Competition: design a tomb

Here’s a challenge: designing a tomb.

The photographs on the site look rather traditional but you do wonder if the spirit of the times (renewal, recycling, sustainability) calls for something different, less concerned with resisting time and decay and more with letting go. An anti-tomb perhaps, dedicated to impermanence. I wish I was an architect.

Post Script
I posted the competition on Facebook and it led to this exchange:


Tombs express a world view. What sort of tomb fits today’s world?


Competition: design a tomb

Ursula Le Guin at the National Book Awards

Hari Kunzru wrote a lovely piece about Ursula Le Guin in the Guardian last week. It was in anticipation of the medal she was about to be presented with at the National Book Awards and he prefaced the interview with the comment that he had ‘rarely gone to visit a writer bearing so many messages of love and admiration. ‘

She’s in her eighties now, and has been writing since the 1960s – in this reader’s mind it’s seems that her voice and the worlds that she has inhabited have been around forever: wise and uncompromising; fantasy and imagination grounded in a truthfulness.

I went on to read the report of her speech at the ceremony. You can read her here. It’s wise, charming and fierce, full of things that need to be said and there were parts that had the weight of, well, if not prophecy, then hard, shrewd, advice that we’d do well to heed:

‘I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. … The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.’

The best thing about all this publicity, apart from being inspired and heartened? I found at least two books of hers that I’d missed somehow. Such treats.

Ursula Le Guin at the National Book Awards

Black Country songs

Dialect poems are difficult to bring off. Most of the time they read as entertainments or curiosities. When they work though, the language takes on a dynamism that springs from a joining of both place and voice.

You think of Kathleen Jamie’s Scots pieces, like this one:

Binna feart, hinny
yin day we’ll gang thegither
tae thae stourie
and loss wirsels-

see, I’d rather
whummel a single oor
intae the blae o thae wee flo’ers
than live fur a’ eternity
in some cauld hivvin.

Wheest, nou, till I spier o ye
will ye haud wi me?
From The Tree House (Picador, 2004)

Black Country dialect isn’t quite as separate – but it is still a rich and distinctive vernacular. My father, brought up in Blackheath, used to talk about the words he heard at home and then found in Chaucer. ‘Gleads’ – a cinder – was one.

His mother still maintained the distinction between you and thee. Dad described the time she asked him to go to the shop and he said ‘Thee goo thee’sen’, and Granny drew herself up and said ‘And oo bist thee a thee’in?’

Liz Berry, a young poet from the Black Country is working in the dialect in her first collection. It works for me. Here’s Birmingham Roller

“We spent our lives down in the blackness… those birds brought us up to the light.” (Jim Showell – Tumbling Pigeons and the Black Country)

Wench, yowm the colour of ower town:
concrete, steel, oily rainbow of the cut.

Ower streets am in yer wings,
ower factory chimdeys plumes on yer chest,

yer heart’s the china ower owd girls dust
in their tranklement cabinets.

Bred to dazzlin in backyards by men
whose onds grew soft as feathers

just to touch you, cradle you from egg
through each jeth-defying tumble.

Little acrobat of the terraces,
we’m winged when we gaze at you

jimmucking the breeze, somersaulting through
the white breathed prayer of January

and rolling back up like a babby’s yo-yo
caught by the open donny of the clouds.

Black Country/Standard

wench/affectionate name for a female
yowm/ you are
tranklement/bits & bobs or ornaments
jimmucking/ shaking
babby/ little child

Black Country songs