Monday, 19 November 2012

You, and I, and Rosabelle believe

Houdini, the scourge of the Spiritualists, disappointed by his own delvings into spirit communication, is resurrected and immersed into a darkened room in Kate Bush's Houdini (taken from her album The Dreaming). In this track Bush explores clandestine romantic secrets and declarations of devotion shared between the escapaologist and his lover; a hidden passing of the key that would ensure his escape from death through the hidden intimacy of a kiss. The context of this shared expression of love and hope is played out in parallel to a seance where the immaterial desires of love and hope seek reaffirming via the release of spirit from their non corporeal nothingness into physical phenomena and messages of love.

Edmond Jabes, who has entered my poetic thoughtscape recently via a reference in a Max Richter piece, has similarly suggested the need for the dead to be contextualised in language as a means to escape nothingness. He wrote that:

"It is very hard to live with silence. The real silence is death and this is terrible. To approach this silence, it is necessary to journey to the desert. You do not go to the desert to find identity, but to lose it, to lose your personality, to be anonymous. You make yourself void. You become silence. You become more silent than the silence around you. And then something extraordinary happens: you hear silence speak."
Justine Picardie, in her moving account of the aftermath of her sisters' death (recorded in the 2002 If The Spirit Moves You) noted the agony of silence, of forgetting what her sister sounded like. Such silence erodes memory, as though it wishes to deny a sensuous link to somewhere beyond the here, the now, the physical. I can empathise with similar pangs when unable to recall the voice of a friend of mine who died three years ago. Starting with catchphrases, I push at the walls of my memory and call to her, pressing against silence with balled up fists.

When the silence breaks and a voice speaks from beyond the veil, the dead roll out from the woodwork, surrounding the seance and its bereft participants, filling the aether with hope, with love, with their own campaign against the suffocation of memory.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

'And Red All Over' - Scott Hunt

Are all ghosts unhappy? Is Hunt's figure rejoycing in the sudden liberation of her death, its release of her confinement from a regimented social role, its offering of freedom from the contraption trappings that carried her through cosmopolitan journeys (symbolised by the car, and the distance between them)... Or is she celebrating the fates that have spared her injury, emerging from an accident unscathed and alive. Perhaps she is offering a prayer to a sacred cosmos, conscious of the danger life sometimes veers us into, knowing that moments of miscalculation may so quickly send us into to the irrevocable embrace of death.

Monday, 12 November 2012

A child said, What is the grass?


A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother's laps,
And here you are the mother's laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and

A Cloud of Witnesses

Upon discovering that the hyena caves of Kirkdale were not too far from my flat, my partner and I set out amidst the fading sun to seek out this hidden cavern, and to attempt to create a bridge between our imaginations and this resting place of African animal bones via a reading of Kenneth Grant's Hyena poem. Despite our hope to catch the sunset, we were engulfed by the night long before we reached our destination. His sat nav denied the existence of Kirkdale, but we perservered and came to a halt nearby in the car park of St Gregory's Minster, an Anglo-Saxon church dating back to the 11th century. Neither of us were familiar with this place, which rested patiently at the end of a rural, tree bracketed road made all the more uncanny beneath a canopy of bulbous nocturnal shadows. St Gregory's has a large graveyard that weaves around the building, punctured with thick headstones bunched tightly together. A few lights emitted from the windows of the church, and from the doorway which met our movement with a beacon of warm invitation. It was almost enough to see by, but did little to penetrate the solumn cloak of darkness that coveted the graveyard. The place was deserted, save for us and the dead. The silence was heavy, but free from malevolence.

It was so dark, and the tentacles of civilisation's denial of darkness were far behind us. When we looked up, the sky was illuminated by stars and the milky way. These ancient pinpoints of dead stars seemed poignant, serving as a reminder that even in death there may be a lingering essence bright enough to plot the course of one's life by. I remembered holidays in Greece, on a boat at sea by starlight, free from the competition of man made light, the night sky unveiled by this drift into the wilderness of the natural night, naked and luminous. Such a sight was a great source of comfort and wonder; a vision of something so often lost to city dwellers, thoughts accompanied by satellites.
My brother's favourite story as a child was The Owl Who Was Afraid of The Dark. It chronicles the quest of dark fearing Plop, a barn owl, who searches for placation amidst a sequence of conversations with those who have found a joy in darkness. One story in particular involves an old woman, who tells Plop that darkness is kind, that it covers the body's evidence of old age. In the darkness, she can be quiet and sit and rememder fondly what it was to be young.
A sign on the church noticeboard mentioned a 'cloud of witnesses'; the impressions of all those who had come to this site for over a century, to praise and rejoice and find sanctuary via a place designed to remind us of God's eternal presence. Whether you believe in the Christian God or not, there is something deeply moving about the memories of churches, these gathering places for those who sought meaning in a sacred context. If there were ghosts here, they were content. I couldn't help but hope that witnesses do indeed come in a cloud, united in the afterlife, conjoined by their memories of living and loving and wishing and dying in a community's nest.
The concept of a 'cloud of witnesses' reminded me of some of the images incorporated in John Harvey's excellent tome on spirit photography. One line of enquiry taken by Harvey has noted the incorporation of several spirits in certain photographs, comparing it to similar religious iconography and art.
The Spiritualist concept of the spirit world seems kindly orientated to a premise for clouds of witnesses. In the spirit world, we exist collective: we may merge into spirit, the boundaries of flesh no longer a barrier to intimate connectivity. From that we may then emerge individiual, temporarily reaching out from the vistages of our past living self, lining up in queues for a medium ready to speak of our witness to our beloved kith and kin who we hope will find comfort in the clouds we will continue to resonante, with which we would fill the painful absences of severed connections. Even in darkness, they whisper, we are with you.