Home Up



A Critical Sage
Manchester's Decline

The Apotheosis of St Jim

The great Jim Burns whose book Radicals, Beats and Beboppers has just been published by Penniless Press Publications (see Oiklet 9 Gatley an Oik Paris) has got noticed by arguably the most prestigious literary mag in the world – The Times Literary Supplement. Jim sounded vaguely insulted when he rang me up but I did my best to reassure him that this was a priceless plug, appearing on the back page of gossipy jottings by the pseudonymous JC (but maybe those are his initials - they are in fact. Jim says it's James Campbell). Jim is now certified a “critical sage” (no news to his fans up here). I suppose there is an air of metropolitan condescension in JC’s throwaway asides “the unlikely setting of Cheadle” and “Albert Halper whoever he was”  but overall the bloke is enthused and so would be anyone reading this review. As sole prop. of Penniless Press Publications I am working on a great wodge of Jim’s articles of a lifetime. His latest collection Brits, Beats and Outsiders is in the works and will appear soon. And after that I’ve got stacks of other stuff – enough for two more volumes at least. The review reads: 

Among the more agreeable features of the literary world is the proximity of the ivory tower to the dusty side street. The critical sage, whether he likes it or not, is neigh­bour to the offbeat prowler. Jim Burns is such a one. For half a century, he has inhabited the zone of small press and little magazine, track­ing rebel writers and syncopated songsters. The title of a collection of essays, Beats, Bohemians and Intellectuals (2001), sums him up. Now Mr Burns, who lives in the unlikely setting of Cheadle, Cheshire, has issued Radicals, Beats and Beboppers. Its thirty items appeared originally in publica­tions many readers of this journal will not have heard of: Beat Scene, Prop 3, Penniless Press. Many of its characters are likewise tributarial: Maxwell Bodenheim, Walter Lowenfels, Anatole Broyard.

Mr Burns can tell you what Jack Kerouac was reading in 1941 - the novels of Albert Halper, whoever he was - how the screenplay of The Sweet Smell of Success by Clifford Odets differs from the novella by Ernest Leh­man, on which it is based; what sort of music Jackson Pollock listened to while painting. Burns dismisses the suggestion that Pollock found in the "speed and jarring harmony" of bebop "an apt analogue to his own work". Sometimes he listened to classical music.

An essay on Robert McAlmon, owner of Contact Editions which issued Hemingway's first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems, begins with the unarguable assertion, "Few people today read McAlmon's poetry". Mr Burns shows how McAlmon moved from "poetic language" to "ideas" to a sort of sub-Waste Land verse. By the time he reaches McAlmon's toilet-paper poem ("Inferior goods make scabs / that turn the best people to crabs"), you might think forgetting is the kindest treatment; but you remain grateful to Mr Burns for having done the legwork. Radicals, Beats & Boppers is available from Penniless Press Publications. 

Times Literary Supplement No 5652 July 29 2011 NB back page

Anyone wanting to buy this rarity can click on the website Paypal button at http://www.pennilesspress.co.uk/books/PPP.htm or simply schlep down to the Cornerhouse in Oxford road where, for a few quid more, they can pick one up off the shelf.

Another Nail in the Coffin

David Powell, owner of the Philips Gallery in Tib Lane is moving out. Thus does central Manchester continue to be hollowed out. Soon it’ll be all Poundlands, frock shops and Oxfams. Rapacious parking policy seems to be a factor. Dave reports that where he docks now costs £2.70 and hour, recently up from £2.20 and, of course, the old scheme where meters stopped at noon on Saturday was dumped long ago – now they work till 6pm (Sean Parker, however, tells me that the old policy of Sat afternoon free meters still obtains in Salford and since the boundary is very close to the centre you can park in Bridge street near the Lowry Hotel for nowt if you get there early enough.). David’s predecessor Jan Green who ran a gallery in the same location reported that trade fell off noticeably when meters were introduced. Eddy confirms this suspicion and says only poor people come into the centre these days. Strangely, I have trouble getting him to include me in this category when haggling.

The Philips Gallery will be there until August 13. After that it’ll be at Bowden or Hale. We get to discussing Dr James Fox’s three TV progs on British Masters. I thought the bloke quite mad, choosing oddballs like Munnings and Coldstream and making preposterous claims for the importance of our tradition for the national psyche. His final prog mentioned Bacon and Freud and briefly touched on Keith Vaughan (a good friend of Jan Green’s as it turns out). These are all great artists but I doubt if one in a thousand has even heard of Keith Vaughan and suspect that Fox included him for sensational tabloid reasons since KV was an inventive masturbator who used to tie himself to the legs of an upturned table and pass electric currents through his genitals. He also wrote his journal up to literally the last seconds of his life as he described the effects of his fatal suicide potion. And another thing – always suspect the motives of anyone who calls himself “Doctor” – unless he’s a medic of course. 

David actually thinks Munnings was quite good and we get onto drawing and how the advent of Abstract Expressionism has somewhat occluded this crucial talent. I’m convinced that Rothko is a great artist but there’s no evidence of skill at drawing in his stuff – or, say, that of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline or Barnet Newman. Could Warhol draw? Could Warhol even paint? It seems you can be a great artist and not be able to draw, yet drawing remains a freakishly rare talent even at the highest levels. We both agree that the best were Durer, Rembrandt, Ingres – and in the last century Shiele. Then he gets out his portfolio of John Caldas sketches – all charcoal on paper, some with colour about 18” x 12”. They’re good. I find Caldas’s big oils powerful but oddly oppressive but these sketches are first rate. Caldas is one of David’s discoveries. We get on the floor to excitedly examine these works.

I was reminded of the example of Victor Choquet, a Parisian art collector.

Victor Choquet, an enthusiast for Delacroix. A customs administrator not at all rich like Caillebotte, he was a tall, middle-aged man with silvered hair, a rather ascetic face, and a small beard. At the sale he spoke in the Impressionists favour, but in an equable way...He had filled his flat in the rue de Rivoli with art treasures; he had twenty oils by Delacroix as well as many water colours and drawings, Courbets, Manets, a fine Corot, together with rare porcelain and antique furniture. 

He would have risen in his department if he had been ready to leave Paris; but he could not part from its bookshops, antique shops and the like. To build up his collection he saved on food and clothing. Renoir introduced him to Paul (Cezanne) and they got on well together. Sharing a great love of Delacroix, they soon had the master's works spread out all over the carpet while they got down on their knees to look; suddenly, in a moment of rapturous agreement, they both burst into tears.    From Cezanne by Jack Lindsay  p163

Vic, I fear, wouldn't have lasted long in present day Manchester

Woman in Black Stockings (Valerie Neuzil) Egon Shiele - 1913


Johannes Gutenberg

Strasbourg has a claim to be a city of books since this was where Johannes Gutenberg lived and invented moveable type nearly 600 years ago. There’s even a place Gutenberg with a monument. The principal bookshops however seem to be in place Kleber (one of Bonaparte’s generals). And it’s in these establishments that one can see evidence of France’s Pléiadolatry. Most up-market bookshops in France stock this great series of classics and usually they’re locked up. The format is small, approx 4” x 7”, but the production is superb, leather bound, often well over 1000 pages and expensive – usually about £50 a go, even up to £70 for recent additions. Easily stuck into the pocket of a large mac, this’d be the MO of the traditional Manc book thief – they’d be nerds and bookworms, gross low-lifes wouldn’t pinch books – I’ve been burgled three times and never once had a book taken.

The rambling knocked-into-one row of terraced cottages in Didsbury which was once the emporium of E.J Morton (may God rest his soul) looked out over a brick wall onto a patch of neglected scrub (now a posh fish restaurant). Indigent book-bibbers and desperate students of the Raskolnikov tendency would browse its upper regions, open a window and throw out, say, EH Carr’s History of Soviet Russia vol 7 to land over the wall. Later, perhaps after dark, they’d retrieve this object thus defeating EJM’s scrutiny of lesser predators who could only think of sticking books down their pants. Indeed this method was copied at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory where the night shift would catapult whole gearboxes and even engines over the fence. A ruse exposed after the neighbours complained of strange whooshing noises in the night.

But I digress. The large FNAC (A frog Waterstones only better) on the west side of the square had oodles of Pléiades – well, a couple of small bookcases, perhaps a hundred  – and these were accessible to all. You could take them out of their slipcases, caress their leather bindings and even rub them against your person if there was no-one looking. Book nuts have described the firm, yet yielding texture of their tan-coloured covers as not inferior to that of a Thai nymphet’s buttocks. But I wouldn’t know about that.

After this orgy – how many I must have groped – it comes as shock to go out to the other large bookshop on the south side of place Kleber. Here you enter through a semicircular vestibule about twenty feet high. You’d continue through an archway into the body of the shop if you weren’t stunned by the sight as you look up. Above head height a balcony with guard-rail projects out from the wall on which are arranged shelves of Pléiades illuminated by the golden glow of halogen spotlights. A similar feature in a church would have a statue of the Virgin or an annunciation by Fra Angelico. But these are Pléiades – even better! Of course you can’t get at them or even read the titles, they’re icons to be worshipped. Leading up to the balcony is a polished chrome steel ladder. This looks smart but has round rungs like those used by window-cleaners. It’d be hard to climb if you weren’t a window-cleaner or a submariner. Next to it is a notice telling punters to keep off. And that wouldn’t be elf an safety – no it’d be anti-theft and grubby mauling prevention.

The series, published by Gallimard, started in 1931 with Baudelaire’s Complete Works Vol 1. The complete set would amount to 575 vols. Imagine it – for less than £30,000 you could have the lot – much better than a BMW 3 series which would be a clapped out pile of rust after ten years or so. From English they’ve got Shakespeare, Swift, Defoe, Dickens, etc and four fat 1500pp+ vols of Kipling but no George Eliot or Hardy. The latest addition is 1888 pages of De Quincey for 65 euros. One can always puzzle over such lists – who’s in who’s out but to prefer the Opium Eater to possibly the greatest English novel of the 19C looks odd. But that’s the French for you – always up for something weird and decadent. The second Pléiade to come out in 1931 was the stories of E.A Poe. He was a French cult in the 19C but English readers must have been amazed to see this lunatic so elevated. Since most of his admirers would have been reading him in French we must assume, as Gide said of Balzac, that even a bad translation was an improvement on the original.

Get yours now while stocks last! Only £79.99 from Amazon! And yes, since you ask, Pléiades have been known to turn up at Eddy's. Only a year or two back I copped Voltaire's Romans et Contes for a couple of quid. "Christ Eddy!" I expostulated "You're never going to flog this! It's all in French!" Eddy agreed. Currently this is 49.50 euros in France or on Amazon UK - unavailable.