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Disembowelling poetry

Mine, you understand, not other people’s, that would just be rude.

For me trying to edit poetry is the most messy process. I start off with what I think are some respectable enough poems, that might be built upon somewhat, or improved.

I go back with fresh eyes and consider rhythm, metre and form.
I look at the words and imagery and see whether it works.
I speak aloud and see how it sounds and feels.

Then what I do is awful. After a few hours, or days, I end up with sentences pulled apart, words all over the floor, ideas stuffed into forms that don’t suit and generally get to the point where I have most certainly lost the itness of the original; that elusive essence of anything that makes us what we are, life what is and a simple poem work, or not. Don’t ask me what that essence is though, because if I knew, perhaps I wouldn’t lose it in the first place.

The whole process becomes a traumatic incident in my head. Instead of a couple of poems I end up having a whole heap of tangled thoughts and words in all the wrong places, and I have only two choices. One is to go further into the torture of the poor poem, the other is to shove the pile under the carpet and pretend it never happened. I have done the former before. Today I did the latter. It was like being a butcher.

I hung, drew and quartered, I disembowelled. I burnt whole sentences on the stake and pressed others to a slow and painful death. I dragged verbs through the street until they cried out in pain. I walled up sonnets and I stuck the heads of villanelles on stakes on the bridge. It was a bloody and brutal exercise and nothing like the one I expected which would have been something like a neat little back and sides and a bit of a trim up.

All this bloodshed and torture only goes to show me that I have probably never done the job properly before. Living and learning I suppose, for now.

Here’s someone who has done a proper job.

The cats of Greece

The cats of Greece have
eyes grey as plague.
Their voices are limpid,
all hunger.
As they dodge in the gutters
Their bones clack.
Dogs run from them.
In tavernas they sit
at tableside and
watch you eat.
Their moonpale cries
hurl themselves
against your full spoon.
If you touch one gently
it goes crazy.
Its eyes turn up.
It wraps itself
around your ankle
and purrs a rusty millenium,
you liar,
you tourist.

by Marge Piercy, from Eight Chambers of the Heart

ГОРОДЕЦ: A dark horse

I picked this up at a craft fair today. I was torn between an old spoon, a cocktail shaker and an old tin for tooth powder when I noticed it hiding underneath a green onyx frog. It was the horse which was the USP, obviously and its unusual script that I couldn’t read. Turns out, after a blind alley up the Greek alphabet, it is the Cyrillic alphabet and the writing is the name of a town in Russia, on the banks of the River Volga, called Gorodets.

Apparently the town Gorodets, or ГОРОДЕЦ as it is depicted on the souvenir, is known for its colourful folk art depicting, amongst other things, roosters and this Gorodets style black horse.

That’s something I didn’t know this morning. If I was in the market for a tattoo, this horse would be rather up my street. It proved awfully difficult to photograph too. Over-exposed or blurry seemed to be the choice. In the end I have just propped it up on the laptop and snapped it there. I think it is something to do with the surface being enamelled and slightly reflective. My digital camera is either too limited in its settings to cope, or I am too limited in mine…

It has reminded me of a story my grandmother used to tell me about her father. They all lived in Istanbul in the early 1900s and he was a collector of Russian icons. When Attaturk came to power there was some law made about foreign nationals not being allowed to be in business in the country (my great-grandfather was Scottish). He had to dissolve the business and trust his Turkish business partner to ship the icons to Scotland, but they never arrived. I have a number of questions about the story, which of course I wished I had asked her when she was alive. The thing is, I didn’t think they (my great-grandparents) ever left Istanbul permanently and what had a private collection of iconography got to do with business law anyway. Maybe I have mixed up the time period. I know the whole family were evacuated to Malta during the First World War, so maybe it was then. I think I might have to do some investigations. Either way, the art was gone, and a considerable family nest egg at today’s prices. The subtext is that the Turkish partner diddled my grandfather. This is not meant to represent Turkish people as a whole, of course. My grandmother’s greatest friend was Turkish, my grandmother an grandfather grew up in, and loved Turkey. Her parents and brother lived there until they died. I grew up knowing that the greatese cuisine in the world is not French, it is Turkish and only this weekend we found out that many European languages, including English originated in the Anatolian mountains of Turkey

I have digressed. Perhaps I will follow in the family’s footsteps and start collecting Russian folk art. At a £1 a pop it’s not going to break the bank quite yet…

Perhaps tomorrow I will photo an artefact I have from their evacuation in Malta during the First World War. It, like the Gorodets horse is going to be tricky to snap (reflective glass…)

‘Union of Stingy Workaholics…’

How feckless those Greeks are in some version or another I hear more, or less, every day.

So, as the Germans vote on the eurozone rescue package, I thought I’d post this map and accompanying blog ‘Europe According to Greece. And Sunlight’ it kind of puts the whole thing in a funny, yet perceptive, perspective.

And the blogmeister ( is pretty even-handed in terms of national stereotypes; if you click through to the Mapping Stereotypes link you’ll get the World According to Every Nation, nearly.

Of course, this business of the euro, national debt, and the likelihood of Greece eventually defaulting is a serious business. As the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso calls for further integration to save the whole shebang the eurozone continues to creak like a ship about to go down in a storm.

Personally, I think his proposed 0.1% tax on financial sector transactions is a top idea, but only if it were implemented globally to stop those crafty bankers scurrying off to some offshore tax haven to conduct themselves shadily. And that’s not going to happen because, as much as humankind thinks it advances, we can never put aside our own backyard concerns to think holistically about the good of the planet and all its people. Maybe we’re just not wired like that anyway. How hard is it to keep in mind the family on the rocks down the road when you’ve got your own to worry about?

What I gleaned @ Goldman Sachs

The Wall Street firm is in the news (though not enough in the news for my liking) for possibly helping Greece cook the books and raise money via a clandestine currency swap and then a $15 billion dollar bond sale in 2002. The allegations are that the secret currency swap allowed the bonds to be sold for more, helping to conceal the state of Greece’s deficit and smoothed their entry to the Eurozone.

The word on the Street is that it was legal at the time. Word also has it that Angela Merkel is hopping mad. I just shake my head. I worked for the firm a short time in the 90s and I had also worked for two other US Investment banks so I like to think I have something to compare them to. In the hierarchy of investment banking in London the aggressive and chippy Morgan Stanley bankers like to trumpet they are the best of the best. Goldman’s employees do no such thing; they merely graciously accept that they are. Whilst CSFB et al live in shiny skyscrapers at Canary Wharf, Goldman Sachs have a secret banking building set back off Fleet Street, which I managed to snap on the No. 26 bus last week.

I have no insights to offer into the firm. They remain a mystery even if you have worked there and suffered their most intense induction for one whole week before you are let loose on the floors of Peterborough Court. I would suggest that secretive is just their bag. Why no-one seems to care that they have allegedly contributed to the concealment of a whole nation’s bottom line is beyond me.

Two Things I learned in American Investment Banks:

No-one likes Leipzig
Continental bankers favour highly-coloured trousers

That’s it.