Reading: In The Small Hours by Wole Soyinka

Nigerian Yorùbá playwright, novelist and poet Wole Soyinka (b. 1934) received the Nobel Prize in 1986 as the first representative of a ‘new English literature’ emerged in the former colonies. He is also a political activist who spent 22 months in prison basically for trying to avert the Nigerian civil war, in the sixties. I read a poem that contains many beautiful words:

In the small hours
Blue diaphane, tobacco smoke
Serpentine on wet film and wood glaze,
Mutes chrome, wreathes velvet drapes,
Dims the cave of mirrors. Ghost fingers
Comb seaweed hair, stroke acquamarine veins
Of marooned mariners, captives
Of Circe’s sultry notes. The barman
Dispenses igneous potions –
Somnabulist, the band plays on.

Cocktail mixer, silvery fish
Dances for limpet clients.
Applause is steeped in lassitude,
Tangled in webs of lovers’ whispers
And artful eyelash of the androgynous.
The hovering notes caress the night
Mellowed deep indigo – still they play.

Departures linger. Absences do not
Deplete the tavern. They hang over the haze
As exhalations from receded shores. Soon,
Night repossesses the silence, but till dawn
The notes hold sway, smoky
Epiphanies, possessive of the hours.

This music’s plaint forgives, redeems
The deafness of the world. Night turns
Homewards, sheathed in notes of solace, pleats
The broken silence of the heart.

We all know bar scenes and boy does Mr. Soyinka know how to describe ’em. Take the first lines with their colors smells shapes and how simple tobacco smoke becomes something extraordinary (actually, I think this would be a very good poem to use, paradoxically, in an anti-smoking campaign). The human bar scene is gradually replaced by marine metaphors, detained by Circe with her sultry notes (sultry: sexually exciting or oppressive heat and humidity?) At any rate, the mariners are her captives. Note that they were not lured by her voice but by notes (disseminated text). Derrida would have liked it for the priority it gives to the written over the spoken word.

Fish dancing for molluscs – someone is gettin’ drunk here. Lovers whisper, an androgynous being flaunts its eyelashes. The color has gone from blue to acquamarine to deep indigo (we expect black). Circe’s notes caress the night and the sleepwalking mellow band plays on. The spell, the igneous potions are still working.

The hazy bar doesn’t care about the people leaving (this third stanza is a hell of a poetic alternative for Hotel California’s departure trope or Neil Young’s crowded hazy bar). Exhalations from receded shores! The notes hold sway, you can never leave. A plaint is a cry of sorrow or grief; plaint forgiveness is not plain forgiveness nor faint forgiveness! The deafness of the world is redeemed, it’s okay the world out there, Circe’s notes offer solace to the souls in the tavern. When and if they finally leave, still drunk with this night sublime, their hearts are pleated (fabric folded back onto itself…) so the silence is restored. They can bear, another day, the injustices of the world (something Soyinka was very familiar with).

I think this is my favorite bar poem now. Do you know another one?

Reading: In The Small Hours by Wole Soyinka was originally published on Meandering home

Advertisements

Moscow. Puh-ha!

I arrived savely in Moscow. And met many nice Russians.

The first night I stayed in a hostel, for a change. Ann had given me the adress, and it was – for Moscovian measures – very cheap (650 rubles). I took a good shower and had some coffee, before walking around in the center. Ann showed me a luxurious shopping mall, the Red Square and the Kreml, from there I walked through the park, where I saw the monument of a soldier with an eternal flame and very stiff guards. In a supermarket I bought some cheap dry Russian bread because my roubles had gone out, and biting on it I crossed a bridge over the Moskva, with a view of the Kreml on the right, and the most important Russian Orthodox church on the other side. I walked on, shared my bread with a beggar on the way, passed the Bolshoi theater opposite Revolution Square, and went back to the hostel. Enough for a first impression of this giant metropole.


There was a German guy who started talking about dubious business deals of selling Champion’s League tickets on the black market and erotic affairs he had with a girl in Russia. He kept talking and talking about it, and I kept nodding dimly. I wish I had the presence of mind to look him straight in the eyes and say something like “yes and yes and I have been in a brothel too where they offered me booze and coke and pussy all for free o yes so what is the big deal tough guy tell me you think yur something yo i’m not yur daddy” but I don’t have that type of presence of mind. Anyway, there also was a Nigerian man who was a relieve because he was silent and made a serious impression.
I got a little bit hungry and cooked myself some couscous other guests had left there, and put in chopped black olives, salt, pepper, soy sauce, sugar, dried persil. And it actually tasted pretty good. @Survival Manual: how to cook something out of nothing, a recommendation for philosophers because a) they tend to think about nothingness and b) they tend to see nothingness when they open their wallet, if they have one.

That night I updated this blog and saw on the internet (cnn.com) what had happenend in Mumbai. I kept staring at the live coverage, in a remembrance of 9/11 until 4 am. Then I went to bed.

Moscow. Puh-ha!

I arrived savely in Moscow. And met many nice Russians.

The first night I stayed in a hostel, for a change. Ann had given me the adress, and it was – for Moscovian measures – very cheap (650 rubles). I took a good shower and had some coffee, before walking around in the center. Ann showed me a luxurious shopping mall, the Red Square and the Kreml, from there I walked through the park, where I saw the monument of a soldier with an eternal flame and very stiff guards. In a supermarket I bought some cheap dry Russian bread because my roubles had gone out, and biting on it I crossed a bridge over the Moskva, with a view of the Kreml on the right, and the most important Russian Orthodox church on the other side. I walked on, shared my bread with a beggar on the way, passed the Bolshoi theater opposite Revolution Square, and went back to the hostel. Enough for a first impression of this giant metropole.


There was a German guy who started talking about dubious business deals of selling Champion’s League tickets on the black market and erotic affairs he had with a girl in Russia. He kept talking and talking about it, and I kept nodding dimly. I wish I had the presence of mind to look him straight in the eyes and say something like “yes and yes and I have been in a brothel too where they offered me booze and coke and pussy all for free o yes so what is the big deal tough guy tell me you think yur something yo i’m not yur daddy” but I don’t have that type of presence of mind. Anyway, there also was a Nigerian man who was a relieve because he was silent and made a serious impression.
I got a little bit hungry and cooked myself some couscous other guests had left there, and put in chopped black olives, salt, pepper, soy sauce, sugar, dried persil. And it actually tasted pretty good. @Survival Manual: how to cook something out of nothing, a recommendation for philosophers because a) they tend to think about nothingness and b) they tend to see nothingness when they open their wallet, if they have one.

That night I updated this blog and saw on the internet (cnn.com) what had happenend in Mumbai. I kept staring at the live coverage, in a remembrance of 9/11 until 4 am. Then I went to bed.

Moscow. Puh-ha!

I arrived savely in Moscow. And met many nice Russians.

The first night I stayed in a hostel, for a change. Ann had given me the adress, and it was – for Moscovian measures – very cheap (650 rubles). I took a good shower and had some coffee, before walking around in the center. Ann showed me a luxurious shopping mall, the Red Square and the Kreml, from there I walked through the park, where I saw the monument of a soldier with an eternal flame and very stiff guards. In a supermarket I bought some cheap dry Russian bread because my roubles had gone out, and biting on it I crossed a bridge over the Moskva, with a view of the Kreml on the right, and the most important Russian Orthodox church on the other side. I walked on, shared my bread with a beggar on the way, passed the Bolshoi theater opposite Revolution Square, and went back to the hostel. Enough for a first impression of this giant metropole.


There was a German guy who started talking about dubious business deals of selling Champion’s League tickets on the black market and erotic affairs he had with a girl in Russia. He kept talking and talking about it, and I kept nodding dimly. I wish I had the presence of mind to look him straight in the eyes and say something like “yes and yes and I have been in a brothel too where they offered me booze and coke and pussy all for free o yes so what is the big deal tough guy tell me you think yur something yo i’m not yur daddy” but I don’t have that type of presence of mind. Anyway, there also was a Nigerian man who was a relieve because he was silent and made a serious impression.
I got a little bit hungry and cooked myself some couscous other guests had left there, and put in chopped black olives, salt, pepper, soy sauce, sugar, dried persil. And it actually tasted pretty good. @Survival Manual: how to cook something out of nothing, a recommendation for philosophers because a) they tend to think about nothingness and b) they tend to see nothingness when they open their wallet, if they have one.

That night I updated this blog and saw on the internet (cnn.com) what had happenend in Mumbai. I kept staring at the live coverage, in a remembrance of 9/11 until 4 am. Then I went to bed.

St Petersburg #2. Rock hard.

The next day I rolled in the snow. Why and how remains a little secret here. It caused me to be too late for the Hermitage, and I spent the afternoon writing in a cafe: business as usual. In the evening I met Marikka, the blond one, who took me to a concert of Igor, the bass guitarist. It must have been a immensely popular club, judging by the dragging and pulling outside the door. People were so eager to get in. Marikka’s name was on a list, and I got in as a friend. So here I was the second day in this Russian metropole, where I used a few more annoying seconds to read the cyrillic signs, and I already was a vip in a concert. And the concert was great. Igor superstar! Thank you, guys!

The concert really rocked, and we danced the night away.

St Petersburg #2. Rock hard.

The next day I rolled in the snow. Why and how remains a little secret here. It caused me to be too late for the Hermitage, and I spent the afternoon writing in a cafe: business as usual. In the evening I met Marikka, the blond one, who took me to a concert of Igor, the bass guitarist. It must have been a immensely popular club, judging by the dragging and pulling outside the door. People were so eager to get in. Marikka’s name was on a list, and I got in as a friend. So here I was the second day in this Russian metropole, where I used a few more annoying seconds to read the cyrillic signs, and I already was a vip in a concert. And the concert was great. Igor superstar! Thank you, guys!

The concert really rocked, and we danced the night away.

St. Petersburg #1.

So I arrived in Saint Petersburg in the morning, in a huge train station, and I called Katja, the girl whom I had contacted on the couchsurfing network. It was quite easy to find my way around the city, since there are only four subway lines, neatly intertwined around four large ploshads (squares). So I took the metro, and was amazed by the deep tunnels. Later I was told that it was constructed by the military to endure a nuclear attack, and several stations had large metal doors and bunkers.

I got a warm welcome by Katja’s boyfriend Max, a very kind cinematographer and we had some sweet Georgian wine in the living room. Georgian wine, you say? Well, you cannot buy it in a Russian supermarket these days, for obvious reasons. But Max brought it from Latvia. I rested a little from my long trainride, which had been tiring despite of the long hours lying down on the bunk bed.

At night we went to a small bar that was founded by a German girl called Anke, and combined a bar with a laundry saloon, thus providing enjoyable waiting hours to its customers. It was a brilliant idea, and the bar was still vibrant, but the band that played could not really excite us. A common guitar riff accompanied by a man in a scream-mask drumming on plastic containers.

In the next bar the music was much better. It was Russian dub, and I saw musicians who could not have been more authentic. A man with long blond hair and large sunglasses swung his head, a cunning keyboarder and a very manly guitarist just gave the atmosphere that extra something. It sounded very cool. I was hungry and had some Russian fishsoup. The blond girl next to me told me she liked me, and, well, after the concert we went to her friend’s house, who was a bass guitarist and a lead singer in a band. More on that later. The night was not very young anymore, and we stayed together, listening to Nirvana and the Beatles.