‘Still’: Simon Armitage’s poetic response to photographs of the Somme battlefield

‘Still’: Simon Armitage’s poetic response to photographs of the Somme battlefield

Hide in this battered crumbling line
Hide in these rude promiscuous graves,
Till one shall make our story shine
In the fierce light it craves.
– 
John Ebenezer Stewart, 1917

Still started out as a commission to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme by 14-18 NOW. The organisation tasked with developing a five-years programme of new artworks to mark the centenary of the First World War approached Simon Armitage who eventually came up with the idea of a sequence of poems written in response to aerial or panoramic photographs of the Somme battlefield taken during the First World War. Still was presented as an exhibition combining poems and photographs at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival in May 2016. Now it’s been published as a book. Continue reading “‘Still’: Simon Armitage’s poetic response to photographs of the Somme battlefield”

Addlands: the inescapable ties of geography and place

<em>Addlands</em>: the inescapable ties of geography and place

In the current issue of the London Review of Books there is an article by John Lanchester in which – although he’s writing about Brexit – he makes an observation that seems to resonate with a novel I read recently: ‘England’, Lanchester writes, ‘is both a small country and a big one …there is a lot of Deep England out there.’

Tom Bullough’s Addlands is set in deepest Radnorshire, a story of hill farmers battling with the forces of nature in one of Britain’s wildest, poorest and least populated areas. Historically a Welsh county, culturally Radnorshire has been a law unto itself, its people declaring their identity as neither Welsh nor English, but Radnor folk, people of the Borders; and fiercely-contested borders between fields and farms form one of the threads in a novel that spans the decades from the 1940s to 2011. Continue reading Addlands: the inescapable ties of geography and place”

Stories of exile: Queens of Syria, Exodus and the Very Quiet Foreign Girls’ Poetry Group

Stories of exile: <em>Queens of Syria, Exodus</em> and the Very Quiet Foreign Girls’ Poetry Group

Another day, yet another atrocity hurled from the maelstrom of conflict in the Middle East, the turmoil which has also resulted in over half of Syria’s people being killed or forced to flee their homes to become refugees. In the evening I attend a performance at the Liverpool Everyman of Queens of Syria, a remarkable touring production, performed by Syrian women from a refugee camp in Amman, which weaves the women’s own stories of exile and war into passages from the ancient Greek play The Trojan Women, theatre’s earliest dramatisation of the plight of women in war.

Earlier this week I watched the BBC documentary trilogy, Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, which told the stories of some of the refugees in last year’s huge movement of people fleeing disaster – on dinghies crossing from Turkey to Greece, along the migrant trail through the Balkans, and in the Jungle at Calais – filmed along the way by those same people on mobile phones.

After a referendum campaign which seemed to establish the expression of racist or anti-immigrant sentiment as respectable once more, these three films gave voice to those who have truly lost their homeland, in stark contrast  to those in this country who, having ‘wanted to get their country back’, now truly believe that’s what they have achieved. Continue reading “Stories of exile: Queens of Syria, Exodus and the Very Quiet Foreign Girls’ Poetry Group”

Abbas Kiarostami: his love of simple reality captured the spirit of his times

Abbas Kiarostami: his love of simple reality captured the spirit of his times

Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us opens with a panoramic shot of a car making its way along a dusty track winding through a bare landscape dotted with occasional trees. In the car a group of film-makers argue about directions to the village where they have arranged to make a film. They are looking for a turning that should be near a single tree. One of the film-makers quotes a line from a Sufi poem: ‘Near the tree is a wooded lane/Greener than the dreams of God… .’

In those few seconds of film are encapsulated several of the defining characteristics and concerns of the films of the Iranian director, whose death was announced earlier this month. Years after seeing his films, images from them still haunt my imagination. Continue reading “Abbas Kiarostami: his love of simple reality captured the spirit of his times”

The Somme: they went over the top one hundred years ago this morning

The Somme: they went over the top one hundred years ago this morning

At 7.30 on a sunny morning one hundred years ago today more than sixty thousand British soldiers, each with a bayonet rifle in his hand, began climbing out of their trenches along a 13-mile front and walked towards the German line. By nightfall 20,000 British soldiers were dead. In just a few minutes whole communities in Britain had been devastated.  This was the start of the Battle of the Somme. It went on, with little gain, for nearly half a year. By then, more than a million men were dead or wounded, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Continue reading “The Somme: they went over the top one hundred years ago this morning”

Fire at Sea: life goes on while a human catastrophe unfolds at sea

<em>Fire at Sea</em>: life goes on while a human catastrophe unfolds at sea

Last week was Refugee Week, though you wouldn’t have known it in a country now obsessed with borders and controls and frighteningly comfortable with demonising outsiders. I only learnt about it from the estimable Passing Time blog. The day after the appalling referendum result we sat down to watch Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi’s strange but compelling documentary which observes the impact of the refugee crisis on the island of Lampedusa with a calm and unembroidered stare. Continue reading Fire at Sea: life goes on while a human catastrophe unfolds at sea”

Brexit, pursued by despair

Brexit, pursued by despair

I came across the title of this post in my Twitter feed; despair is the only word that can describe my feelings after the referendum vote on Thursday. Continue reading “Brexit, pursued by despair”