Archives for January 2010
The universe may be little more than a chaotic and unfeeling soup of neutrinos, quarks, gluons and dark matter that’s barely (if at all) aware of our fleeting existences, but (even in this flux & emptiness & horror) there are oases of stability, reassurance, and constancy.
Or so August Storck KG, makers of Werther’s Original(s), would have us believe. Their sweets are the sugary glue that bind the myriad fabrics of reality together. They existed before the big bang. Before God (who based his whole shtick on the company’s trademark chuckly and benign Grandfather).
They incongruously (and thrillingly) combine raw elemental power, with saccharine tweeness. They are steadfast. Changeless. Ageless. Beloved by viewers of Countdown. Yet eternal. Universal. Stare at a Werther’s Original under an electron microscope and what do you see? Millions of smaller Werther’s Originals. Each one of which contains a trillion even more tiny Wether’s Originals. And so on and on and on forever. And ever. And ever.
What follows is a humble (Flipnote) attempt to capture this omnipresent and cosmically head-fucking essence.
Clouds – though occasionally cute, fluffy and given to floating on high o’er vales and hills – are, generally, a bit of a nuisance. They enshroud the earth in suffocating blankets of grey. They empty their contents onto miserable wage-slaves as they shuffle work-ward. They form themselves into scarifying mushroom shapes and strip you of your skin and hair. Oh, and God – whose giant lidless eyes gaze with blank indifference on humankind’s many sufferings – lives on one.
Clouds are nasty and evil. See here:
Formative experience recollection time.
It’s a summer evening in, oh, 1979 (or thenabouts), and I’m standing – gob-smacked and wonder-filled – in the lobby of the (no-longer-existent) prom-side cinema in Lahinch, Co. Clare. I’ve just seen Disney’s Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs for the first time, and its 83 minutes of Technicolor gorgeousness have rocked my little world.
I’m not the only one thus affected. A (presumably awed & dazed) teenage boy emerges from the theatre, ambles across the lobby, and walks up to, into, and straight through the cinema’s floor-to-ceiling glass window/door. Miraculously he is (in my memory at least) unhurt. Such is the power of animation. It not only fires and fuels your imagination – it throws a protective aura of invincibility around you as well.
For the majority of the rest of my childhood all I wanted to be was a “cartoonist” (the proper term, I assumed, for someone who produces animated cartoons). I sketched. I doodled (a lot). I drew cariacatures of teachers on classmates’ copy-books. I was utterly dedicated to my craft.
Then – as happens with about 99.99999% of humankind – I hit my teens, thought “Ah, fuck it”, and went off drinking cider and listening to The Doors. Such (as the platitudinous fella no doubt says) is life.
Skip forward 30 years and I’m buying a Nintendo DSi for my birthday. Skip forward another day or two and I’m downloading Flipnote Studio. Skip forward ten minutes more and I’m giving life to crude stick figures. Here’s an early effort – combining the simple joys of (falling flat on one’s arse) slapstick with the grim tragedy of (Sisyphean) eternal recurrence.
Bwaa ha ha! Look at him fall! Right in the hole. Over and Over! There he goes again. And again! Ah ha ha ha! The poor doomed bastard…*sniff*
[Today's unlovely slice of hot doggerel is served up (stinking & steaming) by guest-poster, Tuppenceworth stalwart, and occasional fustar.info football correspondent - Fergal Crehan. Take 'er away, FC.]
It is generally the case in writing that if you don’t attempt anything too fancy, if you stick to the simple task of putting one word after another in some sort of coherent way, you can’t go far wrong. Paramount on one’s agenda must be getting the point across. Doing so with a minimum of fuss should be enough to make one’s prose, if not exactly good, then certainly not bad either. Bad writing, almost invariably, is writing that thinks it’s actually good. It reaches for the stars, and falls far, far short. How else to explain this, from The Sunday Independent‘s John Drennan:
“As O’Donoghue turned upon Labour matador Eamonn Gilmore — who had plunged the final piccolo between the shoulder blades of our hero…”
There are at least three things wrong with that sentence, but the main one is that a piccolo is a wind instrument. Our scribe probably thought he was doing something a bit classy, adding a touch of Hemmingway-esque Mediterraneana to the philistine pages of the Sindo. Thus does excess of ambition transcend the merely dull, and achieve the authentically bad.
Poetry is so much higher in the firmament than mere journalism, that it inevitably leads to poor writing. Most people just can’t write the stuff. Even good poets miss the mark occasionally. But bad poetry is still readily identifiable as poetry. One senses that the poet at least had an idea of what she was trying to do. Occasionally though, one comes across something so bad that one must wonder if the poet had access to actual poetry, or was merely working from memory of a poem glimpsed many years before, and dimly. Had he, in fact, never seen a poem at all? Was he relying on second hand accounts from those better-travelled than he?
William Topaz McGonagall is considered by many to be the worst poet ever. These pages have already paid tribute to him, and to his masterpiece, “The Tay Bridge Disaster”. Today, I prefer to look at one of his lesser known pieces, a tribute to his (long-lost) brother poet, Shakespeare.
Immortal! William Shakespeare, there’s none can you excel,
You have drawn out your characters remarkably well,
Which is delightful for to see enacted upon the stage
For instance, the love-sick Romeo, or Othello, in a rage;
His writings are a treasure, which the world cannot repay,
He was the greatest poet of the past or of the present day
Also the greatest dramatist, and is worthy of the name,
I’m afraid the world shall never look upon his like again.
His tragedy of Hamlet is moral and sublime,
And for purity of language, nothing can be more fine
For instance, to hear the fair Ophelia making her moan,
At her father’s grave, sad and alone….
In his beautiful play, “As You Like It,” one passage is very fine,
Just for instance in the forest of Arden, the language is sublime,
Where Orlando speaks of his Rosilind, most lovely and divine,
And no other poet I am sure has written anything more fine;
His language is spoken in the Church and by the Advocate at the bar,
Here and there and everywhere throughout the world afar;
His writings abound with gospel truths, moral and sublime,
And I’m sure in my opinion they are surpassing fine;
In his beautiful tragedy of Othello, one passage is very fine,
Just for instance where Cassio looses his lieutenancy
… By drinking too much wine;
And in grief he exclaims, “Oh! that men should put an
Enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains.”
In his great tragedy of Richard the III, one passage is very fine
Where the Duchess of York invokes the aid of the Divine
For to protect her innocent babes from the murderer’s uplifted hand,
And smite him powerless, and save her babes, I’m sure ’tis really grand.
Immortal! Bard of Avon, your writings are divine,
And will live in the memories of your admirers until the end of time;
Your plays are read in family circles with wonder and delight,
While seated around the fireside on a cold winter’s night.”
“An Address to Shakespeare” manages to suggest at the same time that the author is both familiar with Shakespeare and entirely ignorant of all literature. While he does show some passing acquaintance with certain moments in the Shakespearean oeuvre, he has little to say about any of them except to note that they are “particularly fine”. “Particularly” is an odd choice of word here, given that he is less interested in describing any such moments as in simply enumerating them. The poet having said nothing on what made them fine, we may guess that they have been chosen at random, and used as an occasion for the poem itself. Which would be fine had he used the occasion as a jumping-off point for something ambitious. But the poem is resolutely earth-bound, “I Love Shakespeare”, with McGonagall in the Stuart Maconie role, shunting snippet after snippet with a perfunctory remark.
It is this half-arsedness that is most striking, and ultimately most heroic about this poem. Nothing in there is outrageously bad on its own, apart perhaps from the deadening repetition of the word “fine”, but there’s not a single line that couldn’t quite easily be removed. To be fair, you couldn’t say that about “The Tay Bridge Disaster”. Often, even good writers will throw in a line for the sake of a rhyme. But in the “Address”, every line seems that way. Indeed, the entire poem is a piece of filler, written without any apparent zest, as if someone had given McGonagall 30 minutes to knock out something about Shakespeare and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Why did he choose that particular scene from Shakespeare? Why write that particular line? Why, in fact, write the poem at all? Some writers are doomed to be in thrall to a muse that cruelly ignores their love. Though talentless, they display at least an affinity for talent. They know the good stuff when they see it. In McGonagall we have a man who, though he devoted his life to poetry, had no understanding of it whatsoever. He wrote hundreds of poems, not one of which ever gave the merest suggestion that he was barking up the right tree, few hinting that any pleasure was taken in their composition. It was as if, having decided he was a poet, he applied himself to it as a job, trudging through his “duties” without relish, like a time-serving civil servant. You could never call him talented, and most days you’d be hard put to say what his function in the office was at all, but his attendance record was perfect.
Christian iconography. Chuckle! It’s as mad as a bag of transubstantiated communion wafers.
Take Jan Provoost‘s Christian Allegory (1510-15) for instance. Brimming with the thrown-together, jumble-of-images, pseudo-meaningful charm of a C-grade Leaving Cert “imaginative composition”.
All the usual suspects are present and correct. Lamb & dove: Super-cute! Mighty sword of righteousness: Awesome! Giant fuzz-encrusted all-seeing eye: Spooky! Weird sleepy-looking monocular ovoid cheese thing (with a pair of jutting hands): Fuck!
Oh, and giant bowling ball? Confusing!
The interweb may often be an ugly, querulous and hate-filled place, but one of its undeniable beauties is this. No matter how outré or perverse your particular enthusiasms are, you’re always only a click or two away from (virtually) rubbing up against some other soul who shares them. Suddenly no-one’s a weirdo…because everyone is.
It was not ever thus. I mean, consider the middle years of the nineteenth century. Top hats. Monocles. Fusty old patriarchs spoiling everyone’s fun. And, worst of all, they didn’t even have dial-up. Most people were lucky to have wind-up.
And so it was that the likes of Scots-Canadian James McIntyre (sometime poet and furniture maker) exercised their enthusiasms alone. Ostracised from their fellows by what probably seemed to them (interweb-less as they were) uniquely peculiar passions. Few pieces of verse have captured the isolating nature of maverickness and eccentricity better than McIntyre’s deliciously mature and creamy “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese Weighing over 7,000 Pounds”.
We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.
All gaily dressed soon you’ll go
To the great Provincial Show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.
Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unrivalled, queen of cheese.
May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to send you off as far as
The great World’s show at Paris.
Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, oh! queen of cheese.
We’rt thou suspended from balloon,
You’d cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.
Ok. So the guy liked cheese. A lot. More than is (or, presumably, was) conventional. But so what? Is cheese less worthy a subject for rime than, say, love? Or death? Or heavenly cherubim flitting hither and yon ‘neath the arch of a beauteous rainbow?
This was, after all, no ordinary cheese. It was a four tonne behemoth deemed worthy of display (before an agog public) “at a Toronto exposition circa 1855″.
Anyway…the hour grows late-ish and I feel the muse swell within me. So before I slip into the sleeping bag of Morpheus I must away and pen some purple poesy on Yop, Monster Munch, Donkey Kong Jr, and all the other wonders that sometimes make life not totally suck.
Blogging is, as we all know, dead. Deeeaaaddddddd! Face-down dead in a pool of digital sick. Chunks of spewed code coating the virtual bathroom floor. A trail of “1s” and “0s” dribbling out its nose. Yuck.
Shocked & surprised? I thought you might be. So I’ll repeat it.
Blogging isn’t dead. Hang on…that came out a bit wrong. Well, it’s one or the other. Or both. Or neither. Hmmm.
Anyway, if you fancy a spot of doomed and frenzied partying aboard a (possibly) sinking ship, then head to Connacht on the 27th of March. There you will find the last ever Irish Blog Awards (rust-covered, barnacle-encrusted, and leaking its final drops of oil) chugging sadly into Galway docks.
Go here to nominate your faves – from the mouldering ranks of the undead.
Snuffling and shuffling figures pick their ways gingerly o’er awesomely white icescapes. The fallen lie wailing in slush-choked gutters – hips and hopes shattered. Frozen water everywhere, but not a drop to drink (or flush the foetid loo with). Doomed cars spinning hideously into gaping chasms.
January, 2010. A non-stop horror show of chilblains, slight inconvenience, and unwashed stinkiness. God help us all…
But wait. All has not yet turned to hypothermic and frigid despair. There is still warmth (sort of) and joy (er…) left in the online world. For the next 7 days, Dreadful Thoughts will be keeping a Lovecraftian (hell)fire burning. So gather ye round this gnarled, gargantuan and ancient fireplace and let some H. P. sauce warm your brittle bones.
Thoughts? Reactions? Wild fancies?