Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Lacewing sonnet*, biennial, passport

On the window, etched against winter grey
light, a single lacewing lingers still,
a mark of calligraphic symmetry. Until
death or spring comes to it, we let it stay.

An exercise in curves, it makes its way
quite imperceptibly across the glass.  Is the chill
outside the thing it really wants?  Do we kill
or save by sheltering its frailty night and day?

Further enquiry, however, makes it clear
this chrysopid green fairy with its netted wings,
if harboured, might yet ride out frost and see
the time when, lion-like, its children will appear
to be a bane to aphids and to other noxious things.
So while it shares the kitchen's warmth, we'll let it be. 

(*Petrarchan, straight up. The poetic muse having apparently gone off to powder her nose, time to slog out something that at least adheres to a proper form.  No kind reassurances, please, I am not fishing.  The lacewing is still there so no cleaning the windows till spring now. What a shame.)


Clin d'oeil, bienniale de la photogrpahie, Salle de Robien, St Brieuc.

I visited this fairly large photographic exhibition the Friday before last.  Friday afternoon, as it turned out, was the time for school parties.  The group of seven year olds lined up in crocodile at the door, and observed the ritual of shhh, fingers to lips, stand still and go in quietly and in good order.  Once inside the very large hangar space, with its shiny floors and display screens just a bit below seven-year old head height, their orderly conduct lasted perhaps five minutes.  Far more interesting, when you're seven, to discover the possibilities of space, texture, humour and the ambiguities of the seen and unseen by racing around, ducking in and out of the partitions, sliding on the floor and playing peek-a-boo with your mates on the other side of the screens, than to crane your neck looking up at the work of Daniel Challe, Roland Laboye, René Maltête and the members of local photo clubs, the point of which escapes you - though a picture which explored texture, colour, repeat pattern and reflection, and possibly the nature of mass consumption in a  secular world, of rows of foil-wrapped Father Christmases in a supermarket did raise momentary interest of a 'miam-miam! ' kind, and one rather more sophisticated mademoiselle was getting something out of striking affected poses in front of an  composition in black and white of a dog running past a children's playground and exclaiming in tones heavy with irony  'Oh that is very interesting, a dog, in a park!'

Their teachers' and helpers' Friday afternoon patience ran out just as quickly; and the French equivalent of 'George, don't do that, no, it isn't funny, it's very silly' was heard more and more.  One small boy, engaged in sliding across the floor, stopped mid-skid on finding a small plate set into the floor in front of him, perhaps giving access to some kind of ducting. It was worn brass, about six inches square, polished to satin either by people's feet or perhaps by assiduous municipal workers, but with a darkened patina in it recessed parts, it had lettering round the outside, big, chunky brass screws holding it on place, and a heavy hinged handle that folded down flush to the floor.

The child was momentarily transfixed, he peered at it, running his fingers round and over its shapes and surfaces, suddenly serious.  But his teacher pulled him up.  'Kilian, stop that.  You look at the photographs, and nothing else!'.

It really was a very interesting brass plate though, and I wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't.  If I'd had the camera with me, I might even have photographed it.


I got my new passport today.  Nothing remarkable about that in itself, of course, except there's always something rather exciting, I think, about a new passport, even when you travel as little as I do.  I suppose it's the sense of ten years of possibility.  I was quite disgruntled at the cost of it, and also at the rather peremptory, exacting conditions and yet further expense with which the matter of obtaining a UK passport while living outside the UK is hedged about, but there you go, that's what you get for being a feckless air-headed ship-jumping expat, serves you right, with your cheap wine and houses and nuclear-fuelled electricity, put that in your Ryanair cabin bag and smoke it...

However, I must say I am charmed to bits with my new document for its unexpected beauty.  It was all crisp and shiny of course,

but the inside is verging on exquisite - no, naturally I don't mean my horrible bio-metric mugshot, although in fact that is marginally more agreeable than the original, as the new way of transferring it to the passport seems to flatten and lighten out some of the shadows, creases and extra-chins of my half-antique face.  In fact the photo is reproduced twice, the one more visible here is a kind of shadowy, crackle-glazed second copy.

But the main photo has an intriguing shimmery prismatic compass rose embedded in it, and a small flock of elegant birds just coming into view at one edge, and the whole double page background shows a view-from-the-stratosphere map of Britain, overflown by a fulmar and a Sandwich (?) tern.  The frontispiece (the bit with 'Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State...blah blah') shows a row of Cotswold Cottages, and oak leaves with an accurate looking rendition of some kind of  a blue butterfly, and every page thereafter shows a delicate image of some example of British scenery, with an inset image of a relevant specimen of flora or fauna or an artefact, the whole overlaid with stylised weather map symbols and isobars.

There's a village green and a formal park with fountains and a sundial, there's a fishing village with boats and derricks and nets and a coil of rope, there are coastal scenes and mountain and moorland with a lovely snowy owl, a river and a lake with their fish, a canal with a bridge and a narrowboat and a lock gate, and one of my favourites is probably this one, page 7,

which shows a reedbed, with a Suffolk type windmill and an inset of a meticulously etched dragonfly. (Apologies that the photo isn't clearer, it is a very pale image, that's a table mat holding down the corner.  I didn't quite like to scan it, and I've touched out the passport number in the other photo, as perhaps showing all one's passport information publicly on-line might be asking for trouble.) 

Really, an unexpected pleasure.  I won't make any quips about being proud to be British, though.


Zhoen said...

It is a beautiful document, worthy of much future use.

I'd have loved the brass as well, beauty everywhere for those who will look. Poor Kilian, to have such a useless and shut off teacher.

Catalyst said...

I should think you WOULD be proud to be British...it's a very handsome passport.

And I like the photo of the holder. Mystery woman, indeed!

the polish chick said...

at least they didn't make you cry, as the polish consulate did to this emotionally fragile expat. your post is making me go digging for my passport: i was so bitter at the arduous process of getting the passport that i barely looked at it (or the horrid picture that will haunt me for this coming decade). am off to peruse the art i paid for with my tears.

the polish chick said...

nope, mine's not pretty, but my photograph looks like a psychiatric patient from the 20's, so i suppose there's something interesting there. perhaps i'll aim for a british passport next time...

zephyr said...

What a lovely lacewing
and so many stories in your new passport, already. i love those pages, and the light on them in the image as they appear on my monitor. i am jealous. i want to leaf through all of them...how excellent that someone let it be.

Lucy said...

Thank you.

Zhoen - oh the kids were annoying of course, and I don't really blame the teacher, I've done my share of being in that role with children in numbers enough to know that when you're trying to keep them in some kind of order and not to be a nuisance to the public at large that all one's child-centred sympathy easily goes out the window and nervous irritation and knee-jerk formula reactions and attempts to assert authority take hold. And I think there is a value to trying to show them that there are places where you try to behave in a controlled and respectful way.

I'm not sure whether it was a very useful kind of event to take kids of that age to, except that the space was impressive and it's a bit of the outside world. I think the episode brought it home to me that photography in particular is largely a way of trying to recapture the kind of freshness and serendipity of vision, the gestalt thing, which children do anyway. They don't really see the point of much of it (except when it's pictures of themselves!) because, in that way, heaven's still lying about them, we need to try to regain it by seeing it through a lens, or however.

Cat - The first photos I sent they sent back ,as there was too much reflection on my glasses, so with this one I took them off, which had the disadvantage of revealing even more the bags under my eyes! But the biometric reproduction does even a lot of stuff like that out.

I am not at all ashamed to be British; admittedly the passports tour of the country's picturesque landscapes did not include gridlocked roads or city centres burned out by riots, but then the UK doesn't have a monopoly on social evils. In fact I consider myself very fortunate, by accidents of birth and history, to have been born British, for all sorts of reasons, and naturally can't really imagine being anything else. But pride in one's nationality seems a bit misplaced, as if there was some kind of active virtue accruing from the fact... Anyway, it's a nice passport!

Roderick Robinson said...

You may not be asking for kind reassurances but I am. Warming my defective body at my flat-screen I flitted through Box Elder and saw poetry. Unable to apply myself to the MS I recognised the perfect diversion for the invalid that is presently me. But none of this Petrarchan nonsense; stick to good old WS.

Love your polysyllabism: calligraphic symmetry - doesn't leave much more in IP line. And imperceptibly. Some day we must have a comp: a sonnet with the fewest words (Mine's 109 words). I'd love to know if "chrysopid" came naturally or was bred in a petrie dish. Daren't though; you'd score too high if it were the former.

Those eyes in the passport. They're following me around. Hemel Hempstead! I suppose you could say you've outgrown your origins. Did I ever know you had a middle name? So the acronym's LAK as in "Mighty lak a rose." I never believed that line could be sung.

I won't say I feel better for this but I'm less worse than I thought I was going to be.

Unknown said...

There is indeed something very winning about the passport holder's portrait. Were I a bored Customs and Excise man I would wave you through with a smile reserved only for very special clients, on the strength of its waif-like allure.

Lucy said...

Lorenzo - no, I'm partial to the Italian, Petrarchan in particular, it has a more subtle, meditative, flow to it (ideally, not that it does here!) without the sometimes rather heavy 'boom-boom' final couplet of the Shakespearian. I'd love to say I knew 'chrysopid' but alas I only extrapolated it from the fact that the lacewings genus is 'chrysopidae', then checked it for correctness. My original initials were 'LAM' which was somehow always slightly irritating, though had I been more aware of the expression 'on the lam' I might have liked them better. LAK is OK, as I see it as one letter short of 'lake' rather than of 'lack'. Anyway, these days I don't have to embroider it on my school games sweater.

Plutarch - bless you, my dear. 'Waif-like allure' is not something I have attributed to me very often and I shall cherish it!

Lucy said...

Oh and, sorry you're indisposed, Lorenzo, and I might be up for that competition...

Rosie said...

Thank you for reminding me, I must check when my passport expires and start saving up for its replacement which will doubtless cost an arm and a leg.
I'll tell Porridge to be careful not to knock the waif over next week!

Avus said...

This post had me looking at my passport's pages in detail for the first time. Not as interesting as yours though. A falcon and a spoonbill repeated on each page throughout. With the falcon, in another pose, on the photo page exactly pecking at my ear!
I trust that the joy resulting from your examination moved your disgruntlement more in the direction of gruntled. (nice to incorporate a seldom used opposite from time to time!)

HKatz said...

This is a beautiful combination of words:
chrysopid green fairy with its netted wings

Thanks also for the peek into the passport.

Dick said...

Oh, excellent, Lucy! An elegant, effortless rhyme scheme framing a delightful treatment. Just right.

marly youmans said...

Lovely passport, truly--and reminds me that I must look for my eldest son's passport, lost or misplaced...

Like the calligraphic symmetry and the lion emergence with spring!

Lucas said...

I really enjoyed your highlighting the passport and your noting of its beauties. I have to agree even though I've never truly noticed it before. Also, without entering the debate about Petrarchian or Shakespearian being the best, I very much like your poem. It seems fitting that the lacewing is being protected in a kitchen, and that the lacewing itself may be a valuable cotributor to the eco system, perhaps even a polinator, and therefore contributing in its own way to the survival of the kitchen itself.

christopher said...

In Lucy's Kitchen

Lacewing eyes casting
about, noticing purple
crisp cover tabled
across the warm air.
Her toes crackle on French glass.
Lacewing dreams travel
across the channel
producing the permission
needed to enter
Brit air on the wing.
Lucy's new passport just glows
and tells on us all.

julia said...

One aspect of moving abroad was the shock of realising that the country in which I had been born, in which I had lived for 50 years, in which I had paid taxes and NI contributions and my dues faithfully for 30+ years had, like a jealous ex-lover, wiped its hands of me.

And while I did not feel as if I had burnt my bridges, my country had, effectively, done so for me.

Do you know, one must now show documentary proof of one's 'right' to work in the UK! What a blooming cheek!