Sunday, 22 March 2015

Outcasts from a book review

Patrick M. Bray, for reasons rhetorical says, ‘could there be anything more mediocre than a madeleine?’ 
I have to answer (angrily) ‘Yes!’

In defence of the madeleine I offer this list.

 1.     1. they come in silver lined bags or see-through bags. they come in bags!
 2.     2. they are soft and smooth and damp to the touch
 3.     3. they are French!
 4.     4. they have a girl’s name but are suspiciously bloomingly womanly
 5.     5. they are yellow and buttery
 6.     6. they taste of fake fruit or alcohol
 7.     7. they taste of other people’s houses
 8.     8. you are permitted to eat more than one at a time
 9.     9. they come apart from themselves (when torn) very prettily
 10.  10. think of the many tins that made them

Would I feel this way if it weren’t for Proust? I most certainly would. And it’s no good asking me to replace his childhood breakfast aunt snack with my own to locate an undetected mediocrity, for the macaroon (dense with sugar), the crumpet (glossy as legs) and the farl (cosy as tea) would send me similarly loquacious. And as for toast, shredded, dipped into eggs, or damp with butter and burn, don’t get me started. These are not and never were mediocre things. The writer did not seize upon an insignificant object and elevate it topsy turvilly, he copied out the plain song that everyone had long been singing but had never thought to write down. That is why we like it so much. It makes old sense not new.

I am reviewing The Novel Map (Northwestern University Press: Evanston, 2013) for Literary Geographies. It is making me think about categories. And the pleasure of the word (when spoken) 'categorically!' 

Monday, 2 December 2013

promises, postponements

“waiting at the barrier, your perception can remodel itself so that you are convinced the person you are waiting for is the person right there, right at the back of the crowd, just coming, just coming. –But she doesn’t come. And you begin to give up. Every figure in the crowd looks like her. Her hair, her nose, her neck. And then, suddenly, so blatantly it is obscene, they turn into someone else, someone so ordinary, you are staggered.

When she does come, you falter, she fails. That’s her? She’s shrunk several inches since you last saw her, and what terrible ankles.    Gradually, your artfulness tries to tell you, you are not in love at all.” Mark Cousins

“My thoughts were now concentrated upon the entrance to the ballroom door where I had suddenly perceived the back of somebody’s head. So he had come, after all. The fact that I never thought he would (such a serious character) had in no way mitigated my disappointment that he had not; now here he was. I must explain that the image of Sauveterre, having reigned in my hopeless heart for several months had recently been ousted and replaced by something more serious, with more reality and promise.

The back of a head, seen at a ball, can have a most agitating effect upon a young girl, so different from the backs of other heads that it might be surrounded by a halo. There is the question, will he turn round, will he see her, and, if so, will he merely give a polite good evening or invite her to dance? Oh, how I wished I could have been whirling gaily round in the arms of some fascinator instead of sitting with my aunts and uncles, too obviously a wall0flower. Not that it mattered. There were a few moments of horrible suspense before the head turned round, but when it did he saw me, came straight over, said good evening more than politely and danced me away. He thought he would never get here, it was a question of borrowed, but mislaid, knee-breeches.” Nancy Mitford

Fate Playing

Because the message somehow met a goblin,
Because your precedents tripped your expectations,
Because your London was still a kaleidoscope
Of names and places any jolt could scramble,
You waited mistaken. The bus from the North
Came in and emptied and I was not on it.
No matter how much you insisted
And begged the driver, probably with tears,
To produce me or to remember seeing me
Just miss getting on. I was not on it.
Eight in the evening and I was lost and at large
Somewhere in England. You restrained
Your confident inspiration
And did not dash out into the traffic
Milling around Victoria, utterly certain
Of bumping into me where I would have to be walking.
I was not walking anywhere. I was sitting
Unperturbed, in my seat on the train
Rocking towards Kings Cross. Somebody,
Calmer than you, had a suggestion. So,
When I got off the train, expecting to find you
Somewhere down at the root of the platform,
I saw that surge and agitation, a figure
Breasting the flow of released passengers,
Then your molten face, your molten eyes
And your exclamations, your flinging arms
Your scattering tears
As if I had come back from the dead
Against every possibility, against
Every negative but your own prayer
To your own gods. There I knew what it was
To be a miracle. And behind you
Your jolly taxi-driver, laughing, like a small god,
To see as American girl being so American,
And to see your frenzied chariot-ride –
Sobbing and goading him, and pleading with him
To make happen what you needed to happen –
Succeed so completely thanks to him.
Well, it was a wonder
That my train was not earlier, even much earlier,
That it pulled in, late, the very moment
You irrupted onto the platform. It was
Natural and miraculous and an omen
Confirming everything
You wanted confirmed. So your huge despair,
Your cross-London panic dash
And now your triumph, splashed over me,
Like love forty-nine times magnified,
Like the first thunder cloudburst engulfing
The drought in August
When the whole cracked earth seems to quake
And every leaf trembles
And everything holds up its arms weeping.

Ted Hughes

“I was not at all curious about who she was, but rather took her for granted at once. Bony, empty face that wore its emptiness openly. Bare throat. A blouse thrown on. Looked very domestic.” Kafka’s first sight of Felice Bauer.

They arranged to meet in Berlin at Easter 1913. This would be their first meeting since that August evening at Brod’s. But nothing was simple for Kafka. There were obstacles and delays, promises, postponements. When he did arrive, Felice was not there to greet him. He could not understand this. On paper headed ‘Hotel Askaniche Hof, Berlin’ he wrote: ‘But what happened, Felice? You must surely have received my express letter on Friday in which I announced my arrival on Saturday night. Surely this particular letter cant have gone astray. And now I am in Berlin and will have to leave again this afternoon at four or five.”

Friday, 22 November 2013

why oh why the doily

I got to hang out in the tiny NTS radio booth a couple of weekends ago. Listening to Carrie Plitt talk poems and to Octavia Bright, Julith Jedamus and Will Eaves read D.M. Thomas, W.H. Auden, and Elizabeth Bishop. I read 'Why This" by Louis Simpson. Quite close to my idea of heaven.

You can listen here.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

you make me want to drink bleach

The launderette. The site for all your domestic painful pain. And time machines. And sex. And grandparents. And clothes washing up gloves popcorn candlyfloss flirtation. I hope you enjoy these as much as me.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

the on button

It is with great pride that I can finally announce the launch of STATIC's Buttons issue. And with huge thanks to Jane Levi, Lina Hakim, Emily Williams, James Hawthorne, John Patrick Attlee, Ben Cranfield and Heather Tilly.

The launch saw all manner of buttoning (and some unbuttoning). As well as a curator's introduction to the Touching the Book exhibition and some close-eyed Braille fingering. Our hands were very happy by the end of the evening. 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

dream land


A report, poetically named ‘Turning the Tide’, calls for action to revive the towns of Rhyl, Margate, Clacton-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth and Blackpool. Can tides ever be turned?

In other news (in the same newspaper on the same page) we hear that postcards were the most popular form of contact during the last three decades of the 20th century for those on holiday.

This is my postcard from Margate.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

if I don't reply

If I don’t reply
It’s not because I don’t want to
Or rather, its not because I didn’t ever want to
It’s that somehow the want got lost
Shuffled and resorted amidst other
Emails other questions (other complete
Lacks of questions other asking
Without asking which is the worst
And least pleasant to reply to of all)
That now, when I look back
Through the white glare of a snow storm
I find I cannot see at all the time
Or space for getting back to you
I cannot see my hand in front of my face.
It is cold and the starred list
(or fist?) casts shapes
Like explorers in the mist. Odd shadows
That brim and glow
Like knives along the shower-curtain
Unanswered, droplet-speckled, immanent.
Unanswered, and yes there was
A time when I knew what it was I had to say
Because what you said was not unimportant
Perhaps it was too important
And caused my mind to stray
It is not that I read it and did not think
It is just that something happened
A bird flew across the window
And I had not seen a bird for a while
So I am sorry
(Though even this remorse
Will elude me too before long.)
There used to be something
Some things even in the space
Beyond my knuckles
Now there is only numbness
And the dull burn of fading bulb glow
That makes eyes remember their sockets.