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Monday 29 November 2010

Signage (I): Motel



Star Lite Motel sign, Dilworth, Minnesota: photo by railguydust, 2009

In winter
as in summer

our heritage

in the motel

room mirror

we see what is
to come

evaporating into the thin
air of what was


File:Trees and Motel.jpg

Star Lite Motel, Dilworth, Minnesota, view through trees in front of the motel, with neon sign in background
: photo by Tadija, 2010

Saturday 27 November 2010

Ungaretti: Pilgrimage


File:Melospiza melodia crataegus.jpg
Song-sparrow (Melospiza melodia) in a hawthorn (Crataegus), Léon-Provancher marsh, Québec, Canada: photo by Cephas, 2009

....Valley of the Isolated Tree 16 August 1916

in these guts of rubble
hour on hour
I've dragged my mud

slithering through
the ooze

an old shoe sole or
a seed of rusted whitethorn

Ungaretti man
of pain
is enough to encourage you

Out there
in the fog
a searchlight
creates a sea

Searchlight beams, Malta
: photo via Imperial War Museum

Italian soldiers crossing a stream under fire, 1916
: photo from Collier's Photographic History of the European War (New York, 1918)

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Dead French soldiers in the Argonne, 1917:
photo from Collier's Photographic History of the European War (New York, 1918)

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British outpost in Flanders, 1916:
photo from Collier's Photographic History of the European War (New York, 1918)


....Valloncello dell'Albero Isolato il 16 agosto 1916

In agguato
in queste budella
di macerie
ore e ore
ho strascicato
la mia carcassa
usata dal fango
come una suola
o come un seme
di spinalba

uomo di pena
ti basta un'illusione
per farti coraggio

Un riflettore
di là
mette un mare
nella nebbia

File:Gymnosporangium clavipes with aecia on Crataegus branch.jpg

Juniper-quince rust (a fungal infection of Gymnosporangium clavipes), presenting as a canker at the leaf/thorn node of a hawthorn branch, with tubular pinkish aecia extruding from the canker: photo by Ragesoss, 2008

Giuseppe Ungaretti: Pellegrinaggio (Pilgrimage) from Il porto sepolto (The buried harbour), 1916, translated by TC

Ungaretti: What would I want with images?


File:Gentle waves come in at a sandy beach.JPG

Waves on sandy beach, Cabo Polonio, Uruguay: photo by Johntex, 2006

..These wandering landscapes of the ocean's

Shifting surface, the incisive

Candour of daybreak on these

Or those leaves: these things no longer

Draw me; nor can my old eyes make

Out light from shade against the stones.

..Forgot, what would I want

With images?


Leaves of European Birch (Fagus): photo by The cat, 2006

..Non più m'attragano i paesaggi erranti

Del mare, né dell'alba il lacerante

Pallore sopra queste o quelle foglie;

Nemmeno più contrasto col macigno,

Antica notte che sugli occhi porto.

..Le immagini a che prò

Per me dimenticata?

File:Foggy sunset at Land's End.jpg

Foggy sunset with Brown Pelicans: photo by Mila Zinkova, 2009

Giuseppe Ungaretti: Poem IX (Non più m'attragano i paesaggi erranti) from Cori descrittivi di stati d'animo di Didone (Choruses Descriptive of the State of Mind of Dido), in La terra promessa (The Promised Land), 1950; translation by TC

Friday 26 November 2010

At Nightfall



Maintop (West End), Farallon Islands, from Southeast Farallon Island, evening: photo by Duncan Wright, 2005

A friend attends
to the tides as men

are given
to be accepted by

women, as though
the receiving

and the giving
were one

thing. To rest in such

regarding love must
require great trust --

the pure soul,
and the bit of luck

it takes to float
all that you don't

yet quite know
in the greater sea of the not

yet quite
knowing it. After the storms,

the dawn will break

and clear, once more
the Common

Murres will flock

upon the rocks
and the shore.

File:SE Farallon Island.jpg

Southeast Farallon Island and West End, Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge
: photo by Jan Roletto, 2005 (NOAA)

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View from Maintop over Maintop Island (Farallon Islands), north shore, with the Drunk Uncle islets and the wreck of the SS Henry Bergh: photo by Duncan Wright, 2005

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Common Murre (Uria aalge) colony, Farallon Islands: photo by Duncan Wright, 2005

File:Murre colony.jpg.jpeg

Common Murre (Uria aalge) colony, with some of the 160,000 Common Murres of the colony nesting, Farallon Islands: photo by Duncan Wright, 2005

This post dedicated to SarahA

Thursday 25 November 2010

Copper (Poem Composed After the Manner Prescribed by Bocage)


File:Chino copper mine.jpg

Chino open-pit copper mine, outside Silver City, New Mexico: photo by Eric Guinther, 2003

There must be something unusual in the air today, the buildings seem to be moving. Or is it just me?

(I was going to say it reminds me of the rolling motion of happy flesh upon the midsection of a jogger in the violet-streaked hush of the boxy evening, but now I have changed my mind, as there is a great deal of noise in the area, and far too much light remaining, or maybe advancing, for this to be described as evening, and I see no jogger in the picture, nor boxes either, in any case.)

Light is having a curious effect on the falling snowflakes. It is making them visible.

(There is a copper spire, or perhaps I should call it a steeple, just up ahead here, I think; though it may simply be I have smudged my eyeglasses, for the sharp weather causes my eyes to trickle; unless, that is, it is simply the trickling of the eyes, coming into contact with the withered lower tiers of the ancient countenance, that creates the impression of bitterness in the weather and of copperiness in the, let us admit seriously reduced, field of vision.)

File:Stora stöten.jpg

The 'Great Pit' Copper Mine, Falun, Sweden: photo by Wiguff, 2005

The tulips are like clouds, in a way. Or perhaps I should say, the clouds are like tulips, in a way.

(Taking something out and working something in, resting comfortably and jogging, as a cradle is rocked, these are the margins, I meant to say the rhythms, of my spring song, I meant to say winter, continually making things up as I go along, ostensibly so as not to come to the end, but actually so as to prolong the middle so cunningly as to trick it into believing, if only for a moment, if only with suspicion, that it is still but the beginning, just waking, having a stretch and a song.)

Something large and blue is affecting my vision. It is either the sky or my winter muffler.

(There is every likelihood it is definitely my winter muffler, I am all but certain.)

I think the sun is out, but on this point certainty is not easily brought to bear, that large luminous object could as easily be the moon, or for that matter a streetlamp.

(It could also be the glaring ocular apparatus of a huge one-eyed ceramic rocking horse, whose motions I had earlier mistaken for those of a cradle.)

Only a moment ago, when I saw those buildings, I was sure I was in the city, but now I see no buildings, so this may actually be the country, or perhaps the suburbs.

(There are stems, but no leaves, protruding from the earth, unless, that is, the stems are stumps, and the earth is pavement, or perhaps finely-ground grey rubble, strewn with leaves -- copper stumps, copper leaves, that coppery feeling again, and, too, the metallic crunch when one treads upon the copper leaves.)

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The 'Great Pit', mining area of the Great Copper Mountain, Falun, Sweden: photo by mig sjüalv, 2006

I have a feeling it is one of the winter months at present, December perhaps, or one of the other ones, November, January, March, and so on.

(Golden streaks line the edges of the furry black shapes that pop up peripherally, as I speak, and as quickly disappear again, these cannot be tulips, they must be clouds: unless, that is, they are the images of people; not actual people mind you -- there are of course none of those around, it is the holiday, the city and the country and the suburbs lie dead and vacant -- but the simulacra of people that populate my imagination, of those there is no lack, in fact more and more of them are popping up even as I say this.)

Given the choice, I would prefer one of the summer months, I believe.

(Kisses, blowing motions of the unpursed lips, solicitations of blessing, accompanied by the concession of pretentions to attention, the resignation of claims to preference, or perhaps the reverse, that is, the concession of claims to preference, or then again the sudden preference for claims to attention, or the grudging resignation of pretentions to claim, or finally the surrenders of claim, the resignation of concession, the preferences given over and yet again reclaimed, and as quickly forgotten, here, now, on this winter's, or summer's, night, or day.)


Chuquicamata open-pit copper mine, Chile: photo by Richard Jahn, 1984

Well, that's all there was to say, or to pretend to say, for tonight, or today. One really ought to be running along now.

(But I feel I am breathing a little poorly, it must be that tailings dust from the copper mines. This wasn't mentioned in the syllabus, the gasping from the fumes, the inhaling of the vapors, the exhaling of the vapors, more difficult still -- or was it? Fine print was never my forte. Now the memories come flocking back, in finely-powdered particulate form, ground-up bits of the temples we'd gone to see, the sanctuaries, the ruins, ah the ruins, the ancient halls reduced to cracked and tumbled blocks of stone, the wretched starved weeds, the encroaching cobwebs, the mould, the places in which we had worshipped, I wouldn't exactly say prayed, but paid our observances, a hotel now to lizards, to scorpions and rats, the battiness of the dust-filled ancient halls, the collapsing tunnels, the choking aerosols of the noisome intrusive unending memories, I can't get over you, I can't remember what I wanted to tell you, I can't stop telling you, I can't tell you, I can't stop being surprised, there are no surprises left in store, it all breaks down, it all falls apart, still there is more, it all works in together, it blends, it cooperates, it says soft things in the sad low hush of the secret quiet dark, no it doesn't, I lied, it must be the tailings dust.)

File:Falu Gruva2.jpg

The 'Great Pit', mining area of the Great Copper Mountain, Falun, Sweden: photo by mig sjüalv, 2006

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Secret of the Poet (After Ungaretti)

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Noctilucent clouds, Kuresoo bog, Soomaa National Park, Estonia: photo by Martin Koitmäe, 2009

I only friend the night
With her, time is not

A waiting in vain for the hours to go by
It is a slippage of instants

A trembling of the pulse
From which I can't turn away

So that
Dragged out of the shadows

Hope sparks up
In the silence


File:Laser Towards Milky Ways Centre.jpg

Laser beam directed toward the centre of the Milky Way from Yepun laser star guide facility at ESO Paranal Observatory, Chile, crossing the southern sky and creating an artificial star at 90 km. altitude in Earth's mesosphere: photo by ESO/Yuri Beletsky, 2010

After Giuseppi Ungaretti: Segreto del poeta (Secret of the poet) from La terra promessa (The promised land), 1950

Turkey Day at the Ideal Cafe


Sign on window during Thanksgiving week in South Boston, Virginia: photo by Marion Post Wolcott, 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Poetry Lesson


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The Portuguese poet Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage (1765-1805)
: Joaquin Pedro de Souza, from História da Literatura, ed. José Marques da Cruz, 1942

Look around the room you are in or imagine another room. What is happening? Take some notes.

(But be sure not to include the circumstances that allow you the leisure for this sort of idle contemplation)

What causes the noises (or silence)?

(Adopt, for the sake of the internal demand to be writing something, a theory of causality)

What causes the light and shadows: Full moon? Bedlamp? Clouded sunlight?

(It will probably help to be a bit unclear about the light source, so as to eke out as many speculative projections as possible, thus adding the requisite dash of sensibility)

What effects does the light have on objects in the room, and on you?

(Don't attempt to fool yourself into thinking this matters to anyone, but keep in mind the fact that subjective impressions will add nuance to your expression)

Make a list of everything you can see and hear outside.

(Again, no one cares, but it's this sort of harmless cultivated irrelevance that helps reassure one's patrons)

What makes it light or dark out?

(Obvious questions deserve complicated answers: remember, this is poetry, stretch things as far as you can, and then a bit further)

Are there trees outside? What causes the leaves to move and change their colors? What effects do they have on birds and the sky and you?

(Keep in mind that everybody knows the answer to the first two questions, and nobody cares about the answer to the third -- but elaboration is to be desired, at any cost; after all, what better way is there to waste the time, while accumulating a few more lines?)

What person or event does the room remind you of? Why?

(This should be easy, like pinning the tail on the donkey, and then picking the name of someone wealthy or powerful or some event of curious yet slightly arcane significance to give the donkey)

What time of day is it?

(Don't just settle for looking at the clock, try to scrape up some aesthetically "interesting" atmospherics)

Look at one object inside or outside and describe its shape in detail. (Exaggerate if you wish!)

(No, hold that, in this business lying is everything -- exaggerate whether you wish or not!)

Write a poem from your notes.

(And then hold your breath, make nice, and await the arrival of the good fairy...)

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Thomas Traherne: Shadows in the Water

File:Surface waves and water striders.JPG

Shadows of mating Water Striders (Gerris argentatus), their motion creating surface ripples upon a pond, with reflections of sun upon their footprints: photo by Mila Zinkova, 2007

In unexperienced infancy
Many a sweet mistake doth lie:
Mistake though false, intending true;
A seeming somewhat more than view;
.......That doth instruct the mind
.......In things that lie behind,
And many secrets to us show
Which afterwards we come to know.

Thus did I by the water’s brink
Another world beneath me think;
And while the lofty spacious skies
Reversèd there, abused mine eyes,
.......I fancied other feet
.......Came mine to touch or meet;
As by some puddle I did play
Another world within it lay.

Beneath the water people drowned,
Yet with another heaven crowned,
In spacious regions seemed to go
As freely moving to and fro:
.......In bright and open space
.......I saw their very face;
Eyes, hands, and feet they had like mine;
Another sun did with them shine.

’Twas strange that people there should walk,
And yet I could not hear them talk;
That through a little watery chink,
Which one dry ox or horse might drink,
.......We other worlds should see,
.......Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

I called them oft, but called in vain;
No speeches we could entertain:
Yet did I there expect to find
Some other world, to please my mind.
.......I plainly saw by these
.......A new antipodes,
Whom, though they were so plainly seen,
A film kept off that stood between.

By walking men’s reversèd feet
I chanced another world to meet;
Though it did not to view exceed
A phantom, ’tis a world indeed,
.......Where skies beneath us shine,
.......And earth by art divine
Another face presents below,
Where people’s feet against ours go.

Within the regions of the air,
Compassed about with heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;
.......Where many numerous hosts
.......In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

O ye that stand upon the brink,
Whom I so near me through the chink
With wonder see: what faces there,
Whose feet, whose bodies, do ye wear?
.......I my companions see
.......In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

Look how far off those lower skies
Extend themselves! scarce with mine eyes
I can them reach. O ye my friends,
What secret borders on those ends?
.......Are lofty heavens hurled
.......’Bout your inferior world?
Are yet the representatives
Of other peoples’ distant lives?

Of all the playmates which I knew
That here I do the image view
In other selves, what can it mean?
But that below the purling stream
.......Some unknown joys there be
.......Laid up in store for me;
To which I shall, when that thin skin
Is broken, be admitted in.

File:Multy droplets impact.JPG

Capillary waves produced by several droplet impacts upon the interface between water and air: photo by Mila Zinkova, 2007

Glocken aus der Tiefe

Still from Glocken aus der Tiefe (Bells from the Deep): Werner Herzog, 1993

Thomas Traherne (1637-1674): Shadows in the Water (n.d.) from Poems of Felicity (1910)

Raymond Williams: Subject and Servant


File:Etiquette at the Ball.jpg

Etiquette at the Ball for the Victorians of London Society: artist unknown, c. 1880-1900 (image by Thyra, 2008)

It is clearly possible for an individual to acquiesce in a way of living which in fact fails to correspond with or satisfy his own personal organization. He will obey authorities he does not personally accept, carry out social functions that have no personal meaning to him, even feel and think in ways so foreign to his actual desires that damage will be done to his own being -- often deep emotional disorders, often physical damage to his own organic processes. The marks of this false conformity have been very evident in our social experience, but it is wrong to interpret them in terms of the old "individual" and "society" dichotomy. We can best describe them as the roles of subject and servant, in contrast with member.

The subject, at whatever violence to himself, has to accept the way of life of his society, and his own indicated place within it, because there is no other way in which he can maintain himself at all; only by this kind of obedience can he eat, sleep, shelter, or escape being destroyed by others. It is not his way of life, but he must conform to it in order to survive. In the case of the servant, the pressure is less severe, though still, to him, irresistible. The subject has no choice; the servant is given the illusion of choice, because again, like the subject, he has no obvious way of maintaining his life if he refuses. Yet the illusion is important, for it allows him to pretend to an identification with society, as if the choice had been real. The subject will have few illusions about the relationship which is determining him; he will know that the way of life is not his but must be obeyed. The servant, on the other hand, may come to identify with the way of life that is determining him; he may even, consciously, think of himself as a member (indeed the old sense of "member" allows for this, for if the individual is an organ of the organism which is society, particular individuals will be higher or lower organs yet still feel themselves as true parts). Yet at many levels of his life, and particularly in certain situations such as solitude and age, the discrepancy between the role the individual is playing and his actual sense of himself will become manifest, either consciously or in terms of some physical or emotional disturbance. Given the right conditions, he can play the role as if it were really his, but alone, or in situations evoking his deepest personal feelings, the identification breaks down. It seems possible, from the experience that has been widely recorded, that this situation of the servant is crucial in our kind of society. And in modern Europe and the United States there are still subjects, though the experience of the servant is much more frequently recorded. It is that we are told we are free, and that we are shaping our common destiny; yet, with varying force, many of us break through to the conviction that the pattern of public activity has, in the end, very little to do with our private desires. Indeed the main modern force of the distinction between "the individual' and "society" springs from this feeling. It is only from the servant complex that we can both maintain this conviction and yet repeatedly pretend that we believe, wholeheartedly, in the purposes of our society.


Solitude: photo by Les Chatfield, 2005

Raymond Williams: from Individuals and Societies, in The Long Revolution, 1961

Monday 22 November 2010

Morning Glory



Ipomoea purpurea (Morning Glory flowers)
: photo by PiccoloNamek, 2005

I lit my purest candle close to my
Window, hoping it would catch the eye
Of any vagabond who passed it by,
And I waited in my fleeting house

Before he came I felt him drawing near;
As he neared I felt the ancient fear
That he had come to wound my door and jeer,
And I waited in my fleeting house

-- from Morning Glory: Tim Buckley and Larry Beckett, 1967

There are many tests that may be applied to a song or a poem, but perhaps the most important of these is the test of time: it sounded good back then, but how does it sound now?

Much of the poetry and song of bygone epochs is best left buried in the tar pits of recycled history. It sounded good back then, but now, well, kindness compels a silent nod, and nothing more, as one passes on, and the song or poem recedes into the distance.

Songs and poems may be like mirrors in that respect. Once they may have offered a fair reflection of the feeling and colour of a time. But now most of them are like broken mirrors, cracked and clouded-over. All one can discover in them is the past. There is nothing left to learn about that. It's done and dusted.

But then there are the marvelous exceptions.

File:Glorious Morning Glories.JPG

Ipomoea tricolor ("Blue Star" Morning Glory flowers)
: photo by DMaciver, 2007

One of these special exceptions, for me, is the Tim Buckley/Larry Beckett collaboration Morning Glory, recorded by Buckley on his 1967 album Hello, Goodbye.

Tim Buckley was twenty-one at the time that record came out. Here he is a year later, performing the song live on the BBC. (The lip-synching on the video clip is approximate, as per most of the clips one sees from that period.)

Several things about this song continue to engage.

The hobo is a character who has lingered. Nowadays he might be called homeless person or street person. He is the other. He is definitely still around, in fact more so than ever. You may have stepped over or around him on the public pavements just last night.

The fleeting house which the hobo approaches, in which the narrator waits with an ancient fear, and in which he lights his purest candle, remains to be understood.

Some have suggested that the fleeting house is the house of fame, in which Tim Buckley very briefly dwelt.

Briefly is meant here in a literal sense. Tim Buckley died of a heroin overdose in 1975, at the age of twenty-eight. Since then the song has taken on retrospective meanings that could not have been foreseen at the time of its composition.

The lyric of the song was probably penned by Larry Beckett, Buckley's close friend and collaborator.

Buckley is said to have asked Beckett to write a song with a hobo in it.

The Hobo: Charles Burchfield, 1931 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.)

Introducing it in one extended clip of that recorded performance from 1968, Buckley recounts an anecdote whose bearing upon the song does little to dispel its mysteries.

"This new song," he said, "is about a hobo beatin' up on a collegiate kid, outside of Dallas, Texas."

Buckley is said to have been troubled by problems of guilt and deficient self-esteem deriving from the early experience of an abusive father.

His own "collegiate" career, at Fullerton State, which is in California, not Texas, lasted but a few short weeks.

In any event, the possible autobiographical elements in the song appear to have virtually nothing to do with its lasting impact as a poem and a piece of music.

All houses are fleeting. Many have wished to leave their purest candle in a window as a signal of compassionate receptiveness.

But offerings of warmth and light and refuge may be tentative; such offerings may be withdrawn; candles may be snuffed out, lights extinguished, windows shuttered and closed.

These complications seem to enter the song, as Tim Buckley sings it.

December Twilight: Charles Burchfield, 1932-1938 (Wichita Museum of Art)

The poet Robert Creeley spoke in his later years of life as a long solitary journey in the dark, in the course of which one is always looking for that light in a window which signals rest, or relief -- some distant yet emotionally securing memory or reminder of whatever it is one means by home.

Twenty years ago, in remarks recorded in a small book we did together about his life, in which he addressed at some length his sense of the meanings of the terms the common, and the common place, Creeley parsed one of his own poems, a poem dedicated to his wife Penelope, titled So There, which has the lines "Happiness, happiness -- / so simple... / It's one world, / it can't be another... / I don't want to / argue the point..."

"I don't want to argue the point," he said. "That's, again, the common language.... I love the commonplace, but I have no interest in the argument that follows. I used to be really bemused by that statement of Wittgenstein's 'a point in space is a place for an argument'. My reaction was 'Don't tell me that!' I mean, the light in the window, the hills of home -- forget it! It can't be simply a place for an argument." (Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place)

But Creeley's comments on this subject came, as I say, in later life.


Ipomoea nil (Morning Glory flower): photo by Frank J. Gualtieri, Jr., 2008

Morning Glory, on the other hand, is a young man's work.

But it has, as they say,
aged well, though the singer himself did not.

The singer not the song -- no. It's the song and not the singer that is the purest candle, the light in the window, the signal that even though the house may be fleeting, the flickering life of spirit is not to be so easily extinguished by time.


Tim Buckley at Fillmore East, New York City, October 19, 1968: photo by Grant Gouldron, 1968; image by Leahtwosaints, 2010

Phil Ochs: Fish-Hooks


Phil Ochs, Vancouver Gardens Arena, 13 March 1969: photo by Mark Millman

There But For Fortune, the Phil Ochs documentary directed by Ken Bowser, opens in New York
in January.

The film takes us back to the folk/protest epoch of the 1960s, and follows the career of Ochs
while chronicling the major social and political events of the period (civil rights, Viet Nam & c.).

Few of which the busy troubadour Ochs, spiritual offspring of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger,
did not work into a song.

It's remarked by a friend, in the film, that all Phil had to do to get a song was open the New York

Ochs' earnest sardonic lyrics, his bitter wit and biting commentary, were distinctive.

He had the voice of a crooner implanted upon a soul that was born to always be cankering about
something or other.

After some years of success, Ochs went into a bad decline, career-wise and personally. He drank
heavily. Friends feared for him.

The movie is frank, candid, unflinching on the subject of Ochs' many troubles. It's also terribly sad.

Ochs' brother Michael fearlessly confronts the issue of his brother's demons. You get the feeling
he's worked through all this before.

At a certain point about two-thirds of the way through the documentary, you get that Uh-oh, I don't
like where this is going

A fellow "counterculture" folk singer, the poet Ed Sanders, was close with Phil.

Sanders' testimony in the film is perhaps the most affecting of the many close-up talking-heads

Ochs was only thirty-five when he went out to his sister's place in Far Rockaway and hung himself.

Sanders recounts the shock of the news.

"I went out to where he was staying, you know, where he had hung himself.

"This was a day or so after it happened. He had hung himself off, I guess, a hook on the wall. I went
out there just to look at it, to re-create it in my mind.

"It was so horrifying.

* * *

"He attracted really close friendships, and that's why people [around him] were so traumatized, and
full of angst, in his later years.

"He just couldn't stop drinking. I know it was guilt. He felt guilty, you know, about his daughter and
his marriage.

"When you make mistakes there are no time machines to rectify mistakes, so mistakes are lodged
like harpoons and fish-hooks in an intelligent person's soul.

"And I think Phil couldn't get beyond those personal harpoons that made him feel, in some ways,

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody/Outside of a small circle of friends.

-- Phil Ochs: Outside of a Small Circle of Friends, from Pleasures of the Harbor, 1967

Phil Ochs: All the News that's Fit to Sing (1964), front cover: image via Michael Ochs Archives

Phil Ochs: I Ain't Marching Any More (1965), front cover: image via Michael Ochs Archives

Phil Ochs, Vancouver Gardens Arena, 13 March 1969: photo by Mark Millman

Raymond Williams: Individuals and Societies


[Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with three grandchildren and her adopted daughter]

Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with three grandchildren and her adopted daughter (to right, reflected in mirror): photo by Gordon Parks, August 1942 (Gordon Parks Archives, Library of Congress)

To the member, society is his own community; the members of other communities may be beyond his recognition or sympathy.

To the servant, society is an establishment, in which he finds his place.

To the rebel, a particular society is a tyranny; the alternative for which he fights is a new and better society.

To the exile, society is beyond him, but may change.

To the vagrant, society is a name for other people, who are in his way or can be used.

Preview image, see text for description

Beginning of the ball season, Berlin: photo by Carl Weinrother, 1934 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

Raymond Williams: Individuals and Societies (excerpt), from The Long Revolution, 1961

Saturday 20 November 2010

Samuel Beckett: A Jar of One's Own



Canopic tomb burial jars containing the organs of Neskhons, wife of Pinedjem II; calcite, with painted wooden heads, from Deir el-Behri royal cache, c. 990-969 BC: image by Captmondo, 2008 (British Museum)

More resolutions, while we're at it. (That's right: resolutely, more resolutions.) Make abundant use of the principle of parsimony, as if it were familiar to me (it is not too late). Assume notably henceforward that the thing said and the thing heard have a common source (resisting for this purpose the temptation to call in question the possibility of assuming anything whatever). Situate this source in me (without specifying where exactly, no finicking): anything is preferable to the consciousness of third parties and (more generally speaking) of an outer world. Carry if necessary this process of compression to the point of abandoning all other postulates than that of a deaf half-wit, hearing nothing of what he says and understanding even less. Evoke at painful junctures (when discouragement threatens to raise its head) the image of a vast cretinous mouth (red, blubber and slobbering) in solitary confinement, extruding indefatigably (with a noise of wet kisses and washing in a tub) the words that obstruct it. Set aside once and for all (at the same time as the analogy with orthodox damnation) all idea of beginning and end. Overcome (that goes without saying) the fatal leaning towards expressiveness. Equate me (without pity or scruple) with him who exists (somehow, no matter how, no finicking), with him whose story this story had the brief ambition to be. Better: ascribe to me a body. Better still: arrogate to me a mind. Speak of a world of my own (sometimes referred to as the inner) without choking. Doubt no more. Seek no more. Take advantage of the brand-new soul and substantiality to abandon, with the only possible abandon, deep down within. And finally (these and other decisions having been taken) carry on cheerfully as before.

Something has changed nevertheless. Not a word about Mahood, or Worm, for the past..... Ah yes, I nearly forgot: speak of time, without flinching. And what is more, it just occurs to me (by a natural association of ideas), treat of space with the same easy grace. As if it were not bunged up on all sides, a few inches away. After all that's something - a few inches - to be thankful for. It gives one air: room for the tongue to loll, to have lolled, to loll on.

Samuel Beckett: from The Unnamable (1959)