Monday, 18 September 2017

On an Aspect of Foreignness

By Hintha - Own work, Public Domain,
Whilst watching the situation in Myanmar, I saw a shot of a hospital ward sign in Burmese, subtitled in English as 'Male Ward'. The Burmese alphabet reminds me of bubble clusters settling on the page (or the sturdier medium of signage...) - there's something light and beautiful about it, yet a sense of purpose and tangibility the same as any other writing system. In the middle of the scene of devastation I was watching, the particular likes of which we don't see happen in 'the west', it felt odd to me to see this little translation, this bit of recognisable English.
I got thinking of airports. I've been lucky enough to get abroad a couple of times in the last few years, and by and large, English has drawn these spaces together, on signage and often in dialogue, too. Obviously there are benefits. It's nice to be able to be understood when you 'don't have the words', but I feel guilty because I know why English has this status, and when I'm in a different country, I want to show respect by speaking the native language, and having English spoken back to me tends to smother the moment. It's no 'biggie', but it leaves me pondering the nature of foreignness. When language is so essential to identity, and to deeper concerns surrounding 'reality', its use impacts heavily upon one's experience - in short, one feels, in a way, like one is not 'properly abroad'. One feels as if the body has moved, but the mind isn't sure if it has kept up. Something like that...

Anyways, here comes the turn. The 'interesting bit', if I may be so bold as to say. I was recently booking some tickets from a French website. French happens to be the language I am most fluent in, after my mother tongue. However, the verbs alone in the usually habitual process of online shopping were alien to me. My school-taught stuff didn't cover the essential units of what I was grappling with. I made a couple of educated guesses, based on what I thought would be the etymologies of the unfamiliar words, because it's reasonable to think that a word that looks very similar to one you know would have a similar meaning, right? Well, after checking with a translator (and a good friend of mine who's a language whizz), I found out I was wrong with most of my attempts.

There were three phrases I stumbled on quite badly. "Ajouter au panier" was the first. I thought it meant 'return to something'. I was confident of 'ajouter', but didn't know what 'panier' meant. It turns out 'ajouter' means 'to add' - so I was wrong on that - and 'panier' is 'basket'. As someone who has grown up around bike enthusiasts, I should have known this, as it's so similar to 'panniers' - only one letter away, indeed - the bags bikers use on the back of their behicles. Second phrase was "je continue mes achats." If I'd thought about this a bit more straightforwardly, the 'je continue' bit must mean 'I am continuing', and I knew 'achats' must be my purchases ('acheter' means 'to buy'). Instead, I abstracted it a bit more to mean 'continue to payment', which is a perfectly normal thing to expect, so much so that I ignored linguistic logic - at my peril! The last thing was 'terminer ma commande'. 'Terminer', I thought, was 'terminate' in the sense of 'get rid of', y'know, 'delete', but in many contexts in English, even, 'terminate' means 'complete' - to terminate an order, or a train terminating at its destination. Let's just say, I didn't want to risk clicking this until I was absolutely sure what I was doing.

It was all a little bit scary. For all I knew, I could've been clicking on the 'charge me a million Euros for a can of French fog' button ('me chargez un million d'euros pour une canette de brouillard fran├žais', in case you ever need to know). It was frustrating, too, especially when I thought I knew what I was reading, but the things I was clicking took me to the 'wrong' part of the website. I was blaming technology before I began to think that I might have got it wrong. Also, contrarily, it was fun.

Finally - foreignness!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Mort Launching Black Shiver Moss

I was lucky enough late last month to go to Graham Mort's Lancaster launch of Black Shiver Moss. Before I talk about the night itself, I'd like to say that I have recollection of reading a collection or two of Mort's poetry and short stories before. Even though it was a long time ago, the impressions they left behind are still very vivid, and that tells a truth about the quality of his work. It's not 'what I usually go for', though, mainly as it isn't what you'd call 'experimental', and is mainly (I think this is fair to say) focussed on the natural world which, despite evidence to the contrary, is equated in my lazy mind as 'traditional' or 'conventional', which are both uninspiring words to me.

After this fine evening, though, I was reminded about the depth and bittersweetness in his work. There is joy, too, of course, but a man of his astoundingly sharp observation of the world is always going to see the harsh truths and not mince his words, either. Something I've been worrying about in my own writing lately is how (if at all) I manage to capture an image, and then here I am in the presence of someone who is master of that. How does he do it so well? Without trying to be opaque, I'd say 'he just does it'. I don't know whether he'd see himself as fearless (as a writer), or not, but it comes across that he has no qualms about the work of language, and I think my anxieties arise because I feel I need to explain too much, and to be too clever or whatever. So my lazy mind is, in short, wrong.

That's all I want to say on the poetry. I don't think I can add anything by going into which poems were read and what I thought of each one, tho I will use this opportunity to say hi to Winston.

Anyhoo, enough of my my words, here's some of my his words, or, the question and answer section. A lot of the QnA stuff was sort of passe to me. There was the sort of 'why do you break a line here on the page, but read it differently' sort of thing, a trying to pin something down that, as a writer, you instinctively know 'isn't what it's all about'. Not to say we shouldn't think about it, but, you know, to ask the writer directly makes me squirm a bit. He related a story, which he referred back to later, of some Archbishop being asked some question about God's work, and giving an answer... not vague as such, but, y'know, not openly and directly obvious, like 'there's something deeper under the surface'. He's right, though. There is 'something deeper', and as a writer that's enough, if the poetry's good (which his is, without doubt).

The question that was interesting to me, firstly, was concerned writing habit. He revealed with a laugh that he's "fantastically ill-disciplined" which, I must say, should give us all a great bloody deal of hope. He knows when he's got something to work on, tho, and sets about it. Also the old line (not a lie) that writers (well, at least some of them) are 'working all the time' - thinking, mentally drafting, and even just observing and processing what will eventually end up, in whatever form, becoming a piece. I felt I was going to remember more of what he said and give you something decent here, but I haven't... Sorry!

Secondly, someone had asked him about the relationship between what he reads and his work. He said there was no real link between his reading and how he'll draft something, but I found he tickled my fancy when he said that writers should read something completely unrelated to things they are doing, as he feels that it can have positive results (I think he meant in a 'seeing things afresh' sort of way, but then, also, you can come back to the writer's perception, and how something totally different may help you generate new things too). He mentioned in particular something which I can't remember. I think he said it was a Japanese motorcycle manual, or maybe a philosophy of bike production, where there was a moral voice running through these technical elements, which you would expect to be 'objectively voiced'. Hard to explain, but he did it charmingly... And no, I'm sure it wasn't Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I still ain't read. Possibly something from this site?

The other particularly interesting thing was him talking about being in academia, and how reading his students' work is a good way of continually being part of the creative world. That's my dream in many ways, to be an active part of the campus (and beyond) mind, so I sat back and let his words bathe me in the moonlight of possibility.

I'd just like to finish by saying how witty Graham is. Throughout the night he made a few quips and whatnots, and I have to say he reminded me of John Lennon quite a bit. Now, for me, there could hardly be a greater compliment of someone's intelligence than this, and it must be true that this brightness of mind is in his work (though Seamus Heaney is a more oft-quoted example of similarity, in his poetry at least), so do check it out.

Lovely night, lovely man, lovely poetry. #blessed #peace #love #light

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Pages: EUOIA Night August reading at The Other Room: Repo...

I want a fictional poet of my very own, but would she or he want me? Never mind that, just read Sheppard's account of what sounds like a brilliant night, one that I'm very disappointed I couldn't attend:

Pages: EUOIA Night August reading at The Other Room: Repo...: Last night, the Other Room celebrate d the European Union of Imaginary Authors, with readings in person and on video.We are told that the E...

Friday, 21 July 2017

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Before I get cracking, this is not a literary review. I know a lot of you come here looking for high-brow criticism and insights, so, you know, I just wanted to let you down gently.

I'm going to be talking about Robert Sheppard's Petrarch 3, though, which is literary. I'm a big fan, I must say. I've been to a few readings and seen him perform from this, and it was brilliant, from the laughter at a poem from a dog's point of view, to the particular silence one feels after a sonnet addresses Jimmy Saville in, well, in quite the way he does... I'm sure there's loads of people more qualified than me that have reviewed his work, so I'm not going to do that here. Instead, I wanted to say how refreshing it was.

I've been in some trouble lately. Almost everything has been getting me down, from sunsets to birds gaily tweeting, and the carefree way a child, er, bounces a ball... Or something... But the things that really trouble me are love songs (though music in general has plenty of thorns). Whether they're about unrivalled beauty and devotion, or about the hurtiest pain and wanting to end it all, they've all been getting me teary. It seems that when you're bleeding, the world is full of sharks sniffing your lost liquids (or a more appropriate and well-formed analogy).

When Petrarch 3 came in the post the other day, though, it was full of pointed references to pain, to loss, to love, to awe and more, and yet it did not cause an avalanche in me. Here was love and its process presented, despite having been processed, in all its allusory [to the 'original translation' - the one Sheppard uses, anyway] and thematic power, yet I enjoyed it without pain. The idea of being stung after self-acknowledging your supposed sense of security - the way it happens in Petrarch's third sonnet - is real for many of us, and certainly made me think back to just over a year ago, but it didn't pull at the thread of me, making me fall apart.

I'm not entirely sure, but I don't think it was Sheppard's original intention to give me work about love that didn't upset me. I might be wrong, but I think he just wanted to write good poetry. Well, he's done both, just in case you wanted to know, and I think it's a welcome change.

G'night folks! Peace, love and light.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Irony o'Clock

I was recently lucky
enough to go to Italy to one of my friends' weddings. It was a lovely time, and if you're friends with me on Facebook then you can have a gander at some of the pics I took. The purpose of today's post, tho, is to look at what went on during my connection at Munich.

I had about an hour in Munich to spend before my regional flight to Trieste, so didn't fell I needed to hurry. Almost straight out of the arrivals gate, I saw this wonderful wall (not a Wonder Wall, I hasten to add), pictured above, in front of me. I sort of smirked and thought, 'hey, language... That's one of my main interests,' and carried on walking. Then I realised that I was looking at words to do with time, and time is one of my biggest preoccupations, too, so I stopped, went back, and took the photo.

Just out of shot (to the Zeit), was (is?) a wee entry hole, a doorway without the door. I nearly walked off again, because this white-walled area looked like a security station. I got a bit bold, though, and thought 'well the worst that can happen is that I get looked at oddly by some airport staff, and maybe asked what I'm doing and/or told to piss off', but the possibility of being rewarded by embracing the spirit of adventure, which I am so often too scared/unable to do, spoke louder to me. So I edged my way towards this entrance-to-what, and, without wishing to spin this out to ridiculous levels, saw that what was inside was actually an exhibit.

I was genuinely very excited. As I've said, it was ticking two of my main interest boxes, but also there was the thrill of living in the moment, listening to my gut, and being lucky enough to have this mini-museum there for perusal in what I thought was just going to be a grey old run from gate to gate. To your left - as you went in - there were three mini sand-timers that you could spin round, and I took the opportunity to 'childishly' interact with what was on offer, and watch their contents trickle.

I was still aware, however, that I couldn't spend all day here. At that point - because I hadn't been told when I checked in at Manchester - I wasn't sure if I needed to get my bags back at Munich, then check them in again. I wasn't sure how big the airport was, how long it takes for bags to reappear from the plane (it seemed to take forever when I was going on family hols as a kid...), or how big the queues would be around the place. When I thought about it like that, panic revved its motorcycle in the garage of my gut, so I decided to take pictures of all the info boards and read them later. As I turned my camera on and waited for it to warm up, I read the first line of the introductory panel. It outlined the broad strokes of 'the' philosophy of time. I got that pre-tingle one gets when one feels horny and has decided what porn one is going to watch - and I couldn't wait to get to the money shot.

I readied my camera, and was about to focus the first shot, when an airport employee stuck his head through the entrance, said something in German, saw my blank expression, then said in English "Sorry, we are closing."

He apologised again and escorted me out.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Sorry Tom Bradby, but You Need to Get It Right!

'Tom Bradby'
I was watching ITV News at Ten on Wednesday night, and there was an update on the latest political developments in Britain. I didn't actually catch the story (though, presumably, it was about the cap on public sector pay?), just the presenter - Tom Bradby - and some middle-aged white 'expert' chatting about it afterwards. Anyway, this post isn't about the politics per se. Come on, this is Blogtastic! Nothing of worth ever happens here!

No but seriously... Tom was talking with this guy about the Tories making a U-turn on an issue they'd already made a U-turn on. I'm sure he first called it a 'double U-turn', but then repeatedly called it a 'double-u (i.e. 'w') turn'. If you perform two U-turns, then you end up going in the same direction you were in the first place. A W-turn, though, means that you've U-turned three times and, compared to your initial vector, you are going in the opposite direction. Again. Am I making sense? Don't worry, you won't be tested on this...

My actual point here is that the stress he was putting on his words was, whether consciously (as part of the larger British media's impartiality in favour of the Tories - Murdoch-controlled rags such as The S*n etc being the most notable, the BBC being the most disappointing) or unconsciously, misrepresenting the mess that the Conservatives are dragging this country further and further into. If the turgid impenetrability of this post is anything to go by, then a lot of people watching it wouldn't have noticed, but I did. I think it matters, too, because these are huge issues, you know, obvious gaffes and horrendous disrespect shown to the British public by the 'professional' people supposedly elected to serve us (yes, I know...). These issues are already being lied about blatantly by some sources, creating a climate of mistrust towards information outlets, so all broadcasters need to be held to high standards. Again, I'm not saying that ITV are part of a conspiracy, but if one of their main presenters is being misleading, then we are right to ask questions about that.

Anyway, if you've made it to the end of this, then thanks. As a reward, here's a clip from one of my favourite childhood films, which is actually kind of relevant. Content note: anti-Italian slurs.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017


What a nice, polite sign. You don't see that anymore these days, do you? Well, it's either that or the name of the latest 'Britain Has Talent' act, whatever the kids are into these days...