Koestler Exhibition – Reflections

Today and tomorrow is all you’ve got to go see this exhibition of artworks by prisoners and inmates of secure facilities, currently showing at BALTIC (at the back of the level 2 play area) and Gateshead Central Library.

Alongside the visual art, there’s a free anthology of creative writing – and I was honoured to be invited to judge this writing, awarding money prizes to the top three (top in my opinion, that is – totally subjective!)

I’d like to have some profound comment to offer you, but all I’ve got so far is – I like weird, dark, disturbing, unheimlich art. But in writing I also need quite a bit of technical skill to enjoy it, whereas in visual art I am happy with quite rough-and-ready ‘outsider’ techniques, so long as the image itself makes me feel the shivers…

Perhaps I will try to write some pieces myself in response to these, my personal favourites…2013-11-28 17.16.38 2013-11-28 17.16.57 2013-11-28 17.17.21 2013-11-28 17.18.38

Love is waiting to come through you

This is a new piece, literally just finished it so it’s a bit wobbly like jelly but I think it’s set. I started the first notes on it about a month back – I had returned from a week-long retreat where I had been writing and meditating every day, Buddhist meditation including metta bhavana practise, which is the deliberate cultivation of compassion. All through the retreat I had experienced extreme pain across my upper back and arms when meditating, a very blocky feeling, and I knew it was all part of feeling a little shut down in my heart. Then on the last day our meditation leader started off a session by saying ‘remember, love is waiting to come through you’ and I immediately felt a bellow of love roar through me from back to front like a fire hose, opening up my chest until I cried helplessly. It left a kind of exit wound so that for days after coming home I was continually finding myself overcome with compassion, in the most unlikely (and inconvenient) places – in this case, late night shopping at Asda.

Love is waiting to come through you

brutal   a wolf wind at the automatic doors it will

shove you   a trolley through their parting and in

to the realm of nested baskets   buckets brimming

bright bouquets destined for vases or lampposts

stacks of flapjacks   black gossip pagodas where

turbine girls stride on the newsprint seas   arms

bent back white vanes semaphoring they too

are on special offer but to who?   love is waiting

to jackknife your sternum and make you see

the young man  twitching without rhythm or

symmetry  agonizing over Icebergs,  Romaines

the old man  palming his wife like a fresh egg

misbuttoned tweed hunched high in sympathy

for her lifelong rocking  cross a scoliotic spine

the biker   trachea shockingly stoppered white

plastic porthole in his windburned wattle   love

is waiting to escape from you   clawing a way

out of the shattered mineshaft   joining them

under inert gases  in closed cup mushroom faces

and the struggle with choices   crunchy or plain

shivering in the aisles of flayed shrink-wrapped

muscles   seeking comfort in the varnished apples

and beyond  the unmanned tills are singing please

please take please take please take your change

What should this one be called…

…and is it even finished? I suspect it isn’t, but I’m going to kick it out of the nest anyway while I try to make  room for some new ones. You may be interested to know that this started out as a very ‘poetic’ poem, all about early morning light on the silver arabesques of snail trails, until I rendered myself so fucking bored with my own work that this little gobbet of ugly spat out. Just like ‘How Many More?’ started as a hymn to jam-making and ended up a bitter half-spell against a boy long-gone incanted by a crone-in-the-making. I rock at the kitchen table, trying to focus on what is true, and currently it is all dark, dark, dark.

fucking snails / shitting babies

in the weeds again / mummy

it’s a little green one, I seed it /

how many times / do I have

to tell you / I’ve seen / or I

saw? / are you deaf or just /

stupid? / the pathetic dramas

when I snuff them with a pinch /

it’s best / to kill them before

they get too big / untameable /

her hair curls like parsley /

round and round the table

with the hairbrush / screaming /

I made porridge / like my mum

the right way / salt and water /

why won’t she sit still

and take it?