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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I am reading a book called “The Theory of Clouds” by Stéphane Audeguy. It is, like much of what I like to read, a mix of fact and fiction and focuses on a history of cloud watching.

A section of the book  tells the story of the painter Carmichael (supposedly based on John Constable) and his obsession with capturing clouds in paint. I had always considered Constable a painter of mills and bucolic settings, but you can see from this google search the extent of his cloud paintings, just a few reproduced here.

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The difficulty of capturing the cloud is discussed at length on “A Theory..” however now the camera captures clouds with more ease, which you see everywhere in photography from Aotearoa.

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Laurence Aberhart. Catholic Cross, Puketapu, Hawke’s Bay, June 1982

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I have recently succumbed to the tyranny of the pedometer. I need to move and get outdoors because the winter gloom of Southern New Zealand affects me quite a lot and sun and exercise helps. Thing thing is…exercise. In my much younger days I climbed and tramped and the thought of “artificial exercise” eg the gym, chills me. I have friends who walk and I am a fan of flâneury on the page at least, see here and here. Related to this, some of my favourite books relate to psychogeography, brilliant examples being Martin Edmonds’  “Chronicle of the Unsung” and “Dark Night: Walking with McCahon“. More recently I discovered WB Sebald whose “Rings of Saturn” which I cannot recommend strongly enough.

So can I walk with purpose in my small town, and is it big enough that I can also wander? Initially I am being guided by the 1970s books “Taieri Buildings” and “More Taieri Buildings” by Lemon and Bascand, and am trying to locate all the buildings still there that are within the build up area. Sadly some, like the old Flour Mill (in this photo just before its demolition), have been reduced to gravel carparks.

Recently on a night walk I managed to circumnavigate, by accident, the grounds of what was Holy Cross College, a former seminary. This photo was taken around 1900 I am guessing, as a new chapel was built in 1902.

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DCC Archives, postcard in Taieri County Council Photograph Series. Photographer: AW Bathgate

And today I took this – from a similar position. You can see a former convent just in front, now a house.

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Poor phone camera photo taken today of same view.

So yes….more to walk and write about. I am also excited to compare urban, rural and small town journeys. In Rebecca Solnit’s “Wanderlust: A History of Walking” she writes “In the country one’s solitude is geographical – one is altogether outside society….In the city, one is alone because the world is made up of strangers, and to be a stranger surrounded by starkest…is among the starkest of luxuries”.

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For most of last year I was immersed in geographic academia and geographical detail remains intriguing to me. This morning I chanced to hear just the beginning of a radio interview with Jake Gorst, director of Modern Tide, about modernist architecture on the East Coast of the US.. The first thing that struck me was his statement that Long Island was 100 miles long. I don’t know why this hadn’t registered with me in the past. But on reflection it makes sense, as many of my literary/arts favourites have some sort of connection to the island and yet I had never really connected.

Jackson Pollock lived and died there. The Pollock Krasner house in Springs in the Hamptons is now a study centre and museum of sorts.

Both Armistead Maupin and Edmund White’s (especially Forgetting Elena) stories of Fire Island.

Large parts of John Irving’s “Widow for One Year” takes place in the Hamptons also at Sagaponack. This is not an easy book but captures human nature so well like much of Irving’s writing

The wonderful book “Architect of Desire” about the infamous Stanford White was largely located at the Box Hill estate in Smithtown.

The decline of Box Hill led me to research the fading history of Long Island and I discovered this website about the mansions of Long Island and the architectural relics of its heyday.

The mansions of course bring us to one of the most know Long Island stories “The Great Gatsby” and I was surprised how close to New York in modern terms Gatsby’s Estate was. Wikipedia states that ” In this novel, Great Neck (King’s Point) became the new-money peninsula of “West Egg” and Port Washington (Sands Point) the old-money “East Egg”. Several mansions in the area served as inspiration for Gatsby’s home, such as Oheka Castle and the now-demolished Beacon Towers.

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Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby and I am sure there are many many others….

Finally Rufus Wainright’s song Montauk is also a great favourite

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Reading Women

As I’ve almost finished my thesis and it is summer, I’ve managed to do a bit of reading and re-reading.

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Amongst the many books I’ve browsed through, a theme has emerged. These four mid 20th century American women have affected me deeply with their stories. The first thing that hit me was how much better off white middle class women are in the 21st century compared to white middle class women of the 1950s. But then I realised things haven’t changed so much. Women generally, and especially women who don’t “fit” still don’t have it easy.

What is interesting is these contemporaries (who I gather never met or if so only in passing) all had much in common and yet dealt with their reluctance to conform is such different ways.

One and Only is the story of Lu Anne Henderson, best know as Marylou from Kerouac’s “On the Road”. The missing female perspective on ‘the beats’ and the era can be found here. For this group Carolyn Cassady’s “Off the Road” is also a good one, but I found LuAnne’s story more touching and perhaps more honest. It also echoes a comment that I read somewhere recently (and now can’t find the source of but I think perhaps in John Clellon Holmes’ “Go“) that every generation thinks they invented a sexual revolution. Luanne wanted freedom and never really found it.

Alice Denham – July 1956 Playmate of the month, was the first (and only?) playmate to have a story published in the magazine alongside her centrefold. Denham because an adjunct professor of English and although she viewed sex as a “great adventure”, she used it and her body to get where she wanted to go and did reasonably well on it. Sex and brains, an irresistible combination! Her book “Sleeping with the Bad Boys” is well written, (although it could have been better edited) and flips between a tell all romp and  a sad description of another woman wanting to be recognised as an intellectual individual in the 1950s New York literary world run by white middle class men who simply didn’t want to know.

Joyce Johnson again is a female view of the beat scene. Her relationship with Jack Kerouac as “On the Road” was published is the focal point of the book but the more interesting part to me was again her struggle to write and be independent in 50s New York. The pain of the women being pushed to the back is so evident here – the cover photo is so revealing, as are others from that shoot. As the is the title “Minor Characters

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And then we come to Sylvia, who struggled and escaped and then when the carefully constructed ideal world she created fell apart, ended it all. I call her Sylvia because I’ve been working on a project related to her for 18 months or more and I feel I’ve got to know her.

Sylvia

The ideal world where she felt she had it all was  marriage and motherhood (like a good 50s girl should) and a literary life – with a loving literary husband in the English country side. This in spite of the advice a Smith professor gave her that the achieve a literary life for a woman at that time she must remain single or at least childless. However also the times meant marriage difficulties and she battled depression her whole adult life and I don’t need to say where it ended. My revelation has been her short stories in “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams“. I think they reveal a lot about Plath that other works perhaps don’t. they are also more measured and avoid the hysteria of some of her more well know works.

I am still thinking about these women. Sadly I see and hear resonances of the stories everyday, repeated even now in 2015. We haven’t come as far as we might think ladies.

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I am very lucky these days to be travelling a bit for work and last week I got to Wellington for two days.

I like visiting Wellington, not sure how I’d do living there again though. I had a lot of fun at the second hand book stores

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Nice to pick up some of David Merritt’s Landrover Press poems. There is something special about buying a single poem…..

Oh and the food…the food was wonderful and authentic and so much variety.

Sadly our National Gallery at Te Papa (yes I know) was closed for a rehang. I could have paid to see the the impressionist exhibition but I really was looking forward to seeing my old friends (McCahon, Clairmont etc). I was going to snark about this until several people reminded me that perhaps it wasn’t as awful as going to Paris to find the Louvre  or Musée d’Orsay closed. But still, but still.

However coming home is good and we are rich here in Dunedin in other ways. I also cannot deny my deep suburban-ness where I take pleasure in the look and smell of a freshly mown lawn.

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Someone once gave me some very sage advice. “The things you have to work hard for are the best“. At the time I wasn’t very impressed with this, but actually it’s true, for me at least. Frequently I have to work hard* to attend things and today I dragged the family out early on a long promised outing, so I could make it home in time to get organised to go to a reading at Dead Soul Books.

These events always remind me how small Dunedin is and how good this can be. I turned up on my own not really expecting to know anyone except Dean Havard:- proprietor of Dead Souls books and also the man behind Kilmog Press. But as people arrived, it seemed like I knew nearly everyone. And the readers: Former Burns fellow, David Eggleton ; current Burns fellow David HowardLynley Edmeades, poet and one of the people behind Deep South. Dunedin is rich in the arts. The event was a launch for Vaughan Rapatahana’s books Toa and China as Kafka (a Kilmog Press book).

The setting was brilliant (Dead Souls is an atmospheric, old world bookshop), and the readings very good. I am sometimes wary of poetry, in fact I told someone at Dead Souls today that poetry makes me feel out of my depth. But I am a reader and consumer of poems. What I like is when a poem speaks to me, whispers in my ear, stays with me long after. Some times they reach out and grabs at me and today’s poems did that; Vaughan’s readings especially so. A poem from China as Kafka ‘At Waikanae’  described asa lovely, lyrical poem reminiscing about the teenaged poet and his cousin mowing the lawns at their urupa, tending the graves of their whanaunga. ” But it spoke to me of living and working on the Kapiti Coast, of the tangi and the urupa I encountered and the sadness. I felt homesick.

Rapatahana also read from his novel Toa “a road trip through the ‘skinny country’ where Mahon, an ex-university philosophy lecturer, and his gun ‘Molly’ blast their way across the country in a black Mark IV.” Now that’s a book you have to read – and I’m looking forward to reading my copy.

I often think of tribes (in a postmodern sense) as I move through life and especially at events like this. I’ve never quite found my tribe. There has always been a disconnect. Occasionally, like today I find myself on the edge of a group and think, “maybe this?” But mainly I think I live at the intersection of many – in that slim crossover area of a Venn diagram; a lost soul perhaps?

But did today’s poetry stay with me? Yes. Humming on the drive home and then while I cleaned out the rabbit hutch and I noticed how sweet the new hay smelled. It followed me to the supermarket and then while I folded the washing. And now while I write this…and that is all good.

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Worst photo ever – David Howard, David Eggleton, Vaughan Rapatahana (and others) today at Dead Souls Bookshop

* It may not sound like work, but for me a trip to the public pools is like entering one of the seven circles of hell.

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In the stress of life and a new job, I have frequently found myself at 3am worrying about work. My remedy has been to listen to audio books which I find soothing and I manage to get back to sleep. I should add at this point that a recording of Ginsberg reading ‘HOWL‘ did  not have this effect.

However my recent late night/early morning sorry has been Patti Smith reading her book “Just Kids“. There is an intimacy in an audio book read by the author, it felt like Patti was telling her (and Robert’s) story directly to me. I was surprised at her accent (yella, fella etc) and affected by her vulnerability. In fact, yesterday morning at 5am I found myself weeping as the story drew to a close with Sam Wagstaff’s and then Robert Mapplethorpe’s deaths. Yesterday was that kind of day and the book on reflection is full of reminders of our mortality.


Patti and Robert lifted from here

It is an old story. I watched a film a while back that is an intersection with Just Kids.  Black White + Grey, is mainly about Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe’s relationship. Ron Brownson has written about this here and I agree it was sad not have more focus on Wagstaff and his amazing collection of photography (which Smith details the beginnings of in Just Kids). I have been dreaming of black and white photographs of American Bison since: the great herds of the great plains of the west, now as non existent as the New York of the 1970s that Smith and Crump document.

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A pile of American Bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer: photographer unknown, mid-1870s (image by Chick Bowen, 27 May 2011)

I hate the concept of ‘bucket lists’ and yet I sort of have one. Sadly often the things I want to see or do don’t exist or can’t happen. For example I wanted to stay at the Chelsea Hotel (a feature of the Just Kids story and many others) but it has been bought out and closed. “ A property developer recently bought the down-at-heel building for $80 million (£48 million) and has turned it over to an architect best known for designing bland Holiday Inns.” Gone the way of the bison, ground into fertiliser.

[This post was written to a soundtrack of Smith’s “Horses” and aided by strong black coffee.]

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