Posts Tagged ‘British Library’

Come to the Feast

May 21, 2012

The Prospect of Happiness – paperwork by Liz Mathews

This beautiful work (with text from my book The Principle of Camouflage) is on show at Liz Mathews’ current solo exhibition light wells in Kentish Town, north London. (It’s also the banner image for the Thames Festival facebook page…)

There’s another large work in the show, Spring, which also sets text from my book, and I’m very proud that my words have contributed to a truly inspiring show.

Spring (detail)  – artist’s book by Liz Mathews

The Thames is the motif for us in London this summer; Liz Mathews’ monumental artist’s book Thames to Dunkirk is on show in Writing Britain, the British Library’s major exhibition for the London 2012 Festival.  It is wonderful opportunity to see this very large work opened up to almost its full 17 metre length, and it is an impressive sight.

We went to the opening last week, a glamorous occasion ably described by the curator Jamie Andrews on his blog, of which I will merely say that we enjoyed everything among the great and glorious of the literary world – the folk rendition of Jerusalem, the cider, the idea of the smoked eel canapes…

The exhibition itself is a real joy to any writer or reader with a love of literature which invokes the spirit of place.  It avoids the pitfalls of concentrating too exclusively on pastoral or urban by having a variety of themes, as the subtitle puts it, from Wastelands to Wonderlands, and a combination of elements that couldn’t be missed out – John Clare, Virginia Woolf – with unexpected treasures like Kathleen Raine’s diary.

One of my favourite discoveries was Bernard Kops’ poem about a now-defunct library, Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.  He reads it in a video at the show which has visitors in pleasurable tears (whereas I saw at least one person laughing at Ezra Pound’s rendition of the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer, accompanied on kettledrum…):

‘Welcome young poet, in here you are free

to follow your star to where you should be.

The door of the library was the door into me

And Lorca and Shelley said “Come to the feast.”

Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.’

Even in a big exhibition like this, there isn’t room for everything everyone would like to see; the land-, city- and seascapes of Britain have been so crucial to the sense of ourselves as indivduals in a place defined by our literature. The writing represented here, in all its diversity, has a common ground in the way it maps the inner landscapes of the psyche even as it explores the human place in the physical terrain.

The importance for us of word linked to place is acknowledged by the Pin-a-Tale on the literary map feature, where people can nominate their own ur-texts for specific areas; the map already bristles with red flags.  A champion of my work has contributed The Principle of Camouflage, together with this beautiful photograph of Crambo’s beach.

Sea from the dunes – photograph by Liz Mathews (1993)

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