Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gentil coquelicot

This is for Joe, who reminded me of it the other day, when he was talking about the different French words for poppy.

The French words go:

J'ai descendu dans mon jardin
Pour y cueillir du romarin.
(refrain) Gentil coq'licot, Mesdames, Gentil coq'licot nouveau.
J'en avais pas cueilli trois brins,
Qu'un rossignol vint sur ma main.
Il me dit trois mots en latin.
Que les hommes ne valent rien.
Et les garçons encore moins bien
Des dames il ne me dit rien,
Mais des demoiselles, beaucoup de bien!

Gentil coq'licot, Mesdames, Gentil coqlicot nouveau.

And here's my fairly loose and ham-fisted attempt at a translation, which doesn't fit with the tune at all, except perhaps the refrain line, but I've tryed to maintain the spirit!

I went down to my garden
To gather rosemary,
I had not gathered three sprigs,
When a nightingale came to me.

Poppy, sweet poppy, my ladies, poppy, sweet poppy anew.

He lighted on my hand,
And spoke up loud and clear,
Three words to say in Latin
Men were worth naught, I fear.

That men were worse than worthless,
And boys worth even less,
Of ladies he said nothing,
But of fair maids spoke the best.
Poppy, sweet poppy my ladies, poppy, sweet poppy anew.

I remember it from school, but haven't heard it here. I mentioned it to my older students, who knew it and were able to sing me a snatch, but couldn't remember much. They said they'd look up the words on the net and sing it to me when we go to the Ile de Brehat on our end of term jaunt next week. Anais's father Jean-Jacques, vaguely remembered it but the youngsters didn't know it.

(This is also my first attempt at embedding a video, so I'm quite pleased!)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bright elusive

Naturospace, in Honfleur, is apparently the largest tropical butterfly house in France. We got there early, to find a shady parking space and avoid the crowds which were everywhere in the town, but fortunately mostly not early risers.

As you go into the tropical zone, you pass the glass cases where the adult insects, imagines, emerge from their chrysalides, which hang neatly from rails like clothes in a wardrobe.

As we made our way around, strange, exotic cries rose from the undergrowth, loud and high-pitched. Startled at first, we assumed it was a concealed recording, to create a rainforest ambiance, until these small, quail-like birds began to patter out of the undergrowth around our feet, peer up at us and emit the sounds we'd been hearing.

Butterflies are of course, famously and proverbially, elusive. One moment they're here...

... and the next, oop-la, off they go.

So you have to sneak up on them, basking,

just hanging out,

0r having a drink with friends.

The one below, as any schoolchild could probably tell you from its antennae, is not in fact a butterfly but a moth, a huge one, so it was probably sleepy,

and I could come quite close.

Others, frayed and faded, jaded beauties, were perhaps old and tired, their wings like perished silk, threadbare.

Glorious though the iridescent upper surfaces of their wings are, one should never overlook the subtlety of undersides.

Generally, they were disinclined to settle on a person. Perhaps if I'd been wearing yellow, but I never do. However, this man's bald head seemed oddly attractive to these younger black and whites, at times he was walking round with three on it. He didn't seem to mind.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Light on water

Honfleur is crowded, precious and expensive, full of Parisians and well-heeled Brits, but, to me, the Old Harbour at night is a ring of pure and endless light. The rectangles of the buildings which encircle it, tall and slim, broad and imposing, patterned and coloured, their whimsical and pretty shopfronts, alternating, for the most part, gallery-restaurant-gallery-restaurant, their awnings and outdoor dining places, become incandescent as evening darkens in tints of prawn-pink, lemon-slice yellow, cointreau-orange, caramel and grenadine, and the whole hangs in a humming miasma of human warmth and fruits de mer.

The pretty sailboats of the tasteful rich float in its glassy waters, as if suspended above a parallel dimension more perfect than our own.

Bright lights, the glittering animation of conviviality, carousing and good-time, shining off water, with perhaps the silhouettes of human forms moving against them, have always held an irresistible enchantment for me; they seem a bewitching fairyland that contains everything of joy. Why, for someone who in general shuns gaudy nights for the clear calm of morning, who isn't much good at partying and quickly tires of my fellow humans, there should be this lure from the other side of the looking glass, I don't know, but it never fails.

It first sang to me, that I remember, when I was about six. At this time as we would sometimes, as a family, take our caravan to a site on the Thames in Oxfordshire at Bablockhythe for weekends. My mother liked the name, she quoted Arnold's 'Scholar Gypsy', where it's mentioned. I rather think it was to console and distract ourselves following the first wave of emigration if my older siblings in the 196os.

The site was strung out along the river bank for half a mile or so, and the river meanders there quite sharply. From where we pitched, some way out on the fringes, as was always our wont, we could look over the water at the club house, site buildings, and landing stages, although they were in fact on the same bank as we were. This illusion of looking at the spot across the river, while being able to walk there without crossing it, always intrigued me.

One night, we had been out in the car come back to the 'van after dark. In the general activity of getting in, lighting up the amazingly fragile china-clay calor-gas lighting mantles, sorting out bedding, etc, I must have been left to my own devices. It was a warm night, and I stood apart and gazed out across the water to the clubhouse, where a disco and bar was in full swing. (Needless to say, at least to anyone who knew our family, there was no question of our having any involvement in such extravagant frivolities.)

The lights glowed gold and orange, shimmering and dancing on the river, the tiny figures flickering among them. Like Yeats's Stolen Child, solemn-eyed, I was drawn as if by faery abductors, hypnotised and unthinking, toward them.

When I arrived there, I wandered freely among the revelry, adults enjoying drinks and company, dancing and music inside, couples romancing by the water's edge, warmth and movement and brightness, and, to me at that moment, utter perfection of colour and light. I moved through it as if I were invisible, transported with happiness; no one, as I recall, took any notice of me at all, either to express concern, menace or amusement.

After a while, I've no idea how long, I trotted back along the dark campsite track until I reached our pitch again, where I think my family were fairly worried, and too relieved to see me again to be angry.

"But it was all so beautiful..." I explained.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Be seeing you

Now I'm off to Normandy for a few days, with a sheaf of submissions to look at, a husband, a dog, a (still) new car, a camera, a sample of every thickness of clothing we possess - going away in early May is lovely but unpredictable - and NO COMPUTER.

The yellow azalea languished long in the wrong place in the garden, now it is flourishing with others of its kind near the house in a specially constructed ericaceous bed. A smell camera not having been invented, rub ylang-ylang perfume on the computer screen to get the idea.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The waters are rising, the puns are endless

I'm editing qarrtsiluni for two months.

'What do you do' asked Tom, 'if you get poems from people who are way over and above you in intellect and ability?'

In fact this is not so much a possibility as a racing cert. The submissions are flooding in, and almost every one of them seems to be from someone who has been teaching creative writing for a living in a prestigious institution for years, has had several books published, has one prizes and plaudits and awards and nominations and laurel crowns from here, there and everywhere. The way things are going we'll have to select perhaps 10 to 15% for publication, and 99.9% of them are bloody good. The rest are just good.

It didn't help of course that we blithely chose a theme as general and universally popular as 'Water'. Yes, just 'Water'. Had we chosen something cryptic or obscure, everyone would have had to think a bit before coming up with anything, but everyone's done something on water, and they all want to share them. Dammit, every other thing I say or think seems to contain some form of metaphorical reference to water...
But I am not alone. In this task worthy of the Danaides I have been assigned as companion the utterly adorable, enthusiatic, great of heart and of talent Katherine, who is up there with the folks I'm dealing with. And I know I can do it because she believes in me, as Dave and Beth, the permanent editors, must do, who put me up to it. And I want to do it, because I want the experience and I'd be wimping out if I didn't.

Regarding Tom's question.I was somewhat heartened to read this interview with Martin Lammon, whose work I don't know, but who seems to be one of the most driven perfectionists and compulsive revisers of his own work. He says that these days he often shows his work first not to his seasoned old poetical cronies, whose reactions have become a little predictable. but to younger and/or less experienced writers, whose honesty and freshness of response he feels he can better trust. Hopefully, hard work and a little humility, the real kind, not the false, self-denigrating, little me, easily over-awed stuff, will go along way.

However, I think I can only do it if I put most of my other activities here on hold for a bit and give it huge amounts of time and concentration. So regrettably, not only will I probably not find a lot of time to blog, but worse, I can't see myself getting round to everyone else's for a while. I've just looked at my feeds and nearly all of them have gone black already, which makes me whimper with anxiety, especially about those of you who've been having babies and operations and weddings and all manner of other life-changing events. I'll do my best when/if I feel more on top of the qarrtsiluni situation, but till then, please excuse my absence. I'll try to keep up Out with Mol, as I think it's important to my routine and to make the effort to go on observing things outside what's going on in my head.

Come the end of June, I can look forward to the rest of the summer lazing in the shade of the Box Elder tree, posting pretty pictures and writing what I choose, and visiting all my blogging mates and enjoying what they do without any need to judge it and make invidious choices.

So feel free to join the fun, come one come all and the more the merrier, and have a look a look at the call for submissions. Perhaps if any of my dearest friends send stuff in, I might refer it to Katherine for judgement, spineless wuss that I am. Being accepted would put you in some very fine company, being passed over in perhaps even better...
Anyway, on the subject of water, soothing to my anxiety was about three hours on the beaches and cliffs with dear Gillian and Barley (aka, Rosie and Porridge the illustrious and fantabulous Bitches about Brittany). Gill, who really has joint honours in scathing wit and self-deprecating no-shit irony, recommended shallow flippancy as an antidote to earnest literary angst, but it's really to late for that. About 46 years too late for me.

Anyway, as you can see, she's got a really cool camera and she's not afraid to use it, so I daresay there'll be some sumptuous shots over at hers. I rather thought I didn't take much in the way of photos when out and about with other people, so I only had cheapcam with me.

However, I'd never been out with another blogger in the presence of rockpools, and we soon both became very absorbed, much to the unappreciative puzzlement of our pooches, who didn't see the point.

Barley walked on this stranded jellyfish, then Molly had a go - no they didn't get stung, Mol didn't really touch it. I don't know whether that improved the compositional arrangement or not.

Indeed, so absorbed were we that we failed to notice the tide coming in; I was irritably trying to remove pieces of waving sea lettuce from above an interesting anemone, when I became aware that as fast as I tried to push it out of the way, more of it, accompanied by volumes of seawater, was rushing in. Molly and I made a big jump, Gill and Barley a big wade. Still at least I didn't lose my trousers, wallet, ID card and ten euros. (Family joke, I won't identify the person to whom this happened to avoid humiliating my male sibling.)

The dogs were really very well-behaved and patient; Barley only tried to bowl Molly over once at the beginning and didn't do it to any people except us, and Mol only growled at Barley twice. Barley ended the occasion by running off and rolling in nicely fermented cow slurry, but that was just before we got into our separate vehicles and went our separate ways, so I was prepared to overlook it.


Finally, my lovely sister-in-law ( not to be confused with my lovely sister; my range of epithets is not great and they are indeed both just lovely), who tells me she reads this on the quiet, sent me these pictures of a white peacock, because they reminded her of the dandelion clock in the last post. I don't know who took them, but I thought they were too beautiful to keep to myself. I feel uncommonly blessed that there are people in my life who think of me, read my blog and send me picture's of white peacocks.


So now I shall print off a mountain of qarrtsiluni submissions in order to take them outside in the balmy spring weather and peruse them there, using scrap paper from work but while Tom's not paying attention enough to upbraid me for using too much ink. One still reads more attentively from paper, I believe, than spending too much time at the screen.

Thanks for bearing with me, and I'll see you all as soon as I can.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Time flies

Day's red rimmed eye dawns
From fuzzed and bladed green
Dreams, knows the world again
Through the myriad points
Of the new unbroken clock,
Each one a seed.