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This time last year I wrote up an explanation about “Winterreise”, a poem in which a glass of water features as a symbolic object. (Regular readers will have noticed that water is a recurring motif in my poetry.) “Winterreise” describes a meal out with my father, who passed away on the 5th May five years ago. Click on the drawing above to read both the poem and the write-up.

Image courtesy of http://olddesignshop.com/ – Vintage Image Treasury

The truth-teller
draws from a pocket
the laminated slide 
    of mm 85 x 55.
You read  
     – it turns pellucid.

Through the foramen you see
the blade that cuts 
a lover’s sup
and dulled lime drunk alone
in place of absinthe’s 
sleight of bliss.
Here life ferments
and the contact details 
for the artist sit
alongside his finest projects
parcelled on this stretch of linen.

24/02/2014

In preparation for my public reading on Wednesday, I have been mulling over marketing. Should I have business cards printed out, so that I could look “professional” and have something to hand over to people? In true mulling continuation, I started imagining poems about poets and artists with business cards. “Should poets have business cards?” began one draft. Then I started imagining business cards that became magic carpets; others became slices of floating simile (a floating host of spring blooms); still others morphed into glass laboratory slides, which then functioned like truth-revealing lenses.

While paging through an art book last week, I was reminded of Edgar Degas’s painting L’Absinthe (1876, oil on canvas, 92 cm × 68 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris). In English the work is sometimes referred to as The Absinthe Drinker or The Glass of Absinthe. In it sits a woman on her own, staring desolately into her own sad distance. In front of her is a glass with green liquid in it: the promised consolation of absinthe. Her slumped posture, the leached colours in the painting and the dulled green of what should be a fun, party drink are all cues that this is not a moment of merriment. It is a moment of doleful truth, captured by the painter.

In the painting she sits next to a bearded man, who also drinks alone. In my memory, I had instead inserted a pair of lovers to the woman’s left (viewer’s right). In creating a fictional world, where the painter’s business card reveals the undercutting truth of things seen, I must have inserted this additional motif of late nineteenth-century Parisian café-life. The lovers, the drinkers, the dancers, the fat-cat patrons and the glamorous Ladies of the Night were all alluring subject matter. They seduced artists such as Degas, Lautrec and Manet with the fantasies they offered. But peering through the bones of this society, these truth-tellers also captured an enduring fermentation of life.

The canvases of Parisian café life are the business cards of these artists past. In my poem, the small piece of card transforms, at the viewer/reader’s glance, into a transparent lens. This lens becomes the truth-revealing aperture. The aperture and canvas and business card all converge into one parcel.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
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Books:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness

 

We ate at Träumerei.

Maybe I ordered a quiche

And he had melted cheese.

Forget this not, my heart:

We lunched at Träumerei.

There shining in brightness

on the table –  a glass

of water,

four peppermints and the bill.

2012

It is from this poem that my first volume derives its title. In this prosaic moment, in which two people finish a meal at a restaurant, there is also a numinous communion. The objects and the moment between the diners are frozen in time like a still life, or a memento mori. I find it most intriguing that at least eight years passed from the moment of the meal to the poem’s creation. Because I know you’re wondering, the other diner is my Dad. When I was in my late teens and early twenties he would treat me once a month, near his payday, for lunch in Cape Town’s city centre. In the weeks leading up to meal, he would bring home menus from prospective cafés. Pouring over the meal options and discussing the ambience was almost as important as the day itself.

The moment in this poem is based on a vague memory of a meal we had at an Austrian restaurant, Träumerei, which used to operate on St George’s Mall. (At one time it had a sibling restaurant in Franschhoek, a wine route town renowned for its cuisine.) In my memory it is a bright, sunny Cape Town day and we are sitting on the white painted balcony overlooking the mall, a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare. It’s that moment of repose between the end of the meal, the paying of the bill and continuing with the hustle of the afternoon.

My Dad worked as a humble council clerk for the city council. Seldom did he seem to have money for practicalities like shoe repairs, a new suit or the ‘phone bill. In fact, once he spent the household bill money on tickets for all five of us to see a visiting Russian Cossack dance troupe. My mother was not pleased when they cut off the water. But my Dad had a rich poetic spirit, and he found the pennies for lunchtime dates, Saturday coffees and the regular offerings of a single rose or carnation for my mother.

My Dad passed away on the 5th May 2009 after a battle with colon cancer and it is to his memory I dedicate “Shining in Brightness.”

Shining in Brightness my first volume of poetry presents 20 poems selected from twelve years’ worth of writing and two accompanying, explanatory essays. You can preview and purchase it here (via blurb.co.uk)

I tweet regularly about my current food yens – muesli, coffee and London dining – and occasional attempts at improving my German. I’m on Twitter as @BeadedQuill