April 1


From the bus today I saw two men shepherding about twenty pigs up a flight of concrete steps to the top of a very steep hill. The pigs seemed reluctant; some of them were facing the wrong way. They were near the bottom of the steps and they had a long way to go.

Some people would put this kind of thing in a poem.

Some people would have had their camera with them.



April 7


As far as I know, this text is out of copyright and available all over the infoweb, so I don't think there's any problem putting it here. Why am I putting it here? Because I like it, mainly. But also because this week I've been reading a few of these tales and been knocked out by them. Where have I been all my life?

How Six Men Got On In The World

There was once a man who understood all kinds of arts; he served in war, and behaved well and bravely, but when the war was over he received his dismissal, and three farthings for his expenses on the way. "Stop," said he, "I shall not be content with this. If I can only meet with the right people, the King will yet have to give me all the treasure of the country." Then full of anger he went into the forest, and saw a man standing therein who had plucked up six trees as if they were blades of corn. He said to him, "Wilt thou be my servant and go with me?" "Yes," he answered, "but, first, I will take this little bundle of sticks home to my mother," and he took one of the trees, and wrapped it round the five others, lifted the bundle on his back, and carried it away. Then he returned and went with his master, who said, "We two ought to be able to get through the world very well," and when they had walked on for a short while they found a huntsman who was kneeling, had shouldered his gun, and was about to fire. The master said to him, "Huntsman, what art thou going to shoot?" He answered, "Two miles from here a fly is sitting on the branch of an oak-tree, and I want to shoot its left eye out." "Oh, come with me," said the man, "if we three are together, we certainly ought to be able to get on in the world!" The huntsman was ready, and went with him, and they came to seven windmills whose sails were turning round with great speed, and yet no wind was blowing either on the right or the left, and no leaf was stirring. Then said the man, "I know not what is driving the windmills, not a breath of air is stirring," and he went onwards with his servants, and when they had walked two miles they saw a man sitting on a tree who was shutting one nostril, and blowing out of the other. "Good gracious! what are you doing up there?" He answered, "Two miles from here are seven windmills; look, I am blowing them till they turn round." "Oh, come with me," said the man. "If we four are together, we shall carry the whole world before us!" Then the blower came down and went with him, and after a while they saw a man who was standing on one leg and had taken off the other, and laid it beside him. Then the master said, "You have arranged things very comfortably to have a rest." "I am a runner," he replied, "and to stop myself running far too fast, I have taken off one of my legs, for if I run with both, I go quicker than any bird can fly." "Oh, go with me. If we five are together, we shall carry the whole world before us." So he went with them, and it was not long before they met a man who wore a cap, but had put it quite on one ear. Then the master said to him, "Gracefully, gracefully, don't stick your cap on one ear, you look just like a tom-fool!" "I must not wear it otherwise," said he, "for if I set my hat straight, a terrible frost comes on, and all the birds in the air are frozen, and drop dead on the ground." "Oh, come with me," said the master. "If we six are together, we can carry the whole world before us."

Now the six came to a town where the King had proclaimed that whosoever ran a race with his daughter and won the victory, should be her husband, but whosoever lost it, must lose his head. Then the man presented himself and said, "I will, however, let my servant run for me." The King replied, "Then his life also must be staked, so that his head and thine are both set on the victory." When that was settled and made secure, the man buckled the other leg on the runner, and said to him, "Now be nimble, and help us to win." It was fixed that the one who was first to bring some water from a far distant well was to be the victor. The runner received a pitcher, and the King's daughter one too, and they began to run at the same time, but in an instant, when the King's daughter had got a very little way, the people who were looking on could see no more of the runner, and it was just as if the wind had whistled by. In a short time he reached the well, filled his pitcher with water, and turned back. Half-way home, however, he was overcome with fatigue, and set his pitcher down, lay down himself, and fell asleep. He had, however, made a pillow of a horse's skull which was lying on the ground, in order that he might lie uncomfortably, and soon wake up again. In the meantime the King's daughter, who could also run very well quite as well as any ordinary mortal can had reached the well, and was hurrying back with her pitcher full of water, and when she saw the runner lying there asleep, she was glad and said, "My enemy is delivered over into my hands," emptied his pitcher, and ran on. And now all would have been lost if by good luck the huntsman had not been standing at the top of the castle, and had not seen everything with his sharp eyes. Then said he, "The King's daughter shall still not prevail against us;" and he loaded his gun, and shot so cleverly, that he shot the horse's skull away from under the runner's head without hurting him. Then the runner awoke, leapt up, and saw that his pitcher was empty, and that the King's daughter was already far in advance. He did not lose heart, however, but ran back to the well with his pitcher, again drew some water, and was at home again, ten minutes before the King's daughter. "Behold!" said he, "I have not bestirred myself till now, it did not deserve to be called running before."

But it pained the King, and still more his daughter, that she should be carried off by a common disbanded soldier like that; so they took counsel with each other how to get rid of him and his companions. Then said the King to her, "I have thought of a way; don't be afraid, they shall not come back again." And he said to them, "You shall now make merry together, and eat and drink," and he conducted them to a room which had a floor of iron, and the doors also were of iron, and the windows were guarded with iron bars. There was a table in the room covered with delicious food, and the King said to them, "Go in, and enjoy yourselves." And when they were inside, he ordered the doors to be shut and bolted. Then he sent for the cook, and commanded him to make a fire under the room until the iron became red-hot. This the cook did, and the six who were sitting at table began to feel quite warm, and they thought the heat was caused by the food; but as it became still greater, and they wanted to get out, and found that the doors and windows were bolted, they became aware that the King must have an evil intention, and wanted to suffocate them. "He shall not succeed, however," said the one with the cap. "I will cause a frost to come, before which the fire shall be ashamed, and creep away." Then he put his cap on straight, and immediately there came such a frost that all heat disappeared, and the food on the dishes began to freeze. When an hour or two had passed by, and the King believed that they had perished in the heat, he had the doors opened to behold them himself. But when the doors were opened, all six were standing there, alive and well, and said that they should very much like to get out to warm themselves, for the very food was fast frozen to the dishes with the cold. Then, full of anger, the King went down to the cook, scolded him, and asked why he had not done what he had been ordered to do. But the cook replied, "There is heat enough there, just look yourself." Then the King saw that a fierce fire was burning under the iron room, and perceived that there was no getting the better of the six in this way.

Again the King considered how to get rid of his unpleasant guests, and caused their chief to be brought and said, "If thou wilt take gold and renounce my daughter, thou shalt have as much as thou wilt."

"Oh, yes, Lord King," he answered, "give me as much as my servant can carry, and I will not ask for your daughter."

On this the King was satisfied, and the other continued, "In fourteen days, I will come and fetch it." Thereupon he summoned together all the tailors in the whole kingdom, and they were to sit for fourteen days and sew a sack. And when it was ready, the strong one who could tear up trees had to take it on his back, and go with it to the King. Then said the King, "Who can that strong fellow be who is carrying a bundle of linen on his back that is as big as a house?" and he was alarmed and said, "What a lot of gold he can carry away!" Then he commanded a ton of gold to be brought; it took sixteen of his strongest men to carry it, but the strong one snatched it up in one hand, put it in his sack, and said, "Why don't you bring more at the same time? that hardly covers the bottom!" Then, little by little, the King caused all his treasure to be brought thither, and the strong one pushed it into the sack, and still the sack was not half full with it." "Bring more," cried he, "these few crumbs don't fill it." Then seven thousand carts with gold had to be gathered together in the whole kingdom, and the strong one thrust them and the oxen harnessed to them into his sack. "I will examine it no longer," said he, "but will just take what comes, so long as the sack is but full." When all that was inside, there was still room for a great deal more; Then he said, "I will just make an end of the thing; people do sometimes tie up a sack even when it is not full." So he took it on his back, and went away with his comrades. When the King now saw how one single man was carrying away the entire wealth of the country, he became enraged, and bade his horsemen mount and pursue the six, and ordered them to take the sack away from the strong one. Two regiments speedily overtook the six, and called out, "You are prisoners, put down the sack with the gold, or you will all be cut to pieces!" "What say you?" cried the blower, "that we are prisoners! Rather than that should happen, all of you shall dance about in the air." And he closed one nostril, and with the other blew on the two regiments. Then they were driven away from each other, and carried into the blue sky over all the mountains one here, the other there. One sergeant cried for mercy; he had nine wounds, and was a brave fellow who did not deserve ill treatment. The blower stopped a little so that he came down without injury, and then the blower said to him, "Now go home to thy King, and tell him he had better send some more horsemen, and I will blow them all into the air." When the King was informed of this he said, "Let the rascals go. They have the best of it." Then the six conveyed the riches home, divided it amongst them, and lived in content until their death.

From Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Household Tales, trans. Margaret Hunt (London: George Bell, 1884)



April 14


Shakespeare Three or four days ago a student came up to me at the end of what was a very long day and asked me if I could recommend a good English love poem she could read at the poetry reading competition later in the week. It was the end of a very long day and my brain had nothing much in it except the idea of a can of cold Tsingtao beer and not much talking to anyone for a little while. I told her to take a look at Shakespeare’s “Shall I Compare Thee……” because thinking of anything else was absolutely beyond me. She said she thought maybe Shakespeare would be difficult to understand. I told her to have a look anyway, she might be pleasantly surprised. I didn’t tell her I was too tired to think even of my own name, never mind love poems. Later that night she called me to say how wonderful the poem is, but she wasn’t too sure how to read it. The Chinese, she said, can sometimes be very dramatic and emotive when they read poems and she wasn’t sure if dramatic and emotive was right for this poem. I told her that maybe she could try reading it calmly and quietly. She said okay, she’d try. Last night she called to say she had won the poetry reading competition.



April 20



Today or perhaps yesterday
an old new
old perhaps even ageless
(but who knows?) poem
re-emerges at
ars poetica
and below that is other good stuff
including a particularly fascinating thing by
John Bloomberg Rissman



Photograph of library books by Dŏng Yíng
(“just took for inspiration”)


                         …… but
over striped bass he said he
had begun to see the unwisdom
of his ways and next week will
revert to the seven-hour day
for which he’s paid. Good. Time
and energy to write. Poetry
takes it out of you, or you
have to have a surge to bring
to it. Words.

(James Schuyler, from “Dining Out With Doug and Frank”)



Trees that I see
(from my balcony)


Sometimes when I look at one of my old poems
I wonder who the hell it was wrote it



April 27


A Story by David Belbin


Bravo Books: a brief publishing history

For Barry Cole

Bravo gave me my big break. For a year, I house sat for an ex-pat producer in LA, writing my masterpiece, eking out the small advance they had paid me. As soon as I got back to London, I rang my editor to arrange a meeting. The line was disconnected. I didn’t panic. Numbers change. I tried Directory Enquiries. They had no listing for Bravo Books. Then I started to worry.

Bravo Books was 150 years old, and some of its staff weren’t a lot younger. The firm’s literary reputation compensated for the paucity of their advances. I was thrilled to be with them, and certain that my sensitive novel about the north/south divide would find my true audience, unlike the unproduced screenplays I’d been so well paid for writing in the past.

I made a few phone calls. An agent’s assistant filled me in. Bravo’s parent company had been bought by Conglomerate A, who were chiefly known for selling cheap cutlery. They were bought out by conglomerate B, who were after the cutlery business. B sold off the books division to Publisher C, who wanted to add some credibility to its chick lit and soft porn list. At this point, all of Bravo’s key personnel took either a redundancy package or early retirement and he had lost track.

A web search told me that Publisher C was the subject of a hostile takeover. The book division ended up with Conglomerate D who wanted the profitable soft porn rights to make movies of the week for cable TV. Nobody noticed the demise of Bravo Books, a status symbol that had ceased to signify. Conglomerate D was  bought by multinational E, who had no idea that a historic literary publisher was concealed in the deal.

Where did that leave me? The assistant’s assistant rang round. Bravo’s other authors had found ways of getting out of their contracts. She suggested I tear mine up and look for a new publisher. My heart sank. It took five years to get Bravo to take me on. There were few publishers who’d look at a guy like me, who wouldn’t see forty again. I needed to hold Bravo to its contract.

‘You’re a writer?’ said the power dressed exec from multinational E, who I’d managed to meet through a friend of a friend. ‘Ever written a TV movie?’

‘Yes, but I’m trying to get out of that kind of thing,’ I told her.

‘The best ones always are. Look, somebody just dropped out. It’s easy. A missing child, mistaken identity thing. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’

Long story short. The exec liked my screenplay. Conglomerate E had no interest in Bravo Books, she said. They would sell me the name and the backlist with some working capital (most of it money owed by bookshops) in exchange for six screenplays over three years. Not only was my novel to be published, but I would be writing films that actually got made, albeit as low budget, cable TV fodder.

My old editor was persuaded to come out of retirement to edit my novel. Bravo’s Soho building had been sold off, but all of the company’s files were in storage and soon they had taken over all of the floor space in my London flat. The stock was in a warehouse. I never found out where, but it didn’t matter, because nobody ever ordered any of Bravo’s backlist.

Although Bravo Books had been closed down for eighteen months, few people had noticed. The post office began to redirect the company’s mail to me. Manuscripts flooded in. I read the ones from people I’d heard of. Many of their novels were better than mine. Each had already been rejected by big publishers. Writing is not a career, I realised. Writers can’t easily build on success. Many get dumped as soon as a book doesn’t sell. What was I getting myself into?

I wrote my screenplays, bought a couple of new novels, and polished my own. I kept my ownership of Bravo Books under wraps, so that my novel could not be perceived as a vanity project. I paid a publicist who pushed out proofs to influential people. Bravo Books is back! our publicity yelled to people who’d barely noticed that the firm had ever gone away.

My reviews were good, but the print run turned out to be ambitious. I was onto my fifth screenplay before I realised that most of my paper-back originals had been returned to the distributor. By then, only a movie deal would keep Bravo in the black. My pal at E said she didn’t see a movie in any of Bravo’s books.

‘The story of how I rescued one of the world’s oldest publishers might make an offbeat biopic.’

‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘All it needs is romance.’

‘It’s always amazed me that a beautiful, talented woman like you is still single,’ I said.

Reader, I married her.

© David Belbin, 2007