Friday, 29 January 2010

Subvert the familiar

We were given the rather vague brief of 'subvert the familiar' last term. I decided that I wanted to do something that, had implications outside of the studio. I liked looking at ‘street art’, ‘polite graffitti’ as opposed to vandalism, whose purpose was to make people smile or do a double take. I like the idea of designing somehting for real people, not for designers, so this project was more concept driven than design driven.

After looking into subversion in language I had an idea to use a self initiated project idea I had had years ago but never gotten around to using. The idea was to challenge people’s conceptions of poetry. I think a lot of people are put off poetry at school, they think it is boring and difficult to understand and has no relevence to their lives. With a lot of poetry, this is not the case and I think it unfair to dismiss this whole world just because you were given a few bad poems to write about at GCSE. I want to show people that the language is not always intimidating, that poetry can be beautiful and relevant. Part of the problem was the format, no one would buy a book of poems to read normally. If I ‘freed’ the poems from books and put them in the real world, and people saw them out of context, then maybe they might change their minds. And even if they didn’t change their minds, I’d like to think that it made them smile or stop to think. So the subversion comes in two forms: subverting the idea of poetry and subverting the format of everyday: you wouldn’t normally expect to see a piece of poetry in public space. I would also like to think that it is doing the poet some sort of service. W. H. Auden is quoted as saying he didn’t care about selling books, he just wanted his poems to mean something to people. By taking them out of books and showing them to everyday people, I hope that this in some way achieves those ideas.

I chose poems that were easy to understand, on themes that people could relate to, and put them in places that people might stumble accross them, sucj as library books, the street, public toilets and so on.

To me, this is a worthwhile project and one I intend to continue for many years and to document along the way. I am still looking for more poems and thinking of other contexts in which to put them, something which will keep the project going for years.

SO I am going to start blogging the results here. I had a hard time thinking of how to go about present the project for my upcoming assessment and I eventually decided that to blog about it would be the most honest and appropriate way to go about doing it. Like I said, I'm going to make this an ongoing project. I'm always on the look out for new poems and new ways of presenting them. I have quite a lot to get through already, but it would help me loads if anyone came across anything to just post it here or email me so I can use it!
Let me know what you think.

Monday, 25 January 2010


This one was along the same lines as hiding letters in charity shop clothes. I wanted to hide it in books in the library for several reasons. Firstly, I typed it on a type writer on notecard paper because Larkin was a librarian and wrote a lot of poetry while at work. I like the idea of linking the poem to its background in some way. I also thought that it was ironic. You would expect a poem that challenges people to think about their own ignorance to be better placed somewhere other than a library, but I thought it would perhaps be even better in this setting because, despite obviously being intelligent enough to be in university, a lot of students are still ignorant to many things. I wanted it to be a way of encouraging people to think about themselves at an important stage in life, and while in the library to perhaps use it as an insentive to research somehting outside their area of expertise.

The original poem:

Philip Larkin - Ignorance

Strange to know nothing, never to be sure
Of what is true or right or real,
But forced to qualify or so I feel,
Or Well, it does seem so:
Someone must know.

Strange to be ignorant of the way things work:
Their skill at finding what they need,
Their sense of shape, and punctual spread of seed,
And willingness to change;
Yes, it is strange.

Even to wear such knowledge-for our flesh
Surrounds us with its own decisions -
And yet spend all our life on imprecisions,
That when we die
Have no idea why.


This was just a bit of fun really. I decided to place a personal ad in the Argus. The poem links in with this idea of all these lonely people trying to reach out to each other through this bizarre medium. No man is an island was perfect for this. 
(since posting it 2 weeks ago, I have had about 8 responses. I would check them, but they want to charge me £1.50 per response, which is ridiculous. I am debating as to wether or not to splash out, just in case one of them is something interesting. At the moment my poverty is outweighing my curiosity).

The full poem: 

John Donne - No Man is an Island

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends's or of thine own were. 

Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

Image and explanation and full poem. 
Intention for next phase of project. Invite people to comment and suggest. 

Pub toilet

"I'd like to think that people in pubs would talk about my poems" - Larkin. 
I liked Larkin's idea of poetry being accessible to everyone, and something that everyman could relate to. I took this quote quite literally I'm afraid. Most pubs  have masses of graffiti in the ladys' loo, mostly about someone being a slag or how much they love their boyfriend etc etc. Most of it is pretty awful, but occasionally you do come across something quite witty and profound. This particular pub toilet was covered in meaningless scrawls, so I thought it a perfect place to add an extract from Be Drunk by Charles Baudelaire. I find it quite a powerful piece of writing, and love the idea of someone going in there, drunk, and reading it and just stopping for a moment to think. To be honest, with most of these poems, I don't expect much from people's reactions. If it just makes one person stop and think then that's good enough for me. I loitered around for a bit to see people's reactions as they went in. They ranged from "oooh we've got a poet in the house somewhere", to "what the fuck does that mean?" 

The full poem: 

Charles Baudelaire - Be drunk

You have to always be drunk. That's all there is to it- it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking... ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or virtue as you wish."


Now this one was fun! It's dreary January and people are fast giving up on their resolutions and feeling pretty miserable in general. I thought I'd cheer a couple of people up my writing them a poem on a balloon and attaching it to their cars/bikes/ front gates. I hope a few people were suitably bemused and pleased with their finds. I think the idea of people 'finding' the poems themselves will give them more of an impact than if they just see them in a public place where they are sort of the property of no one and everyone at the same time. I think you would be more likely to react to a poem on a balloon attached to your car than to something you just saw in the street. I wanted to go spy on people to see their reactions but I had things to do. I also think I made a bit of a fool out of myself. I saw a really nice bike and I was walking towards it while simultaneously blowing up a balloon (I had already got a lot of funny looks from people for doing that), when I tripped up and the balloon popped in my face. I must have looked a bit shocked and upset because a man came over to ask if I was ok. He asked what on earth I was doing blowing up a balloon while crossing the street. The only response I could give was "I'm an art student." I wonder how many times we've all had to use that excuse!

The full poem:

John Dryden - Happy the Man

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say, 
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

Skate park part 2

This one is a bit embarrassing. I wanted to include this poem from the start, not only because it has got a pretty relevant message and is 'easy' to understand, but because it kind of epitomises the purpose of the project: something young people would understand. 
It was my first idea for the project and, on reflection, it's a bit lame but I guess I know better now.
The next morning I went back to take photos and some had already been sprayed over and torn from being skated over. The day after, you could barely see any of them. 

The full poem: 

Philip Larkin -  This Be Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself. 

Skate Park part 1.

These are just a couple of images taken on the night that Eddy and I went pasting things up in the skate park. I felt like a bit of a teenager full of angst pasting up poems about disjointed family relationships, but it was quite fun in the end!

Charity shop

So, when I initially started the project to see how things went, I used this poem to had out in town as flyers. I got a really good response, with a couple of people coming back to ask me about it. I decided though, that it would be better to put the poems out in public without linking myself to them, if that makes sense. I like the idea of someone finding one on their own and being pleased with themselves. This poem means a lot to a lot of people, and anyone that has lost someone would, I think, find it powerful.
I decided to write it out as if it were a letter and hide it in coat pockets in a couple of charity shops on London Road. I thought that, if you bought a jacket and found it in the pocket, it would evoke all sorts of thoughts and feelings. (also, after by brief stint volunteering at Help the Aged when I was a teenager, finding things in the pockets of donated clothes and wondering where they came from was one of the best things ever).

The full poem:

W. H. Auden - Stop all the Clocks

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Belated birthday

I know it's silly but I hung on to this for aaaagggeeessss so I could post it on my birthday. Turns out I was in no fit state to even touch my computer on my birthday (as it should be) and in the end I couldn't find the bloody thing. So this is a very belated Happy New Years & Happy Birthday (to me) post. For those of you who don't know, Jan 1st is my birthday. It sucks.

Friday, 8 January 2010


We have been snowed in in Brighton! I ventured out of the house for the first time yesterday to go sledging in the park which was epic! And a welcome break from relentless work. I wont be posting much here or on daily miscellany until my assessment is over and dissertation due in. I can't see light at the end of the tunnel at the moment though...