Sunday 31 May 2020

May index

Here are links to my daily blogs in May. These offer a paper trail of A Leap in the Dark, the gatherings I organise on Fridays and Saturdays. These are not recorded (deliberately, as I want them to be ephemeral) but I'm happy to share texts (with the contributor's permission) and the odd commentary or reflection.

May 1st  Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! - A Leap in the Dark 9, promoted

May 2nd A Leap in the Dark with CB editions - the 10th Leap. Charles Boyle curates a special night

May 3rd A Letter from Dinan - by Susanna Crossman

May 4th Mind your hats goan in - Finneganight revisited

May 5th 'Dross' by Julian Stannard - a poem that featured in A Leap in the Dark on 10th May

May 6th April index - links to all of last month's daily blogs

May 7th Bluebeard by Guy Wetmore Carryl - this blog's equivalent to a testcard

May 8th A Leap in the Dark 11 - the latest Leap

May 9th A Leap in the Dark 12 - another Saturday night . . .

May 10th Home, Sisters -  a prize-winning short story by Emma Devlin

May 11th The Pale Usher's Unusual Literary Quiz - the answers

May 12th Jacko, Prince and me - from the unpublished 'All Along the Watchtower'

May 13th Spring Journal Canto VIII - by Jonathan Gibbs

May 14th On the Hogarth Roundabout - an attempt at psychogeography

May 15th A Leap in the Dark 13 - all the regular features, plus six blazing poets

May 16th A Leap in the Dark 14 - Nicholas Royle curates an evening with Nightjar Press

May 17th About last night - afterthoughts on this week's Leaps

May 18th A Zoom with a View - some thoughts on cyber security and the 'threatscape'

May 19th Some thoughts on experimental fiction - in response to Naomi Frisby

May 20th A Verlaine translation - keeping my hand in

May 21st On Joanna Walsh and Vertigo - a flimsy pretext to publish an unpublished blog

May 22nd A Leap in the Dark 15 - focus on Northern Ireland

May 23rd A Leap in the Dark 16 - translation slam with Frank Wynne and Daniel Hahne

May 24th Seed by Joanna Walsh - a preview

May 25th Spring Journal Canto X - by Jonathan Gibbs

May 26th Last Week in Marienbad - a Robbe-Grillet translation slam

May 27th On dvandas - a recycled blog from 2014

May 28th A discovery an unpublished letter from T S Eliot

May 29th A Leap in the Dark 17 - the Binding Problem

May 30th A Leap in the Dark 18 - Henningham Family Press and others

May 31st May index - no link, because it might create a black hole or something

Saturday 30 May 2020

A Leap in the Dark: Saturday 30th May

A Leap in the Dark 18    8pm Saturday 30th May 2020

A focus on fiction this evening, with book talk and readings from Claire Allen, whose debut novel The Blackbird is published by Henningham Family Press. We’ll hear from Kevin Boniface, Heidi James and Kevin Duffy. There will be some fine poetry from Phil Hancock, reading from his debut collection City Works Dept. And David Henningham will sing two songs from An Unknown Soldier, the Henninghams’ ambitious collaborative artwork commemorating the dead of the Great War. 

There's no charge for taking part in A Leap in the Dark, but please make a donation, no matter how large, to The Trussell Trust.

The Programme

1 The Pale Usher welcomes you

2 Claire Allen on her new novel ‘The Blackbird’ with the Henninghams

3 Letter from Huddersfield with Kevin Boniface 

4 Poetry from Philip Hancock


5 David Henningham on ‘An Unknown Soldier’, with two songs: ‘Hymn for the 
  Two Boat Service’ and ‘At Roneo Works’

6 The Settee Salon with Heidi James and Kevin Duffy

7 Philip Hancock reads again

9 The Pale Usher signs off with news of an 'open mic' night

The Company

Claire Allen grew up in Liverpool and lives in London. She teaches English literature and creative writing at City Lit. Her first two novels, The Mountain of Light (2004) and Protection (2006), were published by Headline Review. Her books have been translated into French and Greek.

Kevin Boniface is an artist, writer and postman based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. Over the years his work has taken the form of zines, exhibitions, artists’ books, short films and live performances. He is the author of Round About Town, published by Uniformbooks. 

Kevin Duffy runs Bluemoose Books is an independent publisher based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Kevin and Hetha Duffy re-mortgaged their house to start Bluemoose in 2006 and are today among the leading indie publishers in Britain.

Philip Hancock’s collection City Works Dept. appeared from CB editions in 2018. His debut pamphlet Hearing Ourselves Think (Smiths Knoll, 2009) was a Guardian Book of the Year. A second pamphlet Just Help Yourself (Smiths Knoll) appeared in 2016. Jelly Baby, a film-poem, screened at various short film festivals and was published by Areté.

David and Ping Henningham are co-founders of Henningham Family Press, a microbrewery for books since 2006. They publish fiction and poetry. Their handmade editions can be found in the V&A, Tate, National Galleries Scotland and Stanford University. Their Performance Publishing shows compress the creation of printed matter into hectic live events.

Heidi James is the author of So the Doves, Wounding and The Mesmerist's Daughter. Her novel forthcoming novel, The Sound Mirror, will be published by Bluemoose Books in August 2020.

The Pale Usher is David Collard, who organises these gigs.

The pale Usher—threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. He was ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.
                                                         Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Our next Leap in the Dark on Friday 5th June features 

- Canto XII of Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, read by Michael Hughes

- Letter from Dinan by Susanna Crossman

- Dust off your chakras for a Yoga session with David 'Guru Dave' Holzer

- Dirty martinis with the Pale Usher

Please remember to make a donation to The Trussell Trust (or your local equivalent)

Stay well!

The Pale Usher

Friday 29 May 2020

A Leap in the Dark Friday 29th May

A Leap in the Dark 17    8pm Friday 29th May 2020

After the latest canto of Spring Journal and Guru Dave’s weekly yoga class the novelist Paulette Jonguitud delivers her second Letter from Mexico City (and you can read the first here.). After the interval the Settee Salon returns with psychologist and author Hugh Fulham-McQuillan in conversation with the novelists Eley Williams and Kevin Davey, and they’ll be looking into the so-called Binding Problem, a fascinating aspect of neuro-psychology and the science of the mind that addresses a fundamental question: how do we make sense of the world? Poet Amy McCauley offers a commentary from her collection OEDIPA (Guillemot Press).

Eley and Kevin will read from their forthcoming novels The Liar’s Dictionary (William Heinemann) and Radio Joan (Aaargh! Press).

There's no charge for taking part in A Leap in the Dark, but please make a donation, no matter how large, to The Trussell Trust.

The Programme

1 The Pale usher welcomes you

2 Spring Journal canto XI by Jonathan Gibbs, read by Michael Hughes

3 Yoga with David Holzer

4 Paulette Jonguitud’s Letter from Mexico City


5 Settee Salon: the Binding Problem with Hugh Fulham-McQuillan, Kevin 
  Davey, Eley Williams and Amy McCauley

Kevin Davey reads from Radio Joan

7 Eley Williams reads from A Liar’s Dictionary

8 The Pale Usher signs off

The Company

Kevin Davey is the author of Playing Possum, shortlisted for Goldsmiths Prize 2017, and Radio Joan (forthcoming, June 2020). Both are published by Aaaargh! Press.

Hugh Fulham-McQuillan is an Irish writer from Dublin. His short story collection Notes on Jackson and His Dead is published with Dalkey Archive Press in the US. His writing has appeared in The Stinging Fly, Ambit, 3:AM, Dalkey Archive's Best European Fiction anthology, gorse, and Minor Literature[s] among other places. He is currently working on a novel. 

Jonathan Gibbs is a writer and critic. His first novel, Randall, was published in 2014 by Galley Beggar, and his second, The Large Door, by Boiler House Press last year. He has written on books for various places including the TLS, Brixton Review of Books and The Guardian. He curates the online short story project A Personal Anthology, in which writers, critics and others are invited to 'dream-edit' an anthology of their favourite short fiction. Spring Journal is a response to the current coronavirus pandemic taking its cue very directly from Louis MacNeice's Autumn Journal.

David Holzer is a dedicated yogi, author, blogger and journalist. He founded YogaWriters ( and has taught workshops in yoga for writers in Mallorca, where he lives. Hundreds of people have taken his Yoga for Writers course on the DailyOm platform. His writing appears regularly in Om yoga and lifestyle magazine.

Each Friday David will take us through a simple yoga sequence that can be done by anyone of any age in the comfort of a favourite chair.


Please take care when practicing yoga. Should a pose feel that it could be harmful to you, do not attempt it or come gently out of the pose.

Breathing is a key part of yoga. Please breathe comfortably and naturally through your nose at all times. If your breath becomes forced, slow down the speed of your practice.

If you feel any kind of sharp, sudden pain anywhere in your body stop practicing right away. Be especially aware of your joints, particularly your knees.

Michael Hughes is the author of two acclaimed novels: Countenance Divine (2016) and Country (2018) both published by John Murray, the latter winning the 2018 Hellenic Prize. Under his stage name Michael Colgan he recently appeared in the acclaimed HBO television drama Chernobyl.

Paulette Jonguitud lives in Mexico City. She is the author of Mildew (CB editions) and Algunas margaritas y sus fantasmas. 

Amy McCauley is a poet and freelance writer. She is the author of OEDIPA (Guillemot Press, 2018) and 24/7 Brexitland (No Matter Press, 2020). Amy’s first full-length collection of poetry will be published by Henningham Family Press in 2021.

Eley Williams is a poet and author of the prize-winning short story collection Attrib. (Influx Press). Her forthcoming novel A Liar’s Dictionary will be published by William Heinemann later this year. She lectures at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The Pale Usher is David Collard, who organises these gigs.

The pale Usher—threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. He was ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.
  Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Our next Leap in the Dark tomorrow night features:

- author Claire Allen on her fine new novel The Blackbird

- two songs by David Henningham

- poetry by Philip Hancock

- a Letter from Huddersfield by Kevin Boniface

- the Settee Salon with author Heidi James and publisher Kevin Duffy of 
  Bluemoose Books

Please remember to make a donation to The Trussell Trust (or your local equivalent)

Stay well!

The Pale Usher 

Thursday 28 May 2020

An old discovery

From June 2013, another recycled blog.

Researching my book on Auden's documentary films of the 1930s (the poet worked for 6 months for the General post Office Film Unit) took me to the Natural History Museum, and the Geoffrey Tandy archive. Tandy had a connection to the the documentary movement, narrating the commentary The Way to the Sea, a 1939 film about railway electrification scripted by Auden with a score by Benjamin Britten.
Unpublished Eliot letter and drawing

My two days in South Kensington were entirely blissful, and there were several moments that stand out. One was the discovery of a short, undated typescript letter on headed notepaper from the offices of The Criterion, a literary magazine edited by T.S. Eliot. It's a note from Eliot to his close friend  Tandy, suggesting a drink after work at their regular meeting-place Gordon's, a subterranean wine bar in the shadow of Charing Cross station. 

The message reads:

With best wishes for Pentecost.

How’s the fat girl with the eye shade? And how about a glass of the inwariable on Wednesday next? Usual time and place. 

With regards to Pollylorum and the limbs of Satan, and love to the licensee.

Instead of a signature Eliot - clearly in a jolly mood - appends a pencilled drawing, possibly a self-portrait, of a Prufrock-like chap sporting a piratical eye patch. The smoke curling from his pipe (clenched at a jaunty angle) is a visual rhyme with the corkscrew hair. You can just about make it out on the image below.

(Tilt screen 180 degrees to see doodle)

Who was Pollylorum? Who were 'the limbs of Satan'? And what was the connection between Tandy and the Natural History Museum?

His debut appearance in Volume II of Eliot's letters merits only the barest footnote: '1900-1965, botanist, worked at the Natural History Museum, London'.

I remember my mixed feelings in June 2013 when I picked up a thick manilla file unpromisingly labelled 'Algae Correspondence and Papers'.

To my surprise it turned out to be a wonderful collection of manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, broadcasting scripts, poetry and files of newspaper cuttings about Samuel Pepys, yachts, freemasonry and cats, all Tandy passions.

Geoffrey Tandy 
Born in Chaddesley Corbett, a small village in Worcestershire where his parents kept a pub, he won a scholarship to Kidderminster Grammar School and then became an Usher at the Cathedral School in Salisbury, until he was called up in 1918, joining the Royal Field Artillery, where he eventually gained a commission as a Second Lieutenant. Thanks to a serviceman's grant Tandy took a degree in Forestry at Oxford and married Doris May Ellis (known as Polly) in 1923. By the age of 25 he was employed as Assistant Keeper of Botany at the Museum of Natural History in South Kensington, post that brought with it a respectable salary and a certain social status.  It was around this time he became friends with Eliot and Stephen Spender. His interest had moved on from Forestry to Marine Biology and in 1928 he undertook an exhibition to the Great Barrier Reef,. In the summers of 1931 and 1933 he joined an expedition to Loggerhead Key in The Dry Tortugas, a group of tiny islands in the Gulf of Mexico where he studied the fauna and flora of the reefs and recorded seeing 'with considerable if not very comprehensible pleasure, the arching roots of mangroves again.' 

In The Listener (20th September 1933) Tandy describes the region:

[T]hese islands are nothing better than wind- and wave- driven heaps of very porous loose sand, no more than ten or twelve feet above high water mark. Therefore there is no permanent fresh water unless you have roof to collect the rain and tanks to store it in. There are such things there to- day, but they weren’t there when the islands were named.

Was there a link between Tandy’s expeditions to this comfortless location and Eliot’s choice of title for The Dry Salvages, ('presumably les trois sauvages'). Perhaps some casual conversation contributed to the composition of Four Quartets, or indeed to Sweeney Agonistes with its cannibal island and bamboo trees. A photograph of Tandy the explorer accompanies a January 1932 Natural History Magazine article and shows him bare-chested in baggy shorts, holding aloft a large barracuda. He is exceptionally tall and skinny, with a modest beard. The beard would become more ambitious as he grew older. 

Eliot liked to make chortling references to his friend's nautical tendencies and in a letter dated 1st November 1927 to the printer and publisher Richard Cobden-Sanderson, a friend of both Eliot and Tandy, he labours an extended maritime metaphor:

[...] I was signalled this afternoon (about 6 Bells) by a Vessell named the Tandy, master one Tandy A.B., and  arranged to lay along side Chiswick Wharf one evening next week, on the understanding that you and Mrs Cobden-Sanderson were likely to cross the bar Later in the Evening. I have arranged to arrive from the Continent  in time for Supper or a shade sooner by Seaplane; so you may hear my engines.

Chiswick Wharf was near the Tandy family home and headquarters of the London Corinthian Sailing Club, of which Tandy was Honorary Secretary in the 1930s. 'A. B.' presumably stands for Able Boatman. A keen sailing enthusiast, Tandy was part-owner of a boat called Aquilla and would throughout his life regard himself as a 'Navy Man'. 

Eliot became a regular guest of the family (now with two young children, Richard and Alison with a third, Anthea, born in 1935), and in 1934 he wrote to Doris:

I only hope that I may be asked again: I have certain gifts as a guest which I like to exhibit; making beds, sweeping, bathing dishes, and cooking corned beef hash.

Tandy enjoyed a measure of celebrity in the 1930s and makes an appearance in a Radio Times article of 19 January 1939 entitled 'Masters of the Microphone'. The piece is illustrated by an impressive double-page photomontage of the foremost broadcasters of the day, assembled in the grand foyer of Broadcasting House. Tandy’s tall and now heavily-bearded figure can be glimpsed in the background, in the illustrious and exclusively male company of, among others, George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats, Winston Churchill and H. G. Wells.

He was a talented performer, giving the first ever wireless reading of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats on the BBC programme The Children's Hour on Christmas Day, 1937, two years before it was first published. And this is another intriguing link. 

A Practical Cat?

Eliot would sometimes recite the latest Old Possum verses when visiting a later Tandy family residence, Hope Cottage in Hampton-on-Thames. The book’s co-dedicatee was his god-daughter 'Miss Alison Tandy'. As we have seen Tandy père and Eliot shared a love of cats, and the Natural History Museum archive contains a large selection of cute feline snapshots, snipped from the pages of The Daily Sketch (see above). Did Eliot, in an amiable mood after Sunday lunch, riffle through these pictures and take them as a prompt to create Skimbleshanks, Macavity, Old Deuteronomy and the rest of the Practical Cats?
But let's top back to that typescript letter.

With best wishes for Pentecost.

How’s the fat girl with the eye shade? And how about a glass of the inwariable on Wednesday next? Usual time and place. 

With regards to Pollylorum and the limbs of Satan, and love to the licensee.

The ecclesiastical greeting and bleakly jocular tone are characteristic. The fat girl with the eyeshade remains unidentified - perhaps a colleague or researcher at the Natural History Museum? The usual rendezvous for 'a glass of the inwariable' (i.e. sherry) was Gordon’s Wine Bar, a sepulchral dive in the shadows of Charing Cross Station, still in business today. 'Pollylorum' was Eliot's pet name for Tandy’s wife Doris, (a name that had a particular attraction for Eliot, who used it in The Waste Land, Sweeney Erect, Sweeney Agonistes and the third of Doris's Dream Songs, which became Part III of The Hollow Men). The 'limbs of Satan' are their innocent daughters Anthea and Alison and 'the licensee' is Tandy himself. The note is unsigned, but concludes with a flourish - a confident pencil drawing of a  Prufrock-like gent smoking a large cigar and wearing a piratical eye-patch. Another Eliot drawing can be found in a first edition of Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats inscribed to Geoffrey Tandy - a lively caricature of the bearded dedicatee in his Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve uniform. 
Eliot was particularly fond of Polly ('My dear Polligal', 'Ole Ma Tandy', 'Pollitandy') and, in a letter dated Ash Wednesday 1936, does his best to cheer her up during a difficult phase in her marriage, adopting the guise of a Hollywood tough guy:

If you needs any sistance to keep the Ole Man peaceable you say the word, sister, say the word, and I’ll be along with a mighty powerful monkey-wrench I got handy.

Income from book reviews and BBC broadcasts supplemented Tandy’s museum salary but his finances tended to be shaky. He contributed a Broadcasting Chronicle to Eliot's Criterion Eliot took a keen interest in his friend’s fortunes, and arranged a Faber commission for a natural history book aimed at young readers. This never materialised and Eliot  was mildly exasperated in an undated letter to Polly:

Furthermore, while the broadcasting is all very well, for the meagre sums paid by that corporation do help to keep the kettles boiling; and this book would do more for his  reputation, and so for his pocket in the long run.

Eliot recommended his friend to the producer Donald Taylor at Strand Films and Geoffrey Tandy is credited as one of the two commentators on The Way to the Sea, the 1936 Strand production which features a verse commentary by Auden and a score by Benjamin Britten (who described Tandy in a diary entry as resembling 'a stage bug-hunter'). Tandy has a slight Worcestershire accent and his brisk enunciation of Auden's verses is perfectly-judged for this subversive exercise in documentary. His delivery suggests a reined-in sense of anarchic humour that contributes greatly to the film’s success. It was the encounter with Auden in the documentary film movement that led to Tandy's appearance in Letters from Iceland.

Perhaps dazzled by such illustrious company Tandy became increasingly bored and unhappy in his career at the Museum, despite promotion to the post Head Curator of Botany. An undated archive typescript of random quotations and jumbled lines of letters and numbers includes the lines:

          Natural History is a comic subject
          I do not know why we pursue it at all.

Eliot, no doubt remembering his time working in the Colonial and Foreign Department of Lloyd’s Bank, recognised his friend’s frustration, writing to Polly about his 'grasping at activities at the BBC which could not lead to anything, but which seemed to provide an outlet of some kind'.

A very different outlet came with the outbreak of the Second World War. Tandy’s special interest in peace time was in cryptogaphy, the study of certain classes of plant life such as algae, ferns, lichens and mosses which have no apparent means of reproduction - the word’s Greek roots mean 'hidden or secret marriage'. Somebody in authority at the War Office confused Tandy’s specialism with that of cryptography, (i.e. deciphering codes, or cryptograms) and he was posted to Bletchley Park. headquarters of the top-secret team, led by Alan Turing, dedicated to breaking the Nazi’s complex Enigma code. Lieutenant-Commander Tandy, RNVR, was appointed head of Naval Section VI in Block D and known, not too respectfully, as 'Admiral' Tandy by his colleagues.

That at least is the story circulated for many years and is is one which Tandy’s son Miles, who has researched his father’s life in thoughtful detail, remains sceptical about. In conversation recently he confirmed his view the cryptog(r)amme story is no more than an engagingly donnish yarn put about by the inmates at Bletchley park following his father’s arrival. Tandy was no expert on codes, although he was an accomplished linguist and his research skills were also of great value. But Tandy’s moment came in a breathtaking example of serendipity.

An abandoned German U-boat had been investigated by Royal Navy divers who salvaged a pulpy, waterlogged copy of an Enigma codebook. This was rushed straight to Bletchley Park. What was needed, and urgently, was an expert in the handling of saturated organic matter recovered from the seabed. Cometh the hour . . .

Thanks to Tandy’s expert intervention and access to specialist absorbent paper, the leaves of the U-boat’s codebook were quickly made available for examination by the code-breakers. It is now widely accepted by historians that cracking the Enigma code brought the end of the war materially closer, perhaps by as much as two years.

Tandy continued working in intelligence gathering and interpretation after the war. His private life became more complicated and he found a return to civilian life both personally and professionally difficult. A 1950 letter from Eliot to Polly refers to Tandy’s 'mental-physical-spiritual' breakdown, which in the poet’s view had its roots ten years earlier, during the war. Eliot was always a thoughtful and generous godfather, later setting up a formal covenant for Anthea Tandy using some of his substantial earnings from The Cocktail Party (1949).

In 1946 Tandy started a new family with Maire MacDermott, and they had five children together - daughters Genista (now Baroness McIntosh), Francesca, Nicola, Ann (now Jessica) and a son, Miles. Miles has written with great insight and understanding about his father in A Life in Translation: Biography and the Life of Geoffrey Tandy, to which I am greatly indebted.

All quotations from Eliot's correspondence are © The Estate of T. S. Eliot
Images © Hulton Getty; Faber and Faber; Google Images

Wednesday 27 May 2020

On dvandas

Technical malaise, so here's a recycled b log which I hope deserves recirculation. From a thousand years ago.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

On dvandvas

My last blog of 2014. It's been a helter-coaster, roller-skelter of a year, as always, but this is no pretext for a retrospective. Onward!

I've noticed that many of my blogs over the past twelve months are about off-trail linguistic subjects (avoiding, I hope, the chortling whimsical tone that is associated with such backwaters.) So here we go again. Are you familiar with the term 'dvandva'?

It's a lovely word from Sanskrit meaning 'pair', and refers to a language feature also known as a 'Siamese linguistic compound'. It refers to one or more objects that could otherwise be connected in sense by the conjunction 'and' (which is omitted), where the objects refer to the parts of the agglomeration described by the compound. 

Stay with me.

Dvandvas are common in Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, and some Modern Indic languages such as Hindi and Urdu, but less common in English - the term rarely appears in standard English dictionaries and is not in common circulation, even along linguists.

Cue Wikipedia:

An example in Sanskrit mātāpitarau (मातापितरौ) for 'mother and father'; Chinese shānchuānand Japanese yamakaw for 'mountains and rivers'; Modern Greek "maxeropiruno" (μαχαιροπήρουνο) for 'fork and knife', "anðrojino" (ανδρόγυνο) for "married couple (lit. man-woman)"

By the Greek for 'fork and knife' is presumably nothing to do with the 'spork' (or spoon/fork combination which comes handy on camping holidays).

We don't have dvandvas in English, not really. Such a term as 'singer-songwriter', in the sense 'someone who is both a singer and a songwriter' is not - at least within the Sanskrit classification of compounds - a compound. 

Cue Wikipedia again: 

These are considered कर्मधारय 'karmadhāraya compounds' such as राजर्षि rājarṣi 'king-sage,' i.e. 'one who is both a king and a sage' (राजा चासावृषिश्च).

In Greek, sernicothilyko (σερνικοθήλυκο) means being male and female (although I have no idea whether this refers to hermaphroditism). It might apply to the short-lived 's/he' used for gender non-esclusion by high-minded writers. 

I suppose the portmanteau words found in Lewis Carroll (who invented the term), such as 'brillig' and 'slithy' come close, or their modern equivalents 'brunch', 'bromance' and 'Chunnel (as the Channel Tunnel was once called).

If you're still reading at this point, I thank you.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Last Week in Marienbad

Last Saturday night two distinguished translators, Frank Wynne and Daniel Hahne, took part in something new to me during A Leap in the Dark - a so-called 'translation slam'.

They each independently completed a translation from the French original of a short prose text - the opening monologue (attributed to 'VOICE OF X') from the novelisation, by Alain Robbe-Grillet and Alain Resnais, of the film L'Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad). They didn't see one another's version until just beopfre the programme began, and an absorbing conversation followed in which they picked the bones out of the text and explained their choice of phrase or word (such as 'building/edifice' for the French 'construction'), how they achieved an appropriate cadence and so on. It was a masterclass in close reading and sensitive interpretation and I could have listened for hours.

I'd like to reproduce just a couple of lines of the exercise to show how two translators tackle the same text. The similarities are as revealing as the differences.

Version originale

Une fois de plus –, je m’avance, une fois de plus, le long de ces couloirs, à travers ces salons, ces galeries, dans cette construction – d’un autre siècle, cet hôtel immense, luxueux, baroque, – lugubre, où des couloirs interminables succèdent aux couloirs, 

                                                                      From  L'Année dernière à Marienbad  by Alain Robbe-Grillet  and Alain Resnais
                                                                                                                                                       (Les Éditions de Minuit, 1961)

Translation 1 (by Daniel Hahne)

       Once again –, I walk on, once again, along these hallways, across these rooms, these galleries, in this building – from another century, this vast hotel – luxurious, baroque, gloomy – where endless hallways follow on from hallways, 

Translation 2 (by Frank Wynne)

Once again, I walk on, once again, through these hallways, these salons, these galleries, in this edifice – from another century, this vast hotel, opulent, baroque – mournful, in which hallway follows endless hallway 

It was a wonderful evening, with a musical translation from Helen Ottaway (a beautiful  piece called 'Dove' scored for harpsichord but played on the on the piano), Astrid Alben talking about and reading the work of the Dutch poet F. van Dixhoorn (known as 'Dix') and Aea Varfis van Warmelo giving an astonishing performance of Apollinaire's poem 'l'Avenir'. This, it struck me, was something entirely new and I hope she'll develop further this brilliant way of reading and translating at the same time interpreting a poem in a foreign language. 

Monday 25 May 2020

Spring Journal Canto X by Jonathan Gibbs

Last Friday's Leap in the Dark began, as usual, with the latest canto of Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, read 
impeccably by Michael Hughes. I struggle to find adequate superlatives to describe what Jonathan has achieved already, 
and will go on to achieve, withe this astonising, urgent, vital work-in-progress. It is a poem for our times. 

Here is the tenth canto, with the author's kind permission:


And work this year will see no cap and gown
In the vestry of Westminster Cathedral
No procession up the nave, no lunch in town,
No garden party back on campus to celebrate graduation.
And I think of the ends of other terms,
Other marquees in other university grounds,
And memory reaffirms
The thrill and exhilaration of ending something well,
Among friends, who you know you will leave behind,
As you push on into life; these are they with whom
You will reconnect, if time is kind,
And look back on how what you achieved together
Set the tone
For what you would achieve apart,
Posing in variant groups, for camera or phone:
Exhilaration is the grandparent of nostalgia.
It’s odd that these moments should claim
Our attention; they were not when we were most alive,
But when we paused life to give it a name.
Life was something happening in the background,
Expressing itself in textures and scents:
A television on somewhere else in the house,
A table you worked at, a creosoted fence,
A tally as vast and arbitrary as our 25,000 genes,
Each one waiting for its cup of tea and madeleine,
Its apotheosis in a hiccup or a sideways glance,
Or the half-heard refrain
Of a pop song dopplering from a passing car.
But we tossed our caps and raised a glass,
Half-drunk already on expectation of the future;
That prosecco must taste flat to the class
Of 2020. The door opens for them onto a wasteland,
No jobs, no prospects; the economy is scarred
As the buzzword has it, but what caused the scarring,
And why weren’t we better prepared?
A stab-proof vest, not miracle gels, would have been preferred.
They won’t take it for granted that things
Will get bigger and better and better and bigger
They won’t expect to just pull on the strings
To have cushy days roll in from over the horizon.
While for me school – a grammar school in Essex –
Did provide a fertile bed for growth, though not just as
Defined by the dominant metrics
Of exam results and future earnings.
We ran comedy shows on the school hall stage 
And formed ramshackle bands in the prefab huts
Left there from a simpler, humbler, beiger age; 
We covered them with murals, and now they’re gone.
So there are no junior ministers or captains of industry
In my generation’s notable alumni
But comedians, musicians and journalists,
From off of TV, and the main stage at Glastonbury.
We didn’t get to go on the dole,
But we did get to make schooling a frolic
And a revel – though maybe the whole
Thing’s the same big sentimental trick
Each generation gets to play
On itself, and these kids will look back at their education 
With the same grating whimsy, and say,
Those days, indeed, were golden; we were so young; and the times were just.
And today is the warmest day
Since August last year; the sky belongs to the condescending clouds
And the few contrails
Of planes that passed earlier unheard; this morning the bird
Song seemed to come not just 
From the gardens close by, but round them,
Through airways clear of smog and dust,
From all the birds of SE26 and SE20. 
And I think of the Year Sixes,
Who may not get to get their last weeks of primary school –
Yes, ending something well carries riches
Not all of which get reinvested in what comes next.
And though the schools may still open
In June, in spite of the cares and concerns;
The bond of trust has been damaged, if not broken,
For all education is built on trust, then love, 
And only then on grammar and spelling,
And the basic numeracy of what R equals today.
Tomorrow there’s no telling
What children will bring home with their homework.
And the summer looms like a bright black hole,
As infections decrease and we raise our heads
And ask ourselves if we understand the role
We are being asked to play in the next stage of this terrible opera.