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Archive for January 1st, 2013

When I was a very young poet

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a suggested solution to what ails the US Congress, Bertold Brecht style — and trace evidence of some early unpublished poems ]

from a private communication, dom sylvester houedard, 1964


I was reading Shivam Vij‘s piece, The epiphanic moment of the lathi charge, on Kafila today, and he included a quote from Bertolt Brecht that was intriguing enough — and appropriate enough to the fiscal-cliff-jumping mood in Congress these last few days — that I looked for the source, and found it in this poem:

The Solution
Bertolt Brecht, tr John Willett

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writer’s Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?


When I was a very young poet, my friend Dom Sylvester Houédard sent some very young poems of mine to John Willett, who was then the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement. They didn’t publish them, but I did get a mention in the TLS a little later, in one of Sylvester’s own writings on the British poetry avant-garde. In any case, here’s the note Sylvester sent me, letting me know he’d been submitting my stuff to Willett:

As you can see, Dom Sylvester could do some pretty nifty graphics with his old Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter. He’d gotten into the habit while working in British Army Intelligence somewhere in the Far East during World War II as I recall — before he came home and became a monk. Why? Because Army Intelligence demanded he send them 16-page reports, and he could only ever find fifteen pages worth of intel to send them. They disapproved of blank pages, he complied with orders by filling the final pages of his reports with graphical poetry. And thus a tiny whirlpool in the arts was born…

Okay, enough: Sylvester was a phenomenon of mind and heart, and is sorely missed.

As I said, I was very young when he sent those poems of mine to the TLS — it was 1964, and I was a student at Christ Church, Oxford, “chch” in Sylvester’s abbreviation — but the name of John Willett stayed with me, like a runic talisman. So I just can’t help but notice when my daily reading, almost fifty years later, brings up his name again — this time as a noted Brecht translator.


Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Celebrating the new year by looking at what happened in ’13 way back when…..

2613 BC  By some accounts, the construction of the Great Sphinx may have begun

413 BC – The Battle of Syracuse results in a cataclysmic defeat for the Athenian Empire’s Sicilian Expedition at the hands of Hermocrates and Gylippus.  The Athenian strategoi Demosthenes and Niciasare ignominiously executed by the Syracusans. This defeat contributes to the downfall of Athens in the Peloponnesian War.

213 BC The great inventor Archimedes builds catapults so powerful that the Romans laying siege to Syracuse believed the city to have the aid of giants

13 BC Rome enjoys the noontide of the age of Augustus 

13 AD  The great geographer Strabo publishes his book on the shape of the Earth.

113 AD Emperor  Trajan builds Trajan’s Column near the Colosseum in Rome to commemorate his victory over the Dacians in the Second Dacian WarOsroes I of Parthia violates the treaty with Rome by installing a puppet ruler in Armenia. The 60 year old emperor, Trajan, marches east and declares Armenia to be annexed and becomes a Roman province.

313 AD Emperor Constantine the Great issues the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity and ending the persecutions of Christians and initiating the decline of Paganism

613 AD The Prophet Muhammed begins preaching the call to Islam

1013 AD The Danes invade England.  King Ethelred the Unready flees to Normandy, and Sweyn the Dane becomes King of England.

1113 AD The Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John, founded to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land, vows to fight in its defense.

1213 AD  Jin China is overrun by the Mongols under Genghis Khan, who plunder the countryside and cities, until only Beijing remains free, despite two bloody palace coups and a lengthy siege. Pope Innocent III issues a charter, calling for the Fifth Crusade to recapture Jerusalem.

 1513 AD Juan Ponce de Leon becomes the first European definitely known to sight what is now the territory of the United States (specifically Florida), mistaking it for another island

 1613 AD  An assembly of the Russian Empire elects Mikhail Romanov to be Tsar of Russia, and establishes the Romanov Dynasty, ending the Time of Troubles.

1813 AD Napoleonic wars rage in Europe, War of 1812 sees the American invasion of Canada and Mexico wages it’s War of Independence from Spain 

1913 AD Last year of the post-Napoleonic “Long Peace” before WWI. The Mexican Revolution and China’s Warlord Era accelerate. America passes the 16th Amendment, permitting the Income Tax to be levied and Henry Ford introduces the assembly line, revolutionizing industrial mass production.

What will 2013 bring that will be remembered in a century?

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