The series of illustrated poems titled ‘My Father’s Things’ are complete. They include ephemera related to the objects. The whole sequence are the first time I have attempted to deal in writing with the loss of my father aged 72 to pancreatic cancer in 2004.
I was infuenced by my reading of Richard Ford and Blake Morrison’s memoirs of parents. I also produced the original drawings last year at a period of crisis in my relationship with my now ex-wife who was suffering from mental health issues related to late stage alcoholism.
A gold Limit Silhouette watch leather strap hardly worn A dress watch for a man who never dressed always working Most times he didn’t carry a watch as it would be get damaged or snagged whilst working..too dangerous…
A man who cheated death twice..first a burst duodenal ulcer I remember him being taken in the ambulance It was touch and go. The Radcliffe saved him..the surgeon told him later he found carrots before cutting him to save him. Convalescence in Didcot Hospital..now housing..long gone
Later a wall collapsed on him he was two feet away from death Was catapulted out of the way just in time..battered and bruised He joked about it later..even the Lotus Elan that smashed into him Or the spinning car in the rainstorm that missed him and Uncle John
Neither made a dent but then his luck ran out at 70 A soreness in his stomach was scanned..revealed pancreatic cancer Too advanced for surgery..he grew greyer and weaker..could no longer Get into the garden..chemo making him vomit black bile He died in the extension we built in that last year defying the odds
to the end..he died on a bed in that building…almost perfect
like that watch stopped at 9.05 but hardly used
He died at 7.10 a.m.
The time he left for work every morning rain or shine
I am currently working on a project called ‘My Father’ s Things’ which is a series of drawings I did last year to stay sane amidst the chaos of my life then..don’t ask…the chaos has departed and is now far away.
This is the first draft of the first poem that I plan to attach to the drawing above. The entire sequence will eventually be published in a pamphlet hopefully through the Carousel as a riso printed publication.
The sequence of drawings and writings will be exhibited in September as part of Castle Ruins III at the King Billy Pub Nottingham.
Gun metal grey-green, heavy in the palm My father’s optical level The metal worn through use, a record of my father’s presence as is the smell of leather case and faint aroma of tarmac as if his hands sunburnt and grimy with tar still waved at me on thsoe frosty mornings I helped him set levels somewhere below the downs. A ritual since the age of 14 as I earned pocket money holding the levelling rods, red and white striped icy cold that stuck to my fingers as I held them straight waiting for the hand raised, a signal that he had the reading. Then another wave to move back up the slope and start again tied together by the upside down image of cross hairs rising and falling on my hand then the rod like a bomb aimer looking for a target
One morning we are out early. Steam rising from the power staton cooling towers. Stood in early morning sun on a former airfield at Harwell. The airfield the Dakotas lifted off from before dawn on D-Day. Carrying the last memories of men destined to fall caught in the cross hairs of German gunners. The rattle of munitions cascading from a thousand guns blurring the coastline and making the earth move.
Turning the world upside down.
Like the poor pilot spinning out of control trying to bring things back to a level.
I stare through that old telescope and call to him.
Right, right..back a bit.
That’s it we’re level now.
Roll out the string and mark the foundations. Knock in the pegs and start to build again. A nation fit for heroes on a sunlit morning when the smoke had cleared.
In fact I have been ignoring poetry, shelving it, filing it and generally pushing it to the back of my mind for the past decade.To start with this was deliberate as the combination of employment in an art school (note word art there not a writing school) and the first consistent art studio close to home promised great things…
But the best laid plans..mice and men etc.
The art school post ended in 2015 and although I still rent a studio I have been fairly incosistent in using it and the great rebirth of my painting career and the fame and wealth that would surely follow never happened.
A fairly shambolic attempt to reinvigorate my writing in 2014 on a M.A. in Creative Writing ended in abject failure as the reality of my age and what a modern creative writing course consists of collided head on….
Above and beyond all of these forlorn attempts to concentrate on anything was the gradual deterioration of my wife’s condition from 2009 onwards. Nothing, not an M.A. in Fine Art or international conferences had half the effect of living with someone who gradually showed more and more signs of a serious mental illness and addiction.
I have pretty much lost the last decade to being part of her battle with family tragedy and illness and thankfully despite the recent divorce she is still alive so far. I take nothing for granted now and take each day as it comes.
In that kind of time-frame poetry was the last thing on my mind and with the exception of some hastily produced mini-pamphlets my poetic career has remained parked in the drive until now.
So here I am 60 years old..none the wiser and a lot poorer with no gainful employment looking at writing again as the most ridiculous and least renumerative path I could possibly choose.
Welcome to the New World…same as it ever was..same as it ever was…
This rather nice vintage French leather bag came my way yesterday and I am going to use it to carry my poetry around in and hence the name ‘the Rattle Bag’ which I copped from the Heaney and Hughes anthology title…
As Heaney said : Ted suggested we call it by the name of a strange roguish poem translated from the Welsh of Dafydd ap Gwilym. It’s about an instrument that sounds more like an implement, a raucous, distracting, shake, rattle-and-roll affair that disturbs the poet and his lover while they lie together in the greenwood. In the words of the translator, Joseph Clancy, it becomes a noisy pouch perched on a pole, a bell of pebbles and gravel, “a blare, a bloody nuisance”.
Sounds about right. Any way the last twenty years i.e. the volumes ‘The Drifting Village’ and ‘Burning Books’ fit very neatly in to the bag….the previous twenty would be a stretch…
I wrote this statement in 2010. Nothing has changed.
I am using this ‘credo’ as the basis of my new ‘great leap forward’ with the Thames art and technology idea..
Delineation of ‘Theory’: An artist’s personal statement
Throughout my ‘art-working’ life some things have remained stubbornly, one might even say obsessively’, constant. Be it in digital images as recently or in drawing or poetry and song I have remained constant in delineating a clearly ‘map-able’ terrain. This terrain extends about 5 to 20 miles in radius of my hometown of Didcot in Oxfordshire, England. Always the poor relation of the illustrious centre of learning that resides but a stones throw away.
There runs a hard core of intention throughout which draws on politics, ecological thinking and that obsessive returning to notions of ‘place’ and ‘landscape’. I regard my work as being a mapping of constant themes which recur sometimes years later. The River Thames is one theme and the Berkshire Downs another.
Local folk tales and oral literature mined from local libraries another. A recent song ‘Hanging Puppet’ drew on one such ‘tale. In fact one could describe it as artistic ‘Anglocana’ to differentiate it from Americana. I have written well over 2000 songs over the years. Mostly these are recorded in lo-fi versions and only really coming to life when in the hands of other more talented musicians (see the Moon Over the Downs CD 2003).
Poetry has appeared in various magazines and in the Scottish anthology The Ice Horses (1996). I currently have at least 4 unpublished complete books of poetry on the shelf. One could describe my work as multi-disciplinary with a strong streak of green politics colouring the waters beneath.
I have drawn on some clear influences in writing and art. Seamus Heaney’s concept of a personal ‘Hedge School’ going back to John Clare is one thread. My forebear’s personal involvement in Agricultural Unions is another (see Skeleton at the Plough poems). I also am influenced by a ‘working class’ sense of writing picked up form Carver and Gallagher and other dirty realists. In song almost any Americana act would suffice.
I am not American but I have strong American influences going back to Thoreau and Walden lake. To try and build an alternative ‘English’ approach I have increasingly been drawn back to the English Civil War when the notions of science and arts were more fluid and interchangeable. As an example I would cite Robert Plot’s Oxford a marvelous Natural History of Oxfordshire from 1677.
In it one finds specimens such as ‘Stones that look like Horses’. I draw heavily upon cultural geography theory post Williams and Berger and am heavily influenced by Patrick Keiller and David Matless.
It is this kind of merging of scientific natural history and folk-lore terminology that I now most interested in both in poetry and artwork.
Back in 2010 I started off with the title Track for a multimedia M.A. that finally did not happen. However the seeds of some kind of project centred around the impact of the railway on the movement of people and ideas started then. This is now bearing fruit as a double project centred on my local history research in two cities close to my heart.
So now we have…
based around the recent Lost Nottingham poetry project and
Based around the concept of Backwaters and Branch Lines
Maybe two separate collections or two bound together in one ‘TRACK’ volume.
Last year I did a reading for Nottingham Poetry Festival in which I produced a small ‘polemical’ pamphlet called ‘Burning Books’.
The pamphlet was a one off and most of the poems after ‘outing’ in paper form were then hidden away as ‘too political’ for my readers by myself! I censored myself which crazy but shows the agonies of being in any way ‘political’ or writing from a stridently working-class viewpoint in the contemporary middle-class ring-fenced world of ‘proper poetry’.
It only now and post Kit de Waal’s article in the Guardian that I realise that in doing so I hiding from my true self.
So here again is the ‘real’ ‘Burning Books’ pre-edit and I stand by these poems…..a lot of pretentious middle-class ‘poets’ will hate it but frankly as I don’t spend much time listening to their whinging I don’t care. I will be ‘re-categorised’ as a ‘performance poet’ I expect and described as having a ‘chip on my shoulder’ which a frequent method of negating anything which threatens the middle class.
An authentic?( Adrian Slatcher )song that is a poem in disguise written in mid 1980s when I harboured ambitions to be the English Nick Cave 🙂
The song ok the ambition a little over ambitious:-)
The war in question is the Falklands and the story true my step-grandad died of a heart attack in his pantry and the dog guarded him all day.
He could not read or write had looked after animals on the farm all his life.
He was not my true grandfather that another story…
I did a reading in Nottingham for John Harvey’s Slowdancer in 1992 and Nottingham radio did an interview.
They asked what the difference between poems and songs I said my songs rhyme my poems don’t…..
Man With No Name
You kick at the tyre of the tractor
That hasn’t moved since the snow last came down
You pull at the chainlink fence blowing dandelions over the old grey sow
And wonder whose hand on your arm could lead you away from here now
Well it’s the middle of summer and clouds cover the sun up, you feel cold
And you run for shelter, find your father with a halter, staring at the ground
Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name
In a dark pantry a dog panting, tired from running under the August sun
On the kitchen table a dripping pheasant broken by a farmer’s gun
And you sat in your armchair reading news of a war that had hardly begun
Whilst all the berries we picked last summer turned blood red in the cup
Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name
Well your stepdad fell in that kitchen and his dog sat and waited all day
Whilst the silent river rolled on and on and the clouds blew over the hills and away
So father and son two years later we stand in a graveyard in the rain
If I could lead you to the answer I would , If I knew it I wouldn’t say
Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name
Did you hear the guns a rattling out on the Kentucky hills
As mud spattered up from your prison truck’s wheels
Did you smile every day as you washed the days away
Imprisoned for having nothing to say?*
Did you dream in an Un-American way?
Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain
Is that the un-American way?
Now the Campsfield wire fences are rattling in the wind
And there are stranger’s faces pressed against the panes
What did they dream they’d find beyond the ghost of empire Were they dreaming of a world of American stars and bars
Did they dream in an Un-American way
Now the holy walls are dripping with the blood of men
As guns crackle like whips above their heads
And that prison truck is busy carrying away those who
Dream in an Un-American way
Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain
Following on the revelation of the Middle Class ‘Proper Poetry’ v Working Class ‘Performance Poetry’ stigmatisation.
I have looked at what I actually written over the past 40 years and an awful lot of my ‘poetry’ was sublimated or ‘hidden’ from my potential middle-class audience in ‘songwriting’ ….
So how appropriate that a book of ‘songs’ could be published with title ‘Substitute’…..perfect….
Here some potential ‘Pongs’ or ‘Songems’ or as I recently heard it called SOETRY (Song Poetry) 🙂
This a song from last year’s posthumous Trailer Star lost masterpiece Chalk Pit Rattle……
Buying Time…which appropriate in context of Kit de Waal s recent piece in The Guardian which prompted me to start writing again.
Maybe I will include songs in Substitute volume 😉 Songwriting is just poetry by other means for me 😉
IVE BEEN BUYING TIME SINCE I WAS BORN
ITS WHAT THE WORKING CLASS ARE BUILT FOR
NO TRUST FUND, NO FOREIGN HOLIDAY
NO GAP YEAR, NO AUNT’S DOWRY COMING MY WAY
MY DAD TAUGHT ME TO BUY TIME
ANY CHANCE I HAD
HE SAID SON DON’T BE DISHONEST, KEEP YOUR PRIDE
BUT BABY BUY TIME, KEEP BUYING TIME
TIME’S THE ONE THING THEY CANT TAKE OFF YOU
ONCE YOU GOT IT THEY CANT GET IT BACK THAT’S TRUE
MY PARENTS WORKED EVERYDAY GOD SENT
SO I COULD BUY TIME NOW AND NOT GIVE IT BACK TO THEM
THE BOSS MAN TEACHES YOU TO GIVE HIM YOUR TIME
THAT’S WHAT MAKES THE WORLD TURN …HE LIES
MY PARENTS NEVER HAD ENOUGH
NOW THEYRE DEAD IN THE GROUND.
TIMES UP….GO OUT THERE SON AND KEEP BUYING TIME…
BUY BUY BUY TIME.
Poem or Song? maybe I never really knew after all? Floor of Wood …..about the farm I grew up on.
Maybe these were performance poems all along just hiding in plain view 😉
If they are then I have several thousand poems waiting to be added to the collection:-)
FLOOR OF WOOD
This house was built of planks ten years after the war
I spent my childhood days watching the wind blowing the straw
As the sixties twisted away and the motorways came
I would stand at the window playing with toy cars in the rain
This time I’m really leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart under this floor of wood
Slate roof is full of holes, the walls are covered in rambling rose
Nothing lives here now but the ghosts
I push a broken door against broken plaster and ash
And watch the wind blow through windows all smashed
This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart underneath this floor of wood
Since I was a boy England has drifted from fields to city
All these cornfields been turned to golf courses or light industry
Plaster crumbles and dusts my shoes just like chalk
I walk away, scratches on my arm, I try to close the door.
This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart buried under this floor of wood
Since then I have noticed that academic poetry and performance poetry have started to separate in a alarming way. This is an outcome of a deliberately devisive education policy by government that increasingly appears to be a ‘pay to play’ approach to education.
If your parents invest a £100 k plus (BA+MA+PHD fees)you will one day get the payback of an academic career before 30 in return . An American privatised model.
These factors stopped me writing..I gave up..I felt nobody cared..that there was no audience for what I did..and I was right….the middle-class ‘proper poetry’ area isn’t interested in me..isn’t interested in the truth of working class lives and experience as a subject.
PN Review and others are not interested in working class experience one iota.
You want to play in the Premiere League magazines better hide all that personal shit and start writing about your foreign holidays, how difficult it is being a middle class person post Brexit or at worst make up shit about Impressionist painter’s wives you have no knowledge about but it feels authentic enough to your equally pretentious and middle-class readers sitting in their sun lounges drinking martinis to swallow.
Poetry for me has always been a means of articulating my anger at the class system in the U.K.
It has always been polemical even when it appears to be purely personal. As Raymond Williams wrote about the Romantics ‘the personal is political’.
So I have the impetus and hopefully in a few weeks a book to go with it…..I feel that inspired. I have been silenced for too long.
I am coming off the subs bench……I may not make the first team but I will put in some hefty tackles especially on Simon Armitage …the David Beckham of poetry;-)
A recent piece of ‘criticism’ in PN Review by Rebecca Watts has caused a storm of controversy apparently.
PNR is an adjunct to the long established and firmly modernist Carcanet Press which has long been one of the jewels in Arts Council funded poetry publishing in the UK alongside Ambit and Bloodaxe.
Read for ‘ACE funded’…’not commercial’ i.e. it can operate in an elitist way because it bankrolled….
I not criticising that in particular but this important in the context of the debate that Rebecca Watts started.
Her piece proudly available via front page of the PN website would not be available if PN Review had to stand on its own two feet.
Now Ms Watts is a poet and obviously a ‘proper poet’ by her tone and scathing attack on the three women poets as amateur and sentimental slush basically and worse their work sold by the bucketfull..
Ms Watts poetry with the title ‘The Met Office Advises Caution’ (published by you guessed it Carcanet) will have sold less..a lot less in fact it would not exist but for subsidy….
Her article opens with Rupi Kaur a Canadian poet of little depth but much exposure who has no connection to the other two poets. She is the foundation on which Watts builds her shaky theory….she uses the frankly awful Kaur to tar the other poets with the same brush. This is her prejudice over-riding any attempt at a coherent piece of criticism. Kaur is also of Punjabi descent….but let us not let race distort the picture too much. She is primarily chosen as an example of ‘popular poetry’.
To be popular in Watts world is naturally to be below par…in a upstairs downstairs kind of way…..beyond the pale..our language is full of class references…we are good at it..we built an empire on it.
Poetry builds its own little empires too…empires that discriminate and exclude.
Rebecca Watts is a middle class white girl from Suffolk ..no further details on her website so I presume not a sink estate in Lowestoft…before attending Trinity College Cambridge in 2001 after fees introduced so fairly well off from the get go oh and then on to an MA at Oxford which takes a lot more money…buying her way into the system basically.
I worked as a ‘minion’ in Oxford University and know her type all too well.
With her impeccable university education she is a natural elitist come to protect the British Literary world from ..dumbing down..amateurish writing and worse musical crossovers…
In Michael Schmidt’s Parthenon of white middle class writing……she found a home…
So given a platform she launched this tirade against what exactly? Many hit back for its incipient sexism but that isn’t its real subject…it is about CLASS
If a man had written this piece he would be hung drawn and quartered for sexism and possibly racism.. Watts gender saved her although it frankly is sexist..why not include male writers?
No this is about a far deeper and more troubling fault line in British publishing..CLASS
McNish and Tempest are outward-looking and experimental especially crossing over with musical forms because they are not from the middle class they both are from lower down the social ladder..too low for poor Watts. At the bottom of the ladder people can enjoy more than one art form…
Elitism, white middle-class elitism is about ring-fencing resources in troubled times so that people who look and speak like you are kept above the breadline and people who don’t are let slip into poverty and obscurity. It mirrors society in Britain now where those lucky enough to gain a degree and climb the greasy pole to a non menial job can be served ( left or right wing no matter) by those who born to servitude. It not a new phenomenon the Victorians invented it.
Rebecca ( how many working class women called Rebecca?) is maintaining her privileged position and bolstering her place in the great and the good and she is doing it through a thoroughly classist viewpoint. What she really saying here is these two women McNish and Tempest do not deserve their audience, do not deserve to be read because they are not from the elite. She is deserving of attention because she is from that elite she is ‘PROPER POETRY’ everything else is ‘PERFORMANCE POETRY’ which is shit..
PROPER POETRY = MIDDLE CLASS
PERFORMANCE POETRY -= WORKING CLASS
Performance Poets who won Mercury awards and Ted Hughes prizes…..who reference Shakespeare..but still not PROPER POETRY.
Performers with a larger audience through music and generally performers who are successful in their own right. Un-subsidised.
They have appealed to a huge audience Watts will never reach however good her poetry technically because she is not interested in the wider audience she obsessed with the narrowing down of culture.
Watts has proudly listed all her performances on her website ..they all in Oxford and Cambridge they all to people like her..ring-fencing culture..keeping it behind the college walls..keeping it safe..
For that reason I can honestly say I will never read her work but I will investigate Tempest and McNish because they interest me.
So thank you Watts your pathetic snobbery has opened my eyes to how there is a class war opening up in British Literature and I now know exactly which side of the barricades I on….
Oh and p.s. I write poetry you would hate..and I play music……I am obviously a NOBLE AMATEUR….and you my dear are a snob.
Oh and funniest moment in Watts frankly awful diatribe is where she compares Kaur and co’s populism to Donald Trump….
A white middle class elitist comparing a Punjabi immigrant girl to Trump…..just think about that for one second……
The comparison should have been Watts and Trump both say too much and think too little.
As for PN Review…..I will not be subscribing or submitting any time soon..wrong side of the barricade darlinks .
Back in October 2014 (now three years ago) I was on the first term of a Creative Writing M.A. at NTU.
I was also with uncanny timing commissioned (the first and so far the only time I been commissioned) by R.I.B.A. through Apple and Snakes to write in response to a lovely collection of Edwin Smith Photographs at R.I.B.A. that autumn.
I missed my course deadline but fulfilled the commission and promptly left a course that frankly I should not have been on at that time. The £500 fee almost covered my first term fees!
The RIBA website has ‘mislaid’ the entire project basically so I publishing whole thing here instead.
Here is the work which is one of the best things I done so far and as I not as flavour of the month as certain other poets hasn’t been seen since unless you delve deep into my obscure back catalogue.
Apple and Snakes put up a blog post of the recordings we all made as well..again not heard much of that from RIBA either they probably ticking various ‘engagement’ boxes.
I am indebted to Roy Hammans who actually developed the last image after Smith’s death who provided informative advice throughout and is probably the single most knowledgeable person about Smith and his work.
EDWIN SMITH – Catching Light
“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Someday, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”― Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin, Berlin Stories, (1945)
Kodak Box Brownie No.2 Model F. 127 Roll Film 1927
Camden Town Bedroom 1935
Trembling in a gloomy Camden Town bedroom surrounded by brown paper
The teenage boy gently prises the camera from the leather case, undoes the catch
Traces the word BROWNIE[i] along the fake leather strap, caresses the box
The textured cardboard leatherette warm to the touch, he raises it to his eyes
Spins around to catch a glimpse of lace curtains breathing in and out
Then a pause, stops breathing, squints through spectacle glass and a blurry lens
No film, just retina, lens and glass glinting, quiet suburban air between the wars
Shutter pressed, the first image, undeveloped, untaken, unrecorded.
ICA IDEAL 205 Glass Plate 9×12 1935
Opticians London 1935
A present from Marx and Nash[ii], same fake black leather case but much stronger
A hint of steel, hands now more relaxed, a world at his fingertips
The box finally clicks open, bellows a tiny lung, rangefinder, spirit level
Suddenly in Vogue, a London Atget spinning around fairs, cafes, Oxford Street
Zeiss Ikon Tessar 135mm f4.5 precision German lens and Compur shutter
The shop windows buzz with reflections, his spectacles stare back after
Nights spent in Lund Humphries[iii] experimenting with solutions, final prints
Days mixing it with emigrants and socialites, Focal Press tricks, ghost images.[iv]
CONTAX II 5cm Sonnar Lens 35mm 1936
Kentish Town 1936
N.B. The curators got this wrong is in fact in East End probably Limehouse or Whitechapel as the Poster behind the gent is for a show at Hackney Wick and architecturally Kentish Town simply doesn’t match this setting.
Modernism in Kentish Town, a lens named after the sun, Sonnar
The lure of speed, futurism, the 35mm film spooling out of the movies
Twisting on that light yellow filter, ½ a second at F4, the march of progress
Back to black-outs, air-raid fears, black shirts, Agfa Isochrom, Kodak Nikko
The thrill of a world intoxicated with power[v], dancing on a ledge, never falling
Café de Paris, Heppenstall, Orwell, men talking in gangs carrying knives
His finger presses the shutter on Laura Knight and Coco, the ballet, the fairs
Spin Pennies from Heaven, Zeppelins over the docks[vi], Germany calling.
THORNTON-PICKARD RUBY Quarter Plate 1904
St Lawrence, Bradford –on-Avon, Wiltshire 1950
Post-War, Deep England after Evans[vii], ash in the mouth, misericord darkness,
Light trickle slowly through lens, cat-one, cat-two, cat-three, whispered
People have become ghosts, 27 and a half minutes[viii], divining, digging into time
A mahogany box worn to a gleam in a suitcase, mahogany tripod, Leeds, England
So solid, a step back from the sirens, modernist black and white, the emblems
Slow drizzle and fade, tilts into spires and thickets, empty barns, rigs of the time
His glinting spectacles at the viewfinder, crouching like a sniper, waiting
Hiding his camera under vestry tables, a quiet man in a corner, hooded.
GRAFLEX SPEED GRAPHIC Roll Film 1960
Fylindales, Yorkshire 1969
Movement, travel, portables, Made in New York, focal plane, press camera
The fruits of success, lease-lend to never had it so good, the wide angle
The New Europe, Ireland, Italy, Greece and France, the Ensign Autorange
Searching for the same mellow light, that photograph in the mind always
Then back weeks later to the darkroom in deepest England, the bleaching
Hours lightening shadows, clearing highlights with Potassium Ferricyanide,[ix] poison
Chemical arts, sleights of hand, shade in the palm of the hand, fission and fusion
His collecting eye adding the coin to the wishing well, staring at the sun.[x]
ENSIGN AUTORANGE 820 120 roll film 1955
Stubble Burning – Last film developed 1993 by Roy Hammans
‘Co-operating with the Inevitable’ he called it, “bend with the stream”
Holding the Ensign Autorange up to the light it reflects in his spectacles
Bought in 1955 the last camera he held, English made, Walthamstow
The firm almost disappeared when in 1940 the offices in Holborn bombed
All surviving he stands with Olive to watch stubble burning in 1971
Squinting through a crisp and sharp Ross Xpres lens at the flaring
Feeling the silver body in the palm, the faux leather Ensign logo
Epsilon shutter pressed, a last image, taken, undeveloped, catches light forever.[xi]
[i] Edwin Smith redeemed the Kodak Box Brownie by collecting Corn-Flake packet coupons probably in 1927 (EWELL, 2008)p.11.
[ii] Friend Enid Marx gave Edwin Smith a ‘better camera’ in 1935 shortly after he got married Olive Smith reports this as the Contax but as Ewell points out that not released until 1936. (EWELL, 2008)p.13.
[iii] Enid Marx was connected to The Royal College and Smith’s photographs came to the attention of Paul Nash who encouraged Smith and gave him access to the darkrooms at the publisher Lund Humphries. (EWELL, 2008)
[iv] Smith co-wrote and published a series of Focal Press guides from 1938-1940.(SMITH, 1940)
[v] Ewell reports the trip Smith made with his sponsor Sir Albert Talbot Wilson MP, a fervent pro-Nazi, to Germany at this time. (EWELL, 2008)p.19.
[vi] The German airship Graf Zeppelin made ‘spying’ raids probably equipped with aerial photography equipment of a high resolution on the 30th June 1936 and this was reported in Hansard on the 8th July 1936. The Parliamentary exchange highlights the naivety of some in Government which bordered on complicity. (Hansard, 1936)
[vii] Frederick H. Evans, British ‘Pictorialist’ photographer famous for the ‘Sea of Steps’ photograph taken in Wells Cathedral which Smith took a version of in 1956. A major influence on the Cathedral and Parish Church series.
[viii] Smith would time exposures using the cat phrase and replace the lens cap on exposures that could last up to 27 minutes thus removing all trace of human activity. (EWELL, 2008)p.52.
[ix] Smith mixed his own chemicals. After his death a large amount of Potassium Ferricyanide was found in his possession. The chemical is a poison and the Ilford Manual of Photography recommends disposing in drains with plenty of water to reduce the risk. Source: Roy Hammans note to article ‘Ways of Working’ on The Weeping Ash photography website. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)
[x] The Edwin Smith RIBA exhibition highlights the ‘trick’ Smith used during the Fylindales printing of placing a coin on the paper to ‘create’an image of the sun where none had been.
[xi] The circumstances of this last roll of film being left in Smith’s camera and only being developed years later are detailed on the Weeping Ash website. Source: ‘The Last Exposures’. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)
EWELL, R., 2008. Evocations of Place. 1st ed. London: Merrell:RIBA.
HAMMANS, R., 2011. Edwin Smith Working Methods. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fine-photographs.co.uk/index.php/life-work/ways-of-working
[Accessed 31 10 2014].
HAMMANS, R., 2011. The Last Exposures. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fine-photographs.co.uk/index.php/related-material/the-last-exposures
[Accessed 31 10 2014].
Hansard, 1936. GERMAN AIRSHIP “HINDENBURG.”. [Online]
Available at: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1936/jul/08/german-airship-hindenburg
[Accessed 31 10 2014].
SMITH, E., 1940. In: All the Photo-Tricks. London: Focal Press.