Sunday 24 July 2011

Research trip to Paris then Languedoc

This Irish pub Finnegans Wake is at 9 rue des Boulangers, about 3 minutes' walk from the Jardin des Plantes, in Paris's Quartier Latin. I have often walked past it down the steep, narrow, cobbled old street, when I used to visit my father and on my way to the Jardin, and chuckled at the pub's name. Later, my father told me that the first place he lived with my mother was in a two-room tiny apartment above it, and that they were happy there. By one of those strange coincidences, I came across a cheap studio room available for holiday rentals directly opposite where they used to live, in 10-12, on the opposite side of the narrow street, also on the first floor. So I've rented it and will stay there one week on 7th August, to research for my novel and sixth collection. 

This is only possible because the Society of Authors awarded me an Authors' Foundation grant. During a hectic teaching week since I heard the news, I have been making plans and bookings. After Paris, I will spend a week in a remote house at the top of a tiny hamlet in the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc, where I hope to do some more writing as well as exploring.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

A Poem for Frida Kahlo's Birthday: Diego on My Mind

Frida Kahlo was born on 6th July 1907 and died in 1954 at the age of 47. Here is a poem from What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo to celebrate her birthday. She often painted herself with a portrait of Diego on her forehead, as in this painting Diego on My MindHere, she is speaking to him and perhaps to herself as she used to feel very alone when he was out with his celebrity mistresses.

Diego on My Mind

Today I chose the ceremonial huipil
with a lace cobweb framing my face.

I have made a fine bed for you
with the white frills of my Tehuana headdress.

And on the counterpane of my brow
           just where the pillows would rest
I have painted your portrait.

All day you keep me company
as I work each gauze bud
into a stiff flower.

You whisper encouragements from the mirror,
nestling deeper into my forehead.

But remember, when you take
          María Félix
                    Paulette Goddard
                              or my sister

to your dirty yellow hotel room,
they lie on my eyes.

My nose smells them.
My mouth stays closed. Every love-cry

is a silk tendril
          quivering in my silent house.

Tomorrow I'm going to Cardiff to the Wales Book of the Year ceremony, particularly thrilled to have What the Water Gave Me shortlisted for this Welsh prize as I grew up there so it feels like my adopted country has adopted me. The UK edition is available from the Welsh publisher Seren and the US edition (just published) from Black Lawrence Press. I'll be giving an illustrated reading from the book at Pallant House gallery in Chichester, 6pm on Thursday 28 July, during their Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibition which opens 9th July. Can't wait to see it!

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Touching sculptures at Tate Modern for Poetry from Art

For our penultimate session of Poetry from Art at Tate Modern the curator of the Tate access project Marcus Dickey Horley gave us a Touch Tour in the States of Flux galleries. Usually, no sighting person is allowed to touch the sculptures, as Marcus provides the tour for blind and visually impaired visitors, but he requested special dispensation for us. Only the sturdiest sculptures can be touched and then it's through lint-free gloves, but imagine if you could feel Rodin's The Kiss. We also felt Umberto Boccioni's futuristic machine-man Unique Forms of Continuity in Space and Raymond Duchamp-Villon's animal-machine hybrid Large Horse.

After the Touch Tour and Marcus' fascinating insights into the sculptures, we read the adulterous kissers Francesca and Paolo's tragic story from Dante's Inferno (in Ciaran Carson's translation – half terza rima, half ballad). Their lips never quite meet in the Inferno and they are destined to stay frozen apart but tantalizingly close throughout eternity in the second circle of hell, after Francesca's husband murdered them as they were about to embrace. In the marble they do seem to have just about started, though you have to crane your neck in to see their lips. The sculpture was daringly frank for its day (1904), a curious blend of classicism and eroticism. We also read 'The Race' by Sharon Olds as a study of a poem about speed, for those who wanted to write from Boccioni's striding figure or the leaping war horse.

You can read poems from this session and the rest of the term, in the Miró exhibition, the Rothko room, and Lamia Joreige's Objects of War, in the pamphlet anthology Poetry from Art at Tate Modern 2011, to be launched at 6.45pm on Saturday 24 September, in the East Room at Tate Modern. Entry will be free, and there'll be readings, wine and great views. Please join us if you're in town.

 The Kiss Auguste Rodin, 1901-4 Pentelican marble

Sunday 3 July 2011

My trip to New Mexico, 1-7 May 2011

It was snowing when I arrived in Albuquerque airport on May 1st, and by the time the shuttle arrived to take me to Santa Fe, where I was met by the poets Veronica Golos and Andrea Watson, a blizzard obscured the longed-for views on the winding road to Taos in the mountains. When Veronica took me for a hike in the Rio Grande Gorge, snowdrifts still flanked our path. But within a few days the weather switched to dry desert heat. Here are some pics taken in Taos, at the Taos Pueblo, and in the Rio Grande Gorge. Warm thanks to the fabulous poet Veronica Golos for inviting me into her home, to her and Andrea for their hard work organising a reading and workshop, and to Arthur Sze for a super meal in Santa Fe on my way back to Albuquerque and on to the next leg of my tour, California.

Also at the end you'll see a strange dried creature in a small Taos museum. It's a baby shark
used by the Mexican Cora tribe as a charm against evil spirits. It was caught on a moonlit night during the primal equinox at the precise moment that a cloud passed over the moon. The method by which it was dried did not include any metal instruments and is a closely guarded secret.