Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ask and Embla

The creation of Ask and Embla, on a Faroese postage stamp

[Image source: https://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ask_og_Embla ]

17. Unz þrír kvámu ór því liði
öflgir ok ástkir æsir at húsi,
fundu á landi lítt megandi
Ask ok Emblu örlöglausa.

18. Önd þau ne áttu, óð þau ne höfðu,
lá né læti né litu góða;
önd gaf Óðinn, óð gaf Hœnir,
lá gaf Lóðurr ok litu góða.

From the Poetic Edda (trans. Andy Orchard):

Until there came three from that company,
powerful and pleasant Æsir to a house.
They found on land, lacking vigour,
Ash and Embla, free of fate.  *

Breath they had not, energy they held not,
no warmth, no motion, nor healthy looks;
breath gave Odin, energy gave Hœnir,
warmth gave Lódur, and healthy looks.

("empty of might", according to H. A Bellows' translation)

From the Prose Edda (trans. A. G Brodeur):

Har answered as follows: As Bor’s sons went along the sea-strand, they found two trees. These trees they took up and made men of them. The first gave them spirit and life; the second endowed them with reason and power of motion; and the third gave them form, speech, hearing and eyesight. They gave them clothes and names; the man they called Ask, and the woman Embla. From them all mankind is descended, and a dwelling-place was given them under Midgard. (Gylfaginning Ch IX)

So the idea in both poetry and prose seems to be that two trees were found on the shore. Evidently these were driftwood tree-trunks. Bleached and stripped of bark, they often do resemble bodies. At the heart of this myth is a remarkable naturalism. The image would be particularly telling in an Icelandic context, where occasional driftwood is the only kind of large tree that you'd ever see. So maybe this was a late adaptation from what was originally a forest myth. But if so, it makes the myth better.

The names of the first man and woman in this Norse creation myth have the same initials as Adam and Eve, and maybe Snorri and other Christianized late narrators brought the Norse names a little closer to the Hebrew ones.

The man's name, "Ask", means ash. (the same word is used a couple of stanzas later to talk about Ygradrasil, the world ash tree.)

It's reasonable to suppose that the woman's name also means some sort of tree, and in older translations this is assumed to be the elm.  More recently that assumption has been questioned - the philology is not perfect - and another theory is that Embla originally meant (grape)-vine.  (Perhaps this would link it to ancient fables about a vine twining around a tree.) If this idea is right it might suggest older Indo-European roots since there are no vines in northern Europe. In Iceland there are no ash or elm trees either, but they do grow as far up as southern Norway.

[The European Ash, I had not realized, is a very well named tree. Its native region coincides almost exactly with Europe -- apart from Iceland...]

[Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/31dec/15328822578 . Stig Blomberg's 1948 statue of a distinctly young-looking Ask and Embla in Sölvesborg, Blekinge in Sweden.]

[Image source: https://alfitude.com/tag/ask-embla/. Ask Embla, the electropop duo (Norwegian-born Ina Wroldsen and Icelandic-born Arnthor Birgisson.]

Friday, January 27, 2017

Cape York

Termite mounds at Oyala Thumotang National Park, on the Archer River

[Image source:  http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/projects/outback-to-oceans-australia/where-we-work/cape-york-peninsula . The area was made a National Park in 1988 in order to forestall its sale to Aboriginal people; apparently an act of spite by the premier of Queensland Joh Bjelke-Petersen, after his original block on the sale was dismissed in the High Court of Australia. In 2010 some 75,000 hectares of the park were given over to the Wik-Mungkana people on a freehold basis.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koowarta_v_Bjelke-Petersen .]




Glenville Pike








Cape York Peninsula was the first place, so far as we know, where white men landed on the Australian mainland and encountered native Australians. That was in 1606, and the encounter was naturally bloody. The ship was the Duyfken, Captain Willem Jansz, and the Aborigines came out shooting (or rather, spearing). As the author concedes, this courage and hostility may well have preserved their homeland for at least another couple of centuries. The Cape York peninsula, at the north-eastern tip of Australia, is to this day an unpopulous, barely settled country, without proper roads.


Glenville Pike is not a lively writer but he has exciting material. From Tasman, Cook, Edmund Kennedy, Frank Jardine, the missionaries, the gold-rushes, the 1899 cyclone; to exploration, drovers and packers – he maps a melancholy, and of course broadly familiar, epic of pioneer generations.       


One misunderstands the economic nature of exploration by reducing it to a matter of names, but nevertheless, naming is a crucial component of the story that Pike has to tell, and so it is of the methodology that elicits the story. In the earliest days the naming begins with features seen by sailors: islands, river-mouths, and a few notable peaks. Inland exploration was much more confusing. The travellers were invariably cutting across the numerous rivers on their marches up and down the peninsula. But rivers inland are much more difficult to understand as unities, because they are seen only at crossing-points, and the grand simplicity of a coastal debouchment is the mingled water of numerous tributaries. Different explorers kept naming the same river twice, or misapplying previous names, and a good many of the oldest names ended up getting attached to the “wrong” rivers, i.e. different ones from those they originally referred to.


No unified grasp of the landmass could be exploited during this period (the second half of the nineteenth century). Only the concentrated local interest of flakes of gold could pay immediately. It’s extraordinary how gold-rushes always spring up at such times; extraordinary in contrast to the utter insignificance of the same locations once latter phases of civilisation have gridded the land. I suppose that’s why prospectors always end up being called “old-timers”.


At some point the myall, or “wild blackfella” disappeared. It was about the 1930s, just about when the first motor-car, a Baby Austin, was driven to Cape York by two enthusiastic New Zealanders. Tourism, even if at this stage of heroic dimensions, was a sure indication that the peninsula was becoming safe. Steady changes had broken down the barrier between wild populations and the new activities. These included missions, reserves, the repressions of the Native Mounted Police, the country being checkerboarded into grazing stations, and the pioneers’ use of cheap aboriginal labour; at first a few individuals from other locations (“Charlie” and “Jerry” – at last they too are becoming named), later whole tribes coming round to some local industry, e.g. stockmen or  sandalwood cutters. Glenville Pike also says, of the 1886 Cape Bedford Mission near Cooktown, that it “came rather late on the scene, however, as the tribes in the Cooktown area had already been decimated by white man’s grog and tobacco, and Chinaman’s opium.” The surprising reference to tobacco may be more acute than it sounds – any alien practice, long continued, must lead to oblivion of what it has displaced.    


The pioneer culture, in its turn, would become embattled and worn down. If (as I suspect) Mr Pike reflects the more enlightened attitudes of its last days, it came to admire the courage and to sympathise with the culture of the wild Aboriginals (these having now disappeared, however). Of the modern-day peninsula he writes: “Here is a country still as the explorers first saw it, a paradise for the Aborigines of long ago, and a land still unpolluted by white man’s civilisation.” However often you read that sentence, it seems to end up suggesting that the land is still a paradise for the Aborigines of long ago. Perhaps if you are a historian they still seem to inhabit it. (But of the Aborigines living in new kit-homes in Laura township, he can only say: “Once happily living on (cattle) stations, they have become urban dwellers attracted by the fortnightly unemployment cheques, white man’s tucker, and grog. With no work required, sufficient money, and homes provided, they ‘have it made’.”)


Cattle raising has been the lifeblood of the Peninsula since mining faded, and now it too is on the downgrade with some of the best properties, like Lakefield and Rokeby which once turned off thousands of head of cattle, becoming National Parks.


There may be something in what local cynics say – if most of the cattlemen are forced, by economics, to sell out to the Government, the best parts of the Peninsula will become a National Park and the Government will not then be required to build roads or do any further development work.


No doubt it would suit some politicians’ small Brisbane-oriented minds to leave the Peninsula as it is – an unpopulated wilderness that can thus be more easily forgotten.


In this way the conservationists, most of whom have never seen the Peninsula, can be appeased. The establishment of some National Parks has to be commended, but they should not be formed at the risk of further depopulating an already underprivileged area.


Those people who have their homes in the lonely Peninsula country are too few in number to have any influence at the polling booths, but their contribution to Australia, past and present, cannot be so heartlessly overlooked.


The Peninsula people are friendly – genuine bush folk who are ever ready to help someone they consider less fortunate. They love their region, where the way of life is slow and quiet...


But this pleasing quietness might, after all, be inseparable from the neglect. A more sinister quietness lay on Pine Tree in 1888, when Louisa Boyd came up after the massacre. (“The sheltered English girl was hardly prepared for the sight that met her eyes; the bloodsoaked blankets of Eddie Watson and the grave freshly dug to receive his body. She led the prayers at the graveside, then set to work to tend Jim Evans’ terrible wounds...” Louisa was recently married to Jack Boyd and, as the author with gentlemanly discretion claims, “previously had never seen blood other than a scratched finger”.)


In their hey-day the pioneers, though pursuing their own ends, felt totally at one with the development of their nation, epitomized for instance by the heroic construction of the overland telegraph line to Cape York. Epic development gave a pattern to their lives. So there is a profound disappointment in the unexpected loss of impetus. They believed that their lives manifested a destiny.


If Australia were to act more like one of the rich Western nations it tries to copy and less like one of the Third World undeveloped countries, there would be a bitumen two-lane highway connecting Cairns with Weipa by way of Laura and Coen, and the Mulligan Highway would no longer be a horror road. Cape York Peninsula would be able to fulfil the destiny for which its pioneers worked and dreamed a century ago. The dollars from less than one year’s production of Weipa bauxite could do it. A levy should be imposed expressly for Peninsula development, including road construction. The Weipa Aborigines already receive a substantial royalty.


Organizing 4WD parties that enable urban tourists to sample the thrills of the “horror road” was obviously not the destiny that was dreamt of.


In the Peninsula there is still gold; there is definitely tin, wolfram, bauxite, coal, and perhaps oil. There is a huge coalfield running inland from Bathurst Bay to Battle Camp. There is an artesian basin inland from Princess Charlotte Bay. There are a million acres of agricultural land, ten million acres of good grazing country; the balance, as big as all of Tasmania, can still be left as a wilderness area in National Parks to ensure preservation. Development and conservation can go hand in hand.


This heartfelt plea is a little confusing, set in apposition to the remark about “a land still unpolluted by white men’s civilisation”. I suppose, like many other people,  the descendants of the pioneers wanted self-contradictory things – the dream but also the dreaming, untamed grandeur transfixed in an eternal moment of being mastered, admiration but not displacement, to be left alone but not forgotten, and to bequeath to their children something whose value lay in being uninherited. One wants one’s life to have had a purpose. Or more realistically, one wants it to seem to have had a purpose.   




[It would be a shame not to give a sample of Mrs Lennie Wallace’s inspiriting narrative of a 1958 drove from Merluna to Mareeba:


Our plant was a very small one with two saddle horses and one packhorse per person. We had to do big stages to meet our delivery date, and with 100 F degree heat for twenty-three days, with no storms yet to make either grass or water, our once-fat horses turned to near skeletons. To cap it all, I developed dengue fever.


Meanwhile, Hardy [nb. her husband’s brother, organizer of the drove] was in trouble. One night out from Coen there was a yard available, but they rushed that night and took the yard. Some had bad horn wounds when we took delivery the next day.


Hardy counted them out. ‘One thousand one hundred’ as he tied the eleventh knot in his whipfall, then: ‘One, two’ – a pause as he looked back over his shoulder to a stag that was hobbling along well behind the mob – ‘and three. I think he has Three Day Sickness.’


Hardy was right. The whole mob got it. Some even got it twice and calves on their mothers suffered, too. It was the first outbreak for over thirty years, and nothing had immunity.


It didn’t help our task, and we shuddered each morning as the cattle were counted off camp. We broke all the rules and forced the sick ones on as there was no grass or water where we could leave them. Rarely did we do a normal eight-mile stage; most of our camps were dry ones, with the horsetailer and cook carrying canteens from the closest waterhole.


Calves born on the road had to be killed, but when near a station we gave them to the station kids to poddy on the milkers. Many a herd has been started from drovers’ calves.


Christmas Day was spent just north of Musgrave. The menu was dry salt beef, tea, damper, and syrup. I spent most of the day by a waterlily pool trying to get a bullock on his feet and rejoin the mob. I rode back down the telegraph line in pitch darkness except for flashes of lightning. As a Christmas gesture, Hardy Wallace did my watch for me, he having caught us up in a jeep.


The sister of John, the cook, lived at Musgrave and she gave him a home-made fever mixture for my dengue. It worked, but was horribly horrible in taste. The ingredients included quinine, Epsom salts, and gin. John had also been given some fresh eggs for me and he carried them in his saddlebag. The motion of the horse scrambled them in the shell before they were cooked, but that was only minor...]



[For a dramatically different sense of Cape York and its communities, visit the website of the Cape York Youth Network (http://www.cyyn.net).* This is largely the work of young people from the aboriginal communities (with some discreet assistance in setting-up from the “Nerds”). Both book and website are mere pinholes into a large, remote land; yet their underlying preoccupations are after all complementary. For the outsider there is no possibility of savoir, but there are elusive beginnings of connaître.


* Unfortunately short-lived: I wrote these words in 2003 but the site had gone when I looked for it  again in 2005. ]


[See also: George Farwell, Cape York to the Kimberleys (1962).]



Thursday, January 26, 2017

about firewood

Heavily promoted in Waterstones this past Christmas. It seems there's a market for Scandinavian lifestyle books over here. The Beatles reference is unique to Robert Ferguson's English translation. In Norway, the novelist Lars Mytting's book about firewood (original title: Hel Ved) became a best-seller. Heating your house with wood through the winter remains a fact of life for most rural Scandinavians, though many now get their logs delivered, and the stoves need less wood: they are smaller, cleaner and more efficient than they used to be, and the homes are better insulated.

But this translation must have been aimed principally at the USA and Canada. In Great Britain hardly anyone has their own woodland, nor do we have the severe winters that necessitated the annual cycle of chopping, splitting, stacking and drying your own wood. It's an occupation, above all, for men, especially those approaching or into their retirement years.

It's a mostly practical book, but the occupation is simple and has never really required a manual. It's also a lyrical coffee-table book: a meditation on the life Nordic people lead or used to lead. The solid binding and thick paper have a fetishistic aspect, at least that's how I feel about the English publication. Here are some of the beautifully illustrated pages, all from quite near the beginning.

The book has a nostalgic aspect for me. When my family had a summer cottage in Sweden, we chopped a relatively small but not insubstantial amount of wood each year. As we only lived there in the summer, we didn't need to worry about the winters. We burned the wood in our ancient kitchen stove, which was used for cooking, boiling water, and heating the cottage on cold and  rainy days. So each year I spent a day or two sawing and splitting the previous year's wood, then cutting down new trees and stacking  the 2-meter logs to season. It wouldn't be an adequate way of drying wood for winter use, and I suppose a lot of our firewood didn't burn very hot, but for our needs it was fine.

The first page. A fine poem by the lumberjack-poet Hans Børli (1918 - 1989), and a picture showing the usefulness of birch-bark for roofing the stack.

There follows a Foreword by the novelist Roy Jacobsen, who I've encountered before via his excellent novel The Burnt-out Town of Miracles. But this Foreword is tonally a bit out of kilter with the book that follows: it's mysteriously tetchy. The Grey (or Speckled) Alder, which Jacobsen dismisses as burning no better than balsa-wood, is said by Mytting to "burn well and provide a good return of heat per hectare".

Birch-trees, and a quotation from the Elder Edda. Then...

It was the difference between being frozen and being warm. The difference between ore and iron, between raw meat and steak. In winter it was the difference between life and death. That is what wood meant to the first Norwegians. Gathering fuel was one of the most crucial of all tasks, and the calculation was simplicity itself: a little, and you would freeze. Too little, and you would die. 
The Scandinavian climate, which created the absolute need for winter fuel, also created the solution: blanket forests of trees with a naturally upright habit, ideal for logging.

Mytting discusses the environmental credentials of heating with wood. His argument is that the carbon released by burning would be released anyway when the wood decays, as eventually it must. In fact Scandinavian forestry is a net asset in the climate change stakes, since younger trees absorb more carbon than older ones. So long as the vast areas of forest are maintained at their present extent (as there's every reason to expect they will be), I think this argument holds good.

Gränsfors axe. The axe has more mystique than any other tool connected with firewood, although (or possibly because) it's now rarely used to split  the industrial quantities of wood needed to heat a Scandinavian home for a whole winter. Homesteaders who still prepare their own firewood will probably have bought themselves a hydraulic splitter. But they'll have their axes, too.

Newly cut wood. For maximum burning quality, it should not be left long on the ground. Cutting in early spring is normal; frozen wood dries better. But it's a much-debated topic.

Norwegian jacket

[Image source: http://www.kagge.no/?tmpl=butikk&a=product_inline&&b_kid=1044807&b_id=987945]

Translations: Swedish, English, Finnish, German

[Image source: http://vaktbikkja.medialaben.no/artikkel/41985362]

Note the Swedish title. "Ved" means wood, of course. But specifically it means wood as fuel: firewood. For wood as a substance in other contexts (e.g. the wood in a living tree, in timber or in furniture), the word used is "Trä". This is related to, but not identical with, the word for a tree: "Träd".

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Patricia Beer

Patricia Beer

[Image source: http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/english/news/title_13561_en.html ]

In 2008, for some reason, I found myself trapped in a room with The Oxford Book of Verse 1945-1980....

The Oxford Book of Verse 1945-1980
Chosen by D.J. Enright. "For reasons hinted at above, the anthology may be considered reactionary. It could with equal justice be reckoned revolutionary - and with equal senselessness, since neither adjective has any certain or central place in this domain" (from the editor's introduction). In other words, Enright knew the anthology would be called reactionary and it would never occur to anyone to call it revolutionary.  I'm quite impressed by his valiant effort, hopeless as it is, to taint the former charge with the evident absurdity of the latter. I've yet to hit on a poem I liked, though I know there must be some.
OK, so let's be serious. There are authors here that I do like: Elizabeth Bishop, R.S.Thomas, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Philip Larkin, Geoffrey Hill, and Peter Redgrove. Especially Redgrove. But we don't go to anthologies to fall back on poetry we already like. So I'll go for Patricia Beer. I am not supposed to like this kind of poetry, which hasn't the smallest concept of being new.
The Letter

I have not seen your writing
For ages, nor have been fretting
To see it. As once, darling.

The letter will certainly be
About some book, written by you or by me.
You turned to other ghosts. So did I.

It stopped raining long ago
But drops caught up in the bough
Fall murderously on me now.

Her poems here attract me by intelligence, or rather by what that intelligence discovers: Witch, Birthday Poem from Venice, Leaping into the Gulf. The discoveries turn out to be rather wilder than is compatible with the poetic.  Or, as I imagine, the life that nurtured this poetic. That feels like the best kind of gift a poet can give.


Back to January 2017. Patricia Beer was born in 1919 and died in 1999. Disappointingly few of her poems can be read online. She evidently published a good deal in the London Review of Books, but all of this archive material is for subscribers only, so it doesn't really count.

Here are a few online poems that I did find:

The conjuror
The lost woman
Parson Hawker's farewell
The voice

Guardian obituary:
Independent obituary:

She was a Devon poet, brought up in the Plymouth Brethren and a student at Exeter university. (When I was at Exeter Uni in the 1970s, some of my Christian Union pals were Plymouth Brethren.)

On Google Books you can read much of the first chapter of her book Reader, I married him: A Study of the Women Characters of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot (1974)


The opening words of the Preface are off-putting:

"The highly important and enjoyable books that have appeared in the last ten years both in England and America on the subject of women's Lib have one shortcoming. Whatever they may claim to do, in fact they treat literature as if it were a collection of tracts into which you dip for illustrations... etc"

Gosh, "women's Lib", there's a phrase I haven't heard for a while. Somehow, the hostility of "Whatever they may claim to do" so outweighs the praise of "highly important and enjoyable" that we understand the praise to be sarcasm. (Those were also the days when only a pedant would presume to notice that the UK and England are not synonyms.)

But overlook this awkward opening, and at once we're off on a rollicking, fierce journey (a  profoundly feminist journey in many ways) into the psychology of the novelists, with particular relevance to sex and marriage. I'm not at all convinced how reliable Beer's biographical intuitions are, but the book feels real - that is, not academic, not guarded - and I want to read more of it.

[Beer was in fact perfectly aware of the term "feminist", and she uses it within the book; for instance of George Eliot's friend Bessie Parkes, who insisted on addressing her as Miss Evans rather than Mrs Lewes, thus risking trouble with the landlady.]

Beer's book was, one would think consciously, an essay in an archaic form: the serious book about literature that was not written by an academic. It dispenses with references. It barely mentions secondary literature, though one pays the compliment of assuming that a sufficiency of secondary literature has been absorbed. (Beer's enjoyment of novels and experience of marriage are conceived as more important than her work in the archives.)  Learning is "worn lightly".  These books were based ultimately on trust that a person of a certain class may become well-read in the course of private life. This is criticism in the reverse line of C. S Lewis, Lord David Cecil, Chesterton...

[The archaism was certainly noticed at the time, see e.g. Liane Ellison Norman's 1976 review in Nineteenth-Century Fiction,  available on JStor. ]

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sir Walter Scott, A Legend of Montrose (1819)

James Graham, first Marquess of Montrose, in 1649 (after Gerrit van Honthorst)
[Image source: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw04486/James-Graham-1st-Marquess-of-Montrose?LinkID=mp03146&role=sit&rNo=0 .]

Or, as the manuscript has it, A Legend of the Wars of Montrose. This is more logical than the usual title, but less interesting. In the novel Montrose and the "legend" (in the narrow sense) are kept well apart from each other. But the title A Legend of Montrose hints at two things; first, that the strictly historical material about Montrose also has its legendary aspect; second, that the legendary element in the tale is essential to a full understanding of Montrose and his age.

The novel is set in 1645-46, earlier than any of Scott's previous novels, and this in itself brings the topic of war to the forefront, because of the Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-48), in which Dugald Dalgetty has seen much service, and the badly-misnamed English Civil War (1642-51), better referred to as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in view of its major theatres in Scotland (as per the events in this novel) and in Ireland (where the number of casualties was in fact far greater than elsewhere). Historians have considered the mid-seventeenth century an era of "general crisis" across many nations, and comparisons have been made with our own time, a view considered (though mainly rejected) by Martin Kettle in today's Guardian:


The novel's other theme is the Highlands. This is Scott's most exclusively Highland novel (only Dalgetty and a couple of others are Lowlanders). The comparative scarcity of passages in lowland Scottish dialect is perhaps one reason why the Legend always been rather under-rated.

Scott's wily meditation on these two topics arranges itself into a contrast between the old Highland style of warfare, based on feudal loyalties and continuous implacable feuds, and the modern style, exemplified by the professional soldier Dalgetty, indifferent to the cause in which he fights but strongly interested in money, the soldier's dignity, and the correct way to wage war. But both styles are brutal; this is emphatically war without conventions. The novel is replete with what we now call war crimes.

The Introduction - that is, the orginal 1819 Introduction* - starts things off in Ganderscleugh, where the highlander Sgt More M'Alpin is living out his latter days,  and it contains one of Scott's most powerful statements about the Highland Clearances. M'Alpin, a soldier, had initially returned to the place of his birth --

He came--he revisited the loved scene; it was but a sterile glen, surrounded with rude crags, and traversed by a northern torrent. This was not the worst. The fires had been quenched upon thirty hearths--of the cottage of his fathers he could but distinguish a few rude stones--the language was almost extinguished--the ancient race from which he boasted his descent had found a refuge beyond the Atlantic. One southland farmer, three grey-plaided shepherds, and six dogs, now tenanted the whole glen, which in his youth had maintained, in content, if not in competence, upwards of two hundred inhabitants.

But back to war crimes. The note is first sounded, in a mutedly comic way, in Dalgetty's accounts of service abroad:

Howbeit, in despite of heavy blows and light pay, a cavalier of fortune may thrive indifferently well in the Imperial service, in respect his private casualties are nothing so closely looked to as by the Swede; and so that an officer did his duty on the field, neither Wallenstein nor Pappenheim, nor old Tilly before them, would likely listen to the objurgations of boors or burghers against any commander or soldado, by whom they chanced to be somewhat closely shorn. So that an experienced cavalier, knowing how to lay, as our Scottish phrase runs, ‘the head of the sow to the tail of the grice,’ might get out of the country the pay whilk he could not obtain from the Emperor.” 
“With a full hand, sir, doubtless, and with interest,” said Lord Menteith.“Indubitably, my lord,” answered Dalgetty, composedly; “for it would be doubly disgraceful for any soldado of rank to have his name called in question for any petty delinquency.” (Ch 2)

Lord Menteith comments on the rapacity of these transactions; Dalgetty, who never understands or cares how much Menteith dislikes him, composedly assents; he's talking about serious money, because it would of course be a disgrace to be hauled up for a petty delinquency. His earlier expression "private casualties" suggests that matters may have gone further than just looting and extortion.

Our next atrocity, now in Highland history, is the Children of the Mist's grotesque presentation of the Warden's head to his sister, followed some years later by Angus M'Aulay's revenge. Lord Menteith, no stranger to atrocity himself, describes it thus:

This provoked another expedition against the tribe, in which I had my share; we surprised them effectually, by besetting at once the upper and under passes of the country, and made such clean work as is usual on these occasions, burning and slaying right before us. In this terrible species of war, even the females and the helpless do not always escape. One little maiden alone, who smiled upon Allan’s drawn dirk, escaped his vengeance upon my earnest entreaty. (Ch 5)
We'll eventually learn that this little maiden, Annot Lyle, had already survived an earlier and similar purge of her true family, here described by the perpetrator, Ranald MacEagh, and commented on with much coolness by the worthy Dalgetty:

“Then let him know, one claims his intercession, who is his worst foe and his best friend,” answered Ranald.
“Truly I shall desire to carry a less questionable message,” answered Dalgetty, “Sir Duncan is not a person to play at reading riddles with.”
“Craven Saxon,” said the prisoner, “tell him I am the raven that, fifteen years since, stooped on his tower of strength and the pledges he had left there—I am the hunter that found out the wolfs den on the rock, and destroyed his offspring—I am the leader of the band which surprised Ardenvohr yesterday was fifteen years, and gave his four children to the sword.”
“Truly, my honest friend,” said Dalgetty, “if that is your best recommendation to Sir Duncan’s favour, I would pretermit my pleading thereupon, in respect I have observed that even the animal creation are incensed against those who intromit with their offspring forcibly, much more any rational and Christian creatures, who have had violence done upon their small family. ..." (Ch 13)

These highland atrocities are driven by revenge, and Dalgetty concedes that "every thoroughbred soldier will confess that revenge is a sweet morsel". The "but" that follows is not, or apparently not, a moral demur; rather an observation that this irregular sort of action is not very conducive with rational self-interest.

There is no morally normative voice here. Dalgetty's indifference to causes renders him immune to the call of vengeance; MacEagh's actions, though appalling, are at least explainable by his codes of honour. And MacEagh's own life and family suffers as much as those of his enemies. In the mode of black comedy in which the Legend excels, we even accept Dalgetty's and MacEagh's partnership briefly hinting at the comic master-servant relationships of Fielding and Cervantes.

Montrose makes another point in Dalgetty's favour, from a general's perspective: "There is something convenient in commanding a soldier, upon whose motives and springs of action you can calculate to a mathematical certainty.." (Ch 20).

In much of the later part of the novel, the comedy is replaced by plain, serious history. But, less individually enumerated as they are,  the atrocities continue on a still larger scale. Writing of Montrose's incursion into Campbell country, Scott makes the point that these horrors, too, are apt to be self-defeating.

Whatever noble qualities the Highlanders possessed, and they had many, clemency in treating a hostile country was not of the number; but even the ravages of hostile troops combined to swell the number of Argyle’s followers. It is still a Highland proverb, He whose house is burnt must become a soldier; and hundreds of the inhabitants of these unfortunate valleys had now no means of maintenance, save by exercising upon others the severities they had themselves sustained, and no future prospect of happiness, excepting in the gratification of revenge. His bands were, therefore, augmented by the very circumstances which had desolated his country, and Argyle soon found himself at the head of three thousand determined men .... (Ch 17)

The novel climaxes with the Battle of Inverlochy (2nd February 1645 (1646)). David Craig famously castigated Scott's poor performance in battle-scenes compared to Tolstoy, but he didn't think of this one; it's easy to make critical hits when you aren't interested in understanding what an author is about. Here, repeated terms such as "gallant" and "valiant" are deeply undercut by the way Scott has sensitized us to the horrors comprised in such phrases as "Their strife was accordingly desperate", "they fell fast on both sides",   "Several hundreds were forced into the lake and drowned"...


Craig might have been even more struck by this passage, when Argyle's pursuit-party catch up with Dalgetty and Ranald in Ch 14:

The moon gleamed on the broken pathway, and on the projecting cliffs of rock round which it winded, its light intercepted here and there by the branches of bushes and dwarf-trees, which, finding nourishment in the crevices of the rocks, in some places overshadowed the brow and ledge of the precipice. Below, a thick copse-wood lay in deep and dark shadow, somewhat resembling the billows of a half-seen ocean. From the bosom of that darkness, and close to the bottom of the precipice, the hound was heard at intervals baying fearfully, sounds which were redoubled by the echoes of the woods and rocks around. At intervals, these sunk into deep silence, interrupted only by the plashing noise of a small runnel of water, which partly fell from the rock, partly found a more silent passage to the bottom along its projecting surface. Voices of men were also heard in stifled converse below; it seemed as if the pursuers had not discovered the narrow path which led to the top of the rock, or that, having discovered it, the peril of the ascent, joined to the imperfect light, and the uncertainty whether it might not be defended, made them hesitate to attempt it.
Scott isn't often so exact as this: "fearfully" evoking the fear of all parties, including the dog itself; the detail of the water sliding silently over the rock; the half-heard sounds of "stifled converse"....    But this gripping scene is very soon cut short by the compulsively loquacious Dalgetty: "Carocco, comrade, as the Spaniard says!..." Dalgetty's imprudent buffoonery dispels the suspense and also earns the comedian a bullet-wound.  Scott's art, we realise, is not fully committed to the dramatic illusion of the adventure story; he has other fish to fry.

And the beginning of Chapter 15 continues this virtuoso sequence of fictional modes, with a quotation from Montrose's own fine poem preluding an unexpected switch to virtually pure history, which melts back into fiction during Chapter 16. These transformations are a characteristic feature of the Legend. When we read "In one point Montrose changed his mind"(Ch 17), we momentarily hesitate. Is this a historical statement, is this the Montrose who really wrote the words "But if no faithless action stain / Thy true and constant word.." - or is it the Montrose who is an actor in Scott's fiction? It turns out that it's the last of these, but the expression rather suggests historical narrative. Montrose, who first slides into the book as the undistinguished attendant Anderson, eludes our effort to finally understand him.

* The 1830 Introduction, interesting as it is, and containing a history of blood and feud even more savage than in the novel itself, should never be looked at until afterwards.

Scott in 1831, portrait by Sir William Allan

[Image source: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw05676/Sir-Walter-Scott-1st-Bt . Scott in his study at Abbotsford, which contained lots of historical paraphernalia of interest both to himself and to admirers of his novels. According to the NPG description, "the Sword suspended from the Bookcase belonged to Montrose". In this image, sadly, it's hard enough to make out the bookcase, never mind Montrose's sword.]


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

no images

[Image source: http://www.nottinghampost.com/nottingham-is-third-best-place-to-work-in-the-uk/story-29506576-detail/story.html]

So first, Zoë Skoulding , who has written about Lisa Samuels' Tomorrowland and Gender City in her 2013 book, Contemporary Women's Poetry and Urban Space: Experimental Cities

You can read the lucid introduction in Google Books:

She says: "Acts of looking have been a recurrent interest in my discussion, particularly in relation to the panoptic overviews of mapping and surveillance. Notley, Samuels and Carol Watts, particularly, engage with various forms of resistance to vision as a form of control, asserting the poem as site of perceptual and embodied disobedience."  (This probably makes more sense re Gender City than Tomorrowland...)

I can't help relating this to my own experience as a compulsive mapper (e.g., of Samuels' Tomorrowland). Laura and I tend to argue when we're navigating around a new area, especially under time pressure. Laura uses entirely different psychogeographic signals to me. I tend to memorize maps and use them to "prove" where we must be going. However, I often make mistakes. Laura's instincts usually work out well. So I'm not really sure which of us is "better" at navigating but I know it's difficult to articulate our points of view. When we're not under time pressure we make a great team!

Skoulding's own poetry includes the Room poems, some of which I first saw in Out of Everywhere 2. There's also some here in Blackbox Manifold:

Brd new, are these VENDÉMIAIRE poems:

A sort of french-revolutionary harvesting vintage calendar, with memories of the wineshop in A Tale of Two Cities. Here's two of the epigram-like poems:

17. Citrouille Pumpkin

time to turn into another
sunset globe hold steady

            after all what do I know about
where this carriage is heading
with its windows all on fire

18. Sarrazin Buckwheat

even grain doesn't escape otherness
a dark seed an unstable element

            the time doesn't come
as if arriving from somewhere else
you move and it's what you are


Friday, January 13, 2017

Samaniego and Phaedrus, fabulists

The wolf and the lamb, illustration by Gustav Doré

[Image source: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/172161442/antique-print-fables-la-fontaine-dore?utm_source=Pinterest&utm_medium=PageTools&utm_campaign=Share .

Today's miniature post.  So, along with my TEFL study I thought it would make sense to sharpen up my own knowledge of foreign languages, so I picked up Félix María de Samaniego´s fables and began to have a read. (Samaniego was a sceptical author, influenced by the French Encyclopaedists, whose popular fables were written in the late 18th century.)

Samaniego's fables are in verse and Spanish Wikipedia entry compares his approach to "Fedro", who it turned out, was the 2nd-Century Roman fabulist Phaedrus, an author I'd never come across before.

Phaedrus' fables were translated into English by Christopher Smart (the sometimes mad poet famous for his amazing Song to David and Jubilate Agno).  Here's one of them (like many, it's based on an Aesop fable) that struck me as well worth pondering in our hyper-accusatory times.

Fable I. the wolf and the lamb.

By thirst incited; to the brook
The Wolf and Lamb themselves betook.
The Wolf high up the current drank,
The Lamb far lower down the bank.
Then, bent his rav’nous maw to cram,
The Wolf took umbrage at the Lamb.
“How dare you trouble all the flood,
And mingle my good drink with mud?”
“Sir,” says the Lambkin, sore afraid,
“How should I act, as you upbraid?

The thing you mention cannot be,
The stream descends from you to me.”
Abash’d by facts, says he, “I know
’Tis now exact six months ago
You strove my honest fame to blot”—
“Six months ago, sir, I was not.”
“Then ’twas th’ old ram thy sire,” he cried,
And so he tore him, till he died.
To those this fable I address
Who are determined to oppress,
And trump up any false pretence,
But they will injure innocence.

 Read more Phaedrus/Smart fables here:


[Image source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/6510519/The-Wolf-and-The-Lamb . Illustration by Glenda Maye Abad.]

Samaniego's fable "El cordero y el lobo" (Book 2, Number 18) tells a different story.

Uno de los corderos mamantones,
Que para los glotones
Se crían, sin salir jamás al prado,
Estando en la cabaña muy cerrado,
Vio por una rendija de la puerta
Que el caballero Lobo estaba alerta,
En silencio esperando astutamente
Una calva ocasión de echarle el diente.
Mas él, que bien seguro se miraba,
Así lo provocaba:
«Sepa usted, señor Lobo, que estoy preso,
Porque sabe el pastor que soy travieso;
Mas si él no fuese bobo,
No habría ya en el mundo ningún Lobo.
Pues yo corriendo libre por los cerros,
Sin pastores ni perros,
Con sólo mi pujanza y valentía
Contigo y con tu raza acabaría.»
«Adiós, exclamó el Lobo, mi esperanza
De regalar a mi vacía panza.
Cuando este miserable me provoca
Es señal de que se halla de mi boca
Tan libre como el cielo de ladrones.»
Así son los cobardes fanfarrones,
Que se hacen en los puestos ventajosos
Más valentones cuanto más medrosos.

A little mollycoddled lamb, who had been fattened up in a secure shed (for the benefit of some future gourmet), and had never once been out in the field, happened to notice through a crack in the door that Sir Wolf was just outside, keeping intent watch, cunningly and silently waiting for his chance to grab a toothsome snack.

But the lamb, observing that he was perfectly safe, assailed him as follows:

"Know, Sir Wolf, that I am imprisoned here, because the shepherd knows what a terrible creature I am. But if this shepherd weren't such a fool, there wouldn't be a single wolf left upon the earth. Yes, if I were allowed to run free among the hills, away from the shepherds and their dogs, my strength and my courage would soon put an end both to you and to your whole race."

"Well," thought the wolf, "bang go my hopes of a treat for my empty belly! If the wretch taunts me so, clearly he's no more scared of my jaws than robbers are scared of Heaven."

Thus cowardly braggers, as soon as they find themselves in a place where they can't be touched, the more feeble they really are, the more valiant they appear.

Known in our own days as the internet troll effect!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

120 hours of TEFL

About a week ago I signed up to do a  TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), thinking that at some point in my post-9-to-5 future it might come in handy.

The course requires 120 hours of study over the next six months, and the penny's now dropped that 120 hours is quite a lot of study, and I've no idea where those hours are going to be coming from. But it's a fair bet that many of them will be hours I'd have liked to spend blogging.  So I apologise in advance for a likely drop in both quantity and quality up until July.

Meanwhile, here are the lyrics of Ted Gärdestad's "För kärlekens skull", a modern Swedish classic. Ted was a teenage idol in the 1970s and a very talented musician. The Abba organization tried to promote him internationally, but without success. He was mentally fragile, and in his mid-20s he suddenly abandoned the music business in mental turmoil, falling into the hands of a fraudulent religious cult. He may have suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Twelve years later, in 1993, he made a comeback with this song. (Ted wrote the music to his songs, and his brother Kenneth wrote the words.) Some three years later, he committed suicide. Admiration for Gärdestad's music has grown exponentially since his death, and comparisons with Taube and Bellman are not unknown.


Verse 1:

Utanför fönstret slår våren ut
Marken blir grön igen
Allt som var dött väcks till liv
Det kan också vi
Så länge vi andas

Outside the window the spring returns
The land becomes green once more
All that was dead wakes to life
So also can we
As long as we're breathing

Verse 2:

Ute till havs styr en fiskebåt
Längs en fri horisont
Den gungar så tryggt in mot hamn
Som jag i din famn
Så länge vi älskar

Out on the sea steers a fishing-boat
Against a clear horizon
Swings so confidently into the harbour
Like me in your arms
As long as we're loving


Det är för oss
Solen går opp
Och lyser som guld
För kärlekens skull

It is for us
The sun comes up
and shines like gold
For love's sake

Solen går opp
Så oskuldsfull
Och lyser på oss
För kärlekens skull

The sun comes up
So innocently
And shines on us
For love's sake

Verse 3:

Högt på ett berg står en katedral
Och pekar upp mot skyn
Men det är för himlen i dig
Och jorden i mig
Vi älskar varandra

High on a hill stands a cathedral
And points to the sky
But it's for the heaven in you
And the earth in me
That we love each other

(repeat Chorus)

Above, Ted Gärdestad performing För Kärlekens Skull

The song has been covered many times. Yes, I'm learning it myself....

Here's a particularly wonderful version for acoustic guitar and voice, by Ulf Lindholm:

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

The story of Lisa Samuels' Tomorrowland

The essay that follows has now been published on Intercapillary Space:


Any subsequent updates, should there be any, will be made to the IS version. The essay takes some material from half a dozen other posts that I've written in the past year or so.

Cover of the printed book

"And lying soft enclosures gently died and overdied with story" (Landed gently, p. 63)

"Collected stories joined inside her body
At night she sweated language on her sheets" (All the buildings made of voices, p. 72)

"told each stories to make the time" (Circumference, p. 97)

It's customary to begin by saying that other readings are of course possible. In this case I might go a lot further. The present effort is more systematic than just a personal reading and can arguably be termed a wilful misreading, since it focusses on narrative and progressive aspects of a poem whose narrative progress, if any, is very much in question.

This reading takes its principal structural bearings from the eleven titled parts (I'll call them chapters) into which Tomorrowland (Shearsman, 2009) is divided:

1. The Argument. (TA)
2. It's all good. (IAG)
3. Treasure Island. (TI)
4. Sirens. (S)
5. Neptune's open mouth. (NOM)
6. Bulwarks. (B)
7. Landed gently. (LG)
8. A little history. (ALH)
9. All the buildings made of voices. (ATBMOV)
10. The body's charge. (TBC)
11. Circumference. (C)

I think it was exposure to the audio version of the poem that provoked my interest in the story of Tomorrowland.  Listening to these superb readings-with-soundscapes brings out the long-range narrative sweep of the poem. At least that's how it seems to me. I wanted to pay tribute to that startling impression and I also wanted to encourage new readers to discover this amazing poem.

Cover of the double CD version of Tomorrowland

The audio version was first made available as a double CD in 2012 (you could try contacting the author if you want one). It's also available online at Penn Sound:


It's arguable that the reading offered here leans far too much on the distinctness and progressiveness of the eleven chapters, while some other significant (though inaudible) formal features are for the most part ignored. Two in particular: the subdivision, marked by asterisks, of each chapter into up to five sections; and the fairly regular alternation of paragraphs with and without line-capitalization.

It treats the first chapter as preludial and the eleventh as postludial. It assumes that the sequence of chapters develops in a progressive and quasi-narrative manner.

As a consequence of its focus on narrative, it takes an interest in the four named characters, while acknowledging the fairly numerous other figures in the poem who are not named. To this predilection it may be objected that what we have here is not so much four characters as four structural principles, or even four multi-functional instruments that can only be grasped heuristically.

My main regret is that this approach rather neglects the close details of verse and text, because I believe it's at that close focal range that Samuels' poetry is most easily appreciated as the essential thing it is. However, I've already said plenty about that in two earlier pieces:

Review of Paradise for Everyone  (2005)


Review of  The Invention of Culture (2008)


In compensation, and also to avoid the tedium of a poetry essay that doesn't contain any actual poetry, I've include a couple of extended quotations in their proper places.


1. The Argument.

The second difficulty is the sphere itself
As I plunk on an inclined plane

These are the opening lines (p.11).

They hint at the illustration on the book-jacket, Camille Martin's "Hieroglyphic Night". At least, that seems to show a figure plunking on an inclined plane, while in the distance we observe the rather troubled sphere of a moon.

Subsequently, the word "sphere" will make a number of what seem like quite important appearances in the poem.

"we need a bluet sphere" (IAG, p. 19)
"You see our love desire laughter whom / I recognize most thoroughly ensphered" (NOM, p. 38); "in flat spheres" (NOM, p. 42).
"as Jack unspheres on Fasti with a tender disregard" (TBC, p. 91)

Reading The Argument as a whole it's apparent that the "plane" of line 2 is also an airplane, e.g. "when the four bumps hit the ground" (p.12).

"Who have hanged peripheries so many years" (p. 11). The word "hang", throughout the poem, tends to suggest Jack, though he is not actually named until the third chapter, Treasure Island.

"We land to divination..." (p. 12). The primary narrative fact, especially in the first half of the book, is arrival. See also: "Well, initial" (IAG, p. 13),  "The crackling / Of fires will announce you found arrival" (TI, p. 28), "Arrival's song" (NOM, p. 38), "though it / thunderously keeps arriving" (B, p. 55), "Well it's been a week" (LG, p. 57).

With arrival comes the mild euphoria of those sensors switching on to a new terrain. "silly with excited premonitions" (IAG, p. 21). And especially in TI: "everyone was lovely over there"... "A curious newness in their eyes in love with acquiescent / Barriers"... "people are so perfect"... (TI, p.23).

"handmade try ... crux ..." (p.12).  Reappears as "a crux of handmade try" in IAG (p. 20).

It's notable that the last part of one section often preludes the next, and that's the case here. In this last part the surroundings become recognizably urban, and here we get our first glimpse of Eula:

"With Eula mobilizing narratives in a café" (p.13)

(WhatsApp-ing her friends, maybe)

[Eula] Eula is the most pervasive of the four named characters, appearing in every chapter but two (TIC), but not the easiest  to get your head around. (The other characters will be discussed when they first appear.) The name, in software licensing, can mean End-User License Agreement. Eula often tends to suggest to me power, technology and intellect. Perhaps "where we've come from" : Europe, LA. Perhaps us : the poem's author and readers. Yet Eula can also be associated with Maori face-painting (ALH, p. 65) and with the small-scale warfare said to be typical of tribal society (LG, p. 59). Eula is a real name, commonest in Spanish-speaking countries, short for Eulalia - "sweetly spoken" (Greek eu + laleo ).


2. It's all good.

This first full-length chapter is distinctly "metropolitan-inflected" (p. 15). "Thus both about the city we did stroll" (p.15).

Eula is the only character named in this chapter. But it's important not to limit the narrative to those four names. Tomorrowland is liberally strewn with pronouns (I, we, you, he, she) and these are considerably less random than in many experimental texts. Sometimes these unnamed characters are consistent enough to develop little quasi-narratives about themselves.  For example the "he" of  IAG p. 16, or the "man" of S pp.30-31.

But wait, could we have some help here? The book version of Tomorrowland (though not the audio version) contains some,  in the form of the epigraphs and, particularly, the page headed "Further Reading" - e.g. Marco Polo, Robinson CrusoeComus, and modern studies of cosmopolitanism and social space (the latter evidently relevant to IAG). Argentine author Julio Cortazar. Sylvia Ashton-Warner's book about teaching Maori children (B, LG, ALH). New Zealand author Janet Frame's only poetry book The Pocket Mirror. (Lisa Samuel's own emigration from USA to NZ around the time of writing Tomorrowland is a relevant background.) Rev. John Butler's Journals - New Zealand's first clergyman, he arrived there in 1818. Michel de Certeau - tactics (of subjugated individuals) in navigating everyday life. Henri Lefebvre - Critique of Everyday Life , the underdeveloped sector colonized by capitalism. William Henry Hunt (actually Burt) and Philip Grossenheider -  A field guide to the mammals. Consulting these books, or some of them anyway, would shed a flood of light on Tomorrowland; I'm sorry to say I haven't done so.

According to the back cover of the printed book, "Tomorrowland is a book-length poem of bodily transit and colonial forgetting". Inasmuch as this means the experience of arriving and settling in a new world, it makes complete sense; but of course the term "colonial" comes freighted with all sorts of serious political ramifications, and openly provokes a group of questions that every reader will have to tussle with. To what extent does Tomorrowland delimit its scope to the experience of the colonist - the explorer, trader, preacher, teacher, emigrant, tourist - and exclude the experience of the colonized?  For a poet who has grown up within western culture, is transcending that limit even possible? Would attempting to transcend it lead inevitably to something analogous to blackface? Does failure to transcend it constrain one's sense of what the poem, for all its marvellous ambition, can amount to?

This may also be the moment to say, what I keep forgetting to say, that there's a great deal of comedy in the early chapters of the poem. We're not a million miles from The Ambassadors here.

[Cracks] "The garden faces by a crack uneasily in its palm" (p. 16). "Crack" is a word that comes up quite a lot, possibly in connection with the poem's interest in building works:  "To mortar acts and build". At any rate built texture is an important theme of IAG.  Cf. "a subterranean crack" (p.21), "This would be historical enactment / Seen from the position of a crack" (NOM, p. 42), "where the cracks peeked through a glint of green" (B, p. 45), "oh laud that cracked-up paper" (B, p. 52), "my amanuensis following the crack over the rocks" (B, p. 52)

[Ships] "he builds the little ship we fly up..." (p. 16).  The dedication of Tomorrowland is "for honest dealing, and for ship goers". Ships are named and alluded to frequently throughout the poem. E.g. ""having landed their domesticated ships / with aches and prejudice intact." (TI, p. 26);  "a whole set  / life modelled after vacant ships whose keels lie / down in soft sand partly filtering..." (S, p. 29); "ship-arriving hollerer .... how does it feel / To own so many ships..." (NOM, p. 41); "when the boat comes in" (B, p. 48); "The ships piled in with separate rain, / Some from the sea and some from sky..." (B, p. 49); "disinherit the never merely boat again (LG, p. 61); "stave the boat" (LG, p. 62); "the midnight ship" (ALH, p. 67); "The boats are moralistic now" (ALH, p. 68). Nevertheless, the locales of the poem seems to me always land-based, though coastal; we have no sense of being on a ship, but rather of having arrived from a ship.

[Birds and feathers] "Ohmygosh trees, flagrant birds..." (p. 18). Birds and feathers are frequent motifs in Tomorrowland.  E.g. "Big Bird... chorus of silent flitterings..." (p. 19); NOM, p. 42; B, p. 52; ATBMOV pp. 74-75; C, p. 97. For feathers cf B, p. 56; ALH, p. 65 (twice).

"we need a bluet sphere" (p. 19)

The bluets (Houstonia species) are small but pretty milky-blue N. American wild flowers, somewhat resembling old-world forget-me-nots or speedwells from the ornamental point of view.

[Image source: http://www.wiseacre-gardens.com/plants/wildflower/bluet.html]

"Our Eula" (p. 20) matches the first appearance, in the following chapter, of "our Manda" (p. 24).

By the end of "It's All Good" we've reached a space that may not be quite so uncomplicatedly "all good", and are looking back and out to wilderness, a suitable introduction to the next chapter.


3. Treasure Island.

It begins with the "island gurney". Sounds like an animal or bird, but the only definition for "gurney" that I have encountered is a stretcher-trolley.

"Treasure Island" begins with the most sustained bit of island paradise in Tomorrowland. (Along with a crescendo of the traveller's euphoria that I mentioned earlier.)

This nature poetry is, of course, not left unproblematized; to an extent it arrogates what it doesn't own.

          While he takes his myth and puts it out there
          In the literal sense, over again incorporating oysters
          And their total inability to resist. (p.25)

[Manda] "our Manda sees inside the cells" (p. 24). The first appearance of Manda.  Manda is short for Magdalena in Croatian/Serbian, or short for Amanda in English. The character is maybe somewhat associated with childlike perception (as here) and domestic activity. According to Wes Tank's  radio talk about plans for a Tomorrowland movie (https://soundcloud.com/riverwestradio/21-00-00-to-be-continued), Manda is the trans-historical female and Fasti is the trans-historical male; he may have been told this by Lisa Samuels herself but I'm not sure.

On p. 26 "I fell in love with time's indisputable eraser..." begins a passage of a dozen lines or so that's closely shadowed, sometimes word for word, in (p. 49, beginning "I fell in love / With the moon's disputable mirror...").

[Jack] "Thus coastal disproportionate form is hanging Jack / Poorly for his unplanned sup while we watch..." (p. 26).  The first named appearance of Jack, who "plays death", according to the back cover of the printed book. Certainly Jack is associated with death and violence ("escalation's fury Jack" (ALH)). It's Jack who is presumably referred to in "he hanged himself that's what he done" near the end of TBC. The word or idea of hanging, passim,  tends to suggest Jack. Perhaps a jack tar. Or a flag. Origin: the old world: Protestant northern mist.

"If it weren't for Shakespeare we'd never have Jane Austen if not" (p. 27). Compare "If it weren't for whales we'd never have fishes if" (LG).

The final part of TI focusses on ants.


4. Sirens.

"the atolls / (Neptune's mouths)..." (p. 31) Usefully glossing the title of the next chapter.


          (A hundred years ago) the nerves of Fasti's feet
          Agree a doorlatch patiently apart
          My patrimony truly far from home in a necessary
          Curse... (p. 33)

The first appearance of the fourth named character. Like the others Fasti is a real name, though obscure (old Scandinavian). Perhaps more relevant, "fasti" are chronological lists of official and religious events (Roman, as in Ovid's Fasti). Generally he seems to me priestly. He's associated at various points with logs (in the sense of records, I think) and with astronomy. The "founding Fasti" suggests a pioneer patriarch. There's a relatively long quasi-narrative about him and his mother in the middle of ATBMOV.


5. Neptune's Open Mouth.

The preceding chapter, Sirens, links to this one via its final line ("you dip your legs into your class just testing").  [Apart from its modern-cityscape and newly-discovered-tropical-island type locales, there is also quite a lot of educational loci in Tomorrowland ; such as this "class" (in one of its meanings), in which "you" is either a teacher or a student. Cf "warm and gentle schools" earlier on the same page.]

NOM is, unsurprisingly, watery. Water is associated with sex, birth and death. (The coupling of land animals involves a temporary, damp, private re-creation of the watery environment in which our far-distant ancestors lived out the whole of their lives.)

          Under the tide my legs are musical
          display on moonlit net  ... (Opening lines of NOM, p. 36)

Both the opening and closing parts  of NOM are vaginal. Hibiscus and sea-anemone, shell and fold.

Within, the following set-pieces stand out:

5.1. A semi-emergent lyric called "Arrival's Song". That is, I should say at once, a dubious interpretation. The title words appear bracketed, as if introducing an embedded lyric, but the text that follows it isn't clearly demarcated or distinct from the rest of NOM.

It might strike the reader that "Arrival's Song" arrives a little belatedly. After all, we're five chapters in, aren't we? Isn't it a bit late for a spontaneous effusion?  That sense of a willed, even heel-dragging, performance is latent here.

And could there be the complicating hint of "A Rival's Song"? The pun seeming to be authorized by "a plea / a look a rival" (B, p. 54)

(Parallel to the Shakespeare sonnets about the rival poet, e..g Sonnet 86.)  In both an alienation effect, because lyric poetry is no longer associated with this activity that we're sharing now, but with that other person's activity (an unwelcome one, to boot).

5.2. A group of stories of a mythical or ritual type. These include a Metamorphoses-style account of a yearning lover turned into a tree, and a relatively long account of water ritual in the days immediately following a child's drowning and before the child's spirit is fully at rest.

5.3. The curiously impressive apparition of a woman, near the end of the chapter, "with hair the colour of microphones".

This is Ovidian-in-reverse. The woman appears to metamorphose out of a bird standing "gradually" on the beach*, moving its "mouth" side to side and casting off feathers. At the same time the statement that "the woman stepped out shining" suggests a bather emerging from the sea.

[* The stuttering standing of a bird, always ruffled by the startle instinct and apt to hop about a bit. Gradual:  gradually calming down, becoming less flittery. But also gradus = a step: still moving about.]

She has a shadowy audience of men, to whom the words "deferential" and "cautious" are attached.

The side-to-side head movement of the bird/woman is reminiscent of the robotic Eula in the closing lines of ATBMOV .  And this final section of NOM names Eula several times  (the only one of the four to be named in NOM).  So is this emergent woman Eula? That seems far too definite an identification. But the impression that Eula has a cybernetic aspect, part technical and part bird maybe, is pervasive.

"like Roosevelt or the moon..." (p. 40)  - probably has nothing at all to do with the notorious massacre of Moro people in the Philippines in 1906 ("President Theodore Roosevelt sent Wood a congratulatory cablegram..."). Here's the link anyway.



6. Bulwarks.

A bulwark is a defensive fortification or rampart.

          We built the wall with stone by stone interiors
          Admiring fashion's fit with iron's wear
          And where the cracks peeked through a glint of green
          We stuffed it with the faces of our enemies... (pp. 45-46).

This defensive construction might be necessary, but there's paranoia and panic in blocking up those glints of green jungle with our nightmares.

This is the central and longest chapter, about double the typical length. With Bulwarks the poem becomes less innocent. A steadier preoccupation with colonialism begins here and continues through LG and ALH.

[Implements, in general] "diminished sovereignty / In the crude bath and plan raids .... does not hold its own / tradition bath nor subterfuge / umbrella as it falls..." (p. 44) This isn't exactly a motif, but there's a number of references in the poem to simple, old-fashioned implements, such as a primitive colony might value. Umbrella again, p. 52. The umbrella and parasol of TBC, p. 90. Knife, p. 49 and p. 53. Also the shovel (ATBMOV, pp. 80-81). The adze. (e.g. ALH, p. 65 "she took her tat / and adzed it through the rockface / of the boat she knew she'd go on"; ATBMOV, p. 82 "The world collects itself for you / an adze and scarf waft"). Ancient tool. There survive prehistoric Maori adzes that were used for woodcarving. "The pounding of the adze" (TBC, p. 89)  (unexpected use of an adze).

          Come come let us be hither let us not pretend we are not
          What we wot is the hintermost mortality can muster... (p. 46)

A call to order for the colonists, the double negative summoning "the not of widom" against the scarier "not" of the Other, "the night of savage-not-to-be". A call to national identity and apartheid.

"Hither": i.e. not "hither AND thither". No promiscuity of cultures here! (Compare "come thither" ALH p. 58, and "gone hither" p. 59)

"Hintermost": the context implying a sense of achieved superiority, the term itself implying essentialism and isolationism.

Though Manda resists this coercion the feeling of defeat, of personal identity being helplessly dependent on domesticity, on a bulwark preserving national identity, throws up its hands (p. 48). Patriarchal Fasti appears to inspire his colonist society and to hold it in check (pp. 49, 50, 51, 52, 53).

Manda's interjections, the "protesting soul",  instead proposes a rhapsodic inclusivity (p.47); these creative hungers are suppressed in the official culture, "because satiety / is its authorized appearance" (p. 48).

Peace is superficially restored ("Again, we are holding hands by the shore...") but the opposed elements jostle, gall, and attempt to co-opt each other, a conflict underlying the communal experience of the next few pages.

"That's the moon crept through the kauri tired". Agathis australis, a North Island conifer of great ecological and cultural significance. Once much exploited for its excellent timber (cf. "grand houses out of kauri", ALH, p.66).

Giant kauri at Waipoua Forest

[Image source: http://www.firstlighttravel.com/modal/sacred-waipoua-forest]

"I fell in love / with the moon's disputable mirror..." (p.49) begins a passage echoing TI p. 26.

"Fasti's quotient" (p. 53). The expression reappears in ALH, p. 69.

The last section of Bulwarks (pp. 55 - 56) tells a story about Manda teaching unruly children, colonial in character, and about a somewhat chaotic growth of urbanization. Children's education remains a preoccupation through LG and ALH.

Francis Towne (final line, p. 56): English watercolourist, d. 1816. Long neglected, now admired. Refers back to the educational project of p.55: "books with articles about watercoloring".


7. Landed gently.

"Landed gently". This was the name of a book by Alan Hunter (1957), featuring his character Inspector Gently. He in turn may have intended a pun on "landed gentry". So might this chapter ("disinherit", "heir apparent", "inheritance"...). But more important, probably, is the recurrent appearance of "gently", e.g. in the the passage quoted below

The themes of children and education continue from B. Colonialism too. Considerable energy on the theme of civil restitution for colonial wrongs. And blood, and the natural. At one point (p. 62), four lyrical paragraphs begin with the word "Naturally"...

"war-torn ways" (p. 58); cf. "the war-torn country" (p. 59). Possibly referring to the permanent state of small-scale warfare said to be typical of tribal societies.

"Admonishment's a windy task that someone / takes eventually rectangular in buildings and a tithe..." (p. 59). In ALH this is more drastically developed as "Society's a way of having to be cleared / we very soon gave way all admonition / to the punt..." (p. 67).

The "Naturally" lyric, part of which follows, reflects on the network of past generations, sex and reproduction, comrades lost in shipwrecks, among other things.

           Naturally we no longer hear that sound even when our
           radios are far up into space with limbs triumphant in
           the voice of the woman is the care she cedes to no-one
           naturally climbing the next within the eggs she lays and
           hatches in each other this structure is an ornamental
           seizure for the Fasti caught in hatches own allure, his
           hard and clement fissures never so certain as

           Naturally what is lost is what we'd have to yield our
           names and call sister brother mother father child, sea-
           tender, mind-brooder, sand-counter, bird-leader, herd-
           endurer, leaf-gatherer, whale-shooter, immigrant youth,
           sober sustainer, free baby, world-renouncing dreamer,
           cloud-watching post-successive non-accreting brain-
           inveigling doom-calm yeay-say sad-eyed so-it-is-one

           Naturally such matters move in waves, and the bodies
           of those heaped through the water bump gently, sad
           if you say so, your broken heart is latched to their
           interiors, sad if you know so, the lands are moving
          slowly toward away each other tending arguments
          against the gentle trees that stir in books we hold with
          winds upon our faces from the buildings sway

(LG, pp. 62-63)

[The audio version of Landed Gently is also on the companion CD to Emily Critchley, ed. out of everywhere 2: linguistically innovative poetry by women in north america & the uk (Reality Street, 2015).]


8. A little history.

The theme of history had been forecast in the previous chapter (p. 60).

"the leopard island" (p. 65). Three more references on pp. 65 - 66. This is almost a narrative, featuring Eula.

ALH, more than any previous chapter, is progressively invaded by regular meter;  the pulse of tetrameter, pointed up by lots of rhyme and near-rhyme. Progressive, but with a sinister undertow we can't control or resist; seems to be an image of unfolding history.

"and bridge of anger to Hokianga" (last line, p. 71):  Hokianga harbour, with its giant kauri trees, celebrated as the birthplace of the Maori nation, is 3 hours' drive north of Aukland.


9. All the buildings made of voices.

          One never sees so much as through a shutter

(opening line of ATBMOV, p. 72)

Talking about the view through a window, and hence recalling the opening of LG. With a glance, too, at what is snapped by a camera.

"At night she sweated language on her sheets" (p. 72). Recurrent themes of ATBMOV  include sweat, buildings, contruction and languages. The themes are inter-connected, with literature and building intermized, e.g. "This sort of narrative city is what it's all about" (p. 74).

"hark the tui rises with perfume" (p. 73). Perfume, and stench, will become insistent features in the next chapter, TBC. The tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) is a passerine bird endemic to New Zealand, a member of the honeyeater family.


[Image source: http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/tui. Photo by Cheryl Marriner.]

Unexpectedly but appropriately, the second section of this highly-built chapter (pp. 74-78) breaks forth into extended narrative, or the nearest that Tomorrowland ever gets to it.  The story concerns Fasti, his attempts to orient himself, what he is "supposed to know", limits on what he can see, his mother's grave and his sense of isolation from her, a persistent failed quest that becomes a deportment and cannot be sustained indefinitely  ("But Fasti would be young only so long ...")

[Tā moko] The tattooed facial designs of Maori culture turn up in the poem as the woman "with blueprints on her face" (ATBMOV, p. 75) and as "our blue-stained faces revealing us as / planful admonitions" (TBC, p. 91). Less certainly, "the family carved its ink along its flesh to remember" (S, p. 30); "Then Eula took to etching ink into the hide as well" (NOM, p. 41); "Eula is a caring carving ... she took her tat and adzed it through the rockface..." (ALH, p. 65).

There's a perceptible quickening of tempo in the later chapters.... a sense of urgency, haste, multiple actions spinning out of control.  As in the first word of the passage below.

          Meantime at the mast camp Manda stirred
          the bones sighed for country
          the rearranged consent was on a paper
          bottled carefully for the occasion and extracted
          from the ground on which she fled
          seine or wood, feigned for the burial

          Such marching is as adamant as your life
          sewed stitched arrayed, loaded with wrong ideas
          stove in your head, warrantless possessions
          following each other heel on keel
          as you dance amidst the rainsocked plot
          your muddy mind could grow on
          while you gorgeously palaver all the mindsets
          close and closer to your own -- come hither hard imagined
          hard to say in this life, the blank stuff of 'knowing'
          no closer than anyone is likely to accede --
          bland parleys, blind missives,stoked defences
          piled one on one until (we reach the pinnacle
          fair minded nation state whose every desire's to
          please those waiting selves who stroved
          and borrowed just to be asked ...

(ATBMOV, pp. 79-80)


10. The body's charge.

This is the last of the main chapters (excluding the preludial TA and postludial C). That finality is announced with the opening words, distantly recalling the first line of TA.

          The second volume planned to make a method
          Of her spells and be someone entirely different collapsed
          (though she rankled trees) the fragile jeopardy stripes
          Were all along reverse of what she wrote
          She found the stripes grow down her back she reached
          Over her shoulder held the skin and pulled and
          it would not release, not go at all

The theme of an abandoned plan continues and the body is the blocker of such projections.

The poem (typically evoking Manda at this point) now enters a body-centred, helpless, sensation-centred, field.

Rest, sex, love, washing, swimming, dissolution, death, mouldering. Somehow all held together in the single word "pulcherous". (p. 86)

All this is in heavy contrast to the civilizing efforts to build in time and space that concerned the previous chapter ATBMOV, typified by its calendrical stargazing and pyramid roof-terrace.

"The body's charge" -  the charge is 1. an electrical energy, a potential energy / actual cavalry  2. an indictment, accusation. (especially on p. 88)  3. A freight, responsibility, maybe an unborn child. ("Manda's swell" p. 89).

The sudden return of Jack:

            We'll lift it up and bury us as
          orange and woody sprites become recycled selves
          in bricks and troves, in scarves and trousers
          lollipop specters nuzzling each other as the decades
          pass entranced -- the shade compels the body to follow it
          as Jack unspheres on Fasti with a tender disregard
          for the dictates of his person, ....

The burial follows swiftly.


11. Circumference.

This epilogue begins playfully but is soon conflicted, fragmentary and defensive, the opposite of triumphal anyway.  None of the four named characters make an appearance. The pronoun "I" is insistent.

                                                    I don't think
          you really want the end you're diving for... (p. 95)

Circumference's iterations of sweeping, singing and ringing sound like a lyric that fails to reassure and is jangled by an alarm-bell. Only in the last couple of lines does some sort of stability ensue.

          tested -- every ringing was the next we -- told each stories to make
          the time -- it was so fine, under the conditions and -- we were all we
          were there right -- each other trembling, our clothes symbolic travesty
          underneath our tremble chest were waves --

(pp. 97-98)


underneath our tremble chest were waves --


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