Sunday, December 29, 2019

Philip Larkin’s Life Behind the Camera

Monica Jones in Larkin's bedrom in Hull
England, 1957

Philip Larkin’s Life Behind the Camera

By Lev Mendes

January 29, 2016

In the late summer of 1947, Philip Larkin, a few years removed from university and eking out a living as an assistant librarian, bought himself a camera—a British-made Purma Special. In a letter to a friend, he characterized the purchase as an “act of madness”—it had cost him more than a week’s salary—but the camera seemed to open up fresh possibilities. “There are dozens of worthy compositions knocking around,” he wrote. “It’s a question of realizing what is good even in black and white.” Larkin, at this point, had been taking pictures for nearly a decade, starting out with a box camera given to him by his father and honing his skills as an undergraduate at Oxford, during the Second World War, where he would amble around the deserted campus photographing his contemporaries.

It was a hobby that Larkin would maintain for the next three decades. Eventually, he replaced the Purma with an even costlier Rolleiflex Automat, which he used to shoot a series of self-portraits. Several document his morning routine (shaving, breakfasting, dressing), while others show him looking pensive and quietly dignified. To capture a desired expression, Larkin would position a mirror behind the mounted Rolleiflex, taking advantage of its self-timer. After printing the portraits, he would often crop them for compositional effect, as he did with the other images he created over the years: studies of family members, friends, and romantic partners; elegiac depictions of the English countryside; and an urban pastoral of churches, interiors, railway stations, and cemeteries.

Some two hundred of these photographs, selected from five thousand prints and negatives, have now been assembled for the first time, in a beautifully produced book, “The Importance of Elsewhere,” which was released in the fall by the British imprint Frances Lincoln. Accompanied by commentary from one of Larkin’s biographers, Richard Bradford, the photographs display the full range of his poetic sensibility, from the melancholic to the comical. There is a death-haunted image of his aging mother, silhouetted against the light from a nearby window, and a bitingly funny one of the miserably married Kingsley and Hilly Amis, standing in front of a newspaper headline that reads, in bold lettering, “BIG FIGHT.” There is also a black-and-white shot of the young Monica Jones, Larkin’s lifelong paramour, leaning sensually against his bed (one of many portraits he made of her over the years), and a color image of a country graveyard, the obelisks like giant chessmen casting long shadows.
In their sociability, tenderness, and sweep, the photographs complicate the caricature of Larkin as England’s laureate of despair, squeezing out lines between shifts as a university librarian: “Life is first boredom, then fear”; “Nothing contravenes the coming dark.” Rather than a poet committed to monkish isolation and routine, Larkin the photographer appears as an eager traveller through Britain and Ireland, with Jones often in tow. Bradford makes a point of noting that Larkin kept these travels, and the photographs they inspired, a secret from pen pals like Kingsley Amis, for whom he reserved obscenity-filled reports of his own bitterness and alienation—his wide-eyed curiosity replaced by an ironic sneer.

In underscoring Larkin’s hidden side—kinder, softer, more receptive and intimate—Bradford’s notes in “The Importance of Elsewhere” seem to follow in the footsteps of James Booth, whose 2014 biography, “Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love,” attempted to counter the poet’s posthumous reputation as a bigot and boor. True, Booth argued, Larkin’s correspondence disclosed instances of racism, misogyny, and reactionary shallowness, but this was only one face of the self-contradictory, many-minded poet. Bradford, in his turn, quotes one of Larkin’s unpublished poems, addressed to Amis, in which he distinguishes, in photographic terms, between his own love interests and those of his philandering friend: “Only cameras memorise her face, her clothes would never hang among your interests.”

What drew Larkin to take pictures? Given his investment in the medium, there is curiously little mention of the subject in his published verse, essays, or letters. We’re left, for the most part, to speculate. Perhaps photography offered the poet an escape from the pressures of verbal composition, providing him with a way of taking in reality more directly, via image instead of language. Or perhaps it availed him of a private universe of references, one he didn’t necessarily wish to share with others. Bradford describes how Larkin tried to “build a world of his own, one he kept largely to himself.” Just as he held friends like Amis at a certain remove—presenting a view of himself tailored to their sensibilities—Larkin fashioned his own separate reality, observing and framing it from behind a lens.

Larkin’s 1953 poem “Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album” supplies another shred of insight. The poem describes a man looking at photographs of his lover, and alternates between tones of artful seduction and distressed accusations against photography itself: “But o, photography! as no art is, / faithful and disappointing!” Photographs, Larkin suggests, by faithfully recording the past, convince us that it was real, like the present. But this feeling in turn provokes heartbreak, as we are forced to confront a reality “no one now can share,” from which we have been tragically cut off. The images in the young woman’s album, Larkin writes, are
In every sense empirically true!
Or is it just the past? Those flowers, that gate,
These misty parks and motors, lacerate
Simply by being over; you
Contract my heart by looking out of date.
This awareness of loss and separation, of the irrecoverable pastness of the past, is what compelled Larkin to write poetry. As he put it, in a 1958 radio interview with the BBC, poems preserve “a particular kind of experience, a feeling that you are the only one to have noticed something, something especially beautiful or sad or significant.” Photography, like poetry, may have simply provided him a way of noticing and preserving. It seems fitting, then, that in the late nineteen-seventies, when the muse of poetry abandoned Larkin, several years before his death, he ceased taking pictures as well.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Leyla Josephine / I Think She Was a She

Leyla Josephine
Photo by Jassy Earl



Leyla Josephine, a performing artist, shared her poem at Merchant City festival on Brunswick Stage. Her unapologetic account of a teenage abortion she had is making waves across the country. She came out and said something phenomenally brave about why she made the very personal decision to have an abortion. Watch the video and check out the lyrics bellow.

I think she was a she.
I know she was a she and I think that she would have looked just like me.
full cheeks, hazel eyes and thick brown hair that I could have plated into dreams at night.
I would have stuck glow up stars on her ceiling and told her they were fireflies to protect her from the dark.
I would have told her stories about her grandfather
we could have fed the swans at the park.
She would have been like you too, long limbs
with a sarcastic smile and the newest pair of kicks.
She would have been tough, tougher than I ever was
and I would have taught her all that my mother taught me
and I would have taken her to all the museums and there she could see the bone dinosaurs
and look to them and wonder about all the things that came before she was born.
She could have been born.
I would have made sure that we had a space on the wall to measure her height as she grew.
I would have made sure I was a good mother to look up to.
But I would have supported her right to choose.
To choose a life for herself, a path for herself.
I would have died for that right, just like she died for mine.
I’m sorry but you came at the wrong time.
I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed.
I am so sick of keeping these words contained.
I am not ashamed.
I was a teenage girl with a boy she loved between her thighs that felt very far away.
Duvet days and dole don’t do family planning well.
I am one in three. I am one in three. I am one in three.
I had to carve down that little cherry tree
that had rooted itself in my blood and blossomed in my brain.
A responsibility I didn’t have the energy or age to maintain.
The branches casting shadows over the rest of the garden.
The bark causing my thoughts, my heart to harden.
I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed.
It’s a hollowness, that feels full, a numbness that feels heavy.
stop trying to fit how this feels on an NHS bereavement brochure already.
I am allowed to feel it all, I am allowed to feel.
I am woman now, I am made of steel,
and she wasn’t a girl and she wasn’t a boy.
That’s just the bullshit you receive to keep you out of parliament and stuck on maternity leave.
Don’t you mutter murder on me.
70,000 per year. 70,000 per year. 70,000 per year.
Thats’s 192 per day.
from coat hangers, painkillers, the back alley way way.
Don’t you mutter murder on me.
Worldwide performing abortion like homework,
looking for the answer in the groves in our palms, the bulges on our bellies, the whispers in our ears,
only to be confronted with question marks.
Women have been hidden away in the history books.
After all it’s history.
His story.
Well this is herstory, ourstory, god damn it,
this is my story
and it wont be written in pencil and erased with guilt.
It will be written in pen and spoken with courage.
You will hear it on the radio on your way to work, you will study it in English,
you will read it on the coffee shops bulletin boards next to the flyer about yoga for babies.
Because I am not ashamed, I am not ashamed, I am not ashamed.
I am woman now.
I will not be tamed.
I have determination that this termination will still have a form of creation.
It will not be wasted.
this is my body. this is my body. this is my body.
I don’t care about your ignorant views
when I become a mother, it will be when i choose.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Philip Larkin / This Be the Verse

Philip Larkin

This Be The Verse

by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin
 “This Be the Verse”
Collected Poems
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Djelem Djelem / Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra

Sandra Sangiao

Djelem Djelem

Sandra Sangiao (Voice)
Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra

After three years of incredible concerts, inspiring musical encounters and numerous tours in 21 countries, BGKO continues to evolve, delight and flourish. We are happy to announce our newest iteration: Barcelona Gipsy balKan Orchestra.
After so much intense work and growth, we are responding to the urge to expand our artistic horizons. While we remain very interested in Klezmer music, we also want to gather inspiration from a wider spectrum of genres. Balkan music is, for us, a set of musical traditions and multiethnic cultures that surpass geographical confines, drawing on the historical traditions that have forever inhabited these lands: Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Gypsies, Ottomans, Arabs...
And as always, the Gipsy music of Eastern Europe will always be present in the essence of our artistic energy.

En route to this horizon we welcome a new clarinetist to the band: Joaquín Sánchez Gil, from Málaga, also creative artisan of wind instruments. He is a lover and expert of Balkan and Middle Eastern traditions as well as flamenco.
No longer with us is the clarinetist, Robindro Nikolic , co-founder of the old Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra. He continues his own unique artistic path with new projects. We want to take this occasion to express our deep admiration and gratitude for the wonderful years of learning and performing with Robindro. You can follow him here:
We are also enjoying the increasingly active collaboration of Oleksandr Sora, Ukrainian classical violinist and virtuoso of Eastern European music. Regarding the Barcelona Gipsy balKan Orchestra... we are happy to be presenting a new video and two unreleased tracks very soon!
We will continue to work with renewed strength, inspiration and energy! So please stay tuned! Always, Barcelona Gipsy balKan Orchestra BGKO are: Sandra Sangiao (Voice - Catalunya)
* (In this video, the group counted on Vroni Schnattinger's violin collaboration)
Robindro Nikolic (Clarinet - Serbia/India) Mattia Schirosa (Accordion - Italy) Julien Chanal (Guitar - France) Ivan Kovacevic (Double Bass - Serbia)
Stelios Togias (Percussion - Greece)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Giovanni Quessep / The artist of silence

The artist of silence

by Giovanni Quessep
Translated by Felipe Botero

Should it be denied?
If I am the last man walking on the earth
I would have to deny it
if there are no birds to sing an autumn song
if there is no autumn if the time of the seasons has already passed
I would have to deny it
if there is no blue for me to tell my bewilderment
if I am where the colours have no name
in the gardens’ incessant final judgement
I am the last man shouting on the earth
who shouts to the sky that has hidden itself forever
and I would have to deny it to whom, to God?
God is perchance the artist of silence
for there are so many leaves that are not or keep falling into the abyss
and explode in the squalid air but what air.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Giovanni Quessep / As autumn falls

As autumn falls

by Giovanni Quessep
Translated by Felipe Botero
Giovanni Quessep / Mientras cae el otoño

Shrouded in golden leaves,
we wait.
The world doesn’t end at sunset
and only dreams
limit themselves to things.
Through a labyrinth of blank hours
time leads us on
as autumn falls
over our house, our patio.
Shrouded in a relentless fog
we wait, we wait:
nostalgia means to live without remembering
the word we are made of.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Giovanni Quessep / To become one with music

To become one with music

by Giovanni Quessep
Translated by Felipe Botero
Giovanni Quessep / Para hacerte a la música

You are in need of everything:
grey roads,
deep glooms,
birds that sing even in silence;
the sky,
an autumn leaf,
hands empty,
love unreturning,
snow’s whiteness;
dawn lights,
you are in need of everything the dream requires,
to become one with the music
of the most faraway blues
so that eventually your soul
will have confidence in death.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Giovanni Quessep / In between trees

In between trees

by Giovanni Quessep
Translated by Felipe Botero

If you are who I look for, come
in the night of lost reflections,
if you are the beloved body,
come in between trees, in between songs.

Here awaits you a time
dispossessed of fables,
a body punished by life
and the roads’ brambles.

If you are she who comes,
leave me a sign in between trees:
a white veil, a trace in the dust
will suffice in my wretchedness.

Come now that death awaits
as marvellous forest awaits death;
if you are who I look for,
come under the sky’s protection.