Thursday, March 14, 2019

Leslie-Ann Beldamme: "The One I Love"

I have just re-purposed my Tumblr blog with a focus on Danish writers and artists, and started translating little pieces of prose and poetry for that. This work pleases me a good deal, and who knows what collections it might lead to...

The work involves finding cool Danish, or - in a pinch - Scandinavian birthdays, and every now and then I stumble over a name that is vaguely familiar, but which I can't quite place. This happened yesterday when I was researching the March 15 birthdays. "Anna Castberg? Who was she, again?"

Well, as it turns out, Anna Castberg is mainly remembered in Denmark for a moment of infamy when she was caught lying on her resumé for the job as Museum Director at the recently built Arken museum - a lovely edifice on the coast just outside Copenhagen, which specializes in Contemporary art.

Ms Castberg was pre-eminently qualified for the job as Director with her PhD in Art History and extensive museum experience, and she was hired in 1993 to build up the collection and launch the new museum in 1996.

Soon, however, the Danish newspapers took a keen interest in the budgets for the new museum which seemed rather out of control, and a bit of digging soon revealed that Castberg didn't really have a degree of any sorts and didn't actually attend any of the universities she claimed to have gone too. She also hadn't really worked for the institutions she had listed on her resumé as prior experience. This was not a new pattern, in fact. When looking for work in Britain, she claimed to have a Danish degree, and vice versa...

She did manage to stick around to launch the museum, which soon became an attractive destination for culture tourism and started putting itself on the map in art circles. However, a few months after the opening she was let go, and promptly vanished from the public view... She seems to have moved back to Britain, and is currently listed as a practicing psychotherapist. I'm not sure she has any formal degree or training as such in that field, either - but hey, that has never stopped her before...

At least two Danish novels and one play have been inspired by the Anna Castberg affair. I haven't read or seen any of them, but you can easily find them if you can read Danish. Look for Leif Davidsen's Lime's Billede, or Ole Hyltoft's Mordet på Museet...

So, why am I blogging about Anna Castberg, you might ask... Well, apart from her bold behavior, which I can't help but admire, having worked myself in a business where fraud is rampant but rarely this flamboyant, she did have one true item on her CV that I am particularly interested in.

Cue Leslie-Ann Beldamme, the little-known English folk-singer who at the age of 17 got a contract with Decca and recorded a lovely 7" single with the songs "The One I Love" (R.E.M. were not that original...) as the B-side and "The Rose of Loneliness" as the A-side. Leslie-Ann was of course none other than Holbæk-born Anna Castberg.

At this point in time only the B-side - which according to the label was penned by Leslie-Ann herself, but who knows? - is available on YouTube. I have not heard the A-side which is credited to Mikis Theodorakis, and titled in parenthesis "Sirtaki song", which would indicate it used the melody from the film, Zorba the Greek that was a huge hit in 1964. The other writing credit on that track is for "Jeffery" - maybe an English lyricist? This track also has an arranger credit to Reg Guest (known for his work with The Walker Brothers, Dusty Springfield, and others).

I advise you to listen to "The One I Love" - it is really lovely and very much of its time what with Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell beginning to make a mark for themselves. The vocals are pure, somewhat vibrato-laden, and the melody is simple but catchy in its arrangement for acoustic guitar, bass, a touch of vibraphone and tastefully wire-brushed drums...




I suppose Decca thought - with some justification - they might have found a true English rose to rival the Americans in this fledgling market for folky, female singer-songwriters...

However, the single flopped pretty badly, selling only 9.000 copies, and Leslie-Ann never seems to have recorded again - at least not under that name. There is something very endearing about the whole construction of this young girl - the obvious, but clumsy allegorical last name (riffing on the French "Belle Dame" - 'beautiful lady' and her step-father's real name, Beldam), and the both demure and sexy picture of the brunette on the sleeve.

Image engineering was not as blatant in the 1960s as it later became in the music industry and commercial realms - but it certainly did exist. Also, one cannot help but think what would have happened, had Leslie-Ann become the next singing sensation for Decca. Would she still have ended up a fraud, infamous in an entire nation? Or would she have ended up as revered as the late, great Sandy Denny, born one year before Ms Castberg??

The Decca single is available on Discogs and other re-sell sites for a pretty hefty price - 50 GBP on eBay, or €150 on Discogs.

Happy 71st to Ms Castberg!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Translating Poetry, 10 Years After

Recently I've begun translating poetry again. This current spate comes 10 years after the last slew of translations I published on this blog in 2009. Seems like yesterday...

Today's poems are all translated from Danish, and they represent three generations of writers - with poems appearing originally in the 1920s, '50s and '80s...

The first poem is by Nis Petersen - from Nattens Pibere, his debut collection from 1926. The strange title refers to the bats he observed and and heard squeaking at night in a local cemetery.


The poem I chose for translation, "When the Cherry Trees Are Blooming", is a witchy celebration of nature's temptations. I don't usually do rhyme-driven poems, but I had a lot of fun with this one.

Nis Petersen was a somewhat tragic figure, who spent many wasted years in his youth, drinking and living as a vagabond because he couldn't hold down a job. He traveled extensively and spent substantial time in Ireland and the Faroe Islands - both locations inspiring poems and novels. His main fame comes from his 1931 historical novel, Sandalmagernes Gade, which is set in classical Rome.

He eventually settled down in the middle of Jutland and stopped drinking after a rehab stay in Sweden. However, his life was cut short by cancer and he died before turning 50, on March 9, 1943...

The second poet I've been working with turns 91 today. Knud Sørensen is a local poet residing on Mors, the island just across from National Park Thy, where I am currently living. Before retiring 35 years ago, Knud Sørensen worked as a surveyor alongside his writing work, and the sense of place and spirit of the land is acute in his writing. He had his debut as a poet in the classic Danish poetry journal, Hvedekorn (Grains of Wheat) which is still going strong.


 Below is one of his early Hvedekorn poems, “Morning”, which I have recently translated…

The final translation I'm presenting today is from the work of the quintessential New Wave post-punk poetic voice in Denmark, Michael Strunge, who died by suicide on March 9, 1986.


Posthumously, Strunge became the most popular poet in Denmark since Klaus Rifbjerg - and in contrast to the two first poets I've mentioned, Strunge was very much an urban voice in Danish poetry. Here is my new translation of his 1984 poem, "When we're asleep" from his collection Armed with Wings...


Note how in the poem the voice of the speaker originates from an apartment in the city and ends up encompassing all of the surrounding landscape. Strunge is far from the first poet to compare the hearts of lovers to a pair of birds - in fact Nis Petersen did exactly that in one of the poems in Nattens Pibere, where he wrote:

"Men tænk, om to mennesker vågnede midt
om natten og glemte, hvad mit var og dit
og sang — bare sang som hr. Kvirrevit
og fru Kvirrevit
kvirrevit!
vit!"

"Imagine two humans waking up one night,
Forgetting what was mine and what was yours
and sang — just sang like Mr. Chip-Chirip
and Mrs. Chip-Chirip:
Chip-chirip!
Chip!"

I'm not suggesting a direct intertextuality between the two misfit poets here, but for sure a commonality of theme and imagery.

As far as I can tell none of these Danish poets from three different generations have been translated into English before. I hope some will enjoy their work.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Whitewashing of Unchained Melody

In late 1954, Russian-Jewish-American composer Alex North was putting the finishing touches to his score for a prison drama - a distinct type of B-movie fodder - titled Unchained. If you’ve seen the film, it’s probably because you’re either an insomniac addicted to the TCM channel, or because you’re a die-hard Dexter Gordon fan who has to have heard every performance he ever laid down. Gordon was, purely by co-incidence, serving a sentence for drug possession when the movie was shot on location in the California Institution for Men, a correctional facility in Chino, and he makes an uncredited cameo appearance as a saxophone player in the prison band.



This 1955 movie is one of those weird instances where a Hollywood script is based on a non-fiction book that tries to offer a corrective to the way mainstream America perceives a social problem - in this case the issue of incarceration and re-socialization of criminal offenders. Hall Bartlett, who started out as a documentary film maker, wrote the screenplay (spending six months living with inmates in a prison while writing it), and was both director and producer as well. He was clearly a man with a conscience and a message. He went on to direct better-known films such as Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Bartlett was happy enough with North’s score to the movie, but reminded him that there needed to be a song in there as well. After all he had cast African-American operatic baritone Todd Duncan (the original Porgy in Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess) in the flick, and he had to have a song to sing. North had a melody in mind, and called up his Tin Pan Alley lyricist Hy Zaret to get him to pen some lyrics. Zaret was pissed off, because he had made plans to paint his house that day and couldn’t be bothered to churn out another set of trifling lyrics. North cajoled him into it after all, and the result was a song without a title, that we all now know as “Unchained Melody”. Heard outside the context of the prison setting that it was performed in in the film, it in fact sounds like any other love song from the dominant middle-class culture of the 1950s. The lyrics seem unconnected to the theme of the film, and the word “unchained” does not appear in the lyrics anywhere.

Bartlett was a bit miffed that Zaret’s lyrics didn’t spell out the social message, but the way Todd Duncan sang the song by turning it into a Lead Belly style blues/worksong manages to convey the right feeling of longing for freedom that brought the song in alignment with the sentiment of the film: “Long all you want, but don’t break out of jail before you’ve served your time!” In Duncan’s version we suddenly hear the word “time” in a different sense - that of doing hard time in prison, when he sings the lines “Time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much”… The effect is deepened by the blue, dropping glissando Duncan adds to the word “slowly”. In contrast he refrains from glissando on the word “love”, thus shifting the whole dynamics of the lyrics. Remarkably Duncan does not perform the song’s minor key bridge, which in all subsequent versions is a striking feature, enhancing the eerie mood of the song.


Duncan’s abbreviated version, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, lasts little more than a minute on screen, but still the song got an Academy Award nomination and almost won an Oscar. Harry Belafonte recorded a folky version of the song, retaining the simple guitar accompaniment, and also performed it live at the Awards show in 1956, but in the end it was pipped for the Oscar by Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing - incidentally another product created by a Jewish-American Tin Pan Alley song-writer. However, the vision of a black man longing for freedom from shackles and chains resonated in a much deeper way with black performers than even the Unchained film-maker had envisioned, and before the year of release of the film was over two very distinct black vocalists had hits with their versions of the song: Roy Hamilton and Al Hibbler. Both these performers have interesting trajectories in show business and in Hibbler’s case also in civil rights activism, as does a third performer who 5 years later recorded a version of Unchained Melody - Sam Cooke, whose posthumously released 1964 song “A Change Gonna Come” is one of the Civil Rights Era’s classic anthems and comprises the same theme of longing for escape and redemption.


Belafonte's folk version above; Sam Cooke's soul version below...


Each of these four black artists’ version of Unchained Melody added a particular subtext to the otherwise banal love song lyrics, but let's look more in depth at Hibbler's and Hamilton's. Al Hibbler’s version on Decca was officially recorded to tie in with the release of the film, and it owed quite a bit to Duncan’s version in spirit. Hibbler had had a long career as vocalist for Duke Ellington’s big band in the 1940s, and had been struggling to make the transition into solo success as a pop artist in the early 1950s. With Unchained Melody he struck gold. Hibbler was quite the character, often ridiculed for his over the top vocal quirks and idiosyncrasies. He was also a Civil Rights activist as early as the late 1950s which of course made him a problematic commodity as a pop star for record companies. It took the unlikely intervention of Frank Sinatra to ensure that Hibbler could keep recording via a contract with Reprise Records. Hibbler's later career highs include a spirited LP of primarily Ellington material recorded with free jazz horn player Rahsaan Roland Kirk in 1965, but not released till 1972. Perhaps these two, on the surface of things, unlikely collaborators were kindred spirits in more ways than one. Both artists were blind - Hibbler from birth, Kirk from the age of two…

Hibbler’s Unchained Melody is straight-forwardly delivered, with only slight quirks in his dwelling on the word “God” and adding a clear melisma on “to” in the fervently expressed wish in the lyrics “God speed your love to me”. The minor key bridge is rushed in nearly recitativo style, and there are bluesy inflections in phrases such as “Are you still mine?” and on the word “love” - and a vast vibrato effect on the final repetition of the word “me”.


Roy Hamilton recorded his version of Unchained Melody hot on the heels of Hibbler’s and it cashed in almost as well as Hibbler’s ‘official’ release did. Hamilton was a seasoned Gospel artist and he took Unchained Melody to church in ways that Sam Cooke may have listened to and emulated to an extent - not that Cooke hadn’t perfected the transition from gospel to secular music in his own career already. Hamilton recorded for Columbia Records' ‘pop label’, Epic, one of Decca’s main competitors in the multiple genres Unchained Melody participated in - easy listening, gospel, pop, r&b and country. Hamilton’s ace in the hole, vocally, was that he had a voice that could tackle the operatic scale of songs such as Unchained Melody, as well as the earthier qualities vocalists such as Duncan and Hibbler mastered really well. Hamilton’s golden period had started with his hit recording of You’ll Never Walk Alone, and in his eager search for follow-up material, he had stumbled over Unchained Melody. After a brief career in the spotlight, Hamilton ran into health issues (possibly TB) that led to retirement from performances. After several half-successful attempts at comebacks, he died in 1969 from a sudden aneurism in the brain and has lapsed into relative obscurity among music fans.

Hamilton’s nasalised baritone is fuller than Hibbler’s, and Hamilton’s lyrics inflections are on words such as “need” and “touch”, rather than “time”. His use of melisma on “slowly” and vibrato on “love” pull the version out of jail, as it were. This aspect of the song was later exploited more fully when The Righteous Brothers’ Bobby Hatfield recorded what most people consider the definitive version of Unchained Melody in 1965. Hamilton’s musical arrangement at first follows Hibbler’s closely in the use of bugles, but later deviates considerably by adding mysterious string effects to the arrangement of the bridge, where the strings emulate the pull of the waters mentioned in the lyrics. At the end a grand piano emerges from the arrangement and lends a clear gospel tinge to the closing.


The point of this small account of the under-documented early African-American history of “Unchained Melody” is to highlight the versatile Americanness of this song. It throws light on binaries that run through American cultural and identity history, but are often denied or directly debunked. Tin Pan Alley’s greatest song-writers were Jewish-Americans, their songs were often best interpreted by African-American performers who added their own meanings to songs about longings and hardships - and yet the relations between Jewish- and African-Americans were often fraught with racism and stereotypes on both sides. In this particular case, we have a song that was reclaimed by black performers as a text speaking to their shared experience of chains and confinement - despite the fact that the song was not written by an African-American its lyrics and melancholia spoke directly to that part of black identity. However, no sooner was the song reclaimed for black identity, than it was re-appropriated for the white teen market and thoroughly whitewashed by mainstream performers.

Most of the material of the “Great American Songbook” was created by first or second generation immigrants, who worked hard to fit in and realize their American Dream - a Dream that black Americans were debarred from for several decades longer than most other minority groups. Much of the musical material that was recorded and made popular by African-American performers was also quickly re-recorded by white artists, often with more commercial success than the originals. This is obviously also the case with Unchained Melody. Contemporary with Hibbler and Hamilton’s versions, several whitewashed version circulated with great success, including a largely instrumental one by Liberace, a full orchestral and choral arrangement by Les Baxter’s Orchestra, and a strange bolero-tempo version by June Valli which reverses the gender dynamics of the song.

No success with Unchained Melody, however, has been greater than the one scored by Bobby Hatfield in 1965. His arrangement of the song scrubs it completely of its origins as a black man’s prison lament. It’s a white-bread love song by then. The musical changes to the arrangement and the unusual original structure of the song made in The Righteous Brothers’ version contribute to mainstreaming the song into a jukebox hit about teenage love. Hatfield uses excessive melisma on almost every word from the first line of the song, and adds vocal contortions and vibrato to the chorus and to the minor key bridge. He even puts a glissando from the word “me” over into an added “yeah” at the end of the bridge. The pathos of the song is underscored by the march tempo used by the orchestra, and the swelling effect of adding more and more instruments and a choral accompaniment after the bridge.


For the nostalgia market, this version of the song was used in one of the ultimate 1990s love stories, the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore movie about unattainable love after death, Ghost, sealing the Hatfield version’s evergreen status. The duo also re-recorded the song and for a few weeks bizarrely had two versions of the same song in the US charts. Coincidentally, another use of Unchained Melody in a movie soundtrack occurred the same year when the 1963 novelty/ white doo-wop version by Vito & the Salutations was featured in the gangster movie, Goodfellas… These recontextualizations of Unchained Melody removed the song from its original meaning, and made its cultural expression more universal, but also much less specific - and completed its whitewashing.

Elvis Presley, who had whitewashed a fair bit of black material in his younger days, was a late-comer to Unchained Melody, but managed to record it immediately before his death. His version paradoxically brought back some of the gospel elements Hatfield had taken out, which is especially audible in Elvis’ live TV-version of the song from Cleveland Auditorium in 1977. The footage is strangely ghostly, as an overweight and obviously ill Presley huffs and puffs his way to the piano, only to belt his soul out when the song starts. Once again Unchained Melody becomes associated with impending death in the listener’s mind. Presley brings in much the same orchestral arrangement as The Righteous Brothers’ used, but his use of grand piano takes us right back to Roy Hamilton’s gospel elements, and Elvis’ hiccup at the end of the word “God” (on two separate occasions, so clearly by design) is very reminiscent of Hibbler’s vocal tic at the same point in the lyrics. By odd coincidence, Elvis had met Hamilton shortly before Hamilton’s death in 1969, while they were both recording in the same Memphis studio, both being produced by Chips Moman. Elvis was a long-time fan of Hamilton, particularly his gospel recordings. When Elvis finally tackled Unchained Melody 8 years later he, in a manner of speaking, synthesized the versions that had come before and fused black and white vocal influences together in an all-American version of the song.


However, Unchained Melody never could become reclaimed as black again, despite Elvis, and despite the 100s of versions recorded later. This story is in no way atypical of how music was disseminated and consumed in the US in the 1950s, 60s and 70s where radio play, sales distribution and audiences were still to a large extent racially divided. It’s still remarkable that the early black recordings of Unchained Melody all had cross-over appeal and were enjoyed also by white audiences, and still the song ended up so whitewashed that few now know the African-American portion of its history.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Rumsfeld Equation

the schrödinger equation
the rumsfeld equation

known knowns – what we know that we know – memory
unknown knowns – what we don’t know that we know – forgetfulness
known unknowns – what we know that we don’t know – foresight
unknown unknowns – what we don’t know that we know nothing of – bliss

Monday, June 15, 2009

Translating poetry

During the long hiatus this blog has had I have mainly worked with a different type of blogging on a Tumblr platform. Under the title Ordinary Finds (originally intended as a companion to this blog's self-professed 'rarer finds') I have produced close to 5.000 posts - most of them visual rather than text-driven - mentioning important cultural figures from the fields of literature, art, film, music etc.

However, I have frequently experienced language problems when trying to disseminate knowledge about poets who didn't write in English and therefore have had their reputation in Anglophone countries largely depend on the quality of the translations of their work. Routinely I've come across language hampered by old-fashioned formulations, stiff meters, or melodramatic metaphors when looking for good versions of German Romantics or French Modernists alike. As a result I started producing my own translations for posting on Ordinary Finds and its more recent off-shoot Lumpy Pudding - whenever I felt that I was able to improve on the already existing work, or in extreme cases when nothing at all was at hand in English...
I thought that now I would take the opportunity to collect the work of this kind I've done more or less casually over the last 6 to 8 months. Here are seven of my translations from German, French and Romanian. The poets in question are Friedrich Hölderlin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wolfgang Borchert, Lucian Blaga, Boris Vian and Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Recently my translation of one of Hölderlin’s best short poems, Hälfte des Lebens, was reprinted in the Stanford University program for their fifth Pan-Asian Music Festival - the occasion being the performance of Joji Yuasa’s setting of the poem for chorus and orchestra, entitled Cosmic Solitude… This event illustrates the importance of Hölderlin still: Japanese music, German Romantic poetry translated into English by a Dane, performed by a bunch of ‘Californians’ - good, no?

Hölderlin: One Half of Life

Hung with golden pears
and full of wild roses
is the land in the sea.
Your stately swans,
drunk with kisses,
dunk their heads
in the holy, sobering water.

Alas, where shall I take, when
winter comes, flowers,
sunshine,
and shades of the Earth?
The walls stand,
speechless and cold, in the wind
the banners rattle
.

.
Image - Markus Lüpertz: Ritter Hölderlin und Heine im Schwertkampf - Oil on canvas (The UBS Art Collection)

~~~~~~

Next, I felt the need to tackle Rilke's Herbsttag, which has been translated numerous times by high-level American poets - with quite miserable results. A web page conveniently gathers all the bad ones here...
.

.
Here's my take:

Harvest Day

Lord: it is time. The summer has been huge.
Lay your shadows across the sun dials,
in the fields let the winds run loose.

Command the last fruit to ripen;
give it two more Southern days,
force it to completion and chase
its last sweetness into the heavy wine

He who still has no house shall never build.
He who is alone shall be given short shrift,
shall read and write long letters, shift
and restlessly pace the lanes that skirt the field
watching as the leaves drift.

~~~~~~

I knew little about Wolfgang Borchert before encountering his birthday, but after a little reading I began to admire his political stance as well as his writings. I chose one of his simple poems to translate, but on Ordinary Finds I also posted a mini-bio and an excerpt from his anti-war manifesto, Then There Is Only One Thing To Do...
.

.
Wolfgang Borchert: Try to
Stand in the middle of the rain,
Believe in the blessing of the drops,
Cover yourself in its noise
And try to be good!

Stand in the middle of the wind,
Believe in it and be a child -
Let the storm enter you
And try to be good!

Stand in the middle of the fire -
Love this monster
With the red wine of your heart
And try to be good!

~~~~~~~

Shifting to Romanian poetry, which of course I have been introduced to chiefly by my wife Camelia (who many years ago gave me a trilingual edition of Blaga - which did not have English versions in it!), I quickly ran into problems whenever I wanted to research well-known Romantic or Modernist poets, since they were hardly ever translated into English - or if they were the translations were horrible...

Lucian Blaga was a particular favourite of mine, so I had to do two poems of his, one for OF and one for Lumpy:
.


Quietude

It is so silent all around me that I can hear
the moonbeams when they strike the windows.

Inside me
a stranger’s voice has come awake
singing of a longing that is not mine.

They say that those who died before their time long ago
with young blood in their veins,
with strong passion in their blood,
with strong sunlight in their passion,
will come,
come and live on
in us
those unlived lives.

It is so silent all around me that I can hear
the moonbeams when they strike the windows.

Ah, who knows in whose breast – once, in eternity
you, my soul, will play
on the soft strings of silence,
on the harp of darkness –
a choked-off song of longing and desire to live? Who knows, who knows?
~~~

The Light

The light I feel
streaming in my breast when I see you,
is that not a drop of the light
created on the first day,
that light which thirsts for life?

Nothingness lay dying,
as the impenetrable one, hovering alone in the dark,
gave a sign:
Let there be light!

An ocean
and a raging storm of light
arose in an instant:
a thirst for sins, desires, longings, passions
a thirst for light and sun.

But where did it go, that blinding
first light – who knows?
The light I feel
streaming in my breast when I see you – wondrous one,
may be the last drop
of the light made on that first day.

~~~~~~

While Camelia could certainly help me with the Romanian language (and I am grateful that she did), since it is her mother tongue - and while I have a pretty good command of German myself, the thought of translating from French (a language I have a somewhat troubled relation with) seemed utter lunacy... Still, it wasn't hard to see that a lot of the poetry I was interested in posting could use a bit of a face-lift, and I often managed with the help of pre-existing versions to streamline the texts I enjoyed...

Boris Vian was always a particular favourite:
.

.
I don’t want to croak
Without having known
The black dogs of Mexico
Who sleep without dreams
The monkeys with bare bums
Devourers of the tropics
The silver spiders
With nests stuffed with bubbles
I don’t want to croak
Without knowing if the moon
Under her false nickel-face
Has a pointed side
If the sun is cold
If the four seasons
Are really only four
Without having tried
Wearing a dress
On the grand boulevards
Without having looked
Into a sewer inspection-hole
Without having put my prick
Into some bizarre corners
I don’t want to end
Without knowing leprosy
Or the seven maladies
One catches down there
The good or the bad
None of them bother me
If if if I knew
That I would have the first of it

And there is also
All that I know
All that I value
That I know pleases me
The green depth of the sea
Where the strands of algae waltz
On the rippled sand
The baked grass of June
The crackling earth
The scent of the pines
And her kisses
Now here, now there
Her beauty obvious to all
My Bear cub, Ursula
I don’t want to croak
Before having used
Her mouth with my mouth
Her body with my hands
The rest with my eyes
I say no more, it’s better
To stay reverential

I don’t want to die
Before someone has invented
Eternal roses
The two hour work-day
The sea at the mountain-side
The mountain at the sea-side
The end of sadness
Newspapers in colour
All children happy
And so many gadgets still
Asleep within the skulls
Of genial engineers
Of jovial gardeners
Of civil citizens
Of urbane urbanites
And thoughtful thinkers
So many things to see
To see and to hear
So much time to spend
Searching in the dark

As for me I see the swarming
End arriving
With his lousy mug
Opening for me his
Bandy toad arms

I don’t want to croak
No Sir, no Ma’am
Before having explored
The flavour which torments me
The flavour which is the heaviest
I don’t want to croak
Before having tasted
The flavour of death.

~~~~
.
.
On the morning of June 23, 1959, Boris Vian was at the Cinema Marbeuf for the screening of the film version of his novel J’irai cracher sur vos tombes. He had already fought with the producers over their interpretation of his work and he publicly denounced the film stating that he wished to have his name removed from the credits. A few minutes after the film began, he reportedly blurted out: “These guys are supposed to be American? My ass!” He then collapsed into his seat and died from sudden cardiac death en route to the hospital.

~~~~~~~

Finally, my latest find, Hector Saint-Denys Garneau, the French-Canadian Modernist who died tragically young, and who seems to anticipate this fate in one of his poems:
.

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Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau: Bird Cage

I am a bird cage
A cage of bone
With a bird

The bird in the cage of bone
Is death building his nest

When nothing is happening
One can hear him ruffle his wings

And when one has laughed a lot
If one suddenly stops
One can hear him cooing
Deep down
Like a small bell

It is a bird held captive
Death in my cage of bone

Wouldn’t he like to fly away
Are you holding him back
Am I
What is it

He cannot fly away
Until he has eaten all
My heart
The source of blood
With its life inside

He will have my soul in his beak

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Forthcoming from the great M. Federman


Seen on Federman's blog....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Forthcoming from Edge of Maine Editions




Tuesday, June 9, 2009

yes I said yes I will Yes

June 4, 2009 a fabulously rare first edition of the James Joyce novel Ulysses sold for £275,000, the highest price recorded for a 20th-century first edition.
This first edition is unopened – apart from the last episode, where Molly Bloom’s long stream-of-consciousness soliloquy ends in her orgasmic “yes I said yes I will Yes”. The copy is number 45 of the first 100 and is printed on fine Dutch handmade paper. It was originally at the subversive Manhattan bookshop Sunwise Turn, an eclectic shop where patrons could also pick up Peruvian fabrics or the mystic teachings of Gurdjieff. It was bought by a Mrs Hewitt Morgan and then passed down the family, stored in its original box, unopened and away from the light. (Source)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Navigating One’s Way through the Labyrinth by Robert Gibbons


The pleasure of the labyrinth depends on one’s ability to risk everything to make it through, trust one’s instincts, find joy on the wall of the cul-de-sac during the interim as much as that of the secret rune uncovered in the structure’s center, haft of the double-ax. Keeping a journal, diary, log, notebook is much like navigating one’s way through the labyrinth, turning the new blank page as if turning a corner. I get word today from Bent that Pepys finally abandoned his journal on this day, May 31, 340 years ago, basing his reason on loss of sight. He records a final revel with friends at a pub called The World’s End, & rightly compares closing the diary for good with descending into the final underground chamber of the grave itself.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Burroughs events and book, Naked Lunch@50, ready to float...

William Burroughs at his writing machine, New York, fall 1953. One of numerous, rarely seen photographs taken by Allen Ginsberg that feature in a special Gallery section of Naked Lunch@50, here Ginsberg’s Kodak Retina records a crucial moment for Burroughs, as he worked on the manuscripts of “Queer” and “Yage” before heading off towards Tangier and the writing of Naked Lunch… (Courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust and Stanford University Library.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

First snow - more questions

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What's up with Kerouac lately?

Every now and then I do a web search to see if any new images of Jack Kerouac have popped up. Mostly what you get are the usual suspects, well-known images that get re-posted over and over again, but every so often new sources go public with stuff they have been sitting on for decades. This post is an opportunity to gather some of these new photo resources together...

The most exciting new series I have found consists of four portrait shots, done by Tom Palumbo, who for many years did fashion photography for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar as well as celebrity work. He later became a theatre director and was affiliated with Actor's Studio. He is now 86 or 87 and has apparently decided to have someone create a Flickr photostream for him, and to have a nice website showing much of his best work....

Some time in 1955 Palumbo did a session in New York City in a painter's studio on E. 13th Street. Kerouac looks quite aggressive and macho in the resulting shots, perhaps because he was hungry, as Palumbo notes in a caption that the painter cooked up some spaghetti for them to eat after the shoot was wrapped up... Some of the images came up on the web in connection with a Vanity Fair article by Joyce Johnson, posted last August in connection with the 50th anniversary of the US publication of On the Road. The three images below come from Palumbo's photostream:







Don't Mess with Jack Kerouac is Palumbo's caption...

Speaking of Joyce Johnson's Vanity Fair article, this piece also has some quite unusual colour photographs of Kerouac and her, apparently taken at night in New York City. One shows Kerouac leaning against a lamp-post with Joyce in the background (she is out of focus, so you need to know it's her to identify her), another has Kerouac squatting in front of the lamp-post (Joyce is not in this picture at all) with a busy luminous background of neon signs and moving cars...

Joyce was Kerouac's girlfriend at the time when On the Road first appeared and she went with Kerouac to buy the newspapers and read the first reviews of the novel in the early editions on the day of the novel's release. It would be nice to think the photo set was shot on that occasion, but I doubt that was really the case. Joyce went on to write a memoir about her life with Jack, called Minor Characters (1983), and she has also written a play based on letters exchanged between herself and Kerouac.
The photos below were taken by Jerome Yulsman for Globe Photos, Inc., and cannot be dated more precisely than late 1950s (post 1957, pre-break-up with Joyce):




Joyce describes in her article how Kerouac was ill-prepared for the fame and the attendent media frenzy that came with On the Road's success. Kerouac eventually sought refuge on the West Coast and during one of his stays with Carolyn Cassady, the wife of Neal Cassady (the hero of On the Road) and occasional lover of Kerouac, she took a serene snapshot of Kerouac in an easy chair, reading. Note the unlaced, but not discarded hiking boots. Kerouac was, as ever, ready for that 'one fast move and I'm gone'...



While actually whipping On the Road into what the publishers thought was an acceptable shape Kerouac lived a few months in Orlando, Florida. The house he lived in is now a writers' retreat where one can stay as a writer in residence for a few months. After On the Road came out a local photographer did some work for a piece in Time Magazine on the newly famous resident. One very nice shot has surfaced on the web, showing Kerouac among oranges on the back steps of the house with a cat on his lap.




Jack Kerouac on steps at Clouser St.: Orange County Regional History Center, from images by Orlando photographer Fred DeWitt.

Another rarely seen Orlando picture shows Jack with his suitcase, getting ready to leave his sister and brother-in-law's house after a 1959 visit. Note the caption in Swedish in the upper right-hand corner of the image. This may be a photo taken in connection with the collaboration Kerouac did with photographer Robert Frank on a book called simply The Americans...


As Kerouac grew more and more weary of his role as King of the Beats, his alcoholism deepened. Not surprisingly many of the sixties photos of Jack show him in bars or other public places, often clearly intoxicated.

One such picture, Bert Glinn's photo for Magnum, shows Kerouac partying among the folkies at the 7 Arts Café in Greenwich Village, 1959:



A similar picture, but of rather more cultural interest, shows Kerouac with a group of close friends at an undisclosed New York diner. The group features Allen Ginsberg, far right; Greg Corso, who is only represented via the back of his head; David Amram, who has his mouth open (Amram is a musician who frequently collaborated w. Kerouac and who was involved in the film project Pull My Daisy); and - most interestingly - New York School painter and poet, Larry Rivers, seen in profile, wearing a suit (as the only one present)...



This photo, and several others from the same day (in connection with the shooting of the film Pull My Daisy) was taken by John Cohen (who also took the famous 1959 shot of Kerouac listening to himself on the radio)...

But, let's close on a note of up-beat youth and bucolic idyl, with Walter Lehrman's amazing picture of a radiant, yet pensive Jack, anticipating his summer as a fire lookout in the Cascades, 1956: