june- may 2010
The art gallery and museum at Kelvingrove in Glasgow is loaning its "revered" Dali painting Christ of St John of the Cross to an American museum for six months. Now some spokespersons have been reported complaining the painting will be absent when the pope makes a visit to Glasgow later this year.
I’m of the same mind as the Scottish artist who said a few years back that the painting makes Christ look like a circus highwire act. I’d say a trapeze artist, flying through the air with the greatest of ease with the puir wee earth down below. Sentimental kitsch in other words, but as religiose sentimental kitsch it's promoted as "revered" by Glasgow cultural council worthies. What counts is that it’s marketable, and ticks Outcomes boxes for Education, Tourism, Religious Diversity and General Non-controversiality. The shop at Kelvingrove Gallery seems to stock everything from a school rubber to a fart cushion with Christ of St John of the Cross on it. Tourist City, flog a market-leader icon. As for the painting going abroad on loan, the "Head of Museums" is quoted in today’s local Sunday Herald as saying, “It was always intended that the Dali would serve as an ambassador for the city, to go abroad and be shown, and it is impressive to the rest of the world this painting is in Glasgow.”
This remark just about encapsulates the banal counter-sensitivity relentlessly shown by those in charge of Glasgow’s galleries in recent years.The galleries have been mucked about, “re-branded” since the days of the Neil Kinnock era leading on to New Labour. It’s not simply that a clear outline of the city’s working-class social history as once demonstrated in the People’s Palace museum has been rubbed out; but taxonomy itself, the construction of displays illustrating historical narratives of classification, has been rubbished and discarded as if it was macho patriarchal fascism. It looks in both the Kelvingrove gallery and the People’s Palace as if hard work has been done to prevent comprehensible narratives emerging. Hard work—or just ignorance and clutter bogusly bodying itself as "diversity". One gets the impression the people in charge not only have never had an aesthetic experience in their lives, they are hostile to anyone who claims to have had one. Looking at another example of a revamped gallery, the Van Gogh in Amsterdam, the paintings there have been allowed to speak for themselves on the walls, and those who want a commentary can listen on headphones. Kelvingrove will have none of that. Instead, there’s jargon scrawled on walls and cards, buckets for the kids to play with in case they get “bored” in the archaelogy bit, which has lost all its educational guides of any depth; and a case with eighteenth century women’s dresses, instead of detailing material, source, social context, settles for the tabloid headline— “Strutting their stuff!”.
It’s not that it’s “gone downmarket”; it’s that it's such patronising insult to people coming through the doors, as well as an insult to art and culture. Take the plastic representation labelled “mince n’ tatties” ho ho ho, which is meant to represent potatoes with mince, a standard meal eaten by working class folk in the city, ho ho ho. On my first visit to this newly done-up Kelvingrove gallery when my wife and I left, abruptly, all I could say was I'd never been in the presence of such a sustained attack on the integrity of Art in my life. How these bastards hate it. How they hate artists. Well they might, I suppose.
I thought I could never go back, but did go on impulse later, this time making it upstairs to the main painting rooms by concentratedly ignoring all the trashy notices and flickering videos, heading for what I used to think of as my old friends in the French Impressionist room. But I was beaten back there by a video in an adjoining room holding forth about god knows what painting, the soundtrack booming along the wall as to defeat any being-alone-with-the-pictures. I had earlier declined to look at one Italian Renaissance religious painting since to see it I would have had to go into an alcove where taped polyphony was playing as accompaniment. I actually like a lot of 15th and 16th century polyphony, but not as musack to watch Old Masters by. Since being forced out the gallery a second time, I haven’t had the stomach to go into Kelvingrove gallery again.
Of course its Attendance Outcome Indicators will all have been ticked as never before. Where I remember a great Vuilleuard exhibition a few years ago, now in succession the gallery has put on exhibitions on the singer Madonna’s performance dresses and hot pants; an exhibition of products from a popular TV science fiction series; and at last an actual “art” exhibition—this time of “The Glasgow Boys”: so that’s all right then, at least we’re still marketing This Wonderful City.
That art should be something that exists in a space uninterfered-with between writer and reader, between painter and spectator, is something these people not only don’t understand, they understand just enough to make sure it never bloody well happens if they can help it. The pity of all this crap unleashed by the people in charge is that art itself has to exist despite these people, not because of them. I did before I left Kelvingrove Gallery that last time at least manage to see one of my favourite paintings, albeit no longer in the uncluttered context that I used to enjoy looking at it. It’s by Jean Hey who is known as the “Master of Moulins” and it was painted around 1500. There's more for me in these human faces looking out across 500 years than anything in such as the hyped-up Dali. The painting is called “A donor presented by St Maurice”.
Yesterday the annual Scottish Arts Council book of the year and category awards were handed out at an awards ceremony in Melrose. In recent years the awards have been additionally funded by a commercial company whose name then brands the event. This year the additional funder was an investment bank.
As already announced a couple of months back, my outside the narrative got the “poetry category” award, to the shock and dismay of many who care deeply for the public image of Scottish literature and investment banking; not to mention religious chairpersons who lost their life savings backing what they called “bookies’ favourites”. No less than five thousand pounds have been donated to my favourite charity, the Tom Leonard old age pension Dominoes Fund.
I was unable to attend the awards ceremony and was asked to provide a short acceptance statement. My statement said:
I am grateful to Elaine of WordPower for accepting this cheque on my behalf. Tiny publishers run by single individuals from their home have been my outlet to the world as a poet throughout my writing life. Such ventures exist both outside the narrative of large corporate publishers and of small sized local commercial ones. The Scottish Arts Council has helped me a few times when I needed help. I hope they will always give help to artists.
For some writers to be outside the narrative as a writer is a necessity. It does not mean to be outside society, least of all the society of writing. Thanks for this cheque.
One of the nicest things that happened to me during this rather drawn-out business over the past months was to be sent good wishes by Thomas A Clark, the poet whose poetry collection The Hundred Thousand Places had also been in the poetry category “shortlist”. I’ve never met Thomas Clark though I’ve long had respect for the work of this man who himself has spent most of his life as a poet outside of mainstream publishing. We exchanged books, and his own book is a satisfying read I will certainly go back to. One example:
at leisure a shape
lifts from rock and flaps
out over wastes
a few wing beats
taking it far
Excellent article here in advance of the above conference. Core issues clearly explained in the article, these two sentences on two of these:
The confluence of interests between the Israeli state, global capitalist interests, especially that of weapon manufacturers, "post-conflict" construction and security companies and the oil industry is going strong. Islamophobic reactions in Western Europe, the US and Canada and general xenophobia seeks to use Muslims and immigrants as the scapegoats for the universal crisis of capitalism and excuses for perpetual war and occupation.
The racism (currently of Islamophobia) that “unites” and angers, and always, always underneath it reflecting it and driving it—the invisible and kept-invisible (as much as possible) global narrative of arms manufacture and trade. America gives Israel billions annually to buy arms annually mostly from America, annually. Israel now a world leader in research and “counter-terrorist” surveillance weaponry with the Occupied Territories as laboratory, just as the UK was prime leader in the seventies and eighties with Northern Ireland as laboratory. Now Afghanistan, desperately poor and all but destroyed Afghanistan, functions as the ongoing, open-ended “necessary” field for inter-logistical operations and co-operation by those many countries that now make up the new Nato and its allies in the wake of Soviet Union collapse. Dutch, Australian, British, German, Canadian, Georgian, Italian, Kosovan, Polish, Czech and so on and so on, all doing their bit as a member of the new aye-ready team; and more and more each participant, to give one example, using unmanned drones researched and developed in Israel in the “conflict” with the Palestinians.
A conference and an article can seem but one small thing against such global militarism, but they are vital, cheering, and remind me of the words of the great Tom Paine:
An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot—It will succeed where diplomatic management will fail—It is neither the Rhine, the Channel, nor the Ocean, that can arrest its progress—It will march on the horizon of the world, and it will conquer.
Received a copy of the limited edition magazine Dwang (£35) produced by Michael Curran at Tangerine Press. It includes a new short story by James Kelman and a 70-page single-image-per-page cartoon sequence called “For Whom the Balloon Tows” by Kelsie T Harder. The cartoon sequence is a reprint from a small American magazine of forty years ago; its burden reminded me of Norman McLaren’s anti-war anti-violence film animation “Neighbours” that I saw on television in the midsixties. McLaren’s 8-minute film, made in 1952 for the National Film Board of Canada, is still worth viewing and can be seen online here.
The British media’s crucial part in controlling and containing any likely public anger at Israel’s attack in international waters on the aid ships bringing medical supplies and construction materials to Gaza has been palpable this past few days—to those that is who bother enough about international affairs to go beyond the British and western media for information. Sky News was typical in its report that the attack on the aid ships “had handed a propaganda coup to Israel’s enemies”.
Israeli government spokespersons have been give full access on all channels, while not a single representative of the aid convoy has to my knowledge been given an opportunity to put the convoy’s point of view. Six hundred people have been taken from international waters with bodies and wounded into Israel, and there has been a total media blackout on what is happening to them ever since by the Israeli government. This blackout would be a source of ongoing “outrage” to British journalists with another country, especially if they were not a “friend of the West”. But in this case the blackout is deemed not even worthy of mention. Such is the integral nature of the complicity.
As usual the only place to get another point of view on Israel and Palestine on television is Press TV which can be watched in live stream here I find the Flash option best. News bulletins on the hour.
Also Al Jazeera English TV is among those channels which can be accessed on computer free when you sign up to Zatoo here
Printed news and analysis of events from a Palestinian point of view is best obtained by subscribing to the Yahoo group here. A daily gathering of international press links in English, It’s an invaluable source for news and comment ordinarily suppressed or ignored in Britain.
Press release just issued by Scottish Friends of Palestine. The events referred to are of course being studiously ignored by the British media, BBC etc.:-
The people of the Gaza Strip have been under siege for well over 3 years. In the coming days there will be yet another attempt to break this siege, this time by a flotilla, the Freedom Flotilla, of three cargo ships and four passenger boats carrying 800 activists (including 35 European parliamentarians) and cargoes of medical goods, building materials, prefabricated homes, school books, paper and other essentials necessary for life in Gaza - a total of 10000 tonnes. Reports indicate that half of the Israeli navy is in training to thwart this attempt to break the siege - with precedent making the jamming of communications between ships, the ramming of ships and boarding parties of armed marines a distinct possibility.
The Irish/Malaysian ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, a Turkish passenger ship, a Greek/Swedish cargo ship, a passenger boat from the European Campaign and Free Gaza passenger boats will rendezvous in the Mediterranean before proceeding to Gaza. At no time will the flotilla enter Israeli waters, but will pass directly from international waters into Gaza's waters. However, as Gazan fishermen have long experienced, the latter is under military occupation and Israel has never had any qualms with regard to acts of piracy in international waters.
Principally, the Freedom Flotilla is a small attempt to relieve the suffering of the civilian population trapped in the Gaza Strip by a military occupation which has also imposed a debilitating, inhumane siege. It is also the biggest internationally coordinated effort to directly challenge Israeli's ongoing occupation, aggression, and violence against the Palestinian people.
The state of Israel must know that the people of the world are watching as events unfold. Any breach of international law must be reported and condemned. Under international law the flotilla has a right of free passage into Gaza. The safety of the volunteer activists cannot be allowed to be compromised by the actions of a state which has demonstrated its capacity for killing and injuring civilians. The steadfastness of Gaza's 1.5 million residents in the face of a brutal siege deserves wide recognition.
Israel has promised that no ship will reach Gaza at "any price". Scottish Friends of Palestine urge all recipients of this Press Release to ensure that the events of the next few days are not ignored:
• To the media we say, keep abreast of events, report as the events unfold. Anticipate criminal action by the state of Israel and report this as you would any other crime. North Korean acts of naval aggression, Somali piracy all reach the headlines. At a criminal level, the actions of the state of Israel are no different. In that they enforce a decades long occupation and continue to contribute to the destabilisation of the Middle East and beyond, their importance cannot and should not be ignored.
• To the maritime organisations we say, protest to the UK government, the Israeli government - should the latter authorise illegal attempts to halt the progress of the flotilla in international or Gazan waters. Protest to the international maritime bodies.
• To all maritime workers and trade unions members - contact your representatives - consider the argument for boycotting the state of Israel. No state should be allowed to flout international law, to prevent the free passage of vessels and endanger the lives of crew and passengers.
• To members of the public, this could be the first test of the resolve of the the UK's coalition government when it comes to enforcing international law and protecting UK nationals at sea. Write/e mail your MP at http://www.writetothem.com/ and demand that the flotilla is allowed free, unhindered passage into Gaza. It was John Ging, Head of United Nation's Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip since 2006, who recommended the world send ships to the shores of Gaza, in the belief that Israel would not stop these vessels because the sea is open and it has already been proven that breaking the siege on Gaza is possible.
For more information:
Free Gaza Movement Greta Berlin - +357 99187275 ?Free Gaza Movement Huwaida Arraf - +306983046697 ?ECESG Mazen Kahel - +33 1 46 81 12 92 ?IHH Ahmet Emin Dag +90 530 341 1934 ?Ship to Gaza / Greece Vangelis Pissias - +30 697 200 9339 ?Ship to Gaza / Sweden Dror Feiler - +46702855777
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is comprised of: Free Gaza Movement (FG), European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza (ECESG), Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), Ship to Gaza Greece, Ship to Gaza Sweden, and the International Committee to Lift the Siege on Gaza, with hundreds of groups and organizations around the world supporting the effort.
www.freegaza.org www.savegaza.eu www.ihh.org.tr
Scottish Friends of Palestine is a firm advocate of the total boycott of all Israeli institutions, academic and cultural bodies and Israeli products - until as such times that the Israeli state ceases to boycott the rights of the Palestinian people, and international law as it pertains to the Palestinian people. Visit www.easi-piesi.org to find out what you can do.
Every year the Scottish Poetry Library asks somebody to pick a selection of poems that appealed to them from the previous year’s publications. They put the selection online with comments from the chooser and sometimes from the poet.
This year “June the Second” was chosen here.
Previous years included
“Plasma Nights” here,
“Being a Human Being” here,
“touching your face” here.
Am going on holiday with my family now for ten days.
Now that the curtain has finally risen on Her Gracious Majesty’s Lumpy Vomit Horror Show, those trying to hold down their stomachs can expect no stability of stomach contents from the likely antics of those now exited the stage.
Trade union leaders, Labour party members to a man, who have done nothing for thirteen years but pour members’ money into the Labour government and play croquet on John Prescott’s lawn, will now be searching their stoory cupboards for “Stop the Cuts!” banners from the time before the last government. Those were the times when they marched us up and down every weekend shouting “Stop the Cuts!” and “Maggie Out!” Labour chancellor Alastair Darling promised that if Labour was re-elected this time he would be introducing public spending cuts worse than Thatcher ever did. Don’t expect that to appear on the banners. “Stop the Cuts!” and “Cameron and Clegg Out!” the choirs will be practising. The drive to re-elect Labour will have begun.
The drive to re-elect, that is, the party which intensified those very laws against trade union practice that the Conservatives first introduced; whose successive home secretaries introduced “security” laws the most reactionary and repressive since Castlereagh in the early nineteenth century; whose chancellor then prime minister, Gordon Brown, within 24 hours of gaining office in 1997, handed control of interest rates to a banking committee—thus putting public spending effectively in the hands of the banks: those same banks whose own powers to spend he relaxed as to let them loose on the profits-crazed spending bubble that finally burst. This, lastly, as prelude to the impending wholesale devastating public spending cuts that might not speak their name—until after an election that is.
it is my father’s shade
that lengthens before me
then fades to the dark
where the shade has goneand to which I walk on
Poetry Festival, Third Eye Centre Glasgow 1984. Left to right Clive Fencott, Tom Leonard, Katalin Ladik,Joan Hughson (co-organiser), Henri Chopin, Gerhard Rühm, Jackson MacLow, Ann Tardos, Sorley MacLean, Jerome Rothenberg, Bob Cobbing, Edwin Morgan, Dom Sylvester Houédard.
It was the Canadian Tsar Publications which published the anthology of three Tamil poets Wilting Laughter noted in this blog on December 15thlast year. A new collection from Tsar is by the Egyptian poet and photographer Ehab Lotayef. To Love a Palestinian Woman gathers Lotayef’s poetry with a few of his photographs taken in Egypt, Baghdad, the West Bank and Gaza.
Love and hope
on a sidewalk die
You pass them by
No one can see, no one can cry
Walk me through your city streets
Show me what they hide beneath
Christmas trees in grand hotels
Homeless kids in alleways
Darker, colder winter nights
Prostitutes not even twelve:
Sex for blankets
Sex for oil
Lies for oil and lives for oil
Wish Baghdad “Happy New Year”
Baghdad, December 27, 2003
The Parliamentary Democracy Song (draft)
We fought for representation.
Now we have management.
Withdraw your vote—Strike on May 6th!
They fought against democracy.
Now they have representation.
Withdraw your vote—Strike on May 6th!
We fought for representation.
What we got is management.
They fought against democracy.
What they got is representation.
Withdraw your vote—strike on May 6th!