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January 29th, 2015 • Posted in Buenos Aires

Jorge Luis Borges and Buenos Aires

This from Edwin Williamson´s Borges, A Life (Penguin, 2004):

“Leonor Acevedo (Jorge Luis Borges´s mother) was indeed wedded to the past. She would reminisce about her childhood, communicating to her son a nostalgia for that older Buenos Aires that she was just old enough to remember, a Buenos Aires that was little more than a large village before it was subsequently ruined by the nouveaux riches who had taken over the republic. Leonor would describe the house on calle Tacuman where she had been raised and where he had himself been born. Her memories of its two patios, its water tank and modest porch, would find their way into his poems. He learned from her the traditional topography of the city, the street names and layout of the historic center before everything changed…

These secondhand memories of better times were to inspire in Borges a fondness for the run-down barrios on the south side of Buenos Aires. These were the areas abandoned by those criollo families who could afford to move to the fashionable districts of the Barrio Norte, when the north side of Buenos Aires was being redeveloped along Parisian lines. Those areas of the city to the south of the Plaza de Mayo were left to molder away, and as a result the neglected Barrio Sur was to retain a faded ambiance of yesteryear. Borges would always enjoy strolling along the streets of districts like San Telmo or Barracas, whose dilapidated buildings, with their crumbling masonry, narrow vestibules and Spanish patios, preserved something of the flavor of what the city had been like in the early decades of the previous century. These streets were to form the seedbed of many of his poems and stories, evolving within him an elegiac sense of the passing of a simpler, more noble age.”

Mythical Founding of Buenos Aires, poem by Jorge Luis Borges

English Translation (by Alastair Reid):

And was it along this torpid muddy river
that the prows came to found my native city?
The little painted boats must have suffered the steep surf
among the root-clumps of the horse-brown current.

Pondering well, let us suppose that the river
was blue then like an extension of the sky,
with a small red star inset to mark the spot
where Juan Diaz fasted and the Indians dined.

But for sure a thousand men and other thousands
arrived across a sea that was five moons wide,
still infested with mermaids and sea serpents
and magnetic boulders that sent the compass wild.

On the coast they put up a few ramshackle huts
and slept uneasily. This, they claim, in the Riachuelo,
but that is a story dreamed up in Boca.
It was really a city block in my district – Palermo.

A whole square block, but set down in open country,
attended by dawns and rains and hard southeasters,
identical to that block which still stands in my neighbourhood:
Guatemala – Serrano – Paraguay – Gurruchaga.

A general store pink as the back of a playing card
shone bright; in the back there was poker talk.
The corner bar flowered into life as a local bully,
already cock of his walk, resentful, tough.

The first barrel organ teetered over the horizon
with its clumsy progress, its habaneras, its wop.
The cart-shed wall was unanimous for Yrigoyen.
Some piano was banging out tangos by Saborido.

A cigar store perfumed the desert like a rose.
The afternoon had established its yesterdays,
and men took on together an illusory past.
Only one thing was missing – the street had no other side.

Hard to believe Buenos Aires had any beginning.
I feel it to be as eternal as air and water.


One person´s ad hoc, self guided Buenos Aires/Borges walking tour.

Here´s a short biographical documentary on the man:

October 15th, 2014 • Posted in Ithaca NY

Wyndham Lewis in Upstate New York

I recently read the letters of Wyndham Lewis. This passage (page 42) by the book’s editor, W.K. Rose, provides as good a quick summary of the man’s approach to his art and public persona as any:

“His angry rupture with Roger Fry confirmed in him a lifelong opposition to the Bloomsbury group and what it signified for him: art as the province of the socially and financially established, dilettantism, the effete versus the vital. His casual connection with Marinetti taught him techniques of propaganda – brash statement, aggressive mien – that gradually became integrated in his public personality.”

This past weekend we made the trip between William Kennedy’s Albany, NY and Binghamton, and then on to Ithaca. Along the way we stopped into the Book Barn (good selection that serves its community well) in Latham, and Catnap Books

(more interesting selection, at least for the collector) in Oneonta.

On page 43 of Lewis’s Letters there’s reference to the Lewis collection at Cornell, this was our final destination, the Kroch Rare Book Library

on campus.

After saying goodbye to these boys

in Binghamton, we settled into a pleasant drive through the red and orange treed countryside. In addition to Cornell, we made a point of stopping in at Ithaca’s Tompkin County Used Book Sale.

After signing in at Kroch we selected boxes in the collection that contained handwritten manuscripts and graphic images. The friendly

staff was very helpful.

And it was fascinating to see early drafts of Blast magazine in Lewis’s own hand

along with posters,


and original dust jacket


October 10th, 2014 • Posted in Albany

William Kennedy’s “Albany Cycle”

This from Suzanne Roberson at the New York State Writers Institute:

William Kennedy has written eight novels in what he calls the “Albany Cycle,” all set in his native city, Albany, N.Y. Writing in the New York Review of Books, the novelist and scholar Thomas Flanagan took this overview of
these books

 “William Kennedy’s cycle … began with Legs in 1975.  This was followed by Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game in 1978 and Ironweed in 1983. They were spoken of then as a trilogy, partly because they shared a setting and some characters and partly because the third of them, a harrowing narrative of pain and a possible redemption, seemed to bring certain shared themes to resolution.

“But then came Quinn’s Book in 1988, which reaches out from Albany to an impressionistic nineteenth-century America, a land of slavery and warfare and haunted rivers. There followed Very Old Bones in 1992 and The Flaming Corsage in 1996, set solidly in Albany, but bearing down not on the public scene but on erotic and creative energies within highly untypical (I trust) families in the city’s Irish Catholic community.  [With Roscoe he returned] to the larger city, a model, so he has persuaded us, of urban corruption.  Taken together, the cycle … is one of the triumphs of recent fiction, uneven but audacious in its ambition and dazzling in its technical resources.

“Kennedy creates this setting with scrupulous accuracy, a Joycean reverence for street names, urban legends. It is quite possible that his knowledge of Albany’s geography, its nooks and crannies and their histories, is wider than Joyce’s knowledge of Dublin. It is displayed with flourishes not only in the novels but in O Albany!, the combined history, street guide, and memoir which he published in 1983, and which is based on wide reading, a childhood and youth lived there, and long experience as a reporter on the Times-Union. He speaks of himself, in the preface to that book, as ‘a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs for the life of the soul.’”“In Kennedy’s Albany, everyone knows everyone else, even if they do not know themselves. They have been cheating and screwing one another for decades, one way or another. They know each other’s bloodlines, alliances, vices, secret lyricisms, schemes for survival or success. The bosses and their lieutenants and goons know what buttons to press, what feudal loyalties to exploit. Ordinary people, the poor and the obscure and the homeless, can make themselves useful stuffing ballot boxes, or, like Francis Phelan of Ironweed, voting early and often. Their masters use power and triumph as counters to buy the best food and the gaudiest women. But they also cherish power for what in itself it is, a mysterious, self-justifying energy and delight.

More here. 

October 9th, 2014 • Posted in swansea

36 Hour Dylathon will wrap up Centenary Celebrations with a Bang

Last year at about this time I had the pleasure of attending several events (including

a fablulous, funny Burlesque show) that kicked off Wales’s celebration of  the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas. The climactic event in the Dylan Thomas 100 Festival should prove to be equally entertaining. The Dylathon is a 36 hour (11am Sunday 26 October – 11pm Monday 27th) live non-stop reading of the works of Dylan Thomas at Swansea Grand Theatre ending on the very hour of his birth 100 years before.

Readers live on stage include great stars of stage and screen (Ian McKellen, Sian Phillips, Jonathan Pryce); sports legends (JPR Williams, Eddie Butler, Ryan Jones); national treasures (Ruth Madoc, Katherine Jenkins, Nicholas Parsons); a strong Irish contingent to greet our guest of honour President Michael D Higgins (Dervla Kirwan and Frank Kelly); broadcasters (Robert Peston, Gethin Jones, Sian Lloyd); actors (Celyn Jones, Suzanne Packer, Charles Dale); musicians (Eggs Laid by Tigers, The Morriston Orpheus Choir);   comedians (Jo Brand, Kevin Eldon); writers (Howard Brenton, Gillian Clarke); together with local school children,  young people and community groups.   The closing hour of the show will include  The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales reading  Those Who Died in the Dawn Raid,  Michael Sheen will join the party via live-link from New York and Hannah Ellis, Dylan Thomas 100 Patron and Thomas’ Granddaughter will read ‘Letter to Aeron’ – Dylan’s letter to his daughter Aeronwy,  Hannah’s mother.

Olivier Award-winning stage director Michael Bogdanov will stage 36 hours of non-stop Dylan, creating twelve elegantly crafted 3 hour ‘chapters’ from the poems, short stories, letters, broadcasts (including Under Milk Wood) and film scripts plus some rare and unpublished materials.  Fully devised and curated, with over 200 pieces of material read by literally hundreds of voices. The event is designed by multi-award winning Ed ‘Dr Who’ Thomas and literary consultant is the international Dylan Thomas expert Jeff Towns.

It will be a fitting tribute to Wales’ most potent cultural icon, an audacious centenary celebration in the city of his birth, his beloved Ugly, Lovely Swansea.

For the final chapter of the Dylathon ‘The Thin Night Darkens’, President Michael D Higgins, Dylan Thomas 100 stakeholders international dignitaries and guests will join the audience for the climactic minutes leading up to 11pm on Monday 27th.  This final 3 Hour chapter will feature:

  • Hannah Ellis (Dylan Thomas’ granddaughter and Dylathon patron) reading ‘Letter to Aeron’ – Dylan’s letter to his daughter Aeronwy, Hannah’s mother

  • HRH The Prince of Wales’ (Dylan Thomas 100 Festival Royal Patron) recording of ‘Fern Hill’.

  • The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales reading ‘Those Who Died in the Dawn Raid’

  • Ian McKellen reading ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’, from ‘Deaths and Entrances’

  • Katherine Jenkins and Ian McKellen reading Rosie Probert and Captain Cat from Under Milk Woo.

  • Jonathan Pryce reading ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’

  • Sian Phillips reading Dylan’s 1st letter to Caitlin Macnamara, his future wife

  • Ryan Jones – former Wales Rugby Captain and British Lion reading  ’A Letter to Vernon Watkins’, written November 13, 1937

  • Gillian Clarke, Wales National Poet Laureate reading ‘Poem On His Birthday’ from ‘In Country Sleep’

  • Michael Sheen – a live link from New York – reading ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’ from ’25 Poems’

  • The Wales Theatre Company reading from ‘Under Milk Wood’.

  • The Morriston Orpheus Choir singing The Reverend Ely Jenkins Sunset Poem from ‘Under Milk Wood’.

Dylan Thomas fans from throughout the world can buy tickets for this extraordinary celebration for the entire 36 hours, for 12 hours or for a 3 hour block. See  for programme descriptions and booking details.

October 2nd, 2014 • Posted in London, England

Today is National Poetry Day in the U.K. Remember

This year’s National Poetry Day will take place on Thursday 2 October. The theme for 2014 is ‘remember’. 

Whether it’s Thomas Hood or Philip Larkin‘s ‘I Remember, I Remember’; the centenary of the First World War; or the national Poetry by Heart recitation competition; memory is an important part of poetry.

This year, refreshing our collective poetry memories, there will be readings, launches, prizes, performances and happenings. Details of the Poetry Society’s work is below, but for details of other events taking place visit:

You can also keep a track of everything that’s going on by following the Poetry Society on Twitter, or watching the hashtag  #nationalpoetryday.

National Poetry Day Live

The Poetry Society and Southbank Centre, London, present National Poetry Day Live from the Clore Ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall. Join us for a wonderful afternoon of poetry for all ages, including school groups, families and an evening of performances for adults. Featuring performances from some of the biggest names in poetry, including Julia DonaldsonJohn HegleyDaljit NagraKei Miller and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze.

Several new Poetry Society commissions will also premiere at National Poetry Day Live, including a new film of Marian Allen’s ’The Wind on the Downs’ and several new Page Fright films, featuring spoken word legends.

October 1st, 2014 • Posted in Frankfurt

Visit ‘Best Book Design from all over the World’ Booth at the Frankfurt Book Fair

This from Ines Paul, prefaced by this (via Leah Gordon): “Here’s The Alcuin Society’s annual invitation to the Stiftung Buchkunst exhibition at the Frankfurt Book Fair. (For those of you who didn’t know, this is the group that exhibits the international award-winning books from around the world – including, representing Canada, all of the 2013 Alcuin award winners.) So, if you’re going to be in Frankfurt for the Book Fair, DO take the time to visit this exhibition – and introduce yourself to Ines.”

Dear colleagues,
I hereby cordially invite you to visit our stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair: Hall 4.1, booth Q17.

All books that have participated in the 2014 competition „Best Book Design from all over the World“ will be exhibited.
A unique collection of the finest international book design!
We will also have an international panel on Friday:
Friday, October 10th, 13:00 o’clock: »book projects by creative minds«
International panel: Students from different universities around the world present their creative work 
and current bookprojects! We welcome students of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Dortmund, 
the Rodchenko Art School in Moscow, the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design and the 
Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts Krakow (Polen). Afterwards we would like to invite all guests to a little get-together.
If you are interested, you are cordially invited to join!
Afterwards (14 o’clock / 2pm), I would be happy to meet and greet you and have a drink together.
Hope to see you there!
Best wishes from Frankfurt,
Ines Paul
P.S.: And don’t forget the possibility to bring your 2015 submissions to our booth!
Dipl. Des. Ines Paul
Presse & Internationale Kontakte
Public Relations & International Contacts
Stiftung Buchkunst | Braubachstr. 16 | D-60311 Frankfurt am Main
September 29th, 2014 • Posted in Tokyo

Shakespeares in Tokyo that barely anyone knows about

The Kodama Memorial Library at Meisei University in Tokyo has one of the greatest Shakespeare collections in the world. As Paul Collins puts it in The Book of William, How Shakespeare’s first folio conquered the world

“By the time Kodama died, one room in suburban Tokyo held twelve First Folios – more than the British Library and the New York Library combined. Meisei is now second only to the mighty Folger Library in the world’s holdings of First Folios. 

And, he continues,

” Like the Folger Library, the Kodama library maintains a windowless and fireproof book vault, where its most precious books reside in cryptlike cool and dry air, perpetually monitored for temperature and humidity. But unlike the Folger – which really does look like a storage vault – Kodama built his vault as a pleasant reading room with a long wooden conference table, oak shelving, and the books arranged with the idiosyncratic feel of a professor’s house. The Folger has a vault of a cultural institution; the Kodama has the vault of a cultured man…Kodama was a wide-ranging collector, and the room is filled with such riches: signed editions of Twain, an 1817 first edition of Keats, first editions of Dickens – and barely anyone knows about this place.” 

September 18th, 2014 • Posted in Edinburgh

Take a literary walk in Edinburgh

Credit W. Lloyd MacKenzie Wiki   Walter Scott monument, largest  for any writer in the world. 

This from the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group

Countless writers have lived and worked in Edinburgh over the centuries. Get to all the important literary sites on a city centre walk, or pick up a copy of the ‘Explore the City of Literature on foot’ leaflet so you can recommend locations to visitors.

1. Start on the High Street at St Giles’ Cathedral, where there’s a plaque commemorating the life of Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island). He was born, raised and attended university in Edinburgh before living out his final years in Samoa. The huge west window of the Cathedral is inspired by the works of Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Bard.

2. Continue down the Royal Mile to St Mary’s Street where a plaque commemorates the visit in 1773 of Dr Samuel Johnson, the author of the first, authoritative dictionary of the English language.

3. Make your way up to the Tron Kirk and along South Bridge to the beautiful Old College buildings of the University of Edinburgh. Among the many noteworthy people educated here are famous writers such as David Hume (historian and philosopher), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes), and J. M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan). More recent graduates include Ian Rankin (the modern crime novelist) and Alexander McCall Smith (author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and 44 Scotland Street series).

4. Take a walk up Chambers Street and you’ll find a plaque commemorating the birthplace in 1771 of Sir Walter Scott. Famous for writing books such as Waverley, Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, Scott is perhaps the most celebrated Scottish writer in Edinburgh. Scott never wandered far from here. He spent much of his childhood at 25 George Square (also marked with a plaque) and then went to the University of Edinburgh.

5. You can follow more of Scott’s story around the city. Make for George IV Bridge and the National Library of Scotland with its original copies of important pieces of Scottish literature.

6. At the Royal Mile end of George IV Bridge are Lawnmarket and The Mound where, down a narrow close, you’ll discover The Writers’ Museum and Makars’ Court. The museum is inside the charming Lady Stair’s House, which houses collections relating to the lives and works of Burns, Scott and Stevenson.

7. Head over Princes Street to Castle Street. At number 39 is a plaque and a seated statue of Sir Walter Scott above the door. (While you’re there, take a look at number 30 where you’ll also see a plaque commemorating the birthplace of Kenneth Grahame, author of ‘The Wind in the Willows’.)

8. Back on Princes Street again and the garden side is dominated by a huge monument to Sir Walter Scott. Sir Walter Scott sits under a 200-foot high canopy with Maida, his dog, at his feet, surrounded by 64 characters from his many books.

9. Carry on down Princes Street and along Waterloo Place until it becomes Regent Road. On the right is the Robert Burns memorial.

10.After all that walking, it’s time for some refreshment. Stop off in Young Street at the Oxford
Bar, Rebus’s favourite pub.

September 18th, 2014 • Posted in Oxford

Famous authors who attended Oxford University

J.R.R. Tolkien Exeter The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings

Rose Macaulay Somerville Towns of Trebizond

Dorothy Sayers Somerville Lord Peter Wimsey – e.g.Gaudy Night

Graham Greene Balliol The Quiet American

Algernon Swinburne Balliol Ballad of Bulgarie

Matthew Arnold Balliol Scholar Gipsy

A.E. Housman St John’s A Shropshire Lad

Philip Larkin St John’s High Windows

Robert Graves St John’s Goodbye to All That

De Quincey Worcester Confessions of an Opium Eater

Richard Lovelace Worcester Lucasta

Barbara Pym St Hilda’s An Academic Question

T.E Lawrence Jesus Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Dr. Johnson Pembroke English Dictionary

John Donne Hertford The Flea

Evelyn Waugh Hertford A Handful of Dust

John Galsworthy New Forsyte Saga

C. S. Lewis Magdalen The Chronicles of Narnia

Oscar Wilde Magdalen De Profundis

Walter Pater Brasenose Marius The Epicurean

Thomas More St Mary Hall Utopia

Max Beerbohm Merton Zuleika Dobson

T.S. Eliot Merton The Waste Land

Charles Dodgson Christ Church Alice in Wonderland

September 18th, 2014 • Posted in Istanbul

Beautiful Persian Manuscript: see it in Istanbul

Kelileh va Demneh. Persian manuscript copy dated 1429, from Herat, depicts the Jackal trying to lead the Lion astray. This 15th century treasure is kept at the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey.