Today, I simply want to share a stanza from a poem by German poet Friedrich Schiller, Die Götter Griechenlands – The Gods of Greece.
This poem, written in 1788 and later set to music in the form of an almost painfully beautiful song by Franz Schubert, is originally 25 verses long, although Schubert chose only one of these for his lied. Having just spent some time in Liverpool, a city that is currently in the midst of its 2018 Biennial of Contemporary Art – a festival, set this year to the theme of Schubert’s particular chosen stanza, Schöne Welt, wo bist du? – Beautiful world, where are you? – I felt compelled to share these touching, emotional and very relevant words.
The Biennial writes of this poem, “Today the poem continues to suggest a world gripped by deep uncertainty; a world of social, political and environmental turmoil. It can be seen as a lament but also as an invitation to reconsider our past, advancing a new sense of beauty that might be shared in a more equitable way.” (Visit their website here)
As I write this, I’ve just spent the last week or so attending shows and events at Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. I have to say, everything I have seen has been marvellous; from a beautiful production of Julius Caesar (cast as a woman!) to a modernised Coriolanus on a jaw-dropping set, and a Rocky Horror Picture Show that was every bit as raunchy and scandalous as it should be!
Spending so much time at the theatre this week has really got me thinking about why I love it so much, why reading the stories, watching movies or listening to music recordings at home just isn’t enough and why live theatre is SO important. I know that we may all feel differently about it; some of the reasons that I’ve put together here may strike a chord with some and not with others, and may be just completely meaningless to those who do not enjoy live theatre at all. Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy reading a few of the reasons why I find live theatre so captivating and that it may motivate you to seek out some live events near you!
(These are in no particular order – each one is just as important as the last!)
A piece of art comes to life!
When we see a play performed live, or musicians playing music right before our eyes, these wonderful pieces of art become real and understandable! They are no longer words or notes on a piece of paper; they are real characters, plots and stories being put out into the world at that very moment, as they were intended by their creators, and you are a witness to it in the audience! At home, there is always be some kind of barrier between us and the art – a book that we have to read to get to the story or a device through which we could hear the music. But at the theatre, the art is being given to us directly, with no obstacle separating us from it, and we can therefore totally engage with it and be immersed in it. And not just the piece of art itself, as in the play or the string quartet (for example!), but the actual art form too. Watching talented and professional actors and musicians doing their jobs make those very art forms a real thing and this is something to behold in itself.
I always find it so interesting to watch different interpretations of any piece of art – I feel like the more interpretations of something that I see, the more I explore the art and the better I get to know it, finding its own meanings for myself. Whether these are different interpretations as presented by the performers, directors, choreographers, writers, or even those as experienced by other audience members during one performance – seeing a new understanding or meaning to a piece of art that I hadn’t thought of before is really exciting! This week I was lucky enough to catch two Shakespeare plays, and they couldn’t have been more different. Coriolanus was set to a modern backdrop, with all modern clothing and even references to modern culture, with things like mobile phones and Facebook messenger. Julius Caesar was totally old school – the set was minimal, no frills or trills, costumes were old-fashioned and the performance really centred only around the actors and their speech. For some, the modernisation made that play more entertaining and relatable, while for me personally, I felt much more involved with the old style one, where I really locked into the plot and the language. At home, we are very limited in what we have available to us – just the book, or a particular recording or two. One really has to see art live to get these different interpretations and fully understand them.
Each one on their own journey
Every time I watch a live performance, I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, to observe the reactions of my fellow audience members. There is always so much happening in the audience! Everybody is feeling something different in connection with the art that they are experiencing, each person is on their own journey with it. In the Shakespeare plays (and in Rocky too, actually!) I found it interesting to see where some people laughed, when people were shocked (even though we all know Brutus kills Caesar, this point still got a few gasps), if some people felt bored, if others looked uncomfortable… And the artists themselves are on a journey too. We can’t know the details of what led them to this specific performance, about the work that went into it and the mental space they had to get to in order to produce something that they had envisioned or heard in their own heads. We don’t even know what might be going on in their personal lives which could be affecting their performance, or their relationships with each other on stage, or how they approach the art of performing. Art makes us feel real emotions, and we all feel them differently. Being part of that, while experiencing your own personal journey at the same time, is special.
Similar to the last point but not quite the same, is the importance of watching art unfold together with other people. At home, we read alone, listen to music in the background while doing other things, watch movies in silence. But at the theatre, there is a sense of human connection, of experiencing our own personal emotions and journeys with the art WITH other people, audience and performers together. In that moment, those precious hours while the performance is in progress, we are all as one group doing the same thing. There is nobody on their phones, answering emails, working or chatting with friends. We, as one big organism, are going through the same experiences together, and all of our attention is in one place. In a world that often feels very lonely and hectic, this is so so so important and valuable.
There’s only one shot
This is something that is just as meaningful for both performer and audience! Although it can riddle any artist with performance anxiety, the fact that they only have one chance to deliver, here and now in this exact moment, adds an electricity to the theatre. They know this, and the audience knows it too. Whatever happens, happens – there ain’t no do-overs. As an audience member, knowing that the art that I am experiencing only exists now, once, in this moment, has caused me to sit up and try not to miss a single thing. As a performer, this feeling is what has encouraged me to take risks, to just ‘go for it’, and also to feel incredibly nervous. It is what makes every second of a performance really matter and be something that I care so truly and honestly about. And isn’t it wonderful to sit in the audience and watch a performer who really cares, to watch them take risks and to see the sparks that fly because of it?!
And following on from the ‘one-shot’ philosophy, are the inevitable mistakes. I love mistakes. I think they are brilliant. Because you can’t get more in-the-moment than a mistake. When an artist makes a mistake, it means they are really experiencing something real; maybe they took a risk and it didn’t work, maybe they care SO much about what they are doing that they got carried away, or maybe they are just real human beings and not computers! To me, mistakes are life and they are wonderful.
It’s fair to say that I’ve written about Berlin at great length here on my blog. It is truly a fascinating city, with SO much going on and so many different kinds of life being lived there – if you are curious to read more about my thoughts on the city and why I love it, please check out my post ‘5 Things I Love About Berlin’. If you are heading to Berlin and are in need of some specific recommendations, I also wrote a trilogy of blog posts featuring my favourite ‘Restaurants’, ‘Drinks’, and ‘Attractions’ in the city, so feel free to explore those too!
The thing about Berlin is, every single time you go there, you uncover some new amazing place that you didn’t know about before! The city is constantly evolving, new eateries, exhibitions and shops are springing up all the time and the city is so progressive, which is something that I love so much about it. I recently had a free day to spend in Berlin, and I decided NOT to return to any of my old favourite haunts (where I would normally go), but instead chose to explore only new places that I hadn’t yet been to. I found some real gems that you may not yet know about, as well as a couple of more well-trodden corners that you probably do, so I thought I would collect them all here in one post, for the next time you (or I!) might need some fresh suggestions for ways to spend a lazy free day in Berlin.
Bites To Eat
First off and most importantly: food. Always a very difficult decision when in Berlin, because there is SO MUCH good food on pretty much every street. I do have a couple of new recommendations for you though, and they are both incredible and must-gos.
For breakfast/brunch, I decided to try Commonground (a sister cafe to Silo, which I have also mentioned on my blog before and also an AMAZING brunch spot). Commonground is a big open plan cafe – I happened to visit on a hot summers day, and they had all the front windows and doors wide open which was heavenly. The food is ridiculously great; I had poached eggs on their unique Sironi bread, smashed avocado and salsa verde, and LOTS of bacon (by the way, there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options!). The coffee is also spot on. I would say Commonground is perfect if you have a group of people, the staff are all SO friendly and the vibes are just great!
The Commonground breakfast!
Brunch at Commonground pretty much kept me going all day, until about 9pm, which is when I decided to grab some dinner at Cocolo Ramen. I chose this place because I fancied some ramen and all the reviews online claimed that this was the BEST ramen in Berlin, so my expectations were pretty high. Things to know about Cocolo Ramen before you go there: they take no reservations, and it is a tiny and extremely popular restaurant, so you have to be prepared to queue out the door for anywhere up to an hour (at popular times). I would suggest going later, maybe around 10 or 11pm, and not to go in big groups – as I was by myself I actually got seated ahead of a lot of people which was a plus. I have to say though, the ramen is totally worth it – it is delicious. The kitchen is right out front, and if you can manage to bag a seat at the bar, you can watch them cooking which is fun. The menu is pretty small – you can basically choose from about 4 or 5 different ramens (and a few other things on the menu), ranging in price up to about €10 – and their turnover is fast, so don’t take too long over your food! But the atmosphere is fabulous and this place is a real little gem!
I got the pork broth – delicious!
If you are like me, then coffee is an absolute priority, and just spending an hour in a cute coffee shop is the perfect plan for a sunny afternoon! Berlin offers some really fantastic and locally owned independent coffee jaunts – they are all over the city so please never, ever, feel like you have to rely on Starbucks for your pick-me-up! This time, I tried a new coffee place, Ben Rahim. It is absolutely tiny, and totally hidden away – if you didn’t know about it, I don’t think you would ever find it! You sort of have to find your way through an alley and then a courtyard and then another alley and then you might spot it. If the weather is good they put little tables and benches outside, and as it is so tucked away, it feels very peaceful and lovely to enjoy your coffee outside. (But there is also some seating indoors for the cold days too.) Ben Rahim specialises in Arabian coffee and tea, and you can definitely also get your own preferred style of coffee there too. As it was such a hot day when I visited, I decided to try their iced latte, and I thought how they made it was genius; they make the espresso shots in ice cubes and freeze them, and then add them to milk when one is ordered. As you drink it the ice-cube melts and the coffee gets stronger as it slowly dissolves into the milk, which I just loved. It was a beautiful coffee and I would love to go back there and try their other blends too.
My iced-latte at Ben Rahim
Independent and Vintage Shopping
Of course, Berlin has a large (and slightly tedious) shopping district. But if you are more into cute little boutiques and vintage shops then I have a few suggestions for you! For clothes, I would definitely recommend checking out Paul’s Boutique. It is a little hole-in-the-wall style shop, full of second-hand and vintage clothes for men and women. They have lots of cool brands and vintage style garments, including a selection of Doc. Martens and Levis. Even if you don’t find something you like, or you aren’t particularly looking for anything, it is really fun to just look around and see what you can find. If you are looking for a larger selection of second-hand and vintage clothes, check out Humana – there are actually a few of these stores around the city, and they tend to be pretty big. Humana offers a wide variety of clothes and ‘stuff’, for men and women, at a range of different prices, from €2 to €200, so again, it’s just fun to see what you can find. I have had a lot of luck there was things like concert clothes, jeans, shirts… it’s a cool store!
If you are a bookworm looking for some great deals on second-hand books in Berlin, definitely head to St. Georges English Bookshop. There is a huge selection of all kinds of books here, from floor to ceiling (literally), mainly in English but also in a few other languages too. From novels to cookbooks, books on Hitler and the war, religion, kids books… it is definitely a little nook to get lost in for a while! They also sell some new books at regular prices too, and if you are looking for something in particular and are going to be in Berlin for a while, they will happily order it for you.
If you fancy spending an afternoon at a museum or an evening at a concert in Berlin, I’ve got you covered. Berlin is FULL of artistic events going on all the time; every single day there are literally 1000s to choose from. I wrote a blog post recently on my experience visiting the ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie(read it here!), and if you happen to be in Berlin until the 16th September 2018, definitely get yourself to that! If not though, or if painting isn’t really up your street but you are interested in other mediums of art, Museum Island is a great place to start in Berlin. It is a little island in the middle of the city, where all the big museums are located. If you really want to throw yourself into art and culture you can purchase a day ticket which will allow you entry into all the museums in one day! Otherwise, I can tell you that the Pergamon Museum (also mentioned previously on my blog!) which houses the Gates of Ishtar, amongst several other amazing things, is seriously awe-inspiring, incredible, mind-boggling and you HAVE to see it. I mean, you get to actually see a whole Greek temple inside the museum. It is awesome.
Alte Nationalgalerie, Museum Island, Berlin
If you are seeking a good concert to go to that is maybe a little removed from the mainstream concerts of the Philharmonie hall (which are nevertheless fantastic), check out the newest addition to Berlin’s concert hall scene, the Pierre Boulez Saal. This hall, nicknamed the Oval Office of concert halls, is the result of a project initiated by Daniel Barenboim. It is a smaller, more intimate chamber hall which is dedicated to hosting exciting and innovative concerts and music projects in Berlin, which don’t stay strictly true to old-fashioned style classical music concerts. Keep an eye out for a blog post coming soon on the breath-taking concert that I was lucky enough to witness there when I visited (and which was the sole reason for this day that I got to spend in Berlin!).
Sneak peek of an upcoming post, telling you all about this unique and stunning concert that I saw at the Pierre Boulez Saal
‘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!
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.
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’.
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 yellowFlowers 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 liesOn 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.
The first thing that struck me about this poem was its subject: Love. But what does Lovemean 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, Oneand Ilead me to think that this poem was not about anybody else, and perhaps was a more introverted reflection on herself.
My interpretation is that Loveis 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 Sunbeing all powerful and the giver of life to all worldly things, we can take this to mean that Loveor the poem is, for her, the most powerful, the most important. The Sunis 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 Love, Sunand One.
The use of the word reckonsis very interesting; a possible meaning could be that she is implying judgement, as in the day of reckoning or day of judgement. Lovecan only judge itself, as this poem can only judge itself, alone– nobody else can judge Loveor this poem from the outside, it is unique and you have to be it, itself, to judge it, to reckon it. Another meaning of reckonscould be to confront, as in to be reckoned with, to confront Love, the poem, itself – in 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 reckonwith this poem, she is alonein writing it and feeling it’s powerful blaze. As we know, she never wanted her poems published or publicly read, so, again, she alonewill read this poem – only she will reckonwith 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 Sunand Loveis 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 Loveand 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 blazea 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 Loveor Sunis not always beautiful and lovely, as emotions that we might associate with a typical Lovepoem, but can sometimes be painful. Blazeis also almost an action word; to blazeis 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 Loveis individual and unique and only like itself. It is interesting that likehas not been capitalised; I take this to mean that she wants to differentiate between the Loveas the poem, the subject, and likeas in the description of the poem as being unique, alone. Likecould also suggest that nobody else likesthis 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 Loveor 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.
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!
It’s such a crazy, wonderful thing to be able to say that your friends inspire you. Although each of my friends live in different corners of the globe, I feel so connected to them through this inspiration and through a deep, profound respect for what they are doing and their work. My friends are creating new art and music, asking new questions, re-inventing answers to old ones, revealing new paths and I absolutely love and value these things, besides the wonderful people that they are!
One old school friend of mine – violinist and artist, Sara Cubarsi – came to visit me in Germany last year (she is originally from Barcelona and is currently living in California). She was then right in the middle of a huge project that she had created and developed – actually, the project is still not finished! The other day I got to catch up with her and asked all about how the project was progressing. As she told me about it, I found the ideas behind it and everything she has achieved thus far so AMAZING and so COOL, that I decided I just had to write a blog post about it and share it! This is the story of the ‘Wax Painting Project’, by Sara Cubarsi.
Something to know about Sara, right from the beginning, is that she is not only a clever and talented violinist, but she is also an artist. Remember in my post about Picasso’s Mad Man (read it here), I mentioned that I had a friend who drew her own mad man on her bedroom wall – that was Sara! She has done some really wonderful paintings (I’m still waiting for one that she promised to make for me one day) and her style of art and emotion is really present in all of her work, whether its through music – her own compositions or more classical pieces – paint or any other art form. So, Sara had the idea that she wanted to create a painting to go in one of her performances, and that’s where the origin of this project stemmed from.
The next step of the project came about purely as a joke. Someone said to Sara, what would happen, though, if your painting would accidentally melt under the heat of the stage lights?? In the moment, Sara laughed, but then realised that that was a fantastic idea and EXACTLY what she wanted! So she began to research what would make the best material for a painting that needed to melt, and wax became clear as the most ideal option. Another thing to know about Sara, is that she adores the work of Francis Bacon – you can probably see this in a LOT of her work! She absolutely loves his organic and raw style and wanted to capture this in her own painting and wax seemed the best, most fleshy and human-like material for her to use.
The first wax painting that Sara created was called ‘The Blind Cow’ and the performance of it took place late one night in February of 2016. It was a small painting of a cow with a bloody eye that hung from the ceiling of a dark classroom. To accompany it was a white noise track,made by one of Sara’s friends, with Sara speaking on top of it into a microphone, with distortion; she was reading poems by T.S. Elliot and a Catalan poem about a blind cow. Sara used candlelight to melt the painting and it worked! The painting melted completely. Although, the funny thing was that Sara was facing a wall and unable to see the painting while she was performing the poems, so she had no idea if it was working or not! This was also what made it so exciting, though, as she just had to have hope that it was all going to plan. And so went the ‘first public melting’.
After this success, Sara thought – OK, this works, now let’s make it big. She decided she wanted to make a new wax painting, big enough that a string quartet could hide behind it, and melt it using electric heaters. The painting that resulted, which Sara called ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, was 12 x 8 feet and the performance was planned to take place in a bigger concert hall in March 2016. Sara composed a string quartet to go with the painting, which was very much related to it; she told me that her music emanated the feeling of wax melting, its pace and it’s colours. Now, here is where is starts to get really exciting. The night before the performance, the heaters broke – smoke came out when she tested them! Running out of time, Sara went out to buy six irons and planned to have people standing behind the painting, ironing it to get it to melt! However, during the performance, there was SO much electricity being used (six irons, speakers, heaters etc.) that the electrical circuit broke! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), at the end of the performance, when Sara stepped out from behind the painting, she saw that it had barely melted at all and the public reaction was extremely awkward – here were all these people who had come to see this monster wax painting melt… and nothing happened! But isn’t this the nature of experimenting?! We have to try stuff out to see what works and what doesn’t. Sara called her ‘second public melting’ a “successful un-happening”!
Ludwig’s Ear, pre-wax
Ludwig’s Ear, post-wax
Sara was nowhere near finished. We have to remember that, while all of these wax adventures were going on, Sara was still trying to live her life, as a musician and an artist dealing with all of her own insecurities. At around about this time she was playing a LOT of contemporary music and was feeling really anxious about her classical playing – she felt that she had lost touch with Bach and with the violin and was trying to find herself as a violinist again. She decided that she had to force herself to put on a concert and perform some Bach, as this would simply MAKE her practice it. Connecting all of her work together, she created a new abstract painting for a performance at Art Share, L.A., to which she would play Bach’s Second Partita. This piece is made up of four smaller dance movements and a monumental Chaconne final movement. The day before the concert, Sara freaked out – she was feeling so uncomfortable with her playing that she decided to cancel the four shorter movements and just perform the Chaconne. The very last note of this movement ends on a very powerful ‘D’ chord and at that point in the performance, Sara held this ‘D’ note as a drone, on top of which she sang microtonal intervals, all reflecting the huge Chaconne movement, in a kind of slow motion, while her little painting melted. I see this concert as a sort of interlude from the main project, but nevertheless very important and relevant to Sara’s personal development and also to show her own personality in relation to the rest of the project.
And now back to the main wax project. What came next was a painting that Sara called ‘Concerto For A Painting’ which was composed to 9 string instruments and piano and performed in April 2016. Sara’s music was somehow Wagnerian, but with no rhythmic gestures, and the painting was ambiguous – it could have been a womb or even a woman’s breast (I guess it depended on one’s own personal interpretation). What I find really cool about this painting is that Sara really made the wax look like flesh, so that when it melted, it left the painting red. She told me that this made it look like a baby had been born, almost like there was now no baby left in the womb. Only two heaters were needed to melt this painting and it worked beautifully – the painting melted.
Concerto For A Painting
But remember that huge painting, ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, that didn’t melt? Sara had no idea what to do with it. This was the point at which she visited me and we discussed what she could possibly do. She had the idea that she wanted to burn the painting somehow (an idea that also stemmed from a joke comment made by a friend!) and had a vision of doing this in a desert space where there is nothing, no life, around. My boyfriend, who knows California pretty well, suggested Salton Sea. It is right in the middle of the desert, it’s not very populated so she could find a space to be alone, and it’s not a ‘nice’ place – she didn’t have to worry about being too careful there. So when she went back to the States, in October 2016, she took her monster painting to the desert and set it on fire by throwing gasoline all over it. Of course it was impossible to make music to go with it in this context; the desert was too hot, this escapade far too dangerous and extreme. While she was burning the painting she was also filming it all and I think the silence aspect and having no music will come across amazingly well on film. She described to me that by the end she was so light-headed and hot, worried about what she was doing and if she would get caught, heavy from so much physical work… she actually couldn’t finish and had to leave her painting burning there in the desert (it was found and some reports of it turned up on social media and the internet by people wondering what it was!).
Ludwig’s Ear in Salton Sea
Sara’s final wax painting performance, titled ‘Exvoto Study’, happened in November 2016. On a trip home to Barcelona, she went to visit the gothic cathedral at St. James’s Square, Cereria. This area is really, really old and very religious. When someone is suffering some kind of ailment or wound, here they can offer an ex-voto – a votive offering – of the wounded body part, made of wax, to the deities, hoping that they may be cured. Sara found a little wax ear and took it home, where she decided to film herself melting it. Her new idea was to project this little film onto a screen for her performance. However, this wasn’t to be a normal screen – she planned to make a screen of wax! She got hold of a canvas, which she covered in black paint with white wax on top of it, and this became her screen. The score that Sara wrote to go with her film, which she performed with two colleagues, reflected what the ear hears; bubbling, gurgling, coughing. It wasn’t a totally smooth concert; smoke started to come out of the heaters that were melting the wax screen and somehow, because of the light and darkness in the concert hall, this became very visible to the stage managers – they turned off the heaters! This was a bit of a disaster because Sara needed the screen to melt to achieve her effect, so she got up herself during the performance to turn the heaters back on. Because of this, the screen only melted partially, but the overall effect of the video of the melting ear being projected onto a screen that was melting LIVE definitely came across – I WISH I could have seen this!
The thing that I find really interesting about the whole project and in all of the performances, is that there are two elements going on all the time; the music and the melting painting. The process of composing and performing the music is very calculated – there’s a score and a system and musicians know what they do, it’s very organised and clean. But the painting is always a total risk. For one, the musicians can’t ever see it, so there is no way to ever know if it is melting or not and if the performance is working. And secondly, it’s always unpredictable – Sara can never know if the heaters will work, if the wax will melt. These two art forms are continually working together and against each other during her performances, and this is what makes it so truly exciting.
Another thing to think about is that these are performances that are ephemeral; they can only ever be done ONE time, because the painting can only melt once. It really is amazing, because Sara then puts absolutely everything into this one performance, but there is also a sad quality to this; the painting melts and will never again be what it was, it gets lost to the moment of the performance. This is performance art at its most real, most meaningful, most alive!
And now? I don’t think Sara is quite finished with her wax painting project yet! She told me that she wants to master it so that it can be done anywhere. She also wants to make a film of the Salton Sea experiment, of which she has many hours of footage. I can’t wait for the next melting episode!