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November 2009

 
Contributors
 

Ilya Bernstein
Françoise Brodsky
Joanne Rocky Delaplaine
Jorge Edwards
Tsvetanka Elenkova
Maria Filippakopoulou
Geoffrey Hartman
John Haynes
Rebecca Jany
David Kinloch
Ruth Padel
Peter Robertson
John Schad
Chris Serio
David Trinidad
Lidia Vianu
Stephen Wilson

Volta: A Multilingual Anthology
(One poem: 92 languages)

Issue 9 Guest Artist:
Jean Macalpine

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Stanley Cavell
Hollis Clayson
Sarah Churchwell
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Jill Dawson
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
Molly Haskell
Beatriz Hausner
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Alberto Manguel
Marina Mayoral
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Martha Nussbaum
Sari Nusseibeh
Tim Parks
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Jeff Barry
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

 
Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Sleuth by David Kinloch  


1  The Company

       18 May, 1882, 5pm

Mère Chevillon is at her tisanes again,
fussing over the Ullman boy. The distant clink
of tea-spoons on best china counterpoint
an evening filled with jackdaw cries,
the persistent jackass laughter of a plague
of ducks out on the River Loing that cuts off
the sloping garden of our inn. One is christened
‘Caesar’ and tonight I’d happily be his Brutus.
Ullman is ill, will die; here perhaps; we’ll have
a little ceremony in our courtyard. O’Meara,
the Irishman will speak –he always does–
of wasted youth, the confraternity of plein-air
painters who’d found a fresh disciple
in the recently deceased. I can’t be sad.
TB has done for him and he’ll go out
with the soft Grez light he’s mortgaged
everything to see, mourned by peers
who value him. And then he’ll be replaced.
They  rise like hoverflies from the riverbank
brush first; disheveled, hot, smocks
sticky with willow, they cling to unlikely spots,
and hang from palettes by their thumbs,
clusters of them painting each other
painting views and the locals, none
of whom have time to stand and stare.
They smell of lavender and chew tobacco.
Who is here then? Foreigners with difficult
Anglo-Saxon, Swedish names: a Scot
called Melville, Stott of Oldham,
–wherever that may be– a genius: Carl
Larsson and a fellow-countryman,
small and tense with lots of hair
who thinks he’s one as well: Strindberg
is his name. A Simeon Solomon –utterly
improbable– and my favourite: John Lavery,
compact, gregarious, with too much charm.
Listen: the tanned vowels of young men
gathered over beer tumble up to me;
gorgeous saltimbanques of laughter
peel briefly and jag as if mocking me
for being me and absent from the company.

 

2 The Art

           May 21st 1883, 4pm

‘Monsieur le Comte, I challenge you to a duel!’
His arched eyebrows, smile, accompanying
snigger of O’Meara and the rest suggested
a joke, a dare, another diversion
from the job of painting. Yet from the corner
of my eye I’d spied him at it, assiduous
for days before the canvas of a rower
with moustaches kissing hands at ladies
in  bateaux de plaisance drifting past him.
The surface splendourof the oarsman’s costume,
a classic striped affair, replied vivaciously
to the girls’ parasols and the little sub-plot
danced among the sparkling greens and whites.
Perfect. A day of mischief, sunny far niente
summed up within a four franc gold leaf frame.
‘Well, Comte Henri de Lestrange, will you play
our game? My painting versus your photography?’
I instantly demurred: we could not find
the dapper rower and the girls were back
in Paris no doubt. And then the whole
thing was to take the moment ‘sur le vif’,
upon the cusp of being there and gone.
A replay would betray respective arts.
Or some such stuff. He shrugged,
produced another painting: ‘This one,
would be easier, “A Grey  Summer’s Day in Grez”.
You see?’ It was more posed: a straw hatted
man –Lavery himself– with back to the spectator
gazes at the water. Nearby a woman sits
reading in a campaign chair. Stillness,
the minnows and the water lillies. Only
the greyhound, Fred, ears pricked,
looks down the path and is aware
of us, of me as I approach. I gave in.
Misgivings? Plenty. They wished ‘to view
“The Silver Sunbeam”’as my camera is called,
snoop beneath my hood,
‘observe the alchemist at work.’
In art they count my aristocracy
at nought. To them I am a peasant
drunk on new machinery, an artisan
before these grandees of oil and gouache.
Why humour them? Was it the friendliness
I seemed to find in Lavery’s frank face?
I should have paid attention to the angle
of the shadow cast by the ruined tower
next door. It’s called La Tour de Ganne
from Latin ‘gannum’ meaning trap,
betrayal, deception and derision.

               9pm

And so I raised him:  Karin Bergöö,
Larsson’s wife, sat sketching in a chair.
Lavery was himself, as was the Loing,
its coolness, light running up
the underside of leaves, ambulatory,
mechanical, mocking us at our outdoor
parlour game. The difficulty was Fred,
who did not want to play but flopped
where he should have been alert.                                     
The picture shows him in an ugly
squat, all that Melville could coax
while dashing in and out of shot.
The collodion plate prepared,
I inserted it, ignored a pinch
of baited breath from the fist
of artists looking on then placed my cap
before the lens, removed it briefly
and let in the world:
at this there was some stifled laughter.
I do not despise the ingenious shutter
but my cap is my shutter. Sometimes
I use a book. With both I have succeeded.
And did so this time. That light can act
actinically the twinkling of an eye
is no tax upon the cultivated mind;
for in this wink light has circled earth
twice at least and in this trice seen more
than man can ever see, blanched the picture’s
subject with millions of fresh portions
that rebound to the lens and through it,
then nestle on the film. But could I speak
of this when afterwards they gathered
round to make  inevitable comparisons?
Why did they chatter so when the photo
looked at them so frankly? Each splash
of light surging from the dark, each strand
of shadow surrounded by a ring of light
creates the illusion of looking at the one
who looks at it –even when no person
is present in the photograph.
I was lost in it, silenced, drowning
in pools of shadow that glanced
out at me like pupils from the white
of eyes; Lavery rescued me or rather
opportunely took centre stage:
as “a young un”, he’d “retouched”
to McNair of Glasgow’s Herald
drawn in a cloud or two –for skies
‘just won’t come out’– and rejuvenated 
aging relatives. “For photographs so quickly
made”, he said, “you need very ripe collodion,
a well corrected lens, short focus
and a steady hand”, at this he grasped
my hand and held it up, “ –like M. Lestrange’s!–
beneath the dark hood’s tent”. His palm
was soft, soft as his brushes, as the feathers
I use to varnish the edges of my negatives.
He dropped it quickly, then turned
and fixing me without his usual smile:
“Sodium hyposulfate and acetic acid?                                 
Ancient Egypt used this solution
to mummify their dead; its function
has not changed in several millennia:
thus, M. le Comte, you embalm
the living in baths and washes.
Like a sleuth you track the flux
of light and try to snare its vital spirit
in a print. You always fail for here
is shadow and more shadow,
a Grez of grey shades, a cave
in which the colour of the world is lost.
Yours is a necrophiliac art.” At this
there was a sharp intake of breath.
My own or from the others… I wasn’t sure.
I bowed, retired back up the garden
and for a moment saw myself as they
must see me: an awkward human tripod half
cartwheeling,
the camera’s hood flapping forward
like an elephant’s trunk,
monstrous, most strange.

 

               Midnight

Sleuth of the dandelion’s seed,
of the sunbeam volatising
mica on the parapet, sleuth
of the night-time breeze,
its taste and touch,
of the current in the trees,
tree spit and froth, intricate
scum on the surface of the Loing,
sleuth of the chevroned wake
slipping from the tails
of swans, of the dark room’s tongue 
where only the earth will speak.

‘Sleuth’: I looked it up: ‘detective,
a sleuthhound on the track of crime’,
a trapper, a sniffer out; of course;
but descending from the Norse word,
‘sloth’ which means both trail and trace.

Sleuth then of the world’s
trace, the silver tracery
in the  tree stump’s bole
nested by spiders’ webs;
trace of a world objectified
by light, of a person in the lit-up
world, opening lenses to it,
accompanying it.

‘Sleuth’. He meant to hurt me.
And maybe Lavery too was something
of the sleuth: what was it in me
he sensed should be so hurt?
A strangeness; a nearness;
of art; of nature? It was when
he touched me I understood
his error, possibly his envy:

unlike painting, those traces
of the real in photographs
are not made by human hands
but by the real encounter of photons
reflected by the world’s things
and the silvered surface of the film.

Lavery works with colour, pushes
little slabs and patches of it,
kneeds it with scrabbling knuckles,
thumbs; it is wet and messy;
like the world but only like,
like, not traces of the world itself.

I stand before his paintings and look
at them. But he must step with his eyes
into the flat surface of my shady world
to recreate its depth and understand
the space that weaves between the objects
and the people shown there. He must be

a sleuth, like the maker of the photo,                 
retouch with his mind the images he sees.
He hurt me and I let him
because I wanted so much to smile
back beneath the dark hood
of my camera, focus on him
straw-hatted man, model of mine,       
centre him between my lenses.

 

This poem draws on ideas presented in Serge Tisseron's wonderful study Le Mystère de la Chambre Claire (Paris, Flammarion, 1996)