Category Archives: Culture

Wanderlust at Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie

What does ‘Wanderlust’ really mean?

‘Wandering’ is an expression that feels somehow very luxurious and romantic to me; it makes me think of a movement that is slow, unhurried and meaningful, of someone who takes pleasure and joy in walking at their own gentle pace, taking the time to contemplate life as they wander – I can’t help but be reminded of the hymn, ‘I wonder as I wander’!  At the same time, I feel that wandering could just be about the act in itself, the very journey that is being carried out as one wanders.  I know that when I set out for a wander, my only intention is to do just that, nothing else must be achieved during my wander except the actual wander itself and maybe that is what is so luxurious!

When we pair these feelings about wandering with a kind of lust or a desire, ‘wanderlust’ seems to embody a deeper state of mind, a psychology combined with a passion.  Perhaps wanderlust symbolises a connection with nature or a world traveller, maybe it’s about an artist looking for inspiration.  Perhaps too, at its core, wanderlust really epitomises the tumultuous journey through life.

I hadn’t really thought much about the meaning of wanderlust, or how I felt about it, until I visited the wonderful ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island in Berlin.  The exhibition aims to explore all of these different concepts surrounding wanderlust, it’s many dimensions and the allegories that represent its ideas, found in the paintings of artists such as Caspar David Friedrich and Auguste Renoir, and it is the first ever art exhibition in the world to focus on this theme!  I actually found the exhibition and the artwork that was presented so powerful and enlightening that I just can’t believe that this has never been done before!

Firstly, if you are a fan of the 19th century German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, you absolutely have to get to the exhibition.  There is an entire room dedicated to his work, which includes the infamous ‘Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog’, completed in 1818.  I had wanted to see this painting for a long time, so this was a definite pull for me, and I was pretty awestruck by it!  It is so immense in its ideas, one lone man facing the world, shrouded in a mysterious haze, not knowing what lies beneath the fog… David Friedrich was one of the first painters to present figures with their backs to the viewer, and I find this adds such a personal but dramatic element to the ideas of the painting as well; we see what the man standing in the painting sees, his view is also our view so we could almost be him.  Our attention is drawn, not to him, but to what he is looking at, and that is so interesting!

 

 

I was extremely happy to be introduced to some other incredible paintings by David Friedrich at the exhibition too. I find his work to be very quietly powerful.  It’s not pretentious, or ‘showy-offy’.  It is humble and yet it addresses huge questions concerning life, the world, humanity… There was another portrait at the exhibition which was painted of David Friedrich working in his studio.  I was interested to learn that his workspace was utterly minimal; literally just an easel and canvas.  Apparently, he hated any kind of mess in his work environment, as when he was painting he wanted only to live in that world, with no reminders of his ‘real’ life.  I love to learn these snippets of information about artists whom I admire; it gives them such a character and personality in my mind and lets me see their work with more of them in it.

 

 

I saw several other fabulous paintings, but one that really stayed with me was ‘The Wetterhorn Mountain’ by Karl Eduard Biermann, from 1830.  It is difficult to see clearly in the photo below (click on the image to enlarge it), but there are two haggard and struggling climbers which contrast so starkly with the awesome and brilliant white mountain peaks.  Nature is all-powerful in this painting, while man seems so weak, human life so short and fleeting compared to the indestructible mountains and valleys.  I love the darkness and the light, I love the personality of both nature and humanity, and I find this painting altogether very inspiring!

 

 

The exhibition has so much to offer; there are, of course, very grand paintings as well as small sketches, sculptures and even music videos, including one by the Icelandic singer, Bjork.  In total, there are over 120 pieces of work on display, all arranged into different sections which showcase different aspects of Wanderlust, from ‘The Discovery of Nature‘ to ‘Life’s Journey‘, ‘Artists Wanderings‘, ‘Landscapes‘ and more.

As I wandered around the exhibition, it struck me just how poetic it all really was!  I was wandering through a ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition, contemplating beautiful works of art presenting ideas of wanderlust, as I myself experienced wanderlust.  In a beautiful twist of meta, wanderlust became the very act of going to the exhibition!

The exhibition is open until the 16th September (2018) and if you happen to be in Berlin until then I SO encourage you to go!  It takes roughly 2.5 hours to see it all, and I recommend getting the audio guide, unless all you really want to do is wander!

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Favourite Podcasts #2

Over the past couple of years, I have become something of a podcast ADDICT.  Podcasts are such a great source of entertainment – what could be better than listening to interesting people talk about interesting things?!  One thing I have noticed though, is that this is a platform that has grown massively and become quite saturated; there are SO MANY great podcasts out there, that it can be difficult to find ones that are most suited to you, or to even know what to search for.  I have definitely come to rely on other blog posts and articles with recommendations for podcasts to listen to, so I thought I would pass the favour on and write one of my own!  I did write an initial ‘Podcasts I’m Enjoying’ post a couple of years ago, which you can read here, but I figured it was definitely time for an update.  So, hope you enjoy and happy listening!

 

Secret Feminist Agenda

Comprised of two seasons so far, this is a podcast hosted by Canadian scholar, cat-lover and general bad-ass feminist, Hannah McGregor.  About a year ago, I started to get really interested in the hot topic of feminism, but couldn’t find a ‘way in’.  I was looking for someone who could talk about this issue in an articulate, balanced and inspiring way, while sparking an interest in me personally, and for some reason, I just couldn’t find this.  Everything I had read or heard I found stale, serious in a way that made me feel bad or helpless, or not representative of my own experiences and perspectives. Until I discovered the Secret Feminist Agenda podcast.  Hannah is funny and exciting, she has wonderful and interesting guests and listening to her podcast feels like I am listening to a thrilling conversation that I want to be part of.  Incidentally,  Hannah is also the co-host of the podcast ‘Oh Witch, Please‘, which is a podcast that I mentioned in my first post on this subject and is still one of my FAVOURITE podcasts!!

S-Town

If you are into real-life crime drama, this is a podcast for you.  Think ‘Making a Murderer’ and ‘Serial’ (also a fabulous podcast by the same producers).  Divided into a season of episodes, this podcast uncovers the story of a man from a tiny town in the deep south of Alabama.  The podcast involves a mysterious murder, lots of secrets and a few surprises too.  Full of suspense and made even more hyper-dramatic because it’s completely REAL and all of the people in it are REAL, I guarantee you will be hanging on the end of every episode of this podcast.

Ctrl Alt Delete

For me, this podcast provides the simple joy of listening to an interesting conversation.  Hosted by Emma Gannon – intellectual internet chick, influencer and writer – each episode comprises an interview with a different guest, from someone like movie director Greta Gerwig, to director of GIRLBOSS Jerico Mandybur.  The interviews generally turn into lively discussions about current events and issues faced by today’s typical ‘millennial’, and I find them to be intelligent and relevant.  Emma also co-hosts the podcast, ‘Get It Off Your Br**sts’, a podcast where women talk about things that annoy them in a humourous yet meaningful and honest way, and I can also highly recommend giving this podcast a listen!

All The Books

I had to include one podcast in this post that was book-related and for now, this one wins this category!  If you are looking for a podcast to garner some new book recommendations and reading inspo, this is IT.  New episodes of this podcast come out once per week, in which co-hosts Liberty Hardy and Rebecca Schinsky of ‘Book Riot’ discuss that particular week’s new book releases.  It is a conversation about books and the love of books, and I can attest that these women have very good literary taste!

Homecoming

I thought I would include one fiction podcast in this list as, sometimes, when I am looking out of train windows or walking to the supermarket, I just don’t want to think, and prefer to have entertainment put directly into my ears for me.  This podcast is reminiscent of a radio play; its a thriller, it has a wonderful cast and a good dramatic storyline.  It also takes the clever form of overheard snippets of conversations and phone calls – something that I find really effective and captivating.  It’s difficult to ‘put this one down’!

 

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The Craft of Poetry | Banff Diaries 3

I got to hear a live poetry reading for the first time! The experience of hearing writers read their own material, often about very personal stories or political feelings, made me pretty emotional, so I’m glad I talked to the camera about it straight after, to document that feeling.  In this video I also sum up how my project is going at the end of my first week at The Banff Centre; the challenges I am facing as well as the things I am loving. Hope you enjoy!

Check out my last video, where I talked about some really important questions, and especially about forgotten women artists

Please subscribe to my channel to keep updated with my video diaries!

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Why The ‘You’re Too Young To Understand’ Argument Just Doesn’t Stand Up

I have recently encountered, in various different areas of my life, an argument being thrown around by the older generation towards my own age group, that says we are ‘too young’ to be getting  involved in serious political or social issues.  Perhaps it has been one of those things where, once you notice it happening once or twice, you start to see it all over the place.  Regardless, I find so much at fault with this mentality, so many important messages to be taken from it, that it sparked a blog post within me, so here we go!

To give some context, I thought I would talk about a couple of examples of when I have directly faced an argument like this.  The first happened a couple of weeks ago.  I have been planning a concert in London for a while now, with my newly formed, diverse and ‘cutting edge’ ensemble, Hauptstimmen.  The goal of this group of classical chamber musicians is to bring our music to a wider audience, to break down boundaries that we have experienced in our world of classical music and make it an all-inclusive art form, something that everyone can share in and take something away from.  We have organised a concert ourselves in London next week (see all the details here, please come!!), and the theme of our programme is ‘war, time and death’.  I know it sounds a little dark and depressing, but actually it is really fascinating; we are going to be performing unique music that is very rarely heard, including Gideon Klein’s string trio, which was the last piece he ever wrote, just two weeks before being deported to Auschwitz.  It isn’t just going to be a concert – it is going to be a real experience, with cool lighting, sound effects and stage design, where the audience will be encouraged to feel completely at ease with drinks and snacks and also totally engaged with our performance.  In short, this is an event that we have put a lot of thought and work into and one which we think will really create huge impact.

Now, in organising this concert, finding the right venue has obviously been extremely important – the space is paramount to the whole experience, and so it was something we knew we had to get right.  We were overjoyed to find The Red Hedgehog, a cool and intimate venue with easy access in London.  When our group leader met with the venue director, she seemed totally on board and supportive of all of our ideas, so everything looked bright for us.  Two weeks ago, we received an email from this same director and let’s just say that it completely contradicted everything that had been agreed on previously and everything we are striving to achieve.  Her overarching message to us was that we were far too young to be presenting a concert that placed war as its central theme.

My initial response to the email was anger, of course, followed by a real sense of sadness.  I felt so sad because, here is a group of young musicians who are trying to do something different and creative and combine their art with important world issues, only to be shot down by someone older and with more ‘power’.  Today, after having dwelled on it for a while, I feel so strongly the error in her way of thinking!  The fact is that war and death are very much part of our world, and unfortunately this is something that is becoming  more of a scary reality everyday.  To think that only people of a certain age should be talking about it is naive; I am in my twenties and part of a generation that will have to deal with the remnants of what is left post-Trump, or with whatever the future holds for North Korea, Syria, ISIS etc.  We are exactly the ones who need to be talking about it and understanding what is happening and why – we are the ones who can help the future.  As musicians, we have such a special way of sharing these ideas.  Through music, we can reach out to people and bring people together, we can talk about fears of war and death through our playing and use music to make it relevant to everyone, no matter their age.

The second example I wanted to mention was something that I saw on a social platform a few days ago.  A friend of mine had posted an article about veganism – a topic sure to fire anyone up, I know, and of course it did.  But the most offensive response to the article, in my opinion, was from someone from a slightly older generation who advised my friend that she was too young and shouldn’t be concerned with issues like veganism, rather she should just live her life and spend her time ‘dreaming’.  I am just so confused how anyone could suggest that talking about veganism is only for people of a certain age!  What is this age, exactly? Because I am definitely not looking forward to turning this mysterious age when suddenly the weight of the world will be on my shoulders.  And, as my friend pointed out in her reply, isn’t bringing up issues such as veganism on social media exactly what ‘dreaming’ is? Dreaming of a better world, dreaming of what the future could be.  I am not purporting to be an advocate of veganism or not – that is not the point here – only that I certainly think that anyone who wants to talk about veganism, or war, or death or any other huge political or social issue absolutely can and even that we, as young people, should!

And this ‘young’ thing… I mean, I’m 26! I am not exactly a spring chicken.  I have been old enough to vote for a long time, and I have definitely held strong political views for pretty much my whole life.  I am lucky enough to live in a society where I can freely express my views, so who is to tell me, or anyone else in my generation, that I shouldn’t because I am too young?!  In fact, in recent elections, basically all the ones where shit really started to go down, it has been shown that young people really do have a voice and really do know what they are voting for and the consequences of what they are voting for – it’s the older generations that have really screwed things up for us all.

Basically, I want to make it clear that, yes, I am young and yes, that absolutely means I will continue to use my voice and my art to share ideas and fears and issues that I believe in or that I believe are important.  I hope that if young people like me are also facing this ridiculous argument from our elders – that we are too young to be concerned with these important topics – that we can feel inspired to rise above and speak even more loudly.  Age doesn’t equal power, and with our youth comes a responsibility for the future, so let’s engage with each other NOW and make the world a better place.

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A Mesostic on Kerouac

On creating a mesostic poem using a” Mesostomatic” – a mesostic poem generator.  Try it out here!

I decided to choose one of my favourite passages of writing from Jack Kerouac’s infamous novel, ‘On The Road’, as my source text for this mesostic.  Here is the original passage of writing:

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

I paired this passage of writing with ‘Kerouac’ as the spine word; I originally wanted two spine words – ‘Jack Kerouac’ – but this could not be achieved as there is no ‘J’, nor two ‘K’ words, in the text.  After playing around for a long time with different formulations, adjusting the sparseness of the text etc., this is the result!

I found it quite difficult to produce a poem from this generator that I was happy with; I think this was largely due to the many repeated words in the source text, such as ‘mad’, ‘ones’, ‘burn’.  Many of the poems I received on the first few attempts were so repetitive, lacked variety and were just not very interesting!  Because of this, I decided to go with this very sparse  and simple mesostic which I have come to love!

From this poem, I get a sense of being alone, perhaps in an exclusive or lonely way.  The first and last words, ‘only’ and ‘Centrelight’, are somehow connected as both words indicate a uniqueness ; a ‘Centrelight’ is one single object, by itself, and ‘only’ gives a feeling of one, of something limited, alone.  Perhaps the poem itself also reflects this idea of loneliness; many of the lines are just one single word, it is a very sparse, simple and limited poem, excluding many words from the original text and enhancing the feeling of being alone.

The first line of the mesostic is extremely interesting to interpret; ‘only the mad talk, mad’ could mean that only mad people talk in a mad way, and no one else can talk as ‘mad’ as the ‘mad’ people ‘talk’.  Note also the word ‘the’ attached to ‘mad’ – ‘the mad’ are a set of people, not just anyone but ‘THE mad’ people.  Because of the use of punctuation in this line, it could also point to the meaning that it is ‘mad’ that ‘only the mad talk’, as in, it is crazy that ‘only the mad’ people ‘talk’ and people who aren’t really ‘mad’ don’t really ‘talk’ – you have to be one of ‘the mad’ to ‘talk’.  Perhaps ‘mad’ also means angry, like ‘only the’ angry’ people ‘talk’ – this interpretation reminds me of how people generally tend to speak up and complain when they are angry, or write bad reviews because they are angry about their bad experience and the rest of the time, when people are content, it is easy to stay quiet and not ‘talk’.  One last possible meaning for this line could be that ‘mad’ refers to lunacy, and the poem is really telling us in its first line, that this is just silly, ‘mad’, non-sense writing and not to bother trying to make meaning out of it!

Punctuation may indicate that the words ‘be’ and ‘burn’ come together; this could symbolise that to ‘be’ is to ‘burn’, like to live is to ‘burn’ and if you are alive then you are burning, really living each moment, and if you are really ‘mad’ and really ‘talking’ then you are being and burning.  Could there also be a dark religious undertone here?  We live and then we die, we ‘be’ alive, living ‘mad’ and talking ‘mad’ and because of this – because we didn’t live a normal, chaste life but rather a ‘mad’ one – we ‘burn’ in hell when we die.

The burning ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’ flames could suggest that to really live and to be an extraordinary person, as Kerouac aspired to be, we must ‘burn’ not only ‘yellow’, like normal people’, but we must ‘burn blue’ hot like the ‘mad’ people.

With the words, ‘pop And goes the Centrelight’, perhaps here is an idea that the ‘Centrelight’ goes out and we arrive in darkness at the end of the poem.  This darkness, lack of ‘Centrelight’, further supports the idea of loneliness, being alone, in the dark, alone in your own thoughts and dreams.  In this way, perhaps this poem does relate to Kerouac and his original text; maybe Kerouac really did feel alone and that he couldn’t find his people, ‘the mad ones’ who ‘burn, burn, burn’.

‘Centrelight’ could also refer to a stage light; maybe at the end of the poem, this stage light goes out because we have come to the end, and all of this ‘mad talk’ has just been acting, from a script of a theatre piece, and not real life.  When the ‘Centrelight’ goes out, we are plunged into the darkness of reality, with no more ‘mad talk’, or burning ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’.

The ‘yellow blue pop’ also makes the poem highly sensory – we can see these colours and hear the ‘pop’ sound.  Perhaps this is a further indication that this is a play on the stage, full of colours and sounds that we are watching and hearing before it comes to an end.  Maybe we are watching the play of life!

I find this poem hugely dramatic; each single word and each line builds the tension… as we wait for some kind of culmination.. and with a pop, the words explode ‘like spiders across the stars’.

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My Reading of ‘Nantucket’, by William Carlos Williams

Nantucket

Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow

changed by white curtains –
Smell of cleanliness –

Sunshine of late afternoon –
On the glass tray

a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which

a key is lying – And the
immaculate white bed

 

The first question I ask myself on reading this poem is: where are we?  The peaceful, small island of Nantucket immediately conjures images of summer by the sea, solitude, a place of refuge from the normal hustle and bustle of the city or everyday life.  Is this a positive image?  Nantucket could symbolise a joyful holiday spot, but equally, this could be a place of loneliness, cut off from the rest of the world.  After reading through the poem I also imagine someone to be inside a room, looking out through the window.  Who is this person?  It could be William Carlos Williams, or perhaps the reader of the poem, or maybe just an undefined person, observing this moment in this room and the view that is visible through its window.

This imagist poem, evident in its conciseness and its clear visual descriptions of the objects named in the poem, reminds me of a still life painting. The image of lavender and yellow Flowers that are framed by the window could in itself be a painting and this somehow reminds me of a colourful Cezanne.  I very much feel a sense of peace in the moment around which this poem is centred; the observer in the room is looking out through the window, the Sunshine of late afternoon beams into the room, nothing moves and the immaculate bed awaits.

William Carlos Williams plays with our senses throughout this poem; the colours of the Flowers are a spectacle for our sight, we can almost smell the smell of cleanliness ourselves, feel the warmth of the Sunshine, hear the silence and even taste the drink inside the glass pitcher.  The image that William Carlos Williams offers us in this poem evolves as he makes use of our senses.

My interpretation of this poem is that it does not emote positive feelings.  If one were to read this as a meta-poem, and assume that the observer standing in this room is William Carlos Williams, we might ascertain that he feels in some way entrapped in this room which is devoid of life; the white curtains offer a paradox next to the vivacity of the colourful Flowers outside, the tumbler turned down emphasises that it is unused and perhaps even evokes the image of death, and the immaculate bed also seems to lack any sort of life or joy.  The key, which lies On the glass tray, further supports the idea of being trapped in this room.  Does Williams feel locked in? Locked into this room as he is locked into his job as a physician when his passion really lies in writing poetry?  The key is lying, in the sense of the imagist poem, clearly points to the obvious image of the key resting On the glass tray, but the key is lying could also mean metaphorically the key is lying; keys typically represent freedom, the freedom to choose to go outside or to stay in and the freedom to privacy.  But perhaps this key is lying because Williams does not have this choice – he is locked into his life.  Perhaps this room is, in fact, a hospital room, as emphasised by the white curtains, smell of cleanliness And the immaculate bed

Outside, Williams sees colour and Sunshine, life and warmth.  But in this cold, lifeless room, he feels only a sense of entrapment.  The closest thing to the freedom of the outside world that this room can give him is the reflection of it that appears in the glass tray, glass pitcher and tumbler.

The lack of any punctuation whatsoever at the end of this poem perhaps signals some kind of hope for Williams; he is leaving the possibility there for further imagery, a ‘to be continued’ kind of ending.

 

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A Close Reading of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Love reckons by itself – alone’

Love reckons by itself — alone — [826]

by Emily Dickinson

 

Love reckons by itself — alone —

“As large as I” — relate the Sun

To One who never felt it blaze —

Itself is all the like it has —

[written c. 1864]

 

 

The first thing that struck me about this poem was its subject: Love.  But what does Love mean in this instance?  Is this poem a dedication, a love poem for a lover or friend?  The poem certainly does not resemble a sonnet, and throughout it she never adresses anyone else directly; there is no indication of there being another person, a ‘you’,  or something else besides the one singular Love.  Her use and repetitions of itself, One and I lead me to think that this poem was not about anybody else, and perhaps was a more introverted reflection on herself.

My interpretation is that Love is a metaphor that she uses for the poem itself; she writes the poem alone, she alone feels it blaze.  When she uses the word Sun, the Sun being all powerful and the giver of life to all worldly things, we can take this to mean that Love or the poem is, for her, the most powerful, the most important.  The Sun is high up in the sky as, for Emily,  poetry is the highest art form, and she emphasises this all-powerful importance, as well as it’s uniqueness, with capitalisations on LoveSun and One.

The use of the word reckons is very interesting; a possible meaning could be that she is implying judgement, as in the day of reckoning or day of judgement.  Love can only judge itself, as this poem can only judge itself, alone – nobody else can judge Love or this poem from the outside, it is unique and you have to be it, itself, to judge it, to reckon it.  Another meaning of reckons could be to confront, as in to be reckoned with, to confront Love, the poem, itselfin writing this poem Emily is confronting her own poem.

In Emily’s language she may also be indicating herself as the poet; her use of alone, itself, I, One could all be alluding to her reclusiveness.  She spent all her time alone, by herself, so only she will reckon with this poem, she is alone in writing it and feeling it’s powerful blaze.  As we know, she never wanted her poems published or publicly read, so, again, she alone will read this poem  – only she will reckon with it.

Emily puts herself in the present, in the poem, with her exclamation, “As large as I”.  Perhaps, again, as she was completely alone, she felt she needed to bring the poem off the page and into the room, to say it out loud and make it present here, now.  Putting herself in the poem also introduces this meta-poetic idea; she is the poet, this powerful Sun and Love is hers and in reading this poem we must remember where it came from.  In the line relate the Sun to One who never felt it blaze, is she speaking to her younger self?  The young Emily who had not yet truly discovered the Love and meaning of poetry, and had yet to feel it’s blaze? Or is she trying to convey her feelings about her work as a poet to someone else who cannot understand this passion?  Perhaps she is even reaching out to other young and budding poets in the world.

Is blaze a positive word?  It could refer to a blazing fire, blazing heat which implies something aggressive, powerful and even hurtful or painful.  Perhaps she is saying that this poem or this Love or Sun is not always beautiful and lovely, as emotions that we might associate with a typical Love poem, but can sometimes be painful.  Blaze is also almost an action word; to blaze is to be alive, so Emily is bringing life to her poem, it is not laying still on the page but is blazing with energy.

Itself is all the like it has could mean that there is nothing else like this poem, each poem and each Love is individual and unique and only like itself.  It is interesting that like has not been capitalised; I take this to mean that she wants to differentiate between the Love as the poem, the subject, and like as in the description of the poem as being unique, aloneLike could also suggest that nobody else likes this poem except her, because nobody else will see the poem – only she can like it and appreciate it because only she will read it.

Emily has used dashes throughout this poem.  This punctuation reinforces the meta asoect, indicating the poem itself; the subject of the poem is the poem (referred to as Love or Sun) and the dashes emphsise that this is poetry as opposed to prose.  The dashes also open up her ideas to a whole range of meanings, where other punctuations would limit them.  As usual, Emily wants us, the readers, to work to find all the possibilities of meaning in her poetry and to keep looking for more, as is represented by the finishing dash, leading us further into the unknown.

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5 ‘To Read’s This Autumn

Is it just me, or are there SO MANY great looking books out right now?!  The literary world seems to be booming this Autumn and it’s totally fantastic for all of us book worms.  My Amazon basket (yes, I’m sorry, I sold my soul to the devil) is absolutely full of new titles waiting to be ordered and my pile of ‘to read’ books gets longer and longer every day.  I decided share a taster of the books that are on my list in a blog post here to help me to organise my thoughts as well as give some reading inspiration to you if you are looking around for something new to read.  There is quite a mixture here – fiction and non-fiction, old and new – so I hope you will find something that sparks your interest as it has mine!

 

Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami

I am huge fan of Murakami’s dark, twisted, fantasy style of writing so I was  really excited to read this new release of his.  Having just finished it, I can say that it definitely lived up to its expectations – it is a masterpiece.  This is a small collection of short stories, all about men who, for many different and interesting reasons, do not have women in their lives; one is a widower, another is a house-bound invalid, there’s even a character who has gone through some kind of metamorphosis and woken up completely alone and in a man’s body (could that be any more Murakami?!).  Murakami has a very unique way of storytelling; the urges and curiosity of his characters propel the narrative forward and involve us as readers.  Sometimes he even tells stories within his stories, creating this kind of wonderful meta which feels so addictive – once you begin a new story, it really is hard to stop.   It’s interesting too, how the book progresses darker and darker and how the stories connect to each other and evolve.  It’s gritty and sexual and weird and I love it.

Still Life – Louise Penny

I spent a lot of time in Canada this summer where everyone was talking about Louise Penny.  I’m not sure why, but I avoided her work for a long time… it was probably due to the very fact that she seemed to be so popular and I usually don’t tend to get on with fashionable trends.  However, I finally decided to hop on board of this hot new Canadian author’s train, and I’m glad I did because I’ve just finished the first novel in her Inspector Gamache series and loved it! This is a story about the lovable and endearing Chief Inspector Gamache, always to be found in his tweed coat and hat and with a fondness for brioche, and his investigative team from Montreal, who find themselves in the tiny Quebecois village of Three Pines, inhabited by the likes of artists and poets, after a mysterious murder has occurred.  If you like crime fiction, you will love this book, but even if, like me, you don’t normally go for this genre, I highly recommend this novel for its adorable characters, heartwarming sentimentality and cosy feeling.  It’s a real page turner, perfect for Autumn, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Indivisible By Four – Arnold Steinhardt

Although, as I am a musician (and particularly a violinist with a passion for string quartet playing), this book has a true relevance to me, I think it could be an interesting read for anyone who likes auto-biographical accounts of special historical lives.  Written by the first violinist of the infamous Guarneri Quartet, it tells the story of these four players, their backgrounds, how they came to be together and what playing in this hugely successful string quartet for so many years was really like.  Reading this book is like getting the scoop from the inside, and it gives such a wonderful insight into these characters and what they got up to.  Steinhardt really was an incredibly gifted writer, as well as an amazing musician, and the humour and joy with which he recounts his stories of his quartet life bring such charm to his book; it doesn’t feel at all stale or heavy-going, as these kinds of books often do.  I’m only a chapter or two into this book but I highly recommend it.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

This is the new release from this author, probably most famous for his book, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’, and it promises to be just as heart-wrenching and emotional.  What I know about it so far is that it is set in post-war Ireland, where homosexuality is still illegal and is about a man who struggles with his identity in this society.  What I also know about this book is that people have called it life-changing, the BEST book they have EVER read, the most deeply meaningful read of their lives and the best book of 2017.  I don’t know if it’s because of my Irish connection that I felt drawn to this book, or the fact that it has been compared to Angela’s Ashes, which is a book that I absolutely loved, but I feel totally compelled to read this book this Autumn.  I’m ready for some powerful writing, tears of laughter and joy and that adrenaline that a great book gives you.

No Is Not Enough – Naomi Klein

In my last blog post, I asked lots of important questions about what we should be doing in the world of today, full of social discrimination and fake facts, with the privilege that we were given at birth – you can read it here.  These were questions that I really don’t have any answers to – I just don’t know what to do in the face of social austerity and it’s frightening.  But my lovely aunt recommended to me that I try reading Naomi Klein, and immediately I thought, if anyone has answers to these kinds of questions, it must be her!  I haven’t read any of Klein’s work before but I have heard her speak in interviews and I think she offers some great insights into what is going on in politics, the terrible social problems of today and how we can treat them and act in ways that could improve the state of current affairs.  Klein is all about putting ideas into action and this is exactly what I want to get on board with, and I think the first step to this is educating ourselves which is why I believe it is extremely important to read as much as possible by people who really get it.

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6 Reasons Why I Loved ‘Atomic Blonde’, And Why I think You Should See It

It’s not often that I recommend new movie releases, either here on my blog or to people in real life, because, well, to be completely honest, I find most of what I see at the cinema to be pretty mediocre at best.  I absolutely love seeing movies in theatres – I probably go to the cinema about once a week – but I have to admit that it’s never really because of a movie itself that I enjoy this hobby; like many other people, the reasons that I love going to the movies so much are because of the fun experience, the social aspect of watching films with other people and, my huge weakness, the buttery salty popcorn 🙂  It is extremely rare that a movie ever makes a real impact on me or truly captures my attention.  BUT, just every now and then, I am totally caught off-guard by something fantastic.

The other day, I saw one such movie, ‘Atomic Blonde’, and… I LOVED IT.  After thinking it over, I decided that when such a movie comes into my life, one that I think about long after the showing, that I want to go back and see again immediately, that I play the soundtrack to over and over again at home, then I really have a personal duty to inform others about it!  I have ordered my thoughts about Atomic Blonde into 6 concise points or reasons why I particularly loved it and why I think you should go and see it right now.  Enjoy!

  1. Strong Female Lead.
    A while ago I started to notice a trend in my decisions when it came to choosing books/TV shows/movies etc.  I discovered that I am highly partial to anything with a strong female lead, and this is totally fine by me!  I love a girl boss, a top-notch heroine, a fierce femme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that such a character as this can either make or break a storyline for me.   The lead role in Atomic Blonde, played by the goddess that is Charlize Theron, embodies all of the above.  She is a bad-ass spy, she’s dangerous, smart, intense, sexy and generally all-round awesome.
  2. Set in Berlin.
    When a movie is set in one of my favourite cities in the world, how could I help but love it!  Maybe I felt a personal connection to the movie because I have been to so many of the places that were featured in it, or maybe it’s just because I KNOW how cool and hip Berlin is and this gave the film an extra depth for me.   The city of Berlin would be, in my opinion, a brilliant backdrop to any movie, but gave particular significance to this one because of the era in which it was set.  This brings be to my next point…
  3. Berlin in the late 80s.
    So, the plot of the movie is centered around the rise of the people in Berlin in the late 1980s , which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  In Atomic Blonde, we got such a feel for the atmosphere in this city at that time, and it was incredible!  It was an era of punk/grunge/rock, underground parties, drugs, living for the NOW because you didn’t know if you would be alive tomorrow, power to the people…  Seeing this story unfold in the movie made me WISH I could have been there to experience it all.  One line in the film really stuck with me; ‘What a time to be in Berlin’.
  4. Music.
    I absolutely had to feature the movie soundtrack in this list because it is a complete winner.  The lineup includes music by David Bowie, REM, Eurythmics and German/Austrian Artists Falco and Nena among others.  The music captures the energy of the 80s, it drives the storyline of the movie, it brings the characters to life.  I wasn’t such a fan of 80s music before seeing Atomic Blonde, but it’s pretty much been on it our house every day since and it just makes me want to DANCE all the time!
  5. Fashion.
    Atomic Blonde is dripping with sex and sensuality, and I am pretty convinced that the sizzling, smoking, fashion in the movie plays a large role in that.  Long trench coats with sunglasses, racey metallic dresses, lace stockings and hold-ups and patent black high-heeled boots star throughout and I love it all!
  6. Twisty-turny plot.
    OK, so, I wouldn’t put the plot itself at the top of my list of reasons to go and see this movie.  We have all heard of the undercover spy agent completing a complex mission in a foreign country before.  However, I will say that there are a few surprises in this movie and, without spoiling anything, the twists and turns that we are taken on make for quite a ride – don’t write the movie off as just another average spy thriller.
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Summer at The Banff Centre

If there is one place in the world that could remind you about ‘the bigger picture’ in life, it’s the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.  And if there was ever a moment when this reminder was especially important, I think right now is it!  In this era of Trump, Brexit, racism, sexism, prejudice, social division and everything else, I find it all too easy to get lost, to forget what’s really meaningful and why it is that I do what I do.  However, having just spent a couple of weeks with some of the most interesting, creative and intelligent minds on the planet, in one of the most breathtaking-ly beautiful places on earth, I feel completely inspired and reinvigorated.  I have come away from my experience with bucket-loads of new ideas and a renewed drive to bring them forward into my work, and I can’t WAIT to start sharing them here on my blog!!

In case you didn’t know, the Banff Centre is an artists’ hub, a platform for creativity and imagination, a space to work and put your ideas and projects into action, and I think it must be the closest thing to paradise that there is!  It is like a campus where anyone who is interested in ‘creating’ can go – whether you are a musician, a dancer, a writer, a poet, a literary journalist, a photo journalist… And it provides all the facilities and resources that you could possibly imagine and more!  Something that I really loved about my experience there this summer was the connections and friendships made between the different disciplines; dancers became involved in contemporary music performances, journalists sat in on rehearsals and interviewed other artists, I got to work directly with composers and perform their music.  Sharing different perspectives in this way was so inspiring, and I feel like this is something that can be very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to do in ‘normal’ day-to-day life.

Banff is full of wildlife!

It is said that your experience of something, however good or bad, is made by the people with whom you share it, and the people whom I got to meet and work with at Banff definitely made my time there incredibly special, in so many ways.   These are musicians who have all taken the paths and led their lives in directions that I dream of.  They are the risk-takers, the ones who take a chance on an idea, are never satisfied with something that isn’t great or isn’t what they believe in.  I have increasingly felt over the past few years, as I have come to the end of my ‘student’ days, that there is an expected or normal route that I should be taking, and that all of my colleagues around me are following.  And it has given me so much angst and grief because it is NOT what I want, which in turn has made me question my whole career choice and even my life decisions.  But being able to spend time with musicians who feel the same way I do has shown me that there is more out there, there are so many options and if you have a fire and if you believe in what you do, then you can make them happen.

But I don’t want to get all airy-fairy here!  It’s not all about ‘chasing your dreams’ and believing that good things will come if you just wait for them.  The artists that I met at Banff talked about how to be savvy, how to have a business mind, what exactly needs to be done in order to realise your goals, and these were some of the most important lessons I took away from Banff.  Even being coached on things like how to speak to my colleagues, how to have meetings, what exactly the important points of discussion are – these are all hugely important in life but when have we ever been taught these things?!

I attended the Banff Centre once before, five years ago, when I had the opportunity to spend a month at the masterclasses there.  This was a whole other amazing experience in itself, but since then the music programme at Banff has been completely redesigned, offering a totally new style of residency for all different musicians, and this year was the first in its new format.  Led by new co-artistic directors, the fantastically inspiring Claire Chase and Steven Schick, this summer I attended the brand new ARC Chamber Music Residency. From day one, Claire told us that she was looking to design a programme that would be completely separate from typical masterclass-style festivals, something that was very far away from a ‘school’ structured curriculum.  Her idea of the new programme at Banff was to give total artistic freedom to the participants, and to give us the space to play whatever music we wanted in whatever form we wanted.   It was up to us to create our own timetable, plan our own repertoire and rehearsals, decide what we wanted to perform and when.  I have never been put in such a liberating setting as this, and I can honestly say that during the programme, I felt so artistically fulfilled and had a real sense of purpose.

I thought I might write a (somewhat) brief account of what a typical day for me in the ARC Chamber Music Residency at the Banff Centre looked like, although each day was totally different so I will just give a general overview as an example!  I would wake up at about 8am and grab some AMAZING breakfast in one of the restaurants that overlooks the mountains.  At around 8:30 a few people would meet for the daily morning hike up Tunnel Mountain, whose trail leaves directly from campus.  The hike takes about 30 mins to go up and 20 to come down, with an inevitable few minutes at the top to just sit and take in what you are seeing.  I remember one time sitting up there and saying to a friend how difficult I found it to be really present, in that moment, looking at those awesome mountains – it felt overwhelmingly unreal – so this was something that I was continually striving to achieve; total awareness of the present.  Rehearsals started as soon as we got back, and for me these varied between Haydn Quartets, Beethoven Quartets, Boulez ‘Livre’ for string quartet and quartets that I was working on with composers themselves – I got to work with Marcos Balter on his quartet called ‘Chambers’ and with Camila Agosto on her piece, ‘Blemish’.  At 11am everybody would gather for the ‘Daily Meeting’, which would be taken by a different faculty member each day; we heard from the musicians of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble from New York), the Concert Master of the Handel and Haydn Society – Aisslinn Nosky, the Miro and JACK quartets, Imani Winds, Suzannah Clark (one of the world’s leading musicologists), Maros Balter (composer) and many more besides.  I loved these meetings, as each one was totally unique and each artist had something so interesting and different to say; I really learnt a lot here.  After the meeting I would head down to the cafe for lunch and then straight back to more rehearsing.  During the afternoons I would usually find time to visit the simply incredible library, or to practise by myself in one of the little practice huts (frequently visited by deer or elk) until dinner, which I would eat in either the main restaurant or at the chilled ‘Maclab’ bar.  After-dinner time would normally consist of concerts, more rehearsals, hang-out ‘beer’ time and fantastic conversations with colleagues and new friends, or making use of the free and unlimited access to the gym or swimming pool/hot tub facilities.

Enjoying a local beer at Maclab with a spectacular view!

Practice hut with elk visitor

I want to write separate and much more detailed accounts of each of these experiences, as they were all so fascinating and important in themselves and there is SO much more to say about all of them! I simply can’t fit it all into one blog post though, so I have decided that this will do for the first ‘overview’ of Banff and I’m looking forward to writing several more posts, each focusing on a different aspect of Banff, in the next few weeks.

The lasting impression that the Banff Centre and the artists that I met there made on me is how important art is in today’s world.  Art makes connections, brings people together, highlights profound issues in very pure, human and accessible ways.  Art can be found anywhere and there will always be space for people to create it, one just has to find it and remember the value that it has.  Banff has nestled itself right into my heart; it has given me inspiration and courage, it has refilled my life with colour!

The JACK Quartet, performing John Luther Adams on top of Tunnel Mountain at sunset. This was a moment I won’t ever forget and sums up my whole Banff experience!

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