Sunday, 22 January 2006


Listen to John Banville's play Todtnauberg on BBC Radio 4, aired on Friday Jan 20th.

The title of the play refers to Martin Heidegger's Black Forest retreat, a retreat it is said in which he wrote most of Being and Time. After a poetry reading in Freiberg, Martin Heidegger invited Paul Celan to his cabin; Celan accepted the invitation and they spent an afternoon together on July 25, 1966. Celan wrote a poem entitled "Todtnauberg" after this meeting. Otherwise, we have no record of what they spoke about. Celan wrote in Heidegger's visitors' book: "Into the cabin logbook, with a view toward the Brunnerstern, with hope of a coming word in the heart."
It must have been an extraordinary meeting of two extraordinary minds - I cannot imagine how Celan, a labour-camp survivor, and Heidegger, a card-carrying Nazi, managed to make sense of each other. Perhaps they didn't.

Wednesday, 18 January 2006

Dorothy Molloy, Hare Soup

In the Blackwell's half-price sale you can pick up all sorts of odds and ends. One particularly serendipitous purchase was Dorothy Molloy, Hare Soup, her début collection of poetry (Faber, 2004). I didn't know anything about her but it seems that she died not long after publishing this collection, and was a respected painter. A second collection, drawn from her unpublished papers, is planned for February, entitled Gethsemane Day.

The collection is very good. I wasn't sure about some of her poems at first, but I've come back to them over a couple of days and am increasingly struck by them. The first poem in the collection is called 'Conversation Class'. It is an excellent example of her very startling sense of language, her really clever way of using another language within English, the way that colours mark her striking imagery, and her very complex kind of humour.

I redden to the roots when Jacqueline Dupont zuts
at my French. She cocks her ear and smoothes her coif and
sits me on a poof, settles herself on a chaise-longue.

'Encore une fois,' she zaps, and taps her nails and sips
her Perrier. My tongue is jammed, my teeth are in a
brace. Her hands fly to her face. 'Mon Dieu,' she cries,

'Mon Dieu, qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire?'

I fiddle with my cuticles. She checks her watch and snaps,
'Ouvrez la bouche!' Her forty clocks tick on, tick on.
Her cuckoos coil behind their yodel-flaps. Her grandfathers,

lined up against the wall, come every fifteen minutes
with a boing. 'Finie la classe!' She pours herself
a glass of Armagnac. 'Vous voulez un petit peu?'

I sluice the liquor back.

My tongue is loosed. My eyes are glazed. I sing
the Marseillaise. I feel a revolution
in the red flare of my skirt.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

Alice Lyons in Co. Leitrim

Check out Alice Lyons' blog detailing her 'Staircase Poetry Project' in the new Arts Centre in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. It looks really interesting and I'm sorry I'm not going to get a chance to see it unfold. I am originally from Co. Leitrim and went to school in Carrick-on-Shannon. It is in the north-west of Ireland, west of the Shannon, for my readers unfamiliar with the Emerald Isle.

Saturday, 14 January 2006

Chrétien de Troyes

You know, I knew eventually I would find it. I'm not talking about the Grail now. Last year I kept my eye on a copy of the Pléiade edition of Chrétien de Troyes, Œuvres complètes in Blackwell's and I hmmed and hawed for months. It cost too much and I'm not really working so much on Chrétien, blah blah blah. Then they had a sale (as they often do), it went into the bargain bin, and I missed it! I was so sore over that. Well imagine my surprise when a copy appeared upstairs in the second-hand section, for a great price. I snapped it up stright away.
I just love the Pléiade editions, bound in full leather with gold tooling on fine paper and set in a beautiful font full of gorgeous ligatures. Lovely lovely, o so lovely.

Thursday, 12 January 2006

One Missable Labyrinth

Kate Mosse's new book is called Labyrinth (Orion, 2005). It is basically a Grail thriller/romance, and the dustjacket makes all sorts of wild accusations about it being just like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. Unfortunately every one of those accusations is entirely justified. The story interweaves between 13th century Carcassonne and a young woman called Alaïs Pellettier and a 21st century volunteer on an archeological dig in, yes, Carcassonne, called....Alice Tanner. Actually, you know what, I don't think I need to say any more. The entire plot should be horribly obvious to you now. It's a mélange of Dan Brown and Indiana Jones. But there are problems with the book. First, it's a mélange of Dan Brown and Indiana Jones. Second, well, it's a mélange of Dan Brown and Indiana Jones. Actually the writing is so lazy and ridiculous, worthy of the very best of Mills and Boons. And then she makes all of these cringeworthy references to the great René Nelli etc on the langue d'oc, all peppered to give authenticity. And all of this goes on for 525 pages. To be honest I needed it after the emotional car crash I was in, described in the last post. With no seatbelt. It helped me to switch off and have some brain dead time.

Some of you may use the IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) for reviews etc of films. There are lots of threads on Brokeback Mountain, some of them full of crap (as you'd expect), but some with some very interesting observations. This one looks at the Classical references in the final, stunning, scene in the film, especially the descensus inferis in Aen VI. I'll eventually get over this...I presume.

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Brokeback Mountain

This is a great film and I recommend it. I've never gone to see a film a second time in the cinema, but I went back to see this one. I don't want to sound silly but it has had a profound effect on me. I have never grieved after seeing a film in my life, but I did after this one. I was describing it to a friend the day after seeing it and I was beginning to choke up. I had to change the subject. I think of myself as fairly level-headed so this kind of behaviour shocked me.
I remember reading Proulx's short-story back when it was published. It appeared first in the New Yorker and then was published separately as a single volume and I remember a lot of talk about the status of the short-story (or maybe this short-story) that it could be published in booklet form with all the publicity machine behind it that you'd expect from a novel. But Fourth Estate were right. And it sold very well as I remember. I also recommend the beautiful Willie Nelson version of Bob Dylan's song 'He was a Friend of Mine', which is played over the closing credits and is on the soundtrack. Ang Lee has done a fine fine job with the material and has allowed the medium of film to really express the full power of the story. It isn't trying to do anything but be art. And it is indeed art.


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