Browsing the stacks

“On the Downs” – John Masefield (published Sept., 1918)

Up on the downs the red-eyed kestrels hover,

Eyeing the grass.

The field-mouse flits like a shadow into cover

As their shadows pass.

Men are burning gorse on the down’s shoulder,

A drift of smoke

Glitters and hangs and the skies smoulder

And the lungs choke.

Once the tribe did thus on the downs, burning

Men in the frame,

Crying to the gods of the downs ’til their brains were burning

And the gods came.

And today on the downs, in the wind, the hawkes of the grasses

In blood and air,

Something passes me and cries as it passes,

On the chalk downland bare.


Not sure how long this has been up, but hey – I just found out about it via the official unofficial site for Sinclair, that patron saint of the Old Weird Albion. An excellent interview with Iain Sinclair, written by the late Kathy Acker, at the time of Lights Out for the Territory.

Who but the irreconcilable irrepressible Acker could turn what might’ve been a run-of-the-mill conversation about lit-mysticism and beatnik neo-paganism into a beautiful dissection (nee exhibition) of the linguistic balance of Sinclair’s visionary novels and their arc into “non”-fiction? Coming soon: A roundup revisitation of some of the excellent recent webwise material from the ubiquitous Mr. Sinclair…

Attila RantingMy interview/profile piece on Brighton-based ranting poet and legendary punk-rock skeptic Attila the Stockbroker is up at the Poetry Foundation’s website.

Attila is, of course, the never-say-die torchbearer of Ranting Poetry, and the champion of two things I hold dear: Brighton & Hove Albion, and decent beer.

But more importantly for our purposes, he’s the self-described inheritor of a rich tradition of English rebel bards – the information superhighway hikers of the old oral tradition, and the talking-head partisan philosophers of a time when a well-turned phrase was more feared than a hefty pocketbook. The tradition, in other words, that provided a kind of CNN to the Old Weird Albion.

A note to myself I’ll share with anyone else: writer Amy Cutler’s conference paper on the poetry of industrial archaeology in the north of England – primarily Ted Hughes and Peter Riley – shared on her blog. An exciting look at modern poetry and its connection to the constant search for the cultural self of England – not to mention a proper dig into Peter Riley, a wondrous poet, if one whose work isn’t easy to come by (at least on this side of the atlantic). (Riley’s Excavations is a primary influence on a project of mine that, with a little luck, will get announced very soon.)

If nothing else, let this serve as a reminder to myself to read every damn thing on Cutler’s blog – with notes, of course, shared right here…

Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years: A long title for a short-ish book; one not trapped in the pale of academia, yet lacking in the vibrant writing of a popular creative non-fiction; a book that won’t please your Christian Grandmother, but might get smirked at by the hardcore folkies as well. But the late Phyllis Siefker’s tract on the origins of Santa Claus – tracing this folk figure from, she posits, his initial existence as the “Wild Man” of pan-European paganism – is a wonderful excursion into our own mythologies, regardless of its faults. And, in fact, Last of the Wild Men has become one of the prime movers in getting my personal interest in Christmas back in gear. (more…)

Beautiful piece by Darran Anderson at 3:AM Magazine about RS Thomas, whom Anderson describes as a sort-of poet laureate of celtic cynicism, and the patriotic scourge of Welsh self-immobilization, and to whom Seamus Heaney tipped his hat as, “a Clint Eastwood of the spirit.”


Pity Me, Durham, by Eric Haswell

In the long tradition of obsession with place-naming in the British Isles, there can be few contributions as simply beautiful as the title piece from 2009 T.S. Eliot-prize winning poet Jen Hadfield’s Nigh-No-Place. It took me a year from its publication to ‘discover’ for myself this incredible book, and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve yet to buy Almanacs, her previous set from that most regarded of modern avatars, Bloodaxe Books.


In reading, and re-reading, “Nigh-No-Place” from its eponymous volume, I shifted from the initial adoration of its language – a landscape in and of itself, with consonant peaks and vowel valleys; rivers of dashed joinings and roads built of repetition – and began to wonder about these places Hadfield names.

Which brings us to the wonderful ‘crowd-sourced’ project, Geograph, an online attempt to gather photographs of every square on the Ordnance Survey grid of the British Isles, and organize them into a cartographic database of images of the landscape. Not all of Hadfield’s locations are in Britain – some are named as Canadian; others might not be part of the landscape itself, but buildings and roads, or part of the mythological landscape that hovers above the physical one. But many, indeed, were easy to find on Geograph’s easily searched database of imagery. (more…)

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