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Showing posts from February, 2018

Laimutis Balys Svalkus

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This is Laimutis Balys Svalkus, the poet I wrote about a few days ago. I found his grave by chance in Kingsthorpe Cemetery while visiting Lucia Joyce's stone, as I occasionally do ('I used to haunt graveyards when I was in Paris,' as Allen Ginsberg once said); and I was surprised because histories of Northampton, even the better ones, never mention this man's name. Information about him online seemed sketchy as well. He was clearly known, which hoists him above most poets immediately, but internet searches yielded little in Lithuanian and nothing in English.

Until, that is, this afternoon, when Northampton-based housing campaigner Norman Adams sent me a link he'd found with some biographical information about Laimutis, and images of the covers of his publications. Thanks again, Norman! The text is still in Lithuanian, but it's a start. A photograph says a great deal more about a person than his or her gravestone. And the Lithuanian Embassy hasn't even answe…

The Task: Newton, Cowper and the Civilisation of the West

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'This morning buryed a woman slave (No 47) Know not what to say she died of for she has not been properly alive since she first came on board' -- from the diary of John Newton. February 15th this year, I discovered yesterday, is an important anniversary. It will be 250 years since William Cowper and Mary Unwin moved into the large, imposing house that still looks down over the market square in Olney, Buckinghamshire. Today their home is the site of the Cowper and Newton Museum, a memorial not only to the life of the poet, but also his friendship with the composer of 'Amazing Grace', who as an Anglican clergyman, ministered to the spiritual needs of the parishioners in Olney. Newton had an earthly agenda as well as a heavenly one. He wanted to rid his society of slavery, which he himself had practised before entering into the priesthood; and Cowper, as his friendship with Newton grew, would prove to be a more than capable initiate into the work, testifying against slave…

Poets and Prisoners: Back Among the Dead in Northampton

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I've written about Kingsthorpe Cemetery in Northampton before. It's the graveyard in which James Joyce's daughter Lucia is buried. Near to Lucia is the grave of her friend Violet Gibson, infamous in her lifetime for attempting to assassinate Mussolini in 1926. Lucia and Violet were incarcerated in St. Andrew's Hospital in the town; whether either woman would have been diagnosed with acute mental illness in a less misogynistic age is debatable, but they both died never recovering their liberty.
I walked in the cemetery today, having a little time to spare, and while looking for Lucia's grave I found this:

Laimutis Balys Svalkus. A Lithuanian poet. Who was he, I wondered? The book-like design of the grave and the way his trade as poet is inscribed so prominently into the marble suggest he was more than a hobbyist. That also appears to be a fragment of verse on the right side of the stone. I presume Svalkus is the author, but I don't know. The fact that there is no …

The Unknown Life of Ida John

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When I was born, in the 1960s, birth certificates recorded your mother's name, and your father's name and occupation. It was assumed that your mother wouldn't have a job. Her job was to raise you. (And, it could reasonably be argued, your father.)
That was in the 1960s. When Ida Nettleship was born in 1877 her mother Adaline wasn't even able to vote. Ida would never experience the nominal equality of choosing her MP either, as she died tragically young. But hers was a life as liberated from patriarchal restrictions as it was cruelly circumscribed by them. The liberation is obvious. For the circumscription you have to look a little deeper.
Ida was a painter. She had studied at the Slade, and there she met the soon-to-be-infamous Augustus John. John painted the picture at the top of this post. He was considered a genius not only for his paintings but also for his unruly and selfish behaviour. Ginsberg identified this artistic stereotype in a funny but exasperated sideswipe…