November 26, 2006

The Novel

"Yes - oh dear, yes - the novel tells a story." Or so says E.M. Forster regretfully.

What then of Maugham's "Ashenden"? Short stories around the same protagonist, in the form of a novel, therefore not a novel? It tells no story, only many stories.

What of Steinbeck's "Cannery Row", or Huxley's "Crome Yellow"? Novels, or not?

November 23, 2006


Of course we dislike strangers.

Someone shows up at a farm or a village: they entertain everyone with their jokes and their stories of the outside world for a couple of days, and then they move on. And a pie is missing from the window sill where it was cooling. A chicken has gone, maybe taken by a fox, but you never find the feathers. A month later a young man, who has never stopped talking about the stranger, runs away to the city or the sea. Another month or two, and it turns out your daughter is pregnant.

If, in another couple of months, crops fail or the weather is particularly harsh, it merely confirms the power and the malice of strangers.

November 3, 2006


Some of the girls I know
Go to the University
Sit so pretty
Kiss-kiss and cissy
With beautiful boys that they know
Friends to drink tea with
Chat with and be with
Feather-headed into the feather-bedded night.

Oh no sweet Jesus hear me I scream
Such a life of show
Is beyond what I dream
Give me a man who I'll never know
A man without feelings, without wrong or right
Without obligations
Except for the money
Let him be cold and hard as the money
And the money as dirty and evil as me
I can't trust feelings, I never trust feelings
And I don't care
That I can't care....
I don't dare.

Some of the girls that I've seen
Listen to that classy music, they sit
And play piano while they drink their tea.
That's somewhere I've never been.
Cello! Piano!! What SHIT!

give me ROCK, ROCK, give me ROCK oh give me ROCK
ROCK, give me ROCK, give me ROCK
blast my MIND let me DROWN give me SO much of ALL
that my HEAD and my BODy are FINally SOUND
give me ROCK, ROCK, give me ROCK, ROCK
give me ROCK rock ROCK rock ROCK, ROCK

Some of the kids from my school
Would sit down to a smoke, have a toke and cool down
Drift round the town feeling cool
Not me

Some of the students I've seen
Trip out on acid, they want to expand
They want to feel all that they can, and still more
Not me

Give me JUNK
Give me the rush and the bliss of fuck all
Give me the unsatisfaction of life
Give me the treadmill toward the next fix
The stealing or whoring, the need, the despair
Of being whipped up an unending stair
A problem of Now I can just about handle
The safety in knowing tomorrow's the same
And the whole problem thank god unthinkable
Only the treadmill toward the next fix
The fix of nothingness, of peaceful nothing
And let me not think
LET me not THINK
Sweet JESus if i THINK even ONCE
i'll DIE.

Published in Ambit 186 (UK), October 2006

November 2, 2006

Underwater Neolithic Archaeology

Some time after the end of the last ice age, say 12,000 years ago, some human groups of hunters and gatherers began to settle down and farm plants and animals, and to live in settlements of increasing size and complexity.

That's the standard idea. But what if they had started earlier, during the ice age itself? What if the earliest such settlements were in the fertile river deltas, or along the flat shores of present-day China, Indonesia, South Asia, the Middle East, or the Gulf of Mexico?

That would have been unfortunate. As the icecaps melted, sea levels rose hundreds of feet, sometimes gradually, sometimes in a catastrophic event in which earthquake, tsunami and irreversible coastal flooding were combined.

That kind of event would destroy any nascent civilization, destroy all the artifacts of technology, destroy all the tools for recreating the life they had, destroy most of the population, and make scattered refugees in an unfamiliar landscape of some random survivors with their random skills. As that generation died out, not all the skills would have been transmitted properly, because the conditions for training and practise would not be appropriate.

Perhaps, over a period of hundreds of years, their descendants would reestablish the understanding of early farming, herding, construction, astronomy, mathematics, simple metalworking, whatever had been lost; and we, today, would naturally think they were developing it for the first time.

Because the oldest neolithic archaeological remains may not yet have been found, if they are two hundred feet underwater, and covered by a hundred feet of silt.

October 30, 2006


She stood in the doorway of her smile,
Wordlessly asked me in;
I opened my mouth to reply, but she
Hopped over and entered.
If you were to lift off the top of my skull
You'd see her making a home in my head,
Blowing the dust out of corners,
Drawing on the back of abandoned manuscripts,
Turning friends' photos and postcards into collages,
At night curling up in a nest of yellowed newspaper clippings.
I wish her well -
My head has been empty too long.
But... does she realise there are stairs down?

Published in Ambit 186 (UK), October 2006

October 29, 2006

Rap poetry

Rap is a manifestation of three things:
  1. The human search for poetic expression
  2. The potential expressions in rhythm and rhyme that are specific to English
  3. The abysmal standard of literary education in the United States
American education does virtually nothing to develop skills in rhythm and rhyme - specifically, it does very little to develop the ability to recite long passages emotionally and verbatim (for both of which rhythm and rhyme are extremely useful).

However, the natural desire for emotional and verbatim recitation still finds an outlet, even among the least skilled, in rap.

I find it putrid, for the most part.

October 28, 2006

"Let us go then, you and I"

Dear Mr. Eliot, delightful though I find The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, surely the correct phrase should be "Let us go then, you and me".

"Us" is "you and me"; "we" is "you and I". So "you and me" is what it has to be, unless you opt for, say, Jamaican patois: "Mek we go den, you an I"... or maybe, "Mek we go den, you an I an I!"

October 27, 2006


Through the honeyed halls of autumn
Hums the angry, aging bee;
With her work facing fruition,
And her life, redundancy.
Published in Candelabrum (UK), October 2005

October 26, 2006


Bulls lean head to head
In motionless battle;
Notionless cattle
Stroll the strand
And graze;
Or idly stand
Idly gaze
Down on the rocks
By the sea snore.
Published in Candelabrum (UK), April 2005