sexy, slightly scary (just like her sweet self)


She’s sweet like a friend

Yet sexy, slightly scary

Like no one other

                 *

You like her. She smiles

The smile of one who knows that

That liking you feel

                  *

Likes her for her self

Like she wishes she could too

But she doesn’t like

                  *

Like herself… She says

She can’t explain how she likes 

What she likes in words

                  *

She has this dream

In which she merges in her

Lies of love with others like

                  *

She’s living some truth

Neither selfish nor selfless

– Like her to be both –

                  *

Sweet, wholesome, love-scarred

And sexy, exposed – scared that

She’s just like herself

                  *

But is not herself –

Like no one else is oneself:

We’re like each other.

love became a lonely land: autumnal haiku chain

leaves on loam

leaves like love let go

spiral down to snoozing earth,

dark, russet-brown loam.

*

when fall took those leaves

love became a lonely land—

warmth withdrawn, wan sun’s

*

waning light bled slow

blind trails of mud and sodden

footsteps veined with ice

*

wan sun's waning light bled slow blind trails

where ghosts shadowed past,

skulked all through that leafless land

to haunt our autumns…

*

stark, unfelled, strange-boughed—

love’s remains in lonely land:

bare old beeches, clumped,

*

storm-ridden and gaunt,

sheltering our homeless hearts,

winterblown—like us,

*

love’s a vagabond

wandering to a nameless place

of endless leaving—

*

on tracks untravelled

from fall to spring, we will see

leaves, let go, return.

leaves, let go, return

leaves, let go, return

___________________________________________________________________________________

 – I originally wrote this haiku chain on Twitter — a bad habit of mine — poetry on Twitter being so hit and miss, nobody’s looking for it — but I find it a good place maybe for knocking out a first draft.

– When I’d written it I thought Love is a lonely land was a new phrase but then I checked and I saw I had actually lifted it (subconsciously…) from an old, sweet song.

–  This was Billie Holiday’s beautiful, mournful Deep Song (by Cory and Cross), which includes the line:

Love lives in a lonely land

and ends:

Love is a barren land, a lonely land/A lonely land.

–  That’s a song I must have listened to more than a couple dozen times since childhood (my parents also loved Billie Holiday).

– At any rate, my haiku chain has ended up as a sort of retort — a positive echo if you like — to the somewhat bleak sentiments of Deep Song

– So thanks to Billie, Cory and Cross!

– And here’s their song in all its glory:

Billie Holiday: Deep Song

Van Gogh’s First Literary Appearance Discovered

starry night, by van gogh, 1889

starry night, vincent van gogh, 1889

Van Gogh is often seen as the epitome of the tortured artist – misunderstood, rejected in his lifetime, and only slowly building up a posthumous reputation after his early, self-inflicted death.

This supposed obscurity has been shown to be a myth before. But that legendary image still clings to Van Gogh, helping to make him one of the world’s most popular, iconic artists.

vincent van gogh

vincent van gogh

Now Dutch journalist Sander Brink has unearthed the first mention of Van Gogh in a piece of fiction. It throws up some fascinating insights and surprises.

Because Van Gogh’s first appearance is startlingly early – 1903, in a novel called De Winkeljuffrouw uit Oiseau d’Or – Chapeaux pour dames et enfants. (translation: “The Shopgirl in Oiseau d’Or – hats for ladies and children”)

The novelist, Cornélie Noordwal, far from being some kind of avant-garde writer at the cutting edge of modern art, was a hugely popular writer of mainstream (arguably middlebrow) bestsellers, romances and childrens’ books.

Van Gogh’s fleeting mention in De Winkeljuffrouw will thus have formed the first exposure thousands of readers ever had to the artist…

cornélie noordwal, turn of the century blockbuster writer

cornélie noordwal, dutch blockbuster writer in the 1890s and 1900s

What interests me first is the relative standings of Van Gogh and Noordwal.

In 1903, Noordwal was a famous, rich, successful writer (albeit one many critics despised), whereas Van Gogh, thirteen years dead, was only just beginning his phoenix-like rise from obscurity.

In the 110 years since, of course, their positions have radically reversed. Like most middlebrow blockbusters of bygone ages, Noordwal, for all her merits, has lapsed into relative obscurity, while Van Gogh has become the elemental incarnation of genius, whose works sell for hundreds of millions.

The second thing which interests me is the nature of Van Gogh’s fictional début. Because he is sketched in terms remarkably close to his alienated, self-dramatising self-image (as expressed in his own letters), which has driven another core aspect of the Van Gogh myth.

In the novel, Jan, a poet, is writing to Nora, his beloved, and he mentions Van Gogh as being similar to her:

Of course you won’t know who that was. He was a man who was nothing but soul, like you, and his life was violently troubled by it; he painted and drew things, considered laughable and insane by laymen, and yet showed himself more of an artist than a mass of famous painters who create impeccable landscapes and  pictures.

(translation, by Freddie Oomkens, from the Dutch quoted in Sander Bink’s piece of 3rd July 2013)

The third interesting thing is that this figure of Van Gogh already seems fairly close to being a stock character, a Romantic literary archetype of a sort popular in the period. Think of the Les poètes maudites (1884), or D.H. Lawrence, or Leonard Bast in Howards End (1910), or a host of others.

It may sound fanciful, but it is almost as if literature, by means of this dainty little novel, were co-opting Van Gogh to join this gallery of characters whose noble sensitivity ejects them from society…

The final interesting thing, one which also intrigues Sander Bink, is the part played by letter-writing in this story.

Van Gogh’s letters had been published well before 1903 – indeed Albert Aurier’s famously influential article about him (Les Isolés, published in 1890) was heavily influenced by Van Gogh’s letters.  Noordwal, who lived in Paris (she died there in 1928), may well have read the article, which appeared in Mercure de France, a magazine popular among lovers of modern art, as well as extracts of the letters which appeared in Holland and France throughout the 1890s.

All in all, a fascinating insight into how consistently, and from its earliest days, Van Gogh’s iconic international image was shaped by literature, as shown in his very first (so far!) fictional entrance.

 

Jackals and Arabs

This little parable, like a fairy story, is utterly unlike most people’s idea of Kafka, reading like an enigmatic tale for children:

Jackals and Arabs

a place where jackals and arabs might meet

a place where jackals and arabs might meet

Reading this story to his daughters – and seeing their delighted reaction – inspired Matthue Roth to create My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs, which is published this week.

The idea is long overdue – for almost a century, Kafka has been imprisoned in a Kafkaesque prison not of his own making.

It’s high time someone set him free.