Monday 28 November 2016

Robert Walser at 3 a.m. John Cage at 3 p.m.

Robert Walser is good at 3 a.m. Estranged and joyous.
John Cage's diary, 3 p.m. A snatch in the afternoon.
Everything we come across is to the point.
This is how we configure a day.
A night.

Friday 25 November 2016

My family's origins, Isaac Babel

As soon as I read anything that smacks of my family's origins, I wriggle or turn away. In the middle of last night, awake at an even more ludicrous hour than usual, I read one of the Odessa stories by Isaac Babel and suddenly saw what I was reading: between Dashiell Hammett and my grandparents. I have been ill lately. My defences are lowered. I couldn't read Babel or his like while my parents were alive. Three of their parents came from north-east of Odessa, Bessarabia, as Babel calls it, as I did before I called it Russia, or Romania, or Moldova.

The name, elusive as Bessarabia/Romania/Moldova, is everything. If Odessa is a summary of whatever I wriggle from, so be it. I was pleased once to be described by a fellow jew as 'one of the Odessa crowd'.

In its tribal regalia, Odessa defeats me. I have no aptitude for the dense colours of these stories. Quickly I feel overwhelmed by rich tapestries of people strutting their noms de guerre. Social fabric I don't know how to weave, how to believe. I wriggle and turn away. Glimpses are all I can manage. I prefer Joseph Roth's Job: internal, uncomprehending, bottomlessly sad, engaged with a room and its outside, a family—if that—and its fragility.

I am happy to learn that in Odessa there were kefir makers, and that Bessarabia was a lush place with wine that smelled of sun and bedbugs. And I am always pleased to see the Yiddish term of endearment, bubbeleh, on the page. Babel's Odessa, up to almost including the pogrom, is linguistically riotous, seductive and vivid. Boris Dralyuk, the Pushkin Press translator, grew up there.

This language has lain mostly undisturbed all my life, just beneath my awareness; and my will. Inflections, inversions, a tone of complaint and triumph, a patois I could not accept as my father would have wanted. I had to invent my own. That was, and is still, the thing.

Thursday 17 November 2016

Job, The Story of a Simple Man, Joseph Roth

Job, The Story of a Simple Man, by Joseph Roth

Why do I need the unshed tears of this Roth creature in his Russian village, in New York? My predecessors are not my own. Or they are. Crouched by the stove.

Roth's boss at the Frankfurter Zeitung said that the sadder Roth was the better he wrote. Job was written in 1930, which was a sad time in general in Europe. Like now.

Do other readers like to take a rest in the sadness of long ago? Or would they rather raise their voices at the iniquities of now? Are these two sides of the same coin?

Sadness is slower than anger, that's all I know. Wind in the aspens, for some time before the leaves fall. Last leaves, last prayers. I have never prayed, I can say.

If sadness and anger are two sides of the same, the same, coin, then we are all closer than we think. If sadness is godless prayer. Then I have prayed.

Many pages into Google, Job is ancient poetry and sadness, not employment. Google is one reliable assessor of where we stand. Where we float.

Thursday 10 November 2016

One-Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka

One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

I started reading before a trip to London and finished when I came back, by which time our autumnal eco-patch and any sympathetic reading I might do in that direction were rendered even more poignant by the disastrous turn in American politics. Behind such noisy manipulation it's hard to hear yourself think.
Autumn sunlight through
such leaves as remain a sad—
ness unrequited
Fukuoka did not deviate from his way of farming, or his way of living, which were one and the same: no ploughing, no fertilising, no machines at all, growing crops as wild plants among other wild plants, living off his produce, knowing his trees and his plants, buying only soy sauce and vegetable oil; no wonder he lived to the age of 95.

Looming behind such lucidity and humaneness, is the agro-petro-chemical dependency machine that makes the farmer busier, the CEOs richer and the politics noisier. Better to have zero chemicals, zero machinery, zero economic growth and a population of 100% farmers who, in the slack winter season have the leisure to write haikus, says Fukuoka. Under 5% of the Irish population are farmers. No statistics on how many write haikus, or sonnets.

People are the way their land and air is, as Gertrude Stein said.