Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

The Reign in Spain

A version of this article appeared in the September issue of Echelon magazine.

 

From dictatorship to democracy to EU bailout. A storm began in 2008 and many Spaniards are still drowning.

On 2 June 2014, King Juan Carlos King of Spain announced that he would abdicate in favour of his son, Felipe, who was enthroned on 19 June 2014. Juan Carlos said, “I don’t want my son to grow old waiting like Prince Charles.”

Franco

Spaniards generally respected Juan Carlos because of his role in the smooth transition to democracy from the dictatorship of General Franco. Francisco Franco Bahamonde was the dictator of Spain from 1939 to his death in 1975. Franco came to power during the Spanish Civil War, which was a struggle between democrats, socialists and anarchists, socialists, on one side and monarchists, conservatives, nationalists, and fascists on the other.

After the Civil War Spain was bleak. Represión Franquista, the White Terror, was politically motivated violence and rape committed by the Nationalist movement during the Civil War and during Franco’s dictatorship. A friend’s parents were among many who fled Spain because they were on the losing side and they had horror stories to tell me. Many of those who could not escape lost their jobs or their rank. The country lost many of its brightest minds, and a capable workforce. Franco employed concentration camps, forced labour, death squads and executions. Historians’ estimates of deaths during the White Terror range up to 400,000.

Franco had long planned to restore the monarchy. As he approached death, he decided to skip a generation and name Prince Juan Carlos as his personal successor. He hoped to groom the young prince to maintain the Francoist ultraconservativism. In 1969, Franco named Juan Carlos heir-apparent on condition that he swear loyalty to Franco’s Movimiento Nacional, which the prince did with little hesitation. Juan Carlos publicly supported Franco’s regime but met secretly exiled opposition planning liberal reforms.

Juan Carlos’s accession met with relatively little parliamentary opposition. There was an attempted military coup on 23 February 1981, when members of the Guardia Civil seized the Cortes. During the coup, the King, in the uniform of the Captain-General of the Spanish armed forces, called for unambiguous support for the legitimate democratic government. Public support for the monarchy among democrats and leftists before 1981 had been limited; support increased dramatically because of the king’s handling of the coup.

What Kind of Spain…?

What kind of Spain did Juan Carlos hand over to Felipe? There has been a dramatic rise in poverty, and inequality since the start of the economic crisis in 2008. Spain’s unemployment rate now stands second among the euro zone countries, just behind that of Greece. Since 2008, Spain has lost four million jobs, and the unemployment rate has increased by 20 percentage points. Fully 3.5 million of Spain’s unemployed workers have been out of work at least one year, and two million have been out of work two years or more. Emigration of 280,000 young Spaniards prevented the figure being even higher.

Spain has now become the country with the most inequality of all 27 countries of the EU. The Red Cross’s Bulletin on Social Vulnerability in Spain states that 43.2 percent of people cannot afford heating in winter, while 26 percent cannot afford a meal with proteins three times a week. The Catholic charity Caritas revealed that the number of people it helped nationwide was more than a million in 2011, increasing from 370,000 in 2007.

A recent study published by the trade union CC.OO revealed that 35 percent of Spanish workers receive a monthly wage equal to or below €641.40, the minimum wage. Spain is just behind Romania in the low pay league table. The report forecasts that there will be 28 percent poverty for the whole of Spain by the end of 2012. This represents a rise of ten percentage points since 2007.

Accumulation by Dispossession

Since 2008, over 350,000 Spanish families have been evicted from their homes. According to government figures, there are still 500 evictions a day — 150 of them in Madrid. Most involve families whose main breadwinner lost his or her job in the recession and who have inadvertently fallen behind on their mortgage payments to the bank. There has been a wave of suicides by people who were about to be evicted from their homes. Marxist geographer, David Harvey, coined the term “accumulation by dispossession“. Austerity policies allow bankers and politicians to commit institutionalized theft.

The housing boom left a legacy of ruinous urban development, redundant airports and obsolete infrastructure projects. The Union of Agricultural Workers (SOC), part of the Andalusian Workers Union (SAT) has been one of the key exponents in the struggle for land and the rights of farm labourers. They occupied and worked the farm of Somonte, in Palma del Río, in the southern Córdoba province, that the regional government of Andalusia was selling, even though 1,700 people were unemployed. The aim of the occupiers is that this farm is worked by cooperatives of unemployed people, not taken over by bankers

Despite increasing poverty among the general public, Credit Suisse has estimated that over the next five years the number of Spanish millionaires will grow by 110 percent. By 2017, there will be around 616,000 of them.

Banks and Bail Out

In 2007, Spanish public debt was only 36% of its gross domestic product. Its fiscal balance was positive (+1.9% of its GDP, whereas Maastricht imposes a maximum 3% negative fiscal balance). Spanish public debt only accounted for 18% of its total debt. The private sector, namely the real estate and credit sectors, directly caused the Spanish crisis.

In May 2012, Bankia, the third largest Spanish bank, asked for 19 billion euros in government aid (on top of 4.5 billion already given). The Bank of Spain estimates that the Iberian banking system is sitting on toxic assets of 176 billion euros.

Reforms

The EU presented “labour reforms” as essential to reduce unemployment. These reforms have achieved the opposite of what they were supposed to do. Austerity policies have driven down real wages and led to the creation of more precarious jobs particularly those characterised by the “zero-hours” contracts under which workers are called in as and when required, but released when work is not available. The reforms have brought wages down by ten per cent in two years. This reduction was what the Troika and the Spanish governments had in mind when they imposed such reforms.

Separatism

Catalonians will be looking with interest at the referendum on Scottish independence. Spain, which was only cobbled together in the late 15th century, continues to be fissiparous. As in Iraq, a dictator held it together. Juan Carlos and the Spanish monarchy kept it together after the demise of Franco. One wonders how long it will last now Juan Carlos has left the stage.

On September 11, 2012, nearly two million people marched for the right to self-determination and independence for Catalonia. Artur Mas i Gavarró is President of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2010 for the first time, Mas indicated he would vote yes on a hypothetical referendum to secede from Spain. Sovereignty and Catalan independence became the central part of his political agenda. He has called for a referendum on independence for Catalonia.

The Spanish Military Association (AME), composed of former members of the army, has threatened Mas with a Council of War and has warned those who promote “the breaking-up of Spain” that they will have to answer before a military court on charges of “high treason”. Mas is a conservative financier and by no stretch of the imagination a subversive. What will happen when the left decide to fight?

Left Alternatives

Podemos (meaning, “We can”) is a political party created on 11 March 2014 by Spanish leftist activists associated with the movement that emerged from the 2011–12 Spanish protests of Los Indignacios. Its de facto leader is Pablo Iglesias Turrión a writer and professor of Political Science at the Complutense University in Madrid. In the European parliamentary elections, Podemos polled 7.97% of the vote and won five seats out of 54.

Popular protests caused the Madrid government to abandon its plans privatize six public hospitals. The regional health commissioner, Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, resigned.

Marinaleda is a small village with a population of 2,700 people,   in the municipality of Seville in the Sierra Sur southern mountain range in Andalucía. While, in Andalucía as a whole, 30% of the active population was without work, in Marinaleda there was full employment. This “communist utopia” and relies on a model of mutual aid, as local people work together to meet shared needs. It has a cooperatively-owned olive oil factory, houses built by and for the community. The mayor himself led the looting of a supermarket from which goods were donated to food banks. The village has a long history of bloody-mindedness after suffering great want and hunger as well as severe repression after the civil war. There have been many protests and seizures of land from the aristocracy. The social and political system that has been implemented in the community, and the good results obtained in terms of economic development and well-being of the inhabitants, has brought media interest to Marinaleda in Spain and internationally.

Spain’s Future in the EU

Spain’s dependency is such that one cannot realistically predict that it will exit the EU or the eurozone. However, membership has not brought happiness for ordinary Spaniards. Despite their responsibility for the economic crisis, the dominant forces in the Spanish state are achieving what they always wanted: the dismantling of the welfare state a reduction of salaries, a very frightened labour force with reduced wages and unions too weak to protect. They hide behind the excuse that the European authorities forced them to do it.

Eighty-two percent of Spaniards say that they do not like the EU. What was once a model of democracy and prosperity has proved to be a sham.

Conclusion

Spain went through great traumas in the 20th century. It was a great advertisement for the EU that this country should come from repression and dictatorship to freedom and prosperity. It is unfortunate that today Spain seems a symbol for the faults of the EU project – lack of democratic accountability, sadistic austerity measures, spurious “solutions” imposed by unelected technocrats- rather than an epitome of its virtues.

Perhaps the new king can utilise his father’s experience of dealing with the dictator Franco to find fresh approaches to dealing with the dictatorship of the banks and the troika. Felipe could innovate by using his influence to spread the example of Marinaleda. The social and political system implemented in that community, and the good results obtained in terms of economic development and well-being of the inhabitants, provides a good antidote to the greed is good atmosphere of accumulation by dispossession. The time is ripe in Spain, indeed in the EU as a whole, for mutuality and social cohesion as opposed to privatisation and dog-eat-dog.

 

Sri Lanka PR Part 2

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday September 10 2014

Colman's Column3

Last week I wrote in Ceylon Today about an article in the Calgary Herald by Manisha Krishnan. That article dealt with Ryan de Hoedt’s efforts to get his sister to Canada from Sri Lanka, where, according to him, she is in grave danger. I circulated the article among many Sri Lankan contacts, all of whom had difficulty in believing that de Hoedt’s sister was being persecuted in 2014 because her family helped Tamils in July 1983. I had copied a draft of my first article to Ms Krishnan using an e-mail address given at the foot of her own article. I said that I was giving her the opportunity to comment before I published and wanted to clear up some of the points in her article that had puzzled many people. She did not respond. I copied my published article to her using the same e-mail address. My e-mail bounced back as “undeliverable”. I sent her a message on Facebook, again giving her the opportunity to comment. To date she has not responded.

I have done another Google search for Ryan de Hoedt. I can see no response from the Sri Lankan government or police to the story in the Calgary Herald. The only information about Ryan de Hoedt is new print or online outlets repeating the Calgary Herald story. There is a Ryan de Hoedt on Facebook but there is no information at all on his timeline. Does Ryan de Hoedt exist? Perhaps the Sri Lanka High Commission in Ottawa might look into this case and make a public statement?

Perhaps we should not expect that, as it seems that the responsibility for representing Sri Lanka has been taken away from diplomats and handed over to expensive foreign PR firms who know nothing about the country.

Bridge that Gap

Perhaps GOSL could consider handing the country’s PR contract to Tony Blair.GQ Magazine recently caused great hilarity by giving its Philanthropist of the Year award to Blair. GQ justified the award thus: “Alongside his role as a Middle East peace envoy, Blair’s channelled his energy into philanthropy… His most ambitious [project] is the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative. Launched in 2008, the foundation operates in six African countries – Sierra Leone, Rwanda Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Senegal – where teams work alongside government bodies to bridge the gap between African leaders’ visions for a better future and their government’s ability to implement it.”

Good Governance in Kazakhstan

Blair does not seem to be very successful at fostering his own public image but his philanthropic work included some PR work for others. He had a two-year contract worth millions of pounds to advise Kazakhstan’s leadership on good governance. Human rights campaigners say Blair has produced no improvements for Kazakh people apart from Nursultan Nazarbayev, “Leader of the Nation”. Nazarbayev has ruled oppressively for over twenty years. During the time was advising him Kazakhstan’s human rights situation deteriorated. Nazarbayev won re-election in 2011 with 95.5% of the vote. Blair gave suggestions on how to improve Nazarbayev’s image after his police killed 14 unarmed protesters. Oksana Makushina, a former deputy editor of one suppressed newspaper, said: “If Mr Blair was advising Nazarbayev on something, it definitely wasn’t freedom of speech. Over the last two years the screws have only been tightened on the media.” Borat might have done a better job.

Blair’s New Clients

Blair has added Mongolia and Albania to the list of clients. Albania’s new socialist government says it wants him to help Albania to achieve EU membership. Mongolia is seeking advice on foreign investment, health and education, health.

Blair’s office dismisses reports of reaping £16m in fees from Kazakhstan, and says Blair makes no personal profit. Perhaps he could philanthropically assist Sri Lanka pro bono.

Bell Pottinger

Tim Bell, now Baron Bell, who advised Margaret Thatcher on media matters when she was UK Prime Minister, is a co-founder of Bell Pottinger. The company came under public scrutiny after managers were secretly recorded talking to fake representatives of the Uzbek government and meddling with Wikipedia by removing negative information and replacing it with positive spin. It is the largest UK-based public relations consultancy. They have had many dodgy clients, such as General Pinochet, a recent one being Rolf Harris.

According to PR Week dated January 2010, Bell Pottinger hired Qorvis Communications as a subcontractor for its work with the government of Sri Lanka. Qorvis was to provide “media relations and monitoring, crisis communications planning, and stakeholder representation in the US. The budget is approximately $483,000.”

What return did Sri Lanka get for this investment? Despite Bell Pottinger’s dark arts, Rolf Harris got a sentence of five years and nine months in prison for twelve indecent assaults on children as young as seven. He is losing weight and being spat upon in prison.

Patton Boggs

Back in January 2009, the Washington Embassy of Sri Lanka retained the firm of Patton Boggs with a fixed fee of $35,000 per month, payable quarterly in advance. Democratic lobbyist Tommy Boggs helped run the account, which calls on Patton Boggs to “provide guidance and counsel to the Embassy of Sri Lanka regarding its relations with the Executive and Legislative Branches of the US Government.” How did that work out? Did we get value for money?

Patton Boggs did not influence then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Sri Lanka’s benefit. She said: “I think that the Sri Lankan government knows that the entire world is very disappointed that in its efforts to end what it sees as 25 years of conflict, it is causing such untold suffering”. Patton Boggs’s efforts did not prevent Bruce Fein filing a 1,000-page report with the U.S. Justice Department charging violations of the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007. Fein referred to “a grisly 61-year tale of Sinhalese Buddhists attempting to make Sri Lanka ‘Tamil free’”.

Patton Boggs recently merged with Squire Sanders. Will that enable them to give a better service to GOSL?

Burson-Marsteller

GOSL signed a contract with Burson-Marsteller for US$ 75,000 a month (more than US $900,000 a year). B-M’s website boasts of its sophisticated campaigns: “Clients often engage Burson-Marsteller when the stakes are high …. Most of all, clients come to us for our proven ability to communicate effectively with their most critical audiences and stakeholders.” Some critics have said that these sophisticated campaigns often include dirty tricks.

B-M is the largest PR firm in the world; it has represented some unlovely regimes. The Nigerian government engaged B-M during the Biafran war, to discredit reports of genocide.   The fascist junta in Argentina hired B-M during the 70s and early 80s, to attract foreign investment. South Korea hired them to cover up human rights abuses for the 1988 Olympics. B-M represented the communist Romanian despot Nicolae Ceausescu.

As well as asking if it is a good idea for Sri Lanka to be associated with these regimes, one could ask if B-M was successful in improving the public image of Nigeria, Argentina, South Korea or Ceausescu.

Thompson Advisory Group

GOSL paid millions of rupees to Thompson Advisory Group (TAG). A lump sum of Rs 4.5 million (as well a monthly fee of Rs. 910,000) went to a driver called Tilak Mohan Siriwardena. Apparently, there are plans to give TAG millions more. In a previous effort, more than once TAG referred to this island nation as “Sir Lanka”.

TAG produced a documentary, Sri Lanka: Reconciling and Rebuilding, which Groundviews described as “rank propaganda… albeit produced very well, with compelling visuals and a well scripted storyline”. Did this film change anyone’s mind about Sri Lanka?

Macro or Micro?

Other PR firms advising the Sri Lankan government have included Vigilant Worldwide Communications of New York. Their task (for six months at a cost of $5,000 a month) is to “develop a strategic communications plan and conduct outreach to Members of the Congress and other US government officials with the purpose of raising awareness of Sri Lanka’s strategic importance to the US.”

There may be some logic in this macro strategy of trying to influence influential people. The nitty-gritty though is does it work? It does not seem to.

Should a micro approach be tried? Why are such large sums being spent at the same time that challengeable items like the Calgary Herald story are allowed to go unchallenged? Embassy staff should be challenging these stories. The huge funds paid to western PR behemoths should be diverted to the diplomatic service to equip embassies to serve their country effectively.

Perhaps Mr Lional Premasiri, Acting High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Ottawa, could issue a press release about the Calgary Herald story.

 

 

John Berryman Part 4 – Passionate Syntax

A version of this article appeared in the Mosaic section of Ceylon Today on Sunday August 30 2014 and Sunday September 7 2014

lastpic

Probably the last photograph taken of John Berryman

Life is All Transformation

john-berrymanYoung

John Berryman died on January 7, 1972. Three months later, Robert Lowell wrote: “He never stopped fighting and moving all his life; at first expert and derivative, later full-off output, more juice, more strange words on the page, more obscurity. I’m afraid I mistook it for forcing, when he came into his own. No voice now or persona sticks in my ear as his. It is poignant, abrasive, anguished, humorous”.

Edward Hirsch described Berryman’s style thus: “Berryman combined a passionate, disruptive syntax with an irreverent blend of highbrow and lowbrow dictions – part Shakespeare, part minstrel show, part baby talk. Who could have predicted such a salty, ostentatious and exaggerated comic style – or known that it would come to seem so intensely literary and inevitably American? Imagine Emily Dickinson crossed with Bessie Smith and Groucho Marx”.

An anonymous Times Literary Supplement reviewer saw Berryman’s style as “a living compromise between the way people speak and the outsize gestures that poetry traditionally demands”. Berryman wrote to his mother: “You lead the reader briskly in one direction, then you spin him around, or you sing him a lullaby and then you hit him on the head”. “Strange lives we lead…life is all transformation. We must not be glad, or sorry, to be part of it; but we can’t help being.”

Chair

Disrupted and Mended

Robert Lowell described Berryman’s mature style as “disrupted and mended”. The poem “Canto Amor” written in 1945 and dedicated to his first wife Eileen, describes disrupting and mending, harmony and disharmony in marriage:

Dream in a dream the heavy soul somewhere

struck suddenly & dark down to its knees.

A griffin sighs off in the orphic air.

 

If (Unknown Majesty) I not confess

praise for the wrack the rock the live sailor

under the blue sea, – yet I may you bless

always for her, in fear and joy for her

whose gesture summons ever when I grieve

me back and is my mage and minister.

25likeEllroy

Berryman developed a poetic technique, which combined disrupted syntax and strict, disciplined form. This conveys a sense of order and stability threatened by chaos. His life also was like that – much of his time, he seemed bent on inviting chaos. Despite his many personal failings, he managed to win the love of many attractive women. Berryman married three times and had three children. He married his third wife, Kate Donahue, in 1961. She was 22 and he was 46. Rather than settling down to enjoy domestic bliss, throughout his life he pursued other women compulsively and inappropriately.

hat and beard

The Epistemology of Loss

Death was always a dark shadow present for Berryman and death by suicide was a common theme in his life and his work. The official version of his father’s death was that it was suicide. When Berryman was bullied at school, he took revenge by lying in front of an oncoming train. His later view of suffering was akin to Nietzsche’s “joyful wisdom” or Yeats’s “tragic wisdom” – that which does not kill me makes me stronger.

Life is precarious and leads inevitably to death, with plenty of loss and suffering along the journey. In “The Ball Poem” written in 1942 Berryman uses a small incident to stand for the more momentous consequences of the epistemology of loss.

What is the boy now, who has lost his ball.

What, what is he to do? I saw it go

Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then

Merrily over—there it is in the water!

No use to say ‘O there are other balls':

An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy

As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down

All his young days into the harbour where

His ball went. I would not intrude on him,

A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now

He senses first responsibility

In a world of possessions. People will take balls,

Balls will be lost always, little boy,

And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.

He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,

The epistemology of loss, how to stand up

Knowing what every man must one day know

And most know many days, how to stand up

And gradually light returns to the street,

A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight.

Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark

Floor of the harbour . I am everywhere,

I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move

With all that move me, under the water

Or whistling, I am not a little boy.

 settee

Suicide and Phoenix

Berryman brought much suffering on himself by pursuing every activity with damaging intensity – drinking, smoking and womanizing, as well as writing and teaching. That intensity could be dissipated by the act of completion and he often avoided that deflation by leaving tasks uncompleted – his work on Shakespeare might have been groundbreaking if had finished it. He worked hard but left a lot unfinished. He fell out with Dwight McDonald for saying so. For every review he started, five or ten were not completed.

jane howard

Eileen Simpson wrote in her memoir Poets in their Youth that every New Year, he made ambitious resolutions, which were like “a magical rebirth”. He wrote in his diary in January 1940: “What is needed is suicide each year, the dead one then to phoenix into change”.

Berryman’s intense drive for transformation and rebirth is signified in his frequent changes of appearance. Look at a series of photographs, even taken over a short time, and they seem to be portraying different people. He wrote that the aim of poetry was the “reformation of the poet, as prayer does”.

minn

Saul Bellow was right to speak of Berryman’s inability to act like anyone else. He never managed to do the simple things like cook a meal, drive a car or read a bank statement. His record of broken arms, wrists, ankles, ribs and legs indicate that even climbing a flight of stairs might not always be successfully achieved. His friend Florence Campbell remembered him as “witty and sulky, entertaining and repelling, brilliantly gifted and more than a bit ridiculous”.

berrymanNYT

There was definitely something ridiculous about Berryman. I think I would have found his company tiresome and tiring as well as stimulating. The British poet Thom Gunn encouraged Philip Levine to do his Berryman impression. Levine recited a passage from Whitman in “John’s crazy, up–there screech”. “Gunn roared, saying I’d got it perfectly”, recalled Levine. Berryman was enraged and tried to put a Band-Aid on Levine’s mouth. Levine was big strong man who had worked in car manufacturing plants from the age of 14. Berryman had made ludicrous efforts to seduce Levine’s girl friend.

Self Destruction

Berryman had to leave his teaching post in Iowa after police were called when he defecated on the outside steps of his lodgings. He got a job at the University of Minnesota. Early on, Berryman developed a pattern of getting drunk at local bars, checking himself into the hospital and calling a cab in the morning when it was time to teach. “He would come to class sometimes shaking, and you could see that he’d had a hard night,” said Berryman’s friend and former student Judith Healey. “But he never lectured in a less than brilliant manner.”

After checking into alcohol rehabilitation once in 1969 and three times in 1970, Berryman experienced a sort of religious conversion in 1970. He considered Judaism, professed Catholicism, and wrote Recovery (1971), a vague autobiography about alcoholic rehabilitation. In his last years, Berryman started in Alcoholics Anonymous at the encouragement of a priest who led a therapy group.

Berryman’s daughters, Martha and Sarah were 10 years old and 7 months old, respectively, when their father died. They still live in Minnesota in the house Kate Donahue bought with Berryman.

In the end, the disruption could not be mended. On the morning of Jan. 7, 1972, Berryman lifted himself onto the railing of the Washington Avenue Bridge, waved to onlookers and jumped. He was 57 years old. Saul Bellow wrote of Berryman’s suicide: “At last, it must have seemed that he had used up all his resources… The cycle of resolution, reform and relapse had become a bad joke which could not continue”.

Jak of All Trades

A version of this article appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of Serendib, the in-flight magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines.

jakfruit

We have ten jak trees in the garden of our Sri Lankan mountain retreat. Without any contribution from us, the trees maintain a miraculous eco system.

Parrots and hornbills, their harsh cries belying their beautiful appearance, roost in the branches. From time to time, hooligan gangs of langurs swarm in from the jungle to vandalize the fruit and to fight with each other and our dogs. Bushy-tailed rock squirrels busy themselves leaping from tree to tree maintaining several homes to deceive predators. Wild boars come on high-heels in the night to indulge their passion for jak nuts and wreck our fences if we don’t put an adequate supply of nuts outside for them.

The jak tree is a wonder of nature and a boon to humanity as well as other animals. It produces perhaps the largest tree fruits on earth. The tree is extremely versatile.

The botanical name is Artocarpus heterophyllus of the family Moraceae (the amazingly diverse mulberry family). In Sinhala it is called kos; in Tamil pila; in Chinese bo luo mi; nangka in the Philippines and Malaysia; in Thailand, khanun; in Cambodia, khnor; in Laos, mak mi or may mi; in Vietnam, mit.

jaksmall

The jakfruit adapts only to humid tropical climates. It is sensitive to frost in its early life and cannot tolerate drought. It flourishes in rich, deep soil, sometimes on deep gravelly soil. It also does not like “wet feet”. If the roots touch water, the tree will not bear fruit or may die.

In Asia, jakfruits mainly ripen from March to June, April to September. Fruits mature three to eight months from flowering. A good yield is 150 large fruits per tree annually, though some trees bear as many as 250 and a fully mature tree may produce 500.

jakhighThe tree is large and can grow as tall as 70 feet. The leaves are dark green, elliptic and leathery in appearance with lateral veins with parallel intercostals. The flowers are cauliflerous (developing directly from the trunk) and cylindrical.

The fruit of the tree is large, limey-green to yellow in colour, and bulbous and spiky. The fruit grows in an alarming fashion suspended from the trunk of the tree. If you had never seen one before you might think it was from another planet.  The fully-grown jakfruit may be as much as three feet long and can weigh as much as 110 lbs.

The fruit itself has a wide variety of culinary uses. The fleshy part can be boiled or made into a curry or mallun (shredded like cabbage with grated coconut and turmeric and served with rice to counteract spicier dishes).

The flesh when young is called polos. The first time I ate it, the appearance and texture reminded me of tinned tuna fish chunks. Depending on how it is cooked, it can also resemble beef stroganoff. I find it particularly tasty stewed with tomatoes, garlic and lime juice.

jaktomato

Inside the fleshy segments there are oval, whitish seeds (endocarp) or nuts covered by a thin white plasticky membrane (exocarp). These remind me of Brazil nuts. There may be up to 500 nuts in a single fruit. The nuts can be dried, roasted and pounded to make flour, which is blended with wheat flour for baking. They can be included in a curry. The nuts can be fried, roasted, sun-dried (atu kos) to be eaten as a savoury snack. Preserved in brine, or cooked in tomato sauce they can be canned. Sometimes they are preserved in syrup and served as a dessert.

jaknuts

The sweet, fragrant, ripe fruit, varaka, has a flavour somewhat similar to pineapple, but much more subtle and understated and less astringent. This is eaten as a dessert and cleanses the palate like a sorbet after spicy curries.

Tender young fruits may be pickled with or without spices.

jakvaraka

Westerners generally will find the jakfruit most acceptable in the full-grown but unripe stage. At this stage, it has no objectionable odour (the odour is not like durian – even when the fruit is rotting on the ground after the monkeys have discarded it, our garden is permeated with a not unpleasant fermenting smell somewhere between vinegar and alcohol) and is cooked like breadfruit or plantain. This stage of the fruit is cut into large chunks for cooking, the only handicap being its copious gummy latex which accumulates on the knife and the hands if one does not use oil as a preventative. It is difficult to clean the sticky gumminess from pans and hobs.

jakchunksinbowl

A labourer might breakfast on such a repast and the complex carbohydrates consumed would sustain him for a whole day.

The leaves are used as food wrappers in cooking, and they are also fastened together for use as plates.

I have not tried this myself, but it is said  that jakfruit nuts and pulp can cure a hangover.  The Chinese find it a cooling and nutritious tonic “useful in overcoming the influence of alcohol on the system.” The seed starch is given to relieve biliousness and the roasted seeds are regarded as aphrodisiac. (I have not conducted a controlled experiment.) Ulcers are treated with the ash of the leaves burned with corn and coconut shells and mixed with coconut oil. Abscesses, snakebite and glandular swellings are treated with dried latex mixed with vinegar. The roots are used for skin diseases, asthma, fever and diarrhea. Heated leaves are placed on wounds and the bark is made into poultices.

In some areas, jakfruit is fed to cattle. The tree is even planted in pastures so that the animals can avail themselves of the fallen fruits. Surplus jakfruit rind is considered a good stock food. The leaves are used as cattle fodder and are thought to be fattening.

The latex serves as birdlime, alone or mixed with Ficus sap and oil from Schleichera trijuga. The heated latex is employed as household cement for mending chinaware and earthenware, and to caulk boats and holes in buckets. It contains which can be used in varnishes.

The hardwood of Artocarpus heterophyllus is used in construction and for making furniture. It is currently quite expensive in Sri Lanka. The grain and texture of jak timber has been likened to mahogany but it is yellow when new. It changes with age to brown or dark-red. It is termite-proof, resistant to fungal and bacterial decay. It seasons easily, and is superior to teak. Jak wood is also used for masts, oars, and musical instruments. Palaces were built of jak wood in Bali and Macassar, and the limited supply was once reserved for temples in Indochina. Roots of old trees are used for carving and picture framing.

The sawdust of jakwood is boiled with alum to make a dye containing the yellow colorant, morin, which is used to color silk and the robes of Buddhist monks.

Sri Lanka is fortunate that this miracle tree grows abundantly just about everywhere in the non-urban areas of the country and even in some city gardens. It makes a major contribution to Sri Lankan life. Because the jak tree is so productive and so useful to the community there are legal restrictions on the felling of the trees and transportation of the wood.

The tree of life – but you wouldn’t want a fruit to land on your head!

 

 

Sri Lanka’s PR Part1

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday September 3 2014

Colman's Column3

One often reads horror stories about Sri Lanka in the foreign press. Despite the vast amounts of money paid to foreign public relations firms, these stories are never effectively countered. There was a recent example in the Calgary Herald.

Black July

Sri Lankans will not need to be reminded of the horrors of Black July 1983 but my foreign readers may not know the significance of the term. Many Tamils had felt that Sinhalese dominated governments had discriminated against the Tamil minority. Over many years, there had been incidents where ill-disciplined police or military had carried out savage reprisals, rather in the manner of the Black and Tans in Ireland, on innocent Tamils. July 1983 was a paradigm shift in terror. The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) killed thirteen soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army. Anti-Tamil riots ensued and lasted for ten days with property destroyed and up to 3,000 people killed and 200,000 displaced.

From President Jayewardene’s residence, shops could be seen going up in flames but no curfew was called and police disappeared from the streets. Marauding gangs armed with axes and cans of petrol went around Colombo with electoral rolls identifying Tamil homes and businesses. The occupants were doused in petrol and set alight.

A Norwegian woman tourist recalled seeing a mob setting fire to a bus with about 20 Tamils inside it. Those who climbed out the windows were pushed back in and the doors were sealed while they burned alive, screaming horribly. In another incident, a mob chopped two Tamil girls aged 18 and 11 with knives; the younger girl was beheaded with an axe, the older one raped by 20 men and then doused in petrol.

These horrific events left an indelible mark on the Tamil psyche. Atrocities were perpetrated on innocent Tamils all over the country and many fled to the north for refuge. Those who could afford it fled abroad, from where they provided ongoing financial support for the LTTE.

The Memory Lingers On

According to the Calgary Herald, one family in particular is still enduring horrific suffering because of those events of 31 years ago. In an article by Manisha Krishnan dated August 25 2014, Ryan de Hoedt claims that his family has been troubled since Black July because they gave shelter to Tamils from the murderous mobs. He has, reportedly, been trying to get his sister out of Sri Lanka and into Canada because he fears for her life.

He says that his grandmother used their house to shelter Tamils, hiding them in closets and under beds and this “fuelled suspicions of an association with the Tamil Tigers.” He claims that his father lost his job because of this and police bullied his parents and brother.

Carmen Cheung, a lawyer with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association told the Calgary Herald: “Here is a man who is trying to help his sister get out of what appears to be an incredibly dangerous situation”.

Sheltering Tamils

De Hoedt’s family are Burghers. Many Sinhalese and Burghers and Muslims took great personal risks to protect Tamils who were being victimized and brutally killed. The article does not give his sister’s name or age. Ryan himself was eleven years old at the time of Black July. I suspect that his sister was even younger. I find it difficult to believe that a Burgher woman living in Sri Lanka in 2014 would be in “an incredibly dangerous situation” because of her tangential involvement when she was a small child in incidents that happened 31 years ago.

I personally know Sinhalese people who sheltered Tamils in 1983. They may have been in danger then from the bloodthirsty mob itself and their courageous action is to be commended. I doubt if they feel any sense of danger of recrimination 31 years on.

Responses

I canvassed opinion about the Calgary Herald article among my many Sri Lankan contacts, in Sri Lanka and abroad. One, who is a Sinhalese Christian, told me: “There were many people like my family who helped Tamils in Sri Lanka during and after the 1983 riots. There are people I know who represent Tamils in human rights cases. Some of them are my friends. No authority has ever attacked them. …. The writer of this article is delusional. Maybe she has got the country wrong or she is a downright liar.”

Another respondent referred me to an article on Munchhausen’s Syndrome: “a psychiatric factitious disorder wherein those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attention, sympathy, or reassurance to themselves”.

Here is a selection of other responses: “sounds like a lot of de Bull to me”. “Not really believing what I’m reading.” “I saw it but am at something of a loss. Doesn’t quite make sense”. “Good grief. Why would she be in any danger?” “A sob story if ever there was one”. “It all sounds very strange”.

My list of contacts included many who have been strongly critical of the Sri Lankan government- in print as well as privately.

Some respondents wrote at more length:

“I met a Sinhalese guy back in around 2008 who was trying to get refugee status here in Australia on humanitarian grounds…His story was that his family owned a successful business that had some branches in the North-East, and during the ceasefire the LTTE extorted money from them. After the war started again in 2006, he alleged that the govt started harassing and threatening him and his family because the LTTE had forced them to ‘donate’ money … When I asked him if it was true, he seemed very reticent and mumbled ‘Yes’ after thinking about it. I met his lawyer as well … he was advising the guy to tell the Immigration Dept that he was tortured and he told him to be convincing about it in his body language. The fellow cut off all contact with me shortly afterwards and I haven’t heard from him since.”

Another Riot

Some of my respondents seized upon another aspect of Manisha Krishnan’s article. “A few years ago, said de Hoedt, her tenants were implicated in a riot and she was charged with harbouring terrorists. She lost her job and was stalked by soldiers and villagers, who cut off her hair, beat her and repeatedly attempted to rape her.” My contacts reacted thus: “Sounds more like they have some kind of land dispute or something like that.” What riot? What terrorists? Sounds like a cooked up sob story.”

Visa Applications

According to Manisha Krishnan’s article, Ryan de Hoedt: “claims her seven attempts to obtain a visitor’s visa to Canada and a permanent residency application made through her parents on humanitarian grounds were all rejected”. Two things are being mixed up here. Was she refused a visitor’s visa seven times? Application for permanent residency is a totally different thing and should not be included in the same sentence. The rejections were not the fault of the Sri Lanka government. The article does not tell us why the Canadian government rejected seven applications. The article does say: “She didn’t apply for refugee status because she was afraid to leave the country, which is one of the requirements.” Why was she afraid to leave Sri Lanka when her brother claims she is in mortal danger if she stays?

Human Smuggling

Ryan de Hoedt has lost his own Canadian passport. In April 2013, he was caught in Japan trying to help his sister to enter Canada using false documents. Although at one point de Hoedt says his sister was afraid to leave Sri Lanka, she did meet her brother in Malaysia and got involved with a human smuggling gang who took the sister’s Sri Lankan passport. They ordered de Hoedt to meet them in Laos where they were to provide the sister with a fake Canadian passport. Ryan and his sister were stopped while boarding a flight in Tokyo’s Narita Airport and the sister was sent back to Sri Lanka.

One of my respondents said: “Maybe if they had resorted to legal means more thoroughly they could have gotten the chance. But since they messed up they are cooking up vivid stories and putting the country’s reputation at risk! But if there is such local problem of harassment it must be duly investigated by local authorities.”

I hesitated to write this article in case it might put de Hoedt’s sister in more danger. “The police warned her they would kill her the next time she did something,” said de Hoedt. However, I have done no more than repeat what de Hoedt himself has placed in the public domain through the Calgary Herald.

I searched the BCCLA web site for Ryan de Hoedt but got this response: “Apologies, but no results were found for the requested archive.”

The full article can be read here:

http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/calgary/Calgary+runs+afoul+trying+rescue+sister+Lanka/10145368/story.html

I wrote to Manisha Krishnan giving her an opportunity to comment on what I have written here. At the time of submitting my copy, she had not replied. I will take up this issue again next week and will report her response if she has made one. I would also be interested to see comments from the Sri Lanka police.

John Berryman Part Three:Berryman’s Irish Sojourn

This article appeared in the Mosaic section of Ceylon Today on Sunday August 24 2014.

ashtray

In the 1960s, Berryman started receiving a great deal of national attention from the press, from arts organizations, and even from the White House, which sent him an invitation to dine with President Lyndon B Johnson at a dinner in honour of General and Mrs Ne Win of Burma.

Berryman wrote to tell LBJ that he had not boycotted the event. The invitation arrived after the event and he could not have gone because he was living in Ireland on a Guggenheim Fellowship. With his wife Kate, who was of Irish origin, Berryman arrived at Cobh, my father’s birthplace, on September 1, 1966. He quickly adapted to Dublin life and pub culture. Ronnie Drew (whose singing voice has been described as sounding like coke being pushed under a door) of the Dubliners folk group became one of Berryman’s drinking buddies.

Dream Song 366


Chilled in this Irish pub I wish my loves

well, well to strangers, well to all his friends,

seven or so in number,

I forgive my enemies, especially two,

races his heart, as so much magnanimity,

can it all be true?

Mr Bones, you on a trip outside yourself.

Has you seen a medicine man? You sound will-like,

a testament & such.

Is you going? —Oh, I suffer from a strike

& a strike & three balls: I stand up for much,

Wordsworth & that sort of thing.

The pitcher dreamed. He threw a hazy curve,

I took it in my stride & out I struck,

lonesome Henry.

These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand

They are only meant to terrify & comfort

Lilac was found in his hand.

 John Berryman

Berryman wrote many Dream Songs during his Irish sojourn. He also managed to upset some Irishmen with his condescending manner and boorishness when drunk, which he often was. The Irish poet John Montague remembers Berryman in his book of essays The Figure in the Cave and describes a comic scene at a Dublin reading by Berryman when Patrick Kavanagh took offence at Berryman and went off in a huff.

Montague-Collected-Poems-cloth

Montague had met Berryman in 1954 when the Irish poet enrolled in Berryman’s workshop at the University of Iowa. Montague remembered seeing Berryman eating alone at the Jefferson Hotel, a copy of The Caine Mutiny open before him, “nervous, taut, arrogant, uneasy.” Berryman was offended at Montague mentioning Iowa, which he regarded as a territory of limbo.

kavanagh

Kavanagh was offended when Berryman mentioned Liam Miller of the Dolmen Press, whom he considered an enemy.

ronnie drew

Ronnie Drew objected to a member of the audience expressing his admiration too loudly and kept saying, “Shut up, John”. This confused John Berryman and John Montague.

Ballsbridge

During his Irish sojourn, Berryman was introduced to the actor John Hurt and was star-struck. Hurt, in turn was impressed by Berryman’s bravura recitations of his poems. Hurt commented: “That man has genius and it’s burning him up”.

withKate

Berryman was not impressed with the local poetic talent and some have accused Montague of inflating his own relationship with him.

All these poets!  Holy God!

Many are drunk & some are odd.  

What am I myself here doing

when I could be off & doing?

 

My near namesake, Philip Coleman, is a lecturer in the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, where he is also Director of the MPhil in Literatures of the Americas programme His book John Berryman’s Public Vision: Re-locating the ‘scene of disorder will be published in 2014.

 dream songs

In Dream Song 312 Berryman claimed he went to Ireland “have it out” with Yeats:

I have moved to Dublin to have it out with you,

majestic Shade.

Whatever about the impression Berryman made on Dublin, or the impression Dublin made on him, Berryman will be celebrated in Ireland on the centenary of his birth. A John Berryman Centenary Symposium is being organised by the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies in October 2014 at the Mater Dei Institute, Clonliffe Road, Drumcondra. Academics from all over the world will speak on topics such as The Metabolization of Tradition, Berryman, Boredom and Identity, Berryman’s Schwartz, Satanic pride: Berryman, Schwartz, and the Genesis of Love & Fame, The Pornography of Grief: John Berryman and the Language of Suffering. There will be a walk to Berryman’s lodgings in Ballsbridge. A symposium was held at Trinity College Dublin, in January 2002, to mark the 30th anniversary of Berryman’s death. The event was marked by the publication of a book of essays titled After Thirty Falls.

Perhaps he did want to exorcise the influence of Yeats. Despite the immense influence of Yeats on Berryman’s early work, he now believed that Yeats’s overweening ego had made him turn everything he came in contact with into a symbol and he understood “nothing about life”. He made a pilgrimage to Yeats’s grave in Sligo.

Yeats on Cemetery Ridge

Would not have been scared, like you& me,

He would have been, before the bullet that was his,

Studying the movements of the birds

 

However, he wrote in his diary Dublin was “CHEAP; English spoken, [and it was] n[ea]r London & [the] continent”.

 

On New Year’s Day 1967, Berryman resolved to go through, at a rate of five a day, the 300 Dream Songs he had collected. Unfortunately, he fell and hurt his back so badly that Kate thought he had broken his spine. He denied that alcohol was the cause of the fall but he was particularly accident-prone, which must have been related to his drinking. He stuck to his schedule and hoped to finish the project by March. At the end of January, Kate had him committed to Grange Gorman, a gothic mental hospital. After a week, he begged her to get him out.

 

He placed his alter ego, Henry, in the hospital for some Dream Songs.

 

I love my doctor, I love too my nurse,

But I am glad to leave them, as now I do.

Too long it’s been

out of the world, away fr. whisk’, the curse

of Henry’s particular life, who has pulled thro’

too & again makes the scene…

 

At one point, he had nearly set fire to the place:

Henry walked the corridor in dark, drug-drunk, smoking

And dropt it & near-sighted cannot find.

Nurses will deal hell if the ward wakes, croaking

To smoke antic with flame…

 

A Alvarez (Berryman’s biographer Paul Mariani repeatedly calls him “Tony Alvarez” even though most people know the poet and critic as Al Alvarez) came to Dublin to film Berryman reading his Songs and talking at the Ballsbridge house and Ryan’s pub. The BBC broadcast the programme on March 11 and Berryman was back in New York on April 24 when Sonnets was published.

Although he had become bored with Ireland, he told a friend that the Irish had received him “like Sam Johnson at the court of the Dauphin”. Ireland was a place, he said, “right on the edge of Europe…crawling with delicious people who all speak English and are blazing with self-respect”.

Critic Kenneth Connelly saw in the Dream Songs the influence of two celebrated Dubliners: “Henry, the catalytic character of his poem—as well as the way his story is told—are greatly beholden to James Joyce, probably by way of Samuel Beckett…. [However] diluted, the presiding concepts and techniques of Joyce and Beckett structure his entire vision and method.” Like Joyce, Berryman mingles high verbal sonority and childish humor, literary high style with dialect and colloquialisms.

The use of dialect can go horribly wrong.

Nothin very bad happen to me lately.

How you explain that? —I explain that, Mr Bones,

terms o’ your bafflin odd sobriety.

Sober as a man can get, no girls, no telephones,

what could happen bad to Mr Bones?

—If life is a handkerchief sandwich,

in a modesty of death I join my father

who dared so long agone leave me.

 

Kevin Young is a Black American poet who has produced an edition of John Berryman’s verse for the Library of America’s American Poets Project. Young wrote that Berryman’s “use of ‘black dialect’ is frustrating and even offensive at times, as many have noted, and deserves examination at length. Nonetheless, the poems are, in part, about an American light that is not as pure as we may wish; or whose purity may rely not just on success (the dream) but on failure (the song). Berryman allows us to admit our obsessions, both as writers and as Americans.“

Next week a summation of Berryman’s life and achievements.

John Berryman Part 2

This article appeared in the Mosaic section of Ceylon Today on Sunday August 17 2014

 

The Life

In the introduction to Dream Song, his 1990 biography of Berryman, Paul Mariani said: “Much of what Berryman wrote about himself in his various autobiographical guises was brilliantly and highly original in its manner of saying. But it was also oblique, defeated, and – because of his long obsessions with alcohol, love, and fame – often, as he came himself to understand, delusory”. Last week I hinted at the problems he encountered from an early age with his father’s suicide (or possibly, murder) his mother’s sexuality and the family’s peripatetic life.

School

Berryman was not happy at school – his condescending manner and self-pitying wimpiness caused him to be bullied and he got little sympathy from the teaching staff of South Kent in Connecticut. He eventually came to an accommodation with the bullies and the teachers and made some friends – engaging in some mild homosexual activity. Later he quickly ended a friendship when a young man told him he was in love with him. In his teens, he became interested in girls. In later life, this developed into compulsive womanising. He wrote for school publications and got high marks for English literature, although his work had a tendency to be too cold and calculating.

25likeEllroy

University

At Columbia, he read voraciously and became smitten with Milton’s Lycidas. In Mark Van Doren, he found an inspirational teacher and a good friend for life, although he had antagonistic relationships with other teachers. He had written poetry at South Kent but at university, he put aside the “morass of adolescent love verse” and tried verse forms like the double quatrain and couplets of uneven length. He communicated with Randall Jarrell.

with Beryl

England

His literary work was good enough for him to win a scholarship for two years at Clare College, Cambridge. When he arrived in London, he had the nerve to introduce himself to the Woolfs to ask them to publish his poetry. He sent a poem to Yeats and made friends with Auden. He had some drunken sessions with Dylan Thomas and upgraded his estimation of the Welshman’s poetry. Yeats invited Berryman to tea and Thomas tried to get him drunk beforehand. Berryman’s tutor at Cambridge was the distinguished Shakespearian scholar George Rylands. Berryman was surprised by how little English literary people knew about American literature. FR Leavis was to have been one of Berryman’s supervisors in his second year but declined when he sensed Berryman’s hostility to him.

Berryman was already worried by wild mood swings: “mental instability fits of terrifying gloom and loneliness and artistic despair alternating with irresponsible exultation”.

hat and beard

Back in the USA

When Berryman returned to the US, some of his friends, including Mark Van Doren, avoided him because of his irritating British affectations. Another aspect his friends found off-putting was his tendency to try to steal their girl friends. Poet WD Snodgrass said that the problem with Berryman was “as soon as he liked you he began making your life difficult by tampering in your love life and sometimes trying to tamper with your wife.” Berryman had no compunction about seducing his students. He tried to seduce them even in the presence of their very large and strong boyfriends. He persistently made drunken phone calls to female students. He spoke to a psychiatrist about his mother’s flamboyant sexuality and his own relationships with women.

withAnn

Columbia offered him a teaching job and he worked hard, sending poems to the quarterlies. Delmore Schwartz was then a rising star and poetry editor of The Partisan Review and wanted to publish some of Berryman’s poems. Schwartz was impressed by Berryman’s intelligence and vividness. He commented on the violence running through his poems. Berryman accepted an almost unpaid job as poetry editor of The Nation and persuaded Wallace Stevens to contribute a poem and even to go to the trouble of explaining some obscure lines.

withPaul

Berryman suffered from epileptic seizures, which his first wife Eileen had dismissed as his way of dealing with his mother. He had nightmares about hacking women’s bodies and leaving the pieces under various houses to be discovered. In 1948, he won the Shelley Memorial award for $650, which paid some bills and let him buy a bottle of Scotch, which he drank in one sitting. Throughout the rest of his life, he experienced countless drunken episodes, black-outs, wandering fugues, injuries, memory loss. He was violent to his wives on occasions.

Rather than facing his alcoholism, he blamed his mental condition on the way Americans mistreated their poets. Despite his brilliance as a lecturer, his reputation as a drunkard and a troublemaker was well known. He had insulted most of the department’s members and their wives and did not hide his disdain. In 1960, he began wetting the bed. Sometimes he was so drunk on the podium that he delivered the same lecture twice to the embarrassment of his students. Someone described him as “a painfully shy man” blinking “out through the mask of his beard”. Ralph Ross said “I concluded that the only John one could love was a John with 2 or 3 drinks in him, no more & no less, & such a John could not exist”.

The Dream Songs

Berryman put much of his life into the Dream Songs, which eventually amounted to 308 poems. Since 1955, he had been working on the sequence. In 1964, he published 77 Dream Songs. This volume was awarded the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The Academy of American Poets states that “the poems of 77 Dream Songs are characterized by their unusual syntax, mix of high and low diction, and virtuosic language.”This was followed in 1968 by His Toy, His Dream, His Rest. This book won both the National Book Award for Poetry and the Bollingen Prize in 1969.

The work follows the travails of a character named “Henry” who bears a striking resemblance to Berryman. “Henry has a hard time. People don’t like him, and he doesn’t like himself. In fact, he doesn’t even know what his name is. His name at one point seems to be Henry House, and at another point, it seems to be Henry Pussycat.” These poems establish “Henry” as an alienated, self-loathing, and self-conscious character. Berryman also establishes some of the themes that would continue to trouble Henry in later dream songs (like his troubles with women and his obsession with death and suicide). Berryman references his father’s suicide as “a thing on Henry’s heart/ so heavy, if he had a hundred years/ & more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time/ Henry could not make good.”

“The volume was dedicated “to Mark Van Doren, and to the sacred memory of Delmore Schwartz.” Although many of the poems eulogize the deaths of Berryman’s poet/friends, more of these elegies (12 in total) are about Delmore Schwartz than any other poet.

In addition to the elegies, this volume also includes poems that document Henry/Berryman’s trip to Ireland, his experiences with fame, his problems with drugs and alcohol, and his problems with women.

Dream Song 14

 

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.   

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,   

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy   

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored   

means you have no

 

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no   

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

Peoples bore me,

literature bores me, especially great literature,   

Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes   

as bad as achilles,

 

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.   

And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag   

and somehow a dog

has taken itself & its tail considerably away

into mountains or sea or sky, leaving            

behind: me, wag.

 

Contemporaries, including Elizabeth Bishop and Conrad Aiken were very impressed and wrote Berryman letters of congratulations on his achievement in the volume. Upon its publication, the book also received a positive review in The New York Times Book Review by the literary scholar Helen Vendler.

 

More about the dream songs and Berryman’s time in Ireland next week.        

Inequality -Europe and the Precariat

A version of this article appeared in the July 2014 issue of Echelon magazine

 

European Values and Inequality

In theory, the core of the EU project was opportunity. Free movement, competition, a single market and non-discrimination should be pillars of an equal society. Nevertheless, socio-economic inequalities in Europe are greater today than in the 1980s and many who oppose free movement were recently elected to the European Parliament.

 

Five years of austerity policies have led to a further deterioration of living standards. Europe’s social model of welfare will no longer be sustainable if a majority of citizens can barely scrape by and have no security or opportunity. In Greece, infant mortality is up 43% because of stringent cuts to healthcare services. In Spain, over 400,000 families lost their homes. There were 4.5million people in Ireland on Census night (10th April 2011). There are an estimated 1,300 ghost estates in Ireland with 300,000 houses lying empty. There are plans to demolish these estates. In 2012, Focus Ireland, a charity for homeless people dealt with 8,000 customers.

 

Spending on education has effectively dropped in most EU countries. Youth unemployment affects a quarter of young Europeans and in Greece and Spain, 50% of the young are unemployed.

A study launched by UK deputy PM (at time of writing) Nick Clegg (educated at the private Westminster School and Cambridge University), shows that in Britain, one child in five is on free school meals. Only seven per cent of children attend private schools, but these schools provide 70 per cent of High Court judges and 54 per cent of FTSE 100 CEOs.

David Boyle, a fellow at the New Economics Foundation think-tank, warned that rising property prices would effectively render the middle classes extinct as the dream of home ownership becomes ever more distant. The “squeezed middle”, would need to take three or four jobs just to make ends meet and no longer have time for cultural activities.

Causes of Inequality

Over the last few decades, large international corporations have been powerful generators of inequality. By the early 1980s, the CEOs of the largest 350 US companies were getting 30 times as much as the average production worker. By the start of the 21st century, they were getting between 200 and 400 times as much. Among the 100 largest UK companies, the average CEO received 300 times the minimum wage.

The EU encourages cuts in social spending, even presenting them as preconditions of recovery. They argue that recovery depends on “employer-friendly practices”. “Labour flexibility” really means crushing trade unions. More than a third of all workers in the private sector were union members forty years ago; now, fewer than seven percent are members of a trade union. France and Spain used to have powerful unions, but today less than ten per cent of their workforce is unionised.

Precariat

Employment is becoming increasingly unstable. Privatisation of government services, short-term and part-time contracts, temping agencies and low wages undermine job security. The British economist Guy Standing has coined the term precariat. Professor Standing argues that the dynamics of globalization have led to a fragmentation of older class divisions. The precariat consists of temporary and part-time workers, interns, call-centre employees, sub-contracted labour – those who are engaged in insecure forms of labour that are unlikely to help them build a desirable identity or career or guarantee them secure accommodation.

Spirit Level and Malignant Growth

The Spirit Level is a book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, published in 2009. The book argues that there are “pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, (and) encouraging excessive consumption”. The authors claim that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in unequal rich countries.

Piketty

Capital in the 21st Century, by French economist Thomas Piketty, focuses on wealth and income inequality in Europe and the US since the 18th century. The book’s central thesis is that inequality is not an accident but rather a feature of capitalism that requires state intervention to reverse. The book argues that unless capitalism is reformed, the democratic order is in danger.

Piketty predicts that the rise in inequality under neoliberalism will increase throughout the 21st century, reaching Victorian levels by 2050. He argues that if growth is low, labour’s bargaining power weak, and the returns on capital high, this will encourage speculation rather than entrepreneurial risk-taking or working hard to accumulate wealth.

Arguments against Promoting Equality

Companies are reluctant to implement equality measures because of what they see as heavy costs, which reduce their profit margins and impede their investment capacity. Equality and anti-discrimination contradict the ‘freedom’ of their enterprise, as executives would not be free to hire and do business the way they choose. They argue that inequality is not systemic but a failure of individuals to be resilient.

The engine of the neo-liberal system is widespread discrimination, and inequalities of class and geographical location. Globalisation so far has ensured that cheaper labour can always be found somewhere else. Some entrepreneurs have been cynical enough to claim that discrimination makes perfect business sense and should be acknowledged as such. From this perspective, removing inequalities would bring this very profitable system (for a few) to collapse.

Arguments for Equality

Almost all production and wealth creation is the result of cooperation. Society as a whole and its infrastructure contributes to everyone’s income and living standards. Accumulated technical and scientific knowledge, an educated population, transport systems and electricity supplies help the wealthy to become and remain wealthy. The combined efforts of vast numbers of people affect the living standards of even the rich.

Promoting equality is an investment. Excluding able individuals entails a huge loss of talent and skill when the economy needs to harness all potential creativity. A 2012 talent shortage survey found that around one in three employers around the world found it difficult to fill vacancies. Talent is often wasted because of discrimination.

Conclusion

In a speech to the Sutton Trust, Mr Clegg admitted that the Coalition “cannot afford” to leave a legacy like the current position. “Morally, economically, socially: whatever your justification, the price is too high to pay. We must create a more dynamic society.” Clegg’s statement is part of thetherapeutic management of inequality”- the officially sanctioned smokescreen of seeming to promote fairness, social justice, social equality, and equal access to education. A fear of what UK PM David Cameron called a “broken society” is the organising principle behind a wide range of measures to regulate supposedly dysfunctional behaviour. The “middle” sees itself as living in a nightmare world being ripped apart by greedy bankers at one extreme and sub-human Chav ‘trailer trash’ at the other.

Standing noted that, lacking any work-based identity, or sense of belonging to a labour community, the psychology of the precariat is liable to be determined by anger, anomie, anxiety, and alienation. Perhaps the precariat will rise up but they are not the real vandals. The one per cent or ten per cent’s constant looting of the middle classes as well as the working class engenders resentment. In a context of too much debt and slow or no growth, austerity weakens the body politic rather than strengthening it. Austerity only really helps those who are wealthy enough to take advantage cheaper asset prices and sell the assets back later.

The EU needs to remember its founding principles and take action to complete the banking union, protect small savers from the banksters, create decent jobs, implement a realistic investment policy, and protect consumers and the environment. Equality must be at the heart of every European policy.

 

Tired of London? London in the 21st century. A tale of two Sams.

A version of this article appeared in the July issue of Echelon magazine although they forgot  to  put my name on it. I originally used a strapline – Capitalist capital of crap. London in the 21st century – but the editor did not like that.

 

 

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” — Sam Johnson

johnson

Dr Samuel Johnson’s biographer, James Boswell was a Scot. Johnson was not a Londoner. He came from Lichfield and spoke with a harsh Midland accent. Boswell and Johnson were discussing whether or not Boswell’s affection for London would wear thin should he choose to live there, as opposed to the zest he felt on his occasional visits from Scotland. Boswell wrote in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides “By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can shew.”

 

‘London claims to be a world city – a modern, 24-hour metropolis – but this is mostly just a pretence put on for visitors.” – Sam Jordison.

 

Another Sam, Sam Jordison came up with the idea of a league table for crap towns of Britain. The original Crap Towns was a publishing sensation in 2003 and came out of a conversation between Jordison and Dan Kieran, deputy editor of the Idler magazine, (Dr Johnson published a book of essays called The Idler) about the respective awfulness of their own home towns.

The city of Kingston-upon-Hull proudly sat at the top of the league for five years. Hull was Hell and “smelt of death”. It may come as a surprise that London was the city that toppled Hull.

How can London be crap? London is a major world metropolis. It has recently also been voted top city in the world in terms of overall attractiveness in a survey organised by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in cahoots with the IMF and other multinational financial groups. Financial houses, multinational corporations and management consultants form a major component of what makes today’s London unattractive to humans.

The PwC’s survey boasted: “The women and men of PwC reflect the highly skilled, globally mobile services sector whose personal investment of themselves and their family is so critical to the ongoing progress of urban communities worldwide.”

 

So, all urban dwellers should be grateful to PwC? Many people in London are less blessed than the golden PwC employees are. Significant numbers of families across Britain are skipping meals in a bid to make ends meet. Every region of the country is affected, but in London, the proportion rises to 28 per cent of families.

leather bottle

When I moved to London from Manchester, I had to double my mortgage to get a much smaller house. True, I was able to drink alongside Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones in the Leather Bottle pub, but he lived in a six-bedroom house on the posher side of Kingston Road in Merton Park. Back in 1982, I wondered how the lowly paid people, whose contribution was vital to the operation of the city and the comfort of PwC’s golden employees, managed to find homes. The situation is worse now.

 

I lived in London from 1982 to 1998. I visited it many times before and many times since. I still love many things about the place.

London_National_Film_Theatre

I can also understand the perspective of those who voted it crappest town in Britain. I was living in London at the time of “greed is good”, when Thatcherism was forcing many to sleep on the streets. Travelling to work on a jammed up underground train, I witnessed an incident that epitomised the tenor of the times. A pregnant woman was straphanging. A gentleman of the old school stood up to offer her a seat. Before she could sit down, a Yuppie type slid underneath her and claimed the seat with a look of triumph.

 

Towards the end of my stay in London, I was paying GBP 2,000 per year for a season ticket to commute to central London from Lewisham (posh Blackheath/Greenwich side).

blackheath-and-the-clarendon

It should have been a ten-minute journey but took longer because all the trains were full after six a.m. With privatisation the trains got shorter and shorter. I never got a seat – on these cattle trucks we were just grateful for a small pocket of breathable air away from armpits. One day I thought I  saw an empty seat and made my way towards it. As I approached, I saw that the seat was occupied by a pile of human turds. People were standing all around this without complaint. That is my enduring image of London.

Sam Jordison said that many who live in London are fed up with queuing, rocketing house prices, the chore of commuting, “the dangers and pure exhaustion of living there”. I once enjoyed a memorable night at Charlie Gillett’s World Music Disco but getting home after was a problem. I was a member of Ronnie Scott’s Club and saw many jazz legends perform there. Ronnie’s shuts at about 3.30 am, but the Tube closes its doors around midnight. People complained to Jordison about city bankers and a transport system that abandons late-night revellers to the mercy of rickshaws, minicabs or night buses. Cab drivers do not like going “south of the river”. Taking the night bus is a not recommended- it is a vomitorium on wheels full of drunks and psychopaths.

The annual Cities Survey, organised by the website Trip Advisor, collates the opinions of travellers to the top 37 urban tourist destinations around the world. Moscow came last. London came 11th, but achieved a respectable second place for nightlife and third for shopping. London’s worst performance was in value for money – visitors voted the city 34th in terms of how far a pound will stretch. London came 32nd of the 37 cities when the question was “how helpful were the locals?” The Trip Advisor website provides many horror stories of squalid and expensive London hotels. The horrors experienced by the Griswold family in Chevy Chase’s film National Lampoon’s European Vacation understate the awfulness of the reality.

griswold

London was rather drab in the 1950s and took some time to recover from the war. Years of decline and depopulation made much of the centre affordable. Artists, writers, musicians flocked in. It was possible, even up to the 1970s, to leave university and get a flat with your mates in Notting Hill, Marylebone or Camden Town. I stayed with people just as poor as me in Islington and Hampstead and Kensington. These days, only rich Arabs or the Russian mafia can afford those areas. Central London is a ghost town that only benefits absentee investors. The art students, musicians, and people starting out in the creative industries can no longer walk home from clubbing in Camden. The young creative class will continue to move further and further out. Soon there will nothing cool left about London. Cool will be residing in Bristol or Falmouth or Newcastle.

London has already changed irreparably. Rich financiers have made it unaffordable for the working class. The real threat comes from governments giving incentives to wealthy elites to take up residence. Russians receive a quarter of the “investor visas” that the UK gives to those who can pay a million pounds. The proprietor of the London Evening Standard is Alexander Yevgenievich Lebedev, a Russian oligarch and former officer of the foreign intelligence directorate of the KGB.

Alex_Lebedev

 

To end on a more cheerful note: If you do decide to visit London, there is still much of interest (if you can manage to find somewhere decent to stay). I have many happy memories of walking around central London and the periphery. I was lucky enough to have done several jobs in the heartland of the metropolis, which enabled me to walk easily to Lincolns Inn Fields, Holborn, Bloomsbury, Clerkenwell, Smithfield, and Covent Garden and to eat my lunch to the accompaniment of brass band concerts on the Embankment near the Adelphi.

Half-Moon-Putney

My first residence was in Putney and on long summer evenings I could walk from Putney to Barnes, stopping on the way to enjoy Young’s ambrosial nectar at the Half Moon (also purveyors of excellent live music – I saw Dr John and Maria Muldaur there among many others). The Bull’s Head at Barnes also purveys Young’s ales and fine live jazz.

Iain Sinclair on the south bank of the river Thames, London, Britain - 26 Aug 2011

Before you visit, I would recommend reading the writing of people like Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd who explore the psychogeography of London and examine the prehistoric atavistic mind of the city that entranced Dr Johnson, Dickens, Blake, and TS Eliot. Ackroyd and Sinclair explore the mythic strata upon which contemporary Londoners walk. Much of Sinclair’s recent work consists of a revival of occultist psychogeography of London. In London Orbital he wrote about a trek around the M25, which JG Ballard described as: “A journey into the heart of darkness and a fascinating snapshot of who we are”. Andrew Duncan’s walking guides provide practical help for those wishing to explore this magical world. Duncan’s Secret London tells you how to find London’s buried rivers, underground tunnels, abandoned tube stations, elegant squares, dark alleyways and cobbled courtyards and explains who owns most of the freehold property. Duncan, Ackroyd and Sinclair help to keep alive the magic of London.

 

 

The Brilliant Work and Difficult Life of John BerrymanPart One

This article appeared in the Mosaic section of Ceylon Today on Sunday August 10

john_berryman1288616578

Confessionalism

The school of “Confessional Poetry” was associated with several writers who redefined American poetry in the ’50s and ’60s. These included Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and John Berryman, ‘Confessionalism’ is a style focusing on extreme moments of individual experience, the psyche, and personal trauma, including previously taboo subjects such as mental illness, sexuality, and suicide.

John Berryman incorporated much of his personal experience into his poems and his was an eventful life. The poet started out as John Allyn Smith Jr. He was born in Oklahoma where he was raised until the age of ten, and then submitted to a peripatetic existence. When Berryman was twelve years old, his father, John Allyn Smith Sr, shot himself. With the Florida land bust, suicide was not uncommon and Smith’s death did not grab the attention of the Tampa police. Much was made of Smith’s insomnia, depression and money worries, but nothing of his marital problems or the absence of powder burns. Ten weeks after her husband’s death, Martha Smith married John Angus Berryman, who had been her lover before Smith’s demise. The future poet took the new husband’s name and was taught to call him “Uncle Jack”. His mother took to calling herself “Jill”.

His father’s suicide (or murder?) left a mark on the poet.

Thought I much then of perforated daddy,

daddy boxed in & let down with strong straps,

when I my friends’ homes visited, with fathers

universal and intact

 

In his 1990 biography of Berryman, Dream Song, Paul Mariani wrote: “Much of what Berryman wrote about himself in his various autobiographical guises was brilliantly and highly original in its manner of saying. But it was also oblique, defeated, and – because of his long obsessions with alcohol, love, and fame – often, as he came himself to understand, delusory”.

After a long struggle with alcoholism and mental illness, Berryman threw himself off a bridge in 1972.

Early Work

berryman_john_photo_big

Berryman’s early work formed part of a volume entitled Five Young American Poets, published by New Directions in 1940. One of the other young poets included in the book was Randall Jarrell, whom I will discuss in future articles. New Directions published Berryman’s first book, entitled Poems, in 1942. His first mature book, The Dispossessed, appeared six years later, published by William Sloane Associates. Charles Thornbury recognised in this early work themes that would recur throughout Berryman’s work- the rite of reformation, cycles moving simultaneously to the alternations of day and night, desire and conception, the progression of the seasons, and the stages of youth and age.

Chair

The Dispossessed was not well-received. Randall Jarrell wrote, in The Nation, that Berryman was “a complicated, nervous, and intelligent [poet]” whose poetry in The Dispossessed was too derivative of WB Yeats. Berryman later said, “I didn’t want to be like Yeats; I wanted to be Yeats.”

The influence of Yeats is everywhere in the early work. Berryman also tried on the ill-fitting public persona of the WH Auden of the 1930s. Most of these socio-political poems are what Randall Jarrell called ”statues talking like a book”.

 

setee

In 1947, Berryman started an affair with a married woman named Chris while he was still married to his first wife, Eileen. He documented the affair with a sonnet sequence of over a hundred poems. This marked a major stage in his development, moving from a public rhetorical style to a more intimate, confessional, nervous voice. He refrained from publishing the Sonnets to Chris until 1967.

Homage to Mistress Bradstreet

Berryman’s first major work was Homage to Mistress Bradstreet. The long title poem first appeared in Partisan Review in 1953 and the book was published in 1956. Berryman addressed the life of 17th century puritan American poet Anne Bradstreet, the first recognized poet of the American literary tradition, and combined her history with his own fantasies about her. Berryman told an interviewer in 1972: “The idea was not to take Anne Bradstreet as a poetess – I was not interested in that. I was interested in her as a pioneer heroine, a sort of mother to the artists and intellectuals who would follow her and play a large role in the development of the nation.”

Anne Bradstreet enjoyed a relatively privileged life in England. She was born in Northampton, in 1612, the daughter of Thomas Dudley, a steward of the Earl of Lincoln. Because of her family’s position, she grew up in cultured circumstances and was a well-educated woman for her time, tutored in history, several languages and literature. At the age of sixteen, she married Simon Bradstreet. At the age of eighteen, she, her husband, and her parents sailed with John Winthrop for the Puritan settlement at Massachusetts Bay. Her first book of poems, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, was published in England in 1650 by her brother-in-law without her knowledge. These first poems are sometimes candid and immediate, but more often they are conventional in style and on accepted topics — her love for husband, children, God. Later poems show a different attitude. Both Anne’s father and husband were later to serve as governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

john-berrymanYoung

In Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, a series of fifty-seven, eight-line verses, Berryman comments on, converses with and courts Bradstreet and sometimes speaks as her. In section 31, Berryman has Bradstreet moving towards him:

 

–It is Spring’s New England. Pussy willows wedge

up in the wet. Milky crestings, fringed

yellow, in heaven, eyed

by the melting hand-in-hand or mere

desirers single, heavy-footed, rapt,

make surge poor human hearts. Venus is trapt—

the hefty pike shifts, sheer—

in Orion blazing. Warblings, odours, nudge to an edge-

 

Berryman employed an eight-line stanza of great flexibility, gravity and lightness. The poem took him five years to complete and demanded much from the reader but won plaudits from critics at the time and continued to win praise in later years. In 1989, Edward Hirsch observed, “the 57 stanzas of Homage to Mistress Bradstreet combine the concentration of an extended lyric with the erudition and amplitude of a historical novel.” Berryman’s friend Saul Bellow described the poem as “the equivalent of a 500-page psychological novel”.

Out of maize & air

your body’s made, and moves. I summon, see,

from the centuries it.”

 

Berryman makes Mistress Bradstreet a rebel speaking out against the constraints of gender and environment. The underlying subject is, as Berryman indicated later, ”the almost insuperable difficulty of writing high verse in a land that cared and cares so little for it.” The poem examines the tension between Bradstreet’s personal life and her artistic life, concluding in a spirit of fatalism. The work primarily examines creative repression, religious apostasy, and the temptation to adultery. Critic Luke Spencer focused on “Berryman’s intimate dialogue with Anne Bradstreet and the mutual sexual attraction”. Berryman tried to “colonise” and seduce a virtuous member of the Puritan community by turning her into his mistress. Berryman portrays her as rejecting both her husband and father and the Puritan deity that sanctions their view of life. The historical Bradstreet’s letters portray her as a model of devotion to her husband; members of her family encouraged her writing of poetry.

 

Among the most moving parts of Berryman’s work are about Bradstreet’s conflicts with her own sensuality and the struggle for religious faith and peace. Berryman finds Bradstreet’s value and meaning in her suffering.

 

Veiled my eyes, attending. How can it be I?   

Moist, with parted lips, I listen, wicked.   

I shake in the morning & retch.

Brood I do on myself naked.

A fading world I dust, with fingers new.

—I have earned the right to be alone with you.   

—What right can that be?

Convulsing, if you love, enough, like a sweet lie.

 

 

More about Berryman’s life next week and about his masterwork Dream Songs.

 

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