Stanley (2010) Darkly Perfect World: Colonial Adventure, Postmodernism, and American Noir (Columbus OH: Ohio State University Press).

Phillips, Gene D. (2000) Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction and Film Noir (Lexington KT: University Press of Kentucky).

Pronzoni, Bill (1998) ‘Women in the Pulps’ in Deadly Women: The Woman Mystery Reader’s Indispensible Companion, ed. Jan Grape, Dean James and Ellen Nehr (New York: Connell and Graf Publishers): 17-19.

Reddy, Maureen T. (1988) Sisters in Crime: Feminism and the Crime Novel (New York: Continuum).

Richardson, Michael (2010) Otherness in Hollywood Cinema (New York and London: Continuum).

Spicer, Andrew (2002) Film Noir (Harlow: Longman).

Telotte, J.P. (2004) ‘Voices from the Deep: Film Noir as Psychodrama’ in Film Noir Reader 4: The Crucial Films and Themes, ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini (New Jersey: Limelight): 145-159.

Wager, Jans B. (2005) Dames in the Driver’s Seat: Rereading Film Noir (Austin TX: University of Texas Press).

Ward, Elizabeth (1999) ‘The Unintended Femme Fatale: The File on Thelma Jordan and Pushover’ in Film Noir Reader 2, ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini (New York: Limelight): 129-136.

September 02, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: Poetry and Apocalypse —– September 2011.

Writing about web page http://nvwn.wordpress.com/

(Part of the NVWN newsletter).

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, people up and down the East Coast are left in awe at the incredible power of the wind and sea. Apart from the hurricane, there have been tornadoes, even an earthquake, and one can’t help feeling humbled at the chaos produced, worthy of a disaster movie.

Environmental destruction and ecological balance are at the heart of Neil Astley’s anthology_Earth Shattering_, which brings together over 200 poems to celebrate the natural world, lament its corruption, and consider how it might be preserved. When it comes to the power of nature and the possibility of apocalypse, however, one poem particularly struck me.

Working out of genres that he calls ‘Alternative Realism’ and ‘European Darkness,’ the Irish poet Matthew Sweeney imagines the breakdown of the civilized world in ‘Zero Hour’ (http://www.cstone.net/~poems/twoposwe.htm). As oil reserves slowly run low in this frightening, new society, Sweeney imagines cars left useless on the roadside and people attacking one another for the most basic goods. Sweeney’s scenario is one that we all doubtfully envision at times of crisis, and his final question is chilling:

out there could have predicted
this sudden countdown to zero hour,
all the paraphernalia of our comfort
stamped obsolete, our memories
fighting to keep us sane and upright?

August 01, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: Poetry and Trauma —– July/August 2011.

Writing about web page https://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork

The world is still coming to terms with the massacre on the island of Utøya in Norway. Reading accounts of the horror by young people like Emma Martinovic in The Guardian is moving and thought-provoking: we ask ourselves, how would we respond in the face of such brutality?

Poets have often tried to make sense of inhuman and barbaric acts of murder. For example, the poem `Psychopath’ by the British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, or Carolyn Forché’s remarkable prose poem, `The Colonel,’ which presents a brutal Latin American dictator: “The colonel returned with a sack that he used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this.”

Perhaps the most poignant, however, is poetry of the survivor, the poetry of those who mourn for the lost and seek a new future. Take Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno’s collection Slamming Open the Door written after her daughter, Leidy, was brutally murdered in 2003. Bonanno writes of her precarious existence after the event in the poem `Ice Skating’:

we skate way far over in the distance,
remotely visible,
two pitiable lurchers
where the surface is wafery thin
and the light is bad,
where no one would choose to skate
had God not pointed an icy,
peremptory finger
and said, There.

(This is a column for the NVWN Newsletter: https://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork).

July 04, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: Poetry and Nature —– June/July 2011.

Writing about web page http://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork

Poetry is often thought to have a special relationship with nature, from the British Romantics to Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers. Nature poetry is now sometimes frowned upon as being too sentimental or idealist, imagining utopias that cannot exist in a modern, urban world. Poetry, however, might be a very useful tool for understanding the human relationship with nature, especially when pollution is rife and industry threatens to destroy America’s beautiful natural spaces for the sake of profit.

In his study, The Song of the Earth, the critic Jonathan Bate draws on the ideas of the philosopher Martin Heidegger to put forward the idea of “poetic dwelling”. Though writing is an act of human production, far away from the natural world, Bate notes that poetry emphasizes the imagination rather than possession, something that is particularly important with regards to nature. This poetic attitude can be seen in the poems of Robert Frost, such as `The Need of Being Versed in Country Things,’ which describes a tumbledown house where birds fly in through the broken windows. Frost notices that in this scene of human wreckage, life carries on: `the lilac renewed its leaf’. Human beings do not dominate the landscape and finally nature reclaims the human dwelling. Frost concludes that for the birds, `there was really nothing sad’.

(This is a column for the NVWN Newsletter: https://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork).

June 18, 2011

More Poetry Set to Music: Harper's version of Angelou's 'Still I Rise'.

I discovered this on the Live From Mars album this morning. Ben Harper merges a beautiful song about Martin Luther King with Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’: http://youtu.be/Yi4SHLrmiqI

June 11, 2011

Karen LaMonte's Recining Dress Impression with Drapery (2009)

Writing about web page http://www.karenlamonte.com/

Taken at the Renwick, Smithsonian, Washington DC, 2010.

Viewing this work is a remarkable experience. Your first impression is of looking at a solid mass, but when you catch it at particular angles, the body-shaped hollow pops out at you. It really makes you gasp. There’s an incredible presence for something that is not there, a woman who is conspicuously absent. Karen's work draws attention to clothing as a cultural construct--an identifier that relays who you are and your place in the world. The history of the dress is fundamentally tied to what it means to be a woman. Yet Karen has stated that the subject of her work isn't so much feminism, but femininity. (Quoted from... http://www.karenlamonte.com/media/Eye%20Level_%20In%20Conversation%20with%20Karen%20Lamonte_Jan%202010.pdf)

June 09, 2011

'Memory' – a poem by Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kaho


I had swayed. Nothing else. But suddenly I knew

In the depth of my silence

He was following me. Like my shadow, blameless and light

In the night, a song sobbed…

The Indians lengthened, winding, through the alleys of the town.

A harp and a jacaranda were the music, and the smiling dark-skinned girls

Were the happiness

In the background, behind the “Zócalo,” the river shined

and darkened, like

the moments of my life.

He followed me.

I ended up crying, isolated in the porch of the parish church,

protected by my bolita shawl, drenched with my tears.


Reproduced in The Letters of Frida Kahlo: Cartas Apasionadas, ed. and trans. Martha Zamora, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, p. 9. 

June 06, 2011

Robert Frost and the Environment: A Short Bibliography

Writing about web page http://enviroencyclopedia.blogspot.com/

Robert Frost and the Environment: Bibliography

I recently wrote up an entry for a new Encyclopedia on the subject of the environment in American literature. The entry was on Robert Frost, and I paste a fuller bibliography here. In the process of writing, I was very much struck by the complexity of Frost's poems, beyond his more well-known poems like 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening'. 

Robert Frost

Faggen, Robert (2001) Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin, Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press.

---(ed.) (2001) The Cambridge Companion to Robert Frost, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---(2008) The Cambridge Introduction to Robert Frost, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Frost, Robert (1964) Complete Poems, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilso.

---(1966) Interviews with Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery Lathem, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson.

---(2006) The Notebooks of Robert Frost, ed. Robert Faggen, Boston MA: Harvard University Press.

---(2007) The Collected Prose of Robert Frost. Ed. Mark Richardson. Cambridge: Beknap Press/Harvard University Pres.

Kearns, Katherine (1994) Robert Frost and a poetics of appetite, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parini, Jay. Robert Frost: A Life. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000.

Spencer, Matthew (2003) Elected Friends: Robert Frost and Edward Thomas to one another, New York: Handsel Books/Other Press.

Timmerman, John H. (2002) Robert Frost and the Ethics of Ambiguity, Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.

Tuten, Nancy Lewis and John Zubizarreta (2001) The Robert Frost Encyclopedia, Westport CT: Greenwood Publishing. 

June 01, 2011

Being an Immigrant During World War Two

Wars are not only fought along battlelines, but also at home. And while cultural and political tensions are played out on the field of war, they also show themselves in the towns and cities that soldiers are fighting to protect.

One sad story of the home front was told to me by my Welsh grandmother, Norma Roach. it told the tale a family of Italian immigrants, who during World War Two, lived in Maesteg, a small coal town in South Wales. Italians from the Apennine Mountains migrated to the UK during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and many of them settled in Wales. The Welsh Valley people became used to Italian cafés and ice-cream parlours.

One such Italian family was the Bellis, who set up an Italian café in Maesteg, the town where my Welsh family lived for hundreds of years. They were well liked in town, but during World War Two, a policy of internment was brought in for immigrants from Italy, Germany and other enemy countries. After Mussolini declared war in 1940, the British government saw Italian immigrants as enemy aiens and potential spies. To control this unknown quantity, the government decided to send these immigrants to Canada where they could do less harm.

This meant, however, breaking up families. The older Bellis who were Italian citizens were rounded up and put on a boat to Canada – the SS Arandora Star, while members of the Belli family who were born in Wales had to stay behind.

The ironic thing was that the Bellis journeying to Canada on the Arandora Star never completed their journey. It was sunk in the Atlantic by a German submarine. There were over 1200 German and Italian internees on board, and over 800 people died including the Bellis.

Leadership Underground: My Grandfather's Story

Writing about web page http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story

[This entry originally appeared on Red Room: http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story]

When I think about leadership, I will always remember family stories told to me about my Welsh grandfather. Graham Roach was a miner who worked his way up to be the pit’s safety officer, a job which often involved dealing with painful and disfiguring injuries. People are often aware of mining disasters, but often, they are not so conscious of the accidents that happen regularly, every week even. How, for example, my grandfather watched a slice of stone fall down and cut off the four fingers of a man who had been resting his hand on the seam. The stories of these eponymous accidents and how my grandfather dealt with them, were passed along the family grapevine. My grandfather told my uncle who in turn told my mother who in turn told me.

One famous story tells how my grandfather himself was injured. The night was when a conveyor belt snapped and wrapped itself round the leg of my grandfather and another man.

The first man was screaming: ‘For the love of God, get it off me, boys.’

My grandfather, never one to waste words, simply said: ‘Me too, boys.’

He was always a man of few words, and the story made us all laugh, even though it meant hours of agony for my grandfather. The first man was weeping and wailing and calling out for a doctor. My grandfather simply repeated: ‘Me too.’

On another shift, my grandfather was underground when the mine flooded. Down one tunnel, some of the machinery had been swallowed up by the water. At the end of the tunnel was a long black pool. Taking off his boots, my grandfather readied himself. Now he dived into the water-filled shaft meeting the water’s cold slap. He dived down feeling his way along the side of the shaft in the dark. His hand blundered on something metallic and sharp. He came up with the drill and worked all night in his wet clothes.

It doesn’t surprise me that during World War Two, my grandfather had one of the most dangerous jobs in the airforce as a rear gunner. In the airforce and in his job at the mine, he always seemed to be the one to take on the difficult task, the thing that no one else wanted to do. He is altogether the kind of leader that I admire. Not a showy or conspicuous man, but nevertheless a man who knows how to act in a crisis. A man who doesn’t make a fuss when something goes wrong, but simply waits in silence for help to come. A man who does unpleasant tasks, not relishing them, but knowing that they have to be done and that he must lead by example.

My grandfather: Graham Roach

Why Poetry Matters: Poetry and Music —– May/June 2011.

Writing about web page http://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork

At a recent event at Penn State, poet Robin Becker opened her reading by noting that poetry had its origins in song, and she quoted the Pennsylvania poet J.D. McClatchy who says: “All arts want to have their birth in music”. Poetry and song do seem to overlap in significant ways. Some poets like the Surrealist Peter Blegvad set their words to music. Musicians also make songs of poems, as in Joni Mitchell’s rendering of W.B. Yeats’ `The Second Coming…

...John Cale’s version of Dylan Thomas’s `Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night…

...or Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take this Waltz’ based on Lorca’s
poem `Little Viennese Waltz’...

Some songwriters, too, have the lyrics of a poet. Many cite Bob Dylan as a prime example, or his forebear, Woody Guthrie, who wrote poetic narratives on the lives of the poor. This particularly American tradition is carried on today by artists like Gillian Welch, who write the stories of the outcast, poor and bereft. Written about the tragedy of American sharecroppers in the 1930s, Welch’s `Annabelle’ recalls Walker Evan’s eponymous photographs of Depression-era poverty. Songs like this also recall the origins of poetry, as an essentially sung form and a means to convey oral histories.

April 28, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: War Poetry —– April/May 2011.

Last year, I joined the Nittany Valley Writer’s Network in Pennsylvania, and I have been trying to convince some of the other members of the wondrous nature of poetry. Consequently, they’ve asked me to write a column in the newsletter on “Why Poetry Matters”, the title taken from Jay Parini’s excellent book Why Poetry Matters.


War is all over the news at the moment. The Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East has seen millions of people rise up to demand a new democracy. The news coverage is insufficient to convey their sacrifice. Poetry, however, might fill this gap, because it offers language free from political jingoism.

There have been many solider poets, from the English World War One poets like Wilfred Owen, to the modern day Brian Turner who served in the US army in Iraq. Most recently, however, I discovered Elyse Fenton’s Clamor, which won the $50,000 Dylan Thomas Prize.

Fenton is married to a trauma specialist in the US Army, and_Clamor_ is based on experiences of waiting for him to return from Iraq. The opening poem, ‘Gratitude’, finds the wife listening to her husband describe the grotesque scenes witnessed by her husband. When the body of a burned soldier is delivered ‘beyond recognition’, her husband must be ‘the one to sink the rubber catheter tube’. The distance is frustrating; over the phone, the wife hears ‘rotors / scalping the tarmac-grey sky’. The conversation and the story end, but the question is how long can anyone, let alone her husband, survive? How long before he comes home? The final image might indicate relief or foreboding.

[…] That moment just before we think the end will never come and then
the moment when it does.

April 02, 2011

Dylan Thomas Tour

Writing about web page http://www.newyorkfuntours.com/dylan-thomas.html

New York, Greenwich Village

I have been meaning to write up something about this for ages, but I have been completely snowed under with work recently. New York fun tours have set up a Dylan Thomas tour of Greenwich Village in New York: http://www.newyorkfuntours.com/dylan-thomas.html and, a good few months ago, I was invited with a group of Welsh artists and actors to go on the inaugural tour led by the writer Ianto Jones. The script for the tour has been written by the poet Peter Thabit Jones and Dylan Thomas’s daughter Aeronwy Thomas.

New York, Dylan Thomas Tour, Ianto Jones

The tour took us around many of Dylan Thomas’s old haunts. It began at the church where hundreds attended Thomas’s funeral – St. Luke’s in the Field – and it visited the sites of speakeasies which he frequented, and the Cherry Lane Theatre set up by Edna St. Vincent Millay, where Thomas gave one of his most successful American readings. We were able to have a look inside the beautiful Washington Square Hotel, where Thomas used stay during his tours of NYC, and we also went to visit Patchin Place where E.E. Cummings, poet and friend of Thomas, used to live. It was also where Djuna Barnes used to live, and Ianto Jones pointed out her house. Finally, we saw the hospital where Thomas was treated – St Vincent’s – and the eponymous White Horse Tavern which was one of his favourites.

New York, Greenwich Village, Cherry Lane Theatre

Overall, it was a really entertaining tour, and it gave a powerful sense of what Greenwich Village must have been like in the fifties. The facts about Thomas and the readings from his letters and writing were illuminating, but the tour also gave a more general history about the stories behind Greenwich Village, such as Thomas’s namesake Bob Dylan.

New York, Dylan Thomas Tour

The people on the inaugural tour were an interesting lot. There was the winner of this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize, Elyse Fenton, whose poetry collection_Clamor_ discusses war from the point of view of a soldier’s wife waiting at home. It’s a great collection, and later Elyse gave a short reading of some very moving and powerful poems. There was also the cast and crew of the Welsh film Third Star, set in Pembrokeshire, including the writer Vaughan Sivell. There were a number of other Welsh actors too including Hywel John and Emer Kenny, as well as Welsh radio and drama producers, the British consulate and his wife, and many others.

New York, Greenwich Village, EE Cummings
E.E. Cummings’ house
New York, Greenwich Village, Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes’ house

May 05, 2008

Cycle Path or car park?

Please don’t block the cycle paths!

library road

November 19, 2007

“Curioser and Curioser”

Writing about web page http://www.bbk.ac.uk/eh/research/research_centres/research_cncs

This seminar approached the subjects of curiosity and wonder through text and through photographic images of the nineteenth century. Both speakers gave full-length research papers followed by a chaired discussion.

Professor Hilary Schor (University of Southern California, English)

Arguing that ‘curiosity’ is a knowledge that looks doubly and pertains to a different way of seeing, Professor Schor highlighted the curious elements of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and proposed reading the novel in terms of the magic lantern, the sea voyage to the Orient that Thackeray made in 1844, and the story of Bluebeard.

Schor suggested that the motif of the magic lantern show and the method of superimposing of one image over next, causing the first to slowly dissolve away as the next comes into focus, forms a central concept in Thackeray’s fiction. His 1847-8 novel, Vanity Fair, she argued, envisages an ever dissolving view of a world of people in motion. Highlighting the influence that Vanity Fair held over the novels of Eliot and Dickens, Schor drew attention specifically to the ways that Middlemarch and Bleak House utilize its narrative methods. Considering the references in Middlemarch to the scratched pier glass and magic-lantern pictures, she contended that Thackeray’s seminal presence in nineteenth century literature needs to be brought to the fore and his influence more closely examined.

In 1844, the P & O Company allowed Thackeray to travel on one of their mail delivery boats to the Orient. In 1846 he published his account on the journey, Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo. Schor argued that his travels from Cornhill Street, a place associated with Opticians and makers of optical apparatus to the Orient, a realm of theatrical-like illusion and spectacle formed the basis for many of Vanity Fair’s scenes of ‘curiosity.’

‘In Vanity Fair, Bluebeard is called Becky Sharp’, Schor moved onto argue. In chapter III, using the language of oriental spectacle, Thackeray describes how Becky imagines herself as a sort of Bluebeard as she mounts an elephant to the sound of the march in Bluebeard. He writes:

She had a vivid imagination; she had, besides, read the Arabian Nights and Guthrie’s Geography; and it is a fact that while she was dressing for dinner, and after she had asked Amelia whether her brother was very rich, she had built for herself a most magnificent castle in the air, of which she was mistress, with a husband somewhere in the background (she had not seen him as yet, and his figure would not therefore be very distinct); she had arrayed herself in an infinity of shawls, turbans, and diamond necklaces, and had mounted upon an elephant to the sound of the march in Bluebeard, in order to pay a visit of ceremony to the Grand Mogul. Charming Alnaschar visions! it is the happy privilege of youth to construct you, and many a fanciful young creature besides Rebecca Sharp has indulged in these delightful day-dreams ere now!

Bringing her own ‘sharp’ optical apparatus to the novel, Schor suggests that the parody of Bluebeard that Becky offers is one with which the Victorian public can identify. On Rawdon’s return in Chapter LIII, Thackeray links Becky with Bluebeard more thoroughly as he alludes to the keys, locked doors and closets of the fairytale. The episode reads:

“Come upstairs,” Rawdon said to his wife. “Don’t kill me, Rawdon,” she said. He laughed savagely. “I want to see if that man lies about the money as he has about me. Has he given you any?”
“No,” said Rebecca, “that is—”
“Give me your keys,” Rawdon answered, and they went out together.
Rebecca gave him all the keys but one, and she was in hopes that he would not have remarked the absence of that. It belonged to the little desk which Amelia had given her in early days, and which she kept in a secret place. But Rawdon flung open boxes and wardrobes, throwing the multifarious trumpery of their contents here and there, and at last he found the desk. The woman was forced to open it. It contained papers, love-letters many years old—all sorts of small trinkets and woman’s memoranda. And it contained a pocket-book with bank-notes. Some of these were dated ten years back, too, and one was quite a fresh one—a note for a thousand pounds which Lord Steyne had given her.

Schor argued that the fact of Rebecca giving Rawdon ‘all the keys but one’ aligns her with Bluebeard as well as his persecuted wife. It is this locked cabinet or chamber of Bluebeard’s castle that brings the Bluebeard story most prominently into the literature of the nineteenth century. For instance, in Chapter 11 of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane comments that the third floor of Thornfield is ‘looking, with its two rows of small black doors all shut, like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle.’ Locked rooms also feature throughout Eliot’s novels- most notably in Daniel Deronda, Middlemarch, and Romola.

Considering Vanity Fair in the wider context of the Victorian novel, Schor finished her paper by highlighting the different narrative techniques and the various kinds of psychological and panoramic realism used by Thackeray.

Professor Lindsay Smith (University of Sussex, English)

Considering Lewis Carroll’s words and photographs, Professor Smith’s paper highlighted the complications inherent in the medium of photography, the metamorphic status given to the subject, and the concept of childhood. Speaking of how Carroll’s photographs of pre-adolescent girls petrify a moment in time and discreetly allude to the future, she argued that the photograph forms a nascent medium for the contingent category of childhood. Drawing attention to the double photographs of Alice Liddle dressed up as a beggar-maid and a rich girl, and Alexandra Kitchin on an off duty as a Chinese tea-merchant, Smith spoke of the transference, onto images, of the temporal metaphoric shape-shifting that Carroll used throughout the Alice books.

October 01, 2007

The Evil Apple

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7017660.stm

I always had the idea of Apple as being the good guy of the techie world, a David against the Goliath of the universally despised Microsoft Corporation, fighting for style and quality against a grotesque and vulgar monster bent on world domination.

Well, maybe not quite, but as an underdog with a niche Apple did seem to be a relatively ‘cool’ corporation, its products supported by, and synonymous with, a more creative, ‘liberal’ (read ‘left-wring’) and generally less more agreeable section of the American better-off.

However, in recent years Apple has started to lose its shine. Apple’s turtle-necked CEO, Steve Jobs, has taken every opportunity to cosy up to some of the worst bad-boys in corporate America. Firstly the Disney corporation and later Starbucks, both of whom he repeatedly, and shamelessly, plugged in the iPhone launch earlier this year and the latter with whom Apple has an exclusive distribution deal for its new free-to-browse iTunes Wi-Fi service.

While Apple can perhaps be forgiven for cosying up to Starbucks, since teaming up with ‘the Starbucks experience’ will allow the company to roll-out a potentially significant new part of its iTunes business model to the public, the straw that broke this camel’s back is the aggressively proprietary approach to how its products are used.

I was personally disappointed at how restrictive the iTunes and iPod has always been in regard to how I mange my music. I originally bought a 20gb iPod to store all of my music in order to free-up space on my computer and allow me to add music from any computer that I wished. I was disappointed to find that, despite paying over-the-odds for legal downloads from Apple (Apple seems to think that the dollar to pound exchange rate is about £1 = $1), I could only play them on my iPod and my computer whereas ‘illegal’ downloads are free of any such restrictions – it makes you wonder what the point in paying for music if the pirated stuff is actually a more useful product. Similarly, if I wanted anything from my iTunes library to be automatically synched then I could only use the iPod with my own computer.

So, Apple started to lose its lustre for me some time ago, but its behaviour over the somewhat less than revolutionary iPhone really takes the biscuit. Despite Job’s manifold claims to its revolutionary features, the only thing that is particularly ‘neat’, to borrow Job’s favourite word, about the iPhone is that it is a pretty phone that it incorporates a pretty, if under-resourced in the storage department, touchscreen 16gb iPod. As a ‘communications device’ the iPhone uses slow 2.5G technology that has long seen been made obsolete by 3G in Europe and Japan. Yes, it has WiFi but so what?

Unusually compared to other handset manufacturers, Apple is launching the iPhone exclusively with one mobile service provider (AT&T in the USA). This is particularly strange in the US since, unlike the UK, US service providers do not provide significantly discounted handsets in exchange for lengthy contracts meaning that the full cost of the iPhone is borne by the customer even though they are tied to one service provider.

So, technically speaking, even if you owned an iPhone handset you would not be able to choose which service provider you wanted to use. Fortunately, the anti-heroes of the tech world, hackers, came to the rescue and freed iPhone owners of the proprietary shackles of AT&T by writing a ‘hack’ for the iPhone that unlocked it for use on any network.

Unfortunately, despite Steve Jobs loudly proclaimed, if barely credible considering how dire it was, admiration for Disney’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 3’, Apple has now released an ‘update’ for the iPhone that will effectively disable any unlocked iPhone, preventing the liberated handsets from being used on third party service providers and possibly disabling them entirely.

In defense of Apple, the company bore considerable costs in entering the mobile handset market, and by distributing the handset exclusively through one service provider allowed the company to recoup some of these costs by charging the lucky network for the privilege.

Boo Apple? Indeed. The iPhone is due for release in the UK this Autumn, again under an exclusive network provider agreement. It will be interesting to see what the European Commission, the EU’s competition regulator, makes of Apple’s cosy cartel with one of the big-boy service providers.

August 10, 2007

Regional Venture Capital Funds

Writing about web page http://www.dti.gov.uk/bbf/small-business/info-business-owners/access-to-finance/regional-venture-capital-funds/page37596.html

The relative absence of innovation, knowledge economy and business start-up culture in the English regions has been partly attributed to a supposed lack of available venture capital, an apparent ‘equity gap’ where the market was failing to provide ‘small-scale risk finance for SMEs with growth potential’ {{964; }} . The government identified this as a ‘market failure’ that was preventing the regions from capitalising on the economic potential of their own innovative nascent entrepreneurs. In other words, the seeds of a dynamic business culture lay dormant just below the surface of the English regional economy but lacked the necessary watering of start-up capital for this latent business culture to break through the barren topsoil and flourish.

The Department for Trade and Industry attempted to address this apparent market failing by setting up nine publicly backed Regional Venture Capital Funds (RVCFs), working closely with the Regional Development Agencies, each charged with sprinkling a total of £250m per annum onto the regional economies and thus providing the necessary boost to allow regional start-ups to breakthrough.

The RVCFs were typically new regionalise both in their underlying logic that regions already possessed everything then needed to prosper with a relatively cheap discursive shove in the right direction and also in their operational design as public private partnerships, with government providing around half the capital and the rest raised from the private sector, with private sector fund management companies, members of Lovering’s ‘regional service class’, contracted in to manage the funds. The RDAs played a central role in both setting up and then running the RVCFs, since they would be responsible for ‘raising the necessary private sector investment by utilising their contacts and knowledge of the business support network within their region’ at the outset, and then providing a sort of advanced secretariat support to the private sector fund managers, connecting the RVCF with potential recipients, providing an after-investment service to the beneficiary SMEs and sitting ‘as members on the advisory committee for each fund’ {{964; }}.

In 2007, after five years of the RVCFs operation, fund managers have been unable to find sufficient suitable ventures into which to pour their available funds, with only half of the allotted money being spent and, since the private sector partners had a preferential claim on any returns, without any return on that investment for the government {{965; }}. In an interview with the Financial Times John Guthrie quotes an anonymous private equity executive as saying that ‘the government fundamentally misunderstood the market. There was never any equity gap. But there was an investment opportunities gap’, a view reflected by the experiences of the contracted fund managers in the regions, with NEL Fund Managers in the North East and of Catapult Venture Managers in the East Midlands reflecting that ‘it has been tough getting the money out there’ and ‘there is no lack of capital, but there is a lack of good management teams to invest in’, respectively {{965; }}.

While Guthrie’s article was driving at that efficiency of the market mechanism, which cherry picks the few and far between worthy venture investment opportunities in the regions, compared to the misguided interventions of the state, the experience of the RVCFs points to a more worrying empirical finding for the boosterish new regionalists: that the regions simply are not possessed of the sort of native business culture that they had assumed lay dormant, waiting to be tapped by the right institutional framework.

August 08, 2007

Murat search reveals nothing (again)

Follow-up to Clutching at Straws? Robert Murrat's home is searched again from Bartleby

Iraqi childIt wouldn’t entirely surprise me if I glanced at a ‘red top’ newspaper this time next month to see that Robert Murat has once again been questioned and his house searched by police in connection to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, only for absolutely nothing to be found just a few days later. Neither would it surprise me if the media uncritically dragged Mr. McCann and anyone he might have ever been friends with or done business with, through the foulest of mud.

We should remember that Murat was fingered on the basis of nothing more than the prejudiced suspicion of a self-seeking predator – a tabloid journalist. As far as I am aware, there is absolutely nothing to link Murat, or anyone his knows, with the offense other than the smug comments of a Sun(?) journalist who couldn’t in any way substantiate her suspicions beyond Murat being a not very masculine looking single bloke living with his mother.

That Murat’s investigation started on such a weak lead, or that the police found absolutely nothing on either him or his associate, didn’t stop the gutter press from labeling him and everyone who ever met him a paedophile and / or a registered sex offender. As far as I am aware, no one seems to have thought it fit to apologise for what perhaps began as an honest mistake in the course of an investigation but would seem to have degenerated into an obscene comedy of errors in what is almost certain to become a ‘cold case’ if it is not already such.

Madeleine McCann’s disappearance is both a mystery and a tragedy. However, what is sickening is how a significant portion of the British public have been getting a parasitic emotional kick from the whole affair in much the same way as they did with the death of Dianna ten years ago. If people really gave a shit about other people, they would have been up in arms about the kidnap of the British mixed race toddler in Nigeria, or demanding that Britain open its arms to widowed mothers and their young children from Iraq and Afghanistan – they aren’t, instead preferring to bolt the doors and leave thousands of little girls and boys to die or be orphaned in civil wars and other conflicts, at least one of which is of British making.

The image to the above right is of a young girl in Iraq whose parents had just been mistakenly gunned down by young and trigger happy American soldiers.