Issue 34, For what purpose, April do you return again?
The arrival of Spring, art as alternate reality and the truth behind how starlings move
“It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.”
-Edna St Vincent Millay, in Spring
Hello poets and artists,
Spring has finally arrived. Seasons change to move us through and mark time which otherwise in the last couple of years have all merged into one indoors. I spoke to a friend yesterday and inquired about their recent trip to India, only to be told that the trip I remembered was from two years ago. I wonder what else has this collapsing of time done to my mind that hasn’t been revealed yet?
The poem I mention above has one of my favourite starting lines in history - “To what purpose, April do you return again?/Beauty is not enough./You can no longer quiet me with the redness/Of little leaves opening stickily./I know what I know.” This year especially as war rages not too far from where I am, a colleague having to flee in midnight — it has been hard to give into the lure of Spring.
The purpose of art and poetry for me, has never been to distract from the reality at hand; we know what we know, but to imagine an alternate one. With today’s issue, I wanted to share a poem that has been on my mind since I first heard it. A breathtaking example of how the lens of an artist can help us imagine something if only as a means of momentary respite.
I first came across Hilary Otto’s work when I had the privilege of performing alongside her in one of Live Canon’s Friday lunchtime readings, and subsequently when one of my poems was displayed alongside hers as a part of an exhibition in Soho. This poem begs surrender to your imagination, implores us to imagine a world where nature and not power is allowed to reclaim the streets.
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Reclaim the streets
It all started with moss dotting the pavement,
grass edging through the crack between steps,
shrubs self-seeding and poking out of tiled roofs.
In the distance on the hills across the valley
there’s a pine forest. On some days it looked bigger,
but we thought it was just a trick of the haze.
Soon, it got harder to close the front door. Clematis
and jasmine wound their way around the hinges
and sent shoots around the lintel, spreading inside.
One of my friends called to say a sapling had sprouted
in her living room. She had to prune it before she could
watch the telly. It gets worse: apparently it was a sycamore.
Down the road they had a problem with cherry blossom
taking over the entire housing development, invading
each flat one by one like the ants used to way back.
I don’t think we’ll hold out much longer. I opened
the window this morning to find an enormous hollyhock
blocking my view. It muscled metres high into the air,
its damson-stain flowers raising stamens to the sun
like satellite dished waiting to be signal. I closed the window,
but tendrils curled around the glass, spiralling out of control.
I called the police, but I think it’s too late. Just now I dared
to approach the balcony and saw the entire street
has turned green, disappeared completely underneath the trees.
Talking about nature reclaiming its rightful territory. The New York Times recently published photographs by Søren Solkær documenting murmuration of Starlings. In his observations, Søren writes “As is true with the movement of schools of fish and swarms of midges, the movement of starlings shows characteristics of what’s called scale-free behavioral correlation, meaning that a change in the state of a single starling can affect — and be affected by — every other starling in the flock, no matter the flock size.” I have been intrigued by the movements of starlings since seeing the murmurations every evening in the lawns of my alma mater National Institute of Design. The idea that survival and beauty is only sustained with collective response to the environment, is especially relevant now.
If you haven’t read Ocean Vuong yet - don’t wait around. Never has the arrival of a book made me swoon in the way this did. A virtual book launch is scheduled soon with Andrew McMillan and Ocean Vuong. Whatever would you miss that for? My Bookshop.org page includes this and other poetry recommendations by yours truly here.
I’ll leave you with this quote from an essay on the artist Sarah Lucas from Olivia Laing’s Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency that talks about Sarah’s motivations for finding an alternate reality rather than contracting to the constraints of the existing one. “I wanted to go somewhere quite mystical I think… So maybe they saw reality for what it was, whereas I thought it was elsewhere”
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