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Sculptures in the Gardens
It’s the only sculpture garden in Canada. It may even be the only one in the world in which the sculptures shake off their shackles and come alive at night when the moon hangs heavy in the sky and shifting shadows prowl beneath Kingsbrae’s trees. Deadly nightshades, roaming with no thought for the humans who walk around by day taunting these sculptures, thinking they are lifeless, mere images set in stone.
Beard not the lion in his den, nor the fox running wild, nor the chubby bear whose clumsy run belies his speed and strength. The dragon opens iron wings, but beware of the hot forge lodged in the snap-dragon’s mouth.
Have you seen the cerulean whale, marooned and ship- wrecked on these foreign soils? Once upon a time, in a fairy tale, he roamed the seven seas and plundered men and ships with abominable ease. Ease and the easel, plein air paintings, sculpture portraits taken from life and converted to a ship’s canvas that will never sail.
Ask not who is that bearded man, for he might be the one Don Juan invited to supper. Ah, the hard rock ship-shock when with a thunderous knock he arrives, an unexpected guest, at the coward’s door. And shake not his hand lest his fearsome grip turn you to stone or drag you down to hell.
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Dalí ‘s Clock Salvador Dalí
A clock, a sheet hung out, strung out, on a canvas washing line. No wind, no pegs, soon to be sun-bleached, dried, then folded in on itself, corner to corner the sheet, and the watch, how will it fold?
Face to face, in half circles, perhaps, or back-to-back with time cut in half, a tick without its companion tock, a stutter of time, halved, then quartered, then in an eighth, a quesadilla of broken springs and tiny wheels within wheels, all disjointed, with glass fragmenting, shattering.
While we watch, our clockwork universe disintegrates before our eyes, in a tiny explosion as all chronological creation implodes into a logic of carnival, absurd our words and world, devoid of meaning, a pocket-watch going over a waterfall, a timepiece soon to break into rusty pieces, painted by a man who dreams he isn’t mad.
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Niche, the fourth poetry book published by Jane Tims, is a neat configuration of six segments that elaborate and illustrate the poet’s original definition of the multiple meanings of her title word niche. It is very difficult to separate the author from the act of narration as her keenly observed and skillfully executed drawings, together with their verbal representation on the page, are so autobiographical and so much an extension of her artistic and professional abilities that the objective separation of writer and text is scarcely possible. It is hard to forget that Jane Tims was, and to a great extent, still is, a highly competent professional botanist. The harnessing of the professional botanist, with her unique drawing skills and scientific knowledge, to the poet and auto-biographer is a key factor in the reading and interpretation of this text in which acute observation blends with an intimate knowledge of the observed botanical world, both flora and fauna, and this allows the poet, in her role of poetic narrator and lyrical voice, to weave a network of poems that are, at one and the same time, objective and intensely subjective.
The author emphasizes this when she writes in the Preface that “In biological terms, the niche is the quality of a space occupied by a living thing, the sum total of physical, nutritional, biological, psychological and emotional needs gathered together in one place.” She also reminds us that in human terms “niche can be a metaphor for home, community or personal space” and it is within these metaphoric spaces that the poetry text is elaborated. The text becomes a linked mixture of visual drawings, iterative thematic imagery and associative fields, all centred on the multiple meanings of niche. These terms are both biological and human in nature and the poet’s named world meets at this juncture between the human and the natural.
The section occupying space (1-19) bears the subtitle satisfying need and begins with a setting out of what this means in the following 12 poems and 4 accompanying drawings. The poem ‘apples in the snow’ with its companion drawing stands out for me. The section strategy, subtitled solidifying position (21-43) outlines in poetic terms, how plants, animals, and humans ensure their own survival. The section praying for rain, subtitled, avoiding danger and discomfort (45-68), offers views on discomforts and dangers. It also opens the discussion—relocate or stay where we are? The section mapping the labyrinth or places I have occupied (69-83), which contains the wonderful sentence “When I get lost on the road ahead, I look to the road behind me,” throws open the multiple meanings of home. The section new ways for water, subtitled coping with change (85-98), offers a double landscape, first, external, the things seen, touched, examined, remembered and described, and then the internal landscape that reflects upon them and is reflected in them. Finally, forgetting to move, with its subtitle getting comfortable (99-111), presents an autobiography that links observer (the twin personage of author and narrator) to observed (nature, both flora and fauna, and the added element of autobiography and self) via the symbiotic relationship of botanist to botany.
Two moments stand out for me. (1) Sadness is in seeking the space that is never found. (2) Loneliness is in trying to return to a space once occupied but no longer available. The whole concept of the Welsh word hiraeth is summed up in these two lines. Carpe diem, Jane Tims’ poetry indeed seizes the day and, with its minute, intense observation, it preserves so many precious moments. It also pays attention to that which has been lost, those moments that are irretrievable. They will vary for each reader, but hopefully, like me, you will take great pleasure in discovering them for yourself.
Comment: Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox picked up this review and published it on QBF. Thank you, Brian and thank you Jane, you both do me great honor. Here’s the link: Niche on QBF 14 March 2021
These daffodils were not painted by an unknown painter, but by a painter whose paintings are unknown. There is a subtle difference. There is also something sweet abut covering a blank space with color and shape, even if the hand is unsteady and the eye unsure. This painting is also unframed and belongs in a photograph album or a long-forgotten painting book.
“Fair daffodils, we weep to see thee.” Indeed we do, for they are so transient lasting but a week, or less, cut and placed on the table in a vase of water. So sad to watch them as they stiffen, turn slowly brown, dry up, and then hang their heads in the shame of old age. We are not so dissimilar, those daffodils and me. This photo will capture me forever, or until it is erased, because a photo isn’t a photo anymore. That painting will capture those daffodils too, for little while, until my subscription to the blog runs out and I forget to renew it.
“Poor daffodils, we weep to see you.” But weep not for us, they tell me. Our day is done. Our life is fulfilled. We have brought beauty and scent, however brief, and we have given light to enlighten your daysand joy to light up your heart. And that, I guess, is the message. “Gather you daffodils while you may, for Father Time is flying. And those sweet blooms you pluck today, tomorrow will be dying.”
Thus it is during the Corona Virus 19 pandemic, and thus it was during the Spanish Flu, the Black Death, and all the other plagues that have come to bring understanding and make us see reason. Our lives are as short as the lives of flowers. Seize your life, hold it in both hands, admire it, enjoy it, make the most of the mall things, for they are often, like the smiles of small children and the daffodil’s golden glow, the most important things of all.
“The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la, bring promise of merry sunshine …” Gilbert and Sullivan, from The Mikado, if I remember correctly, and not at all anonymous like the Anonymous Bosch artist who painted this painting. Still, I like it, and it certainly lends a little bit of color to the pale cheeks of these walls.
“And we merrily dance and we sing, tr-la, as we welcome the promise they bring, tra-la, of a summer with roses and wine …” I can remember my grandfather singing that in the kitchen in Swansea. He would conduct with one hand, and encourage me to join in with the other. And I did. Merry days, they were, before the fire in winter and out in the greenhouse in early spring.
So, where have all the flowers gone? Gone with the grosbeaks, everyone. Which reminds me, I saw an Evening Grosbeak at the feeder this morning. The first one in years. There used to be several nesting nearby and they were regular visitors, as were the Gray Jays, aka Whisky Jacks, aka Gorbies, aka Ghosts of the Woods and all of them long, long gone.
Will they naw come back again? Who knows? The world is changing even as I sit at my window and watch it go by. February, March, April, May, June, and now July. The lock down has been lifted, but the fear of going unmasked in the great outdoors is still with us, as are the anonymous givers of the virus, a donation I do not want, and nor does anyone else, in their right minds, compus mentis, and not yet willing to on the anonymous ranks of the Gorbies, the Grosbeaks, the Swallows, and the other birds that have fled elsewhere, leaving our yard to the crows, the blue jays, the squirrels, the chipmunks, and the occasional more colorful visitors.
“Ah, would some power thegiftie ge us / to see ourselves as others see us.” Robbie Burns, a Scottish Poet.
And sometimes I think the flowers would like to be seen as they see themselves, not as we see them with our imperfect eyes, not with the cataracts of the Elderly Monet, not with the blunted vision of many artists who have stopped, and sniffed, and bent their heads, and wondered at the colors that entered their paint brushes through the nostrils. Vision and reality: the photo versus the objects as we see and sense them. The reality versus our own version of it.
So who is this anonymous artist who delivers these visions to my blog and allows me to glimpse alternate realities that are so different to my realities. I think of Lorna Crozier, The Garden Going on Without Us. I think of Kingsbrae Gardens, at night, when the flowers are alone and talk only to themselves. I think of Monet at Giverny as his vision lessened and his instincts grew. Who are we? What are we? Do we see ourselves as others see us? Do others see what we see? Color, shade, light, hue … El ojo que ves no es ojo porque lo ves, es ojo porque te ve / the eye you see is not an eye because you see it, it is an eye because it sees you (Antonio Machado). Does the man or woman looking out at us from the television set see him or herself as we see them?
The night before last I sat alone in a hotel room. The television screen was much, much wider than it was high. All the facial images were greatly distorted. I didn’t recognize the people I saw, except by their voices. Who will distinguish the reality of the flowers, each by each and one by one, privatim et seriatim? Who will listen to their floral voices and call them by the names they have given themselves, rather than by their horticultural names?
Tell me, what reality do we see when we see the flowers? What reality do the flowers see when they see us? The anonymous painter who painted this picture that Geoff Slater, my anonymous friend, framed so nicely did not see those flowers the way that I saw those flowers. Why not? Why can’t I see like him (or her)? and why can’t she (or he) see like me?
she said, and I imagined her
sitting before the blank spread of a canvas,
a ship’s sail waiting for a sea-side breeze
to fill that empty space with color and mood.
What routes will her paintbrush take
as it wanders over the new world
lying before her?
Plein air, al fresco,
in garden and street,
before the shops and then
on headland and shore,
alone or accompanied,
with sea birds wading
and the gull’s cry echoing its sea of sound
as the sun sets in its bonfire of brightness
and throws light and shadow, chiaro-oscuro,
Comment: The lead photo of Ruby Allan in her studio was taken in her KIRA studio in June, 2017, by my friend and fellow artist, the Peruvian pan-piper and flautist / flutist, Carlos Carty. The poem comes from my book, One Small Corner (2017), written in KIRA during my residency. It can be found on page 94 in the section entitled Artists.
In this poem I have tried to capture the idea of Ruby painting in the fresh air (plein air / al fresco) in St. Andrews-by-the-sea. Clearly, as you can see from the above photo, the sea is so important to this town, as are harbors and boats and the men that man and sail them. The light is important too as it changes throughout the day or with wind and weather. As you can see, Ruby’s paintings are filled with light and she catches those magic moments when the world seems to freeze and stand still. I try to imitate visual art when I write, and I try to fill my poetry with those magic moments as I create verbal pictures that seize the seconds and hold them, even if it be for just a little while.
The Kingsbrae International Residencies for Artists (KIRA) requested its alumni to consider creating a ten minute video of themselves offering an instructional lesson based on themselves working in their specialist areas. You can click on the above link to see all the creative videos currently available. Note that two more are added each week. Here is a link to my own video on Writing a Poem. It is designed for people of any age and I hope that anyone who sees the video will enjoy it and be inspired to start putting together their own poems.
The photo above was taken by Geoff Slater, the Artistic Director at KIRA. He placed a selection of my books on the beach at Holt’s Point and Bingo: instant art from a master artist. My book Fundy Lines now sunbathes on a beach that has ready access to the beautiful Bay of Fundy.
How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?
Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?
So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting
of a photo of a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.
A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead
nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.
Comment: I love the way language changes the way we look at life. A still life painting becomes nature morte in French and naturaleza muerta in Spanish. Still life becomes dead nature. Fascinating. I also love the way in which the camera captures nature and the natural world. We think it is an accurate depiction, but really it isn’t necessarily that accurate. Filters, light and shadow, mood: they all fluctuate and sometimes we capture that which we never saw and sometimes that which we saw is never captured. Oh the subtle enigmas of creative art.
And it is the same with the hollyhock, my hollyhock, Geoff’s hollyhock. At the top of the page is Geoff’s painting of my hollyhock. The above is a photo of my hollyhock. Which bloom did Geoff capture and reproduce in paint? Language: and what do I mean when I say ‘my hollyhock’? My indicates possession, ownership. How and in what way does one own a hollyhock? How does one possess a garden, a flower bed, a tree? Are they not free, living, beings with a life and maybe even a mind of their own? Does one hollyhock talk to another hollyhock as the trees are said to converse with the trees? Do the trees in the garden possess a soul and if they do, in what sense do they possess one? And what is a soul anyway? I guess it depends upon the church and creed to which you belong. Certainly the garden has a life of its own and we discover that every spring when the grass and flowers grow back and the dandelions return.
Questions: dangerous things, questions. Several of the questions posed above could have landed me in an Inquisitional institute in Spain in the 1500’s and 1600’s. That is a frightening thought. Alas, the philosophy of all that is way too deep for this poor poet and apology for a philosopher. One thing I do know, though: I love the garden going on outside my window and it is a privilege to be allowed to watch it, admire it, and follow its progress as the sun returns and the draws the birds back with it.