The National Poetry Archive was launched today. It includes clips of poets reading their own work, although only a minority are available for free, the rest have to be purchased. It only covers poems in English. The Archive seems to have a lot of potential but there is not too much there to get excited about yet. It contains a few landscape poems, such as Sean O’Brien’s Essay on Snow (2002), a sad meditation on a snow-covered city.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Chris Watson has been in the news recently for his work on the BBC series Life in the Undergrowth. You can listen to an excellent sound diary of his on the Touch Radio site. Here is their description:
Recorded in April 2005 on The
Chris Watson’s solo albums are released by Touch (this link takes you to some nice landscape imagery, as well as a list of their artists). Chris Watson has his own site (with a few free downloads) and of course there are also sites out there for his former collaborators, Cabaret Voltaire and the Hafler Trio.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Gray never saw desert flowers, but others poets have…
Abu Tammam (c805-45) wrote a qasida (ode) on Spring, quoted in Robert Irwin’s anthology ‘Night and Horses and the Desert’, from a translation by Julia Ashtiany. Abu Tammam was an inventive exponent of metaphor which gives his landscape a striking visual quality. He describes the spring flowers, yellow and red, clashing like the partisans of the hostile Mudar and
According to Irwin, Arabic landscape poetry only really began a century after Abu Tamman, with writers like Sanawbari (d. 945) and Kushajim (d. 970-71). These poets aimed to describe the beauty of gardens and nature, whilst earlier poets had tended to write about landscape only in relation to emotions of nostalgia or loss.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Towards the Sea
In the Woods
How Slow the Wind
A flock descends into the
Orion and Pleiades
Postscript April 2014
Looking back on this, one of my early short posts, I see that web links can be as transient as autumn leaves, and without them this looks rather bare of content. In 2005 it was not possible to embed video links, something I do a lot now, although these often disappear after a while too. I cannot find a clip of Tree Line so I've included here instead a performance of Rain Tree, one of the Takemitsu titles in my list above. And, on the subject of titles, here's what Takemitsu said about them in his essay 'November Steps': 'a title should be precise but not limiting, strongly evocative, but still leaving some room for imagination.' This essay discusses November Steps, Takemitsu's first composition to combine Japanese instruments with a Western orchestra. 'For me the sound of biwa and shakuhachi was to spread through the orchestra gradually enlarging, like waves of water.' He therefore decided to call the piece Water Rings, but was told by his friend Jasper Johns that in the USA this would evoke unfortunate images of dirty bath water. So he changed the title, but felt no disappointment on learning that what sounded like a beautiful metaphysical idea in Japanese would, in another context, refer to something from ordinary day-to-day life.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
So far the titles of these entries have suggested timeless landscapes. ‘Desert circle’ could have been more specific, as in the title used here for Hamish Fulton’s text piece. The titles for these works are never clear – you can pin it down to the artist’s walk or leave it as a space that the viewer/reader/listener can inhabit.
At a crowded talk at Tate Modern last night it was not possible to see the title for Gerhard Richter’s Townscape
And yet Townscape Paris was one of several monochrome landscapes Richter painted in that year. He also painted Townscape Madrid (1968) – a very similar picture but a different range of associations. Again from 1968, there is a sublime mountain scene: Himalaya. How does this relate to Townscape Paris? Gerhard Richter eludes easy interpretations.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Thinking about Samuel Palmer’s night landscapes reminds me of John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale:
... tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmèd darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
There is an excellent set of readings from Keats’ poems at the website for the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association. The version of Ode to the Nightingale bears repeated listening and I do enjoy the hint of Withnail in the narrator’s “O for a draught of vintage!”
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Landscapes are to be found throughout the
During the Qianlong era (1736-95) landscapes started to be carved into jade objects. The exhibition includes a brush rest shaped like a bridge, a carved boulder depicting two ladies in a garden, and a pair of delicate perfumers, with rural scenes, one showing a woodcutter and fisherman, the other scholars reading. However, the most spectacular jade landscape is The Nine Elders of Huichang (1787). The subject is a gathering of venerable friends, hosted by Bo Juyi (Po Chü-i) in the spring of 845. As Alfreda Murck notes in the catalogue, the painstaking carving here is the antithesis of that spontaneous brushwork valued in landscapes painted by the literati of the period. The Emperor himself carved onto the sculpture an inscription noting that stone is more permanent than paper. This jade is so hard that it cannot be scratched even by steel blades. The motion of the trees, the conversation of the scholars and the waterfall cascading down the mountain are frozen in time.
The beauty of local language is not just a question of individual words. In Arctic Dreams (1986) Barry Lopez says that young people struggle to be fluent in Inukituk because it really only comes alive out on the land. For Lopez, language is not imposed on the landscape, it evolves from a conversation, and “a long-lived enquiry produces a discriminating language”.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
You can download for free from Ubuweb an MP3 of Richard Long reciting his text piece Desert Circle.
And if you buy Hamish Fulton’s book Wild Life, you get a CD in which he recites his text piece Seven Days and Seven Nights Camping in a Wood, Cairngorms,
In their original form these text pieces retain the spatial quality of art; recited they are given the temporal quality of writing. The walks themselves (the actual art works) took place in an ordered way over time. But the recollection and record of them need not have this simple linear progression. Despite the direct language used by