It's raining poems

There have been many accounts on Facebook and on various blogs (including this lovely account from Katy Evans-Bush: http://baroqueinhackney.com/2012/06/27/the-reign-of-poems/) of the Rain of Poems that showered down on London on Tuesday night, making a welcome change from the month of the ordinary wet kind of rain that’s drowned out summer. It was, as many commentators have already said, a joyous and exuberant occasion that brought poets from all over the world together with the citizens of London. At twilight, a helicopter appeared in the skies above Jubilee Gardens, and dropped little packages containing hundreds of poems which fluttered down into the hands of waiting spectators. It was a grey evening (as most evenings have been recently), and so the poems were caught in a floodlight that caused the white paper they were printed on to glow ghostly silver (more like snow than rain). In all, 100,000 poems were released over a half-hour period. Because of the light winds, poems were scattered onto the surrounding bridges, the roofs of flats, as far as Fleet Street and the Strand across the river.

The creators of this project are Casagrande http://www.loscasagrande.org/, a Chilean art collective, whose practice is publishing-based and whose aim is to distribute poetry through a series of interventions and ‘art actions’ (as they say on their website) to the public. All their poetic actions and other activities are free to the audience receiving them; their slogan is ‘can’t be sold, can’t be bought’ (no se vende ni se compra). The Rain of Poems over London is part of a larger project of releasing poems over cities that have been bombed during military action. Their first ‘cargo of poems’ was dropped over Santiago in 2001, and since then they have performed the ‘Bombing of Poems’ over Berlin, Warsaw, Guernica and Dubrovnik. They have applied to re-enact the project over Dresden.

The poems that are dropped are by poets from the host nations, and they are printed in both English and Spanish. Because the London event also marks the beginning of Poetry Parnassus, the mammoth Olympic gathering of 200 poets (one from each nation participating in the 2012 London Games), they have also been represented. In the fight (yes, fight – it may be the only time in my life when I see people jostling and jumping to catch poems) to grab one of the falling bits of paper, I managed to scoop up four poems – from Andrés Anwandter of Chile, Oxmo Puccino of Mali, Tom Warner of the UK, and Katerina Iliopoulou of Greece. A completely random and accidental meeting of poets brought to me by chance and changing wind velocity.

Casagrande says that this performance ‘creates an alternative image of the past and is a gesture of remembrance as well as being a metaphor for the survival of cities and people.’ What I like about their project is the democracy of it. On one level, it is about remembrance and resilience, as they say, but on a more basic level, it is about the circulation of poetry to as wide an audience as possible, who simply have to be present (and possibly good at catching) to receive work which is distributed to them for free. It is a political statement in the stand against war, but also in its mode of publishing: I think of the broadsheets of the 17th century, which were used to circulate ideas. We have lost that culture of radical publishing (although bloggers and tweeters are bringing it back) in the spool of twenty-four-hour television news. This is the poem as art action, as object (the poems are beautifully designed and printed, on recycled paper and using biodegradable inks), as statement, as an emotional and spiritual connection of people. The performance is a beautiful and moving gesture, but also a spectacle. Shouldn’t all art and poetry bring together those elements?

Shades of grey

I walk through the galleries at Tate Modern, and through the window, I find a rectangular slice of London; grey river, grey sky. The principal colour of this city. I am wearing a grey jacket, grey skirt, which recalls the school uniform of my childhood, and I can almost feel charcoal wool chafing my skin. On the walls are paintings by Gerhard Richter, which resemble the sort of photos you might discover in an ancient dusty album – monochrome and blurred, but blown large, projected, distorted (as memory is, by necessity). Richter is the painter of ‘damaged landscapes’ (Dresden bombed) and figures in those landscapes who are obscured by time, by newspaper half tone (the funeral cortege of the Baader Meinhof gang). The alps are obscured in a heavy mist, for as Richter says, nature is always against usHis is the century of the photograph, as a way of conveying (catastrophic) news, capturing a face (like a rose pressed in a book). He finds a photograph, makes a painting of it that in turn, looks like a photograph, and in that act he is saying something about filters. We see the world through a camera lense, and so there is always the lense between the real and how the real is fixed. Richter stacks layers of glass in the gallery and through them the Thames fractures, a river of ice. I find myself in his mirrors, a study in grey. Richter says: Grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, absence of opinion, absence of shape.

And so we head into winter, the grey season. The clocks go back this week, and then we will be plunged into black. So maybe it is best to remember what Richter’s compatriot Goethe said: All theory, dear friend, is grey, but the golden tree of life springs ever green.