Not quite here . . . or there

 Posted by at 11:34 am  Echo Effects, Hitting the Potholes  Comments Off
Mar 272014


Back from Rome. But not quite! At least not all of me, some bits are missing: my attention is caught, snagged in some Roman street. Is this a complaint that Florence is not Rome? And another thing, I thought (imagined?) that I caught a glimpse of ‘arry in Rome. Perhaps he was hurrying into the English cemetery. Though it couldn’t have been, all the evidence is that he is long dead. Years ago maybe even in the last century. Who told me? Did you tell me or was it somebody I met by chance in the street, like in the movie The Third Man or The Singing Detective. These images from movies are stronger than so called real life. Don’t you think? It might be that I am a bit-actor in some movie. I hope it’s not your movie with you as director and producer. 

Or did I dream it? And in the dream I’m sleeping on a narrow bench, maybe homeless. George Orwell down and out in post-war Vienna. Do you know that place of being lost when out walking. There’s been turn after turn down similar looking streets, alleys, the walls of the buildings towering close overhead, claustrophobic but free in some uncomfortable way and lost. Being lost might be even more free: suddenly free of memory. I can take any turning and it no longer matters. Then suddenly I am no longer lost. Am I relieved? Yes but at the same time I have lost the freedom of being lost. The dynamic of ‘I know’ <> ‘I don’t know’. In the middle must be what we could call meditation – I neither know nor don’t know – the place of sitting with God (ok – whatever that is!).

Mar 262014
Harry K sat in a chair142


“Still in the East, yet in the West. Us in the East, them in the West; us in the West, them in the East, from one system to another. Is it another system? How so? Why have I come here? There’s no way back! Time stands still and yet continues. This is a new identity.” (A.R, Penck)

Harry Kratchnikov explores a NEW IDENTITY: Pix NOTE141 024

(This is not PLAYED (or photographed) STANDING ON OUR HEADS)






British Museum, Room 90: Six prominent German artists of the 1960’s and 70s – Georg Baselitz, Markus Lupertz, Blinky Palermo, A.R, Penck, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter
Germany divided Baselitz and his generation.

Mar 202014
Harry K sat in a chair142

‘This is not for Europe. This is for Roads without Potholes’. Here’s ‘Arry – and this what he was writing recently. Here’s Harry Kratchnikov. ‘This is for Victory, the Fight Continues’, he also wrote. And he is on his way home.

Pretend he is just a mask if you like. But he already has a life of his own. HK for Harry Kratchnikov. Harry or ‘Arry. And K for Kratchikov. Or for Kreshchatyk Street, the long main street of the city where it crosses the Maidan. Or K for Kiev. Or Kalashnikov. Or Kraznahorkai, or Kulikowski.

No. It’s K for Kratchikov, sat in a chair, and the face behind the mask is you. Harry K sat in a chair142

When my father was dying, it didn’t feel to me like he was coming home. Mainly it felt that he was already long gone in the nursing home where he was. That is what dementia does for you the last of the six or seven years, and, the way I saw it, the last two he was completely gone. Except that last day, he did come back to die, and for his last few breaths as he went blue. He was back there with us as we listened and watched his breathing. Then the very last breath that felt like a pause rather than an ending, and hung on the air until there wasn’t another one, and then he was gone.

Whether it is better called coming home, or going home, there was something bloody minded about it. Defiance, resistance – not zest for life at all. And now he is due a medal from the Government, the Arctic Star, to add to his row of other ones. And he is up for one from the Russian State too for the Great Patriotic War if he wants it. What would he say to that posthumously speaking? In the Maidan they were looking down at the street like in your photograph, but the cobbles stones are smaller in Kiev. They dug up the street so they could continue fighting, but it is not good for the potholes. Back to the hand drawn placard, ’This is not for Europe. This is for Roads without Potholes’. There’s an irony there isn’t there HK?

Harry Kratchnikov. The name also made me remember the doctor from Kiev we met a few years ago. He was the one we met, who had come over to the west with Oxana his girlfriend, and – do you know – I think his second name was ‘K’. He had been well trained at the KNMU in the 1990′s but was earning much less than the $170 a month, which is what I read that doctors typically get now in the Ukraine. So it was a no-brainer when he got the chance to work in Holland in the 1990′s. He had to get a phony new passport and travel papers because it was before Ukraine joined the EU, but that didn’t cause too much of a problem. The trouble was the job. He was working for a euthanasia organisation and his job was snuffing life. After he did a few, maybe it was over a hundred actually, it got to him and he couldn’t go on. He had broken up with Oxana by then too. So he disappeared.

Now I am jogging my memory, you know I think his first name was Alexei. A for Alexei. But maybe it is ‘Arry now. Anything is possible. And he is coming, or going, home – wherever that may be.

Only there is a problem. They will want to know where the manuscripts were found. And everything that’s in them, and of course where they are now. Manuscripts – handwritten words in x100 Daybook Notebooks – dont turn up on NSA online spying searches do they? Or the FSB (Russia’s state apparatus), or GCHQ/MI6 computers? Yes, they will definitely want to know.

Oh dear, and I did warn you sunshine, but – more bloody-minded defiance – you insisted on publishing the extracts last week. And HK isn’t just an empty mask, is he? He is sitting in that chair right now.

Let’s go bravely out there

 Posted by at 10:59 am  Atelier, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Mar 182014

As our old friend Harry Kratchnikov was often mistakenly quoted as saying: the brave new world is always last week’s news. But, of course, we struggle on with near blind courage and some alertness as to the position of drains and robust iron railings, which perhaps are the least of the obstacles lying in wait; we struggle on where neither woman nor man have been before. Or so it seems to our celebrity obsessed minds, waiting with bated breath for them to fall apart, admit their drug or alcohol problem or some sexual irregularity. 

By the way it is reported that our other old friend Uncle Wally wrote in The Arcades Project, ‘the task of childhood [is] to bring the new world into symbolic space?’ I have to take a breath of agreement. It is there that we re-enthuse our zest for life with a sense of shape to our values. Zest for life may be held to be a good thing; that might amount to a manning of the barricades against the forces of repression which are wheeled out whenever the people get fed up with the gross or even the low grade corruption of ordinary political shenanigans. It might even be to protest about the bewildering wonder world of our current consumerist culture; our bewilderment at the impact of the latest technology and the onslaught of must-have advertising.

Is it enough to resist? Resist might imply something rather dull like sitting around a near-dead fire, a simple refusal to engage with the multifarious forms of hungry ghosts on offer.

Is, I ask you, the practice of practice a worthy form of resistance? My life now comprises a variety of practices: each project shaped by a routine of practice; each continues by way of a regular(ish) timetable.

But then what else? Are my efforts, say at writing or painting, sufficiently critical? Is there not the danger of bowing to what can be seen as the pit of art for art’s sake? Where is the critical element? Rather than down the drain let’s run for critical/social engagement. What sort of revolutions are waiting in the wings? This re-shaping of social economics; are we due another great turning of the wheel?

Harry Kratchnikov

 Posted by at 10:17 am  Atelier, Fundamental Perversions, Holy Fool/Hero  Comments Off
Mar 112014


A pile of notebooks of varying sizes but each one carefully bound in ochre leather have, as recently reported in at least one of the better newspapers, been discovered in what must be described as a condemned building, some in various cupboards, some scattered about on different floors. Gathered together by one member of a group that squatted the building, a wild haired woman who declined to provide her name but who described herself as a poet, it appears that there are one hundred volumes, mostly slim but two of greater thickness, perhaps five hundred or so pages, the slimmer volumes of between seventy five and one hundred pages, and on the spines of each there is printed, The Day Books of Harry Kratchnikov. The writing contained within these Day Books are not printed but written in a spidery, difficult to decipher hand in inks of various colours, the text being interspersed with drawings of faces, some almost recognisable others quite fantastical. As you might remember Harry Kratchnikov was once a well known humorist but who is now largely forgotten except for a few die-hard fans and his ninety five year old daughter, Ann.

Plucking one of the volumes at random (they are unnumbered) I managed with some effort to decipher the following to give you an idea of what is within although whether this could be said to be representative of the entire contents I have, as yet, no idea:

Flicking between dream channels I caught a glimpse of her through an open door. Very familiar and yet new and made strange, she stood seemingly self-absorbed, perhaps deep in thought. Was that pain in the awkward jut of her shoulders? There was no time to examine the situation. I sensed a tiny movement of her head as if given more time she would have seen me, looked at me and I would have understood what she was doing there. But no time was granted to us. Was her husband waiting for me? Why do I think of that? The dark machinery of dreams, dank in a silent roaring of blood flow, arterial, a major network bringing nourishment to far flung regions. Mind what you do with that pike of yours, it’s sharpened teeth eager to feel the density of bone. No remote control of the dreams: we must take what we are given. How we hate that! Not to be in control. Not to determine the outcome of our desires. Dreams are like dialogue – open to impulse, unknown motivations, surprise and shock. Desire. In that split second glimpse did I desire her or was that an editorial addition? The editor as always thinking of sales and marketing. Meanwhile the granite waited patiently and the sentence was one of hard labour. I have no memory of the judge mentioning a time limit, a finishing date, a deadline as one might call it.

Ripped through Time and Space

 Posted by at 7:46 pm  Echo Effects, Exodus  Comments Off
Mar 102014
GALLE 2007 061

“Hello Grandpa”, kindly defiance, defiant humility and with a feeling like I am not done with my story either. Well, you would have to come out of hiding too faced with that kind of greeting wouldn’t you? Really, after that sunny command you are not going to stay crouched down on your knees with your arse sticking in the air are you?

But before we continue I need to give early notice that my reading work in the atelier this year, and my Wordstall book of the year, is Broken Hierarchies, the Collected Poems of Geoffrey Hill. The 4cm thick hardbook has arrived in the post, an it is the definitive edition. Not that the secular priest/poet, now late on and into his eighties, is done with his story or has any intention of stopping. In other words, the newly published collection is just for the time being. ‘The Daybooks’ (2007-2012) fill pages 625-936 and this is where the collection ends for now. Kindly defiance, defiant humility.

It is continental – the ‘Broken Hierarchies’ (BH from now on) – the reader’s task, and even reading one poem a day I won’t get through this collection in a year. Let alone the complexity, and that several of the poems are very long and will take days if not weeks to read. Then where to begin*? The usual instruction to begin at page one doesn’t feel quite adequate. To get there, and it feels a long way off although it isn’t really, we would be well advised to approach cautiously.

“Hello Grandpa”, he says for the second time and I am ripped through time and space (dot-dot-dot)

Insert Here (BH P491):

the angular sun
on windows or windshields

Let me be, says the dying man, let me fall
Upwards towards the roots.

It is a convenient half-way point. Midway over and looking back it is late on in the day. On the Left Bank of the River Dniester – Yes, I know it simply sounds like cheek, but it seems we are into the D-world. That is ‘D’ for defiance, as well as ‘D’ for decline, ‘D’ for dialogue.

Transnistria, the Left Bank of the River Dniester, is not exactly subject to the Rule of Law in the normal sense. So when is the best time of day to make the crossing? And where is the safest spot to cross? From the outside looking everybody in outlaw society appears criminal. It is not that they wish me harm, I tell myself. know this, but the question here is how to distinguish between ‘honest’ and ‘sinful’.

Mostly we came here just hoping for a few laughs. However, right now we are not smiling, we are looking into the language of signs. Face to face, since tattoos are also a big part of ‘Siberian’ life in Transnistria, and after the first greeting it is clear Russian isn’t the ‘lingua franca’. There is a face covered with tattoos close up looking straight into mine. It is a face full of suffering, both young, and old at the same time. He is a ‘kolshik’ – (one who stings) – an artist, secular priest, tattooist who uses the traditional way to write our lives on our skins. Or at least that is who he is in my imagination. Now of course I don’t know tiddly-squit, and my heart jolts as I realise that death can come at any age.

“Hello Grandpa”, the man with the face covered in tattoos says for the third time. At this point we shit ourselves in our pants. If Rabelais, being another priest/poet storyteller who is also full of kindness, were in charge of the narrative at this point, he would say that this is what happens next. It is sound advice for any erotic/ascetic.

* Shout! Shout! No 10 (Selected Poems, 202)

From the beginning the question how to end
has been part of the act. One cannot have sex
fantasies (any way) as the final
answer to life.

Mar 052014

The Left Bank of the Dniester, sometimes called Transnistria, is located not so far away in eastern Europe, once being part of Rumania. It became an autonomous political entity In 1924, when its people were made up of mostly Moldavian, Ruthenian (Ukrainian) and Tatar peasants. Overrun by the Nazis in the Second World War, all the Jews and a large number of other ethnic minority groups were systematically murdered. Reoccupied by the Red Army in 1944, the killing and deportations continued with thousands of peasant farmers and families being targeted over several years, and the land often being resettled by Russians. (For instance, in just two days, July 6 and July 7, 1949, a plan named “Operation South” saw the deportation of over 11,342 families by the order of the Moldovian Minister of State Security, I. L. Mordovets).

The ‘War of Transnistria’ broke out in 1990 as Moldovian nationalist and separatist groups clashed violently. A ceasefire was agreed in 1992 and has been maintained since then down to this day with neither Moldova, Ukraine or Russia being able to exert control over the unruly Transnistrian ‘authorities’. It is a criminal outlaw society and I would not want to visit there unless I knew what I was doing and had friends on the inside.

In dream world (such as during Shiva Yatra, Shrove Tuesday and other rabelasian Carnivale times) it is also the time before people with no morals took authority without anybody asking, and declared that they were sovereign, making claims that land and property belonged to them, and also taking away common freedoms. The East Midlands, a dream world where I lived as a child, was also an outlaw society which resisted outside authority, and kept up a strong old-fashioned morality where people knew who lived where, protected each other from harm, and each group of peoples reached to the end of its village. There was much cheek about us.

I didn’t know about Transnistria until I began reading Siberian Education (Nicolai Lilin 2009), or that any special knife you are given is called a ‘Pike’. For life on the Left Bank of the Dniester it should be a flick-knife with a long thin blade, safety catch lever and a button to press on the handle. When you press the button, the blade instantly slides out with a distinctive singing sound and remains fixed open.

Every pike you receive in your life has magical powers, and closed it is “like some kind of writing instrument from the turn of the century”. You receive your first pike from somebody older in your family. It varies when, but you have to be ready for the moment whenever it comes, and should have learned how to handle a knife properly, and of course how to look after and not lose it. I remember that I was about five and the glow in my chest when I received my first knife from my father. Whenever you receive a pike you always know it for what it is by the presence of the same glow in the chest.

My first knife in fact wasn’t a flick-knife. It was a citrus knife which had been made to cut oranges that were taken directly from a growing fruit tree. Closed it certainly felt like holding a pen, and it had magical powers both of the tree and land. The handle was straight and narrow, a cream white colour that looked like ivory or a special hardwood, but I knew, because it came from America, that it was made of a kind of synthetic plastic resin . The alchemy however was still there in the hard smooth feel of the white handle, and then especially in the way it opened. Closed the back of the blade rose out of one side like the back of a snake with a curve indent in the metal for my thumbnail to fit in, and then the long thin three inch blade opened in perfect curve and set itself in the open position with a dull thud.

That the blade always opened outwards away from the body, was a part of its magic which I knew as a child and I was ready for, but it had to teach me the rest of its magic the hard way. Whittling wood one day to practice how to work it I once twisted the blade towards me, and like a thing alive it leapt towards my left hand that was holding the stick and the blade bit into my index finger and down to the bone at the first joint. The sound of blade on bone was the same dull thud it made on opening. Blood began to flow fast and an intense pain grow in my hand. It took many months for the wound to heal, and for the pain in the first join to go took even longer.

Then later on there were other lessons it taught me, culminating in the day my first pike went missing. As I realised I had lost it an intense feeling of shame rose in my chest as I realised my folly at carrying the knife in an insecure pocket. For days and weeks I looked and looked over the ground where I thought it might have fallen, and in other pockets and places where I imagined it could be, but it was gone.

I have had other pikes since the first, and have lost some of them too. Always there is the resulting mix of shame and sadness, and sense of loss, but then sometimes I think of them on their magical travels and this softens the regret. One of the pikes I have today is another citrus knife, and makes the same sound as my first one, that magical thud when it is opened. I have also learned to keep it better than my first one and of course it never travels in my pockets. Like the Siberian ‘red corner’ (Left Bank of the Dniester) it lives with other pens in a pewter tankard on which a protective dragon is carved. One day I will pass it on to my one of sons, or another male in my family, when I know it is the right day and they are ready – if God permits that is.

Dream world/words: ‘D’ is for Dialogue, Defiance and Decline

Misheard / Miss Hard

 Posted by at 6:05 pm  Echo Effects, Holy Fool/Hero, OUT in the WILDERNESS  Comments Off
Mar 032014

“A ‘daybook’ is a journal or ledger in which ephemeral expenses are recorded before they are entered in an account…”*.

The ‘D’ word… Or had I misheard / Miss Hard?

As promised, Shiva Yatra came to its climax at the village temple all night last Thursday, and I was present in the mass: in my ‘erotic/ascetic’ dream world, she is forever and I am ever young, and we are eternally engaged in delicious foreplay.

Misheard / Miss Hard (And about the ‘…white tiles’, I didn’t get that bit down right either – perhaps the coming economy of signs in our later years – could you repeat it one more time please, and was it ‘…white tiles’, or ‘…whistles’ you said?). Yes, I know that you are working through the ‘D’ word too. It is my dirty little secret as well, working through the death and depression words.

Miss Hard
Wick: Hardwick, or Haggy H, when we could call her to each other but not to her face, took me for my eig(h)th birthday in class early on, although I couldn’t spell that numeral right then either, hot tears, and moaning for somebody’s death, I smudged the paper with drops of ink from the my pen nib I was holding, and whatever I was writing. My own I knew it was, my death, wishing me back the life I had the summer before, and from where I had been cast out for a crime as I believed, a terrible one obviously because otherwise why would they who loved me most of all have done this sudden thing to me I asked. But I didn’t know what, all I knew, like some hungry ghost, I couldn’t go back there.

Or moaning their death’s, lost and angry and silent because some time afterwards I began forgetting, went quiet and became withdrawn. Sullen and determined, inside I planned escape, made friends, and shared my secret with the three I trusted best. We dug tunnels deep into the earth, camouflaged them and hid there, along with our supplies for the big break out – biscuits, chocolate, and our best kept treasure too, a can of Heinz baked beans, and one of us had a Swiss Army penknife with a tool to open the can, and we cut our fingers pulling back the jagged lid, and shared the spoon to eat and blood too – except, here was always the problem with our desperate plan, we knew there was nowhere to escape to, and freedom would always be refused.

Working through my depression at some point I also got me my first erection in class with Miss Hard, regardless however old and sexless, and what a dry stick she was by then. So my friends and I shared those too between us, trading our horn like contraband, until the Men from the Excise found that out and stamped on that too, another crime we didn’t understand.

You see Miss Hard, I misheard nothing, you taught me everything well in the end, including the ‘D’ for dream world too, didn’t you?

* from LRB review of Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012 by Geoffrey Hill
…NOTE that the title has also misheard that Rabelaisian secular priest/poet’s actual words from The Daybooks (2007-12):
‘Rancorous, narcissistic old sod – what
makes him go on? We thought, hoped rather,
he might be dead.