Thursday, January 24, 2013

Baby, you can never hold back spring

The JK Ensemble, which is always on the radio here in Cutehall between half two and half four weekdays, played Tom Waits singing this song (From Orphans, his newest recording). Perfect, and here is the proof if you needed any. From the garden here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Warsaw, retrospectively

I've written in an earlier post on this blog of the Polish artist Barbara Falkowska. She has been on my mind again recently for two reasons. First was the arrival in the post of a new retrospective catalogue of her work--a beautifully put-together publication. Second, was the preparation I've had to do, along with animator Orla McHardy,
for an interview for an award to make a film of my poem, "The Polish Language," which is dedicated to Barbara. In that interview, I told the story of meeting Barbara twenty four years ago in Maine and how in the years since, we have kept in touch, and how the poem came to be written because of my contact with Polish culture that began with that friendship (and with Barbara's niece, Basia, an extraordinary individual--but that is another story).
So here is something I wrote in Boston in 1994 about my visit to Poland four years earlier. The photo of the lady and cabbages above was taken in an indoor market. (We got the award by the way, and the film will be premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2009. )


I went to Warsaw to visit the Polish artist Barbara Falkowska and her family. Barbara spins, dyes and weaves wool, linen and raffia into large tapestries, which she calls gobelins. They are richly coloured and textured fibre paintings, marvellous things. I had had the good fortune of studying with her a few years before, and I became close to both Barbara and her niece Basia. When the airfares from the U.S. to Eastern Europe dropped in the early 90’s, I jumped at the chance to visit my friends.

At the time I arrived in Poland, the Communist government had just conceded its power to Solidarity, so Warsaw had not yet been brightened by the United Colours of Benetton and other festive regalia provided by free enterprise. Everything had that legendary totalitarian grey pallor. Store windows enticed customers with nothing more than a few dusty jars of pickles, a couple of wrinkled onions. Aside from the rebuilt Old City that catered to tourists, the better part of Warsaw was made up of rows and rows of concrete, high-rise housing blocks, stretching for miles across the flat plain that hugs the Vistula River.

When I arrived at the building that housed Barbara’s home and studio, I found it to be like all the others: grey, concrete, shabby. I remember that I looked up to the tenth floor, which I knew to be Barbara’s level, and saw one balcony upon which vines had been trained to grow, forming a kind of arbour. I knew it would be hers. I also remember the remarkable interior of Barbara’s small home, which was also her studio. She had filled it with lovely things: hand-made glassware and table linens, forged iron decorations, paintings and sculptures, all made by her friends in Poland and abroad. This place was filled with a kind of erotic energy for life in the midst of the starkest aesthetic landscape I could imagine. It spoke volumes about what art really is, at least to me. And at that time and place art was not yet much of a commodity as it now is in Poland. The need to make art and the need to live seemed very closely connected among Barbara and her friends. And the fact that they kept making art through the bleakest years of the worst regimes was in itself subversive; she and her friends had been harassed for years by the security police. I guess on this visit to Warsaw I got a clear vision of what art can be, is: life-giving, erotic, subversive, indomitable.

That same day, as the sun began to set, Barbara took me to her little studio on the second floor of the flat. She began to hand some of her recent works about the studio for me to look at. The one I remember most was a big tapestry, about ten by twelve feet, which she called “Screen”. It was made of very dark chocolate brown wools and linens with a central, globe-like image that was carved out on one edge by flecks of cornflower blue wool. The abstracted image reminded me a little of those astronaut photos of the earth seen from space, licked on one side by sunlight. I asked her to talk about this work, and she said that it was about her relationship to herself. Then she said, “I feel the greatest gift would if I could be completely myself.” I remember puzzling over those words; I felt as if she had said something important, something I needed to understand, but really comprehending it was not in my reach at that time...

Early in my second year of graduate school (in painting), I read a letter in which Matisse wrote the following. It recalled to me Barbara’s puzzling words. I’ve had it tacked up on my studio wall.

There are many things that I would like to understand about myself.
but after half a century of hard work and reflection, the wall remains.
Nature, or rather, my nature remains mysterious; at least I have put a little
order in my chaos by following the small light that guides me and responds
energetically to my frequent S.O.S’s. I am not intelligent.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A poem by Barry Spacks

This is one of those poems that has been a music in my head for over twenty years. Thought it
deserved having some light shed on it. The poet has a blog (url below), so you can check up what he is up to now as well.


Will it come again like this?
Will we ever get it right?
It is always as it is,
And it passes.

Never as it was,
Yet always somehow bright,
Always somehow sweet
In its changes.

We will never get it right.
It will come again, but not like this.
It is always as it is,
And it changes.

Barry Spacks
Spacks Street
see also

Monday, August 27, 2007

Scenes from The Flatlake Festival

Went to Clones, County Monaghan last weekend to the Flatlake Literary and Arts Festival, which was held (for the first time) at a beautiful estate called Hilton Park. It was a blast. It was literary. It was art. It was anarchy. It felt as if anything might happen. A very good thing.

Some highlights: The Butty Barn as a gathering space for readings, art auctions, gigs, interviews. Eoin McNamee reading his recent story, "North of Riga." Claire Keegan reading her story, "The Parting Gift." The 15 Second Film Festival. Eugene McCabe interviewed by Colm Tóibín. The sunlight on the big house on Sunday afternoon. Camping for the first time in a long, long time. Watching my daughter (7) not squirm and whinge but actually be still and attentive to Stephen Rea and Fintan McKeown read from Pinter's "Dumb Waiter"--the language and acting had a magnetic force.

I'll write more on Flatlake later, but for now I'll post photos. The third and fourth photos are in the Butty Barn, with Margot Quinn's whimsical and mad collage of "stuff" (one of the pointing red hands read "Radio Na Buttica Anseo"). The fourth photo shows the Butty Booth, where Pat McCabe's "Radio Butty" was broadcast throughout the festival. The top half of McCabe's hatted head could usually be spied in the cut-out centre of the booth which was designed to be " a cross between the Star Trek space shuttle cockpit and Miss O'Leary's Irish scullery/kitchen." The sound (from the radio broadcast inside the Butty Barn) was perfect: low and tinny as if McCabe was on a transistor radio propped in the corner. He favours the theme songs to "The Virginian" and "Secret Agent Man" and has a knack for a steady stream of "bleather"--not dominant, but important as an anchor and a note to which the entire festival tuned itself. Mad-as-a-badger.

Really wanted to stay for Jinx Lennon but the daughter had had enough. As I say, more later.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

William Meredith died yesterday

William Meredith died yesterday in New London, Connecticut. He was a poet, a pilot of a fighter jet in WW II, a friend to many, many people. And a teacher. He had a truly generous spirit and a gift of quiet, penetrating insight into people. He was a much lauded poet (the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in the US), and he had known many of the most influential figures of the the second half of the twentieth c. in American poetry Frost, Bishop, Berryman, Lowell, Auden, Jarrell, Rukeyser among them. His poems were reticent, quietly funny and full of a wise warmth and understanding for the human condition. A few favourite Meredith poems: "A Major Work", "Crossing Over" and "Hazard Faces a Sunday in the Decline". His critical writings, a selection of which is published in "Poems Are Hard To Read" (Michigan Press), are wonderful.

It had been many years since we'd seen each other. Then, he appeared a few miles up the road last summer in Sligo. He was doing a small tour of Ireland with some readings along the way. The photo is from our last visit together at the home of novelist Jack Harte. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. Deep sympathies to his beloved and devoted partner Richard Harteis and to all his family and friends. Funeral is June 6th in New London and there will be a celebration of his life later on in the year at Connecticut College. Click here to listen to an interview about Meredith with Michael Collier, who was also a student of his and who now directs the Breadloaf Writers' Conference in Vermont. It's on National Public Radio in the U.S. and Collier reads "A Major Work" and "Parents".

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Wax Ear ( a poem from the series "Milagros + Retablos")

Wax Ear

You ought to take God’s hint
who gave you twice as many ears
as tongues. It takes years, this.
Fuck the career.
Becaws I begun to know by then
I wer some kind of lissener as wel.

(the text in italics is a quotation from Russell Hoban's novel, Riddley Walker)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Arab Map of the World with the South at the Top

Arab Map of the World with the South at the Top
(Ibn Hawqal, 10th c.)

Plainsong puzzle.
No rush to mean.
Duodenum inlet.
Dotty. Green.

Holes in the hills.
Oval worldview.
Hawqal on a roll.
Foiled fold snafu.

Truro on the ulna
Truro on the ulna

Terre vert, vinegar,
Urine, honey, salt.
Lambent vellum riff.
Simmered down gestalt.

Trouble on the sea.
Bug proboscis cay.
Bang a left east
To slack jaw bay.

Truro on the ulna
Truro on the ulna

(the poem first appeared in Poetry Ireland Review no.86)
Thought it would be nice to post the image with the poem.