Monthly Archives: August 2010

Aug. 29, 2010: HYMN TO A BROKEN MARRIAGE (Paul Durcan)

Here’s something to celebrate: the 2nd week in a row of timely publishing, and the second week in a row of British Isles music-themed selections. I was listening tonight to Van Morrison’s 1990 album “Enlightenment,” remembering for the first time in a couple years what a solid jam “In the Days Before Rock & Roll” is. Poet Paul Durcan provides one of the strangest vocal accompaniments of any Van tune, spasmodically scatting about various American boogie, jazz, and R&B artists who could be pulled in from some of the stronger radio signals in northern Europe–Ireland itself not providing any stations that played that stuff. Durcan is of course one half of the “wise-ass Pauls” of contemporary Irish verse, but as with Muldoon, beneath the play and laughter of his words there is always that hard nugget of knowing. I came across this poem that I’d never seen before and relished its twisted, twined motivations. -ed.

HYMN TO A BROKEN MARRIAGE

Dear Nessa – Now that our marriage is over
I would like you to know that, if I could put back the clock

Fifteen years to the cold March day of our wedding,

I would wed you again and, if that marriage also broke,

I would wed you yet again and, if it a third time broke,

Wed you again, and again, and again, and again, and again:

If you would have me which, of course, you would not.

For, even you – in spite of your patience and your innocence

(Strange characteristics in an age such as our own)

– Even you require to shake off the addiction of romantic love

And seek, instead, the herbal remedy of a sane affection

In which are mixed in profuse and fair proportion

Loverliness, brotherliness, fatherliness:

A sane man could not espouse a more faithful friend than you.

Aug. 23, 2010: WAT ABOUT DI WORKIN’ CLAAS? (Linton Kwesi Johnson)

My friends,

imagine if Gil Scott-Heron made sweet sweet love to Bob Marley, and they birthed a child raised by George Orwell near the Portobello Road in London. This child would become Linton Kwesi Johnson, a man whose sophomore LP, “Bass Culture,” I have been looking for in record stores since 1996. Imagine, then, my surprise when I learned that he’s more than just a reggae musician–that in fact he’s an award-winning poet, scholar, and activist in the UK, and one of only 2 living poets to be published by Penguin Classics.

He writes in the type of patois he grew up with in Jamaica (he moved to London at age 11), and its orthography gives even an Irvine Welsh fan pause. I’m choosing today’s poem, a short one, solely on the basis that I like its music best (song attached). Do your own research on this guy and tell me what you think. My take: fascinating late 20th-century life. -ed.

Wat About Di Workin’ Claas?

From Inglan to Poland
every step across di ocean
the ruling class is dem in a mess, oh yes
di capitalist system are regress
but di soviet nah progress
so wich one of dem yuh think is best
when di two of dem work as a contest
when crisis is di order of di day
when so much people is cryin’ out to change nowadays

Aug. 19, 2010: ENGLAND IN 1819 (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

People, it’s political sonnet time again. Recently I met a young man who’s in a band named “England in 1819.” That’s neat, I said, and then balked on making a music history joke because I don’t know any English composers from the early 19th century. Anyway, turns out it was another reference I didn’t get at all–to a Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) poem written in that year, but not published until 1839. For an English-language sonnet, this poem has a unique rhyme scheme, and it expresses Shelley’s idealism in the form of a mild jeremiad. I would be most grateful for any brilliant historian among us who can give specific meaning to phrases like “old mad blind dying king,” “starved and stabbed in an untilled field,” and “Time’s worst statute unrepealed,” since they will help us understand what, exactly, about 1819 pisses Shelley off quite so much.

I think if you had 35 minutes and a rhyming dictionary it wouldn’t be too hard to write a “USA in 2010” on this model, right? AM I RIGHT, PEOPLE? Have a good week, -ed.

ENGLAND IN 1819

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,–
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn, mud from a muddy spring,–
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,–
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,–
An army which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,–
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless, a book sealed,–
A Senate–Time’s worst statute unrepealed,–
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst to illumine our tempestuous day.