Friday, September 28, 2007

The Carlyle Letters Online

This site contains the searchable text of some 10,000 letters by Jane Welsh Carlyle and her husband Thomas Carlyle, which provide remarkable insight into the values and culture of Nineteenth Century Britain. It is possible to browse the letters by date, by recipient, and by subject as well as searching the complete text using keywords. But don't just plunder the text but read it for the wonderful descriptions and detailed accounts of events, other writers and everyday life:

Here is Thomas Carlyle's description of a meeting with William Godwin:

"He is a bald, bushy-browed, thick, hoary, hale little figure with spectacles: taciturn enough, and speaking when he does speak with a certain epigrammatic spirit; wherein except a little shrewdness there is nothing but the most commonplace character. (I should have added that he wears spectacles, has full grey eyes, a very large blunt characterless nose, and ditto chin.) By degrees I hitched myself near him, and was beginning to open him, and open on him, for he had stared twice at me; when suddenly enough began a speaking of French among the Kennys and Badamsinas (for they are all French-English); and presently Godwin was summoned off to—take a hand at whist! I had already flatly declined. There did the Philosopher sit, and a swarm of noisy children, chattering women, lounging dilettantes round him; and two women literally crashing hoarse thunder out of a piano (for it was louder than an iron-forge), under pretext of its being music by Rossini. I thought of my own piano, and the far different fingering it got; looked sometimes not without sorrow at the long-nosed whist-player; and in the space of an hour (seeing supper about to be laid in another room) took myself away."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Poetry As Insurgent Art

I realised Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote poems with an edge to them after reading out his poem "Underwear" at a local MayDay get-together - it wasn't just my way-off sense of humour. Just published by City Lights this new book from Ferlinghetti "offers, in prose, his primer of what poetry is, could be, should be. The result is by turns tender and furious, personal and political. If you are a reader of poetry, find out what is missing from the usual fare you are served; if you are a poet, read at your own risk—you will never again look at your role in the same way."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Czech Book covers of the 1920s and 1930s

Some vibrant designs by artists such as Josef Kapek, Josef Sima and Augsut Tschinkel:

"Avant-garde Czech book design sprang from the Devetsil Artistic Union, a highly influential group of avant-garde poets, writers, artists, and designers active from 1920 to 1931. ReD [1927-31], the most important of Devetsil 's journals, published work by leading names in the fields of writing, art, and architecture, among them poetry by Mallarmé and Apollinaire; prose by James Joyce; reproductions of art by Arp, Chagall, Kandinsky, Brancusi, Mondrian and El Lissitzky; and articles on the architecture of Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Frank Lloyd Wright."

The Art of Lee Miller

A video by Tony Penrose, son of Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, introduces some of her work and remembers life with her at Farley Farm, Sussex, on the Guardian website.

" The Art of Lee Miller" exhibition is on at the V&A till January 6 2008

Lee Miller was one of the grreatest photographers of the 20th Century:
"In 1940 she became a freelance photographer for 'Vogue' and later war correspondent. She was the only woman in combat photojournalism in Europe during the Second World War. The magazine published Miller's searing dispatches including reports on the Liberation of Paris, the siege of St Malo, the death camps in Dachau and Buchenwald and the banality of Hitler's apartment in Munich. After the war Miller married Roland Penrose and returned to portraiture, concluding her career with a humorous series titled 'Working Guests' photographing famous artists, including Picasso, on their farm in Sussex."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An Ethiopian hero: Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin (1936 - 2006)

Richard Pankhurst writes about Ethipian writer and poet, the late Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin on Open Democracy:

"Tsegaye was no less insistent that Britain should return the manuscripts, crosses, tents and other loot taken – unjustly, as he saw it, from Emperor Tewodros's mountain citadel of Magdala in 1868. Much of this loot is currently in the British Museum and British Library, as well as in Britain's Royal Library in Windsor Castle, which currently holds six remarkably finely illustrated Ethiopian manuscripts."

It looks right
It looks left
It forgets to look into its own self:
The broken yoke threatens to return
Only, this time
In the luring shape
Of luxury and golden chains
That frees the body
And enslaves the mind.

There are more poems by Tsegaye on a website devoted to history, art and culture of Ethiopia.

Steve Bell: Marching to his own toon

Steven Vass interviews cartoonist Steve Bell in the Sunday Herald.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

London Lickpenny

I'm currently reading Michael Schmidt's Lives of the Poets - a fascinating account of the development of English-language poetry that is providing my first real encounter with medieval literature. Some of the poems I've been introduced to make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck in the same way as they did when I first heard Junior Walker play "Roadrunner". Haunting images and modern political sentiments are hidden behind the archaic spellings, and seem more powerful for having to sweat a bit trying to understand them, as with "Merciles Beaute" (usually attributed to Chaucer):

Your yen two wol slee me sodenly;
I may the beautee of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit throughout my herte kene.

(see: full text on Representative Poetry Online)

A brief mention of "London Lickpenny" made me want to find our more about this poem which is usually attributed to John Lydgate. An account of the impossibility of obtaining justice in London. The full-text is available as part of the online version of James M Dean's Medieval English Political Writings (Print edition, 1996).

One particularly useful site is provided by Southampton University as part of its : Wessex Parallel WebTexts programme - a project that provides scholarly but accessible electronic editions as an on-line learning resource.

Its website offers an "anthology of edited Middle English lyrics (concentrating particularly on the 'Harley Lyrics'), translations of some longer Middle English works, and background resources for use in teaching."
Wessex Parallel WebTexts:

Lastly I just want to mention to the beautiful illuminations from the 15th-century Bréviaire de Marie de Savoie (1430) courtesy of Allison Muri's Headless Chicken.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Manu Chao Interview

An edited version of Nigel Williamson's feature article on Manu Chao, originally published in the world music mag Songlines, has been published on the Independent website:

"I respect Bono and Bob Geldof's way of doing it, but I don't believe in leaders," he says simply. "They can't move the wheels or find the brake any more. The capitalist system is out of control. Everybody should be their own leader. In our own lives and families and neighbourhoods, we can find solutions to live together in a more soulful way. Everybody can do it. That's what I try to do in my neighbourhood."

"It was only when I listened to the old French music of Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf that I started writing in French. I heard those lyrics and I said, 'That's the real rock'n'roll.'"

British Library Digitisation Project

The British Library has announced the winners of its competition to make "spectacular' and unusual treasures from public libraries more widely available via the web, through its online digitisation project Turning the Pages 2.0 virtual texts.

Now alongside virtual copies of William Blake's notebook, the Lindesfarne Gospels, and the manuscript of Jane Austen's History of England, it will be possible to read extracts from the Dorset Federation of Women's Institutes beautifully illustrated War Record Book 1939-1945 and the Arbuthnott Manuscrits - a spectacular illuminated missal containing a "blood-curdling rite of excommunication" . Further details on 24 Hour Museum: