A rare radio appearance last night, talking about Poe in the interval of the BBC proms. Available as podcast:

Novelist and Gothic literature specialist Elizabeth Lowry joins the writer, documentarist, film-maker and psycho-geographer Iain Sinclair to discuss the dark glitter of the Gothic and the work of the American poet Edgar Allan Poe, with presenter Matthew Sweet.

Elizabeth Lowry’s latest book is entitled ‘Dark Water’

“A rare radio appearance last night, talking about Poe in the interval of the BBC proms. Available as podcast” (Iain Sinclair)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07k6xyp

 

 

IN THE TRACES OF THE MULE DANCERS. TRAVEL NOTES, PERU. JULY/AUGUST, 2019. Post 1 of 6

By Iain Sinclair

It was a long-held ambition to follow the journey mapped and described, with picaresque vigour (and a degree of latitude), by my Scottish great-grandfather, Arthur Sinclair. He published his version of the 1891 expedition, undertaken with fellow planter Alexander Ross and ‘practical botanist’ P. D. G. Clark, in 1895. These men were on commission from the Peruvian Corporation of London to survey a vast tranche of land, more than 500,000 square miles, to assess its potential as an economic resource: exploitation by way of coffee estates and forestry. The journey, involving mules, bounty-hunting priests, encounters with indigenous people and a river adventure on balsa rafts, had serious and long-lasting consequences. 

 

The push to make the trip in July 2019 came from my daughter Farne, who was determined to record a series of podcasts and to satisfy her own curiosity about her distant relative’s motives and experiences. She was returning to a country she had previously visited in her gap year before university, earning the money required by working for the printers who had published all my early books. We were accompanied by the filmmaker Grant Gee, who had his own agenda, gathering material for a piece entitled The Gold Machine. My brief diary jottings are framed by quotations from Arthur’s book, In Tropical Lands: Recent Travels to the Sources of the Amazon… 

 

DAY ONE. THURSDAY July 27th. LIMA.

 

Arthur Sinclair: ‘And now, when in the capital, I am afraid I shall disappoint you, for I am not fond of cities; my heart always longs for the quiet country beyond. A simple man, my tastes lie among the simple people on the mountains, or in culling the common weeds by the wayside. I cannot, therefore, enter here into any detailed description of Lima, which at one time, we are told, was considered the gem of South America, and though now somewhat sullied, is still beautiful; picturesquely situated, with a climate almost perfect, the sun rarely scorching, and the rains never bedraggling the inhabitants.’ 

 

Dust. Haze. Horns. Arbitrary cab jumps: we learn, by experience, the more battered the better. The wrecks operate in wild, improvisatory spins and surges, down streets they have never before attempted, patron saint swinging as you corner, taking off on speed bumps, avoiding the main, permanently stalled boulevards with their Cola hoardings, cancelled hotels and new narco banks. The smarter vehicles, addicted to airport runs, have blind faith in the oracular pronouncements of sat-nav, robotic voices that always land them in the same twilight waste ground, by a perimeter fence, near a discontinued railway. With dogs.

 

With Farne, I set off, at her suggestion, to find the South American Explorers Club. A nice metaphor for what followed. Time is provisional. ‘Twenty minutes, comfortably’ becomes an hour of traffic dodging and shade chasing. The given address is a locked gate and shuttered windows. Enquiries at the Brazilian/Peruvian Cultural Institute carry us back to another dead building. The Explorers Club is just a Borgesian test: we fail, until we appreciate that the thing to be explored is our own incompetence. The Club is long gone (exploration rebranded as Adventure Tourism) – although, as we learn later, it was once operated by Lucho Hurtado, the man who will be our guide through the cloud jungle.

 

Arthur Sinclair: ‘Here I was shown the remains of the “Gran Conquistador”, a fit relic for this holy of holies. Pizarro, the pitiless tool of priestcraft and the conqueror for covetous Spain, had, like the last Napoleon, one redeeming trait in his character, viz., a taste for architecture, of which this cathedral is an example… It was on the 26th June, 1891, the 350th anniversary of Pizarro’s violent and bloody death, that the coffin was opened… On removing the lid the body was found almost in its entirety and completely mummified, still partially covered by rags of silk… and the remains of a finely embroidered shirt. The body was quite desiccated, and of a dingy white colour. On close examination it was found that certain portions were amissing, viz., the fingers, toes, and certain other parts, having been cut off and removed. From the appearance, the committee were satisfied that these mutilations had taken place immediately after death…’ 

 

Access to Plaza Major and La Cathedral is denied by a line of black uniformed police in baseball caps. We were told that they were anticipating a gay/lesbian protest action. Passage to the cathedral and the remains of Pizarro might be possible in one hour or two. Honouring Arthur’s taste for Chinese enterprise, we lunched on a platter of rice and bits with compulsory litre of sweet Cola. And delirious TV news reports shot raw on phones and surveillance cameras,  ferociously edited: motorbike thefts, looped corruption trials (often lasting for decades), street killings and chases.

 

When, eventually, we are allowed into the grand square, it is deserted. Pizarro’s remains seem to have been classified and reclassified on numerous occasions. Real flesh, fake bones.

 This is the right setting, without question, for Grant to record a brief reading I’ve been asked to do, to promote an anthology edited by Chris Kelso. ‘Death’s charnel house and every stage in the process of mortality, the unrobing of flesh from bone, is made visible…Churches are large buildings, in which, after the concept of sanctuary lost its force, nobody chose to live. And only marbled duplicates are permitted to sleep and wait.’

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Picture 1 of 4

 

Iain Sinclair reads from ‘I TRANSGRESS’ // Lima 27/06/19

 
I contributed 3 short texts (prose poems) from my very limited edition (10 copies only) of Fifty Catacomb Saints to an anthology (I Transgress) edited by Chris Kelso, and published by Salo Press, Norwich. Chris asked contributors to post phone-recorded readings of their texts for promotional purposes (on YouTube). 
I don’t (can’t) do phone recordings and, in any case, was on the point of departure for Peru. In Lima, visiting the cathedral previously described by my great-grandfather, I asked Grant Gee to film a softly spoken reading. We had just finished inspecting the bones and monument and mummy (status questionable) of Francisco Pizarro. So it felt like the right place (by smell and sound) for this text. Grant was gathering footage for his proposed feature film, The Gold Machine. He covered our journey all the way. He’d like, if sufficient funds can be raised, to return to Peru next spring, to spend more time on the key locations. (Iain Sinclair)

“Poems and texts that should probably have been left in the dark” – a note from Iain

It feels distinctly posthumous and not altogether comfortable to be confronted by Jeff Johnson’s epic bio-bibliography (see here for more info). This detective, stalking archives and forensically examining files, tracking down contacts, interrogating by email, has laid out all the dates and details and facts that are not a life. He has also, somehow, persuaded me to allow the publication of lost and obscure fragments from the early days. I have composed a somewhat dazed introduction. There are letters to and from poets, film pieces, poems and texts that should probably have been left in the dark, but Jeff’s persistence demands respect: a quantity of never previously republished material survived my cull.

Iain Sinclair

 

The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City will be published in September.

News of a new book that will be published in September.

Updated 28/03/2017

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