New poetry books reviewed


This video from Britain says about itself:

13 January 2014

Dannie Abse reads from Speak, Old Parrot at the T S Eliot Prize Readings, held at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.

Dannie Abse is a poet, author, doctor and playwright. He has written and edited more than sixteen books of poetry, as well as fiction and a range of other publications, in a long and varied writing life. His most recent novel, The Strange Case of Dr Simmonds & Dr Glas (Robson Books, 2002), was long-listed for the Booker Prize and his diaries, The Presence (Vintage, 2008), won the Wales Book of the Year Award. He is president of the Welsh Academy of Letters and was awarded a CBE in 2012.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

Words of wisdom as old parrot speaks out

Thursday 27th February 2014

Andy Croft reviews some of the latest poetry

Dannie Abse has published over 30 books but few as satisfying or as enjoyable as Speak Old Parrot (Hutchinson, £15).

Now in his 90th year, Abse is naturally concerned with the passage of time: “profligate, I wasted time/- those yawning postponements on rainy days,/those paperhat hours of benign frivolity./Now time wastes me.”

There are some great poems here about the comedy of ageing, like The Old Gods – Trident has lost his trident, Saturn has time on his hands and Bacchus has cirrhosis of the liver – and some fine poems about youth and memory like Cricket Bat, Moonbright and Sunbright.

But best of all is the brilliant Winged Back, in which Abse recalls the “recurring decimal of calamity” of our age: “Famine. Murder. Pollinating fires./When they stubbed one out another flared./Statesmen lit their cigars from the embers./They still do. With every enrichment/an injury. They bicker and banquet,/confer and dally, pull on cigars that glow/with blood-light. And all my years,/like the arson of Troy, are elsewhere. Ashes.”

Rob Hindle’s Yoke And Arrows (Smokestack, £8.95) takes its title from “el yugo y las flechas,” the emblem of the 15th-century Catholic monarchs who expelled the Moors and Jews from Spain.

It was also the symbol of the falange militia who murdered the radical poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca in the first weeks of the Spanish civil war. Here is one of these Black Squads listening to the singing of the prisoners about to be executed: “The night goes quietly./In the stove’s red cowl the fire collapses/a little: a brief yellow light jumps into the room,/shocking the men’s faces, glistening teeth/and tongues. Through the floorboards come/voices like the voices of the damned, singing/lullabies and songs of the country.”

Kevin Powers served in the US army in Iraq. At the heart of his first book of poems, Letter Composed During A Lull In The Fighting (Sceptre, £12.99), is a series of meditations on the loneliness of the soldier in a strange landscape – “the unending sun, the bite of sweat in eyes” – and in a meaningless conflict: “war is just us/making little pieces of metal/pass through each other.”

There are no issues on a battlefield except survival: “for one day at least I don’t have to decide/between dying and shooting a little boy.” And Powers knows that there can be no survivors: “how scared I am still, alone/in bars these three years later.”

The strongest poems in the book, like Death Mother And Child and the Extraordinary Improvised Explosive Device are about the necessity – and the impossibility – of writing about the experience: “If this poem had fragments/of metal coming out of it, if these words were your best friend’s leg,/dangling… If this poem had wires for words,/you would want someone to pay./If this poem had wires coming out of it,/you wouldn’t read it./If these words were made of metal/they could kill us all. But these/are only words. Go on,/they are safe to fold and put into your pocket./Even better, they are safe/to be forgotten.”

The New York-Puerto Rican poet Martin Espada has worked as a bouncer, a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman, a petrol attendant and a tenant lawyer. His new collection, The Meaning Of The Shovel (Smokestack, £8.95), is a celebration of work, of the emotional and often invisible landscape of labour, “the rude Mechanicals: the tailor, the weaver, the tinker, the bellows-mender.”

It is by turns grim, cynical, funny – and revolutionary. Here is Espada digging latrines in Nicaragua: “I dig because yesterday/I saw four walls of photographs:/the faces of volunteers/in high school uniforms/who taught campesinos to read,/bringing an alphabet/sandwiched in notebooks/to places where the mist never rises/from the trees… I dig because I have hauled garbage/and pumped gas and cut paper/and sold encyclopaedias door to door./I dig, digging until the passport in my back pocket saturates with dirt,/because here I work for nothing/and for everything.”

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William Blake poems set to music


This video from Britain says about itself:

Mike Westbrook ‘Glad Day’ – London Song, Let the Slave

Glad Day – settings of the poetry of William Blake by Mike Westbrook.

Texts arranged by Adrian Mitchell and Kate Westbrook.

Two extracts – ‘London Song’ and ‘Let the Slave’ (incorporating ‘The Price of Experience’) – from the Westbrook/Blake masterpiece ‘Glad Day’.

Concert presented by the Simon Community, a charity for the homeless, at London’s St Giles-in-the-Fields on February 8th, 2014.

Mike Westbrook: piano, speech
Kate Westbrook: voice
Phil Minton: voice
Karen Street: accordion
Billy Thompson: violin
Steve Berry: bass
with the Queldryk Choral Ensemble directed by Paul Ayres.

By Karl Dallas in Britain:

Music: Glad Day Live: The Poetry Of William Blake

Wednesday 26th February 2014

Gloriously glad day for William Blake

Glad Day Live: The Poetry Of William Blake

(Westbrook Records, £12)

5 Stars

That innovative and many-faceted British composer and musician Mike Westbrook – someone who shouldn’t be shoehorned into the limitation of being seen as just a jazzman – has been setting the poems of William Blake to music for nearly 50 years.

Some of these settings were originally commissioned by the National Theatre for the 1971 production of Adrian Mitchell‘s Tyger and the Blake. [These] settings, sung by Kate Westbrook and Phil Minton, were an integral part of the repertoire of the Mike Westbrook Brass Band from its formation in 1973.

Bright As Fire, a programme entirely devoted to Blake’s poetry, was first performed in 1980 and toured widely since throughout Britain, Europe, New York and Australia.

This truly marvellous revisiting of 10 of Blake’s verses was recorded by a small band consisting of four musicians and two vocalists, with a wonderful choral part conducted by Paul Ayres.

Westbrook has always supplemented his own musical brilliance with remarkable musicians, and this recording is no exception, from the gypsy violin of Billy Thompson to the accordion of Karen Street, who sounds like a bal-musette on acid.

Former trumpeter turned vocalist Phil Minton and Westbrook’s wife Kate, who’ve worked with him for the past half-century, are on top form here.

But the most powerful track is Westbrook’s recitation of The Price Of Experience as the choir echoes Minton’s earlier declaration that “everything that lives is holy.”

Most of the DVD tracks are duplicated on the CD where the mix, to my battered ears, sounded clearer than the video versions, although two of the CD tracks are of entirely different performances.

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Dutch poet Leo Vroman dies


This is a video of a poem by Leo Vroman.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Saturday 22 Feb 2014, 17:23

In his hometown Fort Worth (Texas) poet and biologist Leo Vroman has died at the age of 98 years. He was one of the greatest Dutch poets. In 1964 he received the P. C. Hooft Prize.

Vroman published ever since 1946 more than 50 books of poetry. In 2013 his book “Die vleugels (Those wings)’ still appeared, and another one will still be published. Many people know Vroman’s poem “Vrede (Peace)”, which begins with the words “Kom vanavond met verhalen (Come tonight with stories).”

As a researcher of blood Vroman became famous for the Vroman effect named after him, which refers to phenomena of coagulation. He lived in the United States since 1947.

Though he lived in the USA, almost all Vroman’s poems are in Dutch. He publisheed only two poetry books in English.

The Poetry International site writes on Vroman here.

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America the Beautiful, by David Rovics


This video from the USA is called Falmouth Historic Society & Katherine Lee Bates.

More than a century after the original poem America the Beautiful, by Katharine Lee Bates, a feminist, a lesbian, a Christian socialist, and an anti-imperialist, now David Rovics‘ take.

From Rovics’ Songwriter’s Notebook:

Monday, February 3, 2014

“America the Beautiful”

Here’s my contribution to the discussion resulting from Coca-Cola‘s multilingual “America the Beautiful” Superbowl commercial. Dedicated to whatever disgusting corporation runs the Live95.5 pop music station that my daughter and her little friends that we drive to school with most days like to listen to.

“America the Beautiful”

America is beautiful but it’s got a lot of ugly people
I heard one of them this morning on the radio
He interrupted the pop music programming
To tell us what he thought we needed to know
He said America is an English-speaking country
And that Coke commercial was just all wrong
You can’t interrupt an all-American football game
To have little brown girls sing an all-American song

He said America is beautiful but it’s only got one language
The one we inherited from the King
Although the king himself spoke German and the French helped us overthrow him
But I still don’t want to hear those girls sing
He said it and I wondered if it reminded him
Of his grandparents who were probably refugees
From Finland or Italy or Lithuania
Or perhaps from Belarus or Germany

Or perhaps they came from Ireland where they fought for generations
To try to speak the language of their birth
And now their red-faced son is shouting English is the language
In this little stolen corner of the Earth
Not Navajo or Lakota, not Tagalog or Spanish
But the language of those who came out on top
Not the language of the conquered or the ones who were here first
But the language of the ones who run the shop

America is beautiful, it would be silly to deny it
If you’ve seen the forests or the mountains capped with snow
But as I left my Japanese wife to drive to the French school
With a carpool full of gorgeous kids in tow
Who all sang along to Katy Perry and then listened to this bigot
Tell us this is an English-speaking nation
I don’t know what the kids thought but I said this guy’s a fascist
And we all agreed to change the station.

See also here.

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Unknown Sappho poems discovered?


This video is called Sappho, Biography.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Sappho: two previously unknown poems indubitably hers, says scholar

University of Oxford papyrologist convinced poems preserved on ancient papyrus are by seventh-century lyricist of Lesbos

Read one of the poems here

Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

Wednesday 29 January 2014 19.45 GMT

Sappho is one of the most elusive and mysterious – as well as best-loved – of ancient Greek poets. Only one of her poems, out of a reputed total of nine volumes’ worth, survives absolutely intact. Otherwise, she is known by fragments and shards of lines – and still adored for her delicate outpourings of love, longing and desire.

But now, two hitherto unknown works by the seventh-century lyricist of Lesbos have been discovered. One is a substantially complete work about her brothers; another, an extremely fragmentary piece apparently about unrequited love.

The poems came to light when an anonymous private collector in London showed a piece of papyrus fragment to Dr Dirk Obbink, a papyrologist at Oxford University.

According to Obbink, in an article to be published this spring, the poems, preserved on what is probably third-century AD papyrus, are “indubitably” by Sappho.

Not only do elements of the longer poem link up with fragments already known to be by her, but the metre and dialect in which the poems are written point to Sappho.

The clincher is a reference to her brother, Charaxos – whose very existence has long been doubted, since he is mentioned nowhere in previously discovered fragments of Sappho.

However, Herodotus, the fifth-century BC historian, named the brother when describing a poem by Sappho that recounts the tale of a love affair between Charaxos and a slave in Egypt.

In this poem – though it is not the precise one that Herodotus mentions – the writer addresses her audience, seeming to berate them for taking Charaxos’s return by ship from a trading trip for granted.

Pray to Hera, says the narrator, “so that Charaxos may return here, with his ship intact; for the rest let us leave it all to the gods, for often calm quickly follows a great storm”.

The poem goes on to say that those whom Zeus chooses to save from great storms are truly blessed and “lucky without compare”. The poem ends with the hope that another brother, Larichos, might become a man – “freeing us from much anxiety”.

According to Tim Whitmarsh, a professor of ancient literature at Oxford University, the poem could be read as a play on Homer‘s Odyssey, and the idea of Penelope waiting patiently at home for the return of Odysseus. Sappho frequently reworked Homeric themes in her poems.

Sappho, who was born in about 630BC, is known for her lyric verse of longing, often directed at women and girls – the bittersweet feeling of love, impossible-to-fulfil desire and the sensation of jealousy when you see the object of your obsession across the room, talking intimately with someone else.

She was admired in antiquity for her delicate, passionate verses. The only evidence for her biography comes from within her poems – and the naming of her brothers, Charaxos and Larichos, adds substantially to a sketchy knowledge of the poet’s life.

Sappho’s poems, which were lost from the manuscript tradition and were not collated and copied by medieval monks as were so many surviving ancient texts, have been preserved by two main means: either through quotation by other authors (often as examples of particular syntactical points by ancient grammarians) or through the discovery of fragments written on ancient papyrus. There is hope yet for more poems to come to light, preserved in the Egyptian sands.

Obbink’s article, with a transcription of the original poems, is to be published in the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik.

Only a few poems of the Greek poetess Sappho’s work have survived but thanks to a leading scholar’s investigation two new works have just been recovered—and gives experts hope to find more: here.

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Argentine poet Juan Gelman, RIP


This video says about itself:

24 Jan 2014

Professor Ilan Stavans reads “End” by Argentine poet Juan Gelman, who died Tuesday at the age of 83.

By Rafael Azul:

Argentine poet Juan Gelman dies in Mexico City at 83

Juan Gelman, the celebrated Argentine poet, died in Mexico City on January 14, 2014. He was 83 years old and had lived in the Mexican capital since 1988. In addition to his poetry, he wrote a weekly column for the Buenos Aires daily Página 12.

Gelman, a prolific poet since childhood, published his first poem at the age of 11 in an anarchist journal (Rojo y Negro—Red and Black). He died a supporter of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her faction of the bourgeois Peronist party.

Between those two bookends was a lifetime of literary and political activism. Gelman was considered one of the most important Spanish-language poets, as well as a fighter against the Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s.

Gelman came from a family of Ukrainian immigrants. His father, José, who had participated in the 1905 Revolution in Russia, first arrived in Buenos Aires in 1912. Following the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917, José, a railroad worker, returned to the Soviet Union. He left again, in 1928. (In 1957, Gelman learned that his father had been profoundly disillusioned by the expulsion of Leon Trotsky from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and his forced exile). Gelman’s brother, Boris, introduced him to the poetry of Alexander Pushkin and triggered the future author’s commitment to poetry and journalism.

He spent his youth during the years of oppressive military regimes known in Argentina as the “infamous decade,” the period between the bourgeois-radical regime of Hipólito Yrigoyen, overthrown in 1930, and the military coup of 1943. These were years characterized by class polarization and powerful strike movements of the working class.

Gelman was 13 at the time of the June 1943 coup that three years later brought Juan Domingo Peron to the presidency.

The Second World War spurred the growth of industry in Argentina. The industrial suburbs of Buenos Aires, along with Córdoba, attracted immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, as well as workers from the nation’s interior. This phenomenon was accompanied by the growth of an urban middle class, on which the Peronist regime based itself.

In 1945, notwithstanding his father’s anecdotal sympathy for Trotsky, Gelman, a 15-year-old student in the elite high school Colegio Nacional Buenos Aires, joined the Stalinist Federación Juvenil Comunista (FJC, Communist Youth Federation).

Gelman continued to write and in the 1950s became part of the “Dry Bread” (Pan Duro) poetry group, a literary collective made up of Communist Party youth. In 1954, he became editor of the Communist Party newspaper La Hora and a correspondent for the Xinhua Chinese news agency. He published his first volume of poems, Violín, in 1956. In 1959, he published a second volume, El juego que andamos.

These volumes were followed by many others, including Los poemas de Sydney West, Bajo la lluvia ajena and Hacia el Sur.

Under the impact of the Cuban Revolution and Che Guevara’s guerrilla ideology, a split from the FJC formed the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, FAR), which Gelman joined in 1967. Initially set up as an adjunct to Guevara’s ill-fated guerrilla operation in Bolivia, the FAR modeled itself after 1967 on Uruguay’s Tupamaro urban guerrillas. In 1973, it merged with the Montoneros, its Peronist counterpart.

It was against the FAR that the Argentine government in 1971, with the assistance of the Peronist union bureaucracy, unleashed the CIA-backed wave of kidnappings, torture and extra-judicial killings, with horrifying consequences for Argentina’s youth and working class. The disappearances escalated under Peron’s second government, and that of Isabel Peron (1972-1976), and finally during the military dictatorship that replaced it in 1976. Tens of thousands died in the repression.

In 1975, the Montoneros sent Gelman to Rome as part of a campaign to denounce the disappearances and other violations of human rights. A year later, in August 1976, Gelman’s 19-year-old daughter, Nora Eva, his 20-year-old son, Marcelo Ariel, and his daughter-in-law, María Claudia, also 19, were kidnapped by the regime. María Claudia, seven months pregnant, was sent to Uruguay, and kept alive until she gave birth. Nora Eva was freed. Marcelo was killed. María Claudia’s body was never found.

Gelman’s granddaughter was one of the scores of babies born to “disappeared” mothers and then handed over to families of security force members; the poet searched for her for many years until she was found in 2000.

The abductions would transform Gelman’s life. He campaigned to bring his son’s executioners to justice and searched for his missing grandchild. In 1979, he broke with the Montonero organization. In a rambling article published in 2001 in Página 12 (“Ajá”), he repudiated Montonero leader Mario Firmenich, for “suicidal policies” both before and after the 1976 military coup.

By breaking with what he called a “militarist delirium” in 1979, Gelman considered that he himself had prevented even more deaths. In this declaration, Gelman also indicted some of the Montonero leaders who went on later to become high officials in the right-wing Peronist government of Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

Upon his death, the Argentine government declared three days of official mourning.

Gelman’s extensive body of poetry brings together European and Latin American influences. He also published verse in the Sephardic Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) language. He was a wordsmith, who took pride in modifying grammar, gender and usage in his poems.

Many of his later poems suggest a romantic tenderness and nostalgia, like this one invoking the disappeared—including his own children—who were thrown from planes into the sea or buried in unmarked graves:

If the waves sweetly lapped over your head…

If the waves sweetly lapped over your head

of the one that leapt into the sea / what about the brothers

that they buried? / do their fingers sprout little leaves? / trees? / autumns

that defoliate them as if voiceless? / in silence

brothers recall the time

they were two three fingers from death / they smile

remembering / relieved still

as if they had not died / as if

Paco could still shine and Rodolfo still gaze

over everything forgotten that he used to drag

on his shoulder / with Harold examining his bitterness (always)

bringing out the ace of spades / his mouth to the wind /

aspired life / lives / his eyes gazed upon the terrible one /

now they are talking about when

luck was on their side / no one did kill / no one was killed / the enemy

was mocked and a little of the general humiliation

was retrieved / with bravery / with dreams / on the ground

with all the comrades / in silence /

melting into the January night /

still at last / totally alone / with no kisses

[Si dulcemente por tu cabeza pasaban las olas...

si dulcemente por tu cabeza pasaban las olas

del que se tiró al mar / ¿qué pasa con los hermanitos

que entierraron? / ¿hojitas les crecen de los dedos? / ¿arbolitos / otoños

que los deshojan como mudos? / en silencio

los hermanitos hablan de la vez

que estuvieron a dostres dedos de la muerte / sonríen

recordando / aquel alivio sienten todavía

como si no hubieran morido / como si

paco brillara y rodolfo mirase

toda la olvidadera que solía arrastrar

colgándole del hombro / o haroldo hurgando su amargura (siempre)

sacase el as de espadas / puso su boca contra el viento /

aspiró vida / vidas / con sus ojos miró la terrible /

pero ahora están hablando de cuando

operaron con suerte / nadie mató / nadie fue muerto / el enemigo

fue burlado y un poco de la humillación general

se rescató / con corajes / con sueños / tendidos

en todo eso los compañeros / mudos /

deshuesándose en la noche de enero /

quietos por fin / solísimos / sin besos]

Gelman was honored with numerous awards in Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Spain. He received Argentina’s National Poetry Prize in 1997, and he was the recipient in 2007 of the prestigious Cervantes Prize, awarded by the Ministry of Culture in Spain for lifetime achievement by a writer in the Spanish language.

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Rudyard Kipling, British anti-World War I poet


This video says about itself:

My Boy Jack by Rudyard Kipling – Poetry Reading

About the poem – This poem is an emotional piece, about an old man waiting for his young son to return home from war, and is devastated by the news that he won’t be coming back. Rudyard Kipling wrote this poem after his son John (called Jack) went missing in September 1915 during the Battle of Loos, in the first world war.

About the poet – Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist. He was born in Bombay, in the Bombay Presidency of British India. He is chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

More to Kipling than meets the eye

Wednesday 22nd January 2014

Recent stories about World War I have sent PETER FROST to his bookshelf in search of an unlikely poet

A number of recent stories in the Morning Star have made me think. Don’t they always? That’s why I read the paper.

Perhaps more unexpectedly, a few of them have made me think of Rudyard Kipling.

The jingoism of the official celebration centenary of the first world war, alongside the reports of casualties of the current Afghan war, reminded me of one of the poet’s greatest verses.

If any question why we died,

Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Kipling wrote that about his 18-year-old son John who died in the first world war.

Kipling had pulled strings to get his son into the army despite his poor eyesight. John’s death, in 1915 at the battle of Loos, wiped away the last shreds of jingoism in the poet’s work.

Those lines were, of course, also a perfect epitaph for all those who died in the Iraq war – on either side.

Every time I read those lines I see Tony Blair and George Bush, or David Cameron and Nick Clegg lying through their teeth.

When Blair, Cameron and Clegg are finally laid to rest, I for one would like to propose a bit more Kipling. Some lines from his poem A Dead Statesman would do the job perfectly.

I could not dig: I dared not rob:

Therefore I lied to please the mob.

Now all my lies are proved untrue

And I must face the men I slew.

Perhaps you begin to see why I like Kipling and his writing?

Those of us on the left have often had a real problem with Kipling and his poems written in what he saw as the glory days of the British empire.

Despite all the people who tell me I shouldn’t, I really like him. I still enjoy his stories and poems.

Nobody has captured the English countryside and the rich history of the far from ordinary people of England like Kipling.

I do love England. Not in that awful jingoistic way that assumes we are better than the rest of the world but in the same way that the Vietnamese, Scots, Iraqis, Palestinians, Cubans, South Africans, all the nations on the globe in fact, can love their own countries, their cultures, their landscape and their histories without embarrassment or guilt.

Sadly England’s far from noble history of imperialism and racist wars seems to have undermined, in my mind at least, the right to be proud of the country of our birth.

A myriad of organisations from Oswald Mosley‘s blackshirts in the 1930s to today’s English Defence League seem to have stolen away the right to be English and proud without being racist and hateful.

Billy Bragg wrestled with some of the same issues in his book The Progressive Patriot. Bragg loves, and sings, Kipling too.

I’ve never hidden my love of the poet. Indeed when his copyright ran out in 2006, a publisher who was considering publishing some of his work told me: “I’m amazed that an old commie like you still reads Kipling.”

I had to tell him I wasn’t the only old commie either. Bertolt Brecht loved the man and his poetry and even translated some of his poems and used them as songs in his plays.

True, Kipling was in many ways the spin doctor for a British empire on which the sun never set.

Anti-imperialists at the time quipped that the reason was God didn’t trust the British in the dark.

Another reason I still read Kipling is because no-one has ever been as good at capturing the voices of ordinary English working people speaking to us down through the centuries.

No-one, either, was better at capturing the essence of the English countryside in which they lived.

He never tired of listening to ordinary people, in the London music halls he loved to visit, with the foot soldiers in the British army in India, in the trenches of the first world war and with the country folk in the fields around his final home – a yeoman’s house – in the Sussex Weald.

Take his poem The Land. It’s about that very house, Bateman’s, near Burwash in East Sussex.

The poem looks at the house and the land it stands in through the eyes of two groups of inhabitants.

First we meet the so-called important people who owned the land and the house over the centuries. And then the common folk from round about who know the land well and usually get the better of the owner.

The first owner is Julius Fabriciusa, Roman Sub-Prefect. Sixteen-hundred years ago he is having trouble with the same level of flooding that is making the headlines in the Morning Star today. The sub-prefect takes advice from Hobdenius. The aged local tells him:

I remember as a lad,

My father told your father that she wanted dreenin’ bad.

They still find bits of roman clay pipe from the draining on the estate today.

Then came Ogier the Dane. His Hobden advises adding lime to the land. Chalk and flints still turn up in the ditches from time to time.

Anglo-Saxons then held sway until William landed at nearby Hastings.

The little brook floods the Norman’s land and Hob the local bailiff offers his advice. The remains of his elm plank channels, hard as iron, are still in the ground today.

More history and then it’s 1915, the first world war, and Kipling buys Bateman’s.

The poet knows he owns the trout, but Hobden tickles them. The game birds are Kipling’s but they end up in Hobden’s pot. Kipling ends it much better than I.

His dead are in the churchyard – thirty generations laid.

Their names were old in history when Domesday Book was made;

And the passion and the piety and prowess of his line

Have seeded, rooted, fruited in some land the Law calls mine.

A few years ago when I visited Bateman’s, the little brook that has powered the clacking water mill for centuries had just overtopped its banks and Kipling’s precious book-lined study was in danger of flooding.

National Trust staff were rolling up valuable carpets and hurriedly sandbagging the doors.

They’d called on some men from the village to help and thankfully they seemed to know just what to do.

Kipling would have loved it. I just wonder if any of the local tradesmen were named Hobden?

I’m following similar flood stories in the Morning Star today, the slashing of jobs and funding from the Environment Agency speak of exactly the same arrogance of ignorance Kipling describes in his landowners.

The waters are rising at Bateman’s, but sadly Kipling’s hero, the latest Hobden, will be signing on down at the jobcentre.

The First World War was a imperialist bloodbath—yet the establishment wants to rehabilitate it as a struggle for freedom. Adam Hochschild has written a book on the brutal reality of the conflict. In a recent talk he discussed people who rejected the call to war from the outset: here.

I must apologise to the Germans. They are about to suffer an avalanche of often sickening Great War memorabilia, largely at their expense. It will be the British at their worst: sanctimonious, self-congratulatory, worshipping at the tomb of the unknown, awful German. The centenary of the first world war is already flooding the television schedules before the date of its outbreak (in autumn 1914). History bestseller lists focus on little else: there are no fewer than 8,000 titles on the subject. War magazines cram newsstands. Churches will fill with candles for the fallen. Children carry flowers “of reflection and remembrance”. The horror, the mistakes, the cruelty, the crassness of war will be revived over and over again, “lest we forget”: here.

Abe sees World War One echoes in Japan-China tensions: here.

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German author Georg Büchner bicentenary


This German video is about the exhibition Georg Büchner. Revolutionär mit Feder und Skalpell.

Recently rediscovered portrait of Georg Büchner by Philipp August Joseph Hoffmann, 1833

By Sybille Fuchs in Germany:

German writer Georg Büchner: 200 years since his birth—Part 1

11 January 2014

Georg Büchner: Revolutionary with pen and scalpel [Georg Büchner. Revolutionär mit Feder und Skalpell], an exhibition from October 13, 2013 to February 16, 2014 at the Darmstadium Conference Centre, Darmstadt. The catalogue of the same title is published by Hatje Cantz, 612 pages, €65 (US $89).

“An extraordinarily precocious mind, a political free thinker, who towered above his political contemporaries in Germany.” — Franz Mehring writing about Georg Büchner, 1897

Last year witnessed several celebrations of figures born two hundred years ago, including the composers Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi. In 1813 as well, Napoleon’s army was decisively defeated in the Battle of Leipzig (Völkerschlacht), the largest European battle prior to World War I.

However, 1813 was also the year in which the revolutionary poet and natural scientist Georg Büchner was born. His life is featured in a major current exhibition showing in Darmstadt, Germany, which is well worth seeing.

Büchner was an artistic genius, whose few works, especially the drama of the French Revolution, Danton’s Death (1835), and an important fragment of a play, Woyzeck (1837), along with the novella Lenz (1835), have had a profound influence on modern literature.

This brilliant man died very young, leaving only this handful of works behind, some biographical facts mostly known through letters to and from him, and no personal effects other than a lock of his hair. Büchner’s poetical works amount to no more than three hundred pages. Nevertheless, the Darmstadt exhibition has aroused great public interest, as well as numerous reviews and considerable discussion in the media, which is certainly due to more than the interesting presentation and rich variety of exhibits. It demonstrates the continuing significance of this author, even though he died, unrecognized, at the age of only twenty-three.

Because there are so few physical “remains,” the curators have gone much further than just displaying his manuscripts and printed editions of his works. They present a lively picture of Buchner’s fascinating and multifaceted personality, as well as the political and social controversies that raged in his day. The scientific, political and cultural context of the times is comprehensively represented, together with the manner in which its leading figures and literature influenced the young author. Büchner’s personality and immediate environment are vividly illustrated through the display of a contemporary dissecting table, medical apparatus, printing machine, guillotine, numerous paintings, political caricatures, erotic prints and much more.

Those who take the time to visit this wide-ranging exhibition in Darmstadt will not only see those pre-revolutionary times brought to life, but also understand why Georg Büchner is still able to captivate people today as he did in the 19th and 20th centuries, despite his short creative life. His works are enormously relevant to our times as well.

Büchner was born in the middle of the reactionary era of the German restoration. Following the Battle of Leipzig of 1813 and the final defeat of Napoleon, Germany remained divided into countless small states and principalities. The feudal aristocrats were able to reestablish their rule in all its backwardness. Free thinkers and intellectuals were persecuted and, like the “Göttingen Seven” (who included the Grimm brothers), ejected from their university posts. Constitutional rights introduced by Napoleon were revoked and a conservative, narrow-minded, small-state sovereignty protected itself through political repression, censorship and arbitrary police measures. The peasant population suffered from hunger and misery, while the wealthy bourgeoisie and gentry enjoyed their privileges.

The 1830s and 1840s were years of political and intellectual ferment. The ideas of the French Revolution—freedom, equality and brotherhood—had been taken up by increasingly broad layers of the population.

After years of tyranny and the Napoleonic wars, the privileged and wealthy once again openly embraced reactionary ideologies. The German bourgeois-national movement became increasingly influenced by chauvinistic Francophobia, nostalgia for medieval times and a longing for the resurrection of Barbarossa (1122-1190), the Holy Roman Emperor, as satirised by Heinrich Heine in his Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen [Germany: A Winter´s tale], 1843-44.

The Büchner family

Karl Georg Büchner was born October 17, 1813 in Goddelau, in the former Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt, the son of army physician Ernst Büchner and his wife Caroline, neé Reuss. In 1816 the family moved into the ducal residence in Darmstadt. Georg was the eldest of six children.

His father was a doctor educated in the natural sciences, an atheist and a supporter of Napoleon—a fact that did not endear him to respectable social circles in Darmstadt. However, he remained loyal to Grand Duke Ludwig and was highly respected as a physician. His wife, Büchner’s mother, was interested in literature and was also religious.

All of Buchner’s siblings embarked on literary careers, apart from his sister Mathilde, who devoted herself to social work. His sister Louise became an author and was active in the early women’s rights movement. In her fragment of a novel, A Poet, she depicted numerous episodes from the life of her eldest brother Georg.

His brother Ludwig became a doctor and renowned natural scientist, and took part in the 1848 revolution. As a follower of Charles Darwin and a (vulgar) materialist, he published the well-regarded Kraft und Stoff: Empirisch-naturphilosophische Studien (Force and Matter: Empiricophilosophical Studies, 1855).

Because of his openly materialist views, Ludwig would later lose his post as professor at Tübingen and be forced to make his living as a doctor in Darmstadt. In 1850, Ludwig was responsible for publishing the first collected edition of the neglected works of his brother Georg.

Honoré Daumier. The caricature depicts France’s King Louis Philippe as an insatiable monster

“Gargantua,” by Honoré Daumier. The caricature depicts France’s King Louis Philippe as an insatiable monster

Another brother, Wilhelm, a pharmacist and chemist, was the only one in the family to become wealthy, as the owner of a paint factory. He was also politically active, and published a number of pamphlets as an elected deputy in the Hessian and national parliaments. The youngest brother Alexander was to spend his life in France as an author, after being stripped of his right to practice law by the Hessian courts due to his “anti-state” attitudes.

Georg Büchner’s literary talents were already evident while he was a schoolboy. As a young boy he wrote a story on the occasion of his father’s birthday about the miraculous rescue of some shipwrecked passengers, and also delivered a public speech at school in defence of Julius Caesar’s opponent, Cato of Utica (Cato the Younger). He also set up a literary circle with friends. They were particularly enthusiastic about Shakespeare, but also read philosophical texts by such figures as Voltaire and Rousseau.

In 1831 Georg began to study medicine at the University of Strasbourg, in Alsace in eastern France. He lodged with the priest Johann Jakob Jaeglé, to whose daughter Wilhelmine (Minna) he later became engaged.

France

After the narrow provincialism of the Duchy of Hesse, Büchner enjoyed the more open and liberal atmosphere in France, although this did not prevent him from strongly criticising the new French constitution. It represented no advance whatsoever, he argued, in respect to social equality and reserved voting for parliament only to wealthy citizens. “The whole thing after all is just a comedy. The King and his councils rule, the people applaud and pay.” (Letter to his family, Strasbourg, December 1832—see note)

Büchner attended events organised by the Eugenia student association, and took part in demonstrations and political debates. The current Darmstadt exhibition displays a number of caricatures by the master of political satire, Honoré Daumier, illustrating the social and political situation in France in that time. They could refer just as well to the conditions in the Duchy of Hesse.

Following the Paris uprising of July 1830, the Belgian revolution of 1830-31 and the Polish protest movement, an increasingly insurrectionary mood spread to German intellectual and student circles. The national-democratic Hambach Festival of May 1832 represented the high point of the civic opposition movement against the restoration. Those who took part in the march to Hambach Palace in Pfalz were demanding national unity, freedom and democracy.

Contemporary illustration of the failed uprising of 3 April 1833

The “Frankfurter Wachensturm,” a contemporary illustration of the failed uprising of 3 April 1833

Then in April 1833 the so-called “Frankfurter Wachensturm” [Charge of the Frankfurt guard house] took place. Some fifty insurgents attacked police stations in Frankfurt with the aim of igniting a revolution in all of Germany’s states. The action was a complete failure.

In a letter to his parents dated April 5, 1833, Büchner writes about these events in Frankfurt:

“My opinion is this: if anything can help in this age of ours, it is violence. We know what to expect from our princes. Every concession they have made they were driven to by necessity. And even their concessions were flung down like favours granted to a cringing petitioner, like some miserable toy aimed at making that gawping idiot the people forget how tightly swaddled it is… These young people are condemned for using violence. But are we not constantly subjected to violence? Because we are born and bred in a dungeon we no longer even notice that we are stuck in a hellhole chained hand and foot and with gags in our mouths. What on earth do you mean by ‘lawful state of affairs’? A ‘law’ that turns the great mass of citizens into beast-like slaves in order to satisfy the unnatural requirements of an insignificant and degenerate minority? And this law, sustained by brute force through the military and by the mindless cunning of its spies—this law is violence, constantly and brutally perpetrated against justice and common sense, and I shall fight it with word and deed wherever I can.”

Nevertheless he distanced himself from the Frankfurter insurrectionists, because he regarded “revolutionary activity of any kind to be a futile undertaking in present circumstances.” (The same letter to his family, April 5, 1833) He added that he did “not share the delusion of those who see in the Germans a people ready to fight for their rights.” Whether this final comment was really his point of view, or whether he just wanted to calm the fears of his parents, is a matter for conjecture. In any case, Büchner very soon involved himself in the developing events.

Later in 1833 he wrote to his family: “Although I shall always act according to my principles, I have recently come to realize that only the imperative needs of the great mass of the people can bring about change, and that all the beavering and bellowing of individuals is futile and foolish. They write: no one reads them; they shout: no one hears them; they act: no one helps them. You can well imagine that I won’t be getting myself involved in Giessen’s back-room politics and childish revolutionary antics.” (Letter to his family, Strasbourg, June 1833)

These “back-room politics and childish revolutionary antics” probably refer to the student activists in Giessen in Hesse, whose anti-French attitudes, German chauvinism and skill at backpedaling were certainly not appealing to him.

In this same year, Büchner transferred his studies to the Faculty of Medicine in the University at Gießen, in order to matriculate in exams recognised in his homeland. Here he made the acquaintance of student theologian August Becker, called “red Becker” because of his red hair. Through the latter, Büchner got to know the rector and theologian Friedrich Ludwig Weidig, the leading figure in the Hessian opposition movement and the initiator of the failed insurrection in Frankfurt.

Together with these individuals, Büchner expressed outrage at the terrible conditions of the poverty-stricken masses in the Grand Duchy, and he began intensively to study the history of the French Revolution. He took part in the founding conference of a conspiratorial organisation, the “Pressverein,” which demanded freedom of the press.

Notes:

All quotes from: Georg Büchner, Complete Plays, Lenz and Other Writings (Penguin Classics), Penguin Books (first published 1993).

The sequels of this article are here. And here. And here. And here.

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African American poet and activist Amiri Baraka dies


This video from the USA says about itself:

8 Nov 2012

Poet E. Ethelbert Miller introduces Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) as one of the most prolific writers of the century in this 1998 edition of HoCoPoLitSo’s The Writing Life.

They talk about the writers that influenced his work: Charlie Olson, the Black Mountain Group, Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg.

Baraka reads his first published poem, “Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide Note.” A discussion on the link between his poetry and music precedes a reading of a section of the poem “In the Tradition,” which touches on the heritage of African-American music.

The conversation concludes with Baraka‘s greatest hope for American poetry — that the great poets will find their voices in a collective way in order to discover literature that speaks against the rules.

From National Public Radio in the USA:

Writer And Activist Amiri Baraka Dies At Age 79

by January 09, 2014 4:38 PM

Amiri Baraka, the writer who was born LeRoi Jones, has died at age 79. Baraka’s career spanned art and activism: He was an influential poet and an award-winning playwright who didn’t shy away from social criticism and politics.

“Baraka had long struggled with diabetes, but it was not immediately clear what the cause of death was,” reports the New Jersey Star-Ledger. The author and activist was a native of Newark.

One of Baraka’s crowning achievements stands as the cataloguing of black culture and history in Blues People, “a panoramic sociocultural history of African-American music,” as Eugene Holley, Jr., wrote for NPR last year.

The book was published in 1963. “In the 50 years since, it has never been out of print,” Holley wrote.

“The book was originally titled Blues: Black and White,” Baraka told Holley. “But I changed it because I wanted to focus on the people that created the blues. And that was the real intent of that title: I wanted to focus on them — us — the creators of the blues, which is still, I think, the predominate music under all American music. It cannot be dismissed, even though you might give it to some pop singer, they change it around. But it will come out. It will be heard.”

As the Los Angeles Times reports: “Baraka led the Black Arts Movement, an aesthetic sibling to the Black Panthers. Although the movement was fractious and short-lived, it involved significant authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Eldridge Cleaver, Gil-Scott Heron, Nikki Giovanni, Ishmael Reed and Quincy Troupe.”

A more complete look at Baraka’s life and career is forthcoming, from NPR’s Neda Ulaby.

See also here.

11th Annual World Poetry Festival in Venezuela Pays Homage to Amiri Baraka: here.