Camille Pissarro Visits Charlotte Amalie for the Last Time
The hills have more houses and there are no more clipper ships the roads curl like smoke from the missing jungle But the sand in the synagogue is the same and my memory of the people the ebony lady with her water jug she still smiles at me descending the hill with her hand on her hip
The impressionist painter Camille Pissarro died this day in 1903 – he is not only famous as an artist in his own right, but he was also known as the “dean of Impressionist painters.” He mentored and inspired almost every Impressionist name you can think of – Cézanne, Gauguin, Renior, Seurat, and van Gogh. But one thing I learned about him for my history poem (I guess if I’m not writing haikus, I shouldn’t call them history haikus anymore!), was that he was born to a Jewish family in Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, in the Danish West Indies. This is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I had always associated Pissarro with France and the French countryside, so it was fascinating to read about his early life and works in the Caribbean. I visited the U.S. Virgin Islands about seven years ago and toured the synagogue in Charlotte Amalie – it is the oldest synagogue in the U.S. and the second oldest in the western hemisphere. One of the most unique features of the building is that the floor inside is overlaid with a thick layer of sand. The reason given on our tour was that the sand is in remembrance of the persecution of Jews during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal – the sand muffled the sound of worship in secret synagogues.
On a foggy evening, a black-bristle boar said to the old poet, “In some forests, a rooting pig will find metal shards, more skulls than soil, or – at the last – a thin rusted tube.” The grandfather boar huffed, “Poof! He is a crater in the woods.” He eyed the path over Mal Paso Mountain. “I told you this world is a terrible place.”
Today is the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. Unfortunately, the name doesn’t roll off the tongue and neither does its U.N. abbreviation – IDPEEWAC – so some calendars call it World Day to Protect the Environment in War. Before looking at the historical events for November 6th, I’d never heard of this observance, but it is a topic that has long interested me. Quite by accident, about 20 years ago, I’d stumbled across and purchased Donovan Webster’s excellent book Aftermath: The Remnants of War at a remainder sale at a local bookstore. His book deals primarily with what war leaves behind: landmines, unexploded ordinance, and mass graves. These remnants leave vast swaths of land around the globe unusable and dangerous for generations – possibly forever, until they are cleared. This does not even touch on such things as intentional water contamination, arson, or deforestation that occur during wars.
My poem was inspired by Robinson Jeffers’ poem “The Stars Go Over the Lonely Ocean.” You can read his poem here at Poetry Magazine (scroll down halfway to find the start of the poem). Jeffers was deeply concerned about environmental destruction as well as a staunch opponent of the U.S. entering WWII. In the 1940’s these were extremely unpopular stances and Jeffers lost friends, public standing, and professional opportunities due to his opinions. Jeffers died in 1962, long before IDPEEWAC was declared in 2001, but I think he might have appreciated a day devoted to the considerable overlap between war and environmental destruction.
A black maw in a blacker sea “your life for my secrets” It said and three boys answered Two stayed with the secrets in the deep One swam and swam and swam a tattered book under his arm.
I’ve been yearning to do some more history inspired haiku, so I finally sat down with a calendar and got to it! The event for today that I chose didn’t wind up inspiring a haiku, but something a little longer.
On October 30, 1942, the German U-boat 559 was fatally damaged in a British naval attack and forced to surface. The surviving German crew abandoned ship – but left behind their naval cypher code books and naval 4-rotor Enigma encryption machine. In a decision that would prove invaluable to the Allies, they also neglected to open the sea vents to scuttle the ship. Three British sailor boarded the floundering U-boat and seized the cryptographic materials: only one, Tommy Brown, made it out alive with the German secrets. Due to lying about his age to enlist, Mr. Brown became one of the youngest men to be awarded the George Medal for bravery.
The materials Mr. Brown rescued from the sinking U-boat would help the cryptologists at Bletchley Park – including Alan Turing, the subject of my post on Wednesday – finally break the U-boat specific 4-rotor Enigma encryption and bolstered Allied defenses in the Atlantic against the devastating U-boat attacks.
I have been a fan of m lewis redford’s poetry (and follower of his WordPress blog) for at least 5 or 6 years now – wow, time flies! He posted his poem “Castrated” in early 2015, right around the same time the movie about Alan Turning – “The Imitation Game” – came out in the U.S. and I was really struck by his poem about Turing. I did an illustration for it back then (you can see his post about that HERE or go the end of this post).
I’ve been thinking about his poem recently for a number of reasons – one is a history poem post I am working on for later this week. Since I couldn’t get the poem out of my head, I decided to try another illustration of it using some of my more recent transfer and collage techniques. Plus it was a great excuse to spend time again with redford’s poetry and website! For this attempt I wanted something more mechanical, more “flawed machine.” The format was smaller, so I didn’t get the whole poem on there. To read the complete poem, see my original illustration below the “read more” tag or visit his post.
Since Monday’s post had a science themed collage for Phil’s Kick-About Number #4, I visited the archive to see about another science themed collage. I came across this one, for a William Carlos William’s poem. I laughed because I got the background image for this one – you can see the “heat” and “cold” peaking out from the lady’s shoulder – from the same source as the center image in “Mirror Neurons.” It was a science textbook from the early 60’s I got for free out of the discard pile at the library. The science in it was outdated and often overtly sexist and racist – so I cut out the best of the illustrations and art and consigned the rest to the dustbin of history.
The entirety of the poem is posted after the read more tag, along with the text of the original post and a link (which is still good, I checked) to an online archive of Williams reading his own poems.
After Tuesday’s polaroid eye doodle post, I went back into the archives to find another eye to go with it for today – and I found this collage I did for the poem “Science” by Robinson Jeffers. This is actually a revision of one of my very first posts, and I still like this revised collage better (if you’d like to compare, the original collage is below the read more tag). This one is more focused and captures the mystery I was going for better.
A little bit more about Mr. Jeffers, from the original text of my post:
“I had several science related writing deadlines this last weekend and during a bout of procrastination, I decided to revisit my illustration for the excellent and mysterious poem “Science” by Robinson Jeffers. I found I was still happy with my collage (which is not always a given when revisiting an illustration!), but decided to change the field of view in order to cast a more ethereal mood. If you’d like to see the original post with the full collage, head right over here. Mr. Jeffers led a very colorful and extremely successful poetic life – he is one of the few poets to have been on the cover of Time magazine and his face was featured posthumously on a postage stamp. The sharp decline of his popular legacy is often tied to his staunch open opposition to WWII and other viewpoints considered unpatriotic at the time. Mr. Jeffers spent most of his life in Carmel, California, and built his home and a four story tower by hand out of stone. Read the full text of “Science” here.”
I was going through all my old posts (over 450 of them – yikes!) in order to organize and archive them and found this gem from 5 and half years ago – I clearly like making collages with polaroid film! I fully admit that some old posts did not age well, but this one struck me the same as it did when I first put it up. Although it is boiling hot where I live right now, I reason that this poem doesn’t have a season: the mouse is always trying to find shelter from the elements be they hot or cold.
Text of the original post, with information about Lorine Niedecker below.
I posted this originally in August 2015 and that definitely feels like more than 5 years ago! Continuing on the theme of surreal this week, these surrealist proverbs were published in 1925. Both men survived the horrors of WW1 – Paul Éluard worked at a military hospital for much of the war, where he was assigned to write letters to dead soldier’s families. He wrote up to 150 per day.
The text of my original post is below. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy!
Heroin, cancer – nothing could stop your prayer: a saint of music.
The history haiku for today is to honor the birth of the legendary jazz musician John Coltrane (1926 – 1967). He struggled with addiction as a young man, and sadly, his career was cut short by liver cancer at the age of 40, but he had an outsized impact on jazz and music in general. Especially towards the end of his life, he believed his music had a spiritual dimension, one that transcended any particular religion and tended towards a universalism.
John Coltrane has made an appearance here on Illustrated Poetry before – in an illustration of the poem In Memoriam John Coltrane by Michael Stillman. I’ve posted it below (or click here to go to the original post from 2014). Have a great weekend!
in sciences in vivo, present University into University
writing for-of-and- and have I meant it too
I is day, am of am issues the other kind of variety
effort, curriculum, height of the present
Developing quantitative sciences of my Artwork
I put my CV and a few job ads into the Dada Poetry Generator (check it out here if you need some Dada poetry in your life!). With only a little bit of clean up, this was the result. I find it encapsulates my experience of being a scientist on the job market very well. The monoprint is also the result of a little random chance too. I was using this sheet of newsprint, an initially rejected print, to protect the table while I worked with the printing ink. It became a layered work of art in its own right. It seemed to me to be a pair. Poem and monoprint (ink on newsprint) by me. Have a good weekend! (Sneaked this one in under the Friday line, at least on the west coast!)