Our recent film-poem collaboration “One Stop” was nominated for best music/sound at Liberated Words III in Bristol, where it premiered. The original soundtrack was composed and performed by Valerie Kampmeier. The film commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Do you remember beach-combing
for three-oh-three shells,
our little Easter-egg hunt
for exploding chocolate?
I think of you whenever
I snap the pill box shut.
You called our ride in a Higgins
boat "one stop on a busy tube."
We breathed through our helmets,
begging the spume to ricochet,
then leapt the ditch toward freedom
and cleared the snarling wire.
So this is freedom. This side
contains the same amount
of nitrogen in the air.
We won the race with our fists,
hands down, sound bananas.
What was it all for, Charlie?
Nineteen more minutes of linked
hands and holy prayers
to that bombshell divinity?
How do we know this road
leads back to the invisible base?
Go first. I'm right behind you.
I sourced archival colour footage of WWII, and composited this into an animation that I created using Blender 3D. I recorded journeys on the tube with an X1 Zoom, and mixed this under Valerie's music and my voice reading the poem.
The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb by Mervyn Peake
“Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.”
Sometimes a book chooses you. Sheltering from the rain in Black Gull Books in East Finchley, I browsed the poetry section, arranged alphabetically by author, until a familiar surname leapt out at me. I knew Mervyn Peake for his fiction and illustrations, but not his poetry. The opening image from The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb stopped my breath — an infant curled up, crying out into inky blackness. It recalled to me, simultaneously, the earliest images of our son in utero, and our own anguish at his death.
I read the first few musical stanzas about Mervyn’s babe “born in the reign of George”, during the height of The Blitz, down to where “the murderous notes of the ice-bright glass / Set sail with a clink of wings”. It reminded me of one my favourite lines by one of my favorurite poets, the moment in William Blake’s “The Tyger” “when the stars threw down their spears / and watered heaven with their tears”.
The whole poem, and its accompanying illustrations, are Blakean in scope, bringing together images and poetry in a dazzlingly imaginative metaphysical ballad about the resilience and splendour of the human spirit. Continue reading…
“You don’t have to dislike a place to leave it.”
American soldiers on D-Day
Last weekend, we drove down to Seal Beach to say farewell to my wife’s aunt. Her parting gifts to me were a bottle of champagne, two sleeping pills for the flight, and a small pin with an American flag on it. She met her American husband in England not long before he shipped off for the D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy.
I imagine it is always poignant to leave one’s home country. I liken my evolving relationship to my homeland to how I imagine a mother might regard her teenage son. I admire his idealism and energy, robustness and strength, the sense of freedom and possibility. I also notice with chagrin his sense of entitlement and invulnerability. I likewise find it hard to believe reports that he has become a bit of a schoolyard bully, taking advantage of others at times, and behaving recklessly in the hubris of youth.
I love my country, and will miss it. But I am glad for the opportunity to live in the Old World as well. More than politics, it is the people I will miss, and of course the vast open spaces, encompassing nearly every biome on Earth. I will be glad, though, for a more immediate sense of connection with the continuity of human history. London itself has been continuously inhabited for more than two millennia, emerging and reemerging, phoenix-like, from each collapse.
And so I say, “so long” for now to the beautiful and complicated place where I grew to become a man. I am not leaving my homeland due to political or religious persecution, or even necessarily to seek greater economic opportunity in another land. I am going because it is time to go have this adventure. And wherever I go, I will be an American.
“Every evening / words / — not stars — light the sky. // No rest in life / like life itself.”
“I hear that the axe has flowered, / I hear that the place can’t be named, // I hear that the bread which looks at him / heals the hanged man, / the bread baked for him by his wife, // I hear that they call life / our only refuge.”
I find myself drawn to poets who survived The Second World War. This, in combination with frequently watching the remarkable BBC series Foyle’s War in the evening, as well as, on a more personal note, the recent passing of my wife’s uncle, Sven — a Marine who was at Normandy, and a man of whom I was fond — has got me thinking about the profound and continuing impact of WWII. Even as Czeslaw Milosz says that Communism was the only possible response to the atrocities of the Industrial Revolution, so, too, it occurs to me that Postmodernism may well be a kind of understandable, almost logical response to the atrocities of WWII.
Part of my thinking has been fueled by researching Seamus Heaney, including a number of essays in The Art Of Seamus Heaney wherein various critics attempt to place him, as an accessible, intelligent, lyric poet, within the context of the Twentieth century, and the decline of centrality, gentility, and structure. These abstract thoughts have gained specificity through reading selected works of Paul Celan and Umberto Saba. Both men, in the face of profoundly difficult personal circumstances, heightened their attention to language in their poems. Yet in the case of Celan, the attention presses ever more inward, into a symbolic and even cryptogrammic relationship to German; whereas with Saba, his Italian becomes more specific and spare in a way that promotes universal resonance.