Thursday, 3 June 2010
Awayday: the bear, the kings, the monuments
In London from early on - first to do an interview with Stephen Moss of The Guardian on 'what's the use of poetry?' I imagine it might be short - say, 20 minutes or so - but we chat for an hour and a half around a drink. I talk my head off, as I sometimes do on topics like this, using the example at one point (it doesn't matter for now apropos what) of the potential human reaction if a grizzly bear suddenly entered the room. It is not an image I have ever used before, nor have I ever seen a grizzly bear except in a zoo, but the image recurs a couple of times before we leave. As we go out through a different door from the one we came in I glance behind and there is an enormous bronze bear sculpture by the door. I hadn't seen the sculpture on my way in, nor did I expect to see a life-sized bronze sculpture of anything, let alone a grizzly bear. For a brief heady second I feel that I have done what shamanic poets are capable of, that is to say I have spoken a bear into existence. I joke to Stephen about the prophetic power of poetry: he smiles and I smile, because it is intended as a joke - but just for a moment I had myself going there. You've finally cracked it, Szirtes. Now just keep doing it.
Then I rush off to the British Museum where C is waiting with friend Petra and Mary from the Chinese Department. Mary gives us brief informed tour of the Chinese prints before we go to the Kingdom of Ife exhibition, Petra knows the country (part of Nigeria) - she even know one of the archaeologists pictured on the wall. The exhibition is mostly heads, of brass or copper or terracotta. Many of them are in what I think of as Early Classical naturalist manner, the equivalent of Apollos and Venuses, maybe just a touch later in that they are clearly individuals with all proportions correct, but the handling formalises and abstracts towards ideal. They are beautiful, noble, more or less ritualistic, but serenely human too. I want to write more about this and will soon.
But it's not a large exhibition, and I have another exhibition to see at the Serpentine Gallery. It is Phyllida Barlow's work on show and Phyllida is one of the three visual artists I am collaborating with (the snake poem on the front of the website is via work by Helen Rousseau on the same project). Phyllida's half of the exhibition consists mostly of large, highly tactile, sculptural objects that look almost recognisable, but hold us at a kind of abstract distance (one is not supposed to touch). There is a clear paradox in the rough textural quality of the large forms and the refusal to become knowable. Even the titles partake of this. The titles are all untitled: (something), whatever that something is, eg, a wall blob. I walk around deeply attentive, make notes, go away, buy a cold drink and scribble a few lines. Then back to near Russell Square to meet Petra and C,