mudpath

the determination of love

brady love

It was the annual Warton Lecture at the British Academy this week, in which Andrea Brady sought to affirm the value of poetry in difficult times. Loosely, her method was to celebrate and discuss poems of love which had been significant for her, in hope of pointing the audience back to those that might have been significant for them, with the larger aim of exploring how this might help us determine a better future. Referencing work by, amongst others: Lisa Robertson, Denise Riley, Gwendolyn Brooks, Marvell, Shakespeare, Brady explored how love can be defined in language; how love might be released from its fixation on endings and catastrophe; and how love in its many forms might be resolute, particularly in terrible times, playing neatly on those two meanings of determination, vis-à-vis resolve and delineation. From the heart as ‘stupid fist raised in protest’ (Sophie Robinson), to the almost-opening lines of John Wieners’ transcendent ‘A Poem for Painters’ –

I look for love. / My lips stand out / dry and cracked with want / of it. / Oh it is well. / My poem shall show the need for it.

Wieners was regarded by Robert Creeley as ‘the most articulate poet of human love’ of his time, and this fine poem certainly argues the case.

During the Q&A, Marina Warner asked specifically, why poetry? Why poetry, as opposed to other forms? Why do we feel the connectivity here most keenly? It was a two-part question and Brady’s answer looked primarily to address Warner’s second point which leant more towards gender, and I was left thinking about the why poetry specifically part. It struck me that beyond the notion of the usable ‘thing’ or gift of the poem to the reader, the poet’s own experience with the grapple and leap of process, writing in a space that offers both constraint and freedom, is analogous to an involvement in love, or indeed ‘a kind of love making‘ – the raw craft and technique that goes toward floating the ecstatic, an act almost supernaturally galvanised, yet simultaneously a thing of form and rigour.

As Robert Duncan, recalling his first experience of hearing a teacher reading H.D.’s work, says in his H.D. Book – ‘as if, were I to come to the heart of the matter in them, I would come too to this woman’s heart and to my own.’ Prose can be lucid and profoundly moving, compellingly so, but there is rarely that same sense of physicality, of enactment. That sense of grasping the live wire of the heart. Brady ended by quoting from Keston Sutherland’s essay, ‘Infinite Exhaustion’ – ‘poetry makes resound right now and in this world the promise of whatever we would risk this crushed life for.’ An exhortation if nothing else to live well and to write as though your heart depends upon it.

Andrea Brady’s tremendous Archive of the Now – https://www.archiveofthenow.org/

A Poem for Painters – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/54888

bread and water

bread

(poet and divine, John Donne)

I was at St Paul’s Cathedral this evening for the Water of Life event which marked the UN’s World Water Day, and which opened with a beautiful reading by Jane Draycott –

…the river runs off his face like a song. (‘Salvage’ from her pamphlet, Tideway)

The evening explored the panel’s thoughts on what we can each do to head off the crisis in both rising sea levels and water resilience across the globe, ending with a moving plea from David Vaughan (glaciologist and climate scientist) to ‘raise children who are brighter than we are.’

On the way there this evening, I passed the bust of John Donne in the grounds of the cathedral. He was born near by and in fact he and fellow poet John Milton were both born on the same street, a stone’s throw from the Thames. So to finish, here are a few lines from Donne’s poem ‘A Valediction: of Weeping’, which feel appropriate not least because of the dreadful events which occurred a little way upriver yesterday –

So doth each tear / Which thee doth wear, / A globe, yea world, by that impression grow, / Till thy tears mix’d with mine do overflow / This world; by waters sent from thee, my heaven dissolved so.

‘As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world’ (Three Guineas – Virginia Woolf)

 green:white:violet

(favourite Woolf punk t-shirt, rocked with suffrage colours)

to the lighthouse

( ‘being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness’, To the Lighthouse, cover by Vanessa Bell)

Spent International Women’s Day with a good friend, at the fantastic retrospective of Vanessa Bell’s work, currently on at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I went for the Woolf portraits, but found so much more to enjoy. It is an incredibly well-curated exhibition, and I had no idea just how good Bell actually was before I got there. Turns out she is very good. Her work has intimacy and life, and an endearingly robust and scruffy modernist aesthetic, what her sister Virginia Woolf described as ‘rough eloquence‘. It seems impossible that this is the first major solo show of Bell’s work in Britain. In co-curator, Sarah Milroy’s words it is – ‘one of the most astonishing and egregious examples of how the patriarchy functions within the discipline of art history.‘ And indeed the accompanying full-colour catalogue is the first to assemble all her work in one place. Not before time.

I was very taken with the last room of the exhibition with its ‘Women & Tents’ section (though maybe that was inevitable, given my fondness for spending time with our pet Hilleberg in the great outdoors!) this work came out of Bell’s time spent with a group of Neo-Pagans (a name coined by Woolf) swimming, hiking and living a generally more liberated life outdoors (though apparently Bell herself snuck off to a local farmhouse when she was with them for some creature comforts). In particular, she painted a gorgeous 4-panel Cubist screen, with several mysterious emerald women with insect-like faces, seated before a dove grey tent, a kind of chrysalis. It is a very lovely thing, and I definitely now have a case of partition envy.

Also in this room – who knew that George Lucas was a fan? That portrait of Princess Leia? Anyone? Perhaps it’s just me… There is also a rather fabulous portrait of the poet, adventurer and noted bohemian Iris Tree. In fact the whole exhibition is heaving with strong images of women, and I highly recommend it. Runs till 4 June.

(P.S. There’s also an accompanying exhibition of photographs by Patti Smith and Vanessa Bell, including a priceless snap of TS Eliot wearing an oil slicker, and up to his knees in a bush. Odd to see him out of the city.)

http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/2017/february/vanessa-bell-1879-1961/

Queercore/punk (& awesome t-shirts): https://woolf.bandcamp.com/

small black forest bear

wooden

Hand-carved, c. late-19th/early 20th century, probably maple wood. Found in Verde & Co, Spitalfields, in amongst a pile of miniature papier-mâché boxes. Now watching over the slowly, but ever-grow(l)ing pile of bear poems on my desk.

Frock & Bitters

frock

(The Frock Enquiry, Susie Campbell)

I’ve been meaning to draw attention to Susie Campbell’s work for a long time now, and can think of no better reason than that her Frock Enquiry has recently been made available online: http://buff.ly/2eDNm5s

For anyone not fortunate enough to grab themselves a copy when it first appeared last year, Campbell’s fierce and necessary pamphlet was published by Annexe and edited by Claire Trévien. This publication was a beautiful thing, with a piece of vintage sewing pattern sewn into each limited-edition copy. But this addition was not a mere act of aesthetic whimsy. Frock Enquiry was an interrogation of early 20th Century women’s sweated-labour, drawing on archival reports from sources such as the Women’s Industrial Council and the London College of Fashion. As such, these thin slips of paper with their re-contextualised instructions to cut and fold and pleat, take on a whole other dimension when viewed alongside Campbell’s poetry.

As a friend, I know Susie Campbell to be an active protester, and a voice for people who have been marginalised, and it is this kind of zeal that she brings to bear in her work. She explores the neglected voices of history, whether lost in the archives of asylums or in the sweatshops and kitchens of Victorian England, yet always with an eye on the gendered inequalities that continue to persist in labour throughout the world. As the poet Jenny Lewis says – ‘It’s good to see a pamphlet being used, again, as a vehicle of protest.’

Her key tools are terror, humour and compassion, but Campbell has a particular interest in prose poetry and the experimental, and she employs a variety of verse strategies to create the profoundly effective, associative texture that is the hallmark of her work. Whether it be collage; found; tabulation; prose; or, regular lineation there is a taut logic to each poem, one that allows the sometimes bizarre, and the frequently tough, to persuade rather than overwhelm. I am reminded of Oulipo, where the reader is pulled by normal syntax through a counter-intuitive text, the cognitive dissonance never achieving full sway such that the reader does not get thrown out of the space. Talking of which, there’s a kind of magnetic, responsible mischief about how Susie holds the space in performance – I recommend catching her live.

I’d also like to recommend Susie’s pamphlet The Bitters (published by Dancing Girl Press). Named for the historic use of strychnine-based nerve tonics, this pamphlet explores the dangerous overlap prevalent in the late 19th/20th Century between definitions of femininity and mental illness. The long sequence ‘Casebook’, which opens the pamphlet, is a devastating critique inspired by Campbell’s investigation into the records of the hospital that treated her own grandmother. The work in this small collection has a dark and brutal tenderness, that I found by turns profoundly sad and blade sticking. It is also visceral, funny and righteous, and is informed by the likes of Stein, Woolf, Mullen, Rankine, and Sophie Robinson. Other pieces that stood out for me were the brilliantly grotesque ‘Soft Porn’, which seemed reminiscent of Martha Rosler’s film, Semiotics of the Kitchen; and, ‘advice for the bride’ with its ghastly infibulation narrative stitched out of recipes and advice for weddings.

To finish, Susie Campbell’s work is urgent, necessary and wonderful. It would be hard to reduce it to single lines so I’ll simply quote her tiny poem ‘Lilac’, in its entirety –

I saw a lilac in the shadow is a cat is no other thing is not a rough. Is no shadow a lilac. What is the fear of being sent back.

The Bitters:

The Bitters / Susie Campbell

Susie’s blog:

https://susiecampbellwrites.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/i-was-born-already-gobby-and-spun-out-of-stories/

‘paths change & prudence imperative’

muddy-uplyme

mudstones

(a good map is worth its weight, thanks Juliette)

big old bear

skull

bear-sign

(yep, I’m on the Jurassic Coast)