Tag Archives: art

An Open Door

My friend and collaborator the artist Birtley Aris has just finished making some new drawings to illustrate a small pamphlet of work from the Rutland Friends of the Earth Earthwords 2 Writing Competition I helped judge with Clive Anderson and Jon Canter. They’d asked me if I might contribute a couple of poems of my own. These two seemed to fit with the theme and, as usual, Birtley’s images have added a fresh dimension. The whole business of collaboration, the conversation between poet and artist, word and image, an endlessly fascinating one. Where does one end and the other begin? How to describe that third element, what happens in between?

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Talking About the Weather

The gardener sat on the old wicker chair,

hands wrapped round a mug of nettle tea –

and even though the room was warm, curtains

drawn against the night, the way we hold

our breath between winter and what might follow –

snowmelt, rainfall, lambing storm, the words

she spoke flung open the door on water, a river

in spate, rushing and roaring between us –

her worst fears of flood and disaster,

an unstoppable lostness sweeping her away,

tossed in the current of truth, lies, testing

the strength of this earth we cling to – as if our lives

were leaves, whispering North, North, North.

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Parachutists

After Guiseppe Bartolini’s lithograph, Pisa

Jellyfish fall through the heavens above

the viridescent night of the Orto Botanico.

Count their drifting moons, skullcaps

for the duomo, just visible over the wall – 7, 8,

9.  In fact, they’re all parachutists: cumulative grace

at odds with their singular mission; that history

still untold. Let’s say today they wear the ruched silk

of angels, landing within the garden’s jurisdiction.

Watch them unhook their spent umbrellas and pick up

a spade to dig fresh beds or a rake to sweep paths

clear. They’ll unravel the hose to revive parched myrtle

or pelargoniums; reinstate tumbled ceramic, fix

cracked signs and screw the last bolt in new glasshouses.

As the city sleeps, they’ll delve till the trees toll

their boughs in exaltation, each one seen so hard

the people will wake up to the world’s first day.

 

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After The Day of the Dead

Be ahead of all departure; learn to act

as if, like the last winter, it was all over.

For among the winters, one is so exact

that wintering it, your heart will last forever.

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Die, die through Eurydice – that you might pass

into the pure accord, praising the more, singing

the more; amongst the waning, be the glass

that shudders in the sound of its own ringing.

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Be; and at the same time know the state

of non-being, the boundless inner sky,

that this time you might fully honour it.

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Take all of nature, its one vast aggregate –

jubilantly multiply it by

the nothing of yourself, and clear the slate.

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Rainer Maria Rilke

From ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’

Images:

Austin Wright’s ‘Limbo’

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Russet

I want to say Eve’s tears

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I want to say her freckled skin

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I want to say unlock the pantry

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I want to say a finch singing

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I want to say green, darling, green

Paintings by Vanessa Bell

Words from last week’s ‘Poetry of Food’ workshop

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Sea Sandwort and Other Stories

photoThose who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

Rachel Carson

It’s always wonderful to spend some time on the coast of Northumberland. I’m just home from a few days in Beadnell visiting Lisa Matthews and Melanie Ashby, immersed in their exciting A Year in Beadnell collaboration. Yesterday we went out for a walk and they showed me their chosen patch while I kept a weather eye out for the plant life. There was a surprising amount still in flower and several varieties that were new to me, which is always exciting. You can read a brief account of it and where it took me here. Later in the year, I’ll be writing something for the journal documenting the highlights of their year.

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As well as the beauty of the Northumbrian coastline, the project takes its inspiration from the environmental writing and research of Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964), most well-known for her book Silent Spring (1962), which drew attention to the dangers of introducing pesticides into the ecosystem. Before that ground-breaking work, she also wrote a trilogy focused on the sea, based on her explorations as a marine biologist along the New England coast. In Margaret Atwood’s 2009 novel The Year of the Flood, she is Saint Rachel of All Birds.

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Lisa and Mel will be reporting on their progress at this year’s Durham Book Festival on Sunday 11th October.  See you there!

In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.

Rachel Carson

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Worthy Conspirators

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Robert Mapplethorpe

He came, in time, to embrace the flower as the embodiment of all the contradictions revelling within.  Their sleekness, their fullness.  Humble narcissus.  Passionate zen.

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He found them to be worthy conspirators in the courting and development of conflicting emotions. He also found it was as easy to hurl beauty as anything else.  Often they were symbolic of him; his processes.  Modelled in geometric shade.  Modified in a famous vase and inevitably turned in the realm of their own simplicity – the blossoming of the mystifying aspects of the pure.

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And the eye became a body, the murky heart of a rose.  The sinister shadow of an orchid.  Or the indolent poppy balanced behind the ear of Baudelaire.  All the finery, all the flame, distilled in the burning veins of the jack-in-the-pulpit, the blood of the spike surging upward into a buttery crown. In the foreskin of a lily.  In another lily military, erect.  In victory stems asymmetric, exact.  In the head of a tulip, the curve of a staff or in the unfolding flower’s face.

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Words by Patti Smith

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From the Notebook

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What are poets for in these destitute times?

Heidegger IMG_9945

Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.

Katherine Mansfield

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Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found its words.

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I, the sculptor, am the landscape.

Barbara Hepworth

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In life, in order to understand the world, you must die at least once.

Bassanio

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There is God. There is no God.

Simone Weil

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Persimmons

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From the Japanese

Diospyros kaki

 

You came in from the rain

carrying four persimmons,

four translucent suns –

a taste, you said, your lips

had never visited.

Later, opened, surrendered,

we spooned flesh

and seed from the orange cups –

mouthfuls of light, perfume

that draws the whole body in.

Eyes closed, we tried,

and failed, to give words

to a sweetness we were

in danger of forgetting

we deserved and only we

could pluck the fruit.

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Poetry Cures


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Back in 1995 when I fell off a horse called Pandora and broke my back, I spent a long time in hospital and then recovering at home. Julia Darling, no stranger to illness and hospitals herself, wrote me a poem about the art of convalescence, later illustrated by Birtley Aris. It’s one of my favourite mementoes of our long friendship.

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Poetry is one of the best medicines – for all manner of predicaments – especially when all else fails.  Ten years after Julia’s death, there are currently lots of opportunities to celebrate her life and remember her fantastic energy and unique contribution to writing in the North East, and beyond.

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On Friday evening (29th May), there will be a reading at the Great North Museum to commemorate The Poetry Cure, an anthology of health-related poems Julia edited with Cynthia Fuller.  The wonderful image on the cover is a painting by one of Julia’s collaborators,  Emma Holliday.  Some new poems have been commissioned in the spirit of that book and a selection of Julia’s own work will also be read.  The event’s sold out but it’s being live streamed (6 – 8pm BST).  You can find the link here.

Various other exciting events are taking place and updates are available at a beautiful new website, designed specially for the occasion.


May we all be well.  May there be poems.

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One Week in May

Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.

Alfred Austin

– for Karen and Joe – 

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am I dreaming

this garden

or is it dreaming me?

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the sudden marvel

of a cactus bloom

white peacock tail

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starburst and curl

empty-hearted

a clematis unclenching

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modelled in wax

souvenir

from Mars

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intoxicating

the fin de siècle scent

of lilac

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behind glass

Nerys’s peonies always

on the point of opening

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what to love most

leaves

or their shadows?

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a bowl of stones

blue lavender

raven skull and wingbone

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a spiral

of green thoughts

going nowhere

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something French

about their flicked tips

just so, chic

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the ramparts

say what they mean

and mean what they say

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a second spiral

going nowhere

slowly

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a whole afternoon

reading the trees

binding their torn pages

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to a house of flowers

I bring flowers –

two kinds of lilies

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after rain

the smell of green

rinsed awake

 

 

 

Holly Hill

Northumberland

1 – 10 May 2015

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In Praise of Rory McEwen

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When I visited Kew in the summer of 2013, one of the highlights was coming across the work of Rory McEwen in the Gallery of Botanical Art. His depictions of flowers and leaves, staggering in their precision and beauty, took my breath away.
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There was mention of a TV programme about him made by Jools Holland, his son-in-law – although they never met. I missed it in 2013 but tonight it was screened again on BBC 4. You can watch it on iPlayer (available until 13th March).
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Lovely to be reminded of this gifted man who excelled at everything he did – music, television, art, family and friendship. Here are some of his tulips, a flower he returned to again and again.

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Tulipomania

 

After Rory McEwen

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What binds you is a puzzle,

nub ruched in chlorophyll;

vellum high-drama – those push-me

pull-you strokes I must pluck out

my eyes to elucidate.

Old English Striped Tulip ‘Sam Barlow’

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Flamingoed half to death,

queer, alcoholic pink,

I accuse you a keeper of secrets,

kisser of bruised lips,

inarticulate with desire.

‘Columbine’ Bybloemen Breeder

§

Darling, your encrypted coral

is wave and particle, wet

and dry. You are a creature

of the sea, plus its shell-like:

an old Venetian paradox.

‘Julia Farnese’ Rose Feathered

§

You break with tradition,

expose what you wouldn’t

even call flaws, delineate

your own vade mecum, risk

the interior, canyon and gorge.

‘Mabel’ Flamed

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Cheeky, sticking out your bum,

knowing I’ll chase you forever,

never catch you up – licked

sherbet’s tingle and fizz; a chameleon

of blown, exploded glass.

Tulip ‘Red and Yellow’

§

Your life as a parrot

is a sly disguise, utter nakedness;

raucous, a knack for tricks,

showing off, sudden flight.

Without you, I’m bereft.

‘James Wild’ Feathered

 

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Too good for this world,

double-dutch; two of you

down on your knees, so much

to long for, starless; then

the deep V of love.

‘Habit de Noce’ Bybloemen Feathered

§

Neither vegetable nor fruit,

are you the devourer

or the devoured? No one

could be more open

without stumbling into dying.

‘Helen Josephine’ Rose Breeder

§

Given in to gravity, you

let yourself go – your widowed

grains of pollen, full stops

on thin air. I count six tongues,

nothing else to be mad about.

‘Dying Tulip 1’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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