Henry Martin 

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Feel free to join me in a conversation.

By henrymartinhm, Aug 22 2017 02:36PM

Exerpt from "Earthworks" (2003); lecture by Virginia Dwan at the Santa Fe Art Institute, August, 11, 2003



"My journey has been threefold. Firstly, I have moved through real space to release the hold of my daily existence and to experience something closer to "real time" in which movement is a commitment of a segment of my life. Secondly I have had the mental voyage, with its fogs and clearings, into my own past. I have gone back to thirty and more years ago and visited these sites as they look to me now through a long and faulty telescope. I have attempted to stick to the sequence as it occurred and to follow the itinerary of my memories. Additionally, there has been a journey into myself, catalyzed by both the actual voyages and "discoveries" there, but also by the act of remembering and of noticing what has affected and remained with me the most."

By henrymartinhm, Jul 17 2017 12:14AM

Sitting.

Did you sit here?

Chalk of a husk—the sky—was

Yours like this?


I knew these roads before you,

I knew the indent of cobble

And the seagull perched on the tower.


Then you came like the rain,

And fell through the earth,

And out the other side—

There is no escaping you.


And the seagull flew away.


I’ve never seen the Irish sky behind you,

Pinning you in.


I wonder, did you walk?

What did you do to pass the time?

Who were you with?

Who are you with now?


I know them in the abstract,

I know them as ‘not me.’


I didn’t think of you one day last week,

But then it rained.


I’m afraid a terrible truth will slip out,

That you see me as one thing,

But I reveal as another,

That the sunshine hung in the corner of my eye

Is revealed as a reflection of it, and not real light.


These things I fear, I bear alone, and cannot bear.


If I had you here now,

Sitting beside me,

I would ask you,

Finally—


Did you sit here?

Like me? And,

Would you sit closer by?


By henrymartinhm, Mar 20 2017 07:13PM

Warsaw, 2013


We walk up the long stretch of Krakowskie Przedmiescie; a street dotted with light from bars and restaurants, tourists returning to their hotels, young people wavering outside, smoking.


Then we reach the rynek Starego Miasta at the Warsaw Old Town; a square alive with small electric lights and canopy-covered diners eating their late dessert and arguing for who would pay the bill. Men in middle age pump water from the water fountain and smile like children to have their picture taken.


We have visited many squares like this; a construction of something long ago bombed; a kind of homage, a sort of memorial. The Old Town suggests the proportions in which life was lived before the war; it suggests the harmony or uniformity of the collective will toward survival. The stars have stayed the same of course (or are they more dim) unaffected by everything below.


Summer means sitting outside in shorts until you get goosebumps. It means being more free with laughter, more generous. Winter means that we pass each other by, our eyes downturned to watch our feet in case the ground should bite them off.


Warsaw: a piano thumps behind a wall, a waitress in a miniskirt carries freshly laundered tablecloths into the night for the morning breakfast table, lonely men obsess with their phones, women are determined not to fall as they stride across the uneven cobbles of the square, in Plac Zbawiciela the Tecza rainbow is desecrated with a petrol bomb, a sign in a low-lit street says "world problems are now local," in the dark streets of old Stalowa we see a street altar with a Byzantine virgin and child, a communal wasteland with a solitary child, the dark hallways in buildings evacuated during the war, still empty, or so it seems to us.


We are accidental tourists, here to observe, until we move away.


By henrymartinhm, Jan 31 2017 12:30PM

Immigration is a loaded word in our current political and social ecology. It was a primary tenet of the Vote Leave campaign in the UK and their portrait of immigrants (free loaders, terrorists, and by insinuation, people of colour) resonated deeply with voters across the UK to deliver and reveal so unambiguously a broken Brexit Britain. Across Europe and further afield, countries wrestle with the moral responsibility to accept refugees or close their borders.


Every immigrant, of course, is an emigrant and the shift in perspective it takes to grasp this distinction seems willfully avoided nowadays. A tip: putting yourself in another’s shoes is the easiest way of doing this. For instance, in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, Irish people were reassured that UK nationals did not regard the Irish as immigrants. But whether or not voters (or politicians) chose to accept the Irish as immigrants, the Irish (I am one of them) always felt an emigrant in the UK. To deny the Irish the right to own their heritage, not only whitewashes them (an extension of UK-Irish history), but, more broadly, reveals voter laziness in understanding the nuance of immigrant experience.


Since April 2008 over 480,000, mostly young, Irish left in the aftermath of the Irish recession. Many of these emigrants were young and university educated: a ‘brain drain’ much lamented and debated in the media and on the street.This mass exodus is the background to E.M. Reapy’s much-praised debut novel, Red Dirt, set in 2011.


Joseph O’Connor has called Red Dirt 'a remarkably accomplished and vivid debut novel,' Mike McCormack wrote 'the gap-year generation of young Irish men and women who went to Australia has found its laureate,’ and the author took away the award for Best Newcomer in December 2016 at the Irish Book Awards in Dublin. This praise is deserved: Red Dirt is an assured and accomplished novel with haunted characters, heightened vernacular, deft tonal shifts, and page-turning action.


The novel is split into three sections, ME narrated by Murph, YOU narrated by Fiona, and THEM narrated by Hopper. Reapy, from Co. Mayo, who is known in Ireland for her short stories, plays to her strengths in this genre—each chapter has a distinct voice and the first person narration works perfectly to create intimacy and immediacy in the stressful and action-heavy scenarios the characters find themselves in.

Ostensibly each character has come to Australia to avoid the recession, make money and have an adventure. This they find impossible to do—haunted by pining parents, ex-lovers, and children left back home.


Their inability to let go of home cripples them; they drink, take drugs, and get into sticky situations that endanger them and the people around them. Unmoored from home and civilization they regress to their basest selves: suspicious, paranoid, lusting, and—in two stories—surviving off the land in the punishing outback. This is the story of three distinct characters, but their experience of hardship, alienation, and spiritual exile will resonate with emigrants, and in particular Irish emigrants, around the world.


The author deftly conjurors an Ireland that children growing up in the 1990s will recognize; Murph recalls the good of home, ‘the young and auld fellas would be out the back of the church on a Sunday morning with cheery bloodshot eyes talking about football and pints. The smell of turf burning. The taste of McCambridges dosed in real butter, Purple Snacks, Supermac’s chicken burgers, Club Orange. The Rain. The awful bollocking rain that soaked us and quenched us.’ Fiona, however, recalls only the bad, ‘The evictions. The suicides… All the parked-up cars. All the unlived-in property. All the full exile planes.’


It is memories like these that Irish emigrants take with them everywhere; cultural baggage that makes each resistant to the catch-all, inelegant, label of immigrant that the media, with such ease, turns to.


Towards the end of the book in a rare moment of moralizing, one character, Hopper, turns to another and suggests, ‘it’s not the event but how you interpret the event that’s important.’ In this, Hopper suggests to Fiona she look past her knee-jerk view of life. This is advice worth reflecting on today as border control tightens, new political party platforms get written, and xenophobia gains credence across the world. What we call ourselves—not what others call us—defines who we are.


The emigrant needs to continue to write their story and have it read, to bypass the sloganeers and dubious media, and to help shape what happens next.


< Red Dirt 9781784974640 PB JAN 17, Head of Zeus >

By henrymartinhm, Jun 8 2016 04:16PM

Home


I’m not sure if when I come home I find myself or I lose myself. If I find myself the assumption is that for the majority of the year, living in London, I am playing at being someone else. If I lose myself it means that London has made me and home exists to take me apart bit by bit. Going home becomes an act of making oneself vulnerable.


Last year I saw a play called Visitors by Barney Norris. Visitors was about many things but central to the action was a relationship between an older couple and their son. The mother in the family had dementia and the son was keen to sell the family home and put his mother into care. The writer managed to create characters that were nuanced and when it came to representing the relationship of the parents, he did, in my eyes, something interesting. The abundant love between the father and mother, their complete devotion to each other, functioned to alienate their son from them. In Visitors love created distance.


After Visitors there was a panel discussion centred on the theme of ‘home’. This was rambling, as these things usually are, but I found myself becoming frustrated by the consensus (between audience and panel) that home is always refuge and shelter and its place in our identity is naturally a positive thing.


I thought this was a sentimental and narrow view on what home is or can be. It was as though I had walked into a Norman Rockwell definition of the word. Home: agrarian, wholesome, white.


Homeless, rootless, orphaned, fostered, wandering or dispossessed people, it was implied, are somehow less when they don’t have a home in this sentimental definition. Without a home you were not whole. Furthermore this definition was troublesome because it admitted no place for those who only find themselves, their freedom, and sometimes their family, when they leave their original home. Often – actually – a place of challenge, neglect and much worse, for many people.


Even though most animal species migrate, the travel at Thanksgiving, Eid al-Fitr, Christmas, Passover, and any other number of religious, national or regional holidays always struck me as peculiar behaviour. The long lines in stations, the exorbitant transport costs: home must be positive to warrant such adherence to tradition? It’s impossible to talk of home, to even write the word without acknowledging its secret echo: family. Home and family are two words, and community is a third, that often seem indivisible from each other. But they can be, and maybe should be, divided.


All these things I am thinking about recently because I too made a journey home for Christmas, and it is the last Christmas I spend in the house I grew up in. When my mother informed her family by e-mail that she wanted to move and sell the house I did not revert back to being a child, stamping my feet and clenching my teeth. Instead I felt relief. I moved from home when I was nineteen, thirteen years ago, and I don’t feel I have any claim on its territory anymore. If the sale of the home gives my parents financial ease in their retirement, then as an adult I should be happy. When I lose this home, my parents will live separately and so I lose not just the house, but also the combined image of my parents in my mind – though really, that portrait disappeared years ago.


Sitting in different rooms in my house, I notice how it is more like a musical score than a physical space. When I hear a door creek I know what door it is, when I see the light change on the wall I know a cloud sails in front of the sun. The corners of the room have ghosts: birthday balloons in April for my sister and I, holly bush in December, green palm branches for Easter.


The house I will loose is not a house that gives me refuge in the present, but rather a place that gives me access to the past: an architecture to solicit a sense memory of earlier days: sitting with my dogs against the Aga in the kitchen, reading. Lying in my bedroom, hearing my mother’s heels staccato on the tile hall floor. Hearing the same sound, years later, when my sisters came of age. My father humming an Irish folk song as he walks up the hallway.


When a couple get married or a child is born, well-wishers frequently talk of new starts and new chapters opening. Maybe the same can be said of the sale of a home. Aside from what is lost, what can be gained? More harmony for my parents as individuals? Freedom for my mother from the memories that cling to her (she has lived in the house for over sixty years)? Or maybe without the house as an anchor, the sense of family will dissipate even more?


It’s difficult to speak about these things as a family, particularly in detail. In order to survive we went silent on certain topics years ago. I’m not sure what is ultimately worse: arguments or total silence. I think that both bring their own form of stress and sadness. A friend of mine recently told me about Yom Kippur, which I had never heard about. My friend talked about ringing her family and friends once a year and asking for forgiveness for anything she may have done to unintentionally hurt them throughout the preceding year.


This concept blew my mind. I wondered if things with my Irish Catholic family (or your family?) might have been different if years ago we had all just asked forgiveness of each other and had the opportunity to start afresh every year. I know it doesn’t work as simply as this, but it struck me as a practice worth considering in the future. Sometimes in life you feel you’ve floated so far away from the shore that no one can hear you. I feel that way sometimes when I think of the past and forgiveness and moving on. I feel that forgiveness and moving on are on the shore and I am out at sea.


Returning to my first sentence: if I find myself when I come home, then once my home is sold, there is a piece of me that will be forever lost, and if I lose myself then once my home is sold I reduce the chance of losing myself in the future. I guess none of this would matter if I had managed to create a new home for myself already. Even the ‘home’ I have in London is on the market because the landlord has grown too old to manage it. In London you’re only ever just a body passing through a room.


Maybe home isn’t that important. Maybe instead of home we should be talking about space. Space that makes you better, safer, happier, a space you carry with you, that you can own and that doesn’t toy with your feelings or expectations like the word ‘home’ does. It is unfair to assume that just because the homeless or the immigrant are not living where they came from, that their lives should be considered somehow tragic, or that they should be considered less. I’m an emigrant in Ireland, an immigrant in London and homeless in both, but I don’t think that I am less than.

By henrymartinhm, Sep 16 2015 08:37PM

It is rare that when I have finished a book I still don’t know what to make of it. Denis Johnson’s 'The Laughing Monsters' (Harvill Secker) is one such rarity.


I had never read any of Johnson’s work before; when I first spotted 'The Laughing Monsters' in a bookshop (and then Hackney Library) I was drawn to the title and to the cover photograph which I knew to be by the Irish photographer Richard Moss.


However, there all confidence and comfort in my choice ends.


The Laughing Monsters – a book in four parts – is, on the surface, a book about two renegade NATO/UN/CIA/MILITARY friends who strike out alone to wheel and deal contraband in Sierra Leone, Uganda and the DR Congo. The two are old friends, but not necessarily faithful ones. The first, Nair (Dutch), is sent to spy on the second, Adriko (Ugandan). Because the ensuing story is told from Nair’s perspective and he spends half the book high on alcohol (to call him drunk would be putting it mildly) what we get is a fragmented, distressing and piece-meal account of a journey into a heart of darkness that goes terribly awry.


To try and talk about plot in 'The Laughing Monsters' would be a fool's errand. The author is not fully committed to mapping a plot out and as such, being plot-light the action feels all the more vulnerable and the stakes for each character even more precarious. As such, everything in this book is uncertain – except the writing, which is totally confident in the uncertainty it creates. Who is Nair? Who is Adriko? Who is crossing whom? The book starts off a spy novel - full of the tropes of the genre – but half way through it has the reason vacuumed out of it to become one person’s confused travelogue of events – increasingly grotesque and surreal. What does this mean? Why the sudden shift in tone and purpose?


I’m still not sure why Johnson dispenses with the narrative he originally sets up, and instead takes the reader on a confused journey leap-frogging across Africa. For sure, some of the images and scenes he describes are vivid – the African Queen called La Dolce Vita, sitting on a throne between two trees asking for villagers to offer her a sacrifice – a woman killed by reckless driving as she walks miles with a basket on her head. But do vivid images make a portrait of the continent – or the protagonist? And is Johnson’s excellent – really excellent – smart – sharp – twisty – dialogue heavy – fresh writing enough to keep everything moving while the world of the characters falls apart? Just about.


As such all the elements of this short novel hang together by a thread – the only problem is, I’m not sure ultimately what picture they are coming together to create. If nothing else, 'The Laughing Gods' will not be a book that I will forget any time soon, which perhaps is a good enough achievement in light of all the disposable narratives thrown about daily. Nair (or Johnson?) is critical of Africa – of the people populating the country, confusing each other and the ‘natives’ – but Nair is out not to help, as he should be doing. Instead he is out to exploit in a typical Western self-interested way.


The title of the Richard Mosse photograph on the cover of the book is 'Men of Good Fortune.' This would have been a more ironic title for a book whose primary characters come out triumphant in the end – but whose invisible supporting cast – the poor – sick – starving – rural villagers remain fortune-free. 'The Laughing Gods' might be the men who end up with money in their pockets leaving destruction in their wake – but Africa is certainly not laughing anytime soon.


I definitely want to read Denis Johnson's other work.


(http://www.vintage-books.co.uk/books/1846559340/denis-johnson/the-laughing-monsters/)

By henrymartinhm, May 4 2015 07:28PM

I wanted to read ‘H is for Hawk’ ever since I saw the jacket with the artwork by Chris Wormell. One morning, browsing Waterstones Picadilly, I decided to purchase a copy for my mother for her birthday. It was a signed hardback edition, which I thought would make a nice gift. I, of course, would read it first. Just to make sure it was suitable for parents. In this case, I decided that the book probably wouldn’t be my mother’s cup of tea/ type of bird, which was ok, because I knew a few pages in that I was going to keep it. I bought my mother something else instead. Something less hawky.


Sadly, my jacket was damaged when I tried to remove the ‘Costa Award’ sticker on the front. I’m surprised Waterstones or Costa or Jonathan Cape didn’t do a test on the glue strength of the sticker in order to limit tears (mine and the books). Maybe they did do the test, and I was unlucky. But now I have a torn cover on a signed book that I really like, so yeah #bookfail whoever is responsible. Feel free to send me a new jacket.


Anyway. The book.


Ostensibly ‘H is for Hawk’ is about a woman who purchases and trains a goshawk in the aftermath of her father’s death. It’s a book about grief and grieving, but it’s also a book about addiction, depression, failure, dependency, and human and animal nature. Structurally, the action moves between MacDonald’s life in ‘present day’ Cambridgeshire and the world of the writer T.H. White in the 1930’s-40’s.


White is the author of ‘The Sword in the Stone’ and ‘The Goshawk,’ books that had captured MacDonald’s imagination from a young age. By exploring the world of White, his failure to train one particular goshawk, and his sexual and emotional turmoil, MacDonald sets up an interesting counter melody to her own composition on grief and hard-won success in training her own bird, Mabel.


I say ‘ostensibly,’ above, because ‘H is for Hawk,’ just like a bird, soars towards and around different things. It’s a testament to MacDonald’s research and life-long interest in falconry that she can glide so effortlessly between writing about, let’s say, fascism and falconry in The Third Reich to present day xenophobia and British nationalism. ‘Old England,’ she writes on page 265,


‘is an imaginary place, a landscape built from words, woodcuts, films, paintings, picturesque, engravings. It is a place imagined by people and people do not live very long or look very hard. We are very bad at scale. The things that live in the soil are too small to care about; climate change is too large to imagine. We are bad at time, too. We cannot remember what lived here before we did; we cannot love what is not. Nor can we imagine what will be different when we are dead….


…I wish we could not fight for landscapes that remind us of who we think we are. I wish we would fight instead, for landscapes buzzing and glowing with life in all its variousness.’


This quote, which comes towards the end of the book is just one kind of summation or philosophising that is common throughout. I find MacDonald’s reflections more than worthy ones. They are fresh and detailed, and it’s evident the author has dedicated time to refining them. Her writing too, as one would expect of a ‘nature writer,’ is equally sharp. I should say, I'm not accustomed to reading in this genre. Occasionally the names to trees, shrubs and cloud formations are lost on me – but they sound pretty. More than pretty.


For all I’ve said about the deviations the book takes (White, Fascism etc), ‘H is for Hawk’ is still very much a book about a woman training a hawk. The majority of the book is written in painstaking detail, from the first moment MacDonald sees her hawk, to the first kill the bird makes. The detail the author goes into is forensic. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the animal is so central to the action (nope, never read 'Moby Dick', and in 'The Old Man and the Sea' the marlin isn't on everypage). At least I haven't read a book like this where Mabel is described on every other page, but never in a dull-feathered way. The action between MacDonald and Mabel is filmic – full of close-ups (the bramble-torn palms of the author; the dilating pupils of Mabel) establishing shots (the town of Cambridge, an urban pond surrounded by countryside), or extreme close-ups (rabbit blood melting snow). There is genuine tension between the falcon and the falconer. Mabel throws strops and do does MacDonald.


For most of the book, the author is trying to join Mabel in the world of the wild – seeing it as Mabel sees it – hunting with Mabel – sleeping with Mabel – trespassing with Mabel. It’s not a balanced relationship. The author knows this. This is one of the things she must learn to fix as she tries to emerge from the fog of grief.


'H is for Hawk' manages to be informative, heartfelt, intellectual, and thoroughly evocative. Many of the images MacDonald conjures stick firmly in the mind. It is a sensual read, celebratory and sad. It is ferocious at times; wild and sharp like Mabel herself.


(Buy it on the publisher's website: http://bit.ly/Wav7v6)

By henrymartinhm, Apr 21 2015 02:41PM

For me books are like photographs hung on a wall. When I see a book on my shelf I am reminded both of the book and its contents, but also where I was when I bought the book, how I was feeling, who I was thinking of, what I was hoping for that day, how old I was and much more.


When I look at the books on my shelf I am looking at Paris, Krakow, Boston, London, Dublin, and Galway. I am looking at my parents, my friends, my lovers, and those who are no longer living. I am looking at my achievements, and my failures. Looking at my bookshelves allows me to exist at different times at the same time.


I don’t believe I will ever have possessions popular with a large portion of people: cars, houses, children, pets. There is little I can leave behind other than what I write, or what I’ve read. Books are the closest thing I can give away.


With books, though I purge, I still binge and crave. They are my addiction.

Tonight, when I bought a book in a bookshop in Krakow, and write my name and date on the inside cover I am writing a letter to myself in twenty years’ time, and leaving a letter behind me for someone to question one day.


It doesn’t matter that only I remember that before I bought the book I spent an enchanted hour walking down dim cobbled streets, smelling wood-burning fires, texting a friend on a phone in New York, eight hours behind in time. Or that I downed vodka in a smoke-filled empty Polish bar, and made the bargirl laugh in the way I drank from the over-filled glass. It doesn’t matter that no one will know who I was in love with when I bought Carson McCullers in Paris or that I was surprised and touched by a poetry book my father bought me when I was twenty-one.


All the person who inherits these books will have to do is open them and start reading to make the books their own.


The beauty of a book is that it is foolishly open and indiscriminate, and it loves everybody (even if it is a book full of hate) in varied ways if you are open to it. Books have sweat in them, and skin in them. They are more than just books. They are more than just books. They are very much more than just books.

By henrymartinhm, Apr 21 2015 02:34PM

I started reading Chad Harbach's 'The Art of Fielding' a few weeks ago. There is a passage in the book where a character's thought process on writing goes as below. I think it's an excellent passage that describes the challenges in composition, and in choosing to be a writer from the exhaustion of dedication, to the lack of self knowledge that the below paragraph hints at. I'm sure not I'm not the only one to identify with these...


"It was easy enough to write a sentence, but if you were going to create a work of art, the way Melville had, each sentence needed to fit perfectly with the one that preceded it, and the unwritten one that would follow. And each of those sentences needed to square with the ones on either side, so that three became five and five became seven, seven became nine and whichever sentence he was writing became the slender fulcrum on which the whole precarious edifice depended. The sentence could contain anything, anything, and so it promised the kind of absolute freedom that, to Affenlight's mind, belonged to the artist and the artist alone. And yet that sentence was also beholden to the book's very first one, and its last unwritten one, and every sentence inbetween. Every phrase, every word, exhausted him. He thought maybe the problem was the noise of the city, and his dull day job, and his drinking; he gave up his room and rented an outbuilding on an Iowa farm run by hippies. There, alone with his anxious thoughts, he felt much worse"

By guest, Apr 21 2015 02:31PM

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