Friday, 31 August 2012

Blue Moon

 'once in a blue moon...'

Oh yes. Another moon post. I promise this is the last! (Well, until the harvest moon at least...)

But it is a blue moon today. And I can't but acknowledge it. Moon-lover, writer, poet, kind-of-crazy that I am. A blue moon only occurs well....once in a blue moon - in other words, rarely. Once every 2.7 years I think is the astrological calculation.

So, what is it about a blue moon that catches the imagination? Its implied magic? Its trumpeting of cosmically occurring chances? Its telling of a time when out-of-the-ordinary one-off things can happen?

It's not actually blue in colour - no. But that would be pretty cool. The blue moon gets its name from the old English word 'belewe' which meant 'betrayal', which was suggestive of how it deviates from the every 28day occuring monthly full moon, interrupting the calendar rotation in a way.

All full moons are pretty auspicious. Times to reap the benefits of what we've been hoping, dreaming, planning, working at,  developing.  A blue moon, the second full moon in a month, then implies a double reaping, double the benefits.

Because the moon has such a strong effect on our emotions, there's bound to be some commotion when there's two full moons in one month. Feelings get amplified, our awareness of truths that matter to us becomes illuminated and as such, leads to more happenings in deference of our emotional orbits. I guess. The moon, in myth and lore, is supposed to represent our disembodied psyche that looks down on us from a distance, removed from everyday life. If that's the case, on a blue moon, we feel closer to our psyches, our true selves, and as such may feel more in touch with ourselves and more willing to do what it is that feels true for us.

I also read today that a blue moon enhances communication and creativity - blue of course - being the colour of the throat chakra, the space of our communicative and creative energies.  Hmm, could be something in that. I think I'm being affected in some way. It's only once in a blue moon I post so frequently!

Away from moon lore now and to popular culture. The well-known song 'Blue Moon', (which I have already posted on my poem-a-day blog and Facebook page, so I'll not do it here...!) contains all the bluesy melancholy feelings of sadness and loneliness of someone lost in love, but lo and behold, the blue moon comes along (literal, or a metaphor for a surprise occurrence) and all is solved, ta-dah!

Anyway, since I couldn't find any poems on the theme, I've posted one of my own below, one describing a time and space where 'anything goes', both literally and thematically (written from a cool little exercise called '20 Little Poetry Projects' which you can see here)

until the next time,

~ Siobhán.

Blue Moon

The moon was a swaying pendulum,
that time we danced the 2 x 2, Ella’s
moody heavy blues filling the air.
I watched your eyes blow blue bubbles
as you tried to paint the night with words
that smelt like liquorice, Paris, 1962.

The night was a turquoise secret flinging
confetti star secrets of who we were meant to be.
Tripped over ourselves in a crescendo of
cobblestones, orbiting each other in lunar time,
aeons apart but papier-mâchéd together.
(Blue eyes meant inside we were blue.)

But feet clung to the sticky floor of uncertainty
until green grass grew on our spines;
boredom tastes starchy like lace,
so I jumped over that moon for you -
dressed myself in stars to burn forever in your
blue fire, core deep.

Before midnight rings out its dark curfew, I'll 
lasso your heart; blue moon, high hopes, 
stone’s throw, here goes -
mais je ne sais pas qu’est ce que tu penses.
Wrap those arms around me ticked the clock,
while the moon spilled its light in a puddle at my feet.

© Siobhán Mc Laughlin

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Moon Landing II: Perspective

"It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small." ~  Neil Armstrong

All talk of the moon landing this week has brought up the idea of perspective for me. 

It's a big world we live in, a big, vast, mysterious, marvellous universe. But then, when we lose sight of this, life becomes so small.

Life must be composed of big matter and small. The mystery and the mundane. But - from what I can see - most people are only concerned with the small. Well, lots of people. The mechanical necessities of existing: food, money, jobs, work, routine, societal status are their ruling concerns. Looking down all the time, they miss all the greatness and illumination of what it's really about.

Seems no one blinks an eye at a star anymore. No one stops to notice the moon. Or give impetus to dreams. Life spinning by us. Life composed of material matter, no mention of the stardust from whence we came. 

Such an existence is not a life, it's just existing. Too much focus on the small things in life leads to mediocrity. Until everything loses its meaning. How empty everything would be then. How all the 'big' talk about life would become irrelevant, relegated to the background, to a bracketed by the way trivial footnote. 

But, 'life I think is no parenthesis' - ee cummings. All these other things are.

It's hard for an idealist to survive in such a harsh realist world at times. Everywhere I look at the moment, miniscule mediocrity, making small of what's really big. Things all skewed out of balance. Someone once said that mediocrity was death to a poet. Of course it is. Because poetry is the complete opposite of mediocrity and meaningless. Not to rant, but sometimes it just sucks when everywhere you turn, you're faced with a big blank wasteland when there's a myriad of starry skies above.

And then reading about Neil Armstrong this week - how it seemed his one great achievement was subsequently eclipsed by the lack of space exploration in the preceding years of the moon landing - has added to my sense of disillusion on the big/small front.  How the amazing feat of stepping on the moon was soon forgotton and faded into the background of materialism and war and a world preoccupied with other more pressing practical agendas.  And how hard that must have been for him. A veritable Icarus of the modern age.

So I guess I'm just wondering how do we surpass it? This alienating insignificance that seems the modern creed. We artists, who feel everything so keenly, including the absence of feeling?

From an early age Armstrong was a pilot first and foremost. He learned to fly a plane before he could drive a car and is quoted as saying, 'pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying.' And fly they will I suppose, against all the odds. A good maxim which could be applied to every idealist and dreamer.

And now I'm thinking of a quote by ee cummings.  An illustration of this sense of idealism and enthusiasm and curiosity for what life's really about, an inclination to stars. As he says stage right: there's a hell of a good universe next door, let's go!

Let's. Of course I know this. Armstrong knew this, quite literally. Lots of people know this. Lots don't seem to. Or act like they don't. If only they would. If only. Maybe then we'd see life in perspective - appreciate what it is really, first and foremost and finally, ultimately: a brazen and brilliant gift.

star-gaping, still,

~ Siobhán

*Read a tribute to Neil Armstrong here

The Many Consequences of Moonwalking

Afterwards, I wonder
were his days
blank and ill-footed, each choreographed
careful step
nothing to compare with
that one giant leap.

And in the desolate
barren wasteland 
of a material, alien world, no space
for heroes, how he could fly
when everywhere, gravity
was getting heavier.

When the pace of exploration 
and enthusiasm slowed
to a stall.
When eagles’ wings were clipped
and laid carelessly
to rest.

And in his inner landscape
I wonder, was there
tranquility? Or just
craters of doubt
and despair
that could never be filled up.

He must have lived
until the star-scape became a scar,
until the perspective of the green and blue
perfect pea
was thumbed away
by lack of intent.

In a land of small men, he loomed
like a giant.
A satellite circling all lapse
of dreaming, an exclamation point
to the question mark of impossibility –
braving infinity.  

© Siobhán Mc Laughlin ~ August 2012

Monday, 27 August 2012

Moon Landing: Fact & (Lack of) Fiction

'One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.'

Following the death of Neil Armstrong, the 1969 moon landing looms large in the public consciousness once again. But what about in the creative one?

What was surprising to read in some commentary about the moon landing was how it was never taken up to the degree it deserved by the arts. Although a magnificent feat for television, it was not 'communicated' as well as it might have been to the general public. In journalism sure, but not in fiction, poetry or art. Some commentators are even of the opinion that among those sent to the moon, there should have been a writer, artist or poet amongst them to transcribe all that other-worldliness into an explanatory and significant discourse.

That may seem a tad extreme - to have a writer tucked into a space shuttle complete with notebook and pen - but not when you think of how artists and writers are incorporated into areas of exploration today. For example, did you know that the American National Science Foundation provides residencies for artists and writers in its Antarctic base? It's a program  that's open to the whole world and one which has yielded tremendous artistic results. (One of the most concise written accounts of the Antarctic - scientifically, historically, psychologically and creatively - comes from one such accepted British writer, Sara Wheeler in 'Travels in Antarctica') 

There are a lot of critical articles written on this literary lack of engagement with the lunar mission. It seems strange to these critics how the moon, such an iconic muse of arists and writers from Time began, was missed by literature and art's probing eyes after the 1969 landing. It did not give rise to a surge in science-fiction. And considering the influence of  close historical happenings - the previous World Wars as well as the age of exploration - on art and literature, the moon landing comes up as considerably low-key.

And it's got me to thinking why exactly. 

Was it because the reality of landing on that miraculous muse put an end to all the dreaming of it? Was the scientific actuality of it not enough to live up to the centuries-long poetic contemplation? Did the metaphorical lassoing of it have much more pull than the real scientific one? Did the reality not live up to the imagining? It seems the 'leap' all artists and writers and poets took in imagining the moon, could not be followed up on by the simple 'step' of recording responses to the actual moon landing.  W.H Auden, in his poem 'Moon Landing' writes more of a rebuke than a reaction to the Apollo 11 triumph, calling it a 'grand gesture', before reverting to his preferred poetic muse image of it -  'my Moon still queens the Heavens.'

This in a way, corresponds to the sobering reality of modern space travel. I was also quite surprised to learn that Neil Armstrong himself was dismayed at the lack of impetus and diminished ambitions on Nasa's behalf in relation to lunar missions in the past few years. And downright shocked to learn that the last person to walk on the moon was in 1972! Imagine. Man first walks on the moon in 1969 in what seems the beginning of a new age of space exploration, but what seemed more so to be the beginning of the end. Fait accompli. 

It seems once a dream is achieved, it fades away. Or when it is examined in detail, held up to the probing light of analysis, it fails to live up to its ideal: it appears 'seamed with scars and shadow-soiled/a half faced sycophant, its glitter borrowed.'  

This idea is explored brilliantly in the poem below by May Swenson describing the 1969 moon landing, one of the few contemporary poets at the time who rose to the challenge of describing the reality of the moon landing. And just look at the amazing descriptions - curious and fearful and cautious, but real, unflinchingly real. I think she may have touched upon in this poem a mentality that relates not just to the moon landing, but to the general tension that exists between real and ideal, reality and dream; the ever-puzzling question of whether flesh can rub with symbol?, whether we can withstand to witness our ball of light turned to iron?

Food for thought indeed. 

~ Siobhán

Landing on the Moon - May Swenson

When in the mask of night there shone that cut,
we were riddled. A probe reached down
and stroked some nerve in us,
as if the glint from a wizard's eye, of silver,
slanted out of the mask of the unknown-
pit of riddles, the scratch-marked sky.

When, albino bowl on cloth of jet,
it spilled its virile rays,
our eyes enlarged, our blood reared with the waves.
We craved its secret, but unreachable
it held away from us, chilly and frail.
Distance kept it magnate. Enigma made it white.

When we learned to read it with our rod,
reflected light revealed
a lead mirror, a bruised shield
seamed with scars and shadow-soiled.
A half faced sycophant, its glitter borrowed,
rode around our throne.

On the moon there shines earth light
as moonlight shines upon the earth…
If on its obsidian we set our weightless foot,
and sniff no wind, and lick no rain
and feel no gauze between us and the Fire
will we trot its grassless skull, sick for the homelike shade?

Naked to the earth-beam we shall be,
who have arrived to map an apparition,
who walk upon the forehead of a myth.
Can flesh rub with symbol? If our ball
be iron, and not light, our earliest wish
eclipses. Dare we land upon a dream? 

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Art(s) of Living...

- Kurt Vonnegut

Some food for thought...

I think I shall recite this the next time I'm questioned on the values of the Arts as a career choice/hobby/pursuit. 

They are not a way to make a living indeed - they are the way to make a life. To make life bearable. Even more than bearable - beautiful.  They are a way to make the soul 'grow.' 

What, pray tell me,  could be more important than that??

~ Siobhán

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Books to Films: Quantum Leap or Lunge?

What prompts this post is the host of upcoming book-to-film adaptations planned for the near future. Seems like every book I've read recently or am in the process of reading is being made into a film!

For example, I finally (after many years of avoidance) have picked up Anna Karenina only to see now that there's a lavish new screen version planned for release in September, which I must admit, has spurned me on in my consumption of the novel. I am not a fan of doorstop books, especially Russian classics, but now that I know my efforts will be rewarded by a screen version at the end of it has motivated me somewhat. (And I think this kind of motivation is much-needed for the classics....) 

Last week I was drawn to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas seeing since it was one of those books I always meant to get round to but never did. Not long after buying it, I was shocked and surprised to stumble upon a trailer for the upcoming movie version, an epic blockbuster by the looks of it, starring epic blockbuster actor Tom Hanks and lots of jaw- dropping visuals. I was glad I made the purchase then. Because there's nothing worse than watching a film adaptation of a book before reading the actual book.  You miss out on so much!

It's a given fact that most books lose their greatness when transposed to the big screen. There's just too many to mention right off, but recent ones include a rather disappointing and lacklustre Hunger Games, whose pages I was riveted to, but which came off as nothing more than a superficial special effects teenage romp as a movie, with all its subtle commentaries and graphic violence - the very lynchpins of the trilogy itself - completely lost in translation. Which was ok for those of us who had already read the books and been converted as fans, but not for those who were depending on the film as an invitation to read the books. Most would-be readers slunk off most unimpressed.

The Help was another book that, although not the worst film adaptation, failed to retain all the magic momentum and warmth and humour of the prose. In my opinion, it came out rather serious and monotone and missed out on all the greatest moments of the book. Bestseller yes, Oscar winning movie, no. 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was a novel that I doubted would survive as a film. But it did. It was a gallant attempt to capture the spirit of the book. But saying that, it was not as good as the book.  Films just can't capture the emotional nuances of a book, the subtleties fall through the film cracks. And for all of film's remarkable feats - Technicolor and visual effects and vibrant characterisation, its ability to render a scene powerfully, it can't communicate the finer, emotional and sensitive points of 'what lies between the lines', that only words alone can evoke. 

This is especially true for Jonathan Safron Foer's unique novel. If you've seen the film but not read the book you've only gotten half the story! The main story of that novel lies partly in its original use of language. (If you've read it , you'll know exactly what I mean - the dense type, the blank pages, the red circles!, the different voices and fonts, the inclusion of pictures, the many detailed descriptions Oskar imbues his world with - in short, the literary devices that gives the book its affecting quality.)

I'm not knocking book adaptations entirely. There are some books that have benefited from big screen adaptations. A F. Scott Fitzgerald short story was converted into an epic almost 3 hour reverie on life, love, age and youth in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Alice Oswald's The Lovely Bones came visually alive and all the more disturbing in its film adaptation. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was made more dynamic and dramatic in this year's screen version with Ewan Mc Gregor. It managed to speed up the story's slow progression and sieve the finer moments into symbolic significance. Nicholas Sparks' mushy romantic novels are direly written but make great romantic flicks (The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, The Last Song, Nights at Rodanthe, The Lucky One.) The big screen adds substance, colour and character as well as stunning locations (and good soundtracks) to his skeletal, superficial prose.

Upcoming book-to-film adaptations that I'm wary of include Life of Pi by Yann Martel, one of my absolutely favourite books ever. It's a completely absorbing book with a completely absorbing premise: a young boy, marooned at sea, with a tiger for company on a small lifeboat in the Pacific.  It's a book you'd read in one evening, one you can't put down, one which delves at all those tough meanings of existence, one that will read you. And now it's being sold out to big screen special effects, the magical realism of the text morphing into CGI surrealism, the thematic content of the story usurped by the spectacle.  I'm afraid to see it. I don't want my version of the book wrecked to (CGI) pieces! Some books are better left alone, and this one, I fear, is one of them. (Spoiler alert: don't watch the trailer if you ever want to read the book! My gosh, even the freeze-frame below is freaking me out!!! - Not what I pictured at all!!!)

Jack Kerouac's classic novel On the Road is also set to hit cinemas at the end of the year. The question on every fan's lips is: Can such an iconic novel survive the big screen transformation? I don't know. It doesn't look too bad. But will the ecstatic and oftentimes delirious tone of the language come across in the film? Maybe one good thing about a film adaptation in this case is that it will bring the book to a wider audience, a new younger audience. Maybe the film will send people to the book? I certainly hope so. That's all a die-hard fan can hope for I suppose! (A good film being just a bonus...)

The Great Gatsby (which I've been re-reading recently) is another book set for cinematic glory. Baz Luhrmann's dazzling production of Fitzgerald's classic novel has the media buzzing with anticipation. But will it shine a spotlight on the much-loved classic or merely obliterate all the beautiful subtleties with effects and extravagance? Remains to be seen. Gatsby has been converted successfully to the big screen before, most notably the 1974 film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Infact, many people don't know that The Great Gatsby is a book, so popular was this film version. But it is. And its decadent language can never be portrayed properly in scripted dialogue.

Some books make the transition to film, best qualities intact, but most, don't. The film is a poor man's version of the book. If you want a thorough exploration of the subject - look to the printed word. What we can imagine through its alchemy is so much greater, more vibrant, than what appears on the screen. Because that's what's so great about books - we all have our own wonderful original interpretations of them that are solely ours. But a film is merely someone else's interpretation, that may not come anything near our own. That's why films can never live up to their book sources. A studio's recreation has nothing on our own individual imaginings. 

It really kills me though when people watch the movie, don't think much of it, and then totally dismiss the book! But no! - I yell at them - the book is so much more than its flimsy film adaptation!! You have to read it!!! You'll gain so much more insight into the characters and the plot etc etc!  Books have so much more to offer. (Not merely the smug advantage of knowing how the story will end, while fellow movie-watchers bite their nails in anticipation...) You really get to know and understand a character. From the moment you pick up a book, you go on a journey with them. You experience things as they do, in vicarious detail. 

Books are all-involving; films are fleeting, they offer a suspension of reality for a mere 2 hours, but books offer so much more. Books offer not a suspension of reality, but an intense immersion in it and then, a transcending of it, an unparalleled understanding of it. Reading is more than a hobby, a pastime, it's an active analysis of life, up close and personal. We absorb stories more keenly through the osmosis of language in a way that we can't with movies. Movies affect and move us sure, but books leave a more long-lasting impression.

There are countless films that have come from books, far too many to mention here. Some have been good, exceptionally good - Gone With the Wind to name but one - and some have been average, and some have been bad. But given everything, I can't say that I'm against books being made into films. On the contrary!  It's a confirmation of their importance. A salute to the written word storytelling. And it keeps books in fashion, which is oh so important in this modern day.  

Well now I'm going back to reading Cloud Atlas, which I'm really enjoying (and must say, the trailer looks fantastic!) But still, the joy of having a good book to read, to lose oneself in, can't be equaled by any film adaptation, regardless of its blockbuster status or not.

What about you? What's your least favourite book-to-film adaptation?  Or favourite? Do you love or loathe them? Or what upcoming one are you looking forward? 

til the next time,

~ Siobhán.