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Sunday 31 May 2009

Breaking News : 2050

We're getting breaking news in from Baghdad...
two bodies perfectly preserved in sand...
discovered... that's unearthed... three years ago,
the news released this morning. Dating from
the dawn of man, they are by far the most
intact, the oldest and most thrilling find
yet made. A meal, their last, was taken from
their stomachs, analysed and found to be
red grape - and something that perplexed the ex-
perts for a while, now thought to be a form
of apple, quite unlike our modern one.

I'm looking at them as I speak; they bring
to mind discarded snake or lizard skins,
part stained, sun-dried, part bleached. In other lights
they might be dressed in leathers for a ride.
To where? Perhaps to where they were (it might
appear) so intimately whittled out
of marbled ivory by ripples in
hot sand - but then again, these blotchy things
could take on almost any form you please:
exotic fruits, all moisture sucked from them,
their wrinkled skins diminished, shrunk and posed
as foetal forms, like doodles see-through thin.

Displayed for cameras, they lie as they
were found, their fingers linked - they'd thought in sin -
in Baghdad's Palace to the Modern Man
where scholarship and science now begin,
and out of which two eerie facts emerge:
despite their difference in gender terms
they share a single DNA; and he,
for all his wholeness, lacks one floating rib -
removed at some point, cleanly, with a God-
like skill and with no trace of scar or wound.

This week we screen three Specials from our Talk
is Cheap
discussion series, featuring
professionals from many walks of life
including faith and science, airing views
on topics such as; What Do We Not Know?
and Does this Make a Difference? and Is
There Evidence For This As Evidence?

© David King

Friday 29 May 2009

Land Art

From the third of Jume to the sixth of September this year Tate Britain is to host an exhibition of the work of Richard Long. A year or more ago I posted a piece on Environmental Art, mainly, I suppose, extolling the work of Andy Goldsworthy, an artist whose work I greatly admired. Towards the end of the post I mentioned, almost in passing, the work of Richard Long. Although at that time I was getting less than a quarter of the number of visits that I now receive, I am still getting the occasional email about that post, many of them referring to Richard Long. As a result of the interest shown and what I have learnt since then, a visit to the upcoming exhibition at Tate Britain has become a must.

Artists have always tried to record nature. From the earliest cave paintings, and before them in sculptures, artists were representing it to themselves and to others. We might think also of standing stones, cairns and the figures cut into the landscape for various - often unknown - purposes. The White Horses on the English Downs, for example. And from the earliest beginnings (probably) artists have attempted to interact with nature, maybe to add a new element to what they saw or to rearrange, adapt or modify it in some way. And so it is that still today we have these two forms represented in what has come to be termed Environmental Art or Land Art, even (as I like to think of the best of them) markscapes. Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy belong to the first division (in both senses), while artists such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude are noted for wrapping landscapes in plastic sheeting. Others have modified the landscape on larger and more permanent scales, bringing in earth-moving machines to rearrange what nature made. The contributions of Long and Goldsworthy, look natural. They are co-operating visibly with nature. Christo and Jeanne-Claude (and even less, some others) could not be said to be doing that. What Christo and Jeanne-Claude add does not belong to nature in form, composition or appearance. They maintain that by doing it they are helping us to see our environment, and that may well be, but they are not co-operating with nature to the degree that Long and Goldsworthy are.

This is what I wrote about them a year ago. I think it worth repeating. Christo and Jeanne-Claude achieved fame, and some notoriety, way back, wrapping objects and people, before moving on to larger stuff like islands and sea shores wrapped in polypropylene. Their latest project, not to be realized before 2011, is to suspend translucent panels of fabric, horizontally, over the Arkansas River in the State of Colorado. The panels will be seen as shimmering screens waving high above the water level and, when seen from below, will have "projected" on them, the silhouetted forms of clouds, mountains and vegetation.

Typically, their projects take decades to come to fruition, most of which time is consumed by the need to survey perhaps dozens of potential sites to find the perfect one, to complete all the paperwork, obtain all the permits, reassure the locals at public meetings, modify the plans to meet any objections and/or the requirements of local use and health and safety issues. Indeed, most projects never see the light of day, and those that do, Christo and Jeanne-Claude insist, are dismantled after a fortnight.

When it was put to Christo that it must be very difficult, thinking of the concepts for their projects, he disagreed: "Any fool can get a good idea," he said, "the difficult part is doing it".

Art such as Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's tends to grab the limelight and so has become what most folk now think of as Environmental Art. It is Site Specific art. It may be different in kind from Godsworthy''s art or Long's, but it deserves to have a lot going for it. However, it has had some significant failures. Christo, for example, once wrapped the coast of Little Bay, near Sydney, Australia, as a result of which a seal and some penguins became trapped. The fabric had to be cut to allow them to escape; an incident which caused the creatures concerned no little trauma and set in train a great deal of rethinking on the issues raised by that particular form of environmental art.

Somewhere between these two groups, I think, comes the work of an artist like Antony Gormley with his terracotta figures (shades of the terracotta army?) and his figures in the sea. These last are not just natural-looking, but eerily so. The fact is that they do not belong to a landscape in the way that a tree or a rock belongs to it, but have more claim to ownership of a landscape than sheets of fabric.

Richard Long

In 1967 Richard Long took the first steps - literally - towards a new form of art. Or at least, so he would claim. He took himself off into the country, found a convenient field, and walked in a straight line, backwards and forwards along it. By the time he had finished he had pressed down the grasses to such an extent that walked a line into the landscape. He had left a mark upon it. It was the beginning of his walking as art, as mark-making. He does not consider his walks as being in themselves conceptual, but they realise a particular idea, often the relationships existing between time, geography, distance and measurement. He regards these walks (works) as essentially ephemeral and so records them in some way. In one of three ways, to be precise: by means of maps, in photographs or in textual form. He has said that his work lies between two borders, that at which monuments begin and that of leaving only footprints.

Walking figures almost as much in his routine as art. For example he once covered 150 miles in five days, travelling only 10 miles the first day and increasing the distance by 10 iles each day until on the fifth he had 50 miles to do. These walks most often result in texts, typical of which is something like this:





Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy has explained his art more lucidly than I ever could, so maybe he should speak for himself:

"I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and "found" tools--a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn. "

"Looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins. The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and space within. The weather--rain, sun, snow, hail, mist, calm--is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. It is not independent of its surroundings, and the way it sits tells how it came to be there."

"I want to get under the surface. When I work with leaf, rock or stick, it is not just that material in itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it. When I leave it, these processes continue."

"Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. I need the shock of touch, the resistance of place, materials and weather, the earth as my source. Nature is in a state of change and that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Each work grows, stays, decays. Process and decay are implicit. Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature."

"The underlying tension of a lot of my art is to try and look through the surface appearance of things. Inevitably, one way of getting beneath the surface is to introduce a hole, a window into what lies below."

The image above is of his Ice Spiral

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Anti-Virus Traumas

For years I enjoyed a trouble-free experience with my free anti-virus and firewall software. And then, a year ago, I decided to upgrade to the Pro version on the promise of it being more manageable and less intrusive. I can't say the promise was fulfilled, but at any rate it continued to do exactly what it said on the tin in terms of keeping my computer safe.

And then... and then... and then... early last week, with the year of my license almost up and my software running out of time, I began the attempt to renew it. Seemed straightforward enough, just fill up the online form and... well, to begin with, I needed to insert the license number for the existing software. It was one of those numbers with three billion digits, but not to worry, I had it stored safely in my impeccable filing system. Only it didn't work - the number I mean, not the filing system. Large red letters proclaimed INVALID NUMBER! I tried again. Obviously, among the three billion characters were several 0s that might have beenOs and several Os that might have been 0s. I tried every possible combination - and several that shouldn't have been possible. INVALID NUMBER! , INVALID NUMBER! , INVALID NUMBER!. So I crawled down into the bowels of the information file, found the license number secreted there, and cut and pasted it onto the blasted form. INVALID NUMBER! 

Nothing for it, of course, but to email the address (sales@) given on the form, thus to plead for help. The reply came promptly back that (presumably because I was upgrading, not buying from scratch) it was not Sales I required, but Customer Services. Off went another email, this time to the afore-mentioned Customer Services, explaining in some detail the nature of the problem, i.e. that their forms were not accepting my officially supplied License number. The reply informed me that in order to help me they would need the license number of my software. I could go on, but suffice it to say that soon after this I gave up and decided to try another brand altogether.

All went well and the new software was soon downloaded. My plan now was to go off-line whilst I uninstalled the old and installed the new. Uninstalling the old did not go smoothly, it was extremely reluctant to wave me goodbye, and to complicate things further, the new, although it was now on my hard disc, could not be installed off-line. It had to be done remotely. I was at this point, though, offered help in uninstalling the old, and that now went smoothly... except that I was now on-line and unprotected (other than by Windows's own very basic offering). It took a fair while to install the new, so I then decided, my computer having been at risk for that amount of time, to run my brand new virus scan. It reported eventually - over an hour later - that all was well and that no threats had been found. The following morning after booting up it went into download mode again, and again for an hour or so, during which I could not get on to do anything I wanted to do. it was, apparently, downloading the virus scanner! And it has done it every morning since, despite the fact that I have disabled the automatic download facility and elected to download manually.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Body Swap

(The result of me relaxing a day or two and reverting to type.)

Body Swap

He was The Lord of Lowering, and she
The Witch of West Wherever,
an amorous bird of prey
that Marvell might have championed.
Without quite meaning it,
she held him in her thrall.

Nurturing a garden,
she'd sentence plants to die.
Erotic joy - but not its sister,
sexual pleasure - was
a bounty of her voice,
her presence and her touch.
Her fragrance spray gave
only evil's odour.
Babies cried at her approach,
dog's growled and cattle fled,

And when at last she let 
him slink into her bed,
it had more strings attached, he found,
than a macramé web.

Macramé was her hobby,
she used its skills to hobble him
in tight string garments that she'd tie
with her own brand of love.
By that she branded him.

Of whips, she'd two:
one short and red,
the other black and long,
a rat's tail, tapering
towards the business end.
She'd crack them when the time had come 
for him to shake his feathers out and take
on board some new persona 
to appease her passing whim:
a child perhaps, a servant, horse, 
an idiot or dog. She'd crack 
them to more purpose though,
when playful, disappointed, vexed
or passionate. And doubly so
for disrespecting Tortoise-shell
her one familiar and his bête noir.
(And black it was, in all but name.).

The day came when their morning trot
descended into farce. He bucked
and threw her from his back.
His punishment: to be confined
a single night in her tin trunk
with Tortoise-shell.
(For no amount of grovelling,
boot licking, being spanked
could possibly atone
or put the matter right.)
She saw it as a sign 
that he was slipping from her power.
It happened on the very day 
that Tortoise-shell, to her delight
and great astonishment,
seduced her - twice.

All night she walked around the trunk
in widdershins, intoning
from her mother's book,
the poem, Migrant Soul.

At daybeak she unlocked the trunk.
He stepped out free as air
and purring slightly, while the cat,
its face and body badly scratched,
hissed and spat between the knots
and tangled strands of its string suit.

I can't believe you thought I'd leave you without a proper poem! Here's the Andrew Marvell Poem from which I took my reference.

To his coy mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Should'st rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain, I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow ;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze ;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest ;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart ;
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear

Time's winged chariot hurrying near ;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honor turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust :
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now, therefore, while the youthful hue

Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life :
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Art by Market Research?

Mark Ravenhill, writing in The Guardian (18:05:09) commented on the future as he saw it (bleak, but not too bleak) for the stage. He spoke of the way things once were for theatre-land, a scenario of boom and bust, feast and famine, in which they relied, all too heavily, on word of mouth, which would bring in customers in their droves when a play caught the imaginations of the general public, but otherwise they struggled to get enough bums on seats.

According to Ravenhill, the policies of Maggie Thatcher changed all that. It was, she maintained, all a matter of supply and demand. All that was needed was for you to first identify your audience, then work out what it was this audience were wanting. After which you merely had to sell yourself to them as a company capable, ready and willing to supply it. So they did. And it worked, to such an extent that they now have loyal audiences which turn up regularly. And particularly so at the moment, thanks to the credit crunch (sic)! Those punters who are still in work have £25 or so to spare each week, thanks to lower mortgage repayments, and they are willing to spend this on theatre tickets. (I must say here that this does not seem to quite accord with other analyses I have come across, but let's go with it.)

You might think, might you not, that the market research approach would make for some degree of conservatism in the fare on offer, but not so, says Ravenhill. It has actually resulted in an increase in the number of new plays. However, there is a downside, and it is here that he seems to me to be arguing against his own optimism: apparently, the adoption of the Thatcher approach led to an increased dependence on sponsorship and grants - and it is these, that given the new financial situation, are likely not to be forthcoming in the immediate future. He doesn't explain the mechanism by which it came about that Thatcherite policies led to this increased dependence upon handouts, and I find it hard to see what it might have been. At any rate, it would not seem possible for the theatres to make up this shortfall. Seats are already expensive and, for the main part, filled. He did not propose a way out of the dilemma, but remains optimistic in that he looks forward to what is to come.

I did wonder, reading the piece, whether and to what extent his Thatcherite policies could/should be extended to the other arts, the visual arts, for example. Is the policy transferable? Should Tracey Emin have researched the market a bit to find out whether indeed it was wanting an unmade bed, or might she have done better with, say, an inverted toilet?Should Tate Modern or the White Cube Gallery carry out market research to discover what the punters want? Could you imagine Picasso saying to himself: It seems this blue stuff's not shifting like it was... time to try another colour, maybe!

Could there be a New visions for old! approach in any of the arts, whereby if what you are painting, writing, composing at the moment is not selling, you should bin that style or voice, that sound or genre for something more popular? After all, artists of old, Michelangelo et al gave their patrons what they wanted (by and large) - and their work doesn't seem to have suffered as a result.

Just a thought or two to be going on with...

Monday 18 May 2009

Better than sex?

I've heard it said... honest! You may or may not agree, I could not possibly bring myself to comment. What I will say is that Seamus Heaney in Stepping Stones, his biography by interview, talks about the great harvest of inspiration that he derived from P.V. Glob's book, The Bog People. He says of it that it has never left him. The Beauty of Fractals by H. -O.Peitgen and P.H.Richter had the same effect on me when, like Heaney and his Bog People, I bought it for myself as a Christmas present, he in 1969, me around 1986 or the year after, since when fractals have been an abiding interest of mine.

A quote from the book:

Where the world ceases to be the stage for personal hopes and desires, where we, as free beings, behold it in wonder, to question and contemplate, there we enter the realm of art and science. If we trace out what we behold and experience through the language of logic, we are doing science; if we show it in forms whose interrelationships are not accessible to our conscious thought but are intuitively recognized as meaningful, we are doing art. Common to both is the devotion to something beyond the personal, removed from the arbitrary. A Einstein

A fractal is an irregular or fragmented shape, like a cloud or a

coastline, into which you can zoom, almost without limit, dividing and subdividing it into smaller and smaller parts, each of which is a clone of the original whole.

My post concerns fractal plots, of which the black beetle (Mandelbrot) shown above is probably the most iconic. By zooming in on the first section of the antenna protruding from its head you are rewarded with

the plot following it (above left). Zoom in on that and the next appears... and so on ad infinitum. These, then are mathematical plots, obtained from an equation by repeatedly applying a process (a

function or formula)to that equation, often hundreds, even thousands of times. The colour is applied to show how many times the function had to be applied for the plot to arrive at

that particular point. Because of the vast numbers of calculations required these plots could not be realised before the advent of computers. (Mathematicians knew the plots were there. What they had not realised was how beautiful they would prove to be.) Now anyone can produce them. Those above I produced using Chaospro, one of the many fractal generators available free on the web.

The images below are from the Julia sets. These are found by exploring the periphery of the Mandelbrot.

Thoughts on a Fractal Plot

There's something in the way infinity
evolves from repetition and goes on
to cosy up to what is local and well-loved.

It has to do with how a line repeats itself
and yet surprises you, how little gasps
of disbelief greet what was sure to be.

It has to do with laws of nature laid
in stone, and flexible as oil, though hid
in folds away from human thought and prying eyes.

We've seen it the way that men like Koch
and Mandelbrot set out to map their world,
who gave geometry its extra twist, who said:

there's something in the complex plane - a void,
a vacancy, a darkness, an abyss -
whereby infinity bleeds back into the world.

And where to us it seems most whimsical,
in sudden exit or return, it tells in truth
of discipline and order writing home.

It had to do with clouds, their borders
and their surfaces, when Gaston Julia had yet
to intuit how beauty slept

with storm and chaos in a geometric set,
how Adam's single fruit upon its single tree
would bifurcate to great complexity.

It had to do with how the new (non-linear)
would wipe the lines that Euclid drew, and how
a simple plot could crown such turbulence as queen.

There's something in oneself that echoes this,
first turns it like a wooden bowl upon a lathe,
then fills it with earth's most delicious fruits.

D King

Saturday 16 May 2009

I've not done this before...

Tom Lubbock, writing in The Independent (friday 15 May 2009) returned to the age old topic of censorship in the arts. Well, in painting actually, discussing The Beheading of St John the Baptist (1450s) by Giovanni di Paolo, a Siennese artist. He wrote:

Films today come with censor's advice, declaring what they contain in terms of language, sex, nudity and violence, often registering fine gradations. Contains moderate language and one scene of moderate sexualised nudity. Contains strong language, sex references and brief bloody violence. Contains frequent moderate action violence. Contains strong language, sex references and nudity. Contains very strong language and strong bloody violence. Contains very strong bloody violence, medical gore and sustained terrorisation etc.

There is no censorship of paintings. If there were, what would it say? The old masters, when they occasionally added words, used the most decorous language, taken from the scriptures or the classics. When it comes to sex and nudity, there is plenty in post-Renaissance images, though how sexualised the nudity, how strong the sex is, can be uncertain. As for violence, in art from all ages it is frequently extreme. Paintings contain very strong bloody violence. In spite of our high expectations of high art, we can hardly fail to notice this – and even have qualms.

In fact, our objections to violence in art are resourceful. We worry in opposite ways. Sometimes it seems that the treatment of violence is too sensational, gruesome, relishing. Sometimes it seems too beautifying, formal, composed (this is a subtlety the film censors overlook. They never say: contains brief aestheticised violence.) Both attitudes have something heartless about them. One approach plays the violence up and the other plays it down. Both offer a wrong, though different, kind of enjoyment. And given that violence shouldn't be wholly excluded from art, but shouldn't be made too enjoyable either, it seems hard to get its treatment right.

Lubbock's thoughts on painting could be equally well applied to poetry or any of the arts, I suggest, and though they pertain to violence they could be made with few if any changes apropos blasphemy, for instance. I mention this for reasons that will become apparent, in connection with the death of James Kirkup on March 10, aged 91, a much underrated poet - or so many would maintain. Certainly, a neglected one. There is reason why this should be so - which again we will come to in the fullness of time.

The Haunted Lift by James Kirkup

On the ground floor
of this ultramodern
tower block

in the dead
of the night

the lift doors
open, with a

Nobody enters,
and nobody
comes out.

In the dead
of the night

the lift doors
close with a clang,
and the lift begins

to move
up. ..

with nobody in it,
nobody but
the ghost of a girl

who lived here once
on the thirteenth floor of
this ultramodern tower block.

One day, she went to play
in an old part of town,
and never came back..

She said she was just
going to the corner shop,
but she never came home.

Now her ghost

keeps pressing
in the dead

middle of the night
the button
for the thirteenth floor.

But when the door
opens with a clang
she cannot step out.

She gazes longingly
at the familiar landing,

but only for a moment. . .

then the lift doors
clang in her face
and her tears

silently flow
as the lift
in the dead

middle of the night
so soft and slow

carries her down again
down below,
far, far below

the ground
floor, where nobody
waits for the haunted lift

in the dead
of the night.

on the thirteenth floor
her mother and father

with her photo
beside their bed
wake up

in the dead
middle of the night, and hear
the mysterious clanging

of closing lift doors,
and wonder
who it could be

in the dead
of the night

using the lift
at such
an unearthly hour.

In this ultramodern
tower block
there is no thirteenth floor.

What bedevilled his career to a large extent was not poems like the one above, but the one for which he was most famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view: The Love that Dares to Speak Its Name. It is an account of the descent from the cross in which Christ, or at least the body of Christ, becomes the object of a gay centurion's worship. I can understand this giving offence. Some would have it banned. I dare say that had the beloved been the prophet Mohammed and not Christ, it would (effectively, at any rate)now be banned. But which position is right? Or neither? Should religious sensibilities at least be protected in some way? Should there be a censor's advice slip, the way surfers are warned that a site contains material they might find offensive? Even a health warning? Now I do the something that I have never done before: I publish a poem that I do not like. You have been warned!

The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name

As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms-
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
beardless, breathless,
but well hung.

He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.

I was alone with him.
For the last time
I kissed his mouth. My tongue
found his, bitter with death.
I licked his wound-
the blood was harsh
For the last time
I laid my lips around the tip
of that great cock, the instrument
of our salvation, our eternal joy.
The shaft, still throbbed, anointed
with death's final ejaculation

I knew he'd had it off with other men-
with Herod's guards, with Pontius Pilate,
With John the Baptist, with Paul of Tarsus
with foxy Judas, a great kisser, with
the rest of the Twelve, together and apart.
He loved all men, body, soul and spirit. - even me.

So now I took off my uniform, and, naked,
lay together with him in his desolation,
caressing every shadow of his cooling flesh,
hugging him and trying to warm him back to life.
Slowly the fire in his thighs went out,
while I grew hotter with unearthly love.

It was the only way I knew to speak our love's proud name,
to tell him of my long devotion, my desire, my dread-
something we had never talked about. My spear, wet with blood,
his dear, broken body all open wounds,
and in each wound his side, his back,
his mouth - I came and came and came

as if each coming was my last.
And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit's final seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth-
he crucified me with him into kingdom come.

-This is the passionate and blissful crucifixion
same-sex lovers suffer, patiently and gladly.
They inflict these loving injuries of joy and grace
one upon the other, till they dies of lust and pain
within the horny paradise of one another's limbs,
with one voice cry to heaven in a last divine release.

Then lie long together, peacefully entwined, with hope
of resurrection, as we did, on that green hill far away.
But before we rose again, they came and took him from me.
They knew not what we had done, but felt
no shame or anger. Rather they were glad for us,
and blessed us, as would he, who loved all men.

And after three long, lonely days, like years,
in which I roamed the gardens of my grief
seeking for him, my one friend who had gone from me,
he rose from sleep, at dawn, and showed himself to me before
all others. And took me to him with
the love that now forever dares to speak its name.

Kirkup's most recent collection was The Authentic Touch

Wednesday 13 May 2009

The Things We Do to Amuse Ourselves!

I was sorry to have missed the contact with my fellow bloggers during my recent absence - truly I was. My only excuse is that I was enjoying myself. We, Doreen and I, with two mutual friends from my college days, Judith and Bill, usually aim to have a few days away together each year. This year Cardiff had the honour of our presence - well just outside Cardiff, actually, in a rather splendid Country House Hotel tucked away (though we did manage to find it, eventually) beneath a mountain and with a magnificent view looking down on Cardiff and beyond it to the Bristol Channel and further still to the North Devon coast.

Dragging ourselves away from the temptation to stay and do nothing, we spent much of the first day exploring Cardiff's regenerated waterfront. Particularly interesting to me was the Norwegian Church, dismantled, shipped across to Wales and reassembled piece by piece by the Seaman's Mission for the use of Norwegian sailors using the port. Roald Dahl was christened in it. It now contains a cafe (everything in Cardiff contains a cafe, bar or restaurant) and upstairs an art gallery showing some quite respectable works. But equally as interesting was the lightship, now permanently moored and open to the public. Surprisingly for such a small ship, it boasted a mess room serving snacks and drinks (well, that wasn't surprising, I suppose), a library and a chapel.

The following morning things began to go slightly downhill when Doreen's mobility scooter shed the main bolt from its steering column (called a tiller).A very obliging hotel maintenance man tried his best to effect a repair, but without success. From then on our choice of activity was somewhat curtailed. There followed a fruitless search for a spare part in Merthyr Tydfil, during which we came upon the wall painting and whilst photographing it was approached by the artist who told us proudly that he had painted it nine years ago.We then decided to take a ride on the Brecon Mountain Railway, only to discover that we were using an out-dated timetable and it was closed. Instead, we took ourselves off for a drive through the Rhonda Valley.

We did eventually ride the mountain railway, but that was the day I forgot to take the camera...! In addition to which, I have to say that I have ridden on more exciting mountain railways. Come to that, I have ridden on more exciting Welsh mountain railways. Very pleasant, though.

Bill and I did also get to take ourselves off to Castle
Coch (pronounced Cock), an accurate reconstruction of the original thirteenth century castle - at which there was a wedding. I make no further comment, but include a photograph.

Circumstances prescribed that the highlight of our days away would be the hotel, but what a highlight it was!

Sunday 10 May 2009

The Immaterial Me

The krantz of human intellect sustains us all;
we stand forever on its crumbling edge and see
fluctuating mirages
that ever come back different from the sea.
Is this illusionary flux what we call thought?
Is thought coerced in me?

On this precipitous reason here I stand
knowing only that I am,
not what I am, or why,
or how I came to land, by whom
the immaterial me was planned,
or how my cells foregathered round their shore.

Did accidental waters wash them in
where the deep oceans of my soul crash to the land,
this envelope of sand where I begin,
to build around the ebb and flow of their dark tides
the coral shore of this restricting skin,
cohabitant and coheir with the sea

of the insubstantial, immaterial me?
My body grows, thinks, feels and is.
What are these strange intangibles? What is
response to stimulus?
But thinks and feels on whose behalf,
and why? The world is its antithesis.

Upon the krantz of intellect I stand
and see the world of men and things beneath
spread like some huge Kriegspiel on the beach.
And then, or so it seems, the tides push in,
and every piece and pawn upon the board
becomes but my reflection in the sea -

ten thousand images and congeners of me!
Because of some interstice in the land
(our language is inadequate) I cannot reach
these images or see what makes each always him
and never me. I understand their strategy, but not
what makes each part, yet not a part, of me,

nor whose hand moves them with such mastery?
From where I stand
the waves distort the images they carry
and pawns seem bent the way the tides are flowing.
I stand forever on this vantage-point and see
fluctuating mirages

that ever come back different from the sea.
The sea heaves up its oily back,
the pieces and the pawns dissolve and break,
are shattered by a wave's caress,
and where the symbols of the indivisible divide
do we reach consciousness?

This is another one I take out periodically, dust off and redraft. It is never right; it still isn't. I can see things that are wrong, particularly in the use of language and too obvious rhymes etc, but correcting them tends to make the poem less satisfactory, not more so. Any observations, suggestions etc would be appreciated.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

It is Man. Untitled 11 Parts

Installation: It is Man. Untitled 11 Parts

by Anish Kapoor

Menhir mein(long)- stone
standing sentinel no runes to work their magic
only a shape a roughness and a contrast
distance adds to darkness what the eye has missed
no accident its heart is black
stone god god-stone
now steeped in stony silences
mnemonic cloistered cloned and lonely.

A fever spreads upon a sea
a scatter cushioning blue pigmented
wind-blown and drifting step
with care they'll carry you these
stepping stones upon a tranquil sea
to dream's epiphany world-weary
knee-worn prayer-torn stone
hassocks tide-assisted sanctity

Amish Kapoor is currently making headlines with five of his works part of this year's Brighton Festival, including one on The South Downs, a huge curved mirror in which viewers may see themselves and the world around them inverted. I don't have a poem for any of those. (Methinks me hears cheers.)

The image above comes from the ever-popular, The Art Book, published by Phaidon in two formats, a fairly hefty coffee table-type edition and a pocket-sized one. I have a copy of the former, which I find indispensable for browsing - and the occasional moment of inspiration, as here.

With this post I am, alas, going off line for a day or two. See you around ere long, when I will do my level best to catch up with any comments etc.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Failed, failed, failed!

Last week I accepted a challenge from Rachel to learn a poem by Monday (yesterday). Until quite recently I was in the habit of learning poems quite regularly, but have been out of the habit for a while, so I chose for my self The Idea of Order at Key West by Wallace Stevens - and failed, I am sorry to say. Monday evening I thought I had earned a B+, but this morning I stumbled on the final verse and earlier missed the line "She measured to the hour its solitude", so a D- is the best I can claim, I think. As for Rachel's suggestion that I might record and post myself reciting it: No chance, none whatsoever. My voice is too awful for that. I have no desire to put good folk off Wallace Stevens. Anyway, here it is:

The Idea of Order at Key West

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.
The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.
If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.

It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

Saturday 2 May 2009

A Stoku

A stoku, I have been reading, is an amalgam of a short or flash story and a haiku. It is a story as it inclines towards a flash moment, insight, vision or paradox. Totally new to me, so I thought I would have a go. And this is it. I don't think I made it, I think I ended up with a short story, but see what you think.

The Interview

The interview was not going well. He didn't need to look at their faces to realise that. He didn't even need to catch the glances that passed between them. He could have felt the vibes with his eyes shut and without a word being spoken. It hadn't gone well at the beginning, it hadn't gone well later and it wasn't going well now. This last small episode was the crowning humiliation: he had been given a card on which had been printed a story. They had given him as long as he needed to read the story silently and inwardly digest. It had told of an immigrant family celebrating their first Christmas in this country, and of the excitement of the children at their first encounter with real snow. Of course, there had been much more than that to the story, but those were the salient points, the points that would haunt him for the rest of his life. They had not, however, seemed so salient when he had replaced the card on the big mahogany desk and the head had asked, kindly enough, had he read it thoroughly. He had nodded his reply. For starters they asked him a few questions about the make-up of the family and about the family dynamics. He had been happy with those and replied, as he thought, well enough. But then, what should have been two much simpler questions:
Had they come from a warmer country than England, this family, or a colder one? followed by;

And how do we know that?

He had dealt with the first one easily enough: no hesitation at all: Warmer.

But the follow-through had stymied him. He had known why well enough reading the story. Obviously there was something in the story that had made the answer to their question quite evident. And obviously his brain had registered that something, but just as obviously, the wretched something had been noted by that part of the brain that operates below the level of consciousness. And it was patently evident that that part of his brain wasn't talking to the rest of it.

Later, in fact the moment he got outside the door, the two parts would connect and he would know what he should have said, but for now... blotto.

I don't know... he had mumbled.

They had smiled and assured him that it was fine. Fine? If that had been fine, he had silently hoped never to encounter a disaster. Now, though, the priority was to put it all behind him. Damage limitation. Try to salvage whatever might remain of the interview.

What do you want to be when you leave school?

The question cut in above his thoughts. Almost an intrusion. He felt a little spurt of confidence. He had considered the possibility - certainty almost - of this question and had decided that it would be best not to say artist, for he reasoned that they would be hoping for an aspiration rather more academic than that. He had decided to raid the family fantasy rather than reveal his own. The family had long decided that, with his interest in drawing, he was going to design the houses that his younger brother (more practical and "good with his hands") would build.

An architect.

He had said it with a touch of pride, as though it was a done thing, something already accomplished.

Murmurs of approval greeted the answer. The first such that he had heard.

Interesting... the world could certainly do with a few more good ones... and if you were to be asked to design a school like this, what would you put in it to benefit both pupils and staff?

He had expected something more technical, perhaps. Less mundane. Something to get excited about, maybe a question about styles of architecture or what he thought of all the new materials now coming on stream. Town planning, inner-city regeneration, modernism, the big picture... but how could he reply to such a boring question while still demonstrating something of his knowledge and his passions?

Good heating, lighting and air-conditioning...

And where had that come from? Must have been from that part of the mind that had been holding out on him earlier. It took a few seconds for him to realise that he was home and dried. He was in. Job done. There could be no doubt. The atmosphere in that small room had changed dramatically. There were a few more questions still to come, but the attitudes now indicated that there were no more that mattered. Everything now was a formality. And then the final pleasantries and the show was over.

Even so... radiators and ventilation grills? It was a disappointment. He had never given such things a moment's thought, his knowledge of them was zero, his interest in them less than zero, so from where had that blinding flash of inspiration come? It had seemed to come out of the ether, but he suspected - and suspected very strongly - that it had something to do with the brain, the brain that was beyond his power to control, a dark, mysterious level of thought. Something almost magical, but something more trustworthy, it seemed, than the upper reaches and their rational, academic machinations. When the interview finished he was out of that room like a shot, telling his dad, who had been sitting in the corridor the while, that not only had he found his way into that school, but, six or seven years down the line, his place in art school had also been assured.

Earlier this week Lizzy Frizzfrock honoured me with the above award.

Later in the week I was again honoured, this time by Watermaid, with this further award.

I sincerely hope neither will be offended when I say that I made the decision some time ago not to place awards permanently on my blog. In fact, I decided at one point not to show them at all, but have since thought that I should show them as a post or as part of a post. The decision not to show them permanently is no reflection of my feelings on being given such an award or my gratitude towards those making it. It stems in part from a desire to slim down the blog and thereby decrease the time it takes to load. My most earnest hope is that no one will take this personally. I am so appreciative of all those who follow my blog, who give helpful comments and advice - and, naturally, who make awards. The awards that I have accepted in the past and are still to be seen on the blog will be removed in due course. I had meant to do it earlier but have been obsessed by other things of late. Again, it will be due to no negative feelings towards them or their givers. My grateful thanks to all who have supported me. I have created a label for the awards so that it will be possible to access them.