Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sofia quinta and Stepaway Magazine Update

This computer sits on an old table with a foot treadle - this mixture of old and new technology is hard work but a quaint idea, don't you think?

I've seen so many lovely places - they need 'recollection in tranquillity' to do them justice. Also I can't yet post any pictures. So this is just one Sofia quinta.

Stars are out above the near-deserted streets -
'round midnight at 'the inglenooks' -
Sofia's miniature Etoile -
the last tram sidles round the corner
squeals softly to a halt beside us


And Stepaway Magazine's latest issue has just come out - you can find a piece I wrote about walking in Tirana's streets here

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Glimpses of Budapest

Quinta journal, 19th June 2o11, Budapest

the faint and reassuring clack of trams
in early morning -
men hose down the underpass
beside Keleti station -
the same streets Robert Capa walked down


acacia trees beside the citadel -
bridges sweep across the grey-green Danube -
time is packed into their metalwork,
their stones, an empire,s declarations.
Love too, arching over the water


the pomp, the grandeur,
the imperial scale of buildings -
I turn to small things - the map,
the glimpse of water between the metal plates
on the Széchenyi Iánchid bridge

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Blossoms, Doorways

The past lives in us without chronology - Irena Vrkljan

How do you write about the past, in other words, your life?

So often my deliberate attempts at writing about my life in the past, fall into the ruts of narrative sequence. Lose vigour. Become flat and tired. Why did I think writing about the past had to be done, step by step, in this breath-constricting way? Summer has hit me on the back of the head, with its new globe-clusters of white and pink on roadside hedges. I don't know their names – they are like Samuel Palmer's blossoms – dreams of blossoms, visions of blossoms, rounded as bunched drops of petalled honey, poured onto bushes, semi-set, globular, near-dripping.

The same landscape, over and over again, I think, in fury.

Remember another summer on the back of my head....

Of course it isn't really narrative that clenches my life so tight when I try to arrange it in such neat sequential blocks. Not narrative that's to blame when my mind's muscles grip the ripe and juicy pomegranates of memory, and find that trickles are all I manage to extract. No, not narrative but rather, the recipe-making mind with its ordering propensities, its rules and regulations, its assembling of ingredients and then its mixing method.....

When I read Irena Vrkljan's words I want to shout for joy, I breathe deeply, the clenched mind relaxes, because with those words in particular and her writing in general, she expresses what I've felt for some time – that there are other ways rather than the strictly sequential narrative ways, of talking about the past. There is poetry, there are stories, threaded with imagination and yes, the past that lives in us is a network of associations -

There are streets for example, we walk down – remembered or present – so I walk down a street – is it dusty, littered, is it broken? Where is this street? Is it like the ones I walk through now? They are littered with dried blossom, bleached to the colour of yellow aged lace, rattling in gangs and eddies, over the paving stones. They form little whirls, little mini-dervish spirals of joy. On the grass, they rustle like silk, like thin starched cloth, or tiny autumn leaves, in the wrong season. Using streets as a point of entry into memories, into biography. In dreams, it's so often a doorway I approach with speed or without even noticing as if it's any ordinary doorway in waking life – large, wooden, glass, ornate, imposing, with brass handles, or low, blending in with the walls, dull cream, chipped, time-stained.........

Irena Vrkljan was brought up in Belgrade and Zagreb. Her memoirs are published as The Silk, the Shears and Marina; or about Biography.

Her extraordinary writing is a mixture of meditation and memoir, description and literary intimacy, emotional and geographical exile, a linking of places with feeling. The weaving narrative shifts through the portals, connecting events, emotions and literary description. In the second book, she traces the life and work of the lyrical and innovative Russian poet, writer and exile, Marina Tsvetaeva. She pinpoints locations where place and writing come together, both Marina's and her own. As in a tidal flow she recounts Marina's life and work in certain parts of Europe, Prague, Paris, Berlin, the south of France, and her own sometimes very different experiences in the same places. There is deep connective tissue, both emotional and literary, linking these two writers and Vrkljan's prose is both moving and startlingly original.