SHAUN DAVID BELCHER

A working class hero is something to be

Category: poetry research

What I am doing…

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 I currently have at least 4 unpublished complete books of poetry on the shelf.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 on TRACK? : Oxford and Nottingham

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.

Here was the original version from 2010

Original ‘Track’ M.A. Proposal 2010

Lost Nottingham: Paper Boats on Private Road

PAPER BOATS ON PRIVATE ROAD

A lone slim figure in Sunday best gets off the tram on Woodborough Road,

Hesitates then proceeds down Private Road until it dog-legs east at his destination

As he turns along the high brick wall he hears children’s laughter, a maid calling

He stands at the gate hidden by trees and calls, the maid comes to the gate

Later she recalls his patent leather shoes and his smart appearance that day

Frieda stands at the French Windows, behind the red curtains, eyes sparkling like a hawk

He is ushered into the sitting room, red velvet curtains caught in the breeze billowing

Initial stiffness is washed away in a heated conversation about Oedipus and women

D.H. Lawrence is being bewitched by this most ‘un-English’ and strong-willed of women,

Her exotic and erotic vibrancy entrances him, already struggling to escape this England

Her husband delayed by work she leads him past then in to her bedroom,

An English sparrow in the talons of a German hawk he is taken in hand, finds himself

Then they are both entwined in secrecy, taking tram and train to secret assignations

One day with her daughters they play on a local stream with paper boats

He flicks matches at them saying look it is the Spanish Armada come to sink England

Two paper boats catching fire in a Nottinghamshire backwater, then phoenix-like rising

From the crazed machinery of Edwardian England, the conservatism of suburbia

Sometimes of an evening Frieda would dash up Mapperley Plains just seeking freedom

In a cottage near Moor Green they continued their first loving act on Private Road

Under Pear-blossom, ‘a fountain of foam’, Frieda crawls naked over him, he writes a poem

To her and to freedom, to his sexual and intellectual fulfilment with a gushing woman

By May 3rd they were sat together on a night-boat to Ostend, that old England fading

A peaceful Anglo-German union as the two empires ramped up production of munitions and cruisers

The Suffragette movement beginning… the war to end all wars looming.

Paper boats burning…

 

Lost Nottingham: Picasso’s Peace Train

PICASSO’S PEACE TRAIN

 

The black clouds had been building up all week

Thunder rolling down from the Peaks on Nottingham,

Grey drizzle trickling from the glass roof at Marylebone Station

Dripped on to Pablo Picasso’s neck as he boarded the train to Sheffield

Monday 13th November 1950 early morning the train’s steam billowed

Through the suburbs of London as it swung left at Lords, headed north.

 

Adjusting his pale blue tie and the beret on his lap

Pablo gently rolled his cigarette in his hand over and over

He turned to Gilbert his ex-resistance bodyguard, drew fire

His dark eyes flashing with mirth as they discussed the papers

The lies and distortion and the statement by Clement Atlee

Who stood by Guernica in 1939*, clenched his fist for the I.B.**

 

The heavens were opening all across the Midlands

The boiler hissing, the firebox at 2500 degrees C, half a Hiroshima

They hurtled down a line 50 years on from the dawn of the century

Carrying a card-carrying Communist spy according to the Herald

To a Peace Conference in Sheffield that would ‘paint the town red’

As the first U.S. troops brought their atomic bombs to defend us.

 

From arts council genius to pariah, Pathe News mocked his arrival

The only artist let in as Robeson and Neruda were denied visas

The Korean War on the back burner, the cold war freezing

Like bad weather the post-war storms kept blowing in

Pablo’s second and final visit to England and the first beyond London

In Sheffield the chrysanthemums and the banners were wilting.

Rugby, Leicester, Loughborough flashed by between grey sodden fields.

Then the train swung right into a Nottingham damp with rain and coal dust.

Crossing at Wilford Picasso caught sight of the Power Station

Huge dark rain lashed walls by the Trent, chimneys belching sulphur

The thunderclouds swirling beyond the steam out the carriage windows

On Wilford Bridge he turned and said ’Rain, Steam, Speed n’est-ce pas’?

 

Down a modernist line that lasted barely a century they drew into Victoria Station

Sliding through the tunnel at Weekday Cross and into the platforms

He stared at the tunnel ahead, like the gates of hell or a Minotaur’s lair

His impression of Nottingham some posters, a W H Smith, huddled travellers

Then darkness and rails rumbling beneath Mansfield road, light then dark at Carrington

 

He drew breath, then continued northwards mouthing the words of his speech later…

‘I stand for life against death, I stand for peace against war’

His hand constantly drawing the symbol of the dove against his trouser leg

Remembering the heat and light, the warmth of his father’s hand in his mind

The doves he grew up with jinking and turning against a blue sky.

 

At the exact spot where a year later the first Rolls Royce Avon prototype Canberra bomber***

crashed on Bulwell Common station….

 

References

*   Clement Atlee spoke at the Whitechapel Gallery in front of Guernica on tour January 1939.

** International Brigade Spanish Civil War.

*** Atlee’s Labour Government decisions 1944 and 1947.
Our first tactical nuclear strike aircraft….designed to deliver a ‘British Nuclear deterrent’

 

 

 

Lost Nottingham: Charlie and the Lace Factory

 

CHARLIE AND THE LACE FACTORY

 

Monday 4th May 1904, Grand Theatre Radford Road, Hyson Green

Evening performance of Sherlock Holmes over, Charles Chaplin aged 15

Collar askew from a swift costume change leaves Billie the page boy behind

And cheekily slaps the final drop curtain just below King Charles head

The sun-light overhead sputters and dies leaving the stalls gloomy

As he exits through the corridor of mirrors, flickering like a film

 

He turns left on to Gregory Boulevard which is quiet now, audience departed

The half-moon illuminates the Forest park to his right, a few stars above the trees

Cold now he huddles in his thin jacket, stuffs hands in pockets and half-runs

Ahead the last tram descending the Mansfield road clatters in the darkness

A cab rattles past him headed toward Hyson Green its two jovial occupants singing

 

Then silence, just his own steps and far off an occasional cry, or clack of hooves

Latecomers emerging from the Grovesnor Hotel or workers leaving late shift

At the Mansfield Road a sudden burst of steam and noise as a train exits the tunnel

Then silence again as just Charlie and his shadow dance their way up Sherwood rise

Carrington Market is busy with late drinkers fresh off their factory shifts

The rumble of machinery echoes across the granite sets, mixes with brewery smells

 

A quick tap at the door and Mrs Hodgkinson lets him into his digs at number 100

From the back high window he looks down on the Burton and Sewell factories below

Their dark brick walls dotted with illuminated floors of workers making lace

Women on one floor tending the bobbins and un-twirling long lines of thread

Below men tending to the machines as they endlessly repeat their movements

He thinks he catches a smile from one young girl but she is gone in an instant

 

He is left hanging out of the top window watching clouds cross the moon

His only companion a rabbit hidden beneath the bed can be heard scratching

He feeds it leftover stale bread he’d been given that morning

Watches the endless repetitive machines coming and going over and over

The steady hum of machines that brought him to this place, steam and iron

The flicker of images that will be with him throughout these modern times

 

He thinks of his mother in confinement, his brother tending a bar in London

He hardly speaks except when on stage and wanders a different town weekly

Too late to play loudly he picks up his fiddle and bow one more time

And stood in the window, in moonlight, imagines himself a famous musician

He glides the bow gently across the strings, hardly a sound can be heard

He serenades the men and women below, all the world his stage forever…

 

  1. The lace factory now a care home behind imported plastic net curtains

A woman in her 80s suffering dementia suddenly remembers her mother speaking

About a night she saw Charlie Chaplin playing to the stars but no-one believed her

How one day he’d return and play one last reel for her….forever.

 

Edwin Smith revisited – Catching Light

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.

Listen to all the poems here: http://applesandsnakesblog.org/blog/edwinify-yourself#more

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 IsherwoodGoodbye to Berlin, Berlin Stories, (1945)

 

 

  1. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. 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]

 

 

         

 

 

 

 

 

  1. 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.

 

 

 

 

  1. 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.

 

 

  1. 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]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. 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]

 

© Shaun Belcher 2014

 

[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)

 

 

Bibliography

 

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.

 

 

Second Hand Poet: A Personal Record

The past three years have been very difficult.

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 🙂

 

 

 

Contemporary American Poetry – 55 years on

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…

Here the  2nd edition.

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