Meandering through La Belle Epoque


Vuillard Interior

Two contributions have come out at the same time (essay and poems).

SO – here is my new essay in the Fortnightly Review   It’s a celebration of a time that is an inspiration to me.

AND – please note – in the same issue here is a link to my versions of thirteen poems by the Comtesse de Noailles

Anna, Comtesse de Noailles by Jean Louis Forain.

And here is a link to the Comtesse de Noailles website

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Earthquakes and Milkshakes

As there is to everything,
There is a fitness to grandad
Fleeing a delighted boy.
Miniscule petlets of alyssum
Compliment overweight orchids.
Condos trump the ancient bay.
Drums of stone stacked
One by one on top
Of each other, as in a game,
Exist to be brought down
As Shiva mediates between
Hera and Poseidon.
Thus one is, ironically,
Made whole by fragmentation.
Faith in the species returns
When no one has a clue
As to which cult evolved this flute
Out of someone’s bone.
An antelope
Rendered here in silhouette
Grazes next to Acteon
While he is worried apart
By his frenzied hounds who dream
They seize a stag and pull him down.
Mediterranean surges
Well up in the tympanum
Together with the breeze.
Viaducts will fall
Into the trees.
And me, I could murder an ice-cream.


Selinunte 2020
Selinunte was an ancient Greek city on the south-western coast of Sicily in Italy. Its mighty ruins remain, situated between the valleys of the Cottone and Modione rivers. 
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J-L Forain’s take on Verlaine’s Poem



Paris being not a spit
Worth spittin, I am gonna split.
But ‘ow my soul’s a poet’s innit,
Sundays when me gaff I quit,
The country’s bout as cool as shit.
The overland’s a wheelbarrer
Cartin’ us out past the suburbs
Into bits of blue for yer
Where the bubbly may not flow
But’s on the out an where we go.
She puts on er Snow-white frock
My white pipe’s what I gets out
Ain’t no shirt, but I got cuffs.
Helagance reigns. They oik out roughs
From where we likes to stroll about.
Ere we are, doll, how bout that?
Dozen oysters, same as Barrett’s,
Wenches like you get in tart shops,
Cos it’s just like home with Pops
Out on manoeuvres, gettit?
Seems my tool is what you covet.
Sure, I’ll sign an think nowt of it.
Better country than deported.
Even should it get me snorted,
Can’t be worse, just get it sorted.
Paul Verlaine 1844-1896


The poem came out in 1890, but was written around 1871 (time of the Franco-Prussian War – when Forain was a friend of Rimbaud and Verlaine). However it was wrongly given the title “A Rogue takes a Stroll in the Country” by Huysmans in his Modern Art. Forain did a notebook of watercolors inspired by each verse of this poem, and this is one of the two which survive. He also did this wonderful sketch of Rimbaud.

Rimbaud by Forain


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Shiva and my ‘Songs of Realisation’

photo by Dilys Bidewell

Many of my Indian readers (and others) may enjoy my most recent collection of poems – Songs of Realisation. These three long poems celebrate what is on the earth, what is below the earth and what is above the earth. At the time I wrote them I was immersed in Wendy Doniger’s book about Shiva.

The first poem is called Epping – the name of the forest close to where I live. The second is called Chauvet – after the prehistoric cave – and the third is called Hubble – after the telescope in orbit (the link to the poem is to the archive of the Journal of Poetics Research who first published it).

Shiva, the dancer, the epitome of equilibrium, is a leitmotif that threads through all of these poems. Here is the conclusion of Epping, as the sun goes down over a lake in the forest, and Epping forest becomes one with all forests at night:


…The underground exposed, the overhead submerged;
The living interred and the buried re-appearing.
Red ripples cross the black shallows. Beyond,
There’s a darker ink to the depths. The trees are arterial webs,
Delicate as coral in the enlarging glow. Again, there’s a violent
Beating – rapid approach from a neighbouring inlet.
The neck is spear or trumpet, sounding its attack.
As this aggression is acted out, the cover thickens
Into night while embers glow within the water.
Stains of lichen deepen ashore. Distant flocks wheel tighter
Then come banking into spray. Crested and be-ruffed,
The duck drift closer to the sluice. Branches dip into reflections.
The shadow of the wood is encroaching on the sunset.
And sunset striped with silhouettes engenders fearsome tigers:
Tigers that slide through a forest from which
The night never departs. Evergreen night below the Himalayas;
Utterest dark its natural pelt; its fastnesses like dungeons;
Its pines erect; each needled bough secreting a tart odour.
Those that are felled will be contested. Mountainous
Taiga is sacred; massed against the brink of crags;
Nourishing the cordyceps and shading the azalea.
Wild legions of spruce. Chir pine, laurel and juniper,
Stands of fir and widening sweeps of cedar.
All sorts of spiky Chinese conifer. Night woods,
Where we venture in to milk it of its turpentine –
The terebinth – bleeding the trunk, or at least,
Making it ejaculate. Or do people get high on it?
Scales compacted, ripening its male or female seeds,
Cone-like consciousness expands and opens to release these.
The shape of the pineal gland resembles both the clitoris
And a cone. Located at the centre of our brain,
This primal eye belongs to our earliest Self.
It opens in his trance, with his seed about to spill
As the civet cat its spray, as the terebinth its resin.
Holly as ever stiff in the leaf, waxed to its spikes,
Indomitable, and wound about his antlers by the shaman:
He who can cure the headaches of elephants, woader
Of spirals and whorls, crescents, worms and the eyes of wolves,
With din drums to beat out the trances that dream up
The universe in the heads of foxes: many paws go dangling
From his groin. Renewing his strength in the instant
That he spends it, yet with the force of a thwarted urge,
He loiters in the pinewoods, poaches the verderers’ wives,
And loses his lingam in order that it may become
A universal promise of fertility, priapic wand and axle
Of infinity. All generation and seeding comes to a stop
Then quickens in the winter’s heart. Stretched across zero,
His drum-skin vibrates – the universe being that membrane.
So he makes a ring of stars: his drum creates creation
With the same step as his flame reduces it to ashes.
The instant passes. “Now we are gamut and fulcrum
Joined in the clinch of space and time – game of a god
With his consort. Whenever we tremble with passion
The whole foundation trembles. Terrible omens arise –
A rain of bloody bones comes down, fierce winds blow,
Comets fall, and no one reads the Vedas. Once we created
Creatures prone to immortality: creatures like ourselves,
Blazing, blazing with energy, carrying skulls and drinking Soma,
Their seed drawn up in chastity, each having thousands of eyes,
Of such terrible gaze no one could look upon them:
Great tigers of great power – projecting endless desire.
Now, though, we undo desire by giving you the enjoyment:
Drink, and thirst is gone; spout, and spouting’s done.”
All over the earth, as the sun goes down,
Lakes and ponds turn gold. A flaming drop has entered them.
Molten water matches sky and the clouds like islands
Floating there, while islands nesting underneath
Are clouds adrift on flame. Rings where a duck has dived
Or a fish has leapt interconnect as a female sun
Tosses her last wild locks at the night. Then serpents
Writhe across silver. Deer come to drink. And a tiger
Crouches by the bank, lapping up the moonlight.


The book is available from the outlets below. It also contains poems about Tottenham, where I live, in London, and poems inspired by my childhood.

Realisation front cover

Click Link to High Window Press for sales details (by scrolling down for my books on the link High Window Press).  This title can also be purchased from Tangoshiva on Ebay.
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Painted Pallets, June 2020.





















Painted pallets 41-60 (May 2020)

Painted pallets 21-40 (April 2020)

Painted pallets 1-20 (March 2020)

This brings my sequence of painted pallets to a close. By “pallets” I mean the sheets of cartridge paper I have beside me when I paint figurative water-colours – to test brushstrokes, paint load etc. I have now used up all the pallets I have kept. Further details concerning the project can be found at the end of the other links.

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Poor faun, who must expire,
Reflect me in your pupils.
Take my memory to dance
For my dark immortals.
Go, and tell those pensive dead
For whom my pranks were a joy so rare,
I dream of them beneath the yews
Where I walk, petite and near.
Describe my air, my brow so vivid,
Bound by woollen bandelettes;
How firm my mouth is, fingers plump
And redolent of grass and privet.
Tell them of my weightless moves
As various as the shadow play
That teeters through the living leaves
Innumerable in pearmen’s groves.
You can include the lazy look
That slows my eyelids, almost sullen,
How I do my evening dance
In a dress the breeze has swollen.
Whisper to them how I nap,
My bare arms folded underneath
My cheek, my skin with hint of gold
Admitting veins of violet.
Say how sweet it is to see
My hair as blue as plums can be
And how each foot reflects the other,
How the moon invades each eye.
And how, when dusk weighs sad and gloomy,
Cast down by the cool of springs
And aching for them and their love,
In vain I pull their shadows to me.


Comtesse Anna de Noailles (1876-1933)
Painting by Philip de Lazlo, completed 1913. Version by Anthony Howell


Had she been reading Andrew Marvell? The Nymph Complaining for the death of her Faun.
The original is below:


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Joris-Karl Huysmans on Modern Art


One of my favourite authors! His views on Modern Art are at last translated by Brendan King (Dedalus, 2020).

Tim Keane has an excellent article about this in Hyperallergic – a very good art site. And I also review Brendan King’s book in my essay in the Fortnightly Review Meandering through La Belle Epoch.


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A Cloud Garden for Bruce Grove

Petition to make a Cloud Garden in Luke Howard’s House – The ‘Namer of Clouds’ resided in Bruce Grove, off Tottenham High Street. Here is a poem Goethe wrote to him.

When, from the water’s quiet mirror,
A mist floats off like a carpet
And the moon, wrapped in its undulations,
Revels in their haunted, haunting play,
Then we are pleased as children;
Watching it lift up the mountain,
Deepen and then spread,
Bar after bar, to become the sort
Of lowering sky that can go either way:
Soak us or pass on, overhead.
And if from there it should be raised
Up to a thinner atmosphere
How firmly based, how crisp it seems,
Towering, gathering all its splendour
For a proclamation on the plenitude of power
(Since what we fear may well be our fate).
We tremble in the shadow of its threatening.
Say it climbs higher still;
The threat now utterly removed
Into a heavenly lightness,
A mere something there that dissolves
Ever so softly; less than a patter of fleeces
Moving, deliciously combed,
Upwards from below, towards
Their Shepherd, into his lap and hand.
Yet all must be brought down
By the weight of our world.
Pierced, when dense and very large,
The stack must thunderously
Discharge, as armies do that roll out
In splendid array only to disintegrate;
The earth then receiving their remains.
But keep the eye on where it frays,
Describing what comes down while feeling
That it’s upwards we should always gaze.
After Goethe –  stratus, cumulus, cirrus, nimbus
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I Believe in Bill

People may dismiss my distrust of Bill Gates as conspiratorial, but wouldn’t I be even more spooky if I were to endorse his projects?  This thought inspired the following poem:
I believe in Bill because he’s right.
We are the plague in ourselves. We are the locusts
As much as actual locusts are. As a field
Has to lie fallow for a year, so a species
Needs to die back. So he’s right
To bequeath us such inoculation as ensures
That infertility will dog our children,
Which is as it should be, ask Greta,
And she’ll say that’s what Uncle George says too.
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Painted Pallets, May 2020…










painted pallet 51












Continuation of my painted pallets – the sheets of cartridge paper I use to test brush loads and marks when I paint figurative watercolours. From limiting myself to adding one colour only per pallet, I have moved on to occasional use of white as well, and, in the latest ones, to adding no colour whatsoever, just adding water, using the pigment already on the paper.

Viewers are welcome to rotate the images.

Click the links below for earlier watercolours in the series:

Painted pallets 21-40 (April 2020) 

Painted pallets 1-20 (March 2020)

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