Here’s the latest poem from our occasional contributor, Molly Rosenberg.
Humming birds hover Incessant flutter of wings Frequent sips of nectar sweetness Vital for the life they lead But I just want to be. Life mapped out Months in black and white No room for diversion Another concert Dinner Party Event On and on Like waves pounding The soft silvery sand
A line drawn On the beach In my head Call a halt Shout STOP I want to retreat Need to retreat To save me.
Calm, tranquility drips Like honey From the Humming bird She returns to her nest To rest and just be Like me.
It’s that time of the year again. Clocks have gone back, the temperature is beginning to drop and we are all bracing ourselves for winter. The landscape is unrecognisable from the bright summer days, yet every season has its magic and its mood. Autumn, a sensitive time for nostalgia, for poring over memories by an open fire, for meditation; a season which John Keats has indelibly marked forever as a time for poetry. And so we are pleased today to present a new poem by our dear friend, Molly Rosenberg.
Through gold Through ruby red Burnt orange Amber glow
Like us the magnificence of beauty reaches its crescendo, as the array of colours overwhelms the Ravensbourne Valley. It takes my breath away. So short a time like our youth so fleeting.
Fluttering Drifting Crunching underfoot
Beauty turned to nuisance now like us when our purpose is served, all will be swept away.
The sharpness of the air pricks my cheeks. I wrap myself in the softness of cashmere. Relish the feeling of summer feet now clad in suede as I tread lightly through these golden autumn days.
This week I have been revising a book of poetry that has been 18 months in the writing. Sections of the poem have been read by a very good friend of mine, Paul Taylor. I asked him as he was reading to mark the text wherever he found the lines confusing or simply dull. I am now working my way through the pages, sometimes rewriting passages he has marked as uninteresting or simply cutting them out if they no longer seem relevant to me.
It is always useful to have an editor, someone who can be trusted and whose judgment is based on wide reading and long years of experience. On this page I would like to express my gratitude to Paul for the task he undertook with great enthusiasm and completed with great professionalism. The lines below, written over a year ago, nevertheless echo a poem submitted to the blog mid-August by Molly Rosenberg. According to Paul Taylor, my short poem is actually a metaphor for love. Who knows?
Wild blackberry canes
heavy with fruit
thrive on the steep banks
of the railway cutting
goodness that grows
out of the soil :
but easy access to them is barred
by dense patches of nettles
so the berries gather dust
ripen and then fall back
into the undergrowth
to be eaten by birds
and by the large colonies of fox families
that have pitched their tents
at various stations
along the line
I have chosen David Hockney’s painting, A Bigger Splash (1967) from the Tate Britain collection, to accompany a new poem by Molly Rosenberg. The connection is perhaps rather tenuous, but both the poem and the painting deal with absence.
In Molly’s sensitive poem, a personal loss is registered and there is a tense equilibrium between the absence of one life and the presence of another. Hockney’s composition, however, captures the sad, dreary perfection of a Californian day by the pool. Here the pastel colours are deliberately drained of life, and the hard geometrical edges of the draughtsmanship are used to highlight the lifelessness of the scene. What is missing from this painting is the richness of life, there is no hint of a body anywhere. The splash that occurs is tantamount to an attack on the vapid soullessness of the scene, an act not of vandalism but of defiance and rebellion, a yearning for life.
Glint of shining Aqua At times almost blinding. A boy figure stands At the edge of the pool. Elongated limbs that will stretch With the promise of years to come. The grandchild he so longed for, yet never saw. Impatient, he left before age could claim him.
Corn-coloured hair ruffled beneath the surface Drifts like weeds on the riverbed. Honeyed limbs, silky smooth Bejewelled with crystal drops. He’d have held your small soft hand in his. Delighted as you tightly clasped your arms around his neck.
London has some of the finest publicly owned museums and art galleries in the world and it is all too easy to take them for granted or to dismiss them as mere tourist attractions. Access to these great institutions is currently free, and so it should be. These facilities are great learning resources for children and for adults. Art is an essential human activity and has probably been with us for as long as we have had language. The representation of consciousness, of feelings and ideas is fundamental to our sense of identity, whether it be in words or images. That we are complex beings is to be applauded: it is this complexity which generates great drama, great music, great poetry and great art. We are the only species in nature to ask questions about what we observe in the external world and what we endeavour to understand when we look introspectively into our hearts.
Traipsing round Tate Modern last Sunday, wet through to my soul, and disappointed that the Pollocks I had gone to see were not currently on display there, I needed a piece of art to raise my spirits, and I found several. In particular I was struck by the ethereal beauty of a painting by Dorothea Tanning, À mi-voix, a title which in English means ‘in a low voice’, almost a whisper. This beautifully executed canvas took my breath away, and there is so much that I could say about it, but I won’t go into detail. Suffice it to say that at its heart I see two figures, male and female, bound by a central spinal column, expressing a love that is so delicately intimate it need not be shouted from the rooftops. But maybe that’s just me! Don’t take my word for it, go and see for yourself.
Artist and writer Dorothea Tanning was born in the United States in 1910 and trained as a painter in Chicago. She was associated with surrealism early in her career and she was married to fellow artist Max Ernst for thirty-four years until his death in 1976. Among her friends were Man Ray, George Balanchine, Truman Capote, Virgil Thompson, and Igor Stravinsky. Throughout her life she was always busy busy busy, into everything: painting, printmaking, sculpture, set and costume design, and her work was exhibited in the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern, and the Philadelphia Museum. In the late 1990s Dorothea turned to writing poetry and two of her poems are presented below. She also wrote an autobiography entitled Birthday (1986) and in 2004 published a novel Chasm: A Weekend. In an epigraph to one of her poetry books she quotes Montaigne : “it’s hard to be always the same person.” She died in 2012 at the age of 101.
Be perfect, make it otherwise.
Yesterday is torn in shreds.
Lightning’s thousand sulfur eyes
Rip apart the breathing beds.
Hear bones crack and pulverize.
Doom creeps in on rubber treads.
Countless overwrought housewives,
Minds unraveling like threads,
Try lipstick shades to tranquilize
Fears of age and general dreads.
Sit tight, be perfect, swat the spies,
Don’t take faucets for fountainheads.
Drink tasty antidotes. Otherwise
You and the werewolf: newlyweds.
Don’t look at me
for answers. Who am I but
grinder of color,
and vanishing point?
There was a time
of middle distance, unforgettable,
a sort of lace-cut
to ravish my
I take that back—
it was forgettable but not
entirely if you
heavenly bodies . . .
I loved them so.
Heaven’s motes sift
to salt-white—paint is ground
to silence; and I,
I am bound, unquiet,
a shade of blue
in the studio.
If it isn’t too late
let me waste one day away
from my history.
Let me see without
at broken glass.
So Sunday morning I wake at six o’clock as per usual and peek out the window. Can see it’s a blustery day and I feel that the grey clouds slopping about overhead are ganging up on me, just waiting for me to step outside. Does not bode well! Still, intrepid as ever, it’s shower, shave, gallo pinto for breakfast and out the door, notebook in hand, optimism in my heart. Head down to the tracks and off to London town in search of Pollocks. Readers may recall my previous Sunday visit to Tate Britain. No Pollocks there, but plenty of other first rate objets d’art so not a wasted journey by any means. This Sunday, it’s Tate Modern, gotta be Pollocks there, surely. Get to Blackfriars on the Tube and as I hit the street all hell breaks loose up above, cats, dogs, anything the weather can throw at me, so I arrive at the old power station drenched to my Wilson socks, shake it off like a dog and enter the monumental arthouse, nip up to the second floor and ask one of the attendants: “Where’s the Pollocks?” She’s very sweet, about 5’ 2”, glasses, dark auburn hair, just a tad overweight, but that’s her business not mine, and the bearer of bad news: “Sorry, my love, they’re all in Tate Liverpool for a big exhibition.” My face is now a pool on the Tate Modern floor. “What? In Liverpool? O for God’s sake! I’ve come all this way!” “Sorry, my love. But they’ll be back sometime soon, second week of September, if I’m not mistaken.” “But I wanted to write a piece about them, I’ve got a blog.” She gives me a long, hard, charitable stare. “Sorry, ducks. Can’t be helped.”
Resilience, Battle of Britain spunk. I must have some of that somewhere. So, yeah, sure enough, I thank the girl for her kindness and consideration and traipse off down a few aisles, take a butcher’s at a few Dalis and Picassos, nothing to write home about and then I come across someone who just might be the ticket. Zhang Enli, never heard of him but his series of still lifes grabbed me by the . . . . Anyway, two and two together, cats and dogs, leaking roofs, why not buckets, memories of the Great Dartford Flood of 1968 when the branch of Woolworth’s was up to its ears and staff were obliged to enter the store (I kid you not) by boat, and I think “Eureka, I’ll write about Zhang Enli. Try to turn him into a household name. Do my bit at least.”
Born in Jilin, China in 1965, a teacher at the Arts & Design lnstitute of Donghua University, Zhang Enli currently lives and works in Shanghai. Doesn’t tell you much but the guy is good and he’s had exhibitions all over the shop.
Art is about focus, the mind homing in on something or some emotion before transferring that energy into an artistic product, notes on a stave, steps on a dance floor, words in the mouth of an actor, paint on a canvas, you get the idea, from the mind through the body into or onto whatever is the chosen medium. For a painter, Enli in this case, there are so many options, so many considerations, so many choices, oils, acrylics, board, canvas, grape stems, representational or abstracted, it’s always ‘make your mind up’ time. Art is mind on matter, even if that matter is the thin air fattened by a few Beethoven chords. Long and the short is that our friend Zhang has a technique and an eye that Pablo would have been proud of. Word of warning: No good admiring it on a computer screen, or worse still a crappy iPad. You gotta go and see for yourself the delicacy of the brushwork, the subtlety of the colours, the perfection of the composition. It raises the humble bucket into an icon, but the icon is dedicated to our humanity, to the essential ordinariness of all of us, our common bond in the occasionally very damp and gloomy human condition. Art is elevation. It makes us feel good and alive, and it is not a luxury, it is oxygen to our soul and any attack on the arts, by reducing curriculum time in schools, or failing to fund local arts, national arts, whatever, is an attack on the species. Forget global warming, the battle for the survival of the human race is an artistic battle. Still, that’s enough from me on my hobbyhorse. Uncle Toby would be proud of me, de gustibus non est disputandum. . . and so on and so forth. Get along to the gallery and get a load of it for yourselves.
Meanwhile, busy busy busy. It’s still chucking it down outside when I head back to Blackfriars and I’m sitting on the train bound for Denmark Hill when the blog editor comes on the mobile blower to say we’ve had another sweet comment on Jonah and Anna-Belle, our running soap, from dear old Molly Rosenberg. She’s such a darling, melts my heart every time. A ray of sunshine on a godawful day!
Note to myself: must get more sleep and slow down!
You might think it’s easy running a daily blog, but spare a thought. Some poor devil has to find new material every 24 hours to fill the void. So the blog duty editor is on call Friday night and there’s nothing for the Saturday edition. He’s searched the files high and low and there’s nothing he can use. But just as he’s about to despair, in a cupboard close to where they keep the bleach and other cleaning fluids, he comes across a plastic bag full of mouldy old papers and he takes a look and he discovers a couple of typed sheets with the heading “Jonah hits memory lane”. Someone has used a red felt tip pen to scrawl B-I-N in huge letters across both pages. Nevertheless, he starts to read the piece and only a few seconds in, thinks to himself, God, this is real drivel, I’ll never get away with putting this online, the boss’ll sack me the moment he sobers up on Monday morning. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, so he puts the sheets to one side and continues to hunt for material. About three hours later, he’s still looking and getting more and more exasperated; he’s found absolutely nothing and what’s left of his mind has gone completely blank. He picks up the Jonah story and thinks, Well maybe a change would be good for me. New job, new faces. . . you never know! And he takes the plunge! But you have been warned and you may well want to skip this post.
Jonah hits memory lane
Jonah is sitting at a desk in the Humanities 1 Reading Room of the British Library, gazing at the spring sunshine streaming through the dusty transom windows and scratching his head. At fifty-eight he still has a good head of hair, but if he keeps on scratching he’s going to wear a patch in it. Next to his beaten-up laptop is a copy of Murphy, Samuel Beckett’s first novel, published in 1938. To his right, an elderly Indian woman has just put down a book called Astrology, why I believe. Jonah smiles to himself. Personally he’s not a believer. Coming up on the train from Dartford, out of idle curiosity he’d looked at the stars in the Metro free newspaper. Jonah is a Sagittarian by birth, a merchant seaman (retired) by trade, an agnostic by nature, and spent almost half his adult life overseas. But he’s been back in London for the past eighteen months having barely survived his most recent shipwreck off the coast of Brazil.
Just outside London Bridge Station he’d noticed that someone had painted #surviville in huge bright green letters on the walls of a rooftop, and that was just about how he felt now he was back in London, a survivor. However, his stars for that day couldn’t have been more confusing. His horoscope read as follows:
You may be suffering from some major delusion, so watch your step and if the going gets too rough, seek professional help pronto. On the other hand you could be on the brink of a financial or emotional breakthrough, so whatever project you have on the go, money or romance, don’t give up too soon, hang in there at least till the fat lady starts to sing.
Fat lady, indeed, Jonah muttered to himself. He’d never liked opera, never would! Without ceremony, he’d screwed the newspaper up into a ball and tossed it into the bin.
Then there was Anna-Belle. Son-of-a-bitch! Anna-Belle O’Malley! He hadn’t stopped thinking about her since the previous day in Old Bexley. Anna-Belle O’Malley, after all those years. What goes around comes around, he chuckled to himself. He hadn’t been down to the medieval village of Old Bexley in decades, but reckoned it was high time he made his peace with his kid brother, Malachy. Malachy could be a bit tetchy, he being of the quick to anger, slow to forgive type, and they’d almost come to blows the last time they met ten years ago, so you can understand Jonah being a bit wary. Which explains why, upon leaving the railway station in the village he’d decided to pop into the old King’s Head for a couple of pints, to steady his nerves.
It was just after midday. A laconic sun hung lazily in the sky and a chill wind was blowing up from the south. Anyway, Jonah pushed open the door to the saloon bar and there she was in her vintage Laura Ashley pinafore dress, sitting all alone like a displaced duchess, in the alcove by the fake leaded window, deeply engrossed in a paperback as thick as a brick. She had a gin and tonic on the go which looked as though she’d barely touched it. But maybe it’s not her first, Jonah thought, she’s never been averse to the odd tipple. He’d recognised her immediately. The unforgettable autumnal hues of her bubble-cut hair, cute curls framing a cute little face. And to cap it all, the old dear was even wearing a pair of sensible pumps, just visible under the table. Gone were the days, so it seemed, of stilettos that could pierce a man’s heart!
First time Jonah had ever really got to know Anna-Belle was about four decades ago in the Freemantle, a large function hall little more than a llama spit from the King’s Head. It was an eighteenth for one of Paddy Delaney’s girls, Julie or Josephine or Jennifer, or Jane. . . what the hell. . . and there she was, Anna-Belle O’Malley, herself just turned sweet sixteen. How well he remembered that do!
In those days Anna-Belle was one of God’s greatest creations, a little wisp of Jewish thrown in with the usual Anglo-Irish mix, had created something of a blueprint for female beauty. Petite at five foot two out of her plimsolls, she had the sort of endearingly deep ocean blue eyes you could drown in for hours, as long as there was oxygen in your tanks. And she was perky. Boy she had attitude and devilment all rolled into one: in short, she was fun!
That night there’d been a long line of lads snaking out the door waiting to say hello to her and get on her dance card, and her brother Jeremy was puffing and panting, barely able to keep order amongst them. But Jonah didn’t wait in line; he just sauntered up to her, cock-of-the-walk, took her pale lily-white hand into his own, and bent over and whispered “Pleasure,” in her ear. She gave him a cold, hard smile, whispered something like “bastard” under her breath and directed the daggers of her eyes at Jeremy, as if to say: “For the love of God, can you get rid of this creep!”
But she and Jonah, they’d had a history, a secret history. And that first meeting was not, truth be known, the first; nor was it the last, no sir. Now after all those years and the separate lives they’d led, there she was again. Anna-Belle O’Malley. Jonah ordered his pint and when it was ready he sidled over to her table with a sneaky grin on his face.
“Mind if I join you, ma’am?”
“’S a free country,” she said, not taking her eyes from her novel.
Jonah caught the title. She was reading War and Peace!
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
She raised her frosty eyes and examined his features closely, hesitated, and then it hit her.
“Jonah,” she said, “Jesus Christ, Jonah, what the. . . !”
And her mouth dropped and she said nothing else.
“Damn right,” he said, “been a long time, Anna-Belle. Too long?”
She caught the hint but did not react: picking up her glass, she took a gulp of her gin and tonic, spluttered some of it over her novel and set the glass down again, before slowly running her tongue over her lips. Jonah admired her small trembling hands and the manicured nails as she did so.
“Too long,” he said again. “So good to see you. How you been?”
“O,” she said cautiously, “I been. You?”
“O I been too. I been, all right. Plenty to tell if you have the time.”
And he paused and looked her over again. And they both just sat staring into each other’s eyes like two dredgers working the Thames and let the silence and dust of all those years wash over them.
“You’re looking so well,” Jonah said eventually. “By God, all those years and you’re looking so damn well.”
“Diet,” she said. “Melon and salad, and the odd bagel from time to time, can’t beat it. Plus I keep myself busy. Hard work, you ever heard of that?”
But for the merest flicker of a smile, Jonah let the shot pass over his bow without rising to the bait. Sharpest tack in the box as always, he thought to himself. Some things change, some people don’t. And she ain’t changed.
“Still teaching dance?”
Jonah raised his glass in a toast.
“Well, here’s to you, babe. Anna-Belle O’Malley, son-of-a bitch. Here’s to you. No, here’s to us and to God knows what the future holds. Son-of-a-bitch!”
Editor’s note: This is not to be continued, under any circumstances.