Tuesday, March 25, 2008

no problem with genetic research, says Minister

Rt.Hon.Eric Honegger, MP
Labour Health Minister Eric Honegger, launching the new Bill in the Commons today, declared there was no problem in mixing human and animal genes.

an easter mystery

Denise Thomas (1945 - 1998)
Peter Redgrove, poet (1932 - 2003)

Following on from the last piece, I did have a haunting experience on Easter Day, around 3 a.m. This poem describes it...

The Reading

We went at Easter to hear my old friend Peter Redgrove
read at a college. He was already in full flow,
that strong bald head, that resonant, calm voice.
The hall was almost full, the students attentive,
I felt quite jealous. Then it emptied out a lot
and Peter said, I’ll just read one more poem.

I found him afterwards outside, standing apart,
smoking. I said I was sorry
we’d arrived late, but we’d not expected him to start
so promptly. He said, well, they’re Buddhists, you see,
(with a characteristic dry chuckle
I’d forgotten over the years)
and you have to get on with it!

I said, scanning the crowd sitting on steps
around us, Denise is here somewhere,
looking for you, have you seen her?
Then realised
Denise is dead. And the pain of that woke me
before I could tell him my mistake, then
I realised Peter is dead, so I didn’t need to tell him.

I padded along to my study to record
the dream in the stillness of the night,
and a few lines ago something fell
or was thrown, and I heard it bounce.
When I looked it was a lightbulb, unbroken.

easter and religion

I didn't go to church this Easter. I don't go to church. I was brought up a Methodist, and I still love and sing (anywhere) the great Methodist hymns. But I don't like the word --Method-ist--just as I don't like -isms in general, and --well, one can't step into the same river twice. The Church of England has never appealed to me; it's too genteel, too unemotional; I hate boys' choirs, those little white frocks they wear; equally the adult males, in their big white frocks, warbling away. Above all, they have tragically thrown away that magnificent treasury for the spirit and the heart, the King James' Bible and Cranmer's prayer book. I can't forgive them that. I don't want Christianity in civil service English. I also don't want happy-clappy.

I would like Petersburg's Mariinsky Cathedral, the 'Marine Cathedral', transferred to Truro. Magnificent mixed choir, thunderous blackbearded priests. Some billionaire should buy it, as they do football clubs, and bring it here. Failing that, I'd probably enjoy some mostly black, Hot Gospel church. All that exuberance, and marvellous harmonised singing.

I do have a religious sense. Wittgenstein: 'Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystery.' We may as well call that mysterious mystery, that unknown unknown, God. For us, for our western culture and time, Christianity became our preferred symbol for the source of existence. So I believe in Christianity just as I believe in a rose as a symbol of beauty, or the moon as a symbol of woman.

Elsewhere, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. have their own preferred symbols for the mystery. Atheists don't have symbols for it, except perhaps some mathematical formula. Of course atheists can be good men and women, but somehow the people who have moved me most, because they seem to have a deeper grounding, have been religious --e.g. Akhmatova, Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, T.S.Eliot, Yeats, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn. Also my mother, whose simple Christian sayings come through to me often, and rarely fail to 'restore my soul'. And my father, who said, days before his unexpected death after an operation, 'Amy, I want you to know, if anything happens to me, my way is clear'. Incidentally, it would have been my mother's 105th birtday on Easter day.

Religious words that move me deeply:
Dame Juliana of Norwich: 'Sin is behovely; and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'
Dante, the last line of the Divine Comedy: 'The Love that moves the sun and the other stars'.

Eliot, in Four Quartets:
'Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.'

If anyone can find me a phrase or sentence in Dawkins that I will want to cherish, let me know.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I'm searching for a title for a new poetry collection. When the title seems to fit perfectly, suggesting the nature of the work, one feels much more confident it's finished. I had the title for The White Hotel before I'd written a word; it seemed the necessary image for what I wanted the novel to include. The Flute-Player title only came to me on the novel's last page - when I suddenly decided my heroine would, as a Muse figure, learn to play the flute. I knew it was the perfect title.

Occasionally I've had to write out a hundred or more possible titles. That happened with my fictional memoir of Freud. In the end I plucked a title which seemed to have no connection with the novel, in desperation: Eating Pavlova. To my surprise, it seems to work very well. I slipped in a reference in the text to the creamy dessert after I'd chosen the title. I guess it works because one can read it in two ways: eating the dessert or enjoying cunnilingus with Anna Pavlova the dancer --very Freudian. The same exhaustive search occurred with my poetry collection Dear Shadows. A quotation from a poem by Yeats, it perfectly reflects the work's themes, and I wonder why I didn't think of it straightaway; but in fact it came to me only after I'd tried and rejected scores of bad titles. Sometimes a title comes when I don't know what it's going to be a title of. (That's a pretty awful sentence.) I loved the poem-title The Marriage of John Keats and Emily Dickinson in Paradise, and then had laboriously to construct a poem to fit.

So, anyway, I've got to scribble more names down for the new collection...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

sunday morning on madeira

The dogs are singing; it’s their own chorale
suddenly starts up from all around
our hotel balcony,
tenors and basses, and one lone falsetto,
it mounts to a crescendo, it’s like Bartok
and a steel band, savage and beautiful
celebrating life and their Creator
even in their own cramped, squalid ghetto.
The sea is listening to this joyous sound;
and when it stops as suddenly as it started,
out of the stunned silence a cock,
alone and apart,
chanticleers proudly, ‘Now this is art’.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

reading on madeira

What a rivetting subject! But anyway I said I would tell you what I read, and it was The Dante Club. Have already forgotten who wrote it, but it's a fantastically good thriller, probably the best I've ever read. It's based on genuine events, such as the creation, in Boston, of the first American translation of Dante's Inferno, in the 1860's. The main characters are real-life ones, Longfellow, Lowell and Holmes, the translators. Frighteningly, as they are meeting to discuss the translation, a series of horrifying murders takes place, mimicking Dante's blood-curdling punishments of wrongdoers in Hell. With immense ingenuity and imagination, Matthew Pearls --ah, I remember his name!-- makes the 'coincidence' plausible. It's a far better book than most literary novels.

Reading that, smoking on our balcony, and drinking wine, was about all I did.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

coach house workshop

This is our home, the Coach House, in Truro, where I shall be leading a writing workshop, May 23 - 27, this year. Themes we shall be exploring creatively include the stones, myths, history of Cornwall, dreams, the buried self, and the erotic. There are still a few places left; anyone interested should email me at dmthomas@btconnect.com and you will receive an internet brochure.

Off to Madeira. No more here for about ten days.