Ted Hughes and Little Frieda

The portrait above is of Ted Hughes by Sylvia Plath: the poem below is about their daughter Frieda, by Ted. It reads as fresh today as when it was written.

Full Moon and Little Frieda

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket –
And you listening.
A spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming – mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
wreaths of breath –
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
‘Moon!’ you cry suddenly, ‘Moon!  Moon!’

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed

Gilad Hekselman


Too often we make the mistake of comparing a new recording to a journey, but there is a clear trajectory through some great innovations in jazz – bebop and bassa nova – in this standout tour de force by Hekselman.

There is a feeling in New York, where the six string prince Hekselman moved to a dozen years ago, that sooner or later emerging jazz musicians must meet head-on the challenges of bepop – conceived aeons ago in the city – as a trial by fire.

But Hekselman’s trio – Marcus Gilmore on drums, Joe Martin on bass – (drummer Jeff Ballard guests on two tracks) on this evidence is a polished gem: Homes becomes more of a sight seeing trip than a plonking journey, and has the confident and meandering groove of a post-midnight gig in a badly lit club.

Though Homes is not one style but many, it is the quality of the musicianship on display which brings cohesion, and never more so than the revisiting of Bud Powell’s Parisian Thoroughfare. At last, here is a recording which unashamedly wears mood on its sleeve and coat tails.

Half way through Homes, while driving across miles of empty countryside and then back, Home E Minor and then Rimbaud of Rio, uncovered how Homes is the perfect match of New York muscle and European sensibility.

If more Sunday at the Village Vanguard with Bill Evans and Scott Le Faro in 1961 than the flowering of David and Coltrane years earlier, Hekselman’s theme undoubtedly is the geography of love, which explains the contemplative undercurrent.

Perhaps Evans’ Jade Visions provided the template, and the ghost too of Getz and Gilberto is looking over Hekselman’s shoulder on Samba em Preludio, but the trio cast their nets wide, and so influences are many and varied: Jimi Hendrix and Ahmad Jamal.

But this isn’t mimicry, no where close, or even derivative: Hekselman from the off wanted exhilarating music, and that he has managed to imbue these twelve tunes with finesse and a labour of joy is in itself a minor miracle. Now here’s a CD to make love to, but sober, so you can remember both and do it all again, in the morning, the afternoon, or whenever.

Despite its echoes of Paris’s architectural past, Frank Gehry’s latest museum project—the Fondation Louis Vuitton, in the Bois de Boulogne—is like nothing the city has seen before: muscular and delicate, utilitarian and fantastic, a marriage of cultural ambition and private enterprise,” so says Vanity Fair. Architecture aside, and it is wonderful, with new vistas of Paris, it is also a superb home for the visual arts, with both a permanent collection (see pic) and temporary exhibition, in my case a selection of works by artists who were key to the development of modernity – Kupka, Rothko, Dix, Leger and Picabia, to name but a handful.


Sophia Nikolaidou

The Scapegoat



This is a novel of its time and before its time. Arguably, it is epic in its scope, a thorough introspective exploration of the conundrum that has become the European Union’s bete noire, Greece.

Of course, Greece always was and always will be multi-faceted. Its politics appears as riven and as complicated as the Northern Ireland Executive, as ridiculous as a circus.

To a novelist, however, the story of contemporary Greece, with its many and far reaching roots, is an invaluable and inexhaustible source of material: The Scapegoat, Nikolaidou’s fourth novel, spans the unsolved murder of an American journalist in 1948, and the economic anarchy of 2011.

A Greek journalist is convicted for the murder but when he is released over a decade later, he claims his confession was as a consequence of torture by the police. So what’s new there?

The murky story behind the events that result in the American floating in the bay off Thessalonika are revisited seventy years later by a disaffected high school student, who is given an assignment to get to the truth of the matter.

The Scapegoat is not a mystery novel, but rather a tapestry of many voices – the school kid, the murdered journalist’s wife, the mother of the convicted man, the chief of police who believes that brutal incarceration and interrogation are a necessity – which are idiosyncratic commentaries on mother Greece, draped in dark humour, with deep fissures behind the craquelure.

The reader is left with the feeling that in Greece, the more things change, the more they stay the same, though there is an element of truth in James Hillman’s summation that outsiders return to Greece to rediscover the archetypes of the mind.

Nikolaidou has the Senecan gift for imbuing her cast of characters with an original and authentic voice, especially the adolescent Minas, upon whose shoulders the weight of injustice and hypocrisy lie.

The author’s empathy about her country is perhaps best articulated by a lawyer who is troubled when Greece’s leaders ‘insist on blaming outside forces for the country’s woes rather than their own decisions. They refuse to acknowledge their own failures.’ Karen Emmerich’s translation doesn’t miss a beat.




Short Stories

At one level, Short Stories by Slagr, the Oslo based trio, is an interpretation of the singular theme of On An Old Farmstead in Europe by Hans Herbjornsrud, namely the transience of life.

And viewed solely as a paean to the ephemeral, Short Stories achieves its goal: the mood throughout is cogitative, to be expected if, like the protagonist of Herbjornsrud’s shorty story, you happened upon a human skull in a field.

But, of course, there is much, much more to the wonderful Slagr than a faithful homage to On An Old Farmstead in Europe, and shearing the mortal coil. Short Stories, whose titles like Gamletun and Blinde-Margit reference aspects of Herbjornsrud’s story, is essentially putting flesh on the bones of time.

It could too be the soundtrack to the calving of an iceberg, or the passing of the Space Station from day into night, or mist creeping through a Nordic forest at dawn: Short Stories breathes atmosphere.

Undoubtedly, that forlorn skull in the field echoes the famous inscription in Latin at the exit of the Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome, ‘what you are, we used to be; what we are, you will be.’

Yet it would be short-sighted to reduce Short Stories to a mere mediation on the one subject which intoxicates artists: the brevity of life. The lyrical vision of Anne Hytta, Sigrun Eng and Amund Sjolie Sveen is too epic for that. For the eight tracks are serenely uplifting and almost independent of their creative alma mater, an abiding chemistry due to the less is more philosophy of Slagr.

There is a temptation, though ill advised, to categorise music like Short Stories as minimalist but the melodic figures therein are nor particularly short. Chimerical melodies often crash through the pulsating movements.

Short Stories is the magical unspooling of a thread which keeps giving, a sound that is familiar yet unique to these ears because the instruments are, wait for it,  tuned glasses, vibraphone, cello and, completely new to me, a Hardanger fiddle, which has four playing strings, bowed in the normal way, plus four or five strings under the finger board.

Slagr gives time a sound, without condensing it.

Alfe Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie is the original home of the Nationalgalerie, whose collections today are divided between five museums.

The building suffered direct hits on several occasions during the aerial bombardment of the World War II, sustaining heavy damage particularly after 1944: columns and walls remain pock marked by the heavy fighting between the advancing Russians and the rabid Nazi defenders.

During the division of Germany, the 19th-century paintings that had survived the war in Western zones of occupation were housed in the Neue Nationalgalerie, beginning in 1968, and in Schloss Charlottenburg’s Gallery of Romanticism from 1986.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the growing collections were united in their original building, now called the Alte Nationalgalerie, on Berlin’s Museumsinsel. Without a doubt, the Museum Island in Berlin – northern tip of the Spree Island – is ideal for an autumnal stroll, and if you find yourself in the Alte Nationalgalerie, check out its small café and book shop.


Joe Neal


What do we mean when we talk about poetry?  What do we do with the tools at our disposal: assonance, alliteration, metaphor, the iambic pentameter, free verse.

Like a dictionary, a poem is a gathering of words. But a dictionary appears to answer, not in an abstract way, the requirements of the reader.The poem however, and much depends on the poet, exacts requirements.

For example, poets are encouraged to be honest. I’d prefer accuracy. You have a thought or an image or a feeling, and you see accuracy in your hijacking of that moment.

It can’t always work because, as you will discover in Hear the Colour, poems must exceed their definitions. If a poem lacks the volcanic impulse to come to the surface, it is probably not worth writing.

In Gotcha, the marooned hermit crab Joe spots on a beach is, within a handful of short lines, compared to Sugar Ray Robinson and transformed into a moving mountain of a shell. It didn’t start out like this.

It is a small poem with an epic theme. It is an invocation to the reader, and is instantly a picture woven by simple words.

Elsewhere, there are many examples of Joe’s recognised aural pleasures, the Welsh fiddling with words, the poet in the playground of his soul, the arrangement of syllables within the tight marginal frame of a blank page.

From Matterhorn

No other profile

Of a peak so tattoos

The meniscus of the mind

The meniscus of the mind: I first came across the word meniscus as a cartilage on the surface of water, where a trout might take a fly. To me it conveyed the image of an inescapable pod of water, once the fish moved in.

In other words, a fishing term. Joe, of course, living by the river Sow, is a proficient angler, blessed by the murmuration of nature in Eden Vale, a pulse beneath his work. He long ago learned to look, to listen and to learn.

From Yellow

Nature’s quantitive

Easing keeps

The dazzle tint

In front of petals pink

And purple, red and blue

And gets the vote

Of insects too

Back in the day, Horace wrote Un pictura, poesis:  As the picture, so the poem. Poets, like painters, operate in both shadow and light, and present abstractions.

But poems, unlike paintings, depend on the spoken word to inhabit more than one world.  Uttered by the mouth, as Joe will demonstrate shortly, there is music. We have his lines, seen by the eye, set down by the hand, but formed by the breath.

I can imagine hearing Joe speaking aloud the last verse of Changing of the Light in his study, the better to nail the rhythm.

ust you wait until the night when moon

Is mooding blue again and stars cast

Shadows like violet violations

Of all the lore we’ve come to understand.

 Moon is mooding,  stars cast shadows, violent violations. The alliteration works perfectly because the picture painting of the words is exact. Mood is mooding blue  – yep – we can all imagine that.