Monday, February 18, 2008

Poor Poor Folk

I zipped through to the end of Dostoyevsky's Poor People (or Poor Folk as the better translators seem to have it), but only because it's so short. It is recognisable as his work, but you can tell it's an early piece. I should have heeded the warning-in-code in the blurb: it said something like 'Although it shows the influence of Gogol's The Overcoat, Poor People stands as a novel in its own right' - clearly this meant 'Derivative; doesn't stand as a novel in its own right'.

Maybe it's the translation - not a new one, but by David Magyarshak, whose work I have enjoyed in the past. In any case, I've moved on to Demons, the only one of Dostoyevsky's big four novels which I haven't yet read. A chapter in, and this is the real McCoy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Nouns and verbs

Go and read this ace post on Bill Herbert's blog if you haven't already.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I've been reading a lot recently - the upside of commuting by train is the time in which all you can do is read, write, or scrawl teaching notes. (The downsides are too numerous and well-known to mention.)

Among other things I've reread Heart of Darkness and read various other Conrad stories for the first time - Youth, Typhoon and now The Secret Sharer - in awful Dover Thrift editions with crammed type and no notes. You hardly notice such distractions when the main event is so good. Must give Lord Jim a go.

I'm also reading Dostoevsky's Poor People, his first published novel (written before prison and exile). The style is not fully developed, and in the first 30 pages or so, I occasionally found myself what on earth was going on - then I remembered it was Dostoevsky I was reading, and that that was the general idea...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Variations on a Form

A venerable poet once advised me not to be satisfied with a short poem but to keep on (re)writing it to see what happens. I suppose it's a way of interrogating the form of an utterance - of particular interest to poets but also, one would hope, to readers. So:

All the leaves fell from the tree
A slight breeze bothered the remainder

All the people left the city
Those who were left sat down to talk

All the rooms are occupied
I suppose she could squat down in the yard

All the drink in the house is gone
I have a half-bottle of ouzo somewhere

All that could be done was done
Within reason

All the seats are taken
– Except that electric chair


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Objet Trouve

Found the following just now, which I had emailed to myself from the field and forgotten about some weeks ago. It's a graphomaniac poem:

Geisslerlieder/Flagellant Songs


Now I'm wondering if Flagellant Songs might be a good title for the sequence. The current incumbent is Archaeopteryx. Any thoughts?


Barbary Lions 2

That first draft about lions has disappeared now; I've been thinking about how to proceed, but have rather stalled over an idea to base the whole poem on an image of the lion's eye and what it can or can't see/contain. All I have is the line,

That dark universe is rheumed with galaxies,

which pleases me greatly, but will hardly do by itself.