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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007
    Bill Griffiths
    The day I walked out of Goole, following the long straight line of the Aire and Calderdale Canal in parallel with the Dutch River, stumbling in the dusty heat - the poet Bill Griffiths died. He who lived and wrote for many years on a house boat, The Amra, until welders mistakenly set it and most of his life's work alight. I only heard the news of his death today.

    And the day I stood at the very core of the motorway network in the thunderstorm funnel where the M62 and M1 meet, staring northwards - further up that seething road in Sunderland they cremated Bill Griffiths. Today I re-read his words and they commentate on my journey.
    a street will lead to Russian Orthodoxy
    or a golf course.

    You are lost.
    I know Bill Griffiths through Iain Sinclair, who remembered the pioneering writer as his London Orbital journey led him through Cowley Lock, Uxbridge where Griffiths had lived ('tactfully removed from the scene') until the fire. Sinclair wrote:
    Griffiths' work atomises, splits off into discrete files or songs; his poems are many-voiced, resolutely non-hierarchic. You learn to navigate the tributaries, while waiting to be carried back into the main stream. He's a musician who deploys subtle and shocking rhythms.
    That was true at many levels. For the one time Hells Angel with L-O-V-E tattooed on one set of knuckles and H-A-T-E on the other, had a grand piano in his final home, a terraced cabin in sea-coal port Seaham on the Durham coast. The one time I saw him perform was at Sinclair's Barbican do; in an eclectic set which included rudeness from Ken Campbell, metal from Jimmy Cauty and the appearance of a cardboard cut-out of J.G.Ballard, Griffiths played Bartók - beautifully. And recited some of his ingenious, playful, wonderfully suggestive verse.

    Having spent the best part of this evening reacquainting myself with Griffith's epic A Book of Spilt Cities I shan't pretend I'm yet at one with it. He radically bends and reshapes language, at a pace which can leave your head spinning. As Sinclair puts it, 'Through momentum, he achieves prophetic instability'. But I've connected with enough in his work to make me want to know it more; and I can see what they mean, those who know his work far better, when they say (as does Nicholas Johnson here) that one day he will be regarded as an English great.
    the surge of the new azoic prairie
    the mechanical country
    the plain / playing fields
    gardens / grass
    sportsland / spareland
    roadtrim / recreational
    first the levelness
    then TENNIS
    behold POSTS & PALACES
    where life failed to reach
    (odd parcels)
    we need an alternative commitment.

    Griffiths photograph from Salt Publishing website.