Simon Collings

Three new poems on Stride

I’ve had three new prose poems published on Stride in the last few days. Here’s one of them. Follow the link above to view the other two.

Druga

The chat bot seemed to work by drawing me into conversation with questions like ‘so what’s new?’ and ‘tell me something interesting’, and then building a memory of my replies so that over time it could anticipate my interests and prejudices, the questions becoming modified to include more personal references, phrases such as ‘you’re right there’ and ‘exactly my view’ punctuating the conversation. At times Druga, that was name she used, even indulged in a little speculation herself. At first this annoyed me and I began expressing opinions opposite to those I had previously given, even contradicting myself within the same few sentences. Rather than simply mimic my erratic flights of whimsy, Druga started to challenge me with statements like: ‘That isn’t what you said a few moments ago.’ She seemed programmed to move to a more complex level of conversation depending on the behaviour of her interlocutor, the way certain tests get harder if you answer the questions easily and quickly. I tried reading passages of Kant to her, asking her opinion and to my surprise found her answers perceptive and thought provoking. ‘You see,’ she told me. ‘I’m here for you.’

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Every sort of contradiction

“Not only does the wind of chance events shake me about as it lists, but I also shake and disturb myself by the instability of my stance: anyone who turns his prime attention onto himself will hardly ever find himself in the same state twice. I give my soul this face or that, depending upon which side I lay it down on. I speak about myself in diverse ways: that is because I look at myself in diverse ways. Every sort of contradiction can be found in me: timid, insolent; chaste, lecherous; talkative, taciturn;  tough, sickly; clever, dull; brooding, affable; lying, truthful; learned, ignorant; generous, miserly and then prodigal – I can see something of all that in myself depending on how I gyrate; and anyone who studies himself attentively finds in himself and in his very judgement this whirring about and this discordancy.”

Michel de Montaigne, from the essay ‘On the Inconstancy of our Actions’

 

Hermit wanted

“Indeed we know that landowners sought to employ others to do their meditation for them. Charles Hamilton advertised for a hermit at Paine’s Hill in Surrey and built him a hermitage where his contract required him to remain for seven years –

with a Bible, optical glasses, a mat for his feet, a hassock for his pillow, an hourglass for his timepiece, water for his beverage, and food from the house. He must wear a camel robe, and never, under any circumstances, must he cut his hair, beard, or nails, stray beyond the limits of Mr Hamilton’s grounds, or exchange one word with the servants.

Another sat in a cave ‘with an hourglass in his hand, and a beard belonging to a goat…with orders to accept no half-crowns from visitors, but to behave like Giordano Bruno’. This last survived apparently for fourteen years; the first fled after three weeks. Most vacancies had to be filled with stuffed dummies that gave the right emblematic effect at twenty yards.”

From John Dixon Hunt, The Figure in the Landscape: Poetry, Painting and Gardening During the Eighteenth Century

 

 

 

Do You Speak English?

My short story, ‘Do You Speak English?’, seems to have a particular appeal for educational publishers. Last week I was approached by  The Independent Learning Centre (ILC) in Canada seeking permission to use the short story in a course for school students.  The story has appeared previously in course books published by Cambridge University Press, Pearson Singapore, and by publishers in Australia and Poland. The story first appeared on East of the Web.

Ode to the Spirit of Righteousness, by Martin Stannard

I am not a silent poet

after Wen Tianxiang (1236-1283)

i.

I am incarcerated in the North Court in a mud cell.
I have time to think about how we are often overwhelmed
And rendered speechless by the sun and the stars.
By the rivers and mountains. By all of that.
I can see none of it out of my cell’s tiny window
But I remain steadfast in this solitude.
As Mencius said, “I try to maintain the nobility of my spirit.”

Righteousness takes many forms.
People call it by different names: honour and fearlessness
Are two of the names people call it by.
I care little for names or labels; it is the spirit that matters.
In times of tranquillity it is not tested.
In times of despair it is tested to its limits.

History is not carved into stone but you think it is.
I have shed blood when I had to.
Wrongdoing must…

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Homage: Erik Satie

A couple of weeks ago I attended an event in Oxford presenting the life and work of Erik Satie. It was disappointing, revealing little of the composer’s radicalism, originality and inventiveness. Satie was a significant figure in the cultural avant garde of early 20th century Paris, and his music influenced later innovators including Morton Feldman and John Cage.

As a counter to the Oxford event, here’s a piece of Satie for voice and orchestra: Socrate. I love the third movement in which Socrates calmly accepts his death and drinks the poison given to him. Satie created the texts  by making collages out of phrases from three of Plato’s dialogues.  He said of this piece: ‘I had no desire to add to the beauty of Plato’s Dialogues: this is simply an act of piety, an artist’s reverie…a humble homage…’

A wonderful collection of Satie’s writings, A Mammal’s Notebook, is published by Atlas Press.

The idiot-sea

“I remembered a thin book of poems by W. H. Auden that I had put on my shelves twenty years ago. I found the book and I turned to a long poem I had remembered as praising limestone country. I began to read the poem, but I stopped half-way through the third line of the first stanza after reading that the poet is homesick for limestone because it dissolves in water.

I did not want to read the words of a man sick, or pretending to be sick, for stone that dissolves in water. I did not want to hear from a man wanting to stand at the site of the wearing away of the thing I most trusted; at the site of the melting of the most solid thing I know into the thing I am most afraid of….

I put the book back on the shelf where it had stood unopened for twenty years, and I thought of all the poets who had stood on the seashores of the world watching the sea pulling idiot-faces or listening to the sea making idiot-noises at them. I thought the reason for my never having been able to write poetry must be that I have always kept well away from the sea. I thought of all the lines of poetry in the world as the ripples and waves of an idiot-sea, and all the sentences of prose in the world as the clumps and tussocks, leaning and waving in the wind but still showing the shape of the soil and the rock underneath, of the grassland.”

from Gerald Murnane, Inland (published by Dalkey Archive)

There’s a wonderful recent article by Murnane here: Sydney Review of Books

 

 

Solar power for off-grid African households

One initiative I feel particularly proud to have been associated with over the last 12 months is the launch of Energise Africa, a UK-based crowdfunding platform which enables small scale investors to lend money to businesses selling solar home systems to households in Africa. Investors earn 5-6% on the money they lend, the businesses get affordable debt, and tens of thousands of customers benefit from access to electricity.

The platform launched at the start of August last year and has already raised more than £1m in investment from the UK crowd. It is managed by two experienced crowdfunders – Ethex and Lendahand, and has financial backing from the UK Department for International Development, and Virgin Unite, the charitable foundation of the Virgin Group.

Our hope is that through the platform a number of businesses which are still at a fairly early stage, and which therefore find it hard to raise working capital, will be enabled to grow to a point where they can access more mainstream finance. If the platform can achieve this it could play a catalytic role in bringing electricity to millions of homes as these businesses expand.

If you’re based in the UK, or have a sterling bank account, please invest. You can lend as little as £50. Loans are at risk and you should read the offer documents on the site carefully so you understand the nature of what you’re investing in.

The Confetti Trees

I’ve been re-reading Barbara Guest’s collection of cinema inspired prose pieces, The Confetti Trees. It’s a work I’ve revisited a number of times, though not recently, and I had forgotten just how good these prose poems are – full of invention, quirkiness and humor. Five sections from the book appeared in Jacket 10. Here’s one of them:

Color

He believed if the woman on the right moved over to the left he could place her into the frame where a meadow lay beyond her. But it did not work out that way. The moon came up too early. The glow the moon cast lit up the shadow behind the wheelbarrow. No one could advance in the shattering moonlight. The film begins to take the shape of a milk bottle with the heavy cream on top.

He blamed everything on the use of color. The heavy woman who played the woodcutter’s wife wanted to lay some emeralds on her bosom. They are the color of trees, she says. The skin of the leading actor was the color of ferns which do not blend with the pastel process that turns the clouds to pastel. The girl’s knee is supposed to be grey when she bends it, not the color of blood. The voice coming from the elderberries is colorless, indicating melancholy. He remembers the alluring depths in film without color when tears were dark as drops falling from a raven’s mouth. Once again his efforts have been emptied of meaning.

The Confetti Trees, Sun and Moon Press, 1999.

(Note: Jacket miss out the title of ‘Color’, running the text on from the end of ‘Trousers for Extras’ which is just one paragraph.)

Labyrinths

I have a couple of new poems on Stride – the most recent, Labyrinths, posted today. This poem is part of a sequence which will be published as a chapbook by Red Ceilings in the Spring. It’s a kind of sonnet – ‘well it has 14 lines’ as Bernadette Mayer once said when asked to explain how one of her poems could be called a ‘sonnet’.