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Saturday, 22 February 2014

'Football at Slack'


By Ted Hughes

Between plunging valleys, on a bareback of hill
Men in bunting colours
Bounced, and their blown ball bounced.
The blown ball jumped, and the merry - coloured men
Spouted like water to head it.
The ball blew away downward -
The rubbery men bounced after it.
The ball blew jumped up and out and hung on the wind
Over a gulf of treetops.
Then they all shouted together, and the ball blew back.
Winds from fiery holes in heaven
Piled the hills darkening around them
To awe them. The glare light
Mixed its mad oils and threw glooms.
Then the rain lowered a steel press.
Hair plastered, they all just trod water
To puddle glitter. And their shouts bobbed up
Coming fine and thin, washed and happy
While the humped world sank foundering
And the valleys blued unthinkable
Under depth of Atlantic depression -
But the wingers leapt, they bicycled in air
And the goalie flew horizontal
And once again a golden holocaust
Lifted the cloud's edge, to watch them.

From: Collected Poems of Ted Hughes, edited by Paul Keegan. London: Faber

'One Ordinary Evening'

Lying entwined with you
on the long sofa

the hi-fi helping
Isolde to her climax

I was clipping
the coarse hairs

from your ears
and ruby nostrils

when you said, “Music
for cutting nose wires”

and we shook so
the nail scissors nicked

your gentle neck
blood your blood

I cleansed the place
with my tongue

and we clung tight
pelted with Teutonic cries

till the player
lifted its little prick

from the groove
all arias over

leaving us
in post-Wagnerian sadness

later that year
you were dead

by your own hand
blood your blood

I have never understood
I will never understand.

Virginia Hamilton Adair

Monday, 3 December 2012

NewPages Review of 'The Posthumous Affair'

The Posthumous Affair cover 

The Posthumous Affair

Fiction by James Friel

Tupelo Press, May 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1936797011

Paperback: 252pp; $16.95

Review by Olive Mullet 

The “Little Man” and the “Fat Princess,” as children in the spring of 1880, trail a red balloon—a “swollen heart”—across Washington Square. And thus begins James Friel’s The Posthumous Affair, a beautifully written and unique, daring love story. Even the end is a risky stand on the part of the author.

The mother of ten-year-old Daniel takes him to meet Grace Cooper Glass in an elegant house on Washington Square, occupied not only by the large nine-year-old girl but by her three reclusive maiden aunts. The two children couldn’t have been more different, he small for his age and beautifully dressed in “high hat, a topper of soft gray felt . . . his waistcoat the blue of his extraordinary eyes.” And she is “already woman-sized” and encased in a corset, her ginger hair pulled tight against her scalp and her dress an orange gown with many underskirts. According to her aunts, “she was too full bodied. Freakishly huge, she must be trimmed and tamed.” But when Daniel’s balloon enters Grace’s hands, for the first time she feels light, as though floating like the balloon does, right up into the sky.

In spite of their differences, they fit into each other perfectly, he hardly reaching her shoulder. “They will be the most important person in each other’s lives. They will anchor one another . . .” Yet Daniel from the start finds: “She was too heavy. . . . She was too much for him to bear. This might always be just so.”

Rebellion is in Grace’s background in this quirky fairy tale: Grace’s mother married a large red-haired Irishman, Grace’s father, only to starve to death with him in a Utopia that no longer existed. On the day he meets Grace, Daniel loses his mother, strangled by the red scarf Grace’s aunts have given her. In time, Daniel’s formerly brutal father, as Grace’s financial advisor, tells her of her immense wealth. This frees her to do whatever she wants, and so she goes traveling, never to return to America.

The novel traces Daniel’s and Grace’s brief reunions, cut short by Daniel’s admission that he cannot love her. Because of his cruelty, Grace wants “to be mind alone.” Corset-less, “she was a voluptuous ‘O’ . . . a globe again . . . a world, a planet. She was no man’s moon. She was sufficient unto herself. It must always be just so.” She collects people for their varied information, not great people but intellectuals on the fringe, like Johannes Zorn Nils, who introduces her to Adam’s three wives:

She was intent on knowing all Nils had to tell her. If she could have opened his head, she would have drunk his brain like soup and never been quite sated. The image, as it came to her, appalled and excited her. It was the kind of thought Lilith might have had.

Venice, so different from New York, is the most successful of Grace’s and Daniel’s reunions, yet suggestive of their differences:

They had met first as children in a dream-bright New York, a city on the cusp of new maturity, a city intent on straight lines, a rigid geography, mappable, knowable and cognizant of law. Here, they were in another island city, a soft irregular city, dismissive of straight lines and certain ways, dizzyingly circular. Here space was trimmed but went untamed. It was jumbled and crosshatched. Here all was languorously mortal, in love with its own dying.

Grace moves from reading to writing novels—successfully. With Daniel also writing novels, eventually revelations about each other’s work show the borrowing from life and insights about writing itself:

This, for each of them, is how they make use of life. They unpick and rearrange it. From its jumble, its dense cross-hatchings, they might take one line, and follow that. They will pretend not to know where the line is leading, but the writer always knows. It leads to the reader. The line must loop about the reader, and the reader who accepts the bond becomes a happy prisoner.

The novel’s controlled structure is evident, with the above foreshadowing the end’s risky appeal. And of the would-be lovers: “They must part. Otherwise, there will be no more story. An acceptance now would end the tale. A refusal continues it. This is the account, after all, of a posthumous affair.”

The characters appear real. Yet the book approaches the allegorical, the physical paralleling, the mental in writing, and their approaches to love. There is a surprise at the end—the gothic dark end, in the House of Death, which Daniel must web his way through to find out the truth about Grace Cooper Glass.

This book, a perfect gem where everything fits, is enthralling, poignant, and brimming with meaning.

Friday, 16 November 2012

CNN Who Would Want to Remain a Spinster

A happy sequel on CNN to my BBC podcast and article

 "Admit it, you're lonely. In the end, whatever you say, you must be so lonely."
So said the otherwise obliging radio presenter when he interviewed me about a recent BBC article in which I had defended singledom... more

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

BBC Magazine: Viewpoint: Why are people so mean to single people?

An abridged version  of my contribution to Radio 4's Four Thought series, broadcast later today and available via podcast thereafter.

In a world that celebrates romance and finding The One, people can be rather rude to single people, writes James Friel... 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tag Gallagher // Letter from an Unknown Woman

Ah this is what a blog is for

This, from my novel, A Posthumous Affair, but rejected by its author at some early stage because, perhaps, he was talking only to himself.
 There are moments - long moments - when, even though I know this tale’s conclusion, I am uncertain how to reach it.
     I know my destination but fear distraction.
     I might lose my way.
     I can see it only feelingly.
     There is this distant light towards which I’m working and, here and there, events and situations set out like lamps to guide me but often, as now, I move in darkness.
     I become unsure if there is even ground beneath my feet.
     Words might fail me.
     I might fall into the air.
     I cling then to what I’ve so far written, this silver thread spun, spider-like, out of my own gut, and trust my web will hold, trust it will bear my weight, Grace’s, Daniel’s, yours.
     I admit, too, there is in me this reluctance to rush towards an ending, a fear that the great and final light is a fire that will consume me, that the posthumous affair I am recording will be, for me, an extinction.
     I, too, may die away.
     I may not profit from concluding, only lose.
     And so I take my time and insist, graciously, that you do, too.
     I wish to be true, you see, and faithful.
     The lives we trace here move more slowly than our own.
The world was the size it is now but would have seemed larger, taking longer to traverse. Cities would have been days away, countries separated by weeks and the longer it took to reach a place, the longer one tended to stay. Partings then would have seemed more prolonged, final even, and the tension greater between stasis and movement, exile and home.
 We might find their experience of time unendurably protracted, wearisome and vacant in comparison with our own. Time may seem to lie heavy on them but that may not be their burden: it may be our loss.
     Technology liberates us. Planes, wireless, e-mail, telecommunications, unrestricted travel make the world more manageable and small. Our pace accelerates as continents contract. We leap oceans, cross skies, span the heavens, listen in on galaxies beyond. We burn up miles. We tear across space but the better our purchase on the world, the more it shrivels in our grasp.
Life happens instantly and too fast. The world’s a blur. It hums at us too variously. Languor seems to us inertia, deceleration a form of dying and standing still a punishment.
     Distances for them might have been greater but they might have been closer to the thing itself - to life, that is. Time might be more real for being slower to pass, more virtuous for being less virtual.
     Living should be a slow unravelling: we are cheated if it is not.
     What will we lose by accommodating ourselves to their pace and so move in time with them?
     We might only gain.
     However long this story takes it will be over soon enough. The lives here will be done and you will have the rest of yours.