Venice, 2016

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Gorgias and Iasone talk shop

Gor: Here you are, reclining on your boat, under the shade of your favourite palazzo.  You strum your guitar like never before, a wistful tune of Spanish origin, yet I know you know this lagoon and have never left for South American shores.  And while I am searching a way to flee this place, to move on and never come back, you teach the delicate waters to resonate with sweet words.

Ias: My dear Gorgias, it is a mystery to me what has procured this peace and I do not see this inspiration stopping soon; for a long time in my life I have enjoyed the altars of Bacchus and willingly served his cult.  As a young man, my mind would be softened by words and the images created by another.  Now, this aura reigns my soul again, so it seems, and has allowed me once more to play on my swift boat.

Gor: I certainly do not deny you this privilege, friend, but instead I marvel at your composure, while all around us there is frenzy.  I have driven my boat around these canals for weeks on end, finding only a few thin tourists.  I saw this one man standing out in the crowd, with a very pretty woman, much his junior, and who looked like a fat sale.  We exchanged words, and he was about to embark, when he tumbled, clutching his chest.  He fell like an oak on the stones in front of the church, shouting something about the goodness of his mind.  Died before the ambulance could reach him.  But tell me, Iasone, what has brought on this blessed state of mind?

Ias: I have been reminded of the city of Paris, which I once thought just another tourist trap like our own.  Many years ago, I visited this place and brought my choice lines of poetry to dress them up in more cultured rags.  At the time I was in the habit of comparing bitches with pussies, mothers with daughters, oaks with acorns.  But then I saw this global metropolis raising its head above the international playground, like the chestnut trees reaching towards the skies on its wide and famous boulevards.

Gor: And what brought you to Paris in the first place?

Ias: Freedom.  I discovered it late in life, before my beard had made me wiser and while in my eyes change could be achieved through violence.  Then I was held between Italian cities, cultivating my bitter gardens and milk-white pretentions, exerting physical force over the undulations of an unremitting ideal.  I did not care for freedom; I thought not of material accumulation.  And though many a time rich ideas would leave my humble threshold, the return I was seeking would not give back, and my right hand, stained with brassy ink, could seize no profit. 

Gor: At the time we crushed this afternoon a cup of amber wine on the San Giacomo, I wondered why you wept to think of these former streets from a Parisian perspective, and wherefore you glutted sorrow on sunk grapes; you have been absent from this Bay.  The fountains, the palazzi – they missed you.

Ias: What could I do?  The high tides would not free me from manacles, and She, my god, threw herself from the cliffs, as I missed her kiss; and we both missed the synchronicity of waves.  And then I saw something more, something concrete, the thing now for which our tour travels from place to place and from which near seven years ago I was given the first statement of change: “Boys and girls, feed your verses as before, and rear your mighty tomes”.

Gor: Happy you now must be in the lofty Pyrenees, though the streets are emptying and tainted algae make a parasite of our youth.  Fortunate soul, to gaze upon the Seine under the cooling shades of our beautiful city’s canopy; your days are spent in the demarcations of swift Culture, drinking from the cool taps and listening to the flock’s gentle lowing.  And what’s more, Italian borders are never too far away, and upon Hesperian sheets you can be lulled whenever you choose, while sea dogs and Sirens, your own delights, will never cease their plaintiff melodies.

Ias: You inspire me again: sooner wine be turned to water, pigeons to tigers, or the exiled Syrian to princes once again, or the Union to tatters, than I shall turn my gaze from those streets lit up.

Gor: Come, my friend, it is time.  San Francisco calls, the Dominican Republican waits on us and all of France yearns to hear the words of our review.  I will miss my rural home and the country side that surrounded me, a child.  The birches that point directly to Heaven have shaded me for such a long time; they have seen me grow, but I them never.  Now a dismal soldier threatens, and barbary stands ready to ravage our well-tilled soils.  Look at where war has led us, faithful citizens of an eternal republic; it was for this that so much ink was spilled?  Go on, fellow writers, with your happy lines.  Look at me in my ruin, as my once cherished house crumbles in despair; songs I’ll sing no more, what an exile I’ll die and my over-polished crop of wailing words will fall short before the dawn, languishing by the willows and sickly cypresses. 

Ias: But you will stay here the night.  The Venetian moon is rising and we have all we need for the moment: wine, wit and wisdom.  The tavern awaits us, the crowd longs to be pleased and the smoking pipes caress our hoary throats. 

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Padua, 2017

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“Formality,” you said, “is not something I’m familiar with.”

I would recall these lines at the very end of Padua 2017, remembering the very first time our eyes met when I became enraptured.  After the pleasure of meeting others in the piazza Gasparotto, the hub of the following events, I had to content myself with knowing only your eyes, l’innominata.

I met a woman on Friday night who said this: “When you have known someone, physically, violently, intimately, a part of that person becomes you and never leaves.  I know I will love ***** forever, even though we said goodbye four years ago”.

I replied with a similar story and tried to impress her with John Donne: “Letters more than kisses mingle souls”.  She looked me straight in the eyes and said she agreed.

Our eyes kept on meeting.  She clutched a cold bottle of water in her hands and I drank Venetian bitters.  I think of the Saturday afternoon conference, about artistic eruptions, with the three old sages; the elderly academic struggled to open a bottle of water in front of a crowd of students.  Every morning of the tour last week in the UK, I drank a bottle of local water in the morning.

You read your poetry through the cobbled streets with pride.  At the open mic, you read two poems.  One of yours and the other from an Italian writer I cannot now remember; my mind is too filled with Latin writers to remember Italian ones.  To quote 3615, I understand them, but I did not understand them.

You spoke with such sincerity of purpose, climbing the mountainside of psychology to an understanding, personal, of a T.S. Eliot poem.  I warned that, you might be able to climb the mountain, but scaling down the other side is another trial in and of itself.  You just wanted to jump off in a bat suit.

You laughed when you swept me off my feet in a scooter by Galileo’s ivory tower, and symbolism flooded my vision.  The painter repetitively capturing the same scene for years – does he notice the excited laughter from the birds?  Is April his kindest month?  Were we nothing but the invisible sound from a wind chime, seen as a passing movement?

Our eyes kept on meeting.  I wanted you to dance to deep house electronic music, escape the wild conversation of outside to cover our ears with harmony and give rhythm to our feet.  Earlier I had tried to dance, but my feet just carried me back to you.  At that moment, though, you preferred the solitude of poets to the union of dancers.  Our time in the sun would come, as I remember wanting to say to you.

We played our game with sweet precision.  We laughed when told a joke; we greeted when let in; we parted when obliged.  Did I see another Suitor?  A claimer to those eyes that made a servant out of this pen, a fellow captive to the loving servitude a Cynthia can create?  In which case, I will have to change tactic.

We played at being intellectuals in Paris, even though we were in Padua, scootering our way around those cobbled streets.  I held your sides, feeling the soft silk of your shirt rub your skin.  You said that everything was chemical nowadays, even the libido.  A jolt in the road confirmed this.

We did not yet write our four-hand poem – la più bella poesia è quella che non ho mai scritta.  But we did sit down, side by side, at a station piano and improvise for a little moment, and I felt your classical training, you who talk about an unfamiliarity with formality.

Our eyes kept on meeting.  We offered our souls in two-minute repartees between poems and walking, walking and poems.  Between poems and walking, I discovered a side of writing that was truly social.  Between walking and poems, you suddenly became the reality of your own desire.  Between walking and poems, we were, between poems and walking, between walking and poems, we were, between poems and walking.

 

La barquette de fraises – Impression #3

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« Je n’ai jamais goûté des fraises aussi exquises que celles-ci » dit Léon, tout en essuyant ses mains fines. C’était vers la fin du printemps et la chaleur du soir devenait tendre de plus en plus. Les deux amants étaient assis sur le banc dans un parc minuscule, caché loin de la foule enchaînée.

« Mais qu’est-ce que tu veux de moi ? » répondit Ludi, sentant le ton aigre de son amant. « Je fais tout pour toi ; je te couvre de cadeaux, j’arrange mes cheveux selon ton goût, et je te donne mon corps entier. Mais, enfin, tu ne me donnes jamais ton amour, comme si tu le gardais pour les autres. Où allons-nous ensemble ? Ou notre avenir est-il plutôt une image décomposée, qui va m’échapper quand tu en auras marre ? » La question était posée.

Léon commença à compter les fois où sa compagne se plaignait de lui, de leurs relations et de son habitude de se faire des amis ailleurs. Ce n’est pas comme si c’était, pour lui au moins, la première fois qu’il était en couple ; loin de ça, il avait déjà promis sa main à quelqu’un d’autre, avoué un amour abondant pour trois autres femmes aussi abondantes, et s’était échappé de l’ire de plus d’une amante déçue. Donc, que pourrait-il répondre à une telle question ? Pour lui, ce qu’ils possèdaient ensemble – leur communauté, leur appartement, leurs bibelots – tout cela était devenu son identité, dont il était très fier. Mais d’un autre côté, un tel confort était devenu une prison, dont il était son propre geôlier… Renfermé dans une image d’homme au foyer, il était devenu triste, plat, vétuste.

Ludi cherchait dans les yeux de Léon le moindre signe – de jalousie, de haine, de tendresse – mais n’en trouva aucun. Sa voix, normalement douce et roucoulante, devint grinçante et ses gestes lui semblaient tranchants.

« Je ne peux plus… » commence Léon, mais Ludi en comprit tout. Et d’un geste net et précis elle appliqua la barquette de fraises dans le visage de son héros tombé.

Rest Adrien

Adrien embodied the spirit and aspirations of our readers and this newspaper at their best – cheeky passionate, funny, fearless, engaged, possessed of a lovely conscience and a swaggering style.  (The Sunday Times, Goodnight, cheeky prince – what a silence you leave us, 11th December 2016)

I sit down at my laptop to write about the world in which we live.  For a long, I have seemingly kept a silence on matters cultural and social, political and economic notwithstanding.  And this while living in the city of Paris, a place pregnant with literary activity and consequential transnational vibe.  I have spoken of the intimate loves of Catullus, not the public activity of Cicero.  Until I read about the death of AA Gill from cancer, “the full English”, in the Sunday Times.

Though this could turn into a recounting of his life and work, where he schooled, or how alcoholism nearly killed him at 30, when we read that “We are all today in mourning – for him but also for ourselves, because we know there will never be another quite like him”, we might wonder whether that actually is the case.

By (un)fortunate providence, I am not dyslexic – even though I have just spelt that word incorrectly – and so I must resign myself to the tedious task of hammering out the lines on a contemporary typewriter. Instead of through the pleasure vivae vocis.  (i.e. dictating it to a copyist).

But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

An (un)fortunate distinction between me and this journalist, is that I prefer to tell the truth through fiction, and he through press releases and reviews.  He also takes the stance of writing to a known public, whereas I do not write for a real public, but for one that might never exist.  Yet, you still read my lines and hear my thoughts on the page, and I respect that.  Maybe, an important lesson to be learned as a writer is to accept that some public somewhere will want to read what you are writing, even if these people are close friends reading on a Facebook stream message or retro blog sites.

It is true that social media websites represent one of the most obvious sources of control in our (un)fortunate world today.  The power that these sites have is silent, but considerable.  How?  To understand this, we must look to the three rules of convincing per the Greeks; for a speech to convince, it must possess ethos, logos, pathos.  Education, the family and the church teach morals, but when I read the newspaper, I see cold liberal news, or the factual side of things; and when I see social media websites, I see pure passion.  And not the kind I want to bring home with me.

“The divers went down to the deep wreck and the boat revealed its last speechless, shocking gasp of despair.  The body of a young African woman with her baby, born to the deep, still joined to her by its umbilical cord.  In labour, she drowned.  Its first breath the great salt tears of the sea.”  (Quoted from The Savile Row suited flaneur who beguiled, engraged and entertained millions of readers, Mark Edmonds).

This could be considered dogmatic approach, but let us not forget that we are constantly being told that the system is collapsing, and so filling in the cracks with a bit of plaster surely is not a wrong thing?

“Quandiu stabit coliseus, stabit et Roma; quando cadit coliseus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus.”

A frequent comparison heard nowadays is that of the fall of Rome, but no one, with a few exceptions bien entendu, has cared to explain what this could mean.  It seems to be a popular liberal expression, perhaps a reminder that members of this ideology hang on to their existence like the string which hangs on to the Damocles’ sword.  But I might go back further in the history of civilisation and take another example of an ancient empire destroyed: arma virumque cano Troiae qui primus ab oris.

If AA Gill wrote with experienced first-hand accounts of what he writes, I write through the lens of my own experience – for better or for worse.

Giants of an Electronic Age

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We are surrealists, carrying the sacred box of literature to those who will never read it.  What are we doing with those words, no… those sentiments that we dig up from those who went before us.  You are the torn up letters of books I have read before and scream out loud to hear the ghost that you were.

You stole my time and so I’ll steal from you.  I’m sorry.

I have looked in all those reference books and dictionaries that once took our ears by surprise and made us cry by the full moon.  I kick my heels while you finish your lines and our friend sleeps on the bed lost.

But I will not be the first to point at him, and nor can you be – we have been there before.

And I am so happy to be here, writing with genius, listening to giants of an electronic age.

Smash glass here


So there you are, standing in the jewelry store, wondering when it all went wrong.

Just smash the glass and run, keeps repeating in your head. The alarms have been hacked, the owner and assistant lie tied up like pigs in the back room. And a car is waiting for you just outside.

Just smash the glass and run.

But then, where is your man? The one supposed to be standing next to you? The one who did the hacking, tying and fine tuning of this whole goddam project? Where is your Beatrice you followed naively into the real world, finding nothing but false images, misrepresentations and facades that smell like honey, but sting like Venus fly traps? This crazy town of butterfly ladies and sugar daddies, in a hand basket headed to god knows where.

Yet, he must be there. You know him, through and through; you’ve known him intimately, distantly, savagely. You’ve known him for your whole life, before and beyond your existence. You know, as you yourself explained, because he is the one reflected in the fish tank at the party that none of your friends went to.

He is the one that crushes parched dead flowers in his oversized palms. He is the one who drags the mab where she will not go. This is he!

You know him: an aging soul in a gypsy shell, with the remnants of some distant formal training. But now you will find scant rhyming couplets and a decomposed structure that tried once only to write sonnets. But winter early invades my hairs and the bones that struck the page groan with premature senescence.

But stop thinking about all of this; who the hell cares?

Just smash the glass and run.

Guy burns tonight

The candles shine strangely in this moonlight. Your faces are caught in their dancing, you who are seated in a semicircle of intrigue.

The bell will soon toll for noble Guy Fawkes, and long-enduring chains with newly oppressed young minds will explode in fireworks.
But a knock at the door will end it all.
In comes the law with righteous fury, beating in the faces of the conspirators. Stop your plans; put away the maps; soon we will have nothing left.
Guy promised all, but Parliament took vengeance with arcane severity. The room is battered, the actors arrested and the farce is over.
And just before the torture and the unjust slaughter of freedom, Guy thought of his freer times – long before his inverted role in government.
He saw her standing there by the window, throwing back her hair and laughing. He saw him too, moving with clumsy footfalls over a nightingale floor.
Why wait anymore to expose the lie?

CI


The armory of my misery is hidden with layers of ancient pain, locked up like the rusty axes of a happier age. Once they gleamed with lucky joy and cut their ways through crowds of gleeful opportunities; with words – naive but words all the same – happy folk came running to see the hero with his heroin and wish them well upon the wave that carried both; willingly would they have their last night, trusting in a tomorrow that always turned up with kingly regularity, giving each and all each and all expressions of candid, azur infinity.

But I sit pious now, remembering those days not laughing yet remembering still the breaking of the blade and the decaying of our youth; hearing still the screaming of those lambs stopping not their bleating while we bleeding to our last, feeding time with sins long gone, sat in the rose garden remembering. Lying. Crying. Dying.

I cannot come again to those fields we knew so well. I cannot open up again the chest that holds the secret memories of my youth, yours, hers, ours – the collectivity of universal remembering, hidden in a poem, an ode to someone well remembered. The armory of my heart is kept away with metal inspectors, queues, delays and layers upon layers of heavy, dense remembering. It is the very recess that none but He can see.

Accept these words – naive but words all the same – and may they wet your tomb with fraternal reckoning.

Now, forever, brother, hail and farewell!

Azur Lies

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The gentle Azur of a high sea at autumn stretched before me on my cliff seat of your dreams.  You had just emerged from the sea, woman from the sea, and offered me your ashes to consider, as a presage of entwined tales.  I inspected them carefully, delicately, softly – in no way will you find me treading on any soft dreams or sincere propositions.  The sea speaks to us at dawn, while the waves crash on rocks that could be our grave.

You are not Madame Sosostris. Or at least, I hope you are not.  But I sit, cross-kneed and listen to the ashes that you have offered speak of fat cats with short tails, of a kind of nothingness of being – impression #2 – and of some electronic band that someone some point might have spoken of to me before.  I was before.  Before I was.  I before was, except after her.  This hurt kills me daily.

Lost souls in hot ashes – so fresh?  You see this scar on my arm?  I got it when I ran into a leopard in the lonely Bush, the veldt of some southern country, the heel of the cradle of civilisation.  If you cannot recognise this scar, you cannot recognise this man, so do not forget – who will remember this shell, once laid out on a slab, but the one who remembers the scar?

Don’t get me started on Lost Souls.  We are all travellers of some road.  Though we may not always walk alone when the journey still breathes, we must terminate our passage thus.  The passing of time, forgotten by those who once remembered, the passing of time.  The passing of time.

And that is why I prefer to sit on sandy dunes and look at ashen women and lose myself in the big blue of infinity.  L’étude du beau est un duel où l’artiste crie de frayeur avant d’être vaincu.  Take your tea leaves hence and leave me to my peace; I will not chase again vain dreams for nothing; the study of true beauty must, for me, culminate in its capture.  Those eyes, burning like some Californian fire, shall be mine.  Those hands that I have read from afar will smirch my page with their inky palms.  Those breasts that I have not yet discovered will feed the greatest lines of writing the web will ever see.

But for now I read your ashes, like a father reads lies.

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Impression #1

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Impressionism has haunted me for some time now.  Its paintings are ghosts in my memory, while the brushstrokes linger in uncomfortable corners of an otherwise ordered salon.

You can disobey the rules of the Salon, like you can’t disobey the rules of the Académie.  The preachers of the status quo must always be respected; their work are the clay feet of an ancient Establishment.

Is that the green light that we must row to?  To whom are our backs turned, as we make our way across choppy waters?  Are those my footprints I leave in the water, or are they yours?  – but I will pull you back with a twitch upon the thread…

I would like memory to be my theme, but the present is getting in the way.  Your reflection gave way to symbols in a reflected world, and my body yearned for you all the same because that’s what you do when youth still runs quick in flowing veins, of ink or blood.

And the mountain gave way and I could not clasp your hand.  You fell.  Hard.  With others.  What an impression that left upon my naïve spirit.  Not a gentle watercolour tampon, but a heavy-handed judicial estampe of brutal roads.

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Winter was supposed to come again.  We are still waiting, me and my friend.  The one who came to see me off at the station on that cold winter’s day back in 2009.  We left bottles of champagne in the snow, monuments in the Alps of a Dionysian defeat.  Isn’t there a snapshot of this most hedonistic times?

Or are they too being burned in the furnace of technology?  The constant recycling (read DESTRUCTION) of old material, discarded puppets in a Fellini short, your fallen glove upon the muddy pavement.  These are all our memories offered up for sacrifice.

And I write.  I write in the night that dares the fight against those heinous crimes that defile our times; with rhymes against crimes, the measured tongue of an Englishman might just overcome a boundary or two of first impressions to dig deeper:

RENOUVEAU

Le printemps maladif a chassé tristement
L’hiver, saison de l’art serein, l’hiver lucide,
Et dans mon être à qui le sang morne préside
L’impuissance s’étire en un long bâillement.

Des crépuscules blancs tiédissent sous mon crâne
Qu’un cercle de fer serre ainsi qu’un vieux tombeau,
Et, triste, j’erre après un rêve vague et beau,
Par les champs où la sève immense se pavane

Puis je tombe énervé de parfums d’arbres, las,
Et creusant de ma face une fosse à mon rêve,
Mordant la terre chaude où poussent les lilas,

J’attends, en m’abîmant que mon ennui s’élève…
– Cependant l’Azur rit sur la haie et l’éveil
De tant d’oiseux en fleur gazouillant au soleil.

The eye loses itself in the pages of a book that was not written for her.  Though her shoes tell a different story, what is the story that I am reading?  Who are these characters dancing before my mind’s vision, another snapshot of a view that you will never see?

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