ON POETRY, WRITING AND RANDOM CULTURAL MATTERS

Monday, 15 April 2013

Chagall at the Musee du Luxembourg

First really hot day of the year, let's stay indoors. Are we mad? No, just been meaning to go to the Chagall exhibition for weeks and haven't time until now. Luckily the queue was short and we breezed right in. The museum is relatively small by Paris standards, which makes the show seem cozy, rather too cozy in fact, as they let in too many people and we all know how good the French are at respecting personal space...

Enough groaning, I am naturalising clearly. The exhibition is packed with brilliant paintings. All the icons and imagery you'd expect, over and over, in different arrangements and colours.

I find the yellow-red-purple schemes shocking to the eye, but since these were almost all the war paintings, I am guessing that is the point, a visual assault. I prefer the more muted blues and greens and the first room of early paintings is a joy, as are the biblical illustrations and the final rooms.

I am confused by the mixed Jewish and Christian iconography, but haven't yet found a good explanation. I loved the pen and ink work and there is at least one stunning portrait in pencil. 

Go see for yourself whatever the weather, for after all what is life without a goat serenading the shtetl, a mermaid in the night sky over Nice, or a fish holding an umbrella. L'chei-im! and to that lovely cup of Darjeeling in Angelina's next door afterwards.


Stealing the Family Silver with Sylvia Plath

My next workshop at Shakespeare and Company on Sunday 5 May at 12h30 will be about using your family stories, real or imagined, to create new poems and pieces of prose. In advance of that I want to take a very brief look at one of Sylvia Plath's iconic poems and then set you a writing exercise.


Daddy, Plath's tirade against and exorcism of her father, is one of her most well-known poems. It starts as it means to go on 'You do not do, you do not do'  and ends 'Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.'[1] Plath is much criticised for the hyperbole and inappropriate metaphor in this poem usually on the grounds that whatever her father did to her it simply can't have been as bad as the holocaust. But as Plath herself explained in a radio interview; it’s complicated and created tensions for her as her father was a Nazi and her mother may have been partly Jewish.[2]

At its core, the poem is about power and powerlessness: the power exerted by her father on Sylvia from the grave (he died when she was ten) – ‘the black shoe/I’ve lived like a foot/ for thirty years’, ‘Every woman adores a Fascist,/The boot in the face’ and so on. It is also a personal narrative mentioning her first suicide attempt at the age of twenty. So, there is a lot going on here and much critical ink has been spilled on the subject.

I want to take one aspect of this work as a writing prompt – think of one of your relatives, or imagine a relative, someone with whom you have a close relationship, who influences or has influenced you in some way, good or bad. Write a little scene setting about that. Give us a context. Then imagine a secret past for your relative and write about what effect this has on your relationship when you find out about it, how you think about them, how you interact, what the future holds. It might totally destabilise things, or explain things, or strengthen things. You choose. Good luck and enjoy!




[1] See Faber’s 1981 Collected Plath, pg 222-224.
[2]  Jo Gill, The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath, 2008, CUP, pg 62.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Joan Miro Foundation


I tried very hard to like Miro today, but honestly, most of it left me a bit cold. I guess there just are some artists who I don't really go for and he is one of them. Great building though and an extensive collection with temporary exhibitions by other artists, which is part of the foundation's mandate.




Super views of Barcalona and it's near the Olympic Stadium for those into that kind of tourism. Plus extensive parks and gardens all around, including the fabulous Botanical Gardens where you can lush up the vegetation from Australia to Chile, South Africa to California without having to get on a plane.  

Today's best thing: having time to play with words with this translation from Dupin. Enjoy!

Joan Miro by Jacques Dupin
Translated and Versioned by Kate Noakes

With his eastward line
Tapered like a sabre
With his unknotted line
Like a fissure

He catches and frees space
Sun’s youth
The bird singing before its birth
And all the snakes in the green sky.

Night pollen glints on his lip:
A soaking of dew.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Gaudi's Barcelona

or how to see lots of his work for free, or, if you must, pay a fortune to go into things.

First we tried to get into Sagrada Familia on Easter Sunday, but there was no way as we hadn't bought tickets in advance, so instead and for nothing, we enjoyed the exterior. It is truly awesome (real meaning of the word), and incredible to think that I may not live long enough to see it finished. Thing is, we should have just said we wanted to go to Mass and then we'd have been in for free without for much as a minute's queuing. Hindsight is wonderful.

Instead we headed for La Pedrera, the total design concept apartment building at Diagonal. Hugely expensive to get in (16.50 euros each!) and just about worth it for the rooftop alone.



Top tip is watch where you are walking as I nearly fell a couple of times as I was too busy taking pictures to note my footing. Some people might say this is typical. Good views of Barcelona of course.

The next free Gaudi is to be found a short walk down the street at Casa Batllo. Soak up the gorgeous exterior, which Dali apparently likened to the tranquil waters of a lake. On two visits to Barcelona I've never managed to go inside, perhaps later in the week.



And finally for today - totally free Gaudi on a grand scale at Parc Guell (except the museum house which is optional). Bring a picnic as the concession stands are exorbitant. Wander about, but don't for one minute expect to have the place to yourself and all your pictures of totemic lizard will be spoiled by 'other people', but that aside, there's loads to admire and you can find your own little quite corner to do that in. The spring garden is a joy - bearded irises and wisteria in full bloom today, parakeets squawking and stupendous views of the city and the Med.