Tuesday, 31 August 2010


I found The Voice Project site when a search for live footage of Joanna Newsom led to the above video. I love cover versions, love hearing songs sung in different ways (anyone have any favourites to recommend?) and so couldn't resist clicking through to the website.

The Voice Project is a nonprofit company, set up to support the work of women in Uganda pushing for peace.

For decades, children have been abducted by Joseph Kony's LRA and either forced into soldierhood or used by the group's fighters for sex. Those who escape may fear returning home, fearful of being punished for atrocities they were forced to commit.

Women in Northern Uganda have been banding together to create support groups and networks. And doing this, they sing. The songs travel by radio and word of mouth, with lyrics letting the former soldiers know they are forgiven and should come home.

Aiming to spread the word and support programmes on the ground, The Voice Project ask musicians to cover a song, which they record and place on their website. Money from donations, sponsors and advertisers goes to projects on the ground.

Singing seems basic and universal; as a species, we probably sang before we learned to speak. It can be such a powerful way to communicate. I hope these songs keep being sung.

Monday, 30 August 2010


Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn't need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn't want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days

Frank O'Hara

Sunday, 29 August 2010


There are no words left for us now. Everything I want to tell you - there is so much I want to tell you - is untranslatable, unpalatable: my mouth is incapable of shaping thoughts into words, of pushing them into the air between us.

Where do I go from here? I have been scouring poems, songs, trying to find the one that will let me explain what I am feeling. None work on their own, I want to stitch them together quiltlike - but I think that would render them meaningless. Change them to a hissing stream.

I want to be neat, surgical. I want to be clean as a cut from a sharp knife. I want to lay out my feelings out for you, categorised and labelled, like a cabinet of curiousity.

I am not. I tumble out of myself, the wrong words like slippery organs coughed up.
How does anyone ever speak about important things? How did they learn to craft words from emotion?

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


I could easily stop speaking and just play Joanna Newsom songs whenever I wanted to express my feelings.


Last Wednesday I took a day off work to go and look at art. Nearly everyone in the office was away on a summer break, and I was feeling jealous. I took my holiday in June, and it feels very distant.

I went to see Pyschopomps, by the taxidermist Polly Morgan. A pyschopomp is a 'guide of souls' - the deities, spirits or angels responsible for leading souls to the afterlife. They appear in numerous cultures: Charon, Horus, Woden, the Grim Reaper; pyschopomps all. Nowadays, there is Oscar the cat, who lives in a nursing home and curls up with those about to die. His predictions have been so accurate that staff will now alert a patient's family when Oscar appears on a bed. What else could he be, but a pyschopomp?

Anyone who has visited a natural history museum will be aware of taxidermy, which recreates an image of life using the skin of a dead animal. Those museum exhibitions, with animals frozen still as if in photographs, posed on backgrounds meant to resemble their natural habitat, are oppositional to Morgan's work: she does not aim to create a fiction of natural life, as if to pretend the animal had not been deconstructed and treated and tanned and manipulated by human hands.

I love this piece. Looking at it gave me an intense feeling of motion sickness. It was not a mass of wings, but one bird circling and swooping; it felt like the bird itself was always moving just out of line of my vision, and all that was left was a flurry of wing. I'm very drawn to static objects that nonetheless seem full of potential and movement; it is so impressive, to be able to make something so energetic despite its physical stillness.

This feeling, of movement without movement itself, was also present in this piece.

The little finches are akin to Eadward Muybridge's work: both he and Morgan capture a series of single moments of movement, and compose them in a way that suggests motion.

I read a review that spoke of escape and transcendence with regard to the second piece: the birds are outside their cage, lifting it beyond this world to another. But they didn't seem free to me. They are not inside the cage, but its metal still reaches up and holds them. They wear it. It put me in mind of how we incorporate animals into our service: we place real birds in cages to lift our spirits with song; we create bird deities to lift our spirits from life to the land of the dead.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Some things that are on my body today:

Some sounds that are on my speakers (with an eerie hypnotic homemade video, i love you tube):


We are having (yet another) book-throwing-out session in my house (it never seems to make any difference), so I have been sorting through piles of books, trying to decide what I can make room for on my bookshelf.

I spent this morning flicking through a poetry anthology called 'Favourite Verse', which spans the 16th - 19th centuries (with a couple of 20th century poems dotted about). I haven't read much from the earlier periods, so it will be interesting to learn more about that.

That said, some of my favourite poems were written by John Donne, who died in 1631. He had slipped my mind, and it was nice to stumble across him again.

The Flea

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two ;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou sincePurpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

Donne is funny, playful, clever and kinda irreverent; I imagine straight-laced christians being a tad offended by the references to marriage and the trinity ('three lives in one') in a poem about the narrator trying to persuade his girlfriend to have sex. And making the flea - a parasite, whose bites could resemble the marks of syphilis - holy, a temple? Hah.

An excerpt from the poem. Donne took full advantage of Renaissance typography, using the famous long S to make visual puns (see line three).

I also like the refusal of the woman to be taken in with the narrator's logic: she rebuffs him, squashing the flea with her fingernail - although, the narrator, wiley and desperate as he is, quickly turns this action into another reason for her to agree to sex.

The Flea Catcher, Georges de la Tour

I want to know more about fleas and their erotic associations now. A cursory search of the internet suggested that the flea made numerous appearances in renaissance literature, connected to sex and intimacy - because fleas have freedom to crawl all over our bodies, can bite and suck the flesh those renaissance men cannot touch. A clown in Marlowe's Faustus states, 'if you turn me into anything, let it be in the likeness of a little pretty frisking flea, that I may be here and there and everywhere. O, I'll tickle the pretty wenches' plackets'.

The possibilities the tiny flea held for sexual and romantic expression were not limited to the European Renaissance; I came across this 12th century Chinese folk poem here:

Suchow mattress has nine springs.
Quilt and canopy
cover the mandarin ducks.
The embroidered quilt
wraps him and me.
The flea biting him
bites me, too.

Thursday, 19 August 2010


A couple of weeks ago I went to a fancy dress party; it was country-themed, with every guest trying to embody a different place. I chose Holland, mainly because it gave me an excuse to dress up as Van Gogh. Well, it was that, a windmill or a tulip (if only i had the resources and artistic talent). I settled for a wearing a windmill charm necklace.

Dressing up as a country is very difficult; there were lots of national football shirts worn that evening. Thinking up a way to represent a whole teeming nation in one nifty outfit is challenging, especially if you'd prefer to not spend your time in the centre of a circle of confused gazes.

So, we settle for well established visual markers. We choose the stories we all know about these foreign places, the facts that have travelled with tourists and imperialists and adventurers over the years.

I know almost nothing of Holland, save a smattering of history and art (and, because we had to bring food to this party, the fact that pea soup is a popular dish). I didn't think about it much before this party, and continued to not think too much about it afterward.

Which didn't strike me as that much of a problem, until I substitute Holland for other countries. What if someone came to the party as Japan, dressed as a geisha? Or if someone had come as Benin, dressed in their best Topshop 'tribal' trousers (yes, Topshop sell 'tribal print' trousers) and holding a spear? If Topshop's too pricey, how about visiting a fancy dress shop, as they have a variety of national or 'ethnic' costumes to chose from; how about Samoan dancing girl? Desert Arab?

Suddenly there's something quite unsettling about the whole thing. Britain's modern history pivots on empire - whether it celebrates it (hallo, Niall Ferguson, you douche) or tries to hide it - and the violent domination of lots of people all over the world. Hierarchies of power were developed by telling stories (and I include science as a method of story telling) about other races that diminished the worth, complexity and plurality of non-European people and cultures. Added to that, Europeans plundered culture as well as natural resources, taking bits and pieces to adorn themselves, their homes and their museums.

Caricatures twist and shape the way in which actual people are treated, and they resonate for years. Stereotypes, usually crafted over long periods of time, can reduce power and status, and be used to perpetuate - or even justify - social inequalities. The act of deciding what story gets told about a group of people, and what images get seen and remembered, comes from a place a privilege.

So what does it mean when we engage with foreign places through stereotypes and famous people? Does it matter, if it's only an evening, only a party? So what, you wear a feather headdress and moccasins for a few hours one evening - does it really have a significant impact?

Of course it does.

And when non-western national and racial stereotypes get sold to white westerners as a great idea for a party costume (or a 'sexy' party costume, if you are female), and no one bats an eyelid - more than that, people buy and wear these items and it's GREAT FUN - then it hugely fucking matters.

And of course, I didn't bring any of this up; I was at a party. It's a stark reminder that I have the privilege not to think about representations of nationality - and linked to this, race and culture - when I would rather not.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


how can you properly forgive someone for betraying you? answers on a postcard, please.

Sunday, 8 August 2010


so, you have to find her, and you know that it will be the death of you.

she is famous - the stuff of myth - and you can't not look for her; you need to know for yourself if the rumours are true. it's the major flaw of growing up in such an empirical culture: seeing is believing. word-of-mouth counts for nothing now. still, the stories have been told and told again, words of darkness, and ice, and a look so monstrous that life cannot escape it. men become more solid - permanent - and make dull ornaments for the frostbitten caves that are her home. there, death sounds like a whisper, her whisper behind you, coaxing you to turn.

medusa does not solicit attention. she does not want the droves of brave adventurers coming to her with their violence and overblown confidence, believing they will be the one - the only one, the lone victor - who will not succumb to her glare. men cannot resist the urge to prove themselves unique.

they all come to the same end.