Thursday, March 31, 2005

Today's Stabroek News runs the conclusion of Cecilia McAlmont's two-part profile of Valerie Hart, a key figure in the 1969 Rupununi Uprising (read part one here). As "President of the Essequibo Free State", Hart was both the public face of the rebellion & the rebels' envoy to the Venezuelan government. She's supposed to be still alive, living in exile in Brazil. Surely some intrepid researcher should try to track her down & interview her thoroughly, as one of the first steps towards writing a comprehensive history of this crucial but murky event in Guyanese history?
Der Zauberer zaubert Sachen:
Kleine Hasen. Tücher. Eier.
Er zaubert wiederholt.
Er steckt das Tuch in den Zylinder
und zieht es wieder heraus
es ist ein zahmer Hase dabei.

(The conjuror conjures things up:
little hares. Scarves. Eggs.
He keeps on doing magic.
He puts the scarf in the top hat
and brings it out again
with a tame hare in it.)

-- Ernst Herbeck (trans. Anthea Bell), quoted by W.G. Sebald in his essay "Des Häschens Kind, der kleine Has (The Little Hare, Child of the Hare): On the Poet Ernst Herbeck's Totem Animal", in Campo Santo.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Monday, March 28, 2005

Derek Walcott in Taiwan: "English language is my linguistic heritage, not my political heritage. And the language I use is a great language, a great language of poetry. My identity does not depend on the language I use. People cannot say because I use English I am a traitor to the Caribbean.... To speak two languages for me is a resource rather than a conflict."

Professor His Mi, the organizer of yesterday's forum, also disclosed that China and Cuba had both invited Walcott to visit while [sic], but the prolific writer rejected both invites saying he would not attend functions in a country ruled by an authoritarian regime.
Meanwhile, on the banks of the Takutu....

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A poem for this Easter:

My Father's Prayer Book, Page 44

Most life is ice-melt,
bells through sea-mist,
dark coming home and hurrying.
There are no exceptions.
Thoughtful men feeling
the stars' pull across half the world,
knowing coasts' thick rocks
vanish in the seas' wash finally--
these men too have urgent private business:
they deal in golden things and lures.

Faded writing in a prayer-book's margin--
this remedy for love affairs and projects:
"Stand under old trees in the wind".
Heaven is huge then and not temporary.

-- Ian McDonald, p. 45 in Between Silence and Silence.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

View from Pax, study (2004), by Mary Adam
(Pastel study of view from Pax Guest House, Mount St. Benedict, Trinidad)

It was Holy Week, so I went out to stay in a little Benedictine monastery in the hills behind Port of Spain. They maintain a guest house where many people go for the cool air....

On Good Friday pilgrims of all races and creeds assembled to kiss the Cross from all parts of the island--Hindus, Protestants, Chinese--and for Easter morning the church and courtyard of the monastery were packed with a dense crowd. They began arriving at about ten on Saturday evening, and all through the night we could hear the chatter and the padding of bare feet as they climbed past the guest house. The first Mass was said before dawn, and after it the great crowd formed a procession, each carrying a candle in a coloured paper shade. As the only white man present I found a torch thrust in my hands to carry in front of the Host. The line of coloured lights wound down the steeply graded hill road and climbed back again to the church, and just as we reached the summit again day began to break over the hills and there was a feeling of New Year.

-- From the closing paragraphs of Evelyn Waugh's Ninety-two Days: A Journey in Guiana and Brazil, which I've been reading recently.

Friday afternoon I took what may well become a traditional Good Friday drive up to Mount St. Benedict (second year we've done it) with my friend Georgia Popplewell, who sneakily brought along her audio recording equipment. (I got into the car & she thrust a microphone into my hands.) The result is another podcast over at Georgia's Caribbean Free Radio, in which Georgia can be heard discoursing fluently about history, topography, zoology, theology, architecture, etc, & I can be heard giggling & confidently making various inaccurate or inane comments. (I also mention the passage from Ninety-two Days quoted above.) Towards the end of the podcast you'll hear me rashly promising to do this again next year, when I hope I'll manage to stick to subjects I actually know something about.
Pay attention

Why should the ability to write well about landscape matter? Surely, it might be objected, there are more interesting and important things to be written about? Or, with the world proceeding so adamantly towards a final wrecking of the environment, discriminating between types of landscape writing might seem like choosing between deckchair patterns on the Titanic.

Iris Murdoch, unexpectedly, can be of help here. Murdoch's ethical vision was based upon a concept which she, after Simone Weil, called "attention". "Attention", Murdoch proposed, is an especially vigilant kind of "looking". When we exercise a care of attention towards a person, we note their gestures, their tones of voice, their facial expressions, their turns of phrase and thought. In this way, by interpreting these signs, we proceed an important distance towards understanding the hopes, wishes and needs of that person.

This "attention", Murdoch noted, is the most basic and indispensable form of moral work. It is "effortful", but its rewards are immense. For this attention, she memorably wrote, "teaches us how real things can be looked at and loved without being seized and used, without being appropriated into the greedy organism of the self".

Murdoch's ideal of "attention", of a compelling particularity of vision, obtains to landscapes as well as to people. It is harder to dispose of anything, or to act selfishly towards it, once one has paid attention to its details. This is an environmentalist's truth, as well as a humanist's.

-- From Robert Macfarlane's short essay on writers & landscapes in today's UK Guardian.
The term "a poem" is one we have to use, because our author is strong on the point that a poet should be measured by individual poems, and not by a "body of ... work." To a reader from outside America, she sounds tremendously right about this, but inside America her view is likely to go on smacking of subversion for some time to come. One can only hope that the subversion does its stuff. Good poems are written one at a time: written that way and read that way. Even The Divine Comedy is a poem in the first instance, not part of a body of work; and even in Shakespeare's plays there are passages that lift themselves out of context. ("Shakespeare the poet," she says, "often burns through Shakespeare the dramatist, not simply in the great soliloquies that have become actors' set pieces but in passages throughout his plays that can stand alone as poems.") The penalty for talking about poets in universal terms before, or instead of, talking about their particular achievements is to devalue what they do while fetishizing what they are.

-- Clive James, reviewing Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn in this weekend's NY Times Book Review.
"Every poet should like his poems (not necessarily think them good)."

Friday, March 25, 2005

A poem for this Good Friday:

The Rice Harvest

It's months since the young rice
stirred to the morning breeze.
Now they are gathering the rice
in the fields along the coast.
And my heart turns to you.

Time and the sun have stored their beauty
in these grasses
in their communion with the soil
for a thousand minds and hearts to learn in love
of the magical marriage of the crops.
And my heart longs for a harvest
as simple and true as theirs.
I envy the easy beginning and the simple end
lost in a larger life.
But our ways call for a touching of our spirits only.

I wish I were rice and you the soil.

-- A.J. Seymour, p. 156 in the Collected Poems.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Is it World Poetry Day? The UK Guardian offers a poetry moodmatcher--answer eleven questions to "find the poem to suit your mood".

My results (ahem!):

A Ballad of Suicide

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall.
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours--on the wall--
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me... After all
I think I will not hang myself today.

Tomorrow is the time I get my pay--
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall--
I see a little cloud all pink and grey--
Perhaps the Rector's mother will not call--
I fancy that I heard from Mr Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way--
I never read the works of Juvenal--
I think I will not hang myself today.

The world will have another washing day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
Rationalists are growing rational--
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small--
I think I will not hang myself today.

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even today your royal head may fall--
I think I will not hang myself today.

-- G.K. Chesterton

(Perhaps it's time to re-read The Man Who Was Tuesday.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Two oceans, symbolic and real, impinge on modern Guyana. The Atlantic has tested the coastland peoples for generations. They have fought a long battle with the sea to maintain their homes. The vast interior at their back is another, equally complex, ocean that rises into a "sounding cliff" or majestic waterfall within rainforest, savannah, rock, river.

-- Wilson Harris, "The Place of the Poet in Modern Society: A.J. Seymour", in AJS at 70

I was thinking of the white sand, and of Wilson Harris.
Difficult, complex Guyana! I thought. Prehistorically-moulded. Metaphysically-inspiring. Nihilistic. Ridicule-making. Anarchic Guyana!...
"This is a kind of 'country of the mind'," John said. "It's a mentally-held landscape of very real people, an outsized Nature, a surrealistic history, overwhelming contemporary events, and an abundance of dreams. A mental Coast, a mental Interior."

-- Andrew Salkey, Georgetown Journal

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Nicholas with Diane McTurk & Sappho (juvenile giant river otter) at Karanambo, North Rupununi, Guyana, 25 February, 2005:

Nicholas on horseback at Annai, North Rupununi, Guyana, 23 February, 2005: