Wednesday, 1 October 2008


. . . where we spent last weekend. Deal is where Rayner Heppenstall, avant-garde (well more or less) novelist, translator of Raymond Roussel, Catholic convert, eccentric diarist and so on, lived the last part of his life, dying here in 1981. His diary apparently displays an obsessive concern with the details of daily routine. You can already see it in his memoir ‘Four Absentees’, the one book of his I have read. Blogging might have suited him rather well . . .


My parents were married at St Pancras - the church, not the railway station - in June 1939. It's that enormous Greek temple opposite Euston station. My grandfather was the vicar and my father was his curate. I'm not sure who these two hurrying along are, but I think the one on the right may have been called Beryl. Someone made a film of the event and I recently gave a copy on DVD to my daughter's boyfriend's cousin (well this is all about family) who has incorporated it into his installation for his MA show, which is in the Crypt of the church (see - he is called Dominic de Vere (the Beryl, see above, was Beryl de Vere Gibson - this must be a coincidence.) The show is open 12-6.30pm till Saturday 4th October and a dozen or so artists are represented altogether. The Crypt is a wonderful, complex barrel-vaulted space, with tombstones piled up against the walls and odd bits of sculpture lying around in corners. So my parents have come back to where they started out from, but now disguised as art . . .


Well that's good to know . . .

Thursday, 28 August 2008


In 1798 Joseph Gandy started as assistant to the architect John Soane. Subsequently Soane commissioned him to produce splendid drawings of the architect’s projects. But as an architect himself Gandy built little – his projects were described as “imaginative but impossible” and as time went on he became obsessed with imaginary plans for the reconstruction of London as a new Rome. Refusing to adapt to his clients’ wishes he never made much money; Soane supported him and after Soane’s death he was put in asylum in Devon where he died in a ‘damp, windowless cell.’

I was in the Bank of England on one occasion. I was teaching in East London and was out visiting girls on ‘work experience’. I very nearly didn’t get in at all – earlier, in the lunch hour, I’d bought a radio as a present for someone and Security was deeply suspicious. ‘Did you know sir that bombs are often concealed in radios.’ They let me in in the end and as I recall the place seemed strangely empty, a deserted temple. I found my fifteen year old student all alone in an office, looking bored – no one had found her anything much to do.

But the idea of a future ruin is a resonant one and it's one I’ve used in the poem ‘Untold Wealth’ which is in the pamphlet of that name just produced by Peter Hughes’ Oystercatcher Press (see link). I’ve reproduced the poem below.

The poem is also preoccupied with the materiality of traditional coinage contrasted with the financial transactions taking place inside the City of London. These transactions have an altogether insubstantial quality, figures flickering over a screen which, somewhere at the end of a very long chain, are translated into the harsh realities of people’s actual lives. The ‘money’ involved is as insubstantial as a reflection, the weight and substance of coinage no longer present. According to Herodotus ‘the Lydians were the first people we know to have struck and used coinage of silver and gold.’ Their coins were made of electrum, a natural alloy of silver and gold found there in the bed of a river. Herodotus states that the first coins were those of Croesus King of Lydia.

And there are always the odd personal connections as well. When we moved to our first house here in Hackney in 1973 the Astra Cinema, at the end of our street, showed nothing but old Kung Fu films. Not long after in became a mosque – thanks to the ‘orientalist’ tradition of interwar cinema architecture it already had a couple of domes. Now it is a Turkish food shop. Meanwhile an enormous mosque has been built further down the Kingsland Road. This stands on the site of a soft drinks factory which belonged to my wife’s family – they sold out in the 1950’s. What is more they sold, just after the war, a bomb site in the City, part of what is now the Broadgate development next to Liverpool Street station, for a few hundred pounds. It would be worth millions now – it had belonged to another forbear who kept a pub near there in the Victorian period. Well, there is a not unpleasing randomness to all of this . . .

And ‘Palladiums are where it rightly lives’ – this line is from a poem by Allen Fuchs.


At night we found a deserted city
Water ran under the streets
The houses dry and full of herbs
Roland Penrose

Imagined scattering coins
In a city of future ruins

Enough of it’s to fall here’s scarcely a sound
There’s a god sitting in the air

These fragments hustled away
Fall of a leaf. Shallow wealth

Screen-flicker translates into riches
Hidden carefully behind trees.

And here’s a coin spun in the air brief shine
Its lyric gleam

But being entirely without substance
The trick of it’s keeping the thing in the air

Like the scribble of smoke from a sacrifice
Finding its way to the sky

Here flights of capital - pigeons
They’re turning turning on a depthless sky

The new city borderless
Its city gates become a set of shadows

It’s an empire built out of signs
A place of odd meaningless arenas

‘Palladiums are where it rightly lives’
Its empty lyric performance

Electrum gleam in river sand
King with a mouth of gold

A ritual to open the statue’s mouth
Put back the tongue and a sturdy measure -

To circle the metal’s rough substance?
Dead legend. Missing it now –

Although I was bathed in its light
And a stadium whispered its crowds

I who went out walking
As if I had scarcely begun

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


A programme of poetry and music has now been finalised, up to Christmas, at this new venue in Dalston, 'poetry and music with the post-avant crowd for your Sunday afternoon pleasure.' It's planned as a regular event on the third Sunday of the month, 3-5pm, £4 entry. It kicks off on 21st September with Tim Atkins and Sophie Robinson reading, plus music. It's at 18-22 Ashwin Street. Further details at

Monday, 14 July 2008


The webmagazine Intercapillary Space has the work of Sean Rafferty as their latest topic, a collection of thoughtful pieces starting with a personal recollection from his publisher Nick Johnson. I knew Rafferty’s work had, late in his life, been supported by Ted Hughes, but I didn’t know he looked after the laureate’s chickens. Nick has a way with elderly poets of course. He organised a reading tour for Carl Rakosi when the latter was in his nineties – Nick’s press Etruscan had just brought out ‘The Old Poet’s Tale’. The reading Rakosi gave at the Voicebox on the South Bank was extraordinary. He read the title poem, where the poet recounts how his great friend Oppen, suffering from Alzheimers, is taken from his home and goes into an institution. The sequence has a stoic calmness and gravity and hearing it read by someone himself so old – Rakosi refers to himself in the poem as ‘shade’, and ‘the reliable shade’- was a powerful experience. And then there was David Gascoyne reading at Diorama, another of Nick’s events. Would it have been the last reading Gascoyne gave? I remember he described at one point how he had turned up at the regular café in Paris to be told by Breton that he, Gascoyne, had from this point henceforth been expelled from the Movement. ‘I see you have become both a Stalinist and a Catholic’ Breton announced. Quite what provoked this I’m not sure – must have been something he wrote. O there was Sorley Maclean reading at Nick’s festival in Stoke-on-Trent . . .


On Sunday August 17th I’m reading at Torriano with Sue MacIntyre (7.30pm at Torriano Meeting House, 99 Torriano Avenue in Kentish Town). Sue MacIntyre’s ‘Picnic With Sea-Fog and Elephants’ was the final publication I brought out with my press, The Many Press. That was back in 2003. Sue is someone who, having written earlier in her life, put it aside and took it up again many years later. Her work is conversational in tone, scrupulous, and tends to display a distinctive and very attractive wariness and sense of surprise. She deserves a full-length collection.

There’s a new venue here in Hackney, in Dalston, Café Oto (see their website at with a programme of readings currently being prepared. It looks as if it may develop into a combination of word and music – the space already hosts music events. Dalston is undergoing some quite massive and inevitably controversial development. Is this the ‘Shoreditch effect’ moving north? It wasn’t like that when we moved here back in the early 1970s. Back then Dalston still had Kossoff’s Bakers – this is the painter’s David Kossoff’s family isn’t it? He did paintings of Dalston. There were still other Jewish Bakers around – but most of the Jewish population, other than the Hassidim who are still here in Stamford Hill of course, had moved on and the Turkish / Kurdish population was starting to increase. And then gentrification, albeit patchily.

O and Peter Hughes' Oystercatcher Press has a website now at

Thursday, 15 May 2008


My ‘Collected Poems’ has now been well and truly launched, all 450 pages of it, with a reading at the Swedenborg Hall on 8th May – here is a photo of me courtesy of Laurie Duggan, the Sage of Graveney Marsh. All thanks to Tony Frazer of Shearsman Books. Also reading on the 8th May was Hazel Frew, launching her Shearsman collection ‘Seahorses’.

More Shearsman readings are in the pipeline – next is an extra one, this time at the Calder Bookshop where the performance space has recently been refurbished. Mercedes Roffe is reading with Ken Edwards on 20th May at 7.30pm. Next for Shearsman at the Swedenborg Hall is Nathaniel Tarn, based in America for many years now, who is over to launch a new collection, and who reads with Lee Harwood.

Another poet, one who has been published by Shearsman, will be over from America shortly to launch his ‘Collected Poems’ published by Carcanet. This is Christopher Middleton, a major figure who has the merit perhaps of not quite fitting in – not in the mainstream, but not to be identified with any particular section of the ‘avant-garde’. I guess his affiliations are with traditions of European modernism, rather than looking to America, and I first came across his work in my teens when I borrowed ‘Torse 3’ from Hendon Public Library and back then was puzzled but very intrigued. It was in this same library that I first came across Bob Cobbing in the shape of a little mimeo pamphlet – this would have been in the late 1950’s – featuring work by a local poetry workshop coordinated by Cobbing. He was teaching in a local Secondary School. So it was all happening in Hendon . . .

Christopher Middleton’s book will be launched at the Peter Elllis Bookshop, 18 Cecil Court, off Charing Cross Road, on 3rd June at 6pm.

And there’s a new Oystercatcher, Peter Riley’s ‘Best At Night Alone’, price £4 from Peter Hughes at 4 Coastguard Cottages, Old Hunstanton, Norfolk PE36 6EL.

Monday, 12 May 2008


Apologies for the typos in my new book 'Dreaming Arrival' (see previous post). And occasional awkward repetitions. I hope these things can be cleared up in a later printing.

I'm not the greatest proofreader and was revising right up to the wire. I did some pretty terrible things when I was running
The Many Press. There was the line 'Vomit up greed', I remember (this was more than thirty years ago now) that came out as 'Vomit up green.'

O and the howler on page 191. The Shakespeare play to which I devote a page and a half or so is of course 'As You Like It' and NOT 'Love's Labours Lost.' I know I shall never get those 'proverb' titles sorted out in my head.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


My ‘memoir’ – I feel obliged to put the word in inverted commas – appears from Shearsman at the same as my Collected Poems. The first part of ‘Dreaming Arrival’ actually to appear in print was published in the London Review of Books, in their regular ‘Diary’ slot, back in 1999. It was an account of a breakdown I experienced when I was nineteen and serves as a point of reference for the overall narrative. Back then I spent seven or eight months in Holloway Sanatorium, a mental hospital in Virginia Water. The building has now been converted into flats. I wonder whether shades of departed patients still patrol the building. I’ve recently learned that there were certainly two other poets in there at about the same time as I was. One was Nancy Cunard no less, poet, heiress, patron of modernism and compiler, with her lover the jazz pianist Henry Crowder, of the anthology ‘Negro’. By the time she came to Holloway she was in a state of near-terminal decline. Her Selected Poems have recently appeared from Trent Editions edited with an introduction by John Lucas. In my account of my time there I recall a time when we had to help clear out the cellars – I was on the Gardening Squad, which counted as ‘occupational therapy’ – and found that what we were clearing out were patients’ notes from the early part of the twentieth century. I managed to read one of these before tossing it onto the wheelbarrow to be taken down to our bonfire. It was a female patient. "She refuses to wear any clothes but goes around naked”, I read. “She says they are building a golden cage to lock her in..." There was much more in the same vein. I daresay Nancy Cunard was in a ‘golden cage’ however hard she fought to escape.

The other poet, was who was published by Hogarth Press before the war but then disappeared from view, was Joan Adeney Esdaile. She is the subject of a new biography by her granddaughter Celia Robertson, titled ‘Who Was Sophie’. Like me, she was given doses of ECT. That, along with very large quantities of pills, was the order of the day. Were we ever standing in the queue together in the patients’ café, I wonder, waiting for our evening cocoa? I recently met Stuart Montgomery, whose Fulcrum Press was such a major force in poetry publishing in the decade from the mid-sixties, when he was reading in London – he has a new book, ‘Islands’, just out from Etruscan. He is now a leading academic expert on anti-depressants and when I mentioned what I’d been given when I was in there he seemed surprised to see that I was still around.

Setting out to write some sort of account of all this may have been an act of folly. I’ve been working on the material for ten years or so. I was in therapy or analysis – whichever you like to call it – in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I kept a journal during this time and conceived the idea, while I was still going, of eventually writing a book and I embarked on that as soon as the analysis finished. I have found it difficult to pull the thing together, difficulties which I have touched on in the text and which raise issues of course about this kind of ‘confessional’ writing or personal testimony – the temptation is to construct a conventional narrative which embodies a process of self-discovery, culminating in an explanation of what it was that made things turn out in the way they did. In the event I’ve found it impossible to construct such a narrative without falsifying the experience. What I’ve produced is variations on a theme or set of themes.

Then there is the way writing about the experience affects the experience of the therapy itself, becomes entangled in it. I quote the American analyst who is the subject of Janet Malcolm's book 'An Impossible Profession'. He maintains that the sign of a successful analysis is that the analysand subsequently forgets all about it. This of course would make writing about it an admission of failure – and would incidentally place the analyst beyond criticism . . .

Friday, 11 April 2008


Re my post of 18th January concerning Souheil Sleiman's 'All Dressed Up and Nowhere To Go', my poem sequence 'Yearn Glass', which owes a lot to his piece, is now on the Great Works site, at, along with much other new work . . .


A couple of weeks ago we got back from our three weeks in Tuscany. We were in Tuscany two years ago for a short trip – it was the wedding of a friend’s daughter. We stayed then out in the country in an agriturismo. The people who ran it were delightful and it was a perfect Tuscan setting, unrolling like a carpet, vineyards and olive groves, the group of farm buildings. It’s an idea of ‘the good life’; breakfast in an Impressionist painting perhaps, or – going back a bit – a John Minton dust jacket on an Elizabeth David cookery book. Why, when you get just where you want to be and it is all set up, why from time to time this edginess? Why does it seem to be mocking you? Everyone kept commenting on the wonderful smell round the pool – but no one could quite identify which shrub was responsible. I found myself fantasising that this ‘perfume’ was actually a giant, hidden air-freshener, pumping out artificial fragrance, maybe to conceal some awful problem with the drains? Maybe the whole landscape was a fantasy – because it was all a bit too good to be true, as if we had backed into the travel video, the ‘good life’ snatched at with money, trying to get a purchase on it.

Our trip this time ended with a few days in Siena. The Cathedral and space around it were full of people even in March. But the galleries were often deserted or nearly so and those few that did get in there sometimes looked a bit lost, a ‘well exactly why am I here’ sort of look, ‘better try and make the best of it.’ And the ones in the crowded places often didn’t look too happy being lectured. People are very deferential and religious parallels are hard to resist. Is it about ‘seeing the world’? More to do with the ‘having seen it’ that the experience at the moment of seeing it? That and the fear of missing something. Does the queuing enhance the experience? It develops its own rituals, such as the Africans who come up to you at the first sign of rain trying to sell you an umbrella. It’s all too easy to sound patronising of course – and who am I to complain? It’s their money that maintains this enormous infrastructure, so that I can wander as I please round the all but empty Pinacoteca looking at the paintings. All the same it is a puzzle.

Maybe 14th Century Sienese Art is a specialised taste. But what about 15th Century Hospitals? Across the square in front of the cathedral is Santa Maria della Scala. It’s a fascinating place – and most people nowadays have more dealings with hospitals than they do with cathedrals. The first written reference to the hospital it housed until only a few years ago dates from the 11th century. Almost the first thing you see as you go in is a marvellous fresco by Beccafumi, bafflingly described like this in Frommer, a leading American guide: ‘Domenico Beccafumi's luridly coloured Meeting at Porta Andrea (after 1512).’ The colours, sober greys, blues, and pale ochres, are anything but lurid. In the enormous Pilgrims Hall there’s a cycle of frescoes showing the work of the fifteenth century hospital – people being stretchered in and bandaged, the wet-nurses being paid and so on and so on. It seems to have been a remarkably advanced institution for its time. On the same level are other huge rooms, some inexplicably empty, but in one area you can climb up onto the scaffolding where frescoes are being restored. You then go down to the shrine of ‘St Catherine of the Night.’ You pass a skull set in the wall with its inscription which reads ‘As you are I was once; as I am now you will be’ and then you reach the overwrought chapel, a tangle of fantastical carving. Beyond and below are more puzzlingly empty rooms. The guide book describes it as ‘creepy’. But it doesn’t seem inappropriate, a shrine set in the depths of the hospital devoted to prayers for the deceased.

Carrying on further in you are passing through a maze of tunnels dug into the tufa, raw brick and knobbly stonework. You are now in the Archaeological Museum, described somewhat patronisingly by Frommer like this: ‘while there's nothing of earth-shattering significance, there are some surprisingly good pieces for a museum hardly anyone knows exists.’ At one point you reach a wider tunnel sloping gently down lined with Etruscan funerary monuments. It’s as if they have re-buried the artefacts. As you round a corner here are two massive jars, taller than a person. From now on some of the spaces are empty but clearly prepared and waiting for their exhibits, others already filled. It has all been cunningly devised to maximise the dramatic impact – it’s hard not to see it as the setting for an episode in a Fellini film. The thing is, there seems to be absolutely nobody here, not even an attendant. A long way back you did pass two women chatting in front of a split screen closed circuit TV, but that was all. You wonder if you’ll ever find your way out. Eventually you do come out, down a long slope ending in a small deserted square in contrast to the thronging space where you first came in.

My first experience of ‘pilgrimage tourism’ was in India when I was eighteen, nearly fifty years ago I spent a sort of gap year – this was before they became the norm, and before there were hippies – in Pakistan, where I was attached to a boys’ school in Lahore. While there I travelled, often on my own. I went up to the Northwest frontier, to Peshawar and to Swat. And I travelled in Northern India. But all through my time there I was preoccupied with what I was missing. There was so much of it to see – how could I possibly manage to see it all? This thought induced a kind of desperation. On one trip I went to Banaras and while there I decided to go to Sarnath a few miles away, and the spot where the Buddha is said to have received enlightenment and preached his first sermon. A cycle-rickshaw man had already appointed himself my guide the previous day, showing me around Banaras itself.

So here I was, an eighteen year old public schoolboy oddly enthroned on this already somewhat archaic machine. By this mode of transport, both intimate and absurd, we proceeded through a bleak landscape dotted with stupas like little water towers while I stared at the rickshaw man’s wiry calves as they went up and down, up and down. When we got to Sarnath, here was the Dhasmekha Stupa built by Ashoka in the Sixth century. But there wasn’t exactly anything much to see. The stupa is simply a fat tower about a hundred feet high with a round top. There is some decoration near the base of it, but I have no memory of it. Apparently a Colonel Cunningham once drove a shaft into the centre of it and all he found was a stone tablet saying, yes this is where the Buddha preached his first sermon. I remember I was baffled and wondered, not for the first time, why I had come all this way. I stood there and watched the saffron-robed pilgrims with their big umbrellas. Round and round and round they went unceasingly, blissful expressions on their faces, bowing and kissing the stone. Many were from refugees from Tibet and in Delhi a few days before I’d bought a couple of things, a metal cup and a scent bottle, made by Tibetans who selling them on the pavement.

A few years later I wrote a group of poems about my travels in Pakistan and India. In the one about my expedition to Sarnath I suggested a parallel between the endlessly repetitive actions of the monks and the motions of the rickshaw man’s legs but I was never satisfied with the poem – it was like a game of patience that never quite came out. It was as if I’d gone to see something and found nothing – which was maybe the point. The ritualised circuit around a few prescribed places is a bit like the monks circuit around the stupa. Out come their cameras in an attempt to seize the moment, to have something to take away. As for the monks, maybe they have a better grasp of what they are actually doing, seizing the void?

Saturday, 5 April 2008


It’s twenty to eight in the morning and the snow is actually settling. The poem that follows was in my collection ‘Out Walking’ (Anvil 1984) and is in my ‘Collected Poems’ due out in early May from Shearsman (see

Snow in April
The flakes come so slowly
Out of the depths of the sky – the ones
Higher up, seeming to float
Parallel to the earth
Are a flickering screen out of which
These others descend
Framed by the platform roof,
An endless succession, suspended, all
Movement transformed into stillness. The tulips

Erect, then bending to the shower

The page worn threadbare with our comings and goings.

Friday, 28 March 2008


This is the River Orcia - we walked here from the Abbey of Sant'Antimo near Montepulciano where we were staying . . .

Tuesday, 4 March 2008


We're away for a while. But to be going on with, here's some de Tabley . . . Well this exercise is partly just about what interests or intrigues me. George Leicester Augustus Warren Lord de Tabley is not a name on everyone’s lips but he has his moments. Remarkable ones, such as this botanical frenzy – he was a keen botanist.

But in the ripening slips and tangles
Of cork-woods, in the bull-rush pits where oxen
Lie soaking chin-deep:
In the mulberry orchard
With milky kexes and marrowy hemlocks,
Among the floating silken under-darnels.
He is a god, this Pan
Content to dwell among us, nor disdains
The damp hot wood-smell.
He loves the flakey pine-boles sandbrown;
And, when the first few crisping leaf-falls herald
The year at wasting, he feels then ivies
Against the seamy beech-sides
Push up their stem-feet,
And broaden downwards, rounded budward
Into their orbed tops of mealy white-green.
Pan too will watch in the open glaring
Shadeless quarry quiet locusts
Seething in the blaze on vine-leaves.
He will hear the sour sharp yelping
Of the dog-troop on the sea-marge

Friday, 29 February 2008


Hark! According to his command we listened, and with full ears sucked in the air as some of you suck oysters, to find if we could hear some sound scattered through the sky; and to lose none of it, like the Emperor Antoninus some of us laid their hands hollow next to their ears; but all this would not do, nor could we hear any voice. Yet Pantagruel continued to assure us he heard various voices in the air, some of men, and some of women . . .
See my post of 23rd January

Oystercatcher Press publishes booklets of modern poetry and has two interesting new publications:

£3.50 A5 44pp ISBN: 978-1-905885-01-5
A poem in seven sections inspired by the life and work of Miró.

£4.00 A5 20pp ISBN: 978-1-905885-02-2
A sequence 'written between 1970 and 1972 . . . selected and revised in January 2008.'

Oystercatcher Press is at 4 Coastguard Cottages, Lighthouse Close, Old Hunstanton, Norfolk
PE36 6EL
email: Oystercatcherpress [AT] gmail [D0T] com

Cheques payable to P Hughes. UK post free. Overseas postage at cost.

Thursday, 21 February 2008


No, nothing to do with the lifestyle magazine . . . But it was odd to see them in a glass case in the Serpentine Gallery recently as part of Antony McCall’s exhibition - he was one of the ‘’Wallpaper collective’. Started by poet and performance artist Anthony Howell, the group comprised eleven people, a mix of visual artists, poets and one musician. The covers were wallpaper. Literally. The most garish we could find. The magazine was A4 format with quite basic production values, and the idea was that a different person each time did the work of actually bringing the thing out and we all appeared in it on a strict rota basis. The first issue appeared in 1974 and it ran for seven or maybe eight issues depending on your point of view - by the end things had rather fallen apart. As I remember it, the project was an odd mixture of free-and-easy collaboration and awkward bureaucratic procedures. A transitional moment from the 1960s? But then the sixties were never quite that free-and-easy. The artists featured in addition to Anthony McCall were Amikam Toren, Susan Hiller, Andrew Eden, Susan Bonvin, Richard Quarrel. As to the writers, I was one of the ten, along with Bill Shepherd, David Coxhead and Anthony himself and there was one musician, Richard Bernas. Issue 5 / 6 was a double issue, the guest issue where we each invited somebody. It included writer Lynne Tillman, filmmaker Annabel Nicolson, artist Daniel Dahl (why is his website in Latin?), performance artist Fiona Templeton and there was poetry from among others Allen Fisher and John Sharkey. Anthony Barnett featured in issue 7 as a guest contributor as did Alan Fuchs who contributed an extraordinary prose piece. It was a snapshot of what was going on at the time and the attempt to bring together poets and people in the visual arts seems worthwhile and something often lacking in this country. But is it a little worrying seeing them all in a glass case, with group photographs of us and other bits and pieces? Over at the British Library you can see the exhibition Breaking the Rules, on till 30th March, featuring books and magazines from the heroic age of modernism likewise carefully arranged in glass cases. As if there is something that has to be continually re-enacted.

I do have multiple copies of some issues in case anyone is interested. . .

Andrew Eden and Susan Bonvin are two very interesting artists who have a website well worth checking out at And Anthony Howell now runs The Room in Tottenham Hale, which has hosted readings, art exhibitions, tango events and so on – though things are rather quiet there just at the moment.


On an earlier post I drew attention to the covers, relief prints, that Peter Tingey made for a number of Many Press publications. His website is up and running now at The site opens with a wonderfully imposing close-up of the Albion Press he still works on; a later image shows that it is, in his words, ‘surmounted with the life mask of William Blake which replaces the missing crown.’ On the site you can find a wide range of his work . . .

Tuesday, 5 February 2008


I’ve just been looking again at Beverly Rowe’s website at Beautifully organised (he’s a professional) it includes among other things sections devoted to his own poetry, and also his work on Queneau. Member of Oulipo and mainly known over here for his ‘Zazie dans le Metro’ this site features English versions of Queneau’s sonnets. Bev Rowe writes: ‘Queneau's Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes is derived from a set of ten basic sonnets. In his book, published in 1961, they are printed on card with each line on a separated strip, like a heads-bodies-and-legs book. All ten sonnets have the same rhyme scheme and employ the same rhyme sounds. As a result, any line from a sonnet can be combined with any from the other nine, giving 1014 (= 100,000,000,000,000) different poems. Working twenty-four hours a day, it would you take some 140,000,000 years to read them all. Queneau's writing in general does not leave the reader with a sense of narrative comfort; these sonnets are no exception. Since the randomization would destroy whatever narrative there is, this is no real problem. It also allows a translator some freedom but I have tried to stay close to the original.’

Rowe’s English versions of the basic sonnets are masterpieces of ingenuity, likewise the site overall. And not to forget another feature of the site, a list of three hundred museums in London with links including something called the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre. Maybe we’re all there already.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


How Pantagruel, being at sea, heard various unfrozen words.

When we were at sea, junketting, tippling, discoursing, and telling stories, Pantagruel rose and stood up to look out; then asked us, Do you hear nothing, gentlemen? Methinks I hear some people talking in the air, yet I can see nobody. Hark! According to his command we listened, and with full ears sucked in the air as some of you suck oysters, to find if we could hear some sound scattered through the sky; and to lose none of it, like the Emperor Antoninus some of us laid their hands hollow next to their ears; but all this would not do, nor could we hear any voice. Yet Pantagruel continued to assure us he heard various voices in the air, some of men, and some of women.

I also remember, continu’d he, that Aristotle affirms Homer’s words to be flying, moving, and consequently animated. Besides, Antiphanes said, that Plato’s philosophy was like words which being spoken in some country during a hard winter, are immediately congeal’d, frozen up, and not heard; for what Plato told young lads, could hardly be understood by them when they were grown old: Now, continu’d he, we should philosophise and search, whether this be not the place where those words are thaw’d.

You wonder very much, should this be the head and lyre of Orpheus. When the Thracian women had torn him to pieces, they threw his head and lyre into the river Hebrus; down which they floated to the Euxine Sea, as far as the Island of Lesbos, the Head continually uttering a doleful Song, as it were, lamenting the Death of Orpheus, and the Lyre, with the wind’s impulse, moving its strings, and harmoniously accompanying the voice. Let’s see if we cannot discover them hereabouts.

The skipper made answer: Be not afraid, my lord; we are on the confines of the Frozen Sea, on which, about the beginning of last winter, happened a great and bloody fight between the Arimaspians and the Nephelibates. Then the words and cries of men and women, the hacking, slashing, and hewing of battle-axes, the shocking, knocking, and jolting of armours and harnesses, the neighing of horses, and all other martial din and noise, froze in the air; and now, the rigour of the winter being over, by the succeeding serenity and warmth of the weather they melt and are heard.

By jingo, quoth Panurge, the man talks somewhat like. I believe him. But couldn't we see some of 'em? I think I have read that, on the edge of the mountain on which Moses received the Judaic law, the people saw the voices sensibly. Here, here, said Pantagruel, here are some that are not yet thawed. He then threw us on the deck whole handfuls of frozen words, which
seemed to us like your rough sugar-plums, of many colours, like those used in heraldry; some words gules (this means also jests and merry sayings), some vert, some azure, some black, some or (this means also fair words); and when we had somewhat warmed them between our hands, they melted like snow, and we really heard them, but could not understand them, for it was a barbarous gibberish. One of them only, that was pretty big, having been warmed between Friar John's hands, gave a sound much like that of chestnuts when they are thrown into the fire without being first cut, which made us all start. This was the report of a field-piece in its time, cried Friar John.

Francois Rabelais, in the Urquhart and Motteux translation