Thursday 30 October 2008

Killer Opening Songs (Naufragio by Yusa)

Carrying on from last week's theme of tracks which should be Killer Opening Songs but they are not, our weekly section travels to my birthplace, Cuba. And whilst there we venture into the well-known neighbourhood Buena Vista in west Havana. However, my chiquitines, if you think that this is going to be a post about the famous ensemble of performers put together by Don Juan de Marcos, Nick Gold and Ry Cooder in the mid 90s, you can start filling up your hankies with boogies and tears now, because... no, it's not a column about Cuba's most famous export since beards became equally fashionable almost fifty years ago to the day.

This post is more about why Cuba is such a wonderful place for music, both the creation and the development of it. And if Killer Opening Songs sounds slightly jingoistic this week, I hope you don't mind, please, because K.O.S. won't mind either.

Yusa, our guest tonight, was born in Havana's charming suburb of Buena Vista (yes, Killer Opening Songs is aware of that, too, but to K.O.S. all parts of Havana have their own very special charm, thank you very much). Her music is an eclectic mix of styles which more accurately reflect the musical multiplicity of contemporary Cuban culture. She draws some of her inspiration from the nueva trova traditsion, but has acknowledged in interviews that she has also been influenced by musicians as dissimilar as Led Zeppelin, Djavan, Bobby Carcassés and Sting. Although she has often been compared to Tracy Chapman, the cynic inside Killer Opening Songs thinks that this statement is nothing but laziness on the part of music journalists. If every time we see a guitar-toting black female, the only reference we can come up with is the Cleveland-born chanteuse, then the future looks bleak and grim for performers like Yusa.

Yusa studied at Havana's Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and during her time there, she also picked up the cuban tres (a traditional Cuban guitar with three pairs of double-strings). This shows the fiery side in her as women on the Caribbean island are not known for playing this instrument. She has also been known to play keyboard and bass in her albums.

The track K.O.S. is uploading tonight is included in her second album Breathe from 2005 and is called 'Naufragio (Shipwreck)'. It deals with urban loneliness and desolation. Its opening lines 'Hace frío y quema/Todo tiembla/La calle escupe hielo/El aire se quebró/Partículas de sol/Incrustándose al invierno/Sabores de la escarcha/Vibraciones del color' (This cold is burning me/Everything shakes/The street spits ice/The air is broken/Sun fragments/Frost flavours/Colour vibrations) are heart-rending and dig deep in the listener's soul. The track continues along the same path of hope followed by hopelessness, inspiration destroyed by indifference. That's how we get to the stanza in French and especially the line below, which to me sums up pretty much the feelings and frustrations of the Cuban youth of both the 90s and the noughties: 'Qui t’a dit que l’unique façon de vivre/c’est de vendre ton destin?' (Who told you that the only way to live is by selling out?). This is followed by an even more poignant line still in French: 'la vie nous appelle/on va recommencer a zéro/on va commencer a vivre' (life is calling us, we're going start from zero, we're going to start living). Everytime Killer Opening Songs listens to this particular track and this particular verse, tears moist its eyes and memories of those Cubans long gone, drowned in the choppy waters of the Florida straits or gone on planes Europe or North America bound, come to mind. The song was written by Pavel Urquiza, who, as many of the Cuban readers who pop by this blog regularly know, was one half of one of the most talented outfits in the Havana of the 90s, Gema & Pavel, and one of the most forward-thinking, innovative singer-songwriters from the so-called 'Generacion de los Topos' (Mole Generation).

Why was this track not the Killer Opening Song of this fantastic album? K.O.S. e-mailed Yusa to ask her for her opinion on the matter, highlighting the fact that it was not questioning her decision to slot this song in the 11th position rather than at the top at all. That would be taking this music malarkey a bit too serious. K.O.S. has not had any reply yet, but trusts that Yusa will get in touch with it as soon as possible.

In the meantime, enjoy this live performance by Yusa, a classic example of excellent Cuban music.

For earlier Killer Opening Songs, click on the links below:

Killer Opening Songs (D'Angelo's Brown Sugar)
Killer Opening Songs (Sinéad O'Connor's 'Fire on Babylon')
Killer Opening Songs (Queen's Mustapha)
Killer Opening Songs (Caetano Veloso-Haiti)
Killer Opening Songs (David Bowie - Unwashed and S...
Killer Opening Songs (Massive Attack - Safe From H...
Killer Opening Songs (Bob Brozman)
Killer Opening Songs (Vanessa da Mata - Vermelho)
Killer Opening Songs (The Beatles-Help!)
Killer Opening Songs (Souad Massi-Raoui)
Killer Opening Songs (Habib Koité - Batoumambé)
Killer Opening Songs (Mary Black - No Frontiers)
Killer Opening Songs (Chico Buarque & Milton Nasci...
Killer Opening Songs (David Gilmour - Shine On You...
Killer Opening Songs (Ernesto Lecuona - 'La Compar...
Killer Opening Songs (Chopin 'Fantaisie-Impromptu ...

Copyright 2008

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism by Derrick Bell

Is racism still alive and kicking in 21st century USA? Are black people doomed to fail despite the achievements of the Civil Rights Era? And who is responsible for this situation, blacks or whites?

These and other questions are asked and analysed in detail by the influential writer and academic Derrick Bell in his book 'Faces at the Bottom of the Well' (the title is based on a quote by W.E.B. Du Bois) and his conclusions are rather pessimistic. To Bell, “racism is an integral, permanent and indestructible component of this [American] society”. These are hardly encouraging words in a year when a Democratic candidate is running to become the first black president of the United States of America. But with typical pragmatism Bell sweeps aside suggestions that the US is heading towards a state of racial harmony.

That this book came out in 1992, when the Bill Clinton era was ushered in, should in no way be a deterrent to a reader in 2008. In chapters like 'The Racial Preference Licensing Act' and 'The Space Traders' we see examples of how even under the administration of a 'racially moderate' President, the mechanics of the racial debate have changed and become subtler. In 'The Racial Preference Licensing Act', Bell imagines a USA where people could apply for a license authorising them to exclude or separate persons on the basis of race and colour. One of the conclusions he arrives at is that such an act, illogical and crazy as it might sound, would work in black people's favour: at last they would stop second-guessing whether they are being discriminated against, as everything would be out in the open.
And as the race for the White House enters its final bend, issues like these, explored and masterfully debated, will make all the difference when it comes to marking those ballot papers.
This review appeared first on Catch a Vibe, a new online alternative guide to black culture in London.
Copyright 2008

Sunday 26 October 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Allegro)

'Tomas came to this conclusion: making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman)'

'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' by Milan Kundera

The first time I read this novel by the famous Czech writer it was a Spanish translation that did the rounds when I was still in Uni in Cuba. In those days the country was entering a recession that became an economic crisis and texts by writers such as Kundera were avidly devoured by literature lovers like me, desperate to find an alternative to the political dogma we were living at the time (and still live now). The queue to read the novel was long which meant that I had to rush through the book as quick as Usain Bolt ran the 100 metres at the Beijing Olympics last summer. However, I got the gist of it and liked it enough to give it another read as soon as I had a chance.

That opportunity arrived a few years later after I finished my intensive course at the French Alliance in Havana. The level I obtained was high enough to enable me to read in that language without resorting to a bilingual dictionary the whole time, although I still carried one with me, just in case. The novel was available at the resources centre in the building. This time around I had no need to disguise the book because it was very unlikely that I would get stopped on the street for reading 'L'Insoutenable Légèreté de l'Être' (Note: in both French and Spanish the translation of the novel's title does not correspond to that in English. In Spanish it is 'La Insoportable Levedad del Ser' which renders the book a different meaning, but that's another post for the near future). With more time in hands and not a single person queuing up to borrow the novel after me, I took longer to attempt to decipher Kundera's symbolisms and as a consequence I was able to enjoy the nuances in the narrative more.

Fast forward a couple of years later and when I relocated to the UK in 1997, two of the first books I purchased were 'The Joke', Milan's first novel and 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being'. Apart from noticing that the translation was very good, I also spotted a couple of details: one was the difference between the titles in Spanish/French and English already referred to above and the other one was the passage I quoted at the beginning of this post.

Both in the Spanish and French versions the verbs used in the quote were 'dormir' and 'acostarse' ('to sleep') in that order, so instead of inferring that the person was engaging in coital activity the image I got was rather of someone enjoying another person's company in bed.

Why this disparity? And by no means understand the nature of my confusion as a contentious line of enquiry. It is just that there's a massive gulf between both acts in the languages I mentioned previously. However, it is the English version that makes more sense at first as someone who has read the book will aver.

The plot centres on the aforementioned Tomas, a Czech doctor who begins a relationship with Tereza, a waitress at a hotel. After Tomas spends the night at the hotel Tereza follows him to Prague the next day. Tomas is a serious philanderer and this is when the above quote rears its head. At this point in the novel, the doctor violates his unwritten contract of erotic friendships that stipulates that he should exclude all love from his life. In order to achieve this, he never sleeps with the women he conquers. This, according to him, is the corpus delicti of love.

The passage quoted before appears in chapter 6 of the 1st Part, 'Lightness and Weight', page 14. By then, Tereza has managed to get a strong grip on him (literally, as she squeezes his hand tightly whilst sleeping) and he surprisingly finds himself warming to her. This is where my linguistic confusion appears. As Tomas runs through the previous few hours spent together making love, 'he began to sense an aura of hitherto unknown happines emanating from them'. So, the English version is very succinct and to the point on this. Or is it?

The next paragraph chucks this notion out of the window. 'From that time on they both looked forward to sleeping together. I might even say that the goal of their lovemaking was not so much pleasure as the sleep that followed it'. It is at this point where both Spanish and French have the upper hand over English. Whereas we have two main words (amongst others) to describe the act of rest afforded by a suspension of voluntary bodily functions and the natural suspension, complete or partial, of consciousness, in English the boundaries are more blurred. Can you say or write 'to sleep with someone' without implying a carnal liaison? Note that we're dealing with strangers or acquaintances. Of course, I have slept with friends of mine and no one has every thought anything of it. But how about when we step out of our friends and relatives' circle? Does it still have the same innocent meaning?

And yes, that's a question for you my dear reader. Because, despite having a good command of and being very keen on this lovely lexicon, English sometimes has the reputable rabbit tucked well inside its hat and makes it appear when I least expect it.

In order to clarify this conundrum, I e-mailed the translator who transposed the novel from Czech to English. And no, I was not and I am not questioning his credentials at all. This is not a post about translation. I wrote one about that subject just the other day. This is a post about the confusion that sets in when Romance languages go to battle against the Germanic ones. No losers, just winners, mind.

The translator, Professor Michael Henry Haim, first came to Kundera's attention when the former published a very good translation of two passages of 'The Joke'. Milan was touched by the professor's gesture because previously Kundera's debut novel had been translated without taking into account his opinion at all, especially in the structuring of the chapters. The result was a literary piece of work almost completely divorced from its creator's original idea. It was professor Haim who carried out the translation of 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' and it's because of him that I was able to enjoy the novel once more, this time in English.

Mr Haim has not replied to my e-mail so far and I can only speculate as to why there's such a stark difference between the versions in Spanish, French and that in English. I can't speak Czech, in fact Slavic languages are not my forte and therefore my conclusion is that for want of a better word in English to sum up the act of sleeping with someone without implying sexual intercourse, the professor had to resort to the better-known phrase 'make love', which in reality does not fully express what Tereza feels for Tomas, and what he himself experiences in return.

I would be really grateful to you, readers and fellow bloggers, if you could give me your opinion on this subject. Although I do think in English (it would be a funny old world for me if I was to translate each and every thought of mine) I am not a native and maybe I am wrong in assuming that English cannot provide a fitting equivalent to those two words in Spanish and French (dormir/acostarse con) and (dormir/se coucher) respectively besides the conspicuous 'to sleep'. This cyber-conversation will be continued in future posts.

Thanks, and now, if you all excuse me, it is time for me to go to bed to sleep with my other half. Good night.

Copyright 2008

Song for an Autumn Sunday Morning

Sevara Nazarkhan - Gazli

Thursday 23 October 2008

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

In the darkness of Giovanni's Room the reader comes across not only a love affair that blossoms between two people but also a story that defies preconceptions. James Baldwin's 1957 novel proved to be controversial for various reasons: the main characters are two white men; it takes place in Paris, far away from the social upheaval the US was undergoing at the time. And finally it places the theme of homosexuality, still a taboo subject in most black literature, at the heart of the narrative.

Baldwin's standing as a writer did not suffer too much as he had already published a very successful novel (Go Tell it On the Mountain) and a trail-blazing collection of essays, Native Son. Therefore Giovanni's Room was seen mainly as an exploration into themes like homosexual love, misogyny and the cultural gap between nations.

David's confusion renders the novel its tragic tone. In trying to commit to his girlfriend and attempting to keep Giovanni, David leads the latter towards his tragic fate. Critics have always been divided as to whether the outcome of the affair was intended as punishment for Giovanni, the only one of the two men who wants to take their relationship further.

In the same way that David in the novel is faced with the choice between his American fiancée and his European boyfriend, Baldwin, too, grappled with alienation from the culture whence he came. His intention was to be acknowledged simply as a writer, yet the pervasive racism in the United States hindered those ambitions. Hence Giovanni's Room importance in freeing the young Baldwin and allowing him to wander through territories that most black writers at that time would have eschewed.

This review appeared first on Catch a Vibe, a new online alternative guide to black culture in London.

Copyright 2008

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Killer Opening Songs (David Bowie - Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed)

What happens when a Killer Opening Song is not a Killer Opening Song? No, no, K.O.S. is not trying to confuse you my dear reader, but recently K.O.S. felt at a loss after listening to a particular record: David Bowie's 1969 'Space Oddity'. Our Weekly Section on Great Introductory Album Tracks was already familiar with the record from its days in uni, yet its attention had always been captured, not by the title track with its famous 'Ground control to Major Tom' line, but by the second tune 'Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed', a raw rock'n'roll affair that threw K.O.S. off its stride the first time it heard it. K.O.S. has already blogged about this particular song before (you can read the article here) but in essence it can be summed up as terrestrial bedlam of the good kind.

This conundrum put K.O.S. to think of all those tracks that deserve to be in pole position in a record and yet end up being number five, eight or last. K.O.S. is aware that this opinion is completely subjective. After all its own definition of a Killer Opening Song is 'Composition at the beginning of an album whose aim is to make a strong and vivid impression on the listener, thus encouraging him/her to continue to listen to the record until the end'. So, is giving priority to musical numbers whose authors deemed not worthy enough to be placed at the beginning of their record contradictory? Yes, but by now you should be used to K.O.S.'s occasionally wilful and capricious ways. That's why, for the next few weeks it will be uploading tracks that it believes should have been Killer Opening Songs but never made the cut. Think of it as a way to redress the balance and right a wrong. You could also (unfairly, K.O.S. hastens to add) think of it as a way of K.O.S. uploading clips of songs that are very dear to it and whose position in an album disqualifies them from being included in a weekly section that it is all about Killer Opening Songs. For the time being, here's David Bowie with 'Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed'. And also for good measure, K.O.S. included the video of 'Space Oddity', too.

Note: The link below will take you to It's a fantastic website and I can't recommend it highly enough. Download your own scrobbler, sit back and enjoy the lovely surprises will throw at you. Thanks.

'Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed'

Copyright 2008

Friday 17 October 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Vivace)

Amidst all the conmotion caused by the recent financial meltdown in the US and Europe the linguistic pedant in me has only had time to focus on one particular word that has been bandied about in newspapers both in the USA and GB. Never uttered by broadcasters or newsreaders, this word has had more cameo appearances in the written press than 'Joe' from 'Friends' has had leading roles since the famous show wrapped up.

Schadenfreude has been defined by the online dictionary I regularly default to as 'enjoyment taken from the misfortune of someone else.' Always capitalized, as are all other nouns in the German language, this term is totally apposite to how the majority of the population feels towards the bankers responsible for so much turmoil, otherwise known as... (and here, the reader might want to insert a British slang term that rhymes with the aforementioned profession, and which yours truly is loath to reproduce in print for fear of offending the well-meaning folk who visit these cyber-shores). On talking to other people about this 'completely-out-of-the-blue economic crisis' (Ha! Who are they kidding?) the feeling I get from them is one of largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of these merchants of doom.

The word Schadenfreude is a linguistic beauty. Derived from the German Schaden (damage, harm) and Freude (joy), this term carries a heavy sadistic meaning inside it and yet you wouldn't notice it. The 'sch' sound cushions the brutal impact of such strong definition. However, before our Teutonic friends get a bit too 'fröhlich' about this latest Anglo-Saxon-German encounter (and without a penalty shoot-out in sight, would you believe it!) I must warn them that there is a word in the English language that means almost the same.

Epicaricacy is derived from the Greek and it first made its debut in Nathan Bailey's 18th-century Universal Etymological English Dictionary. It used to be spelled Epicharikaky but with the passing of time its ortography changed to what it is today. Its history tells us that it is a compound word made up of the Greek words epi (upon), chaira (joy), and kakon (evil).

Brushing aside reports that apparently people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude (notice the non-capitalisation in English) than are people who have high self-esteem (no, me neither), lately I have found myself struggling to sympathise with those who play Russian roulette with our mortgages and finances. I know that it is my duty to feel compassion for my kinfolk in times of distress and yet the only maxim that comes to mind is that of Nietzsche when he said 'Lachen heißt: schadenfroh sein, aber mit gutem Gewissen': "Humour is just Schadenfreude with a clear conscience."

Now, that's a piece of advice I am willing to follow, how about you?

Image taken from

Copyright 2008

Thursday 16 October 2008

'Shame' by Salman Rushdie


Sorry. Let me start again.

You enter Salman Rushdie's realm at your own peril. And you are entirely responsible for it. Do not come back to tell me that I did not warn you, that you did not know, that you were lured. The odds are that once you are in Rushdian territory you will either leave in haste, or you will stay until the end. Whichever way you go, you will have a strong reaction towards the book you have just read. But that's Salman for you.

And 'Shame' reinforces that view in my opinion. This novel is based on the contemporary politics of Pakistan, not that you would know it, though, as Rushdie plays 'now you see it, now you don't', whenever it becomes too obvious that the country featured in the novel might be that Asian land. The shame of the title comes as the result of the political intrigues in this imaginary nation. However, far from being a political or historical narrative, the book bathes in dark humour. There's even a little nod to Walt Disney's abstract animation 'Fantasia', in my opinion, with the novel's myriad surreal characters. At some point I expected some of the personages to start performing 'Dance of the Hours' in tutus and ballet slippers.

'Shame' centres on the figure of Iskander Harappa, the Prime Minister du jour, and his relationship with his rival Raza Hyder, the President. But these two gentlemen are merely supporting characters in a tapestry that incorporates a mentally disabled woman transformed into an avenging angel (Raza's daughter Sufiya, whose name gives the book its name), another progeny, Iskander's offspring monstrous, cold-hearted daughter Ironpants, who is the real power behind the power; and last but not least, Omar Khayam Shakil, son of three sisters who claim to jointly share his maternity.

It is this last character who is left in charge of sketching out the course of action in the novel from the beginning. At his three mothers' six breasts, Omar is warned against all feelings and nuances of shame. Through his marital union with Sufiya, Rushdie explores the contradictions and problems of Pakistan, circa the Bhutto and Zia eras. The result is a devastating political satire and exquisite, uproarious entertainment.

The only flaw I can spot in the novel is that unlike its predecessor, 'Midnight's Children', 'Shame' seems effortful in parts due to Salman's indulgence in too much verbiage in certain passages, a trait seized upon by his detractors. However, the result is far from detrimental to the book, rather it is like seeing someone gorging themselves with too much chocolate. We nod silently and smile complicitly.

It is hard to believe that Salman's fatwa came only after the publication of his most famous oeuvre 'The Satanic Verses'. 'Shame' puts Islam under the microscope in a way that most imams would find at best unappealing, at worst downright antagonistic. That this critique is delivered by a brilliant mind in a florid and baroque style, is a message lost on people for whom religion is their strongest identity marker.

My conclusions are that 'Shame' is a book that deserves to be read.

Copyright 2008

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Killer Opening Songs (Massive Attack - Safe From Harm)

The other day Killer Opening Songs was walking around Holborn, central London, looking for a pair of long Lycra trousers to wear whilst cycling (it's getting a bit nippy in the morning these days, although it does warm up in the afternoon) when it saw a song stumbling out of a pub (or cafe, it could not tell). It was an old melody, but my God, had it not scrubbed up well despite the years! On recognising it K.O.S. put its arm around its neck and invited it to accompany it to the bike shop.

There are songs that tumble into our lives serendipitously; they arrive unbidden and unsolicited. We might have the aptitude to make them appear as if by magic every now and then through our constant exposure to music, but the fortuitous encounter never fails to surprise the listener. And when they do arrive, we take a long walk with them, just as we would do with an old friend.

'Safe from Harm' is one of those melodies. The Killer Opening Song from Massive Attack's debut album, 'Blue Lines' (1991), this is a track that combines understated beats with very deftly musical arrangements to convey the despair and loneliness of a generation bearing the brunt of the Thatcher years. Words like 'Midnight ronkers/City slickers/Gunmen and maniacs/All will feature on the freakshow/And I can't do nothing 'bout that, no/But if you hurt what's mine/I'll sure as hell retaliate' express the dog-eat-dog society Britain had become by then. Shara Nelson's melancholy voice renders the song a soulful plea for understanding (You can free the world you can free my mind/Just as long as my baby's safe from harm tonight) whilst 3D's rapping brings a powerful dose of reality and paranoia to the track (I was lookin' back to see if you were lookin' back at me/To see me lookin' back at you).

Although other artists like Tricky and Portishead established Bristol as a hotbed of creativity, it was Massive Attack with 'Blue Lines' that provided the blueprint for what later became know as trip-hop' and 'Safe from Harm' was the Killer Opening Song that started it all. Enjoy.

Copyright 2008

Sunday 12 October 2008

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Recitative)

Traduttore, traditore

Thus goes this old Italian axiom. Translator, traitor. And sometimes I join the chorus of disapproving voices whenever a book or poem I have read in the original language has failed to deliver the same hypnotic feeling in the lingo translated into.

I have already addressed this issue in previous posts (here, here, and here). But whereas before I focused mainly on my own experience as a former translator and interpreter (although every now and then I still dabble in the odd translation, especially if it's well paid), today I would like to concentrate more on the travails a language specialist faces in his or her daily labour.

So, traduttore, traditore?

I don't think so. Or at least not most of the time. A translator is a living bridge that serves as a link, and on occasions as the only link between cultures and therefore the onus on him or her is far too big to think of their work glibly or to dismiss it off-handedly. There are many examples of bad translation and one of them can be found in one of the links I provided above. Yet, the positive case studies far outweigh the negative ones. The translator's job is not just to transpose words, phrases and idioms from one language to another, but to place them ever so carefully in the right order and context so as to make the reader believe that what they are digesting is the real McCoy. And that's artistry at its best.

A few weeks ago the owner of one of the blogs I frequent, Willow from Life in Willow Manor, uploaded a couple of poems by two Italian poets. One of them you can find it here and the other one here. What captivated me from the first moment was not just the beautiful images each work evoked, but the careful and detailed translation. Remember, they were being transposed from a romance language to a Germanic one. And the translator pulled it off, in my humble opinion.

Those two poems also reminded me of the time when I came across a translation of one of my favourite pieces ever by the Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz a few years ago. This was a woman born at a time when Spain still had a strong colonial presence in America, 17th century; when 'to speak too openly was the equivalent of sinning'. Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana's talent shone from a very early age and she used it to further women's cultural rights from her ecclesiastic position. It was her achievements in this field that have led academics and scholars alike to name her Latin America's first femininist. And when you read the poem I have selected below you will find out why. And all thanks to the wonderful power of translation.

N.B. (I found this translation online but could not find the author. Please, be aware that no permission has been sought to reproduce the text and should the author want me to remove it, I will comply immediately with her/his request. Also, should the author want me to credit him/her with the translation of the poem, I will update the post accordingly. Thanks)

You Men

Silly, you men
so very adept at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you're alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman's mind.

After you've won by urgent plea
the right to tarnish her good name,
you still expect her to behave
you, that coaxed her into shame.

You batter her resistance down
and then, all righteousness, proclaim
that feminine frivolity,
not your persistence, is to blame.

When it comes to bravely posturing,
your witlessness must take the prize:
you're the child that makes a bogeyman,
and then recoils in fear and cries.

Presumptuous beyond belief,
you'd have the woman you pursue
be Thais when you're courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.

For plain default of common sense,
could any action be so queer
as oneself to cloud the mirror,
then complain that it's not clear?

Whether you're favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you're turned away,
you sneer if you've been gratified.

With you, no woman can hope to score;
whichever way, she's bound to lose;
spurning you, she's ungrateful
succumbing, you call her lewd.

Your folly is always the same:
you apply a single rule
to the one you accuse of looseness
and the one you brand as cruel.

What happy mean could there be
for the woman who catches your eye,
if, unresponsive, she offends,
yet whose complaisance you decry?

Still, whether it's torment or anger
and both ways you've yourselves to blame
God bless the woman who won't have you,
no matter how loud you complain.

It's your persistent entreaties
that change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
you would have her good as gold.

So where does the greater guilt lie
for a passion that should not be:
with the man who pleads out of baseness
or the woman debased by his plea?

Or which is more to be blamed
though both will have cause for chagrin:
the woman who sins for money
or the man who pays money to sin?

So why are you men all so stunned
at the thought you're all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you've made them
or make of them what you can like.

If you'd give up pursuing them,
you'd discover, without a doubt,
you've a stronger case to make
against those who seek you out.

I well know what powerful arms
you wield in pressing for evil:
your arrogance is allied
with the world, the flesh, and the devil!

REDONDILLAS - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Hombres necios que acusáis
a la mujer, sin razón,
sin ver que sois la ocasión
de lo mismo que culpáis;

si con ansia sin igual
solicitáis su desdén,
por qué queréis que obren bien
si las incitáis al mal?

Combatís su resistencia
y luego, con gravedad,
decís que fue liviandad
lo que hizo la diligencia.

Parecer quiere el denuedo
de vuestro parecer loco,
al niño que pone el coco
y luego le tiene miedo.

Queréis, con presunción necia,
hallar a la que buscáis
para prentendida, Thais,
y en la posesión, Lucrecia.

¿Qué humor puede ser más raro
que el que, falto de consejo,
él mismo empaña el espejo
y siente que no esté claro?

Con el favor y el desdén
tenéis condición igual,
quejándoos, si os tratan mal,
burlándoos, si os quieren bien.

Opinión, ninguna gana,
pues la que más se recata,
si no os admite, es ingrata,
y si os admite, es liviana.

Siempre tan necios andáis
que, con desigual nivel,
a una culpáis por cruel
y a otra por fácil culpáis.

¿Pues como ha de estar templada
la que vuestro amor pretende?,
¿si la que es ingrata ofende,
y la que es fácil enfada?

Mas, entre el enfado y la pena
que vuestro gusto refiere,
bien haya la que no os quiere
y quejaos en hora buena.

Dan vuestras amantes penas
a sus libertades alas,
y después de hacerlas malas
las queréis hallar muy buenas.

¿Cuál mayor culpa ha tenido
en una pasión errada:
la que cae de rogada,
o el que ruega de caído?

¿O cuál es de más culpar,
aunque cualquiera mal haga;
la que peca por la paga
o el que paga por pecar?

¿Pues, para qué os espantáis
de la culpa que tenéis?
Queredlas cual las hacéis
o hacedlas cual las buscáis.

Dejad de solicitar,
y después, con más razón,
acusaréis la afición
de la que os fuere a rogar.

Bien con muchas armas fundo
que lidia vuestra arrogancia,
pues en promesa e instancia
juntáis diablo, carne y mundo.

Copyright 2008

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Down There

Disclaimer: Sensitive readers and bloggers might find some of the language used in the poem that follows offensive. Thanks.

Down There – by Sandra Cisneros

At that moment, Little Flower scratched herself
Where one never scratches herself

From “The Smallest woman in the World”
- Clarice Lispector

Your poem thinks it’s bad.
Because it farts in the bath.
Cracks it knuckles in class.
Grabs its balls in public
and adjusts – one,
then the other –
back and forth like Slinky. No,
more like the motion
of a lava lamp.
You follow me?

Your poem thinks it
cool to pee in the pool.
Waits for the moment
someone’s watching before
it sticks a finger up
its nose and licks
it. Your poem’s weird.

The kind that swaggers in like Wayne
or struts its stuff like Rambo.
The kind that learned
to spit at 13 and still
is doing it.

It blames its bad habits
on the Catholic school.
Picked up words that
Snapped like bra straps.
Learned words that ignite
of their own gas
like a butt hole flower.
Fell in love with words
that thudded like stones and sticks.
Or stung like fists.
Or stank like shit
gorillas throw at zoos.

Your poem never washes
its hands after using the can.
Stands around rolling
toilet paper into wet balls
it can toss up to the ceiling
just to watch them stick.
Yuk yuk.

Your poem is a used rubber
sticky on the floor next morning.

the black elephant
skin of testicles,
hairy as kiwi fruit
and silly, the shaving
stubble against the purity
of porcelain,

one black pubic
hair on the sexy
lip of toilet seat,

the swirl of spit
with a cream of celery

a cigarette
stub sent hissing
to the piss pot,

half finished
bottles of beer reeking
their yeast incense,

the miscellany of maleness:
nail clippers and keys,
tobacco and ashes,
pennies quarters nickels dimes and
dollars folded into complicated origami
stub of ticket and pencil and cigarette, and
the crumb of the pockets
all scattered on the Irish
linen of the bedside table.

Oh my little booger,
it’s true.

Because someone once
said Don’t
do that!
you like to do it.

Baby, I’d like to mention
the Tampax you pulled with your teeth
once in a Playboy poem*
and fond it, darling, not so bloody.
Not so bloody at all, in fact.
Hardly blood cousin
except for an unfortunate
association of color
that makes you want to swoon.

I want to talk at length about Menstruation.
Or my period.
Or the rag as you so lovingly put it.
All right then.

I’d like to mention my rag time.

Gelatinous. Steamy
and lovely to the light to look at
like a good glass of burgundy. Suddenly
I’m artist each month.
The star inside this like a ruby.
Fascinating bits of sticky
The afterbirth without the birth.
The gobs of a strawberry jam.
Membrane stretchy like
saliva in your hand.

It’s important that you feel its slickness,
understand the texture isn’t bloody at all.
That you don’t gush
between the legs. Rather,
it unravels itself like a string from some deep deep center –
like a Russian subatomic submarine,
or better, like a mad Karlov cackling
behind beakers and blooping spirals.
Still with me?

Oh I know, darling,
I’m indulging, but indulge
me if you please.
I find the subject charming.

In fact,
I’d like to dab my fingers
in my inkwell
and write a poem across the wall.
“A Poem of Womanhod”
now wouldn’t that be something?

Words writ in blood. But no,
not blood at all, I told you.
If blood is thicker than water, then
menstruation is thicker than brotherhood.
And the way

it metamorphosizes! Dazzles.
changing daily
like starlight.
From the first
Transparent drop of light
To the fifth day chocolate paste.

I haven’t mentioned smell. Think
Persian rug.
But thicker. Think
But richer.
A sweet exotic snuff
From an ancient prehistoric center.
Dark, distinct,
and excellently

*John Updike's "Cunts" in Playboy (January 1984), 163.

This poem is included in the book ‘Loose Woman’ published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, 1995.

Monday 6 October 2008

Killer Opening Songs (Bob Brozman)

This week, Killer Opening Songs has gone bonkers. Yes, my lovely little puppies. K.O.S. has finally lost its marbles, gone loopy and bananas. The reason? Bob Brozman.

Last week K.O.S. went on a tour of the Deep South. It drove around the weather-beaten houses and on the dusty roads of Memphis, jumped on a boat down the Mississippi river and near the Dockery's plantation crossroad it ran into Robert Johnson's ghost.

At some point on its journey K.O.S. came across a railroad track stretching for miles on end, and whilst wearing its jeans, workman's boots, braces and check shirt, it had an idea that became an action before it had time to think of the consequences: to hop on a freight train that would take it anywhere up north. And would you believe it? As if on cue, a gigantic metallic beauty shuddered to life and started rolling down the track.

Wagon after wagon filed past in front of Killer Opening Songs' eyes, until a flat, steel platform beckoned Our Weekly Rendezvous to jump on board and who did it find there, sitting cross-legged on the middle of the floor? Why, Mr Bob Brozman himself, sporting a beatific wide smile and holding his eternal companion, a slide guitar.

It was rather a payback visit really as Brozman had already arrived chez Killer Opening Songs last summer just gone via a compilation of African Blues performers ('The Rough Guide to African Blues'). Amidst the outstanding collection of singers and musicians in the album, the American bluesman 's collaboration with the kora player Djeli Moussa Diawara made K.O.S. sit down and listen in awe. 'Maloyan Devil' became the hit of a summer that never was. The song was included in Bob and Djeli's 2000 album 'Ocean Blues' and as you can ascertain by clicking on this link, even on Amazon's market place (one of K.O.S.'s favourite haunts, by the way), the price remains quite high for this record. The song, however, had enough drive and energy to set K.O.S.'s pulse racing and that's why the men in white turned up one day unexpectedly at K.O.S.'s doorstep to ask certain questions about arms flapping aimlessly whilst walking on the pavement and dance steps à la Gene Kelly in 'Singin' in the Rain' performed on the road, thus, bringing the traffic to a halt every now and then.

Still recovering from this out-of-this-world experience, Killer Opening Songs has made a compilation of some of the most outrageous and mind-blowing clips of Bob Brozman for you my dear readers. What's the Killer Opening Song, then, I hear you ask K.O.S.? Like here and here, K.O.S. is breaking the rules, it is cheating again, but you know what? It doesn't care, this guy (although born in new York and not a hobo per se) is right there in the pantheon of the greats with Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf, Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers, Mississippi John Hurt and Boxcar Willie and fret not, my little puppies for these blues luminaries will have their special session here at Killer Opening Songs.

The first two clips are typical mouth-waterers. They last just over one minute each, but Bob's virtuosity is palpable. The third and fourth clips are main course and dessert rolled into one, especially the last one. I don't usually upload dodgy youtube videos filmed with a hand-held camera in a sweaty bar and with lots of people talking over the music. However, I felt compelled to put this one up on my blog this week because it is a beauty and no, there is no one talking while they are playing, and the quality is fairly decent. Bob is accompanied by Djeli Moussa Diawara on the kora and the Japanese Takashi Hirayasu playing the sanshin, a three-stringed banjo-like instrument.

I hope you enjoy this musical offer. Killer Opening Songs would like to join, too, but its movements are somewhat limited by the straitjacket.

Copyright 2008

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Requiem)

'The Assassination of Somewhat by Kind Of and Sort Of'

Part of the current exhibition at the National Gallery

'The Internecine Schisms in the English Language
and their Effects on Contemporary British Society'

1st Oct 2008 - 1st Feb 2009
The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square

Copyright 2008


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