Posted by at 6:19 pm  Echo Effects, Hitting the Potholes, OUT in the WILDERNESS  Comments Off
Apr 302013

Dear Derek,
The name for a dusty valley, except during the rainy season when the incessant wind ripples through the fresh grass and brief wild flowers like sea waves, and the shepherds bring their sheep up to the high meadows to graze. Do you think we’ll actually be able to recognize each other after all this time, and meeting in such very different circumstances as well so far away from where we were together the last time?

Quite right your suggestion to leave the guns in the car. It ‘s become a moral issue hasn’t it?

An evening a few days ago I was sat in a circle of listeners being told a Brothers Grimm story, The Millers Tale or some such title, about the son of the miller and his wife who at the crisis of the story are swept away by the Nixie spirit of the mill waters, which magically bubbles up and sweeps the man and his wife far, far away on a mighty wave. It was the crisis moment of the story, and retribution time by the Nixie water spirit, and as I listened to the story I thought that you wouldn’t call her power evil, although several people in the storytelling circle that I was sat in did. The Nixie was doing what you would want any LULU to do, or so I thought at the time and continue to think now. Truth will demand her cut.

The story goes on, and it is now many years later since the miller’s son and his wife have been separated by the Nixie. They have both survived, but have had to live their lives apart in strange unknown lands far from their homeland. They’ve both become shepherds, and one year travelling far from where they both live, they enter a dusty valley from opposite directions driving their sheep ahead of them. They both climb to the ridge at the head of the valley to find fresh grass. Seeing each other’s flocks, they go towards each other and meet, and talk and share a meal together over a fire. But irrevocably changed by age they don’t recognize each other.

However, the Grimms Brothers tale is a baroque story and has to end, so at the end of their evening together the miller’s son gets out a flute and plays a tune on it which is known only to his wife. In fact it was she who composed it many years previously, a haunting tune that had finally succeeded in waking the miller’s son from the long enchantment of the Nixie’s embrace (an underwater embrace at the bottom of the mill pond, to which it has to be remembered the Nixie LULU was entirely entitled by a previous oath given by the old miller himself in return for a favour of good fortune from the Nixie just before the birth of his son long, long ago), and produced the crisis of the Nixie‘s righteous retribution after the miller’s escape from the millpond waters. So at last they recognize each other, and that’s where the story ends. All a bit safe and certain.

Hope brought me here, one of them says (and now it is you and I talking together after we have met).
Hope? the other one (the other one of us that is) exclaims, You pay dear for that.

You pay dear for that – like Fred Orpheus, who in the moment of crisis that ends his time on earth has his head cut off. It’s thrown into the river so that only the echo of his last song lingers on in the riverside trees and glades for any passer by to hear. That perfect tune. Strangely I thought of that while I was also being reminded again of the name that Carlo Sebilia (perhaps after the Nixie Sybyl who comes from Campagna) gave in his Letter from Italy for the Parliament in Roma, to which he had been newly elected. “Pandora”, he called it.

Pandora indeed, and I recall again that Carlos’s Letter from Italy last week did also seem full of hope, and, more than that, full of many other optimistic expectations of what happens when “normal humans”, as he put it, become political. And delicious to the ear it was, like Fred’s last song, the echo of an echo of an echo. Nevertheless, before you or I become too “sniffy” about the improbability of the possibility of hope, I recommend a read of this review of the recent book by David Graeber, Debt: The first 5,000 years (2011, New York). The writer of the review repeats Graeber’s quote in the book of an Inuit hunter-gatherer recorded in Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Eskimo:

‘Up in our country, we are human!… And since we are human we help each other. We don’t like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today, you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs’.

Echo of an echo of an echo… and, yes indeed, for our meeting better that we both come unarmed.

(signed) Bernie

Almost recognisable

 Posted by at 3:43 pm  Fundamental Perversions  Comments Off
Apr 262013


Is that Orpheus calling? Almost recognisable. On the edge of understanding; condensed sense impressions and a mere blink of interpretation. How much time do you have? Enough time to poach the fish on a sluggish heat.

Well, Bernie, it’s like this, we are due to meet tomorrow in the dust of that valley. Fred Orpheus will be miles away; safely tucked up in bed with his third wife. It seems that so many women never could resist those eyes of his even before he opened his mouth to allow those words, those articulations of flora and fauna that change the world, reorder the cosmos.

No, Fred will be busy elsewhere. Meanwhile we will meet in that dusty valley, no props, no alcohol, no drugs. And our old friend, more elegant than ever, truth will be watching, listening for the flails of violence that seek to uncover her hiding place.

How much money will I need to bring? I try not to think about that question, put it in the distant pockets of the bankers. But the question becomes pressing the closer we get. Truth will need her cut. Let me rephrase that, truth will demand her cut. Flesh transformed into a currency of pretend: cleverly printed paper.

No metaphors this time. The rich iron blood has to splash on to the parched earth. There is never enough. The earth is never satiated.

We’ll need a fast car to get away. Do you know a good driver? You don’t mean Bepe Grillo? Can he even drive? I don’t think we need somebody who is so self obsessed, somebody who shouts from the sidelines but never gets his hands into the dirt of it all, the dirty business of politics.

Power and death. Power and death hidden by the airbrush of the advertising industry. Power and death is the theme. Do you have the agenda for tomorrow? And, don’t forget, you must come unarmed.

Apr 242013

This week the BBC (Radio 4: Book of the Week slot ) is inviting people of Italy to write a letter to all of us in Ukania – ‘Dear Derek… (signed) B@’, and more of that kind of thing. It is being called Letter from Italy. Today it is the turn of a 27 year old man called Carlos Sebilia, who comes from Campagna, the area around Naples infamous for its vast waste landfill sites. Carlos carefully reads us the “Letter from Italy” which he has written, and as he reads his letter, he also talks about himself, sits at a café in Roma and is interrupted by other people, and apologises for his English which he says he hasn’t been speaking much recently, but actually he is very clear in everything he says. OK this is my letter, he begins. Being the Book of the Week one might think this is all fiction, but really I don’t think it is.

Carlos reads on. In his letter he reminds us in Ukania that Italy is famous for its pasta, and pizza and romantic music, and that the best known political movement known beyond its borders is – the Mafia. Speaking about his own life living around Naples he describes how he became focussed on the problem of waste and the enormous landfills which have built up there. It is not just about too many landfills in too small an area, he says, it is also the inertia and health problems and criminality which goes with dumping waste. He tried writing to his local mayor but never got a reply. So he decided to take things further.

Enough is enough, Carlos says in his letter. He is now a newly elected member of the Italian Parliament since 4 weeks ago, he says, and is now in Rome as a member of the ‘5 Star MoVement‘ party, which stands for:
Zero Waste Strategies
Zero Carbon Energy
Free Public Water
Free Public Transport
Free Connectivity
It is a brand new party and after the recent elections there are now 163 MPs – a third of the total. Imagine that happening in Ukania!

Carlos tells us that the MoVement 5 Star emerged out of the blog of comedian satirist Beppe Grillo. In his letter to us Carlos admits that it is a sad truth for Italian politics that the most reliable person in his country is a comedian. He is a visionary, somebody interrupts in Italian next to where Carlos is reading his letter. Carlos reads on from his letter that Beppe Grillo is not a party leader in the normal sense. Politics for Beppe Grillo and his followers isn’t a win or lose football match between professional politicians. Politics isn’t a job, Carlos says, it is a passion. Simple truths. It is about getting involved in a kind of politics which is aimed at bringing gladness and happiness into the world.

Carlos’s letter finally describes two special features of the 5 Star party. The first is that the whole Movimento 5 Stelle is internet based, and transcends national boundaries and old nineteenth century nation state thinking about politics, and, if you like, you can follow Beppe Grillo’s blog in English. So while it is about Italy and Italian politics, and it is also about human beings worldwide getting involved everywhere there is an internet connection.

The second special feature Carlos reads from his letter is that Beppe Grillo is a comedian who appears to know how to be serious while he is also being lighthearted and funny. How to act effectively in a tragi-comedy with moral irony: what Carlos tells us is that the MoVement knows how to be hopeful with a message that says normal people can engage in politics too.

Some words have been borrowed from Stranger to Nothing, Selected Poems by Philip Levine (b 1928 poet sometimes called “the voice of the voiceless”)

Like a B@ out of hell!

 Posted by at 1:11 pm  Exodus  Comments Off
Apr 192013



‘Quiet woman,’ he said. ‘When did you last confess.’

‘Two days ago.’

The sparrows were twittering; they pecked at the wind-blown leaves, and twittered.

So, here you are, the visitor from hell, and you have even taken the name B@!

I should have wailed but I held back, the anxiety picking at my bones.

Back home in Transylvania, hanging upside down from the rafters, waiting for the dead to visit. Waiting for fresh blood. Hoping for a good rebirth.

So now you’re making demands of me.

The comrades won’t be very happy. Not that there are many left, so many fell by the wayside during the reign of Her Imperial Majesty. Either into the gutter (mostly) or into the slush funds of the bankers.

‘Then why are you here?’

He used the butt of the whip to knock at the door.

I hear that over the border they completely ignored the funeral. Empty squares with giant screens relaying Anglican pieties. I suppose they would have done the same for the General. It was all about saving the nation. God save the queen.

Watch out Bernard, I’ve sent out scouts to pinpoint your exact position. Wriggle as you might, you will not escape your fate. Innocent soul, uncanny wraith, that will always keep faith, ignorant of right or fear.

A few nights ago I visited my mother in a dream. She seemed much as she had done in the last years before her death. Outside there was a tremendous blizzard. Though it was disquieting to see that she was more competent than me. Typical woman, you might say. Then just to prove the point, I wondered off in a dressing gown several miles to a bank, not the one nearby, only to discover that I had neglected to bring my debit card.

I can rarely think of anything to confess but I will bow my head and who knows, a blessing may be heading my way.

I can almost forgive you Bernie, old mate.

Well almost, I can’t edit out that almost.


(Some words have been borrowed from Juan Rulfo and Geoffrey Hill. They are scattered somewhat haphazardly)

Not O My Captain

 Posted by at 10:45 am  Echo Effects, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Apr 172013
wordstall 1

Dear Derek

You are still hesitating aren’t you? And why do feel you still need to  use the old ‘code name’- as if you have to protect your identity after all these years. Who from? Surely not from me! But then you were always careful – cautious and meticulous about every detail – I wouldn’t want to call it cowardice.

So Comrade Commander,  there we were. All our men were ready hidden in the woods (and a few good women by that time too although you never liked to have rivals to your sex did you?). Ready for the surprise attack and to free me – But I don’t know what happened next of course.

You always were a good survivor, and now you want to make ammends. Or so I suppose from your writing to me after such a long time. To tidy up your accounts before the great reckoning perhaps?. You saved yourself, could you have saved me? You had the power. You were in command and there were more of us than them – but then there always are, aren’t there – what made you hesitate?

From where I lie now I don’t know the answer, and of course we were always taught the life of the individual is unimportant in the greater struggle. And yet, it was you who survived and  now your letter comes back to haunt me -the irony I feel – as if your are asking me for something. Surely not forgiveness. Not you! But a little guilty, so you write.

So how did I look- you know – afterwards? Go on, you can tell me. You were always the realist in our merry band, and you can tell me, even writing in this strange new style you have assumed – nuevos canciones – something you have  obviously learned in your new adopted united kingdomy where you now live. And perhaps you have children, and even grandchildren.

Don’t be disgusted by the idea of honesty, after all it is you who has chosen to break the silence. Your first letter has been burned, and the memories have – I promise you – all been forgotten. You see, even after all these years, I still follow the correct procedures. And truly I would not  wish to give you the pleasure of adding another sheath of paper to your archive, not even one as slim as this.

Just so you know, as I also know that you will also have made copies.  And there’s probably a book by now, or several I wouldn’t wonder – your several versions of events. And, it wouldn’t surprise me, if you also have a position in academic institution, a wealthy one no doubt, somewhere waiting patiently to take all your papers one day. Or several, so they would have to bid against each other for them: Make them beg for scraps, I can hear you saying.

No I am not bitter-why should I be? – now that you have revealed yourself and I can tell that you are still, yes, even after all these years, still hesitating.


Get With It

 Posted by at 10:36 am  Hitting the Potholes, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Apr 172013

The frontispiece of Midnight Salvage has the following quote: ‘I don’t know how to measure happiness. The issue is happiness, there is no other issue, or no other issue one has a right to think about for other people, to think about politically, but I don’t know how to measure happiness.’ (George Oppen, letter to June Oppen Degnam, August 5,1970).

Beyond parochial dread and narrow horizons: Get with it! I’m tired of listening to a tone that sounds like a lament – or is it a celebration? The problem is it’s impossible to tell the difference.

Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-1998 by Adrienne Rich. It is a slim book (P 3-69), and some of the pages are more than half empty (being poems… and some with short lines). Here are a few more details of where I stand:

1. The book I bought is second hand, a nice enough hardback copy with original covers, 1st edition, 1999. WW Norton and company, New York

2. It belonged to an academic library for a few years before being (in capitals) “WITHDRAWN”. The word is stamped on the ‘Academic Information Services’ paper slip which the librarian (Adelphi Campus, Peru Street, Salford). stuck inside the front cover

3. There is only one other stamp on the librarian paper slip inside (when it might have been taken out to be read), the date 28 Nov 2001. There is no other evidence inside the book of it having been borrowed or read.

4. During the period 1995-1998 when Adrienne Rich was writing these poems she was in her mid-60′s.

5. I made the leap to reading this particular collection through reading the essay of Jacqueline Rose: ‘Go Girl!’: Adrienne Rich and Natalie Anger (reprinted in On Not being Able to Sleep).

“The issue of happiness” – the quotation is the nearest thing I’ve read to a manifesto recently, an adequate Sex and Politics one that I’d sign up to, and which is capable of standing up to the tests and strains of contemporary life, including  the “stalled feminist movement” (so-called) – for instance, it was only just now that I was reading Samuel Pepys making an observation on women (that Ur-figure of the English masculine establishment and who I am told has recently returned to London and taken up writing his Diary again): ‘Tis a puzzle whether whores have turned chaste or decent women sluttish, but lunacy seizes all these days’ (Basil Ransome David transcripsit).

Sex and Politics: here is a section from Adrienne Rich’s Midnight Salvage manifesto (NB I’ve made one transposition of a “his” to a “her” to suit the current times, and now, as I read the first line again, also bow my head as I think of the horrors of the recent Boston marathon too):

not O my Captain

fallen cold & dead by the assassin’s hand

but cold alive & cringing : : drinking with the assassins

in suit of noir Hong Kong silk

pushing her daughter in her famine-

waisted flamingo gown

out on the dance floor with the traffickers

in nerve gas saying to them Go for it

and to the girl Get with it

Apr 172013

We don’t go on strike anymore,

for instance,

see, you’d live on £ 53. 00 too

if you had to,

I wouldn’t go on strike either

for a hand-out


To stop. Then we might riot,

in order to,

I’d break into shops and steal

the latest gear

‘tho you wouldn’t escape getting caught

on closed circuit TV,


If I had to. And there’s no more room

here for your sort,

you’d find it hard to survive too,

no place to smoke,

even if health tax the living daylights

it’s my choice


Isn’t it? Now we don’t belong in the city more,

none of us do,

I say, go back to where you come from,

somewhere before

you and I were born, this nation state

can do without

the likes of us.

Thinning Membranes

 Posted by at 1:25 pm  ON the STREET  Comments Off
Apr 122013



Dear Bernie,

I thought I would write as it seems ages since we talked. Yeah, I do remember why that might be. I remember that ranting evening and I remember stomping, swearing and swearing that that was it! Never again! Still the months pass and I thought to myself, come on, get over it, so what is it, when it comes down to basics, what is a slight difference of opinion or even, come to that, a murderous gulf of difference, a tsunami of different views.

I miss you, you old bastard.

Shall we meet up for another round of bare-knuckle fighting.

Come on, it would be fun, right!

Yours in jest




‘Outrage inspires resistance.’ I borrow those three words and tentatively taste them, try to chew them but I’m too tired, too preoccupied with other stuff. Could I ever be outraged enough to act. This is an terrible confession to make: could I stand up for what I believe? Especially when it seems to be so hard to define just what it is I believe.

But then the text goes on: ‘two views of history.’ Let’s have a look at this. ‘When’ (he continues) ‘I try to understand what caused fascism , the reason we were overtaken by it . . . It seems to me that the rich, in their selfishness, feared a Bolshevik revolution.’ He might be right and what do they do? Terrorise some and corrupt others. Pinochet set out to terrorise a whole population, while a few years later, his friend Maggie T, apparently (and perhaps reluctantly) acknowledging that she would be unable to get away with thousands of tortured and disappeared, moved more circumspectly. Following military success a very, very long way away, like a fairy tale adventure – if it wasn’t for television – then having gained confidence and popularity, terrorised much of the unions and the left, and corrupted the rest of us, promised us a new world of promised wealth if only we would agree to give up the idea of there being such a thing as society.

‘There is, of course, a conception of history, which sees the progress of history, which sees the progress of liberty, competition and the race for ‘more and more’ as a destructive whirlwind. That is how a friend of my father described history. This was the man who shared with my father the task of translating Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past into German. I am speaking of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin. He drew a pessimistic message from a painting by a Swiss painter, Paul Klee, called Angelus Novus, which shows an angel opening it’s arms as if to contain and repel the tempest that Benjamin equates with progress.’

It must be the angel that is welcoming – at this very moment – Maggie. Come here Maggie, let us have a little chat about things. Ding dong . . .


Dear Constance,

I think of you often. Those soft grey eyes of yours belying the harshness of your incisive judgements. It seems a lifetime since we met. I feel very trusting that this letter will reach you though rationally I have to admit it is far more likely that you’ve moved many times since I last saw you. And that was before this wondrous age of emails and Facebook. I did try googling you but no success yet. Who knows Hermes might help this letter’s onward journey.

Did you marry that guy you were going out with – I can’t (or don’t want to) remember his name?

Warm good wishes



(Quotations from Stephane Hessel’s Indignez-vous – Time for Outrage)