Histories of War as seen by two indispensible Poets-Part One

Tony Harrison: The bard of Beeston | Prospect Magazine

 

Tony Harrison is a poet whom I feel I know rather well from his television appearances. He seemed to be on the box quite a lot around 2000 or so. By any criteria his is a radical poet from Leeds. In my imagination I see him as a radical voice from that period along with another favourite poet, Tom Paulin. Harrison is an engaged poet from Leeds and is probably best known for his long poem “V” which was published in 1985. He is an immensely clever poet immersed in his Northern background with which is radicalism is associated and his broad knowledge of the classics. He is a playwright, a film-maker and a translator. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Harrison

In the poem which I discovered recently he is addressing his view of history. How the past has been recorded is an issue that perhaps becomes more pressing as we age. There is much debate about statues currently, who we should remember and what is both consciously and unconsciously addressed. What should we pass on to future generations and how to counteract distressingly current propoganda. This poem comes from the new edition of Selected Poems by Tony Harrison published by Penguin – you can find it here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Harrison He is travelling with his children over moorland-

Past scenic laybys and stag warning signs

the British borderlands roll into view.

They read: Beware of Unexploded Mines

I tell my children that was World War II.

Those borderlands are becoming politically more controversial, there is a simple rhyme-scheme with those dangerous residues beneath the surface. The poem makes the link between khaki uniforms and cavalry twill. It brins to mind the smart casual wear demanded of upper ranks in their so called leisure time. The areas forbidden to play are those marked off by signs and fences which remind the reader of enclosures and the imperial system of trade providing employment in a regulated manner to mill workers. The latter similarly having their time divided by tolling bells.

Mill angelus, and church tower twice as high.

One foundry cast the work-and rest-day bells-

the same red cottons in the flags that fly

for ranges, revolutions, and rough swells.

The alliterative Rs remind us not only of the Union Jack but that to some it was considered the butcher’s apron. The rough swells is almost classical ( Homer’s wine-dark sea) and rowdy posh boys with the ambivalent firing ranges in the background.

 

You can read books or…..

You can get on and live your life. This was what I once was severely told by one lively lady. I have rather fretted about this remark ever since-more especially nowadays. More especially during lockdown. I have had a partiality for biography for quite a long time. I have always wanted to understand how others perceive life. Some of my interest in poetry came from reading a book about W.H.Auden -well illustrated with pictures that I borrowed donkey’s years ago from Dulwich Library in Lordship Lane. It was near a splendid little gramophone record shop where I spent money on what seemed expensive long-play records. Reading about W.H.A. I was attracted by the thirties political poetry in particular. It has to be said that Auden was photographically interesting from his languid youth to his craggy face in old age.

A couple of years before this following a minitrek visit to Russia I took an A-level correspondance course in History (1815-1945) and the tutor recommended an approach as expounded by the works of Lord David Cecil. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_David_Cecil Accordingly I went on to read his illustrious book on Lord Melborne. Picking quite at random:-

Tis curiously-blended life produced a curiously-blended type of character. with so many opportunities for action, its interests were predminently active. Most of the men were engaged in politics. And the women- for they lived to please the men were political too. They listened, they sympathised, they advised; through them two statesmen might make overtures to each other, or effect a reconciliation. But politics were not then the sentence to hard labour that in our iron age they have become.

Lord Melbourne | Biography & Facts | Britannica

It is not difficult to discern the power and style of Cecil’s prose style. Though in between the carefully balanced sentences, a degree of what is now termed overt sexism appears to the present day reader. On the other hand the power of women in high politics- though by high, I refer to the level of power rather than degree of integrity- emerged here in No 10 last weekend. The relation between Marlborough and the young Queen Victoria emerges as a major theme in this important work. This brings me on to that biographer par excellence Lytton Strachey.

Strachey’s Eminent Victorians as well as his other works were a pleasure to read as well as an education in aspects of political history. It did not exactly give me any particular figure that one might wish to emulate-far from it. These were eloquent and elegant pen-portraits which often showed the neuroticism underneath the surface of the Victorian work ethic. Strachey was immersed in Gibbon and turned wry phrases and ironic comments. In short his wit deeply impressed and his erudition was quite something to attempt to emulate. Then came the marvellous biography by Michael Holroyd whose final pages so portrayed the deep and strange relationship with Dora Carrington. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/16/100-best-nonfiction-books-no-50-eminent-victorians-lytton-strachey-manning-nightingale-arnold-gordon

Here is George from Ireland on Strachey

So my interest in biography has often turned towards political figures. Returning once again to the outstanding Cecil family, it is worth noting that there is a magnificent biography of Lord David Cecil’s Grandfather,Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of SalisburyKGGCVOPCFRSDL (3 February 1830 – 22 August 1903) who had been Prime MInister for over 13 years and is considered a master strategist in Foreign Affairs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Gascoyne-Cecil,_3rd_Marquess_of_Salisbury Lord Salisbury by Andrew Roberts is another fascinating biography. It shows how after a somewhat tremulous beginning at Eton, he employed his many abilities in numerous fields became perhaps to what might be called a Tory intellectual. Robert’s biography is truly engaging and shows for instance, his fascination with amateur scientific experiments, his comfortable but busy life at Hatfield House and his relatively warm relationship with his children.

Salisbury: Victorian Titan by Andrew Roberts: Near Fine Hardcover (2000)  1st Edition, Signed by Author(s) | Limestone Books

Should you have time to visit the National Portrait Gallery, you will find the painting of the !st Lord Cecil which bears the motto ‘Sero, Sed Serio’ inscribed on the portrait and translates as ‘late but in earnest‘. Cecil was subsequently appointed Viscount Cranborne in 1604, Earl of Salisbury in 1605

 

Museums, memories and myth making.

Written by the daughter of Guido Morris, the famous St Ives printer and illustrator. A fascinating mélange of her family and personal archive with the changing history of museums. It emphasises the importance of touch as a means of recollecting the past.

In reading about museums I discovered that Derrida had written about archives. He develops a post modern approach to how the perspectives on the past are subject to change. Witness the recent debates about racism and colonialism in relation to this.

From My Archives: Derrida’s Archive Fever

There are two moving poems by Louis MacNeice that moved me when I read them this morning. The first was an early poem called just “Museums” with a pronounced rhyme scheme. The second is more interesting and called “In the Reading Room at the British Museum”. The final line is perhaps more poignant than ever.

Museums by MacNeice

Museums offer us, running from among the buses,
A centrally heated refuge, parquet floors and sarcophaguses,
Into whose tall fake porches we hurry without a sound
Like a beetle under a brick that lies, useless, on the ground.
Warmed and cajoled by the silence the cowed cypher revives,
Mirrors himself in the cases of pots, paces himself by marble lives,
Makes believe it was he that was the glory that was Rome,
Soft on his cheek the nimbus of other people’s martyrdom,
And then returns to the street, his mind an arena where sprawls
Any number of consumptive Keatses and dying Gauls.

On Derrida this link may be of interest

https://youtu.be/uHtXeUH4gnY

 

 

Prévert-Les prodiges de la liberté

Les prodiges de la liberté

Entre les dents d’un piège
La patte d’un renard blanc
Et du sang sur la neige
Le sang du renard blanc
Et des traces du renard blanc
Qui s’enfuit sur trois pattes
Dans le soleil couchant
Avec entre les dents
Un lièvre encore vivant.

Jacques Prévert

Jacques Prévert (Author of Paroles)

The wonders of freedom

Between the teeth of a trap
The paw of a white fox
And blood on the snow
The blood of the white fox
And traces of the white fox
Who runs away on three legs
In the setting sun
With between the teeth
A hare still alive.

Jacques Prévert

Remembering Red Barnaloft

I have previously posted about Red Vienna – the time in the 1930s when an attempt was made to establish a form of social security system in the elegant city and when worker’s flats were built to ease the conditions of poorer citizens. Notoriously, they were shelled by nationalists in the dark period leading up to the Anschluss when the Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany. https://jacobinmag.com/2017/02/red-vienna-austria-housing-urban-planning

Karl Polanyi wrote: “Vienna achieved one of the most spectacular cultural triumphs of Western history … an unexampled moral and intellectual rise in the condition of a highly developed industrial working class which, protected by the Vienna system, withstood the degrading effects of grave economic dislocation and achieved a level never reached before by the masses of the people in any industrial society.”

In my personal psychogeography towns and cities remind me of St Ives where I spent many years of my early life. After the gas works was deconstructed and I think, before the Tate arrived many of the fisherman’s lofts and artist studios next to Porthmeor Beach were replaced by the Barnaloft and then the Piazza flats. They seemed to stand out as a statement of the modernism with which the town had been associated. The interior courtyard of the latter had an interesting Hepworth sculpture. They were not by any means worker’s flats but were frequently occupied by what has since been called champagne socialists.

Properties for Sale in St. Ives, Barnaloft St. Ives Cornwall | Nethouseprices.com

Before the flats were constructed there was the beach cafe occupied by the Val Baker family. This was a homely venue offering a superb view of the sea and marvellous sunsets over it to the West. Little was seen of Denys himself whom I assumed was upstairs with leonine head bent over the typewriter. Denys may be somewhat forgotten but represented the spirit of bohemian values to the locals. He had been active in promoting the celtic culture as a Welshman intrigued by Cornwall and St Ives in particular. He and his wife were committed to pacifism and had been active in the committee of 100. https://www.rainydaygallery.co.uk/denysvalbaker.html

100 years of Red Vienna - VIENNA – Now. Forever

The Foot family has been long associated with St Ives. Issac Foot, bibliophile and liberal politician as well as a staunch Methodist stood in the town for Parliament. That by-election was rather interesting in the troubled atmosphere of 1937 and very narrow indeed. Isaac Foot went on to become Mayor of Plymouth.

Left Foot Forward | The Isis

Paul Foot his grandson and active contributor to Private Eye was often to be seen around the town. He was an active and intelligent member of the Socialist Worker’s Party as well as a campaigning journalist with a splendid sense of humour. He died rather young and was a notable loss to radical progress in this country. His book on Red Shelley is a moving introduction to that committed poet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Foot_(journalist)

 

Also some years ago spontaneous outdoor performances were given by another group associated with the Foot family-The Footsbarn Theatre Group. These were jolly and musical. Particularly memorable was a performance in St Ives Guildhall of Around the World in Eighty Days with a scence at the Old Bore’s Club which was gloriously funny -a tour de force.

Which leaves us with the intriguing figure of Peter Shore. Any Freudian would not be surprised that given his name he might have been strongly attracted by the glorious beach at Porthmeor. I used to see him taking his morning beverage be-shorted high above the sands at Barnaloft. These buildings were designed by the St Ives Architect, Cyril Gilbert- a shy charming gentleman who later ran the superb Wills Street Gallery near the Police Station. I digress- Shore was a fascinating figure who it seems travelled from the intellectual left of the party to total opposition to what was then called the Common Market. He was for some time an active M.P. for Stepney. Apparently he acted in a sort of Alistair Campbell role in that he advised on media promotion. I well remember how he responded when interviewed later in his career by someone like Robin Day or Brian Walden. He would begin by rephrasing the question and pointing out the precise strength of the case to which he was opposed. It was about then to be devastated by the power of his retort. However, in the questioning this just didn’t happen due to the interviewer’s interruption.  You were left with the impression of his honesty and rather sad disappointment. And yet now I feel a little more straight honesty in political matters is crucial- a Balm of Gilead.

Sometimes it is salutary to hear what the opposite case – this clip exudes English chauvinism which is deeply misguided.

Reading Padraic Fallon

  1. Fallon (1905-1974) came from lovely County Galway and was drawn to Dublin by George Russell (AE) to take part in the Irish Literary Revival. Heaney wrote of him “His sensibility has weathered in Galway the rainy light that was familiar to both Rafferty and Yeats; it has been tutored by a landscape at once elemental and historical; a landscape that holds the walled demesne and the tower as well as the bog-face and the stone wall…”

I came across this poem entitled YESTERDAY’S MAN which contained the following lovely and intriguing stanzas:-

Lines of verse too left littering

After poems that never got away,

A pen drawing, very odd, the storm God Zu

Trusses in his fowl form to a carrying pole;

(From him the wren-walk on St Stephen’s Day)

 

Copied I suppose, to prove a point,

(Akkadian seal, Babylonian cylinder?) How

Much at home I am in this mad world

Suddenly and again! And here somewhere

You the girl enter

 

Anonymously, in two wooden stanzas, into which

You have entirely disappeared. Words, words,

That’s all you are, girl who never

Was a lover. And I likened you,

Body I could see through, to a catapult

The poem concerns itself with writing poetry and the poet looking through his notebooks and considering lost loves, regret and all in a stormy atmosphere. I like the variation between detail , here about the paraphernalia of writing and the vagueness…”here somewhere”. The latter representing ageing disorientation.

More on Fallon may be found at preview.co.uk where Seamus Heaney has written an appreciation and quotes some lines about Lands End.

 

 

 

 

Arthur Symons- Cornish Connections

Arthur Symons biography > My poetic side

Cornish Wind

There is a wind in Cornwall that I know
From any other wind, because it smells
Of the warm honey breath of heather-bells
And of the sea’s salt; and these meet and flow
With such sweet savour in such sharpness met
That the astonished sense in ecstasy
Tastes the ripe earth and the unvintaged sea.
Wind out of Cornwall, wind, if I forget :
Not in the tunnelled Streets where scarce men breathe
The air they live by, but wherever seas
Blossom in foam, wherever merchant bees
Volubly traffic upon any heath:
If I forget, shame me! or if I find
A wind in England like my Cornish wind.
This poem by Symons is perhaps a reminder that his parents were Cornish Methodists, his father, a preacher who once was a Minister at St Ives as well as at other parishes in the Duchy. I particularly like the line about “the ripe earth and the unvintaged sea” which by contrast brings evokes Homer’s Wine Dark Sea https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wine-dark_sea_(Homer). Then there is the a reference to merchant bees, perhaps because they transport pollen but then there are robust Cornish nlack bees (https://www.merchantsmanor.com/cornish-black-bees/).

There is an interesting review in the TLS of his Selected Early Poems and also his Spiritual Adventures by Kate Hext (January 12 2018) which begins with a poem which describes  the poet in sad old age at dinner. It was published by John Betjeman in 1940.


ON SEEING AN OLD POET IN THE CAFE ROYAL, by JOHN BETJEMAN

 

I saw him in the Café Royal,
Very old and very grand.
Modernistic shone the lamplight
There in London’s fairyland.
‘Devilled chicken. Devilled whitebait.
Devil if I understand.

‘Where is Oscar? Where is Bosie?
Have I seen that man before?
And the old one in the corner,
Is it really Wratislaw?’
Scent of Tutti-Frutti-Sen-Sen
And cheroots upon the floor.

There is a delightful exposition of Tutti Frutti Sen Sen and other commercial items in poetry by the late Clive James at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/69678/product-placement-in-modern-poetry

Waking with Rosa

Wenn du erwachst

Wenn du erwachsts
Baum der in dir Wächst
traumgrün
Hinter deinen Liden
schlummern Zinnsoldaten
singt der Friedenvogel
Wenn du erwachst
breent die Stadt
die Toten sind wach
und erwarten dich

When you awake

When you awake
Trees grown within you
green as dreams
Under your eyelids
tin soldiers slumber
the bird of peace sings
when you awake
the city is burning
the dead are awake
and waiting for you

Zinnsoldaten by Michael Gogol on Amazon Music - Amazon.com

More poems by Rosa Ausländer may be found at https://allpoetry.com/Rose-Auslander

 

Discovering a new poet- Ciaran Carson

The town where I live has many barber shops, betting shops (gambling dens) and fortunately many charity shops. Since the end of lock-down, as part of the recovery process I have been raiding the latter and especially one which has a rich supply of poetry books. Taking advantage of my reduced price filter coffee at 50p per cup, I thumbed through, “Poems of the Decade”  in which I happened upon two remarkable poems about historic battles by Ciaran Carson.

Here is the start of a poem about Gallipoli from a collection called The War Correspondant.

Take sheds and stalls from Billingsgate,
glittering with scaling-knives and fish,
the tumbledown outhouses of English farmers’ yards
that reek of dung and straw, and horses
cantering the mewsy lanes of Dublin;

take an Irish landlord’s ruinous estate,
elaborate pagodas from a Chinese Delftware dish
where fishes fly through shrouds and sails and yards
of leaking ballast-laden junks bound for Benares
in search of bucket-loads of tea as black as tin;

The full poem may be found at https://genius.com/Ciaran-carson-the-war-correspondent-annotated

My knowledge of Gallipoli comes from a visit during a minitrek in the early seventies and in addition the outstanding film with Mel Gibson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallipoli_(1981_film) 

However, this poem is remarkable with the tumbledown and dilapidated nautical images. There is a clear underlying structure but the surreal images build throughout this poem. I particularly liked the word “mewsy” and there are clear political references in the poem. The situation along with the following poem “Balaklava” show the desperation of war and both battles show the limits of British Imperialism. There is a strange surrealism to the lines-

elaborate pagodas from a Chinese Delftware dish
where fishes fly through shrouds and sails and yards

These somehow reflect the weirdness and disorientation of the context. The Delft reference reminds me too of another favourite poet, Derek Mahon. Yet there is also an association as the poem progresses of Kipling. Then there is a reference to horses which were present in the cramped situation. They were there to move the heavy guns of the Anzac forces. 6100 horses were ready to disembark but only a few were actually put ashore. A search reveals-

After Gallipoli many moderate nationalists began to lose faith in the idea that supporting Britain in the war would assure Home Rule. … But it was in August that Irishmen arrived at Gallipoli in large numbers as part of Allied commander Sir Ian Hamilton’s plan to break the stalemate and go on the offensive.

Sadly in discovering this new poet, I also found how recent was his passing in October of last year https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciaran_Carson

 

“Bronte Territories” by Melissa Hardie-an Appreciation

The Brontë sisters with their brother, Branwell, in a painting by him called the Gun Group Portrait.

Wandering down Chapel Street in Penzance, you cannot fail to recognise that you have entered that part of town where history feels close-by. The sea in the distance, the church and the chapel architecture is impressive, the Turk’s Head Tavern and the baroque wonder of the Egyptian House, the Portuguese consulate and almost opposite the house where George Eliot stayed waiting for calm weather for her voyage to the Scillies. Reading Melissa’s book is like taking a similar peregrination through lost corridors of time to recover a sense of the rich liveliness of Penwith’s past. Welcome to the psychogeography of Bronte’s Territories.

The Brontes are still much in the news. The Irish Times, just two weeks ago, were reporting on the O.U.P. computer analysis of Wuthering Heights apparently confirming it to be the work of Emily and not, as had been suggested, that of her brother Branwell. Iconoclasm may be in vogue. However, a square in Brussels – the city where two of the Bronte sisters studied French – is to be named in honour of the literary siblings. Other authors make claim to curious events in Shropshire in the early years of the 19th century drew the parents of genius together. It is to the intellectual and feminine furore of Penzance and its inspiring hinterland that Hardie’s work appropriately returns us.

In a key chapter on the literature and legend of Cornwall from 1760 much mention is made of the intriguing and taciturn figure of Joseph Carne, a geologist of great renown and an energetic banker. His personality was such that he combined a skill with numbers with a strong Methodist belief and mixed in a variety of literary circles. Nearby Falmouth was a key port for the Packet boats recorded in the poetry and memoirs of Byron and Southey. It too was the home of the Quaker family of Foxes who founded the Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1832. Carne was a friend and shared their Non-Conformist beliefs. Hardie shows how Carne encouraged his daughter in her geological studies and mentions the doctors, engineers, vicars and scientists whose cultural sources were enriched by contacts which included Bretons, Huguenots, Hessians as well as a significant Jewish community. She reminds us that in reading Davy, for example, we encounter not just a socially beneficent scientist, a traveller and a poet. This is the endowment the Branwell sisters took to Haworth.

It is interesting to consider that within this Cornish background at this period there were a number of competing beliefs and attitudes. There were the mythical beliefs fostered from folklore- piskies and stories in the expiring Cornish language. There was the old religion of Rome not far beneath the surface. Yet there were also new discoveries especially in medicine and geology that fostered a scientific empiricism. This can be seen in figures such as Davies Gilbert to whom this book gives due prominence- a polymath, mathematician, engineer and President of the Royal Society and a wonderful diarist to boot. William Temple much later stated, “The Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are still outside it. It is a mistake to suppose that God is only, or even chiefly, concerned with religion.” It was the evangelical zeal of the Wesley brothers and their belief in education, temperance combined with stunningly beautiful hymns. It was also a challenge to superstition. It is often said it averted revolution which France and later Peterloo portended.

Melissa Hardie shows us the other supportive factors that came into this heady mixture and sustained the Branwells and flowered in the Bronte’s work. These are twofold; the societies and the family or kinship links. The Penzance Ladies Reading group who carefully studied together a stunning variety of literature from the classics of the Ancients to the contemporary travel writings. Not forgetting the subversive eloquence of Lord Byron, a gentleman with Cornish links through the Trevanions. The founding of libraries and collection of artefacts had practical even economic benefits. The Royal Cornwall Geological Society studies into metallic intrusions assisted the efficiency of mining. Local banks provided the capital for further developments in the industry as well as the magnificent Wesleyan Chapels that the Carnes, Branwells and Battens founded and fostered.

The author has researched both land and legacy extensively. Her approach is frequently imaginative and sometimes speculative. This is a strength because she is also at pains to inform the reader of the limitations of the evidence. Footnotes and suggested reading in themselves are useful but the illustrations are worthy of pondering- several works of art in themselves. They add significant detail. This patient work by Melissa supported by other members of the resplendent Hypatia Trust must be counted as filling a deep fissure, or as we might say in Cornwall, a zawn in Bronte Studies.

See also from the Guardian –

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/29/bronte-grandfather-smuggling-past-financed-books-charlotte-emily-anne