A SATURDAY POST: TWO
GARDEN IN SEPTEMBER
I have grown a lot of calendulas this year. I have calendula plants from last year that are still flowering. I think I have had a calendula flower in my garden for a whole year. Here is calendula 'snow princess' which is not quite a white flower, but certainly paler than her smouldering golden sisters. I like to try different seed varieties. They are the easiest of flowers to grow and if you have a sheltered spot that gets a bit of sun you can sow them at just about any time. Hardy things.
I have a small courtyard style garden to the side of the house - right outside the kitchen door. Above is just one view. The view I get to look at from the kitchen. You can perhaps tell I am more of a leafy than a flowery person. I like how the lettuce is growing as if in imitation of its neighbour ferns. A clematis purchased for £1.76 from a supermarket this summer has just made three flowers. It's often the case that I prefer clematis in bud, when they are still dark and a bit mysterious. I like textures in the garden, so have worn wood and pebbles, earthy pots. There's something simple about it but this summer it required a lot of watering and some of the larger ferns suffered from too much sun.
ART ON YOUTUBE
I mentioned watching YouTube last week - it's a great resource. If you are interested in bonsai, you can find some great bonsai growing videos, if you are interested in watching someone eat mountains of fast food there are videos of that (they are called Mukbang). I watch videos on a lot of different subjects, with a particular interest in life in Japan, gardening and - art.
There are many videos on visual art, of course. Videos featuring artists in their studios, interviews, demos, exhibitions etc...So you have to know what you are looking for, in a way, but be open to see how links lead you...
I particularly like the YouTube channel jameskalm - featuring videos made by and hosted by a New York based artist (Loren Munk) who has created the character/critic known as James Kalm to go out and visit current shows across the city of New York. He visits smaller and high end galleries, a real mix of shows. I like being there with the camera and with James' fast-paced presentation, and I enjoy his particular close-up view of things, his interest in the sides of paintings, the size of works and saying hello to people he knows. Often featuring lively opening nights, these videos give the 'outsider viewer' a taste of what its like to be there, rubbing shoulders with the crowd (often a very mixed scene of folk). As a people-watcher I sometimes find the videos of busy gallery parties, people standing with their backs to the works, as fascinating or as inscrutable as the art itself.
I particularly enjoyed jameskalm's recent video on the artist Kyle Staver. This video then led me to another video on a different channel: an interview with Kyle Staver which was a rewarding view, offering lots to think about. I particuarly like Staver's small clay sculptural pieces but she is perhaps best known as a painter who explores ideas of myth and storytelling.
This week: I have continued to read the Zadie Smith collection of essays Feel Free.
I have also begun to read John Burnside's latest collection of poems (published last year) Still Life With Feeding Snake. I am still reading, but will say how much I enjoy Burnside's work. He is one of a handful of poets I have a lot of time for. All the best poems reward the reader with re-reading and Burnside writes poems that are uncluttered yet dynamic, enough that going back to them pays off, for the reader, time and again. He writes on memory, childhood, family - but in a way that has such humour with darkness, exactness.
WHY WRITE POETRY
Some opening thoughts on this - a topic I would like to explore (a little at a time) over the coming weeks.
Over a decade ago my Dad died just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. This was an awful experience for us in his family. I was going through a very challenging time, personally, and had two small children.
I wrote a poem (this was not a new thing, I had studied poetry and have an MA in Creative Writing). I wrote a poem for my Dad, someone who had not been the easiest person to live with but who had mellowed and shown love for his grandchildren. I wrote a positive poem for my Dad with memories of him fixing television sets for neighbours, the smell of soldering iron, his dry sense of humour. I tried to make it happy. I emailed this poem to my stepmother who was organising Dad's funeral. She did not respond to it at all.
Years later I found the courage to ask her why she had not asked me to read this poem at my Dad's funeral. Her response was: well, it was a bit personal, wasn't it? I had nothing more to say to her on this. Yes, poems can be very personal. But if there is one occasion for a personal poem, surely it is a funeral, your father's funeral? Or perhaps not. Not to us all. Perhaps for some funerals are not for sharing the small details of a life. They are about bigger universal things: grief, loss, simply saying goodbye. There are books of poems for funerals; I am sure many people find comfort in the poems in these anthologies. I can picture someone flicking through an anthology and deciding: let's find something he might have found funny, or moving, something not too difficult, not too long....
Perhaps I was saved from reading a really bad poem at my Dad's funeral. I should have written the poem, perhaps, but kept it buried under pencilled corrections. And: poetry was never my Dad's thing.
Can writing poems help? I do know writing the poem helped me. The problem was, my problem was that for years later I was more concerned with not having read it. I don't have the poem now. I have no way of looking back over and cringing at my grappling attempts to write a poem for a complicated man.
Over time, I have explored my way further out, beyond the personal. I have a wider interest in poetry, in what poems can be: poems may transcend the every day and personal. Of course, of course. It's not about 'me'. If I write about an 'I' it's not really me. If I write about 'you', it's not you but it might be me, or it might be someone from myth, fiction. Storytelling and image-making hold my interest.
Back to the Calendula - commonly known in England as a pot marigold, calendula is a traditional herb garden plant used for medicine and for dyeing. It will give various yellow shades. I've been experimenting with plant dyes for years, way before they become a thing on Instagram, before the so-called 'eco dye' fashion. Back when I began to experiment books offered advice on boiling, simmering, taking temperatures and treating the whole thing as a science project. Fortunately, there are more relaxed ways of finding out about colours from your garden.
This is not some weirdly off marmalade. Here i have a jar of wool that has been mordanted in alum. (Soaked in a water with a speck of alum solution for a few days). The wool is then rinsed and placed in a jar with water and calendula petals. The jar is on the windowsill getting sun when it comes. I will leave it until the end of this month and expect a pale yellow. The wool (unspun) will be put into storage for my winter spindle spinning.
If you have read this far: many thanks. I hope to have more to share next week.