Thursday 20 December 2007

Christmas wishes

My office closes today until the New Year, and I shall be taking a break from computers, hibernating in the countryside and reading the new translation of War and Peace - a pleasure I've been hoarding for the holidays; pretending the rest of the world doesn't exist for a few days, just to recoup a little.

I've just read this interview with the translators, Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear, and loved it, liked them both so much for everything they say, their love of the literature, the period, of words, their sparky scrupulosity. I'll be surprised if I don't very much like their translation.

How would I survive without books? I've not stopped thinking about Doris Lessing's words, placing hope in stories, imagination and the magical, inexplicable place within us that they come from. I shall place my hope there for the year to come.
"It is our stories that will re-create us"
I shall place my hope, too, in the true stories Rachel links to here about the healing effects of mindfulness and meditation for even the most damaged and traumatised among us.

Wednesday 19 December 2007


silver birches shine
more brightly in dark weather -
their ancestral home

Tuesday 18 December 2007

Not writing about myself

For I see that I haven’t been, directly – although the things I read and see and photograph and respond to are, of course, about me.

Why not? I think because I am surprised and confused by my own state of mind and spirit.

All of a sudden, I stopped looking forward, stopped dwelling on some better life I hoped perhaps to have at some time in the future. Something very bad happening to a friend made me realise, in a way that all the theoretical belief and all the philosophising in the world could not, that there is only the present – and there I was, catapaulted into it; and there I have stayed.

How it is being in the present is hard to say. It’s different. Harsher. But less overwhelming, because nothing lasts very long.

The present is not a place I’ve ever spent much time in, living always much more in my head, my hopes and my imagination.

It is so different that - odd as this is - I truly cannot say if I find it closer to despair or closer to contentment.

And I’ve no idea if this will last.

Line and watercolour

blurred by falling rain
trunk swirls and branches feather
the low purple sky

I'm submitting this to the next
Festival of the Trees, which will be at the beginning of January at Hoarded Ordinaries.

Sunday 16 December 2007

Three on a beach

One of Orhan Pamuk's essays begins with an iconic image:
I'd been invited to a festival in Australia, and after a long plane trip I arrived. They took me and a number of other writers to a motel. Three of us - the neurologist Oliver Sacks, the poet Miroslav Holub, and myself - then went out to the seashore. The coast was endless, the sky gray, the sea calm and almost gray. The air was still, close. I was standing on the edge of the continent that I had seen as a horse's head when I was a child. Sacks went off to the edge of the sea with his palette. Holub went off to look for stones and seashells and soon vanished from sight. I was left alone on the endless shore. It was a mysterious moment.
How extraordinary! Three figures silhouetted on a beach: the first modern poet I was moved by (found him in my first book on meditation, long before I began to read poetry) and who must have then been near the end of his life; the eccentric lyrical doctor who long ago opened my eyes to unconsidered aspects of being human and whose latest book I can't wait to read, and the impressive, endearing novelist who has taken me of late on journeys to such strange but familiar places.

Had they met before, these three such disparate writers from different corners of Europe? Did each know the others' work? Jetlagged, far from home and strolling together on a beach, did they converse or share a rueful, silent empathy with one another's weary d├ępaysement? Whether or not there was conversation first, clearly each felt the need to acclimatise in quietude and soon sought the solace and grounding of his own thoughts and habits.

Thursday 13 December 2007

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Sound like rainfall

The seagull is standing on the roof, in the rain, as if nothing has happened. It is as if it's not raining at all; the seagull is just standing there, as still as ever. Or else the seagull is a great philosopher, too great to take offense. There it stands. On the roof. It's raining. It's as if that seagull standing there is thinking, I know, I know, it's raining; but there's not much I can do about that. Or: Yes, it's raining, but what importance does that have? Or maybe something like this: By now I've accustomed myself to rain: it doesn't make much of a difference.

... Sometimes, the seagulls take flight all together to rise slowly into the air. When they do, their fluttering wings
sound like rainfall.

Seagull in the Rain, an essay by Orhan Pamuk included in his new book, Other Colours.

Monday 10 December 2007

Cheap jibes are news; sorrow and inspiration are not

I’m ashamed to say that I succumbed to the headlines about Doris Lessing’s Nobel Acceptance Speech, ‘Lessing slams the inanities of the Internet’, they shouted, even in the Guardian, which published the speech in full. Before going off to read the whole speech as soon as I had time and attention to do it justice, I’d already been annoyed by the quoted sentiment and shared that annoyance with a few friends on my patch of the Internet, which, I feel – well, I would, wouldn’t I? – is an exceptional patch, where scathing generalisations don’t apply, where like-minded souls publish poetry and stories of the highest quality and have long, thoughtful discussions.

My annoyance and frustration remain: the frustration I feel with literate, deep-thinking friends who assume the Internet is not for them and don’t understand or believe that what I find there is something very different from the rush-from-link-to-link ethos they’ve heard about. It is a shame. Given time, and the persistence of a wide variety of online spaces, some of them may change their minds. Some, I expect, will never feel attracted to interaction via a humming metallic machine whose screen dazzles and tires the eyes. That’s understandable. And more than understandable if Doris Lessing, in her very old age, continues of the view that she has better things to do.

Now I’ve read the whole of what she wrote, I know the Internet is not the story here. The wretched story is that negativity makes good headlines and a provocative phrase that many readers will take personally makes a better news hook than powerful reportage of suffering elsewhere and a clear-eyed, frightening look into the future.

Now I’ve read the whole of it, I think she did herself and all of us proud, used the worldwide platform of her acceptance speech to say some things that really, really matter, and to say them as powerfully and beautifully as only a very great writer can.

We are a jaded lot, we in our world - our threatened world. We are good for irony and even cynicism. Some words and ideas we hardly use, so worn out have they become. But we may want to restore some words that have lost their potency.

… Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us - for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

Indeed, those who wrote the headlines about her speech are a jaded lot.

Saturday 8 December 2007

The weather in the streets

although not the way she meant it; in fact, just the way she didn't:

Beyond the glass casing I was in, was the weather, were the winter streets in rain, wind, fog, in the fine frosty days and nights, the mild, damp grey ones. Pictures of London winter the other side of the glass – not reaching the body; no wet ankles, muddy stockings, blown hair, cold-aching cheeks, fog-smarting eyes, throat, nose … not my usual bus-taking London winter. It was always indoors or in taxis or in his warm car; it was mostly in the safe dark, or in half-light in the deepest corner of the restaurant, as out of sight as possible.

Friday 7 December 2007

Not Natasha

MOLDOVA / Chisinau / Maria's husband-to-be abandoned her because the baby was not his... photo by Dana Popa

They keep returning to my mind: the photo above and Dana Popa's other pictures of young Moldovan women who are survivors of sex trafficking.

This young Romanian photographer is one of the winners of the 2007 Jerwood Photography Awards and her pictures, along with those of the other winners, can be seen until Sunday at the lovely Jerwood Space in Southwark, which I hadn't visited before.

I must admit that, since these awards are for young photographers just out of college, I was rather expecting to see more experimental, conceptual work. Whether the fusion of social concern with the highest artistic technique is a reflection of the judges' preferences or of the prevalent mood among entrants, I don't know. But here were beautiful and moving photographs of poverty, exploitation and environmental degradation, as well as general human quirkiness.

I really liked the whole exhibition, a sample and short account of which can be seen here, but came back and back to the Not Natasha series. Natasha is a scathing nickname for prostitutes in the part of Europe these young women come from. Dana Popa's photos defy the stereotypes and cast a clear and gentle look at each individual, now back in her home environment, some rebuilding their lives with partners and families, others rejected and shamed by their experience of sexual slavery. These are not horrible environments; just poor and old-fashioned. Dappled sunlight through trees, warm shadows and the softness of old lace and fading cretonne counterpoint the shocking brutality of their stories.

Some of her strongest photos accompany a story by Dana Popa on the international women's website, Imagining Ourselves, while the complete portfolio is displayed on line by the Anzenberger Agency.

Wednesday 5 December 2007


your music kept on
drawing me back to listen
despite the chill wind

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Morpho multiplied

Yes, it's another...
Photos taken in February 2005 at the
Butterfly House, Williamson Park, Lancaster.

Insecty theme in celebration of my photo and haiku published today on Qarrtsiluni. The current Insecta issue has been full of stunningly beautiful stuff and I'm a little stunned and definitely honoured to be included.

Monday 3 December 2007

Sufficient unto

Sunday morning, and the weather is a bit wild. London, in its muggy basin, doesn't get much wild weather. Time enough this morning for an hour's meditation. The wind circles and pushes on the windows, backs off again. An occasional car slushes by on the wet road. The cat purrs and sighs. Mind/heart/body still, for once, and accepting. Soft breath, slow thought, slowing sometimes into no thought. Gentleness for self and others, here and now. The wind again, a plane, a car, a breath. Sufficient.

Saturday 1 December 2007