Monday, November 30, 2009

a cubicle with a view

My beautiful, faithful companions. I couldn't possibly conceive of working at my lonely desk without them anymore.

Ginkgos at Komaba, Tokyo
November 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

how soon is now?...

Call me an anachronism - and I certainly am one, more and more - but the Smiths are still one of those bands whose songs still say '[something] to me about my life', to parapharase another great song of theirs.

Here goes an eternal fave, with implicit dedication.


I am the son
and the heir
of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
of nothing in particular

You shut your mouth
how can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
just like everybody else does

I am the son
and the heir
of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and the heir
Of nothing in particular

You shut your mouth
how can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
just like everybody else does

There's a club, if you'd like to go
you could meet somebody who really loves you
so you go, and you stand on your own
and you leave on your own
and you go home
and you cry
and you want to die

When you say it's gonna happen 'now',
well, when exactly do you mean?
See, I've already waited too long
and all my hope is gone

I am human and I need to be loved
just like everybody else does

The Smiths / Morrissey and Marr

Friday, November 27, 2009


The mouth

where the flame
of an ancient


the mouth is waiting

(what could a mouth
if not another mouth?)

waiting for the ardor
of the wind
so it can turn to bird,

and sing.

Eugénio de Andrade, Dark Domain, trans. Alexis Levitin (Toronto: Guernica, 2000).

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Align Left

This is the kingdom
of an exasperated tongue,
one without shape or form,

where words burst
from a withered heart
of straw,

this is a kingdom
hostile to the countless
hairs of water,

a diadem
missing all the gems
of your teeth,

kingdom abandoned
to the dogs of autumn,
to the milk of nettles,

to the roots of sleep.

Eugénio de Andrade, Dark Domain, trans. Alexis Levitin (Toronto: Guernica, 2000).

yume no ie / dream house (2)

...And what did I dream of? What did I dream of?...
And did it matter?...

Rain mixed with snow was falling outside and in my dream too. All the sharp edges, all the boundaries you are forced to impose on life were softened - day and night, light and shadow, pain and pleasure, dream and vigil. I walked effortlessly through them while rain & snow were falling everywhere.

I woke up at dawn under a red light. My hand stretched out to the blurred silhouettes of the trees outside and I noticed it too was blurred. The trees precarious fingers, the hands small trees extending their baby branches. Sisters. All struggling for life - all slowly, painfully growing.

I reached for a branch to write a line, but the rain & the snow were no longer falling outside, nor in my dream. Nor did it matter.

Only ice was slowly melting outside. Dripping, dripping.

Marina Abramovic, Dream House
Matsunoyama, Niigata
21-22 November 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

yume no ie / dream house (1)

A while ago I wrote here that nothing is more faithful to life's endless absurdities than contemporary performance. This dimension is present, to an extent, in Marina Abramovic's art, but it is not a sense of absurdity you feel when staying at her Dream House. Rather, you come to your senses, and so many unthought of things start making sense.

An old farm house taken care of by local people welcomes four guests who share the common space and at night retire each into a separate room with an ambience of its own. They sleep in a wooden box with a crystal pillow wearing pajamas designed by the artist - and dream. In the morning, as daylight enters the four rooms, each acquires a different colour - purple, blue, green, red - and the guests write down their dreams in a dream book.

As in so many of Abramovic's installations and performances, which seek emotional and spiritual transformation through the body and through the energy imparted by certain materials - crystal, stones, magnets, bones, e.g. -, the participants are requested to follow a set of precise instructions once in the house. The instructions favour the mood for dreams and ground you and focus your attention on those seemingly trivial, everyday actions you usually take for granted. Sitting, standing, walking, washing your hands, having a bath, drinking a glass of water, feeling the cold air on your face: all become invested with meaning and acquire an almost ritualistic quality.

Gradually, as you yield to the energy of the place, everything becomes possible - and the fierce handwritings in red on the walls of the living room become more-than-real. They provide the real instructions for those willing and able to accept the invitation extended by the artist.

Marina Abramovic, Dream House
Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial
Matsunoyama, Niigata

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

snow on grass

Is there anything lovelier than snow on grass, the snow on the grass, a dream house atop - at the very heart of the snow country?...

Matsunoyama, Echigo-Tsumari
22 November 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

versos de inverno / lines of winter

Once again the vulture, the vulture
of sadness falls upon us,
sinks its talons in, slashes
and shreds: -Oh brother
of the desert, brief
oasis of the sun
in this winter: there is no
promised land
beyond the body; beyond the word.

Eugénio de Andrade, Close to Speech, trans. Alexis Levitin (Red Floor Press, 2000).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

but she’ll make light of it all (as elusive nymphs & muses always do)

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Kalypso

© Tim Elsenburg

The tide will tug at my hips
And the salt will dry upon my collar
I’ll have splinters for oars
And I’ll break her heart in fourteen places

She’ll make light of it all
As I lay her low

Oh Kalypso – Tell me to go

We’ll sleep to the creaking of timbers
The pitch and yaw of empty vessels
I’ll plot points on a curve
Over all her tender navigations

Oh my mutinous heart
I can’t overthrow

Oh Kalypso – Tell me to go

Maps that end where they begin
Will guide us through these bitter winds
Through seven years of sad goodbyes
Two tiny ships on vast horizons

Video directed by Phil Hopkins

Sunday, November 8, 2009

the untamed

Well, well. Despite all its restraint and austerity, every now and then R. S. Thomas's poetry unexpectedly yields to fleeting, precious moments of... unrestraint. Here is a favourite one - in a walled garden, the classic locus of sexual rites of passage.

The Untamed

My garden is the wild
Sea of the grass. Her garden
Shelters between walls.
The tide could break in;
I should be sorry for this.

There is peace there of a kind,
Though not the deep peace
Of wild places. Her care
For green life has enabled
The weak things to grow.

Despite my first love,
I take sometimes her hand,
Following straight paths
Between flowers, the nostril
Clogged with their thick scent.

The old softness of lawns
Persuading the slow foot
Leads to defection; the silence
Holds with its gloved hand
The wild hawk of the mind.

But not for long, windows,
Opening in the trees
Call the mind back
To its true eyrie; I stoop
Here only in play.

R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems (J M Dent, 1993).

Manafon (2)

Half life
She moves in a half life
  --David Sylvian, 'Snow White in Appalachia'.

Resuming my recent peroration on David Sylvian's new album, I cannot but single out and fully endorse Sylvian's following comment in the aforementioned interview:

[R. S. Thomas] was a man with a strong but complicated personal faith. Does that resonate with you?

It's a matter of defining for oneself what gives one's own life its shape and form, what are its defining characteristics, its sense of purpose? By and large, we're all free to determine what these might be. With Thomas, the poet and the priest are inseparable but for me it's the poetry which best gives his life its true definition. The freedom, ability, and the process to openly question aspects of his own faith, which I can only assume helped his personal growth in some manner (in Hinduism they might say this was his sadhana, his personal means for developing his spiritual awareness), must've acted as a considerable release for him.
As a man of faith, as rector, his approach might have been too austere, out of touch, to the degree that it alienated people (by all accounts) but his poetry expresses his humanity which, at its best, rises above the specifics of faith and national identity to speak of the universality of the human condition. He dug deep into his own soul, as corroded and damaged as it might've been, and spoke with as true a voice as he could muster. This happens frequently in Beckett's work. These heavily handicapped individuals are merely reflections of ourselves.
In a sense Thomas might, on the one hand, represent some of the higher aspirations of the human spirit but, on the other, indicate how heavily handicapped each one of us is individually and what effort of will it takes to overcome that. Some of us bear heavier handicaps than others but as J.G. Bennett once said in a quote that is sampled on Robert Fripp's album 'exposure' "if you know you have an unpleasant nature and dislike people, this is no obstacle for work". Which I take to mean that, despite the most inhibiting of handicaps, work on oneself, in the spiritually disciplined sense, is always available to you. And again, same source; "it is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering". The cause of this suffering is of course, generally speaking, ourselves.

A timely reminder to those who too simplistically conflate the man and the work under the same harsh, snap value judgements, failing to realise how the redeeming power of art lies precisely in this: in personal salvation, in finding in art a haven that makes suffering and the inability to live and to love and to like most people less intolerable. How some deeply flawed individuals can only find life bearable via the written or sung word. How happy, balanced, well adjusted people seldom give birth to art that is worth the name of... art.

And, to (provisionally) conclude, here's the lyrics of that other song from Manafon that has struck the deepest chord with me:


Half life
She moves in a half life
From her place on the stairs
Or sat in the backseat
Sometimes you're only a passenger
In the time of your life
And there's snow on the mattress
Blown in from the doorway
It would take pack mules and provisions
To get out alive
There were concerts and car crashes
There were kids she'd attended
And discreet indiscretions
For which she'd once made amends
And there's ice on the windshield
And the wipers are wasted
And the metal is flying
Between her and her friends
She'd abandoned them there
In the hills of Appalachia
She threw off the sandbags
To lighten the load
As soon as the sun rose
The keys were in the ignition
Following the tyre tracks
Of the truck sanding the road
There had to be drugs
Running through the girl's body
There had to be drugs
And they too had a name
And the adrenalin rush
Had left her exhausted
When under the blue sky
Nothing need be explained
And there is no maker
Just inexhaustible indifference
And there's comfort in that
So you feel unafraid
And the radio falls silent
But for short bursts of static
And she sleeps in a house
That once too had a name


Friday, November 6, 2009


Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, In Bed: The Kiss (1892)

What is a bed for? Is there no repose
in the small hours? No proofing of sleep's
stuff against the fretting of stars, thoughts?
Tell me, then, after the night's toil
of loving or praying, is there nothing
to do but to rise tired and be made
away with, yawning, into the day's dream?

from R. S. Thomas, "Questions", in Collected Poems (J M Dent, 1993).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

there were fathoms in her

Salvador Dalí, The Broken Bridge

Inspired by a recent listening experience, I have just retrieved my dog-eared copy of R. S. Thomas's Collected Poems, stacked up, half lost, in a now uncared for shelf in a forsaken home. It doesn't take me long to find an old favourite.

"He and She" is one of those poems that at once baffles and moves me. A rare love poem within an oeuvre extremely reluctant to any open displays of affection, it is both touching in its restrained tenderness, in its attempt to bridge the abyss that separates the poet from his female companion and from women in general, towards whom he felt a deep-seated anxiety and fear (and, as usual, there is a well-meant but possessive, smothering mother behind all this ambivalence and unease towards the feminine), and unsettling in its recognition, hinted at in the final lines, that the gap may never be fully bridged nor he ever unconditionally welcomed and welcoming - only just "not repulsed".

When he came in, she was there.
When she looked at him,
he smiled. There were lights
in time's wave breaking
on an eternal shore.

Seated at the table -
no need for the fracture
of the room's silence ; noiselessly
they conversed. Thoughts mingling
were lit up, gold
particles in the mind's stream.

Were there currents between them ?
Why, when he thought darkly,
would the nerves play
at her lips' brim ? What was the heart's depth ?
There were fathoms in her,
too, and sometimes he crossed
them and landed and was not repulsed.

R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems (J M Dent, 1993).


At last I find a native of this country who has the good sense to take some time off and enjoy life. A most unusual and uplifting sight.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween (and beyond) dilemmas...

After having witnessed, in dismay, the local children's Halloween parade yesterday, I cannot but vividly recommend this useful video to their parents.

Actually, I recommend it to the moms of all Japanese little boys & young men, regardless of their age and whether it's Halloween or not... There you are. ";oP

How To Find A Masculine Halloween Costume For Your Effeminate Son

(Link stolen from Mark Simpson's post "Halloween Dilemmas", with thanks.)