Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Severed Head of A Knightly Effigy & Other Ideas


The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things: Stories has now arrived at the publisher, Zagava, and is being prepared for posting. Pre-orders should be on their way soon. The book offers twelve previously uncollected stories and one unpublished journal of story ideas, bookshop wanderings and book notes. It is in a limited edition of 199 numbered copies and 26 lettered, signed copies with hand-marbled endpapers.

From the journal:

14 September - We go to Abbey Dore for a concert of songs by the Britten Singers & Instrumentalists, a Hereford troupe. As we wait for the concert to begin, I wander around the abbey church, its big hollow space somehow made more personal by the preparations. There is a recumbent effigy of a knight (12th century?) with a sign by its head saying “Stolen” and another adding that it has been replaced with a replica made free of charge by a cathedral stonemason. The new head is as like a worn seashore pebble as the first, smoothed-out and oval, with a primitive energy to it. It remains, however, severed from the body. Who could have wanted the old knight’s head and how could they have secured it so stealthily? There is, presumably, a trade in black market antiquities, but what collector would want such a thing? Inevitably, thoughts of some nefarious occultic practice come to mind, recollections of John Cowper Powys’s Friar Bacon romance, The Brazen Head, or the living severed head in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. I toy with a story, The Severed Head of a Knightly Effigy.

15 September - We stop off at Bishop’s Castle, SW Shropshire, a small but distinctly individual town which I am very glad to have discovered. There are houses painted startlingly bold colours, such as the beetroot-hued one we see as soon as we get out of the car; there is a museum called the House on Stilts, no less than three second-hand bookshops, including one that also does hundreds of classical records [the only one left now]; a deli-cum-café that offers onion & rosemary marmalade and gooseberry chutney. There is also an alternative undertaker in the High Street, The Purple Funeral Company, with bright purple paintwork, a royal-blue-and-gold Tutankhamen-type mummy case perched by the window, wickerwork earth-friendly coffins, shrouds emblazoned like banners, and several smug ushabtiu peering at passers-by. This becomes, in my scheme for a story, the Scarlet Funeral Company, which encourages people to celebrate the sins of the departed, rather than the wan and unconvincing virtues customarily mumbled out . . .

17 September - The idea comes to me of a story about the iron finials on top of old buildings, which have so many curious shapes, from the spearhead to the snowflake pattern, and often with many foliate effusions. Who made them - blacksmiths? Imagine that they had been designed for a particular purpose and placed just so, using a certain unholy geometry , perhaps aligned with the course of an unseen planet, receivers of some unknown twisting force. No one looks at them much, do they? Perhaps some endearing old enthusiast of them, a self-styled finialist, begins to suspect something as he or she examines them from below or goes up to look through trapdoors, skylights, etc.

There's about 7,000 words more of this sort of thing in the book.

Mark Valentine

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Abigail Parry - After Aickman


The latest issue of the London Review of Books (Vol. 40 No. 4, 22 February 2018, page 10) includes a poem by Abigail Parry, ‘The nine lives you might have lived, were it not for the nine thin spells through your heart’, which has the acknowledgement 'after Robert Aickman'. The sequence of strange images certainly does include some which seem to belong to the world of Aickman's stories, such as "An attic-flat with moths/erupting from espaliers of cracks' (hints of 'The Unsettled Dust', perhaps), and in particular his art of making everyday things seem sinister and filled with portent ("Moonbeams/over moon things: tooth enamel, silver spoons,/flakes of eggshell.") The poem also alludes to sisters "bright as needles" who bring to mind those met in 'The Inner Room'.

But the poet has made these things her own and juxtaposed them together in a hypnotic rush which makes the poem read like an incantation. The invocation of Aickman is not archaic: the poem suggests how things seen through his gaze might look like now, with a dash of cyberpunk, and images drawn from cocktails, drugs, and the city at night. Above all, the poem is alert to how curious colours ('Blooddrop sun') and fragments of light ('match-flare') can cast a sorcery at us in sudden moments.

Abigail Parry has a first collection of poems, Jinx, due out in March from Bloodaxe Books, and described as "concerned with spells, and ersatz spells: with semblance and sleight-of-hand. It takes its formal cues from moth-camouflage and stage magic, from the mirror-maze and the masquerade, and from high-stakes games of poker."

Mark Valentine

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Beardsley 120 - The Death of Pierrot


Aubrey Beardsley was born in Brighton in 1872 and attended Brighton Grammar School. He died in 1898 at the tragically early age of 25 from tuberculosis.

Beardsley 120: The Death of Pierrot is a series of events in Brighton that commemorate 120 years since Beardsley’s untimely death. The events are co-ordinated by Alexia Lazou and present aspects of Beardsley’s life and work in various ways including tours, talks and films. They include:

Aubrey Beardsley: 25 Years in 25 Pictures
Launch event. Saturday 3 March, 1pm, The Yellow Book café/bar, York Place, Brighton.Free entry. At 2pm Alexia Lazou will present a short introduction to Beardsley—25 Years in 25 Pictures.

The Brighton of Aubrey Beardsley
Sunday 4 March, 2pm, The Annunciation Church, Washington Street, Brighton. Free, donations welcome. Alexia Lazou presents an illustrated talk, ‘The Brighton of Aubrey Beardsley’, exploring the buildings and places associated with the artist’s early life. Following the talk there will also be an opportunity to look round ‘the artists’ church’ with writer Stephen Plaice.

Beardsley’s Brighton tour

Saturday 10 & Sunday 25 March, 11am. Meet outside W H Smith's bookshop, Brighton Station concourse, Queens Road. Free. Join guide Alexia Lazou for a gentle 90-120 minute stroll through Brighton, exploring the buildings and places associated with Aubrey Beardsley.

Aubrey Beardsley: 120 Years After The Death of Pierrot
Bite-Size Museum Talk, Tuesday 27 March, 12pm, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. No booking required. Come and discover more about Beardsley, see two of his original drawings close up, and hear about some of the ways he has been commemorated during the 120 years since his untimely death. With Alexia Lazou, Collections Assistant.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Psammomancy – Mark Valentine and Brian Lavelle


Fine sand is poured from a pouch,
trickled onto a tray or table,
fingertips are used to find figures,
tracing, erasing, effacing, shaping . . .


Psammmomancy
: the mysterious art of sand reading explored in text by Mark Valentine and music by Brian Lavelle, with black and white photography by Jo Valentine. Professionally printed 16 page booklet and professionally duplicated CD.


Limited to 120 numbered copies, of which 100 only are for sale. £8 plus postage of £1.50 UK, £4.00 Europe and £5.00 Rest of the World.

Available here, or via Bandcamp (slightly higher prices there to allow for charges).

Friday, February 9, 2018

Steve Holland's Forgotten Authors, Volumes 1 & 2

Steve Holland has recently published two volumes of his researches into forgotten authors, and some of these authors (like Gerald Biss and Ella M. Scrymsour) are of definite interest to Wormwoodiana readers.

Forgotten Authors Volume 1 covers thirteen authors, including W. Stephens Hayward,  Anonyma, Stella M. During, Edric Vredenburg, Morley Adams, Gerald Biss, W. Holt-White,  Alphonse Courlander, Ella M. Scrymsour, Alexander Wilson, Guy Ramsey, E. T. Portwin, and Dail Ambler. It is available in trade paperback and Kindle formats via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. See the Amazon pages for more details.

Forgotten Authors Volume 2 covers another ten authors: Bracebridge Hemyng, Philip Richards, Frank Barrett (Frank Davis), Ernest Protheroe, Charles Granville (Charles Hosken), Louise Heilgers, C. E. Vulliamy, Evelyn Winch, Frederick Foden, and David Roberts. This volume is also available in trade paperback and Kindle formats, via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Clink on the links for more details.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Reading Walter de la Mare - a Cambridge Conference


‘Reading Walter de la Mare’
is a two day conference to be held in Cambridge on 20-21 September 2018, organised by Yui Kajita and Anna Nickerson, with support from the University of Cambridge and The Walter de la Mare Society.

The conference has now issued a call for papers on any aspects of de la Mare’s writing – his poetry, plays, fiction, essays, anthologies. Proposals should be received by 31 March 2018. Expressions of interest in attending are also invited. The announcement for the conference advises that “It is anticipated that the main programme, including lunch and refreshments, will be free for all.”

De la Mare’s influence on the field of supernatural fiction has been profound, and can be seen directly, for example, in the work of Elizabeth Bowen, Mary Butts, Forrest Reid and probably Robert Aickman. He may be seen as one of the first to move the ghost story into subtler and more uncertain terrain, and to mesh ideas of an other world with the ambiguities of this one, the borderlands of the mind, the enigmatic country of dreams, obsessions, visions.

The idea for the conference is very welcome and should be an excellent opportunity to explore the many rich dimensions of de la Mare's work.

Mark Valentine

Monday, February 5, 2018

Une Autre Cigarette – Two Versions of An Uncollected Poem by Percy Lancelot Osborn


Percy Lancelot Osborn was the author of two books: Rose Leaves from Philostratus (‘adapted into English verse from the Greek epistles’), published At the Sign of the Unicorn in 1901; and The Poems of Sappho (‘Poems, Epigrams and Fragments: Translations and Adaptations’), issued by Elkin Mathews in 1909.

The Spectator (16 April, 1910) thought the Sappho book “shows scholarship and a feeling for the more delicate shades of cadence and emotion”. In the very brief fragments, each of a few words only, given at the end of the book, Percy Osborn also showed a modern sensibility, almost as a herald of the Imagist dedication to the terse and elliptical.

In the Sappho book he is described as ‘Late Demy of Magdalen Coll., Oxford’. At Oxford, he contributed to The Spirit Lamp, the journal edited by Lord Alfred Douglas. It was redolent with the aesthetic and decadent ambience of the Eighteen Nineties. His work appeared under his initials, as by ‘P.L.O.’ He translated Baudelaire and in one issue offered, from Meleager, ‘The Garland of Boyhood’s Flowers’, a paean to Greek youths.

‘Caprice: la cigarette’ appeared in the 6 December 1892 issue (Volume II, no IV). It has never been collected. To write about a cigarette, and to compare it as he does to the human soul, would have been seen at the time as a daring and disdainful thing to do: other decadents such as Arthur Symons also evoked the symbolism of its sordid silver smoke.

In his essay ‘Butterflies, Orchids and Wasps: Polyglossia and Aesthetic Lives: Foreign Languages in The Spirit Lamp (1892-1893)’, Xavier Giudicelli suggests the influence of Verlaine in Osborn’s cigarettes verse, and adds: “The tone and subject of this poem are rather playful. It is an ode to the cigarette as the epitome of ephemeral pleasure and as a metaphor for the inanity of man’s life in this world.”

Nothing seems to be known of Percy Osborn after his second book. His brother, E.B. (Edward Bolland) Osborn (1867-1938), who also contributed to The Spirit Lamp, was later the literary editor of the highly respectable Morning Post newspaper, an anthologist and general man-of-letters, most known for The Muse in Arms, his anthology of First World War poems. There is always a sense of fleetingness in Percy Osborn’s work: we are left to wonder if he was another of those from what Yeats called the Tragic Generation, who succumbed young.

Here is the cigarette poem in Osborn’s original French, and my two renderings of it:

Caprice: la cigarette

‘P.L.O.’ [Percy Lancelot Osborn]

Ô cigarette à douce odeur,
Les tourbillons de ta vapeur
Ressemblent à la vie humaine,
Qui n’est que vaporeuse et vaine.

Comme dans l’air la vapeur fuit
L’âme qui meurt s’évanouit
Dieu s’écrie ! Ah, si l’on regrette
Roulons une autre cigarette.

Caprice: the cigarette
Respectfully Englished by Mark Valentine


O cigarette so sweetly odoured,
The swirling of your vapour
Is as human life the same:
Nothing but hazy and vain.

Just as your fumes fade in the air
The dying soul will disappear.
God cries out! Ah, if we regret
Let’s roll another cigarette.

Caprice: the cigarette
Freely Englished by Mark Valentine


The scented cig fumes rise
Resembling our lives
Each crazy silver spiral
Just as hazy, just as futile.

Yeah, the fumes disappear;
And we’ll end up nowhere.
So what? Je ne regrette.
Roll another cigarette.

Other versions would be most welcome.

Mark Valentine