Saturday, 30 May 2009


Arachne weaved a finer thread
Than any girl before or since,
Diaphanous folds above her head
Cascading down in golden tints 
Like magic at her fingertips 
That would in any man inspire 
To press with passion on the lips 
The one enwrapped within its fire. 
To pass beneath the veil and find 
A harness to her pleasure’s will 
And parting sensuous legs entwined. 
At heaven’s gate to drink their fill. 
But Athena turned her love to hate 
The flowing gold to silver light 
The web of lust became a bait 
That led the trapped into the night. 
A butterfly who passed before 
Did smile that he had come too late 
And on he fluttered to the shore 
Beside the eucalyptus tree to mate.


The image is "Lesbia" (1887) by the British painter John Reinhard Weguelin (1849-1927).

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Panic Signs - Cristina Peri Rossi

Genre:Literature & Fiction
Tagline:Loss of Rights & Descent into Terror of an Oppressive Dictatorial Regime

"It is time to say that man, before receiving the benefits of culture, should receive the benefits of order. In a certain sense, it can be said that, historically, the policeman has taken precedence over the teacher." —Benito Mussolini

This is a collection of 46 short texts of poetic prose written just prior to the military takeover of the author's home country of Uruguay in 1972. It is a difficult book, difficult first for its subject matter; it tells of the terrible happenings as a country lets itself slip into a police state, the despair of houses being torn apart in police searches and people being arrested on trumped up charges and presages the horrors that were to come: the disappearances, censorship, repression and torture. The author herself would have her works banned and be forced to leave the country for her own safety, where she lives to this day in Barcelona. 

But the book is difficult for another reason. It is full of metaphor. "Man is a hunter of signs...existence has no meaning without interpretation", but the author's signs are often not easy to interpret. But we are reassured that signs are multiple and this is how it should be. "There is no one reading," she writes "though politicians sometimes do not understand [this], nor even visionaries and mystics." It is understandable if we do not understand, the purpose is to create uneasiness, to evoke sensations of panic through nightmarish visions, and to explore the redemptive power of the erotic and the absurd. 

For example, the reader might rather skip over the horrific description of a body whose organs keep expanding, a metaphor for the organs of the state stifling out all life. The birds in blue feathers represent authority, the higher their rank the more they stink. Blue is the colour of their uniform and is used throughout to symbolize the iciness and desolation of the world outside, unlike the warmth and darkness of the womb. 

"I read your book... It's a bit confusing... Maybe you could explain it to me?" a señora asks an author who is male but represents Cristina Rossi herself (the boundaries of sexuality sometimes blur). "If I knew I wouldn't have written it," he replies, and later "I write it the way I dream." The use of metaphor is supposed to be confusing and alienating, and when the señora asks him if he at least can relieve the uneasiness he has caused by making love to her, he politely refuses and explains why and she is sorry for him. He gives her a ticket to the museum where he will be on display by "state decree", a living image preserved forever of a world in decline. 

This has been a difficult book to explain, to interpret or to review. It is beautifully translated, poetic, satirical, imaginative, multi-layered and Kafka-esque. I hope the above at least gives some idea of the atmosphere of this complex and artistic work.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

June Dreams

In her sleep, she dreams
And in her dream, she sleeps.
And in this sleep, she dreams,
She dreams that she is waking,
But in the mirror of her mind
She sees herself still fast asleep.
'Tis but a dream within a dream
In which she opens out her eyes
Feels the world beneath her feet
And shivers with delight.


Leighton, "Flaming June" (1895)

The above can be considered as a loose translation of the following limerick I wrote as a kid, except in this it's a man who's dreaming in a dream. It was the only poem I ever wrote in a foreign language and also the only poem I wrote that I can remember which is the reason why it's here. One day hopefully I'll unearth where all the other poems I wrote as a child went to, but until then I'll just imagine that they were fantastic

"homme"=man, "rêve"=dream, "se lever"=wake up, "dans" = inside... you get the gist!

Il y avait un homme qui a rêvé
Qu'il était en train de se lever
Mais il a pens
é que c'était
rêve qui était
rêve dans un rêve qu'il rêvait.

—okei (1994)

          Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)     

And finally for a wake-up call!!!
A poem I've loved ever since I discovered it in a book of quotations.

         "Psalm of Life"

    Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
        Life is but an empty dream ! —
    For the soul is dead that slumbers,
        And things are not what they seem.

    Life is real !   Life is earnest!
        And the grave is not its goal ;
    Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
        Was not spoken of the soul.

    Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
        Is our destined end or way ;
    But to act, that each to-morrow
        Find us farther than to-day.

    Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
        And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
        Funeral marches to the grave.

    In the world's broad field of battle,
        In the bivouac of Life,
    Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
        Be a hero in the strife !

    Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant !
        Let the dead Past bury its dead !
    Act,— act in the living Present !
        Heart within, and God o'erhead !

    Lives of great men all remind us
        We can make our lives sublime,
    And, departing, leave behind us
        Footprints on the sands of time ;

    Footprints, that perhaps another,
        Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
    A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
        Seeing, shall take heart again.

    Let us, then, be up and doing,
        With a heart for any fate ;
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
        Learn to labor and to wait.

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1838)