The wound is the place where the light enters you. RUMI Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. RUMI

If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath. AMIT RAY

Monday, 24 October 2016

Onto A Vast Plain

Krista Tippett (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
I've been enjoying the podcasts on Krista Tippett's inspiring website, On Being (thanks, George McHenry). Out walking this morning I listened to her conversation with Joanna Macy — translator of Rilke, philosopher of ecology and Buddhist scholar.

Summer has gone and winter storms will soon be with us.

'Onto a Vast Plain'

You are not surprised at the force of the storm —
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees' blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.
Through the empty branches the sky remains.

It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

RILKE Book of Hours, II 1 


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Margery Clute: Literary Phenomenon Or Provincial Nobody?

Charlotte and Emily Brontë's writing table in the Haworth Parsonage Museum.

Following a recent visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, I was reminded again of that little-known Yorkshire poet Margery Clute (1824-76), who, I'm reliably informed, entered into and vanished from the lives of the Brontës like a wraith on the Pennine moors. When you've had a surfeit of Emily Brontë's poetry, and you're wondering where to turn next, it's well worth perusing Clute's (admittedly meagre) output for a bit of light relief.

It's on record that Clute became increasingly jealous of and vindictive towards the Brontë sisters, particularly Charlotte and Emily, as it became more and more evident that her own work would never achieve the starry heights so obviously destined for these superior writers. What's not always realised is the extent to which Clute tried to sabotage the work and reputation of her talented contemporaries. For example, she was in the habit of accompanying minor portrait painter Branwell Brontë on some of his habitual pub crawls around Haworth — not for reasons of social intercourse or beer-soaked bonhomie (indeed, Clute was strictly teetotal), but in order to clinically observe Branwell's progressive inebriation and document each sordid detail in her notebook in a neat and precise hand. (This cold and calculating attitude, it may be argued, is a necessary stimulus to creativity. Did not Graham Greene talk of the writer's 'splinter of ice in the heart'?) Although she never actually used any of this 'evidence', as far as I can gather, it was always there in case she needed it in her secret campaign to sully the Brontë image.

Another story, so incredible it must be true, goes as follows. Clute kept a pet magpie which she'd found injured in Haworth churchyard. She nursed the bird until it was completely recovered, training it easily, as one can an intelligent corvid. Then, one warm summer's day, when Tabitha Aykroyd, the Brontës' housekeeper, had opened the rectory windows to let in some fresh air, Clute introduced the magpie through the window of the downstairs room where Charlotte and Emily were in the habit of working at a large mahogany writing desk. It promptly flew across to a sheaf of papers on the table, picked them up in its beak and carried them off into the treetops. Neither bird nor booty were ever seen again. The papers comprised the half-finished manuscript of Emily Brontë's second novel, provisionally entitled Blethering Depths. Emily never restarted the work.

One final apocryphal narrative suggests that Margery Clute is in fact a pseudonym for the obscure Bradford poet William Eckerslyke, though why he should adopt a female name is a mystery, as it would be an invitation to even less attention and fewer book sales (after all, the Brontë sisters adopted the masculine first names of Currer, Acton and Ellis in order to evade the pervasive nineteenth-century prejudice against female writers, and, of course, Mary Ann Evans published under the name George Eliot). 

I've been able to trace very few of Clute's poems myself. Despite rumours of a second slim volume of verse, possibly called Moorland Ditties, her only verifiable published work is Fallen Leaves, which is extremely rare, and I believe only a handful of copies exist in this country (there are tattered copies in New York and Tokyo, I'm told, which are being repaired and restored as we speak). The bulk of the short, privately-printed run may have disappeared in the Great Fire of Ramsbottom (1888). However, I do know that one or two of my blog friends and followers have more than a passing interest in Clute's oeuvre, and may be able to supply me with one or two of her poetic gems. If anyone can contribute, please do so in the comments section. With grateful thanks.

Could one of these indecipherable tombstones in Haworth churchyard mark the grave of Margery Clute?

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Garden In September

Climbing rose 'Golden Showers'.

This morning really felt like autumn, with fog in the air and dewdrop-beaded spider webs on the lawn. But come afternoon a warm sun shone, and insects reappeared as if by magic, making the most of what could be the last day of this Indian summer. Bees, hoverflies and Small Cabbage White butterflies busied themselves on the asters, the fuchsias and the lavenders — harvesting pollen and nectar in one last mad rush. 

Peering closely I found yet more spider webs festooned vertically between the aster and lavender stalks. A spider guarded the centre of one web, gloating over what looked like a small hoverfly shrouded in gossamer. I blew the web very gently, and she scurried along the outermost strand of silk to take camouflaged refuge in a flower head. When satisfied things were safe, she traced the same route back to her prey.

Because of the dry summer, and because I hadn't watered nearly enough, many plants had withered weeks ago. But the 'Golden Showers' climbing rose was still putting out blooms — always the first rose to flower and the last to succumb — and some of the dahlias were still going strong. At the bottom end of the garden the plums were now picked, or had fallen or shrivelled on the branch, and Red Admiral and Comma butterflies gorged on the scanty, squelchy remains.
Two Comma butterflies in the plum tree. The one in the top left-hand corner, disturbed by a shadow or vibration, has folded its raggy-edged wings. What perfect camouflage! 

Friday, 26 August 2016

Recollections Of Fado And Jazz

Lee Morgan (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Vagabonde is a blog friend of mine and writes the blog Recollections of a Vagabonde. Recently she made some fascinating comments on my posts about fado and jazz. They were so interesting that I'm reproducing them here with her permission. (I thought many of you may have missed them, and they really are too good to miss.)

Vagabonde lives in Atlanta, Georgia, but was born and raised in Paris. Her mother was a French Parisian and her father an Armenian from Istanbul. She emigrated to the USA, to San Francisco, in the 1960s, and lived there for ten years. She has been back to Paris more than sixty times since then, and has dual citizenship.

I heard Amália Rodrigues in the 1950s and bought many 45 records of hers. She was very famous in France and was often on French TV. I have loved fado music because of her for decades and even studied some Portuguese so I could understand its lyrics. I appreciate saudade and feel it when I miss my other country and original language. I also went to Lisbon specially to hear the music live and visit the fado museum. Another great singer is Maria Teresa de Noronha, a Portuguese aristocrat. If you don’t know her, go on YouTube and you’ll be able to listen to her great voice – she was a traditional fado singer. Portuguese brought me also to Cesária Évora, a great Cape Verde traditional singer. I was able to watch her live in Paris the year before she passed away. 

My, oh my  — to represent jazz it would be hard for me to decide who to include. I started to listen to jazz in the late 1950s and went to jazz clubs in Paris and London at that time. Also being in Paris it was easy to go and watch Duke Ellington, Mile Davis, Sidney Bechet and others when they came there. Also in Paris I used to go and watch Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – I have several records signed by him. One of the main reasons I went to the US was to listen to jazz, live. In New York I listened to several jazz greats at the Village Vanguard.

My first four months in San Francisco were spent, every night, at the Blackhawk Jazz Club in the Tenderloin district, where I saw the MJQ, Lee Morgan, Horace Silver and others. One of my all time favourites is Thelonious Monk, but I also like Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan in the cool jazz style. I spent my first Thanksgiving at the home of Earl 'Fatha' Hines in Oakland - I believe Coltrane was there, and maybe Philly Joe Jones, Charlie Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Paul Chambers, but that was a long time ago – I forget. Then in North Beach there was the Jazz Workshop where I saw Dizzy Gillespie (who tried to pick me up!); Cannonball Adderley, Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and John Coltrane were all regulars there too. Carmen McRae was singing there as well. Then, after that, I think starting in 1965 in San Francisco, both the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom featured both jazz musicians and rock 'n' roll like Janice Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Co. Nice to remember all this (I still have all my Blue Note 33 LPs).

I was raised with music – my father had a player piano in my bedroom and as a child I would listen to Scott Joplin’s rags (in-between Chopin’s waltzes!) Then, later, when I visited London, I would go to all the New Orleans type places in Soho. When I went to school in London I would also go once a week to a pub that had great jazz. Have you read my 2011 blog post A New Year Party to Remember? It mentions jazz in London. 

In Paris at that time there was a radio station, Europe No. 1, that had started a broadcast called Pour Ceux Qui Aiment le Jazz one hour every evening (Monday night modern jazz, Tuesday night New Orleans jazz, Wednesday night a concert, and so on.) That is where I learnt a lot about jazz and all the musicians. It would advertize where you could go and hear jazz musicians in Paris. The show would start with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers playing Blues March for Europe No.1 (I still know it by heart, and my heart jumps when I hear it . . . You can listen to it here.) Lee Morgan played trumpet in this piece. It’s funny that I saw Lee Morgan many times in San Francisco after that, and became friendly with his girlfriend. We would sit together at the club listening to him. In Paris I also had a subscription to the magazine Jazz-Hot, a French magazine on jazz, started in 1935. In my circle then, in Paris and London, I was a lot more into jazz than in the US. France has always been strong on jazz since WWI, when the US black musicians who had been fighting the war stayed in Paris to avoid the racism back home. There are some interesting books about this. I still listen to jazz.

Saudade: A Portuguese term for a state of deep emotional longing for an absent something or someone that one loves.

MJQ: Modern Jazz Quartet.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Ten Of The Best: Bob Dylan (10)

I got the pork chops, she got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I

Two of my favourite Dylan lines ever — apart from all the numerous others. 

This is a great video montage to a soundtrack of Thunder on the Mountain, the first song on Dylan's thirty-second studio album, Modern Times, released in 2006.

What can I say about Dylan that hasn't been said a million times and in a million ways before? What I will say is that whatever you or the world are going through (emotionally, spiritually, politically, economically, physically, existentially) he's nailed that experience somewhere in one of his songs — perhaps in the whole song, perhaps in just a few words or lines. Where else can you find that except in the Tao Te Ching, the Holy Bible, Shakespeare or Winnie-the-Pooh?

Thunder on the mountain, fires on the moon
There's a ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

For the complete lyrics to this song click here.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Ten Of The Best: Joni Mitchell (9)

Much as I love Carole King, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Kate Wolf, Lucinda Williams and many other female singer-songwriters, for me Joni Mitchell is in a class of her own — right up there in that hallowed realm alongside Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Clouds, Ladies of the Canyon, Blue, For the Roses, Court and Spark, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Hejira, Shadows and Light, Turbulent Indigo — all these records are absolute favourites of mine and, much like Bob Dylan's releases, form the soundtrack to different periods of my life. Blue has to be one of the classic LPs of all time; I still get the shivers if I play it now. Perhaps I didn't appreciate some of her later CDs quite as much, though Shine (2007) is superb, I think.

The video is a really good live version of Song for Sharon (from Joni's fabulous album Hejira), performed at a concert in London's Wembley Arena in 1983.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Ten Of The Best: Carole King (8)

When my father bought a radiogram in the early 1970s, my sister and I were able to buy records for the very first time. Not that we could buy many, as we had little money. But I remember quite clearly our first prized LPs, mostly released in 1970 and 1971 — such wonderful years for music: John Lennon's Imagine, Carole King's Tapestry, Sweet Baby James by James Taylor, Relics by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin III, Emerson, Lake and Palmer's eponymous first album, Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits (1967). We played them over and over again on what was a ridiculously poor sound system. Radiograms were meant as furniture, not hi-fi, and the whole fake-teak structure vibrated alarmingly even at moderate volume. I could have chosen any of these records, but I've picked Tapestry, which is for me one of the most iconic pieces of vinyl ever — perfect voice, perfect songs, perfect arrangements, perfect piano, perfect production, perfect cover design. This album is emblematic of an era.