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COLENSO BOOKS: A selection of titles

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Thursday, 31 January 2013

Omonia Square, Athens

According to the Wall Street Journal

Memphis Minnie Memorial

Memphis Minnie, Hoodoo Lady Blues

Tom Paine, an influential Englishman

"All mankind are my brethren", 59 Grove Street, Greenwich Village

The Ethiopian Anthology

Sometime before the outbreak of the Ethiopian Revolution in 1974, during my fourth year in Addis Ababa, I was approached by a British publisher to edit an illustrated "Ethiopian Anthology", along the lines of the book "Nigeria, The Land, Its Art, Its People, An Anthology" (Studio Vista and The Felix Gluck Press).

I did a lot of research, and invited leading Ethiopian writers and artists to contribute their work.
By the time I'd made my editorial selection, identified the illustrations and written the introduction, the revolution happened and the publishers in London came to the conclusion that the market no longer existed for such a book. So all the material went back into the drawer.

I've been looking at it again recently, and was reminded of the importance and extraordinary quality of some of the writing submitted by Ethiopian writers and artists like Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin and Gebre Kristos Desta, as well as of some of the traditional Ethiopian songs translated by Gherma Habte Selassie and others, eg Tigrinya and Afar songs. Has the time come to publish the anthology?

From "To Painting"
Gebre Kristos Desta (tr. Solomon Deressa):

This journey has no end...
To go
Beyond the moon, beyond the stars, beyond the sky
Journey to the unknown to occupy the unoccupied...
To search, to bring out!
This journey has no end.

(Ethiopia Observer, Vol XI, No, 3)

Gebre Kristos Desta, Krar Player 
(Cover, Ethiopia Observer, vol IX, No. 4), 

This is where I am 
Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin

Extracts from a Tsegaye Gabre Medhin poem "Ours" (written 1961, published Ethiopia Observer, vol IX, No 1, 1965):

Highland of highlands
On your head
Wind blew
In your chest
Life fluttered
In your belly
Progress rotted
Under your feet
Peasants died-
Roof of mother Africa...
Ancient highland
With your feet
In the sea
Your head
In the clouds...

Tigrigna Song
Germay Habte Sellassie (translator)

Lament for Sebagadis
(literal translation by Rev. Sam Gobat, 1835, 1850)

Alas! Sebagadis, the friend of all,
Has fallen at Daga Shaha, by the hand of Oubeshat!
Alas! Sebagadis, the pillar of the poor,
Has fallen at Daga Shaha, weltering in his blood.
The people of this country, will they find it a good thing
To eat ears of corn which have grown in the blood?
Who will remember St. Michael of November?
Mariam, with five thousand Gallas, has killed him:
For the half of a loaf, for a cup of wine,
The friend of the Christians has fallen at Daga Shaha!

Famine: 1889
(1889 original lost; translated from Amharic-Russian-Italian-English, published in an article by Dr. R. Pankhurst, 1969)

Not with a strong ox or a sharp plough
Do we till our fields today;
We work our land with our naked hand
Imploring the grace of an angry God
As we bend to our barren toil.
The sun arose and climbed in the sky
And we dug the soil in vain.
Old men, green youths and even young girls;
But our labour was fruitless still.
They sowed the field, not with golden grain
For dear friends and hated enemies were lying there;
And instead of young plants or the undulating plain
Graves were dug.

(traditional song tr. Ghermay Habte Sellassie with William Prouty) 

O Neguse, O Neguse,
Saturday and Sunday with your Bible,
Monday and Tuesday at war;
Your bravery beyond expression,
Your knife with two sharp edges,
Your sword covered with silver.

O Neguse, son of Ilfu,
Is there anyone who has been with Neguse?
"Yes, here I am who was with him,
His wound at his forehead."
O, you are a liar,
You have not been there,
Your bandolier is full,
You have not been fighting.

Afar Song

We are moving to other pastures,
We are moving to other pastures.

Is there any place left where we haven't lived?
Is there any place left where we haven't pastured our animals?

We are moving to other pastures,
We are moving to other pastures.

The only place we haven't lived is the east,
The only place we haven't been is in the grave.

We are moving to other pastures,
We are moving to other pastures.

Oh east we do not want you,
Oh grave we do not want you.

We are moving to other pastures,
We are moving to other pastures.

(Journal of Ethiopian Studies, vol 9, no 2, July 1971)

Related Song, The Nomad, Jim Potts

The Cross
(Excerpts from a mystical religious poem, written on parchment and rolled into amulets by the debteras)

On the Cross alone I do depend;
It is my fortress and my strength.
Beauty of the Cross.
Cross, light of the blind.
Cross above all things.
Cross destroying the enemy.
Cross spear and shield of the Church.
Cross the Martyr's crown.
Cross refuge of the poor.
Cross succour of the afflicted.
Cross the virtue of the just.
Cross strength and power of the weary.
Cross making the dumb speak.
Cross ear of the deaf and faith of the saints.
Cross guide to the blind.
Cross wood of life,
Cross wood of salvation.
Cross calm of the sea.
Cross bread of the hungry,
Cross fountain of the thirsty,
Cross clothing of the naked.
Cross the rod that struck Satan.
Allelujah, Cross my faith.
Allelujah, Cross my light.
Cross my hope;
Cross my succour;
Cross my grace.
The Cross was made and the high was brought low
And the low was raised up.
Cross the Alpha and the Omega,
The First and the Last.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Australia: Aboriginal Music and Dance

Going through old files, came across this amusing photo taken in Perth, Australia, at an Aboriginal music event, with wild didgeridoo and rhythmic sound sticks.  As you can guess, I was an official, on duty!

Reconciliation (Alan Dargin on didgeridoo)

Over the Road (Alan Dargin on didj)

And Cedric Talbot playing at a reception at Government House, Sydney: a rather more formal event!

With Cedric Talbot and Terri Janke

Treaty (Remix)

I also recall a less formal event with Cedric, about which I have blogged in the past; we once performed two poems (for voice and didgeridoo)"The Apocalyptic Blues" and "Jindyworobak 1997" at the Lyric Theatre, Sydney, for the Sydney Poetry Olympics (for three consecutive years, 1995-1997, I was invited to be one of the judges/adjudicators; in '97 they asked the judges to perform too). Fantastic didj! Alas, no recording.

Judging another Poetry Olympics (Sydney Opera House),
with Komninos and Yusef Komunyakaa

Axel Poignant Photograph, Leading the Dance

Four B/W Photos above by Axel Poignant

Bangarra Dance Company, Ochres

Harry Wedge (detail), You don't know nothing about us (1996)

Kakadu, Rock Art


Rhythm 'n' Blues, A 50 Year Relationship

It's more than fifty years that I've been writing about the blues and rhythm 'n' blues.

This letter reminded me of the fact, as it refers to a letter I wrote to DISC magazine. It was published on 26 May, 1962. My letter was an expression of appreciation of the soul music, blues and
R 'n' B songs of Ray Charles. A reader wrote the letter below in response to mine.

Brewery Square, Dorchester

Progress report (BBC)

Una candida cerva: some sonnets for a change; Petrarch; Wyatt; They Flee From Me; Whoso List to Hunt

Wonderful poem! Petrarch Sonnet 190, and Sir Thomas Wyatt's very free version (Whoso List to Hunt, I Know where is an Hind).

Carol Rumens' article (The Guardian) - Poem of the week: Whoso List to Hunt by Thomas Wyatt

My Galley Charged with Forgetfulness

More Wyatt: They Flee From Me

Video animation

Ted Hughes' reading

See also -

Wyatt, Petrarch, and the Uses of Mistranslation,: Joe Glaser, College Literature, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Fall, 1984), pp. 214-222: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Greece, Property Taxes and Fiscal Union

On property tax developments (in Greek, Kathimerini)

On the pros and cons of Fiscal Union for Greece (Kathimerini)

Greece and Britain in Women's Literary Imagination

A fascinating topic for a conference in Cambridge

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Poems in the Dorset Dialect, William Barnes in Cyberspace (and poems on the River Frome)

"The coming of the railways in the 1840s saw Dorchester’s Roman sites at Poundbury and Maumbury Rings threatened with destruction. The poet, William Barnes, and the vicar of Fordington, Reverend Henry Moule, decided to form an organisation that would protect these sites and the natural history of the area and on 15th October 1845 the Dorset County Museum and Library was founded". Dorset County Museum.

River Frome, Dorchester, today

William Barnes on the River Frome (and 'The Fancy Fair at Maiden Newton'):

The Frome, wi' ever-water'd brink,
Do run where shelvèn hills do zink
Wi' housen all a-cluster'd roun'
The parish tow'rs below the down.
An' now, vor woonce, at leäst, ov all
The pleäcen where the stream do vall,
There's woone that zome to-day mid vind,
Wi' things a-suited to their mind.
An' that's out where the Fancy Feäir
Is on at Maïden Newton.

An' vo'k, a-smarten'd up, wull hop
Out here, as ev'ry traïn do stop,
Vrom up the line, a longish ride,
An' down along the river-zide.
An' zome do beät, wi' heels an' tooes,
The leänes an' paths, in nimble shoes,
An' bring, bezides, a biggish knot,
Ov all their childern that can trot,
A-vlockèn where the Fancy Feäir
Is here at Maïden Newton...

Come, young men, come, an' here you'll vind
A gift to please a maïden's mind;
Come, husbands, here be gifts to please
Your wives, an' meäke em smile vor days;
Come, so's, an' buy at Fancy Feäir
A keepseäke vor your friends elsewhere;
You can't but stop an' spend a cwein
Wi' leädies that ha' goods so fine;
An' all to meake, vor childern's seäke,
The School at Maïden Newton.

The Water Crowvoot

O' small-feäc'd flow'r that now dost bloom
To stud wi' white the shallow Frome,
An' leäve the clote to spread his flow'r
On darksome pools o' stwoneless Stour,
When sof'ly-rizèn aïrs do cool
The water in the sheenèn pool,
Thy beds o' snow-white buds do gleam
So feäir upon the sky-blue stream,
As whitest clouds, a-hangèn high
Avore the blueness o' the sky;
An' there, at hand, the thin-heäir'd cows,
In aïry sheädes o' withy boughs,
Or up bezide the mossy raïls,
Do stan' an' zwing their heavy taïls,
The while the ripplèn stream do flow
Below the dousty bridge's bow;
An' quiv'rèn water-gleams do mock
The weäves, upon the sheäded rock;
An' up athirt the copèn stwone
The laïtren bwoy do leän alwone,
A-watchèn, wi' a stedvast look,
The vallèn waters in the brook,
The while the zand o' time do run
An' leäve his errand still undone.
An' oh! as long's thy buds would gleam
Above the softly-slidèn stream,
While sparklèn zummer-brooks do run
Below the lofty-climèn zun,
I only wish that thou could'st staÿ
Vor noo man's harm, an' all men's jaÿ.
But no, the waterman 'ull weäde
Thy water wi' his deadly bleäde,
To slay thee even in thy bloom,
Fair small-feäced flower o' the Frome.

Barnes in Australia, BBC Dorset, May 2010

Tina Turner's Nutbush

Photo JP

"Gin House, Highway 19"

Nutbush, Tennessee, was Tina Turner's birthplace and childhood home

Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale- Where Bessie Smith died...

The Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale, Mississippi, formerly the G.T.Thomas Hospital, where Bessie Smith died in 1937, following an automobile accident:

 Photos Jim Potts

"Rat" Ratliff and Maria
He welcomed us warmly and kindly showed us round

Corfu's new Sister City


Location in Pennsylvania, USA

Other Corfu relationships:

La Baule-Escoublac, France
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Meißen, Germany

Why no twinned town or sister city in the UK?

John Henry Barbee, A Tragic Story, A Blues Life

The blues story that always moved me most was that of the life of John Henry Barbee.

I once tried to write a novel and film script loosely based on his life. I saw him perform in 1964, and the tragic events that followed his return to the USA have always haunted me. At the time (1964), when I carried out interviews with many blues singers, mostly backstage at the Folk Blues Festivals, I wrote:

"I badly wanted to speak to John Henry Barbee, whom I had heard the week previously. He is one of the greatest blues-singers I have heard in the old country tradition, and plays a beautiful bottleneck guitar. Hammie Nixon told me the tragic news that John Henry, unknown to himself, had cancer and only had a few months left to live. So he had been sent back to the States to live out those last few months in peace. Perhaps that was what Lightnin' Hopkins had been brooding over."

In 1968 I talked to Big Joe Williams, who told me the whole sad story about John Henry Barbee, about his rediscovery, and how he had been sent back to the States when it was discovered that he had cancer, how he had bought his first car with the proceeds from the European tour, had accidentally killed someone in a car crash, had been sentenced to prison and had died of his illness in prison in November 1964.

"On stage he seemed the most unaffected of all blues singers, the purest of rural artists. His guitar work was superb —greatly admired by Lightnin' who really appreciated him — and his vocals were moving and gentle melodic blues." Paul Oliver.

On the sleeve notes to John Henry's outstanding "Portraits in Blues, Vol 9" Storyville LP, Paul Oliver writes, of the 1964 tour and the story of John Henry's life after John had recorded his first four blues, in Chicago, in 1938:

"Then he went back home: home to a tragedy in his personal life. In his absence another man...made love to his woman. John Henry returned to find them in bed together and with the rough, peremptory means of settling such affairs, he got a shotgun and shot him. Believing he had killed the man John Henry slipped away and hid in a swamp. For a long time he led a desperate life, close to starvation and he was terrified of being discovered and tried for murder. Eventually, when he felt it safe to emerge he did so, quietly and under an assumed name...Unknown to him "Mister Charlie" survived the gunshot wound having received the charge in the leg."

On the 1964 tour and subsequent events:

"Unfortunately, John  Henry was a sick man on the tour. He had a pain in his back which he thought was caused by strain when lifting a suitcase, and was often in extreme discomfort. In spite of his great pain he insisted on playing at the concerts and hoped to stay on with the show to its conclusion. In England a doctor diagnosed a dangerously malignant growth and he was flown back to the United States with little expectation to live. It was a tragic end to his briefly renewed career but John Henry was happy to have been on the tour....John Henry will never record again. On his return to the United States he bought himself a car, the first he had ever owned. A week later he was involved in an accident and a man was run over and fatally injured. John Henry was jailed and was unable to contact his friends. No one went bond for him and he died there, of cancer, on November 4th, 1964".

Here's the slightly different Wikipedia account (my italics):

"Barbee toured in the 1930s throughout the American South singing and playing slide guitar. He teamed up with Big Joe Williams, and later on, with Sunnyland Slim in Memphis, Tennessee. Travelling down to Mississippi he also came across Sonny Boy Williamson I, and played with him off and on for several years. He released two sides on the Vocalion label in 1939 ("Six Weeks Old Blues" / "God Knows I Can't Help It"). The record sold well enough to cause Vocalion to call on Barbee again, but by that time he had left his last known whereabouts in Arkansas. Barbee explained that this sudden move was due to his evading the law for shooting and killing his girlfriend's lover. He later found out that he had only injured the man, but by the time this was discovered, Barbee had moved on from making a career out of playing music.

Barbee did not show up again in the music industry until the early 1960s, whereby this time the blues revival was in full swing. Willie Dixon searched out for Barbee, and found him working as an ice cream server in Chicago, Illinois. In 1964 he joined the American Folk Blues Festival on an European tour with fellow blues players, including Lightnin' Hopkins and Howlin' Wolf.[1]

In a case of tragic circumstances, Barbee returned to the United States and used the money from the tour to purchase his first automobile. Only ten days after purchasing the car, he accidentally ran over and killed a man. He was locked up in a Chicago jail, and died there of a heart attack a few days later, November 3, 1964, 11 days before his 59th birthday".

John Henry Barbee, Tell Me Baby (YouTube)

Dust My Broom

Monday, 28 January 2013

Rats in my kitchen, Sleepy John Estes

Rats in My Kitchen

With Hammie Nixon, 1964

  Signed with a cross

Sleepy John's last home:

Extracts from my short interview with Sleepy John Estes, published in ISIS, 28 November, 1964:

Sleepy John:

"First off I wanted to be a lawyer or a preacher...
One day I made me a one-string guitar out of a cigar box. And when I got me a six-string I tried to make the sound of that one string."


"Did you ever know Bind Lemon Jefferson?"

Sleepy John:

"Sure did. I often used to sing with him. He was a good friend of mine and I played many shows with him in the old days. I remember especially a show I did with him in Memphis in 1929."


"On your recent LP you sing a song about 'Rats in My Kitchen': did you really have rats?

Sleepy John:

"Yeah. They were eating my groceries, so I bought me a mountain cat, 'cos them cats is good at killing rats. And so I said in my song, "I'm gonna buy me a mountain cat."

Listen to the music, but imagine his living conditions

"Sleepy John Estes eventually lost his sight completely and in the years after the war was living in destitution in a cabin with neither water nor electricity". Paul Oliver, The Story of the Blues, p. 134