Libation

By the fourth month
I prayed to St Jude
(a hopeless habit for an atheist
learned from my mother

She’s always losing things
I inherited that too
she even lost me once, as child
or so the story goes)

Like the coming of the rains
by the autumn equinox
Drop by drop a deluge of the feminine
restored of its own accord

Diluvian, a flush of futurity
fluid expectation
and warm mortality
a prelude, a truth-giving.

Review: ‘Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision’

The National Portrait Gallery is at once an apt and incongruous location to hold an exhibition entitled ‘Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision’.

The curators have brought together letters, diary pages, rare first editions and a small number of personal effects alongside a broad spectrum of portraits, both of Woolf herself and her extended circle. Whilst seasoned Woolfians should not expect to discover anything revelatory either in the objects or the accompanying blurbs, the breadth of personalities represented (photos taken by Julia Margaret Cameron, portraits of Hope Mirrlees and Violet Dickinson) and the reduced amplitude afforded to many of the usual Bloomsbury suspects (Keynes, Grant) should prove refreshing.

The exhibition is presented chronologically and with a focus on the biographical, to which Woolf’s legacy still remains firmly tethered. Whilst on first glance this simplistic organising principlephoto is somewhat underwhelming, on reflection the structure is perhaps one of the main contributing factors in the success of the show. Woolf’s status has become inseparable from her appeal to the often jargon-enmeshed critical avant-garde, a position which has too often cultivated the perception amongst the wider reading public that she is difficult or somehow inhospitably high brow. Where this exhibition succeeds is in reacquainting the public with the irreverent, tenacious and charismatic character whose company, even in absentia, remains thoroughly captivating.

Amongst the familiar images of Woolf in melancholy silhouette and in the jaundiced Post-Impressionist palette are several images whose provenance will cause in most observers a casual chortle of surprise. The photos taken of Woolf for Vogue are a reminder of her commitment to modernity and to a democratic intellectual individualism for which she is still rightly acclaimed. These images provide a neat counterpoint to Woolf’s infamous refusal to sit for a portrait to be housed here in the NPG, an institution that one imagines she considered to be ‘another compartment of the [same] factory’ as the British Museum, which she describes derisorily in A Room of One’s Own as a ‘a huge bald forehead’ in which the stuffy great males of the Victorian establishment are interred.

Fortunately, the artistic establishment has come some distance in the near-70 years since Woolf’s death (certainly in part due to Woolf’s own legacy) and the over-riding sensation from the exhibition is one of celebration in the richness of her creative life. We are reminded of the remarkable fertility of her mind, her circle, and their collective ability through art to revivify our daily aesthetic perceptions, to an extent that still feels fresh and inspirational today.

‘Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision’ runs until this Sunday at the National Portrait Gallery, WC2.

Polyphony for the Prodigal

Do the Muses Lament the Death

of the –

Divine Right

of the –

Death Writer’s

Poetic Right

what right of the reader

to read a writer

for sake – ‘just saying’ –

For Barthes he was an honourable man.
 

Awake your senses that you the better may judge

The Megalo-Master-Baiting over-teeming

polysemy super-seeding see-meme-n in genesis

of what? too comfortably sits but sounds –

…birds

…bees

…beef for tea

oh Bovril

this poem’s got the better of –

who plays Poet?
 

In the still of night

when Laius lays down his arms

and Barthes lays bared

like Marat in his bath

and Bloom is not an evening flower

no angiosperm

by the scent of hesperis matronalis

we are all Hesiods now

And men have lost their reason
 

Initiation Right

on being asked to read at the Sussex Poetry Festival 2011

I

A year or two after emigrating, she happened to be in Paris on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of her country. A protest march had been scheduled, and she felt driven to take part. Fists raised high, the young Frenchmen shouted out slogans condemning Soviet imperialism. She liked the slogans, but to her surprise she found herself unable to shout along with them. She lasted only a few minutes in the parade. 

When she told her French friends about it, they were amazed. “You mean you don’t want to fight the occupation of your country?” She would have liked to tell them that behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison. But she knew she would never be able to make them understand. Embarrassed, she changed the subject.

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

II

Don’t mistake me for a “champagne socialist”

I was born with a cut-glass flute in my mouth

mind if I play a tune? It’s going for a song.

Does that make me social-lite?

 

Hey leftie, do you care?

Call yourself liberal?

Those Tories over there

don’t care which tenor I play.

 

Oh sorry, I’ve got the wrong room –

Please stop glaring

through your Social-Searchlights:

I just came to read some poems.

 

Utopia isn’t yours, you know.

That Capitalist has a heart of Gold.

Who knew?

Realists, they dream too.

 

I’m bored.

I thought we were playing a game?

Who gave you the Monopoly

on non-conformity?

 

If the fee for the poetry party is partisan

I’ll sing outside alone.

Need I remind you why your Pound

went out of Fascion?

III

Initiation Rights:

If it’s controversy you require

I just conformed.

“Recite your conscription to the Kangaroo Court little girl!”

“Ok, but I’m only following orders.”

IV

Look!

Can you see the rainbow?

vivid streaks of vitality eclipsing

Your bloodied Bloc Red
 

This is not the Cold War

I am warm and human too –
 

I’m not a racist, I do not spit in children’s faces

For obliquity, irony and ‘clever’ puns

there is a time and place

In respect of Liberty I will not skirt:

FREE BURMA

FREE TIBET

RESPECT YOURSELF

RESPECT EACH OTHER

EMBRACE THIS WORLD

These are the worthiest of words.

nocturne/prolepsis


Prolepsis

 

Nocturne:

diurnal dream bursts

equivocal in-tension

hour perfect tensing ignites

internal insomnia

 

Prismed:

star-tracking beside you

crooked tight ditch and dive

in darkness we tumble

through solitude transfixed

 

Embedded:

come to me undercovering –

whispered kisses this close efface

the crack between your eyelids where in to inch

we make our selves souvenirs

 

Charged:

curl into your crook

nip me to your lips nick me anew

this on nicked skin nip me new

let kiss your glistened fingers yours

 

Grasp:

we will make one another cry

undo each other with undoable things

(gasp: grazing)

clasping, heart-cored to come

bursting brimmed by you

 

Glow:

saturate in abstract vapour clots

after-shower unshaven, after smoke sent

to cardio-vascular word ardour

love after loves thought spent

 

Coda:

to nap on the night-bus

she thinks of you.