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All these long years, it had been there for him –
Some patch of canvas naked as the light,
Left untouched by some curious oversight,
Or just abandoned at some patron’s whim;
And all the while he’d seen in every space –
As one might see it in a starry sky,
Or in a fire, or water rushing by –
The features of his own first angel’s face.
So when at last the master gave him leave
To finish off a corner of one scene,
The pupil had no picture to conceive;
For in that instant, wild and serene,
The angel wings in his own heart unfurled –
His soul his brush, and in his brush the world.

By Jonathan Steffen

First published in ‘Acumen’, October 1994; reprinted in ‘First Sixty: The Acumen Anthology’, 2010


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Like regrets drifting through consciousness,
They glide through the streets of our cities,
Untouchably themselves,
Silently intent on their purpose,
Counting eternities with each corner they turn.

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Cities as ideas

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14 August 2017
Rome Airport
I am beginning to understand that great cities are always infinitely more than themselves. By this I do not mean simply that a city comprises its present existence together with all of its history: I mean, rather, that it comprises all these things plus all attempts, in the past as well as in the present, to imagine it differently – or, alternatively, to reconstruct its long-lost past.

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The Presence and the Absence of Rome

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The Presence and the Absence of Rome
My visit to Rome of October 2016, and this current one, seem to have completely reversed the negative impression I developed of the city in 1982, when I first visited it.

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POSTPONED until further notice – “All of Your Daybreaks”

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Due to unforeseen circumstances, “All of Your Daybreaks” at Cambridge Polo Club has been postponed until further notice. Please check back soon for more information.    An Evening of Poetry and Song with Jonathan Steffen and Friends Cambridge Polo Club, Saturday 2nd September, 7:30 p.m. Doors open 7:00 p.m.   Following on from the “Saddle and Ride” concert of January […]

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Aguirre, the Wrath of God

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Saw – at last – Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God yesterday. A marvellous film, all the better for being viewed in German: it allowed me to concentrate entirely upon the images. The experience of watching films in foreign languages inclines me to think that in the best films, dialogue is all but irrelevant.

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Last night in bed, I dipped into the second volume of Virginia Woolf’s Diaries, and the Diaries of Franz Kafka. The desire to imitate a diarist is extraordinarily strong, I find

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Finishing a book

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There is nothing quite comparable to the sensation one experiences on finishing a book, whether one is writing it, writing in it, or simply reading it. The reassurance that there are endings is narcotic:

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Maigret is like barium – an iridescent die introduced into the body to reveal its operations and frailties. In many of the novels, he uses a long, slow, steady process of immersion in the setting of the crime in order to understand what might have been the motivation of the criminal – an understanding which is the precondition for his being able to identify and ultimately apprehend him or her.

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Cesare Borgia

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Dante created with the Inferno a completely new idiom for discussing sin. The idea of damnation was nothing new for Dante and his contemporaries, nor the concept of the punishment fitting the crime. But Dante imbued these notions with a completely new poetic and symbolic resonance.

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Georges Simenon

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I tried to read Simenon in my twenties, when I was living in Heidelberg. I believe I even started reading The Carter of ‘La Providence’ in French at some point, but I laid the book aside after a few chapters. Like the other Maigret stories I had attempted, I found it unbearably dismal and consequently quite unreadable.

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