Tunes for a Monday Morning

Light

Today, two British songwriters whose work, though thoroughly contemporary, is grounded in English folk and American roots music: Sam Brookes and Johnny Flynn. The songs explore darkness, light, and the healing powers of love and the land.

Above: "Numb" by Sam Brookes -- a gorgeous song about love and loss from Brookes' first album, Kairos.

Below: Brookes' version of "Black-Eyed Dog" by the great Nick Drake. The "black dog" and the "black-eyed dog" are terms for depression, which Drake suffered and died from.

Above: "Crazy World and You" by Sam Brookes, a song about being a light in the darkness ourselves.

Below: "Country Mile" by the wonderful Johnny Flynn,  from his album of the same name. Like the song above, this one leads us to the solace of open spaces.

The final two songs are from Johnny Flynn's most recent album, Sillion. Both touch on the healing power of human connection to the more-than-human world.

Above is "Wandering Aengus," Flynn's 21st-century take on the classic poem by William Butler Yates. Below is his achingly poignant new song and video, "Raising the Dead."

Globe Clustered Confluence by Rune Guneriussen

The last image is by Norwegian photographer & installation artist Rune Guneriussen.

 


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Sketches of donkeys. Gerard ter Borch  c1612

While the daily news remains disheartening, let's start the week with lively, toe-tapping, spirit-lifting tunes from Ireland, England, and Scotland...and some charming donkeys.

Above: "Leads" by Moxie, an alt-trad band from Sligo and Limerick, Ireland. The band members are Cillian Doheny, Jos Kelly, Darren Roche, Ted Kelly, and Paddy Hazel. The video was shot in the beautiful Irish landscape and, yes, includes a donkey.

Below: "The Bonny Ship, the Diamond," recorded by Beoga for their seventh album, Before We Change our Mind.  The band members are Liam Bradley, Sean Og Graham, Damian McKee, Eamon Murray, and singer/fiddler Niamh Dunne. They're from County Kerry, Ireland.

Above: "The Greenland Whale," recorded by Sam Kelly & the Lost Boys for their new album, Pretty Peggy. Kelly (from Norfolk, England) is backed by Ciaran Algar, Evan Carson, Graham Coe, and Jamie Francis.

Below, another song about whaling history: "Race to Be King" by Seth Lakeman, performed at the Minack open-air theatre on the Cornish coast. Seth hails from here in Devon, on the other side of Dartmoor. The song is from his fourth album, Poor Man's Heaven.

And a tune to end with on this wet and windy morning:

"Wet Field Day" by Elephant Sessions, from the Scottish highlands. The band members are Greg Barry, Mark Bruce, Euan Smillie, Alasdair Taylor, and Seth Tinsley. The young man in the video is Shaun Somerville. 

The donkey sketches today are by Dutch genre painter Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681) and English illustrator Sean Briggs. For more donkeys, check out the donkeycams at the Donkey Sanctuary on Devon's south coast.  There are other lovely creatures up the road from us at Dartmoor's Miniature Pony Centre: shaggy little ponies, shire horses, and more. The video on their homepage is a delight.

Donkey sketch by Sean Briggs


The stories that shape us

Ponies 1

"As a child I preferred fairy tales to all other stories," says novelist Alice Hoffman (in a short essay for Waterstones). "Fairy tales seemed to trust that even as a child I could understand major concepts of good and evil, fear and cowardice, and distinguish the difference between the truth and a lie. Children realize that there are beasts who wish to do good in the world, and adults waiting in the woods who may be dangerous, and paths that should be marked, whether by bread crumbs or tears, so that we can find our way home again. In the world of fairy tales, the amazing is recounted in a matter of fact tone. One ordinary day there is a knock at the door, a rose that refuses die, a spindle that must be avoided at all costs.

Red Riding Hood by G.P. Jacomb Hood"It was the melding of the magical and the everyday that was most affecting to me as a reader, for the world I lived in seemed much the same. Anything could happen. People you loved could disappear, through death or divorce; they could turn into heroes or beasts. Such stories are perhaps the original stories, tales told by grandmothers to grandchildren from the beginning of time, an oral tradition later captured in print by authors such as Perrault and the Grimms.

"I began to read novels that, like the great traditional fairy tales, incorporated the real and the magical. Every child reader knows that magic equals power and possibility. It is the recourse of the young, the neglected, the orphaned, and the brave. Why are children attracted to magical literature? Magic contains a story within a story, the deepest truth within a thrilling tale. A child can build his or her own understanding through the symbols and language of magic as if connecting with a secret code."

Ponies 2

In a longer piece for The Washington Post, Hoffman also discussed the importance of fairy tales in shaping the particular contours of her imagination:

"I read fairy tales early on. They terrified, delighted, disgusted and amazed me. They were far more grown-up than any other children's books I read, scarily so at times. Like most children, I could feel the disturbing aspects of the stories even if I couldn't intellectually understand or articulate their underlying meanings. Still, I knew. I thrilled to them. I learned. Everything in them rang true: the unspoken sexuality  (a woman loves a beast, a girl is nearly eaten by a wolf, a frog wishes to be the husband of a princess), the violence (bad mothers, absent fathers, foul murders), the greed (the house of candy, the cage of gold). I didn't realize it, of course, but the tales were allowing me to examine fear, anxiety, desire, sorrow. It was a dangerous world, but truer to reality than anything else we were allowed -- those safe books with their happy endings....

Ponies 3

Ponies 4

Ponies 5

"My initial exposure to storytelling, even before I read fairy tales, came from the stories told to me by the most down-to-earth woman I knew -- my grandmother. The two of us might have been in the market or on the subway, we might have been walking down Jerome Avenue or drinking tea with cubes of sugar in her overheated apartment, but we were also in Russia. We were dropped into her childhood, stuck in a snowstorm, running for our lives. When I heard about the wolves that howled all night, about the rivers where the ice was so thick it didn't melt until May, about men who worked so hard that they sometimes slept for a month in the winter, like bears, I was hearing the deeper truth of my grandmother's life, the complex universe that she carried with her, a very personal once-upon-a-time. This was the beginning of my life in the world of storytelling. And, perhaps, it was not unlike the very start of storytelling itself.

Ponies 6

"Do people choose the art that inspires them -- do they think it over, decide they might prefer the fabulous to the real? For me, it was those early readings of fairy tales that made me who I was as a reader and, later on, as a storyteller."

Ponies 7

Ponies 8

Words: The Alice Hoffman quotes above are from  "The Rules of Magic" (Waterstones, March 6, 2015), and an older piece on fairy tales first published in The Washington Post (alas, I no longer have the date). The quotes in the picture captions are from a wide variety of sources including Jane Yolen's Touch Magic and Marina Warner's Once Upon a Time, both of which I recommend.  All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: The photographs are of Dartmoor ponies grazing on our village Commons. (Tilly is very good with these wild pony herds: she loves to watch them but doesn't chase, and she always keeps a respectful distance. ) The illustration is "Little Red Riding Hood" by G.P. Jacomb Hood (1857-1929). 


The Muse of Fantasy

Cold Wind by Rovina Cai

From "The Flat-Heeled Muse" by Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007):

"The muse in charge of fantasy wears good, sensible shoes. No foam-born Aphrodite, she vaguely resembles my old piano teacher, who was keen on metronomes. She does not carry a soothing lyre for inspiration, but is more likely to shake you roughly awake at four in the morning and rattle a sheaf of subtle, sneaky questions under your nose. And you had better answer them. The Muse will stand for no nonsense (that is, non-sense). Her geometries are no more Euclidean than Einstein’s, but they are equally rigorous."

Fake It Till You Make It by Rovina Cai

"The less fantastic it is, the stronger fantasy becomes. The writer can painfully bark his shins on too many pieces of magical furniture. Enchanted swords, wielded incautiously, cut both ways. But the limits imposed on characters and implements must be more than simply arbitrary. What does not happen should be as valid as what does. In The Once and Future King, for example, Merlyn knows what will happen in the future; he knows the consequences of Arthur’s encounter with Queen Morgause. Why doesn’t he speak out in warning? It is not good enough to say, “Well, that would spoil the story.” Merlyn cannot interfere with destiny; but how does T. H. White show this in specific detail? By having Merlyn grow backwards through time. Confused in his memories, he cannot recollect whether he has already told Arthur or was going to tell him. No more is needed. The rationale is economical and beautiful, fitting and enriching Merlyn’s personality.

"Insistence on plausibility and rationality can work for the writer, not against him. In developing his characters, he is obliged to go deeper instead of wider. And, as in all literature, characters are what ultimately count. The writer of fantasy may have a slight edge on the realistic novelist, who must present his characters within the confines of actuality. Fantasy, too, uses homely detail, but at the same time goes right to the core of a character, to extract the essence, the very taste of an individual personality. This may be one of the things that makes good fantasy so convincing. The essence is poetic truth."

Bridge Encounter by Rovina Cai

"Fantasy presents the world as it should be. But 'should be' does not mean that the realms of fantasy are Lands of Cockaigne where roasted chickens fly into mouths effortlessly opened. Sometimes heartbreaking, but never hopeless, the fantasy world as it 'should be' is one in which good is ultimately stronger than evil, where courage, justice, love, and mercy actually function. Thus, it may often appear quite different from our own. In the long run, perhaps not. Fantasy does not promise Utopia. But if we listen carefully, it may tell us what we someday may be capable of achieving."

The Chase by Rovina Cai

The wonderful imagery here is by Rovina Cai, from Melbourne, Australia. Born in 1988, she studied at the University of Melbourne, and at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her publications include illustrations for Tintinnabula and Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan, the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

"My work is often inspired by the past," she says; "from myths and fairy tales to gothic novels, these stories resonate with me because they bring a little bit of magic and wonder to the present day."

Please visit Cai's website to see more of her work.

Tom  Thom by Rovina Cai

The passages above are from "The Flat-heeled Muse" by Lloyd Alexander, published in The Horn Book (April, 1965). All rights to the art and text reserved by the artist and the author's estate.


Myth & Moor update

Illustration by Angela Barrett

My apologies for not posting this morning. The studio's internet connection has been going in and out all day, as sometimes happens in stormy weather. This is the first time I've been able to connect with Typepad (which hosts this blog)  -- just as I close up shop for the evening.

I'll be back in the studio tomorrow.

Update Wednesday morning: I'm still having internet connectivity problems, and I'm unable to load imagery to this blog this morning. I hope to be able to post later today when (or if?) the internet signal stabilizes. Please check back!

Illustration by Angela Barrett

"A writer -- and, I believe, generally all persons -- must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art."   - Jorge Luis Borges

The illustrations above are by Angela Barrett.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Dorothea Lange

I'd planned a post full of jigs and reels this morning...but then I heard that the Dreamer program in America is indeed in danger, and now I cannot play those lively, happy tunes. As a descendant, relative, friend, and neighbor of so many, many foreign-born people in America (a nation built upon immigration since its founding); as someone who experienced homelessness in youth; and as an immigrant myself now in the UK, the sheer cruelty of even proposing to deport children has broken me.

So I'm returning to a previous post instead, examing the ways musicians tell and preserve the stories from the dark side of history.

Above: Chris Wood, Karine Polwart, and the MacColl brothers perform Ewan MacColl's "Moving On Song: Go, Move, Shift" at a tribute concert for the late songwriter. The song is about the lives of gypsy Travellers here in the UK, but it has much to say about undocumented migrants in America today as well.

Below: "Trouble in the Fields" by Nanci Griffith, about the American Dust Bowl days of the 1930s -- a time when people all across country were displaced from home due to farm failures. It's the opposite problem to Hurricane Harvey -- too little water, not too much -- but a reminder that things beyond control could render any one of us homeless.

Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange

Above, "Harvest Gypsies" (written by Boo Hewerdine), a song about migrant families looking for work and shelter wherever they could find it.  This one too is about the Dust Bowl days, but relates to so many families today, coming up from Mexico in search of work. It's performed by Kris Drever from Orkney, Scotland -- a country with its own sad history of deportations and displacement.

And last:  "It's a Hard Life" by Nanci Griffith, from her eighth album, Storms (1989). Griffith was raised in Texas but has Scots-Irish roots;  the song draws upon both sides of her history.

Dorothea Lange

The photographs are by the great documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), taken during the 1930s and 1940s. They are identified in the picture captions.


Ripening

The Bumblehill Studio

It's a clear, crisp day at Bumblehill, the ground soggy with recent rain and the air tasting of early autumn. The sun warms up my studio, the birds are loud in the woods behind, and the hound and I are savouring these open-door days while we still have them.

"I think of my studio as a vegetable garden where things follow their natural course," said the Spanish surrealist artist Joan Miró. "They grow, they ripen. You have to graft. You have to water."

So true.

Tilly in the studio garden

On some days the work hours fly by. On others, I toil and sweat over every word on the page, very mark on the canvas.

"All we have," said Edward Abbey, "is the beauty of art and nature and life, and the love which that beauty inspires." 

That's enough. That's everything.

The studio's plum tree

Blackberries

Plums and blackberriesRelated post: The Folklore of Food


The Night Sea Journey

The Fisherman by Edmund Dulac

"The creative act is a letting down of the net of human imagination into the ocean of chaos on which we are suspended, and the attempt to bring out of it ideas. It is the night sea journey, the lone fisherman on a tropical sea with his nets, and you let these nets down - sometimes, something tears through them that leaves them in shreds and you just row for shore, and put your head under your bed and pray.

"At other times what slips through are the minutiae, the minnows of this ichthyological metaphor of idea chasing. But, sometimes, you can actually bring home something that is food, food for the human community that we can sustain ourselves on and go forward.

- Terence McKenna

The Little Mermaid by Edmund Dulac

"The artist who goes into himself most deeply -- and it is a painful journey -- is the artist who touches us most closely, speaks to us most clearly.' "  - Ursula K. Le Guin

"There's stories and then there's stories. The ones with any worth change your life forever, perhaps only in a small way, but once you've heard them, they are forever a part of you. You nurture them and pass them on, and the giving only makes you feel better. The others are just words on a page."  - Charles de Lint

Beauty & the Beast by Edmund DulacThe art above is "The Fisherman," "The Little Mermaid," and "Beauty & the Beast" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953).


The shimmer of morning

Nattadon Hill 1

"Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature."  - Vladamir Nabakov

Nattadon Hill 2

"My job as a human being as well as a writer is to feel as thoroughly as possible the experience that I am part of, and then press it a little further. To find out what happens if I ask, 'What else, what next, what more, what deeper, what hidden?' And to keep pressing into that endless realm, in many different ways.''  - Jane Hirshfield

Nattadon Hill 3The Nabokov quote is from Lectures on Literature (Mariner Books, 2002). The Jane Hirshfield quotes above and in the picture captions are from an interview in The Atlantic magazine (September 1997).  The Mary Oliver quote in the picture captions is from "Morning Poem," published in Dreamwork (The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986). All rights reserved by the authors or their estates.


The art's heart's purpose

Conversation by Sophie Ryder

From an interview with David Foster Wallace (1962-2008):

"I've gotten convinced that there's something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn't have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent....Talent's just an instrument. It's like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn't. I'm not saying I'm able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art's heart's purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It's got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.

Sitting by Sophie Ryder

Kneeling Hare by Sophie Ryder

Hugging by Sophie Ryder

"I know this doesn't sound hip at all...But it seems like one of the things really great fiction writers do -- from Carver to Chekhov to Flannery O'Connor, or like the Tolstoy of 'The Death of Ivan Ilych' or the Pynchon of Gravity's Rainbow -- is 'give' the reader something. The reader walks away from the real art heavier than she came into it. Fuller. All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can't be for your benefit; it's got to be for hers. What's poisonous about the cultural environment today is that it makes this so scary to try to carry out."

Which is precisely why this kind of work is necessary. Especially here in the mythic arts field.

Bending, Crouching, Kneeling, Standing Figures by Sophie Ryder

The Minotaur and the Hare by Sophie Ryder

Girl Hugging Dog by Sophie Ryder

The marvelous sculptures and drawings today are by English artist Sophie Ryder. Born in London in 1963, she was raised in England and the south of France, studied at the Royal Academy of Arts, and now lives and works in an enchanted hand-crafted farmhouse in the Cotswolds. Ryder's world "is one of mystical creatures, animals and hybrid beings made from sawdust, wet plaster, old machine parts and toys, weld joins and angle grinders, wire 'pancakes,' torn scraps of paper, charcoal sticks and acid baths."

Her hare figures, she says, "started off as upright versions of the hare in full animal form, and now they have developed into half human and half hare. I needed a figure to go with the minotaur -- a human female figure with an animal head. The hare head seemed to work perfectly, the ears simulating a mane of hair. She feels right to me, as if she had always existed in myth and legend, like the minotaur."

Luigi by Sophie Ryder

Wire Dog by Sophie Ryder

Ryder's dogs (whippets crossed with Italian greyhounds) also appear frequently in her work. "I have been breeding these dogs since 1999," she explains, "and since then have achieved the most perfect companions and models -- Elsie, Pedro, Luigi and Storm. Now we are a pack and they are with me twenty-four hours a day. We run, work and sleep together -- although they do have their own beds now! Living cheek-by-jowl with these dogs means that their form is somehow sitting just under my own skin. I can draw or sculpt them entirely from memory. They are my full-time companions so I am never lonely. The relationship between the Lady Hare and the dog is very close, just as is my bond with my own family of dogs."

To see more of Ryder's art, please visit her website; or pick up Jonathan Benington's book Sophie Ryder, published by Lund Humphries (2001). There's an interview with the artist here, and delightful pictures of her farmhouse here.

If you'd like to know more about the folklore of hares and rabbits, go here and here.

Drawings by Sophie Ryder

Sophie Ryder working on Curled Up Number 2

All rights to the art, video, and text above reserved by the artist, filmmaker, and the author's estate. An interesting related article is "David Foster Wallace Was Right: Irony is Ruining Our Culture" by Matt Ashby & Brendon Carroll.