‘on balance’

scales,haiga,

Walking around Augsburg, I came across this intricate, mysterious scales: beautifully balanced, surrounded by watches, clocks, wall clocks, jewellery, it took me to another dimension. Waiting for my watch-strap to be changed, the words “on balance” came to mind, life as a balancing act, time weighing on all of us…

When I asked for permission to take a photo, the kind owners related the scales to the ancient Egyptian Goddess of Ma’at, responsible for weighing the souls of the departed against a feather. If the soul was found to be heavier than the feather, it was denied access to the underworld.

I left the shop lighter, and full of ideas.

‘tree rings’

On a flying visit to the Tate Modern extension, I took this picture of the concrete walls of the underground Tanks that used to hold the oil in the building’s previous life as power station. I saw the oil marks on the concrete become tree rings, marking the age of the structure. The Tanks, kept in their rough state, turned into gallery spaces, now hold the present and enable the future. What a powerhouse of art!

Tate Tanks,haiga,

Revisiting re:Virals 49

Here is my contribution to re:Virals 49 (re:Virals is the weekly haiku commentary over at The Haiku Foundation).

Robert Mainone’s poem originally published in Modern Haiku 40.3 (2009)

my haplogroup
shows the sponge gene —
distant lightning

was featured and commented upon by a number of poets, yours truly included. Take a look here for the whole post.
Here I reproduce my own contribution, with a couple of minor clarifications/amendments.
Haplogroup, I understand, is the term, in genetics, describing the exact common ancestry of a group of humans, the genetic family tree down to its roots. In this poem’s case, the sponge.

At first, identifying with the narrator, I felt hurt to be classified as a sponge; then I reconsidered. After all, I’d read that sponges share a remarkable amount of genetic material with humans — so not to be taken personally. But did I want to be reminded on a Sunday morning, over coffee, that I have a lot in common with sponges?

It is of course science that gives me this information. Is science the bringer of uncomfortable news? Is it the culprit that clips the angel’s wings (Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,/ Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,/; Poe, “To Science”)? Or am I shooting the messenger? After all, Dawkins and others before him have argued that, rather than “Unweaving the Rainbow”, science reveals the worlds’s hidden beauty.

But here, in this context, it is the poet who reminds me of my humble beginnings. Of course, to their credit, sponges thrived for over 600 million years while I have struggled with fewer than 100. And recent research uncovered clues pointing to sponges descending from a more advanced ancestor than previously thought.

Still, how far am I reducible to bits of genetic information translated into proteins, labellable, traceable, ultimately replaceable? A mere cog in the cosmic machine? I, Stella, poet, writer, and sponge.

Be that as it may, what I find interesting, and welcome, is that the poet feels at ease with bringing a scientific fact into the poem. After all, objective scientific facts are as much part of our world as subjective experiences.

In earlier centuries (as far back as the ancient Greek thinkers), it had been common practice for poets to describe scientific discoveries in their poems; poets popularised scientific ideas – think of Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and how they resonated with many poets and novelists – and scientists popularised poetry. In the nineteenth century, Dickens, and others, went further than mutual facilitation, exploring poetically, for instance, ideas of energy conservation and dissipation (cf. Barri J. Gold, “ThermoPoetics”). Literature and science have been inspiring and influencing each other in Victorian times, before, and since, as well as competing for access to truth.

In this poem, Robert Mainone’s narrator sounds both surprised and humbled at being reminded that he, we, are all branches of the same evolutionary tree, part of the same cosmos. The penny drops. The distant comes closer and light is thrown on the matter — aha! How humbling! How reassuring! We are all one.

re:Virals 49

A haiku is worth a thousand words: paraphrasing this well-known English idiom, I wish to point to this week’s re:Virals, the weekly haiku commentary over at The Haiku Foundation.
Robert Mainone’s poem

my haplogroup
shows the sponge gene —
distant lightning

(Modern Haiku 40.3, 2009)

was featured on re:Virals 49 and commented upon by a number of poets, yours truly included. So interesting to see how much is packed in this haiku! Take a look here

‘Arrivals’

In my presentation ‘Arrivals‘, a HaikuLife format reading of some of my recent poems, I weave responses to the refugee arrival crisis in the Arrivals video trainsMediterranean, and the conflicting reception refugees received so far, with the more general human challenge of ‘arriving’ anywhere…

The film, edited by Rob Ward, After Effects artist and animator, was presented during HaikuLife 2016, part of International Haiku Poetry Day, an initiative of The Haiku Foundation, held 17 April 2016.

Machine Phenomena and Light Bulbs

A few years ago, in a paper titled ‘Machine Phenomena’, I explored situations in which the metaphor of the machine is understood and used concretely to express positive or negative, idealised or denigrated experiences — ranging from, for example, the use of innocuous expressions like ‘I need to charge my batteries’ to experiencing being controlled by an influencing machine. This article became a chapter in the book ‘Even Paranoids Have Enemies: New Perspectives on Paranoia and Persecution’  (ed. Berke, Pierides, Sabbadini, Schneider), published in 1998 initially by what was then Routledge.
even paranoids have enemies,machine phenomena,Since then, from time to time, I check whether, and where the concept of ‘machine phenomena’ is being used and to what effect. So it was with pleasure I came across an interesting article, by Grace Halden, titled ‘Incandescent: Light Bulbs and Conspiracies’, in Dandelion: postgraduate arts journal and research network, v.5, no 2, Spring 2015.

In my reading, Grace Halden (2015) illustrates how light, in the form of a lightbulb, became what can be seen as a machine phenomenon (Pierides, 1998), becoming entrenched in concrete fantasies of benevolence and evil. She points out

through examining general technology (such as machines), anxieties surrounding ‘modification, transformation and replacement’ emerge despite the technology being traditionally associated with protection and assistance.

Halden uses the texts of The Light Bulb Conspiracy (2010), The X-Files (1993-2002), and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) to explore how this innocuous, commonplace object, with an enormous beneficial impact in the modern world,

has been used to symbolise the malevolence of individuals and groups, and the very essence of technological development itself.

Interesting stuff. Check it out!

Seasons…

Keramikmarkt, Diessen am Ammersee. Boats come and go, people, seasons…
The pithoi too, all the way from Crete, every year. Only this time, the tireless Nikos Kavgalakis didn’t turn up to build his pots right on the promenade. He had to keep the appointment with his own maker. Rest in peace, Nikos.

Luckily, Nikos’ grandson, Giorgos, is continuing the tradition.

Here is a video of the Diessener Keramikmarkt I came across on YouTube (by Joachim Stracke)  from 2013. It includes a few shots of Nikos building his pitharia.

Keramikmarkt Diessen am Ammersee

Literature, Art, Culture, Society, and lots of Haiku