Best of 2018

Here’s a list of some of the stuff I saw, did, heard, read – and a few of the places I ate and drank – in 2018 that I really enjoyed. As ever, it’s not necessarily the case that these things were produced, made, opened or published this year, it’s just when I got around to them.

Without a doubt, my album of 2018 was Shape of Silence by the amazing duo Saint SisterI was lucky enough to hear them live supporting Hozier in Oslo only a few weeks ago at an absolutely barn-storming gig. Saying that though, my gig of the year was Lankum when they played Riksscenen, the main venue in Oslo for folk music. The set was powerful, charming, and raucous good fun. The encore of “Fall down Billy O’Shea” was top class.

In terms of books, some of the best books I read were Christine Murray’s bind – probably the best book of poetry I picked up all year, in fact. Sally Rooney’s Normal People, her second novel was a stunningly good read and I absolutely flew through it. I also finally got around to reading Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones. Other books that had an impact on me this year were Mendoza and Peter Manson’s Windsuckers & Onsetters: SONNOTS for Griffithsfrom Materials; STEDET / DETTE by Gunnar Berge, published by House of Foundation; The English translation of Kjersti Skomsvold’s Monstermenneske, Monsterhuman, published by Dalkey Archives Press as part of their Norwegian Literature Series; Mathias Enard’s novel ZONE from Fitzcarraldo Editions was another standout and I finally got around to reading Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams from Verso.

At the Munch Museum this year, I really enjoyed the exhibition Mellom Klokken og Sengen (Between the Clock and the Bed). It was great especially to see Munch’s representation of The Death of Marat especially.

Places I enjoyed going to for coffee and other things in Oslo definitely include Galgen, San Francisco Bread Bowl, Egget Kafe and also Skippergata 22.

 

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Rudolf Nilsen’s Arbeidsløs Jul / Jobless Christmas

Over the past while, I’ve been reading a lot of the poetry of Rudolf Nilsen (1901-1929) considered by many to be Norway’s greatest working-class poet.

Nilsen died in 1929, at the age of 28, not from a life of excess but from illness. He died in Paris from tuberculosis but was buried in Oslo. His grave can be found in the north of the city, in Nordre Gravlund. He is remembered today through a statue erected in his memory and the naming of a square as Rudolf Nilsens plass in the area where he used to live. His was a peripatetic existence, and although most associated in people’s minds with the Vålerenga district of Oslo, his family moved around a lot within the city. Born in Orknøygata, he later lived in several places within his first year, and later at Lakkegata 58 where his parents were divorced. He is most associated with Heimdalsgate 26, the place which formed the basis for one of his most well-known poems: “Nr. 13”.

Although he was working-class, in his short life he mainly made his living as a journalist, chiefly for Norges Kommunistblad, a Communist Party daily. Nilsen was a committed communist. Although he was initially a member of Norway’s Labour Party, when a split came in the party in the 1920s, he sided with the communists and joined the newly formed Norges Kommunistiske Partiet. He was also jailed briefly for his involvement in smuggling Soviet literature into the West and attempting to spread it with a friend, Kyrre Grep.

His first collection På stengrunn was published in 1925, by Andelsforlaget, followed rapidly the following year by På Gjensyn in 1926. A third collection, Hverdag, was in the beginning stages when Nilsen, in the company of friends, went travelling through Spain and France. On the trip he contracted tuberculosis, and died shortly after in Paris in 1929. He was cremated, and his ashes returned to the city he loved, where they were buried.

As I’ve been reading his work, I’ve started some tentative translations, so here’s one called “Arbeidsløs Jul” or “Jobless Christmas” as I’ve titled it. It’s from his first collection På Stengrunn.

Abreidsløs can also be unemployed but usually the term Arbeidsledig is used nowadays, implying a momentary gap between jobs rather than the more permanent sense of being long-term unemployed that Arbeidsløs can signal. My translation follows the poem in the original below.

Arbeidsløs Jul

Vi som er dømt til livet
i gråbeingårdenes by
feirer i dag en solfest
for ham, som er født på ny.

Vi har fått tyve kroner
å feire hans komme med!
For dem har vi kjøpt en julegran
og en hel sekk ved.

For dem har vi kjøpt en bayer
og et stykke hestekjøtt.
Det siste skal minne om stallen
hvor frelseren blev født.

De fattiges herre og mester!
Det var ikke godt for ham.
Han hengtes til slutt på korset
midt mellom synd og skam.

Godt det er bare en skrøne
at Kristus er kommet påny.
Så blir det en fattig mindre
å nagle på kors i vår by.

Vi i de mørke gater
feirer i dag en fest.
Til jul får vi tyve kroner,
til påske: Korsfest! Korsfest!

 

Jobless Christmas

Us doomed to life

in the bone-grey city

celebrate a feast today

for him, born anew.

 

We’ve got twenty quid

to celebrate his coming!

We’ve bought a tree

And a full sack with it.

 

We’ve bought a beer

and a piece of horse meat.

This last to remember the manger,

Where our saviour was born.

 

Our poor lord and master!

It did him no good.

He hanged on the cross

between sin and shame.

 

It’s just as well it’s a lie

that Christ is come again.

One less poor bugger

to crucify.

 

We in the dark streets

celebrate a feast day today.

For Christmas we get twenty quid,

for Easter: Crosses! Crosses!

Hotellrom i Oslo by Nordahl Grieg

I’ve been re-reading some Nordahl Grieg again and decided to give another go to translating one of his poems. This time it’s “Hotellrom i Oslo” / “Oslo Hotel Room”. The poem comes from his 1925 collection Stene i Strømmen (1925).

Below, I’ve ordered the poem with a stanza in Norwegian followed by my translation into English and then the English altogether in one so you get a sense of what I’ve done. The poem is written in rhyming couplets in Norwegian, but I have dispensed with this for the translation.

Hotellrom i Oslo

Her sitter jeg på sengen i et fremmed, koldt, hotell,

og min hånd er full av lengsel mot annen hånd ikveld.

I sit on the bed of a frozen cold hotel

my hand full of longing for another hand tonight.

 

Enshomheten slår fra gaten, aldri før så bittert ny,

fottrinn, skygger, buelamper, suset fra den mørke by.

Loneliness rises from the street, never so bitter before,

footsteps, shadows, arc lights, shaken from the dark city.

 

Der blir menske møtt av menske, med et rop, et blikk, et smil.

Mellom meg og dem dernede er det tusener av mil.

People meeting people, with a shout, a look, a smile.

Between me and them a thousand miles.

 

Ja, jeg sitter sitter her så ensom at det hvisker i mitt sinn:

er det sant jeg noensinne holdt en annen hånd i min?

So lonely, sitting here, a whisper in my mind I hear:

Is it so I’ll never hold another hand in mine?

 

Men blant alle øde skygger er det som jeg innerst vet:

aldri har mitt hjerte elsket før i denne ensomhet!

Among these desolate shadows I know full-well:

Never have I ever loved before this loneliness!

 

La de andre bare møtes, la dem gå forlovet hjem

til det aftensbord som venter tusen aftener på dem!

Let the others meet, let them go home engaged

to their evening table waiting with a thousand evenings!

 

Mine lengsler seiler lenger, over hav og kveld og gry.

Jeg behøver ingen sporvogn klokken syv til Homansby!

My longing sails longer, over sea and evening and dawn.

I don’t need the 7pm to Homansby!

 

Men er rikere enn disse som hver løs og ledig stund

kan få ta sin elsktes hender eller kysse hennese munn.

In each and every idle moment, I’m richer

I can hold my lover’s hand and kiss her mouth.

 

Oslo Hotel Room

I sit on the bed of a frozen cold hotel

my hand full of longing for another hand tonight.

 

Loneliness rises from the street, never so bitter before,

footsteps, shadows, arc lights, shaken from the dark city.

 

People meeting people, with a shout, a look, a smile.

Between me and them a thousand miles.

 

So lonely, sitting here, a whisper in my mind I hear:

Is it so I’ll never hold another hand in mine?

 

Among these desolate shadows I know full-well:

Never have I ever loved before this loneliness!

 

Let the others meet, let them go home engaged

to their evening table waiting with a thousand evenings!

 

My longing sails longer, over sea and evening and dawn.

I don’t need the 7pm to Homansby!

 

In each and every idle moment, I’m richer

I can hold my lover’s hand and kiss her mouth.

 

 

Wretched Strangers: Available to Pre-Order Now!

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union. I remember the day of the vote and the morning after when the shock result came through. I was living in Prague but was preparing to move home for the summer before moving once more to Norway. It was this very freedom of movement which a thin majority of the British people voted against, although most treated the vote to leave to the EU as a referendum not on membership of the EU and it’s institutions but rather as a referendum on immigration.

In the two years since then, Brexit and how it will function – what it means for those EU and EEA citizens living in the UK is still unclear. Likewise, the reality of sharing a border with Ireland – almost never discussed during the run up to the vote – now looms large in shaping what kind of Brexit can take effect. One of the few things that was clear in the immediate aftermath of Brexit was that many in Britain saw the vote as a chance to exercise openly a more aggressive and violent attitude towards immigrants and people of colour in the UK.

Wretched Strangers, a new book of poetry edited by JT Welsch and Agi Lehoczky, is a response to that, two years after Brexit. I am very proud to be one among many of the contributors to the book, which is available to pre-order now for just £12. ALL proceeds from the book go towards charities that help promote the rights of refugees. If you believe in a better world than the one Brexit signifies, read this book!

Headstuff Article on class and reading

Headstuff published a short feature article of mine today on their site about what it means to be a reader from a working-class background. It’s a topic I’ve wanted to write about for many years, but haven’t had the courage until now to tackle it. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about since I first started thinking about class way back in my teenage years. Books like Richard Hoggart’s Uses of Literacy have helped me think through the meanings of being a working-class reader and the uses to which I put my own literacy. Here’s a short extract from the full article, which can be read here:

This is what happens to the self-conscious, the working-class reader: their education – set by those who they seek most to impress – teaches them to reject out of hand, because of its register, the place where they might actually first engage with reading – the only place perhaps.

Free Poetry: Irish Anthology

A new free anthology of Irish poetry, edited by Ellen Dillon is now available to read / download / print out from Martin Corless-Smith’s FREE POETRY website. The poets included are Ellen Dillon, Sheila Mannix, Anamaria Crowe Serrano, Sarah Hayden, Kit Fryatt, Trevor Joyce, David Lloyd, myself, Cal Doyle, Karl Parkinson, Fergal Gaynor, Aodan MacArdle, Geoffrey Squires & Christodolous Makris.

As such it represents a broad conception of what ordinarily would constitute “Irish” poetry & puts in one place a host of exciting new and established voices from Irish poetry, broadly conceived. Follow the link:

FREE POETRY: IRISH ANTHOLOGY

 

Books (and other things) of 2017

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A piece by Mainie Jellett, one of the artist’s featured in a retrospective of Irish female modernists, held earlier this year at Greyfriar’s Gallery, Waterford.

There’s still a good three weeks left in the year I know, but I’ve decided to put up my list of my books for the year and one or two other things that I enjoyed in 2017. As with previous years, not everything I read this year came out this year. Any way, for what its’s worth here’s my choices for good books and other things from the past twelve months (in no particular order):

Fastness – Trevor Joyce

Joyce’s new book is a modern rendering of Edmund Spenser’s Mutability cantos.

Ghosts – Sean Bonney

A new pamphlet from MATERIALS, it will rattle around in your head for days on end.

A Line Made By Walking – Sara Baume

A brilliant second novel from the author of Spill Simmer Falter Wither.

Autumn – Karl Ove Knausgård

The English translation of Knausgård’s first in his latest cycle of books – ostensibly a series of letters and explanations to his unborn daughter, the subject matter is wide ranging and unusual.

Essayism – Brian Dillon

An essay on the essay, but there’s nothing lazy or predictable about this brilliant short book.

Games without Frontiers – Joe Kennedy

The best book you’ll read on football and what it means now. A short, sharp book, it says a lot of what needs to be said about the state of the modern game and how engage with it.

Word by Word – Kory Stamper

A brilliant memoir of life working at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and a love affair with words and their meanings. An homage to the power of reading and its emancipatory power.

Sillion– Johnny Flynn

A superb album of folky stompers. On an album full of highlights particular highlight is Flynn’s Yeats-inspired ‘Wandering Aengus’, and ‘Tarp in the Prop’ and ‘In Your Pockets.’

Swims – Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

A single poem made of many poems, in which the author swims in rivers, lakes and the coasts of Britain – mixing memory, history, and ecopolitics and poetics.

Hode ved Hode – Cronqvist, Bjørlo, Munch @ Munch Museet, Oslo

Two contemporary artists place their work next to their favourite pieces – the results are intriguing and sometimes unsettling.

Between The Earth & Sky – Lankum

The second album from the Dublin band formerly known as Lynched, highlights include ‘The Granite Gaze’ and their slow version of ‘The Turkish Reveille’.

King of the Vikings – Waterford, Ireland

A brilliant interactive engagement with Waterford and Ireland’s Viking history in the heart of Waterford’s Viking Triangle. Did it earlier this year with my family and we all thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Beyond the Stars: The Mystical Landscape from Monet to Kandinsky – Musee d’Orsay, Paris

A superb and wide ranging exhibition of paintings which was mounted earlier this year. I was lucky enough to be in Paris on a weekend break when this was on.

‘Maine, Evie, Mary and Grace’: Women Who Led the Modernist Movement in Irish Art – Greyfriars Gallery, Waterford

This exhibition ran until the end of September in Waterford’s Municipal art gallery and was a fantastic retrospective showing the power of women in Modernist art in Ireland.

 

 

 

October Evening on Karl Johan

After a long summer hiatus from me, I’m back with a translation of Nordahl Grieg’s Oktoberaften på Karl Johan. The poem comes from his 1925 collection Stene i Strømmen (Stones in the Stream).

October Evening on Karl Johan

From the Norwegian of Nordahl Grieg

 

Dizzy my red heart, as down I come

from Slottsparken’s rain grey mist into

the street fantasy.

Dazzling arc lights a hundred white moons

stiff in flight in the space here

above Karl Johan.

 

Rain sinks streetward

the shine back of the lights

tram lamps stripe wet trees.

Dazzling the letters over the darkness

spelling F R E I A

tigers fanning out in the autumn evening.

 

Phosphorescence dark & sizzling

the fire of youth crawls along the cold coast

of buildings —

The air charged with mockery, light without cease.

 

O,

here our street,

the pining dodging night,

where swirling heart, & fire light burns,

where nerves get played to death, singing violins

pain & it’s own cheering because of

our continuation.

 

 

Any flat surface will do

Any flat surface will do, but not every table is a desk.

A week or so ago, on the train into Oslo, I read Michael Smith’s Maldon & Other Poems. I reread his translation of the “Lament for Art O’Leary” from the eighteenth century. My favourite passage in his working comes early, in (ii) of Dark Eileen’s opening. It runs:

I had no regrets:

you brightened a parlour for me,

painted rooms for me

reddened an oven for me,

shaped loaves for me,

there was roast on the spit for me,

beef you felled for me;

I slept on duck-down

until the middle of day

or later if it pleased me.

This stanza has an unusual, almost Anglo-Saxon quality to it. In fact, I wonder if this is one of those sections that, as Smith admits in his preface to his version, came from the working of Trevor Joyce first of all. It feels Joycean. When I moved to Oslo I brought a handful of books that I hoped would reflect and would help in the achievement of what I wanted moving here to mean. Of the poetry I brought there is Smith’s Maldon, Trevor’s Selected, the Christopher Ricks edited Oxford Book of English Verse, and Eliot’s Wasteland. Any flat surface will do, but it needs to have room for the books of others. Other people’s books offer me a crutch when writing myself. The current crutches are Smith and Joyce.

The thing I think I love most about the passage in “Lament for Art O’Leary” is that many of the things Dark Eileen chooses to remember her dead lover by are in some senses the domestic jobs of feeding someone that we – erroneously – associate with the role of the woman in the home. It shows that, whoever is doing it, cooking for someone is an expression of love for them.

There is warmth – the cosy bed of duck-down, the warmth of the reddened oven, the fire over which the spit was roasted. Heart and hearth. Again we come back to the centrality of the kitchen – of food and feeding (any food any feeding, feeding, drink or clothing?) as an expression of love. Wining and dining, not just our guests or thanes, but those we make a space for in our lives – the people with whom we eat, giving them a place at our table, physical and metaphorical. The people for whom we cook and keep warm, who we nourish and who nourish us – physically and emotionally – in turn.

I have always loved the action of the kitchen. In my experiences, it is the centre of every house. It is the central point always. I loved the small tight kitchen of Carrigeen Park, my Granddad’s house, with its big old range.The kitchen table always seemed to be where the action happened in houses when I was growing up. Our family has gone through a lot of kitchen tables over the years.

I have always enjoyed the idea of a table full of scratches and dents, discolouration and stains. A palimpsest of the meals and conversations, the growing up, moving out and moving on of the house. A table in a kitchen free of blemishes was a table without a story to tell. A table should be able tell their own stories. Of their encounters with their users. At the table is where we tell stories.  We spin them out like sailor’s yarns. Serials that will never be collected into novels. The place at which we sit and eat, sit and talk; people, politics, joke and laugh, celebrate, commiserate.  Any flat surface will do, but not all can be a desk for writing, or a table for a kitchen.