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February 2013

February 2013



This accelerated era still attends to the enduring, intimate beauty of the pastoral, even as it grants access to farther, wilder shores of cultural endeavour. Originally intended as a warehouse of visual and concrete poetry, UbuWeb has become the internet’s archive of everything avant-garde; an alternative history of artistic production. Its gallery of moving images focuses on out-of-print material, most of it sufficiently lo-fi to evoke the clandestine, subversive and prohibited. The Live at the Village Vanguard sessions from NPR Music are also underground, but in the literal sense. The series eavesdrops on New York’s most reputable jazz dive, with violinist Jenny Scheinman, backed by Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, bringing Mischief and Mayhem to the velvet-swathed stage. For audiences who may not yet relish such genre-bending fare, the International Children’s Digital Library collects the most inspiring children’s literature, in 61 languages and counting. The foremost aim of this non-profit is to give displaced younglings access to their culture of origin, but all readers should find something to consume and to fire their imaginations. Hopefully, cyberspace should spare these collections the fate of the Library of Alexandria, the ancient world’s greatest concentration of knowledge, which was itself consumed by fire along with all its treasures.




In these costermonger times, with the poet relegated to the margins of public life, William Carlos Williams’s insistence on ‘the poem as a field of action’ has never been more critical. His paediatric practice, which he retained until the end in his New Jersey hometown, honed his observational skills and kept him within the community that provided him with ample subject matter for verse and prose. While Eliot and the academics revelled in the old European forms, Williams mirrored the speech of his fellow citizens. His resulting preference for the vernacular and his development of the ‘variable foot’ made him accessible to all who cared to listen. As he put it in ‘Asphodel, That Greeny Flower’, ‘It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.’





Last December, after Oscar Niemeyer passed away at 104, the airwaves were once again abuzz with his oft-cited monikers: ‘the last modernist’, ‘the architect of sensuality’, ‘the father of Brasilia’. Handy catchphrases all; however, they fail to capture the man’s endless ability to surprise. His UN headquarters in New York and Three Powers Square in the Brazilian capital cemented his reputation as a virtuoso of reinforced concrete, but some of his most brilliant work is much more low-key and intimate. Such are the plush lounge chairs that circulate from one collector to the next, although these reveal much less about his democratic ideals than the thrifty seats that circle the now-deserted fairground he imagined for Tripoli, Lebanon. For Niemeyer, a design was only worth the social progress it could create. 





Technically not a nut but a seed, nutmeg requires and rewards patience. In the Moluccas or Spice Islands of Indonesia, where it garnered a most gruesome legacy, growers must coddle the evergreen tree for up to nine years before the first fruit issues. It is best purchased whole - not in the blander pre-ground form - and hand-grated before use. This extra time and effort ensures the hardened shell delivers all of its addictive sweet and earthy aromas. (Addictive not only because of its flavour; there is also much more pharmacology in this spice than is commonly known.) In her immensely inventive Flavour Thesaurus, which explains in not unsavoury similes why traditional flavour combinations work and why bolder ones should also be tested, Nikki Segnit suggests interesting pairings for nutmeg, from apple and butternut squash to chocolate and oysters – although, ideally, not in the same recipe.





When Yeats expired in 1939, the mantle of British poetry passed wordlessly to Wystan Hugh Auden – a pity his delightful first name should be so routinely abbreviated. A formalist who could fit into any imaginable verse form as if it were bespoke, Auden began as engagé (as did his illustrious predecessor), but grew more reticent about his views with age. However, his poems retained a deep political significance: he embodied the poet as keeper of a sacred language. In this tape-recorder-free interview, he tells The Paris Review why the daily corruption of his beloved English tongue terrified him: ‘When words lose their meaning, physical force takes over.’ It is only fortunate he did not live to receive a text message, complete with emoticons.




‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’, but John Bell, undisputed philosopher-king of Shakespearean theatre – not to mention one of Australia’s official ‘Living Treasures’ – remains as calm as virtue. Through the Bell Shakespeare Company, he has given the evanescent gift of great drama for more than two decades. This season, in a new production of Henry IV (in Canberra from 23 February to 9 March; subsequently in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney), the lean artistic director will star as the rotund retainer who so amused Elizabeth I that she requested his resurrection for The Merry Wives of Windsor. Yet there is wisdom in this proud Jack’s daftness, and the evening should provide ‘argument for a week, laughter for
 a month, and a good jest for ever.’




Discovering a building through photographs is like a kiss over the telephone: no matter how genuine the feeling, the experience remains a dry one. Yet when the formal strengths and limitations of photographs are understood, two-dimensional stills are revelatory rather than obfuscatory. Such is the impact of ‘Build: Photography Focusing on Swiss Architecture’, until 1 April at Basel’s Schweizerisches Architekturmuseum. Using angle, framing and depth of field, these likenesses convey the grandeur or intimacy, the sense of regularity or surprise offered by key buildings of the past 25 years – which are not so easy to visit, anyway. As in the most vivid attempts at ekphrasis, one is left wondering whether it is the architecture or its rendering which is most to be admired.


Photo: Still from the short film Morphē by Lucy McRae 


‘Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels.’
William Carlos Williams

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