In the window is 
from Senegal, 
and beautifully put together:
the bird.

The artist, with the help of sticks
and other flotsam,
beautifully put together
the bird.

The artist has been washed ashore 
with other birds 
beautifully put together 
with the help of sticks.

They make beautifully put together
birds from the window, 
these sticks and other flotsam
and the artist, who is 

beautifully put together
washed ashore with birds
in the window of flotsam
in the window of helpful sticks

22/07/2013

Since the earliest days of summer, before the heatwave descended and when a further bout of snow probably still threatened, I’ve had a torn page from a catalogue against my table mirror. It has long been a habit of mine to pull pages of beautiful interiors from magazines, newspaper supplements and catalogues. (For the astrologically minded, I am Cancerian after all.) I have made dozens of scrapbooks of such images. At one stage, when my life was more sedentary, I had an elaborate filing hierarchy of general shoebox for the scrappy ones, small envelopes for alone images, larger A3 sized envelopes for pages and files for full articles of beautiful homes.

In the last ten years, as my life has been more transient and nomadic and my views about a life filled with objects have changed, I have become more restrained in such collecting. After my time in the USA, I did gift my sister a stapled book of glossy San Diego estate agent advertisements and Pottery Barn pull-outs in an imaginary décored version of My Californian Life. In my ever-growing collection of notebooks, you will find the occasional image of quiet studies, verdant gardens and cool kitchens drawn from Polish, German, Austrian, English and South African publications. On the most occasional of occasional pages you may come across a hurried line-drawing of a hotel room in Istanbul or a tin of pens against a window-view in Grahamstown.

In the torn page propped against my mirror these last few months, this is the scene: there’s an empty, but inviting cabin dining-room. Set around the wooden table are worn, painted chairs. The wool rug against the wall is a burst of folksy flowers. Silhouetted in on the windowsill are a hurricane lamp and a bird sculpture.

Alongside this scene is a quieter, more tantalising shot. Below the window is a blue-seated bench. On the windowsill a geranium flowers pink blooms in a tin bucket. Squint and peer, and alongside the leaves and wooden window frame you’ll spy a long-legged bird sculpture.

Accompanying the images is the usual informational catalogue blurb. It reads:

Recycled
The bird in the window is
beautifully put together
with the help of sticks
and other flotsam that
has been washed ashore.
The artist in Assane Déme
from Senegal, who makes
birds from recycled
materials.

I’m drawn to the visual arts and beautiful spaces. Like the creative work of writing or composing, working with objects, colours, textures and light piques my exploration of creative process. In a more academic capacity, I’m also interested in the politics, patterns and trends of artistic and creative consumption. Overlay the consumption with North-South dynamics – as in this example, a Northern European interior clothing/décor/lifestyle store highlights a Senegalese artist’s work. Now some of the post-colonial cultural theory I once studied stirs.

Stanza by stanza “Recycled” explores both creative process and creative politics. In the first stanza the artist as (named) person is suspended for exotic creator from Senegal, who not merely makes art but is resourceful enough to do so from flotsam and other recycled materials. Invoked are hints of the myth that artistic Africa is resourceful, but not quite of the materials or rigour of the Western European Academy sculpture. (I am also conscious that I have not mentioned Assane Déme by name in the poem, which is interesting. I’d like to argue it opens the poem to be more of general circumstances. ) The second stanza continues a similar idea, with the “beautiful, helpful” materials taking on a creative role in which the artist is almost subservient.

The subservience of artist to material is sometimes noted by creatives, who point out that often their media works itself. So, it is apt that stanzas three and four shift from politics to creative process. In the sea of sticks, flotsam, birds and beauty, we read an ebb and flow of the creative tides. The final stanza incorporates the ambiguous politics of the original catalogue blub and the mystery of a creative wave. It refers to the role of materials both in the creative process and the myth of creative production from Africa.

And all this from a page torn from a catalogue. Such is creative recycling.

Preview more poems and essays on my writing in my recently published volume SHINING IN BRIGHTNESS.

I am on Twitter as @BeadedQuill.

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