Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Moon

So a pal o' mine posted on facebook a quiz from The Guardian The moon in literature. One question in the quiz was a Sappho poem. Or rather a translation by Edwin Arnold, "Greek Poets in English Verse." Ed. William Hyde Appleton. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893.

The stars about the lovely moon
fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space

So I searched out the "original"

Ἄστερες μὲν ἀμφὶ κάλαν σελάνναν
ἂψ ἀπυκρύπτοισι φάεννον εἶδος,
ὄπποτα πλήθοισα μάλιστα λάμπῃ
γᾶν [ἐπὶ πᾶσαν]
... ἀργυρία ...

and made my own translation.

Stars around the beautiful moon
At once hide their shining shapes
When the full light of the moon swells,
Making all the land glow silver.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


We are, The Philosopher said, animals whose nature it is to be artificial.

Sitting and and at the same time hurtling 100 kilometers per hour down the highway, through showers of heavy rain, listening to Radio National, I made my way to the Schoolhouse Gallery, Rosny Farm to see the exhibit Man-Made. An exhibit of recent paintings by two local artists Peter Tankey & Aaron Wasil. Even the the Schoolhouse Gallery itself comments on the dichotomy of the natural and the artificial. The building was built as a bicentennial project and is modeled on a schoolhouse that was built at Osterly about 1890.

The works exhibited were described by Aaron as “a silent but evident struggle between natural and manufactured”; or to use a more classical structuralist metaphor, “the raw and the cooked”.

I enjoyed both painters works. The artists had very different styles, but both seemed to be pointing in similar directions. Aaron Wasil used a slick, cool style. With a simple color palette his style emphasized angles and varied points of view. The works of Peter Tankey, on the other hand, created a kaleidescopic rush of color and form. The detritus of everyday life gathered in staged, and at the same time almost random locations.

The exhibit brought together two different styles. One, almost photo-realist in style, the other more mannered. This difference reflects and reinforces the overall theme of the exhibit and allows us to see different responses to similar material conditions. differences that arise out of twenty years of friendship and shared artistic journey. Differences that arise from late night, wine fueled discussions of artistic practice. Differences that are more about style than they are about philosophy.

This worth seeing exhibition continues until the 10th August. Tues – Fri 11am – 4pm Sat – Sun 12pm - 4pm. More information can be found at the exhibit's facebook page

We live in a world that is full of change. We live in a world which does not know how to change, a world that is unsure and seemingly afraid to change. A world afraid to reflect, a world that seems to me to be similar to Europe before the First World War. So I will leave the final word to Rainer Maria Rilke. In the first of his Duino Elegies Rilke wrote:

...and the nosing beasts soon scent
how insecurely we're housed in this signposted World.
And yet a tree might grow for us
upon some hill for us to see and see again each day.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


So because of a combination of illness, poverty, and family stuff, I was unable to spend much time visiting Dark MOFO this year. This is not to be taken as a criticism of ticket prices, as they seemed quite reasonable considering what was on offer. No this is much more a comment on my own inability to look after myself. Surely a topic for later essay.

I did get to see the Memoriam by Amelia Rowe, which I wrote about here.

If you lived anywhere in the area you were able to see the light installation Articulated Intersect. An artwork by the Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Living in Dodges Ferry we could see the dancing beams of light from our back yard.

The family went to Okines Community House to take part in the Okines Community Gardens Winter Feast. This too could be seen as a festival of light. Hundreds of glass jars were turned into lanterns and decorated by the local children. The kids paraded down to the the aptly, if unsurprisingly, named Okines Beach. Local husband and wife duo Serena and Andy How killed it with a cover of “Ramble On”, while later Bigger Than Bill played. In the distance, searchlights danced and intersected in the waning crone moon solstice darkness. Fairy lights hung, like a failed spider web, from gum trees. Fires burnt in 44 gallon drums which had holes punched to create intersected patterns of rusting metal and flame. Light was all around; candles and flashlights, mobile phones, the flames in the hand built, bread roll baking, oven. And the light that was brought to life was overwhelmed, while teasing and dancing with the endless, bottomless, darkness of the sky, of the ocean.

In an interview with the Guardian the light installation artist noted that search lights were used as propaganda by Nazi's as part their infamous Nuremberg Rallies. As I was wandered, with the children, about Sullivans Cove, we chatted about the use of search lights in other situations. I noted that search lights were used by the Red Army in the climactic, apocalyptic battles which ended the rule of Nazi Germany. Red Army Commander Zhukov described the use of searchlights in the famous night attack by the First Byelorussian Front. “We concentrated a huge striking force on the bank of the Oder: the supply of shells alone enough for a million artillery rounds on the first day of the storming. To stun the German defenses immediately, it was decided to begin storming at night with the use of powerful searchlights. Finally the famous night of April 16 began. No one could sleep. Three minutes before zero hour we left our dugout and took up places at our observation posts. To my dying day I will remember the land along the Oder, blanketed in Aprii fog. At 500 A.M. [0300 Berlin time] sharp it all began. The Matyushas struck, over 20,000 guns opened fire, hundreds of bomber planes roared overhead. . . and after 30 minutes of fierce bombing and shelling, 140 anti-aircraft searchlights employed every 650 feet in a line, were turned on. A sea of light swept over the enemy, blinding them, and pointing out in the darkness the objects of attack for our tanks and infantry.”

We meandered along the waterfront, and stumbled upon the work by Chinese contemporary artist Yin Xiuzhen, [URL] Washing River 2014. Blocks of ice were made from the polluted water of the Derwent River. Passersby were invited to, using a variety of cleaning implements, clean the water, as the ice melted and the water returned to the river, to the barren ocean. This artwork highlights the need to clean the river.

So, after my Okine and my MONA experiences, I thought a lot about light, and noted the many relationships with light and dark and colour. As I walked around the city I noted the reflections of the traffic lights in the windows of the ships and offices, and how this light was distorted by the imperfections in the glass. I noted how the light smeared and spread in the puddles on the ground, in the darkness of river stretching out, how the lights of the houses on the mountain spread up the ridge, and then fell away into the deep frightful darkness of the unsettled forest. I noted the dust and small insects flying in and out and around and about the bright searchlight beams. And the light warming my hands in front of the burning fire in the oil drums.

Omnia quae sunt, lumina sunt. Eriugena. All things that are, are light. And I thought of light and how much we depend upon and are light. From the burning of the sun, to energy converting single celled algae.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


So my partner got some disturbing news -- the old fashioned way, by letter -- and was suitably distressed. So I thought I would take the children out to give her some space to think and arrange herself.

So I gathered up the three kids and we all went to Rosny Barn to view the exhibit Memoriam, by Launceston artist Amelia Rowe. This was described on the Facebook Event page as “bringing together of taxidermy and personal narrative. Transforming Rosny Barn into a walk-in memento mori, into a place to contemplate the relationship between humans and animals.” In this, Amelia Rowe succeeded admirably.

The first thing to ask my children then was, what is taxidermy? From the Greek taxis (arranging the battle order) and derma (skin) - taxidermy is the arrangement of skins. We discussed the various uses of taxidermy, for example in a museum, if a beloved pet has died. Like in an episode of New Tricks, where the greyhound trainer had the bodies of her champions displayed in her office.

It occurred to me that with all the death littering the sides of our roads my children have seen, for example, more dead wombats -- two on a recent trip to Nugent -- than wild wombats.

What is meant by memento mori? We warmed our hands over the wood fire brazier. Misquoting Tertullian in his Apologeticus (33.4) we get "Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!" This is the chant a slave would whisper into the ear of the triumphal general. “Look behind you! Remember you are mortal, remember you must die.” - More or less.

And we wandered about -- Would you like this or that piece in the house? -- and talked about Victorian traditions, postmortem portraits, black ribbons, mutes, and more. All these crystalline jet Victorian mournings were most likely the source of my association of the work Tinkerbell with the Lewis Carroll Duchess and Pig poem.

Speak roughly to your little boy
and beat him when he sneezes
he only does it to annoy
because he knows it teases.

I greatly enjoyed a piece called Stolen Memories. This image of the ancient, wise, cunning, majestic Crow rising skyward, carrying a trail of stolen nests, an egg in her mouth, allowed the viewer room to add layers of meaning. Trickster crow, or the crow as an omen of death?

And many of the works whispered covert to me, requesting my touch. I abstained.

When I stood in front of “A rose to remember”, I thought of Lucian's description of the place of punishment on the Isle of the Damned: “for on this ground daggers, razors, spikes, stakes, thorns everywhere bloomed like flowers.” Two rainbow lorikeets arranged on a dead, trimmed, painted rose bush.

So we talked about the art works, the youngest girl ran outside and made friends with some other girls and they played their follow the leader games. We read through the catalog and we were surprised at times by the distance between the ideas that came into our heads looking at the art, and the descriptions by the artist.

This thinking about things can be a way of looking deeper into the art work, it is a type of taxidermy, in the sense that the viewer is forced to order, to arrange, their skin in response to the art, the raw and the cooked. For art can make one a seer, a type of divinator “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.”

But we agreed that in the same way that art can be more than the traditional practice of oil on canvas, or pencil on paper, so to the viewer is not constrained by one single manner of seeing.

And then we got ice cream and drove home and my pal was, after a hot shower and a glass of wine, feeling better.

More information and contact details and etc can be found on Amelia Rowe's blog.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Violet-haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho

Violet-haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho may or may not have written this newly found poem. Apparently the scholars think she did. Of course, this is nothing more than educated guess work. I think it could have easily been someone who wanted to write in her style. I guess we will never know. Kharaxos being her older brother, Larichos her younger. The title is a description of Psappho written by Alkaios, an alleged lover of hers. This unsatisfying translation is mine.

While women chatter, Kharaxos is comeing,
His boat is full! Of these outcomes only Zeus
And the other gods know. You do not have
To think such things.

Escort me, persuade me to offer
Many pleadings for radiant Queen Hera
For the return home of Kharaxos.
She guides his ship.

You will find us well. But for the rest?
Let us leave all that to the gods;
For fair weather after a fierce storm
Quickly appears.

If the king of Olympus decrees,
A helper will, in times of distress,
Turn the course. To these people blessings
And wealth will flow.

And us? Well if he would raise his head,
Larichos, and become at last a man,
The many heavy chains on my heart would
Once fall away.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Iliad haiku

made up this little haiku sort of thing based on the two lines from The Iliad 2.342-3

For we quarrel over words,
Unable to discover a remedy.

Been here a long time.

pic from here

Sunday, March 16, 2014

They take death as their bride

Wrench-snatched from the rapacious hands of slow to start
Imperial Germany, Imperial England Victorious gave
To ever obedient Australia this tasty morsel of colonial
Land. The Trust Territory of New Guinea.
And Nauru Pleasant Phosphate Island, a second morsel to be savoured
And shared joint exploitation ANZAC & England. Captured, bypassed
Wither on the vine. And abused by the great torn up emptied.
And in 1989 Australia was sued for damages done to the island;

Islands placed in our trust as a token
North East quadrant of sun swaying dreams.
Bird of paradise dancing warriors, emerald snails,
Fruit bats and friar birds. Crystalline
Wave against wave, shore against shore
Ruinous trust curse, for us and our children and
Our children's children.
Bismark blood and Ironbottom sound sea
Not enough, never enough to compensate
Slaughters of Flanders and the Troad.
For the damage done to our desires.

And Little Billy told Wilson and Goerge
and all the rest “
Strategically the northern islands
(such as New Guinea)
Encompass Australia
Like fortresses.
They are as necessary
To Australia
As water to a city. “

And the ruling bourgeoisie more and more seeks salvation in fascism.
And in 1942 when the inevitable war with Imperial Japan came,
A handful of diggers and a radio tower on Manus.
Air raids and bombings and then a landing, and the diggers
Dove into the bush, destroying all the could not carry
Private Coker commented
"A hand-grenade,
and run like hell,
did the trick!"

And fighting the jungle and malaria.
Lieutenant Palmer
(cited for the Military Medal)
“He was unable to walk for several weeks
For severe septic infection on his arms and legs”
“Weakness due to several attacks of malaria.”
They carried him out.
And Lance-Corporal McLean
Took command the four man patrol &
Found the Lutheran Mission firmly
In Japanese hands. So they beat it out of there
Fortuitous, heavy, jungle obscuring rain
And the relentless beating sound
Of rain rain rain pounding covered the retreat.
Through swamp and jungle and cutting grass
And illness and starvation, and then on boats
The sailed the IJN cruised sea
And overland and over mountains
And final hope home Cairns in May.

The ruling bourgeoisie are trying to solve The problem of markets
By enslaving the weak nations,
By intensifying colonial oppression &
Repartitioning the world anew by means of war.

Finally February leap year day 29 1944
Diggers and Doughboys crawling up the Solomons Islands
And the Trust Territories landed Manus Island.
Guadalcanal, Milne Bay, Buna, The Bismark Sea, Lae,
Rabaul, Scarlet Beach, Kokoda. Diggers and Doughboys.
ANZAC sad sack dog faced privates fought with
Bayonet and machine gun and flame thrower and demo charge
And grenade and shovel and cannon and aircraft and bare hand.
And the things they saw and did died
Broke them 1000 yard shell shock stare.

Crawling mud, roaring insect, snake bite green hell jungle.
Pushing back venal bestial racist fascist
Anti-comintern ideology. Rolling back the fascist
Offensive. Manus Island attacked, and shortly recaptured.

Well, now time passed and now it seems.
Everybody's having them dreams.
Everybody sees themselves.
Walking around with no one else.

Dreams of a land without the others, dreams of an end to history
And end to the stresses and uncertainties of capitalism.
Dreams of an obsolete discredited ideology.
Old man old school old timey dreams of controlling the external.
Dreams that somehow it will end differently, that we can close
Our eyes and everything will somehow be all right.
Fearful thoughtless dreams, relaxed and comfortable.

Fascism is a most ferocious attack by capital on the mass of the working people;
Fascism is unbridled chauvinism and predatory war;
Fascism is rabid reaction and counter-revolution;
Fascism is the most vicious enemy of the working class and of all working people.

And now we can imagine on this very same spot -- wild eyed
Dare-death opium and hunger fuelled banzai attack
Shooting from the hip and shouting loud the Japanese Marines
Fall upon the position. Hacking and attacking and striking out
In all directions. Indiscriminate. And after the smoke and noise
Littered broken bodies of empty dreams the result of lies, a cynical
Grab-lust for power. Unbridled chauvinism. Rabid reaction.
Predatory war.

And then, as if a final spitting in our face
Historic irony, it was here, when we almost half-believed
In a new world, in a better world,
In a world that does not resort to war
And endless horror.
It was here on Manus
In 1950 Australia held the last trials
Japanese war criminals.

And did those geebungs and dubbos, did those inner city hooligans
Signing up for adventure, signing up for their first pair of shoes,
In fear and bravado, did they, shivering in their watery slit trenches;
Did they do all this, so much waste and horror, did they liberate
The camps so that now we too can have camps?