According to Garrison Keillor “a postcard takes about fifty words gracefully, which is how to write one… fifty words is a strict form but if you write tiny and sneak over into the address side to squeeze in a hundred, the grace is gone and the result is not a poem but notes for a letter you don’t have time to write…” These are my Postcards from France:
Last night was Burns Night. Scotland’s darling Rabbie Burns, rebel and satirist, born in poverty, son of a tenant farmer, rose to instant fame with his poems written “chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.” When he died in 1796 aged 37, ten thousand people came to pay their respects.
Leonard Woolf, husband of the more famous Virginia, said life is not an orderly progression, self-contained like a musical scale or quadratic quotation. To record life truthfully writers need to “include something of the disorderly discontinuity which makes it so absurd, unpredictable, bearable.”
Lines of Eliot have haunted me since I was 15: “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future,/ And time future contained in time past.” Memory fascinates. Aristotle saw memory as a kind of treasure store or library from which the past could be retrieved, with varying degrees of effort or ease. Luis Bunel said without memory, we are nothing.
This is from the poem on the beach I mentioned in N° 1445: We, the people in semi-formal / A tiny gathering of smiling faces / From around the state, the country, the world. (…) We are blessed, and have been blessed. / We have been redeemed by his open-mouthed smile. / He reminds us that love can produce… miracles.
I find a scrap of paper, read His soggy green backpack pockets stuffed with notes: Hey, Sir, what’s your son’s name? – Saul. Sol? You mean like Sol Campbell from Spurs? – No Saul, s-a-u-l. Saul? Yeah, like Paul with an ’s’. Yeah? Where’s that from? The bible – it’s Hebrew for ‘really tall Jewish guy with funky hair’.
The poem brilliantly conjures the seamier side of life in the Bay Area, poverty, struggling to get by. A big man, baby on back, is stopped by a homeless guy as a J-train rumbles into Church Street from Market, Kicking up debris in its wake. “Spare any change, big man?” He says / In a voice of vomit and vodka
I don’t even look at him // “Got nothin’, man” I say / But his hand stops me. // He doesn’t touch me / But, out of the corner of my eye / I see him point over my shoulder // “Naw, dude…don’t say that…” / He says (…) pointing at my son’s half-buried face / “You got him…”
My first born not only had poems written for and about him, one of his godmothers played a celebrated Witch on TV and God at the National Theatre, another was second assistant director on Lost, Jurassic World, Big Eyes and Snowden and, still in diapers, he picnicked with critically acclaimed (later knighted) actors of stage and screen.
Why do we write? To keep the past alive? Make sense of the present? Alter the future? Maya Angelou said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I type. I feel more alive. I write for the joy of sharing stories.
So vivid were Fergal Keane’s reports for the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent, I remember them decades on. Who could forget his coverage of the Rwandan genocide, the massacre of Tutsis tricked into seeking refuge in a church in Nyarubuye, 13 year old Valentina Iribagiza, mutilated, lying among piles of corpses hacked to death by Hutu neighbours?
Fergal Keane has made a 3-part documentary for Radio 4 on how the Irish shaped Britain. I grew up in an era when landlords still put up signs saying: “No Blacks, no Irish, No Dogs.” Despite IRA bombing campaigns, we were never taught about England’s brutal colonisation of Ireland. Outside school walls I discovered the genius of Christy Moore, GBS, Yeats and Seán O’Casey.
Richard Harris gave a towering performance as anti-hero “Bull” McCabe in Jim Sheridan’s film version of John B Keane’s most famous play, The Field, a classic Irish tale of land disputes in a farming community and the lengths people will go to protect what they hold dear.
Scotland has, possibly, the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in the developed world. Much of Scotland is owned by the Church of England, Danish fashion billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, the billionaire ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and the Crown.
The Scottish Government is addressing ways to hold absentee landowners to account, empower local communities to purchase land and ensure sustainable development. Anti-Brexit, if Scotland wants to rejoin the EU, it needs to explore ways to be financially independent. “Country sports” like grouse shooting and deer stalking, often on foreign-owned estates, generate in the region of £350m a year to Scotland’s economy.
What will the genteel folk of Edinburgh do now?? Jenners, the landmark department store on Princes Street is closing. It’s Scotland’s Tardis: step in, step back in time. It first opened its doors in 1838, on that very site. For 183 years, “Ladies” with Morningside accents have gone to Jenners to buy their hosiery and meet for tea.
On this day 23 years ago I was standing in heels on Waimanalo beach on the Windward Side of Oahu. It was Superbowl Sunday but that’s not why we were there. Barefoot, Kapono’i played double bass, Janine danced, Kawika sang and locals lazing in the shade of palm trees shouted “God bless you!”.
A poem was written for the occasion: Beautiful Child, Beautiful Day. The child in question, in blue Aloha shirt and matching shorts, was nine months old and happy as a Hawaiian sky. A man in long robes blew a conch and gave a speech that made us giggle.
Which bit of masks cover the nose and mouth do men not understand? One year on, with infection rates topping 100 million, men have overwhelmingly yet to grasp how masks work. If I had a euro every time I see a male of the species not covering his nose in public, I could buy prime real estate in London, Paris and Manhattan.