26 February 2011

Henry Hogg (1831-74): Nottingham Poet

The grave of the forgotten poet Henry Hogg (1831–74) is in the General Cemetery, Nottingham, England, very close to Robert Millhouse's. He was baptized in Radford, Nottingham shortly after his birth, and was the son of Joseph Hogg, who was in the hosiery trade. Henry was raised and educated in Nottingham and became a solicitor at various addresses in Nottingham.

In 1849 he published his first poem -– 'Mournful Recollections' – which was in blank verse. Some rather disparaging words have been written about him by people who know very little of what they profess to know,  but he was of his time, and it is difficult to imagine anyone who wasn't writing in the very long and deep shadow of Tennyson. He died of lung disease at his home in Elm Avenue, Nottingham, on 19 June 1874.

He published two books of poems: Poems (1852), and Songs for the Times (1856).

Hogg was a staunch evangelist, and his religious principles shine through all his poetry. His second collection of poems show life as a battle against the sin of idleness, with typical titles such as 'The Spirit of Labour', 'Our Duty', and 'The Battle of Life'.

'The Workers' is not about the working class, but about working for God:

'Some are the messengers that boldly stand
   Within the holy place;
And speak God's words of threatening and command,
   Of mercy, and of grace.

'And some are poets, and recite the wrongs
   That man inflicts on man;
They teach the truth that each to each belongs,
   And not to class or clan.

In 'England's Slavery', he does indeed 'recite the wrongs' of the appalling conditions under which many of the working class toiled in the industrial revolution:

'Labour is dignified and grand,
      And elevates our race;
But there are thousands in the land,
That groan beneath a cruel hand;
Driven like a servile band,
      In slavish fetters base.

'There are, whom life no blessing gave,
       Within this land of light;
Harder than ere was lot of slave;
They toil and toil, and vainly crave
Respite, - none until the grave,
       No respite day or night.

'Body and soul completely crushed,
       Beneath the murderous yolk;
Cheek white, that should with health be flushed;
Heart dead, whence feeling might have gushed;
Conscience into stupor hushed,
       That once in warning spoke.

'In shop, in mill, in attic bare,
       Alone, or closely packed,
Are men that toil in toil's despair;
And women who were once more fair;
Breathing foul distempered air.
       With bone and body racked.

'O masters, is it just or right
       That these should toil and slave,
All though the day, deep in the night,
In rooms shut out from common light,
Reeking with all moral blight,
       And dismal as the grave?

'O make not slaves of men who stand
       Upon the same free soil;
Give time to lift the praying hand;
To keep the day of God's command;
And sweep away this curse and brand,
       Of slavish human toil.'

Hogg is also concerned about the double sexual standard of the time, in which a 'fallen woman' could usually only resort to prostitution for her livelihood, whereas there is no such thing as a fallen man. This is a verse from 'The Fallen':

'But the man, who like a cruel fiend, her mortal ruin plotted,
Mixes in the world's great crowd, with name and fame unspotted;
Society still welcomes him, who ne'er was from it driven,
Smiling on his brow, but flinging her the curse of heaven.'

Pleasure is considered as timewasting, and though there is only one temperance poem in the collection, 'The Song of Wine' – because of the sheer toll of alcohol on human lives – unequivocally states that it is worse than 'Famine, Plague and War'.

Much 19th century writing is obsessed with the medieval era, which was seen as a utopian time, and today of course the neo-Gothic churches in England testify to this cult of medievalism. In 'The New Age', with a fleeting nod to Robin Hood, Hogg gives his take on the situation:

'Old romance is fled away,
     And the age of chivalry;
Shepherd pipes no longer play.
     In deep vales of Arcady.
Mail-clad knights no more are seen,
Outlaws fail from forest green,
Nymph, and fawn, and fairy queen,
     Have departed utterly.

'Now we hear the whirring wheels,
     Of the vast machinery;
Labour with stout workmen fills,
     Mine and forge and factory.
Merchants store their merchandise,
Art her busy fingers plies,
Steam propels and language flies
     To the world's extremity.

'Brothers, in the whirl and speed,
     Of this age of energy;
Lest our lives should shame our creed.
     Let us pray more fervently.
Onward with the new age move,
Talent, skill, and zeal, and love,
Consecrate to God above,
     With a true fidelity'.

Writers and literary associations in Nottingham General Cemetery:
Robert Goodacre (1777–1835)
Ruth Bryan (1805–1860)
Sarah Ann Agnes Turk (1859–1927)
Annie Matheson (1853–1924)
Josiah Gilbert (1814–1892)
Anthony Hervey (c. 1796–1850)
Charles Bell Taylor (1829–1909)
James Prior's Parents
Ann Taylor (1782–1866)
Robert Millhouse (1788-1839)

25 February 2011

Amélie Nothomb: Le voyage d'hiver (2009)

At the center of the brief novel Le voyage d'hiver (Winter Journey) is the relationship between Zoïle, Astrolabe, and Aliénor. Zoïle's occupation involves contacting people who have just moved house to discuss their energy 'needs', and he describes himself as 'vaguely' employed by the EDF (Électricité de France) and GDF (Gaz de France). He meets the young women Astrolabe and Aliénor in the course of a visit and is shocked that they have no heating in December and that their appartment roof is made of glass: they wear several layers of clothing and insist that they can afford no heating because buying the flat has taken up all their money. 

They are an odd couple: Astrolabe is beautiful but Aliénor has a harelip, foams at the mouth, eats anything put in front of her without knowing when to stop, and suffers from 'Pneux's disease', a 'benign' form of autism that is another invention of Nothomb's.  Zoïle assumes that Aliénor is an idiot,  but becomes increasingly preoccupied by Astrolabe. He knows from the beginning that the owner of the property is a certain A. Malèze, who is a novelist , so he starts to read her books and returns to the appartment to learn that Aliénor is in fact the author: her publishers treated her cruelly, so Astrolabe has chosen to be a kind of permanent literary agent-cum-nursemaid to her: Aliénor has to dictate her novels, and her illness is such that she doesn't care for personal hygiene, so Astrolabe even has to wash her.

Very quickly, Zoïle falls in love with Astrolabe, although she refuses to leave Aliénor out of her sight, and even their kisses take place under Aliénor's (re)searching gaze. Then he has an odd idea: they'll all take magic mushrooms. After this is done, he puts on the electronic music of Aphex Twin  (or Richard D. James) and they trip for eight hours. Aliénor just closes her eyes and absorbs her first psychedelic experience internally, while Zoïle and Astrolabe filter the experience through the physical world, seeing things far differently from Aliénor.

During the trip, Astobabe asks Zoile:

'Pourquoi cessons-nous de voir en grandissant?'. ('Why do we stop seeing when we grow up?'. )

Zoïle replies: 'Précisément parce que nous grandissons. Nous apprenons les dures lois de survie qui nous forcent à nous focaliser sur ce qui est utile. Nos yeux désapprennent la beauté. Grâce aux champignons, nous retrouvons nos perceptions de petit enfant.' ('Precisely because we grow up. We learn harsh survival laws that force us to focus on what's useful. Our eyes unlearn beauty. Thanks to mushrooms, we rediscover our perceptions as young children.')

I've already written a little about Nothomb's early childhood - the fact that physically she was a virtual cabbage for her first two and a half years following a breech birth, that she didn't speak a word and only made the slightest of movements in order to eat. Her books have suggested that life more or less ends at puberty, and adulthood is merely seen as a precursor to death. Le voyage d'hiver, though - incidentally the same title as Perec's short story mentioned below, and both authors of course are very much concerned with loss - appears to suggest a greater optimism about adulthood, although childhood is still a period in which 'real' life is played out. What's being said now is that hallucinogenic mushrooms, for instance, permit adults to revisit that childhood.

Zoïle remembers when he was tripping on the métro once, and was horrified by a man's tie: 'Comment avons-nous pu nous aveugler au point de trouver la laideur supportable? [...] Porter une telle cravatte, c'est une insulte, un attentat, un acte de mépris, ce comportement respire la haine, voila, ce type me hait, il hait le genre humain.' (How has it been possible for us to blind ourselves to the point of making ugliness bearable? [..] To wear such a tie is an insult, an attack, an act of contempt, this behavior stinks of hatred - that's it - this guy hates me, he hates humankind.')

The lucidity of tripping makes Zoïle arrive at a kind of Sartrean conclusion: 'l'enfer, ce n'est même pas l'autre entier: sa cravatte suffit.' ('hell is not even just the whole other person: his tie's enough'.)

However hell is other people for Zoïle, and he reads Astrolabe's stone(d) reaction to his sexual overtures as rejection. Astrolabe tells him that Gustave Eiffel designed the Eiffel Tower in the shape of an 'A' because of his consuming love for a young woman called, er, Amélie, so she inadvertently provides this perceived rejected lover with his apocalyptic plan.

Zoïle will go though airport security, buy a dutyfree bottle of champagne, pour it down the pan, smash it to leave him holding the jagged neck, with which he will slit the throats of the pilots, take control of the plane, and direct it straight at the Eiffel Tower.

And Le voyage d'hiver - unlike Perec's title - seems appropriate. The whole book is set in winter, there's a hallucinogenic trip and a planned airplane hi-jack, and Schubert's Le voyage d'hiver is what Zoïle will be thinking of - as a completely irrelevant thing to leave his mind almost blank - when he carries out his planned act of insanity.

The book is also very Nothomb: we have a claustrophobic largely one-room setting, ugliness and beauty, obsession, madness with (potential) violence, etc.

Amélie Nothomb? She never fails.

My Amélie Nothomb posts:
Amélie Nothomb: Autobiographical novels
Amélie Nothomb: Hygiène de l'assassin
Amélie Nothomb: Robert des noms propres
Amélie Nothomb: Les Combustibles
Amélie Nothomb: Antichrista
Amélie Nothomb: Tuer le père
Amélie Nothomb: Le fait du prince
Amélie Nothomb: Péplum
Amélie Nothomb: Le voyage d'hiver
Amélie Nothomb: Une forme de vie
Amélie Nothomb: Acide Sulfurique
Amélie Nothomb: Mercure
Amélie Nothomb: Journal d'Hirondelle
Amélie Nothomb: Attentat
Amélie Nothomb: Cosmétique de l'ennemi
Amélie Nothomb: Les Catilinaires

21 February 2011

Sally, Nottingham Newspaper Seller and Pavement Artist. And Friends


Sir Micheal McMinn made a rule,
Which applied not to Scrabble nor Poole,
He said,
        Practical Christianity,
        Leeds to insanity,
& Solumnly slid off his stool.
                                          Boom Boom.

The 'Pome' and the sketch are by Sally, once a noted figure on Nottingham streets selling first the rebel weekly Nottingham News, and then selling the regular Nottingham Evening Post. I'm grateful to David Wilson of the Nottstalgia group for sending me fresh information about her, which has caused me to re-write and add to this post. A few newspaper articles using the surname Freeman for her have appeared, so we must indeed use that name.

Sally was noted by most people who passed because they found it rather incongruous to hear a female voice – I think all had previously been male – calling out 'Post' in a delicate, highly elegant-sounding accent. Later, she graduated to pavement artist, making very elaborate – and really rather clever – chalk drawings on the street around Lister Gate, Nottingham. She has long been gone, and judging by a few Nottingham nostalgia forums, no one knows where, although they certainly miss her. Rumours of her death are unsubstantiated.

The person in the idiosyncratically spelt poem and the diagram is the late Mick McMinn, who was also known as 'Luton Mick' after his town of origin to avoid confusion with a surfeit of Micks, and he was a friend of mine and a very close friend of Sally's and her partner Sam's. The drawing points to Mick's love of pool, scrabble, and alcohol, moving from upright position on a bar stool to a skeletal heap on the floor, still clutching his drink and reaching for the last letter of the alphabet. Mick told me that all of Sally's chalk drawings were about him or him and Sam, and as I've no way of proving otherwise I'll have to believe it. On several occasions, I had a drink in city centre pubs in the company of the three of them, and I remember at least one evening being with Mick, his partner Polly, Sally, and my ex-wife at Mick's house. Sally was usually quite quiet, but when she did speak it was often with a sparkling wit.

And Mick told such stories about Sally and Sam. How about their day trip to Skegness, when they boarded the train out with an empty wheelie bin, all the Nottingham folk on the coast were in generous holiday mood seeing Sally do her pavement artist routine, and of course the merry pair had great difficulty hauling the bin onto the return train as it was full to the brim with money.

Mick was obviously in awe of both of them, fascinated by their antics, and was evidently distressed when his own partner Polly barred them from visiting their house in Sneinton, although I forget why. He said that the following evening, Sally and Sam both stood on the doorstep drenched in tears and begging forgiveness. They were, of course, forgiven.

Sam, accompanied by Sally, used to sell cannabis around the local pubs, and I once went with Mick to the Sawyer's Arms on Lister Gate, where Sally expertly rolled a spliff and shared it with us: the use of cannabis was a very frequent part of their everyday lives. They were of course outsiders, anarchists in the positive sense of the word, although there was a very dark side to Sam, a man Sally seemed to worship, and I suspect that he had a strong control over the money she made from her chalk drawings. Sam was dying in the early 1990s, although I'm not sure why. I have no idea if Sally was on harder drugs, although I strongly suspect Sam was.

Why I turned down Mick's offer to see the couple at their flat is because of what Mick told me about the conditions there. It was full of cats, and smelt of them. Plus, the bath was a coal bunker and Sam at least used to bathe only when it was raining, going out naked into the backyard: Mick never mentioned Sally's bathing habits. Er, Sam used to have a huge table boulder which he'd hacked chunks out of to put his drugs in, and also kept pebbles there which he regularly threw at Sally when he was stoned and/or drunk: the living room was separated from the kitchen mainly by former glass partitions, but of course had been smashed by the pebbles.

And how did Sally respond? With love and devotion – on one occasion someone insulted Sam in a pub (then the New Inn in Carrington) because of his vile smell: Sally, when Sam told her about the insult, smashed a chair over the offender's head and the couple were barred for life. An Evening Post snippet dating from mid-October 1991 reveals that Sally Anne Freeman, 33, of Mapperley Park Drive, was found guilty of causing actual bodily harm to an unnamed person, ordered to pay £30 compensation plus £35 costs and conditionally discharged for a year. Although the very short article doesn't give any details of the assault, I'm pretty certain that the case concerned is the above incident, which Mick informed me of in about 1991.

A seated Sally selling (or rather reading) Nottingham Evening Post.

I noticed this fine shot of Sally which Dave Armstrong has very kindly given me permission to reproduce here. It's a lovely photo of her, with the apparent incongruity of the flamboyant hat mixed with the duffel coat accurately capturing the way she was. And her face registers the timidity, the fragility behind her eccentricity. A superb portrait of a remarkable woman.

20 February 2011

Grzegorz Cisiecki's short film Dym (Smoke)

There's obviously a limit to what a film can say in a little over seven minutes, although Grzegorz Cisiecki's film Dym (Smoke) manages to say a great deal without a single word. This Polish movie was made in 2007 and is described as 'The story of the person who became the captive of surrealistic madness.'

The film begins with moving clouds, continues to a shirtless young man looking out the window from his rather bare room, where he then moves and sits at a table with a tape recorder, which seems to trigger memories - a car, a mysterious man, a woman the young man is obviously intimate with, a series of images, blood, masks, sounds suggesting something sinister - and the ending returns us to the young man at the table with the tape machine and the woman at the window, then clouds again.

The central part has no apparent linearity, only a series of images with intimations of sexuality, violence, psychosis, infidelity, above all mystery: it is a short movie which moves by suggestion, with often foreboding surreal overtones. How much is dream, nightmare, past, future? It is extremely effective and relies heavily upon music and other sound effects to convey additional atmosphere where words are
lacking, if not redundant. Very powerful and very watchable, with occasional suggestions of David Lynch, and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

This is well worth viewing: Dym (Smoke)

16 February 2011

Georges Perec: Le voyage d'hiver (1979)

Georges Perec's short story 'Le voyage d'hiver' ('The Winter Journey') was originally published in 1979 in Saisons: Nouvelles with Cyrus Rezvani's 'Dernier Printemps', Jean Freustié's 'L'été lointain', and Jacques Chessex's 'Octobre est le plus beau mois'. It was published on its own by Éditions du Seuil in 1993.

In August 1939 Vincent Degraël, a young teacher from Paris, goes to Le Havre to stay for a few days with his colleague Denis Borade and his parents. But the day before his departure he picks up a book from Borade's parents' library that has such an effect on him that he retires to the bedroom to read it. It's called Le voyage d'Hiver, by Hugo Vernier, a writer unknown to him.

The book is thin and divided into two parts. The first part is about a fifth of the total length, and concerns a man who is ferried to a small island on a lake, where an elderly couple lead him to a bedroom in a building, where a meal is laid out on a table for him, and where he begins to eat alone. Then the second part begins, which is a long declaration interspersed with poems, enigmatic sayings and blasphemous incantations. The effect it has on him is profound, and this is just one sentence:

'Hardly had he begun to read than Vincent Degraël felt an unease which was impossible to define precisely, but which grew in proportion as he turned the pages of the book with an increasingly trembling hand: it was as if the sentences before his eyes were suddenly becoming more familiar to him, were irresistibly reminding him of something, as if the reading of each was imposing, or rather was superimposing, the memory - at once precise and vague - of a sentence which must have been almost identical and which he must have read elsewhere; as if these words, more tender than caresses and more perfidious than poisons, alternately transparent and opaque, obscene and warm, dazzling, labyrinthine, and incessantly oscillating like a maddened compass needle between a hallucinatory violence and a fabulous serenity, were sketching out a confused configuration in which there seemed to be a hotchpotch of Germain Nouveau and Tristan Corbière, Villiers and Banville, Rimbaud and Verhaeren, Charles Cros and Léon Bloy.'

Degraël begins to recognise a large number of quotations from late 19th century poets, but is stunned to discover that the book was published in 1864 - before any of the quoted poets had been published. Searching his friend's parents' library, he can find no reference to Vernier. With the help of his friend, they find nearly 350 quotations from nearly 30 authors - or rather, which have been attributed to those authors, as it seems clear that they have been directly borrowing from Le voyage d'hiver: the implications are enormous. The war intervenes, and Degraël is unable to continue his research apart from verifying at the British Museum that there was no printing error, and the book was in fact published in 1864.

Back in Paris after the war he continues his research and finds frequent references to Vernier in original diaries and letters of poets, even discovering that the famous 'Je est un autre' ('I is another') of Rimbaud, and Lautréamont's 'La poésie doit être faite par tous. Non par un.' ('Poetry must be made by all. Not by one') originate from the pen of Vernier.

Alas, he cannot get his hands on a copy of Vernier's book: Borade's parents' house was destroyed during the Le Havre bombing, the Bibliothèque nationale de France lost its copy on the way to the bindery, and not another copy can be found anywhere after searches in hundreds of libraries, archives, and bookshops. He concludes that the poets themselves must have destroyed the other copies of the single print run of 500. Apart from discovering that Vernier was born in Vimy (Pas de Calais) on 3 September 1836, nothing more can be learned.

After 30 years of searching in vain for proof of the existence of Vernier and of his work, Degraël dies in the psychiatric hospital in Verrières (where Stendhal's Le rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black) begins). His former students undertake to gather his huge pile of documents and manuscripts. Among them, they find a book carefully inscribed Le voyage d'hiver: its first eight pages tell of the fruitless searches Degraël made, and the remaining 392 pages are blank.

13 February 2011

Hannen Swaffer and Edgar Wallace

I've just come across this wonderful drawing of Hannen Swaffer (1879-1962) by Joseph Simpson. Swaffer was a very prolific British journalist and drama critic who incidentally gave strong journalistic support to Lionel Britton in his early days as a playwright. This sketch is from Hannen Swaffer's Who's Who (London: Hutchinson, [1929]), which contains brief but highly idiosyncratic essays on people Swaffer knew. The book has a Foreword by Edgar Wallace called 'The Plague of Swafferism',  in which Wallace says:

'Usually, Swaffer is right; sometimes, he is ravagingly, madly wrong. His audacity in telling me that I was a bad producer because one of the actors in my play forgot his lines and a light went on when it should have been off, remains with me as an instance of his unparalled nerve.

'With the conclusions he forms in this book, I can neither agree nor disagree, as he didn't take the trouble to send them to me. I shall like all the unpleasant things he says about people I dislike, and hate his reference to my friends. I hope he has written nothing about me because we are, just now, on speaking terms.'

Swaffer of course does include an essay on Wallace - 'The Dictaphone that Churns out Novels' - and it is probably the longest in the book. He continues the pantomime:

'[Wallace] works half his life, and yet you seldom see him doing anything. He boasts he has the fastest typist in the world. Whenever I see this typist, however, he is at Newmarket with Edgar, being sent to the rails to find out what they're backing. The man, Wallace means, I suppose, has the finest typist's job in the world.

'There is only one Edgar Wallace. Thank Heaven there are not two! The present one, when he saw "Too Much Edgar Wallace" in a headline of mine, merely went to his dictaphone and started three more plays!'
Below is a later post I made with images of the Edgar Wallace pub:
Edgar Wallace in Essex Street

Martin Amis's Mouth

Martin Amis's Time's Arrow: or The Nature of the Offence  (1991) is the only book of his I've enjoyed: it's challenging, clever, and very worthwhile, which is more than I can say for some of the comments that Amis has in the past made about, say, Islam, or women writers. And last week, in a BBC2 interview on Faulks on Fiction, he came out with another statement of amazing arrogance: 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book.'

Obviously such a sentence would anger many writers of children's books, and perhaps none so much as Jane Stemp, whose book The Secret Songs was shortlisted for the Guardian children fiction award in 1998. She suffers from cerebral palsy and feels deeply insulted by Amis, and the idea of superglueing him to a wheelchair and piping children's fiction into his ear understandably appeals to her.

Amis fils (and doesn't that identifier have oddly derogatory undertones?) goes on to say that 'fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable'. This is exactly the opposite of the Oulipo group's thinking, so does he also find the writings of, for instance, Raymond Queneau and Georges Perec intolerable?

The ironic part of all this, though, is that the inflammatory statement was a digression from a conversation about John Self, the main character in Amis's Money (1884). Some have seen Self as a character who sums up the greed-driven 1980s, although to me it's a children's book: it's about Self playing with money - in between playing with himself with the help of porn mags. Once again, Amis fils is playing with his oversize ego. He's now 61. Time he grew up.

7 February 2011

Oxford American Southern State Annual Series

Oxford American: The Southern Magazine of Good Writing is published by the Oxford American Literary Project, inc. and The University of Central Arkansas in Conway. It is a quarterly publication  that owes its name to its original place of publication, Ole Miss (The University of Mississippi) in Oxford. For twelve years it has included a CD of Southern music every first quarter, which covers a number of decades and a wide variety of music. In 2010 it began its Southern State Annual Series with 27 songs from Arkansas.
This album contains the following:

1. Bobby Brown & the Curios - 'I Viborate' (c. 1959)

2. Maxine Brown - 'Take It out in Trade' (1969)

3. Frank Frost - 'Now What You gonna Do' (1962)

4. The Esquires - 'Sadie's Way (1965)

5. Kenni Huskey - 'Wild Man Tamer (c. 1966)

6. Sister Ernestine Washington - 'Holding On' (Part Two) (1954)

7. Larry Donn - 'I'll Never Forget You' (1963)

8. Johnny & Dolores - 'Sockin' Soul' (1968)

9. Wayne Raney - 'You Better Treat Your Man Right' (1951)

10. Little Beaver - 'Everybody Has Some Dues to Pay' (c. 1970)

11. Carolina Cotton - 'Three Miles South of Cash (in Arkansas)' (1946)

12. Sleepy LaBeef - 'Treat Me Like a Dog' (1996)

13. True Gospel Wymics - 'Oh Yes That's Right' (c. 1987)

14. Wayne Jackson - 'It Happened in Tennessee' (Part Two) (1973)

15. Linda Brannon - 'I'm Leavin'' (1958)

16. American Princes - 'Auditorium' (2008)

17. Andy Starr - 'Round and Round' (1956)

18. William Grant Still - 'Suite for Violin and Piano' (Third Movement) (1943)

19. Suga City - 'Savoir Faire' (2009)

20. Claudia Whitten - 'Bring Me All the Love You Got' (c. 1972)

21. Billy Lee Riley & the Little Green Men - 'Baby Please Don't Go' (1958)

22. The Gunbunnies - 'Water Tower' (1990)

23. Larry Davis - 'Down Home Funk' (Part One) ( c. 1974)

24. Oliver Lake Organ Trio - 'Gano' (2008)

25. Jim Mize - 'Release It to the Sky' (2007)

26. Amina Claudine Myers - 'Dirty No-Gooder's Blues' (1980)

27. Chris Denny - 'Vacation' (2007)
This year's CD is music from Alabama. Certainly to me the most interesting singer on it is the larger-than-life cartoonish Rev Fred Lane and his avant-garde band the Raudelunas from the 1970s and 80s, who were influenced by Dada, the Theatre of the Absurd, Surrealism and Alfred Jarry's 'pataphysics, and musically by the likes of John Cage, Stockhausen, and John Coltrane. They were a reaction against the dullness of Tuscaloosa and the failed hippy movement of the previous decade. The article in Oxford American - by Lee M. Shook, Jr - describes Lane as 'irreverent as Frank Zappa, as subversive as Captain Beefheart, and as playful as the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band'. Three albums with such titles as From the One That Cut You and Car Radio Jerome scarcely had any impact, with the record label owner that released them even stating that he'd not be at all surprised if the material had come out of a 1940s' insane asylum.

Addendum: A number of Fred Lane's songs are on YouTube! Some titles: 'I Talk to My Haircut', 'The Man with the Foldback Ears', 'Fun in the Fundus', 'The French Toast Man'.

Oh, the tracks:

1. Charlie Louvin* - Introduction

2. Ralph 'Soul' Jackson - 'Match Box' (1971)

3. Curley Money & His Ramblers - 'Stop Your Knockin'' (1957)

4. The K-Pers - 'The Red Invasion' (1968)

5. The Maddox Brothers & Rose - 'New Mule Skinner Blues ' (c. 1948)

6. Mary Gresham - 'Get on Back on the Right Track' (c. 1972)

7. Phosphorescent - 'It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)' (2010)

8. Odetta - 'The Times They Are A-Changin'' (1965)

9. Black Haze Express - 'Pretty Soon' (1971)

10. Hardrock Gunter & the Pebbles - 'Gonna Dance All Night' (1950)

11. Jim Bob & the Leisure Suits - 'Gangland Wars' (1982)

12. Dan Pickett - '99 ½ Won't Do' (1949)

13. Sammy Salvo - 'A Mushroom Cloud' (1961)

14. Judy Henske & Jerry Yester - 'Snowblind' (1969)

15. Lil Greenwood - 'I'm Crying' (1953)

16. Sam Dees - 'The World Don't Owe You Nothing' (1973)

17. The Gosdin Brothers - 'There Must Be a Someone (I Can Turn To)' (1968)

18. G-Side featuring Sound of Silence - 'Huntsville International' (2009)

19. Eddie Cole & His Gang - 'Abalabip' (1950)

20. Crazy Teens - 'Crazy Date' (1959)

21. Rev Fred Lane and Ron 'Pate's Debonairs - 'Rubber Room' (1983)

22. Baker Knight - 'My Memories of You' (1963)

23. Dinah Washington - 'Cold, Cold Heart' (1951)

24. Robert Brown & the Sons of the South - 'Nobody Knows' (1981)

25. Sex Clark Five - 'Red Shift' (1985)

26. King Britt featuring Sister Gertrude Morgan  - 'Precious Lord Lead Me On' (2005)

27. Various - 'Berlin Wall' (1965)

Wondrous stuff!

*Charlie Louvin, most famous for his part in the Louvin Brothers until 1963, in which he played with his wild brother Ira, died on 23 January this year at the age of 83.

6 February 2011

Charles Pembleton: Living in a Timewarp (1974)

I originally posted this (apart from a few minor alterations I've made here) to LibraryThing, and clean forgot to include it on my blog, where it belongs more, I suppose: this is not only about as obscure as you can get, but relates to my family history too:

Living in a Timewarp is a book of poems by a first cousin of mine who is unfortunately no longer with us, but to whom I related far more than most of my relatives. It is the only book he ever published. A sentence on the title-page reads 'Anything above zero is painful because it has meaning', which is uncredited and as I can't find it anywhere must assume that it comes from Charles himself. He knew a lot about mental pain.

His parents had almost forgotten about the publication because they couldn't understand it. Parts of it seem pretty clear to me, as they're about existential anguish. Other parts seem opaque, though, but then that's often how poetry appears. Maybe I should struggle with it a bit more, try to work out what he was trying to say. Sometimes, though, I wonder if he was being deliberately obscure and didn't want anyone to know what he meant, if indeed he always had a clear meaning at all. We shall  never know. At least you're out of your pain now, Charles.

5 February 2011

Translating Louis-Ferdinand Céline

There's a fascinating article in this month's Magazine littéraire, titled 'How do you spell "rouspignolles" ?', which is written by Pascal Ifri and concerns the two English translations of Louis-Ferdinand Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932)  - Journey to the End of the Night (1934 and 1988). Céline called his distinctive writing style his 'little music', and encouraged his first translator John Marks to try to convey a similar impression of the 'dancing' rhythm of the text, which Marks didn't do at all, which is clear from his early version of Céline's highly influential novel.

However, Ralph Manheim's second translation does pay closer attention to the original style of the text. Manheim had to correct many errors made by Marks, and made it more in keeping with the spirit of Céline's work by Americanizing Marks's British English. Censorship - or simple coyness - would also have been a problem for Marks, and the later version set about restoring, for instance, 'shit', 'frustrated vaginas', and even masturbating soldiers where they had been completely excised.

The effect of Manheim's restoration certainly gives a better idea of what Céline's French should read like, but translation of course always poses problems. Add to this the particular difficulties that such an original and ground-breaking work must bring, and we have at least an idea of the colossal problems such a translation task must have involved.

Ifri is obviously forced to conclude that Manhiem's version isn't ideal, but... But for 54 years English readers of Journey to the End of the Night had to make do with a far more inferior version. How then is it that Céline had such an impact on American writers, most of whom (I assume) must have been reading John Marks and not Céline? Ifri believes it was Céline's 'vision of the world' rather than his writing style that caused the influence. (Céline was obsessive about his French being correctly emended for publication, but as for his translations, well, it was just the money that interested him.)

And 'rouspignolles'? Well, 'balls' or 'ballocks' convey the idea, but, as ever, the difficulty of exact translation rears its ugly head again.

3 February 2011

Édouard Glissant (1928-2011)

The writer Édouard Glissant, born in Martinique, died in France today. He won the Prix Renaudot for La lézarde (The Ripening) in 1958, and after a visit to Rowan Oak, William Faulkner's former home in Oxford, Mississippi, published Faulkner, Mississippi in 1996. It's a little early for obituaries, perhaps, but this link is to an article in English on Édouard Glissant.

1 February 2011

Ian Monk's Homage to Georges Perec

Below is a link to Ian Monk's homage (in English) to Georges Perec, and also contains his criticism of Adair's translation of Perec's La disparition (A Void), with which he finds several faults. It also contains examples of Monk's own playful work. Monk is the only living English member of Oulipo, although not the only English one ever, and even on death you're still a member. Last November, Oulipo celebrated its 5000th anniversary: Oulipian years are 100 times shorter than ours. Monks's homage is here.