On this day in 1907 WH Auden was born. His poem ‘September 1, 1939’, written in a bar in New York at the outbreak of war, seems to chime with our own time (even if he later disowned the poem, saying it was ‘infected with an incurable dishonesty’). And on this day in 1933, Nina Simone was born. ‘I wish I knew how
it would feel to be free; I wish I could break all the chains holding me,’ she sang, while in her song ‘Revolution’, after a lifetime of tireless advocacy for the civil rights movement, she saw in the demand for Black Power the challenge to continuing racism, inequality and repression in the United States: ‘The only way that we can stand in fact/Is when you get your foot off our back.’ And now, written this month we have a superb poetic response to the present situation in America from Joanna Clink.
Continue reading “On this day: three voices that speak to our time”
Terrific In Our Time this morning (the 750th broadcast!) on John Clare, with his biographer Jonathan Bate joining Melvyn Bragg and other experts to discuss the Northamptonshire labouring class poet. The small cottage in Helpston he shared with his parents, his wife Patty and their six children still stands, now renovated by the John Clare Trust. Continue reading “John Clare celebrated in terrific 750th episode of In Our Time“
Following news of the death of John Berger I decided to re-visit some of his books, many of which I last read decades ago. In this post I want to discuss his novel To the Wedding, first published in 1995. There must be some truth in the notion that the circumstances surrounding an encounter with an artistic work somehow may affect our response. When I first read this book soon after publication, I admired it as much for its portrayal of a post-Cold War Europe in which the novel’s characters could move with greater freedom across borders as for its its story of two young lovers facing a future poisoned by AIDS. Reading it again this week, still grieving after our own personal loss, the novel overwhelmed me with its humanity, its assertion of love in the face of death, with the fierce determination of a couple who seize joy from the present with a wedding feast described by Berger in transcendent passages that form the book’s conclusion.
What shall we do before eternity?
Take our time.
Dance without shoes?
Re-acquainting myself with To the Wedding, I now believe this to be John Berger’s masterpiece. Continue reading “Rereading John Berger: To the Wedding“
I’m re-blogging this item from Open Culture because it deserves wide circulation in these times when migrants are told they’re unwelcome, when borders are manned and walls are being built, when the Dutch prime minister says, ‘Behave normally or go away‘, and when outsiders are attacked or vilified. And because today is Holocaust Memorial Day.
Little Englanders, Brexiters, Daily Mail keep them out and send them home types: these are the words of Shakespeare, our national poet and treasure. Worth a listen? Continue reading “Ian McKellen reads a passionate speech by Shakespeare, written in defence of immigrants (reblog)”
At the weekend I read David Grossman’s latest novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar. Now I want to set down some thoughts about this intense and unsettling book. On stage in a comedy club in an Israeli town, a stand-up comedian, Dovaleh G, settles into his usual routine of edgy gags and mocking, abusive comments about members of the audience. Slowly, though, the spectators realise that they are watching a man falling apart before their eyes as Dovaleh G unfolds the story of a childhood trauma from which he has never recovered.
Since Grossman is a progressive Zionist and long-time advocate of peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, does his novel stand as a metaphor for a wounded nation? Or is it the study of a man who presents a public face of cruelty and cynicism whilst hiding deep within himself the vulnerable yet irrepressible child crushed and betrayed by what happened to him one day in 1973.
Continue reading “David Grossman’s A Horse Walks Into a Bar: a stand-up’s cry of pain”
Until I have time to gather my thoughts in response to the death of John Berger – here is a re-post of my appreciation to mark his 90th birthday in November.
(Avoid at all costs the mean-spirited obituary published by the Guardian. Instead, try these two perceptive pieces:
Continue reading “John Berger: 90 years of looking, listening and seeing (re-post)”
In a city, you can be alone in a crowd, and in fact what makes the city a city is that it lets you hide the strangeness in your mind inside its teeming multitudes.
― Orhan Pamuk, A Strangeness in My Mind
Writing in a recent post about Jim Jarmusch’s film Paterson, with its central character a bus-driving amateur poet who closely observes the special in the mundane details of the city he inhabits, reminded me that I ought to write something about Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s latest, The Strangeness In My Mind. Read in December, it has as its central character an Istanbul street vendor through whom Pamuk weaves the tumultuous history of that city in the last half-century. Indeed, it carries the lengthy subtitle, ‘Being the Adventures and Dreams of Mevlut Karatas, a Seller of Boza, and of His Friends, and Also a Portrait of Life in Istanbul Between 1969 and 2012 From Many Different Points of View’. Continue reading “Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind: the streets of Istanbul transformed”