Thursday, 27 March 2014

How to Say I Love You in Greenlandic:

An Arctic Alphapet
There I am, holed up in a frozen land, listening for the ice to creek and the wind to howl in that intimate and foreboding way, with only these cards for company. I spread them out before me and enjoy the feel of the Greenlandic words on the tip of my tongue and the feel of my English-driven brain turning them over and over trying to fit them with the translations. I smooth my finger over images of icebergs - vistas floating by; and I’ll find a home for the night in their glow.

In the morning I’ll wake and clutch them to me in their aqua blue envelope and look out across miles and miles of ice and feel they are my only true guide on this mapless journey. I, as journeyman, can look to these cards when I feel hopeless, snow blind, unskilled at my work and wandering lost in the imagined landscape and know that people with beautiful words had been here long before me, understood it more than me. 

This place, only half-remembered,     with its cold and its ice, searing into flesh. Some memory of it as origin; ice as beginning,                                          ape carved of glaciers,                     and now very likely ending too.  

This is creative response in the guise of a review. All images belong to Nancy Campbell and are from How to Say I Love You in Greenlandic:An Arctic Alphabet. 
You can buy a copy of Nancy Campbell’s beautiful book from Miel. If you’re going to buy one beautiful item then this should be it.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Sharing the Crocus

or Virginia’s Conceit

Virginia Woolf’s "The Patron and the Crocus" revolves around a central conceit. Woolf has one strong idea, that of the first crocus seen growing in Kensington Gardens and the proliferation of the experience of seeing that crocus. The essay in The Common Reader (a volume full of wonderful, neat and insightful essays by Woolf) uses the metaphorical conceit of the crocus to expand ideas concerning readership and guardianship of writing. She creates the character of an ideal patron to whom one writes of the crocus and its first emergence. By patron, she means someone to whom your writing is directed, as well as someone partially influencing the process.
     Woolf talks about the different types of patron sharing the crocus. I ought to explain that for Woolf the crocus is imperfect until shared. At this point, the crocus becomes art. That artifice can be applied simply by turning the experience into collective personal myth. 
      The first potential patron she introduces is the newspaper man. He’ll offer you money and fame – maybe he’s wearing spats or maybe he’s reclining in a big leather chair at a big mahogany desk smoking an even bigger cigar. He’s flash and generous but Woolf’s not convinced. She asks whether there is enough crocus to grace “every breakfast table from John o’Groats to the Land’s End” and we feel sure that he’s not our man when faced with her prediction of the frivolously obscure fate of “journalism”. 
     Woolf states “to know who to write for is to know how to write”. Right, we’d better find this chap then, Ginny! Ah, he’s illusive, changing “from age to age”. Typical. One might recognise him only by the twinkle in his eye, the crocus in his buttonhole or his saffron-stained fingers.
     Woolf is introducing us to the reader as patron of the arts. Of course, we’re familiar with the death of the author, birth of the reader concept. It’s first year undergraduate material but at the time of writing it was still breaking ground. Thus Woolf’s common reader is born. A person, such as Woolf perhaps, who is interested in good, long-lasting writing that will improve, inspire and please her. The crocus must be transposed rather than bunched into a posy. The latter is sure to wither whereas the former might thrive if the soil is warm and the roots are strong. 
     I like a good extended metaphor and Woolf is excellent at them. It feels pleasingly versatile, stretched like vellum holding the five pages of content together. For me, the answer to what is good writing can be fluidly argued through the idea of the crocus and it ties in with another of Woolf’s essays in the same volume, “The Modern Essay”, in which she argues that one of the best qualities of fiction and essay writing is that we should be able to return to the text and relive it the uncountable number of times our perspective and situation changes, just as a bulb renews itself so do we as readers.

 As an aside, I think this essay is a really good example of the high standards of writing that Woolf requests in “The Modern Essay”; a slick, intimate voicing of opinion on a timeless question.

First emerging buds. A tree peony uncovered in the border.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Record Booth Sessions #1 Shipping Song

When you live in a remote spot the internet can be a really useful portal into the world of music, theatre, film etc. I like to think of my online music experiences as similar to sitting in an old record booth, my headphones on, trying out new artists. I'd like to share some of those finds with you.
     I also like to look up old favourites and I'm always pleasantly surprised to find out that such and such has a new album or they're going on tour. I thought I would start with Lisa Knapp who I first saw seven years ago at Priddy Folk Festival. Now she's just won three Folk Awards. In the ten years since my first Priddy Folk Festival, folk music has had a meteoric surge of popularity. At sixteen it was positively antiquated and slightly pretentious of me, which at the time I thought unfair, especially in the light of the new folk revival. 
     There's nothing flashy about the folk genre. It is by design democratic and meritocratic. Folk atists are usually multi-instrumental and aware of the cultural and historical background of their canon. The best of folk has a revelatory power, revealing connections between people and places which allows it to go straight to the heart of our shared history and common human experience.  That's not to say other genres of music aren't able to do similar but I think most of the bands I can think of that don't fall into straight folk have their roots in the tradition of acoustic story-telling.
     Something I really like about Lisa Knapp is that I think she's doing something a little different. She has a traditional song and she rips it apart, like some contemporary poetry. There's a little bit of Bjork in there and we're starting to walk in surreal/ fragmented lyrics. I like the idea of collage-folk; Shipping Song could almost be an Oulipou poem. The remix included below gives the song an even further fragmented feel. I will leave you with the Pete Flood  (Bellowhead) Shipping Song remix: