Happy Birthday Bruce Dawe

dawefox

Aged 88 and still going strong.  Happy birthday Bruce and may you enjoy many more.

Homo Suburbiensis : by Donald Bruce Dawe

One constant in a world of variables
– A man alone in the evening in his patch of vegetables,
and all the things he takes down with him there

Where the easement runs along the back fence and the air
smells of tomato-vines, and the hoarse rasping tendrils
of pumpkin flourish clumsy whips and their foliage sprawls

Over the compost-box, poising rampant upon
the palings …
He stands there, lost in a green
confusion, smelling the smoke of somebody’s rubbish

Burning, hearing vaguely the clatter of a disk
in a sink that could be his, hearing a dog, a kid,
a far whisper of traffic, and offering up instead

Not much but as much as any man can offer
– time, pain, love, hate, age, ware, death, laughter, fever.

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A hymn for the defeated

FraVIre

Better remembered as a sculptor William Wetmore Story was born on this day in 1819, so next year he will celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.  When I saw this poem it immediately called to mind the image above.  If ever a photograph can capture the moment when victory turned to defeat this is it.  Look at those French faces.

Io Victis :by William Wetmore Story

I sing the hymn of the conquered, who fell in the Battle of Life,
the hymn of the wounded, the beaten, who died overwhelmed in the strife;
Not the jubilant song of the victors, for whom the resounding acclaim
of nations was lifted in chorus, whose brows wore the chaplet of fame,
but the hymn of the low and the humble, the weary, the broken in heart,
who strove and who failed, acting bravely a silent and desperate part;
Whose youth bore no flower on its branches, whose hopes burned in ashes away,
from whose hands slipped the prize they had grasped at, who stood at the dying of day
with the wreck of their life all around them, unpitied, unheeded, alone,
with Death swooping down o’er their failure, and all but their faith overthrown,

while the voice of the world shouts its chorus, its paean for those who have won;
While the trumpet is sounding triumphant, and high to the breeze and the sun
glad banners are waving, hands clapping, and hurrying feet
thronging after the laurel-crowned victors, I stand on the field of defeat,
in the shadow, with those who have fallen, and wounded, and dying, and there
chant a requiem low, place my hand on their pain-knotted brows, breathe a prayer,
hold the hand that is helpless, and whisper, “They only the victory win,
who have fought the good fight, and have vanquished the demon that tempts us within;
Who have held to their faith unseduced by the prize that the world holds on high;
Who have dared for a high cause to suffer, resist, fight, if need be, to die.”

Speak, History! who are Life’s victors? Unroll thy long annals, and say,
are they those whom the world called the victors — who won the success of a day?
The martyrs, or Nero? Spartans, who fell at Thermopylae’s tryst,
or the Persians and Xerxes? His judges or Socrates? Pilate or Christ?

Secret league of Vernians

Verne

Jules Verne

 

Today is the birthday of Elizabeth Bishop, the poet born in 1911.  She was born on the birthday of no less an author than Jules Verne, who was born this day in 1828.  Verne was a father of Science Fiction writing and his legacy is treated almost as a religion by some.  These are the Vernians, the true believers who think Jules Verne’s books are scientific manuals rather than fantastic stories.

Vernians have been prominent in film.  In the 2008 version of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” the lead characters use an annotated copy of Verne’s novel to retrace his steps.  Vernianism also has a part to play in Back to the Future III.  Doc Brown and the love of his life, Clara Clayton, are committed Vernians.

Now get this:  Clara Clayton is played in the movie by Mary Steenburgen, born in 1953, ON THIS DAY.  Coincidence?  I think not!

The Bight: by Elizabeth Bishop

At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,
the water in the bight doesn’t wet anything,
the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire
one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ocher dredge at work off the end of the dock
already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize. Pelicans crash
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes,
rarely coming up with anything to show for it,
and going off with humorous elbowings.
Black-and-white man-of-war birds soar
on impalpable drafts
and open their tails like scissors on the curves
or tense them like wishbones, till they tremble.
The frowsy sponge boats keep coming in
with the obliging air of retrievers,
bristling with jackstraw gaffs and hooks
and decorated with bobbles of sponges.
There is a fence of chicken wire along the dock
where, glinting like little plowshares,
the blue-gray shark tails are hung up to dry
for the Chinese-restaurant trade.
Some of the little white boats are still piled up
against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in,
and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm,
like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Click. Click. Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful.

Happy Birthday B. S. Johnson

Bryan

Born this day 1933.  Died 1973, aged 40.

Depression is a terrible condition.  Suicide a terrible conclusion.  Commercial success a chimera.  This was a man who dragged himself up by the bootstraps and gained himself a university degree.  He was a highly interesting and experimental writer and his legacy is now more recognised than in his lifetime.

If we had a Universal Basic Income would he have revealed even greater potential?  UBI would be especially beneficial in giving artists the leeway to create.

Love-All; by Bryan Stanley Johnson

The decorously informative church
Guide to Sex suggested that any urge
could well be controlled by playing tennis:
and the game provided also “many
harmless opportunities for healthy
social intercourse between the sexes.”

For weeks the drawings in the Guide misled
me as to what went where, but nonetheless
I booked the public courts and learnt the game
with other curious youths of my age:
and later joined a club, to lose six one,
six love, in the first round of the Open.

But the only girl I ever met had
her “energies channelled” far too bloody
“healthily”, and very quickly let me
know that love was merely another means
of saying nil. It was not as though I
became any good at tennis; either.

Birthday Birthday

Joyce

Publishing a book is, according to some authors, like giving birth to a baby.  You release it into the world and cut the umbilical of control over your work.  Now it is out in the world to be interpreted by others.  It is no longer your vision and yours alone.

On this day in 1922, on his 40th birthday, James Joyce had Ulysses published.  Sylvia Beach published it in Paris because no good Irish Catholic press would dirty itself with this filth.  She received the first three copies from the press on Feb 2nd 1922.

A serialised publication of the Nausicaa episode led to an obscenity trial in the USA in 1921.  Copies imported in the post were burned by the US postal service.  Ultimately it took another legal case in the USA to rule that the book was not pornography.  United States V One Book called Ulysses eventually admitted the novel to the USA in 1934.  The novel was banned in Britain until 1936.  It was not available in Ireland until the 1960’s.  It now comprises mandatory reading for any degree in English.

Joyce’s reaction to all this is best conveyed in his poem, Gas from a Burner, in which he lampoons the printer John Falconer, who destroyed sheets of his earlier short story collection “Dubliners”.   It also takes a swing at George Roberts, publisher at Maunsel & Co.

The final part of this poem is a concerted and intentional blasphemy.  He has the printer keep the ashes of the burnt pages in an urn, and has his foreman daub a crucifix on his bum with them in a parody of the Ash Wednesday rite of the Catholic Church when the ashes of the palms from the previous Palm Sunday rite are used to signify the penance of Lent.

Gas from a Burner: by James Joyce

Ladies and gents, you are here assembled
To hear why earth and heaven trembled
Because of the black and sinister arts
Of an Irish writer in foreign parts.
He sent me a book ten years ago
I read it a hundred times or so,
Backwards and forwards, down and up,
Through both the ends of a telescope.
I printed it all to the very last word
But by the mercy of the Lord
The darkness of my mind was rent
And I saw the writer’s foul intent.
But I owe a duty to Ireland:
I held her honour in my hand,
This lovely land that always sent
Her writers and artists to banishment
And in a spirit of Irish fun
Betrayed her own leaders, one by one.
‘Twas Irish humour, wet and dry,
Flung quicklime into Parnell’s eye;
‘Tis Irish brains that save from doom
The leaky barge of the Bishop of Rome
For everyone knows the Pope can’t belch
Without the consent of Billy Walsh.
O Ireland my first and only love
Where Christ and Caesar are hand and glove!
O lovely land where the shamrock grows!
(Allow me, ladies, to blow my nose)
To show you for strictures I don’t care a button
I printed the poems of Mountainy Mutton
And a play he wrote (you’ve read it I’m sure)
Where they talk of bastard, bugger and whore
And a play on the Word and Holy Paul
And some woman’s legs that I can’t recall
Written by Moore, a genuine gent
That lives on his property’s ten per cent:
I printed mystical books in dozens:
I printed the table-book of Cousins
Though (asking your pardon) as for the verse
‘Twould give you a heartburn on your arse:
I printed folklore from North and South
By Gregory of the Golden Mouth:
I printed poets, sad, silly and solemn:
I printed Patrick What-do-you-Colm:
I printed the great John Milicent Synge
Who soars above on an angel’s wing
In the playboy shift that he pinched as swag
From Maunsel’s manager’s travelling-bag.
But I draw the line at that bloody fellow
That was over here dressed in Austrian yellow,
Spouting Italian by the hour
To O’Leary Curtis and John Wyse Power
And writing of Dublin, dirty and dear,
In a manner no blackamoor printer could bear.
Shite and onions! Do you think I’ll print
The name of the Wellington Monument,
Sydney Parade and Sandymount tram,
Downes’s cakeshop and Williams’s jam?
I’m damned if I do–I’m damned to blazes!
Talk about Irish Names of Places!
It’s a wonder to me, upon my soul,
He forgot to mention Curly’s Hole.
No, ladies, my press shall have no share in
So gross a libel on Stepmother Erin.
I pity the poor–that’s why I took
A red-headed Scotchman to keep my book.
Poor sister Scotland! Her doom is fell;
She cannot find any more Stuarts to sell.
My conscience is fine as Chinese silk:
My heart is as soft as buttermilk.
Colm can tell you I made a rebate
Of one hundred pounds on the estimate
I gave him for his Irish Review.
I love my country–by herrings I do!
I wish you could see what tears I weep
When I think of the emigrant train and ship.
That’s why I publish far and wide
My quite illegible railway guide,
In the porch of my printing institute
The poor and deserving prostitute
Plays every night at catch-as-catch-can
With her tight-breeched British artilleryman
And the foreigner learns the gift of the gab
From the drunken draggletail Dublin drab.
Who was it said: Resist not evil?
I’ll burn that book, so help me devil.
I’ll sing a psalm as I watch it burn
And the ashes I’ll keep in a one-handled urn.
I’ll penance do with farts and groans
Kneeling upon my marrowbones.
This very next lent I will unbare
My penitent buttocks to the air
And sobbing beside my printing press
My awful sin I will confess.
My Irish foreman from Bannockburn
Shall dip his right hand in the urn
And sign crisscross with reverent thumb
Memento homo upon my bum.

Happy Birthday John Cooper Clarke

Dr. John

Amongst all the famous names of the punk rock era and often on stage with them was performance poet John Cooper Clarke, born this day in 1949.  Not as well remembered as the likes of the Sex Pistols, New Order, Elvis Costello or Siouxsie and the Banshees and yet I think his material has stood the better test of time.

He gives a unique, almost diary-esque, point in time view of the UK of the 1970’s.  His references below to the TUC, Kremlin, Whitehouse etc are reminders of the politics of the time.  Whitelaw I am inclined to believe is Gordon, the Scottish footballer.

The Daily Express is a middle market, middle class rag. Not the Times, it is just as trashy in content as the nipple flaunting tabloids with their page 3 girls. Cooper Clarke neatly uses it as a way to lampoon the status hungry readers who lack the class authenticity of the Working or Upper classes in the UK of the time.  A clear attack, for those of us who remember it, on Thatcher’s new middle class home owners with their British Gas shares and their Axminster rugs.

In 2013 Salford university awarded this home grown hero an honorary Doctorate.  His comment : “Now I’m a doctor, finally my dream of opening a cosmetic surgery business can become a reality.”

 

You Never See a Nipple in the Daily Express: by John Cooper Clarke

I’ve seen the poison letters of the horrible hacks
About the yellow peril and the reds and the blacks
And the TUC and its treacherous acts
Kremlin money – All right Jack
I’ve seen how democracy is under duress
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

I’ve seen the suede jack boot the verbal cosh
Whitehouse Whitelaw whitewash
Blood uptown where the vandals rule
Classroom mafia scandal school
They accuse – I confess
I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

Angry columns scream in pain
Love in vain domestic strain
Divorce disease it eats away
The family structure day by day
In the grim pursuit of happiness
I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

This paper’s boring mindless mean
Full of pornography the kind that’s clean
Where William Hickey meets Michael Caine
Again and again and again and again
I’ve seen millionaires on the DHSS
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express

Jindyworobak Club

Drover

Sharing his birthday with Edgar Allan Poe is Australian poet Reginald Charles (Rex) Ingamells.  Originally he followed the trail of poets like Banjo Patterson and wrote the songs of the bush as experienced by the whites.  In the 1930’s he founded the Jindyworobak movement.  Although exclusively white artists, they made the first forays into recognition of indigenous Australian art and culture.

The absence of native Australian Aboriginal artists from the group has undermined its validity.  Some might say the current status of Aboriginal art owes much to the groundwork done by the Jindy club.  Who knows?

Shifting Camp: by Rex Ingamells

Glint of gumtrees in the dawn,
so million coloured: bush wind-borne
magpie-music, rising, falling;
and voices of the stockmen calling.

Bellowing of cattle: stamping,
impatient of the place of camping:
bark of dogs, and the crack-crack-crack
of stockwhips as we take the track.

Neighing of night-rested mounts…
This is a day that really counts:
a day to ride with a hundred head,
and a roll of canvas – that’s my bed.