Sunday, 28 February 2010

"Although it is a quality of the imagination that it seeks to place together those things which have a common relationship, yet the coining of similes is a pastime of very low order, depending as it does upon a nearly vegetable coincidence. Much more keen is that power which discovers in things those inimitable particles of dissimilarity to all other things which are the peculiar perfections of the thing in question."

William Carlos Williams

Saturday, 27 February 2010


fiddlehead and star anise;
shikimic acid in the ileum

Friday, 26 February 2010

Il la dépassa et disparut

Thursday, 25 February 2010

cubic ton
of petrol
in the po

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


I'm going to be reading my poetry tonight at 19h30 in The Next Bar along with French poet, Pascal Poyet as part of the Ivy Writers Series. More details here.

To mark the occasion here's a poem about ivy.


to to

This was originally published in elimae, Cooper Renner's excellent and elegant webzine.

Monday, 22 February 2010

In the night a night light

The Bottom Billion

The recent coup d'état in Niger made me think of a book I read a little while ago, The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier. In this book Collier, an Oxford economist and former Development Research director at the World Bank, looks at the countries who are trapped in severe poverty and seem unable to lift themselves out of it. He says that there are roughly fifty of these "failing states" with a combined population of approximately one billion people, hence the book's title. His thesis is that this is a radically different (but no less tragic) situation from the one we grew up with where there were approximately one billion rich people and the rest of the world was poor; there is still a wealth gap but many countries that were once grindingly poor (he gives the example of Bangladesh) are slowly getting richer. Collier goes on to describe four 'traps' which have prevented bottom billion countries from getting on the gravy train of global economic development: the conflict trap; the natural resource trap; the trap of being a land-locked nation with bad neighbours; and the trap of bad governance in a small country. This is the third coup in Niger since 1993, the country has large uranium reserves and is entirely landlocked with neighbours who range from the despotic - Libya and Algeria - to the destitute - Mali and Burkina Faso - to the downright catastrophic - Chad. I don't know much about its political institutions so cannot comment on whether it is a victim of the fourth of Collier's traps but three out of four would seem to be enough to condemn Niger to a future of misery. Collier's book is not all doom and gloom though and the final sections are devoted to examining what can be done to improve the situation. Some of his solutions are controversial: sending troops from the developed world into post-conflict countries and leaving them there for a long time. Others are not very sexy: heavy investment in infrastructure. And others are counter-intuitive: democratic elections which we tend to see as an absolute good can actually harm resource rich countries since the ruling clan will squander vast amounts of money on winning/rigging/buying the elections and will tend to ignore necessary long-term investments. Though at times I found myself disagreeing with Collier (sometimes he seems to enjoy taking deliberately provocative positions) I would nevertheless strongly recommend this book.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Tonight I drink the black wine from Cahors
and wake to cardamom, rope and birdsong.

Friday, 19 February 2010

In English you say I miss you; in French you say tu me manques. I think I prefer the French. You are missing from me. It sounds like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


Monday, 15 February 2010


Reading next week

Le 23 février, Ivy Writers présente
une lecture-rencontre en français & anglais avec les poètes

Pascal Poyet et Rufo Quintavalle

à 19h30 au Next (downstairs - au sous-sol)
17 rue Tiquetonne 75002 Paris
M° Etienne Marcel / RER Les Halles

Pascal Poyet, poète, éditeur et traducteur, a notamment publié Au Compère (Le Bleu du Ciel, 2005), Expédients (La Chambre, 2002), Causes Cavalières (L'Attente, collection Week-end, 2000), L'Embarras (Patin & Couffin, 2000). Ses textes ont paru dans différentes revues (Issue, The Germ, If, Action Poétique, Doc(k)s…), dans des catalogues d'expositions, et récemment dans l'ouvrage bilingue POEM : Poets On (an) Exchange Mission (Fish Drum Inc./Double Change, 2009) avec des traductions en anglais de Macgregor Card. Il a également traduit les textes de poètes et d’artistes américains contemporains comme David Antin dont je n’ai jamais su quelle heure il était a paru aux éditions Héros-Limite en 2008, Rosmarie Waldrop (Dans n'importe quelle langue, contrat maint, 2006), Peter Gizzi (Revival, CIPM/Spectres Familiers 2003); John Baldessari (Bars de rencontres et Montaigne, contrat maint, 2002), Charles Olson (Commencements, collectif, Théâtre Typographique, 2000), Abigail Child (Climat/Plus, Format Américain, 1999). Depuis 1998, il co-dirige avec Goria les éditions contrat maint qui publient des textes d’artistes et de poètes contemporains, des essais, des traductions et des textes de traducteurs dans des ouvrages brefs dont la forme est inspirée de la "litteratura de cordel" brésilienne. Sur son travail Eric Pesty note: « On pourrait comparer chaque livre de Pascal Poyet à un théâtre, où évoluerait un nombre réduit de mots-personnages : une colonie souple d’individus linguistiques, une structure de « résidents susceptibles ». C’est la sociabilité de ces mots-personnages qu’il s’agit d’interroger, leur capacité à vivre ensemble dans les phrasés proposés. (...) Chaque livre est le théâtre de cette sociologie, autant que le récit de cette expérience. Expérience utopique, vouée à l’inachèvement, mais qu’il reviendra au livre suivant, moyennant une nouvelle délimitation du théâtre et donc un choix différent du vocabulaire, de renouveler. »

British poet Rufo Quintavalle was born in London in 1978, studied at Oxford and the University of Iowa, and now lives in Paris where he is an active member of the Anglo literary scene. He is the author of the chapbook, Make Nothing Happen (Oystercatcher Press, 2009) and his poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Versal, Tears in the Fence, Great Works, Shadowtrain, The Wolf, The London Magazine, MiPOesias and elimae. He is on the editorial board for the literary magazine, Upstairs at Duroc and is currently acting poetry editor for the prize-winning webzine, Nthposition. About Rufo, poet Todd Swift writes: There is no other contemporary English poet quite like Quintavalle: from his extraordinary name (perhaps the most inherently exciting since "Ezra Pound") to his exotically-imagined, deeply-thoughtful, ruefully witty, and sometimes very brief, poems, to his slightly marginalised location across the Channel, he represents a different current - one that, should he continue to write as well over the next few years, will establish him, one hopes, as a key British poet of the 2010s.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


You can't open the papers without coming across an article about the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) or the PIIGS (same as above plus Italy). These are the countries whose economies are in such a parlous state that they threaten to bring about the collapse of the single European currency. Economics is a self-fulfilling science (if it is a science at all) so the more people who believe this and above all the more people who intervene in the financial markets based upon those beliefs, the more likely it is to happen. If 100 people bet that Racing Santander will beat Atletico Madrid tonight that doesn't make it any more likely that they will. If 100 hedge funds and investment banks bet on Greece defaulting on her sovereign debt however then they do increase the probability of Greece defaulting. These large financial institutions are not just pundits they are also participants; it would be like placing a bet against a team and then walking into their dressing room and kicking a few of the players in the shins.

At first I laughed when I saw the acronym PIGS; another little proof - like the Yummy Mummies who inhabit Nappy Valley in South-West London, the scrubbers with their muffin tops or the old dears with their bingo wings - of Anglo-Saxon verbal inventiveness. But now it is beginning to piss me off. After all, England's finances are hardly in great shape. As in the recent showdown with Iceland the prosecutor looks as guilty as the accused in this case. And all the tough talk from Germany about making Greece pay for its mistakes is irritating me as well. The argument here is that it would set a dangerous precedent if one EU country were to bail out another; this is the same line of reasoning that makes it illegal for the EU as a whole to do so. Fair enough but where was this argument when we were dealing with the banks? Apart from Lehmann Brothers it seems that every single troubled financial institution turned out to be "too big to fail". With all due respect to AIG, UBS, Northern Rock and the like wouldn't the bankruptcy of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain have rather more important consequences? It is a patronising and frankly racist mindset that sees the problems of the swarthy skinned and the potato eaters as being separate from those of the more "civilized world". There was a joke doing the rounds a while ago - "What's the difference between Ireland and Iceland?" "One letter and six months". I would say another six months might be all it takes for England with it's colossal debt to realize it is not all that different either. And then another six for the US of A.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Tied up in what must be the worst kind of fraud.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Drunk on Cala
trava bridges.


A friend of a friend has asked me to do some translations of Norwegian poems for the liner notes of a CD. I don't speak Norwegian so am using French translations of the poems and then using a dictionary to compare my English versions with the Norwegian originals. What I am discovering is that English and Norwegian have many similarities in both vocabulary and word order. So in an odd way the process of translating is bringing me closer to the originals. For instance the word "vaste" in the French translation which I had originally translated as "vast" turned out in Norwegian to be "vide" so I changed it to "wide". It is almost as if I am translating from the Latinate to the Germanic sides of the English language's large vocabulary. If it were a Venn diagram then English and Norwegian would overlap on the left and English and French on the right with a very small zone in the middle (Normandy) where all three languages touch.

One word that I cannot find an equivalent for in either English or French is "emne". A Norwegian speaker tells me that this word refers to the piece of material from which something is produced and can be added as a suffix to pretty much any word - so you can have a spoon-emne or a screw-emne or a sword-emne. Does an equivalent exist in English? Perhaps in certain technical fields? The idea is a lovely one - it makes me think of those last, unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo where in a privileged glimpse of the creative process you can see the shapes emerging from/contained in the marble.

There is an essay by Italo Calvino where he speaks of the local dialect in San Remo, the town where he grew up; the houses in this town (as is often the case in Liguria) were built onto the sides of steep hills. This meant that there was often a space behind the house which was too steep and small to do much with. The dialect had a word for this space, "chintagna", which was also the word for the space between the bed and the wall. English is such a big language - both in terms of its global spread and also its vocabulary - that it is easy to get complacent and think we have everything we need in it but we don't have "chintagna" and unless I'm mistaken we don't have "emne".

Thursday, 4 February 2010

war and plankton

The world's population will keep on growing until it hits a peak of 9 billion round about the year 2050. Most arable land in the world is already being used so how are all these new people going to eat bearing in mind that 1 billion people are currently undernourished? Increasing the efficiency of food distribution is one way - a lot of food is destroyed when harvested, spilt while being transported or allowed to go moldy in storage. Increasing people's wealth is another solution: many city dwellers simply don't have the money to buy food so producing more food or increasing the efficiency of its distribution will have no effect on them. Using non-arable land is another solution but this comes with heavy environmental costs: poor quality land needs a large input of fertilisers which consume fossil fuels and in the long term kill the soil. Another solution which I have already banged on about in the past is to grow plants hydroponically. I am still a little sceptical about the cost of this but with some government support who knows? Two more possibilities: one is to harvest plankton. Plankton are protein rich and need very little apart from sunlight in order to grow. There are a wide variety of plankton suited to different water conditions so presumably all parts of the world could find a plankton to suit their local waters. Don't know what plankton tastes like or how much you need to make a decent meal but with 9 million bellies to feed we can't afford to be picky. The other possibility is to wait for a third world war to cull our numbers.

Plough Prize Commendation

My poem, "How it ends" has been commended in the 2009 Plough Prize. So as to enable people to publish their work elsewhere the people who run the prize only publish the winners on their website and not the runners-up. They do however publish the judges' comments which makes for a rather curious experience. It would be fun to try and rewrite the poems based on what the judges say and then compare with the originals. Anyway, here's my poem and here's a link to the Plough website. It is far from being the most prestigious prize out there but the organizers are extremely generous with their time, giving feed back on all commended poems and offering free tick box critiques of all entries received before a certain date. And they clearly have impeccable aesthetic standards. Vive la Plough!

How it ends

It was the great wind down,
clocks’ ghosts being given up,
the beginning of the end.

At first it was barely discernible,
the noise of a plane on a windy night,
a roar a little denser than the hum;
and then when it was unmistakable,
it was as if it had always been there,
and that was the middle of the end.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

February's poems are now online at featuring work from the following poets:

Jocelyn Page
Iain Britton
Sarah Westcott
Sriya Narayanan
Colin Honnor
Frank De Canio
Aseem Kaul
Esther de Vries
Jason Sturner
Yuyutsu RD Sharma

New work is posted every month; if you want to submit then write to me at rquintav AT gmail DOT com. Send up to six poems embedded in the body of an email. No attachments please! We accept all styles of poetry. For more information see here or browse in the extensive archive.

Monday, 1 February 2010

December and January is the time when the Premiership transforms from a professional, cash-rich tournament into something altogether more amateurish. Players who are normally cared for like priceless works of art are forced to play several games a week on frozen pitches in rain, snow or Burnley. It is the time of Boxing Day craziness, FA Cup upsets (this year has seen Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool all eliminated in the first two rounds) and season-changing injuries. Then along comes February, the Champions' League begins, the days start getting longer and everything gets back to normal. It is often the team that manages to navigate this chaotic period relatively unscathed that goes on to win the league and this year it is my team, Chelsea, who emerge into the February sunlight bleary-eyed and top of the table. This despite the fact that January was also the time when they were without several key players - most notably Didier Drogba - who were competing in the Africa Cup of Nations. While other international tournaments like the World Cup and the European Cup take place in the summer when the domestic leagues are over this tournament falls bang in the middle of the European footballing year. This was no big deal in the past when there were only a handful of African players playing in European leagues. But that is no longer the case; Chelsea have a particularly African-heavy team but most clubs in the Premiership have one or two African players on their books. Many African players also play in the French first division. Given that the ACN takes place every two years (as opposed to every four for the European and World Cups) this presents a major disruption to these championships and a potential handicap to those teams who have a large African presence in their squads. ( I say "potentially" because it does not seem to have had any effect on Chelsea but not all teams can afford to follow Chelsea's policy of having a substitutes' bench made up of international stars.) I personally enjoy the element of unpredictably that December/January brings to the grindingly commercial English Premier League but with the rise and rise of African football is it perhaps time to consider a winter break? It would be a shame if top clubs thought twice about signing African players because they would miss a month's football every two years and if there were no domestic matches taking place then a lot more people would watch the Africa Cup matches which would do a great deal to increase the visibility of countries who need all the PR help they can get.