Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Cover

Special Xmas Offer: see Amazon Kindle for details

Kindle book ready and waiting.

So what’s it about?
It is about how stories, poems, texts, were structured in a certain way from early times, and through to the present day.
The structure works as a memory system. I investigate how this structure fits into the now well-known Arts of Memory.
The book also looks at how the structuring works, and was passed down through time.

I look at twenty-plus texts from ancient times, through the medieval flowering, down to the present day.
You’d be surprised what I found.

Special Xmas Offer: see Amazon Kindle for details:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gifts-Rings-Gold-Introduction-Ring-composition-ebook/dp/B01IRPODPW/ref=sr_1_1?s=d

 

This is a dual Romanian/English publication.
Available from:
Colectile Revistei ‘Orizont Literar Contemporani’, Bibliotheca Univeralis

Effs

There are so many untold stories.

Early mornings I would be waiting, shivering, for the early bus to go to work. One companion of those mornings was a Romanian man. Once he told me, ‘Boating was my life, then. I would have happily spent my whole life sailing on the Black Sea.’
‘One year,’ he said, ‘everyone was issued with iodine tablets. No exceptions; no explanations. That was thought to be sufficient. I remember it; it was 1986. The year of Chernobyl.’

*

Daniel Dragomrisecu has set himself a very important task, in this book. He is rescuing the memories, the works, the reputations of people lost to the old regime. People who fell out of favour. People lost to time’s relentless tumble.
He gives us eight recollections, and revaluations.

Romania.
The Ceausescu regime, with its grand empty palace and boulevard. Claudio Magris, in his book Danube, writes: “Hiroshima” is the name  bestowed by the people of Bucharest on the quarter of the city  which Ceausescu is gutting, levelling, devastating … building his Centre, the monument to his glory.

But what of the starving villages’  untold stories?

What Daniel Dragomirecu has done here is collect together articles and memoirs he has published in newspapers, magazines, journals, and published them in a dual translation book, called Effigies in the Mirror of Time.

Ok, we started with Romania, but we need to narrow-down, zoom-in. Let’s find Moldavia, and in Moldavia, the region of Vaslui. This is the hub for all the stories, the personalities.
How often do we hear or read news from Moldavia?

We have here writers, intellectuals, philosophers, engineers, and a comedy actor: the exuberant, gifted, Constantin Tanese.
This sketch-song of his could well be a timeless anthem:

Nothing has changed / Everything is the same
/ Everywhere the same lies / So what have we done? /
Revenge is plotted behind the scenes / As it has not
been seen before / The country is full of VIPS / So
what have we done? / Our people leave, our people
come! / This is the famous slogan, / We have been
fools to vote again / So what have we done?

The story was that he was shot whilst on stage – he was doing a satire on Russians, the new power. A Soviet officer in the audience stood, up and shot him dead.
Did it really happen? Was that how we wanted him to go?
Or was the end of the great man more prosaic?
Truth and legend, both are necessary, both are stories from which we gain life and sustenance. But truth must take precedence; always.

When communism was abandoned, many here in the West hoped that the best of that regime – or was it the most durable? – would be combined with the best/most durable in the West, to create a better society. The old Marxist dialectic, with its synthesis: how people love to make patterns.
Now, it seems, many feel what they have instead is another lost possibility. Because what modern capitalism has to offer is repugnant in many ways. And durability does not promise anything, either.

In the West these ideas, the dialectic, were never put into practice; we did not witness its effects on people as with the people Daniel here rehabilitates.

Take, for instance, Cezar Ivanescu (1941 -2004). He was an uncrowned prince among academics: Don Cezar. Writer, philosopher, critic, academic par excellence. He was severely beaten in the 1990 Miner’s Strike, and hovered between life and death for weeks.

As a less violent example, take Nicolae Malaxa (1884 to 1965). Born in humble circumstances he grew up and developed an acute managerial sense combined with a dedicated engineering skills. Train engine maker, car engine manufacturer, heavy-engineering magnate. Only to lose it all when all his great enterprises were nationalised under the new regime.
What the man could have done for Romania.

Many here were academics, writers, poets.
We ask now, what is the worth of such work? We ask that because everything now is monetarised, including health-care, basic necessities. Cultural value differs from monetary value; there is also the value of a persons’ life in itself.

And the irony of free-thought. In the context of the early part of last century when these people were young, free-thought still meant mostly left-wing ideas. And so when left-wing ideas became a (supposed) reality, they found themselves once more on the margins. Why was this?
Left-wing practice had its own very special character. Only those who legislated knew what it was; this is a well-known managerial tactic, to keep everyone slightly off-balance.
What was one of Stalin’s first acts as leader? Get rid of all the old Bolsheviks.
The old and out-of-place ideas and idealists had to go. The last thing they needed was free-thought.

Teodar Rescanu (1887 to 1952) was such a left-wing idealist. And writer: it is heartening to see his books being re-discovered.
He was out-of-step with the new regime. He had been imprisoned for his support of the left, but even that did no good with the new boys. He was black-listed, and the ostracism became increasingly brutal as conditions hardened.  Suicide was always an option, and he chose it.

One of the many virtues that stand out among these exemplars, is their dedication to the people, and to the idea of Romania. It almost becomes as if the whole communist experiment has a hiccup in history, a glitch, that all are quickly working at eradicating.
That is, until you see the human dimension.
The people in this book are ones who lost out to that glitch, and the ones who follow – this is especially illustrated in Daniel Dragomirescu’s relationship with Don Cezar, and in turn with poet Ion Enoche – are left to reconcile this loss, and rescue from it a sense of human value.

V I Catarama – it is very hard to find general information on the man. And yet at one time he was an esteemed man of letters, and teacher – an Apostle of Education, as Daniel Dragomisrecu entitles him.
He fell foul of the system in 1958, and was held until 1964. He was the son of a farm worker, a left-wing supporter. It was not enough.
His reinstatement was marginal; he was allowed to teach. Although the continued scrutiny this entailed must have been oppressive.

Ion Enoche is an interesting case: on the fall of the old regime, he still had no place. He had become such a thorough non-conformist he could no longer adapt to any system. Daniel Dragmirescu implies that the over-riding  atmosphere after the fall of the regime was predominantly political, and busy with rebuilding the new Romania.
Enoche could not adapt to this, he was singular, and one-directional; his sole focus was poetry, a poetry cleansed of any politics, official or otherwise.
How was this possible?
Daniel Dragomirescu gives a moment from one of his works:

a poor, bedraggled, and starving Roma woman was riffling through a garbage can
for ‘a ray of sunshine.’

The set up of contrasting elements, and steering of image out of one circumscribed field of imagery towards another, more open and encompassing one, one of human values, is masterly.
It is, still, we could argue, political.
See also:
https://ion-enache.blogspot.co.uk/

Another online source related to this book is:
Ion Iancu Lefter: https://cumpana.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/pagina-121.pdf

*

This is such an important and necessary project.
It only tells a fraction of the story, of course; he acknowledges this.
It is a work of love, as well as rehabilitation.

May I suggest that he follow it up with a companion book, on the subject of notable women?
I would eagerly look forward to such another book.

*

I met a bedraggled man at the bus stop. I knew him vaguely. He had just come from the police station.
My house boat was robbed last night. They were banging on the doors, the sides. They’re a group of Romanians. They’re doing all the house boats.
What did they take?
I had no money or food; they took my chairs. They live over the back, in tents in a quarry. I phoned the police, when they were there. They laughed, Your police are pussies, they said.

It is a small town, and yes, they are pussies. It is a tacit understanding: we don’t do anything too bad, and they don’t come in too heavy.
It’s better that way.
The capitalism may be repugnant, but this works. For the time being.

I greatly took to Cubism,
right from when my brain started to function properly.

Ok, that was no straight-forward event in itself, more a spasmodic, sporadic, an occasional kind of development. Retrograde at times, too.
But the point is, Cubism did it for me.

Look at those early Picasso’s and Braque’s: the regular rectangular picture frames; the muted, limited chromatic palette.
It all spelled out Ordinary, and Normal.
The colour-scheme was deliberately mimicking the faded, un-retouched, colours of Old Masters, of Renaissance art.
This was part of the point – Picasso’s ego was towering, as usual, and he was laying down his statement: We Are The New Renaissance Artists

Of course, what those regular frames and muted colours contained was something else again. This set-up was all part of the effect, the impact.
Set-up, and punch-line.

As to the new content: we were so used to older art having a narrative, of even being the adjunct – although as a very established and authoritative one, of a pictorial experience.
Decorative art was taking off, though: think of those gold panels of Klimt. Painting was calling its own bluff:
I am a flat surface. What you see as multidimensional is really just graded marks in two dimensions.
Art is illusion.

The novelty of this was paramount: the emperor has no clothes.
Think of stage magicians showing how a trick is done.
Ah, but they always hold something back.

The new ‘thing’ was to break with narrative, and be Art: painting, colour, volume, shape,  all owning their own identities, in their own rights. Abstract Art. Balancing colours, volumes, shapes, created on the field.
Think of Mallarme, and the breaking away of words, language, from its narrative. Words as decorative, or, if you like, freed.

Art always moves on, seeks further expression; the meeting of one’s slice-of-time, and psychological make-up, interact, feed into each other. They are made from each other.

There is always this dialogue.

Art does not exist in isolation, no matter how hard it tries. The multi-cognitive nature of painting depicts all the aspects of the human imprint.
Cubism was a dialogue with what went before, and also with what might come.
Cubism, authorities agree, had its roots in the later Cezanne’s cubic, conal, spherical, dominated landscapes. Those and ancient African and Iberian works.

But it was also grounded in the intellectual ferment of its period: give it a name, for convenience: Relativity.
I refer you to this stimulating blog:
https://richlynne.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/cubism-and-relativity/

Those cubist multi-angled, part-depictions, the objectivications, of that most intimate subject, the  human portrait, also imply – and this is what excited me – the painter’s response to, if not a proper understanding of (but then, what in the public sphere ever has a full grasp of its subject?) the new theories coming from out of physics and the sciences.

The meeting point between Picasso and Einstein is given in an stimulating article on the  book, ‘Einstein, Picasso‘, by Arthur I MIller, in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/miller-01einstein.html .
The meeting point was Poincare’s book La Science et l’hypothèse.
The book introduced ideas of non-Euclidean geometry, multi-dimensions, multi-perspectives.
– Einstein read it and was fired up.
– Picasso heard the theories at around the same time (third-hand), and was freed.

It was this hidden, though implied, back-story that I responded to in Cubism. I did not know it at the time, and am incapable of understanding the mathematics, and would probably struggle and fail with the concepts now. But the need for tantalising dimensions of deeper meanings has always been my life’s ache.

There are currently writing practitioners who pronounce Writing Is Words. Nothing else (see Mallarme again). This goes for all types of writing.
Are they trying to create a form of decorative art, in words?
In art, some track all this from Duchamp, this breaking the art-and-meaning bond.
Post-War American artists, writers, took to it large-scale. It was one way, perhaps, of dealing with the War horror, by defusing it, scattering it. Meanwhile Korea, then Vietnam, were tearing at the heart of it all.

Painting, sculpture, music, without some grand narrative has never been enough.
Is it part of a cluster of synapses were developed by my response to my-period-of life in the world?
Do other generations not have this? Or other clusters that I do not detect?
There are no cut-off points. No generation ends and another begins.
As an analogue, try this:
I was investigating oral traditions of legends, tales. One source pointed out, quite pertinently, that writing and oral traditions, especially in Western Europe have co-existed for a long time. It is perhaps impossible to conceive of a solely oral tradition. All cultures have connected elements, whether painting, carving, weaving as well as some forms of written.
Some Native Australian groups now will not allow, for example, a piece of their music, or picture-making, to be copied, on the grounds that it cannot be divorced from the complete event of dance, song, music, making, that is their whole ceremony.

Now, off to bed with you.

johan-huizinga

I’d been email-chatting with an historian, one of a new group, with their own angle, agenda, their own name. I signed off saying I was just going to re-read some Huizinga.
And that was it. I did not hear from him again.
I had gone beyond the Pale.

That is the problem with Academies, they become so culty, hemmed-in with codes and etiquettes. I had obviously mentioned an historian who was not ‘in’ with their group.
I was going to re-read him because I found so much of value there. But it wasn’t what they valued. He did it differently. Heaven forbid.

Johan Huizinga is mostly known in the English-speaking world for his magisterial The Waning of the Middle Ages. The more correct title, apparently, is The Autumn of the Middle Ages, published 1924. It is this book made the man’s name. He was a leading Dutch historian.

His dates are 1872 to 1945.
That last date in particular I want you to note: died February, 1945. He had been interned in 1942 after criticism of the invasion forces. Eventually, after much clamour and agitation by the international history community, he was released. He was released in that terrible winter of 1944/5.
It is now estimated that 10,000 Dutch people died that winter, after the Nazi’s cut off food and energy supply lines, in retaliation. As the Allied forces moved through France, the Belgian and Dutch citizens could see liberation so near, so inevitable. They cheered them on. When the advance was stalled in the Ardennes, the Nazi’s took their revenge.

He began his academic career as a student of Indo-Germanic languages; he then studied comparative linguistics. He taught Oriental Studies for many years. It was not until his 30s he turned to medieval studies. Here he excelled.

His book on the later middle ages gives us the clamour and spectacle of the period, the life-lived-in-public aspect.
He also fills in with some of the gaps in current information on, for instance, such figures as Georges Chastellain, and others grouped as the grands rhetoriqueurs:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grands_Retoriqueurs.
This gives us, in turn, the real nature of the much acclaimed period. In this book he sets the increasing brutality and violence of the time against its constructed images of courtois and chivalry.
The book investigates the Burgundian Court in its positioning as potential alternate power-base to the royal court.
Professor Ralph Strom-Olsen of Madrid University, put up a very interesting paper on this: Georges Chastellain and the Language of Burgundian Historiography, that is available on Academia.edu from http://fs.oxfordjournals.org/

He has other books, influential in modern fields. Take Gaming – for this the ‘go to’ book is his Homo Ludens, published 1938.
Homo Ludens puts forward, and illustrates, the theory that our main and enduring activities as civilized people, is a form of play, serious play, that is play with rules. He traces word games as the origins of rhetoric, to Cicero’s monumental legal disputes; he sees here also the dress-up aspect in legal and royal court costume.
Playing and Knowing is an intriguing chapter, challenging us to consider acquisition of knowledge, experimentation, indeed logic, as forms of play-activity. How can we know anything until we put aside certainty, the known, and step out into maybe-land? But this play is deadly serious: riddle-solving, the penalty of death, are part and parcel of the game.
The point is, he stimulates thought, he makes us look at our institutions differently.
The range of this subject can be seen to refer us back to to the subject of Professor Huizinga’s first PhD: The Role of the Jester in Indian Drama.
https://gamingconceptz.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/huizingas-magic-circle.html

You can go to the crazy end and cite the late 1960’s Playpower ideals here. Oz Magazine founder, Richard Neville’s book, Playpower, was the bible for attempts at neutralizing governments and their powers through play, through the skewing of seriousness and power politics, by returning to origins, and seeing what all its accumulated kudos really was.

Another book of his well worth searching out is Men and Ideas, first published in translation in 1959.
This collection of essays is concerned with ‘the task of cultural history.’
The books have dated, that is, their range of subject matter and methods of treatment, have been left behind by modern tastes.
But the general reader will not find a more stimulating essay on Peter Abelard, than this. His essay on John of Salisbury is also outstanding.
Who was he? He was a 12th Century English cleric, who became apologist for Thomas a Beckett. From modest beginnings he worked his way up, studying under Peter Abelard, was secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Theobald; he even met who was to become known as St Bernard of Clairvaux.
John’s main legacy to us, however, is his Policraticus; the study is a slice of his time.
http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/salisbury-poli4.html
Chaucer valued it highly for its political relevance, its clear thinking, its civil conscience.
His essay on Erasmus, which was the heart of the collection… is it the translation? No; I think Johan Huizinga became exasperated with his subject. The reader comes away with the impression he blamed him for wasting his opportunities, for not being as good as he should have been.

I would dearly love to give as much information on his wife, Mary Schorer.

maryshuiz
Her story must be as fascinating, and as eventful.

Their son, Leonard Huizinga, became a prolific and popular Dutch novelist, with his comedic Adriaan and Olivier series.
There is also another son, of whom I can find nothing.

See also:
http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/history/historian/johan_huizinga.html

 

We have all now seen the viral R F Kelly interview.

http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/robert-kellys-live-bbc-interview-gatecrashed-by-his-kids/news-story/941f9467b6664cc9b5684cb6db933814

I was one of the ones who presumed the lady was the nanny, and not his wife. Of course, those of us who did, are now happily castigated:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-39244325

It’s all about reading the signals, aligning with experience, and about rail-roaded expectations.
Who now remembers the argument he was putting across? It was presented as a purely visual event.

Those of us who have siblings close in age recognised this: the older/wiser one goes there, does that, so the other follows. It is about learning to be part of a larger unit. We will need it when we go to school, to be obedient so we can take in, learn.
As they get older this can turn into utter frustration: being followed around all the time. I remember it, I did it: we trust our family more than neighbour kids. Something our parents taught us. So, when the older one needs a broader discourse, the younger does not understand, and thinks it’s business as usual.

The older child came in: she knew something was going on, with the computer, her dad talking to it. She played along.
Oh, but he pushed her away.
Maybe she was way too disruptive anyway. Maybe not. But what did we read from that?
And the other sailed in, in the arc.

This was piling it on: we knew the classic two set-up, so when the lady came in, with the expression of horror, it was a classic full three-set fail.

But how did she handle it? She did not assume the authority we presumed his wife would.
And, now knowing she was his wife, my heart bleeds a little for her predicament, how she was caught out here in her uncertainty to her position, status.

It is no longer so funny. I now read her moment of pain in this.
Why does it hurt; what do I read? My own embarrassments? Probably; me not measuring up to some wider discourse’s system of etiquette.
I read her crouching, and closing the door on hands and knees as not the wife-status behaviour of someone from my own very restricted cultural experience. I was wrong; this was her/South Korean etiquette.

This is how Brexit will be.
Our ignorance of others will be written large. Because this is how it was before Britain joined the Common Market, when anything continental was exotic, when foreigners were to be mocked, and Ealing Farce and Carry-Ons ruled the waves… on a very, very small pond.

 

I was right to be castigated. I did go the easy way, and assume. I did play along with the media game/online presentation.
Tiredness, loss of attention, over-exposure to the needs of a world, much of which is not my business – all these sap alertness and attention.

‘Pay attention, boy. Yes, you at the back.’

PS

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-39267005

from my Kindle book, Parameters:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Parameters-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp/B07893LB8Z/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1513428648&sr=1-1&keywords=parameters

On Thursday 9th March it was announced Howard Hodgkin had died. He was 84.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-39219709

In memory, I am re-posting my blog on his work:

Howard Hodgkin (1933-2017)

To view a Howard Hodgkin painting is like being in on some event, but with the sound turned off. Everything is happening at once, but there’s this gap.

His paintings are visual ‘events’; you feel the churn of intensities.

It works by being so tightly contained. Most of his paintings are comparatively small: 37×38 cm (Still Life), 26x30cm (Venice Sunset). It’s only in later works he takes on size: 196x269cm (When Did We Go To Morocco?); but these are the exception.

The fierce overpainting objectifies emotional responses. The technically assured range of brushstrokes persuades us into seeing the harmonics of the piece.

So what soundtrack would we put here, then?

Harrison Birtwistle (Sir), for his layered textures and sense of theatre? Because Hodgkin is dramatic, his “emotional responses” (ie his paintings) lift and shape, throw into relief, subjective experience onto an objective plane.

But also for both their idiosyncratic Englishness. Unmistakable. Hodgkin’s focus is mostly domestic, the interior: we, the public, look either into frames into the picture, or out of an interior. Our sense of perspective is jeapordised to such an extent whichever way we look, that Hodgkin’s intensity becomes ours.

The unmistakable overpainting of the frame, and the painted frame within the painting (see Snapshot) is to “protect from the world” the at times fleeting emotion of the painting.
SNAPSHOT, 1984-93

snap

His paintings are deeply figurative; witness the quantity of portraits. At their heart (the canvas level, or, as he uses mostly board, the wood level) is generally a figurative leitmotif, before arpeggios of response, a polyphony of tonal qualities, describe their way out.

Ok, joke over, but you get the idea.

Painting for Hodgkin is about creating “illusionistic spaces” through the use of a specific vocabulary: colour is to create depth, the richly textured surfaces that allow underpainting to show through create counterpoint; patternings and obliquities help suggest space, while other techniques defeat space, keeping our eyes on the surface of the painting.

He has learned, surprisingly, from Sickert: “one way to make a painting exciting is the intimation of a human drama through psychological and sexual innuendo”. He does this through his tightly controlled focus, an almost keyhole perspective. Hodgkin himself writes: “I paint representational pictures of emotional situations”, that is, not emotions themselves. He also writes: “Pictures result from the accretion of many decisions, some are worked on for years, to find the exact thickness of a feeling.” (to Susan Sontag).

But is the Sickert so surprising? Hodgkin studied at Camberwell School of Art 1949 to 1954. Camberwell at that time was very influenced by the Euston Road School, in reaction to avant-garde’s pure abstractionism, and Surrealism. The Euston Road School (William Coldstream, Graham Bell, Victor Pasmore) was all about disciplined realism, observation, everyday life. And deeply influenced by Sickert and the Camden Town Group.

You also need to consider early Vuillard for the mood and interior scenes. Later, of course Hodgkin’s peers, Matisse, Derain, and who were to become fellow travellers: the neo expressionists.

His focus has always been intimacy, the understated; his figuration cubist, similar to de Kooning. Hodgkin’s observation is very much a consideration of remembered moments, his disciplined realism the veracity of the self.

Of It Can’t Be True (1987-90)

Itcantb

Michael Auping writes, it is “echo-like in its composition. It is composed of tilting frames jostling each other for position within the whole.” So, a constant tension set up by structural elements: the bright yellow frame in the centre is stopped short by a series of abrupt brush strokes that “violate its containment”.

And the title: what can’t be true? I question the need to know. The painting stands, for us; it emerges out of the personal life of the painter. As with all creative works there are always the unknowable elements: the subjective self’s containment is challenged, maybe compromised, but never wholly claimed. The titles are at times oblique because they are commentaries, jokes even, on the self, the legislated life, the legislators of life.

Auping comments, on Snapshot (1984-93), “We are given an inside view…  how the artist allows the marks to show through other marks, how he half buries and obliterates, leaving only what is necessary to re-engage his memory of the subject, though that memory and its relation to the title remains mysterious.”

As with all things, we have to learn to read paintings, their vocabularies, their aesthetics. Those who praise Old Masters for their perspicacity only see, in fact, a fraction of what they look at.

And so we begin to hear the soundtrack to these paintings (and it is not Birtwistle) in the dramatic tensions of the canvases, the emotional sweeps and uncoverings of colour, the personal chiaroscuro.

What has not yet been addressed is Hodgkin’s purpose in using the technique of the overpainted frames. It is a constant feature in his work, this bleeding out from the canvas onto walls, into the room’s light, but most importantly, into the viewer’s own existence.

There is something Derridean in this, how Derrida interrogates Kant and his logic of the parergon: “those things attached to the work of art but not part of its intrinsic form or meaning” eg the frame of the painting, the colonnades of a palace, drapery of statues…. The strict demarcation between one thing and another.

Derrida’s ‘indeterminacy’ informs Hodgkins’ sense of self; sexual orientation, and a sense of community are all implied here; hence a democracy of being, of being in the world. Hence, also, the personal quality, the familiarity, of some of his titles, implying a relationship with the viewer. Like all relationships it has to be worked at, constantly renewed, updated, changed.

HH

https://michael9murray.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/darkness-spoken-the-collected-poems-of-ingeborg-bachmann/

There was a loud rat-a-tat-tat on her door. It was a warm Rome night; she looked up from her work – That time?
She tutted at the interruption, at the time, at another night without dinner. Was she really tutting at her own forgetfulness? She turned back to her work, the old manual typewriter.

The door was knocked – banged – again. With great annoyance she stood but sitting so long had not been kind to her hips and she stumbled, hobbled, towards the door, holding onto her old, scant furniture.
She became aware of the noises around her for the first time, noises from the other apartments she was housed among. There was the next door radio again, and the other side the harassed voice of  mother of two little girls. Upstairs for once was quiet. Odd that, she was thinking. And then the door banged again.

‘Who is it?’ she called in her still-inflected Italian.
‘The Police. Open up please.’
Still she paused, the particular emotions this roused racing through her like long-lost family. She opened the door a crack, then more as she recognised the older man’s face.
‘Hello again,’ he smiled sardonically.
‘Upstairs?’ she asked. He nodded. Without being asked they walked in. They looked round the small, cramped apartment.
‘You would think,’ the younger of the two men was saying, ‘with all these papers, books… they’d sound-proof.’
‘Sound, like hot air, rises.’ The other motioned to the ceiling above, still strangely quiet.
‘This is the third time your neighbours have complained,’ the older man said, not unkindly.
‘I have to work.’ she said.
‘I know, I know….’

‘We need to see your papers.’ It was the younger man, he did not like the way his older officer was being easy with the perpetrator. There must be respect for the law.
She showed him her passport, permits.
‘German ?’ He was unsure now, the old enmity was still alive
‘Austrian!’ She was suddenly very much awake.
‘The older man moved in front of his comrade, gently returning her papers to her.
‘It is late, though,’ he said, ‘people need to rest after a long day.’
‘But I need to work,’ she repeated; or I’ll go mad, was running through her head.
The younger man was trying to claw back the ground he’d just lost,
‘What are you working on?’ His tone was a little too authoritative; he realised it and could not keep eye contact.
‘Just… just some poetry, a novel.’
The younger man was leafing through her papers. She looked anguished. The older man sighed, tired and in need of some cooler air after the stuffy room.

‘It is such a… little thing.’ the younger officer said, holding up the poem she had typed out already. He looked disappointed. They were moving towards the door at last.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘such a little thing.’

 

ib2

Based on a real event.

ib1

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In the apex of the barn gable an owl’s hole
perches on a stone head, and the head
stares out towards rectory trees
luring the valley between
to this bare, parched socket.

A pub sign, official designation,
rescued from the cellar of the reservoir;
the drowned village that bares its teeth
in the long hot summer.

A face uncomfortably blank like the blank
stare of the water; its wind-carved features,
brow, nose ridge, the deep eye-clefts;
straight mouth mean as a hill-winter.

A head tight to bursting
with indignations, straight-faced
with verticals and horizontals;
a labourer caricatured
by a neighbour fallen on easy times.

Too high in the barn
to be on equal terms with.

The head is brewing its word,
its kettle fired by the face’s
utter sobriety. A Viking
in his barn-ship wrecked
beside the ragged waters of the valley,
or Odin, caught out in trickery

tricking life from drudgery,
worth from existence, words
from the hinge of January.

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Rivington Village, Horwich, Bolton, Lancashire.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rivington

La Source de la Seine

Posted: February 18, 2017 in Chat
Tags: , ,

Many years ago I took a little time out. I only had little money so the options offered me were Turin, in Italy, or Dijon in France. I knew no Italian, but had a little school French. Not only that but the predominantly urban Turin, and the longer journey I found off-putting. I had also come across an article on the wooden statues found at La source de la Seine. So that was decided.

The day I went out to visit the sanctuary of La Source  was warm, wonderful, with occasional cooling showers of rain. I t00k l’autobus from Dijon, to Ste Seine l’Abbeye, and then walked from there. It was a mostly long straight Langres road.

As I neared the site I noticed the long lines of roadside trees seemed full of dark growth. Intrigued, I looked further: their crowns were thick with mistletoe. This occurred to me to be highly significant: I was approaching a sacred grove.

And then La Source de la Seine:

 

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Whimsical, and 19th Century.

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La Source consisted of a narrow cleft between lush and leafy tree slopes; the sun streamed in and was caught there. As the afternoon declined the air took more of the green colour from the trees, and the many-coloured pastel-shade pebbles in the bed of the water became more noticable.

Just how orchestrated was all this? Were the pebbles natural to the site, or chosen and laid? Was the mistletoe still the same growth from long centuries ago, or especially nurtured recently?
In a way the questions are superfluous: the early priests did no less when building up and commemorating this shrine to Sequana.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequana

http://www.worldhistory.biz/ancient-history/53561-source-de-la-seine.html

What if I had chosen Turin? The wonder of the Turin Shroud awaited me. Is it any less a mystery, not being what we thought it was?
Even the present whimsical Sequana caters to a need. It may not be a particularly elevated need. But then, we have to ask if ‘elevation’ is what it is all about. Is spiritual elevation a specifically Christian concept? Is it a generally monotheistic concept?
Is it a response to a Sky God, a reaching up out of ourselves, to something greater which we conceive of as therefore higher dimensionally, as well as ethically and spiritually?
Is this experience of elevation, or need for elevation, a genuine response of reverence?
Is ‘elevation’ an offering up of oneself?

The wooden offerings date from the Iron Age, and show a variety of physical ailments. We can surmise they were given as votive offerings, as the people appealed for help in some way with physical infirmities. We can also surmise that this was not the earlier reason for the specialness of the site.

I learned many things from my brief time there. One being to keep a tighter hold of one’s money. The other things, I am still discovering.

We go, travel, looking for the authentic experience. It may be that we confuse that authentic with the genuine, even the gratifying. These are mis-identifiers for the experience that is deeply moving, dare we say, elevating – that changes us?

EUROPE

First thing the change in air, the quality of light
on red, gold roofs above Dijon streets.
Then the aggression to my poor school French:
I was young still, ‘Youth is stateless, language
as eloquent as need!’ From l’eglise
de sainte Benigne to the marketplace, a circling;
Algerians spread floor cloths for tooled leather,
haggling I became their foreigner, fair game.

To flounder in language; to return to the hostel, perplexed.
A French-Canadian said, ‘Talk English, huh?’
That night with German students, language
on tongue-kisses, shared strangeness – that night
white walls of apartment blocks opposite
took on a rose-tinge, windows yellowing.
How our differences lit up in us, united us.

KAREN SOLIE: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This is a pale shadow of the piece my computer ate and mangled beyond retrieval.

In my previous post on Karen Solie I made some errors, none more so than in my assessment of the long poem from Pigeon, and republished in The Living Option, her selected poems from 2013, Bloodaxe. The poem in question is Archive.
What is it about this poem? It is the masterly way she weaves, weaves and blends, many-layered subject matter into a whole unified poem.
James Pollock in his essay on Karen Solie, in Arc Poetry Magazine, 2010, writes of her Triple Vision. This, he asserts, is her ‘sardonic satire of contemporary human life’; ‘pastoral vision… clear-eyed respect for nature domesticated or otherwise’; ‘sympathy for other human beings’.

He also brings to our notice her deep and wide reading in literature, an allusiveness to other poetry. In Sturgeon from her first book, he notes how read aloud ‘you’ll hear a subtle but clearly audible undercurrent of Old English verse’ complete with ‘alliterative pairs and triplets.’ The ‘lost lure’ of the poem he reads as a direct reference to the Elizabeth Bishop poem The Fish.
He also notes that her poem Roger the Shrubber is a take on Andrew Marvell’s Damon the Mower.

Of her early poem Sturgeon, he notes, ‘the fish is Christlike, a “sin-eater” to whom people take their “guilts”’, and this brings me to another theme that runs throughout the books, that of a religious awareness. Jacob Pollock specifies it as a Catholic awareness.
She ends her books with brief notes on poem references, and so we get a direct quote from St Augustine in The Vandal Confesses (the note throws open the fields of reference wider, bringing in the Vandal raids in North Africa in which St Augustine perished, and so perhaps a suppressed greater antipathy to her more localised subject matter of the poem), and The Catholic Prayer for the Sick, in Payer for the Sick. In the latest book The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out, 2015, we have reference to the Nag Hammadi Gospels, via William James (in The Living Option).
And in Pigeon we have An Acolyte Reads The Cloud of Unknowing.
What I would like to point out here is that this is no passing ‘colouration’ for the poems, for instance, she really has read the books, and this last book is no mean feat. It is a lengthy and involved medieval religious tract. It demands of the reader, and those demands are time, and willingness to tangle with the arguments that explain the ways of god to man.
As with The Dream of the Rood in the Old English, and The Pearl in middle English (neither of which she references) we enact the experience as we read: they are to an extent sacramental poems, we engage with them, with the time taken to read, understand and appreciate them, as we interact with the arguments and events, and also imaginatively enact.

In a Catholic mass, or service, there is much activity: there are the processions of priests, their robes, the incense, the use of bells, hymns, prayers, much standing and sitting and responding. It is very busy. And as the celebrant engages with all these levels of ceremony, even the intellectual import of the readings, the message is being taken in at deeper levels. And that message is: one must celebrate God’s creation, the world; one must look for the best in man; one must be active in the world, and be aware in life.
We have here the weave of intents that James Pollack identifies in Karen Solie’s triple vision.
I hasten to add her satirical and at times scathing tone is another response to this Catholic background: all struggle with the message in their way, usually there is this element of attempted outright rejection.

The notes are not all so religious, thankfully, and we have direct reference to works by Walter Benjamin, Wittgenstein, J K Galbraith, Hellenistic philosophy, Shakespeare, and then we have references to The Band, R E M, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. There are the painter points too: Mark Rothko, Paul Klee, Turner.
James Pollock shows at length Karen Solie’s responses to other poets: Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey is one. Not all are parodies, because she does not hold one angle throughout a poem, they take in many voices, characters, angles and arguments not her own, and some in direct conflict with her own voice and concerns.

Another commentator (can I find it now? No.) wondered if her technique owed something to, or acknowledged, John Ashbery’s deft and skilful blending of voices and sources. Her conclusion was that Karen Solie’s poems are more like the experience of a car journey where multiple conversations weave in and out, where outside matters are always on the periphery, and sometimes intrude , where the driver’s knowledge of her environment ‘both domesticed and otherwise’ comes into play.
This is a pertinent comment, because it brings in that other under-theme of the books, the concern with time, and with the sacramental aspect intact.

And so we return to the long poem Archive, from Pigeon. What is about this poem? There is an omniscient narrator, and she narrates how a ‘she’ interacts with her environment. ‘She’ has to live and work in a city; this city is breached by a river, and work is on the other side, the journey on foot is made every day through a freezing winter. Her camera notes, and the person notes, and the narrator notes. We have the bridge, its history (is there really a workman entombed in the north pillar? Is there a reference here to the Bridge on the Drina?), and we have the city, and the apartment block where ‘she’ lives for the duration, all telescoping into the ‘she’. Women are being killed in the city; a woman student at the university commits suicide from the bridge. This is all part of the time of the poem, and the writer’s memories over a specific period.

With the other long poem in the latest book, we also have a engaging with time. Bitumen leads us  to the Alberta tar sands, their stratified historical records, and their modern uses.
Early in the poem she writes, ‘If I don’t come homeis my house in order?’ Already we engage with religious reference.
Bitumen begins and ends considering paintings by Turner. It begins with his magnificent clouds, and ends with his tremendous running seas; in between we transport from old world to new, from new world to modern world. ‘The West stands for relocation, the east/ for lost causes.’  Early on the poem lists, and we hear Anne Carson here, perhaps.

Time and space: ‘Meaning takes place in time.’ she writes, it is the revisionism of intent, purpose: we came West for the new world, and made it – not found it, note – and it is a matter of compromises: ‘Would you conspire to serve tourists in a fish restaurant/ the rest of your life? I thought not.’
Re-affirmation: ‘we’re guests, after all, not prisoners, right?’ receives no reply.
The last Turner paintings noted includes The Slave Ship, another major theme in New World history.

A reviewer wrote of the flat tone of her poems; we can hear it in these instances. What it is, is the voice imparting levels of communication: the ceremonial layered aspect, above.

Neither  question nor assertion makes sense/ when truth is a tone of voice,’ she writes in Interior. Truth is not rhetorical skill, nor is it communicated through rhetorical skill, it is not political, therefore. We can also draw from this that it is not in the province of classical philosophy either, then. She goes on in this poem: ‘As if I were a wall,/ a former life/ walks through me, each/ modest architectural feature/ an anthology of meanings to which paint/ has been applied. They don’t retain/ traces, that’s in thinking.

The tone of doubt, of questioning the known, the assertions and at times tomely manner, opens the door to the reader: we are all vulnerable in our way, we know this place she plots out.
She ends, ‘The gardener, after a time,/ feels the garden belongs to him,/ familiar objects extend/ his spirit….’. This poems, as James Pollock says of another poem, ‘instead of merely taking a side… contributes a genuine insight.’ As an historical, psychological, environmental and cultural observation this last line of the poem is an important point: it is what home means.

In a way this last book is slightly chilly, her mastery (what is the women’s equivalent phrase?) of technique and subject matter is superb, but the warmth is becoming lost.
I do admire her work, as you may have guessed, and read and re-read often; and long may it be so.

Karen Solie: ks