Sunday, August 23, 2015

Death in the Museum of Modern Art - Alma Lazarevska

When Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia and achieved United Nations recognition, the Serbian leaders and army whose goal was to create a "greater Serbia", declared a new Serbian national state, Republika Srpska (RS). 


They carved this from the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, encircling Sarajevo with a siege force of 18,000 stationed in the surrounding hills, from here they assaulted the city with weapons that included artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles.

From 2 May 1992 - to 29 February 1996 the Serbs blockaded the city, the Bosnian government defence forces inside the besieged city were poorly equipped and unable to break the siege. It became the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, during which 11,541 people lost their lives, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. When the siege ended, the concrete scars caused by mortar shell explosions left a mark that was filled with red resin. After the red resin was placed it left a floral pattern which led to it being dubbed a Sarajevo Rose.

This forms the backdrop to Death in the Museum of Modern Art, a collection of six short stories by Alma Lazarevska, a graduate of the University of Sarajevo, and a seriously acclaimed writer in her homeland. In fact this collection won the “Best Book” award from the Society of Writers of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I was going to write a small piece about each tale, but on thinking more on the subject decided that this post would work better if I just gave an overall impression of the collection and not try and dissect the inner workings of what are very beautiful sad.. ..I wanted to say snapshots but that doesn't capture the details, doesn't explain how these stories resonate. They are more like miniatures, each one capturing a moment, highlighting the minutiae of an individual living a life besieged, a life encircled by the ever present character of death and trying their damnedest not to invite them in. This in a way is a state we can all comprehend as all our lives are circumscribed by that old foe, although these tales in their concentrated heightened and in certain cases surreal nature bring the lens in tight, take us below the epidermis.

What is truly breath-taking though, is that they do this without recourse to all the blood and gore one would expect from a book of tales about a city facing one of the bloodiest sieges in modern history, in a city where the all the creative might of the arms industry was pouring down with the regularity of a local shower, it’s the teardrop that pierces the heart. This is a collection of moments, of individuals contemplating what it means to hold on to ones humanity, of people struggling to preserve what’s of worth to them and despite the inherent fragility of the flesh - fighting against the inevitable sinking of the light.
 
Death in the Museum of Modern Art, is a pellucid and yet dreamlike collection of tales, that manages to capture the beauty in moments where none would be expected, and yet doesn’t shy away from intrinsic monstrosity of a life defined by cannon fire.

Alma Lazarevska is a Bosnian prose writer and member of Bosnian PEN. Her published books include Sarajevo SolitaireThe Sign of the RoseDeath in the Museum of Modern Art and Plants are Something Else (the title story of which has recently been included in an edition of the magazine Wasafiri).


An Interview with Alma Lazarevska in: The Mantle

This collection of short stories was translated by Celia Hawkesworth, who worked for many years as Senior Lecturer in Serbian and Croatian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London. She has published numerous articles and several books on Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian literature, including the studies ‘Ivo Andric: Bridge between East and West’ (Athlone Press, 1984); ‘Voices in the Shadows: Women and Verbal Art in Serbia and Bosnia’ (CEU Press, 2000); and ‘Zagreb: A Cultural History’ (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Among her many translations are two works by Dubravka Ugrešić, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998; ‘The Museum of Unconditional Surrender’, short-listed for the Weidenfeld Prize for Literary Translation, and ‘The Culture of Lies’, winner of the Heldt Prize for Translation in 1999.


Published by the wonderful Istros Books.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sándor Weöres (1913 – 1989)

Sándor Weöres (1913 – 1989) was a Hungarian poet and author. Although he was born on 22 June 1913 in Szombathely, he was raised in the nearby village of Csönge, he was considered a very bright and keen individual wanting to read and learn from anything that he came in contact with, including books from diverse nations and cultures - this at a time when the established learning was focused inwards and Eurocentric. As a poet influences such as Taoism, Indian philosophy, in fact both Eastern and European mysticism, would resurface in his writings and become major factors in his work, he would even go on to translate the Tao Te Ching (his version still the most widely read in Hungary). At the age of nineteen, his poetry was being published in the influential journal Nyugat ("West") through the acceptance of its editor, the poet Mihály Babits.  He attended the University of Pécs, originally to study law, before switching to geography and history and ultimately receiving a doctorate in philosophy and aesthetics. His doctoral dissertation The Birth of the Poem was published in 1939.


In 1937 he made his first journey outside of Hungary, going first to Manila for a Eucharistic Congress before visiting Vietnam and India. During World War II he was drafted for compulsory labour, but was not sent to the front. After the end of the war, he returned to Csönge, living for a short time as a farmer.

The Lunatic Cyclist (1930)

Sometimes one whose soul is pure
sees himself as if he might
be some cycling lunatic
as he pedals through the night


he the lunatic evokes
who can neither see nor hear
while the pebbles his wheels flick
are flung twanging through his spokes

wheels that cut into the earth
around him weave a dusty veil
the stars above a lazy herd
sleep in their narrow sky-tall

while the wind soaks up his sweat
and shakes out his bushy hair
the lunatic continues yet
to pedal through the moonlit air

sometimes one whose soul is pure
sees himself as if he might
be that lunatic cycling there
with mounting fury through the night

as clear to him as bread and wine
mirrored by the light of day
the moon that sprinkles round about
on every side its netted ray

cold the light and cold the wind
that blows the lunatic’s hair back
while dust humiliates his wheels
and unvirginal is his track

infinite is the cyclist’s track
and the soul that’s pure and bright
watches while the lunatic
pedals weeping through the night.


                       Trans: William Jay Smith


In 1948 Weöres left the country again residing in Italy until 1949. In 1951 he returned to Hungary, settling in Budapest where he would remain for the rest of his life. The imposition of Stalinism in Hungary after 1948 silenced Weöres and until 1964, with very little able to be published, one of the exceptions was “A hallgatás tornya” (The Tower of Silence), published during a brief period of relative freedom prior to the revolution of 1956.



On Death (1937) 

Don't mind if you die. It's just your body's shape,
intelligence, separate beings which are passing.
The rest, the final and the all-embracing
structure receives, and will absorb and keep.

All incidents we live through, forms we see,
particles, mountain-tops, are broken down,
they all are mortal, this condition shows,
but as to substance: timeless majesty.

The soul is that way too: condition dies
away from it—feeling, intelligence,
which help to fish the pieces from the drift

and make it sicken—but, what underlies,
all elements that wait in permanence,
reach the dear house they never really left.

                                             Trans: Allan Dixon

In 1964 he published “Tűzkút” (The Well of Fire) in Paris and his poetry became officially tolerated in Hungary. Weöres also translated writers into Hungarian, including the works of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko, the Georgian poet Rustaveli, the Slovenian poets Oton Župančič and Josip Murn Aleksandrov. He also translated Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and Henry VIII, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, the nonsense poems by Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, and the complete poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. In 1970 he received the Kossuth Prize, the nation’s highest award. English-language translations of his poetry include If All the World Were a Blackbird (1985) and Eternal Moment (1988).

Sandor Weöres, confounded the critics of his homeland throughout his career, from the very start he was interested in experimenting with form, he would try his hand at everything from automatic writing to creating nonsensical poems without regard to any semantic meaning, before translating them using diverse methods. He was searching for methods to express his thoughts in a way that could only be done via a language he saw as specific to poetry & could not be expressed in a standard literal form. This he pursued through a period of history when poets and writers where expected to follow the socialist ideal and write realist poems that praised the state, that provided propaganda to the regimes ideology. Although recognised by his peers he was seen by the state apparatus as a propagator of nihilist ideas, and thus his poetry was not published until the political climate changed. He continued regardless constantly expanding his ideas, taking everything from nursery rhymes to long mythical poetry. In 1972 he published Psyche, an anthology of poetry and prose by a female poet called Erzsébet Mária Psyché Lónyay, whose work had lain forgotten since the early 19th century, and who Weöres rediscovers: this was later turned into a film called Narcissus & Psyche by Gábor Bódy (1980). He also edited an influential collection of Hungarian poetry Három veréb hat szemmel in 1977 (Three sparrows with six eyes).

Renaissance (1980)
It was the era of masks
And the bird saluting the well.

Eyes opening to the knowledge
Cobbled the dark alleys

Solid ruins stepped from the past
And mixed with present dilapidation.


Wombshaped, pluckable instruments
contended with huge baggy keyboards.

Born in pain
sincerity
was promptly dying.

Anyone who thought to speak
was already overheard.

The city was full of expectation;
the country with countless flowers,
and unsuspected silky tunes
flew, like a mist of cuckoos, far off.

                  Trans: Hugh Maxton




I found out about Sandor Weöres, through my local charity bookshop, where I came across a copy of Eternal Moment (Selected poems), this anthology of poetry covers Sandor’s poetry from 1928 – 1980, giving the reader an overview of this Hungarian writers oeuvre, it was edited by  Miklós Vajda, who also wrote the introduction, it has an after word by Edwin Morgan and some drawings by Sandor Weöres. This collection was published in 1988 by Anvil press Poetry

This is a wonderful & interesting collection of poetry that shows this writer finding his own voice, but not just that it also demonstrates that, despite the whole apparatus of governmental opinion against him, he was proved right in the end becoming a much respected, loved and emulated poet, whose work has been set to music, made into film & is a fixture in Hungarian life whether through the nursery rhymes heard as a child or through verse, film & music whilst growing up.

 Moon and Farmstead (1954)
full    moon   slip   swim
wind  fog     foam  chord  hum
the    house   empty

rampant
thorn  fence
eye   blaze

moon   swim   flame
grass   chord   twang
cloud   fling

the  house   empty
door   window
fly   up

chimney  run
fog   swirl
full   moon   circle

the   house   empty

    Trans: Edwin Morgan



Monkeyland (1955)

Oh for far-off monkeyland,
ripe monkeybread on baobabs,
and the wind strums out monkeytunes
from monkeywindow monkeybars.

Monkeyheroes rise and fight
in monkeyfield and monkeysquare,
and monkeysanatoriums
have monkeypatients crying there.

Monkeygirl monkeytaught
masters monkeyalphabet,
evil monkey pounds his thrawn
feet in monkeyprison yet.

Monkeymill is nearly made,
miles of monkeymayonnaise,
winningly unwinnable
winning monkeymind wins praise.

Monkeyking on monkeypole
harangues the crowd in monkeytongue,
monkeyheaven comes to some,
monkeyhell for those undone.

Macaque, gorilla, chimpanzee,
baboon, orangutan, each beast
reads his monkeynewssheet at
the end of each twilight repast.

With monkeysupper memories
the monkeyouthouse rumbles, hums,
monkeyswaddies start to march,
right turn, left turn, shoulder arms -

monkeymilitary fright
reflected in each monkeyface,
with monkeygun in monkeyfist
the monkeys' world the world we face. 
Trans: Edwin Morgan


Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Devotion of Suspect X (容疑者Xの献身) ~ Keigo Higashino


The Devotion of Suspect X, is a novel by Keigo Higashino, and is the third instalment in his Detective Galileo series. It is also his most acclaimed novel so far, garnering him numerous awards, such as the 134th Naoki Prize, one of the most highly regarded awards in Japan. 
This work also won the 6th Honkaku Mystery Award, considered one of the most prestigious awards in the mystery novels category in Japan, plus several others, gathering acclaim from critics and readers alike. The English translation was nominated for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the 2012 Barry Award for Best First Novel.




The story follows Tetsuya Ishigami and Yasuko Hanaoka, as they go about their daily routines. Yasuko is a divorced single mother who works in a restaurant packing bentos for its local clientele. Ishigami is a highly talented mathematics teacher, who lives next door to Yasuko and her daughter, and is a regular at the bento shop and is secretly enamoured with Yasuko. This quiet safe and monotonous routine explodes when Yasuko's violent ex-husband Togashi, tracks her down with the aim of extorting money from her by intimidating both Yasuko and her daughter, Yasuko, has been here before and just wants to get rid of him, so he attempts to use her daughter as a means of extortion. When this fails he loses his cool & in a rage begins to hit out, this situation escalates rapidly and ends with being him being killed by the mother and daughter. Whilst horror-struck and paralysed by what they've done, there’s a knock on the door.

Attempting to establish some order in the flat, Yasuko then answers the door, to find Ishigami standing there; who having heard the commotion, has somehow deduced its cause and is offering to help. In fact he is offering to remove all responsibility for disposing of the body, and is plotting a means of covering up the murder & to organise an alibi for the mother and daughter.

Eventually the body is found and despite a reasonably airtight alibi Kusanagi, the detective in charge of the case looks in Yasuko’s direction, partially because there are no other suspects & partially because despite no obvious holes in her alibi, he feels that there's something wrong with her story, that it just doesn't sit right with him.

So far a fairly standard detective novel, but this is more than that, what I haven’t mentioned is that although Ishigami is working as a maths teacher it appears that he is hiding his light under a bushel, it turns out that he was something of a maths prodigy and still could be described as a genius when it comes to issues of maths and logic. Add to this the detective Kusanagi, has a friend Dr Manabu Yukawa, a physicist who frequently consults with the police and who could also wear the badge of genius lightly - and he is an old friend of Ishigami. What follows is a tightly constructed game of cat and mouse between the Detective who has his sights on Yasuko and Ishigami who is directing things from the shadows, it falls to Yukawa, to see what is really going on and in doing so realises the love & devotion that Ishigami has for the divorced Yasuko and also the lengths Ishigami is willing to go to sacrifice himself for that love.

Because despite this book having a plethora of awards & critics stating what a fantastic detective, crime, mystery novel this is – it isn't.
What this really is, is a romance, a tale of unrequited love and obsession masquerading as all of the above, as a mystery novel it is great, as crime fiction it is fantastic, as a work of detective writing it is wonderful, but what raises it above all of those is that deep dark tale of a love that is willing - despite no chance of being requited - of doing whatever it takes to safeguard the person it is directed at. What raises this beyond the standard ideal of crime fiction is the character of Ishigami and the sacrifices he is willing to make to protect Yasuko, and it is only towards the end of this journey does his old friend work out how dark and bloody and how fatal this tale becomes & with it he sees the depths of the math teachers love and devotion.

In a peculiar way this tale reminded me of some of the writings of Shusaku Endo*, not the tale itself, but that element of sacrifice, although with Endo’s writing it was to do with the Christian faith and the sacrifices made by it’s followers around the start of the Meiji period, this tale had that ambience, Ishigami had that ideal that his love, although it could not be expressed, was worth sacrificing all for.

Keigo Higashino was born in Osaka, he started writing novels while still working as an engineer at Nippon Denso Co. (presently DENSO). He won the Edogawa Rampo Award, which is awarded annually to the unpublished finest mystery work, in 1985 for the novel Hōkago (after school) at age 27. Subsequently, he quit his job and started a career as a writer in Tokyo. In 1999 he won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for the novel Naoko, which has subsequently been translated into English by Kerim Yasar. He also writes Children’s story books.

Alexander O. Smith (born February 8, 1973) is a professional English/Japanese translator and author. While his output covers many areas such as adaptation of Japanese novels, manga, song lyrics, anime scripts and various academic works, he is best known for his software localizations of Japanese video games. He currently resides in Kamakura, Japan, where he operates his own contract localization business, Kajiya Productions, and is co-founder of a translation and publishing company, Bento Books.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

No More Heroes? ( A personal view of John Cooper Clarke)

 The Pest

The pest pulled up, propped his pushbike at a pillar box, pulled his 'peen, paused at a post and pissed.

'Piss in the proper place' pronounced a perturbed pedestrian, and presently, this particular part of the planet was plunged into a panorama of public pressure and pleasure through pain.

The pandemonium prompted the police, who patrolled the precinct in panda cars, to pull up and peruse the problem, while pickpockets picked pockets in pairs.

'Arrest the pest who so pointedly pissed in that public place' pleaded the peeved people, practically palpitating.

The powerful police picked up the pest: pronounced him a poof, a pansy, a punk rocker, a pinko, a poodle poker.

They picked him up, pummelled his pelvis, punctured his pipes, played Ping-Pong with his pubic parts, and packed him in a place of penal putrefaction.

The period in prison proved pitiless. The pendulous pressure of a painless personality purge prompted the pest to ponder upon progressive politics... and a workable prognosis.

He put pen to paper and privatively and persuasively propagated his personal political premise -- pity: a police provocateur put poison pellets in the pest's porridge. 

The police provocateur was promoted, and the pest was presented with the Pulitzer peace prize... posthumously.

Those that follow my blog regularly will have come to the conclusion that I have a thing, a fondness, even possibly an obsession with the poetic arts. This fondness has been pretty much a lifelong affair, with very little to hinder its passage from an interest that was kept under wraps as a teen, through to the adult self who will quite happily sing out loud his devotion to this subject - as stated very little, but not completely unhindered.  Growing up in the English secondary school system during the 1970s was a lesson in how not to promote a love of a subject, or in how to dissuade learning and the desire for more knowledge. It was more a case of hammer home the subject matter, with the idea that each nail was a fact that could be quoted verbatim in an exam environment and heaven help the child who thought for themselves. To be fair this maybe only my personal experience & the conditions at the school I attended, and also I can hear you thinking “What has this to do with the poem printed, or the title of this post?”

 Well………. Back to the poetry, at this particular school, we were taught “THE CLASSICS”, by which I mean a few names from the past were dragged out, dusted off, held up like trophies brought back from some Arcadian past and this we were told was poetry. Anything else was not poetry and thus was not suitable to be mentioned, let alone allowed out in the clear light of day. Now although I had a love for certain poets, and have since gained a love/admiration for others, as a teenage male growing up at that point in time it was hard to see how they had a relevance to me, to the world I lived in, to anything that could be described as fitting the socio-political climate, or even the emotional turmoil & frustration of 1970s Britain.

This brings me to the title* No More Heroes? This is a song by an English band The Stranglers, in which they declare there is no one filling the role of hero to the youth of the day; they also ask whatever happened to the heroes, this song came out around the height of the punk era & a time where the youth were redefining their role and relationship with the world around them, so although they state there were no heroes, what was happening was people were searching for new heroes - ones that had relevance to them.

Network South East

It’s so insubstantial, it swerves on the curves.
The noise of the upholstery batters the nerves.
If you were a passenger day after day
you’d pay to have somebody blow you away.
As I travel these tracks I cannot forgive
how I lose by degrees the incentive to live
knowing that vengeance will never be mine
that’s what hurts on the misery line.
Hell on Wheels with go-faster stripes.
These passengers here are the tolerant type
I’d like to see them in seven months’ time
when the shatter-proof windows are splattered with slime
and they've sacked all the fellas who did the repairs
and shovelled the cheeseburgers off the chairs
from germ-free services smelling of pine
now its travel no-class on the misery line.

Around this time saw the rise of certain poets who embraced the punk ethos and who also played alongside the bands of this period, now for someone like me this was wonderful. Here was poetry that had humour, had an edge, that wasn't allowed past the school gates, that my English teacher would have a seizure at had they come into contact with it, and so I found a way that sustained my love of poetry and in the process found a new hero.

John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke (born 25 January 1949) in Salford, Lancashire is an English performance poet. He became interested in poetry after being inspired by a teacher whom he described as "a real outdoor guy, an Ernest Hemingway type, red blooded, literary bloke”. His first job was a laboratory technician at Salford Tech. He began his performance career in Manchester folk clubs, where he began working with Rick Goldstraw and his band The Ferrets.  He first became famous during the punk rock era of the late 1970s when he became known as a "punk poet", releasing several albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s.Clarke toured with Linton Kwesi Johnson, and has performed on the same bill as bands such as the Sex Pistols, the Fall, Joy Division, the Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Elvis Costello and New Order (including at their May 1984 Music for Miners benefit concert at London's Royal Festival Hall). His set is characterised by lively, rapid-fire renditions of his poems, usually performed a cappella. Often referred to as "the bard of Salford", he usually refers to himself on stage as "Johnny Clarke, the name behind the hairstyle". 

His recording of the poem “Evidently Chickentown" from his album Snap, Crackle & Bop was also featured prominently in the closing scene of The Sopranos episode Stage 5. This poem uses repeated profanity to express the hopeless despair and futility felt in certain areas of Britain and the anger and frustration with the way the government were taking the nation politically and ideologically.



Evidently Chickentown 

The fucking cops are fucking keen
To fucking keep it fucking clean
The fucking chief’s a fucking swine
Who fucking draws a fucking line
At fucking fun and fucking games
The fucking kids he fucking blames
Are nowhere to be fucking found
Anywhere in Chickentown

 The fucking scene is fucking sad
The fucking news is fucking bad
The fucking weed is fucking turf
The fucking speed is fucking surf
The fucking folks are fucking daft
Don’t make me fucking laugh
It fucking hurts to look around
Everywhere in Chickentown

 The fucking train is fucking late
You fucking wait you fucking wait
You’re fucking lost and fucking found
Stuck in fucking Chickentown

 The fucking view is fucking vile
For fucking miles and fucking miles
The fucking babies fucking cry
The fucking flowers fucking die
The fucking food is fucking muck
The fucking drains are fucking fucked
The colour scheme is fucking brown
Everywhere in Chickentown

The fucking pubs are fucking dull
The fucking clubs are fucking full
Of fucking girls and fucking guys
With fucking murder in Their eyes
A fucking bloke is fucking stabbed
Waiting for a fucking cab
You fucking stay at fucking home
The fucking neighbours fucking moan
Keep The fucking racket down
This is fucking Chickentown

 The fucking train is fucking late
You fucking wait you fucking wait
You’re fucking lost and fucking found
Stuck in fucking Chickentown

 The fucking pies are fucking old
The fucking chips are fucking cold
The fucking beer is fucking flat
The fucking flats have fucking rats
The fucking clocks are fucking wrong
The fucking days are fucking long
It fucking gets you fucking down
Evidently Chickentown

As you can imagine to a naturally rebellious teenager, this stuff was rocket fuel. The combination of that punk performance attitude and the visceral and yet comic nature summed up how I saw the world and the way those “Older & Better” individuals were taking it. For me John Cooper Clarke, expressed the anger and fear that was prevalent, and in a way that meant I could also express it, he appeared to live that punk anti-establishment ideology, the idea of a nonconformist attitude, you chose your own values, not rigorously bowing to the mainstream, of thinking for yourself and not what those “Older & Betters” state you should think. His poetry shocks, but that’s just splashing in the shallows; there is more humour than harm in his words and also sometimes it needs a shock to wake you up, to make you aware of what is really out there. There are a lot of singers, songwriters & poets who owe a lot to Johnny Clarke and wisely are happy to credit him.


Beasley Street
 Far from crazy pavements – 
The taste of silver spoons
A clinical arrangement
On a dirty afternoon
Where the faecal germs of Mr Freud
Are rendered obsolete
The legal term is null and void
In the case of Beasley Street

In the cheap seats where murder breeds
Somebody is out of breath
Sleep is a luxury they don’t need
– a sneak preview of death
Belladonna is your flower
Manslaughter your meat
Spend a year in a couple of hours
On the edge of Beasley Street

Where the action isn't
That’s where it is
State your position
Vacancies exist
In an X-certificate exercise
 Ex-servicemen excrete
Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies
In a box on Beasley Street

From the boarding houses and the bedsits
Full of accidents and fleas
somebody gets it
where the missing persons freeze
Wearing dead men’s overcoats
You can’t see their feet
A riff joint shuts – opens up
Right down on Beasley Street

Cars collide, colours clash
Disaster movie stuff
For a man with a Fu Manchu moustache
Revenge is not enough
There’s a dead canary on a swivel seat
There’s a rainbow in the road
Meanwhile on Beasley Street

Silence is the code
Hot beneath the collar
An inspector calls
Where the perishing stink of squalor
Impregnates the walls
The rats have all got rickets
They spit through broken teeth
The name of the game is not cricket
Caught out on Beasley Street

The hipster and his hired hat
Drive a borrowed car
Yellow socks and a pink cravat
Nothing La-di-dah
OAP, mother to be
Watch the three-piece suite
When shit-stoppered drains
And crocodile skis
Are seen on Beasley Street

The kingdom of the blind
A one-eyed man is king
Beauty problems are redefined
The doorbells do not ring
A lightbulb bursts like a blister
The only form of heat
Here a fellow sells his sister
Down the river on Beasley Street

The boys are on the wagon
The girls are on the shelf
Their common problem is
That they’re not someone else
The dirt blows out
The dust blows in
You can’t keep it neat
It’s a fully furnished dustbin,
Sixteen Beasley Street

Vince the ageing savage
Betrays no kind of life
But the smell of yesterday’s cabbage
And the ghost of last year’s wife
Through a constant haze
Of deodorant sprays
He says retreat
Alsations dog the dirty days
Down the middle of Beasley Street

 People turn to poison 
 Quick as lager turns to piss
Sweethearts are physically sick
Every time they kiss.
It’s a sociologist’s paradise
Each day repeats
On easy, cheesy, greasy, queasy
Beastly Beasley Street

Eyes dead as vicious fish
Look around for laughs
If I could have just one wish
I would be a photograph
On a permanent Monday morning
Get lost or fall asleep
When the yellow cats are yawning
Around the back of Beasley Street




Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reader for hire ~ Raymond Jean


When a friend suggests to Marie-Constance, that as she has a beautiful voice she should offer her services as a reader, Marie mulls this over and comes to the conclusion, that it’s not a bad idea.  Although when she goes to place a small add offering her services as a professional reader – she receives the advice that people, particularly men may misconstrue what she is offering. This turns out to be fairly good advice, but Marie-Constance, sees things differently & wants to proceed with the add placement and her new chosen career.

Through Marie, we meet a cast of characters that have their own agendas and own ideas of what they want from her, from the wheelchair bound teen who’s more interested in her thighs than her reciting Maupassant, to a Hungarian countess who wants to feel like a revolutionary by having Marie read her Karl Marx whilst the servant pours tea.  Then there’s the overworked businessman who would prefer Marie to make love to him, whilst she reads & the magistrate who wants to spend his retirement with the complete works of De Sade read to him by Marie-Constance, of course.

Through reading Marie gains a certain power over her clients although this is a bit of a two-way street because, as a cipher for her clients desires, this is limited to those areas and also creates situations where she has no control leading her into conflict with the local constabulary and a certain officer, who disapproves of what she does & thinks that she is a danger to society.

Reader for Hire was originally published in 1986 as La Lectrice by the French author Raymond Jean, and two years later made into a film directed by Michel Deville, becoming a cinema hit starring famous French actress Miou-Miou. If this wasn't already a film, my suggestion is that it would make a good one, something like a European version of Fifty Shades of Grey”. Something that would capture the sensuality and subtle nuance of this book that would delight in the sexuality of human nature without denigrating it to some puerile level, but that would also show the humour and that ambience that can only be described as “French”. This book is pure comic farce, with the knowing innocence & male fantasy figure of Marie-Constance, then the writer’s placing of her into the various roles called on by the other characters - creating a light-hearted romp that whilst making you smile at each situation she finds herself in, also highlights the power and joy of reading and the inherent wonder of being read to.

Why Peirene chose to publish this book:

'The premise of the story is brilliant: a woman who loves reading aloud acquires – without realizing – power over others. What’s true for her clients becomes real for you, the reader of this book. As you turn the pages, think of Marie-Constance as the personification of ‘reading’ itself. And I promise you an experience you will never forget.' Meike Ziervogel



Raymond Jean:

 (1925–2012) wrote more than 40 books during his lifetime – novels, short-story collections and essays. He was awarded the Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle in 1983. His novella La Lectrice (Reader for Hire) became a cinema hit starring Miou-Miou. The film won the César Award for Best Supporting Actor and was named the best feature at the 1988 Montreal World Film Festival.



Adriana Hunter:

 Has translated over 50 books from French, including works by Agnès Desarthe, Véronique Ovalde and Hervé Le Tellier. She has already translated for Peirene, Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi, for which she won the 2011 Scott Moncrieff Prize, and Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda. Adriana has been short-listed twice for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.


Peirene Press