ON POETRY, WRITING AND RANDOM CULTURAL MATTERS

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Dylan Thomas - One last post for 2014

I spent the early part of the year re-reading and thinking about Dylan Thomas. Things trailed off the nearer we came to his centenary in October, I don't know why. I was sort-of-not-quite-then-not going to be involved in a production of Under Milk Wood, so perhaps I went into a bit of a sulk, or perhaps I just didn't want to compete with the rest of the media for attention, who after all reads my little blog? But it's Christmas time and, of course, how can we forget -  Mrs Prothero and the Firemen.

Dylan's A Child's Christmas in Wales is still as popular as ever, lovely new editions are published regularly, variously illustrated for both children and adult consumption. Mine is somewhere, but not here in Paris, so this post is from memory.

If you have never read it (or failed to hear Cerys Matthews reading it on the radio on Christmas Eve), do. It's not as corny as you might think and is packed with Dylan wickedness. It's heart warming and will make you laugh.

When I was a child I always fancied being an arctic explorer from Mumbles, or one of the boys snowballing cats in the back garden, putting rocks in the snowballs first (I hate cats, but that's another post), or Mrs Prothero's sister entirely un-phased by the fire, who descends the stairs and asks the firemen if they would like something to read.

Now there's a woman with the right priorities. Happy Christmas/New Year/Whatever. Opens new book and starts.

A Hammam on Boxing day

No better way to detox after a feast, than a trip to a hammam. Sitting in the steam, being scrubbed clean and oiled is heavenly.

I visited O-Kari, which is hidden in a tiny street in the 2eme, so hidden I walked passed it twice before spotting the brass plaque. It's not exactly cheap, but for a treat, well worth it. It's completely different to the mosque, being small and offers much closer personal attention.

I left with the smooth skin of a babe and a clear head. Highly recommended. Go with a friend of course, it's a social outing.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Inside at the Palais de Tokyo

The Palais de Toyko is huge and I mean enormous. It must be the biggest space for contemporary art in the city, so Thursday night and with my daughter in tow I finally made it there to Inside, which is a group show of wonderful work.

As you can expect, it's a little mixed too. Some of it will leave you with eye ache, such as the room of white sculptures, some will entrance, like the many wonderful videos, and some of it will leave you surprised and some unmoved.


But if you want to crawl inside an installation made entirely of Scotch tape, walk thorough a destroyed house, watch it raining inside and see a lot of beautiful drawing including street art down the staircase, then here are many, many things to enjoy.

It's not cheap at 12 Euros, but it kept us talking. laughing and asking questions for three hours, which is probably the point. Enjoy!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Jeff Koons at the Pompidou

I'm trying to work out what I think about Jeff Koons' work. I've seen it all over the place in the UK, US and elsewhere. He's ubiquitous and popular. But is it any good? Bring on the large red heart Christmas decoration. That at least is seasonal.


I don't know. Sometimes it makes me laugh as in the hilarious 1980s alcohol adverts.

Sometimes it leaves me cold. I'm not shocked by pornography. I think it rather dull to take pictures of oneself having sex. Perhaps I am odd. Perhaps not.  Be warned there's an over 18s room.

I'm not amazed by metal castings of inflatable lobsters and the like or the Incredible Hulk turned into an electric organ.

The 'classic' Michael Jackson and Bubbles ceramic sculpture is now housed behind plexiglass. Last time I saw it in San Francisco it was not. Why is this? Perhaps someone might take a hammer to it. Would that be a bad thing? It's really kitsch.

On the whole I'd rather not have anything here in my house, especially the scary kitten in a sock on a washing line. I suppose I should not be surprised then that the paintings of toys are indeed, in the words of my teenage daughter, 'pretty fucking terrifying.'

Make your own mind up. What do I know apart from, Jeff Koons,  meh! I came away with more than a sense of having been to a degree show where the marks were a little disappointing.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Expenduria Poetica, Barcelona

You stop at the Poetry Dispensary/Pharmacy at 8, Career dels coroners in Barcelona, a stone's throw from the Picasso Museum and this is what you get for your one or two euro donation from Barcelona Take Away Poetry: the chance to pick three words from the stamp board, queue for a little and have a unique poem crafted for you by two poets.

Ok, so it's a bit of a gimmick and I don't read Spanish well enough to judge whether the poem is any good, but it met the brief of using the three chosen words, which in my case were body, future and believe,  and it was a novel hour with a free band playing in the back room (not that I suppose they have one every Saturday). I'm not entirely sure about the whole poet-hostesses in uniform thing, but the desk accessories were fun, even if the first typewriter broke when it was my turn.

And the poem - a little hard to decipher due to ribbon issues, but I've translated it with help from the Spanish boy and then made this rather shorter English version:

Body/Belief

My body a dark country
of secrets, spirit
heaven and hell
bleeds poppies of passion.

A sea stormed
with the lost
will have me believing
in monsters and angels.

One day I'll believe in you.


Archiving

This website is going to be archived by the National Library of Wales as it is apparently important to Wales' documentary history. I am honoured and rather amazed. Diolch yn fawr.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Foundation Louis Vuitton

You know, the new Gehry building...to which I am often greeted by blank stares, but really what did you think all of those builders have actually been doing in the Blois de Boulogne for the last two years?

OK. OK. So not everyone works in Mordor and has a good view of the park from their office window and not everyone has watched Gehry's latest masterpiece rise up above the treetops.  Even so, time to get with the programme Paris.

It is the most amazing building, a ship, a vessel in glass, wood and steel, surrounded by a modern moat and waterfall and with some stunning site specific artworks and some of highly dubious taste and art content and a lot of empty space for more, I guess when they get around to it.

But back to the building, it's wonderful, really.

Do go and inspect it for yourself, you will find it all ship shape and Bristol fashion and if you want to know more there are three exhibits: one with all the maquettes, plans, doodles etc another a specially commissioned film, but the most intriguing was the exhibition without artworks explaining all the stories, graff and scribbles which the builders added to the walls in the building process and which are, of course, all now painted over. These are a fascinating account of contemporary experience, history and culture and well worth your time.

Olafur Eliasson
As for the art work, well, Olafur Eliasson (you know, he of the sun in the Tate turbine hall a decade ago) has made a calming and warming light installation in the grotto and Gerhard Richter has filled an enormous room with some very fabulous paintings and some less so.

Ellsworth Kelly has covered the auditorium and other spaces with his coloured panels, but not exactly being a fan of these I'm not falling for the whole chromatic harmony palette BS.

Gerhard Richter
Cerith Wyn Evans' flute installation is truly magical, but as for the rest, it is not worth writing home about (especially not the hideous rose in the foyer.)

Nothing that innovative, nothing worth queuing to see.

Some things actually need dismantling and putting into storage, preferably the kind of warehouse where they don't have a sprinkler system and employ careless chain smoking security guards.

I hope the Foundation acquires a great deal more work to make the 14 euro entrance fee really worth it. They also need to double the cafe space and seriously reconsider the price of the books, which is frankly, exorbitant.

Top tip, unless you want to look pretty stupid, there is no need to bring your matching handbag.

But back to the building, it's fabulous, really.
















(There goes my poet in residence commission, but, bothered?)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Poem for Armistice 2014

My family is like almost every other in the UK.

Just ask a British friend and they will be able to tell you who of their kin was killed in the First World War.

My paternal great uncle, died of pneumonia during basic training before he even stepped foot in France. Private Howells shivered to death in an army tent in Yorkshire, far away from the home fires of South Wales.

My maternal great great uncle found his way to France but never returned. All we have is a photograph of him in uniform and his geology book.

A hundred years later and after a lot of searching, my aunt and uncle have located his grave.  We are planning a trip to go and say hello.

His name was John Lewis. This poem is for him.

Shrapnel

Autumn, his plough folds the land
flattens mounds, fills trenches, yet
the lines are indelible.
In winter thin ponds form
in summer the clay shrinks
from boards and props.

Some years he doubles back
to level the fields, new steel
just turns up the old, not gull food
inedible scraps, no magpie
glitter in bullet cases
snips of barbed wire, bits of shells.

History’s not erased by work
still he tries to ditch the ghosts.
It’s hard not to see them
from the corner of his eyes.
There, the white plot fenced by firs
daily sight of that great loss.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Picasso Museum


Newly reopened and free today, but if you didn't get up at an ungodly hour this morning to get in the queue, you will spend the day standing around waiting. Whatever, it is worth it. The building has been completely refurbished and the exhibition space tripled. It's a marvel.

Whilst I am still ambivalent about Picasso's abstraction of women, there is much to admire, including his own collection of Cezanne, Matisse, Degas (and Renoir if you must).

Sometimes the hang is hard to understand, not exactly chronological, not necessarily comparative, so if you want a start to finish development of his oeuvre you will need to look elsewhere, like the guide book.

Surprises for me were remembering the size of The Bathers and Two Women Running on a Beach (small) and the exquisiteness of some of the bullfighting paintings, The Crucifixion and his print work. The copper plates in the basement are wonderful.

Look out for these two works for their titles alone - Brothel. Slander. With profile of Degas, his nose wrinkled, and Degas pays and leaves. The girls are not gentle. Salacious, no?

Coffee is reassuringly expensive, although you do get to sit on a lovely roof terrace, and the exit is through the surprisingly tiny gift shop. Go often. Enjoy what we've been missing for four years. Thanks Paris.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Duchamp at the Pompidou

If you like your Gioconda with added facial hair, then this is the show for you. It builds its way to The Large Glass, scattering fragments of the artist's notes en route, neatly arranged behind glass, of course, to this final piece.

Final to the show and to his oeuvre, as he worked on it in secret between 1946 and 1966 and it was only discovered after his death. The notes are rather lovely in their chaos, scribbled on all kind of pieces of paper in all shades of pencil and ink, but then, I am a sucker for writing. The glass itself did not impress me. Size isn't everything and it is, in any event, a reproduction. The original does not move from the US.

Duchamp is (in)famously the man who killed painting with his readymades, most notably Fountain, which isn't here by the way, in case you are going to be disappointed at not seeing a porcelain men's urinal. You can enjoy Bicycle Wheel though.

But the thrust of the show seems to be Duchamp in context. He was a good painter, if, dare one say it, heavily influenced by all around him, in a way that seemed to suggest he was struggling to find the right mode of expression. Each room tracks the progress of late nineteenth and early twentieth century painting, and to a lesser extent sculpture and photography, showing Duchamp's work against his contemporaries. My favourite of his was The Chess Players, although on balance I think his discomfort with the medium is apparent, whether Cubist, Fauvre or anything else. 

More than Duchamp, there are masterworks to enjoy from Cranach's Venus hiding in a corner which you might miss along with her very ugly feet, funny I have never noticed those before, to a book of Durer's, to Brancusi, De Chirio, Braque, Matisse and Redon. Probably worth a couple of trips and beats queuing for the newly opened Picasso Museum.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Little Treasures from the Prado in Barcelona



I've never been to the Prado.

That'll be because I've never been to Madrid, apart from for a day for business, but that doesn't count as I saw nothing other than a taxi and a meeting room.

That'll be because I made a very bad decision when I was eighteen and broke up with a lovely Spanish boy who wanted to take me home, for quite a long time, actually.

Instead this week, I have contented myself with an interesting exhibition at the Caixa Forum in Barcelona of small paintings from the Prado's collection, some of which are apparently rarely on show.

So even if I'd gone there, there would have been no guarantees that I'd have seen Bruegel's Building of the Tower of Babel, the several terrifying Boshes, or all those exquisite Velasquezes and el Grecos.

Certainly the best value four euros can buy and I had the place to myself.

Poetry News

Starting your Christmas shopping?

Well look no further, I've got you covered with a super poetry book, featuring a lot of famous people (dead and alive), and me.

I am super proud to be in this and rather astonished that Carol Ann Duffy found my poem.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Centre du Danse du Marais

New year. New pursuits. And finally I start doing something that I've wanted to do for years - learn to dance flamenco.

My neighbourhood dance centre is fab in a beautiful 17th century building with many well equipped studios, a full timetable of classes and a super teacher.

For a beginner I picked it up pretty quickly and we were dancing a whole routine by the end of the first lesson.

More please. Ole!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Murdering your darlings or being brave enough to edit


It’s a great line, paragraph, idea, beautifully phrased with a surprising, arresting, new image. 

But it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the poem, story, piece.

It’s time to whip out your sharpest knife and cut it out.

Huge sigh.

But your writing will be the better for it. And all is not lost. Save it for another day and another piece of work.

I have an inspiration file of some of my best homeless bits that I dip into every now and then to find ideas for new poems and stories. I try challenging myself to start a piece with some such, or write my way towards one, use it as an organizing principle or a piece of dialogue. The possibilities are endless, just not where I first though to put it.


Gone on, release your inner Medea and feel the burn. It’s called catharsis.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Tattoos at Quai de Branly

Oh, what a pity! This exhibition misses the opportunity for narrative by a French mile.

There are so many stories of the whys and wherefores of tattoos, but here the overwhelming impression is one of simple voyeurism. There is no discourse to be had, what a shame.

Otherwise, if you don't know anything about the multi-cultural and historic practice of tattooing, it's worth a look.

Having spent a good part of the last three years researching tattoos, talking to people about their ink and writing a whole book of poems on the subject, there wasn't anything I hadn't seen before or didn't know about, and indeed, there were a few things missing.

Still if you want to see what Zombie boy looks like covered in make up to hide his tattoos, off you go.

Best things - mummified arm from Peru (left) and the film of the community activity that is getting a tattoo in Samoa - it takes at east five people, including someone to hold your hand.

No queues. Plenty of aficionados to stare at and not talk to as well.


Monday, 14 July 2014

How to handle rejection

It's not you, it's the work, stupid.

Unless...it is you, in which case NEVER submit to them again, NOT EVER, not even if they grovel.

If you can wallpaper your apartment with rejection letters and are still upset about it every time, here's my top ten tips for coping with editors and publishers whilst retaining dignity and sanity:

1. Stonk around the room, pull the blade from your heart, curse and shake your fists at the sky, but recall that no-one has died. Cathartic moment over, then

2. Grow the hide of a rhino, a ducks back etc. Get tough and get going on sending your work somewhere else.

3. Remind yourself you are not telepathic. You cannot know what the editor was looking for in advance, so it may have been nothing more than the subject matter that was wrong. It will find the right home eventually.

4. Remember we don't all have the same taste in style, tone, form etc., and this includes editors. Your narrative is someone else's nightmare. There are people who like narrative elsewhere.

5. Edit yourself. Look critically at what you submitted, polish, rewrite and send it out again.

6. Expect nothing and you won't be disappointed, and that includes any advice about your work. If anyone bothers (and generally they don't) to offer suggestions for improvement when replying, look at these generously, they are meant kindly.

7. Don't write back. NOT EVER. The editors are not entering into correspondence, they are simply saying thanks but no. They don't want to receive comments on how they can improve their abilities as editors, or hear excuses or opinions on their parentage.

8. Be patient. Eventually you will get into the magazine of your dreams. It may take many, many tries. My record was over seventy poems in ten years and the magazine has ceased to exist without ever taking one poem from me. Oh dear, but meh.

9.  If the editors asked to see more of your work in the future, send them some. They are not winding you up and do not do this for people from whom they do not wish to hear.

10. Remember it's not you, it's the work, stupid. Never take it personally.

If you can't do these things then, perhaps seeking publication is not for you. Here, have a tissue.



Tuesday, 1 July 2014

How not to organise a poetry reading

Reflect on this
At the risk of getting totally bossy in my old age, here's a follow up to my last post on how not to give a poetry reading. I've organised a few in my time, but I've also been to and read at some truly appalling events that should go down in the annals of ineptitude.

I am not talking about the wonderful chaos of Paris Lit Up Open Mic, where anything goes as us three hosts try to herd the cats every week. No, I mean the more serious end of the scale.

Here's my top ten what not to dos and why, if you want to help your guest readers and the cause of poetry:

1. Do not start late. Start on time - your audience are there, waiting. Don't keep them twiddling their thumbs or they will walk out and probably not come back. This rule applies everywhere except Paris (and probably Italy for all I know), in which case do not start on time or your poet's friends will not hear her read, as like everyone else they will be twenty minutes late.

2. Don't choose a bar, quiet or otherwise. Bars are places where people go to socialise. They are noisy and bar staff do their jobs, making coffee, putting ice in glasses and pulling pints and chatting to their punters. Poets do not like shouting over this, let alone competing with those who come to the bar to drink and talk to their friends.

3. Do not choose a room above a bar, quiet or otherwise. See 2. above, because no matter how apparently silent you think it is on the afternoon you go to look at it, the bar noise will seep upstairs and ruin the reading. Plus the audience will be up and down, in and out, buying drinks and ignoring the poets. That said poets and their audiences are a thirsty lot, so you do need to provide access to drinks at some point if you want them to stay.

4. Don't expect poets to lose their voices. Provide a microphone and most importantly, a microphone stand. Poets are not circus performers and cannot juggle books, papers and a mic. Provide something for them to put their books on too. Music stands are as cheap as chips - buy one.

5. Do not ignore your poets. Introduce them to the audience, but try not to make them sound like they are wannabe Nobel prize nominees (unless they are) by reeling off dull lists of all the book titles they've published, awards they have won and where they went to junior school. Reading out their bios is deeply sleep inducing and they can readily be found on line. Stick to the recent and the latest book being plugged and some engaging nugget about them.

6. Don't let readings run on. Tell your poets how long you want them to read for and ask them to stick to it. You might need to re-emphasise this on the night. Only the crazies and self-indulgent will disrespect you on this. If they do, short of dragging them bodily from the stage,  you need to find a  polite and seamless way of asking them to stop.

7. Do not ignore your poets, again. The chances are they are reading for you for free in order to be able to sell their books. Help them in this endeavour by pointing out the book stall and have prices clearly on display and someone to whom cash can be given. You wouldn't believe the number of readings I've been to where no-one can tell me how to buy the book. I have no idea what I have missed. Oh, and beer and books are not good table-fellows.

8. Don't sit back and relax. If you are organising the reading, organise it. You will probably not have time to socialise yourself or listen much to the poetry, your job is to make sure everything is all right on the night. You are directing and producing a performance.

9. Do not ignore your poets, again. Tell them they read well and thank them for coming. even if they were awful and you never want to see them more. The poetry world is a small one and you cannot know who they know or with whom they might be able to put you in touch. Plus we are meant to be  nice people, aren't we?

10. Don't end late. End on time. Your audience need to be encouraged to buy books, drinks, etc. and not have to rush off home before the last metro.

Bon courage.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

How not to give a poetry reading

No need to dress as a glampire unless it is Hallowe'en
I’ve been to so many readings in the last few years, some of which have been nothing short of master classes in how not to give one. So here’s my top ten DON’Ts for showcasing your work:

1. Don’t start late. Start late on time – the audience does not like to be kept waiting. Think how tetchy you get in the theatre when the curtain doesn’t rise on time. If the audience are late, tant pis.

2. Do not answer the telephone while another poet is reading – politely ask everyone to silence their phones. Make a joke about putting them on vibration if you like, depending on the crowd.

3. Don’t ignore the microphone, if there is one. It is there for a reason – so people can hear you beyond the front row. No matter how much you think you can project your voice, you are not an opera singer and the noisy bar where you are reading is not an acoustically designed auditorium. If you are uncomfortable with a mic, tant pis, learn how to use it.

4. Do not sit down. You well be seen and heard much better if you stand up, which you need to do to breathe properly and you are, after all, giving a performance.

5. Don’t chat between poems. This is boring to your audience wanting to hear the poem, and breaks up the flow of your work and the impression that the audience has of your voice. Sometimes it is impossible to know when the chat ends and the poem starts. Explain the odd word or strange thing if you must, but otherwise just READ.

6. Do not stop in the middle of your poem to explain anything, ever. This is an even more heinous crime to poetry and your work - see 5. above with bells on.

7. Don’t use high pressure sales tactics to shame your audience into buying your books. Nothing will snap the purse shut faster. 

8. Do not consume anything beforehand that is going to interfere with your ability to read and deliver your work clearly. No-one looks good intoxicated on stage – actors, musicians, poets, poetry. You are not Dutch, unless you are, in which case you already have courage.

9. Do not name drop – no-one is impressed. It does not make your work better. You are judged on your work, not who you know. Audiences don’t like to be made to feel inferior and the chances are most, probably being poets themselves, are influential and important, or have influential and important friends anyway.

10. Do not over-run. If you are asked to read for ten minutes, read for ten minutes, look at your watch, but not during a poem, and end on time – people get bored and have buses, metros, planes to catch and you want them to stick around and buy your wares, don’t you?

Bon courage.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Dylan Thomas - Under Milk Wood

Being away from the UK and unable to watch TV or go to the theatre, I have , of course, missed all the new versions of Dylan's most well known work, but I have heard it on the radio, seen it in the theatre twice, including Guy Masterson's brilliant one man version. Unperturbed, I re-read the play on the train last week, keeping the townscape of Laugharne firmly in my mind's eye..

What struck me (again) this time was how much fun the bad characters are having and if I had to be any of them then it is surely the lascivious women: Mrs Dai Bread Two, Polly Garter and Lily Smalls. No Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard's 'polar sheets' for me, not the unfulfilled love of Myfanwy Price. No, I'd much rather be 'gysied to kill in a silky scarlet petticoat,' thinking of my love in the morning mirror and having a good time in the hedgerows by night. In other words, being no better than I am.

This is, I suppose, what Dylan intends, that we enjoy these characters' love of life. There are plenty of men like this too - think of Captain Cat longing for Rosie Probert once more, Nogood Boyo and Mr. Waldo. As a result we laugh at the prudish and well-behaved, living lives of conformity and ultimately frustration and, well,  bugger all - at least I do.

Oh, and my re-reading gave me a poem too - all credit to Dylan - enjoy!


How I’ll wait for you

By pitch, my tanned thighs
tensed for your touch
velvet in the dark,

by star in a silk slip
crushed and rippling
on the pink breeze,

by streetlight as I
glow my lips
and nipples with gloss,

by crescent moon, dressed
only in a bracelet
a snake with its silver tail

in its silver mouth
or, in nothing at all
save a splash of scent.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Bill Viola at the Grand Palais

Sometimes I think I am living in a backward country - not only is this the first retrospective for this most significant video artist in France, but it is also the first exhibition by the national galleries here ever dedicated solely to the art form!

But what a show. Viola's work are so magical, you'll just have to go and enjoy them for yourself. Top tip - first thing on a sunny Sunday morning is the time when the place is empty. We walked straight in, no queue at all yesterday.

My favourite pieces were The Dreamers, The Quintet of Astonishment and Tristan's Ascension. If you like contemplative videos that demand your full, close and long attention then this is the one for you. No jump cut head pounding pop video stuff in sight and thank goodness for that.

Viola describes his practice as 'sculpting time' and this was certainly a morning well spent looking at works made from 1977 to 2013. There are hours of film for the patient, but you don't have to look at everything, just connect with what most appeals. Enjoy, really, until Bastille day, after which the groovy app is available until 2021.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Le Muguet for May Day

The tradition in France is to give Lily of the Valley (le muguet) to your loved ones on 1 May. The flower sellers are out in force today, despite the rain. Apparently this token giving started in the court of Louis IX in the early 16th century. It's rather a charming and perfumed addition to the city.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Madre - Naples

Naples has a wonderful collection of modern art at the Madre.


Who knew that the treasures it contains would include Richard Long, Anish Kapoor, Sol DeWit and Jeff Koons amongst its site specific works?

All housed in an incredibly beautiful palazzo, hidden down a pretty dodgy looking street, where, and of course, this is Naples, the washing is out to dry all over the place.

Four huge floors of wonderfulness, where it is just too tempting not to join in.

Don't miss it in favour of the truly awful Capodimonte Museum, which is not worth the bus ride up the hill, especially on a rainy day on account of the closed galleries  - typically all the contemporary collection was off limits - and the worst pizza in the city.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Amsterdam Writers Guild

It was a pleasure last Sunday to read for the newest guild of writers in Amsterdam as guest poet before their annual slam competition. They are an impressive group, all writing poetry expertly in their second language.  Check out their events next time you are in town.

I am especially glad that I sold so many books. That's just what the unloved poet most wants: people to listen, but then actually buy my words. Thank you all, and for the opportunity to actually read from behind a circular bar - a first.

The Rijks Museum all new and shiny

Like most hundred year or more old institutions in Europe, there comes a time when it has to shut it's doors, take a long hard look at itself and embark on the process of reinvention for the 21st century. Thus the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam was out of bounds for a few years while it morphed into a museum able to cope with the hoards to visitors who come to soak up the Golden Age of Dutch painting and collecting. It reopened a year ago with shiny new marble entrance way, cafe and lots of glass.

I missed it on my last trip to the Dutch capital by a few weeks, so I have and to wait patently for the next opportunity to reacquaint myself with the wonderful Rembrandts,  three Vermeers and the handful of Van Goghs in the collection.

It was an absolute treat last weekend, only midly interfered with by royalty. I wondered why there were so many people hanging around in the Rembrandt gallery, but shrugged it off and carried on looking a a painting when a tall perfectly dressed security guard asked me if I wouldn't mind standing to one side.
    'Why?' I asked him in return.
     'Because I am asking you nicely,' he said.
     'No, why are you asking me.'
     'Because the King and Queen are coming with the Queen of Sweden.'
     'They're only people,' I said indigently and reluctantly moving away.
I felt like adding, And I bet they haven't paid their 15 euros each to get in. As you tell I am not a fan of any kind of privilege. It rather put me off the rest of my visit, but don't let that stop you, the royal family don't live in the Rijks Museum.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Pompidou

What do you deduce if, as a member of the Pompidou, you still have to wait in line to see the latest big show? Well, that the French like photography, naturellement, and that this a show worth seeing, bien sur.

Henri Cartier-Bresson went everywhere and photographed everything in the twentieth century from the Spanish civil war - he was in the International Brigade, to the second world war - he was in the Communist Resistance, to Ghandi's funeral, to the 1968 uprising.

This exhibition is huge and showcases his entire oevre from experiments in Surrealism, to portraits of the great and the good - there's a wonderful one of Matisse and his pigeons.

There is so much to see and enjoy. Marvel at the technique and his brilliant composition. Watching footage of him photographing in the streets of Paris was an education in the speed at which he worked.  Some of my favourites were the homages to well known Impressionist paintings.

Two hours disappeared in a flash, if you'll pardon the pun. It's an tour de force. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then 500 say, well, you do the maths. Seriously, don't miss it. It's on until June. I will be back next time I have a visitor. Wait, that's this weekend.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Dylan Thomas for St. David’s Day


Actually, this poem has nothing whatsoever to do with St. David’s Day other than the fact that I am writing about it today. So whilst the nation is busy sporting daffodils, anthem singing, dressing up in national costume of dodgy provenance and being rightly proud of itself (Wales 27, France 6, just to remind you), I am sitting in rainy Paris, reading.

The force that through the green fuse (pg. 13) deals with the big issues life, love and death which haunt most of Dylan’s poetry. The force, and yes, you can think Star Wars here if it helps, seems to be the notion of universal energy. It is both life giving and life taking as the poem is packed with these opposites from the natural and human world, every stanza has this.

The poem starts with a repetition of the title in the opening line. It’s striking these days how archaic this structure seems to be. It’s unnecessarily repetitive and something most current poets try to avoid. That said, what of this mysterious ‘green fuse’? Young spark I think we might say more clunkily, but it’s arresting and functions to call the readers’ attention from the start – you are going to have to read this one carefully.

As well as the pattern of opposites, the poem focuses on the poet being silenced – the word ‘dumb’ is used in each stanza, but, of course, this is an irony as the poem is anything but silent on its topic. Perhaps it is better to think of this less as silence and more as an inability to articulate fully.

Key words, because they are repeated, are water, blood, love, hang, force, crooked and wind; the basic elements of life and death, if you will. This writing is again in contrast to contemporary practice where we tend to eschew non-patterned word repetition, but we are forgiving readers and can luxuriate otherwise in the imagery.

The antecedent poem that this brings to mind, and which Dylan acknowledged, is Blake’s Sick Rose, with its invisible worm, both of which Dylan makes crooked here:

O rose, thou art sick:
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy.
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

I once went to a lecture by Germane Greer, who talked for over an hour about these eight lines of Blake’s, so Good Luck trying to explain that in one short blog post. Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus.