Thursday, 23 July 2009

A Relaxed Day

So, the alarm went off at 7am, so that I might get up, pull my ecru-coloured hessian meditation robe about me, make some fresh lemon verbena tea and do half an hour of zazen before breakfast.

That was the plan. In fact, I went straight back to sleep, and I dreamed a dream. I was living in an alternate universe in which Shakespeare, rather than being a historical person living from 1564-1616, was a kind of ectoplasmic disembodied poetic cuckoo. He would appear through other poets over the centuries and use them to dictate his work. So imagine how surprised I was when---just as Yeats and I were really getting into discussing A Vision by the fire in Dublin---Antony and Cleopatra came through all unbidden, and poor old William Butler had to spend the next two hours in a trance, writing the damn thing out.

My dream was interrupted by the cleaner knocking on my bedroom door, having let herself into my flat. 'Ghaaurhhh!' screamed I, jolted awake and realising to my horror that it was 9.51am. (I had been up till after 2 last night, reading A Guide to Chaucer's Language, so I have some excuse.) I staggered out of bed, the nice Polish cleaning lady for her part got to work, and because I am obsessively tidy she was done before I'd drunk half of my breakfast tea. (Rooibos, as I like the taste.) More tea, then a brief round up of the blogosphere and email, until 10.45am--I'd normally be at this stage two hours earlier. I then read the proofs of an article of mine on late medieval Welsh poetry which comes out soon, and set to work writing a mini-lecture on the linguistic features of Middle English and multilingualism in medieval Britain. I've been taken on to teach the period 1300-1550 to the English second years next term, and, bugger me, I'm going to do it well if it kills me. I am engaged in a huge volume of reading to get my teaching up to scratch, and am determined to bring some Celtic knowledge to bear on the subject: for example, when writing on medieval drama I shall make sure my students are aware that there were miracle plays and dramatised saints' lives written in Cornish, which would look sophisticated in an exam.

Then I went to the college porters' lodge to check my post just after midday, wandering in through the college gardens. A copy of the late medieval Irish saga Cath Finntragha was waiting for me, as was a bottle of Tauer's extraordinary unisex fragrance L'Air du Desert Marocain. I'd bought the latter online, 'odour unsmelled' as it were, having read dozens of reviews, including a boundlessly impressed one from Tania Sanchez in the wonderful Perfumes: The Guide. I unscrewed the lid in the lodge, and my first feeling was instant rapture. It is exquisite: cedarwood, petitgrain, amber, vanilla, frankincense and styrax, with top notes of cumin. It's both warm and cold, clear and yet smoky. It's deeply sober and curiously uplifting, with a faint smell of a cool, austere old church in which incense has been recently burned. Wearing it, I feel like all my neurons are about to break out spontaneously into Spem in Alium.

I then opened a snotty letter from the bank (overdrawn by £20, slapped wrist for Bo) and wandered into town. I stopped by Galloway & Porter, where I bought Moby Dick and Don Quixote in the Oxford World's Classics series, along with Jan Morris' Europe, Notes from Underground and Between the Acts, plus John Felstiner's new, interesting-looking Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems. A sandwich and a coffee at Pret-a-Manger later, I went to the English Faculty to return a couple of books. Then at 2pm I went to a colleague's house to see my old PhD supervisor, who was in Cambridge for the day making maps for his forthcoming volume in the new OUP History of Wales series. The three of us had a delightful chat and catch-up for an hour or so, and I walked him to the train station. Then I came home, unpacked, catalogued and shelved my new volumes, made more Rooibos and did another two and a half hours' work on my (overdue) book. Then another spruce round the internet, more tea, and correspondence: I put a load of washing on, and then, dear reader, I sat down to write this. In a few minutes, I'm going to have a glass of wine and start dinner, having a DVD of Peter Hall's production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream to watch later over my pasta.

Tomorrow, up at 7am. For real, this time.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Collage 2

Each image is linked somehow to at least two others, but not in a rigidly schematic way.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Father David Heron

This is my favourite Anglican blog, that of the wonderful Maggie Ross aside. Fr David writes witheringly about a host of Anglican bogies and bugaboos, reserving his especial scorn for the bonkers Jensenites of the Sydney Diocese (above), amongst other targets. A damn good laugh, in other words, and the voice of a good man clinging on to sanity by the skin of his teeth.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Collage 1

In imitation of Guy Davenport's collages in A Balance of Quinces.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse

I'm reading through Stephen Coote's 1983 Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, now long out of print and terribly dated. (The title seems quaint.) It's rather a fusty volume, on the whole, but its strategy of including both gay male and lesbian verse in the same anthology pays dividends by acting as an illuminating witness to trends in recent cultural history. Few groups have less in common, in fact, than gay men and lesbians, and the ironies heat up at the end of the 20th century as the sexes go their different ways. As Camille Paglia wrote, absolutely accurately:

Gay male poetry is about energy, adventure, quest, danger, beauty and pleasure amidst secrecy, shame, and pain. Lesbian poetry, in contrast, prefers tender, committed relationships and often burdens itself with moralistic political messages.

(Vamps and Tramps, p. 227)

More of this later. It must be acknowledged that the challenges of producing such a volume as Coote's are fearsome. An anthology of this kind has to aspire to a catholic (pardon the irony) view of homosexuality: it must have the ambition to be simultaneously a diachronic and polyglot collection of spiritual wisdom, erotica, love-poetry, humorous verse, and social commentary. Also the hapless anthologist needs must adopt some stance towards the sterile and tiresome contemporary cultural debates about the supposed social construction of the homosexual. Is the gay individual a specific sub-variety of human being that has remained more or less constant transculturally over millennia? Or, conversely, is the concept of the homosexual something which has only sprung up since the coining of the word in the late 19th century, before which there was homosexual behaviour, but not homosexual persons? The line one takes affects the kind of poems one includes and they way in which they are deployed.

Fortunately, Cootes does not limit himself to self-identified queers or indulge in speculation about the sexuality of figures long-dead, making dubious biographical inferences from culturally-distant poetry. Instead, the volume consists of poems about homosexual life, love and desire, with the odd bit of scabrous anti-gay satire. (Surprising not to see the heterosexual Tony Harrison's ventriloquistic 'The White Queen' in there somewhere, though.) The question also arises of how far the anthologist has a responsibility to intervene in the pinched secessionism of contemporary identity politics, supressing aspects of the historical record which might currently be deemed politically incorrect: I was pleased to see that the spicy, frankly pederastic epigrams of the Greek Anthology, for example, rightly make up a substantial part of the collection. (On a further Greek note, however, Coote has mystifingly chosen an antiquated 17th century translation for the two Idylls of Theocritus which he includes, possibly for copyright reasons; we miss all of Theocritus' sophisticated mixture of freshness and urbanity. Similarly the extract from Homer is taken from Alexander Pope's 1720 translation. You have written a pretty poem, Mr Pope...etc.)

The pre-modern contents of the anthology are excellent. Sappho is well-represented by Mary Barnand's translucent versions, but where is the exquisite fr. 31, φαίνεταί μοι?! This is a poem which has a good claim to being the most famous and influential of all surviving Greek lyrics, as well as being an piercingly acute psychological study of the jealousy and unrequited love germane to homosexual experience. It should be in there, at the front.

The medieval section is excellent: I was delighted to see the late 12th century 'Altercatio Ganymedis et Helene' included. A deliciously naughty mythological debate about the respective merits of homosexual and heterosexual love, the poem is a salutory reminder of the unexpected richness of medieval sexual discourses. As expected, we then segue into Michaelangelo, Marlowe, and Shakespeare's master-mistress: and then on through ribald Rochester and stately old Katherine Phillips, the 'Matchless Orinda', with a couple of tame poems of passionate female friendship, through to Coleridge's lesbian vampire B-movie, 'Christabel', although not enough is quoted to really get a sense of its feverish, underwired-nightie quality. On the way there is a thank-you note in verse from Wordsworth to the famed 'Ladies of Llangollen', models for many a later pair of upper-crust old dykes, saluting them as 'Sisters in love'. (Rather sweetly, they had a lapdog called Sappho.) Here they are:

Like more and more of the book as it heads towards the present, Wordsworth's poem is interesting as a social document but of no aesthetic merit.

Once we get into the 19th century, there are some treasures: Hopkins contributes 'mansexfine', and there is enough Whitman and Dickinson, Tennyson (in mopey 'In Memoriam' mode, of course), Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Housman. Whitman's 'We Two Boys Together Clinging' from Leaves of Grass is the only poem in the book I already had by heart:

We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going—North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying—elbows stretching—fingers clutching,
Arm’d and fearless—eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning—sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming—air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.

How I wish I'd had someone on the ball to recite this to at, say, 21, when I could still have referred to myself as a 'boy' without anyone invoking the Trade Descriptions Act at me. Anyway. The socialist visionary and all-round good egg Edward Carpenter gets a look in: sadly, whatever of Whitman's might have rubbed off on Carpenter, poetic talent wasn't part of it; Carpenter's prosy, worthy efforts are doomed for evermore to languish, I fear, upon the lower slopes of Parnassus. Pierre Louÿs' dreadful Chansons de Bilitis, on the other hand, deserve a mention: humid bits of faux-Sappho (passed off upon publication in 1894 as translations of newly-discovered works by a contemporary of the 'Tenth Muse' herself) they have names like 'The Breasts of Mnasidika', which sounds like an episode of Star Trek:

Carefully, with one hand, she opened her tunic
and tendered me her breasts, warm and sweet,
just as one offers the goddess a pair
of living turtle-doves. 'Love them well', she said to me,
'I love them so! They are little darlings,
little children. I busy myself with them
when I am alone. I play with them; I pleasure them.
'I sprinkle them with milk. I powder them with flowers.
I dry them with my fine-spun hair, soft
to their little tips. I caress them and I shiver.
I couch them in soft wool. Since I shall never have a child,
be their nursling, o my love, and since
they are so distant from my mouth, kiss them, sweet, for me.'

It's all a bit too reminiscent of a Pirelli Calendar for me.

The 20th century makes up over a quarter of the book, as it should, but on the whole top-rate stuff is depressingly uncommon. There are noble exceptions: Cocteau, Pasolini, and Genet do brief but sterling service, but the likes of Frank O'Hara and Thom Gunn get scant look-in, and the absence of Langston Hughes is also puzzling. (Thank God, however, that we have been spared any extracts from John Ashbery's interminable Flow Chart, a poem the reading of which feels like spending hours and hours in a resthome with a senile relative because you want to get something in their will.) On the other hand, Olga Broumas (born 1949) has some richly sensual lesbian numbers, of which more would have been good:

liturgies shake our room, amaryllis blooms
in your upper thighs, water lily
on mine, fervent delta

the bed afloat, sheer
linen billowing
in the wind: Nile, Amazon, Mississippi.

(from Leda and Her Swan)

Coote's anthology inexplicably misses out Hart Crane, whose work I find difficult but which I love nevertheless, and includes only an absurd humorous lyric from W. H. Auden, who surely deserved better, loathe him though I do. The absence of the homoerotic Russian acmeist and bisexual Mikhail Kuzmin is also puzzling. Instead we have Alan Ginsberg at his most enrapturedly boring, attempting in 'Please Master' to evoke a good seeing-to, in long punctuation-free lines of toe-curling (b)anality. The single poem from Federico García Lorca--inevitably the 'Ode to Walt Whitman'--underlines the basically anglocentric nature of the volume, though Cavafy, whom I find a very patchy poet, fares better with nine poems included. But where, where are some of Lorca's wonderful Sonetos del Amor Oscuro, which are at once passionate love poems recalling the poetics of the Spanish siglo de oro, and also--perhaps--precisely-coded symbolic accounts of particular sexual acts? Try this:

Gongoran Sonnet in which the Poet Sends a Dove to His Beloved

I send this dove from Tuna to you.
With its endearing eyes and whitest feathers
it spreads love's fire, and also proffers
the Grecian laurel that the flames consume.

Its honest virtue and its supple throat
twice soiled by slime and scalding foam---
its tremors, frost and misty pearls combined---
bespeak the absence of your mouth. But wait,

just run your hands across its purity
and you will know its snowy melody,
as snowflakes swirl about and cloud your beauty.

Such is my heart---by night and through the day
deprived of you it cries pure melancholy,
imprisoned in dark love that will not die.

Ahem. That's phone sex with poems, that.

Anyway--there's plenty of Paglia's moralistic political self-burdening from the lesbian contingent. Judy Grahn's poem 'A History of Lesbianism' concludes, with prosaic stolidity:

The subject of lesbianism
is very ordinary; it's the question
of male domination that makes everybody

Not just ordinary: but boring too, and in Grahn's formulation, a bit desolate; she is a poet who descibes 'women-loving-women' with choice lines like--

they made love to each other
as best they knew how

--as though the two chicks going at it were trying to assemble an intransigent piece of furniture or make authentic Chinese food. (It reminds me of Jeanette Winterson's aphorism 'Sex between women is mirror geography', which irresistably brought to mind glacial morraines and the formation of oxbow lakes.) But when the boys are spouting rubbish like James Mitchell's 'Gay Epiphany' ('o Cowper's glands, secreting a slimy substance which functions as a lubricant!'), and Adrienne Rich is growling about ' vampires, / victimized hirelings bending to the lash...', one is greatful for sweaty yet artistically-sophisticated poems like the extract from Edward Lucie-Smith's 'Caravaggio Dying', and for the humour of an anonymous Chaucer parody from 1970:

Ther was also a povre closet queane.
he was ryght olde and somdel balde, I wene,
But whilom had he bene a youth-leadere,
That is to seyn a manner scoutmastere.
His studie was Dan Platoun and Socrate.
For wommens matters yaf he not a fart.
His fantasie was on lyf monastic
With divers choiristerres pederastic.
It werre not, thoucht he, by copulacion
T'encrees and eke to multiplye the nacioun...

So, in all, a worthy volume, and one worth owning: but, twenty five years on and in a less shrill political climate, the time has come for Penguin to be bold and commission a new version. It would be good to see Carol Ann Duffy's work, much of which is of better quality than anything in Coote's final forty pages; and Cathal Ó Searcaigh--the only prominent gay poet writing in Irish--would bring a densely lyrical, controversial and non-anglophone element. (Some attempt to grapple with the immense heritage of Chinese and Japanese poetry on homosexual themes would also be welcome.) Finally, it must be noted that the present volume reads oddly because it was published before the AIDS crisis broke, so that the picture of gay life painted in its last pages, redolent though they are of the orgiastic 70s bathhouse-scene, seems oddly innocent. With sorrow, the modern reader can sense, as it were, Gunn's 1992 'The Man With Night Sweats', waiting to be anthologised, hovering ghostlike just beyond the final pages.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

L'Amour de Loin, Kaija Saariaho, ENO

I feel ill-suited to discuss music when there are bloggers out there like my colleague Mark Berry, over at the learned and insanely frequently updated Boulezian, and the composer-arranger Nico Muhly, at his own eponymous and marvellously hip blog.

But what the hell. I've never been backward about coming forward.

I nipped down to the ENO at the London Coliseum yesterday for the contemporary Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's opera L'Amour de Loin, 'Love from Afar'. Now, possibly there is no more self-indulgent pleasure than going to an artistic event on one's own. (Well, there is: spending the kids' inheritance on amassing a collection of Edwardian pornography; taking a half-bottle of spirits and a box of chocs into the back-row of the cinema; going on a seesaw after the age of thirty---that kind of thing.) But personally, once in a while, I rather like the anonymity of just appearing in work clothes at something, watching, and then disappearing again, just as I enjoy walking round foreign cities on my tod.

That said, being a simple soul with no musical training, I must confess that I still find opera a difficult medium: the penetrating, aggressive loudness of the voices, the complex and sophisticated hybridity of the artform, and the relative rarity of extended passages of simple beauty all tend to mean that I find it heavy going. As an adolescent, I recall that I used to find the sound of operatic singing horrendously ugly, at once shrill and overblown; my opera-obsessed parents, on the other hand, could never understand how I could tolerate the repetition and microtonal melismas of eastern music, or what I think they saw as the iciness of medieval and medieval-inspired music, both of which I love passionately. Well, just as in poetry I find Pauline Stainer's work, with its elusive, neo-medieval flashes, far more beautiful than, say, Pound's hermetic monumentalism, in music my natural tastes are similar: I find the piercing, austere textures of David Lang's recent Little Matchgirl Passion, for example, far more straightforwardly 'beautiful' than the mystifying surfaces of a lot of grand opera, which I just haven't got the critical tools to understand.

Fortunately, we can all expand our natural tastes, and I've grown out of expecting easily-assimilable aural loveliness out of a night out. (Thank God--otherwise I'd be listening to the cardamom-scented sugariness of Lakmé for the rest of my life.) But I still feel on the back foot with music, so you--learned readers--will have to bear with my ignorance.

L'Amour de Loin tells what would be a great love-story if the lovers actually met for more than five minutes. There are only three characters: two 'lovers', the (historical) medieval French prince and troubadour, Jaufré Rudel, and a French Countess in exile in Tripoli---plus an ambiguously-motivated Pilgrim who brings about their 'love from afar', crisscrossing the sea to tell the one about the other. The theme is what was known to medieval Irish litterateurs, incidentally, as sercc écmaise, 'love of one absent', the lineaments of which Welsh aficionados will recognise in the story of Culhwch, in which the young hero falls in love with the beautiful Olwen merely by hearing her name. Our troubadour and courtly lover Jaufré Rudel imagines an ideal lover far across the sea, dedicating songs and poems to her; he learns from the mysterious Pilgrim that such a woman, the Countess, indeed exists, 'fair without the arrogance of beauty, noble without the arrogance of nobility, devout without the arrogance of piety.' Meanwhile, the Pilgrim returns to the Countess, and tells her of the far-off poet in her homeland who sings of her beauty with heartbroken passion, though he has never seen her. In the second half of the opera, Jaufré travels across the Mediterranean to meet his idealised love, who experiences passionate anxiety about her own worthiness of such a rarefied devotion: 'I, troubadour, am only beautiful when reflected in your words', sings the Countess Clémence, 'The songs you sing caress me more than a kiss.' As the Guardian's critic noted, 'When Jaufré arrives, he is close to death, and the couple have just the time to declare their love for each other before he expires, leaving Clémence to mourn what she has lost, or possibly never had.' Questions of idealised love, obsession, of worthiness and unworthiness flicker around Amin Maalouf's libretto, dismayingly prosaic in English translation.

Saariaho's densely-woven music with its iridescent orchestral shimmers and pastelly chiaroscuro was rather wonderful. 'Ting!' went the ?glockenspiel, fluddleluddleluddle went the harp, as the strings and off-stage chorus evoked shifting patterns of light. It all sounded rather like the northern lights look: waves of delicate, evanescent colours, all slowly blurring and fading, never holding one form. Daniele Finzi Pasca's staging tried to harness the same kind of effect with great undulations of coloured silk: as the opera got started, a huge billow of blue-grey semi-transparent fabric was fluttered down over the stalls and pulled to the back of the stage---which would have given a marvellous impression of subaqueous light and ungraspable, spectral delicacy if it hadn't awkwardly snagged on a light-fitting and audibly ripped.

Pasca, whose background is in 'new wave' circus dance, faced down the problem of having only three characters by tripling everyone, so that Jaufré, Clémence and the Pilgrim each have two separate 'souls', who drift around the place in the form of dancers and acrobats. (I'm not sure this was exploited to the full, as it was often merely confusing: periodically, Clémence's second soul ran on and off dressed as a bride, like Catherine Tate in search of a Doctor Who Christmas special.) There was a distinct whiff of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in all this silky floating and fluttering. Have a look:

You can see something of the elaborateness of the sets and of the languid orientalism that suffused---a very Saariaho word, that---the production; all this gold, soft red and black laquer made me feel that I'd got trapped in the packaging of a gigantic, theatre-sized bottle of Yves Saint Laurent's Opium. The costumes were rather lovely: Jaufré's yellow house-coat was suitably princely, and I can only describe Clémence's robes as 'Eleanor of Aquitaine-on-a-state-visit-to-Taiwan' (vous imaginez!), with a slight whiff of Sibylla in Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven:

But the poor Pilgrim was less successful in this department: clad in silver and faded forest-green velvet, and with long pig-tails, s/he looked like a cut-price Galadriel. Further, the double-souls gimmick was unwisely extended by the use of puppetry: at the beginning of each act, an ingratiating young couple, clad at one point in sou'westers, wandered onto the stage wheeling what appeared to be a leather Victorian bathing contraption. This turned out to be a kind of shadow-puppet booth, inside which they mimed portentously. Since, alas, this improbable device was the size of your average domestic telly, it was impossible to see what was going on from any distance, still less from the Upper Circle where I was sat. This inexplicable bit of dramaturgy left me very puzzled: at the beginning of Act IV, for instance, why show a storm at sea using two actors, a bathchair on wheels, and a backlit sheet of greaseproof, when the very next scene represents the same storm on stage with wonderful theatrical effectiveness?! Meh.

There were several haunting moments: most effective was the scene in Act II in which the Pilgrim describes Jaufré's devotion to the horrified, then deeply moved Countess: s/he sings a few fragments of one of the Prince's songs of enraptured devotion. Saariaho has clearly gone to work on the techniques of troubadour music, and these brief, hauntingly lovely minutes were, for me, the highlight of the opera, which really doesn't say very much, other than that I, a medievalist, am unsurprisingly more moved by medieval music than by wafty sub-Debussy. Though more gestured towards than embodied, these fragments of Jaufré's song were reminiscent of the following:

So it went on: as noted above, in the final two acts, Jaufré and the Countess finally meet, but Jaufré is dying, apparently ennervated by nerves and sea-sickness. This was poorly staged: a few seconds after the dying troubadour is wheeled on stage, Clémence, standing two feet away, asks where he is. It was a totally unnecessary panto-moment: for all Pasca's fondness for limber callisthenics, his direction of the actual singers was horribly static. Weirdly, he seems to think in tableaux rather than the four dimensions necessary for a good director.

By this time, I was growing restive in my perch: Jaufré and Clémence sing a bit, confessing their undying love, until Jaufré, well, dies---in triplicate, natch---and is removed on his bier via a kind of aerial three-point-turn. She has it out with God for taking her lover, and in a fit of pique becomes a druid. (Well, a nun, apparently, but I'm sure I've seen the massed, white-robed, hooded heavies of the final scene at Stonehenge before.) The three Jaufrés reappear from above, this time in a vaguely trinitarian guise, and bob up and down softly. Clémence's last words on stage--a prayer---are ambiguous: is God now her 'love from afar', or has the brief experience of transcendent human love become a kind of Platonic mystic initiation for her? The possibility is left open, which renders everything that has gone before subject to a kind of uncomfortable retrospective allegorisation. The idea is an arresting one, of course: interestingly, John Tavener did something similar with Laila, his 2005 score for the ballet AMU, in which the mystic-allegory side of the story is explicit. An enraptured poet Majnun, in love with a girl called Laila, seeks for her over deserts and oceans, internalising her more and more as a spiritual ideal, until, in the end, he finds her. 'Who are you?' he says to the puzzled girl, 'I don't recognise you.' 'I am your Laila', says the girl. 'No, no, my Laila is inside me', says Majnun, 'I don't know who you are.' I imagine the name of the girl is a Sufi pun: Laila = La ilaha (illa Allah), thus representing the unmanifest, unknowable and ineffable essence of God.

L'Amour de Loin was a curious night, all told; several very good ingredients somewhow all added up to something which felt rather inconsequential. The singing was lovely throughout: the three principles were more than fine, especially Joan Rodgers as Clémence. But the problem is that there just isn't enough in the opera: the plot is so slender it barely keeps one's attention. If only someone had slipped the richly-talented Saariaho a copy of Gore Vidal's novella The Search for a King, which has similar troubadour elements and is also a tale of devotion and anguished love from afar: it tells how Richard the Lionheart, kidnapped and held to ransom after the Third Crusade, was found by his faithful troubadour Blondel de Neel. A Saariaho opera on a richer theme would truly have been worth seeing.

* * *

Here's a piece on a related theme by Saariaho: Lonh (i.e. Loin in Occitan, I expect), which shows the medieval influences on her work clearly. One can quite see why, as a composer, she is fond of Dawn Upshaw's voice: Upshaw played Clémence in the premiere of L'Amour de Loin. Much of Lonh is reminiscent of Upshaw's recent recording of Osvaldo Golijov's exquisitely beautiful song-cycle Ayre.

Monday, 6 July 2009


It's one of the paradoxes about the C of E that even non-believers like myself feel they can pass judgement on its priests and bishops, and that still we have something invested in our national church. I like the big Anglo-Catholic parishes with incense and Tallis; I like gothic cathedrals with their canons and queer old deans; and in particular I like the limpid, subaqueous light on the white-washed walls of empty rural churches, smelling of floor-polish and stale flower-water, hanging in the air like centuries of piety. It's nice to have somewhere to go and do my brass-rubbings, you see.

On which note, I was sorry to see that old +Nazir-Ali of Rochester, like a fallen elephant slowly expiring in the grassy savannah, has emitted another of his feeble trumpetings. The daft old nancy's latest call for homosexuals to 'repent and change' (deftly analysed over at Lathophobic Aphasia) provokes in me a profound state of meh. What's the old dear like?!

I suppose, searching in my heart for any thread of compassion (ཨོཾ་མ་ཎི་པ་དྨེ་ཧཱུྃ།), +Nazi-Rally's had a difficult life: uncomfortably transcultured on several levels, promoted well beyond his intellectual capacity but still disappointed that the Holy Spirit inexplicably didn't see fit to nudge Tony Blair in the direction of making him Archbishop of Canterbury---well, bless my soul! Making a personal combo out of the self-aggrandising pomposity of institutional Christianity and the rigid charmlessness of Islam, our very own Mullah-lite really is a gloomy, narrow little mopsie.

I feel very sorry--in the sense of having wholly genuine compassionate empathy--for anyone who really feels they have to struggle on with this kind of thing. I can't think of a worse Purgatory in life than feeling genuinely called to confess the risen Christ in the environs of such as Nazir-Ali.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


Florence and the Machine: Rabbit heart (Raise It Up). I absolutely love this--yet another example of how Kate Bush has been the single most influential female British artist of the last thirty years.

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