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The Maltiad: Sonnets & Sieges

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Hello from Malta!

Just a wee update from the Mumble Editor, Damian Beeson Bullen… hello! Despite the cultural being world in a coma, the poets never cease to be, well, poetic. For me it was a trip to Malta, getting in from the UK on essentially the last flight there outta Scotland in early November. I mean, in such an alien climate, thats what a 21st century neoromantic poet should do, right? Since then I have been indulging both my passion for sonnetering & also the composition of a classical conchordia, that is to say a piece of theatre that combines folk songs & dances with short Shakesperean dramatic speeches condensed into a variant Chaunt Royale form of the 12th century Provencal troubadours. Enjoy…

SONNETS

ENTERING VALETTA

This was no sombre coast of Morocco,
No ! bastion stone erupting steeply,
Ereside – still lakes of tongues & capes & sails
Could settle all of England’s navies safe,
‘Tis like Carthargo seen by Aeneas’
Thought Coleridge ‘neath bulky battlements
Where pricklepears, piercing interstices,
Pepper’d Valetta’s palacey enchaunt –
All height & depth, whispers of suicide
Like laudanum dripp’d ; ashore now safely
Sudden violence of crying vendors
Assail’d his senses, as pretty lasses,
Heads tilted under heavy faldettoes,
Vanquish his soul’s languishing on lashes.

OLD MAN RUMINATES ON A STOOL

Where fresh fish rafflers shouted once “see the prize its still alive!”
Old Man ruminates, sat on a stool in the Strada San Guzeppe,
“Before technology picking tomatoes was damn’d hard work,
& still is for the immigrants, while the young bucks of Malta
Go strutting round in well-cut suits chasing senorinas dripping gold
Carrying no longer the only pair of shoes they’ll ever own
To & from Valletta, only worn where walk the Princes…
So many changes have amass’d in time’s short span of passage –
Buildomania, flyovers – ah! the pensions have increas’d somewhat
But what to spend it on?” he remembers saving threppence
& lending it to mother so she could grumble thro’ tombola
“FATTA!” under the statue by Karena’s white hair blowing,
Checking thro’ the winning numbers, mixing whiskey with ruġġata.

THE WHITE LADY

Wanting a sacred chapel of their own
A square of prickly pears the locals clear’d
Each Day they piled up blocks of coastal stone
Each Dawn they found those blocks had disseapear’d

Waiting, one night, to witness this strange crime,
They saw a lady clad in holy white
Into the air behind her robes did climb
The blocks who follow’d on in flight all featherlite,

To join the others where the village ends
“We’ll build our Chapel her as God intends!”

QUARANTINE

Byron, visiting Valletta today,
Would have stay’d at the starr’d Excelsior
Not in the Lanzarotto’s humid spore,
Quarantining quotidian malay,
The smok’d sheets of Childe Harolde on display
Like kippers hung a few foot from teh floor
Four tortoises escap’d his portmanteaux
To gallavant in inches tray to tray
Of barely edible vegetables
While chattering teeth, linen soak’d in sweat,
Vesuvian fevers screeching, “YOU LIVE YET!”
Pulp the blood of malarial nobles
Whose viper bite the very veinflow burns
That even the starving mosquito spurns!

WHY WOULD ANYBODY WANT TO LEAVE GOZO

I guess I’ve always gravitated north,
The Thames is fine but man I love the Forth
& yet again the theory holds true
For Gozo seems a Scotland through & through.

If Sliema’s Leeds, Gozo’s like a Shimla
Or other stations – far-flung, similar –
Sporting the trappings of a ruling race
With neolitics rooted to the space.

While ferries to & fro by Comino
Unalter’d view since quite some time ago,
Across the straits, beyond the speckl’d sun,
Commands my rapture with a captur’d gun

Firm pointed at my head, “We told you so
Why would anybody want to leave Gozo!?”


THE SIEGE OF GOZO (so far)

The main event of this composition period is a piece of theatre called THE SIEGE OF GOZO – the 1551 version. It is a mixture of short Shakespearean scenes, Maltese dances & Ghana. The latter are a mixture of traditional Maltese lyrics & my own compositions – in English I’m afraid, but in 8-7-8-7 metre so easily adaptable to Maltese melodies. As for the dramatic sections, poetry is a universal language so I don’t foresee any problem changing translating the dialogue into Maltese, while the rest of the world will enjoy Maltese culture & traditions through the other universal language, English.


GHANA 1: Under the Bridal Balcony

The Streets of Qala
Fredericus approaches the window of his betrothed

Fredericus:
Darling, my darling, step outside
Your husband to be is there
To sing of your youthful beauty
Your qualities good & fair

I’d be a bird, fly to your bed
Watching curls & tresses comb
& with my wings would snuff the light
Give you kisses then fly home

Ioanna steps onto the balcony

Ioanna:
Fredericus Mongebino!
Why come to my door tonight?

Fredericus:
When moon is at its fullest beam
Beauty brightest in its light

Your face is like the fairest rose
Your fragrancies compel me
Were you stood in a flowerpot
Each morning I would smell thee

Ioanna:
Tell me am I the only one
Or do you have maidens more
For I saw, passing through the street,
A woman stood at your door.

Fredericus:
Be easy, my love, be easy,
People’s eyes see things untrue;
For noble Fredericus swears
She was selling rabbit stew

Tis you who fix an anchor fast
Inside my heart’s quick beating
Go get a knife, open it up
& see my love repeating

You are the only one for me
To fondle with embraces
Turn kisses into passageways
Plant flowers in love’s places

Ioanna:
You are so lovely my true love
How I long to marry so
But you must take me to the feasts
Across the isle of Gozo

& we shall fill the carnivals
With dances, songs & laughter
When love shall bless our union
For now & everafter

Fredericus & Ioanna:
For now & everafter, love,
Daily let our vows renew
Made sacred with our wedded kiss
I shall end my days with you

SCENE 1: Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, 1551
Sultan Suleimein is holding court

Grand Vizier
Welcome, Pasha, to the sacred court
Of our majestic ruler, Suleiman
Whom loyal made Belgrade to the Sultan
Whom over Safavid successful fought
Who broke the Muhac hordes of Hungary
Who over swathes of Africa now reigns
Being our noblest lawgiver, ingrains
Our lives with perfect judgement, he shall see
Whatever you shall show him, & shall hear
Whate’er you wish to say, please speak it clear.

Sinan Pasha
Your majesty ! the Ottoman astounds
The world, as is the blessing of Allah,
But sire, why are our European bounds
Stagnating in the swamps of Vienna
We must ascend a secondary front
Against the Holy League of Christendom
The Hospitalers pull a putrid stunt
Poisoning lips as we were kissing them
With spake words faking peace on leaving Rhodes
So much for Christus worship & its codes

Suleiman
Well spoken, Pasha, thy counsel’s reason
Enough to tilt the balance of my thoughts
Woe to the infernal Knights of Saint John
Who Malta turn’d a perfidious hive
Of galley hornets sallying with stings
Against the ships of golden Africa
Yes, it is settl’d, they must feel the force
Of Sultan Suleiman – Sinan Pasha
An expedition take in thy command
Drive vermin, drowning, from those lonely rocks

Sinan Pasha
You honour me, your majesty, & I
Accept with all the veins which flood my heart
With blood I hold for Allah, & for thee,
But Sultan, grant me one small wish, I plead,
Two men of yours there are I think I’ll need
Give me Dragut, the Drawn Sword of Islam,
An admiral at sea, a prince on land,
Give me Salah who fought Formentera
Whom all the ships of Spain could not withstand
Give me those men & triumph, sire, we must

Suleiman
Yes, very well, I’ll summon both of them
For, Pasha, to puff up your war party
Remembering to please me when you weigh
Eventualities to decisions
When battle’s won I do not wish to hear
The names of those Grandmasters anymore
Nor bloody reports of losses at sea
Let palmleaf spikes from bare feet be removed
Let foolish flies be wash’d from blinking eyes –
To Arms ! To War! To Sea! To Victory !

GHANA 2: At The Feast of Evermore

The Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception, Qala
After the wedding of Fredericus & Ioanna, the wedding party emerge from the Chapel under a Baldakkin, preceeded by an Id-Dudi band. Their singer is a Daqqaq call’d Franciscus Frantino.

Franciscus
The bride & groom are married now
Wide opens the chapel door
Fine food & wine awaits us all
At the Feast of Evermore

He loves her because she loves him
& she his love returneth
All Gozo gossips of their love
Eternally that burneth

Her mother made her marry young
& is weeping over there
Since she was born she’d always known
She would spend her life elsewhere

But what a man she’s marrying
As clear as I play guitar
The young girls of this neighbourhood
Sing of how lucky you are

As the wedding party carry on to the square – Franciscus breaks ranks to court Angela Salibe

Angela
My beloved has a guitar
It bears his name & surname
They told me that he was a rake
But behaves he without blame

Franciscus
Your lovely tresses, Angela,
Toss’d streaming over shoulders
Wheree’er you travel in this world
I’ll follow them like soldiers

Angela
My beloved is a bandsman
What a fine figure has he
Whene’er he plays he smiles my way
He’s a bad habit, simply

Franciscus
My heart has entered in your heart
Like a bean into its shell
No new or old sweethearts I’ll seek
For you, darling, I’ll foretell

Angela
My sweetheart sings & plays guitar
How I love to watch his hands
& kiss those lips that ghana sing
When the look of love commands

Franciscus
You beauty travel’d far & wide
I could not believe it true
Then I came to Qala & saw
Now I’m mad in love with you

Angela
And I would fall into your arms
But you hold your instrument
Pray put it down & use those lips
Like a lover’s mouth is meant

Franciscus & Angela embrace

DANCE 1: Il-Kumitiva

Qala
The wedding party arrive in the main square – a pole has been erected about which the Kumitiva is danced

SCENE 2 : Fort Saint Angelo, Birgu

Grandmaster D’Homedes, Jean Parisot de Valette & other Knights

Francesco Lanfreducci
Let us praise the Lord for this salvation
Grave dangers pass, Grandmaster D’Homedes
At least for us in bastion Birgu
Tho Turks ten thousand mass’d under bulwarks
Not a singular infidel dared test
The defences of Fort Saint Angelo
But now it seems they march on Mdina
Leaving a guarded fleet at Marsamxett
Such evil time has drawn an ugly veil
Of fear & dark aboding, devil-forged.

Grandmaster D’Homedes
More anguish must ensue, I sense, & soon
The dreadful happenstances of these days
Have always blown a promise to endure
Hindsight is only useful to the seers
We holy Knights were vastly unprepared
To blunt the Crescent scimitar fierce drawn
Against the Holy League of Christendom
With Salan Pasha, Salah & Dragut
Flung like a Cerebus from Inferno
De Valette, you have met the latter, yes?

Grandmaster De Valette
Dragut is the spawn of Barbarosa
In temprament, tenacity & guile
Who deady vendetta has sworn on us
For slaying his brother upon Gozo
Some sev’ral years ago, he never shirks
From promises like these, full well I know
For I was kept a slave on his galley
When Rahman Kust Aly defeated me
In battle on the seas, a peaceless year
Until the Order barter’d my release

Enter Claude de la Sengle

Claude de la Sengle
Grandmaster, there is word from Mdina
Commander Villeganion muster’d
All able-bodied peasants from the farms
& in their souls assembl’d Christ invoked
To stage a stout defence of rampart walls
Meanwhile the heathen pillage villages
Burning & raping, devouring all
Which enters orbit of their grubby claws
The shadow of the Crescent falls on Malta
& Gozo too, their galleys scout its shores.

Grandmaster De Valette
We can give to Gozo nothing, alas,
But they possess a fine citadella
That well-equipp’d a long siege should defy
Until the hours help comes from Sicily
But we shold not stand idle, as befits
The warriors of Christ, let us sally
Against their galleys in a night attack
Come brothers all, come & ardently pray
For heavenly success in endeavors
& for Mdina – ‘Ave Marias.’

The Knights pray in Latin

DANCE 2 – THE BATTLE ON THE GALLEYS

Marsamxett
A Parata is performed. The two sides are comprised of Turkish sailors & the Knights of St John
. At the end of the battle several galley slaves escape including Andreotto Brancato.

SCENE 3 – The Citadello, Gozo

The island leaders are in cousel.

Father Nicolli Casteletti
Being aware of the news from Malta
The sensation of our security
Replaced has been by one of urgent fear
But as Arch-Priest thy calmness I beseech
For as the hungry wolves seize straggle-lambs
A flock is always stronger together
In times of thorns & danger strength is all
When fortified by Jesus in Heaven
Better, too, stand firm, one corporeal
Member, bonded by singular spirit.

Don Lorenzo Apap
That is true, & tho’ Galiziano
Is here at the Hospitaler’s behest
Still he represents foreign opressors
Who say they are honour’d to protect us
But, Governor, what has your Order done?
I remember when L’Isle Adam first came
With cannons & provisions & strong men
Where are they now? Why have they been withdrawn?
Gozo, it seems, no partner in their plans.

Enter Barnardo with Andreotto Brancato

Barnardo
This is no Janissary cur, this is
Andreotto Brancato of Nadur,
He’d rowed a stolen boat into Mgarr
& told a story fir for fireside tales
Of how he been captur’d by the Turks
On Gozo, & was made a shaven slave
Kept in his galley manacles for months
Until strange fate return’d him to these isles
It is better he tells you the details
Indented with grave warnings as they are

Andreotto Brancato
Remember me, Don Lorenzo Apap,
& you too Friar Bartolomeo,
Who was the soft baptiser of my birth
Escaped I have from Dragut’s very decks
Disguis’d myself a Janissary sword
& sped across all Malta, where I saw
The people of Mdina hold aloft,
A statue of Saint Agatha, in fear
The Corsairs broke their camp & now have turn’d
For Gozo, you must fortify at once!

Galaziano de Sasse
It is I who makes the decisions here,
Young man, Galaziano de Sesse
My name, a Knight of the Hospitalers
& being thus they must repsect my plan
That is to send Gozo’s youngest children
With mothers & grandmothers, to Birgu
By every little boat that we might find
Don Lorenzo shall lead the armarda
Prepare the deed at once, you are dismiss’d
& so, Andreotto, yes? please tell us
More about your struggle in the galleys.

Ghana 3: The Scourge of the Waves

The Citadella

Andreotto Brancato
Galleons & galleasees
A life upon the waves
Was more a mound of miseries
For the whip-well galley slaves.

After a day of picking fruit
In the fields of Marsalforn
I went to sleep under a tree
& I dreamt right thro’ til dawn

I was awoken by three Turks
With sabres, beards & bad breath
Who dragg’d me from this blessed isle
For a life far worse than death

We row’d to Italy & Spain
Sardinia & Djerba,
Shackl’d with a Venetian man
A Swedish & a Berber

Our tongues salt-rough with utter drought,
Were withering at the roots;
We could not speak, just row’d in rows
Of we brutish muscl’d mutes

We slept in our own excrement
& gnaw’d on stale bizcocho
The only thing of slender hope
Was dreaming of dear Gozo

Her fertile fields, her hills, her cliffs
Her villages & her bays
Tis there, on the bottomsea
I would wait to end my days

& glory be to God, I’m home
Those dreams are manifested
& I will pluck my fruits once more
When I am fully rested

Yes glory be to God, I’m back,
My dreams are all-fulfilling
Returning to my farm of weeds
To tend with tender tilling!

An Interview with Danny Dorling

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Danny Dorling is coming to Brighton to explain just what the hell is going on in mid-Brexit Britain…


Hello Danny, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m from Oxford, born and bred. Left the city at 18 and went to live in Newcastle upon Tyne for ten years. I think it was Ian Brown who said “Its not where you’re from – it’s where you’re at” – or some such. I’m 51, i have lived in the North for 23 years, roughly half of the years I can remember and most of my adult life. I lived in Bristol for three years and New Zealand for five months.

When did you first realise you had a gift for writing?
About a year ago. Honestly. I find writing hard. I did not learn to read until I was eight years old. But I have things I want to say. In books you can say what you want to say in a way you can’t do when writing academic papers (I used to do a lot of those).

Are there any particular catalysts which set you off on a writing binge?
Working with a lovely group of people in Bristol, 1996-1999 where we met in pubs and wrote books together. We ignored what the university wanted us to do and just did what we thought we should do – but in our spare time.Two of the three (Dave Gordon and George Davey Smith) were older than me and had an idea of what they were doing! The younger one, Mary Shaw, could actually write properly, which did help – and she was enthusiastic and very thoughtful. I say younger as she was about six weeks younger than me I think! She now teaches.

When you are authoring a book, how meticulous is your research?
Meticulous with the data, but not with the reading. I do read a lot. I skim read a book a day (on average) and I seriously read a book every two weeks. My room at work is full of books, thousands. I get sent a lot for free and it feels like a crime not to read them. But there is so much you could read that I always feel inadequate over having not read enough. Usually my co-authors are better read than me. With the data – there basically is no excuse for making a mistake as often what I do with data is quite easy. And I am a bit obsessive about not making a mistake. Most of my books are full of diagrams which I usually put up for free on the web, for example these are the ones in Rule Britannia.

You’re stranded on a desert island for an indeterminate amount of time with only three books – what would they be?
Definitely not the bible. I was made to read that in Sunday school (which I hated as a result as I had only just learnt to read). And no Shakespeare. I was made to read (some of) that later at secondary school. Having to read Shakespeare at school made me appreciate maths, not English. As I would have a lot of time I’d choose some books I would never otherwise read – a translation of the Buddhist Diamonds Sutra or some book like that, although I would probably regret that pompous cerebral choice as I would already be bored; then possibly something I really should have read and never have – anything by Jane Austin ( a collected works?); and then a book on how to make the perfect sandcastle on the island’s beach (which would, of course, be washed away with each tide each evening).

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Buy Rule Britannia

You have recently releas’d ‘Rule Britannia’ – can you tell us about the book?
I have just emailed you a PDF – have a look. It’s an attempt to try to work out why the UK is now very odd. The first EU country to try to leave the EU is the UK; possibly the last to try to leave for some time. Sally and I try to work out – why us? Why are we strange? Why don’t we know we are strange? Just how strange are we? And so on and on.

What is the state of social inequality in Britain in 2019, & how has it changed since the occasion you first became concern’d?
I was probably first concerned when at school; but more so since. It has got worse. 2018 may have been the year of “Peak Inequality” in the UK (but then I would say that as I published a book with that title. As house prices fall in much of the south of England in 2019 wealth inequality falls slightly. People hardly notice. It is a little like how 1920 was a little more equitable than 1919. Few people noticed then that we were just beginning to become more equal. But, of course things are also getting worse. Two people who went to my school died when homeless in Oxford at the start of this year (2019). They were both younger than me. You don’t expect children in your school to later die in the city they grew up in for want of a home.

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How did you find working with Sally Tomlinson?
Lovely. She doesn’t worry. I have not met anyone who worries less than Sally.

The book has a message of hope – can you condense that message into a single paragraph?
A single sentence: When the old and those in charge make a big mistake, as they did in the UK by taking the country to war in 1914, and as they did with the Suez crisis, and as they will again some day, the young see that the old and those in charge are fallible – and start to both demand and secure a better future.

You will be giving a talk on the book at the Brighton Fringe, how did you get the gig?
I didn’t know it was the Fringe. I just knew it was in Brighton. A friend, Mike McCarthy, got it me.

What are your own thoughts on that romantic, seagirt city?
It’s where a Prince of Wales had to go to get his leg over and get inebriated in peace – I think that is the first thing that comes to mind.

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What does the rest of 2019 hold in store for Danny Dorling?
A lot more talk to people about Brexit; and listening. I’m sick of the sound of my own voice – but I think Brexit is really interesting – so I ask people what they think again and again over time – and I listen to the answers changing over time and – I think – a country, this country (England), is slowly coming to see itself differently. Brexit is knocking the brass off and exposing the bigotry fr what it is. Later, in 2019, at some point I get to make some sandcastles on a beach somewhere (Brighton beach is terrible for that – no sand). And I am working on a new book called ’slowdown’ – slowly.


DANNY DORLING: RULE BRITANNIA,

BREXIT AND THE END OF EMPIRE

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Sunday 5th May, Komedia (18:00)

 www.dannydorling.org