Last night I dreamt the world was brown.
Lost in space. Occupied only
By cockroaches and scorpions.
Gone from every city and town;
Gone from every ocean and sea;
And gone to hell all citizens.
So when our fragile planet dies,
It won’t be like the dinosaurs:
A death shadow from god knows where
Blotting out all heavens and skies
Clogging and desolating pores
To suffocate life far and near.
The clever ignoramus might
Betray to treason his own kind –
The once called Homo sapiens,
At least he thinks himself so bright.
What’s it capable of this mind
That would so invite its own ends?
Granma said “Too clever by half!”,
Aimed at myself over some girl.
But how wrong! Not clever enough.
If only I could see the path
That led away from a pure world.
But alas for me far too tough.
One small man assesses the fright
And scratches his beard in turmoil.
The woman at his side groans and
Fears his anthropogenic plight.
What drives this brain to over-boil
Reduces her to wringing hands.
But it’s unfair that this should be
For it’s her children, and then theirs
Who will die of this human cess
Pit, who have no choice to be free.
It was ours that had too few cares,
Blazoning on madly careless.
The blank complacency of men
Will tolerate with mockery
A death cloud that’s pre-eminent;
And, aye, even more, his children
Confirms in me pomposity
And mocks the word ‘intelligent’.
Of all the living things worldwide
How strange it should be just our own –
The one species which perhaps should
Not – but which will bring ecocide.
Yes, human kind have for sure grown
Far too clever for their own good.
The cleverness which drives our lives,
Do not mistake it for wisdom.
Do not mistake intelligence.
In the businessman who survives.
And, yes, thrives within his kingdom,
By making money with no sense.
Did we think it would be all right?
Did we think it would not transpire?
Did we think techies could sort it?
Did we think it was out of sight?
Did we think it was not so dire?
Did we think it would not persist?
Yes, our leaders thought all those things.
Their lives were good, their wages fat.
They won’t be here to see the war.
To piss on their graves will not bring
Back all the wonderful life that
Garlanded this planet before.
Spinning in perpetuity,
Never to be replicated;
Unless we’re watched by jesters in
Some galactic laboratory
Pushing us until we are dead
Just to see which life-form would win.
This was what woke me fearfully:
A little planet still spinning –
Indescribably small and lost –
And over all, pathetically,
The golden sun still was blazing
All cellular green life to toast.
© R.M. Meyer
Devon, December 2018
Dedicated to Emma
Night after night I sit and look out
Hoping to see a barn owl about
As white as a surrendering flag;
This gliding wraith-like spirited rag
Would ghost the dark field in looping strides
To scan the rank grass with razor eyes.
A facial disc, ears set obliquely,
Picks up murmurs sent non consciously
By vole and mouse – but, yes, lost to me.
Signals that were never meant to be
From deep inside the raked-over grass:
To all those as deadly as Arras.
This floating thing of deathly beauty
With fine synchronous duality
Is the most sublime killing machine
I am sure that I have ever seen;
And I’ve worked with tigers and lions,
But this owl alone brides its talons.
Yet, see, its peril is also white,
As soft a shroud as wings in the night.
Snowfall that covers the killing ground
Blankets out unwitting sight and sound
And shields for one and for all the voles,
Who may now venture without their holes.
Yet what brings life in train brings death, and
Will fate Her players as chance demands.
For beneath the snow, still in the fray,
The brown fox now ventures into play.
And snow, which enables voles to crawl
Out of sight, masks the deadly footfall.
Nature weighs, measures and will balance
All the players in Her endless dance.
No design and no manufacture,
Refined, eternally year on year,
Until parts all slot in their places
Until man kicked her traces.
His ‘god-given’ urge to dominate
Set himself above Nature’s mandate
Does with sublime precision tamper
And monkey with the blind watchmaker
Those parts that never can be put back
Become young future’s brains to rack.
So the barn owl, in microcosm,
Sets the stage therein Nature’s prism.
One immaculate crafted species
Details Her overwhelming thesis.
And would, with infinite patience, show
The magic of the owl and the snow.
Devon, January 2019
My resistance finally broke down and I tackled a study done after a break of 18 months. This the second attempt; it’s rough round the edges and it’s been a struggle feeling a way back into managing thick paint.
The actual sunflowers had long since expired, so I needed recourse to memory, pre-knowledge and imagination. This is a detail of the painting.
The only other oil painting done in that year and a half was this commission for a friend.
We saw two hedgehogs.
We saw two hedgehogs feeding side by side
And it wouldn’t be our fault if they died.
They had been grunting through the summer night.
Safe from traffic – we thought they’d be all right –
In an island garden bordered by woods.
Each evening we offered them special food
In a plastic box wasted and surplus.
They went straight there the first night with no fuss.
Though far too nervous to come out in light:
This their entrench’d anthropogenic plight.
Now mangling their nightly excursions are
(New dreads but) most of all the motor car.
And remember bonfires roast them alive,
As one did a guy on November Five.
North Devon, 12 October 2018
A monster was coming on at me,
Devouring the world, all I could see,
Such was its all-consuming presence,
That nothing else composed an absence.
Crashing there, pulverising closer.
A beast advanced over the border.
Now, sounds of the English countryside,
Herald a fresh hell of herbicide.
An incessant whine of brute machine
Counterpoising the crack, crunch and scream
Of advancing chains flailing hedges,
Even trees and all the quiet edges.
Fields once in early autumn slumber,
Bough and branch in myriad number,
Are beaten into low submission.
Heavy-handed ironbound precision
Bullies countryside’s casual borders
Into tame and abased neat order.
Now reducing full forage hedgerows,
In all their blowsy carefree billows,
Into managed new factory walls;
As close as the jackboot tractor crawls.
Those linear woods, trashed in thoughtless
Haste, make a sad wake in wakes of mess.
These linear woods are all that’s left
Of a landscape that is now bereft
Of the deciduous eternal
Hanging woods which once clothed the feral
Land from east to west, from south to north.
A greenwood cover of endless growth.
Now, ev’ry year hedges try anew,
To regrow once more and save a few.
Hawthorns! Their remembered sweet fragrance
In blossom clouds of creamy cadence,
But there they are, hacked back more and more
Till all that’s left is jagged and raw.
They won’t be laid traditionally.
Every advance drives more fiercely
Into older and thicker timber,
Till the gross impact upon your ear
Is in due accord with the ravaged
Scene: wood and nerves together shred.
Now, never mind the long standing tree.
And farmers won’t see the bird or bee.
For what cannot be seen counts as nought.
Subtle lessons like these can’t be taught
To those immured within tractor walls,
Or logged into cool persuasive malls.
Then his tea, in towered splendour, he sips.
And with insouciant fingertips
Nudges on hundreds of horsepower might.
Never giving one thought to the sight
Of tangled despoilment left behind
After the flailing chains’ savage grind.
Now, with protection wrapped round his face,
Headphones musicking a deaf embrace,
To insulate the remote cabbed man
From all consequences of his plan.
So deafness mutates this crashing hell.
With never a witness left to tell.
Aye, the crashing sound above all else
Has no regard of pastoral sense.
It surely would dumbfound old hedgers
Thankfully safe now in quiet slumbers.
Would they swap craft’s old occupation
For this new gross manifestation?
Now, a poet wand’ring in Nature
Seeks his peace in this secret treasure;
For wind and song are quintessential;
Listen! And be mute deferential.
For there is peace and sweet harmony
In measuring life’s geometry.
Still the brute tractor masticates on.
Jaws chewing; weight thrown about; and strong
Enough to pulverise any foe.
What hope can there be of tomorrow?
Yet wait! The pregnant buds still prepare
To try yet again another year.
Now the ogre leaves the margin’d stage
(And a poet impotent in rage!),
The hedging tree will lick its spirit.
And the only good to come of it,
If calm reflection matters a toss,
Is to help us value what we’ve lost.
(c) Richard Meyer,
Winswell Water, N. Devon, October 2018
It’s not new for me! This was published in 1971 in The Lady
(written under the name I used then for Natural History books)
Epitaph for the Badger
A snarling dark shape in the depths of night,
Blundered into whilst on unknowing paths,
Reduces careless ignorance to fright.
And in others may produce mirthless laughs;
For sure, there are few to be had today,
Farmers and ministers have seen to that.
While hunts sabs and patrols, try as they may,
Cannot hope to mangle every cruel trap.
What it is to be feared, yet have no voice:
Found guilty by the company we keep.
It could never have been a badger’s choice
To mix with cows or dung or corn or sheep.
And then a microscopic deadly bug,
Named long ago after some wretched cow,
Untold thousands of needless graves are dug.
Continues the killing from then till now.
As the badger noses his woodland track,
And cubs dance among the bluebells in play,
A mercenary with gun on his back
Approaches – sights set on a hapless prey.
Despite frenzied digging, claws long and torn,
There is no escape from the senseless cage.
So the badger lapses, senseless, forlorn,
And awaits the man blind with misplaced rage.
The end comes quick enough, in drifts of mud.
Proclaiming man’s absurd insanity.
An inhuman prison, base mired in blood.
No earthly help to cure bovine TB.
Across all the land, thousands of cattle,
Who – for all their history – stamp and fret
With no thought of misdirected battle.
Leave trails of death we will never forget.
And the cows! They go from a stinking byre,
Through crush and syringe to Positive test.
And end their days on a funeral pyre.
Can there be anyone left not depressed?
I’ve been lost and bereft for forty years,
By abrogation of a science law.
And have seen around me good fellows’ tears.
Nonplussed, unbelieving, in fraught furore.
Cool appraisal of the science shows,
However black and white (and neat) it feels,
The badger’s not the enemy they know;
It’s cows which spread the bug from field to fields.
Yet on and on it goes, running amok.
How or when it will end, no-one can say.
But when they’ve killed the last remaining Brock,
They’ll find another neat scapegoated prey.
And as though all this wasn’t bad enough,
There, see the man touting pistol or gun,
Who thinks it’s a mark of being ‘dead tough’:
Sporting a quarry shot simply for fun.
Official massacre carries no hope.
A steam-hammer abused will crack no nut;
Blunderbusses trained through a microscope
Can’t stem a bacterial tide like Cnut.
A host called ‘spill-over’ is Brock’s death-knell
Caught up in the saga of bTB,
Looks on from woodland setts where it would dwell:
A hapless bystander in history.
Politicians – government ministers –
Self-imagery of their poor selves made,
Think mainly in terms of ballot papers.
And wildlife can make no Jarrow Crusade.
‘Here today, gone tomorrow’, it’s been said,
Civil servants can blithely walk away.
Leaving behind their bloodied trails of dead
Which had no English voice and held no sway.
When they’ve murdered all that the state decrees,
Don’t think it all over, dusted and done.
On moor, or under wooded canopies,
The thugs will still be there with dog and gun.
Sharing between them one medieval
Mindset lacking all imagination.
Corrupted by peer and older evil
Bloodlust thirsting for extermination.
And while one arm of the law tries its best
To save from louts a protected icon,
Another in power and much better dressed,
Finds ways of letting the killing go on.
he law tries its best
To save from louts a protected icon,
Another in power and much better dressed,
Finds ways of letting the killing go on.
I listened to advice (surprise, as it may be to some, I do sometimes) and Phil my excellent framer gave one of the pebble studies a bigger ‘more generous’ mount; I’d been told my original ones were “too mean”. The two different versions are currently on show at the Burton at Bideford Gallery. Pop along if you are in North Devon; admission is free and there is lots of really good art (I never say that lightly).
Both are available at a measly £145 despite difference in framing, but it’s the art work that’s important, isn’t it? I feel pleased with this series and also that I’ve broken new ground. The remainder of the series will go in Recent Work soon – I’ll send a note when that is done (a few test ones are actually up there now, have a look).
An exhibition of my flower paintings is at RHS Rosemoor from 1st September to 7th October. This is the second collaboration with brilliant ceramicist Eilean Eland. And of course the Rosemoor gardens are always a delight.
Additionally, I’ve been occupied since May with a personal and rather difficult commission. In fact a painting for a friend which I was most anxious to get ‘right’. It was difficult in the sense that it is small (A5), a nude figure and I needed to please both my friend and of course myself. It turned out to be one of the hardest paintings I’ve ever done but I won’t be able to show it because it is private.
It’s not just this that has been weighing heavily on my mind it is my writing and conservation work too. I’ve published a few recent poems here https://richardmeyer.co.uk/index.php/writing/poems. I’m finding great release in poetry these days: enabling me to convey observations and reflections in a succinct form which is I hope both exciting and original.
Also finishing my third novel revelling in the fertile imagination of children. Although stigmatised as ‘children’s books’ they are actually novels about children. So-called ‘children’s books’ are the only books categorised by perceived readership not by content: a source of irritation and mystification. I ask you, are ‘Lord of the Flies’, ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, ‘His Dark Materials’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘David Copperfield’, ‘A High Wind in Jamaica’, to name just a few, ‘children’s books’? I would say not; they are literature which feature children – not the same thing at all. Maybe you could add your own titles here, and we could explore this subject again more fully.
Finally, on Saturday 18th I was in Exeter taking part in a very noisy public meeting and march through Exeter city centre. You won’t be surprised to know it was about the appalling Badger cull here in the UK. I’ve never before stood on a soapbox (in fact a public bench in a sort of ‘Speakers’ Corner) and addressed a crowd through a PA system. I had 15 mins to summarise nearly 50 years of history) and think I did OK – but certainly no better; not sure that soapbox oratory is my thing.
I hope you may leave the odd comment, if only to show that you’ve read this far!
We took the bike down to the Camelford Gallery for a preview of Chris Thomas’s impressive exhibition Documenting the New Build. The exhibition is exactly that: paintings recording a housing development adjacent to his studio in North Cornwall. From very understandable initial resentment, he soon saw an opportunity to use the experience artistically, in the process becoming part of it, to the extent of being accepted on site by the builders as a kind of hard-hatted, hi-viz ‘artist-in-residence’. From my perspective, this took some guts.
During the course of building 21 ‘affordable homes’ Chris produced a tumultuous body of work: starring large oil paintings (some of them 2-3 metres wide) mainly on board. It is not hard to imagine how, to a casual passer-by, Chris lugging these round the site would have looked exactly like one of the builders. There are also intense smaller studies exhibited and a portfolio of large charcoal drawings. My favourite of all is Study from the studio executed in February this year. – I wish I could afford it.
There is also a comprehensive illustrated catalogue with illuminating text produced to a very high standard. This was something I could afford and mine – the first to be sold at the Preview – Chris kindly signed for me: it is something I will treasure.
Gratitude also due to artist John Blight for putting on the show at his gallery which, for me, exemplifies precisely what a gallery should be: something not unlike Rembrandt would have recognised: a real working artist-gallery with little concession to commercialism; in other words, not a ‘picture shop’ which so many so-called galleries actually are.
I’ll stop there lest another rant begins!
Henry Israel – A rare and genuine artist
Henry was a truly great artist and teacher. We shared the same birthday but not the same year. He was strong and forceful but enormously kind – and very patient if he thought you were serious. For over 30 years I regarded him as my mentor: he jostled on my shoulder as I worked (and still does) with my brother John Martin and Paul Cezanne – stern but wise mentors all.
He was classically trained at the Slade but not well known beyond a small circle of collectors and students in North Cornwall because he hated attention and fuss. I remember him once saying that he didn’t paint in public because it’s not a performance. This makes him sound a curmudgeon but he wasn’t; he had a dark and mischievous East London sense of humour, which I think comes across in the photo above.
Our painting techniques, from widely different starting points, seemed to converge at the end. He was always a decidedly abstract painter – stunningly original – but I felt he came to me, but he would say the opposite of course. We had one exhibition together in Camelford in 2005: Henry’s B&W photography and drawings, and my own very un-B&W paintings. We also had a love of animals in common.
I miss his wise counsel tremendously. He leaves his wife, Caeria – also a very fine and completely different painter.
A late landscape: he painted on board and, as you can see here, came to use a painting knife; this gives our work certain similarities. We both evolved the use of under layers of paint as plane boundaries.