Saturday, 26 October 2013

"Twittering World": The Stone and the Star Joins Twitter

"Not here/Not here the darkness, in this twittering world" wrote T S Eliot in 'Burnt Norton'. Even Keats, a long long time ago, had "gathering swallows twitter in the skies" (ok...I admit that's a stretch.)

In that spirit, The Stone and the Star has caved in and joined Twitter. You can find me under TheStoneAndTheStar or under username @stoneandthestar.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Spain and Poetry 4: Federico García Lorca: "Green, How I Want You Green..."

Bodega Sandeman, Jerez de la Frontera

In the bitter green
a hard playing-card light
carves out furious horses
and profiles of riders.

-Federico García Lorca, from 'The Quarrel', translated by Jane Duran and Gloria García Lorca

The day in Granada when I visited Huerta de San Vicente - one of Federico García Lorca's homes , now a museum - it rained pretty hard for much of the day. It was a nuisance, as it is anywhere, and I found out that it made the sidewalks desperately slippery. After my tour of the house, I bought a bilingual edition of Romancero gitano (Gypsy Ballads), and also a postcard with one of Lorca's own pieces of art - a spidery drawing of the Alhambra - and a letter. I'm not sure who the letter was addressed to but it must have been a friend or a family member. When I later tried to read the writing, I saw that the opening lines said: "All day it has rained... Autumn has come." I didn't mind the rain any more, suddenly. It was as though Lorca was waving at me across 80 years or more.

Lorca is an enormous topic and I am really just starting out on that journey, so these are more or less initial thoughts. It does seem as though he has been converging on my life lately, gradually - as these things often happen. A reader of The Stone and the Star in New York, who works at the New York Public Library, very kindly sent me a copy of the wonderful program for the recent Poet In New York exhibition held at the NYPL. I've also been reading various poems more or less inspired by him (more about that to come, I think). Meanwhile, as I prepared to go to Spain, the section on Andalucia in my Lonely Planet guide noted: "It is debatable whether you can truly understand modern Andalucia without at least an inkling of Spain's greatest poet and playwright, Federico García Lorca. Lorca epitomised many of Andalucia's potent hallmarks - passion, ambiguity, exuberance and innovation."

Then I went and saw for myself. I had been to this part of Spain before, of course, but I went with more of an eye to Lorca and poetry this time, and was rewarded. (Although I know the titles of his famous plays, I have not yet engaged with those at all.) Lorca's poetry seems to embody the dichotomies and tensions of Andalucia - beauty and violence, concrete details and fairytale-like images. He moves between the real and the fantastic worlds with ease, evoking the blinding light and extreme darkness of Moorish Spain, Gypsy Spain, pre-Civil War Spain. In the midst of a poem with edges as sharp as stained glass or the blue-stained ceramic tiles of the region, I would find moments of description so true to the spirit of what I had observed or experienced that it took my breath away.

Carriages the Guadalquivir
lays down on its ancient glass
between sheets of flowers
and resonances of dark clouds.
[...] But Córdoba does not tremble
under the confused mystery,
for even if the shadow raises
its architecture of smoke,
a marble foot affirms
its chaste, gaunt radiance.

(from 'San Rafael', translated by Jane Duran and Gloria García Lorca)

If I could write like Lorca and I had that intensity of vision, I would describe Cordoba something very much like that; that's how true to life his words feel to the spirit of the place, despite (or perhaps because of) the fantastic and grotesque lurking in the background of the poems.

On a tour of Huerta de San Vicente, I was part of a group of twelve or fifteen, all of whom were Spanish except me, I think. I found some of it hard to follow, but did my best. Huerta de San Vicente was the García Lorca family's summer home from 1926 to 1936. In those days it was in the countryside outside Granada, although now it feels very close to the centre of the city, and is surrounded by a lovely park dedicated to the poet.

The house had been maintained almost just as it always had been. I was struck by the photograph of Lorca's sister Concha, whose beautiful laughing face was incredibly vivid. There were some of his drawings, and the piano on which Lorca played and composed. It was possible to imagine that he and his family members would soon return, which I found a little hard to take. As well as writing some of his important works in Huerta de San Vicente, Lorca also stayed there shortly before his arrest and murder.

If I were Spanish, I would probably understand a little better what Lorca means to them. Some of the tour group was made up of an enthusiastic collection of ladies in their fifties or thereabouts, who ignored the guide's request not to touch anything, and exclaimed over everything (in the kitchen, when the guide explained a few of the details of the facilities: "How useful! Look at that! My sister has one almost like it! Oh my, was I not supposed to touch that?" etc.) Later, one of the ladies asked: "Do they know which house Federico lived in, in Granada?" (The exact location is lost, if I understood right.) I thought it was telling that he was "Federico", not "Lorca" or "García Lorca" - perhaps this was to differentiate him from his family, but I would have thought it was clear enough. To these visitors, he was Federico.

I will be making my way through the spotlit, bloody and gorgeous landscapes of his poems for some time, I think, especially comparing the originals and the translations, with my so-so Spanish. Meanwhile, I will point you in the direction of the following poems which seem to me especially amazing, or representative, or just so worth reading.

ROMANCE SONAMBULO (Federico García Lorca)

THE GUITAR (Federico García Lorca)

RIDER'S SONG (Federico García Lorca)

All photos © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2013

Friday, 18 October 2013

Adam Zagajewski's 'Autumn': "Blue Knives Glinting In Her Glance"

Victor Westerholm, Landscape From Rath, 1880. Ateneum, Helsinki

Although the weather is remarkably warm here in London at the moment, the autumn darkness is closing in. In that spirit, here's a grim, fierce poem on the subject by the wonderful Polish poet Adam Zagajewski.

AUTUMN (Adam Zagajewski, translated by Renata Gorczynski)

The painting above is by Finnish landscape painter Victor Westerholm. He was the director of the Turku Art Gallery, in my mother's hometown of Turku - a gallery which had a very powerful effect on me as a child. Westerholm was fond of painting cows, and this painting's lack of bovine presences seems ominous indeed.

This blog entry is mainly to tide you over while I prepare what is hopefully a stunning-to-reasonably-good post on Lorca. I had hoped to perhaps produce the Lorca post tonight, but I'm not quite there yet.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Karen Solie's 'Migration': "Snow Is Falling..."


Snow at Lake Oesa, J E H MacDonald, c .1930

Canadian literature has been much in the news these last several days, because Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize. I actually let out a tiny shriek of joy when I saw the news, which is probably a Nobel first for me. She's been a favourite writer of mine for quite a few years, probably my favourite short story writer of all time, and a lot of us thought she deserved it but would probably never actually get it. The fact that she's a Canadian woman (both uncommon factors in a Nobel Literature win) is a bonus. She has spent some of her life in my hometown of Victoria, BC, and in Comox, also on Vancouver Island, and was actually in Victoria when the news was announced. Years ago I applied to work at Munro's Books, which she founded with her ex-husband Jim Munro, and I met Mr Munro himself, which is cool in a six-degrees-of-separation way. Apparently they get along quite well these days, and obviously Munro's has had a lot of good days since the award was announced.

Speaking of Canadian literature, I have been enjoying the work of poet Karen Solie, who is originally from Saskatchewan and now lives in Ontario. Her deceptively conversational poetry often focuses on industrial wastelands and peculiarly Canadian details. I wish I'd seen her at Poetry Parnassus last year, but there was too much going on and I really missed a lot (though I also experienced a lot). My parents brought me a copy of her collection Pigeon when they visited me in London recently. It includes this poem, 'Migration'.

MIGRATION (Karen Solie)

I think that 'Migration' is one of my favourite contemporary poems that I have read in the last few years. It shifts from wry but nostalgic details - the idling cars, the old-fashioned neighbourhoods, the "tax collector" - to elegy and a kind of agnosticism about life, with great elegance. What I really love about it, though, is the expansiveness and the sense of distance and space. Sometimes I really can't figure out if I'm Canadian or not; a Vancouver Islander is surely a bit different. I occasionally doubt whether I have ever really lived in Canada, because I never lived in places where the temperature goes to 20 or 30 below every winter. In Victoria, much as in London, residents freak out when there is an inch of snow. (They brag unreasonably about the climate, though, which a Londoner would never do.)

But one indication of my Canadian-ness - I think - is the fact that I understand how big the country is. It is really, really big, and Europeans just don't get this, unless they are among those who have not only been to North America but also travelled some distance around it. (In a similar way, a lot of North Americans don't get how close most things are in Europe, and how you can be in Paris in a few hours.) The opening lines of 'Migration' seem like a vast weather map; snow falling all over the country, the lightning over Lake Ontario, a giddy zoom in to "debt accumulating along baseboards/like hair", the "frozen fields and wheels/of wind" on the Prairies, the northern frost. The Arctic tern, too, flying bravely on to Antarctica, brings us back to the vast distances, even while the speaker stays earthbound in bewilderment. It's a fantastic poem.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Spain and Poetry 3: Cosmopoética: Almost Attending Cordoba's International Poetry Festival

This post is something of an addendum to the previous post.

While the poets of past decades and centuries make for wonderful encounters while travelling, it's good to know that contemporary poetry is also alive and dynamic. This happened to me quite unexpectedly in Cordoba.

M and I were crossing the Roman Bridge in Cordoba, and looking back at the wonderful views of the Mezquita and city, when we came across this:

Imagine my delight when it turned out that this lovely man with an umbrella was advertising Cosmopoética - "Poets of the World in Cordoba". The next day, we found this at what I think may have been one of the festival's venues:

Our time in Cordoba was quite short (and we were distracted by things like unexpected horse shows and The Street of the Handsome Waiters), and sadly I didn't have time to actually check out the festival. It started in 2004 and has not only featured outstanding Spanish poets, but also the likes of Dario Fo and Seamus Heaney. The festival focuses on poetry, but also features a great deal of music, theatre, flamenco, and other artistic disciplines. It sounds great, and I'm both happy that I stumbled across the man with the umbrella, and sad that I couldn't take part.

When I returned to England and checked out Cosmopoética's Facebook page, the festival was in its last few days. Right at the end, I noted that at least one event had been held in the Hall of the Mosaics, in the city's Alcazar, which we had visited. Seeing poetry enthusiasts in a room where we'd marvelled at ancient Roman mosaics a short time previously gave me the feeling of belonging to an international poetry community.

All photos © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2013

Spain and Poetry 2: "My Thought Goes Back to the Land..."

  My thought goes back to the land,
- the olive groves at sunrise -
outlined sharply in the white
or golden or yellow moonlight,
that look forward to the coming back
of those humans who are neither its slaves nor its masters,
but who love it anyway...

-Juan Ramón Jiménez, from 'Night Piece'

Having now spent a few weeks in total in Andalucia, and keeping my eyes and ears open for poetry, my impression is that a good number of the greatest Spanish poets have been Andalucian; certainly a number of those who make up the famed Generation of '27. These authors came together in 1927 to celebrate Luis de Góngora (1561-1627). He was an extremely influential Spanish Baroque poet, and the Generation of '27 celebrated the three hundred years since his death. In Cordoba, his city of origin, I crossed paths with this poet.

This is one of his poems to Cordoba, on a plaque erected in 1927, near the Roman Bridge in Cordoba:

In the Mezquita, the great mosque of Cordoba which was converted into a cathedral, I found his tomb:

The Generation of '27 seem to have been a somewhat disparate lot, but amongst a variety of subjects, emotional and intellectual approaches, they strove for excellence. Juan Ramón Jiménez, who I came across at the Alhambra, is thought of more as a teacher or mentor for the Generation of '27 than a member of the group. Here is the full text of his wonderful (and very Andalucian) poem 'Night Piece', and another which particularly struck me, 'Road' (this poem made me wonder if Paul Celan was influenced by Jiménez).

In Cadiz, I came across more traces. Cadiz is wonderful itself, a city which is not just "seaside" but almost surrounded by the sea. Columbus left on some of his voyages from here, and it may be the oldest settlement in Europe. I found this plaque dedicated to and quoting another Generation of '27 poet, Rafael Alberti. While I'm not sure any translation I can provide would be accurate, the quote expresses a love for Cadiz:

Here you can read a translation of Alberti's 'If my voice should die on land...'.

In Cadiz I also found this monument to the great Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. You can read some of his poems here. This monument appears to have been donated by the Nicaraguan government - I'm not sure if he had specific ties to Cadiz, but his connections to Spain were close and influential.

My next post, or one soon, will be about the great and oh-so-Andalucian Lorca, the most famous member of the Generation of '27.

All photos © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2013

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Spain and Poetry 1: Poetry of the Alhambra

I just spent almost ten days back in Andalucia, where I sojourned (seems like the right word) with a friend almost two years ago. No real change; it's still one of my favourite places in the entire world. This time I travelled with my friend M (I'll call her that for privacy, and it sounds James Bond-ish.) It was one of her lifelong dreams to travel in this part of Spain and see dancing horses and flamenco, among other delights, so our first few days in Jerez de la Frontera were particularly wonderful. We also took a day trip to Cadiz, where I swam in the warm Atlantic, and then travelled on to Cordoba, and finally to Granada, mainly to visit the Alhambra.

The Alhambra is a dream. I'm not sure I've ever visited a place which so deserves the title. It really is all that the hype says it's going to be, and considerably more. M and I went there in the morning expecting to spend about three, maybe four hours...we were there for five and a half, and only left because we really had seen just about everything and were getting tired. When we left and descended the hill on which it stands, back down into Granada, it was like waking up. The gardens and palaces instantly felt dreamlike. Pictures can't really do it justice, though they provide a clue, and I don't have words poetic enough for it (though I may try...) At one and the same time, it felt like a fairytale but you could also imagine real people living there, moving through its hallways and gorgeous rooms, breathing in the impossibly fragrant air of the Generalife. As well as its extreme beauty, the Alhambra has incredible historic significance. The "Reyes Católicos", Ferdinand and Isabella, completed the Reconquista of the Muslim kingdoms here, and flags were raised from one of the fortified towers to signal the victory. Many writers have stayed and walked there, including Washington Irving, who wrote his Tales of the Alhambra and revived interest in the place.

Al-Andalus - Islamic Spain - was a society where poetry was pre-eminent, and poetry has always been incredibly significant in the Muslim and Arabic worlds. It is now known that many of the walls of the Alhambra are covered with poetry. This link to an Alhambra website, and this article on The Alhambra: Poetry, Calligraphy and Arabesque are particularly useful, with many translations and examples of the lush, beautiful poetry on its walls. I don't read Arabic and I don't speak more than a few words, so in the place itself, most of it was lost on me. It certainly feeds into my love of poetry in public places and poetry as public art, though. Arabic script is extremely beautiful and can be admired even if you don't know its meaning.

These photos are from the Hall of the Two Sisters in the Nasrid Palaces:

Some of the script is a poem celebrating the victory of Muhammad V at Algeciras in 1369.

In the Courtyard of the Lions, poetry appears on the edge of the lion basin:

In part, this poem reads:

For, are there not in this garden wonders
that God has made incomparable in their beauty,
and a sculpture of pearls with a transparent light,
the borders of which are trimmed with seed pearl?
Melted silver flows through the pearls,
which it resembles in its pure dawn beauty.
Apparently, water and marble seem to be one,
without letting us know which of them is flowing.

As well as the Islamic poetry, there were other traces. This plaque quotes the great Andalucian poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, writing in tribute to the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, who lived for a few years on one of the streets of the Alhambra. I hope I am correctly translating this as "He went to Granada for silence and time,/and Granada gave him even more, harmony and eternity."

In the Generalife gardens, I came across this plaque, quoting a letter written by a poet - I haven't quite puzzled this one out yet.

Whether you're there for the architecture, the gardens, the history, the poetry, or all of these, I can't recommend the Alhambra too highly. I hope to go back some day.

There was more poetry for me to encounter in Spain, of course, and a blog post or two to come will deal with the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, and other moments where I crossed paths with poetry and poets.

All photos ©  Clarissa Aykroyd 2013

Thursday, 3 October 2013

"Close My Eyes and I'm a Vessel": Water Poems for National Poetry Day

Snow Storm, JMW Turner, exhibited 1842. Tate Britain.

It is once again National Poetry Day in the UK, and this year's theme is 'Water'.

I wanted to share three of my favourite water-based poems: 'Diving Into the Wreck' by Adrienne Rich, 'The Sea Is History' by Derek Walcott, and 'Rivers Into Seas' by Lynda Hull. It may not come as a huge surprise to those who know me that all of these water-based poems are also sea-based.


THE SEA IS HISTORY (Derek Walcott)