Saturday, April 28, 2012

ABC Science Experiments

Harry Milgrom and Donald Crews, ABC Science Experiments (Macmillan, 1970).

Thursday, April 26, 2012


"Night is a dark factory making sounds." So says the speaker of an obscure Vernon Scannell poem, his voice sucked into a swirling musique concrète vortex. Poemsounds is an educational LP released in the UK in 1972, part of what publisher Harrap-Didier called a "new venture in poetry for middle schools." As the neologism in the title suggests, the record smashes poems and sounds together, pairing readings of lesser-known contemporary poems with willowy folk music and improvised, eerie abstractions courtesy of John Lewis and his merry men.

Like David Cain's mythical school drama LP The Seasons, Poemsounds is a relic from the peculiarly clunky modernism that had its heyday in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. As a resource for teachers it is practical, scholastic, and dead nerdy (the record is accompanied by a set of "poemcards" cross-referenced to individual tracks), but also refreshingly avant garde and experimental in its layerings of language and sound. Some of the poems -- like Jenny Joseph's "Warning" -- are popular favorites, but for the most part Poemsounds constitutes what Louis MacNeice might have called an "Elegy For Minor Poets": Patrick Kavanagh, Pamela Zinnemann, Douglas Dunn, etc. The kind of names you might see in a yellowed anthology of "Contemporary Poems" (meaning from the 60s) on your parents' bookshelves. There are poems read by children, a Greek lyric in translation, and a lilting medieval-ish Japanese folk song.

Many of the poems ask students to think about the mysteries of nature -- there are several about winter yielding to spring, about "brooks bursting forth boiling," about tall grasses "inviting the moonbeam to float upon their waves." I like how the poems move in and out of overlapping musical settings, so that one image bleeds into the next. And many of these "poemsounds" are to do with voices as much as recorders and drums. Some of the readers, like George MacBeth reading his own work, distort or elongate their vowels in the way I remember my favorite school librarian doing.

Extremely English is one way of describing it. And speaking of England, Joyce and I just bought tickets to London and a few other places in Europe this summer! Toys and Techniques hits the road!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dionysus in 69

Richard Schechner's Performance Group presents Dionysus in 69. Chanting, dancing, an orgy, a murder, and a group therapy session -- all filmed by Brian De Palma. Watch it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Eat lettuce"

My wife and I have been working on the kitchen lately, trying to install new counters. Today I removed a small piece of wood above the sink whose sole purpose was to hold a wall-mounted can opener. The can opener was evidently much loved -- you can see how many different ways it was attached to the wall over the years.

As I pried off the wood, out popped a hidden photograph and an index card with typed instructions. It's not clear what they were doing there. A memento or just an impromptu wedge to keep the wood flush? Anyway here they are: Bob and Helen.

Don't they look great! So cool looking, and so clearly in love. They were the original owners of the home and lived here since the early 60s. Like a Charley and Edie Harper of the north. And here Bob is reminding Helen which plants to water. It almost reads like a love poem.

Here's a short bio of Helen from an alumni magazine. When we bought the home last summer, she was living in a retirement home in town. She had been a widow since the mid-1980s. It appears that she did a lot of updates to the home around that time, including the wallpaper you saw earlier. It struck us that she might have hidden the photo of Bob and herself around that time. She probably wanted it to be there forever.

Then around October or November last year, we read in the paper that she had passed away. We never had the chance to meet her. A few days afterwards, her caretaker came round with a huge keychain of at least twenty or thirty keys to various things around the house. She thought we might need them. We have no idea what any of them open!

We intend to frame the photo as a way of remembering Bob and Helen.

Friday, April 13, 2012


S for Sylvester. I can't remember whether I've mentioned this album before. This will appeal to some of you not at all and some of you quite a lot. But I've been thinking about British jazz lately. 'Filigree' is by Johnny Hawksworth, who I think was actually Australian. There's a bit of Basil in this sauce, in the way the music tells a story. It's funny how the music of the Angry Young Men generation tends to be light as a feather. To me this is the sound of a certain era -- maybe you'd put this record on after an Easter march for the CND or something. There are some spooky cinematic cues here and there but mainly this is sylvan baroque jazzy loveliness. Happy Friday the 13th!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Goluboy Portret

Saw this one a while ago and thought I must post about it. A magical sun-dappled Russian coming of age story from 1976. I like how the Arcadian imagery is cut across by the modern, futuristic geometries of the balloon. Seems to be streaming here. I found out about this film through this amazing tumblr, which used to be called something else. (if you are this person and are reading this, please write me!) Here is what it sounds like.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pottery throwing for beginners

Kenneth Clark, Pottery throwing for beginners (Studio Vista, 1970).

Sunday, April 8, 2012


(Very) lazy Sunday mix. Hope everybody had a nice weekend! Photo from Spare Rib magazine.