Saturday, 31 August 2013

Words for Seamus Heaney

For Séamus Heaney 
13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013

To call this a poem would not serve the memory of a master craftsman but here are some words that emerged on a day when poetry and one very special poet was constantly on my mind. Séamus Heaney was as close as this island had to a spiritual leader, as he carefully negotiated the gulfs between modernity and tradition, republican and unionist, and showed us that these and other gulfs were merely cracks. He led us halfway to healing.

I somehow feel that I knew him, both through his poetry and his sons, who were in college when I was and were warm, intelligent and generous men.

My thoughts are with them and all his family.

(for Séamus Heaney)

"Ah, no; the years, the years
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs" (Thomas Hardy)

You made rubbings
of the marks of death.
easing them carefully
onto the page

worn words rising
from crumbling stone.

The strong hands of death
ease you
into the earth
but your careful marks
will outlive

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Top 102 Albums. Minus 7. The Clash

Top 102 Albums. Minus 7. 
The Clash - The Clash

"Everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
Nobody wants
To go to jail!"

Things have been a little quiet here among the smoke and darkness at Vapour Trails so I felt it was time to set the speakers shaking again and what better than a bit of 100% proof punk rock 'n' roll to shift the cobwebs.

I did think for a while that Sandinista would be #myclashchoice but every time I listen to this it inspires a wave of optimism - a rare enough event around here to warrant making a splash about it. But Sandinista is a cruelly undervalued album which sounds like it was tuned in to the future and there are always surprises in the wayward generosity of it's thirty-six tracks.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Young Adolf

Young Adolf - Beryl Bainbridge

"Never in all my life, thought Adolf, under torture or interrogation, will I mention that I have been to this accursed city, visited this lunatic island."

Rarely has a book I've read drawn so many covert glances on public transport. The front cover of the young bellhop Adolf Hitler saluting while dressed in his uniform seemed to encourage multiple double takes.

Bainbridge deploys a virtual blitzkrieg of ironic frisson in this tale of the visit of the young Adolf Hitler to pre-WW1 Liverpool. As the hapless anti-hero bumbles his way through some down at heel adventures during his stay with his half brother Alois' family, his future is farcically foreshadowed.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Loitering With Intent

Loitering With Intent - Muriel Spark

Like champagne bubbles being burst with a scalpel, Spark's novels are outrageous fun with a bitingly sharp edge. Loitering with Intent tells the story of Fleur Talbot who, while writing her first novel, takes on a job with Sir Quentin Oliver's Autobiographical Association. They prove to be a strange group and to bear an odd resemblance to characters and events in Talbot's first novel.

And although I am not overly familiar with Spark's life, my sketchy knowledge is enough to inform me that there are resemblances between Fleur Talbot and Ms Spark. The Autobiographical Association in which Fleur finds a job bears some resemblance to the Poetry Society, where the young Spark worked. The graveyard in which the book opens was one in which Spark spent much time writing poetry. Dexedrine plays a part in both Spark's life and the book.  At the same time the book is not so much realism as a series of games.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Detective Story

Detective Story - Imre Kertész

This was my first brush with the Nobel Prize winning Hungarian author Imre Kertész and it won't be my last. It is a spare short novel that explores the mechanics of totalitarianism. Names that came into my head while reading were Beckett and Kafka. The book is light on specific details of time and place and remind you that those details often create a distance from the guilty secrets that lie mouldering in humanity's closet. The book looks at the working of the law in an unnamed South American country recently taken over by a shadowy 'colonel'.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Holiday Booty

Holiday Booty

One of the things I most enjoy while on holidays (sad obsessive that I am) is the opportunity to visit second hand bookshops / charity shops that are new to me. What purpose this serves given the fact that I have already got at least a decades worth of unread books I don't know but I guess it's a sort of addiction. Perhaps one of these days I'm going to suddenly find the time and energy to start reading at a hugely accelerated pace...

I spent a week and a half in South Kerry, staying in Caherdaniel and Ballinskelligs. The weather was fabulous and the ocean temperature was over twenty degrees, which was frankly a little perturbing when you are used to the sudden intake of breath usually caused by the rather lower temperature of the seawater. However it is a perturbation I am more than willing to suffer on a regular, ongoing basis.

Anyway my time spent in Kerry was not a disappointment and I would have bought more books had there been more time to spend in the bookshops and more space in the car for books. As it was the absence of both of these kept my wildest impulses under control. Breaking new ground for this blog, here is some  travel writing centred on the hunt for second hand books.