Tuesday, June 19, 2018

COMMENTARY BY INDIRECTION on the present moment


This posting has three parts.  Over the years I have published five poems.  I published a poem in Poetry Ireland, Broadsheet and Arena--- the defining poetry journals of contemporary Ireland. A poem was published in a small Dutch magazine Manifest and another in a small journal published in the US.

The second part of the post is a walk around the art galleries in New York City.  The language of the handouts from the galleries in Chelsea reflect the art on display.  To reproduce the art would be a constant insult to the eye.  

The third part of the post are two passages from Curzio Malaparte's THE VOLGA RISES IN EUROPE, his reporting from two of the fronts following the German invasion of Russia in 1941.  

In a real sense it prepares for the reading for his two masterpieces: KAPUTT and THE SKIN which while describing his experiences in Europe during World War Two, can also be read as a description of the reality of Europe... as one remembers that the Third Balkan War filled up the 1990s... not that long ago... and of course a war continues by other means in the Ukraine.

                                    A PART


Thomas McGonigle
I left the train at five o'clock in the afternoon 
and found love 
dressed in a gymnazium uniform 
black with sewn-on white collar 
we talked 
she took me to her house 
ate fried cheese and drank red wine 
her mother came in later 
a fire was lit in the stove 
i told them of coming from Ireland 
waited while she translated for her mother 
told them of coming from America 
waited while she translated for her mother 
told them of going to Turkey 
waited while 
told i could stay as long 
nodded yes 
which in Bulgaria means no 
they nodded no 
which in Bulgaria means yes. 

In the morning 
after the night's narrow bed lying together 
we walked the lemon streets of Sofia 
viewed the corpse of Dimitrov 
went to the zoo 
saw the militzia guarded American Embassy 
talking of going to the mountains 
and the next years 
not realizing: 
our love 
would turn in upon itself 
we would rub together 
two files 
going in opposite directions.

Page 64, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 12
                                     A PART

AGAIN . walking through the art places in Chelsea... what remain are the sentences in the pages that the galleries and the artists put out for off-site consumption.

You will notice no names are attached to any of these sentences... I went walking on Thursday 7 June 2018. I read through the pile of paper this morning and circled lines and words... I avoided any attempt at ordering them.

-blurring the lines between our unwavering cultural dependence on technology and the power structures that benefit
-compression, transition, cadence, syncopation---these are the operative words when discussing the techniques and strategies

-to create visual fictions that deliver moments of wonder, silence and introspection

-his wide-ranging oeuvre

-experimentation with surface, tactility, geometry, color, and expressive juxtapositions infuse her paintings with vibrant energy

-a variety of visceral and psychological narratives that incorporate an amalgam of recurring themes

-namely playfulness, violence and sexuality

-his ever-explorative vision and curiosity in depicting forms in space-our perception of reality by placing untamed bamboo brooms and glistening fish eyes next to each other

-the immersive group exhibition

-this realm is just on the heroic side of human scale

-from the position of a creative strategy "newly planted."

-attempted to create metaphorical landscapes within my work, referencing the natural world, architecture and my interest in history, travel and literature

-the hyperrealism of ............sculpture highlights this conflict between the genuine and the fake
-this lyrical dimension also contributes to another layer of meaning, something....has described as a hypothetical narrative

-though his practice occupies a position between architecture and activism

-reverberate an unfamiliar dimension, a sense of fear and alertness, primal powers and the night

-the evolution of these hieroglyphic-like narrative-less 'texts.'

-space paintings appear looser, more stochastic and more open to incident

-the boundaries between broad and narrow bands of adjacent colors generates visual vibrations.

-finds.... deftly threading the needle between the familiar and strange, beauty and mystery

-.....'s provocateur nature is his seminal sculptural work

-emphasizing the role of traditional modes of thought and hegemonic institutions in stifling original thought

-these visible traces of the artist's hand counter the autonomous quality of the poured veils, suggesting........ wish to mediate the universality of her work with a more personal experience

-Will the rising form of the pale-yellow orb diffuse their transparent membranes?

-presented in glassless frames, the drawings are delicate, vulnerable even.  Overwhelmingly articulated in life-size scale, the figures insist on being beheld

                             A PART

++Sitting almost bolt upright in a shell-hole is a dead Russian soldier, his face splashed with blood.  Sprinkled on his knees and all around  him are innumerable tiny fragments of that fresh cheese made from sheeps' milk which in these parts goes by the name of brintsa.  His mouth is still full of food. He was eating when a shell- splinter struck him in the temple.

++Dust and rain, dust and mud.  Tomorrow the roads will be dry, the vast fields of sunflowers will crackle in the hot parching wind.  Then the mud will return.  This is Russia, this is the Russia of the Tsars, the Holy Russia of the Tsars, this is also the USSR---dust and  rain, dust and mud. This is the Russian war, the eternal Russian war, the Russian war of 1941 ...  AND then the winter will come--- the beautiful, beautiful winter, for as long as the winter lasts--- the beautiful, beautiful winter of Holy Russia, the winter of steel and cement of the USSR.  Such is the war against Russia, 1941

(from THE VOLGA RISES IN EUROPE by Curzio Malaparte. published by ALvin Redman Ltd, London 1957)

Friday, June 8, 2018



        There was a PAUSE  in my writing of these pages.  

        The now usual feeling of fatigue and despair as to the future of printed words.  But for some reason that gate has opened.  

        Possibly the news that the complete ANNIVERSARIES by Uwe Johnson will be appearing in the early fall from New York Review Books.  Like many I had read the two book version that Johnson himself had approved but the new version is the complete version of 2000+ pages.  

         A novel unimaginable in American writing yet the novel is set in the US in the year 1968.  The New York Times is a central fixture of the novel as it is read by the woman who is at the center of the novel and as she exists in both New York and in her past in Germany.  More about this... 

         and also in the fall, a biography from the French of Maurice Blanchot...  at one time only some years ago Blanchot was read and read by all those who were really interested in writing...but as the universal dumbness descended thanks to the now totalitarian political correctness in the colleges and the imposiiton of a rule by identity politics such a writer is now impossible to imagine being read... yet a biography is appearing from Fordham University Press...

         while the third push to return is the beginning of the translation and publication of the complete stories of VARLAM SHALAMOV.  Two books of his stories had appeared but they are but a taste of the breadth of this most heroic survivor of the Gulag...  

         Again it is New York Review Books that is doing the complete stories, translated by Donald Rayfield and the first book is now available at over 700 pages.  

         The simple reason that Shalamov is not better known is that he resisted any form of collaboration with the regime that had kept him as a slave in a gold mine in the Gulag for six years and then as a hospital worker so spending more that 15 years in the Gulag.  What makes his work remarkable is that he survived and did not shrink away from the simple awfulness and the fact that nothing is really learned from the experience except that one has survived.  

        A friend George Kamen who was a medical doctor and psychcoanaylst and exile from Bulgaria went back to Bulgaria after "the changes" to interview both the guards and the prisoners and discovered that both groups of people felt a great shame as to what had happened to them.  

          The shame of the guards was understandable to anyone but George did not live long enough to fully understand the shame of the prisoners as it was more than the survivor guilt.  It is this terrible truth that is at the center of Shalamov's work.  

       Rayfield includes in his intrioduction an unpublished fragment by Shalamov with the title:  WHAT I SAW AND UNDERSTOOD IN THE CAMPS...  I will record three of them:  

17:  I understood why people do not live on hope---there isn't any hope.  Nor can they survive by means of free will---what free will is there?  They live by instinct, a feeling of self-preservation, on the same basis as a tree, a stone, an animal. 

36. I understand the thieves were not human. 

45.  I understood that a writer has to be a foreigner in the questions he is dealing with, and if he knows his material well, he will write in such a way that nobody will understand him.

      Statement 45 I have the feeling describes  my own understanding in some way  of my own books both published and unpublished. 

         A sure sign of incipient crankhood is the writing of letters to the editor.  I have done this over the years and once achieved the feat of two letters within one week in The Irish Times IN (1974).

        I have recently sent 4 letters to the Times Literary Supplement and they have published one of them.  Here they are and I will not pick out the one which was published.


          Sir, It was nice to see the review of new edition of a biography of Hans Henny Jahn (June 1) but one must question the assertion "effectively unknown."  I have next to me as I type the Charles Scribner's Sons edition published with a nice spare green dust jacket of The Ship (from 1961) and of course one has from 2012 the Atlas Press edition of the stories mentioned in your review.  I would note that the collected edition, in German it is true, of Jahn was prominently on display in the library of Julian Rios who I interviewed in France once upon a time for The Guardian.  
       It would be better to lament the dreary prejudice of too many publishers for the living when it comes to doing translations into English.  More frequently the dead give better value as they are not celebrating the commonplace cliches of the present.


       Sir, A certain sadness over here at the news (May 11) that the Pillars of Hercules is boarded up as I recall meeting there on July 27, 2012, the writer (Born in the UK and  Dire Straits) and former editor of Melody Maker, Mike Oldfield to talk about something I have forgotten but then very important.  We were both surprised when we looked up to the TV and realized the Olympics were opening that night in another part of London.  I wonder if any other writers were in there as could one have  had better seats?


       Sir,  I would like to second the very thoughtful defense of George Steiner by Leslie Chamberlain (Letters 23 March 2018).  He came to a class in the School of the Arts at Columbia University while I was a student  there in the very early 70s to talk about his own fiction.  He admitted that he was a bit jealous of our good fortune to have Anthony Burgess as a professor since he was the only British writer who he thought was really interesting and knowledgeable of world writing both in his own writing and in his criticism.  He also admired the school for having visitors like Jorge Luis Borges, Nadine Gordimer and Nicanor Parra as such revealed what could be done.  He left us with the comment that the only living German language writer he was interested in was Thomas Bernard.  
       Later I wrote to Steiner that the chairman of Alfred A. Knopf, Bernhard's publisher, told me that the first three of Bernhard's books that they had published  had sold less than a 1000 copies  each. Steiner replied that he thought the man was exaggerating given the reality of American literary culture.


The review of "The Discovery of Chance" a book by  Aileen M. Kelly (March 3) about the Russian writer Alexander Herzen reminded me of Eugene Lambe, who lived for many years in Long Acre in a top floor flat above what was at first Bertram Rota and then The Gap.  There were three objects in the flat:  a David Hockney print on the wall, a wooden painted flower and the bound hardcover edition of Herzen's My Past and Thoughts.  These objects were never discussed but their meaning was supposed to be obvious.  

Lambe was from Northern Ireland, a one time  law student at Trinity College, Dublin, the dedicatee of poems by Derek Mahon, was claimed as being a servant by the very wealthy property owner George Lawson, was a friend of Peter Ackroyd, J.P. Donleavy and Giles Gordon, a frequenter of The French Pub, the father of a son named Orlando whose mother was an heir of the Hudson Bay Trading Company and after dying of a heart-attack in a gay disco in Covent Garden  among those attending his funeral were his two brothers, high officers  in the British Army, one of whom was in charge of British forces in Bosnia at that time.  

To the writer of this letter Lambe insisted that when visiting the nearby National Gallery  one should never look at more than two paintings  per visit as the third will make you forget the three of them.