Hello. This is Culbin Forrest. BHDandMe borrowed my name, and someone else’s address, for a competition entry many years ago. BHD was known to at least one of the judges, and the entries weren’t ‘blind’. He didn’t want benefit, or otherwise, from being know during the judging. He won the competition by a country mile, a judge told him a few years later.

BHDandMe have asked me to post to the blog for a season, while they, or he as I prefer to think of it, takes a break.

I never thought of myself as a blogger. I never thought of myself at all, come to think of it, but hey….

Write about what fires you up, they (or he) told me. You make me sound like a boiler, I said, and they gave me that look he has.

The fact is, what fires me up just at this moment, is where to put the ‘h’. ‘H’ is a curious letter. The Scots Gaels use it to soften the sound of hard consonants, a totally alien idea, it seemed to me, when it was first pointed out to me. Mor, pronounced, more, becomes, phonetically, vor, when you write it mhor. ‘D’, pronounced ‘J’, don’t ask, becomes ‘y’, almost.

The Italians do it too, only the other way around. Ci is pronounced chee, but chi, would be sounded as key. Ciao, Chianti? Got it?

English is my first language, not because of anything genetic; simply because I grew up surrounded by people talking it…how else was I going to speak? But English does this stuff with ‘h’ too. Oh, I hear you think! Cat becomes chat. Peasant becomes pheasant – equally tasty but not so tough, plucked or not. Cog becomes cough. There are lots of others. Find ‘em for yourself.

But for some reason the English have a bunch (rather than a bunc) of words in which the h does nothing at all. And that’s because we’ve been conned (probably by the Norman French Establishment) into putting it in the wrong place.

The words I’m thinking of, among others, are what, where, why and when: not uncommon words, and so the more surprising, perhaps, that we English speakers should write ‘em down incorrectly. Who, pronounced hoo, rather than woo, of course, conforms to the h usage I’ve mentioned, which, by the way, is called lenition. My dad was called Len, but it wasn’t short for Lenition (though it might have been nice if it had been).

Living near the Scottish Border gives me a clue to the answer. Dumfries (‘home of the Friesians’) reminds me that modern English is said to be most closely related to Old Friesian (Anglo-Saxon? Hwo?), and so perhaps that’s hwere we should look, or rather, listen!

Hwere, hwat, hwy and hwen, is still the way the words are sounded up here. Haitches aren’t dropped, but are put hwere they belong, in front of the words in hwhich they are sounded. Who remains hoo. And looky see, in Beowulf, the opening word is hwat. In King Alfred’s Orosius the repeating, paragraph opening sentence is ‘hwen that the Romeburgh getimbered was’.

            In this year above all, we should take the chance to take back control of the language, and put our ‘aitches hwere they belong. Your spell checker can be easily adjusted: hwat!

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A useful response here – making much clearer what I was fumbling for!

andyhopkins

I have done some thinking about a post by Mike Smith on the changes brought about by a digitalised accessing of books, film and music might have. You can read the piece, here: https://bhdandme.wordpress.com/2018/12/28/irrelevancies/. As usual, Mike’s writing is excellent.

It might surprise you that if you ask Alexa to play the first track from the first Popol Vuh album from 1970 it can. It might also surprise you to know that good live versions of tracks by jazz greats can be brought up in the time it takes you to open your mouth. It might surprise you brilliant Nina Simone songs can be pulled out of the ether in this way. However, if the track you are looking for has more than one version… the computer can’t find you the one you want. It doesn’t matter how many times I scream ‘NO, NO: the one with the longer Charlie Parker solo’ at…

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Well, here’s another BHD story, popping up on the web:

And others here…

HAPPY NEW YEAR

from BHDandMe. We wish well all your resolutions for 2019!

to do, to be, and to have done with

(Remember – you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time,

but it’s never too late to stop fooling yourself!)

Christmas, or Yule, as we might have called it, once upon a time, is the beginning of a short, peculiar season; the ending of one reality, the beginning of another. New Year is the ending of that season. In the gap between, worlds, it was said, had merged and overlapped. Our own reality, it was believed, had been renewed, restored, re-booted.

Knowing of this, I’ve always found New Year to be the more profound of the two milestones, the more challenging too, perhaps. It’s a time for reviewing, and also for, not only renewing, but discarding, for sloughing off, for letting go, for clearing the mind of illusions, delusions, foundationless fantasies. It’s not just the body needs to kick out the toxins of mince pies and turkey dinners and too much chocolate and alcohol. We need to clarify, again, who we are and where we think we might be going until we go where we have to go whenever that is.

Resolve is an interesting concept. Someone told me once I was a ‘man of straw’. It was a throw away remark, made at a party after I’d revised a ‘decision’ not to have another drink. Oh. go on then, I said, it won’t hurt. I was right. It didn’t. I’d had only small drink before. It wasn’t a riotous party. But he was right too, far more right than he could have guessed, and I’ve never forgotten his words. I still know the man. He’s a near neighbour. I don’t know him well enough to call him a friend, but when we meet we’re friendly enough, as near neighbours can be. He’d be astounded, I think, to hear that I recall his words – it’s been maybe ten years since he spoke them.

I’d be astounded if he could remember having uttered them. But I haven’t forgotten. Truth pops up all over the place; when you least expect it. When you aren’t paying attention. It sticks in your flesh like a rose thorn that you don’t notice at the time, but which works its way in, and works its way out again.

So another decision time is working its way in, and working its way out, as it does every year. Lines from Prufrock spring to mind:

‘time yet for a hundred indecisions,/And for a hundred visions and revisions’

Here’s a poem I wrote several years ago. It appeared in Acumen 65, in September 2009, and was included in An Early Frost (2012).

a day out

another wasted day

no nearer resolution

the gap between Art and Life

too thin

to slide a sheet of paper in

 

as if pressing those two rogues together

might imprint images

one upon the other

So HMV is going to bite the dust….that’s sad. But who uses dvds these days (apart from me)? One thing that wasn’t commented on, this morning on the BBC is how the move away from physical to digital recordings, from printed page to e-book, from film, through dvd to streamed movies, is a move away from the integrity of the stories we are being told, in words and pictures.

Digitalisation has loosened the ties that bind texts and films to their origins. Your E-book can be edited, and so can can your digital movie; and in this instance editing means censoring. What offends us in the past can be edited out, changed, misrepresented or simply tweaked, and the further from the original we get, the easier it will be done. What’s inconvenient to those in power, of whatever stripe, at the present time can be sidestepped, or stepped on.

There has always been something similar going on. Paragraphs were removed when first editions were reprinted. Movie scenes were excised when film was transposed to dvd. But the films, and first editions wouldn’t all be removed or destroyed. The evidence still remains, and in the hands of readers and viewers. In my time of schooling we were shown the pictures from which Trotsky had been removed on Stalin’s orders, and the still existent prints of the original photos. But the streamed digital download, especially if your device is still connected to the source, can be edited, or even removed, at the will of…..who knows who or how, eh?

And it won’t be done, friends, for our benefit. Just a thought.

Not a Christmas story, but a this time of year story, at least for those of us in this northern hemisphere! Salt was written several years ago, and tinkered with…mostly with regards to the title, which it took me ages to get right (it being so simple and obvious). It appeared in Southlight #24. Autumn 2018, which is available via their website, here.

Salt

By Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

Rav had watched through the window of his shop all morning, putting down his book every few paragraphs, and staring across the road. It was a beautiful day. The sun was blazing down, making the snow and ice sparkle, like Christmas decorations. Curves of frost stuck to the corners of the glass, like the ones he’d sprayed on from a can in previous years.

He was watching pedestrians come round the corner from Market Street into Bank Street. It was as they made the turn they slipped, and as each one did so Rav felt his muscles tighten, as if he were the one who might be about to fall. Of course, they didn’t all fall. Most of them just wobbled, threw out an arm to one side, two arms, one to either side, and righted themselves, and his muscles would relax again; but every now then one would go down, and Rav’s muscles would contract, and he’d grit his teeth, almost feeling the impact as they hit the pavement.

He had watched four already this morning fail to make the turn, crashing down onto their sides, feet briefly showing above the snow, shopping bags spilling their contents. People came to help them of course, seemingly able to run across the very ice that they had slipped on. They had helped them to their feet, picked up their fallen shopping, repacked their bags, and sent them on their way. At least no-one had been seriously injured yet, although the day before, when it had not been sunny and the snow had still been falling, an ambulance had been called to take one victim away.

They really ought to get these pavements sorted out, Rav said.

I know, Bev said, examining her nails.

Rav was picturing the shovel they kept at the back of the shop. Not really a shovel, more of a scoop. They used it for the ornamental gravels. But it was made of metal, and was the size of one of those old fashioned shovels you’d use for coal. If you got down to it, and put a bit of shoulder behind it, you could quite well clear a few yards of pavement without too much trouble.

In fact the pavements had been cleared already, technically. The council workers had been around and had shovelled a person-wide gully through the snow down the centre line, with offshoots to one side where there were shop doorways, and the other where there were pedestrian crossings. But since then there had been a slight thaw, and melt-water had run out from the piles of snow and had frozen again, leaving a thin and very slippery coating of ice.

I should go across and clear it, he said. Obviously, it was that patch on the corner that was causing all the problems. People were managing perfectly well on the straight. It was when they came to change direction that they experienced difficulties.

It’s not your pavement, Bev said, looking up.

That was true. It was the pavement outside the sports shop. Quite clearly so. Anybody could see that. Rav could see it; but he could also see the people falling over on it.

But I can see it, Bev, he said. In fact he doubted whether his motives were entirely altruistic. The tension of watching, his heart thumping in his chest as people made the perilous crossing around the sports shop corner out of Market Street was doing him no good. He wondered if perhaps it was for his own benefit that he felt the need to take responsibility.

An old lady jerked and jolted around the corner, making him wince. She steadied again and walked on safely. Rav blew out a long breath and sucked in another.

I cannot take much more of this, he said.

Don’t look, Bev suggested, peering at her nails again.

Don’t look? How can I not look, when I know it is going on outside my own front door?

I bet they’re not looking at the sports shop, Bev said, prodding carefully at a cuticle.

That was true too. She was undoubtedly right. In the sports shop they would not be looking. They would be watching their large television screens, upon which they showed endless films of people climbing mountains, and surfing, and hang gliding, and sliding down steep slopes on toboggans and skis, in the snow and ice. Why would they want to look out of their window? Besides, the sun did not favour them the way it favoured Rav, when it came to looking out.

Perhaps, he reasoned, if they did look out, and saw what was going on they too would want to do something about it. He weighed up the situation. To go over there and to tell them what was happening would be presumptuous. It would imply that he believed there was a fault on their part. They would be either insulted or embarrassed, and he had no wish to cause either embarrassment or offence. Yet, to carry over the small shovel and to begin clearing the pavement under their very noses would be an equal insult, an equal embarrassment.

What if, seeing him work, they came to a sudden realisation of the situation, and of their failure to react to it? Mortification. He would be giving them no chance to rehabilitate the situation. Every time thereafter that he saw one of them unlocking the shutters in the early morning or locking them up again at night or passing on the street on some errand they would feel an unspoken reproach that he did not bear towards them, yet which he could not mention, as that would in itself imply that he had cause to.

Yet, he thought, as another spasm of splaying arms attracted his attention, there was an accident waiting to happen, an accident that would happen outside their shop, and within sight of his own. A further thought occurred. People would say of him, Rav, that he had stood and watched and done nothing. They would be thinking that he had watched in the hope of seeing someone fall, much as people are said to watch car racing in the hope of seeing a crash. What sort of person would that make him?

Resolve hardened in him, and he turned away from the window.

Bev, who like Rav, thought more than she spoke, had the little shovel in her hand already and offered it to him.

I have a better idea, he said, waving a finger at her, one that will save all embarrassments.

He had been reading a wartime escape story, in which a secret tunnel had been dug, out under the wire of a prison camp.

I am going out for a moment, he said, and he helped himself to a five-pound note from the till.

 

Rav emptied his trouser pockets into his jacket, and made sure he had the little penknife with him. Then he set off at a careful pace, across the road, past the sports shop and taking great care at the corner, into Market Street.

Good deeds, he believed, should be done unostentatiously. The merits within them were lessened, he thought, by the discomforts they brought to others, who might have perfectly understandable reasons for their own inactions. He would clear away the ice and the people in the sports shop would not even know it had been done.

He bought two small bags of salt from the mini-market on Market Street, pierced them with the penknife, stuffed one, slit down, into each of his trouser pockets and set off back towards Bank Street. In his book the escapees had been faced with the problem of what to do with the soil that they had dug out of their tunnels. Clearly they could not leave piles of it lying around for the guards to see. So, they had distributed it all over the sports ground at the camp, by dribbling it from the pockets of their trousers.

Rav was thinking with pleasure of this when he arrived at the corner and realised that he had not cut holes in his pockets through which to dribble his ice-busting salt. Perhaps that was why, when he reached the corner, he was struggling with both hands in his trouser pockets. The people in the sports shop saw him wobble briefly and then disappear from view below the level of the window-sill.

 

Ay up, mate. You all right?

Yes, thank you. I am fine, Rav said, looking up at the sports shop manager.

You’ve dropped something, the man said, bending down beside him.  The two bags, from which the salt dribbled slowly, had slipped out onto the ice.  They’ve split, the man said, trying to stop the flow.

Salt, Rav said, fearing the man might think it something worse.

We could do with some of that out here, mate, the man said.

 

[Author note: This story has the rare quality of being entirely imaginary. None of it has been transposed from memory or report: neither characters, location, or events bear any relation to anything that has happened to me, or to anyone I know of. I like Rav and Bev though, him especially with his over-thinking, good-natured angst. There are more stories by BHD in

49 stories,flash fictions and monologues by BHD ]

 

Perhaps somebody who strives to be a writer should expect to come back from a trip to the far side of the planet with some pieces of writing in their bag. Damn right they should.

Of course, I could say I got a leg up in that department, getting wound into Inside-Out’s little competition. Here’s the piece of verse I turned out for the event. I got to read it out too, not because of its qualities, but because all the submission were put in a bag and five were pulled out blind for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Gleam

 

The sweet flicker of wisdom    runs like water

through this galaxy     but there is a void

divides us            dry beyond droughts

sure beyond doubts     holds steady

to our certainties.

 

Let’s not make any claims for it, but that doesn’t mean there are points worth noting, at least from my perspective as the writer.

To begin with, I was pleased to see that it had form, and I spent some time after the event, writing it out in different ways…moving the line breaks (which I keep coming back to, as being one of the hallmarks of poetry – coming back reluctantly I might add, and have).

The writing above was this morning’s attempt, and seems the best so far. I like the split line layout. It’s in my use of language – the way I speak – and it’s in a fair sprinkling of earlier poems of mine, several of which have been published (and one of which won a prize of sorts!). The not quite balanced phrasing pleases me, but there’s also that fracture that it gives, on the printed page, which often does, and often has to run through the otherwise solid unity of any attempt at meaning.

There are other elements of form I like. There are a couple of rhyming lines, which echo also in their metre and ‘tunes’.

There’s a meaning to it as well which I’m not unhappy with. What I’m not happy with, at all, is the title, but it’ll do for now!

The five words that we were all given, and which had to be got in, were galaxy water sweet flicker and wisdom, listed in that order. Getting three of them out of the way in the first five words was a break through, and using up the other two before the middle of the second line took the pressure off.

I’m really not a fan of this sort of exercise, but to have refused would have been churlish, and I know from my own experience, that when you don’t know what to say, and somebody puts you on the spot to say something….you’ll dredge up something you’ve been meaning to say (in social situations this usually turns out to be something crass, vulgar and embarrassing – well, it does in my case). I suppose it’s only a version of Hemingway’s write drunk/edit sober concept.

While we’re on tossed off poems (no pun intended), here’s one that crossed my mind while on the 26+ hour flight to New Zealand. We were on the longer leg between Dubai and Auckland at the time:

 

Flying at thirty thousand feet

Above the Indian Ocean

When seated in the cubicle

You really feel the motion.

 

Other long haul victims will perhaps know that feeling! You might be relieved to know that I got some other stuff in the notebook too, which I’m still working on.

andyhopkins

Freiraum unthanks picture2.docxIn the days after Freiraum I have kept returning in my mind to one thought: how can art events have a more sustainable impact?

To ask a another question (but one that runs off that one), how can we maintain the momentum built by having an event like Freiraum in our city? When the funding machine rolls out of town… when the people with gold chains go home… when the cameras are wheeled away… when the local journalists are away elsewhere… what is left? If you, too, are asking yourself that question – perhaps the first step is to find out about John Chambers’ ‘Beacon’ project – which takes place under the umbrella of his ‘Patchwork Opera’ – find it on Facebook – or via the Speakeasy page there (I can’t give you a link, I’m afraid…).

I like Auden, but I don’t love Auden the way many other poets…

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On the long flight home from New Zealand I pondered the writing of poetry.

I was thinking about the memorability of poems. Someone wrote that ‘the first duty of poetry is to be memorable’. I think it might have been James Fenton, but perhaps not. If you recognise the quote and can source, please let me know. Though, of course, it doesn’t matter who said it. The validity of ideas doesn’t depend on who came up with them. Rather the opposite in fact. The value of the speaker is recognised in the wisdom of the spoken.

And poems often are memorable, far more so than prose, I suspect. As memorable, perhaps, as songs, to which poems are related. Learning songs, and by extension poems, is recognised as being much easier than learning equivalent amounts of prose. Songs I learned decades ago, and fragments of poetry, still lodge in the mind.

And I’m inclined to the belief that it’s not the meaning of the songs, or the poems which makes them memorable. The memorability lies in the physical attributes of the words. Their rhythms, alliterations, harmonies and dissonances, their echoes, which we call rime, their hard edges and soft centres, the tunes their phrases play. These are the qualities that make words stick: the way they lodge in the ear when we hear them; the feel of them in our mouths as we speak them. Meaning isn’t in it at all, as far as I can see. That’s why something as meaningless as Jabberwocky remains so memorable. It’s nothing more than a series of meaningless sounds into which we pour our own meanings, generation after generation, because we can remember it. The printed word has weakened that memory, perhaps, rather than strengthened it.

I would argue that poetry, like song, uses that quality of words as a vehicle to carry meanings, or the spaces into which meanings can be fitted, into the future. The meanings, even in poems like Jabberwocky, are what the writers want to pass on, but it’s the sound and the feel of the words that carries those meanings over the years.

So when we’re writing, it’s not simply that we have to struggle with what it is we have to say, but that we have to say it in words that will be memorable. It’s almost as if the meaning is not inherent in the words themselves, at least not to the extent that we have no choice, when it comes to choosing memorable ones.

Prose writing can supply evidence of the truth of this. A favourite exercise of mine with short story writers, is to give them the ending of a sentence (or even to suggest they ‘find’ one at random) and make it the ending of a story they will write. A roomful of people will take the same seemingly least meaningful fragment, and use their story to imbue it with power, with depth of meaning  Each one will bequeath a different meaning to the fragment, a meaning that grows out of the context provided by the rest of the story.

The memorable poem, presumably, can do something similar. And I realise I’m back to the ongoing exploration of the roles of form and content, of the relationship between them, and of the functions of each.