Henry Martin ... busy doing art

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By henrymartinhm, Jul 17 2017 12:14AM

Sitting.

Did you sit here?

Chalk of a husk—the sky—was

Yours like this?


I knew these roads before you,

I knew the indent of cobble

And the seagull perched on the tower.


Then you came like the rain,

And fell through the earth,

And out the other side—

There is no escaping you.


And the seagull flew away.


I’ve never seen the Irish sky behind you,

Pinning you in.


I wonder, did you walk?

What did you do to pass the time?

Who were you with?

Who are you with now?


I know them in the abstract,

I know them as ‘not me.’


I didn’t think of you one day last week,

But then it rained.


I’m afraid a terrible truth will slip out,

That you see me as one thing,

But I reveal as another,

That the sunshine hung in the corner of my eye

Is revealed as a reflection of it, and not real light.


These things I fear, I bear alone, and cannot bear.


If I had you here now,

Sitting beside me,

I would ask you,

Finally—


Did you sit here?

Like me? And,

Would you sit closer by?


By henrymartinhm, Jul 14 2017 01:07PM

There is an imbalance to him. He leans with fondness in many directions, but he feels deep inside him the inability (he holds like a secret) to commit to any person, place or thing. Not because of a fear, but because of programming, because of spiritual defeat whereby he cannot trust the shape or purpose of the world in which he moves.


Even before he embarks on a project, an adventure, anything, he knows he will not be a master, that even throwing himself into it (or because he is throwing himself into it) he will only ever expose himself and his many weaknesses—despite whatever treasures he might uncover.


He is always separated from the real world by a veil that stretches up and down and each side, so no matter how far he goes in any direction, he is always in the centre and incapable of reaching the other side where he might be subsumed and forgetful and confident and happy.


You might think this awareness he has of himself (of his condition) means he has a certain and slight power, or could achieve a clarity of direction of which way to move, or change his behaviour and be free? Not so. He knows that too many years have passed and he is a fully formed man and these flaws are the blocks that build up his being—the stuff of which he is made. The only way to change one thing is to destroy everything and leave nothing behind, no trace of him.


His sadness is that he will always try, and as he ages, the more he tries, the greater the chasm between the smile he forces and what is real and interior and increasingly lost in him.


He has already given up on himself, it must be said. It must be repeated: he has already given up on himself. Is it a choice? Or a slow and strong thing that happened to him?


It really doesn’t matter anymore.


By henrymartinhm, Mar 20 2017 07:13PM

Warsaw, 2013


We walk up the long stretch of Krakowskie Przedmiescie; a street dotted with light from bars and restaurants, tourists returning to their hotels, young people wavering outside, smoking.


Then we reach the rynek Starego Miasta at the Warsaw Old Town; a square alive with small electric lights and canopy-covered diners eating their late dessert and arguing for who would pay the bill. Men in middle age pump water from the water fountain and smile like children to have their picture taken.


We have visited many squares like this; a construction of something long ago bombed; a kind of homage, a sort of memorial. The Old Town suggests the proportions in which life was lived before the war; it suggests the harmony or uniformity of the collective will toward survival. The stars have stayed the same of course (or are they more dim) unaffected by everything below.


Summer means sitting outside in shorts until you get goosebumps. It means being more free with laughter, more generous. Winter means that we pass each other by, our eyes downturned to watch our feet in case the ground should bite them off.


Warsaw: a piano thumps behind a wall, a waitress in a miniskirt carries freshly laundered tablecloths into the night for the morning breakfast table, lonely men obsess with their phones, women are determined not to fall as they stride across the uneven cobbles of the square, in Plac Zbawiciela the Tecza rainbow is desecrated with a petrol bomb, a sign in a low-lit street says "world problems are now local," in the dark streets of old Stalowa we see a street altar with a Byzantine virgin and child, a communal wasteland with a solitary child, the dark hallways in buildings evacuated during the war, still empty, or so it seems to us.


We are accidental tourists, here to observe, until we move away.


By henrymartinhm, Jan 31 2017 12:30PM

Immigration is a loaded word in our current political and social ecology. It was a primary tenet of the Vote Leave campaign in the UK and their portrait of immigrants (free loaders, terrorists, and by insinuation, people of colour) resonated deeply with voters across the UK to deliver and reveal so unambiguously a broken Brexit Britain. Across Europe and further afield, countries wrestle with the moral responsibility to accept refugees or close their borders.


Every immigrant, of course, is an emigrant and the shift in perspective it takes to grasp this distinction seems willfully avoided nowadays. A tip: putting yourself in another’s shoes is the easiest way of doing this. For instance, in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, Irish people were reassured that UK nationals did not regard the Irish as immigrants. But whether or not voters (or politicians) chose to accept the Irish as immigrants, the Irish (I am one of them) always felt an emigrant in the UK. To deny the Irish the right to own their heritage, not only whitewashes them (an extension of UK-Irish history), but, more broadly, reveals voter laziness in understanding the nuance of immigrant experience.


Since April 2008 over 480,000, mostly young, Irish left in the aftermath of the Irish recession. Many of these emigrants were young and university educated: a ‘brain drain’ much lamented and debated in the media and on the street.This mass exodus is the background to E.M. Reapy’s much-praised debut novel, Red Dirt, set in 2011.


Joseph O’Connor has called Red Dirt 'a remarkably accomplished and vivid debut novel,' Mike McCormack wrote 'the gap-year generation of young Irish men and women who went to Australia has found its laureate,’ and the author took away the award for Best Newcomer in December 2016 at the Irish Book Awards in Dublin. This praise is deserved: Red Dirt is an assured and accomplished novel with haunted characters, heightened vernacular, deft tonal shifts, and page-turning action.


The novel is split into three sections, ME narrated by Murph, YOU narrated by Fiona, and THEM narrated by Hopper. Reapy, from Co. Mayo, who is known in Ireland for her short stories, plays to her strengths in this genre—each chapter has a distinct voice and the first person narration works perfectly to create intimacy and immediacy in the stressful and action-heavy scenarios the characters find themselves in.

Ostensibly each character has come to Australia to avoid the recession, make money and have an adventure. This they find impossible to do—haunted by pining parents, ex-lovers, and children left back home.


Their inability to let go of home cripples them; they drink, take drugs, and get into sticky situations that endanger them and the people around them. Unmoored from home and civilization they regress to their basest selves: suspicious, paranoid, lusting, and—in two stories—surviving off the land in the punishing outback. This is the story of three distinct characters, but their experience of hardship, alienation, and spiritual exile will resonate with emigrants, and in particular Irish emigrants, around the world.


The author deftly conjurors an Ireland that children growing up in the 1990s will recognize; Murph recalls the good of home, ‘the young and auld fellas would be out the back of the church on a Sunday morning with cheery bloodshot eyes talking about football and pints. The smell of turf burning. The taste of McCambridges dosed in real butter, Purple Snacks, Supermac’s chicken burgers, Club Orange. The Rain. The awful bollocking rain that soaked us and quenched us.’ Fiona, however, recalls only the bad, ‘The evictions. The suicides… All the parked-up cars. All the unlived-in property. All the full exile planes.’


It is memories like these that Irish emigrants take with them everywhere; cultural baggage that makes each resistant to the catch-all, inelegant, label of immigrant that the media, with such ease, turns to.


Towards the end of the book in a rare moment of moralizing, one character, Hopper, turns to another and suggests, ‘it’s not the event but how you interpret the event that’s important.’ In this, Hopper suggests to Fiona she look past her knee-jerk view of life. This is advice worth reflecting on today as border control tightens, new political party platforms get written, and xenophobia gains credence across the world. What we call ourselves—not what others call us—defines who we are.


The emigrant needs to continue to write their story and have it read, to bypass the sloganeers and dubious media, and to help shape what happens next.


< Red Dirt 9781784974640 PB JAN 17, Head of Zeus >

By henrymartinhm, Jun 8 2016 04:16PM

Home


I’m not sure if when I come home I find myself or I lose myself. If I find myself the assumption is that for the majority of the year, living in London, I am playing at being someone else. If I lose myself it means that London has made me and home exists to take me apart bit by bit. Going home becomes an act of making oneself vulnerable.


Last year I saw a play called Visitors by Barney Norris. Visitors was about many things but central to the action was a relationship between an older couple and their son. The mother in the family had dementia and the son was keen to sell the family home and put his mother into care. The writer managed to create characters that were nuanced and when it came to representing the relationship of the parents, he did, in my eyes, something interesting. The abundant love between the father and mother, their complete devotion to each other, functioned to alienate their son from them. In Visitors love created distance.


After Visitors there was a panel discussion centred on the theme of ‘home’. This was rambling, as these things usually are, but I found myself becoming frustrated by the consensus (between audience and panel) that home is always refuge and shelter and its place in our identity is naturally a positive thing.


I thought this was a sentimental and narrow view on what home is or can be. It was as though I had walked into a Norman Rockwell definition of the word. Home: agrarian, wholesome, white.


Homeless, rootless, orphaned, fostered, wandering or dispossessed people, it was implied, are somehow less when they don’t have a home in this sentimental definition. Without a home you were not whole. Furthermore this definition was troublesome because it admitted no place for those who only find themselves, their freedom, and sometimes their family, when they leave their original home. Often – actually – a place of challenge, neglect and much worse, for many people.


Even though most animal species migrate, the travel at Thanksgiving, Eid al-Fitr, Christmas, Passover, and any other number of religious, national or regional holidays always struck me as peculiar behaviour. The long lines in stations, the exorbitant transport costs: home must be positive to warrant such adherence to tradition? It’s impossible to talk of home, to even write the word without acknowledging its secret echo: family. Home and family are two words, and community is a third, that often seem indivisible from each other. But they can be, and maybe should be, divided.


All these things I am thinking about recently because I too made a journey home for Christmas, and it is the last Christmas I spend in the house I grew up in. When my mother informed her family by e-mail that she wanted to move and sell the house I did not revert back to being a child, stamping my feet and clenching my teeth. Instead I felt relief. I moved from home when I was nineteen, thirteen years ago, and I don’t feel I have any claim on its territory anymore. If the sale of the home gives my parents financial ease in their retirement, then as an adult I should be happy. When I lose this home, my parents will live separately and so I lose not just the house, but also the combined image of my parents in my mind – though really, that portrait disappeared years ago.


Sitting in different rooms in my house, I notice how it is more like a musical score than a physical space. When I hear a door creek I know what door it is, when I see the light change on the wall I know a cloud sails in front of the sun. The corners of the room have ghosts: birthday balloons in April for my sister and I, holly bush in December, green palm branches for Easter.


The house I will loose is not a house that gives me refuge in the present, but rather a place that gives me access to the past: an architecture to solicit a sense memory of earlier days: sitting with my dogs against the Aga in the kitchen, reading. Lying in my bedroom, hearing my mother’s heels staccato on the tile hall floor. Hearing the same sound, years later, when my sisters came of age. My father humming an Irish folk song as he walks up the hallway.


When a couple get married or a child is born, well-wishers frequently talk of new starts and new chapters opening. Maybe the same can be said of the sale of a home. Aside from what is lost, what can be gained? More harmony for my parents as individuals? Freedom for my mother from the memories that cling to her (she has lived in the house for over sixty years)? Or maybe without the house as an anchor, the sense of family will dissipate even more?


It’s difficult to speak about these things as a family, particularly in detail. In order to survive we went silent on certain topics years ago. I’m not sure what is ultimately worse: arguments or total silence. I think that both bring their own form of stress and sadness. A friend of mine recently told me about Yom Kippur, which I had never heard about. My friend talked about ringing her family and friends once a year and asking for forgiveness for anything she may have done to unintentionally hurt them throughout the preceding year.


This concept blew my mind. I wondered if things with my Irish Catholic family (or your family?) might have been different if years ago we had all just asked forgiveness of each other and had the opportunity to start afresh every year. I know it doesn’t work as simply as this, but it struck me as a practice worth considering in the future. Sometimes in life you feel you’ve floated so far away from the shore that no one can hear you. I feel that way sometimes when I think of the past and forgiveness and moving on. I feel that forgiveness and moving on are on the shore and I am out at sea.


Returning to my first sentence: if I find myself when I come home, then once my home is sold, there is a piece of me that will be forever lost, and if I lose myself then once my home is sold I reduce the chance of losing myself in the future. I guess none of this would matter if I had managed to create a new home for myself already. Even the ‘home’ I have in London is on the market because the landlord has grown too old to manage it. In London you’re only ever just a body passing through a room.


Maybe home isn’t that important. Maybe instead of home we should be talking about space. Space that makes you better, safer, happier, a space you carry with you, that you can own and that doesn’t toy with your feelings or expectations like the word ‘home’ does. It is unfair to assume that just because the homeless or the immigrant are not living where they came from, that their lives should be considered somehow tragic, or that they should be considered less. I’m an emigrant in Ireland, an immigrant in London and homeless in both, but I don’t think that I am less than.

By henrymartinhm, Sep 16 2015 08:37PM

It is rare that when I have finished a book I still don’t know what to make of it. Denis Johnson’s 'The Laughing Monsters' (Harvill Secker) is one such rarity.


I had never read any of Johnson’s work before; when I first spotted 'The Laughing Monsters' in a bookshop (and then Hackney Library) I was drawn to the title and to the cover photograph which I knew to be by the Irish photographer Richard Moss.


However, there all confidence and comfort in my choice ends.


The Laughing Monsters – a book in four parts – is, on the surface, a book about two renegade NATO/UN/CIA/MILITARY friends who strike out alone to wheel and deal contraband in Sierra Leone, Uganda and the DR Congo. The two are old friends, but not necessarily faithful ones. The first, Nair (Dutch), is sent to spy on the second, Adriko (Ugandan). Because the ensuing story is told from Nair’s perspective and he spends half the book high on alcohol (to call him drunk would be putting it mildly) what we get is a fragmented, distressing and piece-meal account of a journey into a heart of darkness that goes terribly awry.


To try and talk about plot in 'The Laughing Monsters' would be a fool's errand. The author is not fully committed to mapping a plot out and as such, being plot-light the action feels all the more vulnerable and the stakes for each character even more precarious. As such, everything in this book is uncertain – except the writing, which is totally confident in the uncertainty it creates. Who is Nair? Who is Adriko? Who is crossing whom? The book starts off a spy novel - full of the tropes of the genre – but half way through it has the reason vacuumed out of it to become one person’s confused travelogue of events – increasingly grotesque and surreal. What does this mean? Why the sudden shift in tone and purpose?


I’m still not sure why Johnson dispenses with the narrative he originally sets up, and instead takes the reader on a confused journey leap-frogging across Africa. For sure, some of the images and scenes he describes are vivid – the African Queen called La Dolce Vita, sitting on a throne between two trees asking for villagers to offer her a sacrifice – a woman killed by reckless driving as she walks miles with a basket on her head. But do vivid images make a portrait of the continent – or the protagonist? And is Johnson’s excellent – really excellent – smart – sharp – twisty – dialogue heavy – fresh writing enough to keep everything moving while the world of the characters falls apart? Just about.


As such all the elements of this short novel hang together by a thread – the only problem is, I’m not sure ultimately what picture they are coming together to create. If nothing else, 'The Laughing Gods' will not be a book that I will forget any time soon, which perhaps is a good enough achievement in light of all the disposable narratives thrown about daily. Nair (or Johnson?) is critical of Africa – of the people populating the country, confusing each other and the ‘natives’ – but Nair is out not to help, as he should be doing. Instead he is out to exploit in a typical Western self-interested way.


The title of the Richard Mosse photograph on the cover of the book is 'Men of Good Fortune.' This would have been a more ironic title for a book whose primary characters come out triumphant in the end – but whose invisible supporting cast – the poor – sick – starving – rural villagers remain fortune-free. 'The Laughing Gods' might be the men who end up with money in their pockets leaving destruction in their wake – but Africa is certainly not laughing anytime soon.


I definitely want to read Denis Johnson's other work.


(http://www.vintage-books.co.uk/books/1846559340/denis-johnson/the-laughing-monsters/)

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