Like the growth of crystals: a formative will and the impossibility of adopting any other mode.

Comme le développement de cristaux: une volonté de formation, et une impossibilité de se former autrement que d’une manière.
from "Faune et Flore", Francis Ponge, trans. Margaret Guiton
As doth an hevenyssh perfit creature, That down were sent in scornynge of nature. (Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer)
Near Elephant and Castle, just south of Waterloo Bridge but a long way from the pleasantries of the river, I went into a room where the damp walls and ceilings had been coated with copper sulphate from which these crystals had grown.
Somehow inexorable, somehow alien. If I didn’t read poems, I wouldn’t be able to make sense of anything at all.

Originally Published: December 16th, 2008

Lavinia Greenlaw has published three books of poems, most recently Minsk. Her two novels are Mary George of Allnorthover and An Irresponsible Age and she has also published a memoir, The Importance of Music to Girls. Her work for BBC radio includes programs about the Arctic, the Baltic, the solstices...

  1. December 16, 2008
     Jane Holland

    I took my three young kids to a dentist's surgery the other week. The ground floor waiting room was magnificent ... but for private patients only. We ascended two flights of steep and low-ceilinged stairs to the NHS waiting room, and were greeted by the sight of strange grey funghi growing in its damper corners and a sheen of condensation even over the plastic chairs.
    Not quite the poetic material of crystals, but I imagine the Huddersfield school could have made something out of it.

  2. December 16, 2008
     Henry Gould

    Thank you for intruding this Arctic blue facet on the current Harriet current.
    A break from facetious.
    Here's something chemical (smoky) :
    "Poets, envy the crystallographers!"
    - Osip Mandelstam
    "His firm stanzas hang like hives in hell"
    - Wallace Stevens

  3. December 16, 2008
     Mary Meriam

    Little marks on blue background. Very nice. (yawn) I like your photos better, Lavinia. And I love that quote from Chaucer: hevenyssh-ish. But you didn't say anything about "Shine and Rot", perhaps the world's first found ekphrastic poem.
    PS: Hi, Henry. You were hilarious about the Next Thing.

  4. December 17, 2008
     Lavinia Greenlaw

    Jane, I used to work for a publisher (of poetry among other things) whose walls boasted some spectacular fungi. The building was so run down, it is now the only property in Soho to have been left empty for 20 years. I had a bar fire and a typewriter. I inherited a mug.
    Thank you, Henry, for the link to Andrey Gritsman's essay and poems. He raises more questions than I can keep up with but I am grateful to be pointed in the direction of such things. It's good to see talk of Brodsky in such a discussion:
    ...What keeps hearts from falseness in this flat region
    is that there is nowhere to hide and plenty of room for vision.
    Only sound needs echo and dreads its lack.
    A glance is accustomed to no glance back.
    Mandelstam's crystallographers, Dickinson's quartz contentment...
    Mary, this is one of my photos - of the crystals on the wall, which might sound like conceptual blah but had a visceral effect in such a cramped space. And thank you for the found ekphrastic poem. I was intrigued, if a little unnerved. It's that thing about hearing your own voice.

  5. December 17, 2008
     Mary Meriam

    Actually, I do like this photo, too, I was just - as they say in New York - yanking your chain. It reminds me of color field paintings, or Matisse paper cut-outs, especially this one: - the blue, and the jagged edges. But the two most memorable photos are Suffolk Coast and the one with paper, writing, rocks, and muddy junk on slabs. They seem to have more of you in them, as if you’d arranged a story. Well, I guess the muddy junk photo was completely arranged. Now I’m scrolling through the collection, I really like “Easy listening,” though “Cosmic Bloom” and “Black ice and rain” are also very fine. Grim, but always with a slice of light.

  6. December 21, 2008
     Lavinia Greenlaw

    The stones, writing and mud on slabs were arranged, but not by me. I came across them in an abandoned Jewish cemetery in Poland a couple of years ago. Letters or prayers to the dead.
    Thanks for the link to Matisse. It got me thinking again about plain shapes. My favourite of his late cut-outs is Venus (1952), who rises white from blue.

  7. December 21, 2008
     Mary Meriam

    A Jewish cemetery in Poland - that's astonishing! What you wrote under the photo made me think this must be "Lavinia's desk."
    Here's Venus:
    I was lucky enough to see the Matisse cut-out show in Washington DC in 1977, and I'm glad to look at these again after so many years.