roast chicken with cinnamon and allspice

Rub a chicken with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of ground allspice, salt and pepper. Roast it.

Recipe from the excellent Tamarind and Saffron, a Middle Eastern cookery book by Claudia Roden. I thought it might be too overpoweringly spicy, or a bit puddingy (because those spices are traditionally used in sweet food in this country), but it was nice.

  • Post category:Other

more foxes and ID

I was really annoyed by an article in the paper on the campaign to get ‘Intelligent Design’ taught in schools as an alternative to natural selection. Hence the ditty in the last post.

But I would like to come up with a more substantial poem on the subject.


The angels are winning in Kansas.

scared of the inner ape

Oh nothing could be finer
than to be in Carolina
where everyone’s the work
of an intelligent designer


appendices/lower back pain yadda yadda yadda.

QUOTATION:A hairy quadruped, furnished with a tail and pointed ears, probably arboreal in its habits. ATTRIBUTION:Charles Darwin (1809

  • Post category:Me

Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design

He designed us an appendix
‘cos he knew it would delight us
to have the opportunity
to get appendicitis.

  • Post category:Culture

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2005

I just took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2005.

If you’re living in Britain, there’s still time to take part – you can do it today or tomorrow. My list (numbers are maximum seen at once):

great tit – 4
blue tit – 9
coal tit – 1

greenfinch – 2
chaffinch – 2

nuthatch – 1
robin – 2
starling – 3
goldcrest – 1
dunnock – 1
blackbird – 2

feral pigeon – 6
woodpigeon – 1

green woodpecker – 1
great spotted woodpecker – 1

carrion crow – 2
magpie – 3

black-headed gull – 12

Which is pretty mediocre, to be honest. Some birds I regularly see in the garden that didn’t turn up in my hour slot: jay, goldfinch, heron, long-tailed tit, collared dove, ring-necked parakeet. Jay was probably the biggest gap in the list.

  • Post category:Nature

‘American Poetry’

I find it interesting that Americans constantly self-identify themselves as ‘American’.

I’ve been reading Roger Pao’s blog Asian-American Poetry with some interest, but while he explores all the nuances, the root question goes unasked and unanswered – why that category? Why the keenness to put your work into a non-literary category? By which I mean: “I am an Asian-American Poet” is a different kind of statement to “I am a Vorticist”. Or is it? Perhaps it is intended as a statement about the work, rather than, say, an assertion of identity or a marketing opportunity. But what kind of statement? If a customer bought an anthology of Asian-American poetry and found that, although all the poets were Asian-Americans, the work was indistinguishable from that of other Americans, would they be entitled to feel cheated?

Actually, though, the idea of ‘Asian-American Poetry’ doesn’t really surprise me. There are obvious reasons why people would want to identify themselves as Asian-American (it’s a historically marginalised minority with shared interests etc etc), and why an Asian-American Poetry anthology would seem like a good idea. It no more needs special justification than an anthology of woman poets, or Welsh poets, or young poets.

What I find more interesting is the tendency for America to do the same thing. A trivial example – after the success of ‘Pop Idol’ in the UK, it crossed over to America where it became ‘American Idol’. Why? Why would an American program made by an American company and broadcast on an American network need to identify itself as American? What point were they trying to make? Normally, I’d expect a program (or anthology) that identified with a particular social group to be defining itself in relation to the majority, but surely the US isn’t defining itself (to itself) in opposition to the rest of the world.

Similarly, and getting back to poetry for a minute, I have a copy of the New Formalist anthology Rebel Angels (dreadful self-satisfied title, I know). The introduction is basically spent defending metrical poetry against the suggestion that it is ‘un-American’. The subject is set up as an argument between two sides: both seem to believe that American poets have some kind of responsibility to American Poetry, and the only difference is how that responsibility should be discharged.

I would have thought that American Poetry could look after itself. Whatever kinds of poems are written by poets who are from the US will be American Poetry, and the long-term trends will emerge whether anyone tries to influence them or not.

Perhaps it’s the UK (England?) which is unusual in being very reluctant to invoke ‘Britishness’. I suppose we had the YBAs (Young British Artists – Hirst, Emin etc) recently, but I never felt anyone was expecting them to strive to make their art British; and whatever responsibilities they may have had to Art never seemed to include a responsibility to Britishness.

Anyway, I don’t really want to make this into a Brit/American thing, I’m just intrigued by the labels people pick for themselves.

  • Post category:Culture

duck cassoulet

recipe du jour: cassoulet made from left-over duck and sausages.

I had most of a roast duck left over, so I’m making a cassoulet of duck with a couple of sausages and a bit of bacon. No haricot blanc at the Italian deli, so it’s borlotti beans.

Soak the beans overnight.
Simmer with a bouquet garni, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, and an onion studded with cloves for 1 hour 45. Save the cooking liquid.

Layer up the beans, meat, some chunks of tomato and chopped thyme and parsley (mostly parsley in my case), finishing with a layer of beans. Pour over the bean liquid mixed with a little tomato paste (I also added some duck stock, since I’d just made some from the carcasse) then a layer of breadcrumbs.

Stick in an oven at 170C for an hour and a half.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  • Post category:Other

Beowulf as a chiefdom-based society

I’m just reading Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright, a book which argues that there is in fact a good theoretical basis (from game-theory) for seeing the development of human societies as directional. I believe the book later goes onto biological systems as well, but I haven’t got to that bit. Anyway, it got me thinking about Beowulf again.

Beowulf, and other A-S poetry, always read as curiously foreign. Obviously, even the date of the manuscript – C11th – *is* a very distant and foreign culture, and if you accept the C8th date for the poem, that pushes it back further. The action of the poem is dateable to around 516 (the death of Hygelac), although assuming much continuity between the events and the writing of the poem, let alone in its surviving copy, seems unwise.

Still, even given the distance between the poem and ourselves, it always seems surprisingly foreign; much more so than Roman literature, and more so, or at least very differently so, than later medieval literature as well. The insight I may or may not have gained from the Wright book is that part of that difference is because of a major shift in the very structure of the society. He traces out a sequence of societal structures, apparently as used by archeologists (from memory): family groups -> Big Man societies (i.e. a village or two loosely organised around a charismatic leader) -> chiefdoms (groups of villages lead by a powerfully authoritarian leader who often claims divine authority) -> states (centralised bureaucracy, well-defined legal structures).

The relevance of all this is that the world of Beowulf seems to fit more into the chiefdoms stage, which was characterised by, for example, one central village growing in authority and size amongst others around it, and tellingly for the Beowulf comparison, the increasingly lavish burial ceremonies surrounding the deaths of chiefs. Wright mentions the megalithic cultures in pre-Roman Britain as an example; obviously, the ship burial and the barrow burial in Beowulf seem like the same thing. Another key feature – both the Big Man cultures and chiefdoms are often characterised by the throwing of great feasts by the leader as a way of both redistributing wealth and establishing their own status, and feasting is obviously a very A-S obsession. The directness of the relationship between the ‘king’ in A-S poetry and his duguth/geoguth, and the gift culture, also feel like part of a rather smaller social unit than what we normally think of as a ‘kingdom’ (although chiefdoms could be quite big – and is it so different from the emphasis on feasting in ME poetry? And the Tudor court?).

It’s not the first time I’ve thought about this. I was struck, some years ago, by something (in Guns, Germs and Steel, maybe?) which said that the first thing Papuan tribesmen do when they encounter someone they don’t know is have a long discussion about who their relatives are – because if they can find a relationship to each other, they probably won’t need to fight. That reminded me forcefully of sequence of rather cagey encounters B has – initially with the watchman, then a courtier, then the king (I think) – when he first arrives at Heorot as a stranger. And reading the Haida poetry recently, the image of the big houses with a central firepit and a poet/storyteller/scop telling stories that could last for hours, was also reminiscent of A-S poetry.

I don’t suppose any of this would come as news to an anthropologist, but then such is academic territoriality, everything I read about Beowulf at uni was written by literary critics – or sometimes historians. And what does it matter anyway? Well, it changes the way I visualise the poem, at least. The vocabulary, of kings and earls and thanes, never quite matched to the action, but it’s so seductive that somehow it’s hard to get away from it. To think of Hrothgar as a tribal chief, and Heorot as something closer to a longhouse than a palace, carries a severe risk of going too far in the other direction – they may have had simpler political units, but they weren’t exactly hunter-gatherers. Still, it’s a useful imaginative antidote to all the baggage carried by the word ‘king’.

All of which assumes that the poem is somehow a true reflection of society in Northern Europe in the 6th? 8th? century. And since it was written down in the C11th by a Christian scribe, probably from a copy of a copy, that may be a mistake. How much of what’s in the poem is more modern stuff that’s been imposed? And it’s quite likely that the late Anglo-Saxons had a romanticised view of their forebears anyway. The Morte D’Arthur tells you more about the C15th century, when it was written, than the pre-Roman society where it was nominally set; or perhaps the C15th’s romantic view of an earlier medieval period.

Anyway. Enough.

  • Post category:Culture

foxy stuff, again

more on foxes as symbols of… something

There are of course many London subcultures which are not very visible, not because they are marginalised, but because they are outnumbered – pearly kings, City guilds, Morris dancers, punks, model plane enthusiasts. Are they less interesting?

As night falls, London fills with foxes

shadows in the yellow darkness

slip away.

trot, nose down.

pause (still, frozen, something) and look at you

And of course marginality isn’t simply ethnic etc – West Indians, Bangladeshis, Turks are clearly recognised as part of the London scene; but not so much Somalis, Poles etc.

Oddness which *isn’t* tied to ethnicity, sexuality, religion etc might be more interesting.


The sex trade is marginalised (and indeed nocturnal, to some extent) though it must be as big a part of the London economy as fish and chips.

Perhaps something less literal – philosophicopsychological, f’rinstance. Or more spatially driven.

  • Post category:Me

trees and stuff.

I notice ‘pollarded’ trees everywhere now. Nearly every tree in the city has been hacked around at one point or another.


The *appearance* of naturalness

The difficulty is communicating the background info (actually I’ve changed my mind about this).

The way knowledge changes your perceptions.

A tree only has to be cut once to be visibly scarred/reshaped for ever. There’s an easy sentimental poem in that which I *don’t* want to write. Or an easy Man vs. Nature one.

Other things that show the evidence of their history?
People, obviously. Anything else?

A more general look at trees being shaped by their circumstances? position, weather etc.

Moo Mixer – It’s a tasty tornado in your hand!

  • Post category:Me

Orrm’s metre

I’ve just read The Stories of English by David Crystal. Which I’d recommend as an interesting read. He quotes some of a C12th poem called the Ormulum, after its auther, a monk called Orrm. It’s written in alternating unrhymed lines of 8 and 7 syllables – iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter with a feminine ending. Or alternatively in long 15 syllable lines with a caesura, depending how you prefer to print it. Which didn’t catch on. Might be worth experimenting with, though. Sort of nearly ballad metre.

  • Post category:Culture

fox space

~ An editorial note: two things come together. The increasing dormancy of stormy petrel, and a galling realisation, in the face of Eduardo’s call for blogger’s notebooks (see the PB for details): not only have I hardly written any poetry recently, but I haven’t even got any notebook-jottings I could offer as evidence of thought. So begins an experiment in online notebooking. Who knows if it will sustain. ~

walking through suburban London at night, you see many foxes. Where do they live?

I assume in the little areas of dead land – the spaces between; undeveloped plots, railway cuttings, the irregular bits left unowned and unwalked. Under garden sheds.

so they become a symbol for interstitiality in all its forms.


human lives in the interstices: the semi-visible lives of Rwandan, Somalian communities in London. Little churches with extravagant-sounding names (between a greengrocer and a post-office? something banal). The sudden appearance of hundreds of Koreans in Trafalgar Sq. when they beat Italy (Spain? both?) in the World Cup.

The mentally ill?

tip of the iceberg

Linguistic fox-space? The elusive, the marginal – thieves’ cant, cockney rhyming slang.

Poems as foxes – operating in the spaces between obvious. Or operating from the margins to make use of the public spaces of language when people’s attention is elsewhere.

Picking up the immigrant theme – possible intersection with the idea of buddleia (exotic, colourful, hardy, naturalised) as a flower to represent London: using the unused spaces, the building lots, railway arches, walls.

Is the nocturnalness interesting?

Is it interesting that foxes are more visible in the city than the country?

Peregrines nesting on the Dome.

I suppose rats are interstitial, too, but they live in sewers and things, which is a rather different relationship to the people around them. Still, a thought.

Reminds me of another theme I’ve considered before: specialism vs. generalism in wildlife. We tend to admire the specialists – the cheetah, the hummingbird, the arctic tern – as some kind of peak of evolution/aesthetics. But we are generalists. The adaptable species – the rats, the pigeons, the sparrows – are our natural kin. Sort of.

  • Post category:Me