Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Message to the Readers of Suffolk Punch

Tom Waits - Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Bob Dylan - Here Comes Santa Claus

Gerald Nicosia on the Kerouac Estate

Over at our sister station THE BEATNIK we have something of a scoop today: Gerald Nicosia, the only really serious biographer of Jack Kerouac, writes about the recent Florida appellate court ruling on the will being used to direct the operations of Kerouac's estate. It's a forgery, people. There have been questions raised about its authenticity for a long time, but now all those Doubting Thomases (or Toms, since Kerouac fans tend not to like formalities) and all the conspiracy theorists who attach themselves to the other side of anything involving money and power, have been proven to be right. Go and read Nicosia's account, today. It will enrage you and cheer you up at the same time, since the good guys have finally been vindicated (although nobody is pointing fingers at anyone when it comes to the question of who forged the will). Where the good guys can possibly go from here, however, is anybody's guess.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Gulliver Piece, With Added Comments

I spent half a day writing this crap for class and then it wasn't required because the lecturer was ill. So I thought I'd share it here. Might as well do something with it, although casually flaunting my laboured academic prose in front of Suffolk Punch readers is a little like doing a naked jig in the high street. The task? Take a passage from Gulliver's Travels and analyse it in 500 words using at least one 'secondary source'. Well, here we go...(I have, by the way, interposed a few comments not in the original script.)

Gulliver’s Travels Book 1, Chapter 4
“Which two mighty powers have…”

In this passage from Book 1, Gulliver learns from Principal Secretary Reldresal (sounds like redressal, that does) that a difference about how eggs should be eaten is the motivation for the long war between Lilliput and the neighbouring empire of Blefuscu. Reldresal has been asked to give this historical account to Gulliver in the hope that he will use his size and strength to support Lilliput when Blefuscu invades.
     The Big-Endians and the Small-Endians are a satirical parallel of the sort we see throughout the novel (Bywaters 734). They represent something Swift wishes to pass comment on, and in recognising what they represent we (who the hell's this 'we' you're going on about?) derive the fullest enjoyment of the text (I sound like an eight year old writing a letter to his grandad). The parallel’s satiric effect, as we shall see, depends as much on Gulliver as on the absurdity (I wanted to say 'silliness' there) of the conceit.
     Swift’s intentions in the novel have been extensively debated (apparently - what do I know?). The main source of disagreement between scholars about Book One appears to lie in the question of whether it is a cohesive allegory or a series of satirical thrusts woven into one narrative (Harth 40).  There is general agreement (I hoped there was anyway) that Blefuscu represents France under Louis XV; Lilliput, on the other hand, only has correspondences to England under George I (Bywaters 734). Given that Louis was a Catholic who gave shelter to exiles from the old Jacobite court and King George a Protestant (although his wife was a Catholic), we can speculate that warring over which end one’s egg is opened might refer to the stupidity of the ongoing hostilities between France and England, with religion symbolising all other differences (I was sure there's another literary term for what the eggs are doing but I couldn't be mithered to look it up.) (Korshin 258); whatever the doctrinal disagreements between Catholicism and Protestantism, after all, its respective adherents worship the same God.
     Although Swift achieves great comic play here with the invention of new administrative/ bureaucratic words – Reldresal refers to ‘the Brundrecal (which is their Alcoran)’ (Swift 37) – as well as in the capacity of textual interpretation (as in the different readings of ‘convenient’) to cause conflict, the trenchancy (I got that word into two essays this week cos it sounds academicky - hope the lecturers don't talk to each other) of the humour and the satirical parallel is due in large part to Gulliver’s distance from the political machinations of the Lilliputian court. He is, literally, bigger than the disputing parties, as well as ‘a foreigner’ (Swift 37); and the cause of the dispute is, by any reckoning, petty. It is made even more petty, to the reader, by the seriousness with which it is taken in Lilliput (I sound like Jeeves when I mangle sentences to avoid ending them with prepositions). ‘Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy,’ Reldresal tells Gulliver (Swift 36).
     Swift’s intention, however, is complex. Gulliver’s commitment to come to the aid of Lilliput at the end of the passage shows that Swift does not mock the notion of fighting for his country, even when the political climate is inhospitable or the cause unsupportable (like the two ables there - it's damn near poetry). What he mocks is factionalism. Swift subscribed at the time of writing Gulliver’s Travels to the Tory ideal of an informal coalition of interests in government that would end the warring and intrigue scarring British life; Prime Minister Walpole and his Whigs did not. (Good: Coalitions don't fucking work.)
     Gulliver, then, is used by Swift to show that Tories are great patriots because they are beyond factionalism (Bywaters 734). Since his argument, by extension, is that the Whigs are not, he is guilty of a contradiction he appears not to notice.(I bet that observation would have caused roars of laughter in the classroom.) (Should I say classroom?)


Bywaters, David. ‘Gulliver’s Travels and the Mode of Political Parallel During Walpole’s Administration.’ ELH. 54. 3 (1987): 717-740. Web. Accessed 9th December 2011.

Harth, Philip. The Problem of Political Allegory in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. Modern Philology. 73. 4 (1976): 40-47. Web. Accessed 9th December 2011.

Korshin, Paul J. Swift’s Politics: A Study in Disaffection.’ Modern Philology. 95. 2 (1997): 253-258. Web. Accessed 9th December 2011.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Richmond: Oneworld Classics Limited, 2010. Print.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Harry Potter To Play Allen Ginsberg? Surely, A Calamity!

Daniel Radcliffe, who apparently played a young chap called Harry Potter in a series of children's movies about witchcraft which made a lot of money, is going to play Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, a film about the murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr, an episode in the history of the Beats familiar to specialists and casual Beat readers alike. The response of the media to the news has been striking for its emphasis on the sexuality of Ginsberg. Our 'arry? Playing one o' them? Go here for an interesting article about the homophobic twaddle that almost every reference to the film has contained since it was announced.

Lunch Poems: Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Colonel Potter: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

I was saddened today to hear of the death of actor Harry Morgan, who played Colonel Sherman T. Potter in one of my favourite TV series, 'M*A*S*H*'. He was 96. The internet tells me Harry also appeared as Officer Gannon in the 1960s revival of Dragnet, and on the short-lived and long-forgotten early '70s cop show Hec Ramsey - although I've never seen the former and can't remember the latter. He can be seen, if anyone still likes Westerns enough to look for them, in two of the greatest examples of the genre ever made, The Ox-Bow Incident, with Henry Fonda, and John Wayne's fabulous, moving last film The Shootist.

But it is for 'M*A*S*H' that some of us, at least, will remember him. Sherman T. (formerly 'Hoops') Potter, that eccentric veteran of multiple wars, with a love, as I recall, for Zane Grey (or am I imagining that?) and a horse called Sophie. I watched every episode of that show again and again and I never tired of the counterpoint Potter's mature tolerance and country humour provided to the (Groucho) Marxist young urban wit -and occasional self-righteousness - of my favourite characters Hawkeye and B.J. I still, in fact, quote some of Potter's best lines today, and people who don't know where they come from still laugh, thinking how funny I am.

Thanks for all the fun, Harry, and the marvellous memories. Wherever you've gone now, bon voyage.

Siddhartha sets out on the path

Happy Rohatsu Everybody

Men, women, children, cats, dogs, cows, sheep, tigers, lions, leopards, monkeys, fish, trees, rocks, grass and everything outside and in between.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Bob Dylan - Sara (Live)

I live in my own little cultural vacuum where nothing has happened that I don't want to be aware of and nothing has any legitimacy unless I give it my much-envied seal of approval. Maybe we all do, although I understand there is a strange species of people out there who designate themselves "open-minded" and condemn my selectivity. I condemn their unselectivity. It indicates to me a curious lack of passion.

An Unexpected Guest

I wrote a poem this morning. I call myself a poet so this should not really be newsworthy, but since I haven't written anything since September I'm rather pleased. After reading Jon Swift over my morning coffee, I stepped reluctantly (as ever) into the bath and there was the poem, knocking unexpectedly on my mental front door asking to come in for breakfast. Needless to say, I let it in. It was a lot more welcome than some of the visitors who've been knocking on that door recently. And it looks good, at first, second and third glance. When I've taken a fourth and fifth glance I may even share it with the world.

I bet you can't wait.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Death Of Emmett Till / Alabama

John Coltrane recorded "Alabama" on November 18, 1963, just two months after the racially-motivated Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls and injured several other people. I've always loved the hellfire kind of protest as demonstrated, to some extent, by Dylan's "Death of Emmett Till" because sometimes rage and explicit statement are the only appropriate responses to a terrible event. But Coltrane's track works on a different level aesthetically, presenting the bombing as a human tragedy, one that everybody civilised enough to feel can understand, while never disengaging from condemnation of the perpetrators. Music is subjective but to borrow a phrase from Dylan, I hear "tears of rage [and] tears of grief" in the track.

Jonathan Swift

There's more truth in a teacupful of Jon Swift than there is in a bucket of Will Shakespeare. Click the link.

An Excellent New Song Being The Intended Speech Of A Famous Orator Against Peace by Jonathan Swift

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Allen Ginsberg - full show

Kerouac and the Clones

A correspondent suggests that Jack Kerouac has no place in the slice-and-dice Penguin anthology even though Ginsberg has, and would have made the cut but for those evil money-grubbers at HarperCollins. I've heard this kind of stupid prejudice against Kerouac many times, but I still can't help wondering what planet people live on. Everybody who isn't looking for the employee of the month badge at McDonald's or next year's £50 000 Anaemic Poetry Prize and the big seat at the English Department table in the University of Clones knows Kerouac is a great poet. Here's Ginsberg's own view on the matter from an old issue of Gargoyle Magazine.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Dove: Digging Deeper

I've been reading further on Rita Dove's decision to exclude Ginsberg and Kerouac from the new Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Verse and I've unearthed a couple of interesting details. First this old quote from Dove, which demonstrates she has no particular prejudice towards Ginsberg (I'd never heard of her before I read about the anthology, so what did I know?):

Allen Ginsberg's importance was in its twilight for so many years that it took his death to bring it to the front page. He electrified an entire world! And he continues to do so! There are generations who stumble across HOWL and find it speaks to them. Yet it takes a tragedy to make people notice.

Dove says in her introduction, apparently, that she couldn't afford to blow her whole budget on hefty permission fees from copyright owners. I don't know if she refers specifically to HarperCollins and Rupert Murdoch (I am so out of the political loop in literary matters I didn't know they were owned by the liberal's own antichrist Rupert Murdoch), but I suppose the inference is there even if the declaration isn't. So, then, she simply couldn't afford Ginsberg.

That's a credible argument. Perhaps, then, Dove's mistake was tactical rather than political, in that she has included in her anthology a whole lot of people who could have been excluded so that the most significant American poet of the 1950s - in cultural as well as literary terms - didn't have to be. And if it was a question of late negotiation with HarperCollins when most of the money had already been spent, the same applies. It's bad housekeeping. Blaming the capitalist monster Murdoch and the devils of the Ginsberg estate might be fun but it's too easy.

And I still wonder what really motivated Dove's selections for the book. While including four of her own poems, Dove excludes Sylvia Plath too, and Plath's poetry is taught in every university from here to the other side of Mars. I don't like it personally but even a pig-headed bastard like me has to admit it's technically brilliant. Is Plath owned by the horned Australian one also? Most of the stuff I've read seems to indicate that Dove just hates her poetry, which is fair enough, but not a good basis for the editing of a poetry anthology.

As for Kerouac...well, some of the reviews of the anthology have been kind about his writing while discussing its absence from the book, but prejudice against him is so deep-rooted in 'respectable' circles an editor who could afford to buy Manhattan probably wouldn't include him. The professor of American Literature at Northampton University described Jack's Essentials of Spontaneous Prose as 'hippie shit' in a lecture only last year. I forced him to admit he was wrong in a private discussion in his office a few days later, but I'm sure his submission was only made to prevent me from breaking the furniture.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Ginsberg: The Ugly Spectre of Revisionism

The rather wonderful Allen Ginsberg blog ( reminds us that Allen's poetry has been left out of Rita Dove's Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry.

WHAT??? Who the hell is going to represent American poetry at mid-century and into the Sixties then? Robert Lowell?? Kenneth Patchen??

This doesn't warrant a polite "Boo!", Ginsberg people, it warrants a howl, if you'll pardon the pun, of objection. It's philistinism. Absolute philistinism. And an absurd attempt to rewrite history, excluding the only serious challenge to the strangulating dullness of respectable literary life in those times.

I recommend we all write emails and letters of strenuous complaint and refuse to buy any more Penguin books until they correct their ridiculous error.

Rohatsu Is Coming, Bard Rolls Out The Mat

We Boodhists are fast approaching our favourite day in December, which is called Rohatsu. Rohatsu falls on December the 8th, and since the word itself, in Japanese, means "eighth day of the twelfth month" (at least according to About Buddhism) that would make sense. December 8 is the day Japanese Buddhists observe the enlightenment of the Buddha of our aeon, although of course, there have been countless Buddhas in past aeons, and I suppose there will be countless Buddhas in the future.

In Zen monasteries, Rohatsu is the last day of a week-long sesshin, which is to say an intensive meditation retreat in which monks focus on their meditation practise at every moment of the day as a means of redoubling their dedication to the search for Enlightenment. This, after all, was the historical moment when Buddha himself entered into the final stages of his search, confronted Mara and freed himself from cyclical existence.

I try to observe a mini Rohatsu week every year at the Bard Gaff. I'm not attached to a monastery or a teacher,but even if it doesn't help I figure it won't hurt. And my Buddhist practise has wavered quite a bit recently, so a refocusing on the path is probably well overdue. All summer I read the sutras, meditated daily for long periods and felt a real sense of peace with the world. But since I came down from the mountain at the end of September and started dealing with people again I've been so full of hate and confusion I'm almost enjoying it.

On December 8th, I realised last night - the day Buddha became enlightened, remember - I'll be at University for 8 hours hearing about Ezra Pound, Jane Austen and Shakespeare. I will have to get up early to hit the meditation cushion and then try manfully to approach those hours with a sense of appreciation. If Buddha could put the hard work in I'm sure I can.

Or can I? Sometimes I think I have fifty lives to go before I'm ready even to think seriously about jumping off this crazy Wheel.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Misogyny Thy Name is Bard

I learned today that I have a reputation at the University for being a woman hater as well as a loudmouth and a bad poet. I can only imagine this is based upon my recent declaration that the two lecturers who grate on my nerves are female. Well, okay. I won't dignify such nonsense with a defence of my liberal egalitarian principles. Let people think what they like. I'm reaching the stage where I don't really care what people think, as long as the people I love still love me.