Purgatory

In Dante’s Comedy, each punishment is a contrapasso, a symbolic instance of poetic justice, and Purgatory seemed an appropriate place to be, last winter. So here, in the Fortnightly Review are my thoughts about reading Purgatory.

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Grey Suit Editions – List of Publications – parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

List of Publications 1

List of Publications 2

List of publications 3 (Miscellaneous)

Our video catalogue from the nineties

These four links provide a tour of Grey Suit. The project began as a video magazine for performance art, material film and innovative music and poetry. Later we began publishing poetry chap-books and now we also do larger publications.

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The Tower – Drawings and Film – 1984

I have just discovered this post from the Art Gallery of New South Wales – showing items from the box of drawings for The Tower – created for the performance in that gallery in 1984.

The gallery bought these fine drawings by Dilys Bidewell, which also has photos of the tables used, together with the film of the performance directed by James Bogle. This film can be found on Grey Suit Video Issue 4 1993  at 37:25. 

We kept each issue of this video magazine intact as each is a historical document. The full catalogue with links to each issue can be found here – Grey Suit Video Catalogue.

The contents pages preceding each video always give the time location for each contribution.

Grey Suit originated as a video magazine which ran to twelve issues – recording thirteen hours of material – performance art, poetry readings, installations, experimental film and music. The material was digitised from the masters by the BFI several years later.

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My Father

Aley Howell 1919-1945

x

FATHER
In memoriam Aley Howell
My father who died at child-birth
          far from his son. Now I run out of words
and climb the forests to lament him:
          here, he is precious, is air-currents,
pressures weighed in the leaves’ hands.
          An aroma tipped from bracted bowls, passed on
from stem to stem as his breath
          bends them. He is the callid, handy god
mother barred the house to at daybreak,
          who refuses. She found another man grew up,
their son, who loves at a distance
          him & her and his close sisters winding
in his head. But how he loses!
          Voices dent him where they can no entry stave.
All he leans back on lurches off.
          Astounded, as I grow closer his age,
I lament my father.
          He is much younger than his helpless son.
From Inside the Castle, Barrie & Rockliffe, The Cresset Press, London 1969
Born in Copenhagen, Eli Rosenbluth took his wife’s name and changed the spelling of his first name to Welsh-sounding Aley in order to serve overseas in REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) on returning from Australia where he had been interned at Hay – in the Australian outback – as a foreign alien, for the first three years of the war. He was sent to Australia on the infamous Dunera.

L + R – Gideon and Aley (Eli) Rosenbluth, Berlin.
When living in Australia in the eighties, I attempted to visit Hay and a sandstone feature nearby called The Walls of China. I never got there.
WHY I MAY NEVER SEE THE WALLS OF CHINA
As the road unrolls the plain
          light gets steadily worse:
The sun has left a stain
          like that of a crushed horse.
x
Less and less can be seen
          approaching an increasingly
Insect-spattered windscreen.
          On we go unceasingly
x
In one direction – ahead –
          pausing only to spend the night
On a hotel bed;
          but dressing before the light,
x
Eager to get there.
          As day enlarges,
Our little car
          splashes through mirages,
x
Underwings decamp
          hurriedly in a flock.
We rattle with each bump,
          Tilt away from the truck
x
Rushing towards and past us;
          wondering whether our fuel
And water will last us
          to the next meal
x
In a mining town,
          the next chamber
In which to put the head down,
          dream re-runs of camber
x
Littered with tyre-shells,
          sheep carcasses,
The crow’s wails
          and the parrot’s raucousness
x
When we go for a leak.
          Mostly we drive on
And on without a break
          across the plain.
x
‘Do not overtake
          on crests or curves’
Reads as a joke
          where the road never swerves
x
And there’s no one to race.
          All the road leads to is road.
Scarcely in one place,
          we are merely a load
x
Speeding from sign to sign
          – Stock, Dip, Grid –
Crossing the time-zone line
          as if on a desperate bid
x
To beat the clock,
          melt the road’s edges,
Where gourds bake
          among the weeds’ smudges
x
Of merging greenery,
          while the middleground
Shifts its scenery
          before that profound
x
Place in the distance
          where the trees preserve
Their motionless existence
          at a far remove
x
From the dust in our wake,
          the tumbleweed ahead,
The thirst we cannot slake
          To be either quick or dead.
x
An axle pulls to the left;
          a shoulder-blade starts aching;
The mind keeps going soft,
          or shudders on awaking
x
To the fact of having slept,
          if only for a second,
As the swift road swept
          how many yards unreckoned
x
Under the bonnet?
          Having come this far,
We rest for a minute
          out of the car;
x
It being extraordinary
          simply to stare
At some quite ordinary
          corner of nowhere.
x
Best not to linger though,
          given we’ve got
Some distance to go
          in order to get
x
Within sight of the walls.
          Keen to arrive
Before night falls,
          we continue our drive.
x
Then the road alters:
          wheels choose a rut.
Minuscule creatures
          easily squashed flat,
x
Over and over,
          we roll to a stop.
Have we killed each other?
          Both of us stand up.
x
Hurled from our route,
          more lucky than bruised,
Where branches hang mute
          on a road seldom used,
x
We have ended up facing
          the opposite way
In the staved casing
          hired for a holiday.
x
Turned around and sent
          back the way we came,
Our destination bent
          by a fluke from a larger game.
x
So perhaps we tried to bite off
          more than we could chew:
Leaving behind a write-off,
          I sit across from you
x
As we trundle home over the plain,
          whether or not we please;
Glimpsing, from the train,
          animals still as trees.
x
From Why I may Never See the Walls of China, Anvil, London 1986
Aley’s diary
Aley kept a comprehensive diary of his time in the internment camp. He also kept the zoo at Hay, and he brought back a big lizard which escaped in the blackout at Waterloo Station as he was about to give it to his future wife Deborah (a government veterinary surgeon) for safe-keeping. It was eventually re-captured and this picture by Aley epitomises his “dragon” and his adoption of a Welsh identity (safer than being identifiably Jewish during WW2).

x

Deborah Howell – by Aley

Could this be a photo of Hay camp?

Aley and the motor-cycle with sidecar – on which he was killed in an accident, serving as an officer in REME, Naples 1945 (a few weeks before his son was born).
NEAR CLOUDS HILL
He flew over my bonnet like a super-hero.
I had hoped to circumvent the queue
By making a u-turn. Well, it’s down to me,
x
But they will hog the hump of the road
As if their tires unrolled the line.
Near Bovington, some ten days on,
x
I just avoid two dawdling boys
On bicycles beyond a rise.
When T. E. Lawrence flew off his
x
He ended up garrotted by barbed wire.
My father’s had a bad rep with its side-car.
He scowls in front of it in uniform,
x
Then takes off for the Opera or for Paestum
In 1945.  I wonder whether those boys
Are alive, or the ghosts of dead bikers?
x
From Silent Highway, Anvil, London 2014
Aley as experimental photographer:

x

Aley on Erica – Deborah’s horse – at Upshire – her mother’s home on the edge of Epping Forest. Probably taken the last time they were together – before he went with REME to Naples in 1944 – from where he never returned.

UPSHIRE
After I was born the side that had to stand
On its own against them was back full of swords
Where he was the next of the lost. The duck drank in the wild and she
Was painted by Scott but not in a tree.
x
The forest was committed over a church mound ago,
And so the white weather-boarded house is part
Of a short line of houses crowning the brow
Of Horseshoe Hill. Would my father’s name
x
Climb the tree to an ancestor?
I was standing there on my small stone,
Born in a gazebo where I must have failed in daughters
And all the leather-bound years that hoard
x
A suicide view of the barn. On the edge of Epping Forest,
There was a walnut once, my son; and if you could climb to the top
Of it you would get a view of Boadicea’s monument.
There is the small stone gazebo standing on its own in a field
x
Where her horses failed her and her daughters
Drank the poison first, in front of her, and round the back
Of the white weather-boarded house
There used to be an old black weather-boarded barn
x
And round the back of that a mound, I think,
Where I was sure I had found her hoard of rusted swords.
Swords they were not. With hindsight I guess
They must have been farm implements, but served the child
x
I was as swords, and in the white
Weather-boarded house next to ours
There was a ceiling full of birds. I know that
Saint Walnut of Epping died so Hitler could be stopped.
x
I have been in Boadicea’s monument of swords.
Are they still there, I wonder – wild duck in flight
Painted by the son of Scott who died in the Antarctic?
Hitler was born on my birthday and committed suicide
x
Ten days after I was born in 1945.
My father served. His name’s engraved in stone
On the side of Saint Thomas’s porch.
He had died just before Hitler though, lost in one black month.
x
The church was built a little over a hundred years ago
By a Buxton ancestor. I was a child who died of joy
In a field of white. That month engraved
In hindsight with swords was used against Hitler in 1945,
x
And if I poison the birds a round house by the hill
Of a hundred leather-bound horses implements the wonder
Of Thomas’s horseshoe and of all my weather-boarded houses
Built round the back of the Antarctic.
x
Ten sure days to get to it by stone. I think a Buxton rusted once.
The lost farm found the little guess I stopped.
The porch is part of the joy that should have been there
Crowning a birthday, had he not been lost.
x
And did she stand on a brow before a frontline of short swords
As were there of old?  He and I know that first
You should edge them though. Are the swords still there?
In that weather-boarded house the ceiling was on top of her.
x
From Songs of Realisation, High Window Press, London 2019

Boadicea’s monument, Upshire, Essex
Aley and Deborah were socialists, whereas his father and his uncle were prominent Zionists. I have engaged with their relationship, and with my own experiences in regard to Israel in two prose works:
The Best Deborah Stories, Manubook, London 2015.

Painting by Dilys Bidewell – which I used on the cover for The Best Deborah Stories
Consciousness (with Mutilation) – Odd Volumes, The Fortnightly Review, Les Brouzils 2019 – click here for details

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Three Dance Innovators

Hagit Bar-Fleming
Hagit Bar

Hagit Bar, an Israeli dancer, created a dance work – A Space to Imagine – for The Room, my space in Tottenham in 2006 – as part of a short festival of Poetry, Art and Performance: Art across the Middle East. A choreographer who has performed at The Place in Resolution, at the Laban Centre, in Barcelona, Portugal and Israel, she has conducted numerous seminars in dance.  She has been interested in the notion of occupation as it might be applied to a dancer’s actions, though of course the term can equally be applied to a territory.  Her work takes on strenuous repetitions that become arrested.  For this piece she creates a series of movement “snapshots” –  brief, concise episodes of physical expression.  Sometimes there is a sense of entrapment about her movements. Further work can be found on Youtube.

Rosella Pellicciotti – photo B F Mamaj

Rosella Pellicciotti is a member of the Albanian Dance Theatre Company. Here is an improvisation. The improvisation is accompanied by this quotation – “There are neither major nor minor tragedies. Tragedies exist. Some can be described. There are others for which every heart is too small. Those kinds cannot fit in the heart.” – Sarajevo Blues. This dance work is distinctive for its adept use of rhythm – which is all too often neglected in contemporary dance practice. Pellicciotti works with both dance and performance art and created interesting performances with others at the Paris Summer Academy 2018. Further work can be found on Youtube.

Milica Vukovic Smart

Milica Vukovic has extended her dance practice into a performative arena sometimes interacting with other art – as with the sketches she created for an exhibition by Mark Williams at the Room. More recently her dance work has become engaged in gardening. As a volunteer gardening assistant at Chiswick House in 2019 she created a Disfocus – a short film where her actions are now integrated into those associated with the cultivation and maintenance of a garden – in this case, a very large one. Further work can be found on Vimeo.

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‘Ceasefire’ and ‘The Cross of Carl’

Last night I watched “Ceasefire” (Cessez-le-feu) directed by Emmanuel Courcol, starring Romain Duris, Celine Sallete and Gregory Gadebois. This French film explores the lives of French soldiers traumatised by bombardment in the trenches of Verdun. Those few who returned ostensibly intact nevertheless suffered from irreparable shell shock, nightmares, the shakes. Many remained unfit for life, unable to participate in normal life. Marcel Laffont, one of these survivors is unable to speak and is being taught sign-language in order to express himself. Towards the end of the film, he manages to leave a message on the blackboard hanging in his room. There is nothing wrong with his vocal chords. It is simply that for Marcel it is “impossible” to be one who has returned alive from this tragic slaughter, a slaughter impossible to speak about, that renders Marcel himself unable to speak about anything ever again.

Watching this film, I began to understand more about the unique role of The Cross of Carl – which Grey Suit Editions UK have just published.

Walter Owen, the Argentine author of The Cross of Carl, attempted to enlist in WW1 – but was refused, being already blind in one eye. He spent much of the war in a sanatorium, traumatised by this refusal, and in a strange state of empathy with those serving at the front. As is shown in the author’s note prefacing the tale that he calls “an allegory”, opium may have contributed to a hallucinogenic episode he experienced – a vision, if you will – that caused him to feel that he was possessed by the spirit of a German soldier in the trenches who was about to participate in a dawn attack. He then wrote his account of the sufferings undergone by this soldier in one sitting, in a sort of frenzy of the imagination – and this extraordinary fiction (which he felt was more of a haunting than a fiction) is the result.

Now the reader may question the authenticity of this “vision” – but perhaps Walter Owen’s work has a validity that transcends experience – since, as Marcel Laffont testifies on his board, the actual experience is “impossible” to speak of, since it is an impossibility (spiritually speaking) to have survived the savagery of such massacres, impossible to speak, let alone speak of the horror itself. Certainly this is the view of General Sir Ian Hamilton – who introduces this allegory: ‘There is something to be explained which I at least cannot explain in the sudden appearance of a book from the Argentine by a man who, I believe, had never seen modern war with mortal eye and who yet manages to divest himself of all the paraphernalia and impedimenta of the old wars (which must have become more or less familiar to him in his youth) so as to visualize the attack on Hill 50 with a stark, concentrated realism which has been attempted, and yet not conveyed as he has conveyed it, by Tomlinson, Remarque, Barbusse and half a dozen other really first-flight authors.

With this in mind, it is interesting to compare Walter Owen with Wilfred Owen, and perhaps Walter’s star has been eclipsed by the reality described that that poet who died in the conflict. But it is not a question of asserting some value judgement, of disapproving of a work of the imagination while preferring “the real thing”. Both lived experience and the life of the imagination have a role to play in literature.

Walter Owen’s text has a visceral power, an intense texture that seems to me a precursor of the sort of dense physical language handled so brilliantly later by Norman Mailer in Why we are in Viet Nam. It is a language that draws on all sensory inputs – smell, taste, touch, as well as sight and sound. While created solely out of sight and sound, Emmanuel Courcol’s film works hard to convey the Verdun bombardment of the trenches in a way that evokes these senses unavailable to the screen, and I found watching it a powerful experience. Whether imagined or experienced, what all these works bring home is that active military service can leave the strongest spirit traumatised, unable to settle back into the humdrum wage-earning ways of ‘civvy street’. Many of those we pass in today’s streets, huddled under a flattened cardboard box, or at best lying on a damp urine-stained mattress by the underground station, are ex-service personnel: brave spirits, wrecked by some order they were obliged to obey, or some atrocious act that has to remain a secret.

The Cross of Carl

 

See also Dreadful as the Abortions of an Angel my essay on the literature of war published in the Fortnightly Review.

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Iliassa Sequin: Collected Complete Poems

Iliassa Sequin’s unique way of writing is at last available in a publication from Grey Suit Editions

More details about her work and her life here

Now available on Amazon and on Abebooks.

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Less than a Day from April

Winter's Not Gone

BALLAD

Less than a day from April,

The wax white, compact

Hyacinth is up.

And petals in a sky

x

Trailing a fringe of drizzle,

Cling to the gusty almond.

Daffodil clumps are swept

Like weed combed by a brook.

x

The loam underfoot is mish-mash

Pasted over with oakleaf.

Knocked-about drives with potholes

Go where the barns moulder.

x

Pert above waterlogged gravel,

Blue tits flit at table;

Woodpeckers cheerfully hammer

Cantankerous morning together.

x

Lichen stains the leeside

Of boles near draughty marshes

Where nothing but walkable tussocks

And adequate boots make a passage.

x

Anchored by only their shadows

Cast on the fields’ floor,

Armadas of cumulus-nimbus

Ride in the sun’s glare.

*    *    *

From the mildewed seams of a rag-doll’s

Ill-stitched, lenient thighs,

Rotting apart since August

By the concrete military road,

x

Hair sprouts as the shoots do;

Minuscule ivy glides

Among the fizzy parsleys

And the embryonic grasses.

x

Less than a day from April,

Odd leaves are stuck

Where they first were blown

Onto the hedges: a hawk

x

Spies upon pasture edged

By birches lozenge-clad

In criss-cross net,

And spangled at the garter;

x

Lifting a sheer leg,

Stretching into the fingers

Of twigs turning red

Behind the trim estate.

x

Caught in the wrecked masts

Of last year’s thistles,

Aghast blown skirls

Spill from the rear trestles

x

In gardens back to back:

Radio 1 and a chain-saw

Attack and counter-attack

Children curdling blood;

x

While tendrilly vibrations

With dwarf orange balls

Offset brick walls

And camouflage the eyesore.

x

But garages padlock hardware;

For Primrose Way’s Elect,

City-employed and gerbilled,

Are all too easily burgled.

*    *    *

Less than a day from April,

The ‘pressure cooker’ effect

Builds in the twigs and the neighbour

Just on the brink of sobriety.

x

A hedgerow high society,

Less than an hour from the centre;

Saved by its Alps and Bahamas

From merely English winter.

x

A countrified sort of urbanity,

Seen on a dark afternoon

As the stamp of our national sanity.

Prunus blossom in porcelain

x

Falls on the splintering ice there

Beneath its unglazed biscuit

On the sideboard where each sits it,

Which is actually not Formica.

x

From a pamphlet published by John Welch’s Many Press in 1984 with a wonderful cover by Peter Tingey. I have just a few copies left.

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The Sarah Maguire Prize Announcement on Zoom

The Poetry Translation Centre invites you to attend the announcement of the winner of the Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation.
Incomprehensible Lesson by Fawzi Karim, translated by Anthony Howell is among the five books short-listed.

Join the shortlisted poets, translators and publishers live on Zoom for conversation, readings and find out the inaugural prize winner.


 SAVE THE DATEThursday 25 March, from 5pm GMTWinner announcement at 6pm

The public can watch here: I think at 7.30 pm on Youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_i8uBSvbhc

Click here for further links to books by Fawzi Karim and essays about him 

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Grey Suit Editions – two new publications!

There are two new publications by Grey Suit Editions UK. Collected Complete Poems by Iliassa Sequin and The Cross of Carl by Walter Owen.

Thanks to Peter Jay, Ken Sequin, Peter Gizzi, Catherine Somers and everyone who has contributed expertise and time to these two projects we are very pleased to have published.

Scroll down the Grey Suit Editions Blog for details about more of our publications – including our chap-books. The stock of our chapbooks is being mailed from Canada, where they were originally printed and stored, and all will be available shortly.

More details about Iliassa Sequin here.

More details about Walter Owen here.

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