Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Stuff...

January Magazine has a US focused round-up of "Best Books of 2008" and also two feature articles on "Best Crime Books 2008":

Duke University Press have just placed eight years of back issues of the academic journal Comparative Literature online - with open access.

Robert Bly's translation of a poem by Miguel de Unamo is the seasonal posting on Wood's Lot:
"The Snowfall Is So Silent"

The New Yorker features a review by Darrel Pinckney of the recent publication of Susan Sontag's early journals: Reborn: Journals & Notebooks, 1947-1963,. Pinckney's review is entitled: "The Book of Lists". This issue also includes an audio profile of Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: "Voice of the Left" by Larissa MacFarquhar.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Adrian Mitchell 1932-2008

Poet Michael Rosen pays tribute (in Socialist Worker) to his friend Adrian Mitchell, who died last week:

"As a teenager, I watched him performing his poem "To whom it may concern" from the plinth at Trafalgar Square. I was used to reading poetry to myself in my bedroom, or at best, hearing it on the radio. But here was a poetry that responded to political events of the moment and talked to a movement of hundreds and thousands."

[see also the post dated 21st December below for additional links on Adrian Mitchell]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Books and Libraries in the Digital Age

A video lecture by Harvey Darnton, director of Harvard Libraries:

In conversation with David Thorburn and audience members, Darnton lays out why he finds more promise than peril in rapidly expanding digital collections. He first owns up to the tactile pleasures of archival history: the sensation of opening a box full of manuscripts, dirty hands, the smell of old paper, and literally coming “into contact with vanished humanity.”

He cherishes the drama of such research, as well as the finished, weighty products of this kind of work: the book. While the “tactile quality of books” is very important -- and Darnton describes holding up leaves of 18th century books to see bits of ground-down petticoat thread -- there are also positive dimensions to digital versions. For instance, when the British Library digitized Beowulf, it discovered several new words. But “one medium of communication doesn’t displace another,” he reassures. “They coexist.” Darnton himself is hard at work on a large-scale electronic book about books in the 18th century, comprised of layers a user can navigate, from essays on various subjects, to selections of documents in English, to the original documents in French. There might even be songs performed as they were sung in the streets of Paris 250 years ago. “We are in an era of creating new kinds of books, new kinds of reading and authorship.”

MIT Communications Forum website which hosts the lecture has also made other lectures available including "Folk Cultures and Digital Cultures" and "Copyright, Fair Use , and the Cultural Commons"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Adrian Mitchell - Poet

My brain socialist
My heart anarchist
My eyes pacifist
My blood revolutionary

The BBC reported today on the death of poet Adrian Mitchell aged of 76. Described by Red Pepper as the "shadow laureate" Adrian was probably best known for his poems "On the Beach at Cambridge" and "To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies About Vietnam)" - but his writing was wide-ranging and not restricted to anti-war themes. One of his most powerful works was the anti-bullying "Back in the Playground Blues" - based on his own experience at school it widens to become an indictment of authoritarian society:

Back in the Playground Blues - Adrian Mitchell (1997)

I dreamed I was back in the playground, I was about four feet high
Yes dreamed I was back in the playground, standing about four feet high
Well the playground was three miles long and the playground was five miles wide

It was broken black tarmac with a high wire fence all around
Broken black dusty tarmac with a high wire fence running all around
And it had a special name to it, they called it The Killing Ground

Got a mother and a father, they're one thousand years away
The rulers of The Killing Ground are coming out to play
Everybody thinking: 'Who they going to play with today?'

Well you get it for being Jewish
And you get it for being black
Get it for being chicken
And you get it for fighting back
You get it for being big and fat
Get it for being small
Oh those who get it get it and get it
For any damn thing at all

Sometimes they take a beetle, tear off its six legs one by one
Beetle on its black back, rocking in the lunchtime sun
But a beetle can't beg for more, a beetle's not half the fun

I heard a deep voice talking, it had that iceberg sound
'It prepares them for Life' - but I have never found
Any place in my life worse than The Killing Ground.

More than any other poet Adrian successfully combined the rhythms of rock and roll with incisive political comment - I still have vivid recollections of his performance of his anti-boss poem "Fuck off Friday" at the Centenary celebrations for the anarchist paper Freedom in 1986. His work with children was both inspired and inspiring.

Jonathan Sale interview in the Independent.

Poetry Trust Interview with Michael Rosen and Adrian Mitchell

There is a good overview of his work on the British Council's Contemporary Writers website.

As a tribute Neil Astley has posted videos of Adrian reading three of his poems, on Vimeo, including "Especially When it Snows" an elegy for his adopted go-daughter Boty, who died of a heroin overdose. [thanks to Peony Moon]

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Seduced by the Devil's Whore?

If you have been watching Channel 4s costume Drama, the "Devil's Whore" based on the real events of the English Civil War and are interested in finding out more about the Levellers and the Diggers - what they believed in and what they did, then you will be interested in the London Socialist Historians one-day event:

1649 and the Execution of King Charles

30 January 1649 is one of the key dates in the history of British democracy but it is commemorated nowhere in Britain. It was the day when King Charles 1st was beheaded and the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, the foundation of modern Parliamentary democracy, came into effective being. It was a revolutionary moment and it brought onto the historical stage people, ideas and movements that went well beyond anything that Cromwell and the senior leadership of the New Model Army had in mind. Brian Manning in his seminal book on 1649 notes that this was a year when popular mobilisations did not happen. There was no popular uprising to mark the Commonwealth, and no popular protest at the execution of the King. There was however an Army revolt at Burford, also celebrating its anniversary this year, which was brutally put down by Cromwell. 1649 was also the year when Cromwell landed in Dublin to initiate brutal episodes in Ireland.

This conference will look at the liberties and democratic practices ushered in by 1649 and at those who wanted to take them further.

1649 and the execution of King Charles

Saturday 7 February 2009
Venue: Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London.


9.30 – Registration (Wolfson Room)

10.00-11.15 Welcome and Keynote addresses (Wolfson Room)
Chair: Keith Flett, LSHG
Geoffrey Robertson, author of The Tyrannicide Brief
John Rees, author of A Rebel's Guide to Milton, forthcoming

11.15-11.30 Coffee

11.30-12.30 PANEL ONE: Cromwell's coalition and its critics (Wolfson Room)
Chair: David Renton, LSHG
Martyn Everett, 'The Agitators – between Rebellion and Reaction'
Dr. Ariel Hessayon, Goldsmiths College, 'Early modern Communism: the Diggers and community of goods'

11.30-12.30 PANEL TWO: 1649 in contemporary eyes (Pollard Room)
Chair: Tobas Abse, LSHG
Claudia Guli, University of Melbourne, 'Historical Precedent in Contemporary Justifications of the Trial of Charles I'
Ángel Alloza, CSIC (Spain), '"An Outrageous Incident": the execution of Kings Charles seen from Abroad'

12.30-1.30 Lunch

1.30-2.30 PANEL THREE: The regicide, terror and Restoration (Pollard Room)
Chair: David Renton, LSHG
Jerome de Groot, University of Manchester, '"Original Villany": Foundational Terrorism'
Alan Marshall, Bath Spa University, 'The Trials of Thomas Harrison, regicide'

1.30-2.30 PANEL FOUR: The Republic and something more (Wolfson Room)
Chair: Paul Burnham, LSHG
Alejandro Doering De Rio, Queen's College Cambridge, 'James Harrington as a theorist of political of equality'
Dr John Seed, Roehampton University, 'The politics of remembering: the execution of Charles I in C18th England'

2.30-2.45 Coffee

2.45-4.00 Closing Plenary (Wolfson Room)
Chair: Keith Flett
Norah Carlin, author of The Causes of the English Civil War
Geoff Kennedy, author of Diggers, Levellers and Agrarian Capitalism

£10 waged / £5 unwaged,. Order from Keith Flett