a winter weather report from neglected poet coventry patmore

Coventry Patmore is now considered one of the major poets of the nineteenth century, in spite of the small bulk of his verse. He was born at Woodford, Essex, 23 July, 1823 and died at Lymington, 26 Nov., 1896. His "Unknown Eros" was hardly opened by the public, and is only now beginning to take its place as a great English classic; it is full not only of passages but of entire poems in which exalted thought is expressed in poetry of the richest and most dignified melody. Spirituality informs his inspiration; the poetry is glowing and alive. The magnificent piece in praise of winter is in its manner unsurpassed in English poetry. Patmore is today one of the least known, but best-regarded Victorian poets. Patmore was caricatured as the unpleasant poet Carleon Anthony in Joseph Conrad‘s novel Chance (1913).

—culled from Wikipedia and The Catholic Encylcopedia.




from The Unknown Eros

by Coventry Patmore

  I, singularly moved
To love the lovely that are not beloved,
Of all the Seasons, most
Love Winter, and to trace
The sense of the Trophonian pallor on her face.
It is not death, but plenitude of peace;
And the dim cloud that does the world enfold
Hath less the characters of dark and cold
Than warmth and light asleep,
And correspondent breathing seems to keep
With the infant harvest, breathing soft below
Its eider coverlet of snow.
Nor is in field or garden anything
But, duly look’d into, contains serene
The substance of things hoped for, in the Spring,
And evidence of Summer not yet seen.
On every chance-mild day
That visits the moist shaw,
The honeysuckle, ‘sdaining to be crost
In urgence of sweet life by sleet or frost,
‘Voids the time’s law
With still increase
Of leaflet new, and little, wandering spray;
Often, in sheltering brakes,
As one from rest disturb’d in the first hour,
Primrose or violet bewilder’d wakes,
And deems ’tis time to flower;
Though not a whisper of her voice he hear,
The buried bulb does know
The signals of the year,
And hails far Summer with his lifted spear.
The gorse-field dark, by sudden, gold caprice,
Turns, here and there, into a Jason’s fleece;
Lilies, that soon in Autumn slipp’d their gowns of green,
And vanish’d into earth,
And came again, ere Autumn died, to birth,
Stand full-array’d, amidst the wavering shower,
And perfect for the Summer, less the flower;
In nook of pale or crevice of crude bark,
Thou canst not miss,
If close thou spy, to mark
The ghostly chrysalis,
That, if thou touch it, stirs in its dream dark;
And the flush’d Robin, in the evenings hoar,
Does of Love’s Day, as if he saw it, sing;
But sweeter yet than dream or song of Summer or Spring
Are Winter’s sometime smiles, that seem to well
From infancy ineffable;
Her wandering, languorous gaze,
So unfamiliar, so without amaze,
On the elemental, chill adversity,
The uncomprehended rudeness; and her sigh
And solemn, gathering tear,
And look of exile from some great repose, the sphere
Of ether, moved by ether only, or
By something still more tranquil.


scenes from the writing life: martin amis on meeting his fans

"My queue is always full of, you know, wild-eyed sleazebags . . ." 

AMIS: Judging by everything from reviews to letters I receive, I find that people take my writing rather personally. It’s interesting when you’re doing signing sessions with other writers and you look at the queues at each table and you can see definite human types gathering there.

INTERVIEWER: Which type is in your queue?

AMIS: Well, I did one with Roald Dahl and quite predictable human divisions were observable. For him, a lot of children, a lot of parents of children. With Julian Barnes, his queue seemed to be peopled by rather comfortable, professional types. My queue is always full of, you know, wild-eyed sleazebags and people who stare at me very intensely, as if I have some particular message for them. As if I must know that they’ve been reading me, that this dyad or symbiosis of reader and writer has been so intense that I must somehow know about it.

—from The Paris Review, Issue 146, Spring 1998. Interviewed by Francesca Riviere.

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“a narcissist in altruist’s clothing”: ’60s radicalism revisited in zoë heller’s the believers

“She fucked up a bank robbery, she made a couple of dud bombs, and she didn’t use deodorant for ten years. For this she thinks she can lord it over me like she’s fucking Aleksandra Kollontay?”

Zöe Heller’s The Belivers tells the story of the Litvinoffs, a prominent socialist New York Jewish family. When when husband and father Joel, a famous radical lawyer, falls into a coma, his wife Audrey and their adult children Rosa, Karla and Lenny are forced to confront the families hidden secrets.  Here Audrey takes adopted Lenny for one of his periodic visits to his birth mother, who’s been imprisoned for over two decades for a Weatherman-style bombing…

The gates werestill closed when Audrey and Lenny arrived at the correctional facility. After Lenny had stuffed the contents of his pockets into the car door, they joined the visitors who were milling around outside the bunkerlike building. At the bottom of the driveway, a bus drew up, and a group of passengers, mostly women and children, got off. A little boy had just thrown up and his grandmother—a weary-looking woman in hot-pink stretch pants—was wiping his face roughly with a paper towel. “Be still!” she shouted at him as he squirmed. “You want to smell bad when you see your mommy?”


Audrey glanced at Lenny. As a boy, he had always been carsick on the journey to Bedford. At least once and often twice on every trip, she would have to pull into a rest stop, swab him down, and change him into a new set of clothes. He had never been sick on other car journeys; it was the stress of visiting his mother that had made him puke. Later on, in the visiting room, he would crouch in his chair, smelling of bile, asking Susan to explain, one more time, how she had got caught, what crucial planning error had led to her capture. When the bell sounded at the end of the hour, he would cling to her, sobbing for her to come home with him. “Why don’t you escape?” he had asked once. “You could climb out a window. If you ran fast enough, they wouldn’t be able to catch you.”


Audrey had found these visits almost unbearably wounding. It had enraged her that Susan should enjoy the privilege of Lenny’s devotion when it was she, Audrey, who was down in the maternal salt mines, reading him stories and singing him lullabies and cleaning up his vomit. What had Susan ever done for the boy, except abandon him to inadequate childcare while she buggered off to play urban guerrillas?


The gates were open now, and the line had begun to shuffle into the visitors’ processing area. There was a window with a counter where you could drop off food and clothes for the prisoners. A handwritten sign stuck on the glass instructed, NO THONG, FISHNET, G-STRING, OR BIKINI PANTIES. NO LACE OR SHEER BRAS. Audrey and Lenny passed through the metal detectors and walked down a corridor into a large cafeteria-like room with vending machines along one wall. Susan was sitting at one of the tables. Her face broke into a wide smile when she saw them enter. “Hey,” she said softly, elongating the syllable. She stood up and wrapped Lenny in a tight embrace, rocking him back and forth for several long seconds. Lenny, Audrey was pleased to note, looked highly mortified.


They sat down now, with Susan on one side of the table and Lenny and Audrey on the other. “It’s good to see you, man,” Susan said, taking Lenny’s hand and gazing solemnly into his eyes. During her days in the Underground, Susan had been a notoriously intimidating figure. She had worn men’s overalls and styled her hair in a fearsome Plantagenet bob. She had carried a knife “for killing pigs” in the sole of her shoe. Shortly after the arrest of Charles Manson and his followers, she had composed an infamous Cong communiqué, praising Manson as “a brother in the struggle against bourgeois America.” But incarceration, or age—or both—had had an emollient effect on her. Her hair was long and white now, and she wore it loose about her shoulders in the prophetess style favored by veteran women folksingers. The pig-killing rhetoric of yore had long since subsided into a dreamy singsong of healing and conciliation. Over the years at Bedford, she had founded several educational programs for her fellow inmates, including one on AIDS awareness and another—much to Audrey’s secret derision—on “parenting skills.” Her literacy program, in which inmates were encouraged to write and perform plays about their lives, was so well regarded that pilot programs based on her blueprint had now been set up in several prisons around the country.

“So, what’s up, man?” she asked. “What’s going on with your band, Lenny? You been playing recently?”

Lenny shook his head. “Not much.”

“Hey, Lenny, man, don’t neglect your music.”

Audrey turned away to hide her smile. Lenny’s band wasn’t really a band: it was a couple of stoner guys with guitars who got together once a month or so to ad-lib tuneless, ironic songs on miniature domestic themes. Their signature number—their anthem, more or less—was a mock-heroic tribute to the drummer’s cat:


You eat tuna and Cap’n Crunch.

You got a face like Alice in the Brady Bunch.


Susan was always trying, in her earnest way, to lend Lenny’s halfhearted pursuits a serious, progressive inflection. If Lenny got a job in a restaurant, he was “getting into food”—which was great, because it was such a special thing to nourish people. If Lenny took a free trip to Morocco with one of his rich, druggy friends, he was “exploring Arab culture”—which was fantastic, because it was so important for young people to fight American parochialism and bigotry. Audrey treasured these misreadings as proof of Susan’s inanity.


“So what else you been up to?” Susan asked now. “What’s going on in the world?”


“Well, a bunch of things have happened with Joel,” Lenny said. “But Audrey should really tell you about all that.” (Out of respect for Susan’s feelings, he did not refer to Joel and Audrey as Mom and Dad in her presence.)


Susan turned to Audrey. “Audrey, how’s it going?”


Audrey looked at her sourly. She never felt quite respected by Susan. There was a labored politeness in the way that Susan spoke to her—an awkward condescension—that seemed to imply some difficulty in relating to a woman of Audrey’s thoroughgoing conventionality. You are a very straight housewife, her tone said, and I am a fearless renegade, but I am doing my best to find a connection here. It drove Audrey nuts. “The cheek of that woman!” she had often complained to Joel. “She fucked up a bank robbery, she made a couple of dud bombs, and she didn’t use deodorant for ten years. For this she thinks she can lord it over me like she’s fucking Aleksandra Kollontay?”


“Joel’s not doing badly,” she said now. “He’s had a couple of infections, but he’s come through them very well—”


“Yeah, Joel’s a tough old fucker,” Susan remarked.


Audrey flared her nostrils, like a rocking horse. Speaking irreverently of Joel was a right she reserved for herself and very few others—certainly not for Susan. Besides which, she had not yet finished her account of Joel’s medical status.


“And how about you, Audrey?” Susan asked. “You keeping strong?”


“Yup.” Audrey thrust her hands in her pockets as a preventive measure against Susan trying to hold one of them. “We’re all doing fine, aren’t we, Len?”


Susan smiled at Lenny. “Is that right? You doing okay?”


Lenny nodded.


There was a brief pause. Susan looked around the canteen. “I got a letter from Cheryl this week,” she said. Cheryl was a young Puerto Rican inmate with whom Susan had become romantically involved some years earlier. She had been released now and was back living with her boyfriend, but she and Susan continued to correspond. Susan wrote her a lot of love poems, some of which she had been known to read aloud to Lenny.


“She’s training to be an AIDS counselor,” Susan went on. “I’m so proud of her.”

Audrey shut her eyes. The woman was shameless, she thought. Having dealt with Joel in three sentences, she was now going to revert to discussing herself and her sordid lesbian romance. Joel used to say it was unfair to criticize long-term inmates for being self-absorbed. It was inevitable, he claimed, that the outside world should become abstract and somewhat unreal to them. But Audrey disagreed: Susan had always been a narcissist in altruist’s clothing.



d.h. lawrence rages against the english

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I wuvs you, Mummy!

"Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rutters, the flaming sods, the snivelling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less lot that make up England today."

—D.H. Lawrence, after failing several times in 1913 to place Sons and Lovers with a publisher

christopher logue’s reworking of the iliad

Christopher Logue has been painstakingly revisiting/rewriting/transliterating Homer on a sporadic, piecemeal basis with his Kings: An Account of Books 1 and 2 of Homer’s Iliad (1991), The Husbands: An Account of Books 3 and 4 of Homer’s Iliad (1995), War Music (1987) and All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes Of Homer’s Iliad Rewritten (2003).

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Two excerpts from Christopher Logue, All Day Permanent Red:

Drop into it.
Noise so clamorous it sucks.
You rush your pressed-flower hackles out
To the perimeter.
And here it comes:
That unpremeditated joy as you
—The Uzi shuddering warm against your hip
Happy in danger in a dangerous place
Yourself another self you found at Troy—
Squeeze nickel through that rush of Greekoid scum!
Oh wonderful, most wonderful, and then again more wonderful
A bond no word or lack of words can break,
Love above love!
And here they come again the noble Greeks,
Ido, a spear in one a banner in his other hand
Your life at every instant up for—
And, candidly, who gives a toss?
Your heart beats strong. Your spirit grips.
King Richard calling for another horse (his fifth).
King Marshal Ney shattering his sabre on a cannon ball.
King Ivan Kursk, 22.30 hrs,
July 4th to 14th ’43, 7000 tanks engaged,
"…he clambered up and pushed a stable-bolt
Into that Tiger-tank’s red-hot-machine-gun’s mouth
And bent the bastard up. Woweee!"
Where would we be if he had lost?
Achilles? Let him sulk.


To welcome Hector to his death

God sent a rolling thunderclap across the sky
The city and the sea
And momentarily—
The breezes playing with the sunlit dust—
On either slope a silence fell.

Think of a raked sky-wide Venetian blind.
Add the receding traction of its slats
Of its slats of its slats as a hand draws it up.
Hear the Greek army getting to its feet.

Then of a stadium when many boards are raised
And many faces change to one vast face.
So, where there were so many masks,
Now one Greek mask glittered from strip to ridge.
Already swift
Boy Lutie took Prince Hector’s nod
And fired his whip that right and left
Signalled to Ilium’s wheels to fire their own,
And to the Wall-wide nodding plumes of Trojan infantry—

Screeching above the grave percussion of their feet
Shouting how they will force the savage Greeks
Back up the slope over the ridge, downplain
And slaughter them beside their ships—

Add the reverberation of their hooves: and
"Reach for your oars. . ."
T’lesspiax, his yard at 60°, sending it
Across the radiant air as Ilium swept
Onto the strip
Into the Greeks
Over the venue where
Two hours ago all present prayed for peace.
And carried Greece
Back up the slope that leads
Via its ridge
Onto the windy plain.

Download All Day Permanent Red here.

scenes from the writing life: robert graves, poetry and mushroom cults

Rent "The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs" book by Marcus Boon by BookSwim Rental Library Club.


. . . The other great psychedelic pioneer of the 1950s was a J. P. Morgan vice president and amateur mycologist named R. Gordon Wasson. Wasson and his wife had already written a voluminous work on the history of mushroom lore, Russia, Mushrooms, and History (1957) when, apparently through a conversation with the English poet Robert Graves, he found out about the continuing existence of a cult in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, that used teonanacatl, the vision-inducing mushrooms that Spanish writers had talked of after the conquest of Mexico. This mushroom cult had been discovered by an Austrianborn physician, Blas Pablo Reko, and picked up on by the Harvard botanist Richard Evans Schultes, who had traveled to Oaxaca in 1938 with Reko to witness the ceremonial use of the mushrooms. Schultes’ interest in the cult was botanical (he claimed that he experienced none of the visionary dimensions of the plants he “discovered”), but Wasson saw the cultural and religious significance of the story and traveled to Oaxaca, where, on August, 15, 1953, he took the mushrooms (which were of three species, the best known being Stropharia cubensis) with the Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina.Wasson published a widely read account of his trip in LIFE magazine in 1957, but was apparently appalled when others who read his account began traveling to Oaxaca. Wasson argued that psychedelic mushrooms provided the key to many of the world’s religious mysteries, including the soma of the Vedas, the Eleusinian rites of Ancient Greece, certain visions related in the Zend Avesta, the holy scripture of Zoroastrianism, and the tree of good and evil in the Bible, but made no comment on contemporary use of the drugs. Forgetting his own LIFE article, he later criticized the vulgarization of contemporary discourse about the drugs, calling the term “psychedelics” “a barbarous formation,”101 and with a group of colleagues proposed a new term, “entheogen,” to describe the drugs—a term that conveniently obscures the nontheogenic nature of most twentieth-century use of the drugs.

 Robert Graves also believed that the psychedelics provided a source for much of the world of classical and preclassical mythology. In a review of Wasson’s work published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1956, he already speculated that the cult of Dionysus held mushroom orgies.102 On January 31, 1960, when he was sixty-four, Graves took mushrooms with Wasson in New York, and wrote an essay about it called “The Poet’s Paradise” (1961), which he read to Oxford students in the early 1960s. Graves described his experience in highly mythical terms, feeling that the mushrooms were taking him back to the world of Gilgamesh and the Babylonian paradise. He experienced worlds of jewels, demons, and erotic fantasy, while Wasson played a tape recording of Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina chanting. Graves was impressed, although he noted caustically, that “what was for thousands of years a sacred and secret element, entrusted only to persons chosen for their good conduct and integrity, will soon be snatched at by jaded sensation-seekers.”103 Such people would be disappointed, however, because instead of drunken oblivion they would experience heightened insight into themselves—which they might find less than recreational. Yet Graves believed that the experience of the mushroom was passive when compared to that of poetic trance: “It seems established that Tlalocan [Aztec word for paradise], for all its sensory marvels, contains no palace of words presided over by the Living Muse, and no small white-washed cell . . . to which a poet may retire and actively write poems in her honour, rather than bask sensuously under her spell.”104 A little later, Graves had an experience of synthetic psilocybin with Wasson, which disappointed everyone involved. Graves wrote that it had been “all wrong, a common vulgar drug, no magic, and followed by a nasty hang-over.”105 In the late 1960s he dismissed marijuana in print as being a low-class type of drug.

 —from Marcus Boon, The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs. Harvard (pp 253-255).


101. Wasson, R. Gordon, Stella Kramrisch, Jonathan Ott, and Carl Ruck. 1986. Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 30.

102. “Centaur’s Food,” reprinted in Graves, Robert. 1960. Food for Centaurs: Stories, Talks, Critical Studies, Poems. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. A review of Wasson’s “Soma, Mushrooms, and Religion” was published in Difficult Questions, Easy Answers (1973)—in which Graves notes that Wasson does not credit him for developing the idea of Greek soma. The book also contains another essay on the mushroom experience, “The Universal Paradise.”

103. Robert Graves, 1969. On Poetry: Collected Talks and Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 380.

104. Graves, 1969, 382.

105. Graves, Richard. 1995. Robert Graves and the White Goddess, 1940–1985. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 306.



a short story by kazuo ishiguro


(from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall)



THE MORNING I SPOTTED Tony Gardner sitting among the tourists, spring was just arriving here in Venice. We’d completed our first full week outside in the piazza—a relief, let me tell you, after all those stuffy hours performing from the back of the cafe, getting in the way of customers wanting to use the staircase. There was quite a breeze that morning, and our brand-new marquee was flapping all around us, but we were all feeling a little bit brighter and fresher, and I guess it showed in our music.


But here I am talking like I’m a regular band member. Actually, I’m one of the “gypsies,” as the other musicians call us, one of the guys who move around the piazza, helping out whichever of the threecafe orchestras needs us. Mostly I play here at the Caffè Lavena, but on a busy afternoon, I might do a set with the Quadri boys, go over to the Florian, then back across the square to the Lavena. I get on fine with them all—and with the waiters too—and in any other city I’d have a regular position by now. But in this place, so obsessed with tradition and the past, everything’s upside down. Anywhere else, being a guitar player would go in a guy’s favour. But here? A guitar! The cafe managers get uneasy. It looks too modern, the tourists won’t like it. Last autumn I got myself a vintage jazz model with an oval sound-hole, the kind of thing Django Reinhardt might have played, so there was no way anyone would mistake me for a rock-and-roller. That made things a little easier, but the cafe managers, they still don’t like it. The truth is, if you’re a guitarist, you can be Joe Pass, they still wouldn’t give you a regular job in this square.


There’s also, of course, the small matter of my not being Italian, never mind Venetian. It’s the same for that big Czech guy with the alto sax. We’re well liked, we’re needed by the other musicians, but we don’t quite fit the official bill. Just play and keep your mouth shut, that’s what the cafe managers always say. That way the tourists won’t know you’re not Italian. Wear your suit, sunglasses, keep the hair combed back, no one will know the difference, just don’t start talking.


But I don’t do too bad. All three cafe orchestras, especially when they have to play at the same time from their rival tents, they need a guitar—something soft, solid, but amplified, thumping out the chords from the back. I guess you’re thinking, three bands playing at the same time in the same square, that would sound like a real mess. But the Piazza San Marco’s big enough to take it. A tourist strolling across the square will hear one tune fade out, another fade in, like he’s shifting the dial on a radio. What tourists can’t take too much of is the classical stuff, all these instrumental versions of famous arias. Okay, this is San Marco, they don’t want the latest pop hits. But every few minutes they want something they recognise, maybe an old Julie Andrews number, or the theme from a famous movie. I remember once last summer, going from band to band and playing “The Godfather” nine times in one afternoon.


Anyway there we were that spring morning, playing in front of a good crowd of tourists, when I saw Tony Gardner, sitting alone with his coffee, almost directly in front of us, maybe six metres back from our marquee. We get famous people in the square all the time, we never make a fuss. At the end of a number, maybe a quiet word will go around the band members. Look, there’s Warren Beatty. Look, it’s Kissinger. That woman, she’s the one who was in the movie about the men who swap their faces. We’re used to it. This is the Piazza San Marco after all. But when I realised it was Tony Gardner sitting there, that was different. I did get excited.

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