Thursday, 31 May 2012

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

Poems aren't everyone's cup of tea. They are usually not straightforward. They can be enigmatic, cerebral and even convoluted. But if it is a good poem, you can just let it wash over you. Allow yourself to be sucked in. Try to unconsciously feel the words instead of intellectually grasping them. If you get lost in incomprehensible metaphors at any time, carry on and trust that you will find your way back again.

Once you're really familiar with the poem, once you wear it like a comfortable old jumper, feel free to do a background check. Look for references, research symbolic meanings, by all means count stanzas. It might lead to another level of appreciation and understanding, but in my opinion it is not the most vital part in getting a poem, in loving it like you love a song without neccessarily understanding the lyrics.

This is one of my favourites. It is about faith and doubt, and about love among the seas of change.

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the Straits; - on the French coast, the light
Gleams, and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the ebb meets the moon-blanch'd sand,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves suck back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegan, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd;

But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath
Of the night-wind down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Kimbra at the Enmore, 17 May 2012

First things first. Standing in the back of the Enmore theatre, trying to take a photo with an iPhone (not the latest version, naturally), with the lights doing what they do at a concert  (namely flickering, changing colour etc)  is probably not as successful as an aspiring blogger might hope.

But it does have a certain artistic charm to it (or so I tell myself), and you get the general idea of how Kimbra looks like, which is a little bit like a pretty doll. Dark and glossy hair, big eyes, red lips and a short, silver dress. Mid-concert she changes into an equally tutu-esque red number. The whole look is quite theatrical, something Kimbra emphasises by exaggerated hand gestures, as if she would try to shape the lyrics into form. She is clearly not comfortable doing the obligatory chit-chat between songs, and it shows here how very young she is. There are a lot of nervous giggles and stilted, quite obviously rehearsed introductions to her songs, a contrast to the confident and sassy stage persona she's trying to project. But her strong and versatile voice matches the diversity of styles she covers with her songs, from the bluesy Plain Gold Ring by Nina Simone to the tribal Warrior. A duet with Sam Lawrence for Wandering Limbs is beautiful and etheral.

The concerts ends rather abruptly after the smooth pop track Cameo Lover. No encore, just lights on and technicians unplugging the elaborate stage setting. It is all generally quite funky and danceable, maybe a little bit too glossy for my taste. But considering that Kimbra is only 22 years old and Vows is her first album, there can be no doubt about it: This petite young singer is going places.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Flying Foxes by Robert Gray

The following poem has so many things I love about poetry: Its language is vivid and rhythmic, it ebbs and flows, you can smell the words and touch them. It also is a tad dark and melancholic, for which I seem to have a penchant, I am told... And it is Australian and contemporary and so a fitting first poem for this blog, I think:

In the night, the gorging begins / again, in the spring / night, in the branches / of the Moreton Bay figs, / that are fully-rigged / as windjammers, and make a flotilla / along the street. / And from the yard-arms / are strung clusters / of hanged sailors, / canvas-wrapped and tarred - / these are the bats, come / for the split fruit, and dangled, / overturned where they land. / It is the tobacco fibrils / in the fruit they seek, / and those berries, when gouged, / are spilt, through the squall / of the crowd, like / a patter of faeces / about the bitumen. This amidst / the cloudy shine / of the saline / streetlamps. In the ripe nights / the bats fumble and waste / what they wrest - / there's a damp paste / upon the road, / which dries to matted / sawdust, soon after the day's / steam has reared; it is scraped / up by the shovel-load. / The bats are uncorked / like musty vapour, at dusk, / or there is loosed a fractured / skein of smoke, across / the embossed lights / of the city. The moon is lost, / to an underhanded / flicked long brush-load of paint. / You think of the uncouth ride / of the Khan and his horde, / their dragon-backed shape / grinding the moon / beneath its feet. / And then, of an American / anthem, the helicopters / that arrive with their whomp whomp / whomp. I'm woken / by the bats still carrying on / in the early hours, / by the outraged screech, / the chittering / and thrashing about / where they clamber heavily, / as beetles do, on each other's backs. / They are Leonardo / contraptions. They extend / a prosthetic limb, / snarl, and knuckle-walk / like simians, step / each other under / and chest-beat, although / hampered with a cape. In sleep / I trample the bedsheet / off, and call out / 'Take that!' (I am told), / punching the pillow in the heat. / I see the fanged shriek, / and the drip / of their syringes, / those faces with the scowl / of a walnut kernel. / It's some other type of bat / I think of: these, in books, / where I looked them up, / have a face you can imagine / if you recall how you'd whittle / finely at a pencil / and moisten the lead / with the tongue-tip - / a little face that belies its greed, / like that of an infant. / All partly autonomous things / trample others down, / even what is their own, / and the whole earth throbs / and smoulders / with pain. No comfort for us that / in the nights I have seen / how the living pass / about the earth, / that is deep with the ashes / of the dead, and quickly, too, / vanish into dark, / like will o' the wisps / thrown out of the sun. / At three o'clock I gather / our existence / has been a mistake. I would like / to turn my back on / its endless strife; / but when I look out / at the night, I am offered / otherwise only / the chalk-white, chaste / and lacklustre moon.