The Books of My Numberless Dreams

BBC Radio 3 & Poetry Friday *achoo*

Posted on: March 23, 2007

(Edited for time change)

My mind is fuzzy, my nostril is blocked, my throat feels icky and the best video rental place in town does not have the version of Jane Eyre that I wanted.

But the owner, shocked and horrified that he did not have a copy ordered it–“Samantha Morton sells it, for me”– and BBC Radio 3 has loads of excellent programming during its Abolition Season, starting Sunday, March 25th. I only mention the items that immediately grabbed my attention; you should go to the website for full listings.

There will be an abolitionist theme to the Choral Evensong for all you Anglicans out there at 11:00 am EDT. This Sunday the service will be aired from Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral. This appears to be something that has been going on for a bit as I happened to catch the one on March 11th and the Reverend’s homily, given at Bristol Cathedral, shared the same theme. His touched on Bristol’s part in the slave trade, being a common port for slave-trade ships. The one at Portsmouth will have a more positive note as the Royal Navy in Portsmouth played a part in suppressing the transatlantic slave trade.

The Lamplighters by Jackie Kay will be on Drama on 3 at 4:00 pm EDT. It’s described as “the lyrical drama [that] explores the heart of enslavement through the experiences of four women, Constance, Mary, Black Harriot and The Lamplighter”. She will also be presenting Words & Music, which follows right after at 5:30 pm, with the usual round of poetry, prose and music, this time chosen for their themes of “slavery and freedom”. Among the artists chosen you’ll be hearing the poetry of Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson and James Weldon Johnson and the music of Bessie Smith (!!), Beethoven and the Blind Boys of Alabama (who I’ve never heard of so this is bound to be interesting).

For more information on Jackie Kay herself there’s an intriguing introduction to her life and works at Literary Encylopedia which asserts that “The story of Jackie Kay’s life is as fascinating and complex as her literary works. The comparison is significant because several of Kay’s pieces spring from her biography and they are all concerned with the intricate nature of identity.”

Odd note: I got all excited when I spied details of a Sunday feature involving Kwame Dawes where he “evokes the legacy of slavery today in a small town in the American South, incorporating the performance of poetry and music, and interviews with an older generation of black men and women.” But it isn’t until October. What’s the point of mentioning it now? Phooey.

On to the poem. As usual it will have nothing to do with what I’ve typed before. I was in the mood for comfort poetry, what with my nose leaking, so I grabbed Atlas by Jorge Luis Borges, a very hypnotic travelogue that beckons the reader, through prose, poetry and photographs, to travel through countries, histories of philosophy and literature, even the cosmos. I zone out when I read this book. Borges takes you to other dimensions. In one you may come upon Socrates and Parmenides in dialogue and in another you stare at strange creatures…


Sea without end. Fish without
end. Green enclosing cosmogonic serpent–
green serpent and green sea–
the earth encircled. The serpent’s mouth
bites its tail, though it comes from afar,
from the nether confine. The stern
ring pressing us is a tempest’s splendour,
reflections of reflections, shadow and murmur.
It is also the amphisbaena. Its many eyes gaze
eternally one upon another, in an absence
of horror. Each head grossly scents
the irons of war and its spoils.
It was dreamed in Iceland. The gaping seas
have witness it and trembled.
It will return with the cursed
ship armed with dead men’s nails.
Its inconceivable shadow will loom
high above the pale world on the day
of high wolves and splendid agony
of a twilight without name.
Its imaginary image darkens the air.
Toward dawn I saw it all in nightmare.

Jorge Luis Borges translated by Anthony Kerrigan


3 Responses to "BBC Radio 3 & Poetry Friday *achoo*"

I had never heard of Jackie Kay before until I bought one of my daughters a book of hers called “Straw Girl”. She (my daughter) was riveted. She adored the book. I don’t think Jackie Kay has written any other children’s novels, but this one was obviously a bit special (Age range about 10.)

Thanks for commenting, maxine. I intend to look up some of her stuff for myself, to try out a few pages to see if I too will be riveted.

I hope you feel better. I just got over being sick myself.

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