Thursday 11 April 2024

Launch of New Pamphlet Chalking the Pavement

Please join me for the launch of my new pamphlet, Chalking the Pavement, from Broken Sleep Books on Tuesday 30 April at 8pm. Tickets to the zoom room are available here. I look forward to seeing you all then!

Monday 27 November 2023

Academic Honours

I am absolutely thrilled and delighted to do some serious showing off - today my PhD was confirmed. So, I can officially call myself Doctor Noakes.

It's been three years of hard work researching and writing about poetry and the breath. I have written a new book of poems called Sublime Lungs, which explores my asthma, and breath and breathing topics over a wide number of geographies and chronologies. Hopefully it will appear in print in the next couple of years. Publisher willing. Additionally, I have written a full academic thesis looking at the topic through the lens of health humanities and focusing on the work of Charles Olson, Elizabeth Bishop, Elaine Feinstein, and Dannie Abse.

Many thanks are due to my splendid supervisor, Peter Robinson. I can thoroughly recommend Reading University as a great place to undertake a creative writing PhD.

Having started work during the Covid pandemic and spending lockdown days very firmly in front of the computer, I am glad to be able to now lift my head rather proudly into the air of new and exciting poetry things. Watch this space!

Friday 17 November 2023

Busy times

Busy times mean little time for this website. I am sorry, dear readers, I've been neglecting you at lot this year. My excuse is that I've been travelling - a month in Denmark - plus house selling, house hunting, doing a great number of readings all over the country for Goldhawk Road,  and finishing my PhD. So consider this a pre-New Year's resolution to do some more writing and reviewing here.

Quick tips on some current art shows while I'm at it then:

Marina Abramovic
at the RA - seriously not to be missed this one. And do make sure you interact with the doorway - it was a very weird feeling squeezing into the gallery between two naked people. I can't really describe it, except that it was oddly exhilarating. 

Pity the artist is unable to do much, if anything, herself due to ill health, so it's all other performers, but the video work etc. is great. Best to see some film of her explaining the work before you go to make the most of it. There are plenty on Youtube. That or read one of her books - I enjoyed the Art/File one.

Sarah Lucas at Tate Britain - I'd give this a miss, if I were you. Early student work from decades ago is looking rather jaded and frankly, boring. Plus it's only four rooms. However, if you're there don't miss the new painting by Chris Ofili of the staircase, which is a magnificent memorial to Grenfell amongst other things. We'll be enjoying this for the next decade, I'm sure.

Monday 3 July 2023

Anselm Kiefer at White Cube, Bermondsey

Oh, this is an astonishing show. Kiefer has filled every inch of White Cube with paintings, installations and vitrines full of objects, hand written quotes and on and on, all in response to that most complex of James Joyce's oeuvre, Finnegan's Wake. It is a wonder of debris and dust provoking comparison to some decaying museum of curiosities and the heavy smell of oil paint fills the air. 

Here are metal sunflowers, panoramas of folk and characters from Joyce. Coincidences of post war Germany (Kiefer was born in 1945) and present day Ukraine abound, or is that just me? Kiefer says debris is hope. I'm not so sure.

Most amazing is the room containing the eleven paintings of the Liffey that Kiefer invented from his childhood memories of the upper Rhine. They are marvels of trees, reflections and gold in a perpetual and perfect sunset. I stared and stared. They are a joy. Joining them is a roomful of impossible books made of lead, illegible and their pages difficult to turn. 

An inspiring homage mixed with the contents of Kiefer's studio and referencing many of his earlier pieces. No need to have read the source. Get there soon, it ends on 20 August. You really won't be disappointed.

Thursday 18 May 2023

Midlands Explorer - Wightwick Manor

Here is all the fake Jacobean architecture you could want. It's a late-Victorian creation and it fooled me, a little bit. But if you don't come here for the house and lovely gardens, with some splendid specimen trees if you are in the market for those, then your reward is the astonishing collection of Pre-Raphelite works collected by a later generation of the family in the 1930s. 

The place is awash with Burne-Jones, Rosetti, Millais, and Evelyn and William De Morgan. It's hard to know where to look first. Be prepared to take a good long time going around the house and to put up with the usual over-enthusiasm from the volunteers. 

Why is it that if you show a longer than average interest in a picture or are actually discussing it with your companion, they take that as an invitation to tell you a whole load of things you already know, and practically run across the room to do so, not caring whether they are intruding into a conversation? Beats me. Annoys me. And it happens all the time. I do wish the National Trust would remind their helpers that they are not the centre of attention and that I don't appreciate someone's arm being thrust an inch from my face.

Bof! On with the art, some of which you have to strain your neck to look at, as it is hung in exactly the place the family had it and given the don't cross this line ropes, it is sometimes out of comfortable eye reach. There is too much to choose from, so I'll take just the one portrait by Millais of Effie Gray with foxgloves. It's easy to miss in a hallway, but it is the important painting that signals their love and her bravery to get away from the cruelty of Ruskin. Fabulous.

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Hidden London - Looking for Dylan

The 14th of May annually is Dylan Thomas day. It's not his birthday. It's not his death day. It's the date Under Milk Wood was first read on stage in New York. And why not commemorate that? Feeling anti-social this year, I decided to make my own little pilgrimage to somewhere very much off the beaten track of all things Dylan. No boat house in Laugharne. No Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia. I look myself down to the river not far from home. 

Dylan and his family lived at 13, Hammersmith Terrace in the winter of 1941-42 and on into the spring of 1942.  It's a five storey Georgian terraced house that backs directly onto a famous stretch of the Thames. Lots of artists have lived around there over the years (Eric Ravillious, Emery Walker, A.P. Herbert who owned number 13 and invited the Thomases to stay, and William Morris had his press very nearby). 

Next door at number 12, can this be conicidence to his choice of studio/bedsit? was apparently the birthplace of his wife, Caitlin MacNamara. 

I look up at the typical London brick and wonder what Dylan got up to in Hammersmith. His carefully collated Collected Letters helpfully supplies some answers from the few he wrote from this address. He was writing, but only in the time left to him after his work for a film company producing short films for the Ministry of Information.

Dylan hated London at this point where 'even the sun's grey... the grey gets in your eyes so that a bit of green nearly blinds you and the thought of the sea makes you giddy as you cross the road like a bloody beetle,' and his colleagues odious 'straw men, sponge and vanity boys, walking sacks full of solid vinegar and pride, all the menagerie of a world very rightly at war with itself (And even now the ink is spitting.)' (May 1942) 

And he hated his poverty: 'You don't know, I suppose, anyone with any furniture stored in London and who would want to give it to a good home? The only things I have are a deckchair with a hole in it, half a dozen books, a few toys and an old iron. These would not fill even a mouse's home. It is very good sometimes to have nothing; I want society, not me, to have places to sit in and beds to lie in; and who wants a hatstand of his very own? But sometimes on rainy, nostalgic Sunday afternoons, after eating the week's meat, it would, however cowardly, whatever a blanketing of responsibility and conscience, be good to sprawl back on one's own bourgeois chair, bought slippers on one's trotters.' (May 1942)

Although writing such as this has always to be read realising his teasing use of hyperbole for dramatic effect. So there you have it. He was miserable and fed up and often on the move. Sounds very much like typical Dylan-times. I hope none of this rubs off on me this week as I am rather buoyant and pretty happy.

Further reading

Paul Ferris, Dylan Thomas: The Collected Letters (London: J.M.Dent, 1985)

Thursday 11 May 2023

Midlands Explorer - Moseley Old Hall

I tried my best to avoid all things royal this past weekend - don't get me started on the subject - but what happens when you take yourself off to a 17th century Manor House near Wolverhampton, is that you end up tripping over them. 

In this case the encounter was with the future Charles II during his flight from defeat at the battle of Worcester in 1651. Having hidden in the famous oak tree, he was given shelter by the Catholic family here, even hiding in the priest hole between the house's upper and lower floors under the garde-robe when Parliamentarian forces came calling, before making his escape via a very circuitous route through England and across the Channel to France. Pity he came back.

On a small enough scale to imagine living in it, Moseley Old Hall is a delight of wooden interiors, including chapel in the attic disguised as a school room, pleasant parlours and bedrooms, and a lovely knot garden. Most impressive were the stump work embroideries of which there were many, along with the Royal and Parliamentary propaganda.