Their Spirits Gone Before Them

A provoking piece of art has sailed into the International Slavery Museum in the Port of Liverpool. The mesmerising installation, ‘Their Spirits Gone Before Them’ is a five metre-long cottonwood canoe with 1,357 resin figures. Each figure represents the loss of a life to the slave trade.

Resilience resonates from the canoe and the stoic figures represent universal traits that underpin all humankind.

It’s not about ropes, chains or torture but rather, it is a sculpture that communicates transcendence, reverence, strength and unity,

cites the artist, Laura Facey.

This unsettling installation is part of Their Spirits, an exhibition showcasing the portfolio of the acclaimed Jamaican craftswoman and running until 7th September 2014.

redemption-song-monument-in-emancipation-park-in-kingston-jamaica-1600x1066

In conversation, Facey reveals the story behind the creation,

The inspiration for Their Spirits Gone Before Them has a bit of history. The piece began with the Redemption Song Monument, which I was commissioned to do by the Government of Jamaica. I won a blind competition and in 2003 that piece was unveiled at the ceremonial entrance to the Emancipation Park in Kingston in Jamaica.

And after that piece was unveiled the Government asked me to make miniature souvenirs pieces of the monument, which I duly set about doing. And partway through that project I became rather frustrated, but then I started to see these miniatures in a cotton wood canoe. We have these wonderful cotton wood canoes that fishermen paddle around the island and I just kept seeing these miniatures in the canoe and I went, though I had a little bit of a struggle, how can I take my healed figures and make them… put them back into a slave canoe.

And then my husband was reading a book called The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson and he just read a little passage, which said “though the slaves were in the valley of the ship their spirits had gone before them into the Blue Mountains” and that was my permission. You know I realised of course we are eternal and that’s what I believe and so I set off looking for a canoe. And as soon as I found it I installed 1,357 of the miniatures into the canoe.

So I took these exact Redemption Song figures and put them in the canoe and made them face each other because I’m carrying the same message as the Redemption Song into the canoe. The Redemption Song piece is prayerful in its essence or I think of it as such: two people in communion with the divine and also with themselves.

My piece is, though it’s initially as you look at it, it is about slavery but it’s, when you look closer and you see that the people are actually whole, the little figures in the canoe are whole and full and you know in a divine sort of feeling space, they are proud, they have come through it, above it and that’s what’s important. We touch on the past but we need to heal the patterns of the past, break from the past.

Their Spirits Gone Before Them was awarded the UNESCO Slave Route Project logo in 2013.

their spirits gone before them faces

The artist hopes that the vessel will continue on its journey to other destinations, particularly those ports that were directly involved with slavery.

I would love people to take away hope, change, that we can change our lives that we can heal, that we are in fact healing and the fact that the canoe is even being shown here is a statement about that.

their spirits gone before them

It’s a poignant reminder that, of all the many thousands who sailed to and from the Liverpool Docks, not all did so willingly.

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Read, Think, Grow

With tales of a worldwide trek that ended in Liverpool, let John Maguire take you on a shortcut to literary treasure, in the latest of our series on favourite bookstores.

LIVERPOOL PRESENT DAY

Winter sun splashes off the wet cobblestones of the courtyard. There appears to be a brief respite from the almost biblical rains that have attempted to sink the United Kingdom. The rays of light ricochet haphazardly and illuminate the majestic piece of architecture ahead of me: The Bluecoat, a Grade 1 listed building and the oldest in the centre of Liverpool.

bluecoat modern

Originally a school founded by Reverend Robert Styth, Rector of Liverpool, and sea-captain Bryan Blundell in 1777, the building became an Arts School in 1907 and has been recognised as an international creative hub ever since.

bluecoat

Yoko Ono notably appeared in 1967 and other cultural dignitaries have visited, including the late Doris Lessing and Michael Nyman.

yoko

BACK STORY/FLASHBACK TO TWENTY YEARS AGO

It was to The Bluecoat that I used to venture on a Saturday afternoon, to buy books from the little stall that, sadly, is no longer there. The shop was like the Tardis, it seemed to be bigger on the inside. Here I was introduced to Hubert Selby Jr, Ibsen, Margaret Atwood, Burroughs and Bukowski. I also started a collection of Taschen Art books, drowning my eyes in Barbara Hepworth, Basquiat and Geiger, to name but a few.

2008

Alas, after the refurbishment of the Bluecoat in 2008, I felt that the place  lost something of its charm. The interior of the ground floor was now somewhat surgical. The back yard had had a secret garden feel to it, but now looked a little too contrived. I even used to like the vagabonds who harassed you. What’s a city without a few eccentrics?

Yet the restaurant upstairs with its battered leather couches, school tables and chairs hinted at the retro Bluecoat.

CUT TO PRESENT DAY

However on this particular day in February, I was refreshingly taken aback by a new book store that appeared in the courtyard. Tripping up the steps to Kernaghan Books, I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the door. Immediately, it was like being transported to an old Club, like The Athenaeum, or one you would expect to find Phileas Fogg residing in.

kernaghan books

The proprietors – husband and wife team, Bryan and Alwyn Kernaghan – gave a friendly nod, and when prompted by a question they sprang into life. Welcoming like old friends, they answered queries, made recommendations and offered anecdotes. The learned couple serve to help you navigate your way through the sea of literature.

How exactly did this book store find its way to Liverpool?

The bookstore’s actual evolution is an epic tale in its own right, as Bryan Kernaghan told me,

A gap year in the 70s, long before the term was contrived, was never intended to lead to opening a bookstore. The offer to work as an ‘Antiquarian Bibliomite’ (old bookseller’s assistant to you and me) just seemed the most quirky of seven offers to a Belfast school-leaver in what must have been a plentiful jobs market.

Periods of travel and working abroad were further punctuated by spells in amongst many rooms of dusty but fast-moving tomes. Only after a few years’ inimitable work in the Himalayas did we come back to the UK wondering what we might do next. Rather than join at the bottom of a larger London company we were persuaded to launch in at the top of our own start-up old and rare book company.

We were invited to open a gallery/bookshop together with artist Tony Klitz and his wife in Southport. It was seen as an experiment which might last six months, possibly two years. Then (so the thinking went) we’d be off again to exotic parts. That lasted over 27 years before we eventually made it to the city of Liverpool, the business following an earlier move of home. So in short, not so much a decision – more a stumbling into it.

I asked, as I often ask book lovers, if you could go back in time and meet a deceased author, who would it be and why?

Not far back in time. Seamus Heaney died too soon, having tried too hard for others. He spanned my adult life in the island of my birth through times of flux. He was a consistent, perceptive and sensitive observer on a global scale, viewing through the intimate soil of Ireland. His Beowulf is stunning. A day’s walk with him on the north coast of Ireland would be epic.

With the monumental increase in fresh technologies such as Kindle, e-books and the like, I wondered how he could foresee the future of the common bookstore and the book industry?

Pared back hopefully from the massive over-production of the last four decades. e-formats hopefully will cause publishers to focus on the real virtues and values of a printed book, incorporating creative elements which genuinely please the new, emerging tactile market.

To be completely honest, I personally would struggle to hand over some of the literary treats in this bookstore. I wondered if there had been a book that had been difficult to part with.

Joyce; Ulysses – 1st edition, Shakespeare and Co, Paris 1922. We had it briefly as part of a Joyce collection which ended up in the right place just before the Joyce market went stratospheric. Would like to have it in my hand now – an unwieldy flimsy paperback, but sheer genius with a turbulent publication back story.

Another copy of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale 1st edition would be nice to see come in. We bought one from a customer who’d found it for 25 pence. He went for a holiday of a lifetime on the proceeds!

I urge book lovers to discover this rainforest of the written world. An oasis of calm in the cosmopolitan city of Liverpool. And the mantra to chant at this temple of Literature is read.think.grow

What I bought:

13 x leather-bound Charles Dickens’ Collected Works

1 x vintage pulp edition of Mildred Pierce by James M Cain

mildred pierce

1 x vintage edition of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.

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To Russia With Love

John Maguire brings a message of love to thaw the most snow-covered of hearts…

When Cupid draws back his bow this year, I am firing the arrow right into the heart of Mother Russia. I am dedicating my Valentine message to Vladimir PUTIN.

I am not going to write a lyrical ballad of love.

I am not going to try to pen a rhyme crime of the roses are red style.

I am going to state plainly how deeply disturbed I am at the human rights abuses and discrimination against LGBT people in Russia.

I spent the entirety of the weekend in Paris, wandering, mulling over the whole controversy around Sochi 2014. Like a true flaneur, I was trying to assimilate what I want to say about the Winter Olympics. In particular the attitudes to individualism and sexuality that are as bitingly cold as the necessary elements for this sporting event.

John Grant sums it up in his emotive ballad Glacier.

Listening to the debates around the brutalities that are currently taking place fills me with a deep sadness. The gut reaction I used to feel when someone mentioned a queer in school, a shirt lifter, a queg, a fanny…… (fill in your own derogatory term). I knew what was coming next.

But I am not going to rant, I am not going to state the obvious. I welcome Putin’s Draconian philosophies, his take on the modern jungle. Like the leader of the BNP, another dinosaur of a man, Putin’s views only serve to make him look like a Les Patterson-esque figure, a crass, crude caricature, his words and actions serve to highlight idiocy. But I don’t know the Russian translation.

russian-profile-pic
A man who sadly I thought in these more enlightened times had become  extinct. Yet I am lucky to live in the United Kingdom, knowing other countries do not always have the luxury of free expression.

WISH YOU WERE NOT HERE

A is for Antigua, where its fifteen years.

B is for Barbados, lifetime for all the queers.

D is for Dominica, ten years or sectioned for life.

G is for Guyana, prison for those who choose not to take a wife.

J for Jamaica, hard labour there.

K for Kenya, fourteen years thrown away without care.

Mauritius just five, Morocco just three.

St Lucia and St Vincent, a decade is robbed from thee.

Seychelles and Solomon Islands, jail for fourteen.

Singapore two, being ever so lean.

Trinidad and Tobago, a quarter of a century to eradicate the disease.

United Arab Emirates, deportation or the death penalty for living the life you please.

Social Networking has often been criticised, but over Sochi, it has been used positively, to show support, broadcast outrage and create a digital community to generate positive messages to LGBT Russians. From the ‘How to ask for a Rainbow Flag in Russian’ tutorial, endorsed by Derren Brown, Stephen Fry, Paloma Faith, Rupert Everett and  Neil Gaiman, to the Canadian tongue in cheek response to Russia’s Anti-Gay laws.

What is normal anyway, how is it measured? We are all different and there is no such thing as normal, just the people you don’t know that well. The United Kingdom may well be drowning but the good thing about this country is its happy to let people be. Thank the Universe for freedom of expression and speech in the place that I call home.

The thing I do find extremely disturbing is what will happen once the world’s media turn their attention away from Russia.

sochi image

Progressive change is not going to suddenly occur. Yet small drops make the ocean. Let us not forget it has taken 25 years to get to where we are in Britain, so we need to support activists worldwide on their long journey to equality. What goes on between consenting adults should be left to consenting adults. It’s an often quoted cliché but it really doesn’t matter who you love. Ignorance is not bliss.

I think of Jack Nicholson as President Dale in the film Mars Attacks! (1996)

Why can’t we work out our differences? Why can’t we work things out? Little people, why can’t we all just get along?

So I send my message with a kiss, Happy Valentine’s Day, Comrade Putin!

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Martin Eden by Jack London

2013 saw STONER by John Williams do something quite impressive.  In a world of tweeting, status updates and Instagrams, consistently steering the modern reader to the Next Big Thing, it proves that there is still room for simple word of mouth, there is still hope for the sleeper hit.

I would like to stand up and shout out, LOVERS OF THE WRITTEN WORD; take a glance at another classic that I feel is still pertinent for today: Jack London’s Martin Eden.

martin eden book

The book was first published in the Pacific Monthly magazine from September 1908 to 1909 and it is essentially a novel about writer’s frustration. The protagonist struggles to rise above his destitute circumstances through self-education, aiming to join the prestigious literary elite. Eden is motivated by his love of Ruth Morse.

An example of a KUNSTLERROMAN, the tale narrates the development of the artist.

Jack london

The author Jack London had a lust for life, his credo was,

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot! I would rather be a superb meteor. Every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist, I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them, I shall use my time.

The origins of Martin Eden can perhaps be hinted at in his pamphlet for the Intercollegiate Socialist Society in November 1905,

I had no outlook, but an up look rather.

London cites how he felt he could rise above the colossal edifice of society, through cultivating his mind,

Muscle on the other hand, did not renew. As the shoe merchant sold shoes, he continued to replenish his stock. But there was no way of replenishing the labourers stock of muscle. The more he sold his muscle, the less of it remained to him. It was his one commodity, and each day his stock of it diminished. In the end, if he did not die before, he sold out and put up his shutters. He was a muscle bankrupt, and nothing remained to him but to go into the cellar of society and perish miserably. I learned, further, that brain was likewise a commodity. It too was different from muscle. A brain seller was only at his prime when he was fifty or sixty years old, and his wares were fetching higher prices than ever. But a labourer was worked out or broken down at forty-five or fifty. I had been in the cellar of society and I did not like the place as a habitation. The pipes and drains were unsanitary, and the air was bad to breathe. If I could not live on the parlour floor of society, I could at any rate, have a try at the attic. It was true, the diet there was slim, but the air at least was pure. So I resolved to sell no more muscle, and to become a vendor of brains.

STONER is a fantastic book and I would recommend all to read, but also indulge yourself with MARTIN EDEN. Sandpaper-voiced singer-songwriter, Tom Waits, references the novel on his 1974, Saturday Night album track, SHIVER ME TIMBERS, he drawls,

I know Martin Eden is going to be a-proud of me.

It would be a sin not to enjoy these books in your lifetime, besides who wants to be a passionless person in the pursuit of passionless intelligence? Please don’t take my word for it though, read it yourself.

If it’s good enough for Tom Waits, well then, it’s good enough for me.

Jack london signature

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Once by Morris Gleitzman

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The Vatican of Battered Books

Our favourite book stores series reaches ‘the Venice of the North’ as John Maguire finds treasure gleaming under the grey Mancunian skies…

Window designs for high street stores are generally clinically prescribed to the last detail. The retail Stepford mantra being retail is detail, retail is detail.

During my time managing a book store in the smog that is London (a chain that later went bankrupt); I was constantly up against the Universality of Bland.

One example of my battles with the fat men in retail, landed me with a verbal disciplinary for my inventive window homage to The Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Any More (2003),  black comedy cartoons drawn by author Andy Riley.

bunny suicidesYet, when the book sold copious amounts, funny nothing else was said. The EXEMPLARY display was used in the end of year annual presentation, as a model of best practice. Irony with a capital I!

Another time, I was forced to get rid of the CLASSICS section to be replaced by BRATZ top trumps. A sorry affair! However, my anarchic streak kicked in; the punters of the store signed a petition that, of course they had decided to set up themselves. I mean, the General Manager would never have the audacity to perform such a ‘thought crime’, to indeed rage against the machine; biting the corporate hand that fed him, now would he? Anyhow, enough back story!

So present day: when I came up to the window of PARAMOUNT BOOKS, on a charcoal grey Saturday morning in Manchester, a smile did instantaneously plaster across my face. It was I believe bordering on Heath Ledger’s Joker. The glass plastered with an Aladdin’s cave of temptations.

Vintage BOXING WEEKLY, a DR WHO surplus of literary memorabilia, European literature, Old JUDY and DANDY comics and an entire BRUCE LEE magazine collection, ‘unread’ and ‘untouched’ since publication in 1977.

paramount books

A frame of originality!  A stark contrast to the generic high street windows, trying to be bang on trend. Stepping inside the store, classical music flooded the space and the question was simple,

Where do I begin?

The other retail mantra, eye line is the buy line is not the motto here, everywhere you look there are distractions: a cellophane-clad copy of Ian Fleming’s, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, a haphazardly stacked  pile of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, pulp horror and a scattering of books that makes up the poetry section, also to add to the charm there is a basket of fruit comprising bananas and garlic. A spell-binding cave that you could actually lose whole years, not just hours in.

I was delighted to find an autobiography by Dirk Bogarde. My appreciation for this phenomenal actor began when I caught a screening of VICTIM at Fact, Liverpool and was accentuated to another level when I saw the movie, THE NIGHT CALLER. I also didn’t mind the film adaptation of DEATH IN VENICE. I particularly loved this book, as I read it in Venice and for a fleeting moment I was momentarily back there on the Lido di Venezia.

lido

This is what PARAMOUNT BOOKS does to you, it’s like the whole experience starts the monkey mind swinging from tree to tree, re-visiting memories and thinking about the past, the now and a feel of optimism for the future.

This kind of place exudes something that can only be labelled as magic. A good friend of mine tipped me off to it and it is this type of personal recommendation that keeps little hidden treasures like this haven being re-discovered.

For those who have not yet visited, I am envious because I guarantee you will recall your first time. It is I think the Vatican of Cool.

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Andrew McMillan

John Maguire introduces poet Andrew McMillan…

Sparse, physical, unpoetic, ordinary; four adjectives used by the poet Andrew McMillan to describe his work.

Andrew is currently lecturing in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University and has an impressive creative catalogue, including publications such as Salt Book of Younger Poets and work in The London Magazine and Under/Current to name a few.

images

His second pamphlet of work, The Moon is a Supporting Player, is playful and at times is like a kind of literary jazz. There is a solid structure and form with the language and imagery springing from the pages.

Cityscape

backslash of corrugated roof          single cheek

of light across the broad chest of city

the potholed avenue the moon has been reduced to

The work screams to be read out loud, at times the poetry is somewhat cinematic.

Tippi Hedren appears as a tree

such reading elegance      uncreased

under a stress of raven    stoic

The simplicity of the language paints pictures in the mind’s eye.

the birds

Singular lines have a richness that are like literary delicacies.

I love you with the trailing leg of

a gull heading north

McMillan is a fan of writer Thom Gunn,

The poet I love before all others is Thom Gunn, he was the first writer I think I fell in love with. Geoff Hattersley is a great poet and deserves more readers than he has.

Red Squirrel Press, based in Northumberland, have just published his new pamphlet, which is one long poem called ‘protest of the physical’; the piece was written after splitting up with a long-term partner. He is currently pulling together poems in preparation for his full first collection to be published.

The poet is keen to continue developing his craft,

I think in terms of my own stuff you always want the next thing to be the best piece; otherwise you wouldn’t carry on writing. Reading at literature festivals and things is great because, as well as flogging the books your publisher wants you to, you can read new stuff out and see how it goes down – getting that instant feedback from an audience is wonderful.

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