RSS Feed

Category Archives: Memoir

Lee Harwood II The Miracle of Existence

Lee Harwood II  The Miracle of Existence

In January 2010 I gave a talk at Eltham College Literary Society alongside Lee reading his poems and these bullet-points are extracted from some notes I used as a handout for the boys.

• The epigraph to HMS Little Fox (Oasis Books 1975) is taken from Pound’s ‘Canto 77’: ‘things have ends (or scopes) and beginnings. To know what precedes and what follows/will assist yr/comprehension of process’
Pound’s lines are accompanied by the two ideograms placed at the head of this blog.

• ‘The Long Black Veil: a notebook 1970-72’ is the opening poem in the collection and Lee’s own notes on the cover account for the ordering of the poems in the volume:

‘This collection was written between 1967 and 1972. The work really has its seeds in my book The White Room (1968), and also is where The Sinking Colony (1970) left off, even though some of the work here was written at the same time as the work in that book, and a few poems even before that time. (I want to state here my sense of this continuity.) It is a development from there—towards a greater complexity and range. Not only containing varied information, but having an energy and necessity as well. The two qualities—presentation of informations and the art as mover, catalyst—to somehow work together, be one. The collection is set out to be seen the way you see a plant. It begins with the sequence ‘The Long Black Veil’, the end-product, the ‘flower’ of my work to date, and then moves on down to the origins, the roots of that work, the earlier poems and the poems written at the same time as I was writing ‘The Long Black Veil’. The whole book is one crystal in which things ricochet back and forth, echo and re-echo. In which light enters and bounces out again changed in form and direction. And the crystal itself alive and growing.’

‘There are very many references to enclosed spaces/gardens/cloisters in your work, right from the early days up until now. What are these metaphors?’

This question was asked in an interview with Andy Brown in The Argotist Online, August 2008 and in reply Lee related this sense of an enclosed space to a comment made to him by Douglas Oliver: ‘Inside the harm is a clearing’ and it is one of Lee’s finest qualities as a poet to make this ‘clearing’ more than something metaphorically abstract. In the same interview he referred to a ‘Reznikoff quality to these images too, in that they’re real, solid—the courtyard with the fountain is an actual place.’

• Charles Reznikoff, a Jewish New York poet 1894-1976 wrote the lines

‘Among the heaps of brick and plaster lies
A girder, still itself among the rubbish.’ (Jerusalem the Golden, 1934)

• The Objectivist poet George Oppen was deeply moved by these lines and wrote to his half-sister June Oppen Degnan in February 1959: ‘Likely Rezi could mull along and tell you what he had in mind. But how other than with this image could he put into your mind so clearly the miracle of existence—the existence of things. It is only because the image hits so clear and sudden that the poem means what it means. I don’t know that he could make it any clearer by talking about it.’
Late in the Second World War while he was driving a truck in a convoy, Oppen came under enemy fire and was forced to dive into a foxhole. Two other men also leapt in the foxhole, and both were killed, while Oppen was seriously wounded from exploding shrapnel:
‘…found myself trapped in a fox-hole, slightly injured, and with no apparent means of escape, certainly no possibility until night-fall. I waited, I think, some ten hours, and during those hours Wyatt’s little poem—‘they flee from me’—and poem after poem of Rezi’s ran thru my mind over and over, these poems seemed to fill all the space around me and I wept and wept. This may not be literary criticism, or perhaps, on the other hand, it is.’
(Letter to Milton Hindus, late Spring 1977)

• In the first interview with Kelvin Corcoran, published in Not the Full Story (Shearsman 2008), Lee referred to ‘little intense scenes shifting round…You do get these moments of goodness, whether it be in some of the pastoral scenes or a landscape of suburban railway tracks and oil refineries.’ When talking about his education at Queen Mary College, University of London, he placed the reading of literature firmly in the world of objectivity:
‘I did a degree in English literature and language. I had this terrific thing of walking from Mile End tube or Stepney Green—I was living in Stepney anyway—to lectures and then coming out of the lecture and walking back along Mile End Road. So all that business of maybe going to a place like Cambridge where you would float out of your lectures in your gown and walk to the quad, and you could keep on living in that world was avoided. It was knocked out of you because you immediately had reality in your face and you didn’t go to high table. You had bubble and squeak at the local transport café. I think that gave me a lovely sense of the importance of literature but also in the world, not in some isolated, privileged world. So you’d always have the measure of what you’d read, of the poetry existing in a working society.’
In the same interview he referred to a poem as ‘a bundle of stories’; ‘this building with fragments and suggestions’; ‘building up, like a chemical build up’; ‘a bundle of voices’; ‘getting to know the building bricks’; ‘an interest in displaced locations’ and ‘incomplete narratives’; ‘the heaping up of fragments’.
With reference to this last comment I suggested that the pupils might want to look at the accumulation of fragments in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land; the ones he shored against his ruin. I also recommended them to look at Eliot’s 1919 essay on Hamlet: ‘The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.’

Part III of my Lee Harwood memorial will continue tomorrow.

Ian Brinton 31st July 2015

‘Living life totally…as a moving, growing thing’. In memory of Lee Harwood Part One

‘Living life totally…as a moving, growing thing’.  In memory of Lee Harwood Part One

On March 22nd 2009 I had written to Lee asking him to come to Dulwich College to give a poetry reading alongside Peter Robinson. I mentioned that I had been teaching ‘The Long Black Veil’ to my sixth form pupils and that I had also sent a copy of the poem to Michael Rumaker in New York. I thought that Mike would like to see this since he had been a close friend of both Olson and Wieners at Black Mountain College and after. Mike’s letter back was typically ‘on the nail’:

‘Finished Lee Harwood’s ‘The Long Black Veil’ this morning. Enjoyment more than I can say, except: herein, the process of a passion, lightly, deftly, touched on over wide, enchanting fields of language, spatially breathing, its poignancy leaving me breathless—passion worth anything beyond it, any pain, any pleasure before it. To have it, to have lived, to know one is alive. The singer is alive, his song alive. What more can one ask? Many thanks for sending me this lovely gift of a poem.’

On Friday April 24th the reading took place in the Masters’ Library in the College and in addition to the sixth form boys present the audience included the Australian poet Laurie Duggan and John Welch. We were also joined by Roy Fisher’s bibliographer, Derek Slade. As Peter Robinson wrote to me this morning, ‘It was such an honour to have the chance to read with Lee’. This, of course, was a memorable moment also on account of the review Peter had written for the TLS on 26th November 2004: ‘In the reader’s hands: Collected Poems of Lee Harwood’. A few days later Lee rang me at home to suggest meeting up for a drink in the Alleyn’s Head in Dulwich since he was staying in the area for a couple of weeks. We met up on May 6th and spent a lot of time talking about loss, the impossibility of registering absence in presence. I gave him a copy of Long Distance, the Ferry Press publication of poems by Lewis Warsh, since we had been talking about the famous photograph. Lee had sent me a copy of that Boston Eagles at Walden Pond, 1973, Judith Walker’s photo of John Wieners, Lee Harwood, Lewis Warsh & William Corbett, on the back of which he wrote ‘I thought this photo of four dodgy characters might amuse you. I don’t think you’d buy a used car from them, nor have them tarmac your drive. Though Mr Wieners’ gold lamé jacket and winning smile might fools some people.’ In May he also sent me a copy of The Hotel Wentley Poems which Joy Street Press put out in 2006:

‘This was, I guess, the final proof copy and they were ready to roll when Bill Corbett saw the many typos. It seems a Boston custom to have as many mistakes as possible, from my own experience of publishing there! Anyway Bill got it all right before the book was released’.

Sitting in the Alleyn’s Head we were talking about O’Hara and Lee gave me a copy of the piece he was asked to write by Robert Hampson, a personal angle, titled “Generosity of Spirit, Memories of Frank O’Hara and Israel Young”. We talked about Charles Tomlinson’s poem written soon after George Oppen’s death and about Lee’s own poem from In the Mists, ‘For Paul / Coming out of Winter’:

‘On a bright winter morning
sunlight catching the tops of white buildings
a tree outlined against the sea
a wall of flints

To be able to stop and see this
the luxury of being alive
when the waves crash on the shore
and a fresh wind streams up the narrow streets
A moment like this lightens the darkness
a little, lifts the heart until
you can walk down the hill near careless

How can that be? suddenly slammed up
against a wall by memories of the dead
loved ones completely gone from
this place

Shafts of sunlight cutting through the clouds
onto the everchanging sea below

How many times we discussed the sea’s colours
all beyond description words a mere hint
of what’s beyond our eyes then and now

On October 24th I drove over to Abertillery to stay with Ric Hool. Lee was staying as well and we three drove over to The Hen and Chicks in Abergavenny. Jeremy Hilton, Phil Maillard, Chris Torrance, Will Rowe, Lee and myself did an evening of readings in memory of Barry MacSweeney. We talked of Reznikoff and Oppen and Lee wrote to me in January of the next year:

‘To have the tangible, to have real objects in a poem. To be believed that what happens in a poem happens in this world we live in, not just in books. Reznikoff’s ‘girder’, or in that marvellous sequence by Oppen ‘Of Being Numerous’:

‘The great stone
Above the river
In the pylon of the bridge

‘1875’

Frozen in the moonlight
In the frozen air over the footpath, consciousness

Which has nothing to gain, which awaits nothing,
Which loves itself

Ian Brinton, 30th July 2015

Belief is its own kind of truth, Maybe by Lori Jakiela (Atticus Books, 2015)

Belief is its own kind of truth, Maybe by Lori Jakiela (Atticus Books, 2015)

This engaging, multifaceted creative nonfiction memoir is exquisitely written and effortlessly draws the reader into a series of philosophical issues. Ostensibly the narrative concerns the narrator’s quest for her biological mother and medical history through the Catholic Charities following the death of her adopted mother. However, it soon develops a series of narrative threads moving back and forward in time, which concern nature versus nurture, motherhood, authenticity and mapping a life. What emerges through short, stabbing paragraphs of gritty, self-deprecating and emotionally charged versions of being raised by foster parents is the trail of how that narrator was formed and became the woman who writes.

The story of the search for her birth mother highlights Jakiela’s extensive narrative gifts. She is sharp, insightful, adept at the use of detail to show the wider social-economic or family context, brutally honest and concerned with using language to uncover deeper layers of meaning. Her use of language with its movement from staccato jazz to the darkly funny is reminiscent of Geoff Dyer in The Colour of Memory and Paris Trance. However, Jakiela offers another layer than Dyer in that she is concerned with probing the archaeology of words. This takes two forms. One is a concern with naming and names, and the other is a fascination with adding words to develop vocabulary and selfhood. Both concerns are shown in the narrator’s exploration of her daughter’s first word, ‘abre’ meaning open and her son’s first word, ‘duck’, which she views as ‘blood things’. There is also a sense that words carry possible transcendence through the uncovering of older meaning. Like Dyer, Jakiela wears her learning lightly and is a joy to read.

Years ago, I saw a palm reader in a basement storefront in New York. She held my wrists, turned my palms up, both hands. “This,” she said, tracing a finger down the lines of my left hand, “is what you were born with. ”Then she traced a finger on my right palm. “And this,” she said, “is the map you make yourself.”
The she asked for $50. She took MasterCard and Visa, not Discover.

Blood is a strong motif running through the memoir. There is a moving scene in her in-laws’ kitchen when the narrator has received a series of abusive messages from a woman purporting to be her birth sister following her efforts to contact her mother. This is cleverly juxtaposed through the décor of pears reminding her of Odysseus’s use of pears, his homelessness, her old classics Professor’s urging her to read the original, and cutting her palm when trying to slice a bagel in two. “Cut away from yourself,” my mother always said. She inspects the ragged cut between the heart and life lines, and the blood ‘coming up in spots, flecks.’ The scene builds up through a series of emotions. ‘Anger comes after grief and fear, a logical thing, but I can’t sort this. I want the truth and I want the lie I was born with. I want connection and I want to get as far away as possible.’

Underlying the narrative are some interesting premises, such as the desire to write to discover what one does not know, and the boundaries and limitations of one’s own life story. Jakiela is a knowing and explorative writer seeking to expand and grow. An adopted person’s story, she writes, ‘is someone else’s secret.’ Indeed this leads her to write an imagined and seemingly authentic account of her birth mother’s situation at the time of her birth. Her birth mother subsequently refuses to acknowledge and communicate with her daughter. Here lies the agony, the persistent unease, and joy of this well filtered narrative. From the darkness of a crippling past, Jakiela finds light.

Her quest for connection ultimately stems from her own selfhood, family and relationships, and an ability to draw from literature and upon the life experiences of other writers and poets, such as Anne Sexton, Gerald Locklin, whom her son is named after, and Lucille Clifton. Beneath that is a quest for the roots of words and an understanding of the role of translation.

My birth mother’s name is such an ordinary one, as ordinary as podium, as plant, as pen. “Do you ever wonder about that?” Lucille Clifton wanted to know, how something plain could have so much power. But in Grimm’s fairy tale, Rumplestiltskin demands the queen learn his name or lose her child. Ancient people believed to know someone’s name was to know that person’s essence. To change a name meant to change destiny. The name I was born with means work and strain. The name I was born with was a wolf.
Lori is a laurel tree. Lori is a celebration.
A name can be a transformation or a cage, both.

Lori Jakiela is a most accomplished writer. You will not be disappointed by the range and scope of this provocative memoir.

David Caddy 16th April 2015

Basil King’s The Spoken Word / the Painted Hand from Learning to Draw / A History

Basil King’s The Spoken Word / the Painted Hand from Learning to Draw / A History

(Marsh Hawk Press, 2014) http://www.marshhawkpress.org/BKing3.html

Basil King emigrated from South Chingford in 1947, attended Black Mountain College from 1951-56, and subsequently became an abstract expressionist painter and poet / writer. He continuously moves between painting and writing, and is highly regarded both sides of the Atlantic. His artwork has been included in poetry books by Amiri Baraka, Paul Blackburn, and Allen Ginsberg.

This warm-hearted collection of wide-ranging essays, one of which was published in Tears in the Fence 60, moves effortlessly between prose and poetry in a freewheeling style. The essays are highly informative drawing upon King’s extensive knowledge of art, artists and their experiences, as well as history, film and autobiographical detail. There is great charm, self-deprecating humour, running throughout the book which has the repeated refrains of ‘Leave home. Meet strangers. And learn to draw’ and ‘Be Rich. Get Rich. Be Rich. Get Rich’. The refrains gain piquancy as one reads on. A typical sequence from an essay on ‘The White Tablecloth’ follows:

‘The origin of the table knife is attributed to Cardinal Richelieu. He wanted to cure dinner guests of picking their teeth with the point of a knife. Later, in 1669, King Louis XIV of France banned pointed knives in the street and at his table, insisting on blunt tips, in order to reduce violence.

A man and a woman sit at a table
Without a tablecloth
Another couple sits at a table
With a white tablecloth
Both couples use knives and forks’

PAUSE

According to Sir Isaac Newton white light is the effect of combining the visible colors of light in equal proportions. White is all colors combined to make white. Black is the absorption of all color. So black and white are opposites.’

It is an absorbing collage of anecdotal memory, knowledge and gentle argument full of insight. In his essay on why the miniature is as important as the mural King insists that light abstracts the smallest thing. As part of his argument he moves from his work at Kulicke Frames in New York in 1963, to Jack Odell, the self-trained engineer whose inventions led to Matchbox toys, Giacomettti in Switzerland, traditional Japanese garments and miniature sculptures, to his own collection of miniature vehicles, and onwards to the intricacies of the Book of Kells, Olemic murals, Walt Disney’s obsession with miniatures, the German miniaturist painter, Adam Elsheimer’s Flight into Egypt (1609), the first moonlit night scene in European painting, a quotation from Philip Ruben’s lament at Elsheimer’s death, and Velazquez’s painting of dwarfs and half-wits as people with personalities. The impact is cumulative and thoughtful, allowing a larger picture and frame of reference to emerge and yet still allowing for the smallest of details to have impact. It is clever and thoughtful writing.

I note that King’s Black Mountain tutor for History and Literature was that polymath with an enquiring mind, Charles Olson. Like Edward Dorn, another of Olson’s students, one has a sense of the practical and lived going hand in hand with the perceptive intellectual. The whole book is a joyful engagement.

David Caddy 23rd January 2015

Iain Sinclair’s 70 X 70 Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in 70 films

Iain Sinclair’s 70 X 70 Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in 70 films

(King Mob, 2014) http://king-mob.net/

Ian Sinclair’s selection of 70 films in celebration of his 70th birthday, based on films related to the locations and enthusiasms of his life, constitutes a kind of accidental novel in its autobiographical journey. Screened in unusual venues across London in the build up towards his birthday they include rare and less well known European art cinema and British films. There are films related to his time at Trinity College, Dublin 1960-1962, film school at Brixton, films that he has made, including those related to his books, and films connected to those parts of London, which have fuelled his obsessions. His sense of London’s geography was constructed through finding cinemas, and there are extracts from the most recent films shot outside London.

The book’s format consists of Sinclair’s introductory notes to each film, which contextualise its impact on and connections to his life and writing. Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Luis Buñuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Herzog, Fassbinder, Rosselini, Antonioni, Michael Reeves, Patrick Keiller, William Burroughs, the Beats, J.G. Ballard are well featured. There are substantial and illuminating interviews with his collaborators Chris Petit, Susan Stenger, Stanley Schtinter, Andrew Kötting, as well as critic Colin MacCabe, on Godard’s Le Mépris (1963) and the writer of The Long Good Friday (1980), Barrie Keeffe. The Whitechapel Gallery film curator, Gareth Evans, director John Smith and others provide introductory notes to specific films, which with the pages of still photographs enhance the impact of the whole.

The book’s strength lies in the stories behind the films, the quirky manner in which they came to be the way they are as well as the ways the selection adds to the contextualization and interaction with Sinclair’s writing. For example, Muriel Walker, who was part of the crew that made William Dieterle’s Vulcano (1950) and became actress Anna Magnani’s secretary, provides a fascinating insight into Rosselini’s lover and the film’s production. Her photographs and diary from the shoot were featured in Sinclair’s American Smoke.

Of John Brahm’s Hangover Square (1945), loosely based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1941 novel and subtitled a tale of Darkest Earl’s Court, he writes:

‘Brahm’s film is a minor classic, a shotgun wedding of
expressionism and surrealism: barrel organs, leering
pawnbrokers, cor-blimey-guv urchins. Linda Darnell
enthusiastically impersonates a knicker-flashing singer
with flea-comb eyelashes and hair in which you could lose a
nest of squirrels. There are two mind-blowing sequences:
the bonfire on which the faithless Netta is incinerated,
while a mob of Ensor devils howl and chant – and the
concerto, when a raving Bone hammers away at a blazing
grand piano.’

As ever, the reader wishes to see the film.

Sinclair refers to Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1979/80), based on Alfred Döblin’s novel, as the pivotal film in the curation, as it is ‘the physical object with the most mystery.’ He writes: ‘For me going to Berlin, quite late on, was an expedition made through the filter of, initially, Döblin’s book and then the film. When I wrote about the labyrinth of memory that is Berlin, in a book called Ghost Milk, it was a tribute to both those works and a way of seeing this city.’

Gareth Evans’ closes the book with an essay ‘On the Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes’ and notes that whilst the curated films map ‘the road taken with wit, idiosyncrasy, combative, collaborative flair and no end of passionate poetry’ they also offer ‘a way forward, posting a typology of possible futures – of multiple spaces, found or made, for the public gaze – for how and why film is seen’. He concludes with a line from Theodore Roethke ‘In a dark time the eye begins to see’.

There is much more to this wonderfully spirited book, not least a description of actor, Toby Jones, possessing the figure of John Clare, and I urge readers of Iain Sinclair and lovers of the possibilities of film to engage with this joyous celebration.

David Caddy 7th December 2014

Adam Horovitz’s A Thousand Laurie Lees (History Press, 2014)

Adam Horovitz’s A Thousand Laurie Lees (History Press, 2014)

This memoir of growing up in the Slad Valley, the idyllic pre-War Cotswold landscape made famous by Cider With Rosie (1960), explores Laurie Lee’s continuing impact on the place.

 

It begins a year after poer’s death in 1997 with an epic, drunken cycle ride through the heart of the Valley when the locals dressed up as Lee. They called it The Night of a Thousand Laurie Lees and stopped at every pub, raising their fedoras, signing books, singing and carousing in celebration of the poet and novelist. The book ends with a spirited defence of the preservation of the landscape and community centred on Lee’s beloved Woolpack pub.

 

This centenary celebration of a poetic presence in the Valley is the first book on Lee’s impact since Valerie Grove’s The Well-Loved Stranger in 1999 and takes the narrative back to the Seventies and forward. Lee famously left the Valley in 1934 and walked to London and a literary life in Soho, Fitzrovia and the GPO Film Unit, returning to document his life and out of the Valley in poetry and prose. When Lee asked the young poet whether he was writing, Horowitz replied that he was going to summer writing classes. Lee raised his eyebrows and doubted that he needed them gesturing to the party, the valley, the world outside and his slopping drink.

 

The narrative celebrates the literary and artistic connections of the Valley, its local families and his own immersion in poetry, song and books. Horovitz writes:

 

I was taught to delve into the landscape aesthetically rather than

physically, so I learned to float into the names of flowers, lost in the

beauty of cowslip and campion, dead nettle and Michaelmas daisy,

beech tree and ash, but not much of immediate practical value was

hard-pressed upon me. The valley was a palimpsest of imagination,

of the living and dead, and was accessible only through though.

 

At the heart of his childhood memories are his mother’s reading voice, with its delicate articulation, and poems, which he places in the context of her absent husband and the darkness of nearby Keensgrove wood. Frances Horovitz was stilled and enthralled by the Valley, eventually leaving for a life with the poet, Roger Garfitt. Horovitz recalls visiting guests, such as John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Tom Pickard, and liberally quotes from Lee, cites his father’s long poem, Midsummer Morning Jog Log, written in the Valley in 1984-5, other local poets, and the poems that fired his childhood imagination. Poetry readings, epic parties, bicycles, pubs, and the changing nature of agriculture, the struggle to save the Valley from unwanted development, all feature in this story of roots and gradual self-understanding. The narrative’s arc sees Horovitz returning to his parental home and becoming a fine poet in his own right:

 

Bluetits pick at the last rotten apple

on an unattended tree.

 

As shadow swallows the garden

I sit on a log and defy the night.

 

A bat deftly manoeuvres

through intricate webs of dew-laden pine.

 

I close my eyes and call your name.

It echoes around the valley,

 

the sound undulating

through trees and hills,

 

building power

until my cry is a mantra,

 

chanted by the whole immediate world

of night creatures, plants and spirits.

 

The book, illustrated throughout by Jo Sanders and has 28 pages of lavish colour photographs by Dan Brown, is a delight and joy to read.

 

 

David Caddy 1st June 2014

Benjamin Hollander’s Memoir American

Benjamin Hollander’s Memoir American

(dead letter office, BABEL Working Group, an imprint of punctum books, Brooklyn, New York)

 

As the blurb puts it ‘You will find in this Memoir what it means for an alien to search for his family in a book outside the time of its writing. You will find him discovering that translation is a personal story and that poetry might not have a home without it.’

 

I have increasingly become one of those people whose reading, unless I am focussed upon a particular piece of writing that I am committed to, seems to take on a life of journeying of its own. I read something and then find I need to travel down a path which arises from some memory of having read something else which in itself triggers another pathway and…I am going to have to read everything I have ever read as well as read all those things I have only heard of which have been recommended. I need to speak all languages. I am tumbling off the walls of Babel:

 

Therfor was called the name of it Babel, for there was confounded the lippe of all the erthe. [Genesis 11:9, translated by John Wyclif, 1382]

 

Having read Ben Hollander’s Memoir American which arrived in the post yesterday I feel energised and bewildered: I want to set off on those pathways. This is one of the most exciting short books I have come across for a long time and I can only suggest to you all: READ IT!

 

The central study of a section from Charles Reznikoff’s By The Well of Living and Seeing is a delight as Hollander contemplates what it means to hear/see ‘an American poet’s voice transformed when it is written under the influence of other languages which do not need to manifestly show themselves to be felt present in the poem, and which we know are evidenced in the poet’s life.’

 

And now I am being drawn in a way to re-read Paul Auster’s City of Glass (Faber 1987) with its disturbing opening sentence ‘It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.’ And then I am dragged off to look again at Rod Mengham’s, Language (Bloomsbury 1993) with its study of the ‘crazy attempt to erect a structure that might bridge the gap between earth and heaven’ showing the depth and intensity of a human need to be furnished with a language that not only matches the world of physical phenomena ‘but which in some sense brings that world into existence.’ And, yet again, I am now impelled to search the shelves for George Gissing’s autobiographical sketch, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft in which he says

 

How the mood for a book sometimes rushes upon one, either one knows not why, or in consequence, perhaps, of some most trifling suggestion. Yesterday I was walking at dusk. I came to an old farmhouse; at the garden gate a vehicle stood waiting, and I saw it was our doctor’s gig. Having passed, I turned to look back. There was a faint afterglow in the sky beyond the chimneys; a light twinkled at one of the upper windows. I said to myself, “Tristram Shandy”, and hurried home to plunge into a book which I have not opened for I dare say twenty years.

 

Read Ben Hollander’s Memoir American at your peril; you don’t know where you might end up!

%d bloggers like this: