Heroines From Abroad – poetry review

Heroines From Abroad by Christine Marendon translated from the German by Ken Cockburn

Scottish launch 13.7.18

Heroines From Abroad is Christine Marendon’s first collection, and published by Carcanet Press, it is half-and-half English/German, translated by Edinburgh based poet Ken Cockburn. Launched at Lighthouse, Edinburgh’s Radical Bookshop (formerly Word Power Books) in the capital’s Causewayside area, the pair were introduced by Annie Rutherford who leads the Women in Translation fiction reading group there. Alternating, Christine and Ken read the poems in both languages and an illuminating Q & A followed.

Marendon was raised in Bavaria and currently lives in Hamburg. She has a personal and individual approach: “I meditate and try to think of nothing. I don’t read other poets when I am writing. In this act of forgetting, you find things you usually do not find, hear something you otherwise won’t hear.” With a distinctively female voice, there is indeed a dreamy, Dali-esque quality, where apparently unconnected images circle around each other and leave the reader to make connections, to recognise something deep inside themselves. “I am only following my own logic”, Marendon intertwines her hands delicately, “not to hold, grasp it, but watch it and surround it with my words”.

Cockburn initially translated six of Marendon’s poems 13 years ago, saying it was the “wonderful coming together of images” which attracted him. “It was intriguing rather than frustrating that there were aspects which I didn’t get the gist of, that the poems created their own worlds with a kind of dream logic to them.” As if, on waking, there is a tumble of words related to half-remembered visions, or middle-of-the-night thoughts, all co-existing, some of which are too painful to bear scrutiny in the cold light of day, but these Marendon has committed to paper. “we snarl and dig our bared teeth into each / others’ flesh…torn skins hang / sideways to the floor,” (from Fifty Ways).

The poems make new associations, fresh meanings emerge from juxtapositions of words you previously thought you could rely on. Cockburn quotes from Rotunda and Breath, “Your warm handshake has you kneeling / to the saints of motorway slip-roads and service-stations..” and, “My dearest is a / missing feather, a snapped-off star”. (The latter referring to the automotive emblem of a Mercedes which a friend stole.)

Christine Marendon
Christine Marendon, poet.

There are many recurring natural images – water, air, wind and stone for example. In Bahamut, “I am the fish who, coming for air / kisses the water’s surface: / you see the disturbance, the circles it creates, but, me, the fish, / you don’t see.” Memory features strongly: “My memory is a darkroom / into which only blood-red light is admitted.” (from Negative). However when asked, Marendon stated, “I wrote these at different times of my life, they stand alone. But I am almost the same person so there might be connections.”

The book title Heroines From Abroad is a phrase from Rotunda referring to her family matriachs. She explains, “Men are responsible for most translocations and women have to solve the problems and hold the family together when they get there.”

On the page the poems often have the appearance of prose with short, succinct phrases of 2 or 3 words. “The day, / forgotten. There at the edge. Where the darkness / lives.” The first few silent readings in your own head do not reveal a recognisable tempo, but hearing them aloud made more metrical sense. Cockburn stated, “there was a rhythm I was trying to recreate in English.”

Letting her ‘found’ voice be concretised was brave, and ultimately successful. This is an intrinsically creative first poetry collection, and I am guessing that you will find that wisps of fascinating thoughts will be ribboning through your mind long after reading it.

The Guardian’s Poem of the Week

Christine Marendon, No Man’s Land

New Books in German

Info about Christine Marendon in German

They say that the readership for poetry is really low, especially in translation. Do you think that’s right? Leave me a comment and we’ll do our own poll!

Leave No Trace – film review

Debra Granik / USA  / 2018 / 109 mins

At the Edinburgh Filmhouse  from Fri 13 Jul 2018

Leave No Trace opens amongst lush green ferns and sparkling spiders webs. 13 year old Tom and her father Will (played assuredly by Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster respectively) hum contentedly while foraging and collecting firewood. Their life outdoors and outside society is gently established, as is their peaceful co-operation and mutually respectful relationship. One night Will wakes in a state – we are unsure if there is a real helicopter or if it is in his nightmares – and she soothes him with a charming conversation about her long absent mother’s favourite colour. In this easy introduction we learn all we need to about their situation, so that the ensuing development makes complete sense.

The film is based on the novel ‘My Abandonment’ (author Peter Rock, 2009), and is not about the system letting people down, indeed the supporting characters are full of kindness and understanding, albeit within limits which are as equally extreme as living the forest life. Leave No Trace clearly establishes our collective standards – group living, state scrutiny, lack of independent decision-making and measurement of sanity through online questionnaires. In reality there is a double desertion: our impotent battle hero forsakes a normal life, and the so-called civilised world cannot embrace him on his required terms.

Throughout, the contrasts are vivid: machinery tears down trees for a flora and fauna information board to be erected; the shopping journey across the Portland bridge is noisy with grinding metal; the organised rows of Xmas trees are a stark pretence for a wilderness; and the quiet of their one-time living room and sofa as they lock the door behind them for the first time, is a deadened sort of silence compared to the vibrant tranquility of the woods.

Without having to spell out the issues at play, Granik and her fellow screenwriter Anne Rosellini with whom she collaborated on Winter’s Bone  which won the Grand Jury Prize for a dramatic film in 2010, allow us to comprehend the subtleties of this insurmountable situation. We fully empathise with Tom, a most mature teen, as she struggles with Will’s needs, and the skilfully crafted conclusion (poignant eye contact, absence of words and a single elegiac violin) allows us to open our hearts to him as well.

Leave No Trace 1

Neither patronising nor sentimental despite many tender moments, the essence of the story is encapsulated in the differentiation between the communal bee hive (“They can kill you if they want to, so it means a lot to have their trust”), and the isolation of the spider in its web. As the requirements of father and daughter diverge despite their love, we leave the cinema better informed about the results of war on families and the reality of the ‘damaged’ veteran. More, we know that its impossible to hide for long.

 

You might have seen on one of my other blogs walkingwithoutadonkey.com that I adore walking! The forests in this film look amazing but I haven’t ever been to the US. Have you walked there? Is it really that beautiful? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Maquia, When the Flowers Bloom – film review

Film Review – Maquia, When the Promised Flower Blooms directed by Mari Okada.

3 stars

This is the first Japanese anime film I have seen so I am coming at it with fresh eyes. The story concerns the maiden of the title, Maquia, voiced by Manaka Iwami, who lives in a sci-fi / fairytale world of two contrasting parts (rural and urban) replete with dragons, and a damsel in a tower. Maquia is an Iorph, a race of blond, slim, feminine-looking beings with only a slight hint of a nose, who never outwardly age beyond their teens.

Opening with a super-colour, blue-green idyll of animated landscape (this style of film pays great heed to the setting), the action moves slickly between this and the cityscape of shiny metal towers and darting sky pods. It is made clear from the start that loneliness will be the result of any couplings between Iorphs and others, and indeed that is what transpires: Maquia finds a human baby, raises him lovingly, he grows up but she does not, and eventually she leaves him to live his own life.

It is a tale of adolescence and motherhood, refugees, and repeated promises by Maquia not to cry (although there is also a warning: “emotions you hold inside, will burn away”. There is a central metaphor of weaving, and much is made of phrases such as “the weft of life” and “the cloth will remember”. I am repeatedly reminded of the older Disney films (Cinderella, Bambi) as Maquia attempts to manipulate the emotions with its grand, orchestral scores and meaningful dialogue. Mari Okada is the screenwriter and director, and she is one of the most prolific people currently working in the anime industry today, winning the 16th Animation Kobe Award for her work.

Maquia 2

Erial is the orphaned baby (Miyu Irino) who she prises from the grip of his mother – this instinct, they spell out, is strong even in death. As Maquia struggles with aspects of her new role: protection, responsibility, whether she can start an adult relationship at the same time as being a mum; we are reminded that this is not a childish story and the characters are not simplistic. She is severely limited, even in danger, by her eternally youthful appearance, and that in itself is a serious theme in this age of body manipulation. Maquia matures in response to both the horrors life throws at her and her ‘son’s’ natural developmental stages, and gains wisdom in the process.

Addressing serious subject matter using a seemingly innocent form, Maquia has the potential to stimulate both the intellect and the feelings.

How does this anime film compare to the others you have seen? Drop me a comment and let me know!

 

 

The Happy Prince

Film, written and directed by Rupert Everett.

‘The Happy Prince’ takes its title from Oscar Wilde’s short story of the same name, about the statue of a selfish prince who solicits the aid of a bird, a swallow, to first understand and then help the poor. He redeems himself through his pity for them and then by giving away his sapphire eyes and the ruby from his hilt. In the movie, this tale is woven artfully through the weft of Wilde’s life: back and forth from the filmic present to the past; as a children’s bedtime treat and as payment to a young boy who is starved as much of fantasy as of sustenance.

Rupert Everett, who directed and wrote this tour de force, also plays Wilde, speaking French and English (with a smattering of Italian). He is jowly and, by turns, jocund and morose. With jaw jutting forward in grim stoicism, he negotiates what is left of his life after being imprisoned for sodomy. Promising and repeatedly failing to resist the much younger Bosie (acted by Colin Morgan) whom he loves unreciprocally, the cocaine, absinthe, champagne and compulsion to take centre stage are secondary aspects of his addictive personality and contributory factors to his grizzly dénouement.

Wilde limply attempts to be reunited with his wife, Constance (a balanced performance by Emily Watson), and grieves his lost sons – after he was incarcerated he never saw the pair again. Replacing them with a little match boy and his inamorato brother from the gutters of Paris, he is, in turn, cared for by his coterie of homosexual friends. Reggie and Robbie, played by, resectfully, Colin Firth and Edwin Thomas (who played John Colville in Churchill) bail Wilde out endlessly, and nurse him ‘to the last’ in a series of touching scenes which avoid the archetypally camp, despite a ‘darling’ here and there.

For once it is appropriate to have such a male-heavy cast, though the female roles are strong: there is an Italian mama (Franca Abategiovanni) who, in an ironic, teasing scene, believes there are ‘loose women’ in the house (despite the number of naked men reclining in her parlour!) and hysterically chastises her son and guests, frantically searches and then delivers an obsequious apology when she discovers she was wrong.

Sumptuous scenes in Naples and belle époque Paris are all about the brocade and ‘black tie’ of the time, but they are interspersed with the sordid. There is no sparing the gory details, gruesome blood and vomit, but although there are references to public toilets and a rambunctious game of strip Musical Chairs, there is little or no sex.

the happy prince 3
The album cover of the Bing Crosby / Orson Welles version of ‘The Happy Prince’.

The film lays out the facts before us without judgment: the suffering of the poor, the horror of their depredation, and the abuse of minors. Somehow the audience know it is there, understand why at some level, and can still enjoy the humour and developing relationships. After all, many of us are guilty of turning a blind eye to our own bad habits, or not saving where saving is in our power. Other themes examined in this movie are of the rich and powerful versus the poor and artistic, and of course the persecution of gay men in the 19th century.

Then there’s the religion: Christ as Wilde’s only prison companion; a crippled priest saying his prayers in a simple cliff-top chapel; the last rites with a very funny, Irish-accented Tom Wilkinson. This is the last ditch attempt, of course, to attain redemption, but we nevertheless fear that he will be forever asking forgiveness, even at the pearly gates, in contrast to the Prince of the story whose leaden heart is taken up to heaven.

The powerful scenes which remain with me are many: Vesuvius errupting (not in the sexual, but in the doomsday sense), while Constance’s apparition haunts him; Everett tottering on a nightclub table giving a hearty rendering, to delighted revellers, of ‘The Boy in the Gallery’; the degradation at Clapham Junction, the spit; the unexpected tears when he sees Bosie for the first time after his release, on another station platform. Indeed Wilde mourns that they have been reduced to living on the edges of society, in the in-between places. The awful reality of unrequited love is raw throughout.

As the narrative draws to its elevated conclusion, as his soul is being raised on high, and in contrast to ‘the boys’ left behind fighting at the graveside, the watcher is invited to wonder if the angel (God?) of the original story sees the love in our hearts, even if outwardly we are damned.

Edinburgh Art Festival 2018 – preview

Edinburgh Art Festival (preview)

26 July – 26 Aug 2018

Kate_McMillan_big_
Kate McMillan’s The Past is Singing in our Teeth.

The Edinburgh Art Festival is a platform for the visual arts at the heart of the jambouree that is August in the capital. Where many may think of ‘the festival’ as being theatre and comedy, this organisation draws together all manner of exhibitions and installations, and places them centre stage.

Vital to the EAF is the Platform which supports artists at the start of their careers. Rae Yen-Song  is at the City Art Centre and the exhibition draws upon her experience as a female, Chinese Scot.

A highlight of the EAF Commissions looks to be Ruth Ewan’s Sympathetic Magick which will bring street magic to various venues around the city. Past festival commissions have resulted in permanent works, including Alison Watt’s Still from 2004 which currently hangs in the Memorial Chapel of Old Saint Paul’s Scottish Episcopal Church.

There is a growing Pop-up Programme which in 2018 involves Bill Viola’s video Three Women at The Parish Church of St Cuthbert. Looking at the topic of transfiguration, his wife and her daughters who star in the work, “briefly enter an illuminated realm”. Viola is always a stimulating view; A second event which stands out from the wide-ranging publicity is The ERRAID RESIDENCY, a stamp collection by 6⁰West in response to the life and works of Robert Louis Stevenson which can be found at The Scottish Arts Club, Rutland Square; Invisible Women give us Consensus  which “forces us to consider how gender and time shape perceptions of worth” and that is at the Urbane art gallery, Jeffrey Street; Finally Warmed Air  is a site-specific performance within the anatomy department of Edinburgh University exploring various levels of perceiving and experiencing the body. It could incorporate cadavers!

There are partner exhibitions with the Arusha Gallery, Rhubaba Gallery, Edinburgh College of Art, Sculpture Workshop, Stills and The Number Shop to name but a few, plus all the biggies, the brightest and best Edinburgh galleries are linked too. In particular check out Tacita Dean’s Woman with a Red Hat at The Fruitmarket Gallery; and the first solo UK show of Indian artist Ravi Agarwal’s Nàdar / Prakriti at The Edinburgh Printmakers.

There are Art Early events (who does not like the sound of activity trails and an outdoor picnic?) for families and children, a brilliant idea for those who rise with the dawn; and three Art Late tours doing the rounds of the collaborating galleries and including music from Jared Celosse , Ross Birrell at theTrinity Apse; and the women and men of Glasgow-based band The Ninth Wave.

As part of the Learning and Engagement aspect, there is an audio described tour with Juliana Capes including a hearing loop; and the Artist Talks incorporates the sparkling Christina Jansen on contemporary jewellery in Scotland.

The delightfully named Mud Oven Afternoons, where you can create edible sculptures, will be at the Johnston Terrace Wildlife Gardens – somewhere many will not have explored before.

Sharpen your eyesight, polish your specs and wander the circuit that is the EAF whether the sun shines or not!

The featured image above is The Impetuous Engine, 2016, film still, Isobel Lutz-Smith.

Mud Oven Afternoons

 

The Just Festival, Edinburgh

Just Festival St John’s Church, Edinburgh.

3-26 Aug 2018

Age and Stage
Age and Stage, Just Festival theatre, Edinburgh.

At a time when I hear so many people worrying over the future and being anxious about the lack of care they see around them, I welcome the annual socially-conscious Just Festival. On their classy website, they state that they are “in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, celebrating humanity in all its differences, and promoting the exploration of new perspectives with the aim of reducing religious, political and social intolerance.” This is a tall order but a mighty refreshing one.

The festival is divided and formed into sections: performance (dance, theatre, music), visual arts, conversations, talks, storytelling and a view (includes a short film) are all encompassed in this programme which hopes to challenge perceptions, celebrate differences and promote respectful dialogue, both religious and non-religious.

Just has made impressive alliances with recognised charities, universities, social groups and community projects which add specialist knowledge, depth and cudos to their events. In the conversations it is notable that there are experts, academics as well as artists on the panels, promising a well-rounded approach.

The honest shape of our communities, where many people do not have the type of contact with others which they desire, is tackled across the genres: Inner Circle, one of these conversations focuses on the LGBTQ population; Trapped in Isolation and Connected Lives, in the theatre category, look at loneliness and the complex reasons why folk may feel alone and ostracised. Let It Art, in the visual art camp, shows the work of youngsters in response to how they view peace, conflict, terrorism, and violence; and Identity and Belonging uses storytelling and photographs expressing individuality in the light of ageing.

The stated aim of tackling “freedom towards a united world” shows itself in Mandela’s Legacy (100 years after his death the panel ask what can be learned from his work and influence), Brexit Means Anxiety, and Faith In Politics. Closely related is the international connection: Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s play The Island examines “the situation of black political prisioners”; Sounds from Gold Coast will no doubt bring exuberance and joy to the hall at St John’s using rhythm, harmony and dance; and We Are will be “bouncing off their own ethnic roots” and, “Inspired by, and dedicated to, the women of Ghana, West Africa, who gather under the full moon, they tell stories of sorrow and joy.”

There is a sense of genuine self-questioning and fresh topics of conversation with Slaves In Scotland, Ethics of Aid and in the theatre section with Where Are You Really From? looking at migration and asylum.

It is clear that here has been impressive attention paid to the balance between the sexes throughout the planning stage (see Faith-based Courts for example); and Fierce Females (a view which includes a film), Every Girl Matters (conversation), and Take Refuge Under My Shade (dance) all contribute to equal representation.

There is a most promising sub-section entitled Death on the Fringe. Death is a subject about which we have been famously silent in the west, that is until the last few years when the rise of the Death Cafes (started in Fife btw) and the preponderance of blogs and books on related issues have launched a new era of openness and a desire to speak and share about this topic (see the Wee Review of Richard Holloway’s Waiting for the Last Bus). This talk series encompasses the “surprising history” of the Scottish Funeral by acclaimed speaker Eddie Small; and an account by Awdri Doyle of her Life of a Funeral Director. In addition, you might have heard of birth doulas. This model has now been used for the end of life, so given that “The mortality rate in Scotland remains at 100%” the third presentation in this sequence, End-of-Life Doulas, is from Hilary who works in the role of  “making death better”.

The Just programme has some great images, a wide spread of events covering a diversity of right-up-to-the-moment ideas and themes and a plethora of participants from young to older and from all over the world.

Top of the agenda is respect and the right to self-expression, and using the arts as well as more straightforward debate and exchange, this festival is seriously Just!

 

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Where Are You Really from? theatre, Just Festival, Edinburgh.

 

 

 

 

Cries and Whispers

1972 film, written and directed by Ingmar Bergman with Liv Ullmann.

This masterpiece has a strength and depth that I do not often see in films. Full of powerful female roles – the sisters, daughter, above all the maid – it is above all a series of single and slow shots, often with great attention to shadows and fog, foreground and background, which are the most arresting.

The three sisters gather in the family mansion because one is at the end of her life. Depicting her terrible suffering and their various responses to it, Cries and Whispers is concerned with all the important things in life: dying and death (of course, sadness and grieving and what happens afterwards), love, religion, sex, lack of human communication and connection. And betrayal, raising the questions whether we all do these sorts of things to each other, especially in our important relationships, and when we do, is it through a lack of awareness, a lack of kindness, self-interest…?

The style is all about the implied – snatches of conversations hinting at abuse in the past; subtle facial expressions; a view through the window into the garden at the right moment – nothing is thrust at me or over-explained, rather I am allowed to sit back in my cinema chair and draw my own conclusions, using my own intelligence and powers of observation, respected.

It is a measured Galliard (i) of a film, one meaningful step at a time, allowing me to see the detail and depth of a face or scene and almost always leaving certainty aside. After she dies and then calls her sisters, is she meant to be a ghost? When one refuses to attend the sick room, is this because she cannot bear the suffering, or is there a relationship issue we are not aware of? The pace allows some space to reflect while watching. I could not have slept for a second, although one man managed to snore throughout!

The cast is made up of women suffering and damaged in themselves, the most powerful being the maid – voluptous, clever, loving, agreeable, she has many of the attributes we expect from ‘the staff’ in these historical movies, but is a much rounder character than that. The exquisite tenderness in the removal of her top and cradling of the dying woman is something I will not forget quickly.

Meanwhile, the men take a back-seat, although they are implicated by what they do not say, what amuses them. At the edges of the main drama, their words or actions highlight the dysfunctional family situation – for example, as in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, it is the man who generously suggests a payment is made (here, to the maid after the death of her mistress) and his wife who refuses.

I am reminded of a more recent American film as I watch. To The Wonder (ii. 2013, directed by Terence Malick) must surely be paying homage to Cries and Whispers with its plaintive domestic scenes, lack of extant dialogue and slow self-conscious choreography on wide open plains.

What has stayed with me? The most explicit scene in which she accidentally knocks over a delicately decorated glass at the supper table. There is a suggestion that she expects her husband opposite to chastise her, but there is silence. She toys with a shard of glass and later takes it with her when she goes into her room where she desperately stabs it between her legs. Somehow she manages to walk into their shared room, lie back on the pillows and smear the blood over her face. Does her husband enjoy the result of her wound? Is the blood part of their love-making? She smiles and he moves to join her with no sign of horror on his face. The next morning she is moving around, apparently with no pain. Chilling.

Afterwards, I feel sad even morose, quiet and contemplative.

I watched this, on the spur of the moment, at one Vintage Sunday showing at the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh, May 2018.

i. A Galliard is an Elizabethan dance style.

ii. To The Wonder