Sunday, 29 May 2011

Can you help us on Wednesday?

In three days time, on Wednesday the 1st of June, Fiona and I are having a BLOGSPLASH. 

A blogsplash is where lots & lots of bloggers publish the same post on the same day. 

Ai Weiwei: Bodhisattva

"If there is one person who is still not free, then I am not; if there is one person who still suffers from insult and humiliation, then I do. Do you understand yet?"
Tweeted by Ai Weiwei, 23 August 2009

I don't buy a newspaper very often, but when I do it is usually The Guardian on Saturday.  Yesterday Hari Kunzru had an excellent feature piece on Ai Weiwei. In the UK Ai Weiwei is most known for his recent Sunflower seeds installation in the turbine hall at the Tate Modern, in London. 
Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain. 
On Sunday 3rd April, eight weeks ago today, Ai Weiwei was arrested for supposedly economic crimes. He has been held captive, without being charged, since then. Commentators agree that he is being held for his political dissidence rather than for not paying his taxes.

Ai Weiwei is interested in, and has worked for, the liberation of the Chinese people. Freedom is the word that he uses, freedom to express ideas, freedom to be different to your neighbour and to be have different ideas to those of your government. Freedom to say what is true:
On 12 May 2008 came the turning point, when this provocateur and prankster became a genuine threat to the Chinese state. An earthquake of magnitude 8.0 hit Sichuan province, its epicentre 50 miles north-west of the capital Chengdu. Official figures later confirmed 69,000 dead and 374,000 injured, with another 18,000 unaccounted for. As the scale of the devastation became clear, Ai wrote a series of blog posts, at first grief-stricken and then increasingly angry as it became apparent that school buildings throughout the region had been disproportionately affected by the earthquake. Up to 7,000 schools collapsed, often in places where surrounding buildings remained standing. An unknown number of pupils were inside. The so-called "tofu dregs" construction of these schools appeared to be the result of official corruption and siphoning off of funds. Because of China's one-child policy, many families had lost their only son or daughter.....
What Ai Weiwei tweeted last year exemplifies the bodhisattva ideal: to put off one's own liberation, until all are liberated, and to work to that end.

You can sign a petition for the release of Ai WeiWei here: Writing your name there is one small step to liberating all beings. What else can you do?

Also see:

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

In praise of granduer

I leaned forward on the metal rail and looked out into Worcestershire. I was about halfway up the Malvern Hills and the land dropped away from me quite steeply. From up there Worcestershire looks flat, until the Cotswolds begin on the other side of the valley.

Spread before me was the rural southern end of the county, farmland and villages. A couple of miles away a church stood out from amongst the trees. It's sharp, silver-grey, spire standing out against the many different greens of the woodland.

The sunshine was bright, but even so on the horizon the hills of the Cotswolds were indistinct and shadowy.

In my imagination, I took out the more modern buildings from the vista and filled in some of the farmland with woods. I wound back time, trying to picture how the land might have looked a few hundred years ago.

I blinked away the fantasy - even today the scene is breathtaking.

Fiona and I have been encouraging people to pay attention to the word through writing small stones (little fragments of prose or poetry that capture an observed moment). This is a wonderful practice and has helped me and many others to get beyond our preoccupations and start seeing what is before us...

Sometimes, though, brevity is too brief. I could not hope to capture the breadth and scope of the land before me in just a few words. I do not think I have captured it in this post.

It was gloriously beautiful. The land swept down from my hills to the hills in the next county. I could hear the call of a bird of prey, a buzzard I think, and a susurrus in the woods behind me. I guessed at the trees by their shape - oak, probably, and ash and sycamore and horse-chestnut as well as the narrow shape of non-native coniferous trees.

So this post is in praise of grandeur, in praise of beauty on a large scale, and in praise of leaning over guard rails and having our breath taken away.

It's important to notice the small stones too, of course... the smear of orange pollen on the arm of my dark jacket, from the lilies I brushed against earlier, as well as the breathtaking glory of the vale.

Also posted at Writing Our Way Home

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Theseus & Hyppolyata - Ekphrastic poetry

When Fiona and I visited Aberystwtyth for the launch of The Book of Ystwyth, I learnt a new word: ekphrastic:  a work in one medium, in response to work in another. The Book of Ystwyth is a book of poems  in response to the work of Clive Hicks Jenkins.

Artist Douglas Robertson has created a group called 'poetry from art' on the Writing Our Way Home forum to encourage ekphrastic poetry.

I wanted to have ago, and found myself inspired by the image below. A photo that was in the Guardian this week, from Peter Brook's 1970 production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. I'm not sure how much the poem I created has to do with the image, or with the play...

Theseus & Hyppolyata

the painter has not drawn a line of gold
from her eyes to his
I wonder what it is
that holds them together

her legs are white
against a white canvas
his legs are white against hers
like doves clustered together

he came into the frame like ice creeping
down the side of a mountain
shuffling rocks out of the way
with no thought of where he was going
but going down

she waits like a warm sea
the wind makes music in the dusty leaves of palm trees

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Building Castles

A couple of hours ago my laptop died, it was as if a giant pit had opened up beneath my house and the walls were crumbling and all the furniture, and all my books, and everything, were falling into this gaping pit.

Perhaps I exaggerate a little. However I did become deeply conscious of how dependent upon technology I am for many things.

I've been writing an essay today, and don't have the changes saved anywhere but on this laptop! I'm running an e-course on Eastern Theraputic Writing at the moment, and yesterday Fiona and I launched our new e-course

Spiritual Practice in Everyday Life (a handbook for everyone)

Free pdf download:

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Cambrian mountains, a poetry reading and the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins

At the edge of the forest the pine trees have fallen into one another, their earth covered roots upturned and exposed. These perfectly straight trees are mostly free of needles. Just green in the top few boughs. The sun can't penetrate any deeper and the floor of the forest is dark. Higher up, above the tree line, the slopes are rust brown, last year's dead ferns waiting for the new growth to come through. 

To our right the river Wye is still just a stream at the bottom of the valley. Clouds gather in, and the sky darkens before night is due. Up ahead a keeled over apostrophe of mist floats not very far above us. Then the rain comes and soon we can't tell if the water on the road is just a few millimeters deep, or a few inches. 

In the darkness my mind goes back to to stunning art work we were introduced to over the weekend. The emotionally powerful, and beautifully crafted paintings of Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Fiona and I had traveled west, to Aberystwyth, to meet Dave Bonta, an american poet we'd both known online for sometime. He was in Wales for the launch of an anthology of poetry, The Book of Ystwyth, a response by six poets to the art of Hicks Jenkins. Friday night we had the pleasure of hearing five of those poets read their own work. Catriona Urquhart, a close friend of Clive Hicks-Jenkins had died in 2005. Clive read one of her poems, which deeply moved me. Calum James, who read at the evening has also blogged about the event.

A retrospective of Hicks-Jenkins's work is being displayed at the National Library in Aberystwyth, and on Saturday we had the pleasure of attending the opening. The paintings themselves draw on personal and religious mythologies and are beautiful and arresting. It was a privilege to meet Clive, and the six poets responding to his work, and an inspiration for me to keep being creative.

We spent Saturday afternoon recording a podcast for Dave, and eating chips by the sea. As Fiona and Dave talked I became lost in memory of my time as a student there.

Thanks also to our lunch time hosts, Ann and Basil Wolf.