04 May 2009

Bryophytes and grandmothers and many other things

Bryophytes remind me of my grandmother. She always insisted that she liked burnt toast. They are so tough and uncomplaining that if they were human, they'd bathe with a teacup of water and think they were luxuriating.

"I'm crazy about cryptogams," rolls off the tongue easier, but I cannot lie to you. Cryptogam, though a word as romantic and mysterious as a monogrammed scrap of silk, includes those other delicate non-flowers, the ferns. Lovely to look at when they're happy, but with rare exceptions, if they don't get their slatherings of moisturiser and flattering dimmed light, watch out! There's nothing your average born-to-be-coddled fern likes better than to die flamboyantly enough to cause another guilt.

It's the bryophytes amongst the cryptogams—fungi, lichen and algae—that really get my awe. They understand the value of wrinkles, the character-building virtues of starvation—and they get drunk (and spectacularly beautiful) on a drop.

These tough lovelies were photographed today, a week after a few rare showers camouflaged our drought.

I've just updated the Anna Tambour and Others site, and the peek at the upcoming Lovecraft Unbound inspired another picture of cryptogams.

Amongst the Others, a quote and link to Giles Watson's delightful poems about their secret lives. (Giles, I'd love it if you responded here with another inspired work—and possibly other poets, too?)

Also, and very apropos in this day of "not enough face masks" is Charles Tan's short story "A Retrospective on Diseases for Sale", a reprint with permission from the newest edition of Philippine Speculative Fiction, edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar, an anthology so good that if you are still with me, let's go down a different road:

This series stays fresh and unexpected. In this issue, No IV, I liked Charles' "A Retrospective on Diseases for Sale" (and how apropos now!). that I asked to pinch it for my own site.
The first story in the book, Andrew Drilon's "The Secret Origin of Spin-Man" caught me by surprise in all the best ways, even to a frisson that made me feel like what a steak must, the moment it hits a grill. This story should win some international prize and I hope it's anthologised. I was obliviously impolite, I was so noisy, while reading Monique Francisco's "The Day that Frances, the Copywriter, Became God". Even thinking of it now makes me smile, and I hope to read much more by her. This story does confirm something I first thought while writing Spotted Lily. There are many paths to becoming God.

So again with this anthology, I think it's a bloody shame that international postal charges are so great that the feasability of this having international distribution has never been seriously considered. But this is what the average anthology is. A clubhouse print run and fuckall distribution even in the home country, if Australia is typical. There are many anthologies that should be read internationally, and translated so that they can be read. Turkey, for instance, frustrates me no end. Thriving anthologies and magazines packed with tempting stories, but they're not only in Turkish, but only available in Turkey. Then there's Finland, and another thriving 'community' of readers, and writers. It would be great if there were more stories from everywhere that us people everywhere could read. It's a bummer for everyone else that the default language is English, but couldn't we have some place where there were reprints in the original language, and a translation into English and possibly other languages? If there were an online portal for anthologies that have already sold out, then sales wouldn't be impacted, and possibly sales would increase if there were a place on the portal to subscribe or pre-buy the next volume of, say, Trevidiumskolania's Best Speculative Fiction 2080.

And the road turns
Other irresistibles on the updated Anna Tambour and Others site include a chance to interfere with Marianne Delacourt's newest creation, Tara Sharp, one fast, funny tough babe who drives a car from hoon; a link to a bittersweet true story by Nathan Ballingrud that would qualify for my Love Letters from D_____s except for the lucky-to-us fact that he shared it publicly; an after-picture of the creator of Emma's dress—And the only site in the world that says:
"Ittibittium Houbrick, 1993 (mollusc) These are smaller than molluscs of the genus Bittium."

Go get fascinated.


Giles Watson said...

Polytrichum communeA little neat besom,
Pliant, well-combed,
Chestnut coloured
As maidenhair,
Dusts the wainscot
And chandelier,
Hanging and tapestry,
Curtain and rug:
A little neat besom
That grew in a bog.

A little tough basket
For gathering of roots,
Woven of Silk-Wood
Wound in a plait,
Carried the provender –
Oyster and snail,
Ripe hedgerow fruits –
For a legion five-score:
A little tough basket
That grew on the moor.

Source material: Maidenhair and Silk-Wood are vernacular names for the moorland moss Polytrichum commune, which grows in tussocks to a height of twelve to eighteen inches. The first verse is inspired by Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne, Letter XXVI, November 1st 1775, which describes the besoms which local people made using Polytrichum. Much of the vocabulary of this first verse is White’s. Richard Mabey’s edition of White’s book mentions that a moss besom of this type can still be seen in Sir Ashton Lever’s Museum. The second verse makes reference to an archaeological find: a basket woven of Polytrichum, found in the Roman fort at Newstead, Roxburghshire. It seems likely that the tradition of making baskets out of this moss is of considerable antiquity, and it is thought that the Newstead find is of native British workmanship, although it was no doubt pressed into service by the Romans, whose culinary tastes are reflected in its imagined contents. (See Paul Richards, A Book of Mosses, King Penguin, London, 1950, pp. 31-32.)

anna tambour said...

Thank you! This is a wonderful poem and essay in itself. One day I hope to buy a book by you, filled with your poems and the rambles you take us on, and illustrated with your glorious pictures.

You'd write cracking haibun.

Giles Watson said...

Thanks, Anna. I'm hoping for the book too: I may end up self-publishing on Blurb or something. I'm looking forward to enjoying more of your writing too. Here's another poem, written last night in a sudden rush of liverwort-fever.

MarchantiaAs deep a green as my liver is red
And lobed with equal fleshiness,
Liverworts line the meadow-drain
With their slick upholstery:
Slithers of thallus, anchored
By watersoaked rhizoids,
Their surfaces gleaming,
Wet as vulvas, dripping dew
Back into the stream. Each plant
Wears its sex on a stalk:
Primed gametophytes
Waiting for rain.

Next year, they will invade
Our grandmother’s greenhouse
Perversely scaling the pots
Of tropical orchids, their goblets
Gorged with mist condensed:
The females stellar, rayed;
The males spreading parasols,
Shading a refracted sun.

Source material: Marchantia polymorpha is the largest British liverwort, and is commonly regarded as typifying all the main characteristics of the order Marchantiales. It often colonises the banks of streams, but is equally at home in heated greenhouses. The upper surface is typically covered in goblet-shaped organs, and the gametophyte tissue is borne aloft on stalks, or peduncles. Male and female plants grow as separate individuals. See Arthur J. Jewell, The Observer’s Book of Mosses and Liverworts, London, 1955, pp. 27-28. I long entertained the notion of forming a progressive folk band called Marchantia, partly because of the fascination liverworts have exerted on me since childhood, partly because of the appropriateness of the middle syllable of the word, but mainly because the idea is so obscure that hardly anyone else is likely to think of it. Unfortunately, this plan has never come to fruition.

anna tambour said...

Thank you very much.
This is another post from you that is far above what "comments" are. Beautiful! Both the poem and the more-than-explanation. There should be a name for it. The fruit? No. Do you have a suggestion.

As to your band Marchantia. You can't mean "never". You must mean "not yet". You especially should be ashamed to mistake the merely dormant for the deceased. You write stupendously good poetry about and contort yourself trying to photograph things that most times look no more promising than the stuff people scrape from their shoes. You connect lines between disparates as well as any orb-weaver, so you've got no right to think a plan you once had is a dead thing, unless you don't wish to do something about it any more.

I am also fascinated by liverworts, but was slow to discover their charms. For most of my life, they were just visual noise, like living in the city.

Form Marchantia, and let's hear it! It deserves to be formed, if only because the sound of the word is music.