A Dagger In The Art

We recently had a Dutch student stay with us, and a conversation about famous Dutch people provoked two inevitables:

1. My son contributing every single footballer from the Netherlands that he could think of,

and 2. the namedrop of Vincent Van Gogh.

“Van Gogh!” exclaimed my daughter, “wasn’t that him that bit off his own ear?”

What followed were some incredible attempts by my children to fit their ears into their mouths, a feat surely impossible unless they were elephants.

Later that evening I finished a biography I was reading of The Mamas and the Papas. If ever there was a group that was destined not to stay together it was these guys. Remember that great 90’s film The Commitments, about an Irish group that imploded just as they were about to hit the big time?

It was like that. You had Michelle who was married to John; John who was friends with Denny; Denny who was friends with Cass; Cass who was both in love with Denny and friends with Michelle.

Then, just as they were about to sign a recording contract with a record company, Michelle and Denny had an affair. John was angry with Denny. Denny felt guilty about cheating on his friend and upsetting Cass. Cass was angry with Denny and Michelle. Michelle was angry because John blamed her and not Denny. And on and on ad nauseum.

Now it was time to make music. Somehow they managed to last two years.

John, much in the way of songwriters both before and after, used the turmoil in his life to create art. Just like Abba, where the recently divorced Björn came up with the lyrics of The Winner Takes It All and  gave it thoughtfully to his ex-wife to sing,

John wrote I Saw Her Again about this betrayal and the group took their medicine and recorded it. Probably with many sideways glances.

From this I began to think of the recently deceased Dolores O’Riordan. Although the cause of death in that London hotel has yet to be disclosed, and it would be wrong to speculate, there are tales of depression and breakdowns, bipolar and a suicide attempt, all in the wake of her terrible  experience as a young girl when she was sexually abused between the age of eight and twelve by a man known to her family.

A man who, though she never publically named, approached her at her father’s funeral, as she had long dreaded, tearfully apologising for what he had done.

I thought once again about how artists turn pain into art; about creative tension, struggle and catharsis. How some need to somehow get it out in their work.

And, with Dolores’ personal disclosures, witnessed the heartbreak of this Cranberries song, Fee Fi Fo, shared below complete with lyrics.

Awake, My Muse

Things have been quiet, poetry wise. My book has now been realised, and I’ve been working on a final draft of a short story for a forthcoming anthology.

The first snow of winter came in last night, so I wrapped myself up warm and went for a walk to experience it. Along the way, the beginning of a new poem began to form in my mind. The land is slumbering, but creativity awakens.


In the hush of winter,

white lichen clings to trees,

life slumbers long 

into the early hours

of black glass.


It is a beginning.


Poem Preview

My collection of poetry, being published next month by Nordland Publishing, is called Heading North. The poems in it are arranged in a particular order, reflecting a gradual journey from the summer and childhood of the south to the mortality-facing winter of the north. My recent visit to Sweden, being the furthest north I have ever been, was too good an opportunity not to write a last minute poem for my book. Below is an excerpt:

Anchored mists hold down 
the grey waters 
of Saltsjön.

The mournful baritone
of a foghorn
splinters the hull, 
grinds the bones,
raises us up
from our slumbering 
wooden berth,

to climb high above
the city's fitful dreams.

In Södermalm,
shining in a multicoloured,
chequered dress, 
a girl breezes along with an armful
of sunflowers,
creating a fissure of brightness
in the milky gloom,
ploughing a passage of light
right through to
the warm facades of Gamla Stan.
Blind to all else,
we follow her down.

                   - from Three Poems In Stockholm


Of Books And Burning

A while back I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. It was one of those books I had always meant to read, but it took me forever to get around to doing so.

Although her presence in the book is but brief, I loved the way that Clarisse McClellan viewed the world. In a society stripped of imagination and wonder, her joy for life filled the pages in which she featured, showing an interest and love for nature rather than technology. The way she smelt old leaves, tasted the rain, left flowers on the porch for the main character, Guy Montag. In a sterile life devoid of books, creative thinking, imagination and poetry, Clarisse stood out.

Is this what sets us apart? The appreciation of art, and of beauty? And how, above all other species, our imagination can envisage something different, something better, and so we keep on striving, never settling for what we have. Living a life of aesthetic vision.

The burning of the books reminded me of course of the nazi book burning rallies, but on a greater, all encompassing scale. As writers, and readers, just what would we do in a world without books? How would we, could we, express ourselves?

From this destructive, censoring burning, my thoughts turned towards another type of burning. In the thinking of the Celts, the act of being inspired, of attaining that spark of inspiration, of connection, was known as the fire in the head.

The former refers to flames that destroy, the latter to flames that create. The way that our inner workings, thoughts and dreams are creatively given form, substance. How they are brought from the darkness into the light. How they are realised in a world that is dependent on sensory affirmations.

Our interior lives, our interior presence, dwarfs our outer expressions. Each of us carries whole worlds within us that barely escape into the light.

In Bradbury’s story, although the world has been expunged of physical books, they still existed within the minds and memories of those drifters, those dreamers in exile, who were keeping them safe in the silent sanctuary of their being until the time comes for them to bring them forth once more to plant in a more receptive, welcoming and fertile ground.

As one of those  characters says towards the end of the novel, they, we, are but the dust jackets of whole created worlds, worlds that turn to the rhythm of words and of metre, that inform and inspire and move us.

Again, I ask that question:

Is it the appreciation of art, and of beauty, that sets us apart?