Monday, 22 September 2014

Monday Music: Happy in Tehran

It is illegal to be Happy in Tehran - particularly if you want to dance to the Pharrell Williams soul hit.

A group of young men and women were sentenced to 91 lashes each and six months imprisonment - the latter fortunately suspended.  ‘All were convicted of vulgarity and illicit relations’ and the women for dancing with their heads ‘illegally bared’, and for ‘jumping and jiving with the men’.  Apparently one of the judges described the video (which was uploaded to YouTube) as ‘pornography’.

The New York Times has some good coverage of this which you can read here.....

Friday, 19 September 2014

Eric Poitevin: A Hundred Men

On our way north from Italy, we called into LAM - the Museum of Modern Art at Lille in France. This  particular exhibition, being staged for the centenary of  World War I, was one of the highlights of the trip for me, and a welcome rest after spending 12 hours in the car driving yesterday and another 4 hours this morning.

In 1983, photographer Eric Poitevin, who studied at the School of Fine Art in Metz, had the idea of photographing a hundred veterans of the 1914-18 war.  He was influenced by Roland Barthes' work on photography - Image Music Text - looking at photography ‘not as art, but as evidence of what was’.

The Hundred Men, without names or any other identification, are lined up on the walls of one big room.

There are farmers and butchers, priests and teachers, members of the bourgeoisie, all side by side, in a moving record of a conflict that also killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of their compatriots and millions of others.
The photographer, the photographed and the exhibition!

Outside, the landscape is scattered with cemeteries where foreigners who came to fight and die were laid under identical white stones. Under the soil of Picardy is a root crop of bone and shrapnel.  The place-names slide past the autoroute like movie subtitles - the roses of Picardie, Vimy Ridge, the marshes of the Somme. . .

My own grandfather lost his health, his sanity, and almost his life in this landscape.  Like most of those who fought, like these men staring benignly at the camera, he came back changed both mentally and physically.
My grandfather in his private's uniform in 1914. He was a sergeant when invalided out.

The LAM museum houses one of the best collections of modern art in Europe.  Barry Flanagan’s ‘Boxing Hares’ stand in a corridor, perfectly framed by the window.

I particularly liked Daniel Buren’s stained glass shed, which you can walk around, like being inside an illuminated Rubic cube. It had a wonderful, calm feeling.

And there’s an extensive sculpture park outside where you can walk and picnic in acres of countryside.  This is Picasso’s Angel with Outstretched Arms.

The Channel Tunnel tomorrow and then northwards through England and East Anglia!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Started early - took the car ....

It's time for the annual trek back to Britain through Europe so that our English car can get an MOT and be in the UK for the one week a year demanded by our insurer.  You would think that the European Union would be able to standardise such things as MOTs wouldn't you?  In Europe a car is certificated for two years before having another check, but in England it has to be done every year and they don't recognise MOTs done in any other European country.  Crazy!

So, tonight was the last night in the Piazza for a while and tomorrow the alarm clock has been set for an 'extra presto' time to begin the long drive north.  Planning to stop somewhere in southern France the first night and then make for Lille to visit the museum of modern art there before diving under the Channel Tunnel.   Possibly Cumbria by Sunday afternoon. We're not planning to break any records!  Our car is getting quite elderly and needs nurturing.  No internet for three or four days probably, as we're staying in cheap motels, but hopefully back on line on Sunday. Fingers crossed for traffic and weather and the car!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Tuesday Poem: Black Sun


`Where does this black sun come from?  Out
of what eerie galaxy do its invisible, lethargic 
rays reach me, pinning me to the ground,
to my bed, compelling me to silence . .'
Julia Kristeva

There is a black sun
that shines on me
sometimes.  Her light
illuminating inner
landscapes;  cadences
of darkness,

every object
newly signified.

Through the black holes
of her eyes
new spectrums of vision
make the nakedness of things

There is a pause
between one linear moment
and the next.

In its silence
I hear the inter-stellar
static of the universe

alive with volcanic

She is a black mirror.
In her face I see
my dark self

© Kathleen Jones

This is dedicated to all my friends, and everyone else, who suffers from depression.  If you would like to read more poems around this subject, then please take a look at 'Voicing Shadow, Singing Light,' Carolyn Jess-Cooke's project exploring depression with poems by Ian Duhig, Andrew Forster, Kim Moore, Carrie Etter, Sean Burn and a host of others. 

Real depression isn't just getting 'a bit low' or 'feeling depressed' - everyone feels like that at times. No, real depression blanks out the sun and can even make you question your identity.  Adrienne Rich describes it in 'Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law' - 

"Sometimes she's let the tapstream scald her arm,
 a match burn to her thumbnail,

 or held her hand above the kettle's snout
 right in the woolly steam . . .
 since nothing hurts her anymore, except
 each morning's grit blowing into her eyes."

 In episodes of depression I've held my hand over a candle flame in order to see whether I could still feel anything at all. Suicidal thoughts creep in because you can't see any reason for staying alive and may even believe that your loved ones are better off without you. But many writers and artists find that in some extraordinary way, the darkness has a creative side to it, though it's also possible that we are more likely to suffer from depression because of the amount of introspection and self-searching that creative activity involves. It's a question I can't answer.

The Tuesday Poets share a poem every Tuesday.  There are 28 of us from all around the world.  This week Helen Lowe in NZ is sharing Anna Akhmatova's 'July 1914'.    And the Tuesday Poem hub is featuring  'SS Ventnor' by Chinese poet Chris Tse. If you would like to read this and see what else the Tuesday Poets are sharing please click on this link...... 

Friday, 12 September 2014

Comings and Goings

So now I'm back in Italy and struggling to unite body and soul in one place and one time again.  I have a long list of things I need to get done before I go back to England again next week - we're driving the car through Europe to deliver a sculpture and then put the car through its yearly health check.  Then it has to be driven back and a few days later I'm off to New Zealand.  All this toing and froing isn't good for me - I know this - and it isn't good for the planet either.  I dread to think what my carbon footprint looks like and it's no longer possible to argue that the way we live isn't having a major effect on the planet.

Italy is in the grip of turbulent weather - the wettest, coolest summer since records began.  I've only been back a few days and we've had thunderstorms that raged for more than 12 hours, bucket loads of rain, alternating with warm, sunny intervals.  The olive groves, usually brown and crisp at this time of year, are green.  There are very few olives left - most battered from the branches by the wind and rain. And the figs aren't as good as usual -  loads of them but flavourless and not as ripe as they should be. Last night it rained again. This afternoon is sunny, but already the rain clouds are building up on the horizon out over the Mediterranean.  A lot of this is blamed on the unusual behaviour of the Jetstream which is dragging warm air off the Atlantic across southern Europe.  But it's also the case that hot air is regularly coming up from Africa across a warm, wet Mediterranean mopping up the moisture and then shedding it over the mountains.
The jet stream this week - splitting in two directions
The Med is warming faster (and becoming more polluted) than other seas because it is small, shallow and more enclosed than others.  We've witnessed mass strandings and huge blooms of jelly fish in the past year or so and friends with boats report that  predators like barracuda are beginning to proliferate, and other species of warm water fish have been seen sneaking in from the Red Sea via Suez.  The ecology is changing fast.

But at least if it's raining I'm not tempted to spend too much time lazing in the sun.  I'm trying to finish my Italian stories - working name 'The Piazza' - before I go off to New Zealand.  Ten of the stories are complete, but there are two more still in bits and pieces of ragged prose.  I write in a patchwork kind of way, scribbling little scenes and then stitching them all together.  The last story is the most difficult, because it has to unite the other eleven and round it all off.
The Piazza, cover painting by Alexander Kleinloh

Then there's the submissions - one of my new resolutions is to try to submit more work to magazines and competitions.  It's good to have deadlines for completion and it's also good to have targets. Magazines and publishers these days tend to have 'windows' for submissions to prevent the editors from being swamped all year round by desperate authors.  So I'm trying to be very organised. Magma is a really good magazine for poetry, and then there's Bare Fiction, which has just begun. I've also recently discovered The Moth.   So far the submissions seem to be paying off - about 50% rejections, but the other 50% is very satisfying.  Two poems in the new issue of Domestic Cherry and a couple of stories in an Australian anthology coming out next year.  I've just got to do more!

Ironically I'm reading The Book of Silence by Sara Maitland, which is an analysis of solitude (though she doesn't distinguish between silence and solitude clearly enough).  At the moment, I could do with more of both, but I have as much chance of getting it as a raindrop does of surviving in hell!.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Tuesday Poem: Seamus Heaney - Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

© Seamus Heaney

If you'd like to see a video of Seamus Heaney reading the poem please click on this link. 

The blackberries are ripe here at the moment, just as the northern skies begin to take a silvery tint and the leaves curl at the edges.  There's the nip of autumn in the air, though it's hot enough in the afternoons.   I've been out with my stick, pulling the hedgerows down, spiking my fingers on the brambles, making sure I leave some for the birds and some for others.  I'm covered in scratches,  but they taste so good boiled up with apples and sugar!   Seamus Heaney's poem is about desire and hope and disappointment as much as blackberries;  a remembered childhood idyll that had a 'rat-grey fungus' over it.  I love the images - if you look down into the can you're picking into, it really does look like 'a plate of eyes'.  Favourite lines?  'summer's blood was in it/Leaving stains on the tongue' and 'our palms sticky as Bluebeard's'. 

Blackberry and apple crumble anyone?

We're a group of 28 poets from New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, France, Italy and the UK.  If you'd like to see what the other Tuesday Poets are posting, why not click through to the Tuesday Poem Hub for more really great poetry from around the world. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Cheer up! It's Monday - with the Unthanks

This weekend there were amazing celebrations over in Newcastle for the millionth runner in the Great North Run.  There were parties along the river Tyne, fireworks and a massive live music event.  Sting was performing with the Unthanks.  So I thought I'd share The Unthanks singing 'On a Monday Morning'.  If you haven't heard this folk duo before - they're brilliant.  This is Rachel Unthank singing with Winterset.

I'm on my way back to Italy at the moment and hope to get myself together later this week!