At the brink of dawn, the morne
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6d ago
 At the brink of dawn, the morne, forgotten, forgetful of blowing up. - Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to My Native Land  Near the start of Césaire's long poem about Martinique there are five passages beginning 'at the brink of dawn, the morne.' To an English reader it sounds like a reference to morning, but he is actually talking about a West Indian landscape feature. The Bloodaxe translation by Mireille Rosello and Annie Pritchard includes a glossary and this is their explanation: morne: In the West Indies, the word 'mornes' designates hills of volcanic origins. Metropolitan Fr ..read more
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The Angle of a Landscape
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6d ago
The renowned American poetry critic Helen Vendler died a few weeks ago; there was a nice piece in The Atlantic by Adam Kirsch comparing her to Marjorie Perloff, who also passed away this year. I thought I'd pick three poems from Vendler's Emily Dickinson anthology and quote from her illuminating commentaries. I'll begin with this one, which has one of those arresting first lines that draw you straight into Dickinson's poems (see my earlier post on how these have been used by artist Roni Horn).   Our lives are Swiss— So still—so Cool— Till some odd afternoon The Alps neglect the ..read more
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Bitter Rice
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2w ago
I was at the BFI this week to see Bitter Rice (1949), a classic Italian neorealist film that also draws on elements of film noir and (in its climactic scene) the Western. It has four fine, photogenic lead actors: young Vittorio Gassman as a charming thief, Doris Dowling as his reluctant partner in crime who hides in a train full of women leaving Turin to plant rice in the Po Valley, Raf Vallone (an actor who had once played in midfield for Torino) as the good guy, a soldier stationed near the paddy fields, and, most notably, the extraordinary nineteen-year old Silvana Mangano (above) in a st ..read more
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Perspective of the Trevi Fountain
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2w ago
 Office of Sir John Soane, Interior of Hagia Sophia (detail), c. 1806-19   Sir John Soane’s Museum currently has a small exhibition called 'Fanciful Figures', focusing on the evolution of staffage in architectural drawings. I have included here a couple of photos I took when we visited yesterday. The painting above is by an unknown artist and was used for Soane's Royal Academy lectures. He was not really interested in the design of the building ('very defective'); the point was to illustrate the vast scale of the Hagia Sophia, at that time the world's largest interior space. I thin ..read more
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Boating on Ruoye stream in the spring
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1M ago
The Government of Zhejiang Province have recently launched the Poetry Road Cultural Belt. There is a fascinating article on the literary sources for this, ‘Spatial patterns, causes and characteristics of the cultural landscape of the Road of Tang Poetry based on text mining: take the Road of Tang Poetry in Eastern Zhejiang as an example’ by Xuesong Xi, Xingrun An, Guangming Zhang & Shifan Liang. They analyse 1593 poems written in Eastern Zhejiang by 451 poets of the Tang Dynasty. These relate to 79 places ‘which are classified into four categories, including natural land-scapes, resid ..read more
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A tin flash in the sun-dazzle
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1M ago
  I'm going to write about landscape in this book, but it needs a bit of explanation first. Here's the New Directions publisher's blurb: Rummaging through his papers in 1958, Ezra Pound came across a cache of notebooks dating back to the summer of 1912, when as a young man he had walked the troubadour landscape of southern France. Pound had been fascinated with the poetry of medieval Provence since his college days. His experiments with the complex lyric forms of Arnaut Daniel, Bertran de Born, and others were included in his earliest books of poems; his scholarly pursuits in the field ..read more
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The Fountain of Arethusa
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1M ago
 There is sweet music in that pine tree's whisper... - Theocritus, Idyll 1, trans. Anthony Verity Last week I was in Syracuse, the home of Theocritus and, by extension, pastoral poetry. The first of his Idylls begins with two comparisons of nature and music. The words above are spoken in the poem's opening line by Thyrsis, praising the music of a goatherd's pan pipes. The goatherd replies 'shepherd, your song sounds sweeter than the water tumbling / over there from the high rock.' Thyrsis is persuaded to sing The Sufferings of Daphnis, the lament of a dying Sicilian cowherd (the reasons f ..read more
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Mirror of Holland
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3M ago
This morning I walked along our local canal, with bright sunny weather creating reflections of the barges and bridges, the buildings of Hoxton and Haggerston, a few trees and many joggers pounding down the path. This evening I watched Mirror of Holland, made up entirely of shots of canal reflections, which won the short film Palme d'Or in 1951. It begins with the windmill below and a young lad who bends down to see the image the 'right way round' - the rest of the film continues in this way, with the reflections turned into water-blurred moving images of farms, gabled houses, a church tower ..read more
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Cloud tracks and tide-ripples
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4M ago
  Last weekend I went to Cambridge to see the Kettle's Yard exhibition Making New Worlds: Li Yuan-chia and Friends. Laura Cumming wrote in her review last November 'I can hardly think of a more uplifting show for the dying days of autumn' and I felt the same way on a cold day in January. 'Everything about it,' she goes on to say, is bright, beautiful, hopeful and as amiable as the subtitle suggests. For the Chinese artist Li Yuan-chia (1929-94) had many friends, and attracted so many more to his extraordinary “museum” in Cumbria in the 1970s that over 300 artists eventually came to work ..read more
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Radical Landscapes
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5M ago
Back in 2022 Tate Liverpool held an exhibition of 'Radical Landscapes'. I didn't make the effort to go because it sounded like I would be familiar with a lot of the work as well as the underlying theme. I have written here before about exhibitions questioning 'traditional' ideas of landscape and land use in Britain - see for example my post in 2012 on Patrick Keiller's Tate Britain installation The Robinson Institute. I was also rather put off by Jonathan Jones's review (even though my views often diverge from his). He took the curators to task for their naive view of Constable and illogical p ..read more
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