Jun 092012

The ogres of monarchy must be very pleased with their recent efforts; success beyond their wildest dreams. And there was plenty of rain to test their stolid and plucky English pride.

Once, halfway through the journey of our life

I found myself inside a shadowy wood,

Because the road had disappeared.

                    This is Sean O'Brien's opening of his translation (2006) of Dante's Inferno.

According to his introduction O'Brien had the idea that translating Dante was a necessary rite of passage. Though I haven't yet heard that Ivor Cutler had a go at it. Something or other brought Cutler to mind a few days ago – was he mentioned on the radio? Prior to that he had seemingly slipped into the category of the forgotten. In the Poetry Library I discover they have quite a number of his books. One I pick out is The Flat Man, though the F has been turned back to front. And there is a photograph of the author in a white singlet and a black flat cap. His mouth is clenched – about to burst into laughter? eyeing you, the reader or potential reader. The book is dated 1977 but reissued in 1997. Some years ago I stood next to him at the desk of the Poetry Library. He was dressed in what I saw as a poet-arch-bishop's regalia. A lilac jacket, flower in his hat. He asked me if I was a poet. I refused that identity but did admit that I wrote the occasional poem. He gave me his mystical blessing. In remembering this, it brings to mind a more recent occasion when I asked Paul Muldoon to sign one of his books – he too, peered into me, examined me to see what I might be made of, what words I might be made of.

It's what we are always doing; chasing words that we might make use of.

Ivor Cutler's Lean

People lean back in


But only

if the the chair

has a back.

Backless chairs –

or stools

as we call them –

are suitable

only for leaning

forwards –

or sitting bolt upright.

You would think that

people who really wanted to lean


would use

a stool.

I first heard of Ivor Cutler listening to John Peel – so long ago, it must have been a previous life – and I think Peel must also have been a fan of John Cooper Clark who's been featured on the tv recently.

Incontinent; malicious; bestial;

And mad; – and how incontinence offends

Our maker less, and this incurs less blame?

                (from Canto XI)

What sort of thing was punk? I barely noticed it at the time but have been woken to its excitement through reading Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces. It is linked in to what he calls The Secret History of the Twentieth Century – the Dadaists, the Lettrist International and the Situationists. Those who don't sign up to the dominant narrative. Pina Bausch's work is in that other tradition, insisting on the authenticity of her view, creating a radical way of working that is challenging and painful, was slow to be accepted but now (a couple of years after her death) is wildly acclaimed. On Wednesday evening after being captivated and beaten up by her company's performance of Victor, the audience (including me of course) gave them a long and well deserved standing applause. Détournement as Guy deBord put it.

Pina Bausch's way of working, her using her company through close and personal questioning to arrive at movements and words that are gradually turned into the performance. Seeing the dancers/actors is to see the process – a sort of psychoanalysis – and it makes sense of the hearing about the close attention that Pina gave as a child (from under a table) to the various adults who stayed at her parent's boarding house.

In a recent dream I was teaching a class (young adults) about certain aspects of language (though what exactly has not been retained) when suddenly I am facing a rebellion. There is a young woman who is angry at what she sees as poor teaching and she demands to hear from her fellow students whether or not they have learned anything at all from the class. In those moments of rising into wakefulness from the dream I have the impression that the general consensus is NO.