Brick for Brick

Recreations of Hadrian’s Wall and The Great Wall, by artists alas unknown.

Brick for Brick

I grew up with castles and churches and manors,
Their architecture feels like home –
While Indian temples and Chinese pagodas
Were glorious aliens in stone.
It all made sense that Kublai Khan
Had not one dome in his Pleasure Dome

But when I saw the Great Ming Wall,
It all felt too familiar –
It looked like something the Romans might have built,
Had they reached this far
Rounded arches, crenellations, arrow loops –
All quite bizarre.

The only telltale signs were in the watchtowers,
And their roofs –
Simple saddelbacks, slightly concave,
They were hard-hill-hatted booths.
Not like the four-square hips of the Romans –
Projections providing proofs.

Except…on many of the towers we see,
These structures are robbed away.
And we’re left with familiarity
That’s out-of-place, astray.
Was it built-up piecemeal, really ?
At this point, who can say ?

From what I can see in images, the watchtowers had roofs that were a mix of hard-hill and hanging-hill, the difference being that the latter had slightly overhanging eaves as in the image below.

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

To be clear, saddleback roofs (aka gable roofs) were not unknown to Romans, but not I think used atop their watchtowers.

Arbeia Gate by Michael Kooiman and Limes WP 3/26 by Carole Raddato, both showing recreations of what is believed to have stood.

Breezeblock & Plasterboard

Photo by IKRAM shaari on Pexels.com

Breezeblock & Plasterboard

I live in the suburbs
In a box made of ticky-tacky –
It’s small and it’s samey,
And won no award.
It’s not to conform,
And it’s not to be strange or wacky,
I live here because here
Is all I can afford.

I grew up around here,
Then I went to the university
And I came out with a large debt
And I found my first job.
And it paid not a lot,
Except for in uncertainty,
So I tried for a mortgage
For a key on a fob.

There’s a Barratt, there’s a Redrow
There’s a Wimpey, there’s a Jubilee.
Where’s the woodland, where’s the meadow ?
Oh, please don’t ask me.

But all they would give me
Was a box made of ticky-tacky,
But it’s dry and it’s plumbed-in,
If no pleasure-dome.
I raised up my children
And worked as a gopher-lacky,
Trying to get by
And make it a home.

So spare me your distaste
How I went to the university –
And spare me your prejudice
Of me and my peers.
I don’t have your millions
Or a co-operative nursery,
Yet I struggled and I made it
Despite all your sneers.

Blame the council, blame the builder,
Blame the bubble, blame the rising-sea.
If it all seems out of kilter,
Then please don’t blame me.

This is a response to the song Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds.

There Shall the Falcons also be Gathered, Each One with her Mate

Coming in to Land by Tom Lee

There Shall the Falcons also be Gathered, Each One with her Mate

Always it’s the peregrines that nest upon cathedrals,
Like wanderers and pilgrims, or like animated gargoyles.
The buzzards and the owls are a heather flock, it seems,
And the pigeons are unwelcome when they perch upon the beams,
And the crows about the graveyard are Satanic in their dress –
But the peregrines are cherished by the bishop and the press.

Strange, but back in the Middle Ages,
They were never seen about the towers –
Till they left the cliffs for the factories
And the belfries, once they ceased to toll hours.

Yet falcons are not very turn-the-other-cheek,
They’re far more Old Testament when preying on the weak,
They’re thoroughly un-kosher, yet fitting for an earl,
And un-patriarchal, where the stronger is the girl.
They’re sharp and unrepentant, defiantly un-bowed,
As they kill the dove of peace to the cheering of the crowd.

Perhaps they’re waiting for the day when the Lord
Says “Fowls in the midst of Heaven, arise !
Come gather yourselves for my supper on the flesh
Of the sinners in my temple, and peck out their eyes !”

According to this page on the Natural History Museum website, the first recorded instance of a peregrine falcon ‘using a building (for its nest ?) was at Salisbury Cathedral in 1864.

The title comes from the KJV, except it says ‘vultures’ instead. Many other translations say ‘falcons’, but there’s quite a spread – ‘
buzzards’ in the New Living, ‘hawks’ in the NASB, ‘kites’ in the Douay-Rheims…and bizarrely, the Brenton Septuagint has ‘deer’ !

The Modernist Manifesto

Matisse’s Niece by Cesar Santos

The Modernist Manifesto

Painting’s hard, with all those tiny strokes,
And poem are endless rhymes,
And anyway, they’re the preserve of snooty folks
And so behind the times.
And architecture’s super-hard to build
With all that carving and stuff
I mean, who’s got the time to be that skilled ?
Let’s keep it brutally rough.
And music’s hard, not worth the perk
To learn an instrument –
Just sample other people’s work,
And pay them not a cent

Creating beauty’s hard, we can’t be arsed,
We’re far too lazy –
But critics dig our arsey arts,
And worship us like crazy.
Make it ugly, hard to parse,
This public-funded junk –
The future finds it vain and sparse,
Agog at how we’ve shrunk.
We’re sinkholes in the bedrock karst,
And ev’ryone knows we’re farces.
Amazing how we can’t be arsed,
And yet we’re up-our-own-arses.

The Sky is Full of Idols

The very un-Moorish Libyan Sibyl by Michelangelo

The Sky is Full of Idols

The Renaissance artist loved two things:
Classical Greece, and boobs –
Yet Michelangelo must fit
His curves in the Sistine’s cubes.
The Old Testament’s full of beards,
And none of them are Zeus’s –
He needs to paint some younger flesh
To work-up papal juices.
He can’t rely on prudish Mary,
She won’t give much boost –
So thoroughly pagan, thoroughly female sibyls
Are introduced.
Said to prophesies Jesus,
Though we know the real reason –
They’re soft and pale, and keep just shy
Of heresy and treason.
There’s plenty of other supporting cast,
Presumbly cherubs and such –
There’s plenty of flesh to be bared up there,
All brushed with the master’s touch.
Yet these are merely window-dressing,
A choir of hangers-on –
But the sibyls command their panels with pride,
Content to be gazed upon.

Really, treason ? Well, surely in any theocracy like the Papal States, all heresy is treason…

But anyway, as everyone knows Michelangelo lay on his back for four years to paint the roof – but that didn’t stop him occassionally arsing around…

Turn the Other Cheek

God created the Sun on the ceiling,
To light up the Pope’s saloon.
And then he turned his back, revealing
How he created the Moon.

detail from The Creation of the Sun, Moon, & Planets by Michelangelo

Poetry No Thanks

BBC Microphone by Matt Brown

Poetry No Thanks

Once you had the finest actors
Reading the finest verse.
These days, all you have are poets –
Humourless, or ever worse…-
Picking po-faced prosy poems
With not a single rhyme,
So self-important now,
And yet won’t stand the test of time.

What happened to the punk sensibility
Of doing-it-yourself, and damn the rules ?
Now it’s a lit-fest for middle-class luvvies
With their tortured trochees taught in schools.
Your audience is tiny and shrinking,
With afternoon Sundays such a bore –
But you tick the boxes and fill the quotas,
And isn’t that what poetry’s for ?

Once you had the finest actors
Reading the finest verse,
But now your budget is slashed,
And your ambition must fit your purse.
They read them out in lilting whinges,
Full of I Me Mine –
Come on, Roger, cheer us up,
With a quick and witty line !

Subsidence

Blocks of flats, Lillie Road, Fulham by Malc McDonald is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Subsidence

The Victorians built with columns and arches and pride –
Constructed with confidence, gilded and polychrome,
Moulded with ornament makes for a jolly home,
Tailored by craftsmen on every side.
From terrace to semi, from basement to sky,
With hands on lapels and their chins held high.

The Post-War built with concrete and brutal and slab –
Constructed in anguish, subconsciously thinking
It’s all we deserve – the piss-stained and stinking,
In a hellscape of Marxists, the grim and the drab.
From Park Hill to Gorbals, from Mersey to Tyne, 
The more the cement, so the more the decline.

Jacks-of-the-Green

An early HE 11200s corbel in Bamberg Cathedral

Jacks-of-the-Green

Green men – as grey as stone,
All talking with their mouths full,
Look in any ancient church
And you may find a houseful.
Part of the grotesque gallery
To keep watch on us mortals –
Lurking round the capitals,
And hanging from the corbels.

Green men, as Pagan as they sound,
As yews and birches,
As nature-sprites whose temples got rebuilt
As parish churches.
Or are they jolly demons, greening Hell
And sprouting lies ?
They don’t look very evil, though –
But rather rustic-wise.

Green men, as vigorous as weeds
Where priests don’t mow –
Though Jesus doesn’t mind, it seems,
Content to let them grow.
So are they harvest gods of yore,
Or mistletoes in larches ?
Or are they merely hunkypunks,
To decorate the arches ?

Black Fives

Time Transfixed by Uli Mayer, after René Magritte

Black Fives

Puffing into Rugby,
But this loco’s not a pipe,
Shunting on to Inverness,
With giant apples, ripe.
Rolling out of Derby
When the trees are like a fern,
Let’s open up the fire-box,
And watch the tubas burn.
Pulling into Euston,
Where the bowler-hatted rain –
Then chuffing-up at Templecombe,
With clouds above the train
She’s right on time, in ivory black,
But never bright cerise –
The workhorse of the LMS,
From Crewe to mantlepiece.

Death of the Artist

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

Death of the Artist

I don’t want to know
If my favourite writer
Served time for beating-up his wife.
I don’t want to care
If a star were a blighter
With an ego and a wasted life.
Their business is none
Of my goddammed business,
Their headlines are not worth my time.
Only their art is worthy of a greatness –
Anonymous, timeless, and sublime.

I don’t want to hear
If my favourite singer
Is a boorish, boozy bro.
I don’t want to learn
Who’s an avid right-winger
If their work doesn’t want to let it show.
Spare me their biography,
Just celebrate their movie,
Without the kiss-and-tell and dirty stains.
Only their art, not their story, can move me,
Masterpieces free of baggage trains.

I don’t want to make
A god of my hero,
I don’t want a perfect polished shell –
But nor do I need
To make them a Nero –
I’d rather they were faceless, truth to tell.
Their interests are none
Of my goddammed interest,
Their privacy is vital – as is mine.
Only their art – for it shows them at their best –
As a stranger, neither devil nor divine.