Christopher Betts
Alex Cigale
Pedro Xavier Solís Cuadra
Jean de la Fontaine
Paul Scott Derrick
Neil Langdon Inglis
Daniil Kharms
Suzanne Jill Levine
Marcelo Maturana Montañez
Ruth Padel
Tanyo Ravicz
John Taylor
Stephen Wilson
Manolis Xexakis

Issue 18 Guest Artist:
Geoff Diego Litherland

President: Peter Robertson
Vice-President: Sari Nusseibeh
Vice-President: Elena Poniatowska
Deputy Editor: Geraldine Maxwell
Advisory Consultant: Jill Dawson
General Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Art Editor: Calum Colvin
Deputy General Editor: Jeff Barry
Deputy General Editor: Jerónimo Mohar

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boullossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Sampurna Chattarji
Sarah Churchwell
Hollis Clayson
Sally Cline
Marcelo Cohen
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Siobhan Harvey
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Laurie Maguire
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Paschalis Nikolaou
Martha Nussbaum
Tim Parks
Molly Peacock
Pascale Petit
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Élisabeth Roudinesco
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
Rebecca Swift
Susan Tiberghien
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Assistant Editor: Sara Besserman
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Conor Bracken
Assistant Editor: Eugenio Conchez
Assistant Editor: Patricia Delmar
Assistant Editor: Lucila Gallino
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Krista Oehlke
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Assistant Editor: Naomi Schub
Assistant Editor: Stephanie Smith
Assistant Editor: Robert Toperter
Assistant Editor: Laurence Webb
Art Consultant: Verónica Barbatano
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Shell
by Ruth Padel


(On Maggi Hambling’s Aldeburgh Scallop and the Making of Damascus Twist)

A studio floor with shards of pink mashed shell,
ink sketches of sea-birds…. Forgive me.
I’m trying to recreate what it was like
for her to dream this up: a ten-foot scallop,
memory of storm and love, of two entwined lives,
set upright in this shore on secret fabricator legs

like a chilly North Sea re-run of the birth
of Aphrodite. We stand in Sunday dawn
uncertain of each other, on the banked-up shale
of an eroding coast, looking up at this curved
guardian of the earth, a monument
to music made for joy in making.

We face an under-side of polished steel
dark like the belly of a wave, dark and light
like life and death, with movement between colours
as between the forms, part shining and part rust.
A shimmer where it faces sea, but at the back
the strange dark shadow silhouette

of energy shattering as it breaks
and voices of the drowned written in white sky
cut-outs, like finger-holes in a flute.
We creep in. We run our hands along the frilled
bronze edge, split and joined at the core
like life-long partners betraying and forgiving.

I remember Plato’s cave, the screen, the fire
and how he banned the artists for
making appearances; making more than we can hear
or see or know. Invisible in this safe-seeming
hollow shadow - echo, harmony and echo –
we gaze out at a grey dim open sea

and iron horizon splicing day from night
like west from east. I think of Syria
on the front page: flat-to-flat urban warfare
in Aleppo, where ‘ouds
beyond the price of rubies
have been made from the seventh century,

and air attacks on Gaza. In the pub quiz
on Saturday, in the snack bar,
kitchen, cinema and bus, how quick
the arguments flare up, even in England,
even if we’ve never been
to what we call the middle of the east. We identify.

We occupy the centre of the rift
or what rift represents. This is our story, one bronze
étude pathétique, split vertical and horizontal.
A multiple arabesque, steel fission and steel fusion
like the goddess Harmonia, slim perfectionist
surrounded by destruction, whose wedding gift,

a necklace, lays a curse on anyone who steals
and wears it next. Harmony the hidden
daughter, love-child of Aphrodite
and Apollo’s enemy, the god of war.
The lyre is the first thing soldiers smash
before slicing up God’s perfect instrument, the larynx.

Sing the microtonal range of the maqam:
the sadness and pain of Saba; Hijaz, conjuring
distant desert and our longing for it. Sing
of the body, thighs and palms to slap,
teeth and tongue to whistle through
and the fragile, mucus-laden vox humana.

  Sing also of David’s harp, placed sideways
on a mountain to catch the cinnamon wind
blowing from golden rocks at dusk
below the tower of Lebanon
which looks towards Damascus.
As we all do. That’s where the mind goes now

on Suffolk pebble-shingle
gleaming like highlights of intarsia
whose weavers set the floats of weft
and warp at angles, to reflect
light scatteredly, depending who you are
and where you’re looking from.

These chinking waves… Their draining shump
roars in like shell-thuds over Al Fayhaa,
Fragrant City, home to rosa damascena
and the heptatonic scale of a fretless lute;
where sky, dark-pearled as strong espresso, burns
above the courtyard in Umayyad Mosque,

where children used to lick pistachio-starred ice-cream
and now play Asking-for-Papers-of-Identity-
at-Gun-Point, and old men with pewter urns
strapped to their backs pour liquid liquorice,
flavoured with tamarisk, in ribboned lollops
the way a flat-edged stone

skims the surface of smooth water.
In the split-shell casque of psyche,
in our dreams, wherever we’re looking from,
we are this middle east. Some chasm
through the centre must be in and of us all.
Creatures of relation and division, we belong

in the tectonic clash
of histories on common ground. The past
is never where we left it, overrun
by warring memories
from a single rift-shot family of languages
and faith. Filters we see each other through

  take on the greenish quality of shadow cast
by glass. We set up frontiers
to keep us safe and keep out the unknown.
When sea floods in or Viking boats arrive
chaos is come, we are broken into. What survives
is hope, like that run of burnished steps

infused with cardamom, heart of the oldest
city in the world. Rosewood sets of backgammon
like puzzle-books inlaid with mother-of-pearl,
blue gargoyle fish of the souk displayed
beside a frayed formica stool, strings of hanging flip-flops
and rolls of samite: glitter-fabrics that depend

on optic interference like the play of light
in Damascus Twist, that iron plait
welded in carbon fire, whose laminate
spiral surface, acid-bitten into waves,
resembles damask. Valued formerly in sword-blades
and now in the barrels of guns.

Is making our defence against the dark? We break
the line to make it, improvise a rhythm, string
silk gut over leather membrane
reverberating with folds. We shape
a pilgrim shell, place it to face the storm, catch harmony
from music of the spheres and dive in cold, as grey

dawn breaks over greyer sea, like kingfishers
tracking the play of iridescence. However
this pans out, this you and me, we can take delight
in form, in makeshift colours of the waves –
silver, hyacinth and jade, here in the rain for all to see -
and meanings we have found in what the world has made.