A poetic boatload of words and a foretaste of e-publishing as bringer of light and joy
Sit up and pay attention, all you change-resistant bookworms who see no good in e-publishing; nothing but the prospect of avaricious conventional publishers charging readers more than once for the same text repackaged in different media – and witless self-publishing writers drowning us in e-drivel.
This week, post-Gutenberg offers word nerds everywhere an example of the littérature-sans-frontières that the net could – will – soon give us as a matter of course. Undeniably, no e-book could replicate the pleasure of handling the slender volume printed on luscious, textured paper from which our extract comes. Never mind, read on. See proof in many dimensions of how the net could – conceivably — help to save literary culture.
These poetic, fanciful lines with something critical to tell us about real life are introduced by their writer, Roy Eales. In his book What matters most is what you make (2004), they appear translated into Breton – the language of the French province of Brittany – as well as in French and German, alongside the English original. (Only the second translation is reproduced here, but we hope to find time to transcribe the other two.)
Roy is a fine, original, unpredictable and unclassifiable English writer and poet living in Brittany who was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by official France in 2004. He is that rare scribe not born a ‘digital native’ who has leapt from print-only to blending literature with other art in readings of his work interwoven with musical performances by members of his group. A selection of his poems in five languages has been recorded on a CD, ‘Just in Case’ by Roy Eales and his friends (2010), with original music by artists in Brittany and Wales.
Beneath Boatload, on this page, is another excerpt from the same book– the first verse of a wicked, delicious, posthumous tribute to Sascha Juritz, the artist and friend whose drawings accompany Roy’s poems, prose meditations and vignettes.
A note from Roy Eales:
A boatload of words came to me in the middle of a night sometime in late 2003. Legend, mythology, mystery abound in Brittany, Bretons and their literature, and I searched for something satirical in which I could use these elements to castigate the French, heavily, for their stern, backward attitude towards other languages in their national space, and to challenge the Bretons, lightly, for not fighting back enough.
[ from the book’s introduction: ]
Boatload and the other poems in this book were dedicated to Sascha Juritz, brilliant artist, my friend and publisher of this and other books over the years. He died in 2003 as this book with his exquisite drawings was being published. He saw Brittany as a twin for Lausitz, his own Slav country locked into the Czech and Polish borders and colonized by Germany some centuries ago as independent Brittany was by the French. Like the Bretons, the people of Lausitz have sought to protect their culture and language despite the inevitable forces to conform to the ‘master’ French and German cultures and languages.
[ If you are reading this on the blog’s ‘front page,’ please click on the title of this post to be taken to its own separate part of the site to read the following words set out as they are meant to be. WordPress’s automated layout software tends to destroy certain types of special formatting, such as spacing for poetry. ]
A boatload of words: a fable for Brittany
At an old port in Brittany a man wearing a peaked black cap was
leaning on his right leg staring capital in the face.
He turned his head and swivelled on his left leg to an alternative
position, and rested there on his right leg again.
He lit his pipe and told a tale. This is what happened.
One cold winter morning at the same port a black seabird
perched on his shoulder and told him in Breton that a huge boat
heaving off Brittany on a strong Atlantic sea had been wrecked
by a mutiny – of its cargo – a boatload of words, in fact, the entire
The black bird twittered, in revealing that the words were to be
dumped at sea, three miles out, in black stranglehold sacks stamped in
red: SUPERFLUOUS, by order of the Ministry of Absolute Control.
Naturally, the words didn’t like this. They had been beaten before,
but never, so overtly, threatened with extinction.
In a mighty speech, Gwendal, their leader calls for a rebellion, and
draws up a plan. The cleverest words would free everyone, and the
heaviest words would sink the boat. Then all the words would float
back to their homeland.
Seabirds flying over the boat learnt secretly of the plan from the words,
who asked them to speed messages in Breton back to the people.
So the news spread quickly across Brittany, and soon all the shoreland
bristled full of music and people, dancing and singing, facing the sea
and the sinking ship on the horizon.
And coming towards them a sheet of white foam on the sea, a foam of
words, as the entire language was carried proudly ashore by the waves
like a hero.
From that day on the people vowed never again would they leave their
language alone to save itself from any perils at sea, or wherever they
Une cargaison de mots: fable pour la Bretagne
Sur un vieux port breton, un homme portant une casquette de marin
noire s’appuyait sur sa jambe droite, fixant du regard un point d’une
It tourna la tête et pivota sa jambe gauche pour changer de position
et se tint là de nouveau sur sa jambe droite. It alluma sa pipe et raconta
une histoire. Voici ce qui s’était passé.
Un froid matin d’hiver sur ce même port un oiseau marin se percha
sur son épaule et lui raconta en Breton qu’un énorme navire se soulevant
au large de la Bretagne sur une forte mer atlantique avait fait naufrage à
cause d’une mutinerie – de sa cargaison – une cargaison de mots, en
fait tout le vocabulaire de la langue du pays.
L’oiseau noir gazouillait, alors qu’il révélait que les mots devaient être
jetés à la mer à trois miles au large, étranglés dans les sacs noirs sur
lesquels était tamponné en rouge: SUPERFLU, sur ordre du Ministère
du Contrôle Absolu.
Naturellement, les mots ne furent pas contents. Ils avaient déjà été
battus, mais jamais, si ouvertement, menacés d’extinction.
Dans un vibrant discours, Gwendal, leur chef appelle à la rébellion
et établit un plan. Les mots les plus habiles libéreraient tout le monde,
et les plus lourds couleraient le navire. Puis tous reviendraient en
flottant jusqu’à leur terre.
Des oiseaux marins volant au-dessus du navire furent en secret mis au
courant du plan des mots, qui leur demandèrent de faire rapidement
passer un message en breton au peuple.
Ainsi les nouvelles se répandirent vite à travers le pays, et bientôt
tout le littoral grouillait, repli de musique et de gens qui dansaient
et chantaient, face à la mer et un bateau coulant à l’horizon.
Et venant vers eux, drap d’écume blanche sur la mer, une écume de
mots, toute la langue du pays, était portée fièrement au rivage par les
vagues, comme un héros.
Depuis ce jour le peuple fit serment de ne jamais plus laisser sa langue
toute seule faire face aux périls en mer, ou n’importe où ailleurs.
[ Translated into French by Nanda Troadeg and Susan Eales ]
And here is a snippet of Roy’s tribute to Sascha Juritz, ‘Don’t Overdrive, my dear‘ … you can read the rest in your own copy of What matters most is what you make:
Is there only the reality?
. So don’t overdrive, my dear.
Where this genius is concerned
reality is irrationality.
The black lines
send off the normality
and poetry is just
. a little shit
after which you feel better
and lose a bit of yourself.
. It doesn’t matter, my dear.
. They hear nothing
. Say nothing
. See nothing — scheisser — .
But every man is always
. a Grand Poète,
has something to say,
. a small bird in the head.
[ … continues … ]