My first opportunity to launch the ‘Stop Smoking’ cards occurred recently at Chichester Bus Station. Two young women were smoking a couple of feet away from a ‘No Smoking’ sign. They were in their mid-twenties, one dark and plump, the other fair-haired and thin. The latter was facing me so I spoke primarily to her:
‘Excuse me. You’re smoking in a No Smoking area.’
I spoke gently with what I hoped was a friendly smile. Both were stupefied. They stared at me in utter incomprehension. Both were shocked into speechlessness.
‘Look’, I continued, ‘There’s a notice saying ‘No Smoking’. ‘ And I indicated the notice.
Again shocked silence. No change of blank expressions. Jaws dropping. Was I a Martian?
‘Ah’, I said, as one for whom the penny had finally dropped. ‘Do – you – speak – English?’
‘Yaaiirr’, managed the thin one in a confused tone and three notes.
‘This is for you’, I said. And handed her a card. She didn’t throw it away. She didn’t tear it in half. She didn’t spit on it. Or me. She just took it.
My bus arrived and as I waited for the drivers to change, with the two young women immediately to my left waiting for another bus, neither said anything to each other or to me.
The first draft of my mind-body-spirit autobiography ‘Something for Everyone’ has become ‘Life and Soul’ and I’m searching my ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’ for appropriate agents and publishers. As I edited the unit on ‘Time speeding up and how to slow it down’ it occurred to me to Google it. ‘Time speeding up’ yielded 23 million results.
‘Newsletter 17’ included a haiku I wrote after hearing Beethoven’s 14th string quartet and to enable understanding I prefaced it with a mention of the music. I’m pretty sure, if I hadn’t, no-one could have a clue what it meant:
curdling … carving
through woven entrails
I’ve always loved Dylan Thomas but as a student I was at a loss to understand ‘In the white giant’s thigh’ which begins:
‘Through throats where many rivers meet, the curlew’s cry,
Under the conceiving moon, on the high chalk hill,
And there this night I walk in the white giant’s thigh
Where barren as boulders women lie longing still
To labour and love though they lay down long ago’.
It was only later that I learned that ‘The White Giant’ is a mountain. As I look back, I see it as embarrassingly obvious. But should art in all its faces be stand-alone? In other words should a piece of art be self-explanatory? Should Dylan Thomas have titled it ‘In the thigh of the nearby mountain ‘The White Giant’? Or should provenance and meanings be left to us to conjure?
What do you make of this?
Is our appreciation helped by the news that it’s ‘Piss Flowers’ by Helen Chadwick?
I haven’t seen the work live so I don’t know whether an explanatory card is placed on the wall near it.
Helen Chadwick and her boyfriend were pissing in the snow. His piss was a targeted, local pour. Hers was a more diffuse spray. In shaping the ‘flowers’ she inverted the two outcomes so that her spray emerges as a phallic symbol and his pour becomes a spread context for the phallus.
I mention all this, by the way, because yesterday evening I watched a TV programme about her.
Where do you stand … authentic obscurity or conceding clarity?
Re ‘Saying the Right Thing at the Right Time’ with the elderly neighbour and immigrants I used our chat about Buddhism: ‘What would a Buddhist say?’ We agreed on ‘Live and let live’.