May Wedderburn Cannan

Mrs. PG is finishing up a new book set in Britain during the years following World War I.

PG (and many others) are familiar with the names of many male war poets who wrote about their experiences – Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon will immediately come to the minds of those who are still interested in this sort of thing.

Mrs. PG was interested in female war poets, however, and found one that PG had not discovered, May Wedderburn Cannan.

Ms. Cannan was born in Oxford, England to an intellectual family. Her father was a publisher and scholar, and Cannan and her sisters created a family magazine, even publishing their own anthology The Tripled Crown (1907), with an introductory poem by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, professor of English at Cambridge, editor of the Oxford Book of English Verse, and family friend.

During World War I, Cannan volunteered with the Oxford Voluntary Aid Detachment and helped publish government propaganda with Clarendon Press. She spent a month in Rouen, France in 1915 volunteering at a railway canteen for soldiers, an experience that inspired her most famous poem, “Rouen.” When the Armistice was declared, Cannan was working for MI5 in Paris.

Cannan published three books of poetry: In War Time (1917), The Splendid Days (1919), dedicated to her fiancée Bevil Quiller-Couch who died in the influenza pandemic of 1919, and The House of Hope (1923).

August 1914

BY MAY WEDDERBURN CANNAN

The sun rose over the sweep of the hill
    All bare for the gathered hay,
And a blackbird sang by the window-sill,
    And a girl knelt down to pray:
          ‘Whom Thou hast kept through the night, O Lord,
          Keep Thou safe through the day.’

The sun rose over the shell-swept height,
     The guns are over the way,
And a soldier turned from the toil of the night
    To the toil of another day,
          And a bullet sang by the parapet
          To drive in the new-turned clay.

The sun sank slow by the sweep of the hill,
     They had carried all the hay,
And a blackbird sang by the window-sill,
    And a girl knelt down to pray:
          ‘Keep Thou safe through the night, O Lord,
          Whom Thou hast kept through the day.’

The sun sank slow by the shell-swept height,
    The guns had prepared a way,
And a soldier turned to sleep that night
    Who would not wake for the day,
          And a blackbird flew from the window-sill,
          When a girl knelt down to pray.
Source: In War Time (1917)

Rouen

BY MAY WEDDERBURN CANNAN

April 26—May 25, 1915

Early morning over Rouen, hopeful, high, courageous morning,
And the laughter of adventure, and the steepness of the stair,
And the dawn across the river, and the wind across the bridges,
And the empty littered station, and the tired people there.

Can you recall those mornings, and the hurry of awakening,
And the long-forgotten wonder if we should miss the way,
And the unfamiliar faces, and the coming of provisions,
And the freshness and the glory of the labour of the day.

Hot noontide over Rouen, and the sun upon the city,
Sun and dust unceasing, and the glare of cloudless skies,
And the voices of the Indians and the endless stream of soldiers,
And the clicking of the tatties, and the buzzing of the flies.

Can you recall those noontides and the reek of steam and coffee,
Heavy-laden noontides with the evening’s peace to win,
And the little piles of Woodbines, and the sticky soda bottles,
And the crushes in the “Parlour”, and the letters coming in?

Quiet night-time over Rouen, and the station full of soldiers,
All the youth and pride of England from the ends of all the earth;
And the rifles piled together, and the creaking of the sword-belts,
And the faces bent above them, and the gay, heart-breaking mirth.

Can I forget the passage from the cool white-bedded Aid Post
Past the long sun-blistered coaches of the khaki Red Cross train
To the truck train full of wounded, and the weariness and laughter
And “Good-bye, and thank you, Sister”, and the empty yards again?

Can you recall the parcels that we made them for the railroad,
Crammed and bulging parcels held together by their string,
And the voices of the sargeants who called the Drafts together,
And the agony and splendour when they stood to save the King?

Can you forget their passing, the cheering and the waving,
The little group of people at the doorway of the shed,
The sudden awful silence when the last train swung to darkness,
And the lonely desolation, and the mocking stars o’erhead?

Can you recall the midnights, and the footsteps of night watchers,
Men who came from darkness and went back to dark again,
And the shadows on the rail-lines and the all inglorious labour,
And the promise of the daylight firing blue the window- pane?

Can you recall the passing through the kitchen door to morning,
Morning very still and solemn breaking slowly on the town,
And the early coastways engines that had met the ships at daybreak,
And the Drafts just out from England, and the day shift coming down?

Can you forget returning slowly, stumbling on the cobbles,
And the white-decked Red Cross barges dropping seawards for the tide,
And the search for English papers, and the blessed cool, of water,
And the peace of half-closed shutters that shut out the world outside?

Can I forget the evenings and the sunsets on the island,
And the tall black ships at anchor far below our balcony,
And the distant call of bugles, and the white wine in the glasses,
And the long line of the street lamps, stretching Eastwards to the sea?

When the world slips slow to darkness, when the office fire burns lower,
My heart goes out to Rouen, Rouen all the world away;
When other men remember, I remember our Adventure
And the trains that go from Rouen at the ending of the day.
Source: In War Time (1917)

After the War

BY MAY WEDDERBURN CANNAN

After the war perhaps I’ll sit again
Out on the terrace where I sat with you,
And see the changeless sky and hills beat blue
And live an afternoon of summer through.

I shall remember then, and sad at heart
For the lost day of happiness we knew,
Wish only that some other man were you
And spoke my name as once you used to do.
Source: In War Time (1917)

Conspiracy Theories

Given the nature of the post that will appear immediately adjacent to this one – “The Silurian Hypothesis“, PG discovered that Wikipedia has a page devoted to Conspiracy Theories that could surely contain some of the best writing prompts ever for authors writing in particular genres:

Aviation

Numerous conspiracy theories pertain to air travel and aircraft. Incidents such as the 1955 bombing of the Kashmir Princess, the 1985 Arrow Air Flight 1285 crash, the 1986 Mozambican Tupolev Tu-134 crash, the 1987 Helderberg Disaster, the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the 1994 Mull of Kintyre helicopter crash as well as various aircraft technologies and alleged sightings, have all spawned theories of foul play which deviate from official verdicts.[3]

Black helicopters

This conspiracy theory emerged in the U.S. in the 1960s. The John Birch Society, who asserted that a United Nations force would soon arrive in black helicopters to bring the U.S. under UN control, originally promoted it.[4] The theory re-emerged in the 1990s, during the presidency of Bill Clinton, and has been promoted by talk show host Glenn Beck.[5][6] A similar theory concerning so-called “phantom helicopters” appeared in the UK in the 1970s.[7]

Chemtrails

Main article: Chemtrail conspiracy theory

A high-flying jet’s engines leaving a condensation trail (contrail)

Also known as SLAP (Secret Large-scale Atmospheric Program), this theory alleges that water condensation trails (“contrails“) from aircraft consist of chemical or biological agents, or contain a supposedly toxic mix of aluminumstrontium and barium,[8] under secret government policies. An estimated 17% of people globally believe the theory to be true or partly true. In 2016, the Carnegie Institution for Science published the first-ever peer-reviewed study of the chemtrail theory; 76 out of 77 participating atmospheric chemists and geochemists stated that they had seen no evidence to support the chemtrail theory, or stated that chemtrail theorists rely on poor sampling.[9][10]

Korean Air Lines Flight 007

The destruction of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by Soviet jets in 1983 has long drawn the interest of conspiracy theorists. The theories range from allegations of a planned espionage mission, to a US government cover-up, to the consumption of the passengers’ remains by giant crabs.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in southeast Asia in March 2014 has prompted many theories. One theory suggests that this plane was hidden away and reintroduced as Flight MH17 later the same year in order to be shot down over Ukraine for political purposes. Prolific American conspiracy theorist James H. Fetzer has placed responsibility for the disappearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.[11] Theories have also related to allegations that a certain autopilot technology was secretly fitted to the aircraft.[12]

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014. This event has spawned numerous alternative theories. These variously include allegations that it was secretly Flight MH370, that the plane was actually shot down by the Ukrainian Air Force to frame Russia, that it was part of a conspiracy to conceal the “truth” about HIV (seven disease specialists were on board), or that the Illuminati or Israel was responsible.[11][13]

. . . .

Espionage

Israel animal spying

Conspiracy theories exist alleging that Israel uses animals to conduct espionage or to attack people. These are often associated with conspiracy theories about Zionism. Matters of interest to theorists include a series of shark attacks in Egypt in 2010Hezbollah’s accusations of the use of “spying” eagles,[73] and the 2011 capture of a griffon vulture carrying an Israeli-labeled satellite tracking device.[74]

Harold Wilson

Numerous persons, including former MI5 officer Peter Wright and Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, have alleged that British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was secretly a KGB spy. Historian Christopher Andrew has lamented that a number of people have been “seduced by Golitsyn’s fantasies”.[75][76][77]

Malala Yousafzai

Conspiracy theories concerning Malala Yousafzai are widespread in Pakistan, elements of which originate from a 2013 satirical piece in Dawn. These theories variously allege that she is a Western spy, or that her attempted murder by the Taliban in 2012 was a secret operation to further discredit the Taliban, and was organized by her father and the CIA and carried out by actor Robert de Niro disguised as an Uzbek homeopath.[78][79][80][81]

Link to the rest at List of Conspiracy Theories – Wikipedia

The Silurian Hypothesis

From The Paris Review:

When I was eleven, we lived in an English Tudor on Bluff Road in Glencoe, Illinois. One day, three strange men (two young, one old) knocked on the door. Their last name was Frank. They said they’d lived in this house before us, not for weeks but decades. For twenty years, this had been their house. They’d grown up here. Though I knew the house was old, it never occurred to me until then that someone else had lived in these rooms, that even my own room was not entirely my own. The youngest of the men, whose room would become mine, showed me the place on a brick wall hidden by ivy where he’d carved his name. “Bobby Frank, 1972.” It had been there all along. And I never even knew it.

That is the condition of the human race: we have woken to life with no idea how we got here, where that is or what happened before. Nor do we think much about it. Not because we are incurious, but because we do not know how much we don’t know.

What is a conspiracy?

It’s a truth that’s been kept from us. It can be a secret but it can also be the answer to a question we’ve not yet asked.

Modern humans have been around for about 200,000 years, but life has existed on this planet for 3.5 billion. That leaves 3,495,888,000 pre-human years unaccounted for—more than enough time for the rise and fall of not one but several pre-human industrial civilizations. Same screen, different show. Same field, different team. An alien race with alien technology, alien vehicles, alien folklore, and alien fears, beneath the familiar sky. There’d be no evidence of such bygone civilizations, built objects and industry lasting no more than a few hundred thousand years. After a few million, with plate tectonics at work, what is on the surface, including the earth itself, will be at the bottom of the sea and the bottom will have become the mountain peaks. The oldest place on the earth’s surface—a stretch of Israel’s Negev Desert—is just over a million years old, nothing on a geological clock.

The result of this is one of my favorite conspiracy theories, though it’s not a conspiracy in the conventional sense, a conspiracy usually being a secret kept by a nefarious elite. In this case, the secret, which belongs to the earth itself, has been kept from all of humanity, which believes it has done the only real thinking and the only real building on this planet, as it once believed the earth was at the center of the universe.

Called the Silurian Hypothesis, the theory was written in 2018 by Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute, and Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester. Schmidt had been studying distant planets for hints of climate change, “hyperthermals,” the sort of quick temperature rises that might indicate the moment a civilization industrialized. It would suggest the presence of a species advanced enough to turn on the lights. Such a jump, perhaps resulting from a release of carbon, might be the only evidence that any race, including our own, will leave behind. Not the pyramids, not the skyscrapers, not Styrofoam, not Shakespeare—in the end, we will be known only by a change in the rock that marked the start of the Anthropocene.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Margin call

From The Bookseller:

Seven years ago, The Bookseller published an open letter from Sam Husain, then chief executive of Foyles, exhorting publishers to support bookshops with better terms. He wanted an average discount closer to 60%, an improvement of 20 percentage points on what he saw was prevalent at the time. He argued that despite lower volumes on some titles, bookshops needed to be rewarded for the value they put into the market, including visibility, knowledge and author events.

Last week Blackwell’s made a similar intervention in a private letter to suppliers, requesting a 7% promotional rebate, to be applied on all invoices after 7th February—equivalent, it seems, to increasing the discount it receives on the published r.r.p. by a modest amount.

. . . .

In terms of strategies, it’s hard not to think Foyles did it better: an open discussion about the future of high street bookselling made sense, a blanket demand for a back-hander looks more gauche. It was no surprise that by the time The Bookseller saw the letter, its contents were already part of a lively discussion on Twitter. 

There was also confusion over the demands: publishers have long been prepared to give a bit extra in return for additional visibility, but Blackwell’s offers no such assurances, stating that the extra discount would support its drive towards profit and growing the market. The letter, too, stipulates that the rebate is for 2020, but does not say what will be different in 2021—either Blackwell’s needs the money now for a particular reason, or it will need it forever. Publishers expect the latter.None of this means Blackwell’s is wrong to make the demand, or amiss in setting out the costs and virtues of running bookshops staffed with savvy booksellers. Missteps are forgivable when the argument is sound. And it is. Blackwell’s has grown sales by £15m in three years, but its overheads continue to rise too. The same is not true for all publishers: although they screw their faces up at the accusation, many are more profitable than once they were, and it is not unimaginable that they could use some of what is the digital bounty to invest in bookshops. Academic publishers may feel less secure, but their discounts—far lower than those offered by trade publishers—were established in a bygone era when textbook prices were high, and student need was reliable. Wherever you sit, Blackwell’s is right to argue for an adjustment. 

There is a wider discussion to be had, too. Long forgotten in Husain’s missive was a call to use consignment—whereby booksellers only pay for the stock once it is sold—a suggestion perhaps too radical at the time. But the “returns” bit of the current model is wasteful, bad for profit and bad for the environment. Any discussion on terms must include a review of this model. 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Is Jane Austen the Antidote to Social Media Overload?

From JSTOR:

It’s exhausting to live in a world of constantly swirling social interaction, in which you never know who you’re going to hear from, or how you’ll live up to the pressure to respond. It’s uncomfortable to know that you can be assessed and measured by very public metrics, which amount to a transparent calculation of your worth. It’s stressful to hew to the standards of public discretion, knowing that any violation of propriety will be held against you forever.

These are the pains of living in the social-networking era—but they are also the pains of living in the world described by the nineteenth-century novels of Jane Austen. That’s why her well-loved books are worth revisiting at our particular moment, in search of wisdom on how to cope with the pressures of the digital age.

. . . .

The parallels between our world and Austen’s jumped out at me when I recently returned to her works after many years. When I first read Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at the age of fifteen, the World Wide Web had yet to be invented. When I picked up her next novels in my mid-twenties, it was still many years before the advent of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

But I recently yielded to a sudden and acute Austen craving, which plunged me into six weeks of gorging on her work, this time in audiobook form. Austen’s words poured over me as I puttered through my daily tasks: Emma gossiping as I glanced at my morning email, Eliza Bennet whispering in my ear as I plugged my devices in to charge each night.

. . . .

 Indeed, as I plunged into Austen’s England from the very device that normally connects me to Facebook and Twitter, her world and ours looked more and more alike.

The similarities begin with the sheer volume of social interaction required of both English gentry and social media users. In addition to their month-long visits (does anyone want an Airbnb guest who stays that long?), Austen’s characters indulge in a daily exchange of “calls.” In “Jane Austen’s Speech Acts and Language-Based Societies,” Candace Nolan-Grant describes this practice as

the convention of calling on one’s acquaintances, which requires either conversing with the members of the household for at least fifteen minutes if they are home, or leaving a card if they are not. Calling on acquaintances typically does the following: announces that the caller deems his or her host worthy of notice and feels some obligation to call; obliges the host(s) to receive the caller and to return the visit; and opens (or closes, depending on the tenor of the visit) doors for further social intercourse.

At first, I envied Austen’s characters this daily face-to-face social interaction: I often go weeks without seeing even my closest friends in person, staying in touch via Facebook or SMS instead. But I soon found myself wondering how the inhabitants of Austen’s world put up with this constant pressure to socialize—until I realized that we face just as much demand for interaction, albeit in digital form. Austen’s characters may face a nonstop parade of callers, but at least they don’t have to deal with Facebook friend invitations and an endless series of requests to connect on LinkedIn.

Of course, if our inboxes are overflowing, it’s often because we’ve followed the many admonitions to build up our professional networks and attract social media fans. This is another way in which social media replicates the dynamics of Austen’s world: both place great emphasis on the value of introductions, and both quantify the value of each new friend or connection.

Link to the rest at JSTOR

PG wonders if there is any human behavior in any time period that Ms. Austen has not addressed.

Caught smuggling Picasso on his yacht, Spanish billionaire collector gets €52m fine and 18 months in prison

From The Art Newspaper:

The Spanish billionaire who tried to smuggle a Picasso painting out of Spain has been sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined €52.4m. Jaime Botin, part of the Santander banking dynasty, was convicted by a court in Madrid earlier this week.

The work, Head of a Young Woman (1906), was seized from Botin’s yacht, known as Adix, off the coast of Corsica, France, in 2015. According to Spain’s strict heritage laws, permits are required for exporting items more than 100 years old, which can be classified as “national treasures”.

. . . .

According to Bloomberg, prosecutors argued that Botin, who bought the work in 1977, was smuggling the painting out of Spain and hoped to sell the piece at a London auction house. But Botin said he was taking the painting to Switzerland for safekeeping.

The work was originally due to be sold at Christie’s London in February 2013, but the Spanish culture ministry subsequently barred the work from being taken abroad. Ownership of the work has since been transferred to the Spanish state.

Link to the rest at The Art Newspaper

William Gibson Builds A Bomb

From National Public Radio:

William Gibson does not write novels, he makes bombs.

Careful, meticulous, clockwork explosives on long timers. Their first lines are their cores — dangerous, unstable reactant mass so packed with story specific detail that every word seems carved out of TNT. The lines that follow are loops of brittle wire wrapped around them.

Once, he made bombs that exploded. Upended genre and convention, exploded expectations. The early ones were messy and violent and lit such gorgeous fires. Now, though, he does something different. Somewhere a couple decades ago, he hit on a plot architecture that worked for him — this weird kind of thing that is all build-up and no boom — and he has stuck to it ever since. Now, William Gibson makes bombs that don’t explode. Bombs that are art objects. Not inert. Still goddamn dangerous. But contained.

You can hear them tick. You don’t even have to listen that close. His language (half Appalachian economy, half leather-jacket poet of neon and decay) is all about friction and the gray spaces where disparate ideas intersect. His game is living in those spaces, checking out the view, telling us about it.

Agency, that’s his newest. It’s a prequel/sequel (requel?) to his last book, The Peripheral, which dealt, concurrently, with a medium-future London after a slow-motion apocalypse called “The Jackpot,” and a near-future now where a bunch of American war veterans, grifters, video game playtesters and a friendly robot were trying to stop an even worse future from occurring. It was a time travel story, but done in a way that only Gibson could: Almost believably, in a way that hewed harshly to its own internal logic, and felt both hopeful and catastrophic at the same time.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio