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The Sinners’ Corner by Mark Sadler

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I returned to work on a dismal Tuesday morning, emerging from the main entrance of London, Fenchurch Street, railway station under opaque grey skies. During my extended absence, the shopfronts of the old city had been divested of their brightly-coloured festive decorations. Gone was the red tinsel foil and shiny burgundy-coloured baubles garnishing the window display of Charlie Davies’ Tailory in Leadenhall, where a fortnight before they had rekindled the glare of the spotlights in the warm emulsified tones of a log fire, dimly reflecting in the contents of a wine glass. Absent this brightening influence, the winter streets, and the overcast faces of those who paraded up and down the cold grainy pavements, appeared to have been permeated with the stark greyness of a new year that was yet to form an identity of its own.

I walked the full length of Eastcheap, easily matching my pace with that of a large truck that crawled along beside the curb. Men dressed in florescent jackets were hauling dessicated Christmas trees from the lobbies of office buildings and pitching them into the bin that occupied the back of the lorry, where they piled-up haphazardly, like a small, densely-wooded hill.

The working day was marred by the sounds of a demolition that was underway in the churchyard of St Mary’s, across the road from my place of business. Every so often, a chorus of men’s shouts, emanating from the site, would build to a collective heave, heralding the imminent crashing of one of several large, and already fractured, panels of glass, as they were dropped into the yawning mouth of a skip. The sound grew more jarring on the nerves as the day wore on, and elicited alarmed inquiries from clients on the other end of the phone, who assumed that it had originated in our office.

The object of the ground clearance was a glass-walled building which had briefly occupied a disused corner of the churchyard, before collapsing suddenly during the early hours of Christmas Eve. In the short time that it stood, it had vaguely resembled a small chapel with a sharply-peaked, spired roof that incorporated a slight twist a few feet below the tip. The modernity of the design made it an incongruous neighbour to the medieval place of worship that it shared common ground with, which was a square-towered, 14th century stone church, belted around the midriff with a dark band of knapped flint.

The purpose of the new structure was altogether less sacred. During its fleeting existence it had housed a small shop, the purpose of which was to raise funds for the church. Space had also been made on the premises for three pop-up retail units that were intended for rental. Prior the collapse of the building, these had accommodated a stall selling resin-cast snowman-shaped lamps, another specialising in cushions embroidered with expressions of seasonal goodwill, and a refreshment stand, peddling Christmas cake and a non-alcoholic mulled beverage that was ladled from a large cauldron.

As a further addition, some narrow wooden sheds had been erected temporarily along a new fixed-gravel path, leading from the gate to churchyard, up to the entrance to the chapel. These were occupied by Christmas-themed shops and were liberally decorated with blue fairy lights.

When the weather is good, I will sometimes eat my lunch on a south-facing bench in the churchyard. A few months after the demolition of the glass chapel, I happened to make conversation there with one of the volunteers who help to manage the grounds; a man named Gordon Booth. Before his retirement, he had worked as a stockbroker in the city.

It was early March and I recall that clumps of daffodils had sprung up against the walls of the old church. Booth sat down next to me and made an appreciative remark about a large tree close-by, with a broad spread of branches that were speckled with emerging bright-green foliage.

“William Blake claims to have seen angels roosting in the boughs,” he said. “There is a short walk called the Angel Path that you can take through this part of the city, that visits all of the places where he witnessed the heavenly host watching over London. We have a pamphlet on it in the church foyer if you are interested. Occasionally, on the weekends, one of us will provide a guided tour for small groups. The next one is on the fourteenth. If you would like to come, I could add your name to the list.”

I passed some comment about avoiding London at the weekends. This seemed to ruffle his feathers a bit. I attempted to mollify him by asking whether he had ever laid eyes upon any angels during his comings and goings at the church.

“Ha! It was Dickens, wasn’t it, who described London as a city of devils. But I have seen some strange things,” he said.

I steered the conversation towards the glass chapel. The business around it seemed to be of interest to him and he became a great deal more animated.

“That whole enterprise had the air of money lenders in the temple. It upset a lot of the established congregation, myself included. A handful of people who had worshipped here for years left in protest and haven’t returned.”

He leaned forward and fixed me with a milky blue-eyed stare.

“The problem is that we do need the dosh.”

I asked him whether the cause of the collapse had been identified.

“It was very odd. Nobody knows quite what to make of it.”

After I pressed him for further information, he furnished me with a recent history of the church. The area of the grounds where the glass chapel stood had not been a part of the original churchyard. The plot had been expanded, during the 1860s, to incorporate adjacent land to the south. The additional space was required to accommodate human remains disinterred from nearby churchyards, that had been cleared to make room for the Midland railway.

The newly acquired land had previously been occupied by illegally-constructed dwellings that were in a dilapidated and tumbledown state. After the slum housing was cleared and the ground had been reseeded with grass, all but a small part of it was consecrated by the Bishop of London. The exception was an area in the southern-eastern corner. It seems that, following the removal of the old buildings, an excavation had uncovered elements of an unholy altar; something ancient and pre-Christian. A man from the British Museum examined some carvings on one side of it and passed on his report to the church authorities. Evidently what was written down in this document was sufficient for that part of the site to be deemed an unsuitable spot for Christian burials. It was instead designated as a place of final rest for those who had been executed at Newgate Prison. These unfortunates were buried in unmarked graves and any record of who they had been in life was withheld from the parish ledgers.

“Murderers I suspect. Wicked men,” surmised Booth.

He reached into the pocket of his jacket and removed a package of sandwiches, so tightly-wrapped in cling-film that they had been rendered oddly shapeless. He carefully opened it on his lap.

“When we eventually managed to wrangle planning permission for the new shop, one of the conditions was that it be located a fair distance from the church – I forget the exact figure, but it effectively banished the building to the sinners’ corner.

“Well, all of the marked graves in that part of the yard were cleared after the war so that wasn’t a problem, but nobody had ever investigated the Newgate plot. We hadn’t the faintest idea of what was down there.

“The church commissioned an archaeological survey. They uncovered twelve bodies in total, all adult males, all apparently buried without coffins. Given these circumstances, there was some interest as to how their skeletons had remained intact and had not been scattered throughout the soil.

“We re-interred the bones in a single grave on the north side of the yard and marked the spot with a simple memorial. The reverend Cowcher said a few words over it. Something about restoring long lost souls to the sight of God.”

He took a thoughtful bite from one of his sandwiches.

Construction had commenced on the glass chapel in July. I remember watching from my first-floor window across the street, as small protests assembled on the pavement adjacent to the church railings. Placards bearing bible quotations jostled for prominence, and occasional choruses of My Faith is like an Oaken Staff and Onward Christian Soldiers would rise above the background traffic noise, commencing with great fervour before gradually thinning out, only to recover some of their earlier strength in the final verse, at the behest of whoever was leading the group.

“Things started to go funny after that,” said Booth. “Not ha-ha funny. Just unusual.”

When he was not immediately forthcoming I prompted him:

“What kind of things exactly?”

“It was small at first. One of the ladies who helps to clean the interior of the church tripped on something in the yard and cracked her skull on a headstone. She said, as she fell, she thought she saw something like a blanched tree root protruding from the soil. We had a good look around, but we never found anything.

“Then there was the elderly gentlemen who jogs in the area every morning and used the churchyard as a shortcut between King William Street and Woodengate. On one particularly foggy day he swore blind that something that felt like a set of bony fingers had gained a tight hold on his ankle. He said that it spread a chill up his entire leg. When he reached down to free himself, there was nothing there. He still goes out for his morning run, but he goes around the churchyard now.

“The worst of it was one of the pupils from the convent school. She arrived at the school gates one morning, quite beside herself. Something in the graveyard had absolutely terrified her. They could never get from her exactly what it was. The police were summoned and the entire area was searched without any success. In the aftermath, we held an emergency meeting to discuss whether criminal background checks should be made on the builders who were working on the chapel, and how best to broach the topic with the contractors. In the end there was a lot of dithering and nothing was done.

“While all of this was going on, the churchyard was undergoing subsidence. The first we knew of it was when one of the old stone vaults tilted a full six inches on one corner, apparently overnight. This continued until, after a few weeks, it looked as if some large creature had rampaged across the yard on a diagonal course, starting from the north side and heading towards the chapel, knocking the grave markers askew as it went . We contacted the council and asked them for details of any underground works that were in progress. Of course there were none. We had a man come to survey for foxes or badgers. He found no surface evidence of any animal activity but suspected some form of tunnelling.

“A few days before the glass chapel collapsed, the ground under one of the temporary sheds abruptly sunk down a few inches and the whole thing toppled over. It pulled half of the fairy lights down with it. I suspected that the chapel was listing slightly, the day before it fell, but I didn’t say anything. Thankfully it happened at half past one in the morning when nobody was inside.”

“It seems to me that your resident angels have been remarkably lax in keeping unquiet spirits at bay,” I said.

“Well that’s the thing. In January we had some surveyors visit from the insurance company. With them came a few of the people who had worked on the original survey. They dug down around what remained of the chapel. A few feet beneath the turf they began to uncover the skeletal remains of twelve adult men. If that wasn’t a chilling discovery in and of itself, it was their positioning that was truly strange. They were standing upright, crowded together, with their arms stretched out and raised above their heads. The bones of their hands were pressing under against the underside of the concrete foundation. One of the archaeologists recognised a distinctive in crack in one of the skulls. She swore that it was identical to an injury on one of the skulls that she had helped to exhume the previous Summer, and then witnessed being re-interred on the opposite side of the churchyard. There was some very reluctant talk of unsealing the new vault where we had buried those remains. In the end we called a vote on it. Everyone was in agreement that it was best to leave things as they were.”

In the wake of this revelation a stillness seemed to fall across the churchyard.

“Anyway,” said Booth after a long pause. “It seems that the occupants of the old plot, whoever they may have been, were rather attached to their quite corner of the churchyard away from the sight of god, where the soil was steeped in their own wickedness. They resented their eviction from it and wanted it back. They clawed their way across the graveyard and came up underneath the chapel like sharks intent on capsizing a small boat. Old Cowcher has taken to referring to them as the jury; twelve angry men, unanimous in their judgement.

“I have to visit that part of the yard every so often to clear away the weeds. I always feel distinctly unwelcome there, as if there are multiple presences lurking just outside my field of vision, glowering at me with barely-restrained malice. I do not linger any longer than I have to. There is something very strange about the way the shadows fall there. Some have no physical counterparts while others seem to be portmanteaus of objects that, as far as I can ascertain, do not exist.”

His gaze settled on the stiffly swaying boughs of the large tree ahead of us, where the poet, William Blake, had once borne witness to a gathering of the heavenly host.

St Mary’s church has returned to drawing revenue from more restrained fund-raising activities. No attempt has been made to reinstate the glass chapel. The corner of the yard where it stood is a gloomy, unattended quarter, cast into permanent shadow by the surrounding buildings. Since hearing Booth’s tale I have given the area closer scrutiny and have noticed that very few people set foot there.


By Mark Sadler 

Crete

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‘So. What do we want today?’

I’m sitting in my local barbers chair, caped up like a clown – my head bulging through the top like a glob of cream forced through a chefs piping bag. Nobody looks good in a barbers cape. If ‘clothes maketh the man’, then capes maketh the man look like an idiot. A faint smell of cologne, old magazines and tobacco lingers – with an unsettling trace of halitosis. John, my old Greek barber, stands behind me, hands resting on my shoulders. His eyes meet mine in the mirror. When I first met John, I had thick brown hair like Mick Jagger in his prime. Now, there’s more hair on my ass than my head. This rather narrows my style choice.

‘The usual thanks John. Number two on the head, three on the beard.’

It’s passed closing time. The radio is off, and the glass door is locked. Piles of hair and whiskers lie in clumps on the floor like coughed-up fur balls from a giant cat. The two other barbers have gone, lighting cigarettes the moment they exited. It’s just me and John. Out come the clippers, and the clipping begins.

John’s been a barber here for forty eight years. He was hoping to rack up half a century, but next week he’ll be shown the door -kicked out by developers who bought the building last Spring. The barbershop only takes up a thin slice of the Art Deco block, but they want to renovate the lot – increase rent on the shops below, and convert the top level to apartments. Such is the way of the inner city. John often laments that he didn’t buy the whole building when he had the chance in the late 1970’s, before Sydney prices went crazy. Instead, a Turkish woman did – the fact that she was Turkish really sticks in John’s craw. Anyway, she clung on to it until her recent death, her children cleaned up, and the old Greek barber is out on his ear.

John doesn’t want to, but he will probably retire. Too much hassle trying to find new premises, and his son Dimitrios isn’t interested in taking over. Dimitrios worked here for a few years but now he’s a DJ in Ibiza. Not surprisingly, exchanging a life of tapas, cocaine, and sun-kissed Dutch girls, for one of grooming old men and Hipsters, doesn’t appeal. Last month I said to John that when he retires, at least he’ll have more time for fishing. John looked at me as if I had six heads, as if I couldn’t have suggested anything more ludicrous.

‘I hate fishing,’ he told me, eyes locked with mine in the mirror. ‘Waste of my time. You want fish, just go to ‘Polous Brothers.’

He wasn’t keen on my suggestion of a holiday in Greece either.

‘What for? My family’s here. Greece is a mess. Too many relatives wanting money.’

I’ve stopped trying to lighten John’s mood. Now, as I sit in the dimly lit room, the last rays of the Autumn sun sneaking through the top of the glass door, I’m aware that this is the end of an era. I’ve been coming here for over twenty-five years. My son, Joe, had his first haircut here. But this is the last time John will cut my hair. I’ll probably never see him again.

‘How’s the family? Your boy?’ he asks.

‘Bit of a madhouse as always,’ I say. ‘But Joe’s working hard. Saving up to go backpacking.’

I didn’t tell John that I’d recently discovered my nineteen year old son had been fired from his bar job for stealing money, and that it then dawned on me that I wasn’t going mad thinking that cash had been going missing from my wallet on a regular basis for a while now, and that I didn’t have the courage to tell my wife because we’d both know what this behaviour would tell us, and that my faith in my son was very much shaken. So I lied.

‘Ah, good. Good. Where’s he going?’, asked John.

‘Mostly central, southern Europe, I think. I’m not really sure. Originally he was talking about Spain, but the plans seem to change all the time. I think he wants to spend some time Croatia though. A bit cheaper.’

‘Ah, Croatia! Those girls will eat him alive eh?’

I smile. ‘I think that’s what he’s hoping for.’

What I was saying wasn’t all bullshit. Joe had recently talked about wanting to travel to Croatia. I’d suggested that he better fucking well stop stealing, work and save hard like a normal person, and not spend all of his money on getting wasted. Some of my ‘suggestions’ came out angrier than I intended. But I’ve had chats like this with Joe before. He’d be alright for a time but it wouldn’t last. What’s so disappointing about his latest effort is that he has, at least to my knowledge, been going well. He’d been working at the bar for four or five months. He was behaving himself. They liked him.

Usually something will piss Joe off and he’ll hit someone, or do a runner. The first facility Joe went to, he lost it when they tried to give him a blood test. Started swearing at the doctor and throwing things around. They kicked him out. The last time, we’d paid for this expensive place in the mountains, and he’d had a fight with a girl after he asked her for a cigarette. She’d refused and called him a ‘scab’, so Joe decided to flip a table over and walk out. Hitch-hiked back to the city. This happened on the first morning he was there. He arrived home just a few hours after us. Before Joe had lost the bar job, I thought he was on the way up. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t know anything.

John changes the clippers to a smaller setting, and begins tidying up around my ears and nape. I glance into the mirror and check out the decor for the five hundredth time, but take it in more closely because it’s the last. The room is narrow. Black and white checked linoleum floor. Beige laminex counter with two chipped pink porcelain sinks. The three barber chairs face the long mirror. Long straight razors sit in tall glass jars of blue disinfectant. Scissors and combs rest on small white towels. Electric clippers hang off hooks, and boxes of tissues and rolls of crepe paper lie within reach. On the wall behind me, old photographs of hair models wearing stone wash denim are pinned slightly out of level. An old poster has illustrations of the essential styles of the period – ‘The Continental’, ‘The Businessman’, ‘The Ivy League’, ‘The Crewcut’, ‘The Caesar’, ‘The Hollywood’. John has a glass display cabinet at the end of the counter containing a few crappy products for sale – a round plastic scalp comb, a couple of green cologne bottles, a tin of moustache wax, some nail clippers. They’ve been for sale since my first visit. A new design element is blue-tacked to the mirror in front of me. It’s a postcard of a voluptuous nude woman kneeling at the waters edge – her wet black hair reaching the small of her back. Her body’s facing away, but she looks alluringly over her shoulder – the promise of heavy breasts obscured. Blue water. Blue sky. Blazing sun. ‘HOLIDAY IN CRETE’ in embossed gold lettering is printed across the skyline. The postcard was as tacky as hell but it looked like heaven.

‘She’s new John’, I say.

‘Ah, yes, a friend sent it. I never saw anyone like that in Crete before – I’m waiting for her to turn around.’ We both share a laugh. John clears his throat. ‘Where’s he working?’ John asks.

‘Who?’

‘Joey, your boy.’

‘Just down the road. At Gus’, the butcher. Do you know him? He’s the father of one of the boys Joe used to play soccer with.’ This is true. I managed to talk Gus into taking Joe on.

‘Gus. Yes. I know him. He’s from Naxos. He’s closing down soon too. Supermarket’s taken his business. Your boy, he wants to be a butcher?’

’No. God no. He’s just helping out. Sweeping up, fetching meat from the fridge, that sort of thing. I’m not sure what he wants to be.’ I pull a hand out from under my cape and wipe my forehead. I feel hot.‘The last couple of years have been pretty tough,’ I add.

John stands upright and pauses. He shakes his head a little and gives me a ‘I-understand-but what-can-you-do?’ shrug, in the mirror. He’s had his own difficulties with his daughter. The old barber shuffles to the front of my chair and motions with his scissors if I want my eyebrows clipped. I decline. Glancing towards the back of the shop, I remind myself not to forget my jacket like last time. Too many things on my mind. Where my jacket hangs, there’s a couple of waiting chairs and a magazine table. Magazines you’d find in any barbershop around the world. Articles about the Royal family, how to jump like Michael Jordan, essential suits for Winter, celebrities who suicide, collectable wrist watches from the 60’s, the allure of the Maldives, and of course, how to get a six pack for Summer.

‘It’s good, he’s working, it’s good’ mutters John as he begins to lather up some shaving cream for my neck and beard-line. ‘You should be proud of your son. The world is full of so many bloody bastards.’

He tells me about his sister, an accountant, who does the books for one of the biggest brothel owners in the city. This fella owns four. ‘High class’, whatever that means. His sister says that eighty percent of the girls are on drugs. And these girls are beautiful. ‘Beautiful!’ He tells me how they take drugs to cope with the work, and how they hobble home exhausted at the end of their shift. But they find it hard to sleep, and have to take sleeping tablets to knock themselves out. Then they have to get back on it again the next day, to get their energy back. Prepare themselves for more men. He tells me many of the girls also sell drugs for the brothel owner – to the businessmen, the politicians, the lawyers, the doctors, the sportsmen of this city – the men who run the place, tell us how to live, laud it over us. And these girls take the drugs with them – dope, coke, ice, whatever – putting their income up their noses, into their lungs, into their arms. And then they’re in a loop. A blur. Only a few are able to save for their future, and get out before their looks fade and their value falls. One Russian girl his sister knew was different. Always in control. Strict. Driven. Never touched the drugs. Narrowed down her clients to those she could control and exploit – no weirdos. Saved like a demon. After eight years she had bought two apartments in the city and left the industry. But she was a unicorn.

John could be very chatty when he got on a roll. I was finding it difficult to keep my eyes open. The feeling of the straight razor scraping down my neck was exquisite, and my head lolled onto my chest. John lapsed into silence as he splashed some cologne onto his hands and rubbed them firmly over my neck and scalp. And that was that. Finished. He whipped off the cape and brushed me down.

‘All done’, he says. I ran my hand through the stubble around my jaw, over my head, and stood up. ‘Thanks John’, I said. I handed him twenty five bucks, and we shook hands. His grip was firm and his eyes were watery. I looked away. Thankfully there was a knock on the door. John broke from me to unlock it. It was Joe, my son, who must have finished his shift down the road at the butchers.

‘Hey Dad, saw you through the door,’ he says.

John hadn’t seen my son for years and was astonished by his six foot three frame. He clasped Joe’s wide shoulders and beamed, looking from me to Joe and back again, as if to locate some resemblance. Joe looked bemused.

‘So handsome! He must look like his mother, no?’ John joked. He turned to Joe. ‘Let me give you a haircut. A little trim.’

‘No, I’m good thanks’, replied Joe, ruffling his unruly thatch.

‘Come on Joey. Sit down, please. My treat,’ protested John.

‘Joe. Take a seat,’ I said, glaring at my son with firm insistence. Joe cottoned on that maybe he should sit.

‘Sure, why not,’ says Joe.

Joe sat down, just as he’d first done over fifteen years before. When he was a little boy. When his little feet dangled above the ground. I wandered over to the waiting chair, sat down and pulled out an old magazine. John fitted the white crepe paper around Joe’s neck, and fastened the cape. He placed his hands on my sons shoulders and locked eyes with him in the mirror.

‘So. What do we want today?’

Review | Rainsongs, by Sue Hubbard

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Sue Hubbard’s Rainsongs has a unique and beautiful emotive quality that shines through its delicately constructed prose in a love-letter to Ireland, memory and parenthood, taking advantage of its mature narrator to speak with resonance and depth. In a contemporary world of instant connections, Rainsongs returns to an age just prior to the boom of social media – 2007 – in an exploration of what it means to be truly alone.

Rainsongs is a book filled with characters who are alone, by circumstance and by choice. Martha Cassidy has lost her husband and only son; twice-divorced Eugene Riordan and farm devotee Paddy O’Connell eschew relationships, finding they are happier living on their own. Accounts of community, large families, childhood friendships, are all recalled, dreamlike, from a distant past. Permanent loneliness haunts the narrative as a threat, but it is from solitude that the most beautifully haunting and thoughtful reflections in the book arise. Whenever Hubbard’s varyingly anthropophobic characters do enter a social setting, such as Eugene’s New Year’s Eve party, Brendan’s funeral, or the various local pubs, bars and restaurants, other people in the crowd are sketched accurately but unflatteringly, reduced to their worst.

However, as the supplies in Martha’s cupboard dwindle at the beginning of each chapter, the unsustainability of hermitage becomes clear. Paddy ends up in hospital by attempting to pull a heifer out of a ditch alone, an impossible task. Martha, despite her disdain for the pity she detects in all her interactions, is forced to ‘stay connected’ by the PhD student who rents her top room, and even out in the country cottage in the middle of nowhere finds herself mobbed by undesired visitors, local families, Eugene. It is impossible to stay alone forever, as the monks who travelled out to the Skelligs found all those centuries ago.

Estranged from and disliking most other people, it is through writing that Hubbard’s narrator first finds community. The intertextuality of Rainsongs is established from its very beginning with opening quotes taken from Woolf, Shakespeare and Irish proverbs, which inspire and in some cases structure and speak through the novel. Martha Cassidy cannot relate to anybody around her but finds a companion in Mrs Ramsay, and notes that despite her childlessness, Virginia Woolf ‘understood’ her loss. Similarly, she finds that Shakespeare ‘understands’ the utopian promise of a desert island in his Tempest. Although this promise of utopia, as of the trip to the Skelligs, is ultimately empty, Martha discovers the possibility of human empathy and companionship through text.

Brendan, perhaps the only extrovert described in the novel and hauntingly absent, is only present through the words of his remaining diaries and letters, which open up a previously closed side of himself to his wife. This allows her to connect with him in a way she never could when he was alive, revealing his secrets, and highlighting her loneliness even when she was with him. Her burgeoning relationship with the young Colm Nolan hinges around the reading of his poetry, again providing an elsewhere non-existent insight into his true feeling. Still grieving, complicatedly, for Bruno, Martha unconsciously seeks out a boy protégé in Colm, much as Brendan did – without her knowledge – in his lifetime. In continuing his mission of getting his poetry published, she is able to complete their foreshortened joint parenthood, relating to Colm as the adult that Bruno never became. Hubbard handles the development of their relationship so sensitively that the questionable circumstances of their intimacy – the age difference, Martha’s recent widowhood and maternal void – do not cast a shadow over their relationship, rather illuminating a pure, emotional connection. It is poetry that acts as the catalyst for this, as the publication of Colm’s work, dedicated to Bruno, effects a change in Martha, allowing her to finally achieve closure. Eventually, she is able to reconsider her future, deciding to build a life teaching English to young refugees, refilling her role as teacher; the element of selfhood that she has been completely without for the first part of the novel, existing only in relation to the deceased men of her life. When she finally returns to the Skelligs, she is not alone but accompanied by her healed memories of Bruno and her newfound human connections, again effected through her language.

The subsequent self-awareness of Hubbard’s own writing as a mode of release lends it an especially powerful emotive quality. Her noted poetic style brings a unique rhythm to her prose, well suited to the romantic descriptions of the Irish countryside, but she is also a gifted storyteller. The combination of endearing details such as Paddy having used the same comb since childhood, together with eye-watering descriptions of the new-money luxury spa that Eugene plans to build and a cutting turn of phrase that sketches a couple as ‘the director of a string of local supermarkets and his heavily Botoxed wife’ bring two very different realities together at once, painting a convincing portrait of pre-recession Ireland. Politics barely surfaces, just existing in the background as Republican flags wave in pubs and children wear orange, white and green T-shirts to watch a football game; Hubbard is more interested in the everyday lives of her characters, and drinking champagne instead of Guinness becomes a motif that is aware of its own ironies. Empathy for refugees past and present targets questions of compassion and connection more than it does government quotas, and the EU is a seemingly independent fluctuating circumstance in the lives of the locals.

Hubbard’s book is about city and country, home and identity, love and loss, but it is in its traversal of the shaky balance between solitude and loneliness that it finds its unique voice, and champions the role of literature in an increasingly disconnected modern world.

Rainsongs is available online and in bookstores now.

LEAH SHAYA

Extending the Range of Pejoratives: Howard Jacobson’s Pussy

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Written in “a fury of disbelief” during the weeks that followed the unlikely election of Donald Trump, Howard Jacobson’s latest novel Pussy dramatizes the education and rise to power of Prince Fracassus, heir to the Duchy of Origen, until he begins to preside over the Republic of Urbs-Ludus.

The plotline is minimal but engrossing thanks to Jacobson’s spirited, arch tone and the seemingly effortless elegance of his style. Before he becomes the hero-villain-rapscallion of the story, we are given to witness Fracassus as a feisty little brat. It comes as no surprise that his parents have spared the brains and spoiled the child. Fracassus spends his golden childhood guzzling reality TV shows and casting himself in the role of Emperor Nero.

Perceiving finally that their son is growing into a self-centred vulgarian, the Duke and Duchess worry that Fracassus will be unfit for power. To avert this unseemly outcome, they hire Professor Probrius, a former University lecturer who has fallen prey to the rising tide of political correctness in the duchy.

Some of the most delightful satire in Jacobson’s novel is written at the expense of the current trend for PC. During the Great Purge of the Illuminati, Probrius is debarred from teaching at University because he is so eminent in his field that a body of students complains that they are “distressed by the perceived distance between his attainments and their own”. He is found guilty by a Thumb Court of “cognitive condescension” and abruptly fired from tenure. It’s a highly amusing take on the current spread of student revolts against the intellectual challenges of dialectical thinking through debate and disagreement in both America and Britain.

Fracassus’s other appointed tutor is Dr Cobalt, chosen for her icy manners by the Grand Duke himself to rein his son in and prepare him for the dignified and clear-minded exercise of power. The prince’s two mentors attempt to expand his miniscule vocabulary and shepherd him towards more behavioural subtlety, with sometimes baffling results. Fracassus is no easy pupil, having what Probrius calls “Tourette’s, without the Tourette’s”. The syndrome the child Fracassus is afflicted with actually seems closer to coprolalia, the compulsive utterance of inappropriate or obscene words.

Over time, Probrius manages to expand Fracassus’s vocabulary to include words like “classy”, which he begins to use on practically every occasion that pleases him with increasing relish. Jacobson occasionally lets slip some of his own lexical knowledge and rhetoric into Fracassus’s later utterances, almost inadvertently it seems, since he is at pains throughout the novel to underscore Fracassus’s stupidity.

For a writer with so much verbal and intellectual panache, it must have been a strain to depict Fracassus’s impoverished mindscape. Anthony Burgess, another vastly knowledgeable wordsmith, succeeded in limiting his vocabulary to parody the debasement of contemporary culture for the space of an entire novel in One Hand Clapping (1961), a task which Jacobson would no doubt find excruciating, given his unstoppable love of the rhapsodic phrase.

It’s been argued that Trump is so excessive, such a living caricature himself, that he is beyond parody, but Jacobson manages to up the ante with skill and panache. His comic fairy-tale rendering of Trump as a child is hilarious and deeply engaging, providing what Jacobson in interview has called “the comforts of satire”.

Jacobson’s mental and physical caricature of Trump (“His natural movement is a forward projection of a sort I’ve only seen on a bewildered primate”) is entertainingly illustrated by Chris Riddell’s silhouettes of Trump in diapers trailing a Barbie doll or an over-long tie between his legs.

While Jacobson is adept at showing how Trump has managed to appeal to the values of Dumbocracy, it was arguably a little bit of an easy way out to dumb Trump himself down. Dismaying as it is, Trump succeeded in getting to the White House largely through his cynical ability to sense the Zeitgeist and claptrap the ordinary working class man accordingly. The most alarming thing about him is that he is crafty, adaptable and intuitive.

By Erik Martiny


Howard Jacobson, Pussy, Jonathan Cape, £12.38 (208 pages)

 

Bram Bogart at the Saatchi Gallery

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Bram Bogart at the Saatchi Gallery

SALON, Saatchi Gallery’s commercial exhibition space, launched earlier this year with a fascinating show by the post-war Japanese artist, Tsuyoshi Maekawa, and in keeping with its policy of staging museum standard exhibitions by historically important artists, it is now presenting the work of the Dutch-born Belgian artist Bram Bogart (1921 – 2012).

Staged in collaboration with Mayfair’s Vigo Gallery, the show is entitled Witte de Witte,and is made up of nine rare monochrome or near monochrome works executed between 1952 and 2006, which, taken as a group, illustrate the artist’s dramatic and unique contribution to the canon of modernist painting.

Bogart is an artist associated with thickly physical colour – the works for which he is best known are rendered in bright, primary colours, reflecting the enduring influence of both Vincent van Gogh’s painterly idiom and Piet Mondrian’s compositional experimentation on his practice. The nine paintings in Witte de Witte, however, demonstrate a sense of tonal restraint and maturity of practice. Presenting work from the breadth of Bogart’s oeuvre, the exhibition strips back his practice to its elements, and demonstrates Bogart’s technical development and achievement over a more than fifty-year period.

Born in Delft, the Netherlands, Bogart originally trained at a local technical school as a house-painter. After the end of World War Two, he settled in Paris where he became one of the founding members of Art Informel, a group of abstract painters who focused on expression and intuition rather than geometrics. Bogart first worked towards an all-white picture in a series of semi-representational paintings he completed in the South of France in the late 1940s. These works were a response to the light and dust of the Mediterranean, and also the chalkiness of local buildings. Using techniques learnt in his youth, Bogart approximated the walls’ rough matte finish by mixing poster paint to his oils and letting the paint peel off to suggest exposure to the elements.

One of the earliest works in the exhibition, Differentes (1954) demonstrates the ever-increasing weight of material, a tendency toward thicker impasto and a more aggressive facture that would become Bogart’s mature style. Meanwhile, Signes sur Blanc / Witte Tekens (1952), while smaller is scale is no less dramatic.

Bram Bogart, Differentes, 1954, oil on canvas.
Photo Vigo Gallery

This work symbolises the beginning of Bogart’s experiment with monochrome. Made primarily in shades of white and grey, the piece alludes to a hint of muted Parisian blue. Despite the lightness of colour, one can feel the weight of the painting visually, as materials have been layered one on top of the other to create three-dimensional structure. Its surface is dashed and dotted with indentations of knots, crosses and lines, marks that are paradoxically both highly structured and organic in nature.

In 1961, Bogart relocated to Belgium with his wife Leni, coinciding with the development of a new resolution of gesture and material in his painting. Friends with Lucio Fontana – with whom he shared the desire to expand the structural boundaries of modern painting – during this time Bogart also met Willem de Kooning, and his paintings acknowledged the all-over structure and expansive scale associated with American Abstract Expressionism. Like Jackson Pollock, after 1960, Bogart painted on the floor, using a mix of oil, siccative, powdered chalk, varnish, and raw pigment applied to heavy wooden supports to ‘build’ his works. When viewed upright, Bogart’s slab-like pictures hold themselves together in way that actively denies gravity.

Bram Bogart, Sunday Mornings, 2007, mixed media. Photo Vigo Gallery

Bram Bogart, Variété, 1961, mixed media. Photo Vigo Gallery

A painting from this period, Variété (1961), is a bold conflation of sculptural relief and painting, of excessive dripping paint and heavily applied concrete. The work maintains, however, the scale of painting and the restrictions of a square or rectangular support.

A much later work, Sunday Morning (2007), appears comparatively more serene. Its soft peaks of white paint applied in Bogart’s characteristic impasto are juxtaposed with smooth, even layers of the same colour. When asked in an interview to recall the motivation for his monochromatic works, Bogart described them in terms of respite from colour. As he replied: ‘At that time, making a painting in one colour, whether white, black or brown gave me a form of restfulness in relation to the other paintings.’ Vacated of chromatic distraction, Bogart’s monochromes are both indulgent – reveling in the matter of paint – and refined. As a whole, Witte de Witte evidences Bogart’s more nuanced approach to postwar painting, and as such is a welcome contribution to his appreciation.

By Amani Noor Iqbal


 Witte de Witte, Saatchi Gallery, closes September 10th, 2017

 

Book Launch at Enitharmon: Stephen Romer and Alan Jenkins

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The light, bright space of Enitharmon bookshop in Bloomsbury was filled with jostlings and murmurings as more and more people tried to fit into the crowded gallery space. A double book launch was underway. Stephen Romer was here to celebrate his anticipated Set Thy Love In Order: New & Selected Poems, accompanied by Alan Jenkins and his soon-to-be-published White Nights, which will be available in the US.

Alan introduced the evening, calling attention to the ‘beautiful volumes of poetry, and beautiful livres d’artiste’ that surrounded us, his peppering of French a preview into much of the evening’s francophone flavour. He offers thanks to Stephen Stuart-Smith, Enitharmon’s director, for hosting the launch of two books that are not in fact published by the press – although Alan’s earlier Enitharmon collection Marine, written in collaboration with John Kinsella, was on display – and praises the ‘resplendent’ Set Thy Love In Order. Rather than read for a long time, Alan explains, he and Stephen will ‘do two little sets of poems each. I’ll read for a little while, Stephen will read for a little while, I’ll read for an even littler while, so you don’t have the opportunity to start finding either of our voices monotonous’. And afterwards, he promises, there will be ‘more wine!’

White Nights, Alan notes, is a book that has taken ‘more than the usual temerity’ to publish. It centres on translations from French literature, although there are also poems written after Italian and Spanish writers. Some of these are poems that Alan has been ‘working on or thinking about for a great many years’, and when he was invited by the US publisher Stanley Moss to bring out a book, he thought of these translations. ‘I’m not going to start an argument about translation’, Alan declares, before noting simply that the poems he has chosen to work with are not ‘obscure’ and, in many cases, have been much translated in the past. He is, therefore, indebted to these earlier versions. The poems are ‘mostly love poems, or after love poems, or failed love poems, or longing love poems – and they’re all poems that I’ve loved since first reading them’. Some of these first encounters occurred when Alan was a student, aged nineteen, and his translation work often stretches back to this time.

At this point, the reading is interrupted as yet more people attempt to squeeze into the white interior of Enitharmon. There are clatterings of glasses, chatterings, offerings and refusals of chairs, until the room is stilled once more and Alan begins his reading with ‘Christ in the Olive Grove’. The poem is ‘designated after Gérard de Nerval, but it’s actually a much reduced version of his sequence of sonnets – I’ve translated just three of the sonnets’, Alan explains. His reading is slow and deliberate, with an occasional conversational lilt, and he stands with the book resting lightly in his hands, leaning casually against the bookcase behind him. Afterwards, he reads a compact poem based on Stéphane Mallarmé’s ‘La Pipe’, answering requests from the audience for the page number. The mini-reading ends with ‘Classical Walpurgisnacht’, a poem based on a work by Paul Verlaine, but suggestive to Alan of Jules Laforgue. ‘I’m challenged and fascinated by this poem’, he says.

While the audience applauds, Alan deftly changes place with Stephen. Without pause, Stephen launches into a vervy performance of his poem ‘In the Sun’:

In the sun on my bed after swimming
In the sun and in the vast reflection of the sun on the sea
……….Under my window
And in the reflections and the reflection of the reflection
Of the sun and the suns on the sea
………..In the mirrors,
After the swim, the coffee, the ideas,
………..Naked in the sun on my light-flooded bed
………..Naked – alone – mad –
………………….Me!

‘That’s Valéry’, Stephen says with a bashful smile. He moves from images of a ‘light-flooded bed’ to a comment on the ‘flood of warmth I get from seeing all these lovely friends and colleagues here tonight’. Both Stephen and Alan are participating in the T. S. Eliot International Summer School running in Bloomsbury in the same week – many of the school’s students and scholars are in attendance at the reading – and Stephen notes that the title of his book is ‘not innocent’ in regard to Eliot. ‘La relations entre les sexes’, an Eliotic theme, is also of importance to him, he says, echoing Alan’s earlier sprinklings of French language. Stephen then reads ‘Resolve’ from his 1986 collection Idols, calling attention to the poem’s Laforguian references. His reading is dramatic, and it is clear that he enjoys his material. This is followed by ‘Primavera’, a poem that also flirts with French, containing both French and Italian terms as well as a reference to ‘spring in every language’.

After a further chair shuffle, Alan and Stephen once again exchange places. Alan also alludes to the T. S. Eliot School, recalling his opening lecture which addressed Eliot’s debt to Laforgue. The American poet was ‘completely taken over – ravished’ by Laforgue, Alan notes, in what was a ‘tremendous surrendering of his own selfhood’. ‘I felt something akin to that when I first read Laforgue’, he professes, ‘but of course I read Laforgue through Eliot’s eyes, or through Eliot’s sensibility’. Since then, he has worked on translations of Laforgue’s later poems, the Derniers Vers. ‘Winter Coming On’ is a version of the French poet’s ‘L’Hiver qui vient’, and ‘at the more faithful end’ of Alan’s translations:

Feelings under embargo! Freight and Cargo, Middle East!
Oh, the rain falling, and the night falling,
Oh, the wind! Oh, que c’est triste
Hallowe’en, Christmas and New Year –
All my chimneys – factory-chimneys – drizzled on; too drear…

You can’t sit down, all the benches are soaked;
Trust me, it’s over till next year.
The benches are all soaked, the woods mildewed, rust-choked,
And the hunt is calling…

And you, clouds come beetling up from the Channel coast:
You’ve spoiled our last Sunday for us. Toast.

Stephen finishes the evening with further French-inflected poems, including ‘Arbbre de Bhoneur’, written for his son, and ‘Yellow Studio’, which he liltingly interrupts to declare the page number for the keen reader-listeners among the audience. As the reading ends, listeners weave like fish in a crowded sea to the piles of books at the back of the gallery space, energised by their encounter with multiple languages, versions of poems, and ways of performing.

Suzannah V. Evans


Book Launch at Enitharmon: Stephen Romer and Alan Jenkins
Enitharmon Editions, 10 Bury Place, Bloomsbury, 12 July 2017

 

Interview | At the Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet with Michael Joseph

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Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet, The Banquet, 1968 © Michael Joseph

Beggars Banquet is the album that changed everything for the Rolling Stones,’ the band state on their official website, rollingstones.com, ‘the band truly came into their own, and the Rolling Stones’ music of today is a reflection of what happened in the studio in 1968, they reached their musical manhood.’ For such an epochal album it is entirely appropriate that the photographs that the band commissioned to accompany it from the photographer, Michael Joseph, are equally significant, widely considered to be amongst the best photographs taken of them. The images, currently on show at Proud Chelsea, carry an extraordinary, multi-layered power and beauty. They have an arresting and dramatic painterly quality to them, an evocation of the work of Old Masters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel – whom Joseph cites as particular inspirations – in the interior shots and George Stubbs in the exterior ones whilst also taking inspiration as Joseph explains, from the photographs of the 1960s design and photography partnership, Horn/Griner, and ‘the wackiness of William Klein not least with his use of including 35mm edgings into the image’.

The shoot took place over two days, Friday the 7 and Saturday the 8 June 1968, at two locations, Sarum Chase in Hampstead, north west London, and Swarkestone Hall Pavilion, Derbyshire. At the time the Rolling Stones were in the midst of recording Beggars Banquet‘s opening and perhaps most famous track, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. The recording sessions – which are documented in Jean-Luc Goddard’s film, One Plus One – had begun three days earlier at Olympic Sound Studios in Barnes, south west London, and would continue for three days after the photographic shoot. Of all the tracks on the album it also seems appropriate that it was this that the band were recording concurrent with the photographs as it is as equally multi-layered and unconventional as Joseph’s photographs, with an epic historical sweep and musical a style and diverse inspirations including, as Jagger cites in the 2012 documentary, Crossfire Hurricane, Baudelaire, Bob Dylan, and Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, of which Marianne Faithful had given Jagger a copy of the first English translation which had been published the year before.

Sarum Chase, coincidentally adding another layer to the painterliness of the photographs, had been the home and studio of the portraitist and painter of historical and ceremonial events, Frank O. Salisbury. The architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner, described the 1930s neo-Tudor mansion as, ‘pure Hollywood Tudor’, and the scene that greeted the band in the mansion’s great hall when they arrived at the location sounds akin to a Cecil B. DeMille Hollywood film set, as Joseph says:

When the Stones arrived punctually at 11am, I was coaching the animals – a goat, a sheep, a cat and three variously sized dogs – with my megaphone, my Sinar 10×8 large format camera was on an impressive monopod and we had very impressive lighting, a giant swimming pool light on a tall stand and a few strobe strips at odd angles, and the table dressed with bizarre stuffed animals, food including a suckling pig and luckily a few bottles of a very good claret that I had from a previous shoot. They were awestruck!

The location had been sourced and dressed by the stylist for the shoot, Jackie Crier, who also dressed the band in their fabulous tatterdemalion attire evoking a striking mix of seventeenth-century Commedia dell’Arte characters and eighteenth-century Dickensian ne’er-do-wells by way of 1960s Swinging London flourishes. Indeed in their review of Beggars Banquet on its release in December 1968 Time magazine no doubt inspired by Joseph’s photographs described the Rolling Stones as, ‘England’s most subversive roisterers since Fagin’s gang in Oliver Twist‘. The band’s roistering reputation may also have informed the conversation Joseph had when he went to recce the location with a representative of the British Council of Churches to whom Salisbury had bequeathed Sarum Chase on his death in 1962. Joseph was concerned that the banquet and animals might leave a mess but the B.C.C.’s only concern, he says, ‘was if there might be “ladies” in it’. When Joseph questioned him further about this he says the reply was, ‘”Well, Mr Joseph, if any of the ladies are naked we charge £10 extra”‘.

Crier and Joseph had been introduced by David Puttnam, now Baron Puttnam, who at that time had a photographic agency and represented them both alongside other photographers including David Bailey and Brian Duffy. Joseph and Puttnam had first met when the latter was working at Collett Dickenson Pearce & Partners (CDP), a glamorous and highly influential advertising agency which played a key role in the cultural shifts of the 1960s and whose alumni include Charles Saatchi, Sir Alan Parker and Sir Ridley Scott. Joseph began photographing high profile advertising campaigns for CDP in the mid-1960s continuing through to the 2000s for clients including Benson and Hedges, Christies, Nivea, Pirelli and Schweppes. One campaign which Joseph cites as bringing to the attention of the Rolling Stones was for White Horse whisky:

My White Horse campaign was so wacky for 1965, one shot featured Paulene Stone in a  white bathtub  in a lavish set with a white horse breathing down her neck, another featured a panelled boardroom scene, which inadvertently had a Mick Jagger lookalike sitting on the table, surrounded by advisors, smoking cigars and a white horse at the head of the table. I don’t think any other photographer had such wacky stuff at the time.

With only two hours to photograph the band on the first day and live animals in the mix as well Joseph decided to utilise the megaphone technique that he had perfected photographing ten different sized dogs for a Lufthansa campaign just prior to the Beggars Banquet shoot. ‘I made all sorts of noises through the megaphone to keep them amused and they obeyed me implicitly,’ he says, ‘luckily the Stones also behaved likewise! They could relax and I’d shoot on “three” and a few odd noises later!’

Mick & Chick, 1968
© Michael Joseph

That the Rolling Stones were enjoying the process of working with Joseph is borne out by Mick Jagger inviting Joseph and his girlfriend at the end of the first day to travel to the next day’s location in his car. ‘He has two jump seats in his Daimler,’ Joseph recalls, ‘and most of the two hour journey up the newly opened M1 was spent racing the rest of the band in a similar Daimler to Swarkestone Hall Pavilion!’ The seventeenth-century pavilion stands in a large field called The Cuttle near the ruins of Swarkestone Hall. The exact purpose of the building is a subject of conjecture but it may have been a grandstand, summerhouse, or appropriately for the shoot a banqueting house. In racing to the location they arrived quite a while before Crier who was travelling in a van with both the Sinar camera and the props for the shoot. The bonhomie continued as Joseph explains that he was, ‘immensely pleased how co-operative everyone was in shooting numerous little cameos with my Hasselblad, which I thought could be useful, but were also to keep the Stones occupied whilst we waited as I felt if given a chance they may scarper to a local pub and never come out!’

The shots that Jospeh had planned for the Swarkestone location were intended to to be for the cover of Beggars Banquet. When Crier arrived they shot the back cover shot first, the band playing cricket in the long grass of the field. In the background she and Joseph place a white, three-legged piano which she had discovered. The piano is both wonderfully incongruous in the rural scene but also adds to the narrative allure of the photographs as though the band have emerged the morning after a decadent banquet. The final shot of the shoot was to have been the front cover and features the Rolling Stones lying in the grass in front of the pavilion with smoke atmospherically pouring from its windows. A little while after he lit the smoke bombs, Joseph says, ‘we heard a police siren wailing and then two jovial coppers came over to say they’d had a fire reported, but they were pleased to see the band posing – sadly they left before I had a chance to ask them to be in the shot!’

Although these photographs were intended to be the cover images a disagreement between the band and the record company meant that not only were neither used but the image that the band put forward instead – a graffitied toilet – was also not used until the album was reissued. When the album was released in December 1968 it appeared in a purely typographic cover styled like an invitation: ‘Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet RSVP’. Joseph’s photograph from Sarum Chase of the band around the banqueting table was used however in the sleeve’s gatefold. Although it was not entirely as Joseph had planned. Overnight, between the two shoot days, he had one of his photographs of the scene, which he had shot on Kodak Kodalith, a super high contrast 35mm black and white film, printed up and whilst having tea after shooting the final shot at Swarkestone he showed the print to Jagger. ‘Did Mick go over the moon!’, Joseph says, ‘He had never seen anything like it. But he felt it was boring in black and white, so he took it away and to my horror he hand-coloured it very garishly…’ Jagger’s hand-coloured version of the photograph is how it appeared on the album sleeve and, as Joseph concludes, ‘the rest is history’.

Historical perspective adds another layer to Joseph’s beautiful and extraordinary photographs. It is fascinating to see the Rolling Stones so relaxed, at play, in many ways in celebratory mood at the tipping point of the tracks and album that became their ‘coming of age’. But there is also a poignancy – perhaps an element of the last summer of youth – compound by the fact that less that a year after the shots were taken Brian Jones had died. That said the photographs are both of the their time, but equally stand out of their times with a transportive quality that immerses one.

By Guy Sangster-Adams


Beggars Banquet: Photographs by Michael Joseph
Proud Chelsea (www.proudonline.co.uk)
Until 30 July 2017

You Must Change Your Life – The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin by Rachael Corbett

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You Must Change Your Life is an enthralling exploration of the complex relationship between two creative giants of art and literature, drawn together in Paris at the birth of a new century. Rachel Corbett has successfully melded the natural flair and élan of her own writing with exemplary research into her subject. There is always a danger the ardent biographical explorer may fatally slip into a crevasse of overkill or verbosity, not so Corbett, who sustains the reader’s interest through intellectual rigour, elegance, and above all empathy. Corbett’s work also introduces neglected names such as the important sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel and Theodore Lipps, whose pioneering work on empathy or einfühling, (‘thinking into’) fed into Rilke’s creation of a new form of poetry, articulating that essence which lies beneath the surface, as in a Rodin sculpture.

Although the story concerns the trajectory of the companionable and inspiritive yet sometimes nimbus clouded relations between Rilke and Rodin, the interweaving travails of their wives and friends decisively enrich the book, casting a less gilded light on the pair. But it is Rodin’s deleterious behaviour which proves most unsettling. Corbett focuses on the women in their orbit, in Rilke’s case the gifted painter Paula-Modersohn Becker and sculptor Clara Westhoff, (as friend and wife respectively), their fraught passage to independence alongside Rilke’s painstaking ascendency. Corbett is empathic towards these free spirits labouring to extricate themselves from the thicket of male dominated culture, yet thankfully she does not romanticise.

Corbett sketches Rodin’s advance over the desiccated terrain of reactionary criticism. We see the bullish sculptor organically immersed in his materials and more often his models, the authentic outsider, face pressed against the glass of the salons awaiting admittance. We pass through the Gates of Hell, into the Balzac and Zola intrigues, are borne on the Camille Claudel storm wave and on to his encounter with the melancholy young poet who arrives in Paris bearing the uncomfortable embryo of an impulsively initiated family life. Desperate for creative re-alignment, Rilke loiters at Meudon enduring the sculptor’s domestic maelstrom in order to access the atelier and its secrets. Mesmerised by Rodin’s physicality, ‘Rilke noted the way the sculptor would lunge at his sculptures, the floor creaking and moaning under his heavy feet. He would fix his eyes on a detail and zero in so close that his nose pressed up against the clay…’ Rodin’s proffered panacea to his disciple of ‘travailler, toujours travailler’ becomes mantra to the poet until Rilke gradually awakens to the danger of humanistic petrification if taken verbatim.

Rilke gains most, evolving through the governing prism of Rodin’s presence and Paris. Rodin, immortalised in his undisputed greatness, remains fossilised in human terms, a man who counselled ‘sedating one’s own children, should they prove distracting from the pursuit.’ Rodin’s brutal unjust sacking of Rilke as personal secretary is a watershed moment. Yet ultimately the master and one-time disciple are reconciled, and set to repolishing the now dulled treasure of their friendship when both men share a residence in the intriguing ‘lost domain’ of the legendary Hotel Biron. Rodin withdraws, snubs modernity and clinging defiantly to classicism is brashly rejected by minimalist parvenus like Brancusi. Rilke must now master fame himself, or ‘that collection of misunderstandings that gather around a name.’ Proof of his unswerving attachment to Rodin is laid bare in the acclamatory dedication he chooses, tellingly penned in French not German, for the Neue Gedichte Anderer Teil (1908) ‘À mon grand ami Auguste Rodin’.

By Will Stone


You Must Change Your Life – The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin, by Rachel Corbett (Norton New York/London, 2016), $26.95- £20.00

Review | Exhilarating Magus: Myth and Poetics in Stephen Yenser’s Stone Fruit

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Stone Fruit, Stephen Yenser’s highly anticipated third collection published by Waywiser, dazzles, delights, and enchants with its wordplay, predilection for sound effects, and linguistic brilliance. Profound and beautiful, meticulous, bristling with erudition, it sizzles with versatility and sophistication. Both modern and timeless, it resonates into past centuries, at times elliptical, at times mythic, the work of a maestro at the top of his craft.

Yenser’s debut volume, The Fire in All Things, was selected by Richard Howard to receive the 1992 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. Blue Guide, his second, was published in 2006.

The poems in Stone Fruit span wide geographic distances, from the California Joshua Desert to the Cycladic Islands in Greece, from Kansas to Massachusetts, via various locales in Los Angeles, and are to be savored, “Lost as the map, with no directions to follow / Except those of deranged Joshua trees, / And rootless, extravagant as tumbleweed.” We can hear echos of Emily Dickinson’s “Done with the Compass — / Done with the Chart!” Yenser makes for a very unusual travel guide — constantly surprising with unabashed and contagious joie de vivre — whose range is astonishing. Here we encounter personal, lyrical, and meditative, as well as political and ekphrastic poems, along with a couple of exquisite translations from Hölderlin.

The book was written in part in memory to James Merrill, who was a friend. With J. D. McClatchy, Yenser serves as co-literary executor of Merrill’s estate and co-edited Merrill’s Collected Poems, Collected Prose, Collected Novels and Plays, The Changing Light at Sandover, and Selected Poems. He is at work on Merrill’s Selected Letters.

Yenser also pays tribute to Emily Dickinson in the delightful poem “The Relic,” which relates Yenser’s visit to Amherst library, where a lock of Emily Dickinson’s hair has been preserved in box, “a casket / that opens brashly on the lock of hair: a curl of bright auburn / (“bold, like the Chestnut Burr, …”

Yenser is a mesmerizing orator to boot, providing delightful anecdotes. If you have a chance to hear him read, by all means do. He confided impishly that he was dying to touch the hair, and nobody would have known. “An urgent yearning, an awful favor / rises … I’m dying to ask it.” At the reading, he shared that maybe if you touch it, you don’t get the poem. He got the poem instead, lucky for us.

I have to admit that, being half Greek, I am partial to the poems set in the Aegean, on the islands of Sifnos and Santorini. Yenser has an affinity for Greece where he has spent quite some time. The poem “Cycladic Idyll: An Apologia” is a compendium of reasons why he keeps returning. It starts, tongue in cheek, with an epigraph uttered by his friend William Edinger: “I don’t know why you don’t just go over to Catalina.” The list is vast and lends itself to all sorts of puns and verbal acrobatics, starting with the rhyming opening lines: “I come here for the views. / I come because there is no news.” It keeps building, thanks to Yenser’s particular wit and stylistic precision, and growing in emotional depth to explore history and etymology.

I come to be alone. Because I am alone. Out of season. Like the
______few midges left. Adrift on a stony island no known poet
______hails from. Enisled. Outlandish as that term. (Annihiled
______is different but only by a smidge.)

To remind myself how simple things can be. Simple as the music
______of the marble figures of the harpist—and the unique
______double-reed player.

Not to mention concepts. To remind myself how when it comes
______to things like concepts, Heraclitus and Plato had all we
______would ever need. (Pythagoras I set aside for now.)

“Cycladic Idyll: An Apologia” is eleven pages long. The second section — of six — is dedicated to Edward Lear, best known for such works as The Book of Nonsense, including the famous “Owl and the Pussycat”. Lear was also a landscape painter. The Gennadius Library in Athens owns two hundred of his Greek sketches and watercolours.
“…
Because even this delicate, vehicular medium meant fixity, his
______nemesis, so in hopes that glazed and scumbled oils
______could get the shifty shades right, he jotted in light pencil
______across the images descriptions, shot through with nonce
______terms and puns fleeting as pains taken, rubbed and
______faded, sometimes indecipherable, wishful notes written
______on washes disappearing before our eyes, which follow
______them, into sea, cliff, olive stand, distant temple, dovecote,
______asphodel.

‘catch gold grass’ ‘all turquoisy & Byzantine Bluesy’ ‘O
_______poopies!’ ‘very olivish’”

Yenser also pays homage to Walt Whitman: “I come here to sit at length and read some Whitman, who adored / words plain as stones, regardless of those exultant / exaltations of ‘eidolons’.” According to Merriam Webster, an eidolon is a “an unsubstantial image, a phantom.” Wikipedia describes it as “a spirit-image of a living or dead person; a shade or phantom look-alike of the human form.” Yenser’s vocabulary is so rich that I picked up several new words along the way. The book is haunted by the presence of many poets and artists, starting with the cover painting of St. Jerome by Leonardo Da Vinci, as well as by “hard men faceless and various as the stones themselves” who have labored over the years to build stone walls.

Through ingenious repetitions, the poem becomes a celebratory ritual, a prayer, whose lyricism reaches a crescendo in the last stanzas, leaving us breathless:
“…
And I am in over my head again, where it all flows, beginning with
_______the simplest language, where once some tongue-slip led to
            slime then slid along to loam and lime and then oblivion,

While even stone is hardly faster, sea creatures secreting shells
______whose limestone pressed to marble harbors streaming
______linen.

I come back because I cannot stay away. Because I cannot stay.
______Because I must.

I come back to leave. Not to leave a mark, either. To take it,
______rather. Like a vow. A vow of silence, say.

Or just a volta, the evening turn along the littoral that turns
______imaginal beneath my feet. To take it and to leave it, then.
______To leave my take—as pirates and directors have it—and to
______take my leave away.”

To read Stephen Yenser’s audacious poetry is to enter a liminal world, where music and memory mingle, and aesthetic vibrancy pulsates with rhythmic magic. The titular fruits encountered in the book are the date (in “Cycladic Idyll: An Apologia” and in “Post Avant Pastoral”), the blackberry and the apricot (in “Preserves”), the cherry (in Hija for Emerson’s Birthday), and the olive (in “Cycladic Idyll: An Apologia” and “Psalm in Sifnos”). “Stones” are a leitmotif throughout the book, present 26 times in different forms in seven of the poems (sometimes they also appear as marble as in “Cycladic Idyll: An Apologia” and “Old Man in a Waterfront Taverna”), and are referencing “Whitman, who adored words plain as stones,” as well as walls, the fruit of hard labor, and sculptures in graveyards:

“I come here to address not deconstruction but myself.

To address myself to the oregano (a whiff on the breeze nostalgic
______and heady as skunk) cropping up beside the ubiquitous
______retaining walls and boundary walls,

Built of the ubiquitous stone, culled from the fields, or axed
______and levered out of outcrops, sometimes faced or split,
______sometimes filled with scrabbled up rubble, fitted,
______mortarless, tight as puzzle pieces,

Built with what would now be tortuous lifting, hugging, and
_______lugging, done under the long, low sun over decades,
_______decades of decades, the stones settling in subtly, row on row,

Adamant and indistinct as the years themselves, by hard men
_______faceless and various as the stones themselves.
According to lore, the discontented among them come back at
_______night during autumn to fields pitch dark beneath the vast
broadcast of stars

To monitor their work, to make repairs to those boundaries that
_______are their bonds with this world.

Each has many, many headstones, none with a name.

They did not (O, onanistic onomastician!) make names for
______themselves, those men,

But wallstones, and courses of them, since stone by stone makes
_______a wall, and walls make farming, and farming, homes.

Homes they went back to at dusk and maybe beat their women
______in, in the unbeatable heat, and maybe had hard or fearful
______sex in, as the parching meltémi lashed the night and the
______fishermen’s lashed-up boats apart,

And anyway yelled things they sometimes did not think could be
_______set down in words,

Who set these stones they harvested in place for all but ever.”

It is worthwhile noticing that St Jerome appears petrified on the cover painting, “where Leonardo’s oil turns stone / his painstakingly underpainted / saint, face anguish-lit, his man / in the moon reflecting radiance”.

The definition of a stone fruit, or drupe, is a fruit with a stone or pit inside. Inside the stone is the seed. They are named thus because the seeds keep their covering. In such a way the book reveals itself to be an ode to rebirth. “The poetry of the earth is never dead,” wrote Keats. These stones are alive and speak to us through time. “It is poetry that constitutes our deepest memoir,” confides Thomas McCarthy in Merchant Prince. Indeed, Stone Fruit, astounding and revelatory, radiates with Stephen Yenser’s intense genius. This is a mesmerizing opus by a masterful poet.

“Psalm on Sifnos,” the last poem of the collection, encapsulates the spirit of the book and closes with distilled language, also naming the tamarisk, a favorite of the god Apollo and known for hoarding light, water and nutrients (the goddess Ninsun, Gilgamesh’s mother, bathed in a bath of tamarisk before he began his conquest), and the mastic tree, cultivated for its aromatic resin:

“One wants at last
to cede the field
to tamarisk
and mastic tree,
To olive and stone,
Stones in the fruit,
Seeds in the stone.”

Stephen Yenser’s extraordinary scholarship includes three critical books (Circle to Circle: The Poetry of Robert Lowell; The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merrill; and A Boundless Field: American Poetry at Large. He is distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was director of Creative Writing. He curates the Hammer Poetry Readings Series at the Hammer Museum.

by Hélène Cardona


Hélène Cardona is a poet, literary translator, and actor, the recipient of numerous awards including a Hemingway Grant and the International Book Award. She is the author of three collections, most recently Life in Suspension and Dreaming My Animal Selves (both from Salmon Poetry); and four translations: Beyond Elsewhere (Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, White Pine Press), Ce que nous portons (Dorianne Laux, Editions du Cygne), The Birnam Wood (by José Manuel Cardona), and Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for the Iowa International Writing Program’s WhitmanWeb. Cardona’s work has been translated into 14 languages.

She has taught at Hamilton College and Loyola Marymount University. Publications include Washington Square Review, World Literature Today, Poetry International, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Dublin Review of Books, The Brooklyn Rail, Drunken Boat, Asymptote, The Warwick Review and elsewhere.


Stone Fruit, Stephen Yenser, The Waywiser Press, Oct 2016, 96pp, £9.99 (paperback)

Short Story Competition 2016 | An interview with Max Porter

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With just over a month until our Short Story Competition 2016 closes, we spoke to judge Max Porter and found out about which writer never fails to inspire him, which three books he’d take if he were stranded on a desert island, and what advice he’d give to this year’s competition entrants.

 

What are you currently reading? If it’s not fiction, what fiction have you recently read and enjoyed?

I’m reading Lian Hearn’s Japanese adventure series Shikanoko, Eileen Myles’ I Must Be Living Twice, and some Peter Stamm short stories.

And what specifically did you like about it?

I like the very controlled and worthwhile magic realism in Lian Hearn’s books, and the sex, and the painterly way she has with violence. They’re hugely entertaining and I need that because I ‘literary fiction’ all day every day.

What is your favourite short story, and why is it your favourite?

That’s a horrible question and I refuse to answer it. Oh OK. On Monday it was The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. On Tuesday it was The Swimmer by John Cheever. On Wednesday it is The Country Funeral by John McGahern. Thursday The Early Deaths of.. by Jesse Ball. And so on.

I’d choose The Lottery for a space capsule I suppose. Because it is devastating, exquisitely well designed, witty, political, mythic. It tells vast truths quickly and with poise. It is perfect.

Which writer’s work can you always rely on to inspire your creative process?

Angela Carter.

If you were stuck on a desert island and you could only take three books, which three would you take?

Refuse to answer. Ok, Odyssey, Shakespeare and a massive cheat Poetry anthology.

What advice can you give entrants to the Short Story Competition 2016?

You should let the story do what it needs to do and not corral it harmfully into another shape. Stories are lethal tools, let it be. Consider how many we’ll have to read and show us quickly why we need to pay attention to yours. Do not waste one single word. Finish well, all the greats do.

 


Max PorterMax Porter is an editorial director of Granta and Portobello Books. His authors include Han Kang, Eleanor Catton, Ben Marcus, Sarah Moss and Caroline Lucas. His debut novel Grief is the Thing With Feathers was published in 2015. It won the International Dylan Thomas Prize and will be translated into 23 languages. He lives in South London with his family.

The London Magazine Poetry Prize 2016 | Winners

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Thank you so much to everyone who entered The London Magazine‘s Poetry Prize 2016. The standard of entries was extremely high but our judges, Rebecca Perry and Andrew McMillan, have made their choices and we are delighted to announce the winners:

First place: ‘They Don’t Make Gods for Non-Believers’ by Patrick Errington

Second place: ‘Kira’ by Aaron Fagan

Third place: ‘The Truth About Figs’ by Angela Carr

Each of these poems will be published in the October/November Issue of The London Magazine as well as online. The winners will be awarded their prizes at a ceremony held at the Collyer Bristow gallery in London later this month.

We would also like to extend a special mention to those who were shortlisted, your poetry also impressed our judges and magazine staff:

Shortlist:
an eternal & – Mary Jean Chan
Amber – Rachel Bower
Baton – Theresa Lola
Bridges – Natalie Burdett
Carol (and her wing girl), Summer 1976 – Estelle Goodwin
Delivery – Eleanor Hooker
Divisions, Approximately – Ralf Webb
Drishti – Paul Nemser
From A Table – Craig Bregman
Harmony – Aaron Fagan
Living With Bluebeard – Lesley Sharpe
My Father Shows Me His Knuckles – Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Orbis Alius / Other World – Eadaoin Lynch
Sonnet – Alexander Shaw
Syrian Woman, Berlin 2015 – Joan Michelson
The Last Woman Born On The Island – Sharon Black
Three Other Ways To Look At Venice – Julie Irigaray

Thanks also to our longlist, as selected by Theophilus Kwek, whose poem ‘What Follows’ was chosen for third place in the Poetry Competition 2015.

Longlist:
Natalya Anderson, Elaine Beckett, Kaddy Benyon, Mary Jean Chan, Elaine Cosgrove, Annmarie Drury, Robin Durnford, Mike Harding, Tania Hershman, Jack Houston, Wes Lee, Ali Lewis, Amelia Loulli, Jill Munro, Rachel Piercey, Bethany Pope, Lesley Saunders, Lavinia Singer, Miriam Sully, Sarah Watkinson

 

Two Wives and a Widow by Angela Carter

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From The London Magazine March 1966

Two Wives and a Widow
A modern version from the Middle Scots of William Dunbar

If one night in the year is romantic,
that night is Midsummer’s Eve. Such a night, it was…
about midnight, I went out by myself and came
to a flower garden behind a hawthorn hedge. On a bough,
this crazy bird was splitting its sides,
singing. And such a scent of flowers.
The grass wet with dew, the nightingales shouting.
A night for lovers. Alone as I was,
lonely, I was. Then I heard voices,
loud, laughing voices talking in the garden.
It was a party. Whose party? So I climbed into the hedge
(though the thorns hurt dreadfully) and peered
through the branches.
—————- I saw three women
with flowers in their long, yellow hair, loose hair
hanging over their shoulders. They smoothed their green dresses
with long, white fingers—such beautiful women,
such sweet and gentle faces. Three human flowers
among the roses, the lilies. Two were married, I knew them—
respectable, fashionable. The other a widow.
They had a table in front of them,
with bottles and glasses,
they sat talking and drinking. And the more they drank,
the more they talked.
They talked freely.
—————- Yes, freely.

‘Now,’ said the widow, ‘we’re all girls together.
Let’s play the truth game, nothing
but the truth. About husbands, our husbands,
and marriage.
—————- Both of you
married out of the schoolroom; any regrets?
Or did you put away pleasure
with your wedding dresses, find you’d eaten it up
with the wedding cake and not a crumb left?
What about other men?
Would you choose different if you had the chance?
And how about
the ” ’til death do us part” bit?’

One woman, elegant, she was, refined, said :
`Marriage !’ and she spat.
`They call it blessed but I say it’s hell!
I’d leave him tomorrow, if I had the chance!
A change is as good as a rest, they say;
you certainly need a rest from marriage.
—————- Why should it
last more than a year?
Why should two people stay
tied together when all the time they pull
—————- in different ways?
You know the old story—how the birds
pick a new friend each year.
The birds know the score !
—————- Us girls
would be in clover if we could have
a nice new boyfriend any time we liked
—————- and send the ones
who didn’t come up to scratch packing
wit h a kick in the backside!
Oh, how I’d dress tip
and go alit and about, theatres, concerts, parties,

peacocking about, showing myself off
where all die young men were. I’d shop around
for someone to keep me warm at nights
—————- and then go window-shopping
for next year’s boy. And he could stand in
on the current one’s off-nights, when he couldn’t
make it. I’d go for young boys, pretty boys,
but—you understand—capable. I’d gobble them all up,
bones and all.

I’m tied to a shadow, a worm, a blind old man
so shagged out he can’t do anything but talk. He’s nothing
but a bagful’ of snot.
He can’t even keep his trousers clean. He’s always
scratching himself, scratching everywhere, no shame –
it’s disgusting.
I could burst into tears when he kisses me.
His five o’clock shadow bristles like pig-hide (but its
the only thing about him that can stand up to attention—
if you get my meaning.)
—————- He’s always talking-
oh, he can jabber away all night. But when we get down to it,
it’s a fiasco. When he gets hold of me, it’s as bad
as if some nigger bastard were jumping on me.
But I can’t get away from him.
—————- Christ!
He’s got some horrible habits,
the dirty old devil.
When he starts smirking with the love-light in his eyes
(he’s got big sores all round his eyes,
they weep with pus) I could vomit all over him.
He grins and fidgets away
like a poxed old cart-horse sniffing after the mares.
But when that doddering old fool fancies a bit,
then I really get on my high horse, I do.
He can never get one hand fumbling up between my legs without putting the other in his pocket.
Though he’s never a bit of good to me in bed, I get what satisfaction I can from his cheque-book,
—————- the morning after.
Even if he’s mad for it,
I won’t let him near me until he promises me a present—
a nice silk scarf, or a pretty new dress, or maybe a ring.
Or else he’s got to go and whistle for it.
But in spite of it all, he’s a bad bargain;
he always botches the job.

He’s jealous, too, and spiteful. He’s always on the watch
in case I’m getting up to mischief on the sly.
He’s been randy enough in his time, he knows all the tricks.
And he’s dying to catch me out in one of them.
He knows all right
that youth calls to youth (as they say)—
and I could rub up against him for a year and a day
and never come.

Pray God you girls don’t get a husband like mine!’

How they all laughed when she finished,
and had another round of drinks.
The widow wiped her mouth and said to the other woman,
`How about you? How do you get on? Don’t
spare us the gory details!
And I’ll into the witness box after you
and tell all.’

`Now you just keep quiet about my affairs,’ said the second,
`not a word to a soul ! Thank God, no eavesdroppers.
Right.
Out with all the poison, it’ll do me good.
He’s a drag, a slag, a nothing, my husband.
I hate him. Yes, truly hate him.
Oh, he’s young, yes, and handsome, yes—
and he used to be a great one for women, always
rolling about in some tart’s bed. But that was
before I knew him.
—————- And the consequence was,
he’s sucked dry!
His thing is useless, worn out,
like an old boot that’s been walked to death.
Oh, we’ve been to all the doctors, massage, pills, hormones,
psychoanalysis, even—but no joy.
And would you believe it, he still tries it on!
I’ve even found him trying to screw some pick-up
in my own bed.

Not that he’s got a chance. But he dresses so nicely, he’s
got such a way with him, a real ladies’ man—you’d think
he’d be at it all the time. He’s always bragging
how he can make a girl come ten times without stopping.
Words, all words.
—————- He’s like a dog
who can’t stop sniffing the bushes, cocking
his leg though he doesn’t want a pee.
But, as I said, he’s handsome. Tall, dark and handsome—
dreamy. To look at.
When we got married and me so young, I thought
I’d got a gem, a jewel—but he turned out
just so much shining rubbish.

—————- Yes, I remember
what they say about the birds choosing new mates
every year, on Valentine’s day, isn’t it pretty.
If I could do like them, I wouldn’t wait
until February—I’d have my legs round a new man’s waist
and who cares what the neighbours say?

It was my family pushed me into it, damn them all—
and me so innocent, eager
for my pleasure (who isn’t? that’s
human nature !) I can’t sleep
for brooding. Sometimes I cry.
Then he takes me in his arms (and, oh God, I can’t help but feel
his flabby prick !) and he says: “Poor little love!
Can’t she sleep?” I’m scared he’ll try
something—you know—unnatural if all else fails
so I say, “No, darling, don’t touch,
I’ve got the heartburn.”
—————- Too true.
There’s a fire in my heart.
But I’ve got to grin and bear it although I can’t stand him.

The girl who’d suit him is one of the flinching kind
who’s scared of it, thinks it hurts
like Mummy told her. She’d never have a moment’s worry!
Well, I wish he’d married a girl like that,
who’d fancy no more than a bit of touching up now and then,
and I could climb into bed with some husky brute!’

And when she finished, once more the women laughed,
drowning their sorrows among the green leaves.
‘My turn for true confessions,’ said the widow.
‘Now you girls listen to me
and I’ll tell you how to handle a man.
—————- I must say,
I was always a bit of a one. But I knew how to hide it!
They always thought I was the sort of girl you’d marry,
you know what I mean ! A nice girl, homely.
The fools!
—————- You take my advice.
Keep your noses clean. Play the “little woman”.
Do what you’re told, don’t raise your voice, keep
your thoughts to yourself and you can rule your man
with a rod of iron! You can make his life misery
and he’ll love you all the more.
And keep up appearances, dress well—it doesn’t cost anything,
your husband’ll foot the bill.

I’ve had two husbands and they both loved me.
Though I despised them, they never knew it.

The first had one foot in the grave. Old Father Time I called him.
Senile decay personified. He’d hawk and spit everywhere,
no control. But he never knew what I was thinking.
I was always kissing him, cuddling him, rubbing
ointment into his rheumatics, combing his hair (what was left
of it) and all the time
I’d be taking the piss out of him on the quiet.
I used to have a good laugh about it
behind his back. No fool
like an old fool. He thought I stroked his wrinkles
out of love.

—————- Well, I had my bit of love.
He knew how to keep his mouth shut, too.
And when things got too rough with the old man,
there was always my bit of comfort, on the side.
I was clever. I had my cake and ate it too.
And my husband even thought he’d fathered
—————- my little boy.

After him, I married into trade.
He was middle-aged, middling height—everything middling.
Nothing exceptional about him except his money and I soon got my hands on
that.
I threw myself away on him, really; and never let him
forget it.
—————- I pounced on every dropped ‘h’;
he had a good talking to every time
he said ‘serviette’ or belched in company. Common, he was.
I used to say : “What else can you expect
from a counter-jumper?”

—————- I’d buried my nice ways
with my first husband. I’d talk a lot about my first—
that used to get him down. I told him straight out
what a favour I’d done him by marrying him,
only taken him on
—————- out of the kindness of my heart.
I had a new line, you see, and he fell for it.
He was right under my thumb.
He’d do anything to please me, fetching and carrying—
but he did nothing right.
—————- It’s a funny thing, though,
I’d been quite fond of him when we were courting.
I was the lord and master; I ran the show.
And I despised him for letting me—fancy
being under a woman’s thumb like that!
How could I respect him?
But I never let go at him completely till I’d got my children
named as his heirs, legally, in writing,
and his own kids by his other wife heirs
to damn all.

—————- After that, I ran him a race!
I even made him stay at home and keep house
and I took over his business.
He was a laughing stock.
He thought he’d try and buy me off
with all sorts of presents, Paris frocks,
scent, jewellery—nothing but the best.
I never said no. “Tak’ all, gie nowt” as they say up North;
I’d get geared up like a model in the clothes he paid for
and go out looking for new lovers—
—————- and I found them.

When I was in bed with him, I’d
pretend it was some other man thrusting away inside.
Otherwise
what fun could it have been? with him?
He was never much cop.

Well, he’s dead and rotten now
and I can enjoy myself quietly, in my own way.
—————- The world thinks
I’m grieving, still. All in black, pale but interesting,
men find me . . . disturbing. I’m giving piety a whirl.
I go to church. I hide behind my prayerbook
and peck over the top at all the nice young men
—————- and they get the message
as often as not.
If a friend of my husband’s sees me, I squeeze out a tear or two.
How sorry they are for me! “You can see
how much she feels it.” I like
to keep things looking proper.

That’s the secret—keep things looking proper.
Keep our own council, be circumspect.
Circumspect.

—————- I’ve a boyfriend on the quiet
to cheer up a poor widow, yet all the county
thinks I’m a good woman, isn’t it marvellous?
—————- But the best of all
is at parties.
—————- They come flocking round me,
I’m a prize, a fine catch.
They talk so well, bring me little gifts,
make speeches, flatter me, here a kiss, there—
some of them even have the nerve,
the wicked things,
to shove themselves, stiff as a board, into my hand!
or maybe I feel it pressing against my back …
I’m a merciful woman, I’m kind; I don’t like to cause pain.
I pinch the ones next to me, just in fun,
lean hard on the one behind, play
footsy with another
and smile at the ones too far away for anything else.
—————- A bit of encouragement
doesn’t do any harm.
Take one, take all—why not? I’m my own mistress.
I’d be rude to say no.

So that’s the story of my life and you pay heed to the moral!’

The women said she was such a good teacher; they would
do as she said, in future. Sweetly, prudently,
they’d betray their husbands, Judas-like kissing, caressing,
waiting for widowhood.
Meanwhile, how dry their throats were! So they drank up.

Day dawned after their pleasant night. A lark singing,
a soft, fresh, melting morning, the mist dissolving.
The fields breathed clover, a skyfull of birds chorussing
for joy. The scent of grass, the sound
of the streams running. Clear, lovely morning—
it brings back hope, even to the saddest.

Bedtime for the elegant ladies. Home, they went,
through the flowers, yawning, and I
sat down to report their talking, as you have heard it.
Dear reader, let me put it to you.
Which of these women would you choose for your woman
if you should marry one of them?


41dnTyYnsaL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_

In a burst of creativity between the years of 1963 and 1966, Angela Carter, more usually known as a novelist, essayist and short story writer, composed much of the poetry which appears in the new volume Unicorn. Collected for the first time by Rosemary Hill, these five poems contain the seeds of what would characterise her later work; a subversive use of folk and fairy tale coloured by a wickedly funny sense of humour. The London Magazine originally published ‘Two Wives and a Widow’, which appears in Unicorn, in March 1966, during the most prolific period of Carter’s poetic inspiration.

Unicorn: the poetry of Angel Carter is published on the 5th November by Profile Books

 

Short Story Competition: A word from the Judges

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Yasutaka Tsutsui / Luigi Pirandello

With just a few weeks left till the end of our annual Short Story Competition we spoke to the Judges to find out exactly what the short story means to them.  Today we spoke to Alessandro Gallenzi, writer, publisher and founder of Alma Books about writers, short stories and what to read to be inspired. 

What do you look for in a short story? 

Economy of language, humour, a well-devised structure and, above all, a satisfying ending that makes you laugh, cry or think long after turning the last page.

Which short story writers do you admire? 

My favourite short-story writers from the Western canon are Boccaccio, Chekhov, Fitzgerald, Gogol, Conan Doyle, Poe, Pushkin, Saki, Pirandello and Carver. Among the contemporaries, Ian McEwan and Yasutaka Tsutsui.

What possibilities does the form of short fiction present to a writer that the novel doesn’t offer? 

A short story enables the writer to develop a particular idea or describe a situation or set of circumstances without having to create too much context or dilute the narration with excessive description. A short story is compact and pithy – it is, to the novel, what a sonnet is to a long poem: the shorter form helps to condense the thought and delivers a punch more effectively than the diffused narrative of a novel.

How would you describe yourself as a reader? 

Curious and omnivorous, with a penchant for the sapid.

If you had to recommend one short story for contributors to read what would it be? 

Five, please: ‘The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Fell Out with Ivan Nikiforovich’ by Gogol, ‘The Queen of Spades’ by Pushkin, ‘Berenice’ (or ‘The Tell-tale Heart’) by Poe, ‘Chichibio and the Crane’ (Decameron, VI, 4) by Boccaccio and ‘The Wheelbarrow’ by Pirandello. Hang on, there’s also…

Alessandro-Gallenzi-crop-221x300

Alessandro Gallenzi is the founder of Hesperus Press, Alma Books and Alma Classics, and the successor of John Calder at the helm of Calder Publications. As well as being a literary publisher with almost ten years of experience, he is a translator, a poet, a playwright and a novelist. His collection of poetry Modern Bestiary – Ars Poetastrica was published in 2005 to critical acclaim.

 

 

 

Click here to submit your entry

The London Magazine’s Short Story Competition 2014

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This competition is now closed.

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