Monday, 26 January 2015

A poem for Holocaust Memorial Day

September Song

born 19.6.32 - deported 24.9.42

Undesirable you may have been, untouchable
you were not. Not forgotten
or passed over at the proper time.

As estimated, you died. Things marched,
sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
terror, so many routine cries.

(I have made
an elegy for myself it
is true)

September fattens on vines. Roses
flake from the wall. The smoke
of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.

This is plenty. This is more than enough.

Geoffrey Hill

Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation, Paris.
Poem reproduced for educational purposes only.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

When politicians write novels

Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796)

Before Christmas, Dr Aidan Byrne gave a guest session and master class for our level 4 module Fundamentals: Myth and Drama on re-writing ancient and national myth (read about it here). His forthcoming book, co-authored with Nicola Allen, investigates another set of folk practices: the cultural phenomenon of the politician-novelist. What attracts politicians to prose fiction, pulp fiction in particular? Do the demands of Commons debates and the campaign trail mean that MPs have no time for poetry?  Not quite, according to the two authors, who argue that 'there is a reciprocal relationship between the cheap thriller and the neoliberal political imagination. Politicians' novels are the secret fantasies of a class that despises the democratic process for blunting the will to power'. I'm assuming that only members of the House of Lords have the time and inclination to write poetry (Byron springs to mind).

Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel (1979) 

Aidan and Nicola's recent essay in the Times Higher Education Supplement speculates on the phenomenon, from Matthew 'Monk' Lewis's schlocky Gothic novel The Monk (1796) to Jeffrey Archer's thrillers and, no doubt, works by Ann Widdecombe and Nadine Dorries. We look forward to reading the book, which promises to be an excellent contribution to literary and cultural studies. Click here to read the article.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Twelfth Night

It seems rather hard luck to be returning to work at Christmas, but the season does not end until tomorrow. Today is the Twelfth Night, or the eve of Epiphany on the liturgical calendar, when the last of the ham and pudding are eaten, and the decorations taken down for another year.

Twelfth Night has always been a day of feasting and rejoicing, a natural conclusion to an extended holiday period. In pre-Christian England it marked a winter midpoint between Samhain (Hallowe’en) and Imbolc, a fire festival that coincides with Candlemas and St Bridget’s day (February 2).  On the Roman calendar, December-January brings Saturnalia, with celebrations and feasting. The medieval church adopted elements of Saturnalia into the church calendar, aligning Twelfth Night with the Feast of Fools, a holiday presided over by a Lord of Misrule.  For a few hours, piety would be outraged, and authority turned on its head. An altar-boy or apprentice would be elected Bishop for a day, dressing in clerical robes and issuing orders to his ‘flock’. Sometimes he might wear a fox’s head above the robes in honour of Lord Reynard, the wiliest animal. Thus the church embraced and contained anti-clericalism and the satirical spirit in a show of ‘carnival’. You can sometimes see such images of misrule in parish churches, as for example this pew-end in St Michael’s church, Brent Knoll.

Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night for performance at the Middle Temple in 1602, using inverted authority and disorder as a plot device. Malvolio the Puritan spoilsport finds that he is the victim of Sir Toby Belch’s Christmas larks. Out in the countryside, however, Twelfth Night retains some features of its origins as an agricultural and seasonal festival.  In the apple-growing districts, revelers celebrated in the orchards, blessing trees and offering them a sacrifice of bread (yeast barm?) – perhaps an echo of the Roman offerings to Pomona, queen of the apple trees.  ‘Wassailing’ is an Old English term for these cider-drinking revels, and although the ceremonies are now pretty much neglected, many British folk songs commemorate this mysterious time of year, and allow us a glimpse into lost ways of life.

Enjoy the last few hours of holiday cheer. Waes hael.