Monday, July 31, 2006

The Oxford Book of American Poetry

The new one, edited by David Lehman. I've been looking into it for a few days. Some typos. Some short poems:

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

I walked in a desert.
And I cried:
'Ah, God, take me from this place!'
A voice said: 'It is no desert.'
I cried: 'Well, but -
The sand, the heat, the vacant horizon.'
A voice said: 'It is no desert.'

J.V. Cunningham (1911-1985)

Jack and Jill

She said he was a man who cheated.
He said she didn't play the game.
She said an expletive deleted.
He said the undeleted same.
And so they ended their relation
With meaningful communication.

Josephine Miles (1911-1985)


Said, Pull her up a bit will you , Mac, I want to unload there.
Said, Pull her up my rear end, first come first serve.
Said, Give her the gun, Bud, he needs a taste of his own bumper.
Then the usher came out and got into the act:

Said, Pull her up, pull her up a bit, we need this space, sir.
Said, For God's sake, is this still a free country or what?
You go back and take care of Gary Cooper's horse
And leave me handle my own car.

Saw them unloading the lame old lady,
Ducked out under the wheel and gave her an elbow,
Said, All you needed to do was just explain;
Reason, Reason is my middle name.

Howard Moss (1922-1987)

The Long Island Night

Nothing as miserable has happened before.
The Long Island night has refused its moon.
La belle dame sans merci's next door.
The Prince of Darkness is on the phone.

Certain famous phrases of our time
Have taken on the glitter of poems,
Like 'Catch me before I kill again,'
And 'Why are you sitting in the dark alone?'

Kenneth Koch (1925-2002)

Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams


I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.


We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.


I gave away the money you had been saving to live on for the next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.


Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me, I was clumsy, and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

A.R. Ammons (1926-2001)

Their Sex Life

One failure on
Top of another

Am too tired to put anything else down. It's a great book, but.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Our Mutual Friend III

"The second frightening incident was this. She had been again as bad, and had been for some days better, and was travelling along by a part of the road where it touched the river, and in wet seasons was so often overflowed by it that there were tall white posts set up to mark the way. A barge was being towed towards her, and she sat down on the bank to rest and watch it. As the tow-rope was slackened by a turn of the stream and dipped into the water, such a confusion stole into her mind that she thought she saw the forms of her dead children and dead grandchildren peopling the barge, and waving their hands to her in solemn measure; then, as the rope tightened and came up, dropping diamonds, it seemed to vibrate into two parallel ropes and strike her, with a twang, though it was far off. When she looked again, there was no barge, no river, no daylight, and a man whom she had never before seen held a candle close to her face."

Friday, July 28, 2006

Fostering international cooperation

I bought myself a Spanish phrasebook:

“Estoy hasta el moño de mi hijo. No sé cuántas veces se ha presentado a los opos para funcionario de prisiones. Lo tengo viviendo en casa y en su vida ha dado palo al agua y encima lo tengo que mantener yo. Y los más bonito es que el niño está a punto de cumplir 35 tacos.”

“Le dijo a su pareienta que bajaba un momento a comprar tabaco, y no lo volvío a ver el pelo en la vida. La pobre como es un poco corta no cayó en que su marido no fumaba.”

“Esto son dos compañeros de clase vascos:
- Oye, Patxi, ¿y a ti qué te daba el segundo ejercicio?
- Me daba infinito.
- Aibalaostia, ¿solo?”

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lost connections...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The last / Of shunting in the Autumn

Our Mutual Friend II

"'Those are not his brother and sister?' said Mrs. Boffin.
"'Oh, dear no, ma'am. Those are Minders.'
"'Minders?' the Secretary repeated.
"'Left to be Minded, sir. I keep a Minding-School. I can take only three, on account of the Mangle. But I love children, and Four-pence a week is Four-pence. Come here, Toddles and Poddles.'
"Toddles was the pet name of the boy; Poddles of the girl. At their little unsteady pace, they came across the floor, hand-in-hand, as if they were traversing an extremely difficult road intersected by brooks, and, when they had had their heads patted by Mrs Betty Higden, made lunges at the orphan, dramatically representing an attempt to bear him, crowing, into captivity and slavery. All the three children enjoyed this to a delightful extent, and the sympathetic Sloppy again laughed long and loud. When it was discreet to stop the play, Betty Higden said 'Go to your seats Toddles and Poddles,' and they returned hand-in-hand across country, seeming to find the brooks rather swollen by late rains."


This is Harry, Marian's dog. He is quite old, and has over the past six months developed some sort of problem with his back legs. When he can walk (i.e. when he is outside and the pavement gives him a little traction), he moves a bit as if he's drunk, with one leg slipping in front of the other. When he's indoors and has to contend with the tiled floors, he tends to allow his back legs to slide and to propel himself with his front legs alone. I have had a number of dreams in which I thought he was a horseshoe crab instead of a dog. The last time I was at Marian's house he bit me twice, because I trod on him twice, both times accidentally. As you can see, when he's lying down, he looks alright, even quite respectable.


Pär Lagerkvist (Swedish, 1891-1974) wrote the following two poems:


“Jag ville vara en annan,
men jag vet inte vem.
En främling star bortvänd, med pannan
mot stjärnornas lågande hem.
Jag skall aldrig se hans ögon
och aldrig hans anletsdrag.

Jag ville vara en annan,
en främling, an annan än jag.”


“Som molnen,
som fjärilen,
som den lätta andningen på en spegel -

borta på en liten stund.

O herre over alla himlar, alla världar, alla öden,
vad hard u menat med mig?”

These were translated into English by W.H. Auden (English, 1907-1973) and Leif Sjöberg (Swedish, 1925-2000):


“I should like to be somebody else,
but I don’t know who.
A stranger stands with his back to me, his forehead
facing the burning home of the stars.
I shall never meet his eyes,
never see his features.

I should like to be somebody else,
a stranger, other than myself.”


“Like the clouds,
like a butterfly,
like the light breathing on a mirror -

gone in a short while.

Lord over all heavens, all worlds, all fates,
what have you mean by me?”

These appeared in the Times Literary Supplement of 10 March 1972, where they caught the eye of Piotr Sommer (Polish, born 1948). He translated them into Polish – I don’t have the versions here. Then, in 2006, a friend (English, born ?1979), turned Sommer’s translations into English:


“Would that I were somebody else!
But whom I don't know.
Someone strange stands with his back turned to me, with his forehead
set against the twinkling home of the stars.
I never meet his eyes,
I never see his features.

Would that I were somebody else,
kooky, not me.”


“Like clouds,
like a butterfly,
like light flickering on the mirror -

passing through,
present for a fraction of a second.

Our Lady presiding over All the Heavens, over All the Worlds, over Everyone's Fate,
what was it you wanted me to say?”

Our Mutual Friend I

Am reading Our Mutual Friend at the moment: I want to quote it all. Instead am rationing myself.

"But there was a foreign gentleman among them: whom Mr. Podsnap had invited after much debate with himself - believing the whole European continent to be in mortal alliance against the young person - and there was a droll disposition, not only on the part of Mr. Podsnap but of everybody else, to treat him as if he were a child who was hard of hearing.
"As a delicate concession to this unfortunately-born foreigner, Mr. Podsnap, in receiving him, had presented his wife as 'Madame Podsnap;' also his daughter as 'Mademoiselle Podsnap,' with some inclination to add 'ma fille,' in which bold venture, however, he checked himself. The Veneerings being at that time the only other arrivals, he had added (in a condescendingly explanatory manner), 'Monsieur Vey-nair-reeng,' and had then subsided into English.
"'How Do You Like London?' Mr. Podsnap now inquired from his station of host, as if he were administering something in the nature of a powder or potion to the deaf child; 'London, Londres, London?'
"The foreign gentleman admired it.
"'You find it Very Large?' said Mr. Podsnap, spaciously.
"The foreign gentleman found it very large.
"'And Very Rich?'
"The foreign gentleman found it, without doubt, enormément riche.
"'Enormously Rich, We say,' returned Mr. Podsnap, in a condescending manner. 'Our English adverbs do Not terminate in Mong, and We Pronounce the 'ch' as if there were a 't' before it. We Say Ritch.'
"'Reetch,' remarked the foreign gentleman.
"'And Do You Find, Sir,' pursued Mr. Podsnap with dignity, 'Many Evidences that Strike You, of our British Constitution in the Streets Of The World's Metropolis, London, Londres, London?'
"The foreign gentleman begged to be pardoned, but did not altogether understand."

A haircut

The barbershop was right opposite Marian's house in Cádiz, which was not in itself an argument for going there. But it was convenient. The barber had what is arguably (Fernando Torres to one side) the worst haircut I have ever seen on a Spanish man - we excuse the children their rat-tails, for they know not what they do. It was worrying enough to start with. But then he used both a cutthroat razor on me, and a neckbrush full of jasmine-scented talcum powder. I feared the worst. Imagine my chagrin when I came out of the ordeal looking alright, even quite respectable.

For more pictures of Fernando Torres's ridiculous hairstylings, see It'll keep you happy for hours. Well, a few minutes at least.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


"Trying to understand the words
Uttered on all sides by birds,
I recognise in what I hear
Noises that betoken fear.

Though some of them,
I'm certain, must
Stand for rage, bravado, lust,
All other notes that birds employ
Sound like synonyms for joy."
W.H. Auden, Collected Poems (1976)

But sometimes behaviour is the best clue to emotion.


A Slope

So, the name...

"There were once two men who went up into the mountains to gather edible moss. One night they were sharing a tent, and one was asleep but the other awake. The one who was awake saw the one who was asleep go creeping out; he got up and followed him, but however hard he ran he could not catch up with him. The sleeping man was heading straight up the mountain towards the glaciers, and the other saw where a huge giantess was sitting up there on a spur of the glacier. What she was doing was this: she would stretch out her arms with her hands crossed and then draw them in again to her breast, and in this way she was magically drawing the man towards her. The man ran straight into her arms, and she then ran off with him.
"A year later, some people from the man's district were gathering moss at the same place; he came there to meet them, and he was so short-spoken and surly that one could hardly get a word out of him. They asked him who he believed in, and he said he believed in God. The following year he came to the moss-gatherers again, and by then he looked so like a troll that he struck terror into them. However, he was asked again who he believed in, but he made no reply. This time he stayed a shorter time with them than before. The third year, he came again; by then he had turned into an absolute troll, and a very ugly-looking one too. Yet someone plucked up the courage to ask him who he believed in, but he said he believed in 'Trunt, Trunt, and the trolls in the fells' - and then he disappeared. After this he was never seen again, but for some years afterwards men did not dare go looking for moss in that place."
Jacqueline Simpson, Icelandic Folktales and Legends (1972)