Quote of the Day: Kate Walbert

“Alexandra said that I had inherited Mum’s will, not to mention her temper, and that this could either float me in good stead or kill me. I think I’ll float.”

A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert

Numbers 4: Exhibits, Museum of the History of Science (Oxford) and the British Museum



Oxford, England: May 2016


Assyrian Gallery, British Museum, London: May 2016


Another Caption from the Assyrian Gallery in the British Museum: May 2016

Generation Gap, by Joan McGavin, Hampshire Poet for 2014

With the Armistice declared,
school was closed
and the children all
ran hilty-skilty
down the brae.
Mum burst into the house —

her brother’s photo
already three years
on the mantelpiece.

promoted corporal,
he holds
the swagger stick
glances to the side.

And now she’s gone,
and those questions
one could ask about him
— dead on the Somme —
will need books,
the internet, research,
for any hope of answers —

and between me and my uncle
only the red hair
and my mother
forever saying
how much I reminded her of him.

— by Joan McGavin, Hampshire Poet for 2014

Vengeance Is Sweet: More From Part 2, Chapter 1 of THE THIRD REICH AT WAR

14 June 1940

The German soldiers enter Paris, which has become a surprisingly vacant city: “Instead of the usual cacophony of car horns, all that could be heard was the lowing of a herd of cattle, abandoned in the city center by refugees passing through from the countryside farther north.”

Then the ranscaking begins.

“On Hitler’s personal orders, the private railway carriage of the French commander in the First World War, Marshall Foch, in which the Armistice of 11 November 1918 had been signed, was tracked down to a museum and, after the museum walls had been been broken down by a German demolition team, it was moved out and towed back to the spot it had occupied in the forest of Compiegne on the signing of the Armistice . . .  Taking the very same seat occupied by Foch in 1918, Hitler posed for photographs, then departed, contemptuously leaving the rest of the delegation, including Hess, Goring, Ribbentrop and the military leaders, to read out the terms and receive the signatures of the dejected French.”

Self truly appreciates Evans’s wide range of vocabulary. Take that word “dejected.” It is perfect.

Which brings to mind other types of emotional states, all beginning with the letter “d”:

  • disconsolate
  • depressed
  • distraught
  • disappointed
  • distracted
  • discombobulated
  • desperate
  • dissembling
  • damaged
  • desultory
  • diffident

Why, any and all of the above could be applied to the French at the moment of the signing of the Armistice, June 1940.

The relative ease with which Germany accomplished “the greatest military encirclement in history” led the Reich to attempt the invasion of the Soviet Union, the following year.

Hitler was so gleeful that he confided to Albert Speer, his architect, “that he had often thought of having the city razed to the ground.”

And now it is another June, 75 years later, and self is in Ireland, and it’s a beautiful summer day.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Richard J. Evans’s THE THIRD REICH AT WAR: History Repeating Itself (Forevermore)

Part 2 (“The Fortunes of War”), Chapter 1, Section IV:  The Third Reich at War, by Richard J. Evans

French intelligence altogether failed to predict how the German invasion would take place. Some preparations were noticed, but nobody put all the information together into a coherent picture, and the generals still assumed that the now obsolete captured plans were the operative ones.

As for German tactical advantages at the time of the German invasion of Belgium and France:

Altogether, 93 French and and 10 British divisions faced a total of 93 German divisions. The French had 647 fighters, 242 bombers and 60 reconnaisance planes, making a total of nearly 2,000 combat aircraft altogether; the German air force had around 3,578 combat planes operational at this time, but when the Belgian and Dutch air forces were thrown into the balance this was not enough in itself to overwhelm its opponents.


Since the stalemate of French warfare in 1914-1918, the arrival of air power and tanks had shifted the advantage in warfare from defence to attack, a development which few on the Allied side had followed to its logical conclusion.

Here’s a link to a review of Evans’s newest book, a collection of essays on the Third Reich.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition, June 21-22, 2014

It is the 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War, as self was being constantly reminded when she was in the UK, a few weeks ago.

Those kinds of commemorations seem to get lost in the welter of American politics — Are we going back into Iraq?  What should/can we do about Putin?  — but the Review section of the June 21-22, 2014 Wall Street Journal is entirely devoted to articles about the Great War.  On p. C3, at the bottom right corner, is a tiny article by Amanda Foreman on “The Poets of Devastation.”

All the familiar names are there:  Rupert Brooke (gorgeous), Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon.

After a few mentions of these poets’ iconic works, Foreman delivers the meat and potatoes:

“. . .  the war poets’ greatest contribution wasn’t their rediscovery that war is truest hell, but their reinvention of poetry as a democratic mode of expression.”

She mentions the “broadening of the canon” with works like Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

“. . .  there is no other war in history,” Foreman writes, “. . . with the exception of the Trojan War, whose poetry has so shaped a nation.”

(Self thinks the Vietnam War definitely served a similar function for American literature.  Think Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War.  Think Frances Fitzgerald’s Fire in the Lake.  Think Michael Herr’s Dispatches.  Think Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.  Think Robert Stone)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

A Poem from TAKING MESOPOTAMIA, by Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis’s collection, Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets, 2014), is such a powerful book.

It is part memoir, part excerpts from family history, part interview, everything written out in the tersest of poetry.  From the Preface, self learned that Jenny’s father, Second Lieutenant T. C. Lewis, participated “in the Mesopotamian campaign of World War I as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, the South Wales Borders, now the Royal Regiment of Wales.”

The Hawthornden reunion with two of her fellow writers (who self hasn’t seen since June 2012, but who remained in touch) in Hawthornden was at the British Museum, April 27, when Joan and self caught Jenny’s passionate and altogether mesmerizing reading (She’s the ex-girlfriend of Michael Palin, and self kept looking around the theatre on the off-chance she’d get to see this Monty Python regular in the flesh. But no dice.)

Here’s the poem “October 1916”:

Two lots of mail from home with some letters
for me, at last, giving news from Glamorgan.
Mother unwell for the past few weeks, although
she puts on a brave face as usual. Sister Betty is
still on her drive to collect wool for the knitting
of balaclavas: I said they’ll be back to front no doubt!
Here we are stuck in the desert while their lives
keep on almost as usual there in dear old Wales
except it’s now a place where there are no young
men and people tell each other no news is good news.

Self makes a promise: Next time she is in London, she will make it a point to visit the Imperial War Museum.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

1st of May (2014): Drama and Poetry, Southampton

It’s the first of May, and self is spending a few days in Southampton with Joan McGavin, who she met two years ago in Hawthornden.

Joan and her husband are professors at the University of Winchester and are two of the kindest, warmest people on the whole planet.

Joan is the Hampshire Poet 2014, and is busy organizing all sorts of workshops, plus a literary festival in September.

Last night, Joan took self to a play presented in a PRISON, dear blog readers.  The prison’s official name is Her Majesty’s Royal Prison of Winchester.  The play, about conscientious objectors during World War I — it’s the centennial of The Great War, after all — was performed by actual prison inmates.  The Mayor of Winchester was in attendance, and he wore a great gold chain around his neck. Self had never seen the like.  Not, at least, in America.

There is a very strong historical role played by this particular prison in World War I.  Read about it in The Huffington Post.

Anyhoo, we arrived home very late, past 10 p.m.  When Joan’s husband learned we hadn’t yet had dinner, he stepped out and got food-to-go from a Chinese take-out place around the corner.  The chow mein was delicious!  We had it with a bottle of French wine!

Self has been hugely enjoying her stay in England.  Can’t believe she’s been here a week already!  Time is just flying by!

Joan is teaching a workshop this July, in Normandy:

Joan is teaching a poetry workshop July 11-15  in Normandy

Joan is teaching a poetry workshop July 11-15 in Normandy

The workshop, including tuition and accommodations, is 380 British pounds (US $640).

Self, looking over Joan’s teaching materials, finds a book by Mary Oliver.  She opens to the chapter on Imagery.  Oliver writes:

The language of the poem is the language of particulars.  Without it, poetry might still be wise, but it would surely be pallid.  And thin.  It is the detailed, sensory language incorporating images that gives the poem dash and tenderness.  And authenticity.  Poems are “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” said Marianne Moore.

What a wonderful image!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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