Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday Poem - Taking Liberties

for Jeanette Winterson and Janet Frame

We have in common red hair, an appetite
for oranges, a habit of making characters
out of computers, cast-iron baths and cats.

Tonight, I will presume friendship
and arrange a birthday dinner.

Janet and I will come to you, Jeanette.
A Northern Hemisphere dinner under the eye
of a lunar eclipse feels - what word will I choose?
Possible? Overdue? Appropriate? Besides, it's time
we visited Verde's, your green food shop
at Spitalfield's Market. It's difficult to resist
your restoration tales, spitting baths of lime plaster,
Jack the Ripper's blood-stained cobbles,
a dead fruit-seller trading on your initials, JW.

You're emphatic, "Life's too short to eat badly."
So zealous are you, you took pestle and mortar,
ground the fragments of an ancient leaning house
to dust. You added metal, brace and spice, created
a flash new food shop whose lungs now fill
with the scents of French saffron and fugitive
Indian cardamom. You believe in soup
and slow cookers, take time to transform
the letters of your name into endless varieties of tajine.

Janet and I will bring produce from our own
farmers' market. Under cover at Dunedin's railway station,
I will choose blue cod, whitebait, globe artichokes
and Evansdale cheese. She will insist on tamarillos,
feijoas and passionfruit, luscious accompaniments
for the coffee banana cake she'll bake; no need
for the recipe she sent to friends
in letters in the mid-1970s.

Together, as the earth shutters the moon, we will fire
the old coal range in Brushfield Street, create
a simple meal of complex parts. We will speak
of our affection for lighthouses, how we might
seem tame and yet are feral creatures, at home
amongst kelp, flying fish and salt.

I think you will find our whitebait fritters impossible
to resist, Jeanette, imagine your conversion
to blue cod with mashed kumara and fresh crushed ginger
will be immediate and long-lasting.

CB - Dunedin 2007


Janet Frame was born in Dunedin on 28 August 1924; Jeanette Winterson in Manchester on 27 August 1959. In 2007, Upfront - a Dunedin-based women's poetry collective - arranged a poetry event to celebrate what would have been Janet's 83rd birthday. Tuesday 28 August 2007 happened also to be the date of a total lunar eclipse, whose every phase was visible to us in New Zealand.

Total eclipses of the moon are not altogether uncommon but they are nevertheless remarkable spectacles - slow-moving, mysterious and accessible to anyone willing to turn their gaze upwards. A lunar eclipse can be appreciated as an event that vividly illustrates our place amongst the other planets in the solar system; the three-dimensional reality of our universe comes alive in a graceful celestial ballet as the moon swings unhurriedly through Earth's shadow.

I wrote Taking Liberties on Birthdays to mark the coming together of what I considered to me a significant conjunction; namely, the birthdays of two favourite women writers, the lunar eclipse and - rather further down the list - my own birthday which falls within the same week as theirs.


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(not) Blue at 22

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fucshia bark, compost & waters I have known

Yesterday's hours in the studio took me through a state of scratchy, unwelcome irascibility towards calm. I'm working on a series of composite paintings whose title for now, is Waters I have known. Each piece contains eleven images that I hope will allow you/me access to countless related landscapes, research layers, imaginative worlds... (I realized the other day - and this came as a complete surprise - that these paintings' compositions bear strong resemblance to the newly formatted Image pages on Google. It's odd how associations like these find their way into our work, regardless of whether we're conscious of it at the time, or not? I hope they - the paintings - will extend a similar invitation to enter, ponder, explore...)
This pic shows a detail from my 'document' on ice...

Despite the calm I found in the painting, I went to bed feeling wound up and woke this morning with my heart pounding and my fists clenched; puzzling encounters with sharp-toed dragons and foul-breathed monsters were features of last night's dreamscape. The dragons reminded me of the chameleons I befriended and tended as a child in South Africa, but the ones in my dream had metallic hides, reflective titanium plates unresponsive to either my pummeling or my tender touch.

Their monster companions were shaggy, their mussed-up pelts like fuschia bark that sloughed off them as they walked. They sauntered casually in the face of my indignation and - at one time - frank distress, browsing nonchalantly on frangipanis and pohutakawa leaves and leaving behind them steaming dung heaps as high as mountains. . . These were sweet-smelling intricately-engineered pats, apparently innocuous (apart from the volume!) and looking every bit like fertile garden compost artfully arranged by an architect. I could neither see around them nor climb up and over them (too slippery - no way to safely prop a ladder or get a sensible foothold)... and the muck was quivering, alive. It morphed into buildings, bridges, mountain ranges as I watched. It was teasing me, I think. Muck posing a challenge. A question. How do you reckon you're going to find your way over, under, around and through this little lot, eh?
Heaven alone knows.

Dreams seem to be a particularly vivid experience for many of us these days... we seem to need to recall them, want to write about them, to lay their content out as evidence, a map, a series of questions. Do we have our own, uniquely personal dream language, our individual lexicon of symbols, or we do dream common dreams, our nets dipping into the same wellspring? Both? And so much more besides... ?

My dream radar's been oddly quiet these past few weeks. I was telling Penelope and Pam just yesterday that I've not remembered many dreams lately, although I wake often with achey shins, an indicator to me that I've walked miles of some description in my sleep.

Was it Salvador Dali who said 'When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another?' Is it just our bodies that sleep - or that assume the pose of sleep? It seems to me that on some level or other we are always wide awake?

Ink & pencil on paper - sketch - CB
Where did your dreams take you last night?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ode to the artichoke - Pablo Neruda

I'm relieved to report that all is well with Dad. I've just this minute spoken to him in his room at London Bridge Hospital. He had a Double Chamber Pacemaker fitted this afternoon, was hungry as a herd of bulls (having had to fast pre-surgery, of course) and has been told he should be fine to go home to Kent by train (?!) on Sunday. What a remarkable world we live in... in days gone by, pacemakers didn't exist; neither did telephones or the internet with Skype and email and all the opportunities such technologies offer us for connecting up and being alongside those we love who live on the other side of the world.

One of Dad's favourite vegetables is the globe artichoke. If I could hop over to England right this minute, I'd take him a platter of steaming artichokes, a finger bowl of warm water with floating-boat wedges of bright yellow lemon and a starched white linen napkin to tuck under his chin.

Do you know this poem?

Ode To The Artichoke
The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Their tendrills and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red mustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Like a proud
And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She's not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Of vinegar
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

Artichoke hearts - Ink & Chinagraph pencil - CB
I've just spoken to Mum who's about to take herself off to bed (it's late in the UK and what a huge week she's had); my sister Pip's also just emailed from Cambridge to give far-flung family an update. At the end of her letter, she wrote... "PS. Jonny lost his first tooth and had a visit from the 'toosth mows' last night. He wrote the most precious letter to explain that he had swallowed the toosth my mistayk and was soree it wasn’t there for the mows’s castle. xoxox"
Thank you for your candlelight and concern - M & D said to say so, too. xxx

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Boulders-based science writer Jennifer Frazer opens doors to wonder at The Artful Amoeba.

I mentioned Jennifer and her site a week or so ago, but want to do so again because something in me wakes up and reconfigures every time I visit her blog. I so admire her work and the way she makes the glories (and sometimes the absurdities or terrors) of the natural world accessible to us; it seems to me that her care and regard for the earth is an expression of love of the highest order; no surprise then to find the word heart embedded in her blog title?

Jennifer introduces her site thus "... This is a blog about biodiversity and natural history, although I dislike that first term. I think it turns people off to the subject. It's too often used for boring platitudes about species richness that tell you nothing about what's actually out there. I'm here to work on fixing that with a healthy dose of wit, humor, and obscure sci-fi references. Think of this as MST3K version of biodiversity..."

The Artful Amoeba was recently selected as the second-best biodiversity blog by the Pimm Group.

Jennifer's most recent post features Glaucus atlanticus - 'magical bird slugs' - in an article titled A Sea Slug of fractal Beauty (Rebecca L, you will find these creatures astonishing!)...


It seems to me that, no matter how we look at it, everything in this remarkable life of ours comes down - or rises up - to matters of listening and of the heart. . . It can be no coincidence that the word heart carries within it hear, ear and art?


May I ask you to please light a candle for my dear Dad who is in London Bridge hospital this week and possibly next; his heart's being monitored/listened to. . . ? Thank you. And one for Mum, always at his side. . . xo

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Poem - Candle Hat

This Tuesday, a poem I wish I'd written. . .


In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrandt looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.

But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.

He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.

You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.

But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.

Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
"Come in, " he would say, "I was just painting myself,"
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.

Billy Collins


For more Tuesday Poems, visit the TP hub

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Well, well, well. . . I turned fifty today!
And yes, I very much like the sound and fit of it.

If I write the years out like this

. . . i ii iii iv v vi vii viii ix x xi xii xiii xiv xv xvi xvii xviii xix xx xxi xxii xxiii xxiv xxv xxvi xxvii xxviii xxix xxx xxxi xxxii xxxiii xxxiv xxxv xxxvi xxxvii xxxviii xxxix xxxx xxxxi xxxxii xxxxxiii xxxxxiv xxxxv xxxxvi xxxxvii xxxxviii xxxxix xxxxx . . . then fifty looks young and swarming with potential.

Perhaps we're all newborns, old as planets and with the density and lightness of stars?


Last night, we gathered to celebrate - fifty, yes, but so much more than that. Life. Love. Community. Health. Music. Trees. Root vegetables. Time... this time, with all its complexity, mystery, bounty and unpredictability. We talked and sang and ate by candlelight.

We read Jeanette Winterson's Why I adore the night and my old home's flood-damaged 'dreaming wall' welcomed being turned into a notebook for drawings, jottings and considerations of Now.


Thank you, too, dear blog friends, for being a part of my life, my soul group. You help make the intangible tangible and the impossible seem possible - and so much more besides.

I am grateful.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010


For some reason, these putti bottoms had me in hysterics last night. My son had to come and see what all the guffawing was about. Had his mother finally lost her last marble? Perhaps I'm slower than most, but even though I've long appreciated tortellini as pretty - sassy even, for pasta - I've never really given them a lot of thought. But last night I saw them differently; there they were, pert little buttocks (at least to start with) - sedere, posederas, zitvlak* - and I was delighted by them. The laughter started when I tossed them into the boiling water; how could I not have paid attention to them until last night?! Tears ran down my cheeks as I jiggled them loose in the saucepan and watched them soften and plump out. What a great metaphor, I thought... And all joy to them.

I found myself thinking what fun it could be to plaster tortellini bottoms onto the cornices of my studio where they'd add an interesting architectural feature for the hoardes of spiders who've taken up residence here over the years. They - the spiders (of whom I am most fond) - seem to have pulled out all their spinning stops lately as if they have a plan in mind. They're throwing threads out in all directions, linking one light shade to another, one rafter to the next... At the rate they're going, the ceiling space will be a lattice-work of silk trapezes by the time the weekend arrives. Between the spiders and the tortellini putti, my studio could resemble a rococo chapel by the time I turn fifty. Things could be a whole lot worse!

Summer bonnets for clothes peg dolls.

(Yes, yes, I know. . . it's time to stop mucking about and go and get some work done! *Please correct my translations if they need it?)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tuesday Poem - To Be Of Use


The people I love best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shadows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek head of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.



If my sister Pip were asked to gather a handful of words to express what she considers important in this world, to be of use would surely be among them. (Marge Piercy could almost have written this poem with Pip in mind - thank you, Marge; and please, may I?).

Today is Pip's 46th birthday. She lives under a Northern Hemisphere sky on the opposite side of the world from me. It's not often we get to see each other, and years since we celebrated our birthdays alongside each other in the same place. Living with distance is something our family has had to become well-acquainted with; perhaps it's called us into a different kind of attentiveness? I do know that the distance has offered - offers - up its own unexpected gifts (how to stay present in absence, for instance). How often is the way? (Have you noticed, for instance, how circuitous routes have a habit of helping us come to grips with certain things, as if the ultimate purpose is to facilitate our moving forward?)

Here's a recent pic of Pip. It's copied from an email she wrote to her three children from Liberia earlier this year and Cc:-ed to me -

"... Here I am playing Mum to a chimpanzee orphan in Liberia ... little girl chimp really needing a cuddle and some love (after first stealing my hair band, and throwing my glasses on the sand)... She was so strong, and so certain. Living on a chain behind the Forestry Department's buildings (the law enforcing agency). She made me cry..."

You can read more about Pip's environmental passions and pursuits here.

inspirational, Earth-loving sister
'Native to your element',
today's TP is for you

And to partake in this week's Tuesday Poem banquet, click here

Monday, August 16, 2010

Salt water lions

Until this morning, I'd not heard about Lion's Mane jellyfish.

Have you?

I was visiting Rebecca Loudon's blog where she makes regular and tender mention of jellies. Yesterday she wrote about the little 'hot-cross bun jellies' and Lion's Manes she'd seen down at the docks in Seattle. Being a Leo, my ears immediately pricked and off I went to Google to see what I could find. As I said to Rebecca, I love the idea of there being waterborne lions in addition to those that roam the savannah grasslands. It'd be wise to be a little guarded around them, yes, but there are cats who need to live beside salt water. . .

Anyway, my birds are calling for their breakfast and it's time for me to pull my apron on and get busy in the studio. But first, here are a few of the people and places I visited on the web (the amazing web) this morning...

Arline Fisch, a San Diego-base artist who crocheted these glorious jellies (and makes many other marine forms, besides: how could she not, I wonder, with a name like 'Fisch''?)

If you're curious about the connection between new and novel foods, jelly tofu, collagen, the Yangtze River, phosphorous and over-fished waters, this is the place to go - Nomura and Lion's mane jellyfish.

I hadn't realized that jellyfish have been around for almost 700 million years, making them older than dinosaurs. They are 95% water and possess no bones or cartilage, no blood, heart or brain. And yet, here they are, capable of ballet, food capture, the elegant delivery of a thousand lethal stings...

Did you know that in 1870, off the shores of Massachusetts Bay, a Lion's Mane jelly with a 2.3 meter diameter and tentacles 36.5 metres long washed up onto the beach? That's a jelly larger than a blue whale - with one hell-of-a mane!

I was excited to happen upon The Artful Amoeba - a blog about the weird wonderfulness of life on Earth - eloquently hosted by Boulder-based biologist Jennifer Frazer (and yes, I delighted in the whimsical connection between Boulder, Colorado & the M. boulders I visited recently!). She's written a sobering jelly-related article titled 50 Toddlers + One Dead Lion's Mane Jellyfish = ?

Happy day, all.