You had to be there

We were talking about travelling and a friend said that if he were to embark on another big trip, he wouldn’t pack a laptop, tablet, smartphone or a camera. Not even a notebook. We’d been in total agreement until that moment. What would be the point of travelling if you didn’t take artsy photos with an SLR? Or bore your friends and family with constant updates on your adventures? I wondered at the time. Not even a notebook…

Recently, I thought twice about taking my phone with me on an errand. Now I’m a father, that doesn’t happen as often as it used to. I remembered that conversation. What if someone needs to get hold of me? I thought. What if I see something cool and need to take a photo? To hell with it! One by one, I peeled my fingers from around the handset and left it on the counter looking like the sinister monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As I was leaving town a spectacular double rainbow lit darkening clouds above the harbour. My first instinct was to take a photo, but I consoled myself in the knowledge that even a professional cameraman would struggle to capture what I could simply take in with my eyes and other senses. I decided to extend my walk to properly absorb the scene and ended up getting fairly well rained on. Really heading home now, two seals were playing in the waves. I watched them for ten minutes and understood what my friend had been talking about a little better.

A philistine visits Tate St. Ives

However spellbinding the exhibitions at the Tate St. Ives, I’ve always felt that nothing can beat the view of Porthmeor beach from the upper gallery. Pulling your attention away from the indigo waves you’ll notice fascinating sculptures and paintings encased in glass, such as Alfred Wallace’s slanted and enchanted daubings of his life at sea. The thought occurred to me though, that all art is in some way incidental, depending on a particular piece of material, thought, observation, moment or brushstroke. It may have been while looking at Ben Law’s series of minimalist penciled squares… which according to a plaque were produced in a single day. No shit. What makes this work interesting, if anything, is that it is what it is.

When Dan and I visited MoMA in New York, there were several huge Jackson Pollock canvases. I can’t remember which numbers they were. A guard dressed in black security gear carrying a sub-machine gun stood at one corner of the room. He could have raised that mp5 and mown us all down at any point, which I found much less conducive to viewing the work as the artist intended. Anyway, a little lad wandered up towards one of these sprawling pieces encouraged by his parents who were standing back to take a photo of him in front it. Everyone looked at the security guy, including the boy, who was a bit older than a toddler, to see what he made of it. Sub-machine gun dude seemed affable and watched with a fond smile. So the child went ahead and leant on the painting. The whole canvas trembled. People gasped. His parents rushed forward gesturing for him to come away. Maybe Jackson Pollock’s No. 4 will fall on us and its protector will commit seppuku in a hail of bullets. Instead, the canvas ceased to shake and the guard tiptoed over to the boy to gently ask him not to lean on the painting, looking around sheepishly to see if he was in for a bollocking. But he was right to be relaxed about what is, in an absolute sense, splashings of dried paint. In what scenario was the gun necessary, I wonder.

You can make or stultify art depending on how you present it. There’s a curious effect in the upper gallery of the Tate St. Ives, where if you look sideways at the large curved window – neither at the waves or human attempts to represent them – it seems as though the sea is flowing into the room, reclaiming all of the works it inspired in the glass. Then, as you leave the gallery altogether, the sea air hits and you come into the entranceway outside the large curved window. Another sense is restored. You can’t see them yet but you hear waves echoing in this concrete cylinder. Another few steps and you’ll see waves, hear waves, perhaps even walk in them. And maybe that’s what art is really for: to make sure we’re awake for experiences it can only point to.

Live Canon 2013 poetry performance and prize giving

I’m chuffed to be among such good company in the Live Canon 2013 anthology. Congratulations to Tessa Foley who won the competition with a great poem, ‘Love Story’. And to Doreen Hinchliffe who won the borough prize with ‘Arachne’s Gift’.

My brother was playing a game to see if he could guess which poem was mine while it was being read. He had an inkling at the last line of Poet’s Corner ‘beyond the shore, where the waves are silent’. Great to catch up with him and my sis-in-law at such a good natured event.

I was also lucky to chat with some very talented poets. Isabel Rogers’ ‘The Cost of Living’ showed us the reality behind a political catchphrase. Josephine Corcoran’s ‘Thanks for not switching me off’ explored the inner experience of a patient on life support. David Bowe’s ‘Golem’ and Oona Chantrell’s ‘Vanishing Marsh’ were fascinating, mysterious incantations and very much up my street. All of the poems will bear many readings.

Glyn Maxwell, returning as this year’s judge, talked about how instructive it is seeing and hearing your words interpreted by an actor’s body. Helen Eastman did a brilliant job of bringing it all together and entertaining a room full of nervous poets. No mean feat. The performances were brilliant, as can be expected from Live Canon.

The competition anthology is available to buy from Amazon.

Crow, performed by Handspring

Until I saw Crow performed at The Borough Hall tonight, I don’t think I’d realised how well dance and poetry complement each other. They are physical in different ways. Poetry is a language we read with the body and the senses. Dance struggles between freedom and the corporeality of the body. Like poets, dancers can contort the language of the everyday and ‘make it new’. They are naturally symbolic arts and share a vicarious attraction.

Ted Hughes’ trickster was inventively staged thanks to Handspring’s beautifully incomplete puppetry. We saw Crow literally animated from a spitball of black lace, metal and ink to something eerily human and then something still more mysterious.