Tuesday, 13 December 2016

One body

But in as much as we all
    have one heart, matching limbs
    and a brain-gut axis

aren't we all, to some degree
    little c conservatives
    who fight our corner,
    move through space

and want, deep down, to know
    what is for lunch;

starch and beans, a little
    fat, that which unites us,
    humanity, schmaltz.

Monday, 5 December 2016

do Do

Waldo Donald was obsessed by geometry to the point where it impinged on his personal life; he was unable to hold down a steady job or to have any meaningful relationship with other humans, preferring the reassuring order of abstract and idealized forms.  Euclid and Onan were his tutelary deities.  To fund his geometry habit he took to giving private lessons but always found it hard to put up with his students’ obstinate stupidity.  On one occasion he was hired by a rich eccentric who fancied himself as a mathematician maudit.  After a week or so Waldo couldn’t contain himself and told his boss just exactly what he thought about his grasp of solids.  Stuart would surely have fired him on the spot had it not been for the troupe of mythological characters he kept in a purpose-built barn.  They had taken a shine to Waldo and the one thing that mattered more to Stuart than his own self-esteem and egoistical conceit was his barn of gnomes and unicorns and fairies.  He decided not to terminate Waldo’s contract but in order to punish him for his insolence ordered that from henceforth Waldo Donald, an inherently prosaic character with a tendency to stammer, would be forced to declaim his lessons in perfectly scanned and end-rhymed pentameters.  Waldo, terrified by his employer’s moods, agreed and has been at it ever since; so solo lover’s verses explain planes to Stuart’s hurt self’s elves. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016


My new book, hhereenow, is now available from corrupt press in Luxembourg.  You can order copies here.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Musique et lecture mardi 15 novembre ! Rufo Quintavalle et James Weeks

mardi 15 novembre, 19h-21h.
atelier Michael Woolworth, 2 rue de la Roquette, 75011 Paris

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Paris 2016

There are no origins, only now

an afternoon downpour
followed by light;

it is in surpassing our sacred texts
that we are true to them and faithful.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Reading tonight

I am reading tonight with Amy Hollowell at Berkeley Books of Paris as part of the Poets Live series.

Full details here and here.

Monday, 17 October 2016


Friday, 14 October 2016

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Wednesday, 12 October 2016


Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Save the date(s) and new book

Don't worry.  We are on the verge of World War III, five thousand refugees were fished out of the sea yesterday, we are living through the hottest year in human history and Theresa May is waving her big, hard Brexit around. BUT I have two Paris reading dates coming up and even a new book to ease your pain.

On October 18th I will be reading with Amy Hollowell at Berkeley Books of Paris to kick off the new Poets Live season.

And then on November 15th I will be premiering a new poetry and music performance at Michael Woolworth's gallery with avant garde British composer, James Weeks.   

And sometime in between the two my new book, hhereenow, will be published by the Luxembourg-based corrupt press.

More details to follow in due course.  But for now, keep calm and carry on…

Friday, 30 September 2016

human nothing
human is alien

Monday, 26 September 2016

Reed and Bowie - a rock and roll exegesis

One of the first albums I owned was Lou Reed's New York.  I must have been 11 or 12 at the time and didn't understand half of what he was talking about - Rudy Giuliani, Kurt Waldheim, downtown queens and lavender boozers - but I loved the way the album sounded and have listened to it regularly ever since.  Now that I am a bit older I understand most of the lyrics (and at times find them a little heavy-handed) but one detail had always slightly confused me and that was the title of the song, Strawman.  It didn't seem to have any particular relation to what the song was about.

Listening to Lou Reed led me in various directions - back to the poetry of his teacher, Delmore Schwartz, which in turn opened up the realm of American confessional poetry; The Velvet Underground introduced me to Andy Warhol and his world of weirdos and junkies and drag queens.  And somewhere in the middle of that there was David Bowie.  After Bowie's death I started listening to his music which I hadn't done for quite some time and it got me wondering… what if the Strawman isn't really a Strawman at all but rather a Starman?

If so could this song be understood as a coded message about/for a singer with whom Reed had had a famously conflicted relationship?  Bowie was an admirer of The Velvet Underground and produced Reed's early solo album, Transformer, but the two fell out in the late 70s and had an off-on relationship for the rest of their lives.  So if Strawman is a message from Lou to David what might that message mean and what is the evidence that it is a message at all?

First the evidence:

1. the way Lou says "straw" sounds a lot like "star";

2. the song talks a lot about rockets, Mars etc and evokes a wealthy rock musician who has given up on  cocaine addiction and become self-righteous and preachy;

3. the next track on the album is "Dime Store Mystery" which is about Andy Warhol and references Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.  Reed was a friend of Scorsese and had seen the film when it came out.   David Bowie plays Pontius Pilate in the film.

Errr, that's more or less it…

Second, the meaning of the message:

David Bowie in 1989 was living as a millionaire tax exile in Switzerland and producing lousy music.  Strawman is a call to Bowie to get real, remember the stuff he did in the 70s and move back to New York.  Look says Lou, it worked for me - by revisiting the Warhol years, hanging out on Christopher Street and getting my hands dirty I produced my best record in years.  Why don't you give it a go?

It took Bowie a while to hear this message (there were the Bowie bonds and another decade of lousy music) but eventually he got it, moved back to New York, played Warhol in the film, Basquiat, and produced Heathen, which was his best album since the 70s and a bridge to the final Indian summer of Blackstar.

The case is closed.  Bowie gave Reed's career a boost when he was in a post-Velvet hole and Reed eventually repaid the favor.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Tuesday, 13 September 2016


Friday, 9 September 2016

"Art too is only a way of living, and one can prepare for it, living somehow, without knowing it; in everything real one is closer, nearer neighbor to it than in the unreal semi-artistic professions which, while they make show of a relatedness to art, in practice deny and attack the existence of art."
R. M. Rilke
The afternoon, a clod of sperm,
a glass of heavenly Tokaj.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Go West!

My poem, the ruins of the ruins of palmyra, has just been published in the Western Humanities Review, a long-running and prestigious literary journal housed in the English Department of the University of Utah.  You can read more about the latest issue at the link below and also order a copy (or indeed a subscription).  Worth noting too that this is probably your only chance to buy an English language poetry magazine containing work by two poets named Rufo.

Opium, a little wine,
a little sunlight on the water;
I am not scared of death.

Friday, 26 August 2016

That life might triumph over death,
not in some other compensatory world
but here in the forest
and in the here and now.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Summer nights

You are not
who you think
you are;

the past
takes you in its mouth
like a pearl,
then opens its lips
and breathes you
silently free.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

I have seen another world;
perhaps it is the wine
but I have seen another world.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Sunday, 19 June 2016

After the flood

To write from the place where you are;
aware of the dead, aware of it all,
to write about ducks on the swollen river.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

I open the window, wine like ink;
the smell of pig on a wet city morning

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

the perfect peach

Friday, 27 May 2016

Some thoughts on Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein's Edward Said lecture has been reprinted in the London Review of Books.  It strikes me as an important contribution in bringing together the social justice and environmental movements and also in pointing out how those two movements overlap in one very specific place - the Middle East.  Like any good article it raises as many questions as it answers so here are some thoughts of my own.

1. "We face so many overlapping and intersecting crises that we can’t afford to fix them one at a time. We need integrated solutions, solutions that radically bring down emissions, while creating huge numbers of good, unionized jobs and delivering meaningful justice to those who have been most abused and excluded under the current extractive economy."

Is this true? Or do we need to focus on the time specific problem first - i.e. climate change - and solve the other ones later.  This might sound callous since it implies that people living and suffering now are in some way of less importance than future generations but there is part of me that would rather see an imperfect solution to climate change right now, even if it doesn't necessarily tick all the boxes.   My feeling is that while Klein's suggestion sounds good in principle, in reality the opposite is true: We face so many overlapping and intersecting crises that we can only afford to fix them one at a time.  And we need to fix one of them urgently.

2. "We often hear climate change blamed on ‘human nature’, on the inherent greed and short-sightedness of our species. Or we are told we have altered the earth so much and on such a planetary scale that we are now living in the Anthropocene – the age of humans. These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialised to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy – those sorts of system."

This strikes me as a good observation but one that needs to be developed further.  There is certainly a school of thought that says humans are inherently selfish.  This is the rationale behind Hobbes' vision of society as a set of self-imposed limits designed to curb humanity's darker instincts.   Hobbes' pessimism is given a positive spin by Adam Smith - humans are inherently selfish but this selfishness can be used to create positive outcomes for society as a whole.  And it is present in a more neutral form in Darwin too - humans are selfish but in this they are no different from other animals: all they want is to stay alive.   I don't know enough about non-Western philosophical traditions to comment on whether these observations are specifically Western (or British even) but certainly the idea of humanity as basically selfish can lead to a posture of passivity and defeatism.  Klein is right to point to this as an enemy in overcoming climate change.  

But I think the argument needs more nuance if it is to be an effective one.  Capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy strike me as too vague.  Indeed the risk is that they are so vague that they lead us back to the defeatist throw up your hands in despair position she wants to avoid.  The Vikings were colonizers and  had an extractive economic model, the Arab world was and remains deeply patriarchal, Japan which cut itself off from the West for centuries had a patriarchal, hierarchical and violent culture, the Indians were both victims of colonialism and colonizers themselves, China's embrace of capitalism is consistent with their long mercantile past.  By declaring the enemy to be capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy you end up implicating a very large portion of humanity, far larger I suspect than Klein intends.

I think the real effort that needs to be done is to identify those societies that have a way of life which is both socially just and respectful of the natural world and then to ask honestly if that way of life can be feasibly replicated in developed Western societies.  

3. "The trouble is structural. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. "

This is true if you are Belgium but not true if you are Venezuela, Norway, Russia, Brazil, or Saudi Arabia (or even the US, the UK and Canada).  Are Gazprom, Petrobras and Saudi Aramco in some way better than Shell or BP because they are non-Western?  The emissions they produce are equally damaging to the climate and their profits are used to prop up corrupt regimes.  I don't think Klein helps her case here by conflating climate change and foreign intervention in the Middle East - letting Middle Eastern countries manage their own fossil fuel reserves would have no positive impact on climate change and might even make things worse.  I would personally like to see all these companies go bust - irrespective of whether they are publicly or privately owned and irrespectively of whether they are exploiting their own reserves or those of other countries.  

4. One final question that Klein's article raised in my mind was to wonder what the world would look like if we were to call a halt not just to the age of fossil fuels but also to the whole imbalance which has allowed some countries to get rich off the back of others.  If Europe were to give back all its ill-gotten gains - not just the oil but the gold and silver, the diamonds, the sugar cane, the tea, the slaves - then would it still be able to finance things like healthcare, education, public transport and the welfare state?    

Monday, 23 May 2016

Thursday, 19 May 2016

grounds well

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

where does it     happen
often             an unlikely
personal          upheaval
or a     minor       philtre
means you                 are
you                    in or out
the way                 an oil
but               ends fitfully

Saturday, 14 May 2016

to time to time


Seat 3A,  I am in heaven,
my face is bathed in light

Friday, 13 May 2016

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Monday, 2 May 2016

I will be taking part in the European Literature Festival in London as part of their European Poetry Night on Saturday May 14th.  Full details can be found here.

Friday, 29 April 2016

"We seem to forget that, just as theology takes the idea or the fantasy of immortality for granted, so literature seeks to reclaim the world that is constantly receding from us.  The aim of literature has always been to reconcile us to life by showing that it is not limited to the actual data of existence."

Alfred Kazin, Writing Was Everything

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Saturday, 23 April 2016

on the black

I had
the most beautiful

Friday, 22 April 2016

and the rain said riptide, argentina

Saturday, 16 April 2016

I was in Lesvos a few weeks ago for a conference looking at the underlying causes and long term consequences of the refugee crisis.  My reactions have been published by the Canadian website, The National Observer.

Friday, 15 April 2016

for the fundamentalists

it is by surpassing our sacred texts
that we are true to our sacred texts
Blanche, la lune
comme le ventre du noyé.

Manolis disait :
tout ira bien.
Le coeur de Manolis le disait.

dans l'eau profonde
avec les algues aveugles.

Yannis Ritsos, Journal de Déportation (traduction Pascal Neveu)

Thursday, 14 April 2016


the grey
just turned

Friday, 8 April 2016

Thursday, 31 March 2016

And sleep has left and joy has left
and the bodies pile up on another country's streets

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Monday, 21 March 2016

La haine de l'Occident, du moins dans le monde de l'islam, vient de son échec historique qui suscite humiliation et ressentiment. L'islam étant, selon ses adeptes, la dernière révélation prophétique, il se croit métaphysiquement supérieur aux autres religions abrahamiques comme le judaïsme et le christianisme. Pour moi, le malaise du monde islamique provient de la non-compréhension ou de la non-assimilation d'un phénomène historique majeur : l'avènement de la modernité, lequel n'a jamais été pris en compte comme tel, mais toujours en fonction des transformations radicales qu'il a infligées à nos traditions et à nos manières de vivre. Dès lors, tout jugement à son égard a toujours revêtu une dimension morale et débouché sur un rejet. Mais sur ce point, rappelons que la réaction contre les Lumières a commencé en Europe même. Sous la forme d'abord, de la révolte des Allemands contre l'hégémonie de la culture et de la langue française sur toute l'Europe du XVIIIe siècle. Ce même esprit de révolte a alimenté, un siècle plus tard, les slavophiles et les grands écrivains russes comme Tolstoï et Dostoïevski. Et ce même rejet sera transplanté à partir de la moitié du XXe siècle au tiers-monde, où les revendications identitaires revêtiront les formes les plus diverses et avec la révolution islamique d'Iran (1979), déboucheront sur le repli sur soi ou sur ce que j'ai appelé "l'ankylose identitaire".

Daryush Shayegan

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Enough rope

The shop that sold shoe-laces by the foot
has closed; the artists moved in
and bought nothing but wine:
cheap wine, red wine, artists' wine

then came the rich who liked the artists' life
but wanted better wine and heating

and after the rich came the horribly rich;
they pay the rich to catalogue their pumps
or fly their boats to Gstaad.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Bring me
back down

I am off
in the trees again

Monday, 22 February 2016

Philip Larkin

Something in you
killed your gift

or something
in your country

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Thursday, 18 February 2016


bits of his body
on mine, in mine

Wednesday, 17 February 2016


Walking back home
or crawling back home;

what an idea
to never take sides.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

for Antonin Scalia

You were twice my age
and at half your age
I finally understand:
most of the world doesn't
want to change the world

counter counter counter revolution;
doves and hawks and lions and lambs

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Thursday, 14 January 2016

I am putting together a new manuscript and came across a poem I wrote when I was living in Iowa, just after the terrorist attacks in September 2001.  I don't think it will make it into the collection - the line breaks seem a bit clunky, and poems that need an explanation tend not to be good poems - but it seemed appropriate to the world we are living in now.

IA 52240

OK, at chucking out time 
or after the parties,
but why now at six 
are there five yellow taxis 
lined beside the blue and white and red 
on silver of a Greyhound bus 
called Chicago?  The lack
of anything else to do?
The off-chance, a coffee, a ride one
day in ten; wait for San Francisco then
New York.  Like most of life no reason.

But I am walking back from where no hope is,
where there is nothing, no, least of all, names;
so for this scene, a surety
of colours, thanks.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


Monday, 11 January 2016

Friday, 8 January 2016

"Le rapport à la femme est le nœud gordien, en Algérie et ailleurs. Nous ne pouvons pas avancer sans guérir ce rapport trouble à l’imaginaire, à la maternité, à l’amour, au désir, au corps et à la vie entière. Les islamistes sont obsédés par le corps des femmes, ils le voilent car il les terrifie. Pour eux, la vie est une perte de temps avant l’éternité. Or, qui représente la perpétuation de la vie ? La femme, le désir. Donc autant les tuer. J’appelle cela le porno-islamisme. Ils sont contre la pornographie et complètement pornographes dans leur tête. Il existe deux sortes de peuples. Ceux qui respectent leurs femmes avancent dans la vie, deviennent libres, ont des créateurs, savent jouir de la vie et avoir du plaisir. Les autres, ceux qui entretiennent un rapport trouble à la femme, sont des peuples maudits. Quand les hommes bougent, c’est une émeute. Quand les femmes sont présentes, c’est une révolution.. Libérez la femme et vous aurez la liberté."

Kamel Daoud

Tuesday, 5 January 2016