Saturday, 25 August 2012

Orwell on statues

I don't know what George Orwell would have made of the fact that the outgoing director general of the BBC apparently vetoed the siting of a proposed statue of him outside Broadcasting House because he was 'too left wing'. We do know that he was pretty ambivalent about statues per se.

In his novel Coming Up for Air, the narrator George Bowling, alluding to the endless tracts of semi-detached housing built in the 1930s, proposes a statue to 'the god of building societies'. And in Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell writes about how his Russian friend, Boris, liked dining in a particular cafe in Montparnasse 'simply because the statue of Marshal Ney stands outside it' and he liked anything to do with soldiers.

In Victory Square in 1984, Winston Smith walks past 'the statue of a man on horseback which was supposed to represent Oliver Cromwell'. And according to Jeffrey Meyers's biography of Orwell, he was amused by the monument to the hymn writer, Reginald Heber, bishop of Calcutta. He told a friend, 'if you are ever near St Paul's & feel in a gloomy mood, go in & have a look at the statue of the first Protestant bishop of India, which will give you a good laugh'.

But I am sure that Orwell would have approved of the choice of sculptor to make his statue. Martin Jennings also did the statue of John Betjeman at St Pancras, which has the poet holding his hat as he gazes up in wonder at the huge span of William Barlow’s train shed, and it is lovely.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

I ate the world

A postscript to my post about Voyager 1 and the Pale Blue Dot. I just found this from Ralph Waldo Emerson: 'I dreamed that I floated at will in the great Ether, and I saw this world floating also not far off, but diminished to the size of an apple. Then an angel took it in his hand and brought it to me and said, "This must thou eat." And I ate the world.'

As inaccessible as Eden

An afterthought on yesterday's post: motorway poetics is not an entirely new genre. A couple of years ago Simon Armitage published a chapbook called The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right, which I haven't managed to get hold of yet. Charles Tomlinson has also written a number of motorway poems, including this one, 'From the Motorway':

Gulls flock in to feed from the waste
They are dumping, truck by truck,
Onto a hump of land three roads
Have severed from all other:
Once the seeds drift down and net together
This shifting compost where the gulls
Are scavenging a winter living,
It will grow into a hill - for hawks
A hunting ground, but never to be named:
No one will ever go there. How
Shall we have it back, a belonging shape?
For it will breed no ghosts
But only - under the dip and survey
Of hawk-wings - the bones of tiny prey,
Its sodium glow on winter evenings
As inaccessible as Eden ...