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“Il n’y a que les montagnes qui ne se rencontrent pas”

… or so they say
Of the Pyrenees and other ranges
That stretch to heaven and stroll from sea to sea.

But in this small world
That encircles us and bears our circling,
Our molehills meet as mountains between you and me.



Thomas Carew had it right: Lukewarm is icky!

On Tuesday night (6th December) I enjoyed Poet in the City’s monthly drop-in at Waterstone’s Piccadilly. The theme was “Fire and Ice“, based on the famous poem by Robert Frost.

Jamie Field, a new blogger for Poet in the City, has posted a short review of the event with a list of the poets and poems read, which is a feast in itself, but I thought I’d post here the full text of the poem by Thomas Carew that I read, because I love it! My friend and fellow Poet in the City volunteer, Alice, suggested I read it and I’m so glad she did, because it reflects how I feel about everything from bathwater to coffee to love!

Mediocritie in love rejected
– Thomas Carew (1595? – 1645?)

Give me more love, or more disdaine;
The Torrid or the frozen Zone
Bring equall ease unto my paine;
The temperate affords me none;
Either extreame, of love or hate,
Is sweeter than a calm estate.

Give me a storme; if it be love,
Like Danae in that golden showre,
I swimme in pleasure; if it prove
Disdaine, that torrent will devoure
My Vulture-hopes; and he’s possesst
Of Heaven, that’s from Hell releast:
Then crowne my joyes, or cure my paine;
Give me more love, or more disdaine.

It seems the poem was originally a sonnet, because all the versions that I’ve found have fourteen lines, except for the one I actually read, which adds the final couplet to the end of the first stanza as well. Presumably, this is because it was slightly modified by Little Machine to enable their musical rendering of it, which is worth a listen!



{Wed 5 October 2011}   About Art Accelerating Art
Art Accelerating Art

We had the first rehearsal yesterday for this performance to be held at the Saatchi Gallery 13-16 October. I met John Angel Rodriguez, curator, and the deep-voiced James Honey and string-master Jamie Romain of A Band of Buriers. The band’s “alternative folk” music is absolutely mesmerising – it was gorgeous to hear it filling the large spaces of the gallery.

The idea is to investigate how audience appreciation of The Shape of Things to Come exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery is affected when music and poetry are performed in response to sculpture. Elinros Henriksdottir asked me to select and perform some poetry in response to certain works and invited A Band of Buriers to do the same in music. Unfortunately, a long-standing personal commitment prevents me from being there for two of the four days of the performances, so I will not perform, but instead I have arranged for three wonderful performers to do it instead: Rosalie Jorda, Gisele Edwards and Gabby Meadows. I am still involved as Project Assistant and will be going to the rehearsals and to the first and possibly the second performance.

The poems to be performed are the “Introduction” and “Earth’s Answer” from William Blake’s Songs of Experience, and my own Smooth Red Woman. The latter is really just a textual spec for a digital poem I intend to make, about thoughts triggered by a beautiful red marble sculpture I saw in Italy, so I didn’t think of it as a final version, but it does seem amazingly relevant in the context of the particular sculptures we’ll be using it to comment on. It particularly raises questions around how women’s responses to art may differ from men’s. All three poems sound amazing in the voices of the three female performers. It’s heartening to feel that themes so personal to me can be shared by and communicated through other women.

If this idea of using some art forms to enhance your experience of another art form appeals to you, or you know someone who might be intrigued by it, everyone in the Art Accelerating Art team would appreciate it if you would Like this post and spread the word via social media!



{Mon 3 October 2011}   Art Accelerating Art
Art Accelerating Art

Hello, hello, my long-languishing blog (and my very occasional readers)! I love you, I really do, and think of you constantly…. well, a bit inconstantly, it’s true, but I do hold you in my heart. It’s just been an incredibly busy year, with three main themes occupying my energies:

  1. Writing content and building an exciting commercial website for RealCorp Luxembourg; as well as ongoing training, consultancy, blogging and other writing for them and for other clients.
  2. Volunteering for Poet in the City as Social Media Manager: creating a WordPress blog and an internal Social Media Wiki on PBWorks, teaching social media workshops, encouraging a mixed bag of users to contribute on the blog, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, assisting with a bid for Nesta’s Digital R&D Fund, and writing a spec to revamp the main Poet in the City website (project on hold for now). I also managed the Poetry and the State event at Amnesty International and assisted with several other events.
  3. Buying a house in France…. more on that later, when I can get my head around the fact that it’s actually happening!

All this has meant that I haven’t had much time for personal creative projects, so I was surprised and thrilled to be approached by the sylph-like Elinros Henriksdotter, after my reading of Shakespeare at the Poet in the City “Dog Days” Drop-In, to particpate in a wonderful four-day initiative (13-16 Oct) to use poetry and music to enhance the experience of sculpture: “Art Accelerating Art”.

(Update 05/10/11: I’ve moved the chunk on Art Accelerating Art to a separate post).



{Mon 29 August 2011}   I, ferocious woman
I, ferocious woman

I, ferocious woman,
bellow
at the morning;
You, angel,
heal
yesterday, softly.



Looking beyond libraries for learning

In a recent Poet in the City post, Lockie McKinnon muses on the assumption by some people (led in this instance by economist Dambisa Moyo) that society can get along fine without the arts as long as we focus on science.  Lockie argues passionately that, despite the current regime of cuts, we must retain art as an equal partner with science. Although science may offer us water and food, our motivation for life itself and our understanding of ourselves comes from the arts (not his words, but this is what I understand from the example Lockie gives of Alberto Manguel’s Colombian villagers in The Library at Night choosing the Iliad as the one book that they refused to return to the travelling library). He finishes with an appeal to join a local library to oppose cuts.

I’ve been thinking about this post and wondering why, when I wholeheartedly agree that we cannot contemplate life or society without art, I felt hesitant about committing to the libraries campaign.

Today in The Independent, Mary Dejevksy asserts that “our view of libraries is sepia-tinted” and I knew, considering my own behaviour, that this is true.

Despite being a keen reader, and definitely old enough to know how important libraries have been in encouraging reading, I never use them. The last time I went into my local library to find a book (which they didn’t have, but did order for me), was 2001, I think.  Since then, I’ve never encountered a “finding” challenge that I couldn’t solve using the Internet. The process is much quicker and entirely under my control. I can read reviews to help me determine whether to take my search any further; I can find summaries, excerpts or entire texts that sometimes supply all I need, depending on the reason for my search. Many great books are free, for example, via Project Gutenberg, and if I decide to buy a book, I can usually find it at a reasonable price. Definitions, interpretations, background and context are literally at my fingertips via links or online search, while I read, wherever I’m reading. Travel-wise, the convenience of instant download and reading books on my Kindle or iPhone is unparalleled. The books cost less than they do in hard copy, I don’t have to carry the extra kilos, and I don’t have to return them to anyone on time.

Of course, I’m aware of the digital divide and I know that, right now, reading devices are still relatively expensive, but digital reading will inevitably become ubiquitous as prices go down and it fits better into our busy lives. It also opens wonderful new possibilities for narrative, as witness these collections from the Electronic Literature Organisation: Volume 1 and the recently published Volume 2. One of my favourite digital poets is Peter Howard, whose e-poems use digital facilities in a non-trivial way to support and/or convey the poems’ intent, and manage to be aesthetic at the same time (surprise, complexity, intelligibility and beauty are a rare combination  in the still-nascent world of e-poetry). See, for example, A Poppy. He is also a master of pace and comic timing, which many digital poets are not (yet). See Xylo and Portrait of the Artist.

As we navigate the explosion of data on the web, I believe that there will always be a role for reading guides or facilitators, people who inspire and encourage us to read, experts who not only curate directories of literature and suggest what to read, but also teach us how to engage with what we read, and to read critically, so that we grow through these encounters, but I doubt whether libraries as we currently know them are optimally suited to this task.

For anyone interested in pursuing this topic, The Institute for the Future of the Book is a great resource and their blog if:book addresses developments in reading. You can also find new thoughts on the evolution of the creation and consumption of communications across all media on Transliteracy.com.



Do different loves spawn different poetry?

Thinking about Valentine’s Day, and the Love Poetry event at King’s Place tonight, to which I am looking forward immensely, I suddenly wondered which of my own poems had been inspired by love, in the sense of romantic love. I am a very occasional poet, but, as for most people, those occasions are often linked to love, or the loss of it.

Of course, I’m interested in the nature of love in its broadest sense, an interest developed through my years in the Christian church, where we were taught to categorise love into agápē (God’s love — sacrificial love, the highest kind, a matter of choice), philia (brotherly love or friendship – the next best, perhaps imperfect, but also a matter of virtuous choice), storge (familial affection — a love to be expected, as good and natural) and eros (romantic love — also a natural love, but a dangerous and unreliable one, to be outwitted, outwaited, carefully managed, or repressed … and never trusted).

Nowadays, although I still find these concepts useful, I don’t see any of them as exclusive to particular types of relationship, which, I guess, reflects my more mature view of humans as psycho-sexual-spiritual beings who are inevitably always all of these things in all relationships. As the Wikipedia entries point out, the ancient Greek terms encompassed a wide range of concepts and affections. But the goal of Christian teaching is usually to simplify life, rather than to revel in its complexity, so the above simple English translations and the relative values assigned to them by my teachers were what stuck for a very long time.

And yet, despite this drilling in the compartmentalisation of love, when I looked through the paltry collection of my own poems, I was startled to realise that I had never read or examined the love poems as a group. Each was born in its own time, and each out of a different relationship or phase in my life, and although I have worked on each of them for years, I have never related them to each other. In retrospect, this seems strange, so today I looked at my poems to see a.) which I could call love poems and b.) whether I could sort them into the ancient Greek groups.

While in this “grouping” mode, I’ve enjoyed reviewing the more agápē-oriented poems arising from my spiritual quest, but that’s a post for another day. Valentine’s Day is the day for contemplating romantic love (and friendship, I think, because there is often so much overlap). With these poems, I was surprised to see, firstly, how they reveal precisely that tendency toward synthesis of which I’m now conscious, and secondly, how different they are from each other. At least, to me, they seem different from each other. I wonder if another reader would be struck by similarities or differences?

Eros

Philia



{Wed 12 January 2011}   Reblog: Story Gardens of Holon
Happy New Year!

New Year, new start… well, that’s what January’s for, no? Due to (lots of lovely) work (for which I am very grateful) and an extraordinary amount of travelling, family visiting and hosting in different countries, six months have whizzed by. Well, here I am again, full of fresh passion and resolve!

One of my new roles this year is Social Media Manager for Poet in the City (PinC). I have begun facilitating the organisation’s presence on various social media platforms, including the new Poet in the City Blog. The engagement with social media involves a learning curve for all Poet in the City volunteers, including myself, so I am looking forward to that, and also to introducing PinC’s very large audience to some of the best digital poetry.

Mindful of my own slow and sometimes reluctant journey from being entirely text-bound to enjoying the delights of digital literature, I would also love to see more transliterate discussion here on TiaTalk, so I’ll start by reposting a piece I wrote for www.transliteracy.com. This was published on 29 December 2010 — sandwiched between two humongously extended public holiday weekends in the midst of the festive season, this date was probably not the best time for anyone to read it, so I’m giving it another go here. Please let me know what you think!

Reblog: Story Gardens of Holon: 3-D, immersive, interactive, social and offline

During our MA studies, it was suggested that digital storytelling is non-linear whereas text-based storytelling is linear, and that engaging with online stories is immersive, active, interactive and social, as opposed to offline reading which is less immersive, relatively passive and often solitary.

Those of us who since childhood have known the pleasures of immersing ourselves in a book, imagining our own versions of scenes described, placing ourselves in characters’ shoes, and engaging our friends in repeated acting out of the stories in our own gardens or living rooms (accepting with good or bad humour the inevitable story variations that arise when actors, props and locations do not exquisitely reflect the text), initially found it hard to accept these distinctions.

In one online discussion with classmates, I said,

I was quite startled to realise that … new media art might be defined by non-linear narratives. Is it always a requirement that the reader not be offered, or be able to choose not to follow, a linear storyline? … when I think about the interactive possibilities of the new media, I can see ways to engage the reader and enable them to contribute, but still have them follow a narrative chosen by the writer.

I went on to say,

I think of the non-linear approach as more ‘poetic’, in the sense of the genre of poetry. The best way to engage with this kind of work is in a meditative frame of mind, where one takes the time to dwell with sounds, images and associations and follow these imaginatively. A poem may, of course, have a strong narrative structure, but much of the pleasure if offers is found ‘along the way’, before one reaches the conclusion or the resolution of any ‘plot’. Even in a linear story, attempts to evoke the emotions and perceptions of characters or of the reader may create ‘poetic’ moments during the story. If one maximizes these moments and reduces the linking narrative, even to the point where it is implied rather than described, one may produce a relatively ‘non-linear’ story (although the idea of story inevitably contains linearity).  I suppose that this is my perception of how Inanimate Alice works. There is a linear chronology, but this is suggested rather than detailed, and my experience as the reader is of poetic moments at intervals along that chronology.

This was my limited view of new media’s potential at the time and, of course, it turned out that there was some sense in what our teachers were saying and we learned to identify and value the different kind of immersion, as well as the relative autonomy, creative freedom and social discourse offered to the reader by many online stories.

However, I still felt that these comparisons, necessary though they might be, could devalue the power of text-based stories. I longed to hold on to them while still embracing video games, MMOGs, cross-media narratives and all the other online possibilities… I did not want the new literacies to supplant the old.  Thus, I was delighted when a recent visit to a Story Garden (“Gan Sipur”) in Israel suggested a way of creating and maintaining a transliterate approach to the enjoyment of stories.

Holon, a large city south of and adjacent to Tel Aviv, has 31 of these Story Gardens. Along with the Children’s Museum, the Mediatheque Cultural Center and various other youth-friendly initiatives, they contribute to Holon’s growing reputation as a “children’s city”. Hana Herzman, managing director of Holon Municipality, and Moti Sasson, Mayor of Holon, are credited with originating and driving the development of the Story Gardens project. They explain the concept further in this video:

Story Gardens of Holon (view on YouTube)

In other words, Story Gardens are landscaped sculpture installations where the sculptures are characters, objects or abstract representations of thoughts and emotions from well-loved children’s stories.

Each garden (there may be several within a park) is a visually identifiable, cohesive space for one particular story, but offering unlimited points of access and egress.  A path suggests the author’s original linear progress through the story, but nothing prevents the experiencer from being attracted to or seeking out alternative routes through the story.

Thematic and aesthetic cohesion for a particular story is established by having one sculptor per story, so only one artist works with a particular writer or text to interpret that story, but these unique story gardens are then united by tasteful, spacious landscaping in and between each “storyverse”, as though an editor had placed them in an anthology. See some more examples in Yair Karelic’s photos here:

Holon’s Story Gardens (1 of 2)

Holon’s Story Gardens (2 of 2)

Besides the simple pleasures of experiencing the gardens themselves, from an analytical point of view, the collaborative creation and the confluence of literacies here is wonderful.  In creating a story garden, an author’s text is interpreted by a selection committee, a sculptor, and architects, environmental planners and engineers (often in live discussion with the author), and then re-interpreted with great satisfaction by teachers, parents, grandparents and, most importantly, by the children at whom the entire exercise is aimed.  And taking transliteracy a step further… some of the stories have even morphed their way into the world of philately through photos of the sculptures!

And the text is never far from the story experience, despite its outdoor, 3-D, immersive, flexible and very social nature: apparently the most popular books in Holon are those featured in the Story Gardens. They are borrowed from the Mediatheque library and are taken to the gardens to be read aloud or home to be enjoyed again, by parents, teachers and children.

In a recent wide-ranging post, Reading in the Digital Age or Reading How We’ve Always Read, Kassia Krozser of Booksquare muses most engagingly on the technological developments required to facilitate social reading in the online environment, but what struck me is her assertion that reading has been a social activity for much longer than it has been a solitary one. She reminds us that

Social reading is normal reading. …  Even after the invention of the Gutenberg press, the possession of books was outside the reach of most people. …. The tradition of people reading to each other remains alive and well. …  It wasn’t until mass market books became available that reading, as we know it, was identified as a (almost-solely) solitary activity (overall literacy rates had to catch up as well, but that’s another issue).

I sometimes think of reading as “story absorption” to remind myself that stories were not always bound in books, but I am also glad that, at this point in the evolution of storytelling, when “wreading” happens in a Story Garden (because analysis, comment, reinterpretation and embellishment are inevitable parts of creation and of play), texts may still be part of the discussion.



{Tue 20 July 2010}   On banning face veils
Thoughts on banning face veils

After reading about the French ban, I was interested to see in Ha’aretz yesterday that Syria has banned face veils at universities in order to protect the secular nature of the state. The article also reports that hundreds of niqab-wearing primary school teachers were transferred to administrative jobs.

I agree with the banning of face veils, for practical reasons related to identification and communication, yes, but also because I believe that face veils are shaming of women and womanhood in general.

In the UK we tend to believe that tolerance involves tolerating everything, especially the behaviour of the weak and disadvantaged, so as not to add to their burdens by shaming them. But, paradoxically, this attitude can entrench that weakness, allowing an extreme intolerance to grow amongst us that threatens the very society that tolerates it. Damian Green says that Britain is unlikely to follow France’s example because banning the burka would be “unBritish”. I agree with him, but not because I believe that being “British” in this particular respect is a Good Thing: The French approach is an attempt to engage with the problem. In Britain, “tolerance” is often shorthand for ignoring both issues and people and disengaging from them.

I believe that a woman who wears a face veil is participating in a declaration that womanhood should be effaced from public life… its message to me is that women are dangerous, require restraint and should not be allowed to participate equally in the world with men. It is an intolerant, insulting and disrespectful message which challenges all the gains women have made in the slow and still-incomplete battle for freedom that has cost many their lives over centuries. It is also aggressive, or, at the very least, insensitive, as it creates fear and discomfort in non-wearers who feel threatened and weakened by what it represents—women at the mercy of men.

The veil also insults and weakens men. It assumes that men cannot control their sexual urges in the presence of a woman. It reduces men to the level of instinctive beasts and removes from them any responsibility for learning to respond appropriately.

In Western societies, even the wearing of just a headscarf (rather than a niqab or a burka), when it is clear that the purpose is total covering of the body and hair, conveys similar messages.

While I say this, I am aware that millions of women have no choice but to wear the veil—they face ostracism or death if they do not. These women are damned (by the West) if they do and damned (by their cultures) if they do not. Their plight is terrible and I have deep compassion for them. They are being used as human shields to draw the fire of negative responses to extremism in the same way that some terrorists use their own civilians as human shields. While extreme displays reveal extreme distress, the causes of which should be investigated, understood and addressed, this does not mean that terrorism should be tolerated.

I actually think the terms of the French ban recognise the problem very well – the fine is only €150 for the woman wearing the veil but €30,000 or a year in jail for the man who forces her to do so. This recognises that the woman does not deserve further shaming and attempts to go to the source.

Of course, the man too may suffer shaming and ostracism by his culture (although likely not death) if “his” woman is not covered, so truly “going to the source” requires a much deeper and wider educative approach where men and women are encouraged to find ways of affirming their identity and their honour without shaming or degrading each other.

P.S. After writing the above post, I found this wonderful article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown which eloquently and fervently expresses some of the same thoughts and many more… I so admire her stance as a Muslim woman and I urge anyone who is interested in the implications of the veil to read her too: “Stand up against the burka” (The Guardian, 17 May 2010).

P.P.S. 04 April 2011. The wonderful Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has again written a great piece on the dangers of the veil. She says that banning is too extreme a response, but urges society to consider sixteen reasons why Muslims themselves should oppose it: Sixteen Reasons why I object to this dangerous cover-up.



2010: The Abuse and Insult Continue

How about this latest instance of the “good news” and the “loving” message of Jesus Christ from the Catholic Church:

The Guardian today reports that “Revised Catholic rules put female ordination in same category of crime under church law as clerical sex abuse of minors”: Vatican makes attempted ordination of women a grave crime

Why not legislate that Catholic women should wear burqas too? That should really make the position quite clear. And before you cry that there is no similarity, I ask you to consider this more deeply:

  • They are both rules made by men in power
  • To ensure that women never have power
  • On the basis that a masculine god-construct said so
  • And that men are supposedly better rulers of themselves and of others
  • And that women are supposedly mentally and emotionally weaker than men
  • And that women exercising power are more dangerous than men exercising power
  • Despite the negative examples of enormous bad done by powerful men
  • And the positive examples of enormous good done by powerful women

One’s gender does not define one’s morality or one’s capacity, even physically. For every strong man there is one who is weaker than a woman. For every weak woman there is one who is stronger than a man. And in all issues of conscience and character, any person has the potential to grow stronger or weaker. We are what we choose to be, not what religion or any man says we must be.

The gospel that the church claims it was commissioned to preach is the gospel of love. Why can we never feel or hear or experience that love amongst the welter of prohibitions and condemnations that exercise religious minds? Do any of them actually believe that Jesus came to set the world free? Or is love just so hard that no one is actually capable of it? It is so much easier just to legislate and condemn and blame anyone other than oneself for sin … man has been doing it since Adam and it looks like the Catholic Church has learned nothing since then. Didn’t Jesus say, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone…”?



et cetera
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