Sunday, 21 November 2010

Dear Sweet Harry, Lynn Jenner, and Annie Leibowitz

A satisfying day, because artistic - listening to the Klezmer Rebs and Lynn reading her poetry, which she did differently - very slow pace of speech, talking clearly and well, good physical pose, the music just right, helping us to stay with the story and carrying us to the next part...I didn't recognise the poems in spite of having read Dear Sweet Harry twice...some of the poems I know from before they were published, and mostly I did not recognise them in this seemed perfect in the sense that no word was superfluous,  the pace was right, and our attention was teased in a pleasant way, almost like a tickle, it was so light and subtle.

Listening to the Klezmer Rebs always makes me wish that I could be there with them, singing the harmonies along. Helen M came too and it was fun having here there with us, enjoying herself.

After we dropped Helen home, we picked up a movie at the local Video store - one of them was an Annie Leibowitz documentary. Some of it a bit hagiographic, but showed an important moment: as a young woman she photographs some pop idols together, a bunch of them for the cover of Rolling Stone and that's all they were - a bunch of people standing against RS's traditional white background - and Annie's mentor said she was angry - or was it disappointed? - she told her: "You had a great opportunity, and you didn't make anything of this!". I felt cross because she didn't say what she meant by 'making something of this'.
But then the documentary showed what happened with Annie's photography, and it was stunning - Bette Midler starring in the Rose - lying on a bed of roses, half covered in them (all thorns removed for the shoot), Woopie Goldberg  in her milkbath - 'emerging from whiteness' - the Blues Brothers with their faces painted a lavendery kind of blue. Very interesting. Also many stunning shots. And an insight into the obsessiveness of her work - constantly with a camera, taking immense trouble. The taking trouble was what many people commented on, and with it a kind of pityless-ness, they complained about being put in uncomfortable situations - in cold water was one - and being made to suffer while she took shots...

It made me want to write.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Several books

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset, 1928 Nobel Prize for literature, a massive trilogy taking place in 14th century Norway. She was an expert on that period, her father had been an archaeologist. The work is monstrously big, and have just read that in fact it was cut short in the translation  I read - by Charles Archer - where she had experimented with stream of consciousness, which is something that has been restored in a recent prize-winning translation, which I'll have to look at some time. Sigrid Undset is a master at describing human character and the way it changes as a result of life's experiences. When I started the book I found it a little insipid - the love of the father for the daughter, the daughter for the father, so perfect, but when the first imperfections were described I was captivated, because she manages to hint and show and for a while nothing much changes, and one's awareness grows gradually. Some of the characters are not able to change at all, though as a reader one does wish they would. The Wikipedia article describes her as unsentimental, and that is true as far as the historical description is concerned. This book took up far too much of my time, and yet am very glad I've read it.
One of her early books published in the 1920s Fru Marta Oulie starts with the sentence: "I have been unfaithful to my husband". I am impressed. Reading about her life, I am aware how little I am writing.
The next important book was Yann Martel's  The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, (1993) four not very short, short stories...Under-statements about life and death. The third story - my favourite at the moment - is entitled Manners of Dying and is a series of ten letters from Harry Parlington, warden at a Correctional Centre where the death penalty is carried out by hanging.The letters are all addressed to a Mrs Barlow and relate the manner of death of her son Kevin. But each death is different and carries a different number, an increasing series - "Manner of dying 18, manner of dying 213, manner of dying 319, 534, 541, 760, 985, 991, 1096." (The number 18 is chai  in Hebrew and stands for life).
I've just looked up the name Kevin Barlow on Wikipedia: he was an Australian on an initial drug run to/from Malaysia, who was caught and sentenced to death. He was hanged on 7 July 1986. Harry Parlington is not there, though there is a Parlington Hall in Ireland with an arch celebrating the independance of the United States. And I wonder if Harry is a reference to Harry Houdini, who knew how to set himself free from fetters...The letters are supposedly typed by a person whose initials are ym. Is there a link between Yann Martel and Kevin Barlow?

The Struggle for Religious Freedom in Germany, by A.S. Duncan Jones, Dean of Chichester, published in 1938, and stored in the stack room of Wellington Central Library, in somewhat battered condition. Someone has underlined it heavily in pencil and when I tried to rub out the pencil, the print went as well...
A gift for someone wanting to understand what was happening in Germany after Hitler's 1933 access to power. Have made notes and photocopied bits. Some very telling details - including one sentence right at the end...(p.267)
"It does not become us to utter one word of reproach for those who have not been able to rise to those sacrificial heights. Nor may we criticise those who have so risen, because they have not done something else as well: because, for example, they have not made a violent protest against the shameful treatment of the Jews or the horror of the concentration camps."

The Bishop of Chichester was George Bell, promoter of oecumenism. He was against carpet-bombing of German cities, and spoke out against it. Churchill was not pleased. It may well be he who said in the British Parliament that the first nation which was conquered by Hitler was the German nation - that bit was written by Wilfrid Israel for him - it's in the eponymous biography of Wilfrid Israel, also to be found at the Central Library.

Monday, 16 August 2010

More dreams

Dreams: I dreamt that P and I were moving, we seem to move a lot in my dreams. Last time we were with the children, leaving a place where we had been a while, and people were saying good-bye, but nothing hysterical, just quiet and we were ready to go without any anxiety, I am not sure where we were going to, but it was fine. The children were there too, as children. Next dream: we move into a house which has a retro 50s style, a lot of red and blue and white - lighter than the family room for instance, fully furnished with gadgets, almost too full. It is very satisfactory.
And Tamsyn rang because she had a bad dream, she woke up and wanted to come to me/us. Nice. The dream itself felt scary to her but had bits that seem very positive like wanting to turn on a light switch.

March 2019
I dreamt that I was married to Donald Trump (now President of the USA) . He lay in bed and moaned and was very demanding. I had to look after him and I wondered: How on earth did I allow myself to get into this situation? I then discovered that he could draw most beautifully, very precise drawings in pencil, though some were just the outline of breasts as seen from above, the line breaking where the nipples should be. That seemed to make me reconsider, but why?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Dreaming of evil

She was already awake when he stirred beside her in the dark. He moaned, then threw his arms about and shouted, a long open sound without articulation, getting higher and stronger, a sound of resistance and defence, his legs beginning to kick. This had happened before: she shook him to wake him up, to cut short the agitation and distress.
He woke up enough to embrace her. Their bodies intertwined.
You were shouting, she murmured into his chest.
There was a reason, he said, still half in it.

* * * *

Am back from sesshin, a week in Rotoiti with a good leader. Somewhat euphoric, waiting for that to pass. I think that I must write something every day, even if it is as short as the above.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Korach and divisiveness

A wonderful translation from German by Carol Brown Janeway, wittily written, Measuring the World, by Daniel Kehlmann, the lives of two geniuses from 19th century Germany: a real treat, published as pure fiction, despite being about Gauss and Humboldt. I started re-reading it as soon as I'd finished.
He uses the device of no quotation marks, just like Saramago does, and I love it here just as much.

I'm taking part in an online translation pool: tricky expressions are sent in...I've used it successfully for my own translations, when technical terms arose, for instance in finance or engineering. German to English. Am also interested in the French to English and Hebrew to English. Now I look to see what others are sending in, see if I can contribute too - another participant warned me that it was addictive. It is.

I wrote a sermon about Korach, who was Moses and Aaron's cousin and rebelled against them (Numbers,  Ch 16 and ff.) and after two attempts by Moses and God, to convince K that he was wrong, "the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them" (Korach and his followers). Here is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe says about that portion:
"If Korach is the essence of divisiveness, says the Rebbe, then an understanding of the dynamics of conflict and harmony will explain Korach's challenge to Moses. Conversely, an understanding of the subtleties of Korach's argument will shed light on the very fine line separating divisiveness from true peace.

For although divisiveness and peace look very different from each other in their full-blown, actual states, in their essence and origins they are amazingly similar. In fact, they are very nearly indistinguishable from each other."

I wish I understood that. And there is more, also hard to understand.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Michael Ondaatje's best book: Anil's Ghost. (2000)

Am at the moment unable to speak well in any depths.
Unable to sieve my speech.
Toads jump out of my mouth.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

About Goodness

I've been reading about the Holocaust and came across a book which made an impression on me - less despair, more uplift.

One of the lessons which can be drawn from the Holocaust may be that if such horrendous evil is possible, amazing good must occasionally happen as well. The book is called Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, by Carol Rittner and Sandra Myers, eds. (NYU Press, 1986).

Of particular note: an entire village in France saved thousands. It is called Le Chambon, may it always be remembered for a blessing.

Also a Bavarian army officer called Major Julius Schmahling who saved many people in the Haute Loire. He is linked to the village and helped make their actions possible.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Receiving a revelation

Part I.

The wonderful city library and the joys of being an autodidact, at least as far as this poetry is concerned. It is so much fun to find things out for oneself.

From the library: two old tired books about Gerard Manley Hopkins, one an analysis of  a selection of his poetry, (Landscape and Inscape, Vision and Inspiration in Hopkins's poetrey, by P. Milward, SJ and R Schoder, SJ, 1975) and another a collection with an introduction (Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 4th edition, revised and enlarged,  W H Gardner and N H MacKenzie, eds, 1967). Am learning The Windhover by heart. It is not in my main poetry book (Poetry of the English-Speaking World, R Aldington, ed., 1950), though others which I loved are - among them Pied Beauty, and In the Valley of the Elwy.

Today is Shabbat and on Shabbat I do not read about the Holocaust or other horrifying stories, nor do I work on the computer (It is now after dark, so officially no longer Shabbat).

Today for once there was absolutely nothing else to do. Always interesting to see what happens when nothing is planned. So: a nice long meditation, and a quiet morning lying on the sun-warmed patch on the floor, with Gerard Manley Hopkins. Peter was in his office, so I could read the poems out loud.

I was very happy.

I realise that the rest of the educated English-speaking world will know this poem. The more I read about Hopkins, the more interested I became. A Jesuit. A mystic. A great need for peace. An equally great love for nature. One of the commentaries said he had influenced the next generation's use of English.

Then a vigorous walk up Mt Kaukau with P and friends. I am fortunate.

Part II
I have not managed to keep up my blog writing, so a quick tour of recent reading:
A not good enough book by Amin Maalouf, entitled Baltasar's Odyssey, which is a voyage through parts of the Ottoman Empire and Europe in 1666, when many people believed that the end of the world was nigh. I don't know why he wrote it, except that it was published shortly after 2000, when people also worried about what would happen if all the computers stopped working.
 I had the recurring feeling that he himself travelled along the same route and wrote in all the little details he noticed about people's behaviour in the 20th centurey into his book, adapting the material things around them to the 15th century. One of the reviews says "Sparkling and erudite". It did nothing for me.

Now quite different and a stunner: Peter Hobbs' The Short Day Dying (2005) - what a tour de force, and his first book too. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread Best First Novel - I wonder who won that year, this book would have been hard to beat.
A well-meaning relatively uneducated man is struggling with his faith and his life. He writes in the style of the Bible, for that is all that he knows. Meaning, he never reads anything else. His syntax is Biblical and this is done with great skill. I found it wonderful. The character of this man is completely believable and his story is compelling.

Pushing Time Away: My grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna by Peter Singer  (2003). This is the Peter Singer, the ethics specialist, writing about his family. I read it as part of research on Teresienstadt, which I promised a friend  I would do for her. What a relief to read a book like this where someone remembers to put in the details that one wants to know, they did so and so, why did they choose to do that just then, and how did they go about it, that sort of stuff is often not covered well enough by people who experienced it. He has done thorough research, and I am grateful to him. Also: I recognise the feelings he describes - he went to the school where his grandfather taught and he says, I walked into the entrance hall, the same place my grandfather will have gone through many many times, it is unchanged...This is a recurring event through the book, an experience I had when I was in Nuremberg, My mother was here and here and here, I am standing on the same place where she will have stood. Intensely moving.

And a book launch at the Goethe Institut: Wildes Licht,  a translation of NZ poetry into German, by Dieter Riemenschneider (2010). Bill Manhire read one of his Arctic poems (in English) with great emotion. A mystery.

Friday, 26 March 2010


I finished a book and felt that I was a different person for having read it.

It is Justin Cartwrights's To Heaven by Water (2009, Bloomsbury). The story of a man who has just lost his wife. The story begins and ends with wonderful poetry, it makes me feel like sailing, like floating, like coasting on the wind, the word that keeps coming to my mind is swooning, but of course it is the wrong physical implication, thought it is the right sound, as if one could say or chant quietly Swooooooon, and run very lightly, hardly touching the ground, wrapped and half-carried (?) by a diaphanous veil...It is by Gerald Manley Hopkins, it is The Windhover. Is this one of those cases where everyone else knows it already?

I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom of
daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing...

The book is about death and love (Like the title of Amos Oz's book). The word soul keeps appearing.

On a different topic: reading and books today, one of the characters who is a writer says: " ..those of us who love books, and I mean real books with long words, are a dwindling band. We're like the bushmen of the Kalahari desert [...], marginalised, even despised, as though we have a secret vice or carry a contagion.[...] a country without respect for its own literature is a country going to hell in a fucking handcart. We, the readers, are now like monks in the dark ages, keeping alive our culture. We are living in a new dark age, an age of mass ignorance; we are squeezed in the embrace of triviality and infantilism. I, for example, spend my days turning dumb ideas into dumber scripts that become even dumber mini-series. The BBC [...] has turned into a sink of touchy-feely mediocrity..."

I have been reading heaps of books, but not writing about them. Hopefully shall find some more good ones like this.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


7:30 am, and there is so much to do. I am struggling with my translation, having reached 41 pp, ie over 1/3 of the way. If  I manage to keep on working at this pace, I might finish the first round in 3 months' time, ie in June. That would be great, though it will be a push.

Have read Guenther Grass's Peeling the onion at last. It is an important book. I want to re-read what Lynn wrote about it, her review. I know that I do not have the same level of excitement as she did. I am becoming single-minded: very interested in the telling details I might exploit for my own book. Cannibal. The same applies to the translation.

That's all for today because of wanting to catch up with the translating, one page a day, and already I am almost 3pp behind. Not to lose more ground today, I should translate at least a page.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Quickly, quickly

Read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Maclehose Press, 2008, bad translation from Swedish by Reg Keeland). Strictly air travel reading. The characters lack psychological credibility - particularly his male protagonist, funnily enough - the writing is not very good, and at the same time one wants to know what happens next, so can't put down. Sexually it is a male fantasy.
A waste of time. He is not another Henning Menkel, despite being Swedish.

In the Kitchen by Monica Ali (Transworld Publishers - Doubleday, 2009) reminded me a bit of Nadeem Aslam in the richness of language and the wealth of metaphor - is this the influence of being fluent in a language from a completely different language group? Again, hard to put down. Enjoyed the book, was interested in the world she created, particularly the kitchen and the hotel, and yet it is not a book I want to keep to read again. However, it does make me want to read Brick Road, which I suspect is the book where her heart lies.

Monday, 8 February 2010


No writing for a long time, due to the very long 'festive' period - visitors and being away. Read two A S Byatt books from my shelves. I have little memory of ever having read them - only a vague familiarity...They were The Game (1967) and Babel Tower, (19..). Then spent time reading up about her and her sister on Wikipedia. It interests me to assess how much reality is used to create fiction. And I am nosy.
Both books are impressive.
That's all for today: I've not written for a long time and it has become hard. Ankylose, a French word to denote a kind of physical stiffness which is superimposed on a limb - includes the connotation that something was supple before, which the word stiff does not have. My little Larousse says either stiff or numb. Numb might be better, but is sensory only.
Enough of this.

Monday, 11 January 2010


About A S Byatt's The Children's Book: an immediate obstacle to reading it is the SIZE of the thing, so heavy, far too heavy, difficult to hold. It is partly redeemed by the attractive cover which suits the story well...She depicts a family with seven children, a beautiful artistic mother absorbed in the fairy tales she writes. We follow the fate of the children: in fact, no one is who they appear to be (I won't say more).

Reality is masked, and then masked again by all the play-acting, and the play-acting itself is in the realm of magic and fairies, getting more and more unreal until it can't go any further...And then World War I arrives, death, destruction, reality with a vengeance.

A commentary on today? Virtual reality versus reality tout court ?
The novel as a whole is uneven, and certainly too long, but I enjoyed it and the thinking it triggered.