Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Monthly Archives: January 2017

The song of Simeon Solomon

Blogs are not best used to vent, I know. However …

One often despairs of the Church of England, but after yesterday’s report on same-sex marriage by the House of Bishops, I really wonder how much longer it’s possible to stay a member. Another smack in the teeth for those whose God-given yearning for faithful relationships stays damned: celibacy or inconstancy – your choice.

But never mind; the Bishop of Norwich, heading up the report, promises instead “a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people.” Quite what sort of “support” the bishop has in mind is not clear, unless it’s along the lines of the dependency of the tortured upon the torturer.

“There is much more that I could say to you, but the burden would be too great for you now. However, when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16: 13)

Indeed. As my wife said to me this morning, the church’s cowardice is nothing short of a sin against the Holy Spirit. In Christ, the perfect liberation, there is no male or female, as St Paul pointed out on one of his better days. So chew on that, Norwich.

Since one has to hold up something against this miserable betrayal, here’s Simeon Solomon’s quite wonderful The Mystery of Faith (1870). But then, we all know what happened to poor Simeon. If we don’t, read about it here.

the-mystery-of-faith

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Crass taste dummies

Recent diversions into selfies-with-display-dummies have prompted a recollection that in my youth a kind of idealised realism was the norm, and dummies all had faces. Is that strictly true? Maybe, judging by these murky – and now rather spooky – scans from colour slides of shop windows that I snapped in Leeds in 1971. It were grimmer up North in them days, and there were more realism too. [As always, click to enlarge.]


So is it an increased art school awareness of Giorgio de Chirico’s  blanked metaphysical mannequins and wig stands that has decided more recent dummy designers to wipe off the faces, in an instance of life following art? I notice that in John Lewis (where dummies are consistently faceless) the display people have certainly taken note of de Chirico’s advice as cited in my earlier post, placing some of their dummies, plinthless, directly on the floor, and sitting others on chair-like structures. Though as the figures are all seven feet tall, they’re still not really at human level. Incidentally, I’ve also noticed that a couple of de Chirico mannequin images employ a cropped composition that rather imitates the selfie –


It really does make a difference to the emotion (as de Chirico puts it) when the heads are faceless. Oddly, it makes the figures more alive – less like memorials to the dead and more like living automata in arrested motion. The examples here are from a day’s traipsing round the sales in Solihull. I have to say, you get a better class of dummy in Solihull.


If this doesn’t appeal, here are some other ideas for creating playful situations in large shops:

  • Hand drier spotting. Once you start looking, you’ll discover a surprising variety of makes and models. It really is a whole new world.  But remember to take a note book and pen with you into the toilets.
  • Escalator riding. Start in the basement, up to the top floor and down again. This can be timed if you like. Most rewarding with a grandchild of carriable size, maybe eighteen months.
  • Man-seat challenge. (Sorry, I know they’re unisex, that’s just my term.) Aim to sample as many public seats in the store as you can, changing room antechambers included, but cafés excepted of course. This may test your patience, as some obstinate folks like to sit there all afternoon.
  • Pushchair go-karting. Grandchildren love this, especially the fast bit down the final straight aisle, but it is to be avoided at busy times. Large department stores offer the best circuits.
  • Shop-putting. Also known as shop-dropping, being the opposite of shop-lifting. Though inserting small items on shelves will require sleight of hand if the store security are not to be provoked. Use something small and unobjectionable – postcards, slips of paper with a message or a picture, religious tracts etc.
  • Hide and seek. Probably my favourite, but it does require a grandchild as an accomplice, ideally able to count to twenty but still small enough to hide between garments on racks; three years old is about right.

All legal, all field tested.

Hello sailors: Christopher Logue meets W S Graham meets Alfred Wallis

"sharp grey eyes and a pile of reddish-brown curls"

W S Graham: “sharp grey eyes and a pile of reddish-brown curls”

Though it’s not really intentional, the couple of poor pieces I’ve done here relating to W S Graham happen to concern his tutelage of other poets, namely John Knight and Burns Singer. We have already met Burns Singer in the company of Christopher Logue, so let’s complete the circle to find Logue and Graham in each other’s company, with, for good measure, a bit more tutelage in hand.

As Ezra Pound’s merciless editing was to Eliot’s The Waste Land, so, it seems, though in a smaller way, was Graham’s waste paper basket to Logue’s first collection, Wand and Quadrant; once Graham had knocked the book into shape, it was duly rejected by Eliot at Faber’s, to be published in Paris under the imprint of Logue and Alexander Trocchi’s Merlin periodical.

I’ve already pondered on Logue’s early medievalism; an obsession with falconry and castles doesn’t quite fit with his later persona, but this in itself doesn’t seem to have been an issue with Graham. I don’t own a copy of Wand and Quadrant (it would cost between £50 and £200 for that privilege), but Merlin One (May 1952) contains two long Logue poems of the period; the better of the two, untitled, lies somewhere between the Pound of Canto I and the later Logue “account” of Homer’s Iliad. It’s all very argonautical and surprisingly good:

And here they came:
three ships, three sails, three hundred oars
white into red as twisted in the light thin
as the leaf’s edge, in again, dark bent under darker blue.

img_0001The clustered winds speak out between their stays
the men speak out, the names are where they sail,
and at the steering pole clinched hands to mark
sky guided measures into the coma of distance.

If this was among what Graham scanned, I hope he liked it. Perhaps Logue’s seafaring aspirations appealed to him. Conversely, quite why Logue, on first meeting Graham, should consider that he “looked like a sailor” is unclear, but given the latter’s Greenock heritage and his forthcoming The Nightfishing, it’s a canny enough remark.

In 1952 Graham was in Rome, courtesy of Princess Margherita Caetani. Logue was there too, and had already taught alongside Nessie Dunsmuir, Graham’s then separated better half, at the Berlitz language school in Paris. Logue takes up the tale, very readably, in his 1999 memoir Prince Charming:

I was in a trattoria near the Spanish Steps, wondering how long I could make my coffee last, when a voice behind me said: ‘I, too, have fallen from a great height.’

This came from W S Graham – ‘I answer to Sydney’ – the Scottish poet, who had tracked me down through Caetani’s doorman.

Eight years my senior, with sharp grey eyes and a pile of reddish-brown curls, Sydney looked like a sailor. In Rome for six months, he had improved his circumstances by moving in with the young Danish woman who rented the rooms above his own, paid for by Caetani, now sublet for cash. Eliot was his publisher. ‘He loves gossip,’ Sydney said. ‘He told me that Hemingway went to the lavatory in Pound’s Paris hotel and pulled the chain so hard the cistern came off the wall and knocked him out. Then he claimed his bruises were from defeating three Lascars in a street fight. Cheer up. Tomorrow we will visit Keats in the English cemetery.’

The bus stopped by the Pyramid of Cestius. We bought sandwiches at the cemetery gate. Inside, it was quiet, planted with pine trees, birds twittering on high. Keats’s grave was just a mound. Shelley’s stone some way away. Sydney had a flask of red wine and two paper cups. I had a guidebook containing Hardy’s poem ‘At the Pyramid of Cestius near the Graves of Shelley and Keats’:

Who, then, was Cestius,
And what is he to me? –
Amid thick thoughts and memoirs multitudinous
One thought alone brings he.

I can recall no word
Of anything he did;
For me he is a man who died and was interred
To leave a pyramid

Whose purpose was exprest
Not with its first design,
Nor till, far down in Time, beside it found their rest
Two countrymen of mine …

We ate our sandwiches and drank the wine. On the bus back Sydney said: ‘They were not my countrymen.’

"That's where my words are"

“That’s where my words are”

Later: ‘You must publish a book. A poet without a book is no poet at all. Spouting is for those who can judge by ear. Not many nowadays. “There’s my book,” you say – “that’s where my words are.”’

A book with my name on it appeared in my mind’s eye. I brought my folders over to Sydney’s place.

‘This one’s no good,’ Sydney said – throwing it into the waste-paper basket.

‘I spent a lot of time on that.’

‘Then you wasted your time. This is better. Yes. Put it over there … read this one out.’ I did.

‘Now do you see what’s wrong with it?’ I knew what he was going to say. ‘It starts well enough. Then it starts to wobble. The meaning gets a bit ho-hum. Then just here’ – pointing – ‘it picks up again. Therefore’ – folding the page – ‘miss out the middle and in she goes.’

So my first collection, Wand and Quadrant, was assembled and sent, with a covering note from Sydney, to Eliot. At most, it had three poems worth printing. Eliot returned it with a friendly letter. When I got angry with him, some years later, I threw the letter away. The message was: keep going, work harder, read more.

Logue goes on to recount how Graham, still clearly relishing the older-man-as-initiator role, marks this literary occasion by taking him – ‘for reasons of health’ – to a brothel smelling of disinfectant, where benchfuls of clients await their turn clutching numbered tickets. As his own turn draws closer, Logue loses his nerve and flees the dismal warehouse. The sub-text here is his own sexual timidity, but I find I like him all the better for what might just be a principled abstention.

"Out into the waving nerves of the open sea": an Alfred Wallis on the cover of WSG's Letters

“Out into the waving nerves of the open sea”: an Alfred Wallis on the cover of WSG’s Letters

And speaking of sailors gives an opportunity to mention that Rachael Boast and Andy Ching, on behalf of the W S Graham Estate, are desperate to get sight of a BBC Monitor programme on the Cornish painter Alfred Wallis; this film on the nautical naïf may well feature Sydney himself. (Presumably it’s the episode listed here, from 1967.) If anyone can confirm that Graham did indeed appear in the programme or knows where a copy can be tracked down, please let us know. Thanks.

The images here of Graham in 1952 are both by John Deakin. You can’t have too much Deakin. Click to enlarge massively.

 

 

Me and my new friends

At Christmas I became (at last) a smartphone user. So today I was able to divert myself photographically during an elongated shopping trip around the margins of Wolverhampton. The results are unedited. (Click for enlarged slides.)


Though this certainly beats some other shopping diversions (e.g. hand drier spotting), it’s trickier than you might think, given that shops tend, unreasonably, to elevate their dummies on plinths as if they were statues.

“To discover newer and more mysterious aspects we must have access to new combinations. For example: a statue in a room, whether it be alone or in the company of living people, could give us a new emotion if it were made in such a way that its feet rested on the floor and not on a base. The same impression could be produced by a statue sitting in a real armchair or leaning against a real window.” (Giorgio de Chirico, “Statues, Furniture and Generals”, 1918.)

And taking selfies from a low angle turns out to give a most most unfair impression of jowliness. I was unsure whether to go for deadpan or not, but in the event deadpan proved surprisingly difficult. I note a developing urge to mimic the body language of my silent companions.