09 August 2014

The SAFT battery man


Sometimes you're reminded you don't quite speak the same language as everyone else. Last time that happened I was 17 and the SAFT battery company had just launched itself on the black country. Their rep's car was always parked by the Butterfield Close flats in Dudley. It was blue and had SAFT written all over it in yellow and was driven by the SAFT battery man. Oh how we laughed. It was a source of low grade humour for months, until one day the car disappeared. No one was surprised: who did they think was going to go into a shop and ask for “some STUPID batteries please”?

And now, nearly 40 years later, Liz Berry's book reminds me again that I don't quite have the Queen's English, even though most of the dialect words in her book haven't passed my lips for years. I don't think people in Oxford would know what a donny was (on the other hand the Postie gives me my mail with a cheerful "Hello my lover", even in front of my wife, so I suppose everywhere has its idiosyncrasies).

Black Country is Liz Berry’s first full poetry collection and it leads off with “Bird” in which the poet is transformed. The choice is appropriate for a first collection as "Bird" is one of those statements of poetic intent that poets write early in their career, laying claim to their domain:

                I raised my throat to the wind
                                                         and this is what I sang…

It is also an appropriate statement of intent for the collection: birds roost everywhere in its pages - starlings, throstles, wrens, sparrows, swallows, larks, pigeons filthy with petrol - in poems ranging from the documentary Grasshopper Warbler to the fantasy of The Year We Married Birds.

A lot of the early poems are written in the persona of Berry's younger self and have a wonderful, ferocious energy. She loves transgressive V signs: whether it is a bicyclist’s legs or an upended sow’s skyward trotters, her poems repeatedly turn what could otherwise be a sign of female submission into a splendid "fuck off" to anyone offended by their jouissance.

Berry's use of dialect and phonetic spelling fully justifies the title of the book. I think that dialect is technically hard to pull off in poetry: it often feels like the poet is stretching for an authenticity or a connection that they do not have the rights to, even when that is not the case. Everything in Black Country is earned and unaffected. Berry has lived and breathed these words, or if she hasn’t she’s such a damned good writer that it doesn’t matter. The book switches effortlessly between poems in “pure” English, poems spotted with local cant, and poems larded with dialect like Sow, without any obvious change in quality or authorial control.

One of my favourite poems is the terrible wonderful "Echo"

                                            wherever girls’ voices are lost,
                                            I am

followed closely by "Christmas Eve"

                                 and although we can’t ever go back or be what we were
                                 I can tell you, honestly, I’d give up
                                 everything I’ve worked for
                                 or thought I wanted in this life,
                                 to be with you tonight.

Although this is a first collection, it is assured, mature and utterly confident in itself: if there are any missteps I didn’t find them. The only thing I can find to criticise are the titles of the poems. They are flat. Sometimes they barely describe, let alone evoke, the poems - but that’s as bad as it gets in this wench's answer to  Mercian Hymns. I love Geoffrey Hill, but it’s a damn sight more fun hanging with Liz.


Being a black country lad, I do have a couple of quibbles: her publishers say that canting means flirting, but in our family it meant gossiping or "going on" - especially at great length and wasting time. And where were Teddy Gray’s Herbals? But these are minor cavils about a brilliant book.

22 May 2014

Feeding pigeons out on a limb


Deborah Stevenson and Jacob Sam-La Rose

To the Roundhouse yesterday for the launch of Deborah Stevenson's poetry pamphlet Pigeon Party where Jacob Sam-La Rose did a brilliant job of MC-ing the event.

As you'd expect from Debris Stevenson it was a launch party like no other. Or as a friend put it: "Deborah totally smashed it".


The aftermath - this pigeon stuff just does not wash off













04 April 2014

10 March 2014

You want weapons? We're in a library. This room's the greatest arsenal we could have.

Paper can be written on, printed, illuminated, illustrated, annotated, highlighted, defaced, written over, scored out, erased, and written on again. It can be cut, ripped, torn, shredded, crumpled, spindled, folded, drenched, digested in acid, composted, riddled by insects, invaded by hyphae, and burned to extinction.

Compared to the plastic bag, that cockroach of the apocalypse, paper is one of the most perishable and human materials we have invented.

Sappho's books were first ordered burned by Pope Gregory Nazianzenn in 380 CE and again by Pope Gregory VII in 1073 CE - burnings which were driven by the anti-pagan zeal of the Byzantine emperors, rather than any queasiness over Sappho’s sexuality. Poets may be the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but our legislators are often unable to resist a bit of make believe.

Given such treatment it is no surprise that Tzetzes, writing in the 11th century, said that “time has frittered away Sappho and her works.” But things are never as simple as that where paper is concerned.

Although it is estimated that only ten per cent of Sappho's works are currently known, it is a remarkable, and heartening, fact that we discover more of her poems every year. One poem was found amongst the grave cloths of a mummified crocodile. Others have been found on the torn papyrus, or cartonnage, used to pack bodies in coffins.

Earlier this year a complete poem was discovered on a papyrus fragment found during the excavation of the municipal dump of the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus. The townspeople of Oxyrhynchus seem to have treated the dump as a landfill library, disposing of every sort of written paper there, from census records to grocery lists. And because paper was so precious, the pages are often palimpsests: compound documents of title deeds, household accounts,  letters and homework, all superimposed on one another. And poems. Somewhere in all those layers of writing there are poems, poems by Sappho, lost for thousands of years, and invisible to the naked eye, but revealed by laser scanning...



Fragment 38

"you burn me" - Sappho
I
a thousand years
after they first drew breath
her words burned  
do you understand?
her words
                   burned 
Plagues
Heretics and
Poetry
are best cleansed by fire 
again you misunderstand -
we are scientists
not Philistines 
we advance by experiment
destroying any data
that contradicts our hypothesis
until we arrive at the truth

II
He embraced censorship
As proof that the poems
He abjectly doubted
Had hidden merits
So deadeningly absent
From the works they left him
His hopes of immortality
Pinned on a body of work
That didn't exist 
Poets died
But he saved their books
His attic
Became the library of Alexandria
The place of the cure of the soul
- Or so he imagined
Before the nightmares began
Before he assumed the mask 
Of Herostratus




The PaperLove Blog Hop is a celebration of all things paper! Follow the links to discover more bloggers who love paper and use it to inspire and delight. And if you want to explore a whole world of paper, and stretch your paper passion further with a host of creative projects, why not join the innovative new online course PaperLove (starts March 31). Led by me, book artist Rachel Hazell, PaperLove is a five week creative adventure for paper lovers. Find out more here.

Participant list
Majo Bautista / Tona Bell Louise Best Cathy Bluteau / Jennifer Bomgardner / Giova Brusa /Lindsay Buck / Beka Buckley / Joanna Caskie / Jonathan Chapman (Mr Yen) / Halle Cisco / Sarah Clare / Cathryn Clarge / Dawn Clarkson / Rhiannon Connelly Jenny D’Fuego / Molly Dhiman /Ian Dudley / Ayisatu Emore / Akmal Farid / Monika Forsberg / Claire Fritz-Domeney / Louise GaleChrissy Gaskell / Julie Hamilton / Emma Hawman / Rachel Hazell / Holly Helgeson / Claudine Hellmuth / Kim Henkel / Sarah Hoffman / Joanne Hus / Paula Joerling / Beth Kempton / Julie Kirk / Eos Koch / Katie LaClair / Kristy Lankford / Michelle Manolov / Doreen Marts Rosie Martinez-Dekker / Tori Mears / Maria Mederios / Lise Meijer / Debbie Miller / MaryJane Mitchell /Suzy Naidoo / Grace Noel / Hannah Nunn / Camilla Olsson / Jo Packham / Rachelle Panagarry /Monette Pangan / Melanie Paul Nicole Piar / Jen Pitta / Liz Plummer Julie Reed /Michelle Reynolds / Lisa Rivas Angee Robertson / Natalie Ryan / Aisling Ryan / Elisabet Sapena / Kyrrha Sevco / Jamie Sprague / Elizabeth Steele / Terri Stephens / Juniper Stokes / Mary Tanana / Maike Thoma / Linda Tieu Gabrielle Treanor / Tammy Tutterow / Deborah Velasquez / Jordan Vinograd Kim / Cat Whipple / Brooke Witt / Katie Wood Amelia Woodbridge

18 February 2014

Follow me for papery goodness

I'm taking part in the Paper Love blog hop this March. (Click the Blog Hop button on the right for more information, or if you want to join in yourself).



I have to say, however much I love paper and pens (and I have a serious habit) the vast majority of my writing and editing gets done on the iPad these days. I feel bad about that, but it is just so ergonomic and convenient.

On the other hand, I do have a Hobonichi Techo planner, a handmade notebook, a brace of Herbin pens, and a pocket full of Kaweco pens on my desk at the moment, so...

Anyway, if you want to read a blog post about my love of paper, check back on the evening of 10 March.

17 February 2014

22 December 2013

Japonisme




A visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in my teens fixed my lifetime fascination with his art. Seeing the familiar paintings in real life made me realise how much wattage they lost in reproduction. The few pictures I'd found weak or pointless when I saw them in books made perfect sense when they were right before my eyes. With the usual contrariety of youth, it was Van Gogh's pen and ink drawings that moved me even more than his symphonic paintings.

Another early love was the printmaking of Durer and Rembrandt, and all of this fed naturally into an interest in Japanese art.

Gregory Irvine's book traces the influence of the rise of Japonisme and the Art Nouveau movement on Western art, including Van Gogh, Whistler, Monet, Manet, Klimt and Schiele.

Greg maybe a friend, but this is a seriously good book, being named by the Financial Times as one of its books of the year.

20 October 2013

Nightjar

Here is a series of prints I made of a drypoint etching of a nightjar I saw on my summer holiday in Aveyron, France.

First printing

Cryptic nightjar with chine colle camouflage. My favourite print, but no one else's.

Multi colour print

The course tutor's favourite image

02 July 2013

Memorial

Last weekend we placed the memorial stone on Freya's grave. Here are some pictures from the work in progress in the workshop of Bernard Johnson, stone carver and letter cutter.




11 May 2013

Art Week


We're participating in Oxford Art Week. This is my favourite piece, a dodo in bronze resin made by my wife.

Picture taken on a 55 year old Yashica 635 twin lens reflex camera.

10 April 2013

Thatcher


One of the most interesting responses to the death of Margaret Thatcher was by Russell Brand (published in The Guardian).

When I awoke today on LA time my phone was full of impertinent digital eulogies... 
Interestingly, one mate of mine, a proper leftie, in his heyday all Red Wedge and right-on punch-ups, was melancholy. "I thought I'd be overjoyed, but really it's just … another one bites the dust …" This demonstrates, I suppose, that if you opposed Thatcher's ideas it was likely because of their lack of compassion, which is really just a word for love. If love is something you cherish, it is hard to glean much joy from death, even in one's enemies.

06 April 2013

The AllTrials Campaign



The safe introduction of new medical treatments requires clinical trials. The problem is that the results of almost half of the clinical trials undertaken have not been published, and some have not even been registered. The information gathered during these trials is effectively lost, and cannot be used to improve the treatment of patients, or to guide future research. 

All Trials are campaigning for the registration of all clinical trials, and the full disclosure of their methods and results.

They are running a petition to persuade governments, regulators and research bodies to ensure that this happens. You can find it here if you want to sign.