As an antidote to studying Dante’s Comedy I am enjoying The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. It is very informative about clouds and the atmosphere while being written in a humorous style. His philosophy even echoes Zen in some respects as he says ‘watching clouds legitimises doing nothing.’ (However, it would be a mistake if readers unfamiliar with Zen thought that was all there is to Zen: I’m afraid the path of Zen is one of unfathonable psychological demands and by no means easy!) The author first set up The Cloudspotter’s Appreciation Society and only afterwards wrote the book. He describes how to recognise the different cloud families and peppers the text with amusing or interesting anecdotes inluding one about the pilot who ejected from a plane into a huge thunderstorm cloud and survived to tell the tale.
The picture shows a mackerel sky – or cirrocumulus stratiformis undulatus!
As light reading with lots of nuggets to chew on this could not be bettered; five stars out of five stars (or should that be 5 clouds?).
Winter sun bathes the bricks, white
tailed bumble bees tumble from
their winter bunks, stagger towards
ivy florets, the hinterland between
park and street – a refuge from exhaust
fumes and a thousand hurrying feet.
Rush hour and darkening sky
heavy with manic murmuration
starts a panic among the beetling crowds.
Upturned faces –
Sudden cessation of shriek –
Like a giant bat’s wing the flock
shrouds the city wall and hangs –
silent above the footfall.
Twenty or thirty years ago huge flocks of tens of thousands of starlings roosted in cities. They no longer roost in such numbers here in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Red, orange and yellow hiding beneath the green
the necessary chlorophyll just a screen
to soothe our eyes in summer –
the colour of the leaves, so much chemical waste
nature’s patterns don’t really pander to our taste –
yet poets and artists see design everywhere –
on one oak tree 700,000 leaves fall without a song
a red (and orange) carpet for poets to walk along –
there is rhyme and rhythm in the fall of each leaf –
We share DNA with leaf and acorn –
three billion years ago the double helix was newborn –
now we are aweful testimony to its hidden code.
I’ve been reading Richard Dawkin’s book, The Greatest Show on Earth and this has influenced this poem. Dawkins lays out in detail how the theory of evolution is now considered as scientific fact along with such other facts as the heliocentricity of our solar system. As the title of one of his chapters has it, there is grandeur in this view of life! In my poem I’ve more than hinted at the dichotomous nature of human intelligence.
on the paving slab
a slug’s silvery map
sets off an apricot stone
the Arctic terns have flown south –
late August, alone in a bird hide
sitting in the sun –
a tiny insect crawls across
godwits drilling the still pond –
ripples in the universe
watching bumble bees spiral into petals
I rub lavender leaves between fingers
but it doesn’t ease
my throbbing head
Vincent Van Gogh was the first artist I made an emotional connection with, in my teens. When I was in my early twenties I read his Letters and realised that he was a well read, thoughful artist far from the popular notion of the mad artist! I never tried to copy his style but this drawing, which I must have done over twenty years ago, shows some influence in the mark-making. If you haven’t read the diaries I highly recommend them. There’s an edited version produced by Fontana, The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Ed by Mark Roskill. They are among the most moving testament of any artist I’ve read about.
I went to a poetry workshop yesterday – the theme was nature. One of the exercises was to include a man-made structure, an animal and time. I wrote this poem and this is one of my paintings I did a few years ago.
At the viaduct
The viaduct floating
in early morning mist.
A single figure with a dog
emerges from the drowned
stones. A staccato of barks
echoes under arches.
A thrush sings his three
time song, sudden wing of
burnt sienna – red kite towing
“When we speak of nature it is wrong to forget that we ourselves are part of Nature. We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe.”
In his old age Matisse used charcoal on the ends of long poles to draw with. He also used coloured paper to make pictures, cutting shapes with large scissors even when he was bed-ridden.