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July 21, 2022

Masse und Macht by Mark Ford

One Inch
of Emotion, One Inch
of Ash, I read, in fiery letters, on a skin-
tight T-shirt
passing, a little too close, at rush hour, under the soaring stanchions
of Hungerford Bridge. Some
reflex that verged
on a shiver
set me thinking of Elias
Canetti, and how he claimed that we hate
to be touched, however
gently, in a slow-moving crowd, and so
apologize profusely when we brush
against a stranger. Looming

looming up though
the haze, Charing Cross, its maw
agape, its tentacles twitching
and probing. A busker, cross-
legged, hunched beneath the balustrade, was merrily tooting “The Bard
of Armagh” into a child’s
pink, see-through recorder—occasionally
plucking it from his lips
so he could sing
in a reedy voice: “And when Sergeant Death
in his cold arms shall embrace me, oh lull me to sleep
with sweet Erin Go Bragh …” Beyond
and beneath swirled
the Thames, at once

murky and aflame. I watched,
blinking, the setting sun
catch and burnish the glass and flanks of the cabs
and buses, the opaque four-by-fours
and low-roofed cars and sleek
tourist coaches
crawling across Waterloo Bridge; an almost
empty inbound commuter train clanked slowly
by … In the lull that ensued, the merry busker’s tooting grew
hauntingly erratic, then died
away, and with a dip
of the shoulder I surged on, through a swarm of chattering
language students, all carrying light-blue knapsacks, and filling
the air with the strains of their dear

native land.

an extract from his Six Children, gives us a vivid sense of the city (London). Called “the flour of Cities all,” London has long been understood through the poetry it has inspired. Like many of the poets whose work he collects in London, Ford brings an outsider’s perspective.

Carrie Etter says, “Mark Ford’s poetry offers a restless originality”

The title of this third collection by Mark Ford alludes to Walt Whitman’s claim that “though unmarried, [he] had six children”, and while this book is the product of one man and draws on episodes from Ford’s own life, the sources and influences behind it extend over millennia.

Mark Ford was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1962; he grew up there, and in Nigeria, Sri Lanka, the U.S.A., Hong Kong, Bahrain and the UK.  Ford is an academic (he teaches English at University College London).

In Masse und Macht (Crowds and Power), the Poet evokes the 1960 book written by Elias Canetti dealing with the dynamics of crowds and “packs” and the question of how and why crowds obey power of rulers. Canetti draws a parallel between ruling and paranoia.

Elias Canetti was born in 1905 into a Sephardi Jewish family in Ruse, Bulgaria. He moved to Vienna in 1924, where he became involved in literary circles while studying for a degree in chemistry. He remained in Vienna until the Anschluss, when he emigrated to England and later to Switzerland, where he died in 1994. In 1981, Canetti was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas, and artistic power.”

I don’t regret for this orgy with books. I feel like in the time of expansion from which Crowds and Power was born. Even then everything happened through my adventure with books. When I didn’t have the money, in Vienna, I gave everything I didn’t have on books. In London, in worst times in my life I still managed from time to time to buy some book. I never studied systematically, like other people, but only when I was suddenly overwhelmed with excitement. That always started by a sudden look at something I would have to own. The very act of reaching out for the book, the joy of throwing out the money, carrying out books home or to the closest shop, starting at, fondling, browsing through, postponing for the upcoming years, revealing again when something is ripe – all of that is a part of the creative process whose hidden details I don’t know. But I am like that in everything else as well. So I will continue buying books until the very last moment, especially if I am quite certain that I will never read them.

And that is, I believe, a part of defiance against death. I don’t want to know which from those books will remain unread. That will remain uncertain until the very last moment. I am free to choose, in every moment I can freely choose any of the books that surround me, and by that I hold my life in my own hands.

Elias Canetti – Über den Tod

  1. I agree with the point that London has been so well “painted” by its writers that their lens has given us a grand London to imagine.
    Always enjoy reading of poetical works and their authors.
    Thank you for your sharing. I enjoyed it!

    • Yes and even lovelier for me at least, how strangers are able to pour out there hearts about the cities they now call home. Investing so much research and exploration in what makes the citiy ticks speaks of so much appreciation even if they are just passing through.
      This creative endorsement makes these cities all the more richer and exposure.
      A grand London indeed.
      Thank you for reading Poet. I’m glad you enjoyed.

      • Yes, so true, the love of place is so ingrained in our being/pscyhe.
        A pleasure. Thank you!

      • Remarkable how such an endearing euphoria is built around these cities through art and literature. They remain the leading love and romance cities to get the creative juices flowing strengthened by academia and faculties.
        You are welcome Poet.

      • Yes, they do and it is truly “remarkable’ as you stated so well.

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