Remarks and Shadows

Absence, disturbance, retrieval. How things, like gardens, gather at windows.  Environments are sealed.  If we surf memories we can find them, broken, faded, hidden, lost. In time they become woven, double-skinned so that shadows are permanently embedded within us: we can’t see  them yet we know they are there. The tension between real and virtual.

Imagination, according to Gaston Bachelard in Water and Dreams, is the faculty  to form images which go beyond reality. Likewise, Coleridge is helpful here, suggesting as did Wordsworth, that perception is a bilateral rather than a unilateral activity; sense experience is a stimulus that awakes a response and involves as Wordsworth also concurs,  ” A balance, an ennobling interchange Of action from within and from without” (Letter to William Sotheby, 19 July 1802).

Consider the rustication on a building: it catches both light (reason) and dark  (libido.) Like writing, buildings gather deposits or influences, and stone being already composed of sediment is populated by other forms of encoded  information. Similarly, by what means is the writer able to create mental images that are not only a shared day dreaming but acts of perception? The poetic image exists in two realities: the physical reality of perception and the unreal realm of the imagination. Poetry and architecture, indeed all great works of art short circuit rational understanding. An artistic  work exists in its material self and in the imaginary reality of its artistic image. The poetic image redirects, refocuses our  attention, being here and somewhere else at the same time. As we experience the materiality of the poem or the building, our awareness is suspended  and moves between the two realities: this is where the ‘thingyness’ or magic occurs.

So, there is an exchange between art and nature, between a work of art and its location. A poem is read in many contexts and there maybe  an infinite number of interpretations.  The assimilation of a building, a poem, means that we have to search for the sense in which it was first read and how it now arrives.The trapeze act of the imagination goes further and as Bachelard suggests, ‘sing reality’.

In my own work it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint a precise thread or single influence, but the imagination though it is not stable, always begins with the physical act of writing. This materiality creates a stabilising medium. Always with a pen, always in a notebook, sometimes on scraps of paper, always in longhand with an ink pen. This is a pivotal and vital moment.The hippocampus bathed in a favoured music, glows and trembles: so too, when writing by hand in a style not reserved for the passing on of information or thanks, a litany of thought is found. Behind each image is another one and that is where the dialogue begins. The writing persists in the form of curlicues and swags, and feels a more natural state. Hardly ever legible, but with a plunging ease that allows a different thought to finds its way to the surface and to perhaps be heard.

Long before beginning this journal, a personal sense of being deracinated may explain being preoccupied with buildings and words how they may contain memory. Common experiences of simply being human and living a life, whilst traumatising in some senses, can like, Corbusier’s fascination with white Ripolin, be so blinding and all consuming that the sight and sound of all other lives can be alienated. Yet, like most external walls, the weathering process takes place and cracks appear in the surface. It is through these fissures that the whetstone of writing begins to sharpen thoughts … opening up the membranes that screen and conceal, keeping fear at bay.

The extract that follows is from a poem of mine called Glashaus, seeks to convey the moment of  innocent encounter with architecture, art or poetry. The painting below by David Gleeson, RBSA, is architectural and enigmatic: a condensation of experiences that contains the mental ground for the emergence of a poetic image. As  Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us in ‘The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge’

… One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of screams of women in labour, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must have also been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises.’

Memory alone, however, is not enough for we also have to forget where they came from and have the patience to wait until they come back again to encounter the prerequisite creative spark.

‘…stammering at first, then moving elliptics into pale heaps

of sugared almonds


stock-still  in glassy pinnacles


breathing through

lichen canvas

to surprise us’

From  Glashaus by Elizabeth Jardine Godwin


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