Saturday, January 31, 2009

Matt Kirkham's Lost Museums

In the Tea Museum

Before she slipped her peachblossom sash
through your nosering, you wouldn't be led.
You'd brewed up a storm from dried shit and straw,
clattering down the ramp through the stumbling yells
of the abattoir lads. Wasn't it frosty
beneath your hooves, the lobby's marble floor?

Before she guided you by her right little finger
back through the wreckage, her left hand
clasping her loosened gown over, you'd been the kind
to rush at your two-horned reflection, shattering
display cases, acting out ambiguities,
dragon or charger, lion or unicorn.
But weren't your imaginary matadors
just panicked visitors, dropping
their freetrade Earl Grey for you to stamp on?

Before your all-black and glassy eyes
took in her porcelain face, you'd shown
no discrimination. You'd trampled Wedgwood
and novelty teapots in Hollywood faces.
Chests of Assam and Lapsang Souchong
you'd splintered, and the model clipper,
the racket sending the kimono'd girls
scurrying from their ceremonies, one two three,
your bull years cocked at the stories whispered
in the tiny paired pattering of their size fours.
Didn't security, stirred from his cuppa,
lock you in before they could find the last geisha?

After the debris settled, as you stood four-hooved and still,
the CD of that bamboo-flute still playing somewhere,
before she'd made a left-horned unicorn of you,
the last unbroken teapot gently rocking,
blue-white, on your right horn, you highstepping after,
gingerly, where china had lodged in your hooves,
hadn't she held the steaming cup to your nostrils
with its peachflower scents and its underscents
of soil turned beneath Himalayan foothills,
earth where your hoofprints are holy?

- Matt Kirkham, from The Lost Museums

Been reading Matt Kirkham's delightful 2006 collection, The Lost Museums, which is one of those rare collections that combine a strong overarching concept (each poem is a description of, or set in, an imaginary museum) with individual poems of beauty and stand-alone power.

You can hear a number of other poems from the collection here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Further Adventures of Hark! DaButt

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, on the sprawling planet of Massomedia, there lived a princess named Hark! DaButt. Hark! DaButt was the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Enditivy, as well as being an accomplished trumpet blower and a follower of the TRPsichorean muse. All the people of the kingdom loved their princess who they thought was beautiful and brave and so very clever.

Well, almost all. One small, indomitable group of galling citizens continued to hold out against Hark! DaButt's considerable charm. This rebel group, who called themselves 'globbers' and feared only the Skype falling on their heads, were always criticizing the princess, claiming she was hysterical, unprofessional and generally insensitive. These accusations hurt the princess deeply. Many a night did she spend shedding inky tears into her crocodile skin pillow. It wasn't that she thought the criticisms were valid (how could they be? She was a Princess, with Chelpark Blue blood in her veins - she could do nothing wrong), nor that she was an insecure, vengeful little minx who couldn't take criticism. It was just that she felt these criticisms were an affront to the dignity of Enditivy, and therefore had to be punished.

One day, when Her Shrillness was out playing in the garden, she spotted a globber lurking in the shrubbery. Quick as a newsflash, she had the globber captured by her guards, and brought him before the High Council. When the High Council told her that no, she couldn't have his head cut off (only her cousin, the Red Queen, could use that head line), she proceeded to whine and pout until the poor globber agreed to issue a public apology for the things he'd said about her and promised never to say anything bad about her again. This made Hark! DaButt very happy because:

a) bringing a months old comment out of total obscurity and making it a source of renewed outrage was obviously the best way to silence criticism

b) going to the trouble of hauling a globber before the High Council for some throwaway comment was a sure way of saying that the globbers were inconsequential people to whom she, Hark! DaButt, paid no attention

c) wording the apology in proper legal terms would make it obvious to every one that the globber's apology was sincerely meant; no one could possibly imagine that she had forced it out of him

d) by striking out against one globber she had effectively silenced their entire community, who would never again dare to criticize her, because the prospect of having to issue an official apology if they were caught would really, really scare them

e) using the resources of her vast kingdom to pick on one poor defenseless globber was a classy act that was sure to make people admire her all the more

(Did I mention that Hark! DaButt was a little delusional?)

In any case, the globber apologised, the princess went back to blowing her own trumpet, and the kingdom of Enditivy moved on, like a slow dinosaur with Hark! DaButt as its pea-sized brain.

The End.
Entirely Voluntary Notice (No, really!)
This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to person or persons living or dead is purely coincidental. In particular, this story has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with a certain TV channel's treatment of a certain blogger. I, Falstaff, have always admired said TV channel for the diligence with which it manages to stay just within the law and its courageous defiance of anything resembling taste. Further, I have absolutely no criticism to offer of their star reporter, a woman I have always respected for her...for her....errr...a woman I have always respected.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Conversation # 3

"Oh, come on!"


"You owe me that much."

"I don't owe you a thing."

"All right, you owe it to yourself."

"I can't think about myself just now."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't have the time."

"Time for yourself?"

"Time for the past."

"Isn't it the same thing?"


"You're wrong, you know. There's always time for the past. It's the future we have to make time for."

"You don't have a future."

"And you do?"

"After today? Yes."

"Oh, that. But that isn't really a future you know. It's just the past all over again."

"It's good enough for me."

"Really? I thought that was what you came here to escape."

"No. I came here to escape the other future. The old one."

"The one in your past?"


"So that's it then. You're really going to do it?"


"Well? What are you waiting for?"

"For you."

"Me? What have I got to do with it?"

"You have to agree."

"You don't need me to agree. You can do what you like. I can't stop you."

"I know. But I don't want to do it that way. I want you to agree."


"Because it wouldn't be right otherwise."


"Because it would change things."

"And you're worried if you change things now the past won't come back?"


"I'm never going to agree, you know."

"You must."

"I won't."

"Come on!"


"You owe me that much."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Next you'll be telling me they're turned on by Bono

By now you've probably seen this Sunday's NY Times article about research into female sexual desire. A brief bout of bonobo envy [1] and some low-grade speculation about hooking all the readers of this blog up to plethysmographs (SO much better than Stat Counter numbers), the thing that really caught my attention was this bit:

"And with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. The readings from the plethysmograph and the keypad weren’t in much accord. During shots of lesbian coupling, heterosexual women reported less excitement than their vaginas indicated; watching gay men, they reported a great deal less; and viewing heterosexual intercourse, they reported much more."

Two questions immediately suggest themselves. First, is the disconnect between mind and report or between mind and genitals? Are these women aware of being excited by what they're seeing but choosing not to report it, or are they so thoroughly conditioned to see certain forms of arousal as appropriate that they are genuinely unaware of their own physical response?

Second, and more interestingly, if it's the latter (and let's say, for the sake of the argument, that it is) then is it accurate to say that these women are aroused? How do we define sexual excitement? Is it genital or mental? If you do not consciously experience any desire but your plethysmograph shows a positive reading, are you really aroused?

[1] There's a phrase you don't get to use often

Beebless in Gaza

The DEC Gaza Appeal that the BBC refused to broadcast.

The BBC claims it chose not to broadcast this because “We worry about being seen to endorse something which could give people the impression that we were backing one side".

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that if you restrict the reach of appeals for humanitarian aid to the victims on one side of a conflict, and refuse to broadcast images and facts that may show the other side in a bad light, then it's pretty clear which side you're backing.

The Latest in Perse-phone

In case you haven't seen it already, here's the new Pomegranate Phone.

What will they think of next?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Question of Travel

How many of us would take the high road, I wonder, if it meant ending up on the highway?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Poet of the Month: Sarah Lindsay

In other poetry news, I've been reading a lot of Sarah Lindsay lately - her new collection Twigs and Knucklebones was one of my favorite books of 2008, and her earlier collection Mount Clutter is fascinating as well.

You can find poems by her here, here and here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Window

How many crosses are set in my window.
Each the color of its Messiah's blood.
Each with its own urge for salvation.

On one spring clouds are sacrificed.
On one the shining moon is murdered.
On one the branches divide in half.
On one the winds and breezes die.

Every day the gods of compassion and beauty
Come to my sad house covered in gore.
And every day their martyred bodies
Are raised intact before my eyes.

- Faiz Ahmed Faiz (translation mine)

The original:


Gadi hai kitni saleebein mere dareeche mein
Harek apne maseeha ke khoon ka rang liye
Harek vasle-khudavand ki umang liye.

Kisi pe karte hain abre-e-bahaar ko qurbaan
Kisi pe qatl mahe-taabnaak karte hain
Kisi pe hoti hai sarmast shaakhsar do-neem
Kisie pa baad-e-saba ko halaak karte hain

Har aaye din ye khudavandgaane-meher-o-jamaal
Lahoo mein gark mere gamkade main aate hain
Aur aaye din meri nazron ka saamne unke
Shaheed jism salamat uthaye jaate hain

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inaugural Poem

Okay, okay, so I know Barack didn't ask me to write the poem for his inauguration. Which was an oversight, obviously, but in the circumstances, a perfectly understandable one. I mean, I can see why he might think that picking the right person for, say, the Secretary of State, is more critical than picking the right inaugural poet. And I understand that there are sound political reasons why Elizabeth Alexander is the better choice (such as, for example, the need to pick someone who's actually a US citizen). Plus I happen to think Ms. Alexander is actually a pretty decent choice - a solid, dependable poet with many virtues.

All of which being why I'm not going to hold Barack's snubbing me against him, and will write him an Inauguration poem anyway, one that he can either a) sigh over in the privacy of the White House or b) use in 2012. Hey, everyone else is doing it, so why can't I? Here goes:

No, History does not march,
it endures.

Stumbles from door to door
seeking a place to hide,

survives from year to year
like an animal in flight

from its own shadow,
from the damage it leaves in its wake.

And yet there are times –
just before daybreak, say,

or coming over a ridge –
when its sees the road stretch away

into the distance,
and forgets to be afraid;

times when it pauses, inhales,
and with a slight lift

of its shoulders, prepares
to face what’s ahead.

You're welcome, Barack. And best of luck. You're going to need it.

Update: Here's the text of Elizabeth Alexander's poem from this morning. And here's a video of her reading.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Here and there

Blogging has been slow lately, and will probably continue to be so for a while (a while being defined as anything from twelve hours to my entire 30's), but in the meantime, I suggest you hop over to AGNI and check out Christopher Higgs delightful essay on one of my favorite set of writers - the Oulipo.

I also recommend Scott Cairns' 'Idiot Psalms' in this month's Poetry, reading which is a useful reminder of why poetry is my favorite kind of religious experience. And while you're there, you may as well read Michael Hoffman's piece on the Lowell-Bishop letters in which Hoffman makes his preference for Bishop over Lowell unabashedly clear (a preference for which I cannot blame him, though I can't help feeling a little sorry for Lowell).

And finally, from an anthology of contemporary poets from Northern Ireland (called The New North) that I've been reading:


After he'd gone,
she found money in the sheets,
fallen when he pulled his trousers off.
Gathering the coins into a small pile
she set them on the window ledge.
They sat, gathering dust, guilt,
until one day her husband
scooped them into his pocket.
Small change for a call
he couldn't make from the house.

- Moyra Donaldson

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Many years ago
I was sent
to spy out the land
beyond the age of thirty.

And I stayed there
and didn't go back to my senders,
so as not to be made
to tell
about this land

and made
to lie.

- Yehuda Amichai


30. Keats never made it this far. Nor Shelley. And Schubert, poor syphilitic Schubert, had just over a year left.

These old P.M.s are gruesome.

Why do I do this to myself? Indulge in these gentle luxuries? In this regret that is not even regret but the shadow of my disappointment for the sun I could not touch.

A ritual preposterous but necessary, like knocking on a door when you know no one will answer.


Beyond a point, every birthday becomes a monument to failure, a milestone marking how far I have failed to come.

My life a ladder of lines behind a door that now belongs to someone else.

Will you look at this? I've been officially middle-aged for all of 90 minutes and I've already I've started to whine. By the time this day is over I'll probably be complaining about my sciatica.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Against History

If we may hope for anything in our battle against history, it is not that we may change it, but that it may not change us.

To live at the foot of the mountain, and still cast one's own shadow.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


An overcast morning, the forecast rain. Already you can feel the invisible droplets touching your face, as though the wind were secretly in love with you. You walk into a coffee shop, order a cappuccino. The girl at the next table is listening to La Boheme, you can hear it through her headphones. Si mi chiamano Mimi. You want to tell her it's too early for that, but instead you dig about in your backpack, take out your notebook, find a pen. The waiter comes over and serves your coffee. You add a sachet of sugar, end up spilling some. The powdered sugar on the dark table top looks like dust, like ash. You open your notebook to a new page but cannot bring yourself to write on it. On your way out you leave two creased notes on the table, weighing them down with a single coin. At the door you notice a scattering of white petals in a puddle. You are careful not to step on them.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their own satisfactions. They turned the pain of others into memories of one's own. They turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, brief and eternally elusive. They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse, an incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility. They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more than the perpetuation of flight. They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity.

- Roberto Bolano, 2666

Reading Bolano is a bit like swigging 15-year old scotch straight from the bottle. It's perverse and exhilarating and you come away from it with your head buzzing, your mouth taut and a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. In other words, an experience not to be missed.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

For everything else, there's Mastercard

via Paper Cuts, a group photo from 1948 that lends itself to serious fanboying.

Why is it that when I walk into a bookstore I always end up surrounded by half-literate undergrads instead of by some of the greatest poets of the century?