To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, October 24, 2016

Alec Finlay: A Poem of Namings, from Gaelic and Norn

River Dee: photograph by Hannah Devereux, 2016 (from gathering)
Alec Finlay is a Scottish poet and artist based in Edinburgh. These texts come from a series of ongoing projects derived from research into place-names, in particular Gaelic (from his book gathering, forthcoming from Hauser & Wirth, 2018) and Norn – the dialect of Scots and Norse spoken in Orkney and Shetland Norn c.1800 (from MinnMouth, forthcoming 2017). This sequence derives from a performance given at the O-I/I-O poetry festival, Glasgow, 2016, as a closer to the whole event.


a name means nothing to a place 

place-names are necessary relations 

a name recovered returns the claims of human affection for a place 

place-names identify a field of biotic relationships 

place-names are allied to habitat restoration 

listen to a place-name, hear the dead speak 

some place-names follow speech but run counter to meaning 

names change when the guard of speech alters 

some place-names are all that remain of lost languages 

our place-names un-name older names 

most people lives in places, a few dwell in names 

the meaning of a name may go into oblivion long before the name itself


the oldest names
belong to rivers
the glen’s flowers  



numen swim
hidden within names 

Uisge Dé
River Dee
Water of the Goddess 

the river is the goddess” (WJ Watson)

oldest of all
from -er, -orto cause, to move

a place-name is an intensification of awareness 

Maighdean Mhonaidh
The Lassie on the Hill 

place your finger here
on the flower
of the mountain

place-names are social signs                  
for natural forms
Dark-eyed Springs Cairn


place-names exist in space 

they evolve in speech
over time 

speech steers names
into new forms 

ears become tongues 

the translation of a place-name
is a matter of sound and sense
exemplifying the tidal
nature of meaning

the wave the rock-reef makes: bōd
the rock-reef that makes the wave: ba
– we sink or swim by such distinctions

in place-names the mouth - minn -
     is bay
mouthful of sand and pebbles
mouth of the river
   and mother
minn, sought on the child’s

on Shetland
Banna Minn
Tether Mouth 

BANNA: band, fetter
MINN: mouth 

Burra teddirt
by a sandy rib )
puckerin da lip
skornin da bod 

soonds a mooth
n ammas th childers
needfu fir mynnye

Score Minni
Mother Sound
also on Shetland 

Skōr: hollow in the seabed, sound
MINN: mouth  

soonds ascar / markéd inda / sea-boddam 

 da brimtuds fløddin
   da mooth fuwi
      soonds  faain
   laumin      swinklin
beatin      onda chord
                 oda aert

south to Suffolk

MYNNI: firth
MERE: sea-pool 

shippin owt
   somethin deep
      in th bloo-O 

or havin more
   ova bowl ov
      sumthin tidal


With thanks to Harry Giles, Katrina Porteous, Ian Duhig, and Laura Watts for their guidance in terms of dialects 

Banna Minn (for Jen Hadfield) 

Burra, tethered by a sandy tombolo, puckering the lip, imitating the waves – sound is a mouth, and amma is the children’s discontented murmuring, needful for their mum, minn 

Tombolo connecting Kettla Ness to the rest of Burra, Shetland. Band, N. band or fetters; band, Sc, string together; tether, bond; means of restraint, confining force or influence. Minni, mynni, ON, mijin, Sh, mouth of a stream, inlet; munnr, the mouth, from PIE *ment-. Minn, mijn, Sc, minni, Sh, the mouth, a child's word. Mynnye, OSc, mother, said to be a child’s instinctive utterances; also a bay or inlet, arm of the sea, sound or strait. Teddirt, OrN, tethered. Skoarn, skoarnin, Sh, imitate someone, repeat what someone says. Bod, Sh, onward motion of the waves. Soond, Sc, sound. Mooth, Sc, mouth. Childer: Sc, children. Amma (Ind), mother. Murmurashen, Sh, murmur or discontented muttering. Needfu, OrN, needing, needy for.

Score Minni 

sounds is a scar marked in the sea bottom – the bay of tidal breakers is the mouth as it fills with sounds, falling, flowing, splashing, beating, on the chord of the earth 

Formerly Skora Minn, bay by Outer Score, between Bressay and Skōr Head, Shetland. Skōr, ON, sound, hollow in the seabed; skord, Sh, crack, fissure; mark or notch for keeping count. In North-east England scar, from sker, ON, reef can refer to rocks at the foot of sea-cliffs, a narrow beach, or shore-based reef. Bodd’am, Sh, sea-bottom. Minn Sc, mouth; Jakobsen gives mynni, minni, Sh, ‘opening into which a stream of firth disembogues’. Brimtud, Sh, sound of breakers on the shore. Flød, Sh, tide. Laum, neologism devised by the Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov, defined as “broad, flowing over the broadest area, knowing no confining shores”, from the l sound of lit and lodka, flow and boat. Swinkle, Sh, splash gently. Baetin, Sh, beating. Opo da, Sh, upon the; oda, Sh, of the. Aert, Sh, earth.

Minsmere (for Guy Moreton) 

“lagu byp leodum   langsum gepuht / the sea by (lands)men is deemed everlasting”, The Old English Rune Poem, tr. Bill Griffiths 

(July) shipping out something deep in the blue O [the sweep of the sea’s horizon]. (March) or having more of a bowl of something tidal [the safety of harbour]. 

Suffolk village lost to the sea in the 16th c.; the name survives in Minsmere Levels and Minsmere Haven. The name is a Scandinavian-English hybrid; it means River-mouth Lake, from OScand, mynni, mouth of the river; mere, OE, pool, sea; ME, haven, OE, hoefen harbour, inlet with good anchorage. The River Minsmere is know as the Yox, River Yoke, in its upper stretch. Lida, AS, July, the mild month of calm weather for voyages; Hredmonath, AS, March, the fierce month, wise to stay in harbour. Sheeppin, sumffin, haffin, Suff, shipping, something, having. Mo+wa, Suff, more. Bowlow, Suff, bowl of. The blue O is the sea orisounde, ME, horizon, which John Clare thought could be reached in a day’s walk. Bill Griffiths suggests that The Old English Rune Poem was Anglian, sharing characteristics with the riddling of Old Norse kenning. East Anglia was among the earliest places where English was spoken, as the dialect spoken by of Frisian, Angle, Saxon, Jute, and Swabian language communities became ‘islanded’, and eroded or absorbed Brittonic.


James Stout Angus, A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect
Keith Briggs and Kelly Kilpatrick, A Dictionary of Suffolk
AOD Claxton, The Suffolk Dialect of the Twentieth Century
Dictionary of the Scots Language/ Dictionar o the Scots Leid,
John J. Graham, Shetland Dictionary
Bill Griffiths, Anglo-Saxon Magic
Bill Griffiths, Fishing and Folk
Jákup Jakobsen, The Place-names of Shetland
Velimir Khlebnikov, tr. Charlotte Douglas & Paul Schmidt: The
     King of Time      
Velimir Khlebnikov, tr. Charlotte Douglas & Paul Schmidt:
     Theoretical Writings
David Mills, Suffolk Place-names
Walter Skeat, The Place-names of Suffolk
John Stewart, Shetland Place-names
Peter Trudgill, The Norfolk Dialect

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Three Previously Unpublished Letters from Antonin Artaud to Colette Thomas

       Translated with a note by Peter Valente


Henri Thomas, the young novelist who had been corresponding with Artaud about an article he was writing on The Theater and its Double, came to visit Artaud at Rodez on March 10, 1946, and brought his young wife, Colette Thomas, who was an aspiring actress. She was only 23 years old when she met Artaud and her marriage was falling apart at the time. For Artaud she seemed to represent a life of new possibilities and freedom. Soon she became one of his “daughters of the heart,” and occupied, for a time, a central position in Artaud’s fantasy world. They often wrote letters to each other during this time and Colette incorporated fragments from these letters in her one book, The Testament of the Dead Daughter, published in 1954. But her devotion to Artaud led to an over-identification, with him and his writings, which became intense and obsessive. She delivered a reading of texts from Artaud’s Fragmentations in June 1946, during a benefit for him in Paris. Despite her anxiety and terror she performed them with powerful enthusiasm, during a power outage, and to great applause. Artaud continued to see her during the Autumn of 1947, but she was becoming more estranged from him as he began to accuse her of claiming that she had written his texts herself and that he had stolen them from her. He also accused her of wanting to seduce him in order to have a child. She refused to participate in a reading of Artaud’s texts in November of that same year. This angered Artaud who felt it was simply a “gratuitous caprice” on her part. But it was becoming clear to the people in Artaud’s inner circle that her mental state was deteriorating under actual or imagined pressures. Colette Thomas’ mental condition worsened in later years, so much so that she could not remember who Artaud was. She spent the rest of her life in private clinics. The following letters were previously unpublished and first appeared in Samantha Marenzi’s important book, Antonin Artaud et Colette Thomas. I would like to thank her and Stephen Barber who first alerted me to the presence of these letters. 

                                                                                                            Paris, June 14, 1946
My very dear Colette, 

I waited for you at the Reine Blanche [1] for 2 or 3 hours. They told me at your hotel where I phoned that you were going to leave this hotel and were arriving tonight to take your luggage.

Do you also intend to leave Paris?

All this has extremely worried me and I wonder if there is not in you a species of despair that like a lost illusion incites you to want to leave Paris suddenly.

Yet, I, as far as it concerns me, have taken nothing and deceived you on no point.

If you had come to see me this afternoon your heart would have been completely reassured, without waiting for a new Deluge or for another fall of Sodom, and I needed you for my work.

Must I consider myself alone forever?
Write to me and schedule a meeting in Paris.
I am sure that you think I did not quite devote myself to you.

I wanted to describe my life without hiding anything, but you did not come.

I await a word from you.

I embrace you.
                                                                                         Antonin Artaud

                                                                                        Paris, Sunday, June 24, 1946 [2]

I suffered immensely for 50 years including 9 years of internment to be able to withstand the recriminations of a consciousness. 

I tried to help you exist there is something that has afflicted you, it does not surprise me, that’s life, for the rest, I do not understand what the word permanence means, I don’t even have a baccalaureat in philosophy.

I have nothing more to tell you, nothing more to say in response to your final word.

                                                                                           Antonin Artaud

P.S. I do not particularly believe that you took the place of Anie [3], but I think someone who believes in the permanence of beings, though you don’t give a fuck, replaced you, but the question will be resolved by the wrath of the Apocalypse, although what does it matter to you who I thought was interested in front of the Montparnasse station the last time we met.                                                                                           

                                                                                            Paris, June 26, 1946

I cannot forget the horrible story of internment at Bon Sauveur [4] combined with the treatment of cardiazol. [5]
I cannot forget the event at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater [6] where it was good Colette Thomas and not another who intervened in order for it to be implemented.

I cannot forget either, and especially the marvelous consciousness that came to work with me and read to everyone with all her heart at Ivry-sur-Seine [7] the texts which I had just written at Espalion and Rodez.

I know, Colette, a long and terrible history and the pneumatics [8] that you sent me about Anie show me that you were conscious of it in many ways, but so that you can see your exact position and also mine will require a total upheaval of all that appears to us. In the meantime I would prefer that your soul is not unfairly tormented, but I have heard from you many unjust and especially undeserved words. Because I am conscious of not only having wanted to help you live and the impression of having been badly rewarded, but I do not believe you are able to recognize this now, yet as you read at the Sarah Bernhardt my text, the
children of the mise-en-scène principle, [9] I want you to read the continuation on the Radio, and I do not want you to miss this last opportunity. I composed a new text to follow the one against the doctors. [10]

I need to transmit a pneu [11] to decide on a meeting about this subject. 

                                                                                                            Antonin Artaud


1 The Reine Blanche (“White Queen”) is a hotel in Paris.

2  Sunday fell on June 23

3 Anie Besnard - A friend of Artaud and one of his “daughters of the heart yet unborn.” The first meeting in 1933 between Artaud and Anie Besnard has the quality of a fairytale. During the night Artaud saw her, on the boulevard du Montparnasse, sitting on a bench, crying. She is sixteen years old, a runaway, and starving. Despite his own poverty, he managed to feed her and comfort her and they become friends. Stephen Barber writes, “The border between paternal purity and incestuous jealousy in Artaud’s attitude towards Anie Besnard was highly charged. Always resistant towards his own family, Artaud filled this absence with parallel relationships.”

4 A psychiatric hospital in Caen.

5 Colette had been interned in a mental hospital during her student years where she had been placed in a straightjacket and given cardiazol, “a seizure-provoking drug generally administered as a prelude to electroshock.” Artaud writes in a letter to her written on April 3, 1946: “The story of the asylum, of the treatments and the cardiazol, suffocates me when I think of it because it strangely resembles all those stories I experienced since the age of puberty in 1914.”

6 Colette Thomas read from Artaud’s Fragmentations at the gala benefit for him held at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater on June 7, 1946.

7 In 1946 Artaud was released to his friends, who placed him in the psychiatric clinic at Ivry-sur-Seine.

8 Artaud is referring to the system of delivering letters through pressurized air tubes, called pneumatic mail or post. Artaud rarely sent mail by ordinary post during the late period, from 1946-1948. Usually they were registered letters that the recipient had to sign for, or pneumatiques.

9 Another slight variation in this title that appears in the late letters was and the children of the mise en scène principle. Both were the original titles of a text that ended up with the title “Fragmentations” in the book also called Fragmentations. Artaud changed the title to “Fragmentations” for an edition of Suppôts et Suppliciations which was planned but abandoned. But the title remained in future publications.

10 After recording Patients and Doctors at the Club d'Essai (June 8, 1946), Artaud prepared another a text for the radio reading, Alienation and Black Magic; he believed that Colette would participate in the reading. But he read the text alone, on July 16, and then inserted it in Artaud le Momo.

11 Artaud’s use of the word “pneu” recalls the word “pneumatic” above. “Pneu” was the shortened and frequently used name for pneumatic mail. He uses the word frequently in letters written during his last months. For Artaud, the word had a special significance, suggesting a force of the breath. In ancient Greek, “pneuma” was the word for that which is breathed or blown.