Manifesto Memories

So: Underneath the Bunker has shed a skin and re-emerged in a new form. Now begins the process of republishing all the original articles: a process which will be accompanied by a series of reflections on said writings – and links to further reading.

We start, as you may see for yourself, with a manifesto written in 2005, just before Underneath the Bunker made its online debut. Five years isn’t so long ago, unless one is a critic, in which it is nothing short of an age. Critical opinion flows, after all, with the somber calmness of a raging waterfall. By the time something is published it is usually horribly out of date.

Nevertheless, I stand by much of this manifesto, for all its obvious weaknesses (and they are, I fear, far too obvious). As noted in my brief introduction, the piece was written in difficult circumstances. In this respect it is a typical manifesto. When a small group of idealistic thinkers get together to craft a tight statement of their hopes and dreams you can be sure that you will end up with a chaotic compromise. It is just as likely that they will give up and go drinking instead, which is precisely what happened in our case. This was the famous evening, I recall, on which Heidi Kohlenberg drank her bodyweight in wine – and an inebriate J-P Sertin wrote what he called ‘the greatest story ever written’ on the back of a beer mat (on which Kohlenberg promptly vomited). It’s a miracle, indeed, that any manifesto got written, let alone this one.

Since writing this manifesto I have scribed many a better summary of what it is that I do: nevertheless, this one continues to cover the basic points relatively well. Underneath the Bunker is a journal dedicated to the outsiders: to the obscure. This is the project at its simplest. Forgotten art. Ah, but does that mean we will support anything that is forgotten, regardless of whether it has or has not earned its fate? Of course not. We support art that does not deserve to have been forgotten. And there is, as you can see, plenty of that.

Before I wind my merry way elsewhere, a final word on manifestos. The best manifestos, I’ve always found, are those that one has no real hope of living up to. This is where we failed: our manifesto dared to be achievable. The same could not be said, however, for the Bulgarian Farm Poets Movement. Their manifesto, brilliant as it was, symbolised everything that they, as a group, were not. It was a magnificent dream-work: a refreshingly pointless call to arms for a war that would never, could never, be fought.

If I can find it, I promise to publish it here at a later date.

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Lurgsy’s Wolverine (Pet’s Corner No.6)

This reminds me. Tomas Lurgsy wrote a poem called ‘each a vagrant mongrel’. Any fool knows this. But how many people can list the number of pets owned by the members of the Bulgarian Farm Poets Movement?

Pets is a tricky word, I know. Is a cow a pet? What if you don’t milk it? When does a stray cat become a pet? Suffice to say that, when in the country, the Bulgarian Farm Poets surrounded themselves with tame, half-tame and vaguely-tame animals: thirty at least – maybe more.

Amongst these, it is claimed, was an orphaned wolverine. As such claims go, this seems a relatively secure one: much more secure, I would say, than the claim that Ludomir Birovnik hand-reared seven golden eagle chicks. For although we have no photographs of said wolverine, we do have plenty of written evidence, including no less than fourteen poems. Sadly, these poems don’t appear in most collections of Lurgsy’s work. Why? Because they’re poor? Not exactly. Most of them are well below par, it must be said: but there are some strong works.

Strong is very much the word, I think. Disturbing is another word that suits. Consider ‘wolverine, sweet wolverine’ (or, if you’re eating lunch, consider it not). That’s some rather ‘heady’ imagery, make no mistake about. ‘Your sweat and fur float in my veins/your teeth sink sweetly into skin’. And all that stuff about a ‘hairy consummation’ – what has to wonder just what was going on there. Lurgsy liked his wolverine, that’s for sure. One might even say he loved it. Until it grew up, that is, and tried to bite his arm off. After that, I think we can safely say that their relationship went downhill. Or that the wolverine went downhill, in a tub, at high speed, into a lake (a weird way to put a once-loved pet down, granted, but then I’m no Bulgarian poet).

Whilst A

The web will sometimes lose its lustre for me. My fingers log me on: my brain logs out. The computer fan blows like an apathetic fly doing an impression of a broken helicopter. The screen drones a soul-boring whiteness into the room. Advertisements leap with tired gusto from the corners and sides of newspaper homepages; falling, limply, on indifferent eyes. I lean back in my chair, brush hair from my forehead and give my right eye a scratch.

I wish to run away to the sea; to cover my wrinkled knees with lukewarm September sand whilst a small squad of ex-starlets recite anecdotes about the Bulgarian Farm Poets Movement.

I wish to dig myself a hole in the ground; to pull on a pair of pea-green Wellington boots and a motorcyclist’s helmet and squat like a toddler whilst a tall Welshman sings the last twelve lines of Hector Spinkel’s Musical Treatise on the Manufacture of Double-Jointed Dalmatian Puppets.

I wish to sit in the fridge for a while; to sit in the fridge in my wife’s navy blue overcoat, sipping a quart of pineapple juice through a light grey straw whilst an actress with painted eyebrows declaims Eva Holubk’s majestic poem, Easily I Quipped: Sodden.

Or I might just check my e-mail again.

Quite, Quite Mad

‘Poetry? Translated? You must be joking! Poetry can’t be translated. A great poem consists of a particular line-up of words in a particular order. This it can only be. Those words alone. Translated?! Never. It goes against the spirit of the entire thing. You are quite, quite mad’ (Doris Boshchov)

So said my wife, many years ago. And so she repeats today, bravely going in the face of, well, a large part of my career. And I’d be a fool to suggest that she isn’t right. On the other hand, have you ever tried to read Lithuanian?

Translation is, perhaps, the wrong word. It’s altogether too confident. Its meaning has been saturated by decades of ignorance. ‘Version’, maybe, might suit the situation a little better. A translator presents us with their ‘version’ of events. Make no bones about it. This is not the original.

Whilst we’re sailing on the warm seas of this subject, it will have come to some of your attentions that the British Broadcasting Corporation are having some sort of poetry season at present. Bless them. Unfortunately, the frowning hawk of rumour informs me that a one hour programme on the Bulgarian Farm Poets Movement, presented by the red-haired girl from musical combo ‘Girl’s Aloud’ (some sort of skiffle group, if my memory serves me correctly) has been cancelled. Very sad news that. If there’s one thing that Britain needs at the moment, it is to hear more about Tomas Lurgsy and the gang. Maybe those musical girls could bring some of their poetry into their songs?

The Poet Who Cried Woolf

A week or so ago I posted this: an excerpt of a Bulgarian poem, followed by a set of questions. Here are the answers.

The words, as you have probably guessed for yourselves, were written by Tomas Lurgsy during his increasingly notorious ‘London period’ in the late 1970s. Increasingly notorious, you say? Well yes, I do. And if you don’t believe me, I invite you to peruse the contents of Ivor Bellinson’s new book, A Bulgarian in the British Museum: Tomas Lurgsy and London –  by far the most comprehensive study of Lurgsy’s London years (albeit the only one, to date).

Not that I need Bellinson to supply me with the facts I already know. Such as the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, only sixty percent of the poems Lurgsy wrote in London were written in English (a lot of critics still believe that all of them were). Or the fact that all of his poems from this period are jam-packed with subtle allusions to English writers, from G K Chesterton to Virginia Woolf.

Indeed, it is Woolf whom he invokes in this very excerpt. The image of a woman retrieving a ‘sheaf of paper’ from a dungy midden is quite clearly inspired by events occuring within the pages of Woolf’s 1928 biography, Orlando. Biography, you say? Oh yes. Though some are still wont to call it a novel, there is to me little doubt that Woolf’s work is a well-researched piece of non-fiction; a factually accurate retelling of the long and strange career of the eponymous hero/heroine.

That Lurgsy should have referred to Woolf’s work comes as little surprise, as he was living at this time in the area known as Bloomsbury. Having said that, this is (so far as I know) one of only two Woolf allusions, the other appearing in his 1978 work, Laura, Large on the Grass. This is typical: Lurgsy rarely echoed the work of other writers more than a couple of times – with the exception of John Webster, to whom he alluded fourteen times within a series of poems written across in a week towards the end of 1979 (‘Webster Week’ as Bellinson calls it, somewhat predictably).

From a Bulgarian Poem

in the midden, undercover
of your horses’ Monday supper
she retrieved a dampened sheaf of
paper aged in days by years and scented
with the dung of twenty grazers..

From a Bulgarian poem, yes. But whose? Lurgsy’s? Stasiuks? Birovnik’s? von Auger’s?
And translated by whom?

More on this later.

Missing Body?

To say that my Tomas Lurgsy poll was inundated by tribes of eager critics salivating over the chance to have their say on the greatest Bulgarian-poetry-related mystery since the peculiar disappearance of Ludomir Birovnik’s fountain pen would be what politicians don’t like to call a lie (but which, all things considered, is).

A rough handful of personages, nonetheless, have managed to complete the strenuous task of thinking for ten seconds and checking a box, for which I heap blessings upon them. As for the rest of you scruffy scoundrels, may all the potatoes in your pantry turn green and all the small children in your neighbourhood chant your name in mildly malicious tones whensoever you leave the house.

I suppose I could leave the poll open for a little while longer and I suppose I shall (though god knows four months is long enough to ask for an answer to a question). Meanwhile I don’t see the harm in exploring the results thus far, which seem to lean overwhelmingly (well, forty percent anyway) in favour of the word ‘body’. To put that in the context of the poem:

the body crushed, blood thoughts regather:
roll to rivers in bad weather;

rushing forth to greet again
the field of my dear father’s grave

Now one has the opportunity to see the lines reproduced as such, I wonder whether anyone has second thoughts. My wife, for instance, awoke from a fourteen hour sleep last week with the theory that the missing word might be ‘kitten’. I daresay she’s wrong – and that she ought not to lie in bed quite so long – but it’s always nice to view things from another perspective.

And what of my ideas? Well, I’ve always been a fan of ‘berries’, partially inspired by the knowledge that Lurgsy was once, like the best of us, rather too fond of the old bilberry wine. Still, I’m as open as anyone to suggestions…