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Archive for the ‘Reading’ 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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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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I’ve been on a beat reading binge lately. I do this every now and again. I think it started when I read an essay [.pdf] comparing Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and finally seeing the 2011 Walter Salles movie.

I then read a biography of Neal Cassady and Carolyn Cassady’s Off the Road and on and on. I’d really like to read this book about LuAnne Henderson – MaryLou in On the Road.

However the revelation this time was Big Sur… I thought I’d read it but I can’t have as it is just devastating. A term that sounds dramatic, but really I was so moved by Kerouac’s story. The enormity of it perhaps. There is a moment when Jack, feeling positive, takes a “huge deep Yogic breath” on the beach but instead of sea air is overcome with “a horror of an eternal condition of sick mortality…I see myself as doomed, pitiful

It’s worth a read

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I have also been quietly working on a long-time project to be able to recite Ginsberg’s Howl. To this ended I follow @howltweeter on twitter which recites the poem endlessly in small chunks.

I have also been working on simply noticing

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I recently picked up a clearance copy of Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon“. I like Hemingway  although I prefer his writing when less blustering and more sentimental. My favourite Hemingway book is “Islands in the Stream“, and I wonder if it was not published during his lifetime because it is such a tender book in places, as well as a great fishing/action/adventure yarn. One day I will visit Bimini although the hotel burnt down in 2006.

The photos in “Death in the Afternoon” are quite special, no matter your position on bull fighting. I feel they illustrate the horror of the sport as well as the glory. I particularly “like” the caption of one photo “Granero dead in the infirmary. Only two in the crowd are thinking about Granero. The others are all intent on how they will look in the photograph.

These photographs were in my mind when I happened to be in Wellington of the opening weekend of Michael Parekowhai’s “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” at Te Papa. I managed to have a few hours spare to really spend some time looking around and I also made a point of seeing Fiona Pardington’s Flora,Fauna at {Suite} Gallery which was truly wonderful.

I had read a lot on-line about Parekowhai’s pianos and bulls and was interested in their current incarnation after seeing photos of the Venice Biennale arrangements and the gift to Christchurch of a partially outdoor installation

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Michael Parekowhai’s On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, Christchurch 2012

On Sunday afternoon, as I approached the long gallery at Te Papa I was disconcerted to hear a young voice singing Adele’s “Someone Like You” with piano accompaniment. Oh dear! but the cluster of bulls and pianos at one end of the gallery had such great impact, that I forgot about Adele for a minute.

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Parekowhai installation at Te Papa

Another player soon took a seat at the red Steinway (He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: Story of a New Zealand river) and launched into a passionate rendition of….well I’m not sure really. I like to think it as Rachmaninov because 25 years ago I worked with a very very kiwi bloke kind  of guy who would sit at any available piano and very play amazing classical music – usually Rachmaninov – and this reminded me of Russell. All the while, a logo’d Te Papa person circled, taking photographs.

My reaction was very similar to that of Best of 3, who wrote about her experience beautifully.

I don’t think I have ever been so moved in a museum. There was something about the way that people’s individual reactions and responses built into a collective experience that just opened my heart. It made me realise just what power artists have, that they can make occasions like this for us. Parekowhai is quoted on the exhibition info panel as saying There is no object I could make … that could fill a room like sound can.”

yes I cried….it was so moving and I felt overcome by thoughts about of my last few years…life the universe and everything. It also reminded me of saying goodbye to McCahon’s Northland Panels at Te Papa when I left the North Island. I cried then too.

There was a small emotional death for me this August afternoon, with a powerful piano soundtrack played on a carved red piano and with 2 large blackened bulls as harbingers of something ominous. Like the photo in Hemingway’s book, I felt that only I am thinking about the future. The others are all intent on how they will look in the photograph.

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