Letters From Quotidia the footnotes Episode 2

Quentin Bega
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Letters From Quotidia the footnotes Episode 2

Welcome to Letters from Quotidia, the footnotes! Regular listeners to the posts know that the letters just refuse to lie down and die but rather, taking their cue from the coronavirus, continue to mutate: first they were plain old letters, then postcards, then postscripts, now they have become footnotes! The first four footnotes have the common title of Demos for Damocles. This is the second footnote, and it is heavily weighted towards one country: Ukraine, which continues its David and Goliath battle against Russia. Damocles, as we know, was a toady and not overly imbued with courage. The opposite, really, of those brave men and women whose poetry I have championed in the past nine months. In letter 197 I wrote:

I do not think I am alone in thinking the present crisis in Ukraine truly existential. It reminds me of the climactic scenes in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, where Frodo looks as though he will fail in his quest to save Middle Earth from an apocalyptic future. I note that the Russian side have also visited the Tolkien masterpiece. Having been widely lambasted for trying, unsuccessfully, to stick the label of Nazi on the Jewish President Zelensky, whose grandfather fought the Nazis in World War II, they are now trying to de-humanise a whole country by drawing a parallel between the creature Gollum and Ukrainians- and to capture the attention of the pious, they label as satanic the regime that has so successfully resisted their brutal invasion. And cheering this unholy alliance of trolls, propagandists and sycophantic self-servers who seek to demonise Ukraine and its people is the Russian Orthodox leader, Patriarch Kirill- shame on him!

That was on 20th April earlier this year and nothing in the months since has altered my opinion. The reports of atrocities committed by Russian forces had already percolated out and they continue to this day. Will there be a reckoning? I hope so, at some time, one day. I wrote a song about this. Here are the opening verses: Woke up this morning, what did I see-/ a man with a rifle looking down at me/I went to get up from my bed and he said, /we ain’t finished with it yet/So I lay and looked up at the ceiling,/ emptied my mind of any feeling/Meanwhile out the window I saw feeding,/ a raven on a corpse a-bleeding//Woke up this morning, walked out my door for work,/saw a soldier beckoning to me/He tied my hands behind my back and led me to a pit,/said to me get into it/He raised his gun and motioned me to turn round-/ you don’t want to see what’s coming next. And here now is that song, Meanwhile. [insert song].

I spoke previously of the courage of the Dominicans of the Kyiv Institute as revealed in the letters from Ukraine written by Jaroslav Kraviec, OP, the provincial vicar. In his latest letter, which our parish of St Joseph’s receives as part of the Dominican family, he writes, what will happen when the winter frost comes… will the Russians…continue the destruction of power plants. I remember wondering whether any new students enrol this year. We are at war after all. Ultimately, many more candidates applied than in previous years. Among them are both Catholic and Orthodox, and even others simply looking for truth…most of them want to study because they want to find the key to explain what is happening around them. On Friday, when I saw our lecture hall filled with students, I remember words from the letter of Father Timothy Radcliffe: The violence which is being wrought against your beautiful country is the poisoned fruit of lies. We Dominicans, with our motto Veritas, and our love of truth, have a special witness to give today in a world which often does not care for truth.

But poets care for truth: one is Serhiy Zadan who lives in Kharkiv. Born in Luhansk oblast in 1974, he, like most of the poets I have featured, is multi-talented and has amassed heaps of national and international awards. In one of his poems, he writes about someone returned from a war front: Now he spends all day in bed/listening to demons in his head//The first demon is fierce/a fire-spitter demanding/punishment for all living beings//The second demon is mild,/talks of forgiveness,/speaks softly,/puts his hands, smeared with black earth, right on your heart//The third demon’s the worst,/He gets along with both./Agrees with both, won’t contradict./Just his voice alone/gives you a migraine.//  

A standout for me is Maryana Savka who was born on February 21, 1973.  She is a poet, children’s writer, translator, and publisher and has won a slew of awards. Her works have been translated into seven languages including English, Russian and Polish. Apart from writing, Maryana is also a composer and a singer in the Maryanychi Trio, for which she has written over 30 songs. I hope if she in the remotest of remote chances, happens to hear my treatment her poem, that she isn’t too disappointed in it. Maryana Savka is a member of PEN Ukraine and serves as the United Nations Development Program Tolerance Ambassador in Ukraine. I use one of her short poems for lyrics of the short song which follows. As a title I use one of the lines of her poem, What Changed, My Sister?Apart from that, the only change I have made is to repeat the last line twice to complete the song musically- The metaphor-died. [insert song]

In Letters From Quotidia Episode 128 I wrote, “T S Eliot hove into my mental view like an ocean liner bearing down upon a sailing dinghy. Typical school poetry anthologies of the 1960s were no preparation for the impact The Waste Land made on me as I slumped at the back of the room of the Eng-Lit lecture where I first encountered the work of  the magisterial American titan in 1969: April is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain./ And recently, knowing I would be returning to Eliot’s masterpiece of 1922, and having reviewed some of the critical work of a century later, I roared with laughter to discover that the poet dissed his own achievement by commenting in a lecture at Harvard, “To me it was only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life; it is just a piece of rhythmical grumbling” Winston Churchill,  whose 1941 riposte to the French collaborator Marshal Petain’s claim that Hitler would overrun England in three weeks and wring its neck like a chicken, still makes me chuckle- Some chicken, some neck!” How many in the commentariats of both East and West claimed authoritatively that Ukraine would be overrun in three days! Churchill’s riposte rings out again!

The title of the song at the end of this post, Fragments Piled Against My Ruin, borrows from line 430 of The Waste Land, these fragments I have shored against my ruins.  The splintered milieu of post-World War One Europe which saw the collapse of several Empires and the ravages of a pandemic that claimed up to 50 million lives back then, finds an echo today in the aftermath of 9/11, the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, most recently, the escalating war in Ukraine and our ongoing struggles with the latest pandemic. Of course, our lives count for very little against the backdrop of huge events such as those referenced in the poem and are immeasurably less important in the ledgers of history- but they are all that we possess and, therefore, if we choose to shore up our ruins by gathering around us the fragments of our own creations, whatever they may be, then that is justification enough in my humble opinion. [insert song]

That ends the second Demos for Damocles footnote. But if you are taking to heart the proverb that a cat may look at the king- remember the aftermath suggested by Jan Struther,“His daydream was suddenly shattered into a thousand fragments like a lance against plate-armour. He saw the flash of a jewelled shoe-buckle as the toe of the royal shoe caught him in the ribs. He heard the royal voice raised in petulant indignation. He felt himself flying through the air and landing on the hard paving-stones a little way off. And then it penetrated to his chaos-stricken brain that the King had kicked him.” CUL8R.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2022

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