Poetry and painting
Monday, 29 November 2021 at 17:09
My article on some of the connections between my poetry and painting "Ut pictura poesis: as in painting so in poetry" has just appeared on the Showcase pages of the Royal Literary Fund website.
Click on the link below to read: https://www.rlf.org.uk/showcase/ut-pictura-poesis/
The article is illustrated by this older version of my painting of a cyclist on the campus at York University. Over the last few days I decided to return to this painting and I'll post the latest version in a day or two
Kiing's Cross: new painting
Monday, 15 November 2021 at 14:23
View from Concourse over King's Cross Station. Size: 102 x 127 cm. Medium: oil on canvas. Date: 2019-2021
Over the late summer, I revisited the large painting of King's Cross which I started a couple of years back. Lockdown and illness intervened, but I'm glad I went back to it. This time I decided I wanted to make more of individuals in the crowd, and putting together this composite crowd from scores of drawings and photographs was absorbing though time-consuming. The focus is less on the architecture now as the picture seems to have developed something of Brughel's busy scenes about it. I'm thinking now about further ways to depict crowds, though probably with fewer highly-delineated figures; maybe something that catches mass movement.
The Shoal Bay Death Spirit Dreaming
Monday, 27 September 2021 at 14:52
the Mid-Winter Leaving Hobart Snooze
and the Mad Rush Nervous Sweat
Getting to the Airport Nightmare,
I fetch up in a Melbourne Museum
in front of The Napperby Death Spirit Dreaming.
I’m Cliff Forshaw, not Clifford Possum,
and, being somewhere between,
I haven’t got a clue what this
(so far from surf, sea, shore)
or anything else, might mean.
But I’m thinking back, and I’m looking out,
if not exactly forward,
to the any other business
end of the itinerant’s agenda.
The Arts Council warns that whites
have no rights to blackfellas’ stories.
But what about a title? What about a name?
Don’t we really all end up
in one of Dreamtime Cemetery’s
seven basic plots?
Not even the Aborigines
have been here ab origine,
but came hunting in packs,
along with the sniff of man’s best friend.
Among the kookaburras,
the flash of rosellas,
these poems may contain images
of deceased whitefellas.
Ultimo in Arvo,
sounds like a Latin motto.
But it’s just a black and white photo
of a Sydney street, some spot near Darling Harbour,
on a sunstruck afternoon.
And it’s endless now, what’s burned in light:
sun, afternoon, the shadows
never quite making it to evening,
to the terminus and the cool rattle
of the last train home.
felled on the beach, each stripped right
down to tan, grin, teeth.
felled on the beach, each stripped right
down to tan, grin, teeth.
The sun has slipped dark coins
under so many skins,
left obols on a country’s tongue.
And now the state’s left wondering
if it’s enough to pay their way
to the other side of surf.
Out there, outlined against the crashing light,
a dark figure barely on that board
Its vegetable love will grow:
sprout right through
gonna take some rake
to sort your nitty-gritty,
dig up them bulbs,
their harsh night-glow
keep your humour,
say the word,
(it’s in the timing)
say it, say it: tumour.
Upon a man in black
with a cracked voice
I seemed to have stumbled.
“How’s it goin’, Lenny Cohen?”
I heard him mumble.
Mark pops pills — in a flash Max is back
devouring what they gave his daylight twin,
for when it all gets too much.
A little bit of R & R
at pharmacology’s cutting edge.
Hanging with the guys,
might as well blunt the day with a dry run,
as sun pours itself another,
the doctor lies down to his siesta,
and Mr Hyde foams up to beer o’clock.
Be time enough back in Sydney,
to steel the mind, clench the sphincter,
then do the only thing you can really do:
lie back, relax, let white stuff go soft,
fold innocent as butter, melt
around the knife of burning light.
To lessen the severity of (pain, disease etc)
without curing or removing;
to seem less serious by concealing evidence;
from pallium, Latin for ‘a cloak’,
which is also a word for the cerebral cortex
and contiguous white matter.
Out in the night, drunken nutters:
neighbours, all that contiguous white matter.
From Zenith to Wreck
(the way they name these beaches).
Blue moon. No, really.
And the sound of surf
sweeping grit along the bay.
The evening’s polarised
to blue and gold, or peeling away
between sky-scuds and sea-caps.
That day, we forded water to the spit,
rucksack above head,
trying not to get the camera wet.
Glad now to have those photographs,
the notebook which says we saw,
at the end of their season,
a pod of humpbacks heading north;
ate barramundi and kangaroo pies;
lost count of skydivers piling into blue;
heard you say:
“Every time I look up into the sky,
there’s someone falling out.”
Unignorable horn. Man
slumped over the steering wheel
of a beat-up van.
Raid on the inarticulate:
his shabby equipment
deteriorated far enough:
Please Clean Me!
wet-fingered in the dust.
Through painful sun,
near Carthage, years ago,
I saw a cellarful of sarcophagi,
names cut into stone in
(am I right in thinking) Greek?
(am I right in thinking Carthage?)
Sometimes the chiseller,
starting with too generous a space,
had not anticipated the stone’s edge
and, running out of tomb,
had to cramp or abbreviate forever,
docked the last recorded syllables
of a loved, hated or feared one’s name.
As much as I remember: long time ago
with a woman whose passport once bore,
next to next-of-kin, the curt formula
of my initials, surname, the country where I lived.
Heard your last trip was to the Outback.
Never made it myself to the Red Centre,
just flew over its dusty suburbs.
Hope that where you find yourself, there’s
no spider in the dunny, snake across your path.
Well, what’s the chance of something lethal now?
Or do we still forever need to do the maths?
Here is seven yards and more of Dreaming
and other Dreamings bracketed within
its slow pan across the Western Desert:
Old Man’s Dreaming, Yam Dreaming,
Sun and Moon Dreaming.
Here is acrylic psychogeography,
brain-pan soup, palimpsest of soul,
A field of dots may mask the sacred, keep it secret.
The point of pointillism’s what’s between:
something scanned and reconstituted
behind the eyes and in-between
the buzz of Hertz.
Students will read stories of the Dreaming
and discuss ownership of these stories.
They will view an Aboriginal artwork
and identify meaningful signs and symbols.
Students will also write a short story
about their own spiritual beliefs, land and family
and create a painting to describe this story.
The Buddhas of Bamiyan
Monday, 16 August 2021 at 15:05
The Taliban have just taken Kabul. Here's a poem I wrote two decades ago and which appeared in Trans (2005).
The Buddhas of Bamiyan
In March 2001, the Taliban authorities destroyed two huge ancient figures of the Buddha at Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
I met a traveller from an antique landWho said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert..’ Shelley, "Ozymandias"
Here’s what remains: colossal holes in rock.
Not even legs. Each trunk’s just that: hollow,
an opened, empty, god-sized box.
Raided tombs, recesses shaped like Pharaohs’
coffins or their huge cast shadows.
At their absent ancient feet: boulders,
rubble, mortar casings, spent ammo shells,
Taliban on Toyota trucks - Allahu
Akbar! ...Meanwhile, back in Kabul,
it’s hush-hush Video Night - venue:
the old World-Wide language school. Banned,
but what the hell. Soldiers, perhaps ex-students,
scratch lengthening beards, bum smokes
or fiddle softpacks from black turbans.
Some place Kalashnikovs in stooks,
pass round a plastic lighter, trade contraband,
squat on the mat. Swarzenegger’s back.
Tonight his sneer of cold command’s
getting personal with a laser-sighted
45 slide; while the late-model terminator,
unperturbed, just mops up punishment,
absorbs whatever’s handed out. Boof!
And - here’s the groovy thing - from it he learns
to - how you say? - shape-shift, morph.
Once Buddha was just an empty throne.
Round here his face grew Greek or Persian,
half-way between Apollo and a king.
Xerxes, or Iskander perhaps, robes grown
stony with potency. Or Kanishka,
whose idea these statues were. - His own
headless statue stood back in Kabul:
enormous pantaloons, mighty kingly feet.
He got his last week. Full circle.
For centuries, huge mummies
wrapped in grubby bandages of rock
stood here, blind to passing armies.
Today, they blew away his legs and chin
- tank shells, rocket launchers - then
dynamited that big mutha up to heaven.
It took twenty-five explosions
to wipe the smile right off that face,
incarnate him as dust, air, an empty throne.
Bars of light across eyes, mouths that whisper
through the hatches of shapeless prisons:
women, in chador, burquas, watch the distance,
rebel gunfire where the mountains rise.
Tuesday, 10 August 2021 at 16:35
My article "Reversifying Rimbaud", about the writing of my narrative sequence on the poet's life after he gave up poetry and became a trader and gun-runner in Africa has just been published on the Royal Literary Fund website:
The sequence RE:VERB will appear from Broken Sleep Books in 2021. French Leave: versions and perversions which includes my translations and adaptations from Rimbaud and many other French poets is due from Broken Sleep in 2022. Some of those versions can be found on the website under the translation pages.
Friday, 16 July 2021 at 10:47
Continuing the theme of Palestinian / Israeli confict,here are a couple more poems from a long-ago trip to Israel.
Other side of that great new Wall,
the deconstructed town (90,000 souls)
half-stands: crunchy rubble, tutting choppers;
street-arabs dodge that tank-track sound.
What’s left is mainly walls. Jenin.
The not-quite-fallen lean
on each other, sketch a corner, put a hearth
in parenthesis, bracket off a bath.
And what’s left of many walls is sky
or a vision of laser-printed saints:
A4 martyrs aimed at Heaven,
an apotheosis bristling AK47s.
One scrawny generation thought
Charles Atlas; now, after pics
show pecs pumped with ironmongery,
bigged up, lumpy
with whole hardware bins of nails.
Hard enough for Allah,
flashgunned brief hours before their fame.
One, from where the new Wall
slices olive groves,
wears that green headband.
God’s élite – no one kicks sand
in this commando’s face.
Streetside galleries of the Shaheed:
Hamas. Fatah. Jihad – a verse
from the Qur’an bleeds through screen-grabs,
heroic deeds they’ll ink to light.
....ripped-up roots, a lonely boot,
the snap of wasp-striped tape;
fluorescent crews harvesting the red
communal fruit from sticky tarmac.
Faces strobed: the shadow’s veil,
the siren’s call to oxyacetylene prayer.
Something close to history
hanging in newly-stung air.
You’ve seen this face: bespectacled,
studious in the freshers’ photo.
A little out of focus,
fuzzy with an idea of beard.
Or snapped a year or two back:
that graduation trip to Al-Quds,
In the background, Al Aqsa:
just like the poster – that blinding mosque,
sun detonating on its golden rim.
Hizbullah, exhilarated, exhaling Allahu Akbar!
as rocket launchers whoosh Katushkas
…over the border, in the olives,
you rely on the nearby Jewish village’s siren,
wind in the right direction…
the hillside’s tachycardia.
Out of here, all clear, you’ll be lucky
to be breathing walls, your neighbour’s dust.]
… to give you maybe one thousand heartbeats
or one hundred shallow breaths to find
your wife, mother and her granddaughter:
Fatima on the rooftop hanging washing;
Zeinab scooping Leila from the garden
Friday, 16 July 2021 at 10:13
Ten measures of beauty gave God to the world; nine to Jerusalem and one to the remainder.
Ten measures of sorrow gave God to the world; nine to Jerusalemand one to the remainder.
You’ve seen that poster? The young Israeli soldier’s
burying his prayer here in the Wailing Wall.
His rifle’s slung at his elbow, stock tipped
from the strap, bow-strung from his shoulder.
These huge stones make us all feel small.
Above and beyond is al-Haram al-Sharif.
Another poster, the Tourist Office’s, makes
that gold mosque’s rising dome the must-see sight.
Up there, Abraham quivered with his knife;
Mohammed ascended a staircase of light.
Temple Mount’s out of bounds to Jews
by their own Holy Law, and off-limits to non-Muslims
these last tense weeks. Security’s real tight,
so I’m sticking out among the Hasidim
in their old country, old century, black and white.
The bus rattles through the sun-struck shtetl.
Last week, another martyr blasted off to heaven
right here – dressed as a Haredi, I heard:
black coat, white shirt, black suit, the broad-brimmed hat.
I’m guessing he already had the beard.
And, undercover of that black black suit,
that newly-laundered winding-sheet of shirt,
doubtless beat a very special heart:
one that knew injustice, indignity, spite,
or grew sour at some subtler private hurt.
One sullen spark, long fanned, may start
God’s love to smoulder in any heart.
One day that love may burst into flame
with such force the soul escapes
its cage of ribs and rips your world apart.
He was raptured up right through this bus’s roof:
this jagged crescent’s a witness to his light.
Small stars now stud the dark where rivets
discovered their holy vocation, shunned the night
and aimed themselves at sky, his moon.
Bedeck the walls, the deck is flower-strewn,
confettiblown: the petals and stems of washers, bolts,
sprays of glass, bouquets of skin; the ecstasy
of flesh dispensing with the need to be;
the jolt of bodies beside themselves in joy.
He came. He went. An exemplary life. He undressed
himself right down to the marrow of his soul,
took nothing with him, bequeathed his companions all.
Yet powerfully persuaded his Mitteleuropäischer guests,
who have come so far, to strip off their Sabbath best,
and dance, here in the hot Middle Eastern sun.
And now even those wallflowers, too shy
to hang up their long black coats, can’t help themselves
– they’re nodding heads and hats and beards.
Soon they’ll be fingerclicking, toe-tapping,
getting down and dirty to the beat.
And on this bus now trembling at the busy stop
as you fumble on the step for change, who knows
what may have caused another drummer’s heart
to quicken while the diesel ticks?