Friday, September 30, 2005

Lazarus Breaks His Fast

Walter Sickert, 1927

the latest stop-press information on literature 002

'Ezra Pound was originally in the highly subjective phase 12, but Yeats moved him among the humanitarians of the late objective phases after seeing him feed all the cats at Rapallo.'
(Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks)

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Don't like his poems so much, or the bits of waffle and witter that he turns out for the TLS (though possibly - certainly - I'm inordinately jealous), but I've just been through the selection of his work in a Penguin Modern Poets that I borrowed from the British Council library for the Michael Donaghy, and I got curious enough to Google Hugo, and turned this up pronto -

Hugo Williams often spends the evening pasting memorabilia into his scrapbook. Everything goes in: newspaper clippings about him, party invitations, train tickets, photographs of Williams and his family, as well as people whose names he can't remember. Sometimes, at literary events, he just walks about snapping randomly. There are even letters in his own handwriting, which he never got round to posting. The scrapbook is running close to 60 volumes by now. The later chapters are in bright colour, but the really precious stuff is in black and white. Here is Hugo in short trousers, just after the war, with his father the actor Hugh Williams, and his mother Margaret Vyner, a model for Paris couturier Jean Patou, and later an actress herself. Here is Hugo, aged 14, on his way back to Eton after the holidays. In the colour scrapbook, he receives a major poetry prize for his latest collection, Billy's Rain; beside the photograph is a disgruntled commentary on the award by the Guardian's poetry critic. The juxtaposition amuses Williams. It simply all has to be recorded. As one of his poems has it, "The past is out of bounds. / But where else is there to go?"

I find such a predilection more than mildly interesting, and sympathise with it. It put me in mind of Julian Barnes's description of Flaubert's Bouvard et Pecuchet (although what Williams gets up to is clearly very different):

a novel about two earnest, illusion-filled clerks who try to understand the whole of human striving and the whole of human knowledge, who are defeated and then go back to being copyists - [it] is extraordinarily modern. And the second part of the book, the thought of simply giving the reader an accumulated heap of rubbish that the two heroes decide to copy down, is a phenomenally advanced idea for 1880; it is amazingly bold.

(this is from The Paris Review 157, Fall 2000)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Ralph in Maine, 1841, out loud

"How tardily men arrive at any result! how tardily they pass from it to another! The crystal sphere of thought is as concentrical as the geological structure of the globe. As our soils and rocks lie in strata, concentric strata, so do all men's thinkings run laterally, never vertically. Here comes by a great inquisitor with auger and plumb-line, and will bore an Artesian well through our conventions and theories, and pierce to the core of things. But as soon as he probes the crust, behold gimlet, plumb-line, and philosopher take a lateral direction, in spite of all resistance, as if some strong wind took everything off its feet, and if you come month after month to see what progress our reformer has made, not an inch has he pierced, you still find him with new words in the old place, floating about in new parts of the same old vein or crust. The new book says, 'I will give you the key to nature,' and we expect to go like a thunderbolt to the centre. But the thunder is a surface phenomenon, makes a skin-deep cut, and so does the sage. The wedge turns out to be a rocket. Thus a man lasts but a very little while, for his monomania becomes insupportably tedious in a few months. It is so with every book and person: and yet - and yet - we do not take up a new book, or meet a new man, without a pulse-beat of expectation. And this invincible hope of a more adequate interpreter is the sure prediction of his advent."

I particularly like The wedge turns out to be a rocket. The whole jing-bang here.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Friday, September 16, 2005

the latest stop-press information on literature (001)

George Eliot held George Meredith's The Shaving of Shagpat to be a 'work of genius'.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Nothing like an interest in statistics as an index of rude health


Now, don’t just write, ‘I did this, and then I did that. And then I ... and then I ...’ See if you can make it more interesting than that, won’t you?

(a) Depart from Warszawa: 0843. Arrive in Ostroleka: 1106. 123km. 2hrs 23mins. Average speed: 52km/h.
(b) Depart from Ostroleka: 1150. Arrive in Augustow: 1353. 143km. 2hrs 3mins. 67km/h.
(c) Depart from Augustow: 1500. Arrive in Wilno: 1820 (Polish time). 247km. 3hrs 20mins. 74km/h.
Total distance: 513km. Car hours: 7hrs 46mins.

(d) Depart from Wilno: 0832 (Polish time). Arrive in Suwalki: 1150. 227km. 3hrs 18mins. 69km/h.
(e) Depart from Suwalki: 1328. Arrive in Bialystok: 1520. 124km. 1hr 52mins. 66km/h.
(f) Depart from Bialystok: 1631. Arrive in Warsaw: 1915. 204km. 2hrs 44mins. 74km/h.
Total distance: 555km. Car hours: 7hrs 54mins.

There and back: 1068km. Car hours: 15hrs 40mins.

(this may have the appearance of precision, but there is some guesswork going on)

(it may also have the appearance of some kind of advanced neurotic symptom, but rest assured - if I may take a moment to reassure you, whilst we're in parentheses - it's actually an accumulation of hard evidence to back up my suspicion that Schnucki is better at overtaking lorries than I am - you'll probably have already noticed that one of the many things conspicuously absent from the data above is the name of the driver - as August recedes into the very recent past and it becomes harder to remember who actually was driving, guessing is the only thing any of us will be able to do - so the 'evidence' ain't going to be up to much, hein? well? always making the mistake of trying to explain yourself ... always making the mistake of trying to explain yourself)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Coming Attractions:

* Fantasy Arboretum *

(Sorry, I guess it should say 'Coming Attraction'. Although there's always that essay about Lithuania to look forward to.)