Published by Markings Publications
The Bakehouse 44 High Street Gatehouse of Fleet DG7 2HP Scotland
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ISSN 1460-7166 ISBN 978-1-90191-309-5 Lead editor: John Hudson Co-editor: Chrys Salt Design & layout: John Hudson Tel: +44131 208 3534 Mob: +447801801204 Email email@example.com Cover image © Patrick Le Tuault
Copyright © MMVIX remains with the authors
CONTENTS Editorial by John Hudson
Poetry Two Poems from the Chinese Memorandum by Alan Riach Just How it Was & Takeover by Stewart Conn Passengers and Sky & The Chronomentrophobe‘s Date by Stevie Ronnie The Wall & The Cloud‘s Hand by James McGonigal Somehow Lost & Visitors by Pauline Prior-Pitt Markings by Christine De Luca The Dyker by Raymond Friel Frozen North by Hugh McMillan Poem by John Harrison Study of an Icefisherman at Dusk by David Troupes The Solace of Cupboards & The Book of Sheep by David Mark Williams Visiting Phase & Texas Leaf Mass Song by MA Schaffner Nature Walk in the Rocky Mountains by Margaret Gillies Brown Eyes Have It by Lynn Otty The kitchen chair & The poet offers his wares by John Rety Transmigration & Down to the river by Gary Allen Loud Snoring by James McGonigal
44 46 48 50 52 54 55 56 141 142 144 148 150 151 152 154 167
Fiction Wee Man by Lin Anderson Dancing on Gravel by Vivien Jones Walking Down the Line by Regi Claire The Local Historian‘s Tale by Ian Blake An Accidental Gift by Carol Farrelly
8 14 23 130 134
Commentary ‗I wish I was whaur Helen lies‘ - collection, community and regeneration in modern South West Scotland By Professor Valentina Bold
Tom Hubbard interviewed by Shane Creevy Talking about Tom Hubbard‘s new novel & creativity
Feature: The Poetry of Pete Brown Mundane Tuesday and Freudian Saturday or Summoning Up All His Strength, He Collapsed. Frenziedly Growing Down The Cambridge Poem Refugees You and the night and the music Tides Bar Mutant Adolf Scenes from Science Fiction Dexter‘s Moods Plans One, Two and Three Endless Room Carefully Immortality and Phobia Two TV Documentaries Not far from Bavaria Legacy Cats of War, Lion Cats of War, Tiger Cats of War, Leopard Carefully Future Nostalgic What is there left to say Pete Brown, a potted creative history
70 71 72 73 74 75 76 80 82 85 86 87 88 90 91 92 93 96 98 100 100 101 102
Reviews Tom Hubbard‘s first novel Marie B reviewed by Shane Creevy John Burns analysis of Bob Dylan‘s vision songs, Series of Dreams reviewed by JB Pick Raymond Friel‘s Stations of the Heart reviewed by JB Pick Jason Watts and Tim Pomeroy‘s Their Proper Names reviewed by Donald Adamson AC Clarke‘s Messages of Change reviewed by JB Pick
The McLellan Poetry Award 2009 The Bakehouse programme of events
163 164 165 166
Art Features Books of Place Identity and Memory presented by Iris and introduced by Julian Watson
Drawings by Patrick Le Tuault inspired by the poetry of Pete Brown
cover, 73, 78, 87, 95 & 101
Toutes Directions A film in stills, from an installation by John Hudson & Chrys Salt 103
Reviewers wanted Markings is currently looking for writers with a broad cultural background to review poetry books that it receives, in order to expand their review section of the magazine. A broad knowledge of contemporary writing with an ability to comment on technical as well as thematic issues is desirable. Should you be interested in reviewing for Markings please send an example review of a work of your choice of around 300 words to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject: Markings Reviews.
Note for contributors Markings gladly considers unsolicited submissions of poetry, fiction, artwork and criticism. Please forward work to email@example.com in electronic format, preferably using Microsoft Word or saved as rich text or plain text in other word processors. Please keep formatting to a minimum and avoid, where possible, use of tabs, fully capitalised titles, multiple spaces, underscores as these will need to be taken out or replaced with the house style. This will best ensure that your wishes with regard to appearance are maintained in the type-setting process. Artwork is best sent in greyscale jpg format, minimum 200 dpi. When sending by post enclose an SSAE with the correct postage to the address on the title page verso. Please mark all pages clearly with your name and address and include an email address and telephone number if possible. Should you require a proof before going to press please ensure that you have an email address and a pdf reader.
EDITORIAL Issue 28 of Markings has been nearly two years in the making. The days have passed when the editors sat round a table and read through the previous 4 months submissions, selecting this, reject that, creating a ―maybe‖ pile and then putting the magazine together in a concerted effort six weeks before the intended publication date. Now we have to think ahead. The initial contact with Pete Brown with regard to his poetry feature in this issue, took place in August 2007. Contact with Valentina Bold, who contributes an essay on song in South West Scotland, may have only been made in January 2009 but discussions around developing the field of cultural commentary within the magazine had been taking place between my colleague, Chrys Salt, and I since issue 24! One of the reasons for this far-sightedness is the volume of submissions Markings now receives. In order to keep the best possible work for our readers we need to think ahead and this will often involve the teasing out and closing in upon themes. Issue 28 definitely has a thread of interest around the song. Pete Brown is one of the rock world‘s most respected lyricists; the subject of song is profoundly important to Scottish rural culture, as demonstrated by Valentina Bold, and to top it off, our venerable reviewer, JB Pick, takes on Series of Dreams: the vision songs of Bob Dylan, by John Burns. We also have an interview with Tom Hubbard conducted by Shane Creevy and a peppering of poets, many familiar and respected names but, as ever, we have kept our eyes open for new talent. So, in the spirit of thinking ahead, we introduce, as a preview, the new Markings mentoring scheme. Set to start in issue 29 and working with the likes of Don Paterson, Tom Leonard, Tessa Ransford, Dilys Rose and Alan Riach, Chrys and I would like to introduce you to a writer we have had the pleasure of seeing develop over the past two years, David Mark Williams. Meanwhile, WN Herbert, who read at The Bakehouse in February, introduces readers to a student on his creative writing course at Newcastle University, Stevie Ronnie. It is always invigorating and exciting to see writers develop. One of the aspects most fascinating in this issue is that all the talent represented here is growing, whether new or established. This is most evident in the poems offered by Pete Brown. They cover forty years of creativity and reflect his growth both emotionally and technically. We were also fortunate to receive specially executed drawings to sit alongside certain of Pete‘s poems from French artist, Patrick Le Tuault who has followed Pete‘s work throughout his career—a fascinating link between different cultures. Finally, the Markings team would like to offer its congratulations to the Scottish Poetry Library—a quarter of a century old! So many of the folk involved in its creation and flourishing feature in Markings—Tom Hubbard and Tessa Ransford most recently. John Hudson, April 2009
MacIntyre selects a mango from the tray and pays the girl ten kobo. The monkey chatters wildly as he approaches the cage, running from one end to the other, swinging the bell on the red collar. As soon as the door opens the monkey springs out and lands on his shoulder and whispers in his ear. MacIntyre can smell the warm breath on his cheek. ‗Sorry, wee man,‘ he tells the black eyes. ‗I don‘t like the cage either. It‘s just until we get to know this place a bit better.‘ MacIntyre holds out the mango and small leathery fingers caress the green skin and pull it against pointed teeth. Juice squirts MacIntyre‘s unshaven cheek and he smiles as it runs down his neck and inside the khaki shirt. He wipes it and licks his finger. The girl is standing a few metres away, the tray balanced delicately on her head, anticipating another sale. MacIntyre thinks about buying a mango for himself. He thinks of splitting the skin and burying his drink-dry mouth in its orange sweetness. For a moment he is poised between fruit and beer, then he waves the girl away and goes back inside the bungalow, leaving the monkey sitting on the verandah, devouring the fruit. The fridge is the only cool place in the house. MacIntyre stands with the door open and wonders for a moment if he can remember real cold. He tests his memory and an image returns of a pebble beach framed by leaden skies. He is walking, hands in pockets, head bent against the wind, his chest knotted with cold. Springing the beer open with his teeth, he allows his dry mouth to soak in the sudden rush of liquid before he swallows. The monkey is waiting for him on the verandah steps. It has discarded the mango stone and a long black column of ants have already moved in on it. MacIntyre kicks the stone into the dried up elephant grass and sits down on one of the two white plastic chairs. The monkey springs up and nestles close to his ear. ‗Ciamar a tha thu?‘ His use of Gaelic catches MacIntyre by surprise, like the cold pain in his chest in front of the fridge. He glances about as though embarrassed by this sudden lapse, but there is only the girl. She is standing where his drive meets Guava Avenue. MacIntyre notices the red wrap tied above her breasts; the back curved inward at the
base of the spine, as if already poised to balance a child. The girl‘s neck is long, her skin a shiny brown-black. For a moment he thinks Fulani, then rejects the thought. Fulani women do not sell mangoes. Fulani women sell milk or meat from their cattle. The girl must be Hausa. MacIntyre dismisses the girl from his mind and concentrates on the swaying elephant grass and the jagged line of the Kiri hills beyond. ‗A white man has moved into Guava Avenue. His hair is the colour of the earth. His skin is the belly of a frog. But I like his voice,‘ Grace tells the baby. ‗It is deep and rough and rolling.‘ The baby smiles at her. Its gums are a dusky pink, a perfect match for the small pointed tongue. ‗He was talking to a monkey,‘ Grace adds. The round, brown eyes widen as if the thought is ridiculous and the baby gurgles; little sounds melted together by the soft pink tongue. ‗You are right. I will try tomorrow,‘ she answers. ‗I will sit on his verandah. When he comes out, I will be there.‘ The baby starts to whimper and grasp at her, so Grace sits back on the earthen floor of the mud hut and bares her breast to the pointed tongue. MacIntyre‘s eyes spring open. The roof fan fills the mosquito net with hot dry air, sucking it this way and that, billowing it like a sail in the wind. He can hear the hum of a mosquito searching for him in the dark, smelling his blood hot with night sweat. He runs his tongue across his lips poisoned by salt. MacIntyre imagines the cool of the fridge, the dark green bottles standing inside and swings himself up and out of bed, ducking his head under the net. Something skitters across the floor, startled by the sudden presence of his feet on the tiles. MacIntyre remembers about scorpions and turns on the bedside light and examines the floor before shaking out his shoes and putting them on. The kitchen hums with the sound of the fridge. The sound is comforting like the snap of the beer cap and the swish as the golden liquid hits the glass. Outside, an equatorial sky lies half empty above him. Looking up, MacIntyre is seized by a sudden fear that he will never see a northern sky full of stars again. Na reultan. The star words shift into his brain from nowhere, disturbing him. For fifteen years he has spoken nothing but English or the few words he has chosen to learn of the native languages. The monkey has sensed his presence and is calling from the cage. The sound reminds MacIntyre of the bleating of a lost lamb. He thinks about
bringing the monkey into the house for the night to keep him company, but instead he goes back inside alone and shuts the door. The baby lies beside Grace on the grass mat. She reaches out and touches its skin, feeling the gentle purr of its breathing. She smiles as she imagines its shape in the dark; the looseness of its limbs in sleep, the glossy shadow of its closed eyelids, the lips puckered from sucking. ‗You are right about tomorrow,‘ Grace whispers to the darkness between them. ‗The Baturi need not know about you. The Baba will look after you until I return.‘ Grace leans down and touches the cool forehead with her lips and nestling as close as she can, closes her eyes. When MacIntyre wakens next morning, he can see the girl through the slatted glass of the bedroom window. She is sitting on the verandah steps with the battered metal tray beside her, piled high with bananas. Under the flame tree, the monkey, anticipating breakfast, is squealing and shaking the cage. MacIntyre opens the window and tosses out twenty kobo. ‗Two,‘ he says holding up two fingers. The girl is still there when MacIntyre emerges, half dressed, his face stubbled ginger. He realises as he walks past those watchful eyes, that in all the years he has worked in this continent, he has never grown used to this constant observation. When the monkey finishes eating the two bananas, it jumps from his shoulder and runs for the verandah. I will offer to buy the whole tray, MacIntyre decides. He calls to the girl in Hausa as he walks towards the bungalow and she answers his Sannu with a startled smile. ‗Yawa, sannu.‘ ‗Nawa?‘ he says pointing to the tray. She does a silent count and holds up two fingers. ‗Biyu niara,‘ she says. MacIntyre searches the empty pocket of his shorts and gestures to her to wait while he goes inside for more money. He opens the bedside drawer and pulls out three dirty Niara notes, his hands trembling from last night‘s drink. As he walks through the sitting room he is suddenly aware of the unwashed tiles; the dirty dishes on the table; the line of empty Star bottles beside his chair; and the eyes of the Hausa girl at the open door. MacIntyre holds out the niara. The girl sees the three notes and attempts to take only two from his open hand. ‗No. Take three,‘ he says thrusting the third forward. She smiles at him, suddenly shy.
MacIntyre is worried by the smile in case it might lead to other things. He lifts the bunch of bananas and holds his hand out to the monkey, scooping it shoulder high. ‗Master!‘ He is almost through the door when she calls out. MacIntyre turns. ‗Na gode,‘ she says. Grace pours the thick, orange liquid into the black pot. The hot palm oil spits as she drops the tomatoes in one by one. The baby is lying on a mat under a mango tree away from her cooking fire. She has freed its legs from the red wrap and the pink soles are raised to the sun. Grace chops the onions and adds them to the stew. The smell is strong and sweet. She pours the rice into the other pot and scoops out the dead weevils that float to the surface. When the rice starts to boil she leaves the fire and comes over to the baby. ‗The Baturi will leave for the fields early in the morning,‘ she says, tickling the perfect feet. Later, when smoke rises from the fields and the air is thick with the sweet smell of burning sugar cane, Grace spoons cooling rice and stew into an enamel dish and lays a woven mat on top. She leans forward, the baby spread-eagled on her back and winds the red wrap round both their bodies before she lifts the dish onto her head. When she reaches the bungalow, the monkey‘s cage is empty, the Baturi‘s jeep gone from the drive. Grace climbs the verandah steps and opens the door. On the way back from the Clubhouse that night a snake crosses MacIntyre‘s path. He brakes suddenly, throwing the jeep wheels round on the dusty drive. The snake is slate grey, its body two metres in length in the headlights. The monkey is rushing from side to side on the dashboard. MacIntyre stops the jeep and pulls the brown body close to his own, cradling its shivering. ‗There, there, wee man,‘ he says. ‗It can‘t hurt you.‘ When he reaches the bungalow, MacIntyre cannot enter its emptiness, so he sits on the verandah and studies the dark line between the Kiri hills and the night sky. Later, when he opens the door, the mess of his life has been tidied away. Beneath his feet the tiles shine. On the table sits an enamel dish with a mat on top of it. MacIntyre lifts the mat and looks at the rich stew and rice and is suddenly hungry. Later in bed he thinks about the Hausa girl; imagines her padding about, sweeping and washing, and is suddenly annoyed. In Kano prostitutes
are obvious and direct. Here in the bush things are different. MacIntyre is immediately sorry for this thought, remembering the Hausa girl‘s face when she smiled. That night MacIntyre dreams of the island. He is walking on the beach with Mairi, the waves rattling the shingle. Grace releases the sleeping baby from her breast and lays it gently on the mat beside her. Through the open door of the hut the moon is big in an empty sky. The Baturi will be home in his clean house eating her food. Grace is happy at the thought. She lies down and closes her eyes. They have been burning the cane for a week. In each field in turn long dried out stalks leap under fire. Rats and snakes flee the flames together only to meet the spears and bows of the hunters. The sweetness of burnt cane mingles with the smell of the hunter‘s cooking fires. At night MacIntyre returns with smoke-drenched skin to an empty house. The monkey searches the verandah for hidden bananas, but MacIntyre knows there are none for the Hausa girl has not returned. He eats at the Clubhouse and brings back Star beer, stacking it in green rows in the fridge. Beneath his feet the tiles grow a film of black dust. MacIntyre has taken to mouthing Gaelic words under an empty sky; the words a river in his mouth. The monkey likes this rushing voice and sits on his shoulder, its face touching his own. Grace steps over the trail of river ants moving house to higher ground and makes her way to the swollen river‘s edge. She slips the baby from her back and waves it this way and that in the silt-laden water. The baby squeals in pleasure as the cool water meets its legs, dragging them toward Lagos. Grace swings the baby onto her back, securing it in the red wrap, then drags the two black pots to the edge of the quickly moving water. The base of each pot contains a thin layer of sand and Grace uses the swirling water, the sand and her hand to grind the inside of each pot clean. As she does this she remembers the rice and palm oil stew she prepared for the Baturi, before the Baba explained that only houseboys work for the Europeans. ‗They think,‘ he tells her, ‗that women who cook for them are prostitutes.‘ Grace takes the Baba‘s words to her heart. After all, the Baba had seen many rainy seasons because his skin is as wrinkled as her baby‘s foot. ‗But,‘ the Baba continues, his mouth oranged by kola nuts, ‗if the Baturi talks to a monkey then he is surely a madman.‘ And a madman, Grace knows, is closest to God.
Next Sunday, when Grace goes to church, she prays for the Baturi. She prays that the strange words he speaks to the monkey might be understood by God. She prays that the Baturi might find a houseboy to wash his dirty tiles. The market squawks round MacIntyre like a demented chicken. He hears the babble of voices and imagines the soft sound of Gaelic instead of Hausa; he smells the stench of river fish and imagines the salted scent of drying herring. He has come to the market to search for the Hausa girl and his eyes dart among the coloured stalls, looking for the tell-tale sign of her red wrap. When a bell tolls in a nearby mud church, he is struck by the building‘s resemblance to the island church. Then he sees the Hausa girl. The red wrap is tight above her breasts. She is talking to an old man sitting under a mango tree. On her back is a baby. A rush of something resembling anger stops MacIntyre in his tracks and silences the words he has planned. As he drives to the bungalow, MacIntyre senses a shift in the wind. Around him elephant grass sways from east to west, beaten by the moisture-filled air. Above the Kiri hills the sky is bruised with black cloud. MacIntyre is forced to stop the jeep when a deluge of water streams his windscreen, blinding him. Sitting by the edge of the road he listens to the throb of the rain on the canvas roof and imagines the beat of waves on the island shore. MacIntyre thinks about the monkey and curses himself for going looking for the Hausa girl, leaving the monkey alone. Guava Avenue is thick with mud and the jeep slips and slithers in his haste to turn into the drive. Already MacIntyre can see the monkey‘s cage standing open and empty beneath the flame tree. MacIntyre shouts, but the monkey does not appear. Sobbing now, he throws open the jeep door and stumbles up the verandah steps and into the bungalow. Faint light from a darkened sky smears the table top. Amid the empty Star bottles and unwashed dishes, the monkey sits eating the remains of MacIntyre‘s last meal. MacIntyre gathers the monkey to his breast. ‗Tha mi duilich‘, he whispers into the soft brown ear. ‗I am sorry.‘
Dancing on Gravel
10.30 pm. A summer Saturday night in the town centre, just dusk, the day‘s heat rising from the pavements by the river. The double doors of the club fly open, spewing a tangle of women onto the pavement. They pick and prop each other up while the last few out push into the back of the crowd, unwittingly spilling the advance group into the road where they squeal and try to get back on the pavement out of the way of taxis in pinball mode. A continuous double stream of tourists weaves through the knot of revellers, smiling indulgently at their collective schoolgirl uniforms, ignoring their language. There are fifteen of them, all the office staff from sixteen year old Tracey to forty year old Jeannie. They are a pantomime on legs, celebrating Gaynor‘s next week wedding. The tourists‘ children gawp and are tugged out of the path of those staggering in circles on spike heels. Jeannie feels suddenly mouth-wateringly sick. ‗Mummy, is that lady drunk?‘ a wide eyed twelve year old enquires. He stares in wonder at the tart‘s black underwear of the party-goer bent over the bridge parapet. She spits, then lifts her head to squint at him, a large forty year old schoolgirl with skewed, red-ribboned plaits bouncing over her ears. She smoothes what there is of her grey pleated skirt down over her fishnet hams. She leans towards him, the gush of sick replaced by a gush of sentiment. ‗Just you go home, sonny, ‗s too late for you to be out at night.‘ she nods. He resists the pull on his arm from his mother. ‗I‘ve been at a concert so it‘s all right. It‘s only just finished.‘ He informs her, thrilled by every detail of her appearance. Her bright white shirt and striped tie, the short sharp pleats that splay from her huge hips, incongruous with that knowing face, a parent face, a teacher face. Old.
She smiles at him, about to imitate his nice-boy diction but his mother jerks his arm hard. He is carried off in the stream of people crossing the bridge, arguing with his mother and glancing back until his father inserts a single deep comment that shuts him up. She isn‘t worth his latenight gelati at the pizzeria. ‗Just like my grandson,‘ Jeannie says to no-one in particular, while she gulps the warm air. She has stopped feeling sick now she is outside. She wonders if she should go home whilst the going is good. There are plenty of taxis. She couldn‘t get a bus dressed like this, not on a Saturday night. It was all very well in the party crowd. They had cheered her when she arrived at first, thinking maybe that she wouldn‘t join in, what with her age and shape. But she wouldn‘t want to go home on her own in a bus. The younger girls would go on all night, she knew, but she couldn‘t drink like that nowadays. Not without a bad day, sometimes two, to follow. She is eying up an oncoming taxi when Gaynor, the bride-to-be, grabs her arm. She flips the tulle veil out of her face and shouts over the excited din. ‗We‘re all going to a club now. Go on, you come too, Jeannie. You‘ll love it, there‘s male lap dancers. Woooo!‘ Gaynor jerks her pelvis, which raises a further din and creates a bunch of imitators. Jeannie thought; here‘s my chance, I‘ll just slip away. ‗No darling, I think I‘ll be off. Mind you look after Tracey.‘ She has to shout. Gaynor grins at her and hugs her, only seeing her mouth move. ‗Great! This way.‘ Still hanging onto Jeannie, Gaynor grabs the school bell from her chief bridesmaid and rings it as she begins to cross the bridge. A great shout from the opposite pavement halts them. A bunch of men leaving another pub have spotted the hen party and are waving their arms in invitation. Gaynor stops and looks across. One of the men steps forward. ‗Hey Gaynor ! Come on over here,‘ he roars across the tops of taxis and cars and bikes. Gaynor squeals in recognition and pulls her ragbag procession into the road and round the honking cars. ‗It‘s Jimmy. My first boy-friend!‘ She seemed delighted, her face flushed, eyes shining. She drops Jeannie‘s arm and holds her own high in greeting as Jimmy advances between them and bear-hugs her into the air, letting her slide slowly down the length of his body. His friends cheer and begin to look the hen party over. One gives Jeannie a hard look before turning away to the girl beside her. There is a lot of high anticipatory laughter. She looks around for young Tracey. An impatient honking from a taxi catches her attention and she sees Tracey‘s father emerge from it and draw the girl, resisting, away from the melee. Tracey lives down my way, she thought, and pushes her way towards the taxi but by the time she has reached it, she can see the
weeping teenager, panda-eyed, pressed against the window, turned away from her grim-faced father as the taxi spins into a U-turn and speeds off. Right then, thinks Jeannie. This time she backs slowly off until she is at the head of the steps down to the riverside. She watches Gaynor and the hen party file into the pub with the men before descending to the quiet of the river path. She will phone for a taxi and go home. She opens her bag, a silly tiny thing with barely room for her mobile, her keys and a hanky. With a cold rush she remembers that she has asked Gaynor to keep her purse safe in her much larger handbag. Saturday night. No taxi driver was going to trust her for a half hour drive, not dressed like that and with no guarantee that Steve would be home to pay her fare. She looks up at the steps, to the still teeming pavements above and then down the still river, bronzed by the setting sun, and she knows she canâ€˜t go back up into the pub and face Gaynor and the raucous party again. She knows the way home, or the bus route anyway. If she walks along the river she is sure to come out at a junction not far from home. She looks down at her feet, at the brittle stilettos and wondered if they will make it, or if she might have to finish her journey in bare feet. Then she looks along the river path. There are one or two men fishing and cyclists and dog walkers passing to and fro. Steve would say she was stupid but she thinks it will be safe enough. I should have brought a coat, she thinks, shivering not from cold but from reluctance to start the long walk in the clothes she is wearing. Then she remembers that Maureen and Archie at work have a new riverside apartment. Maureen will surely lend her a coat and some sensible shoes if she can find their flat. What had she said it was called? Waterside Court? Waterway Court? Only one way to find out, she thinks, and gets to her feet. There are two new apartment blocks on the riverside, concrete and glass towers with bright railed balconies over the water and underground car parks for the residents. You could peek at the expensive cars through slots in the concrete at pavement level. What did Maureen drive? She walks to the entrance and reads the brass plate with dismay. There were eight different courts, upper courts and mezzanines all called Waterside something. She buzzes on the intercom impatiently. Inside she can see a uniformed man at a desk lean forward to a microphone. Just as he is about to speak and Jeannie is working out what she will say, a hand comes over her shoulder and taps a code into the door keypad. The door hisses and slides open and a man passes by her, saying â€—Excuse me,â€˜ giving her a puzzled glance as he enters the foyer. She sees her reflection in the glass and understands why he stared at her but she is quick enough to follow him before the door slides shut again. The man at the desk looks up, then stands up. He looks Jeannie up and down, his face screwing up in scorn.
‗This is private property, Ma‘am.‘ He says without politeness. He begins to move around the desk towards her. ‗No, it‘s all right,‘ she blusters ‗I‘m here to see a friend. Maureen.‘ The space between them gives her time to think. It‘s the plaits that are the worst. She pulls at the ribbons hanging from them, thinking to make her hair at least look more respectable. She runs her fingers through the plaits to loosen them but only succeeds in rousing her hair to a static frenzy above her earnest face. The man looks horrified as if she was posing for him. ‗None of that now. Come along. This is private property. We don‘t have any of that here.‘ He is going red in the face as he comes towards her and she sees that he is uncertain of what to do about her. Realising he thinks she is a whore touting for business she is amused rather than angry. ‗No really,‘ she assures him in her best business voice,‘ I would like to visit Maureen…um…..Maureen….‘ Damn and damnation, she thinks as she tries to visualise the plastic name badge on Maureen‘s lapel. Theirs is a friendly, consensual office, first names and few titles. The badges are for the clients‘ benefit. She shuts her eyes for a moment. ‗Dennis. Maureen Dennis.‘ She says triumphantly. That was it. But the man stares at her coldly. When he speaks his voice is rough. ‗We don‘t have any clients by that name. Now get out.‘ He can‘t resist adding ‗Back to where you usually hang out.‘ Jeannie is stunned. ‗Maureen Dennis‘. She can see it. Dammit, she had ordered the badges. 12 point Ariel. ‗Maureen Dennis.‘ She stares at him disbelieving what she is hearing. The last effects of the drink suddenly drain from her and she shivers, gathering some sense of dignity. ‗I think this has gone far enough. I want you to telephone Maureen Dennis who is one of your tenants and ask her to verify that she knows Jean Hay. Then you may take me to her apartment.‘ That was authoritative, she thinks, hearing her voice, forgetting her appearance. ‗I‘ve told you. There‘s no client of that name here. Now, do you want me to phone for the police or are you going?‘ His face shows no uncertainty. Her nerve dissolves. She must have got something wrong. Be in the wrong building. She can‘t argue looking like this. They both turn on their heels, he makes for the desk ; she stomps to the door. He presses a switch and the door hisses open as she reaches it. She walks through without hesitation or a backward glance though she hears his ‗good riddance‘ quite clearly.
Her feet are already sore. Toes pinching, heels aching, ankles tender. She strides off until she is out sight of the apartment foyer, then she slows and leans against the wall and eases on shoe off her foot which she massages, then repeats the process with the other. She looks at the pavement which is dry and gum-flecked. No little stones, no dog shit, she could walk on this section anyway, so she does, her shoes clicking like conkers in her hand. Whilst she is walking a mislaid thought arrives in her head. Maureen Whatley. She is so struck by its sudden arrival, she stops walking. Why on earth had she said Maureen Dennis when she knew perfectly well that Maureenâ€˜s married name was Whatley? She is so furious with herself and that fucking janitor - she deliberately calls him that fucking janitor and says it out loud - that she considers going back and sorting him out, but the apartment building is the length of the street away and she will soon be walking on grass by the river. She walks on. Once she is walking on the cooling grass she begins to enjoy herself. The river is bronzed by the last rays of daylight and spot-lit in light pools from the riverside lights, and there is a cool breeze on her face. The couples she passes smile at her, the cyclists curve round her without honking and a small dog bounds up to her, backside in frantic friendly motion as his owner, a small lady chides him indulgently and apologises to Jeannie, who is so grateful to be spoken to in such a normal manner that she pats the dog even though she hates dogs, and small dogs in particular. She looks at her feet. The black fishnets are dusty, twisted round and holed above each toe. There is a bench nearby so she goes to it and pulls the feet of her tights back into place, tries the shoes but they feel so tight she takes them off again straight away. She thinks she will rest there for five minutes. The evening falls on her like a cool cloak. She shuts her eyes. When she opens them again it is full night. Now the river glints silver and the paths fade in both directions into darkness. She shivers. She is completely alone by the near silent river and she can hardly read her watch. Twenty past eleven, she thinks, might be twelve. Nothing for it. The grass feels slimy now so she moves to the tarmac path and walks. Somewhere a large dog barks and she walks on resolute hoping it is not on the path. She is completely sober now and wishing for nothing other than to see the gateway beside the junction that will lead her home. She thinks it is about twenty minutes away. It is forty minutes away and she is sweating and near tears before she finds it. She meets no-one on the riverside path but imagines observers in the shadows by the trees; she walks on tiptoe past a section of railings where she can hear young men in a car on the other side laughing not quite as loud as their stereo bass. Though she sees no-one the darkness is full of unidentified sounds at incalculable distances - she stands on a foil chocolate wrapper and squeals in alarm at the dry scratching, as if it were a snake under her ragged foot. Twice she mislays the path and
wanders close to the water‘s edge. She finds herself suddenly dizzy. Could she still swim? Could she swim in the dark? How would she get out of the river? The lamp-post at the gate glows a welcome. She will walk as far as the chippie and if it‘s still open she will ask Jimmy for a chip roll and pay tomorrow. He knows her. She is a regular Friday night three chip-suppers and all the trimmings worth. She is very hungry. A car swings onto the main road from the junction, hooting and slowing as it passes her. ‗Hey darling, how about a kiss!‘ a hoarse male shout and a chorus of laughter. She looks away while it swerves back onto line heading towards the chippie. Perhaps I won‘t bother, Jeannie thinks, I‘m only ten minutes from home and Steve will worry if I‘m too late. If he‘s home. Funny that, I don‘t worry if he‘s late. When she sees the chippie ahead is unlit, she crosses the road. Must have been twenty past twelve then, she thinks. She walks a little softer, a little closer to the buildings. She sees the car parked outside the chippie and four men, one of them banging on the door and shouting. ‗Customers! Let‘s have you. Hey, Chinkie!‘ One of the others is taking crushed cans out of the rubbish bin and begins tossing them at the lit upstairs windows. What to do? Retreat? Walk an extra block in the dark past the park? Stand still until they move off? Jeannie is frozen, undecided. But the upstairs curtains twitch apart and a window opens. A head appears. ‗Piss off!‘ a furious voice shouts. ‗Come on! We‘re starving down here - just some chips, mate.‘ The one who banged on the door calls back. ‗Piss off, I said. I‘m not your mate and I‘m not a Chinkie. I‘m closed‘ The window slams shut. ‗Bastard Chinkie!‘ he kicks the dustbin over. The other three join in a clumsy football exercise with cans and papers and polystyrene shards until the pavement is a snowstorm of debris. Jeannie shrinks into the doorway wishing she had stayed further back. She knows they can see her, the only moving object in the whole street, and they do. They walk towards her looking for something else to break. She knows she can‘t run and there are no other lit windows in a street full of daytime shops other than the flat above the chippie. She thinks she might scream but her throat is dry. She wishes her skirt was longer. She wishes she was not wearing fishnet tights. She wishes she was not carrying stilettos, wearing scarlet lipstick, loose-haired. For the second time that night she tries to summon up her business voice, her business persona, Mrs Jean Hay, Executive Secretary. She is no longer confident that the voice can outweigh the look. The gang of four come close.
‗My God, what a bummer!‘ number one exclaims as he circles her, his eyes moving up and down her body. ‗Dear, dear, she wasn‘t bad from a distance.‘ Says number two. ‗She‘s old.‘ Adds number three. ‗And fat.‘ Complains number four. They ring her slowly, tightening their circuit with each step. She can feel their breath in rotation on her neck and cheeks, thin streams of beery air. ‗Still, we could do her a favour.‘ Suggests number one. ‗Might be her last chance,‘ consoles number three, stopping behind her. ‗An act of charity,‘ giggles number two. He loosens his belt, takes his thickening penis out. ‗After you, mate.‘ Number four grabs her arms. Her voice disappears. She tries to shake free, to speak, to do anything but just stand there waiting for their hatred to erupt over her. Number two waddles towards her, his penis nodding. She shuts her eyes. A door bangs, footsteps approach, an angry voice sounds. ‗You wanted chips? Here you are then,‘ She hears shouts of pain, feels hot drops of liquid splash her legs, feels the hands that hold her loosen. ‗I‘ve phoned the police. Now fuck off.‘ Jimmy‘s voice is still furious. He holds a steaming, empty chip pan in his hand. The pavement is covered in fat chips. Number one is holding his shaking wet hands in front of him howling. There are wet patches and chip crackle all over his trousers. Number two has his hands pressed into his groin. His face is white. He says something quietly over and over. He is not speaking, but moaning. A siren approaches. ‗Get in the car!‘ Number Three issues a frightened order and all four run or stagger, not helping each other, over to the car. ‗We‘ll get you, you Chinkie git! Number Four hurls the threat from the accelerating car. Jimmy, as Caucasian as Jeannie, gives then the fingers with his free hand before turning to Jeannie who is flicking at her legs. ‗You all right? Did it get you too?‘ Jimmy looks at her a bit more closely, draws back.‘ Oh, it‘s you, Mrs Hay. I didn‘t recognise……‘ Jeannie laughs, not gut laughter but relief laughter. She looks down at her torn fish nets, at her ravaged feet, at her oil splashed skirt. She knows her mascara has run from the stinging in her eyes and her hair is chaotic with sweat and static. Her blouse has come undone at the waist and the extra flesh at her waist is rolling out. ‗No, you wouldn‘t, would you.‘ She says,‘ I‘ve been at a party.‘ Jimmy‘s face says, some party!
A police car pulls up. She is encircled by flashing light and electronic crackle. A policewoman in acid luminous yellow wraps her in something silver and pats her. She can hear Jimmy speaking softly to a policeman. She suddenly wants to see Steve very urgently, to go home. They want her to go to the station. She says no. She wants to go home. The policewoman takes her notepad out and is poised to write She is surprised at Jeannie‘s address. She is a little more concerned now that she knows where Jeannie lives. She thought I was a street girl, Jeannie notes in some detached part of herself. Is it worse because I‘m not a street girl, Jeannie wonders? She tries to explain what she now wants. ‗They didn‘t hurt me, not really, just silly boys. They wouldn‘t have bothered if I hadn‘t been dressed like this. I just want to go home.‘ The policewoman is shocked. Her pencil pauses. ‗You‘re not saying you think you asked for it, Ma‘am?‘ she looks very, very young, all anger and theory. Her words come with feeling. ‗You might consider those youths might do the same to another woman, perhaps a more vulnerable woman.‘ Jeannie thinks back to the party preparation. She sees the girls and women, wives and mothers, sober, dressing as fantasy schoolgirls, hitching their skirts up to just below suspenders, opening their blouse buttons to the waist, layering scarlet mouths in the mirror, staggering on the skinny heeled shoes. She sees Tracey, out of school uniform less than a year, desperate to get back in it. Just for fun, Gaynor says. It‘ll be a laugh. They did look funny and outrageous, Saint Trinian‘s Sixth Form lovelies, a company of wild spirits seeking a riot. But a riot needs bodies and an audience, she thinks, one oddball will always get shot down. ‗It was just the wrong time and the wrong place. Really, officer, I‘d rather just go home.‘ She speaks firmly. ‗Very well, Ma‘m. Since you don‘t want to make a complaint, if you get in the car we‘ll drive you home.‘ ‗No thank you. It‘s only five minutes away. I‘d rather not….my husband, you know, all this...‘ she says, waving her arms towards the bright aura of the police car, its luminous occupants and the lights and twitching curtains in upstairs rooms up and down the street. Jeannie can think of no way to explain away arriving home at 1.00 pm in a police car and is already wording a minimal version of events for Steve‘s comfort. Jimmy steps forward. ‗I‘m still fizzing, Mrs Hay, I‘ll see you home. Walk it off. Do myself a favour.‘ ‗That would be very kind,‘ Jeannie says. She looks at the pavement where a particular perfect chip fills her mouth with water. She is ravenous. If she was alone, she might just pick it up and eat it. The policewoman sighs and puts her notepad away. She
confers with the policeman who shrugs, nods to Jimmy, and gets back in the police car. They drive off, minus flashing light. Jeannie and Jimmy walk in silence, strangers again, a woman dressed as a schoolgirl and a man with a pyjama top tucked into his checked catering trousers. When they reach her gate Jimmy stops and smiles at her. ‗See you next Friday then,‘ he says. She looks puzzled. What now? ‗Three fish suppers with all the trimmings.‘ He says, reminding her that world goes on. Her front door opens and Steve is standing there, backlit like a hero. Jimmy walks off down the street briskly. ‗Bye,‘ she calls after him. ‗Jesus, look at you! And who was that?‘ Steve‘s voice is friendly, veteran of a hundred stag nights, ready for a great exchangeable tale to be woven out of her inexplicable appearance. He comes down the steps and offers her his arm. ‗Come on, old lady. Look like you could do with a cuppa,‘ he says. ‗Look at your feet, woman. Have you been dancing on gravel or what?‘ Jeannie takes his arm, looks into his welcoming face and smiles. ‗Something like that,‘ she says.
Walking Down the Line
The day had started normally enough. Track inspector Mario Caflisch had got up at five to catch the 05.55 from Chur. The formation had been short: just a freight car, an ancient red carriage and the locomotive manned by Fredi, a taciturn Bernese who preferred his own company. Mario had been the only passenger and there was no ticket collector. No one had boarded at Bergün. Everything as it should be. Casually, he‘d glanced into the black mirror of the windowpane. He liked to think of himself as not bad-looking – late thirties and sturdily built, with an indestructible, tanned face that resembled the mountains he so loved, his eyes a clear glacier blue, his nose a little craggy, his skin as smoothly fissured as slate from his daily battles with the elements. But this morning he had hardly recognised himself in the rattling glass; all he‘d seen reflected there was a barely suppressed rage. Unbidden, his grandmother‘s tale about the changeling had come back to him: ‗Once upon a time, on the night of the witches‘ Sabbath, a young mother fell into a deep slumber while watching over her baby boy asleep in his cradle …‘ The words had insinuated themselves in stealthy, evil whispers. Eventually he‘d shut them out by concentrating on the ra-ta-ta, ra-ta-ta, ra-ta-ta of the wheels as the train jolted him along, in and out of the tunnels, underneath the avalanche galleries and over the viaducts, all the way up to the Alpine hamlet of Preda. Meanwhile, the old window next to him had kept shuddering in its frame like something alive and half-frozen from the icy blasts that were pushing in through the rotted rubber seals. After waving Fredi off, he‘d watched the red tail lights disappear into the Albula Tunnel. Then he had filled his lungs with the snow-crisp mountain air and gazed up at the sky, seeking out Venus, his daily ritual before radioing Silvio at HQ to report for duty and starting his descent – 12.6 km divided into 60-cm steps, from sleeper to sleeper, 21,000 steps in all.
Everything had seemed routine later on, too. No major hold-ups. Some icicles needed knocked down under the humpbacked road bridge where the double tracks merged near Naz; the ballast had been scattered again by foraging foxes between the cliffs of Maliera and the Zuondra Tunnel; and there was the odd rock or tree branch that had landed too close to the rails. The usual trains passed at the usual times. Even the weather was normal: cold and sunless now that the day had truly begun. As always Viaducts IV and III made him feel on top of the world, spanning mountains with his steps, before he got buried once more in the 677-metre Toua Tunnel, the longest in this section and partly running underneath the Zuondra. At Maliera automatic block post he had a Biberli pastry and a swig of tea from his rucksack. Afterwards he must have walked on autopilot, because next thing he knew he was inside the Rugnux Tunnel. And that was when he had seen the light moving towards him round the curve. For a moment he‘d thought he was hallucinating. But he couldn‘t hear anything, none of that telltale thundering rush of compressed air, engine noise, metal screeching on metal and echo bouncing off the frozen walls. There was no train due at this time, nor any maintenance vehicle or snow plough – it hadn‘t snowed for the past fortnight and the last few pockets of ice along the track had melted in the early spring sun. Still, out of habit, he had retreated to the nearest service niche where he now stood waiting in the dark, having switched off his power torch. Mario shook his head. Who the hell could be trekking along his stretch of the railway line, courting danger? Certainly not another track inspector – no track inspector in his right mind would be trudging uphill, least of all the hazardous Bergün-Preda section. Should he radio Silvio? Should he call out a warning? Neither, he decided. He‘d deal with the intruder in his own fashion. This was his territory. Leaning against the tunnel wall, breathing in the familiar draughty dankness of stone and eternal sunlessness, he could almost taste the raw blood smell released by the chafed iron, which seemed to cling to the air inside the tunnel. Blood, he thought. If only there had been blood! A small wound, at least; just something to make it feel more real, less ghost-like, less like his grandmother‘s terrible fairytale. But there had been no blood. No tears. There had been nothing at all. When he‘d got home that March day four years ago, the house had been filled with the rich smells of a barley soup, his favourite, simmering away in the kitchen, and he had heard his wife-and-childhood-sweetheart singing above the hum of the vacuum cleaner. He had rushed upstairs with an eager, foolish smile. For only a fool could have believed that Anni had finally managed to lift herself free of the weary sadness she‘d sunk into after the cot death of
their little boy. Only a fool could have mistaken the ominous tune for a song: two notes up, one note down, two notes up, one note down, higher and higher until her voice reached breaking point, broke and dropped like a bird shot in mid-flight, then started up again, two notes up, one note down… Following the sounds along the corridor, he had lost his smile and begun to tiptoe. Slowly he‘d sneaked past the bedroom, past the bathroom, on towards the spare room with the teddy-bear wallpaper. Anni was by the window, vacuuming the same patch of sun-splashed blue carpet, over and over. Already it seemed to him to have a worn and threadbare look, utterly lustreless. Just like the eyes she turned on him when at last he found the courage to approach her and say, ‗Anni, dear, come on, I‘ll make us a cup of coffee, shall I?‘ He bent to kiss her, but she twisted away, gave him a hard, empty stare, then stated flatly: ‗Go away, I have work to do.‘ Resuming her tune, she stepped round him and continued with her task of cleaning the sunlight off the carpet. In the end, he had drawn the curtains and held her, held her tight until the doctor arrived and took her away. The memory of it made him feel angry yet again. Angry with the doctor and with himself for not realising what had been happening to Anni, angry with his grandmother for foretelling it all in her story and, in effect, fating it. Mario wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Dammit, he was a grown man and it hadn‘t been his fault, had it? He had tried, really tried, to help Anni. But she had refused to have another child, and every time he‘d started to talk about things she‘d changed the subject or simply walked off. He still visited her now and then, though she no longer recognised him. ‗Your wife has imprisoned herself in her own mind,‘ the doctor had told him, ‗and unless she decides to open the door, well, I‘m afraid …‘ Just like being stuck inside a tunnel, Mario thought with a shiver that had nothing to do with the damp and cold around him. To be honest, he was beginning to feel trapped. And worried. The Rugnux Tunnel burrowed into the mountain in a single spiral turn of 661 metres, which meant that due to the curve and gradient the stranger couldn‘t have been more than a 150 steps away – so where was he now? What if the man had seen his torchlight and hidden same as him, each now waiting for the other? But there would be a train soon, the R 3364, and Mario didn‘t want a death on his hands. He was about to set off when a light came wavering along the rails and footsteps crunched awkwardly into the ballast, having missed the sleepers. Mario flipped on his torch and burst from the service niche with a shout. The intruder let out a high-pitched cry, stumbled and dropped his flashlight, which briefly illuminated the tunnel‘s stonework, then came to
rest against the rail, catching in its beam not a man but – Mario breathed out with a hiss – a woman! ‗Don‘t hurt me, signore.‘ An Italiana. Hooded and shielding her face behind pink mittens. Mario pulled her hands away. She was young, with large, deep-set eyes and clenched teeth, the rest of her features distorted into a grotesquery of lines, planes and shadows by the torchlight. ‗No one is going to hurt you, but you‘ll have to come with me. There will be a train soon.‘ His Italian sounded rusty even to him. He hadn‘t spoken it much since Gino, his best friend and workmate, had moved back to Poschiavo a few years earlier. ‗But I‘ve lost my earring!‘ Fumbling with the hood of her sheepskin coat, the Italiana indicated first a pierced and unadorned earlobe, then a single milky globe dangling from the other. ‗Per favore, I must find my earring. I still had it when I entered the tunnel. It‘s from my greatgrandmother - un portafortuna, you understand?‘ ‗Sì, sì, a lucky charm.‘ Mario recalled only too well the mossy-soft baby hair in the silver locket that his wife wore on a chain around her neck – a millstone in disguise. He grabbed the woman roughly by one arm and about-turned her. ‗This way now,‘ he ordered, pointing down the track. Then he added more gently, ‗I‘ll have a look for your earring tomorrow, okay?‘ There was nothing she could do but nod. And nod she did, he was too strong for her and, frankly, she wasn‘t keen on being blasted away by the next express. She followed the man, trying to adjust her steps to the sleepers, without much success. He seemed trustworthy – the far side of thirty and an ordinary rail worker from woolly dwarf‘s hat to steel-capped boots, clad in neon-bright orange with luminescent strips around arms and legs to keep him safe. Safety, of course, was one of the buzzwords in this dull little country. She smiled, fingering the ‗missing‘ moonstone earring in her coat pocket, and her lips curled faintly with contempt as she listened to him and his erratic accent. ‗Railroad tracks are dangerous. They‘re not public footpaths. There are laws, and you can be fined,‘ the man lectured her. ‗How did you get here anyway, and why?‘ ‗What‘s your name?‘ she asked to buy some time. ‗Mario. And yours?‘ ‗Clàudia, Sofìa, Gina – take your pick.‘ When he didn‘t respond, she allowed herself another smile in the dark, then launched into her spiel: ‗Just doing research, Mario. I‘ve always loved trains, and this line‘s one of the most spectacular achievements of civil engineering. I wanted to pay tribute to it. Wanted to touch the tunnel walls and walk across the viaducts, walk every step of the way in memory
of my compatriots who built it, a century ago, and –‘ She broke off. Had the man noticed she‘d been larding it on a bit? Was this why he now remained silent, letting his torch beam play over the rails, walls and cables like a goblin‘s lighthouse beacon? If he was so thorough in checking things, he must surely have found the camcorder backup battery she‘d lost somewhere further up the tunnel – yet he would never suspect the truth. Not in a million years. Nothing except avalanches had ever threatened this alpine hinterland where people passed through, mostly. But that was about to change… ‗And why are you really here?‘ Was he a mind reader? To help ‗Genoa 2001‘ get their revenge, she could have replied. The group had said they weren‘t going to kill anybody, and that had been good enough for her. They were anti-G8 activists after all, not terrorists. ‗So?‘ the man persisted. She looked at the glow of his outline in front of her, at the silver security strips shimmering in the torchlight. A guardian angel, it occurred to her: he was the guardian angel of the railways. This was probably the very first time he‘d met a living soul wandering these tunnels. Plenty of ghosts haunting them, and no mistake. ‗I‘ve already told you, Mario,‘ she did her best to sound persuasive, ‗I‘m a researcher and a fan – a railway junkie.‘ Her own great-grandfather had been blown up somewhere along this track. Her nonna used to tell her the story when she was little, and in her story the tunnels were big, black, gaping mouths that needed their human sacrifices every so often or the mountains would start trembling with anger and the tremors would dislodge rocks and boulders, sending them crashing on to the people below, maiming and killing at random. ‗I don‘t believe you,‘ the man retorted bluntly. She shrugged to herself and said nothing. Poor Nonna, born in Preda a few months before her father died in a dynamite accident. That was back in 1901 when Preda was home to hundreds of Italian labourers and their families, proclaiming itself a ‗town of the future‘ complete with church, hotel, kindergarten, barracks, workshops, warehouses, hospital and mortuary … All of a sudden the man spoke into the radio strapped to his chest, something in Swiss German. Was he ratting on her? ‗Avanti.‘ Still swinging his torch rhythmically from side to side, he had quickened his step. The end of the tunnel was curving into view and pallid snow light infiltrated the stony darkness, wreaths of mist that reminded her of the tattered shrouds of dead men. The air outside tasted so fresh and cold it felt almost solid in her mouth, like gelati. Breathing in long, greedy gulps of it, she tried to ignore the roar of the river in the gorge far below as they traversed yet another
viaduct, and she lifted her eyes up to the snow-covered peaks that rose steeply on either side, towering above like the menacing heads of the giants in her nonna‘s tale. From higher up the valley came a keening that seemed to shatter into echoes as it got ever closer, then was abruptly silenced before swelling into a howling screech from deep within the mountain. As soon as they reached terra firma again, she swerved off the track into the brittle snow. The train burst from the tunnel portal with sparks flying off the cables and rails, thundering across the viaduct towards them like a fiery monster. Even from a distance she could feel its inhuman pull and power. It turned the nearby fir trees into twitching marionettes that showered her with snow pellets; it slapped her jeans against her legs and blew her hood down, wire-whipping her hair about her already sore face. Her whole body reeled from the onslaught. Gazing after the last of the freight cars in the drab daylight, she wasn‘t aware at first of the man‘s stare. Then she smiled, waited a beat, and said, ‗Seen enough?‘ He quickly glanced away and marched off. Under his tan, his cheeks had reddened. She knew she wasn‘t a pretty sight with her swollen nose and bruised left eye courtesy of that bastard Antonio and his attempts to stop her from coming here. After a while the man called out: ‗See the animal tracks? These are from a hare, those by the trees from a fox.‘ He had halted and was staring again. She stared right back, unsmiling this time, until he shoved off once more. She put on her sunglasses. What was it with this guy? Yes, dammit, she‘d been knocked about, but she‘d given Antonio as good as she‘d got, kneeing him twice in the groin. That had been the end of their affair. Antonio was married anyway, and two months with the same lover was quite enough. Better to keep moving, get to know new people, new places, new things. That‘s why she had specialised in the history of Italian migrant workers, including their role in the building of the Rhaetian Railway. And why she had agreed to this secret ‗mission‘ – a one-off, she‘d told Paolo, the leader of ‗Genoa 2001‘. All they wanted was some video footage of the line, particularly the tunnels, from Preda down to Filisur and over to Davos. She was the perfect spy: an innocuous academic on a project trip, and a woman with a personal agenda. No, Mario thought, he couldn‘t bear walking with the Italiana in tow much longer, not in this awful silence that kept reminding him of Anni‘s withdrawal. Maybe it was a woman thing, punishing by silence and sheer indifference. He would have liked to point out the birds along the track, birds that seemed to recognise him, waiting for his approach on the same branch of the same tree every day, then circling overhead with harsh cries that clawed at the bright icicle sky. Mario blinked up at the snowy
mountains. As usual they kept their own frozen counsel, and although he loved them, loved the very essence of them, their stillness, their immutability and permanence, today he felt suddenly insulted by their eternal aloofness. He stopped himself just in time from shouting ‗Fuck you!‘ and shaking his fist at them. At the Italiana too, with her arrogance, her stupid lies. Even at Anni in her cool, shaded room at the clinic … Yes, at Anni! Most of all at Anni, goddammit! Theirs wasn‘t a relationship anymore, let alone a marriage! For a moment there was a haze in front of his eyes, but his feet moved on regardless, like those of a wind-up toy, from sleeper to sleeper. When his vision cleared, Mario was shocked at the violence of his feelings; they seemed to belong to someone else, not him. Little by little, he forced them down again, as if pushing a cork back into a bottle. Anni, poor Anni. He would visit her later today, in the hope that four years of stalemate was enough punishment for them both and that she‘d finally call him by name once more. Mario trudged on steadily. The sleepers stretched out ahead like so many stepping stones guiding him safely home. He‘d be able to get shot of the woman very soon now. Muot Station, where he normally had his morning break, wasn‘t far; from there he‘d radio in a request stop for the next train down to Bergün and pack her off, end of story. ‗Signore, you must find all sorts of things in these tunnels, vero?‘ At least she was talking. He answered her while mechanically scanning the track, sleepers and catenaries ahead. ‗Sì, sometimes nice, sometimes not. It‘s sad when animals get killed or injured by the trains.‘ He paused, wondering if she was still listening, then continued. ‗But I‘ve also picked up coins, two- and five-franc pieces tossed out for luck, once a silver ring engraved with a heart, another time a crucifix. And today, in the Rugnux, that‘s the tunnel behind us, I came across a rechargeable battery. Some weirdo, no doubt!‘ He laughed – and was glad to hear the Italiana join in. Out of delicacy he had omitted mentioning the occasional discarded condom. Mario looked at his watch, then radioed Silvio to check on the next train – five minutes late, he was informed, because of an electrical fault at Bergün. He hadn‘t told Silvio about the woman yet. He‘d wait until the RE 678 was due in three quarters of an hour. Right now there was just enough time to get across the side viaduct and through the short Fuegna Tunnel and Gallery. ‗We‘d better hurry.‘ He glanced round at her. Despite the overcast sky, she was wearing sunglasses. All of a sudden he blurted out, ‗Who the hell did that to you? Who hurt you?‘ Afterwards he could have bitten off his tongue.
The Italiana remained silent until they had entered the dark mouth of the mountain. Then her voice rang out, proudly, ‗I hurt him back, don‘t worry!‘ Mario cleared his throat and walked on a little faster towards the diffuse daylight. She was a woman with baby-pink gloves, he reminded himself, and a lot smaller than him. But he felt relieved when they emerged into the open. From down Val Tisch Viaduct he could hear the metallic screeches and sighs of the delayed train ascending towards them. The small wooden structure of Muot Station, well maintained though no longer inhabited, was another hundred metres ahead. It resembled a cosy little gingerbread house with carved green shutters and decorated eaves. He was on home ground now. ‗Time for a break,‘ he announced, unlocking the door. He ushered the Italiana inside. ‗Just make yourself comfortable; the kitchen‘s at the back.‘ A minute later the train cleared the automatic block post and Mario gave the driver the customary wave, then stood watching from the threshold as the carriages blurred past. The floor trembled under his feet and seemed to go on trembling even after the last of the freight cars had disappeared. When he entered the kitchen, he pretended not to notice the woman‘s mobile on the table nor the sunglasses still hiding her eyes. Not so brave now, was she? He grinned to himself and for a fleeting instant glimpsed again, reflected in the tinted lenses of her glasses, that unfamiliar face from the train window. With the fan heater on, the room warmed up quickly and the Italiana took off her coat, revealing a tight-fitting woollen sweater. She declined his offer of sandwiches and rosehip tea, and produced her own thermos of coffee, a couple of chocolate-chip pastries and a hip flask of grappa. Mario had the smallest of swigs, to be polite – he was on duty, after all. The woman made him feel restless. There was a sultriness about her he hadn‘t been aware of before. He wolfed down the first of his ham-and-gherkin sandwiches, then got up and strolled over to the window next to her. ‗The deer are hungry, too,‘ he said with a forced laugh. When the Italiana turned in her seat, he pointed to the area of muddied snow around the plastic barrel he‘d placed a short way up the mountain. ‗I feed them old bread from the baker‘s.‘ ‗That‘s nice.‘ She had more grappa. He sat down again. Frowning, he chewed on his second sandwich, then mumbled, ‗For the record, I never walk down this line without thanking the labourers who built it.‘ She seemed to wince, but he must have imagined it because moments later she smiled, pushed up her sunglasses and lifted the grappa in a silent toast. As if on cue, her mobile beeped. She grabbed it, read the message with flying eyes and, after a furtive glance at him, texted back a reply.
‗Just a friend,‘ she remarked, biting into her pastry so hastily she had to cough. Boyfriend more like, thought Mario and leaned over to tap her on the back, careful not to let his hand linger. ‗You‘ve come well-prepared, haven‘t you?‘ he prompted her once she had recovered. She merely gulped down more coffee, licked the pastry flakes off her fingers and started shuffling one of her scuffed boots to and fro on the carpet. He had a sip of tea. Then another. And another. So she wasn‘t going to speak, was she? Fine. Time to get rid of her. He was about to step outside to radio in the request stop when the sun broke through the clouds. It burst into the room with the raw, violent light peculiar to spring and bleached a pale rectangle into the carpet by the Italiana‘s chair. The woman kept shuffling her boot as if nothing had happened. Kept moving it right across the splash of sunlight, over and over, until the carpet there seemed to him quite worn and threadbare, utterly lustreless and terrifyingly familiar. Mario felt despair surge up inside him, a tide that threatened to obliterate all he had ever been or ever would be, leaving him trapped in the purgatory of an eternal present. He tried to see out of the window and calm himself with the sight of the mountains, but something obscured his view, a cloud shadow that … … suddenly the man was springing at her. She scrabbled in vain for the mobile as she leapt to her feet, then began to back away. He looked different somehow. No longer trustworthy. No longer the ordinary, conscientious rail worker, but a creature with overbright eyes and hands that clenched and unclenched with a barely restrained fierceness. ‗What‘s wrong?‘ she shouted, her elbows braced against the windowsill so she could kick him if he came any nearer. ‗Mario, no! No!‘ His orange outfit seemed to flare like a fire taking hold – and for an instant she was blinded by the image of her great-grandfather the railway builder and labourer, his body erupting in fragments, in bloodied shreds of flesh and fabric and shards of bone which were pounded and ground by tons of rock as he was annihilated in a blast that left only dust and rubble behind. A trail of tears ran down her cheeks. When at last she dared open her eyes, her sunglasses lay shattered on the dirty blue carpet between the man‘s steel-capped boots. His fingers were digging into her shoulders and she could feel him staring at her. He was shaking her, saying things in Swiss German, addressing her as Anni. Just then, over on the table, her mobile sang out the first notes of Cosi Fan Tutti – not Paolo again! The man spun round so abruptly they both tumbled to the floor, her head wedged painfully beneath his arm. She
started to scream and struggle … and that was when he seemed to wake from his madness or whatever it was, as if the fire of viciousness had finally burnt itself out. The mobile had fallen silent, grazie a Dio! She didn‘t bother to respond to his feeble excuses which all involved his wife – why was it that men always blamed their weaknesses and cruelty on women? Poor Eves and Helenas and so-called witches! Stuffing the mobile and the flasks into her rucksack, she seized her coat and left him and his hangdog expression standing there. She was about to plunge headlong into the snow-and-sun glare outside when she remembered Paolo‘s pepper spray in the front pocket of her rucksack. The door to the dusty little waiting room was ajar, a large key in the lock. She went in. Soon enough the man came barging in after her, imploring her to hear him out. She smiled and nodded, beckoned him closer. Then, with a ‗Scusi, amico!‘ she pressed the spray‘s lever. He raised his hands too late and screamed, his eyes already streaming as she unclipped the radio from his chest. He tried to follow her out, wiping at his swollen eyes, but she shut the door in his face and turned the key. He started banging and launching himself at the panels, yelling at her. Wood splintered as the rusty old hinges loosened in their frame. She grimaced to herself, then examined the radio and quietly removed the batteries. Just in case. ‗Listen, Mario. We‘ll do a deal!‘ The frantic attacks stopped. ‗Open up first, goddammit!‘ He sounded near crying. ‗Here‘s the deal: if you swear not to tell anyone about me and let me carry on walking down the line without hassle, you can have your radio back. I‘ll forget about going to the police with my black eye and saying you did it. How‘s that?‘ ‗But you assaulted me just now!‘ ‗Self-defence, amico.‘ ‗Open the door, dammit!‘ ‗Only if you swear on your wife‘s grave.‘ ‗She isn‘t dead. Anni is not dead!‘ Now he was crying outright. ‗Whatever. Swear on her name then.‘ Mario‘s eyes were streaming and he could hear himself bawling like a child. The pain seemed to radiate through his entire body, a burning, searing pain that left him quite limp and helpless. Even his heart felt sore. For a moment he fancied he was back in the room of his baby son, hunched over his cot, over the terrible stillness of his face… He was about to say ‗Anni‘ when there was a rumble outside that grew louder and louder as the train from St Moritz approached and, shaking
the wooden structure of the station to its very foundations, thundered past – and with it his chance of sending the Italiana down to Bergün. In the silence that followed, his sobs began to sound unreal and it occurred to him that his ‗deal‘ with the woman was yet another stalemate: her threat pitted against his. Within its balance lay what little freedom remained. Nothing left to lose, nothing left to lose… The words came to him out of nowhere, whispered over and over until he thought he recognised the voice. He shrank from it. Mario. He crossed himself. Grow up, Mario. You‘ve got it all wrong. He covered his ears, but it made no difference. That tale about the changeling – it isn‘t about your dead son. It‘s about you, Mario. You! Mario laughed. He laughed so hard he was in tears all over again. ‗Okay?‘ he heard the Italiana ask through the door. ‗No!‘ He caught his breath. ‗Yes! No! Yes!‘ Suddenly the rage he had felt earlier returned, only much fiercer now, like a physical presence lashing him on as he scrambled about, half-blind, shouting and screaming. Screaming and shouting, he wrenched the old fire extinguisher from the wall. Then he batter-rammed the door. ‗Yes!‘ Every blow he struck, every crack and gash brought him closer to what was waiting for him on the other side. ‗Yes! Yes! Yes!‘ He wasn‘t going to do anybody‘s bidding anymore. Wasn‘t going to be anybody‘s slave. Not – ever – again. When the railway police checked Muot Station later that day, they found it unlocked and vandalised. Apart from his service radio, which had been smashed to pieces, there was no trace of Mario Caflisch, one of their most reliable track inspectors.
From Fighting It, Regi Claire‘s new collection of stories, to be published by Two Ravens Press on 15 June 2009.
BOOKS OF PLACE IDENTITY AND MEMORY Books of Place Identity and Memory is an ambitious and unusual exhibition opening at the Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries on 22nd May 2009. Everyone is familiar with literary or informative books, but the idea that an artist might be interested in the book form as a medium is less familiar. In fact so unfamiliar is it that exhibitions of artists books tend to concentrate on simply showcasing the form. This exhibition remembers that the book medium is attractive to artists because it has an intrinsic magic, which appeals to the imagination. It is this fundamental motivation which leads into the meeting point of place, memory and identity, which is the theme of the exhibition. Intended to be the first in a series of thematic exhibitions around the visual presence of books, this project is also unusual for its being organized by Iris, a collective of artists who have brought to it a wide range of experience. It is not their intention to showcase their own work but to give a real sense of the breadth and variety of the field. To this end they invited certain key artists to participate and advertised for submissions. The result has been exciting and inspiring. Seventy artists from all over Britain and from Ireland, America, France and beyond are taking part. The exhibition is at Gracefield Art Centre, Dumfries, for six weeks and then divides into small ‗cells‘, accompanying workshops, to be shown in various libraries, throughout Dumfries and Galloway during the summer. It finishes at the Stranraer Museum to coincide with the Wigtown Book Festival in September-October. The introduction, by curator and art historian Julian Watson, to the fully illustrated catalogue, designed by Hugh Bryden, is reproduced here, along with a selection of images from the work on display.
The book and accompanying drawings are linked to themes from Dante‘s ‗Divine Comedy‘ and investigate questions of identity and loss in our war torn contemporary world. Throughout time physical and mental lines have been stepped over in search of an earthly paradise. It is rarely recognized but hopefully looked for. It is our human condition. Drawing is the basis of my entire philosophy and vision and is essential to the production of my work in any discipline. Awareness of the natural world is a major catalyst to my thinking. References to visual and literary influences, throughout history and internationally lend wry humour to dark subjects.
WORLDS OUT THERE AND IN HERE: JULIAN WATSON What makes an artist choose to work with the book form as distinct from any other medium? What poetic call issues from a book‘s presence that speaks of the artist‘ country? This exhibition is the first of an intended series that has an overall theme of ‗the presence‘ of books. At its foundation is an enthusiasm for the modern flowering of books made by artists, but the desire is to look far beyond this to the attraction, by no means always verbal, of the book in all its, sometimes strange and powerful, contexts. Books. There they are, on shelf after shelf, floor after floor, in stores across the earth‘s surface, a cascade of voices and subjects, each one an entry into a world. They may be carefully studied, placed on other shelves, almost ignored, voraciously read to decrepitude, used to prop up furniture or pulped, but that‘s it really. Every time you pick up a book – whether it is a work of fantasy, philosophy, detailed history or an instruction manual – opening it is opening a door, a portal, into a world.
Sandy Sykes, Paradise is Always Where You‘ve Been
This is an action that can start early, and was one to which (for instance) the publishers of the classic children‘s books of a hundred years ago responded with some sumptuousness. Beside the narrative conjured by the words, the intricacy of the stamping on the cover, the beauty of the design, the allure of the pictures, and the turning of the pages – each a door in itself – were all a kind of summoning, an echo of a magical grimoire. With these tactile, visual, qualities so abundant and so full of potential, it is hardly surprising that artists might be attracted to the book form, even to the exclusion of text. Whether or not they may have ditched allegiance to childhood mystery, the strangeness of the book‘s ability to be actual, compact, and containing an extent beyond its size, remains a kind of magic. What is attractive may simply be an opportunity to have ‗more pictures‘, side by side, or it may be the book as an object in itself, with its cover and turning pages, or the sense of time passing turned physical, or the weaving of many different strands into one portable whole. It is often a chance to be more personal than rooms and walls allow, for the rooms become contained within the fingers and palms of your hands. Words do dominate books. They are not just a different mind set. They are practical, fanciful, malleable, flexible, resourceful, translatable, fickle and quick. Since the beginning of printing, or even before, pictures were always that bit more of a handful than words in a book. When setting words there were whole trays of letters to draw on, but each picture had to be specially fashioned in several steps and so was more laborious, more time consuming and more expensive – and yet still with its own magic. This situation, through changing technologies, has remained, in essence, the same. Moreover in recent times, with the great variety of artistic languages, a book wholly devised by an artist is seen as a gamble for a commercial publisher for reasons of both production and content. There are occasional exceptions. Graphic novels, strongly aligned with word and story in sometimes striking ways, are printed in large runs. An artist‘s book project may occasionally make it to the commercial ‗surface‘ by dint of their name being well known on the gallery ladder. However it will rarely, in comparison to books of literature, be as a result of inherent content. Recent decades have seen artists taking hold of a new spectrum of flexible printing technologies and running with them. The vision is that these processes may help find a sympathetic way into an abundant and eclectic market place. In actuality other arms of the same technology have allowed for a vastly more centralised, mechanical and unsparing distribution system, which has more or less exiled everything that cannot fall into line with it, whether because of minority interest or informal production. Even so, there are wonderful books being made by artists, using every component of the book form to express - compactly, visually and tactilely - worlds out there and in here.
Linda Mallett, Waves and Drowned Sailors
Waves and Drowned Sailors were both created during an artist‘s residency in Shetland in 2005. Both remember some of the many ships wrecked and lives lost on the specific stretches of coastline where the images were recorded. Linda Mallett‘s practice is research-led, responding to a specific environment and her presence within it. She has long been drawn to border and threshold situations, such as the littoral between land and sea, and the luminal between states of consciousness.
www.lindamallett.com Rick Myers, Bite Marks in Paper
Based in Manchester UK, and Massachusetts USA, Rick Myers has exhibited in London, Stockholm, Tokyo, Toronto, New York and Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany. His ‗Funnel Vision Portable Museum‘ was shown at the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. Publications include ‗Paper Poems‘ (Nieves Books, Zurich), ‗Words to Breathe Inside‘ (Rollo Press, Zurich), ‗Three Days‘ (Gladtree Press, Easthampton MA) and a number of privately published editions. Myers‘ work is included in collections at The British Library, The Poetry Library London, MoMA New York and Tate Britain.
Holger Mohaupt, Collective Space My work is focussing on the experience of space and its inhabitants. Place, Identity and Memory of such spaces are the parameters of this investigation. I have chosen the book project ‗Collective Space‘ to best incorporate my research and the theme of the exhibition. I printed an edition of 10 inkjet booklets size A5. The first edition of 10 booklets was published by the Glasgow-based collective ‗A Shoal of Mackerel‘ www.ashoalofmackerel.com and first presented in spring 2008 at the CCA in Glasgow.
www.room8.org ‗Worlds out there and in here‘. What are the boundaries, and the country contained within them, of this exhibition? Place...Identity...Memory. These are words easily spoken singly to cover vast tracts of all sorts of experience and probably nonsense as well. However they do converge in a kind of marriage of the material and inner worlds and of time. If one could pause time... and awake… the rather startled questions would probably be, ‗Where am I?... what am I?... what memories are there that brought me here?... that make up this place that I find myself in?‘ This ‗awakening‘ may be just that, but it is mirrored in the opening of a book, the curtains of a performance, or the emergence into a clearing, a clear place, a country in a dream. The meeting place of these questions is thus a strong place for creativity. It is the theme, the territory of our exhibition.
Silvana McLean, Voices
Voices portfolio gives the past and present community of Glentrool and Merrick an opportunity to share their memories of living in this remote landscape. Quotations written into the fabric of the prints create a sense of belonging and ownership. Translucent paper allows the image to be seen through the poetry. Printmaking remains a strong strand in my work as a visual artist. Etching creates a satisfyingly deep imprint in beautiful paper which is very seductive and the book form provides new considerations and skills for experimentation. Northern climates and geology are currently providing inspiration for a new body of work.
To give just a small number of examples, which both indicate our rough, self-imposed limits and the richness of our theme: In 1972 Tim Robinson, left behind a notable life in London as a painter and maker of environmental installations, and went to live in the west of Ireland. With a training in mathematics as well, he has proceeded to ‗map‘ the place he found himself in, by means of cartographically correct maps Tim Robinson, Folding Landscapes Maps which emphasise the detail on which he wishes to concentrate – the striations of the land as he walks it and the presence, language and memory of its inhabitants. He also maps it in writing, most notably in his two-volume ‗Stones of Aran‘ and in his work-in-progress on Connemara. He writes in the preface to ‗Connemara – Listening to the Wind,‘ I am aware of the selectivity of my written response to living in Connemara. I concentrate on just three factors whose influences permeate the structures of everyday life here: the sound of the past, the language we breathe, and our frontage onto the natural world. The articulation of our themes might be clear, but we might be inclined to put his words at a distance because their context is clearly literary, and not obviously a visual one. While they do not appear in an ‗artist‘s book‘ in the craftsmanlike or hand-produced sense of the word, with a perspective including decades, it is possible to see that Tim Robinson‘s project is a consistent, singular and artistic one, and one of extraordinary richness, using whatever medium suits his needs in the most precise and feeling way. This includes publication, visual and literary. Another map maker, but of a very different kind, is Denis Wood, whose collective project to map Boylan Heights (his neighbourhood in Raleigh, North Carolina) has produced work that wants to be a book, but hasn‘t yet quite made it... We mapped the power lines and the telephone lines and the cables for televisions. We mapped the street lights. Later we mapped the light cast by the street lights and all the Denis Wood, Dancing and Singing: A Narrative Atlas of Boylan Hights
Erica van Horn, Italian Lessons
other lights, prowling the neighborhood after dark with a light meter. Up above the lights we saw the stars, and we mapped the stars you could see from the neighborhood. We mapped the traffic and the colors of the leaves in the fall and the fences. We mapped the graffiti made in wet cement and the street signs and the dollar value of the real estate, the colors of the houses and the number of steps from the sidewalk to the front porches, and where the wind chimes were and the clotheslines. We mapped everything we could figure out how to map. Maps were of not much use to Erica van Horn, when work and life took her to Italy, around 1990. Born a brought up in the United States, and then moving to England, she was already somewhat familiar with culture shock, but the wayward confusions and misunderstandings she encountered
in Italy, just eluding codification, led her to issue ‗Italian Lessons‘ of her own, a miscellany of seventeen (at the last count) ‗lessons‘ in the form of objects, cards, pamphlets and a book, all eventually contained (if you wanted) in a box, which still, of course, doesn‘t quite get the little pieces of anarchy lined up. Authorities have probably always been earnestly serious to tell us that they have it all systematically, efficiently and sensibly organised, but they cannot have had the size and technology before to give the impression of being quite so all embracing and detailed. They are, though, decidedly unsuccessful (thank goodness) in telling us where we are, who we are and what our memories are. Large swathes of modern space and experience belong to various kinds of limbo - airports, platforms, motorways, shopping malls and disappearing into cyberspace. The intermediate space - as dealt with by Alex McArthur - is a kind of experience of place, identity and memory, as much as the drama of journey‘s beginning or ending, even if it may be listless and indeterminate. Then there is that state where one of the
Suzanne Davis, The Roman Road at Durisdeer
I have always been interested in maps, guidebooks, postcards how places are identified, r e m e m b e r e d , [re]presented; collecting information and organizing it into notebooks, sketchbooks and paper files. All this has influenced my ideas in developing bookworks. Words, my own and those of others are significant in the books on show. My identity as a painter, with a strong visual memory, is bound up with images of place: the way land has been used shapes it. Layer by layer. Animals raised, crops grown, gods feared, shelters built. Some places are more persistent starting points for paintings, and in this case, bookworks.
facets of place, identity and memory may be at odds or even hostile to the others. Jonathan Moss‘ book of a walk through a former concentration camp at Rivesaltes was prompted by the realisation that this was a place whose memories were of the processing of people towards destruction. Beyond all this is loss. What it is to not have a sense of orientation, nor indeed to have memory in any way that we, with memory, would recognise. Anita Hutchinson‘s work is on this borderland. Further than this, it feels near impossible to speak, for all bearings and sight lines, themselves a kind of common ground, are gone. Turning to earth...the narrative and memories of a place can be found in the materials that build it up – this is close to the French feeling of ‗terroir‘ in wine making. Jan Fairbairn-Edwards has made ‗books‘ in olive wood and, here, in mulberry fibre, where to turn a page in the familiar sense may rate from possible to impossible, but which are fully intended to speak of the confluence of place, identity and memory in a deeply material way. Strangely, the lack of narrative, merely opens out the ever-present strangeness of form. While we are showing books where the questioning of ‗the conventions of the book‘ is almost the main subject of the work, we feel that enough ‗deconstructive‘ debate is going on elsewhere in this area for us
to need to highlight it in our exhibition. Within the boundaries of theme and form roughly delineated here is an extraordinarily abundant field whose primary motivation is experience and feeling. It is a privilege to be able to exhibit this work, with so many poetic, visual voices approaching – as we only ever seem able to do – what it is to be here. To make books is only one way make the approach. However, that tactile encapsulation of a world which is, as you hold it, the book‘s peculiar ability, has much, much richer possibilities than we, lost among the routine shelves of the nearest book store, might at first imagine.
David Rhys Jones Derek Jarman‘s Garden & Dungeness Making artist‘s books and paper structures has become an important strand within my practice as an artist. The theme for this exhibition is also directly related to the subject matter that I have been exploring in recent years; and I have submitted work that I hope will be of interest to others. Informed by journeys or site-specific locations, this work was developed as the focus of an MA project. The journeys are recorded using photographs and drawings as inspiration for making work David Rhys Jones trained at Central Saint Martins and has exhibited widely, including The V&A Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts and the Courtauld Institute.
www.davidrhysjones.com IRIS is a collective of artists – Hugh Bryden, Jeremy Carlisle, Robbie Coleman, Linda Mallett, Andy Priestman, Julian Watson and Denise Zygadlo – all living and working in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. As well as their skills as practicing artists, they have brought to this project their various experiences in book making, publishing, art communication, exhibition design and curating. The aim of Iris is to present the pleasure and awareness of the artists book as a visual medium through an ambitious series of exhibitions and events, and to build up a lasting archive to be housed at the University of Glasgow, Crichton Campus, Dumfries.
On the telephone Standing in Xing Ping, in the street, the filthy, dusty drag of it the high mountains all around it, in the heat, on the telephone, talking to my wife, in the green, wet, leafy cold of late November Scotland. She‘s getting the boys ready for school at half-past-eight in the morning. I speak to my children each in turn James, 10, and David, 6, asking them what present they would like me to bring them from China? each of them in turn enunciating every syllable carefully, tells me: ‗Anything, Daddy, except a book.‘ – I shall go to the Ghost Market in Beijing, and buy two small iron dragons for them, that they might guard their wisdom and protect their independence.
TWO POEMS FROM THE CHINA MEMORANDUM
The Ghost Market Teapots giant frogs dragons lions ashtrays steaming rice and noodles glimpsed in chopsticks on the way from bowl to mouth great croichles in the throats and gobs of phlegm and sneezes wiped with fingers to the pavement and bracelets bangles necklaces and beads and statues carved and jade and rugs and donâ€˜t forget those human skull-tops from Tibet and phallus, balls in black cold stone and rows of dragons, camels, tigers, cigarettes and smoke from men in corners each surrounded by their boxes, stalls, and hanging screens and silks and paper crinkled covered with calligraphy and little calls of hard-sell chatter, crowds, the push, the clack, the clatter, mah-jong, chopsticks, food, the Chairman Mao alarm-clocks and the statuettes saluting and the bad old dusty books, the matter of the market and itâ€˜s all so real and fake and fast and furious, running in the veins and the curious pause and push and pass the avenues and corridors and lanes between the stalls the women in their furry hats the men with pocket calculators, held out in their open hands and how much does it cost? how much will you pay? how many objects here are on display? how many people did you pass today? how many ghosts walked through you on your way?
Just How it Was Will there come a time when looking back we‘ll say to one another, that‘s just how it was – ‗how it was‘ being exactly how, today, it is; the sun at precisely that angle over the trees in whose shadow a blackbird is being tracked by a cat, while from next-door‘s garden a ball goes bouncing into the lane; the ice-cubes in our drinks, meanwhile, remaining icy? Even then we realised that on entering what was still the future the ice would melt, the sun duly set, rendering your ribboned straw hat redundant. And these essential questions: whether the ball bouncing into the road would lead to tragedy, or the blackbird end up being caught by the cat.
Takeover The apple tree in our garden seems unduly gnarled, while upper branches have been lopped from others. And who allowed the flowering cherry to be felled? The bowls and trays replete with water and nuts have been replaced by what look like traps for small creatures. Where our neighboursâ€˜ puppy used to play, a large mastiff pads. On the balcony are scantily clad figures, neither friends nor family: did we invite them, or have they simply taken over without our knowing? Meanwhile an unfamiliar ring-tone goes on and on. While I try to work out which of us it might be for, and where you are anyway, a ladybird lands on my trouser-leg, quickly assesses the situation, and whirrs off. Watching its mazy flight, I wish it well. I wish it greenfly.
Passengers and Sky Constellations are inventions of the mind: a sprig of cow parsley, a tree stump with a scything root. Before we find names the scene shifts. You told me once the moon can cradle my day in the small of her face, pass it back when she is full; for this, you said, I beat my heart like a lamb trapped in fencewire. I do not know why this comes to me now while she is full and out of sight. Perhaps itâ€˜s her silver on your forehead or perhaps it was you and your being right.
The Chronomentrophobe‘s Date She said the last time she‘d waited this long was when her grandfather‘s hands made shadow rabbits and birds as her mother chain-smoked menthols and dialled the telephone number of Mark, that hackney carriage driver whose face was as flat as a mantelpiece, whose shoulders knew how to flail a strap. ‗Hold on a minute,‘ he says, ‗my only means of telling the time are by clocking the sky or stopping strangers on the pavement and even then it‘s a second-hand report. Please stay and sit beneath the sundial, the present is fasting when you are here.‘
Stevie Ronnie‘s work was recommended to Markings by poet and lecturer WN Herbert who works as Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University. His advocacy of Stevie Ronnie comes as a result of the forthcoming Markings Mentoring Scheme which will be unveiled in issue 29.
The Wall Ropes of tears secured the scaffolding which held a mile of planks on which all the workers stood weeping. The wall had been speaking again in that damp foundation tone that gave orders for its own fashioning: North by northeast at 10 foot 4 inches in height over hill and dale without bend for the next 2 miles. Only the choice of lime-wash for each stretch now lay at the workersâ€˜ discretion: ochre, blue or crimson and they could not decide which might prove most pleasing â€“ hence their stasis and tears: they just could not decide.
The Cloud‘s Hand When a night cloud‘s hand covers the earth‘s hand life itself is in that fold but of course our dreaming heads sense almost nothing of dark or cold. There‘s another cloud like a white cloth playing peek-a-boo with a child‘s face to signify appearance, vanishing and again appearance round the door of space. In France they say the miller‘s house is always open for tomorrow‘s meal. Scotch rain clouds just let us know in Morse code how they feel. When a bright cloud covers the earth‘s hand early morning itself is in that fold but half awake our dozy heads catch precious little silver or gold.
James McGonigal has the final poem in this issue on page 167.
PAULINE PRIOR-PITT Somehow Lost He said she would have wanted me to have them his gift to her when I was born but I was wearing Mary Quant sacks in black above my knees and wanted longer beads much longer to swing and twist in student bars and left them in their box for now somehow in all those moves I lost her soft pink beads threaded on gold in her lilac dress with matching coat and small brimmed hat never quite the right shoes I missed her most when you were born weaving our threads her gift of beads and now your first and you consumed by mother love and I for you our early morning days glow red overflow in holding close catching up on sleep and weeping and this is when I should be giving you the beads instead you have a gift for me of course you know the story they are not quite the same but almost soft pink beads threaded on gold
Visitors Stay bright for her. Don‘t overcast the sky to disappear the hills or settle thick mist low down to the fence. Don‘t show off your veils of horizontal rain or batter her with gale force winds. Let her see low headland‘s green fall raw sienna, ochre, gold and distant hills patch purple, heather, pink how bays of sand below the dunes curve silver white how the sea is a fancy sapphire far out, indigo, and closer inland, opal. Let her see this. But if dull grey day after day has to be your offering then gift one hour one moment only of your dazzling bright for her to hold when she goes home. 53
CHRISTINE DE LUCA
Markings The Shabaka Stone, c710 BC, British Museum
In the 25th Egyptian dynasty King Shabaka of Memphis decreed the story of creation be inscribed on a slab of blackest basalt. There it would reside for all eternity. Its hieroglyphics showed the plan: how Ptah, chief god of Memphis, played a decisive role in cosmic history. The stone, regal with its narrative of Ptah, still stands. But what illiterate miller could resist its practicality? It could be moved, could make another story. Grooves incised apon its latent face unleashed the fruitfulness of earth, the grist of gods. The black stone swirled, spun and spilled rich millings from the old Nileâ€˜s silts. Carved into it was this star. From earthly emblem Ptahâ€˜s heaven had been clawed.
The Dyker He never handled a stone more than once, saw the shape whole and set the thing in place. Eighty-five, his implements around him – Jimmy Black, of the Blacks of Kilmacolm. Nothing‘s perfect, he said; look at that line, guiding our eye along the wall he‘d done. But he‘ll be here in a hundred years‘ time (with a wink to the boys: the wall or him?). * Thus my Heaney moment: lines that rang true, a builder-over-years, big-souled craftsman, shifter of cap stones, weather-eyed, canny. The shins of jittery beasts could undo the work in a morning, or the return of red-eyed, rampaging hordes. Build anyway.
Raymond Friel‘s latest book ―Stations of the Heart‖ is reviewed by JB Pick on page 163 of this issue.
Frozen North Deep in the bowels of a bus I suddenly awake and in the dark, mistake some loonyâ€˜s neon Christmas for the turn-off home. Alone in the night I watch the tail lights disappear up six miles more of arctic-hoovered road. The winter has rules of its own: the moon is huge and the wind brings the sob of music. It would be easy to be lost here, we fall in and out of dreams and could die as simply as lose our way. The stars are sewn in gold and the cold is a kiss. No satellite can breach this black stronghold. Itâ€˜s why we are alive, to feel the flicker of heart timid as a scut under an unutterable sky.
VALENTINA BOLD Markings went along to meet Dr. Valentina Bold, at the University of Glasgow Crichton Campus in Dumfries. Valentina has undertaken extensive research on the traditions of song in Dumfries and Galloway and she now shares her findings with the readers of Markings. This essay was first delivered as a paper at the American Folklore Society meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, in late 2008.
‗I wish I was whaur Helen lies‘: collection, community and regeneration in modern South West Scotland When we think about South West Scotland there is, arguably, one song that comes most immediately to mind: ‗I Wish I was whaur Helen Lies‘, performed memorably and recently by Emily Smith on her CD A Day like Today. In her sleeve notes, Smith asserts her links to the place: ‗This is a song from my native region of Dumfries & Galloway‘.1 It is a song which, in a profound sense, is emblematic of this part of Scotland, expressive at once of love of home, and of a home whose heyday is firmly in the past: I wish I was whaur Helen lies For nicht and day on me she cries For nicht and day on me she cries I wish I was whaur Helen lies On fair Kirkconnel Lea Like Helen, South West Scotland‘s traditions have been literally buried for at least the past hundred years, sacrificed, perhaps, to the greater good of the nation, and despite the best efforts of the people who love them to revive them. Here, by taking an overview of the ways in which collectors worked within the area in the past, and by discussing the current situation, I‘d like to offer some hope for the future in terms of folkloric regeneration, rather than revival.round For a start, it must be stressed that South West Scotland played a crucial part in the construction of song culture in Scotland during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. Robert Burns, for instance, collecting for Johnson‘s Scots Musical Museum from 1788 onwards—at a time when he was resident in Ellisland farm and, from 1792, in Dumfries—made full use of the rich traditions of the area in his work, picking up the ‗Selkirk Grace‘, for example, in the Selkirk Arms, Kirkcudbright, and producing iconic songs like ‗A Red, Red Rose‘, from fragments in oral and (in all probability) chapbook circulation. Equally, he contributed to the song traditions of Scotland in a direct way while living in Dumfries and Galloway: ‗The Banks of Nith‘ was inspired by the views from Ellisland
farm, and ‗The Banks of Cree‘ by the South Western part of the area; ‗For a‘ that and a‘ that‘ was written in Dumfries. Other prominent collectors in Dumfries and Galloway include the antiquarian, and Burns‘s neighbour at Ellisland, Robert Riddell of Glenriddel (1755-94), of Friars‘ Carse. At the hermitage at Friar‘s Carse, of course, Burns produced ‗The Whistle‘—commemorating an epic drinking contest at Friar‘s Carse involving Riddell, Burns and the antiquarian Frances Grose—as well as ‗A Vision‘ and ‗On Seeing a Wounded Hare‘. Burns‘s manuscript collections, given to the Riddells in 1791, are now in the National Library of Scotland. Riddell himself compiled twelve manuscript volumes of a ‗Collection of Scottish Antiquities, selected by R.R‘ and, in 1794 published A Collection of Scotch, Galwegian and Border Tunes for the Violin and Pianoforte. Many of these are regionally specific; for instance among the sixteen pieces of volume 11, there are versions of ‗Archie of Capeld‘, ‗Lord Maxwell‘s Goodnight‘, ‗Lads of Wamphray‘, two versions of ‗The Lochmaben Harper‘ and two versions of ‗Fair Helen of Kirkconnel‘ (one of the most collected pieces from the region). Walter Scott drew significantly on volume 11 of this collection when compiling the final 1803 Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border and, in the other volumes too, made substantial use of pieces from Dumfries and Galloway, which he saw as part of a Borders‘s ‗continuum‘. Many of the local reiving ballads, for instance, feature in the Minstrelsy, including ‗Johnnie Armstrong‘ and ‗The Lochmaben Harper‘ along with ‗Lord Maxwell‘s Goodnight‘, and ‗romantic‘ ballads like ‗Helen of Kirkconnel‘. Robert Cromek too, collected extensively in the area—with the assistance of Allan Cunningham—culminating in the Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, published in1810. In his introduction to Remains, Cromek believes that the song material he thinks he‘s collected is particularly good and authentic in terms of its provenance, because of the, until recently, untouched, rural idyll that was Galloway: The language of the peasantry has none of that vulgar broadness so disgusting in those sea-coast towns which commerce has corrupted. Imagery, drawn from the selected resources of nature, will clothe itself in chaste and becoming language; the summer wind – the gloaming dewfall among the loose locks of a lovely maiden – the flower tops bent with dew – the balmy smell of the wood – the honey-combs of the wild bee – afford fine poetic figures, which nought but profligacy can pollute or misapply. In Cromek‘s rhetoric, this is a wholly beneficent rural landscape and traditional way of life associated with it. He scoffed at Cunningham‘s own pretentions in song, dismissing these with the statement, ―no one should try to write Songs after Robert Burns unless he could either write like him or some of the old minstrels‖. Cunningham got his revenge, of course, passing off many of his own
compositions as traditional. His memory of his first meeting with Cromek in 1809, recalled in Cunningham family tradition, is worth quoting in this context: ‗Gad, Sir!‘ said Cromek; ‗if we could but make a volume—Gad, Sir!—see what Percy has done, and Ritson, and Mr. Scott more recently with his Border Minstrelsy.‘ The idea of a volume of imitations passed upon Cromek as genuine remains flashed across the poet‘s mind [...] A few fragments were soon submitted. ‗Gad, Sir! these are the things;‘ and, like Polyphemus, he cried for more. ‗More, give me more; this is divine!‘ He never suspected a cheat. 2 Remains of Nithsdale claimed to outdo the work of previous writers, particularly Burns, by offering fresh ‗Originals‘ of pieces including ‗Carle of Kelly-burn braes‘ and ‗Gude Ale Comes‘. It claimed to exemplify Scottish ‗unlettered rusticity‘, uncontaminated by English pastoral, where ‗swains and nymphs resemble lords and ladies parading among their vassals at the rental time, who never smear sheep‘. The collection is arranged into ‗classes‘ of songs: Sentimental, Humorous, Jacobite Ballads (1715 and 1745), Old Ballads and Fragments. Informants included Mrs Copland of Dalbeattie, her niece, Catherine Macartney, and Cunningham‘s fiancée Jean Walker. Cunningham later boasted of writing all bar two ‗scraps‘ himself: ‗I could cheat a whole General Assembly of Antiquarians with my original manner of writing and forging‘. Furthermore, Cunningham quipped to George McGhie in 1810, regarding Jean Walker: ‗the poets of the last century have, by the divine gift of inspiration, anticipated and commemorated the beauties of this‘.3 Many of these pieces, including ‗To Jean in Heaven‘ (after Burns‘s ‗Mary in Heaven‘) later appeared in Cunningham‘s own Songs, chiefly in the Rural Language of Scotland (1813) contains many items which had already appeared in the Remains, such as ‗To Jean in Heaven‘. His later work, Songs of Scotland (1825), placed Cunningham within the Scottish tradition of lyrics and pastorals, alongside Ramsay and Hector MacNeil and, of course, many of his pieces, like ‗The Wee, wee German Lairdie‘, are in oral circulation today. Other collectors worth noticing including Captain James Murray Denniston (1770-1852), the Creetown antiquarian whose 1825 The Battle of Craignilder portrays Galloway as a place of particular value regarding traditional culture. He claims that this lengthy historical ballad was collected from ―a gipsey [sic] woman, who had been committed to Kirkcudbright jail‖; in fact, as with much of Cromek‘s ‗traditional‘ material, it was largely fabricated by Denniston himself. For Denniston, the primitive qualities in Galloway, made it a hotbed of tradition: ‗Tenaciously adhering to its primitive customs, superstition and traditions, the barbarous outline of the Scythian‘. Denniston then argues that the outmoded, barbaric quality of Galloway culture justifies collectors in taking severe, quite disrespectful approaches to the local material they collect, being able
to ‗modernise the costume of our original, and to lay it before the public in a less objectionable garb.‘ Lest you think that all this activity was solely scholarly and antiquarian, though, there is some evidence of enthusiastic amateur collecting in the area in the early nineteenth century. Most notably there is the underknown Elizabeth Creighton collection, held in the Ewart Library in Dumfries. It‘s official title is: ‗A Collection of Old Songs Written from the Memory of Agnes Thorburn Creighton. January 31st MDCCCXVIII‘. Written in a fine hand, it was transcribed by Creighton‘s daughter, probably while the collector was in her old age. This is a wide-ranging and comprehensive collection of material then in circulation in Dumfries, and it is worth taking a slight detour to note some of the contents. For instance, there are many local ballad texts, like ‗Young Watters‘, an ‗Adam o Gordon‘, ‗Braes of Yarrow‘, ‗Young Douglas and Fair Margaret‘. There are songs by identifiable authors, like Scott, too, including ‗Lord Lochinvar‘, as well as traditional-style lyrics, like ‗Waly, waly‘ and ‗The Mill Mill O‘ (similar to ‗Mormond Braes‘ but with a Dumfries and Galloway twist). There are Burnsian river-celebration pieces, including ‗The Banks of the Devon‘ and two spoofs on ‗Yestreen I had a pint of wine‘: the relatively innocuous ‗The Banks of Banna‘, opening ‗Shepherds, I have lost my love, / Have you seen my Anna‘, and a funnier ‗Parody on the Banks of Banna‘ opening ‗Fishwives, I have lost my wife, / Have you seen my Sarah‘. There are some songs with a broadside flavour, like ‗A Song‘—‘I‘m worse than poor debtors coop‘d up in their cages‘—and oddities too, like ‗Written by a young man nearly an idiot‘ (in praise of God, in case you are wondering). An amateur collector like Creighton makes an important precedent for the later collector William Macmath, whose career is rather better known, largely thanks to the modern work of Mary Ellen Brown. His collecting career, too, was tangibly linked to Riddell‘s earlier work in the area. In 1875 Macmath located, for Child4, the Riddell ballad manuscripts, now deposited in the National Library of Scotland, where it had lain undetected since 1869. Macmath made a copy of the Riddell original and sent it to Child in America. Amongst many major song-related holdings in the Macmath collection at Broughton House are ten manuscript collections of correspondence between Macmath and Child, spanning the period 1873 – 1896. Macmath was the most important collaborator on Child‘s collection, and the only reason he did not become a publicly acknowledged, published authority on the field was his insistence that any prior knowledge or new research he uncovered would be contributed to Child, so that the Professor‘s magnum opus might become a completely definitive study.
The Child/Macmath correspondence gives an incredibly detailed account of the politics of collecting, and Macmath is not afraid to question some fairly major reputations and reinstate some minor local ones. In April 1877, for instance, he wrote: [Child] does yet know the full extent to which Sir Walter Scott was a sinner in the matter of ballad editing. Nothing but my reluctance to anticipate the Professor‘s book prevents me from exposing Scott [...] From what I have seen in Glenriddell‘s case [...] I know that he made the most paltry alterations, ‗from tradition‘ [...] that he plundered one ballad for the sake of another, that he failed to acknowledge his authority at all, and that in short, he did almost everything that a ballad editor, as his duties are now understood, ought not to have done. MacMath repeats the charge to Child in 1880: I doubt if we shall ever get a better example of Scott‘s style of treatment than in the ballad which he has called (I do not say improperly, but ‗trusty Glenriddell‘ does not venture on a name himself) ‗Lord Maxwell‘s Goodnight‘, and which, as far as I know, does not exist elsewhere. To sum up, then, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Dumfries and Galloway was widely appreciated as an area of great importance for song collecting, and song generation, both at an academic and a popular level. Burns, Scott and their followers were particularly active in Dumfries collecting and reframing songs for performance, along with later collectors like Macmath.5 This was not locally horded knowledge, either. As Lesley Stevenson showed in her groundbreaking PhD dissertation, ‗Scotland the Real‘: The Representation of Traditional Music in Scottish Tourism‘ (2004), in the nineteenth and early twentieth century tourists were specifically attracted to Dumfries and Galloway because of its reputation as Scotland‘s lyric and ballad heartland, in partnership with its neighbouring area, the Borders. They wanted to experience the actual sites associated with pieces like ‗Johnnie Armstrong‘ (Ch 169), whose Gilnockie Tower is by Canonbie; Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe‘s ‗The Murder of Caerlaveroc‘ (included by Scott) where the castle still exists, near to Dumfries; ‗The Lads o Wamphray‘ (Ch 184), set at the back of Lockerbie, and, again, the Annan-based locations of ‗Helen of Kirkconnel.‘ This no longer happens. Even by the time of the publication of Malcolm Harper‘s edited collection The Bards of Galloway (1889) knowledge of the region‘s song traditions had dramatically waned, allowing Harper to observe (revealing, of course, his own ignorance of the earlier traditions): That Galloway has been productive of literary talent Dr Thomas Murray‘s History, [ie –The Literary History of Galloway from the earliest period to the present time; orig. pub. 1822] the second edition of which was published as far back as 1832, affords abundant proof [...]Galloway, in proportion to its size,
compares favourably with any other district of Scotland [...] It is remarkable, however, that Galloway, unlike most other counties in Scotland, has not been fertile in producing the true sons of poetry and song, its barrenness in that respect having been remarked upon by almost every one whose attention has been turned to the subject.6 Equally, knowledge of the South West‘s cultural heritage has paled, within the area and beyond. It is a paradoxical phenomenon perhaps that, thanks to the successes of collectors in other parts of Scotland, and endeavours at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, attention has been focussed away from the South West. Lacking, until very recently, an academic presence, until the coming of the University of Glasgow to the area in 1999, the South West has suffered in comparison to Scotland‘s North East, Gaeltachd, and the urban areas of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Collection here, in the twentieth century, has been largely by people from within the community, without a formal academic background; they played a crucial role in documenting and defending traditional culture Notably, Frank Miller, the writer of The Poets of Dumfriesshire, championed the area, in a way that had become necessary. His invaluable collection is available for consultation in the Ewart Library, Dumfries. It includes a copy of Child‘s English and Scottish Popular Ballads with ‗insertions‘, Macmath‘s presentation copy of the Child Memorial Volume (1896), Motherwell‘s Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern with ‗manuscript notes‘,7 Cromek‘s Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song with manuscript notes by Allan Cunningham, ‗indicating the source of each ballad‘, S.C. Hall‘s Book of British Ballads ‗with autograph notes‘ and Maidment‘s copy of Robert Anderson‘s Cumbrian Ballads (1808), including ‗cuttings‘ inserted by Maidment. There are eighteenth and nineteenth century song books and chapbooks, and three volumes of ballads and song manuscripts, collected by Kitty Hartley, from Yorkshire between 1739 and 1785 (including rather more risqué songs than you might expect in a lady‘s collection). Miller wrote about this collection in the Scottish Historical Review of 1926 and, more recently, I wrote a piece about it in the festschrift for Emily Lyle. 8 Miller collected and published on a variety of folkloric topics, from song, to narrative, to material culture. I have discussed him, in Dace Bula and Sigrid Rieuwert‘s Singing the Nations: Herder‘s Legacy.9 Suffice to say that Miller‘s expertise on song was much better known in his lifetime than it is today. As the Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History & Antiquarian Society noted, he was ‗one of the small scholarly band who helped the late Professor Child to bring to fruition his great work on Ballad Literature‘ and, as a friend of Dr. George Neilson and William Macmath, occupied, ‗a definite niche amongst those who could speak with authority on Border ballads‘.10 Andrew Lang, in Sir Walter Scott and the Border Minstrelsy, commented, ‗in ballad lore Mr Miller is well equipped‘
and Sir George Douglas, in the Scottish Historical Review noted, ‗his knowledge of his subject is singularly wide and full‘.11 There is correspondence and notes on collectors and commentators, such as Herd, Robert Riddell, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe and Gummere, amassed over seventy years, as well as copies of Miller‘s own publications. Miller had diverse interests and published on Scottish archaeology, ecclesiastical and covenanting history, as well as on prominent men like Robert Burns and Riddell of Glenriddell. His most useful work, from a collecting point of view, is the Poets of Dumfriesshire which contains scholarly surveys on south west songs, such as ‗Helen of Kirkconnel‘ and ‗The Lads of Wamphray‘ (also known as ‗The Galiard‘ after its anti-hero, William Johnstone). Some of Miller‘s work, like ‗Old Collections of Songs and Poems‘ was based on William Macmath‘s collection. Miller used this extensively before, and after, Macmath‘s death, when it was purchased by Hornel for his library at Broughton House, Kirkcudbright. His piece on the ‗Mansfield‘ manuscript, which Macmath purchased in 1900, was much admired by S.B. Hudstvedt, who found ‗poetic propriety in the circumstance that a relative of William Motherwell, whom Child so much admired, should after these many years add so interesting a supplement to Child‘s array of versions‘. He added, ‗as I read your notes…I could not help thinking how pleased both Mr. Child and Mr Macmath would have been if they might have used such a valuable source in preparing the texts for the English and Scottish Popular Ballads‘. Miller traces its use, by Robert Chambers, Cockburn in 1829, C.K. Sharpe in 1839 and by David Laing in 1839, for his notes on the Scots Musical Museum, before it went missing in the later nineteenth century. The manuscript contains two hundred songs and fragments, compiled after 1771 and before 1780 by Bess St. Clair, who died in 1811, and was a relative of Mansfield by marriage. Attention is drawn to items of particular interest such as the version of ‗Kind Robin loe‘s me‘‘ (very different from Herd‘s), ‗O what can the matter be‘ (showing the song to be earlier than 1797, as Stenhouse and John Glen had dated it) and the original for Burns‘ ‗Comin‘ thro the Rye‘, ‗Jenny‘s a‘ wet‘ with the line ‗Comin‘ frae the Kye‘. There are several ballad texts, including ‗The Twa Sisters‘, ‗Johnny Armstrong‘, ‗Tam Lin‘ in an ‗unspoiled fragment‘ (according to Macmath), ‗The Fair Flower of Northumberland‘, ‗The Wee Wee Man‘, ‗Babylon, or, the Bonnie Banks of Fordie‘ and ‗The Gypsie Laddie‘ (the earliest Scottish version extant where Lady Cassillis is the heroine). As Miller says, echoed by Hustvedt as mentioned above, ‗‘If Mr Macmath had been in possession of the Mansfield MS. a few years earlier, Professor Child‘s English and Scottish Popular Ballads would doubtless have been enriched with several additional texts.‖12 Here, as in his definitive biography, Miller shows great respect for Macmath, regretting that he did not write a book on Scottish
Ballads, ‗his leisure was scanty; he seemed to find consecutive writing burdensome; and he had that "sense of fine perfection" which often makes the ablest men hesitate to undertake suitable work.‘13 Miller and Macmath enjoyed a long friendship, and a rich correspondence, sharing opinions on songs from ‗The Duke of Milk‘ (a ‗special aversion‘ of Macmath‘s), although Miller did include this riding ballad - called an ‗ill-executed forgery‘‘ by Sharpe - in the Poets of Dumfriesshire in his section on ‗Georgian balladists‘, quoting Herd, who collected it from William Bell from Annandale, about 1770.14 Macmath, too, was open with Miller about his own researches. He had found the ‗The Lochmaben Harper‘, in the Mansfield Manuscript, previously known in the Rev William Graham‘s Lochmaben Five Hundred Years Ago (1865) but not included by Child. In 1909, regarding the Mansfield ‗Lochmaben Harper‘, Macmath observed to Miller, ‗Professor Child would have held that the selling of the horses [an incident in the narrative of this version of the ballad—ed.] was an unauthorised addition to the story proper‘ and that, in his own opinion, ‗it looks like an after-thought of somebody‘s‘.15 The two men shared a keen interest, in particular, in riding ballads, and frequently exchanged opinions on locally based songs like ‗The Ballad of Kinmont Willie,‘16 ‗Archie of Cafield‘, ‗Johnny Cock‘, and, to return to that key text, ‗Helen of Kirkconnel‘. Other modern collectors who deserve mentioning include Werner Kissling (1895-1988), the German ethnologist who documented Dumfries and Galloway in visual images, as collected in Michael Russell‘s A Different Country: the Photographs of Werner Kissling (2002) and available in Dumfries‘s local museum, where he started up the ethnological collection. Kissling‘s work was continued by the local historian, and former town archivist, Alf Truckell who, along with his work on local archaeology, and records, took a keen interest in supernatural and belief-based traditions, from the ‗Suicide Stones from Lowther hill, Wanlockhead‘ to the unpublished accounts of local witchcraft trials. Equally, scholars like Jo Miller (working on fiddle traditions in the Glenkens) and Alleyne Jones (particularly working with Galloway travellers) have worked on selected aspects of regional traditions. Most recently, community activists and talented performers have continued to play a vital role in appreciating and representing local traditions. Phyllis and Billy Martin were both raised within the farming community and are great singers as well as active collectors and performers, in a public and in educational contexts. Phyllis‘s work, formerly as a member of ‗Stravaig‘, and now as part of ‗Linkum Doddie‘, along with her husband Billy, has involved collecting herself, as well as performing and conducting workshops in schools within the area and as far afield as Ireland, promoting and encouraging the singing of local material in Folk Clubs and
Art Centres, as well as at festivals throughout Scotland and beyond. I spoke to Phyllis and Billy,17 as I wanted to know why they thought the South West was now underknown for a tradition of songs which, as I hope I‘ve shown, is unbelievably rich. I had assumed, at the outset, that perhaps one of the reasons for this state of affairs was, as I suggested, that collectors had not come to the area, preferring other parts of Scotland but, almost immediately, Billy gave me a surprise. He told me about forays from the School of Scottish Studies, for instance, to Dumfries and Galloway. Hamish Henderson visited the area, trying to record and to persuade skilled singers to come to Edinburgh with him to be recorded; they refused: ‗Whether it wis because he was academic an he had this big recorder wi him, you know, that put them off‘. I asked the Martins why they thought some of the finest singers in the area were resistant to being collected (this, of course, as Billy indicated, had a knock on effect: if one disapproved, that ruled out an entire family). Phyllis responded this time, again with a statement I hadn‘t anticipated: I think it wis because then they were more wary o strangers in the area than they are now. A think it wis jist basically the way they were brought up. They were more wary o strangers, even myself, a Gallowa Irish girl goin into, down into Wigtownshire. A lot of the elderly people seemed to think that you were wantin more from them than jist their memories, and their songs. You had to really bring yourself into their way of thinking, by bringing in people that they would know. Like, when I mentioned who my father was, then they would say, ―Oh, that was so-and-so‘s son‖, and then they would start to open up a bit more. Even the presence of a non-native person, Phyllis told me, could compromise the ability to collect in Dumfries and Galloway, even twenty years ago: ‗even people that I knew pretty well, if I had someone with me that they didn‘t know, they were less likely to give me songs than they were if I wis on ma own‘. The problem of collecting locally has got worse too, over time, as Phyllis explained to me: It was hard enough twenty odd years ago, but even more so now, with so many hoax callers coming to doors. They‘re more reluctant to let you in now. So now we‘re meeting them in day centres and day hospitals, and when you do that you‘re not even getting the same rapport between you as if you were one to one. You get people butting in and when you‘re trying to collect something you‘re wanting it to be pristine, and you‘re not wanting loads of voices coming in and wanting higglety pigglety. However, Phyllis has been very successful in using serendipity; many of her best recent finds, like ‗Bobby Blue‘ and ‗A wish A wis merrit‘ (‗Aw the ladies hiv babies that live doon oor way‘) came from a lady from Moffat who she met when they were in adjacent hospital beds. Phyllis collected many local traditional pieces from Ella, writing them down on her hospital menu cards. Subsequently, as Ella died about a year ago, she has been able
to perform these songs in Moffat for those who remember Ella: a satisfying experience all round. Phyllis has been collecting for about thirty years now, as she told me: I‘m still collecting, and I‘m still getting odds and ends from people. Maggie Wright, and Charlie MacGuire that really started me off collecting, and through that Dumfries & Galloway Arts Association asked me if I would do some more. So we went from Langholm through to Stranraer. This work led to Phyllis producing a workbook of songs and traditions for use in schools: ‗Sangs, Hand Reels and High Jinks‘, which is still used widely in the area. She works regularly with sympathetic local schools, mainly in the west of the region, where she is from. This is vitally important in fostering a sense of local identity and self worth, through song, among the children. Even hearing their own places mentioned in the songs is a moving and powerful experience for them, as Phyllis told me (PM here, with Billy Martin as BM): PM: A‘ve got folk comin up and saying, ‗You don‘t have any songs aboot, you know, where A live‘, and, so it‘s makin me more determined to go out and see is there songs about these places, and if not, to get down and write one myself. BM: In ‗The Wigtown Cattle Show‘ there‘s a bit and, ‗He met a lassie from Baldoon. Well, there‘s actually two of the kids came fae Baldoon, from Doon Farm way. PM: ‗That‘s where we live, and there‘s supposed to be a ghost there!‘ [laughing] And A could tell them aw aboot the ghost, and who it wis supposed to be and, you know, they were really interested and the fact that I knew where they were talkin about. In this respect, the Martins are very conscious of the need to find, promote, and often to set local songs and verses. When we were talking, she thanked me for passing on a song I found in the Ewart Library, ‗Scotland‘s Hills‘, originally collected in Annan but not in oral circulation now. Phyllis made a setting for it and now performs it and passes it on. The Martins have recently discovered the work of O.B., a song writer from Whithorn, whose work they have been teaching local schoolchildren. Another find is Thomas Gracie of Wanlockhead. A lead miner, Gracie wrote a great many songs, but did not set them himself; at the end of his one published book he pleads for settings to keep the songs alive: Phyllis has obliged. He wrote things about the mines, he wrote things about the wars, he wrote things about the scenery. He wrote a beautiful song about the River Cree, which we‘ve been teaching the children down in Wigtownshire. For Phyllis, the most important aspect of collecting is passing on the songs, to continue and revive the traditions of the area, as she says: The joy for me is the passing on, and hearing other people singing them. Like the ‗Irish Boy‘, when I collected it, Sheena Wellington took it up, and put
it on to her first CD, LP, it was LPs then (shows how far back it was), and it was just May this year, a man came over from Ireland and wanted me to give him full details of where I got the song and all about my mother, which was rather nice, and Willie Drennan [...] he‘s a fine musician and poet, he does ‗Rambles with Willie Drennan‘ for BBC 2 Ulster, and they came over and they televised over it in Moniaive, and then they asked when we were in Ireland, would we go over and meet these young girls who sing with their orchestra and we got to sing it on stage with them and it was wonderful [...] It was nice that the young ones are singing it and it‘s being kept on. Intriguingly, in passing on her repertoire locally, the Martins find that children tend to prefer the more serious songs to the comical ones they might be expected to like; they have a good recognition, too, of melodies, and like songs to familiar tunes, as Phyllis told me: The strange thing is, like, we do things like ‗Merry Matanza‘, you know, which is about young people findin girls and findin boys and havin fun and all the rest ae it and they enjoy those, but see when they‘re singin things like ‗Some we meet‘ or ‗Irish Boy‘ or ‗The Banks o Cree‘, they get up there and they sing it from here [fist to chest] and it‘s so nice, you know, that they‘re saying, you know, ‗Although we enjoy these, we‘re really enjoying this as well.‘ Last year it was ‗Come by the lovely hills o Galloway‘ was their favourite. They knew the tune for ‗Come by the lovely hills of Galloway‘ is ‗Highland Cathedral‘ so it‘s a well known, well loved, tune, although it‘s a modern tune, everybody knows it. They enjoy learning harmonies as well, which is nice. The children are prepared to learn the songs on their own time, too, which surprises their teachers, as Billy explained to me: BM: They could learn these songs very very quickly, you know, that was the thing really, you know. One week we‘d be in and by the end of the weekend they‘d be singin the song, you know? PM: ‗Wigtown Cattle Show‘ was one. They learned that in a week, and their teacher said, ‗I‘m sorry, I haven‘t had any time to go through the songs with them‘ and yet, when they stood up, they put the papers on the floor and they sang it. So they must have been learning it out in the playground and singin it away tae theirsels. As collectors, the Martins have enjoyed learning about the wide repertoire of the area, and about micro-regional diversity; Phyllis described this to me: The nice thing about collecting has been there‘s been so many diverse songs. We‘ve had farming, we‘ve had fishing, we‘ve had mining, we‘ve had love songs, we‘ve had funny songs, it‘s just been nice to see that all the area has had their own type o songs. Up Kirkconnel area, it‘s been the mining, and then doon into Wigtownshire it‘s been mainly farming. Even in the fifties and sixties, this was an area with a rich repertoire. There were, for example, the tattie howkers of the west, who shared
repertoire from Ireland freely with the locals, and who took Galloway songs back over to Ireland. However, unlike the nineteenth century, now there are few people actually collecting here - we don‘t have the logistical advantage of those working in larger populated areas. Phyllis pointed out to me that, aside from the Martins: PM: There was nobody, nobody going out collecting from this area. From this area, there was nobody going out collecting at all. I don‘t know if there‘s anybody, apart from yourself. PM: When we started goin, it wis, ‗Oh ye want tae hear ould such and such singing‘ and then you‘d go to the fellae and, ‗Oh, auld Cherlie, A ken Cherlie tae‘. And then Cherlie, he wis a fisherman aw his days, and Phyllis and Jean went to see him. PM: And Peggie McGinn, we got quite a lot fae Peggy. Peggy wis an archivist, really. She kept everything to do wi the village life. Photographs, poems, songs, she kept them all. She knew everything that was going on. As this discussion indicates, there is still repertoire and traditional knowledge in Dumfries and Galloway, but it is not widely known. The phenomenon does not just affect Dumfries and Galloway, of course. Sometimes this is related to the arts‘ funders ignoring local talent. While there used to be a traditional music officer, Susie Kelly in Dumfries and Galloway now traditional music is subsumed within a general ‗music‘ remit, and the resulting lack of knowledge in a specific area contributes to a lack of institutional support. Selected singers, like Emily Smith, perform, live and promote local repertoire on an international basis, but Smith is a lonely example. Even local folk clubs (Dalbeattie was once very active; Dumfries and Annan, too, until relatively recently) suffer from a lack of interest; although lonely clubs linger on, in Colvend, for instance, and Glentrool, there is a lack of opportunity for talented singers to perform, and build up a local repertoire in Dumfries and Galloway. In short, while Dumfries and Galloway was seen in the past as Scotland‘s song heartland, in the present, despite sterling efforts to revive her, our song culture, like Helen, is in serious danger of expiring. In this year of ‗Homecoming‘, it is to be hoped that the illness will not be terminal and, with goodwill and care which people like the Martins, and Smith, are currently administering, the patient can be revived and, at the least, a full knowledge of the South West‘s song heritage can be restored.
Notes 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.
8. 9. 10.
11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.
Emily Smith A Day Like Today (Edinburgh: Foot Stompin', 2002). CDFSR1716. Peter Cunningham, ed, The Poems and Songs of Allan Cunningham, (London, 1847), pp. xi-xli. Qtd David Hogg, pp. 79, 83. See too Peter Cunningham, p.xix. Prof. Francis J Child (b. 1825, Boston Mass.– 1896) renowned song collector, author of the five volume work The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. [note added by ed.] Mary Ellen Brown, ‗Child‘s Gallant Army of Auxiliaries‘, Journal of Folklore Research 43.2 (2006): 89-108. Malcolm Harper The Bards of Galloway (Dalbeattie: T. Fraser, 1889), pp.v-vi. I am grateful to Emily Lyle for drawing my attention to the fact that the Motherwell volume is now in Glasgow University Library (Special Collections RB 2920); GUL also have another copy with a manuscript list by Frank Miller, noting previous owners of this volume (RB 2904). Valentina Bold, ‗Scots Songs in the Kitty Hartley Manuscript‘, Emily Lyle: The Persistent Scholar, ed Frances J. Fischer and Sigrid Rieuwerts. Trier: WVT 2008: 37-47. Valentina Bold, ‗Frank Miller (1854-1944: Scotland‘s Forgotten Collector‘, Singing the Nations: Herder‘s Legacy, Trier: WVT 2008: 153 -63. 'Frank Miller, F.S.A. Scot', Transactions and Journal of Proceedings of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History & Antiquarian Society vol XXIII, 1940-44; Annandale Observer, obituary of Frank Miller, January 21st 1944. Cited on back leaf of Frank Miller, Poems from the Carlyle Country. Together with Papers on Two of Carlyle's Early Friends and some Fragments in Prose. Glasgow: Jackson Son & Co, 1937). Ibid, p.22. Frank Miller, 'A Biographical Sketch' in William Macmath, The Gordons of Craichlaw (Dalbeattie: Thomas Fraser, 1924, p.84. See Frank Miller, 1910, pp.175-77. Qtd Frank Miller, 1924, p.32 Frank Miller 1924, pp.55-56. Valentina Bold, interview with Phyllis Martin and Billy Martin, 10th October 2008, Dumfries.
Mundane Tuesday and Freudian Saturday or Summoning Up All His Strength, He Collapsed. The Poetry of Pete Brown Illustrated by Patrick Le Tuault
Frenziedly Every now and then Someone rushes up to me In the middle of the night Shouts ―EXPRESS TRAIN!‖ Pointing frenziedly Then disappears
Growing Down When I was very young and didn‘t know They sprayed me with all kinds of fertiliser To make me grow up But when I throw up Objections to methods like that They point out what they did for me And point me in directions Opposite to my hat. But boys will be men And men will be boys And I‘ll never give up my Dinky Toys When I‘m wandering lost In fast motorway lanes I get out my book of historic planes When I‘m brought down by businessmen in town I whip out my realistic Walker Colt cap-gun And shoot them down When I feel myself falling Into mental slumbers I get out my busbook Write down a few bus numbers Try to live with whatever I‘m really close to I‘ve stopped growing up like I‘m supposed to I remember the past and forget future troubles New towns disappear in the coloured bubbles Try to keep up what the old places tell me Think of trams and trolleybuses Not the lot they try to sell me I‘m pretty together and mad as a daisy To keep the new road-schemes from driving me crazy Like my old man and my old lady. They said I‘d have to learn to adapt Then demolished the castle Where rainbows are wrapped. On all my carpets Where there were none before There are flowers growing By the side of roads and railways On the silent battlefields Of my miniature war. 71
The Cambridge Poem ‗There were these people in evening dress Feeling each other in trees‘ Mulled claret last of the wine Asleep in corners of panelled dorms And creepy hostels safe From the college wind that roars round hungry Attacking the unsuspecting scarves O to kiss your hard brow to sleep From pain of learning And empty bottles making the most sound Rolling in front of the fire I SAY THE POLICE ARE OUTSIDE the freezing bastards A dress of white lace down to your ankles The hard stones a taxi for ten things spilling A gay social whirl of heads thrown back Or kinked to one side listening quizzical Whose car is THAT I‘m not at The College - Phantom cyclists whirr by vainly pursuing The last book of the night a town of readers Making love on the study table mind the coffee Inhaling the contents of the carpet A night of bridges and gardens and paths O God I‘m stuck on the railings heads spin Trousers rip memories splash into muddy moats Haunted granges loom in the dark figures With canes and notebooks appear flashing torches BUNTER CONSTRUE I can‘t sir I can‘t I‘m miserably stoned the pills the fellows Gave me in the quad Laughing at robot oarsmen sergeant major COX IS HIGH AGAIN Shouting encouragement MIND THE BLOODY SWANS
Refugees Refugees from some failed night party We sat on the 3 a.m. cold stone steps Of a block of flats reading Sunday morning Notes in empty milk bottles and waiting For others and kissing meanwhile she a typist Saying weâ€˜re Young and Lost and previously Not having believed I was a poet.
You and the night and the music Night miled by Into smiling streets Green grown Green blown Wind Gentlest breath of rain Stirred waves Sheets of white Morning Sun Fields Ploughed plod Cold Skies crowd In cloudy pools Crisscrossed crisscrossed Trolleybus wires Sky portions Carved scratched Crissed Orange/green flashes of electricity On the dawn skies The riverâ€˜s bridged And the faceless armies Washed from side to side Sullen tides Of slow men Armed of smokepits From the sunburned black surround boroughs
The Tides Bar Now they‘re falling asleep And the bar‘s got to close Like a tired sea rose I hang around for you By a fire that won‘t burn My heart never learns They‘re all sleeping now The songs you loved so well Nothing left to tell One more coffee That‘s the last I swear It‘s dawn out there In a blast of laughs I‘m blown onto the quay A half drunk refugee The doors open Into the wild tide winds Of a well cleaned spring Somewhere half undressed A stranger‘s caress carries you far From the Tides bar
translated from the French of Rachid Bahri
Mutant Adolf I see a shape come rising Out of the mist A tangled skein of metal A nightmare twist I see a shape come rising Out of the lake A mangled mass of wreckage I can read the make It could be a lot of things But the one it looks like most You can hear the people sing It‘s a V-2 rocket ghost MUTANT ADOLF! MUTANT ADOLF! I see a face come smiling Out of the crowd A lung of iron laughter A shout so loud I see a face come smiling Out of its cowl A monocle of conquest Makes ‗em scream and howl It could be a lot of things But the one it seems to be You can hear the people sing It‘s the battleship Graf Spey MUTANT ADOLF! MUTANT ADOLF! I see a ship come sailing Out of the fjord A melted shell of garbage A ruined lord I see a ship come sailing Out of its eyes A hole below the memory line For maggots of lies
It could be a lot of things But the one it never will You can hear the people sing Its the triumph of the kill MUTANT ADOLF! MUTANT ADOLF! I see a troop come marching Out of the dust A skeleton of army A broken bust I see a troop come marching Into their hands A rattle of Zyklon-B Blown over the land It could be a lot of things And the one it always can You can hear the people sing Its the master of a plan MUTANT ADOLF! MUTANT ADOLF! I see a rocket falling Out of the sun A trail of ambition You know it‘s the one I see a rocket falling Out of its mind A softening of resistance So we‘ll all be blind It could be a lot of things But it‘s usually the same You can hear the people sing It‘s the Mutant Adolf game! MUTANT ADOLF! MUTANT ADOLF! MUTANT ADOLF! MUTANT ADOLF! MUTANT ADOLF! MUTANT ADOLF!
Scenes from Science Fiction 1
It‘s for the Good of the World! It‘s for the Good of the World! He shouted; and it was. The giant spider ate everybody.
‗Art is the Future Of the Mind‘, Thought the Scientist As he flame-tested The old canvasses With his laser beam.
With a palm tree As big as we can produce We will feed New York He claimed.
On the way to till My space fields I passed a space pig.
All in holidays In a pre-fabricated Jungle dome on Pluto Pitted against The Headhunting Zombie Wasp, That‘s the package We need, his eyes Gleamed.
Show me Your port of Mars tattoos And I‘ll never get the Blues Invited the space whore.
EARTHMAN GO HOME Scrawled in Sanskrit On the front if his dome.
Look out for the Monster! Echoed the cry Round the towering mooncliffs. I see no monster Said the Commander Scratching his head.
Black six-legged creatures In a dome shanty On the edge of Marstown Singing fantastic reggae blues About the jazz hard future.
Silver cat-suit Earrings made out Of human ears Loaded blaster Ready for action Spacewoman Premarital Sex Not allowed.
‗But I loved the Worm‘ Sobbed the lonely technician ‗She was all I ever had‘.
It‘s got to me, Screamed the Lieutenant Disappearing helplessly Into ‗The Six Tentacles‘, A Venusian clip joint. 81
(for Philip José Farmer)
Dexter‘s Moods There was going to be a film... There was going to be a film about everything, One day The quest was west, To America, to Mexico, To nail what made His rascally hipness tick. In New York, brief meetings, Then he was gone to Cuernavaca, Away from the crazy cold That could freeze the lips and heart Of an old bebop tenor. You could still hear the notes Of his laughter after the fade. Emphysema, they said, Though we all knew What it was, Diabetes, They said, though he still Warmed his rusted pipes With smoke and booze, Maybe even a taste Of Bird‘s Downfall For old times‘ sake.
Dexter Gordon (February 27, 1923–April 25, 1990) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist, and an Academy Award-nominated actor.
We are going to follow, South, but never did. We scanned the archives, The relevant clips: Green boy in Louis‘ horn section, Wailing in Hamp‘s boogie woogie, Bezooted hipster With Bird in Eckstine‘s band, Beginning bop. Trading licks toe to toe With long gone Wardell Gray. Found in the Vegas garbage. White West Coast sound Dubbed over his mime Festering in the slammer Drug reprobate‘s band, No justice. Compassionate with kids, First acting gig in Stockholm, Benign guru exile in Copenhagen, Scaring the students With the dark humour he played. Dexter no saint Even in his U.S. comeback, Poor Woody Shaw – ‗There‘s bad blood Between Dexter and me man, Let him use my band And he took my wife‘.
Then it was French fame, ‗Round Midnight, the prices climbed, Attorneys and majors, And it was out of the ball park, Then out of the question. Dexter shambling around His trophy-filled lounge On the 42nd floor, A building where the rich wouldn‘t live, So they gave it cut price To the mad artists. Looming over the city, Six feet and beyond, Coughing and smoking, A monster still filled with jazz Jackie McLean? ‗He‘s on Mars, man‘. Leaving the room in midsentence And not coming back. There should have been a film To match the fantasy with real But the money lost the feel... Too hard to explain All those haunted sounds, All those furtive moments, All the horrors we hope We‘re going to get away with. We tried But our hands were tied. Now the grin on the bell has gone And there is just a low harmonic And a wreath of corrosive smoke Hanging above the stage Where Dexter chased Wardell Into bebop heaven or hell.
Plans One, Two and Three We were planning to meet In the secluded cafe of a dream But the beating males, Eyes blinded by drunken headlights, Waved a threat between pain and goodbye, One shout late; the sleeper Woke to a white wound, Breathing out floating sheets Over last night‘s missing, Tired faces receding into downs and outs. We were planning to meet In the deserted office of a smile; But the swindling players, Hopes numbered in tens of thousands, Drove a wedge between rain and exit, Two hearts long: the schemer Fled in a fine flame, Signing on floppy discs, For last night‘s warning, Weary futures retreating into scores and wins. We were planning to meet In the neglected hotel of a wish; But the glittering children, Singing in treacherous keys, Moved a block between gain and decay, Three tears thick; the searcher Left in a low line, Crouching by coughing walls For last night‘s taxi, Sagging features resolving into wheels and deals.
Endless Room The endless room Where first loves Are discussed in whispers May be dusty But among the spiders‘ Idea cobwebs People still live in summer. ‗Even the drugs Have not been consistent Since those green leaves‘, She says, And the old songs Arnold Layne See Emily Play My White Bicycle Still hold their starry meanings While the new are often Mothfashions that brush At windows, faces. The room is anywhere And we, anyone. Why should we know Who we are, go anywhere, Move outside Into places of cruelty Forced to commit harm With clown ambitions Under nightfalls. The endless room Stretches into sun The holidays not packaged But out of control Unscheduled flights Through desert jungle London nights
Endless somewhere Room of summer Nights of never Knowing where the next Dusty loves Discussed in echo Chambers burning Midnight blue Midnight new Lamps for old
Carefully Carefully we set sail by night To catch a star in our ragged nets Although we‘ve never caught one yet, We‘ve had some great near misses – Some came with kisses, others Almost came out right; there‘s times You lose a mast, you have to try Not to go too far too fast And here‘s the crack: usually You don‘t get back before the dawn, And reaching land, You find things gone.
Immortality and Phobia The danger is everywhere – A bowl of plutonium soup... Realising it‘s cooler to stay At the bottom of the pool... Accidental army practice... Becoming a scarecrow While driving a vanload of oxygen cylinders, The petals blowing away In the chemical breeze... Buried under a fall of aubergines... The loony hurling himself From a New York skyscraper Turning you into A once happy blithely whistling blot On the pavement below... Giant airliners full of terrified tourists Abandoning the pretence Of the sky‘s support... The fragility! Tiny cats Crossing truck-heavy highways, Birds‘ wings In an instant of sunlight Before the shotgun blast, Your own reflection, Shaking before the quake, Now you see it now you don‘t, Suddenly gone...
And after love, The despairing plunge, Can I ever return? And after success, The headlong fall, Can I ever come back? And after money, The terrible crash, How will I pay for the rest of my life? There is a random hunter Of harmony Insatiable knife-teeth Of concentrated night, That feeds on weakness And military mistakes. We dare not admit it, But we do... The danger is everywhere
Two TV Documentaries 1. Texas goes Muslim The redneck sits on his porch Clutching his Winchester He will kill anyone Who threatens his religious freedom. He will go down fighting. He is a Muslim now Because Christianity Was no longer macho enough Undermined by gay marriage And available abortions. His manic thirst could not resist The better death offer Brokered by the Tupperware priests. The fantasy virgins he always longed for Will complete his manhood 2. Dignity The Russian Factory, Struck by an international treaty Stopped making missiles. The erect penises were lost And in their place Lawnmowers for the new rich, At last a profit. ‗It is good‘, said the workers, ‗But we feel some loss of dignity‘.
Not far from Bavaria On the platform At Fulda station Not far from Bavaria Where various hells began A Chasid stands Arrogant as always Waiting to do his Godâ€˜s work Luckily for him these days The trains do not run To the same timetable
Legacy In the First Great War The boys with limping faces Brought home the cadeau of syphilis From the festering French brothels Wrecking the next generation In the Second Great War The briefly liberated women Of the ammo factories and land armies Gave the results of their cuddles in the Blitz With spivs and fire wardens To their returning heroes After the Next One The few mutants we produce That defy the sterile night Will make us nostalgic For our obsolete diseases
Cats of War Lion, Berlin, 1945
I am the last of the big cats, Pacing an empty cage. All my friends are gone now, One way or another. Over the years I watched them Pining for the open country of the past, Falling into depression. Not much room here, But the meals are regular. It was the lack of dignity That hurt the most. The keepers, weren‘t too bad, mind, But they soon got dragged off to war And their replacements Didn‘t care the same way, Sullen waiters tossing the food at you. That went downhill too. My mates, being younger, Were spooked by the bombing, Their hair fell out in big tufts, And they didn‘t sleep so good. As for me, I got used to it. Well, it was just nature, We‘re all part of it. You can only be King for a moment, When all the enemies you bested, Whose women you stole, Start to gang upon you. I‘m not young any more. When the females fled, I didn‘t miss the sex – I have my memories. I never liked doing it in public anyway.
And now I‘m torn. The place is ruptured and empty. I don‘t know where my next meal Is coming from, and I Don‘t like this hunger. Stalin‘s boys are grinding the city Into mincemeat, and Hitler‘s loonies Are doing their final quickstep. The roads outside smell of death and easy meals, And there‘s a fuck of a lot of metal Flying around. On the other hand, I stay, And the Russkis could turn me into dogfood. They‘ll not respect my age, That‘s for sure. Eventually it‘s all down To arse-about-face dignity; the rabbits Survive, and we get the thin end of the spear. I am the last of the big cats, And though I‘ve led a sheltered life These last few years My instincts are still intact, Well just a shade blunted I guess I‘ll have to take My chances out there now. Better to die with a full belly Than sitting here with toothache And the mange, surrounded By my own shit, waiting for the end, Wasting away. Time to go. Hey, the lion is back On the streets.
Cats of War Tiger, Baghdad, 2003
I never liked it here anyway. Too sodding hot, and it Was always a two star hotel; Full of Saddam‘s jeering and poking Children, the poor bloody workers never had time To come and see the likes of me. I‘d only been here for a couple of years, Out of Bengal by way of those Prick traders in Thailand Who‘d make their money Out of their mothers‘ fingernails If there was nothing else. At least I didn‘t get to be Some kind of imaginary aphrodisiac. Always a bit of a loner, me. It‘s the way I liked it. My ancestors were big game for the Brits and Rajahs; then For a while the boots were on the other foot Though the villagers didn‘t taste so good After nuclear power settled in. I never touched the water myself, Instincts too bloody strong. Of course those fools weren‘t afraid, Too busy dreaming Of dancing girls, bad disco music And Toyota Landcruisers. That‘s where religion gets you. Just what I could do with now, A nice fat tasty priest… But this is where we‘re at: Since the zoo went I‘m skulking in the alleys like a common mog.
The trigger happy Yanks Are blowing everything away Whether it moves or not; There‘s not much cover left. The locals are locked in cellars With the remains of the food Getting their stories ready For the inquisition So they can be the next oppressors. Where the fuck does that leave me? It‘ll be a long time Before the zoo‘s back in shape And I‘m not so sure I could strut my stuff With the Stars and Stripes Hanging over me like a shroud. Best thing is to leave town, Follow the stink of death from the desert. I could live off the odd goatherd And even an unwary vulture Or two, not to forget The goats themselves. Undoubtedly the Yanks have the city In a theoretical ring of steel. I have to find my way out Without scaring too many brave Soldiers, or it‘s curtains. Here goes…
Cats of War Leopard, Kala Wildlife Park Sri Lanka, 2004 3 weeks before the tsunami struck.
About twenty of us left now. And I don‘t see that much Of the others. We just get together For the occasional meal, I suppose. Still plenty of stupid deer around. Lately, I‘ve been keeping To myself. Out of the way Of the bloody tourists, too. They‘re nothing but pollution. But I have to give them The odd tantalizing glimpse, Just to earn my keep. Otherwise they‘d bulldoze the whole place Into a resort for the rich. Wouldn‘t mind ripping up a few of them With a couple of mates, Though it would only make it worse. The other day I was posing in a tree At a discreet distance from the road – Well, I‘d never give them The satisfaction Of getting near me, This isn‘t a fucking zoo – And there must have been Dozens of them, jumping up and down In their trucks, belching Diesel. I could hardly Fucking breathe! So much For preserving sodding nature.
But I put a brave face on it And bared the fangs Just to let them know Who was the dignified one. I did my regal pacing, too, That always goes down well. I suppose they love us In their sick way. Trouble is, they bring With them this thing Called civilization Which will do for us all Sooner or later.
House by the Airport Got a house by the airport I watch the planes, They ebb and flow When they come in to land They fly so slow Big tired birds Still wired from the trip through time Those angry eyes that stare through mist and snow, There are no words Got a house by the airport, And thereâ€˜s a girl Looks after me when troubles come my way She soothes my mind, Long caring hands Sharing me alongside all my ghosts The wild songs they play still sound so fine Hey listen man Got a house by the airport In case the time Is ever ripe When someone calls me up And says come back, We need you now, Old crazy head Get blowing with your loaded axe, Scare up some echoes, bring the sunburst down And raise the dead â€Ś
What is there left to say? What is there left to say When the last notes have died away When the last lead‘s been disconnected And the last fee‘s collected When the last dressing room‘s deserted And the last hurt‘s no longer hurting And the last stage has been struck And the last gear‘s in the truck And the last notes have died away What is there left to say?
PETE BROWN, A POTTED CREATIVE HISTORY Books: "Few" Migrant Press, l966. "Let ‗em roll, Kafka", Fulcrum Press l968. "The Old Pals Act" Alison and Busby, l969 (editor only). "White Rooms and Imaginary Westerns" (autobiog), JR Books, 2009. Records:"A meal you can shake hands with in the dark" (with Battered Ornaments) l968. "Things may come and things may go, but the Art School Dance goes on forever" (with Piblokto) l969. "Thousands on a raft" (with Piblokto) l970. "The ‗Not Forgotten‘ Association" (poetry and music album, l973) "Party in the Rain" (with Ian Lynn and Back to the Front) l983. "Ardours of the lost rake" (with Phil Ryan) l99l. "Coals to Jerusalem" (with Phil Ryan), l993. "Road of Cobras"(with Phil Ryan 2009). Records as lyricist for Cream: "Disraeli Gears" (l967) "Wheels of Fire" l968. "Goodbye Cream" l968. Hits include: ―I Feel Free‖, ―White Room‖ (with Eric Clapton) and ―Sunshine of Your Love‖. Records as lyricist for Jack Bruce, l969- 2002: "Songs for a Tailor", "Harmony Row", "Out of the Storm", "How‘s Tricks?", "A Question of Time", "More Jack than God" etc. Significant poetry events: Working with Mike Horovitz in New Departures l960-66. Albert Hall readings l965 (with Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Burroughs) l966 (with Robert Graves). Brief tours with Ginsberg and Robert Creeley. Readings with Basil Bunting.
Brown on Brown Born Surrey delta, home of British Blues, Christmas Day l940. Basically a Londoner, left while still unborn due to homicidal attempts by Hitler‘s Luftwaffe. Back in London in ‗51, sent to Jewish school. Expelled twice, finally aged l7 worked in garage, other menial jobs including operating lifts. Also attended journalism school, did not graduate. First influenced by Dylan Thomas, then Lorca, Patchen and the Beats. After working as agricultural labourer met Michael Horovitz at l960 Beaulieu JazzFest, joined New Departures group and became professional poet. Did Hampstead Town Hall and Festival Hall with Spike Milligan ‗61-2. Eventually made a living after Albert Halls of ‗65 and ‗66. Toured briefly with Ginsberg and Creeley. Left ND in ‗66 although never stopped working with Horovitz. Asked to write lyrics for bluesrock band Cream in ‗66, became hit songwriter. Slowly became musician, first leading the Battered Ornaments in ‗68, then Piblokto. Was on the road for 10 years more or less non-stop. Wrote lyrics for ex-Cream singer Jack Bruce for over 30 years. Became screenwriter in ‗78, leaving music due to punk horror. Record producer since ‗89, not pop. Partnered with Welsh keyboard player/composer Phil Ryan since ‗78, still going strong. New record ‗Road of Cobras‘ out in first quarter of ‗09. Two books of poetry: ‗Few‘ and ‗Let ‗em roll, Kafka‘, currently unavailable. Have also written film criticism. Autobiography ―White Rooms and Imaginary Westerns" out in ‗09.
STILLS FROM TOUTES DIRECTIONS
Toutes Directions is the film element of a multimedia gallery installation by John Hudson and Chrys Salt, poets and artists from South-West Scotland, and editors of this magazine. It was shot during their residency near Cognac, France, in March 2009 and exhibited at The Chapelle des Benedictines, St Jean d‘Angely as part of the Retour vers l‘infini exhibition. A man walks in many different directions. Roads grow ever narrower until his journey ends. The journey repeats and echoes from many perspectives depending upon the observer‘s viewpoint. Accompanying music adopts the measure of the man‘s tread. It fills the gallery space, so not only relates to the film but establishes a mood across the whole installation. Twelve quatrains - a joint enterprise between John Hudson and Chrys Salt - question the nature of time and offer condensed narratives of individual lives to counterpoint the man‘s archetypal journey. The film was projected through semi-transparent screens in a black box (3 metres x 4 metres) erected in The Chapelle des Benedictines. It was shot around Burie during the early days of the residency and funded by the Poitou-Charente Region.
THE MCLELLAN POETRY AWARD 2009
from Tales from the Other Side... The Local Historian‘s Tale
Recently I heard somebody on the radio complacently pontificating ―Ethnic cleansing? That‘s one of those modern atrocities we‘re always hearing about but at least it never happens here.‖ Neither is true. I have been researching events culminating in what was nothing less than ethnic cleansing which took place very close to home. * We are extremely fortunate to have nineteenth century antiquarian John Dixon‘s stunningly compendious Gairloch, in North-West Ross-shire Its Records, Traditions, Inhabitants and Natural History. A fluent Gaelic speaker, he noted down verbatim the stories, myths and legends which had been handed down, father to son, mother to daughter, for centuries before the teaching of English (still being enforced, corporally, on pupils in both classroom and playground even sixty years ago) in highland and island schools virtually suppressed this rich oral tradition. In 1480 Gairloch was M‘Leod territory. Allan M‘Leod, the laird, had married the daughter of Alexander the Upright, Sixth Laird of Kintail. They lived with their two small sons in a ‗fortalice‘ (fortified house) on an island in Loch Tollaidh. Although Allan was a peaceable man, Dixon warns us that an evil day was coming. His two brothers, were unwilling that Mackenzie blood should run in the veins of the heir of Gairloch. On the day of his murder which precipitated ethnic cleansing, Allan walked down Tollaidh burn to fish the River Ewe. Fish not biting, he stretched out on a hillock named to this day Cnoc na-Chommhairle (The Hill of Evil Counsel) and fell asleep in the sun. His brothers slew him where he lay, cut off his head and threw it into the mill race. Then, telling the widow what they had done, they tore her little boys from her trembling grasp and, once out of sight, murdered their nephews in cold blood. Before burying the pathetic little corpses beneath Crag Bhadan an Aisc (Rock of the Place of Interment) the two uncles stripped the bloodstained shirts from their nephews as proof that the boys were dead and that no heir of mixed blood would inherit Gairloch.
A loyal servant, spying the little shirts hanging up, managed unperceived to get possession of them and brought them to the distraught mother. Old Alexander could not credit his daughter – until she presented the blood-caked shirts. He then sent Hector Roy, her brother, to Edinburgh where such incontrovertible evidence so appalled James III that he gave Hector Roy Commission of fire and sword for the destruction of the M‘Leods. * In my efforts to determine, at least my own satisfaction, whether this tale is fiction or fact, I sought to verify the various places mentioned in Dixon and by early summer I was pretty sure I had identified the original site of the ‗fortalice‘. The Rock of the Place of Interment is marked on map. It is a sequestered small outcrop in sight of a small lochan, beside ‗The Old Road‘, the packed-stone surface of which is still clearly visible though it went out of use long before the tarring of highland roads. One purpose of my expeditions was to record ‗on location‘ impressions for the programme on the topic I‘m putting together for Two Lochs Radio. I switched on my tiny, surprisingly efficient, mini-disc recorder. Although the precise location the actual burial is long forgotten (if ever known except to the uncles) it seems a melancholy haunted spot even on the sunniest day. However, any ghosts remained silent that afternoon – unless the gentle breeze barely audible on the recording is them whispering. My final expedition was one last attempt to identify The Hill of Evil Counsel, actual site of the fratricide, where Allan‘s head was tossed into the mill race. Although evidently still common knowledge in Dixon‘s day, there is now no local memory of its whereabouts, although Torr a‘ Mhuillir The (Round) Hill of the Mill (which must have some relevance to the mill race) is marked on the1:25,000 OS map. I had walked the ground several times previously without coming to any conclusion. As I approached my customary parking place, I was dismayed to see four or five tatty vans and caravans. Tinkers! Unpopular with residents, whether crofters or landowners, they are usually quickly moved-on. I parked some distance away, making sure I locked and alarmed the car, before following the route Allan would have taken down the burn from the head of Loch Tollaidh, trying once again to identify the elusive ‗murder scene‘ – as it would be termed in to-day‘s TV parlance. Holding the little recorder, I picked my way amongst tufted heather and boulders, crouching down to capture the sound of water rushing over stones and little rapids. Straightening up, some distance ahead I glimpsed heads and shoulders of two small figures paddling in the burn where it ran between the banks of a slight declivity. Tanned by outdoor life with long
tangled hair they had to be from the dilapidated vans parked along the road. I was therefore mildly surprised that, shy as little tinker girls usually are, they did not dash off on my approach. Nor did they rush up begging, the alternative customary reaction of their bolder siblings! ‗Hello, you two.‘ Intent on the pool, where they waded up to their knees, backs toward me, they gave no indication that they had heard me. ‗Guddling trout?‘ I persisted, ‗Any luck?‘ That caught their attention. They turned gazing at me with wide, enquiring, intelligent eyes. The long hair had deceived me. They were little boys of about five or six, quite unembarrassed by their nakedness, so evenly tanned all over that it occurred to me they might be of genuine Romany stock. Spreading his hands in what I interpreted as some sort of plea, one spoke – replied I supposed, for I have no Gaelic. What exactly was he was saying? Did they even understand English? Assuming he must be begging, I discovered a coin in my pocket and placed it in his small almost delicate hand. They both stared at it. Then he looked back at me as if I had disappointed him. Finally, his eyes still on my face, he placed it gently on a large flat stone. Abruptly, preoccupation with the burn reclaimed them. ‗No word or gesture of thanks? Ungrateful pair of little urchins!‘ I muttered somewhat ruefully. Nonetheless, though it had been the only coin I had on me, a twinge of embarrassment at my apparent stinginess impelled me to call cheerfully ‗Enjoy your game!‘ as I left them to it. Once again I was unable convince myself of the location of The Hill of Evil Council and, passing the spot about an hour later, I found both children had gone. The coin still lay on the flat stone. I left it, pretty certain that their parents would send them back pronto, no doubt with a skelping for having forgotten it in the first place! However, when I reached my car, the battered little convoy had disappeared, ‗Authority‘ presumably having encouraged them on their way. * That evening I played the recordings. Even my ancient set-up revealed that they provided excellent complementary material for my radio programme. And an unexpected bonus. I‘d forgotten to turn off the recorder and thus, to my delight, had inadvertently recorded my encounter with the little boys. Next morning I took the mini-disc along to the Two Lochs Radio. Alex played the tracks through. On sophisticated studio equipment the soft appealing treble of the young tinker came through with poignant clarity.
‗You‘ll need to translate it for the benefit of non-Gaelic speakers like me.‘ Frowning, he played it through three or four times more. ‗It seems to be a dialect, probably spoken on one of the islands but, if so, rarely heard. You thought they were begging? Could be a travellers‘ dialect I suppose. But….‘ He gave me quizzical look and, after slight hesitation, ‗You‘re not having me on are you?‘ I shook my head. ‗Because that kid‘s certainly not begging. As far as I can make out he‘s saying, We cannot rest in peace until we find our father‘s severed head.‘ * Eventually the silence was broken by Alex saying quietly, ‗Well, congratulations. The position of The Hill of Evil Council could hardly be more authentically identified.‘ Ridiculously, all I could think of was how crass I must have seemed to Allan‘s young son who, offended at being taken for a beggar, had rejected my coin with what I now recognised as quaintly courteous dignity.
An Accidental Gift It did not bode well. Five twenty four. They were nearly half an hour late and no phone call informing him of a traffic jam, perhaps, or a wrong turning taken. Douglas reached out his hand and smoothed away a crease in the fuchsia duvet, which had been too long baking in the afternoon sun and was already losing that fresh laundry smell. An embossed orchid snagged on his thumbnail. He winced and wondered what kind of holidaymakers the latecomers would be. Usually, his carefully worded advert turned off unsuitable types. He walked over to the French windows and, with thumb and finger, pulled apart two of the slats on the white Venetian blind. He peered through the outlines of the Egyptian eye he had made. No sign of a car. Only the chaffinches and a mistle thrush hopping on the freshly stocked bird table, and the neighboursâ€˜ reasonably quiet children kicking a football on the small airstrip beyond, and the single-track road winding off towards the bay and the Black Cuillins on the horizon. Always be ready for them. That was what his Mairi had always said. Open the door before they press the bell. Better still, open the gate before they step foot out of the car. Make every moment special for them. That was Mairiâ€˜s motto. She would have been the perfect guest: a woman who loved to trek the hills in her scuffed, green boots, a woman who would scan both the sky for golden eagle and the hedgerow for sparrow. None of this mithering over flattering heels or the cut of a trouser leg. None of this obsession with chardonnay and mobile phone reception and high-factor sun cream. Mairi, though, had accepted all types. She had always had the kinder soul. Remember, she would say, some of our guests have never been out of their city before. This is paradise to them, Doug. They are bound to be a little shy of paradise. He sniffed and glanced at his watch. The house doorbell shrilled at him from across the garden, sending the dandelion clocks tumbling across the sun-licked lawn. He puffed out his cheeks. Forty-two minutes late and no call. Unsuitable types.
‗Hello there? Mr Shields? We‘re the Jacksons? We booked your cottage for the week?‘ A tall, sandy-haired man stood craning into the doorway. The pores on his cheeks and nose gleamed with sweat. He wiped his palms on his baggy khaki trousers. No need, thought Douglas. He did not intend to shake this man‘s hand yet. ‗Ah, yes, the Jacksons. I‘ve been expecting you.‘ ‗Sorry we‘re late! We took a bit of wrong turning… The wife was doing the map reading,‘ the man chuckled. Douglas sniffed. Even his jokes were unsuitable. ‗We would have phoned,‘ the man continued, ‗but we couldn‘t get reception on our mobiles.‘ ‗Ah, yes,‘ Douglas nodded. ‗That can happen up here.‘ At least the man recognised the common decency of a phone call to explain their lateness. That was something. Of course he could be lying – making damp, little excuses. The crunch of high heels on gravel. Douglas turned. Snaking curls of red hair. A pouched stomach on an otherwise slender if not athletic body. ‗This is my wife, Janie.‘ Douglas smiled at the woman who dangled a plump yellow beach bag in each hand. Apples and bananas jostled around the brim of the nearer bag. That was a hopeful sign too. Small but hopeful. ‗Oh, and I‘m Mike,‘ the man rushed. ‗Welcome to you both! Let me show you your home for the next week.‘ They grinned at him. They liked that: home. Another of Mairi‘s wisdoms. ‗You‘ve certainly picked a beautiful part of the world, folks,‘ he continued, as he lead them back across the drive towards the cottage. Another pair of grins. ‗You been round these parts before, then?‘ He always liked to lay down that question quickly. Get a lay of their land. ‗No,‘ the girl ventured. ‗We‘ve never been up North before. We tend to stick to Spain and Greece.‘ Douglas imagined the orange and turquoise beach towels nestling beneath that deceptive layer of apples and bananas. He stopped by the cottage door. ‗This spring, though, we fancied a change. Didn‘t we, Mike?‘ Mike shifted his weight from one trainered foot to the other and nodded. Probably her idea, then. ‗Thought we should try our own country for once,‘ she explained, gazing over at the cottage, the cottage he had so carefully prepared for a
lovely hillwalking couple who would place muddy boots by the door, chat to him every sunset about their daily expeditions, and knock on his door each bacon-scented morning for advice on routes. He did not get out much nowadays, but it was all there still in his head. He could still tell you where on a path you must dip your head to avoid the overhanging branches or which stones in a stream would stay firm beneath your weight. ‗Oh, a balcony!‘ the girl gasped. ‗Isn‘t that lovely?‘ Douglas blinked. Always a bad sign when they cooed over the balcony. Tinkling wine glasses at midnight – he could already hear them. Women in flimsy red dressing gowns and pillow-mussed hair loitering up there in the mornings. Giggling references to Romeo and Juliet. ‗Yes,‘ he nodded. ‗That was my wife‘s idea.‘ They smiled, no doubt picturing the white-haired, powder-puffed wife, the woman who knew how to handle this curmudgeonly old man. ‗She‘s dead now,‘ he added, as he pushed the key into the cottage door. The next morning, they did not leave the cottage until after eleven. ‗Off down to the beach,‘ they said as they trundled off in their jeans and trainers, trailing mustard yellow towels over their arms. He had put his battered map on the window ledge just in case, but they had not wanted advice. Douglas picked up his binoculars and glared at them in close-up. They would find no semblance of Greece down there. A few screeching oystercatchers for company, perhaps. Bad timing too – high tide. The sandy beach face would sit smug and secret beneath the water. He glanced skywards and smiled. Looked like rain. He could not understand it. Why travel up here and then skulk around that little nothing of a beach? Pretty enough, some coral yes, but hardly a jewel in the crown. Glen Torridon, Skye, Loch Duich, Applecross sat in a glimmering ring around them and they did not even sniff in their direction. Dumb horses fidgeting by water. Any chance Mairi and he got, they were out in the hills, breathing along the same up-and-down of pathways, mussing one another‘s footprints, picnicking by streams and lochs, layering their voices into the music of wind and birds and lapping water. A soundprint of love. It was not the same now – just one of you. No point. Half an hour later, he saw them scurrying back through his raindrizzled kitchen window. He set down his cup of tea and picked up the binoculars. They were sodden. Their blue jeans, black with the rain, clung to their legs like flared diver suits. He picked up his cup and sipped. Mairi would have smiled and rushed over with fluffy bath towels. ‗Off on the seal colony trip today,‘ Mike explained the next morning, winking at him, as though they had become friends of some sort. ‗She loves seals.‘
Douglas pushed his map further into his anorak pocket. ‗Yes, pleasant creatures,‘ he murmured. ‗Pity you didn‘t come in the summer. You‘d see the pups then.‘ The girl‘s eyes darkened as she saw the pups then lost them. ‗Never mind,‘ she smiled, glancing downwards. ‗It‘ll be great just to see a seal in the wild. I‘ve only ever seen them in the zoo before.‘ ‗Really?‘ Douglas asked. He could feel Mairi‘s leg kick at his shin. After they left, Douglas took the spare key and snuck inside the cottage. He was not sure why he was bothering this time. They were not his kind of guests. It had become another custom, he supposed, since Mairi had gone. You had to have routines. That was what saved you. Mairi would not approve this custom, of course. It was a kind of comfort, though. She would see that. And the cottage was his, after all. A space better shared – like the land around him. The good guests would always deliver some kind of accidental gift: a music CD whose title he could jot down and order for himself. Or a photograph of giggling grandchildren: children he could add to his sprawling, guest-family tree, children who would perch on the crooked branches or hang there upside down by their scabbed knees. Shame, really, that there was not room enough for children in the cottage. Mairi had often said the same. They had never managed children themselves. Married too late, it seemed. His favourite find, though, was always the yet-to-be posted letter or postcard, especially the one that mentioned him: the wonderful host, the ‗mine of knowledge‘, good, old Douglas who knew this area better than the back of his liver-spotted hand. That was always the kindest gift. Douglas stopped in the centre of the living room. Not as tidy as it could be. Two empty wine bottles sat like skittles on the coffee table, just waiting to topple and spill dregs on the freshly oiled floorboards. A redtop newspaper and crumpled, purple chocolate wrappers poked out of the wastepaper basket. No postcards. No books or CDs. The British bird guide he provided for guests lay splayed open on the sofa. Probably reading up on their oystercatchers. Nothing more exotic. They stayed in the land of common birds, this couple. Still, it was something, he supposed. Something. As he passed through the kitchen, he saw a collection of seashells on the ledge, all laid in a neat line. The girl no doubt. He could see her now: she had picked them up from the beach – drawn by their shapes or their sprays of colour. She had pocketed them in her jeans and then smiled to herself as she rinsed them under the tap and arranged them on the ledge. Limpets, clams, mussels and one large, intact scallop, blushing pink near the hinge. Common enough shells. The sea‘s litter. Pretty, though. Childlike.
He edged open the bedroom door and watched the room reveal itself. People never really left bedrooms. Bedrooms kept warm, living traces. Douglas sighed. A trail of disgrace. A slattern‘s den. The bed was unmade – the white sheets sprinkled with crumbs the size of beetles. Two fingersmudged wine glasses stood on the chest of drawers. Carnation pink underwear strewn on the floor. He marched over to the wastebasket and peered inside: a used condom dribbled over balls of peach tissue paper. On the bedside table sat an inky notepad. He looked closer: a caricatured old man, with hooked nose and caterpillar eyebrows, planted in oversized wellies, glared back at him through an oversized pair of binoculars. A home, he had said – as Mairi had always told him. Their home. He had only wanted a gift. The smallest gift. His hand still trembled as he dragged shut the front door and turned the key. He did not wait for their return that evening. He pulled down the blind and put the binoculars back in their case. Tomorrow would be time enough. At nine o‘clock in the morning he started. The timber needed cutting down to size, anyway. And it was a good, dry day. The sun as gold as butter. You had to take advantage, after all. Douglas lowered his goggles and pushed in his earplugs. He lifted up the chainsaw, pulled at the cord, and smiled. It was like tugging at the ribbon on a gift. A satisfying screech erupted. It would serve as their alarm clock. They should be up and about, anyway, on a glorious day like this. Two minutes later and he saw the slats on their blind twitch. ‗I hope I didn‘t disturb you,‘ he apologised. They looked up at him astride the stack of logs. He swept his hand over his damp forehead and blinked as a spray of sawdust drizzled onto his nose and cheeks. A sawdust colossus. He could see Mike already scribbling another caricature. ‗Don‘t worry,‘ Janie smiled. She seemed sincere enough. ‗I don‘t like to disturb folks with the chainsaw, but when a job needs doing.‘ ‗It‘s fine. We‘re off out, anyway,‘ Mike murmured, looking downwards. ‗We want to make the most of a day like this!‘ the girl squinted as she nodded towards the sun. ‗Off somewhere nice?‘ Douglas asked. ‗Or just the beach again?‘ Mike looked upwards. Reptilian slashes of blue. ‗Just the beach,‘ he grinned, almost defiant. ‗As long as you‘re enjoying yourselves,‘ Douglas said.
He lifted up the chainsaw and tugged again at the ribbon. He was on his third cup of tea and his second shortbread finger when he saw their heads bobble into view. He had given up on the chainsaw hours ago. He had done enough to prove he was still able. Not an old codger yet. He had not bothered with the binoculars today. They weighed too heavy on his hands today and he was sure there was a flaw in one of the lenses: a trapped smudge of pollen or a stray hair. One of Mairi‘s hairs, perhaps. If he unscrewed the parts, he could maybe fish out the silver strand and gift himself a moment or two of her apple scent, preserved still, as though in amber. Her scent had left the house now. You had to wash sheets and pillowcases in the end. You had to give to charity shops. And your senses – they just had to make do. Feet crunched into the gravel. Four hours. Four hours they had been at that beach today. Mairi, like the shell-collecting girl, had loved that beach. Often she liked just to watch the beach from her bedroom window – especially near the end. He wiped the shortbread crumbs from his fingers. Tomorrow the Cunninghams would arrive, he thought. A lovely couple. Guests from old who had hillwalking in their blood. Their first visit since Mairi. He took a sip of lukewarm tea. Not sweet enough. He took another lump of sugar, the colour of damp sand, and chafed it between his fingers before dropping it into his cup. The Cunninghams – they would take his mind out again to tramp the hills. The Jacksons – they might as well have stayed in their dank little city rooms. No loss for them. Their world had started small and would end small. Their senses were used to making do. Maybe, it was better that way. Nothing to lose. Bags rustled. He stood up and looked out the window. He saw them, arms swinging, saliva budding in their mouths for the boozy lunch they would make when they got inside. The girl laughed and nuzzled her head against the man‘s neck. She turned and waved at him. He pushed open the window. ‗Had a good morning?‘ Mike trudged on towards the cottage. ‗Oh, yes!‘ the girl smiled, walking towards him. ‗I just love that beach. You‘re so lucky to have it on your doorstep.‘ ‗It‘s a nice spot, right enough.‘ ‗Do you go down there often?‘ she asked. He looked down at his itching hand. A grain of sugar on his index finger: an irritant, like sand in your sandals, like the demerara sand from that beach. He brushed his hand against his trouser leg. ‗No,‘ he murmured. ‗Not lately.‘ Not since Mairi. Ninety-one days now.
‗I‘ve been collecting shells!‘ she blushed. She raised her hand and rattled a lumpy carrier bag. ‗I love them. So delicate.‘ ‗Aye,‘ he shrugged, ‗they must make pretty trinkets.‘ ‗Oh, it‘s more than that. It‘s all the things they make you think of. The smell of the sea. And the sound of the waves, if you put them to your ear. And then, they might have travelled so far. You wonder where they have been. Little wonderings you can touch and hear.‘ He sighed. ‗Aye, my wife was like that. She loved the shells. And that beach. ‗ The girl looked away. ‗Aye, especially near the end.‘ Especially near the end, when Mairi‘s world grew small and dank and mauve with wallpaper. A bedridden, curtained ten square box. The beach was the one place she could still reach by foot and then by binoculars, before the end. It ate up her womb, the cancer. Ironic. It ate her up, as though she were nothing – just a crumb of sand, a ragged shell in the corner of someone‘s pocket. ‗You coming, Janie?‘ Mike shouted from the balcony. The girl did not turn or look up. ‗Would you like one?‘ the girl asked, rustling around in her bag and pulling out a handful of clinking shells. ‗A little thank you from me to you.‘ She picked out a periwinkle and perched it on his palm: whirls of sand-speckled pearl and turquoise. ‗No, Janie, you keep it,‘ he frowned, pressing the shell back into her hand. ‗Like you said, I‘ve got it all on my doorstep.‘ The next morning, after they left, Douglas walked down to the beach. Only blue in the sky, no mauve streaks. His feet crunched over the swathes of shells, which stretched like muddied rainbows across the beach. Not such a small beach as he had remembered. Something, after all. Still something. He leaned down, picked up a blanched white clam and wafted it under his nose. Mairi‘s lips skimmed against his stubbled cheek.
(Poem) Glancing up from a book across the room to where she took comfort from her chair ‗Love you‘ he casually shook into the air Looking up from her book across the room to where he sat in matching pair ‗Love you‘ she casually said and shook her hair A simple code for sharing a moment of grace of ease and entity beyond embrace Between the islands of their chairs espoused they were in space
DAVID TROUPES Study of an Icefisherman at Dusk Miles of air drop their cold on the very last of the dayâ€” a final harrowing, a sense that sense is finished, undistracted, an arthritis of love, a too-fine needle of love, a black brick of tar, a chill plate of bone, a meager, a scrawny, an incalculably diminished, but a wide, a vast, an endless pouring of vacant upon vacant, miles of air rushing no horizon. * In such an absence of weatherâ€”the way the wind catches like a ribbon in the trees, the way the frozen lake calms further the calm air, 142
the dead-like sky, the dead-like hillsâ€” a daughterâ€˜s warm slight limbs, the smell of her unwashed hair arrives to quake the elements, to reach for her ribbon and take hold. * We beat memory with the cane of memory until it bleeds a red truth, we stoop to finger the carcass like a prophet with its pulp of chicken, we gum our lips, run it further through the sieve of memory, try it as food, try it as poison, we put it to the centrifuge, bring it to a boil, smell the blooded air and in our innocence are sated, calmed and confirmed. 143
DAVID MARK WILLIAMS
The Solace of Cupboards What it was that brought it about that first time, He cannot now quite account for. That day there was nothing untoward, No crisis of any kind, only the usual pressures, Too many people breezing in, Proclaiming he was the very man they wanted to see, To beg a favour, oblivious to all that he had on His plate, as telephones shredded the air, The photocopier churning out yet more Sets of minutes rife with action points. Then the moment came When he rose abruptly from his desk Without a word to anyone, as if prompted, out of the blue, By something he had suddenly remembered, Slipping the stationery cupboard key off its hook, And striding purposefully away. He sensed the bewilderment That followed him along the corridor But that did not deflect him. He went inside To immerse himself in the darkness there, Locking the door to ensure he would not be interrupted. The benefit was immediate, A release he would not have thought possible.
The stacked paper gave off no note, The packs of pens were voiceless. All that was visible around the door, A razor- thin beading of light. Someone went by whose clotted Breathing he recognised But otherwise there was nothing to prevent him Expanding into an infinite dissolve That was the solace he had been after. Now this aberration has hardened into a habit, One he is not prepared to forgo and his sudden Familiar absences are merely how he is these days In the eyes of his staff. He believes he is the only one To have fumbled upon this kind of escape But there are legions like him everywhere, Standing alone for respite in dark places Until they are ready to be seen again.
David Mark Williams first came to The Bakehouse two years ago and took part in a floorspots session. Chrys Salt and John Hudson were impressed with his work and encouraged him to return. He attended the Markings/Bakehouse Exchange of Words workshops and, shortly afterwards, his work appeared in Markings. It is with great pleasure that John and Chrys select David Mark Williams to become part of the forthcoming Markings Mentoring Scheme.
DAVID MARK WILLIAMS
The Book of Sheep Seen from faraway, they are stones that move. Close up they are scholars, with that steadfast focus, That diligence, poring over a vast green manuscript, A book of hours they faithfully scribe, Working in the fine detail, Each blade of grass, each segment of gold leafed light. Such dazzling illuminations are offset by the sweep Of turning pages, of unsettling shadows, The days spinning by like a shoal of clouds, Dark acres rolling across, Incessant downpours drenching their labours With pools of sudden, puzzling depths Until the broken arch of a rainbow is revealed. The book takes all their lives to consume and ponder, To revise and recreate. It consumes them As they crimp away in a daze of interpretation, Dropping stops all over the ground Of their endeavours, lost in a trail of footnotes. Their absorption is steady. They seldom rest. But sometimes a head is raised to pause For a moment of reflection, or to stare At whatever catches their eye beyond the margin Of their work. There are disputes too, Differences of opinion erupting across the wide air, Dry chuckles of derision, a chorus of dissent, Or even a brief monologue of despair.
Poor scholars, to us it is a miserable devotion But they seem indifferent to all their sorrows: Hobbling with foot rot or joints stiff as wood; Swollen with bloat; bearing ticks that bloom Like berries; riddled with worms that barber The ruched, intestinal flesh, drawing the life out of them; Knowing no rest from the swarming itch of scab; The grass staggers fizzing in their brains like sherbert, A slow explosion of stained glass. Move towards them and some will shuffle away With heads down, along an invisible tunnel Where they think they cannot be found And always there are one or two Later to be discovered head down in a stream Turning into a slow work of decay. Otherwise, they remain where they are, Looking at you as if you were an incoming sea, A final dark wave rolling over them, An ending they accept, that they cannot change.
M A SCHAFFNER
Visiting Phase In the waiting room a man without shoes earnestly tells the phone he‘s getting better. The staff seems sensitive and bright but tired. Pain is as ubiquitous as prayer and drugs. The truly dangerous are restrained, but a sign on the door for everyone reads, ―Elopement risk,‖ as if they would go wed. A hall unrolls a few meters away. It leads to parking and the other wards for ills that however horrible are still easier to discuss at parties. The man looks at me as if I know he‘s lying. The door opens; in comes unescorted, with uncombed hair and false-lit hopes, my blood.
Toxic Leaf Mass Song Another end of the world approaches on padded feet a wee bit like a fox in the morning before heavy traffic reminds us what we traded for the past. Everyone has a role. Just to consume creates a conduit of use, and chance can still find value in stupidity or dissonance point out the short way home. Nibbling on the witchâ€˜s hut while looking to see if the birds have left a mouldy clue, I wonder what summer has left behind besides state arts programs. She cooks up well but when it comes to our turn who can tell? The little children sniff around like dogs.
MARGARET GILLIES BROWN
Nature Walk in the Rocky Mountains She tells us this tall fit girl before taking us novices on a nature walk – ‗Treat black bears with respect and never run. Do not surprise them. Shout as you go round corners BEAR I‘M COMING! Never go off on your own into the wilderness. Whatever size you are it is too small. Crowd is size – four will do, six or more is better. Lethal to get between a mother and her cubs. Otherwise just walk one way and she will walk the other to find another patch of grass fresh and green from snow, more sweet strawberries. Nothing to fear really – Please sign this disclaimer form.‘
LYNN OTTY Eyes Have It Mom always said if she could choose, she‘d go for sound instead of sight. When test results were read that day she knew she hadn‘t got that right. Peripheral vision challenged her, scored a furrow in her brow. Muted anger clenched her jaw sound began to mock her now. With tilted head she‘d concentrate, watch moving pictures in her mind; sound became her walking stick she‘d not concede to going blind. She learned to feel her way around, count her steps from here to there, locked in her world of light and dark pretending that she didn‘t care. But, oh she cared, so very much she didn‘t realise how she would miss the news she‘d glean by reading people‘s eyes. At times her state could overwhelm so sometimes there were tears like when she didn‘t know her son, his first time home in years. When I remember my mom now her eyes are what I see. They snap and sparkle in my mind and stare straight back at me. 151
JOHN RETY The kitchen chair Think of the kitchen chair Then having thought, Write down what you have thought. Then having written down what you have thought Think about the kitchen chair again. Then having thought about it Long enough Ask yourself this question: Has the kitchen chair changed In your mind Since you have written about it? Read what you have written, Then sit back and think And having thought Write it all down. This will keep you gainfully occupied For the rest of your working life. They will point you out at the Compendium: ‗There goes the man who writes the kitchen chair poems. Everyone thinks he is the new Mayakovsky; If you want my privatised opinion I am sick and tired of his kitchen chairs – Kitchen chairs this, kitchen chairs that, Are there no other chairs in the world? Chairs of this and Chairs of that, Boardroom chairs, Chairs of Grants and non Grants, Chairs bolted down at the DSS – He‘ll soon find out And anyway if he wants to make a living out of his writing There is more money in bedroom chairs‘. Having heard all that, think again, write it all down. Await no payment, no thanks, no fob watch of olden times. Clear off and get out of the kitchen.
The poet offers his wares I have four liners I have four liners I have four liners I have four liners Also have three liners Also have three liners Also have three liners Plenty of two liners Plenty of two liners Working on one liner now
GARY ALLEN Transmigration At four o‘clock they brought the winding sheet – once the finest linen now the colour of dead skin the women wrapped him in its folds picking off the lint careful not to bruise the flesh no one looked for long on the strawberry wound on the temple the men sat at the kitchen table drinking whiskey from tin cups someone said, When the soul leaves the body it‘s like the flapping of wings: the smell of soap filled the room as though washing was being done as if the dripping tap was a priest‘s thin voice – a small house never seemed so big nor so full of ritual. I am all things God of my own universe the whitewashed room the wall cavity holding milk-teeth lead soldiers, beer-bottle caps the narrow staircase the high wooden stairs to the triangular hallway of sunlight and morning frost to the football street and the voices that keep me here – I sail my sawdust boat in hope of something better 154
What do we know of the luminance of the moon of fields of grass wet around bare feet tallow skin cold from immersion in bath water of the leather smell of car seats engine oil the salt of blood and the sounds outside pain cows coughing farther down by the river a strange priest in rumpled shirt mumbling some liturgy that consumes the earth the moon the soul in the explosion of light? The soul is infinitely small and fills the universe hides in the sock drawer in the mouth of men in the stillness of women: a priest comes into the kitchen and stumbles over words last rites sin forgiveness â€“ three snakes three bare elm trees in a field three women hanging like spells bibles knotted in hair black sheeny crows on the wire a treacherous soul slipping through his fingers.
GARY ALLEN Down to the river In this field cows stand passive – hide-covered furniture: think of iron into flesh saw-teeth slicing bone beetled skin pounded hoof and horn – nothing cannot be changed. White mist covers the water, stars sliding in the sky are already dead. We are alone, my father said, in all the universe. The dust of hoarfrost making the tangled washing wires sing grass break beneath our feet the cows fade away from us like ghosts like stiffened shapes of work shirts hanging from the lines: I held my father‘s hand when he died although I wasn‘t there the fishing-rods we never owned the fish we never caught the universe we never sailed through – I think it‘s time, he said, to shine.
SHANE CREEVY INTERVIEWS TOM HUBBARD Tom Hubbard, poet and the author of Marie B: A Biographical Novel, talks to Shane Creevy about Marie Bashkirtseff, the sources of his own inspiration, the nineteenth century literary ‗scene‘, Scots and the Scottish Poetry Library... What is it about Marie Bashkirtseff that inspired you to tell this story? Is there a personal resonance, or were you simply struck by the aesthetic pleasure of her work? It was her self-portrait that started it off. Towards the end of my 1993 stint at Grenoble University, where I‘d been teaching Scottish and Victorian literature, I took a break in Nice and visited the art gallery. I‘d hardly heard of Marie Bashkirtseff – she was little more than a name to me: I knew she‘d corresponded with Guy de Maupassant and I‘d assumed she was just a rich dilettante lionising the great. But I was suddenly drawn to that portrait, in a corner of its own, and I saw tragedy in the eyes. I looked at the label: she‘d painted it within a year of her death at the age of 26. Before leaving the gallery I checked to see if there was anything in the shop about her, maybe a postcard of the picture. There wasn‘t. This was long before the internet, so I just had to retain the image in my mind‘s eye. A year later, at the end of another visiting stint, this time at the University of Connecticut, I had time to do some research so I raided the library for anything on her and her work. It was then that I hit on the idea of attempting a biographical novel about her. Fifteen years from then, and sixteen since I saw the portrait in Nice, the novel is out with the picture reproduced on the cover. It‘s come full circle. We know that Marie was trying to emulate Zola, but were there particular Ukrainian or French influences in your own writing of the novel? French, certainly, in terms of trying to produce a compact, shaped, piece of fiction. I didn‘t want anything too Anglo-Saxon and bulky, though I do have my favourites among long, sprawling English and American novels. I‘ve loved Flaubert since I first studied him at school and university, and I‘ve a lot of time for his theory of impersonality, i.e. the author keeps himself out of the story. Sure, that‘s an attitude parodied by James Joyce in the course of Stephen Dedalus‘s posings in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but that doesn‘t bother me. I don‘t go along with all this death-of-the-author stuff, but I‘m all for the absence of the author! I found an interesting development of the impersonality theory in the Sicilian novelist Giovanni Verga. In his novels he‘ll plunge you into a conversation between the characters, without any authorial intervention. As a reader you feel like you‘re actually there, among it all.
I wish I knew more about specifically Ukrainian literature, but I‘m working on that. Flaubert‘s Russian friend, Turgenev, has meant a lot though – again, the shapeliness of his fictions, and a blend of humour and melancholy that would be inherited by Chekhov. Marie B. is a tragic tale, but I hope that‘s offset by a gentle, bantering humour that can serve as foil to a sense of the transience of life. The Ukrainian influence is largely visual and aural, via paintings and music, together with memories of journeys to eastern Poland and Hungary – the sense of these panoramic landscapes, the steppes, rivers, lakes, forests. Do you consider the story ultimately bleak or uplifting? There is the knowledge throughout that any happiness Marie will experience will not sustain itself. And yet she boldly states, “we want more life”. This brings us back to humour and transience. Marie had her failures and her successes, as we all have; she had her attractive and unattractive qualities, as we all have. That she started out so spoiled and sheltered makes her triumphs, such as they are, all the more heroic – and of course time was running out for her. Do you find literary theory part of your inspiration to write, or is it rejected? Literary theory, at least of the academically-generated kind, has had no impact whatsoever. But I‘ve learned from the statements of practising novelists. Better to get it from the inside, as it were. This is your first novel. You have written poetry for years. Did you find the new creative process frightening, liberating? Entirely liberating. I don‘t have a single ‗voice‘ in my poetry – I prefer to use different personas, masks if you like: in this respect Yeats has given me a lot to mull over. In undertaking a novel, I felt able to take this a lot further. When I return to writing poetry, I hope the experience will serve me well for a new phase. The narrative is shared by third person narration, first person narration (in the form of Marie’s journal), hallucinations, speeches, chapters of dialogue, even memos and poems. What was it about Marie’s story that forced you to write with such polyvocality? These varying personas I‘ve just mentioned. Maybe it‘s analogous to an actor inhabiting a diversity of parts and not wanting to be typecast. But I felt too that, if I deployed a range of narrative techniques, a more rounded
picture of Marie would emerge, neither too much the plaster saint nor too much the obnoxious snob, but someone both admirable and exasperating. This polyvocality even includes Russian characters speaking in Scottish dialects! You were the first librarian at the Scottish Poetry Library and have taught Scottish literature around Europe. How does this knowledge of Scottish cultural traditions influence the writing? I was one of the people who created the Scottish Poetry Library, but there‘s a sense in which the Scottish Poetry Library created me. My PhD wasn‘t on Scottish literature but as soon as it was behind me, I took steps to improve my knowledge of my own country‘s word-hoard. From my existing knowledge, back in 1984, the SPL‘s collection took shape, but I was discovering many marvellous writers for the first time. I began to write my own poetry – in Scots – at the grand old age of 33. Scots language came naturally to me because I spoke it as a kid in Fife. Like most languages, it has its dialects, and my years in Aberdeen exposed me to a Scots verbal music different from what we had further south. I‘d have to admit, though, that it was only after I left the Granite City that I began to appreciate its unique literary culture. Aberdeenshire – or County Aberdeen as you‘d probably call it! – is largely rural, and in Marie B. the characters of French peasant stock speak in the Scots dialect of that part of the country; it seemed to me the ideal equivalent. Marie‘s friend Georgette is a working-class Parisian so she speaks an urban west-ofScotland register, i.e. Glasgow and its broad hinterland. The ancient hag encountered by Marie in her native Ukraine – well, she speaks a kind of grotesque, ballad-like Fife dialect: she‘s a figure from universal folklore and in our country we‘d call her a spae-wife. That describes a witch-like fortuneteller who‘d sit at the crossroads awaiting your custom. Marie‘s background is posh, so all these folk are a revelation and an education to her. We developed the Scottish Poetry Library – which celebrates its quarter-centenary this year, 2009 – as a repository of international as well as Scottish poetry, and indeed we invited mainland European poets to give readings during the Edinburgh Festival. During my period there, in the mid-late 1980s and early 1990s, I began to give talks and readings at continental festivals and universities, then from 1993 onwards, once I‘d left the SPL, I spent longer periods at overseas universities, teaching courses in Scottish and other literatures. (I even taught American literature in America!) All the time I was absorbing the literary, musical and artistic cultures of the countries where I was based, especially, in Europe, of France and Hungary. I was interested in dialogues. Scottish language and literature don‘t appeal to me in isolation: it‘s the relationships with European
analogues that absorb me, the intellectual and creative affinities (or, even better, the lack of such affinities). I hope I‘m writing Scottishly even when I‘m not writing ‗about‘ Scotland. In my poetry, The medieval Scottish ‗makar‘ (maker, poet) Robert Henryson has influenced me deeply, also the greatest Scottish poet of the twentieth century, Hugh MacDiarmid. Both of them mean far more to me than Robert Burns. The Scottish ballads, too, I‘ve loved from childhood: they‘re completely without the sentimentality and cosiness that‘s too much in evidence in Burns, for all his merits. At this point most of my compatriots will want to slaughter me, especially as this year is the 250th anniversary of Burns‘s birth. But for a poet who wants to take up narrative, the ballads are great models. There‘s no messing about, you‘re right there in the action, you have tragedy without getting all lachrymose about it. Think of the two crows – ‗The Twa Corbies‘ – munching away on the new-dead knight: ‗O‘er his white banes [bones] when they are bare / The wind sall blaw for evermair [shall blow for evermore]‘. As regards Marie B., the Scottish linguistic influences are obviously there, but not so much the literary ones, ballads apart. The mainland European influences on me are stronger. I‘ve mentioned Flaubert and his pal Turgenev – between them they did so much to give the European novel a poise and a tautness that was missing in Anglophone work until Henry James took up where F. and T. left off. It helped that James was an expat American – he could dispense with a lot of Anglo-baggage. I believe that being part of the UK has provincialised us in Scotland; we badly need to acquire European sophistication, albeit as unselfconsciously as possible. We should stop fixating on what London thinks of us, if it bothers to think of us at all. There are other specifically ‗Scottish‘ aspects to Marie B. She has a teenage crush on the Duke of Hamilton, who was essentially an AngloScottish toff who idled his way across Europe. Later on, after seeing him in a Paris boulevard she wonders what she saw in him and likens him to a pudding. But the Duke of H. has stoked her romantic notion of Scotland as filled with ruined castles, kilted bravehearts and all. In this respect she was not untypical of mainland Europeans who had read their Walter Scott. I had done a lot of research on the European reception of Scott so I‘m mocking my academic side. Likewise I‘ve produced scholarly books on Robert Louis Stevenson, and when I was in America I told friends I‘d get revenge on myself by allowing RLS to make a cameo appearance in the novel. He and Marie never actually met in real life but they were both on the French Mediterranean coast during the 1870s, so you never know, they could have passed each other on the street. The Americans would ask me: ‗So you‘re going to have a liaison between Stevenson and Marie?‘ As things turned out, it‘s not a liaison exactly, more a frisson.
In books like Joseph Knight James Robertson has revived the Scottish tradition of the historical novel. His success encouraged me to keep going with Marie B. and its own French and Russian historical reference points. That James took his PhD in history rather than in English has, I suspect, helped his creativity. Significantly, his thesis was on Scott. In any case Scott‘s impact on English literature matters less than his influence on French novelists such as Stendhal and Balzac and also on the Russians, above all Tolstoy, to whom Marie makes reference towards the end of my book. Have you any advice for young creative writers? I can‘t do better than pass on advice from Robert Louis Stevenson, who said that a work of fiction should aim for ‗significant simplicity‘. You can get there not in spite of sophistication of technique and content, but because of it. As long as you don‘t let the scaffolding detract from the building itself. And don‘t take as long as I did, if you can. Sixteen years is a long time to produce a novel of a hundred pages! So many practicalities intervened, such as living and working in different countries. Once I‘d got past the half-way mark, though, progress accelerated – and there you have the psychology of the creative process, or at least of mine. Dr. Tom Hubbard has been a poet and academic for many years. He was the first librarian for the Scottish Poetry Library (which marks its 25th anniversary this year). He also worked on the Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation and has taught literature throughout Europe for a quarter of a century. Dr Hubbard is currently working as researcher for the NUIM Department of English. He is compiling, with Dr. Colin Graham, a bibliography of Irish literary criticism which may be accessible online soon. His foremost literary activity has been poetry, though he has taught literature throughout Europe for a quarter of a century. Shane Creevy is currently studying English at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
REVIEWS Marie B Tom Hubbard. Ravenscraig Press (order through www.midoil.co.uk). £12.95 ISBN 978-0-9556559-1-3 reviewed by Shane Creevy Tom Hubbard‘s first novel, Marie B, is a meditation on art, life, death and the intersection of all three. It tells the tale of Mariya Konstantinovna Bashkirtseva, the painter and women‘s activist who died tragically of tuberculosis aged twenty six. Marie, born in 1858, devoted her life to the calling of art, working ten hours a day for her final six years. As Bernard Shaw wrote of her, ―Let anyone who thinks that this is no evidence of control just try it for six months‖. The novel opens on a pleasure-steamer. Marie is excited by the possibilities of the world around her. This location introduces an important theme – the question of Marie‘s national identity. In her journal she writes, ‗Marie B. is an enigma to herself‘. At sea between the backward Russia of her father and brother and the cultured Paris of her mother, Marie‘s nationality is never static. Leaving Russia she thinks, ‗Here I was born: my soul belongs elsewhere‘. Marie is determined to become an artist of any kind: a writer, scholar, singer, or perhaps a sculptor or painter. She is, ‗A woman forming through her words; a painter learning how to see‘. She attends art classes and gradually increases her skills until the great French painter Jules BastienLepage becomes an encouraging supporter. Hubbard is playing with history and the process of story-telling – and why not since Marie‘s published journals were tampered with by her own mother, who wished to portray her as a non-rebellious Lady. We can never be sure if the journal articles in Marie B are factual, replicated, envisaged, or simply made up. The line between truth and reality, fact and fiction, history and story is blurred and so the narrative structure of the novel is never rigid but shared by third person narration, first person narration (Marie‘s journal), hallucinations, speeches, chapters of dialogue, even memos and poems. This polyvocality stretches beyond verisimilitude when we find that many of the French, Ukrainian and Russian characters speak in a Scottish dialect! Time is another key theme. Time, for Marie, is never enough. ‗When there are no other obstacles, time is terrible, draining, crushing, when it ought to be motivating and energising...‘ Playfully, Hubbard posits the possibilities of Marie‘s influence on the movement of surrealism with the penultimate scene set in Buttes-Chaumont Park, which would later be a favourite haunt of the surrealists. Who knows what Marie may have been had she lived longer. As Marie movingly writes, ―we want more life‖.
Series of Dreams: the vision songs of Bob Dylan. John Burns. Glen Murray Publishing www.glenmurraypublishing.co.uk ISBN 9780955318351 reviewed by J.B.Pick This book doesn‘t investigate the life story of the young man who changed his name and accent, donned a cowboy hat and guitar and became Bob Dylan, proving the fact with a series of songs of remarkable richness and power that hit the exact psychological target of its day. John Burns concentrates attention entirely on the words of the songs, which add up to poetry of disconcerting variety, at times visionary and prophetic, ‗pointing a finger‘ as Burns puts it, at times simple, direct and moving, at times a confusion of contradictions. His investigations need subtlety, balance and insight, for he is deprived of the music and performance which moderate, emphasise, counteract or illuminate the words. Occasionally he does describe the atmosphere of performance – ‗to be part of the audience when the band starts ‗rolling stone‘ is to be energised in anticipation of a journey into the unknown – every performance explores new country.‘ Burns‘s interest in the unpredictable Dylan is based on a perception that he‘s a haunted, driven man, awake to the full dimensions of a world which he regards as corrupt, broken and threatening. Dylan has seen something and must struggle to express it. Alone amongst his contemporaries he breaks through often conflicting moods to ask ‗what is the true value of our lives?‘ He needs his seriousness to be recognised and several times insists on it, in one song saying, ‗I did not fail. It was straight‘, stating in another ‗I‘m not playing, I‘m not pretending‘, and again, ‗So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.‘ Some of his songs are dreams or nightmares, and lines gather to rage like a river through a dark ravine, or they are written through an ominous persona, or they project strange and ambivalent figures – ‗The man in the long black coat‘, ‗The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stony faced‘, ‗two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.‘ At one point he tells us that God will destroy the world because ‗it is too full of hate.‘ The phase of Dylan‘s life in which he claims Christian conversion is treated by Burns with caution, for the language grows thin and Dylan‘s late relish for a Day of Judgement does not illuminate, it darkens. Burns tells us that the poems are not problems to be solved, but ‗works of art to be experienced‘, and emphasises that the poet is striving always to break through into dimensions he can‘t quite reach. This effort makes him an exception in popular music. He can‘t be diminished as a ‗folk singer,‘ ‗a blues singer‘, a ‗rock singer‘ or anything else more convenient than reality.
No more sensitive and measured guide to the world of Bob Dylan could be found, and Burns moves beyond Dylan in the end, commenting that ‗we can only find truth and meaning when we give up trying to capture and imprison it in concepts,‘ and begin ‗to grow into our own being.‘ Dylan grew into his, and the ‗hard rain‘ has indeed begun to fall. ‗It is not dark yet,‘ says Dylan, ‗but it‘s getting there.‘
Stations of the Heart. Raymond Friel. Salt Publishing. £12.99. ISBN 978 1 84471 468 1 reviewed by J.B. Pick Raymond Friel is a rarity, serious, intent, concerned with form, often using reassuring 10-syllable lines and treating 8, 6 and even 3-line verses with care and attention. There is often a sense of compression as if a poem has absorbed his mind for a long time before reaching its proper place in the world. Oddly enough the short verses are often the most difficult to organise, requiring weight, wit and fresh surprise if they are not to slip away without the echo: ‗April on Rannoch Moor – actual snow smothers/the print of weary nouns./A fortunate bothy - /foxes saunter right in.‘ Occasionally the language lies back and loses its edge – ‗on our last night the midges left us alone, / let us sit outside with a glass of red‘ – but in general he needs the closest attention, and the more individual he becomes the more subtle his surprises: ‗I step laden / over a stream / I wish was there;‘ ‗Heaviness is being‘s problem—/ the apple tree knows this‘; ‗the canter of the downs / had come to an abrupt and nervous halt / as if it knew its own limitations‘: ‗the stern assembly of the Trossachs.‘ There is evidence – from memories of a Scottish childhood, wartime Glasgow, a career in England as an emigré who bears no grudge – of dedication, struggle, discovery and achievement, with a final wish on Chesil beach: ‗we are made creatures on this bank of time / longing to hear the voice of the creator – / I have counted every hair on your head.‘ Poetry is at once a challenge, a solace and a pilgrimage. Raymond Friel still has much to celebrate.
Their Proper Names. Jason Watts and Tim Pomeroy. Stone Pig Press, Lamlash, Arran KA27 8NL ISBN: 978-0-9556452-0-4 reviewed by Donald Adamson This pamphlet contains twelve poems by Jason Watts and eleven by Tim Pomeroy. In Watts‘ exuberant pantheistic vision, nouns, verbs and adjectives have a equal, almost manic, energy, as in ‗Cherry Blossom‘ with its ‗criss-cross / drift sugar parabola / petals, fluttering‘ where ‗Blunt light, the bright vulgar shower, / smokes up orderly pink // nerve, sparks volumes‘; or in ‗Witness‘ where ‗instinct‘s honest, uncut / urge flings arms up to unhinged trees...‘ There is a delight in sound, reminiscent of Hopkins or Dylan Thomas. There are risks, though. At times the sounds seemed to overwhelm the sense, and I felt some abstractions filled out the line for the sake of the sound, doing little for the poem as a whole. But the poems sweep the reader along. Everyday human experience is mainly subordinated to the dynamism of the verse. Yet Watts can also include stillness. I liked his description of the mouse skeleton ‗under festoons of webs, / among stoor and heads / of wasps, and their burst bike‘s halo.‘ And the personal makes an appearance in ‗Journey‘: ‗... I addressed my house / and the hills behind and my life with all / its flows and tracks and beats and vistas / wider and wider into the evening.‘ If Watts‘ poems are whirling Dervish-dances, Pomeroy‘s are stately sarabandes. In the manner of Donne, Pomeroy may take an image and follow it through – a shade formulaically perhaps in the (first) Eco-poem‘, but with increasing evocativeness in subsequent pages. ‗Archaeology‘ meditates movingly on the connections between the unknown labourers of the past and our own lives. Seamus Heaney may be an influence, notably in ‗Inheritance‘: ‗His chisel fits my hand like an oar, / its shaped haft hugs the clenched curves of my palm... / and I feel an old man‘s smile purse my lips.‘ In ‗Rite of Passage‘ Pomeroy‘s lyrical and regretful cadences co-exist with danger and disturbance. He begins the poem (referring to his son) with ‗I threw him for fun across the mill lade‘, before going on to anticipate the changes that time will bring. Pomeroy understands mutability, and has a gift for conveying the changes wrought by time with a mixture of wonderment, playfulness and threat. In ‗Skeleton of Nessie‘, he looks forward to a world altered by climate change. He imagines the ‗drying land‘ revealing: ‗... hulks for children, unknowing snow and frost, / to play in. Soon we‘ll explore Friedrich der Grosse / in Scapa Flow, Titanic and her iceberg café, / countless reservoir villages, / Atlantis and nothing more.‘ The pamphlet is handsomely produced, and the illustrations by Josephine Broekhuizen make a good contribution.
Messages of Change. A.C. Clarke. Oversteps Books. £8.00. ISBN 978-1-906856-01-4 reviewed by J.B. Pick In one poem A.C. Clarke writes of her schooldays: ‗Convent-trained / in obedience, we grappled Petrarchan, Shakespearean, / trochee, iamb, the five-foot line, / permutation of a couplet and quatrain - /managed it, more or less, except Geraldine…‘ Geraldine‘s poem didn‘t rhyme, scan or contain the correct number of lines, but in the mind‘s ear of her class-mate ‗still crackles: / live, sparky, bursting out of its shackles.‘ So we know where she stands. Set forms are shackles. I wish all free verse, all traditional verse, too, was live, sparky and crackles, but it‘s not. A serious poet may not stick to orthodox rules, but has an inner sense of structure, and will not accept a poem until she knows it is complete. She is likely, too, to sound each line in her head as she writes, knowing that poetry is a marriage of music and meaning, and both die if one is absent. Clarke herself writes in close consciousness of every word, so that descriptions are of value for their language of recognition and surprise as well as for their feeling and observation. She ends a poem of memories: ‗Grandad, a graduate he says, / of the world‘s university picks up / one of the two conches from the hearth, / presses against my ear the whole Pacific.‘ Conversational music runs through the poem and the ‗whole Pacific‘ acts with simple grace as a symbol of poetry itself. A nightingale receives this treatment: ‗You‘re a plain bird, / small. Would we notice your song / in daylight, when every tree in the wood/broadcasts?‘ Both the observation and the word ‗broadcasts‘ light up the mind, and that, after all, is the purpose of poetry. The same gift is given to the word ‗sullen‘ in ‗the sullen day draws back‘ and by the word ‗havering‘ in ‗Havering / among unhurried things.‘ Words and images arrive from the air. They‘re not invented. A feature of this poetry is a deeply felt attention to reality: ‗a gift: / which would, unwrapped, bring tears / if after endless wars/there were tears left.‘ She achieves time and again the feat of forming a poem into a whole, a community of words, and this would surely compel applause from that sober teacher who bored her so much when she was young. Finally, the book‘s cover shows a bird perched on a rickety gate to focus attention on a snow-rich wood. A.C. Clarke deserves Monet, and she‘s got him.
Loud Snoring As night woods wove their tweed of straight and crooked branches, a shuttle clacked for hours in the loom of his throat. Snoring provided simultaneous translation of dream-talk into Sanskrit, or the rumble of applause for his own epic deeds. Like a boulder recalling the arms of a glacier it rolled in, his skull resonated with epochs of snow.
The Bakehouse & Markings Magazine Programme of Events June 2009 to November 2009 June 27
Aonghas Macneacail – poetry Stakis prize for Scottish Writer of the Year for his third collection ―Oideachadh Ceart‖, his most recent collection from Polygon is Laoidh an Donais òig– Hymn to a Young Demon.
June 29 & 30
The Comedy of Errors Shakespeare‘s Globe Theatre returns to the Crichton, Dumfries with this early play by Shakespeare that announces so many of the themes that were to occupy him throughout his writing life. (see back page advertisement).
Tribute to the late Adrian Mitchell Launching a Markings publication with contributions from leading Scottish writers.
Launch of 12 Galloway Poets With some of the best in local talent, this 300+ page anthology summarizes the much-praised Galloway Poets series of pamphlets issued by Markings. With readings from featured poets.
Launch of Markings 29 The next outing for one of Scotland‘s foremost litmags. An evening featuring a host of talent. Performances start 7.30pm Tickets £7.50 (£6.00 concs) 44 High Street, Gatehouse of Fleet, DG7 2HP
01557 814175 firstname.lastname@example.org The Bakehouse is a performance space dedicated to poetry and the spoken word. It aims to promote interest and skills related to writing in Dumfries and Galloway. The Bakehouse is a Company Ltd by Guarantee without share capital with a membership of individuals committed to the arts and a voluntary management committee.
The May 2009 edition of one Scotland's top literary magazines featuring the poetry of Pete Brown, and also including short stories, articles...
Published on May 22, 2009
The May 2009 edition of one Scotland's top literary magazines featuring the poetry of Pete Brown, and also including short stories, articles...