Categories
Guernsey Guernsey Literature Painters, Poetry

Keeping Guernsey Legends vibrantly alive

Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse & Frances Lemmon, Blue Ormer Publishing

jane-mosse-and-frances-lemmon
Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 14.53.39The stories in the gorgeously-produced Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon are not remote reconstructions from some antique past. One story, about an enormous spectre of a nanny goat, played a real part in my own island childhood. Le Coin de la Biche was a stone’s throw away from my family home on La Rue des Grons. My grandfather always accelerated past this corner at night. Although we used to laugh nervously about La Biche as we sped past, by night a fiery-eyed giant nanny goat leaping out of the hedges certainly seemed possible.

The book’s introduction also mentions Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon’s debt to the peerless Marie De Garis, the author of Folklore of Guernsey (1975).  But the text of Guernsey Legends, contains stories collected by Sir Edgar McCullough and Edith Carey, which were first published in 1903. These stories are then responded to in poetry, by Jane Mosse, and visually, by Frances Lemmon.

It is a huge relief to see we are in such safe hands. Writer Jane Mosse is well known on Guernsey not just as a fine poet, but for championing Guernsey literature, and the memory of G.B. Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, the best book written about the island. In this collection Jane Mosse’s poems are typically playful, engaging and full of a folkloric darkness. The effect is often that we are reading rediscovered poems, and Jane Mosse’s conscious use of  anachronisms is particularly effective and sympathetic in rooting themselves into the soil of the original stories.

The Cuckoo is one of these examples, where the poem is almost like reading an old Guernsey spell.

The Cuckoo

When you hear the cuckoo call
Sew you then your wedding shawl.

Count the months before you wed
Head thee to thy marriage bed.

Wedding ring already worn?
Count the years to your first-born.

When you’re agèd list her cry,
Count the years before you die.

This poem about finding a witch caught up in thorns works its magic in the same way.

The Witch in the Hedge

Thorns
tore
at the silken skirt.
Fine tatters
fluttered in the furze,
as the juice of the sloes
leached into her bodice
staining the fragile lace of her shawl.

When old Nicolette
espied the gentlewoman
ensnared by blackthorn,
bleeding midst the brambles
her gentle hands reached
to pluck
barbed spines
from grazed flesh.

Pride wounded,
raven scoop askew,
the hag
spat
out her warning.

‘Hold though thy tongue
speak to no one
lest a single word
of this tale be heard.’

Frances Lemmon is the pre-eminent painter on Guernsey, who unfailingly manages to get to the symbolic heart of the island, with striking compositions that somehow mythologise features of the island. Her style is deceptively simple, employing planes of vibrant colour, and simplified depictions of people and animals. The book is worth its price alone for having collected Lemmon’s stunning and mysterious pictures.

Guernsey Legends is divided into five sections: animals, fairies, magic, rocks and stones, and festivals, and the subject matter is incredibly rich. We learn about an invasion of murderous fairies from the west, drunken (and untrustworthy) Jerseymen who tried to steal Guernsey by hitching a rope to it to, to shape-changing witches and shape-changing rocks and all manner of other matters.

This is a beautiful book. The original stories wonderfully enhanced by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon who have gone about teasing out new approaches to the legends with consummate skill. In their hands Guernsey Legends are vibrantly alive, and bring authentic Guernsey folklore to a new generation of readers. This is another timely and excellent publication from Blue Ormer.

Categories
A Glass of Nothing a writer's life Brighton Blonde Productions Painters, Poetry Theatre Writing

A mixed bag

I have been working hard on my children’s story The Second Kind of Darkness in the last two months. The end is in sight. Putting the story aside for a few years has really helped. Time is a great editor.

I’ve also been filling in gaps in my reading of good children’s books, including Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, and a book that is going down brilliantly with under 11s at the moment, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I even went as far back as Peter and Wendy, by J.M.Barrie, which I found to be fresher than I expected, and genuinely strange in parts.

Having run earlier drafts of my story past schoolchildren in schools, I have two teacher friends, specialists in the age group I am writing for and in English, lined up to read it, not to mention my wife, who is a headteacher. Bracing myself for feedback soon

***

Dates have now firmed up for my play A Glass of Nothing which will have a preview in the Surgeon’s Hall Theatre 2 in Edinburgh on 5th August, and then a short run Monday-Thursday 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th of the following week. As before, it will be a Brighton Blonde Productions performance, and star Beth Symons in the central role.

***

Two deaths in the last few weeks. One in the family, which I won’t write about here, the other of Andy Wilson, a former art director of mine.

I flew down to the funeral in Cornwall, with two other fellow advertising writers Pat and Barney who knew him well too. You get to know your partner inside out when you are working in a creative team, although Andy and I were partners only for about a year and a half, I knew him as a truly gentle soul, who was one of the most original and creative people I have ever met in any walk of life. Sadly his last few years were blighted by demons of addiction. This, as Andy’s death serves to remind me yet again, is a terrible illness that people pretend is a flaw of character.

One memory. When Andy and I were working late, Andy told me out of the blue that to make a party a success (I was thinking of having a party that weekend) I had to get a bucket. He emptied one of the metal bins under the desk, and laughed hollowly into it in a crazy Jack Nicholson style. He invited me to follow suit, and we passed the bucket back and forth until we were crying with laughter at nothing.

***

I once met the Nobel Prize winning Derek Walcott,  who died on 17th March. I admired him as a poet greatly, as I am especially interested in poets from islands (in his case St. Lucia).

With a group of other young poets, I attended a seminar with him back in the 80s in the South Bank.  I found myself standing next to him, and when we were all settling in and in confusion about chairs, I made some joke about sitting on his lap. He looked at me very stonily, clearly deciding I was an idiot from that moment. We were all asked to chuck a poem into the middle. And Derek picked one out at random. The whole session was taken up with his close reading and commenting on this first poem, leaving me at least feeling a bit short changed. At least I got him to sign my copy of The Fortunate Traveller.

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Got around to reading Jacob Polley’s Jackself eventually. I think it is a worthy winner of the T.S.Eliot award this year. The poems feel very solid and realised, there is a meaty, chewable quality about the language. I want to reread it already. There is an excellent review here from the guardian.

***

Been haunting the National Gallery in London lately. This picture by Joseph Wright of Derby , which I had never looked at before, has begun to obsess me. It is An experiment on a bird in an Air Pump, a picture which becomes stranger the more I look at it. A white cockatoo, presumably the family pet judging by the cage in the corner, is being suffocated to demonstrate the nature of a vacuum. The two girls are naturally appalled, while the scientist with his wild hair and red clothes looks out at us as if to ask us if the air should be allowed back in to revive the poor creature.

An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby,_1768

 

Categories
Painters, Performance Poetry Readings

Ernstophilia

Several years ago I had a feverish flu and was staying in a room where the only thing within reach of the bed was a book of Max Ernst’s fabulous paintings. I love Ernst anyway, and when I recovered I wrote this poem about someone who is deliriously obsessed by the painter’s work. It was originally published in Poetry London, and was collected in my latest pamphlet ‘The Nightwork’.

I was stealthily filmed reading it in London last month by my friend Robin Houghton at the Poetry Cafe in London. As the Poetry Cafe is in Covent Garden and the poem mentions Covent Garden I often read it there.

The poem mentions this picture by Ernst in it, called ‘L’Ange du Foyer’, which can be translated as ‘The Fireside Angel’.

L'Ange_du_Foyeur

Categories
Art Painters,

Goya, the portraits

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Above: María Antonia Gonzaga, Marchioness widow of Villafranca 1795 by Francisco Goya (1746-1828). An example of the character and intensity Goya got into his work. Not to mention the fashionably frizzed hair style of the time. This is a woman to be reckoned with.

This exhibition, in London’s National Gallery till 10th January 2016, far exceeded my expectations, and is a must-see.  As a demonstration of Goya’s ability to bring individuality and depth to each portrait it was fantastic. I loved browsing around the panoply of characters from punchable windbags, fiery independent noblewomen to thuggish royalty all rendered almost palpably alive. He reserved his most unflinching eye for his closest friends and even his much-loved son.

His several self-portraits pull no punches. I loved this crabby faced Self Portrait (1795-7) which must be the glowering sight of the people who sat for him.

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I think the pack of cards on the table of The family of the Infante Don Luis (1783) below was a tarot pack. One of the cards showing was The World (the exhibition notes did not notice this) which made sense for me of varying emotions of the people drawn into the magnetic field created by Don Luis and his wife. Goya painted himself into the lower left in the shadows.

GOYA_Francisco_de_The_Family_of_the_Infante_Don Luis_1783

An excellent exhibition, that helps us see Goya afresh.