Monday 31 December 2012

Song for New Year's Eve

When thinking of which song to post in order to kiss 2012 goodbye I didn’t have to think too hard. Even though it’s only been with me for less than two months since I bought it, Cathy Jordan’s All the Way Home has become a regular feature on my playlist at home or in the car when I’m driving. I will be blogging about this sublime album in the New Year for sure, but in the meantime I shall leave you with the title-track. All the Way Home explains better than I could ever manage the reason why, more than five and a half years later, I continue to blog. I see us, bloggers, as peripatetic beings, travelling in a virtual world without frontiers and without the need for a passport, either. However, we always return to our point of departure. As the chorus of All the Way Home goes: “Maybe it’s the mountains high above the valley/maybe it’s the long road that winds us down/maybe it’s the sunbeams that kiss the water/maybe it’s you (blogger) that keeps callin’ me (to your) home”. For what I can only say: thank you, thank you very much for welcoming me into your virtual home and sharing your experiences with me. Happy New Year! May 2013 bring you health and success!
Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 13th January at 10am (GMT)

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Festive Tuesday: Coffee and Music

I wanted to post an original, snazzy, funky, festive clip; something different and unique. But you know what, sometimes the simplest song in the world will convey the deepest meaning. Merry Christmas to you all!

Next Post: "Song for New Year's Eve", to be published on Monday 31st December at 11:59pm (GMT)

Sunday 16 December 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

A few weeks ago The Economist magazine carried a cartoon in which both a member of Hamas, the organisation that governs the Gaza Strip, and a soldier from the Israeli Defence Forces were seen in an attempt to have a “conversation”. In reality they were trying to bomb each other out of existence whilst nine speech bubbles formed a circle between them. The captions in the bubbles read: Which is why… I launched this retaliation attack… In response to your previous reprisal… That was my reply to your counter attack… Against your earlier retaliation… That avenged my previous assault… That launched this tit for tat… Against your retaliatory strike… In my response to my reciprocal attack… Which is why… and so on and so forth. Regardless of where your loyalties lie (and this post is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict), you will probably recognise the vicious circle described so humorously by The Economist. Because bearing a grudge is one of those human traits most of us have been assailed by at some point in our lives. And the assault has been so mercilessly effective that many of us (that’s not journalistic “us”. That’s real “me” included, folks) adopt this characteristic as part of our personality.

How many of you have ever been faced with a situation in which you thought you were right and yet you felt ignored? Especially when it involved an alleged mistake made by another person and you thought (got the, ah! ever so slight impression) that they were putting one over you? Tell me sincerely my dear fellow bloggers, did your blood begin to boil, did you feel your body temperature rise, did you fantasise about different scenarios in which you made your opponent(s) pay very dearly for their offense? No matter how many doubts were cast on your reaction to the situation – maybe, it wasn’t that person’s error, but yours – you felt wronged. You felt that you were not being treated fairly. Of course, when faced with this scenario the perfect solution would be to let it all out and have a clear-the-air polite, civilised discussion. But even that is not as easy as it seems at first appearance. Because if the grudge you’re bearing is against someone who you think has treated you unjustly, there’s no way that you will just let this one slide by. Oh, no, suddenly you’re bringing up issues that happened two years ago. Forget about letting sleeping dogs lie. You have woken up the canid and taken the muzzle and lead off. And guess what? Blame someone else if the dog ends up biting your opponent's leg off.

For many years I struggled (actually that should read “have struggled”) with this unwanted trait in my personality. What I came to understand, in talking to other people, was that I wasn’t alone when it came to holding a grudge against others. Many of us “enjoy” feeling resentful sometimes. I’m not implying that we derive pleasure from animosity, in the same way a spring day makes us jump with joy and excitement. No, what I mean is that bitterness occasionally serves as a protective shell when we think that we have been dealt a bad – and unfair! – hand. It’s the us vs. the world typical scenario.

The problem is that ill will begets ill will and suddenly we find ourselves locked in a vicious circle with speech bubbles floating about above us in a circular motion. And there’s a worse consequence: we’re no longer aware of how the argument came about; therefore we have deprived ourselves of the tools to end it.

If you’re in a couple you might recognise the scenario above. It starts with whose turn it was to do the washing up and it suddenly snowballs into the last person who forgot to take the dog out for a walk. Children can harbour resentment for days and even weeks and exact revenge when one least expects it. Teachers never forget a slight; unfortunately they are also in a position of power to get their own back.

However, one of the side-effects of the festive season we’ve recently entered is to remind us that beyond the row, the animus and the grievance, we also have the chance to close the chapter ourselves. The wound might take some time to heal, but being rancorous will not make it heal faster. Sometimes we wait for the other person to take the lead to apologise for the wrong we believe has been inflicted on us. And yet, we are equally capable of swallowing our pride and extending the olive branch to our opponent. The Beatles put it very succinctly and clear: “Life is very short, and there's no time/For fussing and fighting, my friend...” I know, I know what some of you are thinking, it’s hard. Same here. When I think back on situations and people who… Aaah, but I shan’t continue. For the last sixteen years or so I have realised that sometimes it’s better to follow Eric Idler’s advice and look on the bright side of life. Not always, mind, after all, what they say about Scorpios is true: we never forget and very rarely forgive. But ‘tis the season to give and to receive. Let’s have a moratorium on ill will, an armistice on bitterness, a truce on hard feelings. And spread love instead.

And this is all from me for the time being. As usual I will go into hibernation for a month until mid-January. My blog will not be idle, though; there’ll be music every week. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

© 2012

Next Post: “Festive Tuesday: Coffee and Music”, to be published on Tuesday 25th December at 10am (GMT)

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Urban Diary

Father, child, child, father. Bicycle. Father, child, bicycle. Child, father, bicycle. At some point the three merge into one amorphous noun (“Fachibi”? Chilbifa? Bifachi?), that is hard to discern in the early evening crepuscular sun. I’ve just come back from my regular run and in between stretches I look at the trio through my kitchen window. There’s an anxious launch into the unknown (the child), a small push (the father), the calming voice (the father), the struggle for balance (the child), the bolting horse (the bicycle). The clumsy landing, the tears (wiped by the father. “Oh, poor little darling. Now get back on it, c’mon! I’ll help you out”).

It’s almost winter in my urban corner of London. Correction. It’s winter. I don’t have to wait until the solstice on Friday 21st December to get written confirmation of the cold temperatures we’re currently experiencing. The leaves on the trees are gone. The leaves on the pavement are gone. The leaves on my neighbours' front gardens are gone. Instead we have ice patches now. There’s barely anyone out on my road as soon as the sky turns a darker shade of purple. Except for these two figures who are intent on staging a cycling-themed mise en scène for the benefit of neighbours and visitors.

Their ritual reminds me of the last song that gets played at a party. The melody you’ll take with you on the last train or bus home. Days later you’ll catch yourself humming it in the office by the photocopier or in the kitchen whilst you’re doing the washing up. And you will remember the party.

And the child will remember this moment as well. The moment when he finally takes flight under his father's careful gaze. To dad, his son is still riding his bike on the tarmac. But the child, the child will believe (believes already!), that he is flying across the universe. He’s traded fear for equilibrium. Two feet for two wheels with no stabilisers on. Confinement for freedom. The shape of things to come?

And it’s all happening here, outside my kitchen window, in the dead silence of winter.

© 2012

Photo taken from the blog This Old Street.

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 16th December at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 9 December 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

The building that my primary school used to occupy was, if my memory serves me right, old, dark and had cracked walls due to the high level of humidity. It was on two levels: ground and first floor. The classrooms were small with students (usually more than thirty per class) huddling together as best as we could. Concrete would be a good way to describe my previous surroundings. There was a little, tiny, teeny, weenie mini-garden down on the ground floor, but, blink! and you could miss it. I think that the school was on the grounds of what used to be an old colonial house because each classroom looked like a bedroom.

By the way, I’m not slagging my old primary school off, just in case you’re getting that impression. I’m merely warming you up for today’s post.

Despite these inconveniences I spent some of the better years of my life in that building. From reception to Year 5 (I did my Year 6 in a different school) I was encouraged to try my best. Especially when it came to reading, writing, dancing and singing. Sadly, this bias towards the belles lettres brought unwelcome consequences: from an early age I carried the label of “not good at maths”.

But I digress. Overall, my experience at school was a positive one and this was due in great part to my teachers. However, there’s another detail that I remember very clearly. We all used to do our PE lessons in the local park and had a rota for each year group. There was hardly any space in the school to do physical education. We had what you could possibly call a patio but it was – that word, again – concrete. We did have our assemblies there; at some of which I sang songs and recited poems. But other than the little, tiny, teeny, weenie, mini-garden I described above there was no other greenery in the school.

That was the norm for most urban schools in Havana. And that probably explains why we – or I, rather, as a city type of person – have always had a funny relationship with the countryside, gardening and the environment.

Recently on one of my Facebook pages, an acquaintance and dance student of mine asked fellow FBers why in Cuba, with such fertile soil as we’ve always had, there weren’t more people taking advantage of it. I’m not quoting her exact question, but it was along those lines. I remember commenting on her thread but I’m afraid to say that my initial response was too laconic. Her enquiry did leave me thinking why, when I was a boy, I don’t recall my neighbours being very enthusiastic about using their balconies, nooks and crannies to grow more fruit’n’veg.

Fast forward many years later and here I am in good ol’ Blighty and my lifestyle is very different, even if my surroundings are still rather urban. Although I’ve yet to visit New York, Madrid, Mexico City, Paris, Rome or any other large metropolis, I can safely say that London is probably the city with most parks and green spaces in the world. What this has done is encourage me, city boy, to enjoy the outdoors a lot more. It has motivated me to take walks in my local park (or parks, there are many near where I live), woods and immerse myself even more in what many of my fellow British readers and fellow bloggers will recognise as an intrinsic part of life in this country. This picture of green spaces in urban settings didn't come out of the ether. Inner-city playgrounds have slowly been transforming their equipment, making it look more rustic. Metal climbing frames are being substituted for wooden ones. Rural motifs are springing up here and there, in many parts of London.

However a word of caution here. Parallel to this fascination for the countryside, there’s also an objectification and commodification of it, in my opinion. Many packets of crisps, for instance, carry a label nowadays that reads “handmade by farmers in…”. Food, whose provenance is unknown, doesn’t get the same attention as products sourced organically. One could say that this is the result of a more conscientious attitude on the part of consumers, but it could also be nothing but a new food fad.

If it’s the latter, then that would probably throw some light on another problem: that of children playing outdoors. Or not playing enough. A couple of articles recently made me think of my own childhood and how active I was. Because, despite having been born and raised in downtown Havana, bang in the midst of the hustle-bustle, I did lead a very active life, climbing trees, playing baseball and chasing a football in the local – concrete – park. George Monbiot, who’s one of the UK’s foremost environmentalists, wrote a few days ago in one of his regular columns that “Since the 1970s the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90%. In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from more than half to fewer than one in 10. In the US, in just six years (1997-2003) children with particular outdoor hobbies fell by half. Eleven- to 15-year-olds in Britain now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen.” So, whilst we worry about where Kettle Chips come from, we (that’s a journalistic “we”) limit our children’s physical activities outside the home and stymy their interaction with nature.

Oh, what I would give to be a child again and play with the equipment I see in so many parks and playgrounds here in the UK! That’s why when my children were younger and I took them to the park, I ended up hoisting myself up on to the rustic-looking, wooden climbing frame (don’t worry, I stopped doing it when I realised I was embarrassing my offspring). But I also have to put my hand up and blame myself for not doing more to educate my son and daughter on the importance of playing outside. Yes, we have gone camping many times with the Woodcraft Folk and on our own and try to look after the environment. But the grazes and bruises we all acquired when we were little (especially if you’re of a certain age like me) and which we showed off to all and sundry like medals won in combat, are almost invisible in children’s limbs nowadays.

In the case of schools that don’t encourage outdoor learning, part of the problem is fear of reprisal by parents and/or carers. Health and safety regulation has become so powerful that if little Jimmy or Susan gets a cut on his/her knee whilst doing PE, parents sometimes threaten the school with litigation. Therefore many educational institutions become overcautious and overprotective. There’s also too much emphasis on the school curriculum and targets -and less on all-round education. And thirdly, there’s a shift away from humanities and arts towards more numeracy-focused content.

These reasons differ from what I witnessed as a boy back in Havana. This, by the way, is also my answer to my fellow FBer. In the Cuban capital anything remotely suggesting countryside in the 70s and 80s was usually derided and mocked. The word “guajiro” (peasant), though neutral, can be pejorative depending on the context. No one, as far as I can remember, wanted to be a “guajiro” when they grew up. No one wanted to work in the countryside or till the land. This situation changed radically in the 90s as soon as the economic crisis kicked in. Suddenly four of my neighbours began to grow vegetables and raise animals such as chickens, pigs and ducks. The tables had been turned. Now peasants mattered and fruit’n’veg was not a distant concept.

Maybe a similar scenario is unfolding in the UK, food fads notwithstanding. Perhaps the optimist in me would like to believe that we’re seeing a renaissance of a greener lifestyle, more environment-friendly. Who knows, this might even lead to a revival of outdoor learning. After all, most schools in the UK, even if they are located in urban areas, look like the one at which I work: they have a large field and occasionally they abut on a park. Not a little, tiny, teeny, weenie mini-garden, but a proper park. The opportunity is there, let’s just seize it.

For the second part of today’s post I will leave you with a clip of one of the most original jazz composers there’s been in the last sixty years, who sadly died a few days ago. Rest In Peace, maestro Brubeck!

© 2012

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 12th December at 11:59pm (GMT)

Image taken from the National Trust website.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Living in a Bilingual World

It baffles me somewhat that I have left this section unattended for so long. I love writing about the wonderful world of languages. After all that’s what I majored in at university. And “Living in a Bilingual World” has always had an appreciative and receptive audience on this blog. In fact, my regular linguistic outing was included in a book a couple of years ago, “Multilinguals are…?” by educator and scholar Maddalena Cruz-Ferreira. It was a recent essay in Prospect magazine that made me bring Living in a Bilingual World back. Under the title Let them learn English, the article focused on the division that exists in the teaching of the English language in India and how the poorest are, as usual, the ones faring worse.

That the language of Shakespeare, Alice Munro and James Baldwin remains the lingua franca worldwide should come as no surprise to anyone. I’ve written here before about English natural ability to adapt to the modern world. Its malleability means that anyone can learn the language; even if its phonetic and spelling systems remain a mystery (there are twenty-six letters in the English alphabet to represent its forty-four phonemes!). And I’m talking from the point of view of someone who taught the language for a number of years as both as an undergraduate student and teacher.

This resilience and flexibility benefit people in countries like India where, according to Zareer Massani, the author of the Prospect piece, there’s no truly national language. He states that “Hindi, the central government’s official language, is an artificial, 20th century construct created by purging Hindustani, the colloquial language of the north, of most of its Islam-derived Persian and Arabic words. Now, 65 years after independence, Hindi is still a little spoken officialese one grapples with government forms.”

If Zareer is right and this is the linguistic panorama in India, it then makes sense to default to a language with which the rest of the world is at least acquainted. But of course, there is the small problem of the British Empire. India was a prized possession of it. And not everyone agrees that the imperial legacy was benign and beneficial. In fact opinions have always been divided on the matter. This is the reason why many in the Asian nation are opposed to English becoming the de facto language. Plus, English apparently carries with it a whiff of privilege and elitism in the subcontinent. It’s still mainly used by those occupying the upper echelons of education, media and the judiciary. By contrast outside this mini-world, there’s a whole Babel of dialects nationwide that merit as much attention as or maybe more attention than the language of the former conquistadores.

It’s a dilemma with which I can sympathise from a personal perspective, even if it is to a lesser degree. When I moved to the UK my accent was still heavily American, with a North-eastern lilt. This was the consequence of having had three or four postgraduate teachers hailing from or living in Boston and New York. Over here in the UK, people were at a loss as to why a Cuban would choose to speak like an American when we were supposed to be at loggerheads with them.

The answer is that first of all, it’s our two governments that have locked horns for more than five decades. When it comes to common, ordinary folk from both the US and Cuba, we leave our political differences aside and get on pretty well most of the time. And the second element is that most schools, further and higher education institutions in Cuba teach American English as opposed to the British standard. The latter is seen as distant, not just geographically, but also practically. But what is non-practical for a Cuban can become very useful to an Indian. So, when our compadres and comadres from the subcontinent use (chiefly British) English as a way out of poverty and deprivation, they’re being neither anti-nationalist nor pro-empire, but resourceful. In order to explain this approach, Massani quotes Mumbai-based businessman and journalist Jerry Rao: “Even if you flunk your schools finals, if you can speak decent English, today you can get a nice job. But even if you have a master’s degree and your English is poor, you’re likely to end up in a labour market where salaries are significantly lower.

I witnessed a similar situation in Cuba in the early to mid-90s when many professionals, including doctors and teachers, defected to the tourism sector. Their motivation? The green Yankee dollar. Whilst their hard-earned salaries in Cuban pesos were getting more and more devalued, those working at hotels and tourist resorts were minting it. And that was just from tips. There was a problem, however. Many of these highly trained professionals had been educated either in the old socialist bloc or in Cuba but with socialist ideals. The language they’d learnt, used and were used to, was Russian. Russian. In a globalised world trading in English. Yes, you can imagine the rest. Scrapheap doesn’t even begin to cover it.

That’s how in my first paid job as a teacher I faced a classroom full of people coming from a wide variety of professional backgrounds. There were mechanics, lawyers, journalists, ballet dancers (in fact, Lorna Feijóo, prima ballerina at the National Ballet of Cuba, was one of my students). You name it; they were there, trying to do the same thing their Indian counterparts are doing now: getting at least one foot on the first rung of the social and economic ladder.

The irony is that despite the strong presence the Brits had on Indian soil, the influence the empire had on Indian life and the ubiquity and usefulness of the English language in the world, Gandhi’s sons and daughters are headed in the wrong direction. It is said that in ten or fifteen years’ time Hispanics will be the largest minority ethnic group in the US, replacing African-American in the process. And in probably ten more years after that, Spanish will replace English as the official language of the States. And where the US goes, the UK oftentimes follows. Spanish is, then, the way to go, my lovely Indian chums. And here’s the first word for you to learn: ¡Bienvenidos!


Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 9th December at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 2 December 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee and Poetry

Dear all, last Sunday I asked you to take part in a game I used to play with some of my friends at uni and lo, and behold, the response was massive. I thought of splitting this post into two, but my greedy inner self decided to gorge on all your contributions in one go. Your poems appear in the order they were submitted. The images below were copied and pasted from your online profiles. And I also included the reasons why you sent me your poems. Some of them cracked me up.

First off is Brian Miller.


Brian Miller blogs at Waystation and he writes some of the most wonderful poetry I’ve read recently. One of many pleasant “discoveries” I’ve made lately. I love the fact he submitted a poem by Nikki Giovanni, an author about whose work I’ve blogged on this forum.

ha fun goes...

balances by nikki giovanni

in life
one is always

like we juggle our mothers
against our fathers

or one teacher
against another
(only to balance our grade average)

3 grains of salt
to one ounce truth

our sweet black essence
or the funky honkies down the street

and lately i've begun wondering
if you're trying to tell me something

we used to talk all night
and do things alone together

and i've begun

(as a reaction to a feeling)
to balance
the pleasure of loneliness
against the pain
of loving you
Drinking Tea in Kargill, India

Second up is poetess (am I still allowed to say “poetess”. I think so) I'll just let her introduce herself.
Karin Gustafson is a writer, lawyer, mother. Well, mainly a mother, lawyer, writer. I blog more or less daily as Manicddaily and drink a lot of good strong tea. My published books, published by my own imprint BackStroke Books, include Nose Dive, an extremely light-hearted mystery about teenagers, musicals, love, noses, New York (illustrated by Jonathan Segal); Going on Somewhere, a collection of poetry (illustrated by Diana Barco), and 1 Mississippi, a very cute counting book, heavy on elephants and gouache.

I also think a great idea. Truly, the first book that came to hand (stained on a coffee table) was my poetry book, "Going on Somewhere" by Karin Gustafson


All I can say is that
it's a good thing we have museums
hanging Courbets,
the occasional Italian,
with their depictions of swelling bellies,
dimples gathered around spines, flesh rippling
like Aphrodite's birth foam,
the creep of pubic hair juxtaposed by coy hands
whose curved digits
pudge, slightly sunken cheeks (above, below),
spidery blood vessels
rooting beneath the patina.
All I can say, as I catch
my face in the glass,
glance down at my folio
of torso, is that
it's a good thing.

My Photo
The third submission came from Catherine, a literature teacher whose blog I’ve followed for a few years now and who’s a brilliant photographer, too.

well this one sure was a surprise and certainly has the element of randomness and serendipity you are seeking - picked out in a dark room on a shadowy Sunday afternoon (fortunately it was a poetry book) in the study of the apartment in Nice, France that I am currently renting. The owner has left her whole collection of books for me to peruse (as yet they have remained unperused as my kindle has become my own personal mobile library when travelling) so this is from Book 5 of William Wordsworth's Prelude Line 426 - 441 where the book fell open.... It struck a real chord as moving to France from Mexico City has stirred up my first real experience of homesickness - maybe I am on my way home and just need to hop across the Channel to the Lake District?? 

Well do I call to mind the very week

When I was first entrusted to the care

of that sweet Valley; when its paths, its shores,

And brooks were like a dream of novelty

To my half-infant thoughts; that very week

While I was roving up and down alone,

Seeking I knew not what, I chanced to cross

One of those open fields, which, shaped like ears,

Make green peninsulas on Esthwaite's Lake:

Twilight was coming on, yet through the gloom

Appeared distinctly on the opposite shore

A heap of garments, as if left by one

Who might have been bathing. Long I watched,

But no one owned them; meanwhile the calm lake

Grew dark with all the shadows on its breast,

And, now and then, a fish up-leaping snapped

The breathless stillness.

I haven't read Wordsworth for years and had forgotten the sheer beauty of his language - indeed the poem is about serendipity itself "I chanced to cross..." best wishes with the rest of this "project"

kind regards and greetings from Nice -  
My Photo

I’ve also followed the next blogger, Dominic Rivron, for a few good years and find his posts always interesting. I’m very pleased he took part in our game.
Great game. I tried it and came up with:

Upon Julia's Clothes
When as in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes!

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free ;
- O how that glittering taketh me !
Robert Herrick

As for a link to what I do, people can read my poetry here:

There. I think I've followed the instructions right...
All the best,

Dominic (Rivron - "...made out of words")

My Photo

Lovely Lisa is from Malaysia, a country I’ve visited twice. I always enjoy her posts.

Hola Cuban, my fingers slide and tap and rest upon the Book of Poetry of Ed Pilolla and the page that opens up brings us:
"Breaking Ground", Ed Pilolla

 I saw a speck of yellow, way off into the rock and crust. When searching, track something worthwhile. Wait for the right season. Burrow deep into the earth and have a patient look around.
And what I saw was yellow. I sent out feelers. We did taste tests in every direction. We wanted to know where you came from because I’ve been around, and I don’t do rubbernecks often enough.

An ancient runoff flavored you. I browsed your red caverns, felt my way forward, chewed on a nook, and set up shop for a while.
I took a mere cell from your body, a ball of dirt from your rock pile, a spice flake from your kitchen. The substance was darker at your center. I packed the embers in a snowfall and filled my pockets. I smithed and lathed and bathed in you.

You are sunrise underground. You are color growing out of shadow. You are a pond surfacing, an oasis becoming. I see it.
Lisa, the world as i see it

My Photo
I still page through Rachel’s poetry collection, More About the Song. I’m chuffed to bits that she took part in our challenge, even if she did cheat slightly! J Never mind, Rachel, I loved the poem.
OK... I am playing but I'm never very good at playing by rules!

I did take a book (the faber 1996 anthology "Emergency Kit" ed. by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney) and opened to a random page.

The poem it hit was "The Man who Invented Pain" by Craig Raine... a war poem. Didn't do a whole lot for me so I tried to cheat and looked at the poem that finished on that page instead of the Raine one...

It was "The Woman on the Dump" by Elizabeth Spires. I looked up some stuff about her

but nothing was winning me round. I noticed online that there was a poem with a very similar title ("A Woman on the Dump" by Debora Greger)

but no, that wasn't doing anything either. I am very fussy about poetry... like most people who write it i think.

Both of these poems refer to Wallace Stevens "The Man on the Dump"

but no, I didn't want that one either!!!

So I flicked through the original book again until I came to "The Video Box: 25" by Scottish poet Edwin Morgan (1920-2010). It's here

and that one you can have! Excellent piece and reminds me that I want to read the biography of Morgan ("Beyond the Last Dragon" by James McGonigal).

If you ask me what my favourite programme is
It has to be that strange world jigsaw final.
After the winner had defeated all his rivals
With harder and harder jigsaws, he had to prove his mettle
By completing one last absolute mind crusher
On his own, under the cameras, in less than a week.
We saw, but he did not, what the picture would be:
The mid-Atlantic, photographed from a plane.
As featureless a stretch as could be found
No weeds, no flotsam, no birds, no oil, no ships,
The surface neither stormy nor calm, but ordinary,
A light wind on a slowly rolling swell.
Hand-cut by a fiendish jigger to stimulate,
But not to have identical beaks and bays,
It seemed impossible, but the candidate –
He said he was a stateless person, called himself Smith –
Was impressive: small, dark, nimble, self-contained.
The thousands of little grey tortoises were scattered
On the floor of the studio; we saw the clock; he started.
His food was brought to him, but he hardly ate.
He had a bed, with the light only dimmed to a weird blue,
Never out. By the first day he had established
The edges, saw the picture was three metres long
And appeared to represent (dear God!) the sea.
Well, it was a man’s life, and the silence
(broken only by sighs, click of wood, plop of coffee
In paper cups) that kept me fascinated.
Even when one hand was picking the edge-pieces
I noticed his other hand was massing sets
Of distinguishing ripples or darker cross-hatchings or
Incipient wave-crests; his mind,
If not his face, worked like a sea.
It was when he suddenly rose from his bed
At two, on the third night, went straight over
To one piece and slotted it into a growing central patch,
Then back to bed, that I knew he would make it.
On the sixth day he looked haggard and slow,
With perhaps a hundred pieces left,
Of the most dreary and unmarked lifeless grey.
The camera showed the clock more frequently.
He roused himself and in a quickening burst
Of activity, with many false starts, began
To press that inhuman insolent remnant together.
He did it, on the evening of the sixth day.
People streamed onto the set. Bands played.
That was fine. But what I liked best
Was the last shot of the completed sea,
Filling the screen, then the saw-lines disappeared.
Till almost imperceptibly the surface moved
And it was again the real Atlantic, glad
To distraction to be released, raised
Above itself in growing gusts, allowed
To roar as rain drove down and darkened,
Allowed to blot, for a moment, the orderer’s hand.

All my stuff is via as ever.



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The Latin contribution comes all the way from Chile and sprinkled with cinnamon. Gracias, Gloria.
This is one of my favorites poems of Pablo Neruda

If you forget me

want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

Pablo Neruda
OK dear here goes anything you need tell me.

My name is Gloria baker from Chile (you know)
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Sarah Laurence doesn’t just write brilliant blog posts, but also takes breathtaking photographs and is a superb artist. Visit her blog to be mesmerised by her creativity.
The Frost poem I found randomly fits the season, and it isn't one I'd readily recall. It is snowing right now. The links to my website and blog are below my signature. Robert Frost lived and wrote in New England. Looking forward to a weekend of poetry!


How countlessly they congregate
O'er our tumultuous snow,
Which flows in shapes as tall as trees
When wintry winds do blow!--

As if with keenness for our fate,
Our faltering few steps on
To white rest, and a place of rest
Invisible at dawn,--

And yet with neither love nor hate,
Those stars like some snow-white
Minerva's snow-white marble eyes
Without the gift of sight.

Robert Frost 1913


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I came across Ygraine’s blog recently and became a regular visitor immediately. Go to her page and you’ll see why.


These poems do not live: it's a sad diagnosis.
They grow their toes and fingers well enough,
Their little foreheads bulged with concentration.
If they missed out on walking about like people
It wasn't for any lack of mother-love.

O I cannot understand what happened to them!
They are proper in shape and number in every part.
They sit so nicely in the pickling fluid!
They smile and smile and smile and smile at me.
And still the lungs won't fill and the heart won't start.

They are not pigs, they are not even fish,
Though they have a piggy and fishy air-
It would be better if they were alive, and that's what they were.
But they are dead, and their mother near dead with distraction,
And they stupidly stare, and do not speak of her.

By Sylvia Plath (June, 1960)

Ygraine Barrow
Poems & Perceptions
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Sara is the Cracker Jack Poet who’s married to a Cuban. But I swear to you all that that was not the reason why she’s featured here today! J I just love the warmth and camaraderie her blog conveys.

I love this idea--and funny thing, this is one of my favorite poems, probably why the book opened to this page :-) The collection of poems is called "Reflections on the Gift of a Watermelon Pickle"

This is Just to Say

by William Carlos Williams 

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
Thank you for sharing this delicious poem (que rico!) (the Cracker Jack Poet)
All the best,


No music today. Who needs music when we have the melodic incantations of this wild array of poems still playing in our ears? Many thanks to all the participants. I had a lot of fun reading your entries and learning about poets I knew nothing about.

© 2012

Next Post: “Living In a Bilingual World”, to be published on Wednesday 5th December at 11:59pm (GMT)


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