Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A Walk with Mr Eliot in Margate - 8th October 2016

T S Eliot's View - Margate

On Margate Sands
I can connect
Nothing with nothing

               III Fire Sermon – The Waste Land

On one of the hottest days of the year I took several members of “A Journey with The Waste Land Research Forum” for a walk in the City of London, introducing them to the ‘psycho-geography’ that influenced T S Eliot when writing The Wasteland (pub. 1923 Hogarth Press).

The group came all the way from Margate and were having a grand day out organised by the Curator and Research Curator of the Turner Contemporary for the project, which will see the Margate community create an exhibition influenced by Eliot’s great poem, due to open 2018.

In turn I was invited to join the “Fallen Leaves Festival” on the 8th October in Margate to ‘talk my walkT S Eliot in the City, as a walking book. The outing included site readings of “Burnt Norton” we set out from the Turner Contemporary to The Garden Gate, more of this later. The walk was to make connections with rhythm, rhyme, memory and walking.

We met in the foyer of the Turner Contemporary, I will be writing about the gallery in more detail in a separate blog, introductions were made and each walking book introduced themselves and their subject, and we were:

‘A Journey with The Waste Land’
Trish Scott
Trish Scott is the Research Curator at Turner Contemporary, and is working with 30 volunteers to co-curate the gallery's first major exhibition of 2018, A Journey with The Waste Land, which explores the connections between T.S Eliot's poem The Waste Land, partly written in Margate, and the visual arts.

‘Shoulder to Shoulder – tales of the Broadstairs Town Shed’
Claire Shelton
I have been involved with the Shed project since 2014. I’m project manager, fund raiser, community liaison, and day to day co-ordinator.

‘Experiential Research, Materials and Spaces’
Catherine Richardson
With an art college background, followed by studies in literature and medieval and early modern culture and society, I work on the history of material culture – how the physical world shaped and was shaped by people’s actions, interests and beliefs. There is more about all of this here: ff/richardson.html

‘Here, There, Now and Then: Seeking the Self Through Space, Place, Time and Tides’
Louisa Love
Louisa Love is a Kent-based contemporary artist operating across sculpture, film, writing, research, walking, organisation and social/collaborative activity. She is interested in the nature and pluralities of artistic production, exploring the complex relationships between things, thoughts, knowledges and different modes of doing as a consideration of identity and the negotiation of self within the contemporary world. Experimental processes of drift and psycho-geography often inform her work.

‘The Art of Walking’
Sonia Overall
Sonia Overall writes fiction and poetry. She has a strong interest in psycho-geography and site-specific writing, form, intertextuality and performance-based approaches to text. Sonia has written and abridged work for street theatre and has published two novels, A Likeness and The Realm of Shells (HarperPerennial) and a chapbook of poetry, The Art of Walking (Shearsman). #soniaoverall   #womenwhowalknet

Plus All The Leaves Are Brown/Cliftonville Dreamin'
Julia Riddiough - Margate based artist with an active interest in exploring and investigating the archive, looking at the space between fact and the fiction. and

The organiser Elspeth Penfold, designated the first people to join a walking book, thereafter seek your walking book.I was able to talk to at least eight people in the group, by changing my companion after one or more stops. We were also presented with a ‘spiral of rope’ an ancient Inca ritual of unknown origin, whereby you would knot it enroute as your mood took you.  I used mine as a badge on my sleeve and put in one knot to acknowledge the whole experience.

As we set off the heavens opened, umbrellas were at the ready, and remember these folk live on the Isle of Thanet and know about the changing weather on the coast, so dressed appropriately!  We set of in a westward direction, which was great for me as I had explored most of the beach in front of the town.  We headed for Fulsam Rock by the Fort Lower Promenade our destination Northdown Park.

I do not think anyone really noticed the rain and eventually it eased off. I enjoyed the readings and especially the talks with my walking audience, several of which had not yet read the The Waste Land, which was an interesting situation to overcome. I focussed initially on some of the City landmarks, London Bridge, St Magnus the Martyr and St Mary Woolnoth. Why he might have been drawn to them. The churches particularly were in the news at the time of his composing the poem, due to be demolished, he wrote of their enhancing the cityscape. Also London Bridge the conduit between home and work, life and death, hope and despair, and Eliot often mentions the ‘Sweet Thames’, not only in terms of ancient lore but this also connects him with the great river he grew up close to in his home town of St Louis.

‘Depressing and hopeless’ were words oft used to describe the poem.  I asked my companions to perhaps look at the poem in another way, for instance to reflect more on the construction of the poem, its staccato lines, followed by episodic, illustrative stanzas, as well as the dialogue and monologues, rather than hang on every word. Or view it in all its modernity, it was way ahead of its time, enjoy its complex fabrication, a collage made of words. Also there is no need to understand every word of it, that is not what Eliot would have wanted. Function over form, ‘feel’ the poetry rather than try to comprehend it. Let it feed your own imagination and emotions.

It has been a long time since I had no idea where I was going or the end stop, so it was a refreshing and relaxing few hours just following the group, along the beach, up stairways, through cliffs, along roads until we reached a library.  The grand finale was a delightful poem first conceived by the poet Keith Grossman when he was nine, and somewhat troubled. You can read it in full here :

We then met with the Garden Manager, Paul Boyce of The Garden Gate, who we followed to a ‘secret’ garden created by the community to enjoy gardening at their own pace, Monday to Friday.  At the weekends the site is open to events and fundraisers. A beautiful place which includes a welcome cup of coffee and on this occasion delicious pizza fresh from the outdoor oven. Highly recommend a visit.

So ended an eventful afternoon, made new friends and experienced new places, after a short bus ride we ended where we started at the Turner Contemporary. By chance met up with more of the Forum who had been to a talk in one of the galleries. They kindly invited me to join them for a coffee and creative chat.

So I came full circle …

In my beginning is my end, in my end is my beginning.

                                                                                The Waste Land, T S Eliot

Monday, 3 October 2016

Walking with T S Eliot - The Waste Land - 'Unreal City'

To where St Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
O City city, - how I love thee!  No this is not a line from The Waste Land, but I have taken liberties with a partial quote.

The City of London, his inspiration, whilst Mr Eliot worked at Lloyd's of London in the Foreign and Colonial Department off Lombard Street.  As much as his literary friends wanted to get him away for his job, he did in fact seem to enjoy it, Eliot found the science of money fascinating.  He also includes his work-a-day experiences in the poem too.

Mr Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight
Asked me in demotic French
To Luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a week-end at the Metropole

Every line loaded of course with meaning, sex, trade off and business! However, as Eliot would have wanted, make of it what you will, as it conjures up an interesting picture in the imagination, whether you know anything about Smyrna, documents of lading or where these hotels may be located, let alone a Mr Eugenides!

As an American, having planned a short stay in Europe, arrives in London and never leaves (many of us are members of this particular club!) carried with him a Baedeker (travel guide books published by the Karl Baedeker firm of Germany beginning in the 1830s).  Eliot made notes in  various sections, including St Magnus the Martyr and St Mary Woolnoth. They are likely to have come to his attention through the document 'Proposed Demoliton of Nineteen City Churches, 1920, Vol.8 : Report by the Clerk of the Council and the Architect of the Council'.  If you like horror stories this will terrify you!

T S Eliot had spent many a quiet moment of contemplation in both churches, if not more on the list. He also wrote, in support of their survival in one of the quarterly literary magazines, the Dial,  of his contempt for such a proposal whereby these buildings gave the business centre a beauty - redeems hideous banks and commercial houses which have not quite defaced ... the least precious redeems some vulgar street. 

Both churches still have connections with The Waste Land today, one has a section of the poem displayed and the other possibly an inspiration for The Fire Sermon.

If you would like to know more about The Waste Land and its impact on T S Eliot join me on the walk during the Footprints of London Literary Festival which takes place anually in October.

For those of you who cannot make the walk you can listen to some of the highlights on the podcast at Londonist OutLoud, by interviewer N Quentin Woolf.

Review by Matt@Londonist:

With The Waste Land, TS Eliot sets his stall as the poet laureate of London. The modernist poem wraps itself through the city, like a hitch knot round an anchor. Scenes of London life and London lore abound. It is, perhaps, the only great poem that lends itself to a guided walk round the capital. 

Tina is the perfect guide. We dip in and out of churches, gardens and alleyways to discover the places and objects that inspired Eliot's masterpiece. The frequent readings, given on location, help us make sense of verse that can often seem challenging. It is a mesmerising two hours. Time well spent for anyone wanting to explore Eliot's greatest work, or simply to see the City through a new filter. On Thameside sands, our guide connects everything with everything.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

‘Victorians Decoded: Art and Telegraphy’ Exhibition Celebrates the 150th Anniversary of the Transatlantic Cable Connecting Europe with America

Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London, 20th September 2016 to 22nd January 2017

It has been a while since I visited the Guildhall Art Gallery and I am always enjoy this gem in the heart of the City of London. It is an interesting subject for an exhibition and also a good opportunity to delve into its huge Victorian collection, and show paintings not seen before, or for a very long time.

The magnificent paintings of the swells of the Atlantic waves ‘The Isles of the Seas’ (1894) Thomas Hope McLachlan (never displayed previously) certainly give you an idea of what these extraordinary, enterprising and determined Victorians were up against to run the first communications cable across the Atlantic Ocean, connecting Europe with America. It revolutionised connections between continents, messages took minutes, rather than mail which took weeks! Rightly so, this segment comes under the theme ‘Resistance’.

The exhibition is themed as Distance, Resistance, Transmission and Coding and leads you through the story of laying the heavy cables across the ocean floor from Valentia Island in Ireland to Newfoundland in Canada. It took nine years and four attempts to change communications forever.

The paintings are depict the natural elements that this engineering feat was up against, just take a look at Edwin Landseer’s ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’ (1864) this visceral painting of polar bears, raw in tooth and claw, foraging among the remains of a wreck in frozen wastes, an image of what might be your fate.

Also included is Tissot’s ‘The Last Evening’  which might allude to lack of communication, different messages passing between beholder and viewer. Perhaps it would be easier for the group to send messages to one another than talk? Moving onwards to physical coding, written in a form to shorten messages and hide content, operators used code books and ciphers. The looks and actions of this disparate group is all codes and ciphers!

Plus ‘transmission’ alluded to in the painting of a plague victim, by making contact with a sick person one might meet a similar fate to the great explorers, survival or death, to go or to stay? This was one of the connections I found rather hard to understand initially, but acknowledge it now.

There is are an interesting collection of artefacts including huge ‘batteries’ and ticker tape machines, as well as code books. A particular favourites item looks, and indeed feels like a Victorian invention, but is in fact brand new, a creation of UCL PhD student Alexandra Bridarolli.

A fascinating box, inspired by ‘The Grand Automatic Grammatizator’ a story by Roald Dahl (1953). An interactive messaging machine that will produce personal ‘coded’ poems for the public to enjoy. Rotating buttons offer you choices and a lever is cranked to produce a slip of paper with a poem just for you.  There is also a code to decipher, using one of the secret code books in the display cabinet.

The exhibition is unusual and enticing, with something for all, especially ‘telegraphy’ boffins. As wells as the discerning engineer and inventor, the art lover, history researcher and for anyone in communications this is a must.  Communications as we know it today, from banks monitoring shares to mobile phones, it all began with the telegraph and the laying of cable, and I am sure there was someone who said ‘This will never catch on!’ or they will not succeed!  Succeed they did against adversity and this exhibition goes some way to explore and celebrate it! See my special message to you below, happy decoding!

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More information: