Friday, June 09, 2006

Week’s End

Some of this week’s errata:

•John Matthias’s Twenty-Three Modern British Poets was published, not by John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press, but by the Swallow Press of Chicago, editor Michael Anania. (What’s with animals and presses? – Penguins, Puffins, Peregrines, Borzois, Wolfhounds, etc.)

•Ruskin’s Modern Painters is not in 7 volumes, but in 5 (with a 6th of indices). Plenty long enough.
Why Young Poets Ought To Read Ruskin, according to Quentin Bell:
Ruskin, early decorated, luxuriant Ruskin, complete with crockets and crenellations is I am convinced, a model which all those of us who are learning to write should study, imitate and learn to love. I say this despite the fact that in doing so I shall find that, amongst teachers of English eyebrows will be raised, lips will probably be pursed and a variety of clucking noises will be clearly audible. ‘What’, you will say: ‘is that gold and purple prose that cloying sweetness of language to be considered wholesome fare for the young? We live in the late Twentieth Century and what style could possibly be less appropriate for us than that of the eighteen forties? The suggestion is absurd, it is as though some girder-bending, concrete-mixing, polyvinylurinated art student were told to copy Bernini.’

This of course is just what such an art student ought to do (and in saying this I am looking straight at you Jane Doe and at you, Richard Roe, both of you now majoring in creative writing at the University of Labrador). Ruskin can help you, he cannot harm you. The authors who can do you a mischief are those whom you would naturally admire, those whose writings ‘make sense’ within the context of your own age, those who are still new and smart and popular and ‘relevant’. These you copy at your peril for they are saying the kind of things that you want to say, in using their phrases you may be cozened into believing that they are your own, their style is so close to yours that yours may become infected by theirs. Then indeed you may grow into a sedulous ape, a wind bag blown tight with the stale phrases of other people and then indeed you will be damned.

But the modern student who will never celebrate the glorious agonies of St Teresa, who will never be bothered by the question: how best are we to construct sheepfolds? will soon learn to look beyond those Ruskinian exclamations which at first may fill his timid twentieth century soul with confusion and alarm and he will find in the utterances of one who at first sight seems so alien, a science and a strength well worth his study. He will learn what amazing things may be done by the English Language when it is manipulated by strong and skilful hands.
Random 10:

1) “Sex Goddess,” Jon Hassell and Bluescreen, Dressing for Pleasure
2) “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” Pogues, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash
3) “Death of a Train,” Daniel Lanois, For the Beauty of Wynona
4) “Act 5, Scene 1,” Chris Cutler & Fred Frith, 2 Gentlemen in Verona
5) “The Tree,” John Zorn & Fred Frith, The Art of Memory
6) “Peppermint Rock,” French Frith Kaiser Thompson, Invisible Means
7) “Poseidon,” Judith Owens & Richard Thompson, RT Box Set
8) “When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down,” Oysterband, Holy Bandits
9) “Hazor,” Masada, Live in Sevilla
10) “Wilson Joliet,” John Cale, Helen of Troy


Jessica Smith said...

"(What’s with animals and presses? – Penguins, Puffins, Peregrines, Borzois, Wolfhounds, etc.)"

Oooh! I'm making a list. I'll post it later and you can help me add to it.

Archambeau said...

Dude. Anania ran Swallow in Chicago. Swallow that used to be Alan Swallow's press in Denver. Trust me on this, man.



Mark Scroggins said...

Bob: you are of course right, dude. That was a stupid typo (or pair of typos) – doubly embarassing in that it happens when I'm supposedly correcting errata. I believe you! Implicitly! I never doubted you! I believed you so much that I'm going back and changing the effing entry, okay, so nobody'll know what we're talking about!

Jessica Smith said...

Given your distaste for Beowulf and my new zine FOURSQUARE, I thought these lines (from Beowulf) were funny:

The Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf
stacked and decked it until it stood foursquare
hung with helmets, heavy war-shields
and shining armour, just as he had ordered.

I think that means that my magazine is a pyre for Beowulf. (That was SH's trans)

Michael Peverett said...

Have you heard June Tabor's definitive acapella version of "The Band Played waltzing Matilda", c. 1972. Tabor's version came to poppier ears as a massive John Peel radio favourite through the dark years of the mid-70s and that's where Shaun MacGowan and the boys must have learnt the song. I thought it proved beyond them and was the worst track on that album.

But then I don't like Ruskin either - was Sesame and Lilies a bad place to begin? But I do very much like Maldon and the O&N (early ME, btw)- the weakness with Q Bell's rabblerousing argument is that it could be applied with equal effectiveness to any other body of work with the sole proviso that it mustn't be modern - it cd apply a fortiori to the study of Old English, for example -I fancy that behind his Ruskinian tubthumping there's a subtext about the triviality, narrowness and self-conceit of what young artists get up to that's, however understandable, an immemorial topos of the elderly.

Mark Scroggins said...


I was pretty bowled over by "Band Played..." when I first heard RS&L, but then again it was the first time I'd ever heard the song, so I had no basis of comparison. It sounds much weaker in retrospect & in comparison with other versions, tho I'm still moved by Dick Cuthell's horn arrangement. I will have to seek out June Tabor's version; I admire her very much.

Sesame & Lilies is perhaps the worst place to start with Ruskin, & I have little idea why that book seems to be ubiquitous (if a shop has no other JR, it will inevitably have a cutely engraved copy of S&L), save for the role the book seemed to have in enforcing the worst sort of Victorian gender roles.

Jessica overstates in attributing a "distaste" for OE & ME literature to me: call it rather an anxiety about my own ignorance. I agree entirely with your take on Bell, particularly that his words apply "a fortiori to the study of Old English" -- I probably quoted him as much for the Ruskinian flow of his sentences as for the specifics of his indictment.