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…
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.
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.
I was awarded an M.A. in Fine Art in January 2014.
I then embarked on a misguided and ultimately fruitless attempt to do a second M.A. in Creative Writing at NTU in October 2015 as a possible precursor to PhD study.
This didn’t work out and was followed by my eventual resignation from my academic post at NTU in December 2015. There were a range of factors which led to my leaving including my wife’s condition and eventual life-threatening illness in October 2016, my own frustration at being treated badly by in my opinion an incompetent and bullying head of art research and finally the destruction of my teaching on the multimedia course for political reasons which became apparent when NTU purchased Confetti later.
Also there was my own undiagnosed depression which I did not realise at the time was affecting me quite badly. I can only now begin to talk about this because of counselling and I think it highly likely I suffered some form of breakdown when attempting to return to work to teach animation studies..something I care less about now than I did then and frankly had little interest in then.
It has been a very rough period but with help I and my wife are now starting to see some daylight. We have both been through a decade of family illness and death which took away both my parents and her sister and father…not easy to deal with when in the best of health..almost impossible when under severe pressure anyway.
I now appreciate the strain and upset mental illness can cause on any relationship….that I still have one at the moment is down to counselling and my wife is getting better…..neither has been a given these past three years.
I also have begun to understand the mental blocks that affected my entire wellbeing and especially my creative practice.
I am writing this because I now feel able to. Talking about it has helped and I also beginning to plan new ventures and possibly still courses including that wretched PhD that has caused me so much grief. But on my terms.
To begin with I am using the habit of going to second hand shops as a generator of new poems under the title ‘Second Hand Poems’. I love charity shops because of the random nature of what turns up like this memoir of D.H.Lawrence’s early years which an appropriate starting point as I live close to Private Road where Lawrence met Frieda …he would have walked up Mansfield Road to get there.
As I discover odd things..books, records even objects I will write poems to celebrate them….a bit like me…
Second Hand Poems from a Second Hand Poet…worn at edges..slightly foxed but maybe still valuable 🙂
Picked this up in a second hand shop recently. Was first edition (1962) of a book I had encountered in a travelling shelf of ‘American Poetry’ in my local Didcot library in 1981 when I had returned home after art college. It (in the flag cover version below) and a book of William Carlos Williams started me writing poetry. I had encountered Hughes and Heaney as contextual studies lectures at art college but these books started me writing.
I had always assumed that W.C.Williams in the book but I was mistaken it has Lowell and the full list below but NO WCW or Elliot or Frost because cut off is 20th century and all were born earlier. Lowell was born in 1917.
The second edition added a few new poets including Ginsberg and Plath as well as some now less well known people. There is an obvious male dominance..Levertov and Rich being notable exceptions but this is a product of the 1950s not today. For a lone art student at the time this was still a wonderful introduction to people like Creeley, Snyder, Ashbery, O’Hara, Merrill and Snodgrass…