DRACULA AND THE OTTOMANS
BY GEMMA MASSON, PHD CANDIDATE AT THE CENTRE FOR BYZANTINE, OTTOMAN AND MODERN GREEK STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM.
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Poet, Feminist, Novelist, Sci-fi writer, Piercy is quite the woman of parts. To boot she shares her birth date with some pretty heavy hitters, including J.S. Bach, Andrew Marvell, Joseph Haydn, Edward Fitzgerald (translator of Omar Khayyam), Octavio Paz and Canadian Hockey legend, “Mr Hockey” Gordie Howe.
I choose Marge Piercy because more than ever this is a time for feminist voices. In Belfast last week “Not Guilty” verdicts were given to four Ulster rugby players on rape and sexual assault charges. On Twitter a full scale war is in progress between #IBelieveHer and #IBelieveThem.
There is a danger that the war of words will distract from the most important issue. There is a groundswell of public appetite for reform of the legal procedures in rape trials. This opportunity needs to be grasped now. It does not matter who was “right” or “wrong” because past has passed. It is time to own the future. Campaign for reform. Use the energy to deliver a better tomorrow.
What Are Big Girls Made Of? ; by Marge Piercy
The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.
She visited in ’68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse’s mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.
Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.
How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.
A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.
If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?
When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?
Albert Pierrepoint born on this day in 1905. His father and his uncle were executioners, part time hangmen. As a child Albert wrote in a school exercise “When I leave school I should like to be the Official Executioner”. He achieved his goal.
He began his career as executioner in Dublin. He was assistant executioner to his uncle in the Hanging of Patrick McDermott in Mountjoy Gaol in 1932.
In the course of his career he hanged over 400 people. His total was boosted by the war. Pierrepoint carried out the executions of 200 war criminals in Germany between 1945 and 1950.
William Joyce (lord Haw Haw) the Irish born Nazi propagandist was one of his “customers”. Pierrepoint also had the distinction to hang both the wrongly convicted Timothy Evans and the rightly convicted serial killer John Christie for the murder of Evans wife in an illegal abortion. The events were portrayed in the film “10 Rillington Place”
Pierrepoint also hanged the last man to be executed in Ireland, Michael Manning (1954) and the last woman to be hanged in Britain, Ruth Ellis (1955). He resigned in 1956. The British Home Office asked him to reconsider as he was the “most efficient and swiftest executioner in British history”.
Despite working as a hangman for over 20 years Pierrepoint observed that hanging was not a deterrent.
And now some selected verses from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by prisoner C33, the pen name adopted by Oscar Wilde after his release from prison.
He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.
Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
The loftiest place is that seat of grace
For which all worldlings try:
But who would stand in hempen band
Upon a scaffold high,
And through a murderer’s collar take
His last look at the sky?
It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air!
There is no chapel on the day
On which they hang a man:
The Chaplain’s heart is far too sick,
Or his face is far too wan,
Or there is that written in his eyes
Which none should look upon.
So they kept us close till nigh on noon,
And then they rang the bell,
And the Warders with their jingling keys
Opened each listening cell,
And down the iron stair we tramped,
Each from his separate Hell.
Out into God’s sweet air we went,
But not in wonted way,
For this man’s face was white with fear,
And that man’s face was grey,
And I never saw sad men who looked
So wistfully at the day.
I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
We prisoners called the sky,
And at every careless cloud that passed
In happy freedom by.
Every day I see a drama played out in the media, and on social media in particular. Group A present their reality. Group B present a counter reality. Group A argues on science. Group B argues on pseudo-science overlying blind faith. Group A is constantly baffled by the inability of group B to grasp reality. Group B is constantly baffled by the inability of group A to grasp reality. Group A say “that is not reality – it is perception”. Group B say “I know what reality is”.
Group B is right. They do know what their reality is. Group A ignore perceptual reality at their peril.
Let me tell you a story.
When I was a child I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family. Seven kids of which I was 6th. As if the house was not full enough we also, until she married, had my Aunt Phyllis living with us. I was about 5 when she married. I was supposed to be the “train bearer” but her bossy bridesmaid, would not let me bear the train. What I remember about that wedding is the cold. It was a red raw cold Easter wedding. In the main group photo you will see me retreating from the church steps to escape the wind by going back into the church.
Phyllis was, to my young mind, the living embodiment of Mary Tyler Moore living in our house. She was cool, sassy, grown up and not a parent. My two oldest brothers are over 6 ft tall. Phyllis is about 5′ 3”. To my young mind she towered over them. They were teenagers. They are my brothers. She was an adult, they were kids. She towered over them.
My oldest brother, Jerry, is a Solicitor. Second oldest, Fergus, is an Architect. Both well educated professionals. Phyllis was never a professional. Mostly she was a mother and housewife. When she married and moved to Swords in North County Dublin my younger brother and I used to cycle out to visit her quite often. She would feed us and then send us home. We loved it when she baked a cake that flopped. She let us eat as much of it as we could before it went into the bin. In a family of 7 kids cake is a luxury, flopped or not.
So here you have this short woman with no pretensions to a fantastic education. Beside her you have my two oldest brothers, towering over her, wielding university degrees. If I have a need to seek advice on an important philosophical matter who am I going to ask?
Phyllis of course. In the reality of my 5 year old mind she is the adult. They are the teenagers.
I know, in my 50 something year old brain that my 60 something year old brothers are well capable of addressing deep philosophical issues. I know, rationally, that they are well educated, highly experienced adults.
This is the point at which Group A and Group B fall out with each other. You can prove, without a doubt, to the adult mind, that Jerry and Fergus are the more qualified mentors. You can absolutely convince me on the evidence that I should ask them for advice. I will absolutely agree with you, and then I’ll go consult Phyllis.
Vaccination protagonists present all the science to anti-vaccination people, who read it, internalise it and refuse to vaccinate their kids. Astronomers present incontestable evidence to flat-earthers who nod and smile and go back to live on their flat earth. Democrats present cast iron evidence that Republicans are exploiting the working man and the working man reads it, shakes his head and votes Republican. Atheists disprove God again and again. People of faith can’t argue back, but they know what they feel, and they feel they believe, and in belief lies salvation.
Evidence, statistics, facts, research, proof, they are all good. They are all worthy valuable pursuits. But they don’t necessarily change our innate perceptions. Our reality is founded on our perceptions, not on the cold hard realities of the world.
Again and again Group A think they can win by arguing reality. In truth they will only win by changing perceptions, and that is a far harder task.
Martin Luther challenged the reality of the Christian Church in 1517. By the 1960’s the church had, for the most part, altered it’s perception, with the enactment of Vatican II. That was a hard won victory, 450 years and counting. Charles Darwin postulated the theory of human evolution in 1859. That took only about 100 years to gain widespread mainstream acceptance.
Changing perception takes time. It does not take weeks, months or years. It takes generations.
If any of you are secret poets, the best way to break into print is to run for the presidency. Eugene J. McCarthy
Eugene Joseph McCarthy was a poet who had a political career. Congressman from Minnesota, he sought the presidential nomination five times.
He is not to be confused with Senator Joseph McCarthy who ruined many an artistic career as Senator from Wisconsin, chair of the committee on unamerican activities, promulgator of the infamous Hollwood blacklist and “reds under the beds” attitude to Communism, Socialism, Trade Unionism and things Russian.
Here is a poem about the prettiest of hens. I seem to have tapped a rich vein of thematic poetry of late. Fowl poetry.
The Death of the Old Plymouth Rock Hen; by Eugene J. McCarthy
It was tragic when her time came
After a lifetime of laying brown eggs
Among the white of leghorns.
Now, unattractive to the rooster,
Laying no more eggs,
Faking it on other hens’ nests,
Caught in the act,
Taken to the woodpile
In the winter of execution.
A quick stroke of the axe,
One first and last upward cast
Of eyes that in life
Had looked only down,
Scanning the ground for seeds and worms
And for the shadow of the hawk.
Now those eyes are covered
By yellow lids,
Closing from the bottom up.
Decapitated, she did not act
Like a chicken with its head cut off.
No pirouettes, no somersaults,
No last indignity.
Like an English queen, she died.
On wings that had never known flight.
She flew, straight into the woodpile,
And there beat out slow death
While her curdled voice ran out in blood.
A scalding and a plucking of no purpose.
No goose feathers for a comforter.
No duck’s down for a pillow.
No quill for a pen.
In the opened body, no entrail message for the haruspex.
Not one egg of promise in the oviduct.
In the gray gizzard, no diamond or emerald,
But only half-ground corn,
Sure evidence of unprofitability.
The breast and legs,
The wings and thighs,
The strong heart,
The pope’s nose,
Fit only for chicken soup and stew.
And then in March, near winter’s end,
When bloodied and feathered wood is used,
The odor of burnt offerings
Above the kitchen stove.
I am linking to this brilliant article which highlights in detail how translation does not work if you don’t know both languages.
In short the translator plugged the American phrase “Blue Lives Matter” into an English/Irish dictionary and came up with the phrase above which translates as something like “Substance they live blue”.
It is incredible that in translating just 3 words the translation got all 3 wrong.
The beautiful irony of it is this. Had the translation actually worked, if the policeman had rendered “Blue Lives Matter” into English he would still have tripped over his own cleverness. Fear gorm in Irish, literally blue man, is a term we use to describe black people. The words for black man (fear dubh) refer to the devil. So he would have been going around wearing a #BlackLivesMatter shirt.
As bad translations go though, you just can’t beat this one where a guy got a tattoo on his back of the first sentence every Irish child learns in our native language. Any Irish language speaker, even those you have no more than a dozen words, can translate this. It says “May I have permission to go to the toilet”.
In May 1927 Joe Lynch fell overboard from a ferry in Sydney Harbour. He was drunk and his pockets were filled with beer bottles which helped drag him down.
This happened while the Sydney Harbour bridge was under construction and the only way to cross Port Jackson was by boat.
Joe was a cartoonist who worked with Kenneth Slessor for Smith’s Weekly magazine in Sydney. The pair also worked together for Punch magazine in Melbourne for a time. The night he died Lynch left work and met his brother Guy, Guy’s wife Marge, and Frank Clancy, another Irish Australian journalist who worked for Labor Daily. They were boozing hard and loaded up with bottles when they boarded the ferry Kiandra at Circular Quay. Somewhere along the way Joe leaned too far back over the rail and slipped away beneath the Harbour waters.
That might have been the end for Joe Lynch, an embarrassing end quickly forgotten. But eight years later his old pal Kenneth Slessor had a bit of an epiphany as he listed to the watch bells ring from the Warships in the Harbour. He penned his most famous, and one of Australia’s greatest poems. Kenneth was born on this day in 1901. Happy Birthday Kenneth Slessor.
Because of Slessor Lynch has become the most famous, and possibly the most preposterous, drowning in Sydney Harbour.
Below the poem you will find a photo of a war memorial in Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand. It was sculpted by Guy Lynch using Joe Lynch as his body model. It depicts a Kiwi soldier of WW1 coming off duty, and is nicknamed “The Untidy Soldier”. This statue is the subject of “The Digger and the Faun” a poem by Michele Leggott. So Joe Lynch is immortalised in poetry twice! Not a bad memorial.
Five Bells ; by Kenneth Slessor
Time that is moved by little fidget wheels
is not my time, the flood that does not flow.
Between the double and the single bell
of a ship’s hour, between a round of bells
from the dark warship riding there below,
I have lived many lives, and this one life
of Joe, long dead, who lives between five bells.
Deep and dissolving verticals of light
ferry the falls of moonshine down. Five bells
coldly rung out in a machine’s voice. Night and water
pour to one rip of darkness, the Harbour floats
in the air, the Cross hangs upside-down in water.
Why do I think of you, dead man, why thieve
these profitless lodgings from the flukes of thought
anchored in time? You have gone from earth,
gone even from the meaning of a name;
yet something’s there, yet something forms its lips
and hits and cries against the ports of space,
beating their sides to make its fury heard.
Are you shouting at me, dead man, squeezing your face
in agonies of speech on speechless panes?
Cry louder, beat the windows, bawl your name!
But I hear nothing, nothing…only bells,
five bells, the bumpkin calculus of time.
Your echoes die, your voice is dowsed by life,
there’s not a mouth can fly the pygmy strait –
nothing except the memory of some bones
long shoved away, and sucked away, in mud;
and unimportant things you might have done,
or once I thought you did; but you forgot,
and all have now forgotten – looks and words
and slops of beer; your coat with buttons off,
your gaunt chin and pricked eye, and raging tales
of Irish kings and English perfidy,
and dirtier perfidy of publicans
groaning to God from Darlinghurst.
Then I saw the road, I heard the thunder
tumble, and felt the talons of the rain
the night we came to Moorebank in slab-dark,
so dark you bore no body, had no face,
but a sheer voice that rattled out of air
(as now you’d cry if I could break the glass),
a voice that spoke beside me in the bush,
loud for a breath or bitten off by wind,
of Milton, melons, and the Rights of Man,
and blowing flutes, and how Tahitian girls
are brown and angry-tongued, and Sydney girls
are white and angry-tongued, or so you’d found.
But all I heard was words that didn’t join
so Milton became melons, melons girls,
and fifty mouths, it seemed, were out that night,
and in each tree an Ear was bending down,
or something that had just run, gone behind the grass,
when blank and bone-white, like a maniac’s thought,
the naphtha-flash of lightning slit the sky,
knifing the dark with deathly photographs.
There’s not so many with so poor a purse
or fierce a need, must fare by night like that,
five miles in darkness on a country track,
but when you do, that’s what you think.
In Melbourne, your appetite had gone,
your angers too; they had been leeched away
by the soft archery of summer rains
and the sponge-paws of wetness, the slow damp
that stuck the leaves of living, snailed the mind,
and showed your bones, that had been sharp with rage,
the sodden ectasies of rectitude.
I thought of what you’d written in faint ink,
your journal with the sawn-off lock, that stayed behind
with other things you left, all without use,
all without meaning now, except a sign
that someone had been living who now was dead:
“At Labassa. Room 6 x 8
On top of the tower; because of this, very dark
and cold in winter. Everything has been stowed
into this room – 500 books all shapes
and colours, dealt across the floor
and over sills and on the laps of chairs;
guns, photoes of many differant things
and differant curioes that I obtained…”
In Sydney, by the spent aquarium-flare
of penny gaslight on pink wallpaper,
we argued about blowing up the world,
but you were living backward, so each night
you crept a moment closer to the breast,
and they were living, all of them, those frames
and shapes of flesh that had perplexed your youth,
and most your father, the old man gone blind,
with fingers always round a fiddle’s neck,
that graveyard mason whose fair monuments
and tablets cut with dreams of piety
rest on the bosoms of a thousand men
staked bone by bone, in quiet astonishment
at cargoes they had never thought to bear,
these funeral-cakes of sweet and sculptured stone.
Where have you gone? The tide is over you,
the turn of midnight water’s over you,
as Time is over you, and mystery,
and memory, the flood that does not flow.
You have no suburb, like those easier dead
in private berths of dissolution laid –
the tide goes over, the waves ride over you
and let their shadows down like shining hair,
but they are Water; and the sea-pinks bend
like lilies in your teeth, but they are Weed;
and you are only part of an idea.
I felt the wet push its black thumb-balls in,
the night you died, I felt your eardrums crack,
and the short agony, the longer dream,
the Nothing that was neither long nor short;
but I was bound, and could not go that way,
but I was blind, and could not feel your hand.
If I could find an answer, could only find
your meaning, or could say why you were here
who now are gone, what purpose gave you breath
or seized it back, might I not hear your voice?
I looked out my window in the dark
at waves with diamond quills and combs of light
that arched their mackerel-backs and smacked the sand
in the moon’s drench, that straight enormous glaze,
and ships far off asleep, and harbour-buoys
tossing their fireballs wearily each to each,
and tried to hear your voice, but all I heard
was a boat’s whistle, and the scraping squeal
of seabirds’ voices far away, and bells,
five bells. Five bells coldly ringing out.
An encouragement here to the self-published author. A.E Housman wrote his book of 63 poems entitled “A Shropshire Lad” but could not find a publisher to print them. So he took matters into his own hands and part funded the publication.
Housman was born March 26th 1859. Apart from being a very popular poet he was also a classical scholar, and possibly the most respected classicist in his day. He shares his birthday with none less than Robert Frost. Two such titans of Poetry deserve separate birthday posts, so Frost must wait another year.
From a slow start in 1896 the popularity of the book snowballed and it has remained in print ever since. The poems have appeared in song lyrics and later in film. There is a funeral oration scene from “Out of Africa” where Meryl Streep reads “To an athlete dying young” , George Emerson carries a copy of “A Shropshire Lad” in “Room With A View” and this short couple of verses makes an appearance at the very end of the movie “Walkabout”.
XL. Into my heart on air that kills: by A.E. Housman
(from A Shropshire Lad)
Into my heart on air that kills
from yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
what spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
Born on this day in 1745 in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland. John Barry was the son of a poor tenant farmer. He was raised on stories of the butchery of the Irish by the English under Cromwell. Evicted by their English landlord they went to live in Rosslare with an uncle who owned a fishing skiff. Barry carried a hatred of the British with him for the rest of his life.
Barry signed up as a cabin boy and worked his way up through the ranks and across the Atlantic to the American Colonies. He was a successful merchant captain sailing between Philadelphia and the Caribbean. He commanded many ships including the Barbados, the Patty and Polly, the Industry, the Page and the Black Prince.
He lost his brother Patrick “lost at sea on a French frigate the limey’s sunk.” His hatred of the British deepened further.
In 1776, prior to the declaration of Independence, he was awarded a commission in the Continental Navy by John Hancock. He went on to command the Delaware, the Lexington, the Raleigh and the Alliance.
So successful was Barry that the British offered him the huge sum of £100,000 and command of any Royal Navy Frigate if he would defect. Captain Barry responded that not all the money in the British treasury or command of its entire fleet could tempt him to desert his adopted country
After the war, in 1797 Barry was issued Commission No.1 in the US Navy by George Washington and became thereafter “Commodore Barry” and “Father of the American Navy”.
“In placing Barry at the head of the Navy I have special trust and confidence in [his] patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities” President George Washington
For anyone who has been through the rounds of dementia or alzheimer’s with a parent the poem by Louise Cole below will strike a chord.
The internet is full of warm cuddly fluff such as “Do Not Ask Me To Remember” by Owen Darnell. That may help us feel all compassionate for five minutes, until you get a bang on your arm from your mammy’s crutch.
There are moments of comedy and pathos in those visits but they are few and far between. For the most part you are faced with a parent who is a shadow of the person they used to be. This is all the more cruel because parents are larger in our lives than other mere mortal adults.
You see them deteriorate both physically and mentally. The first day you realise they don’t know who you are is a hard one. My mother was a brilliant actress so she fooled many of the family for years that she knew who they were, but the signs are there if you really want to see them. Imagine the confusion if you woke up and recognised nobody in your life? However hard it is for you it is ten times harder on them.
If they remember your kids they remember how they were ten years ago as 7 year olds. This hulking great 17 year old teenager is a total stranger, and very scary.
You see the weight fall off them until they look like skeletons covered in parchment. They look small and frail and weak, and we want our parents to loom large and strong for us, to be the foundations for our lives, pillars of strength and wisdom.
The days when you arrive at a nursing home to find your mother sitting in her own shit, because the “cleaning crew” have not gotten around yet, those are hard days. Because today you know you are here, but tomorrow you will be in work when she is sitting in her shit and piss.
Dress your parents well, in good clothes. Buy new clothes. Make sure their hair is styled, the men are shaved regularly, their fingernails are manicured. This may seem a pointless extravagance if they spend all their day in a nursing home. But know this; well dressed people are treated better than dirty, unkempt or untidy people. People speak to them more politely, treat them with more respect, and are more likely to shake their hand, give them a hug or do them a small favour. All those little moments add up.
People who care for the old are heroes. Anyone can care for babies because they are so cute. But changing the nappy on a crabby old man who is trying to bash you on the head, that takes the soul of an angel. Go out of your way to honour the staff who care for your parents, they deserve every ounce of your respect.
As an aside: the phrase “Fur Coat and No Knickers” is a common Irish phrase used to describe people who are all flash with no substance. The kind of person who spends money on a fancy car in the driveway to impress the neighbours, instead of fixing the heating boiler and buying new shoes for the children.
Fur Coat and No Knickers; by Louise G. Cole
Drawing breath between tales of dead
little brothers and elderly neighbours
moved away, my mother looks inside
a lifetime that’s 92 and counting,
claims no-one’s visited for months,
thinks I’m her cousin Betty
with designs on her fur coat and hopes
of borrowing a fiver.
I try not to mind the care home smell
and wonder what else to talk about when
the devil himself taps my shoulder
suggests I unburden, reveal secrets
never before shared, so I offer a revelation:
I lost my virginity four times
before I was married. She’s never yet listened to me
so it is no surprise she doesn’t hear,
continues with a rattle about imagined walks
in the park yesterday, shopping
trips she’ll make next week.
A carer comes to tuck her in,
brings weak tea and egg sandwiches,
asks if I’d like some,
is relieved when I decline.
I get up to leave and the frail old cripple
who used to be my mother
spills her tea and demands
to know when cousin Betty intends returning
the fur coat, says quietly: ‘I always knew
what a little whore you were’.