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poet, reviewer, editor, visual artist, The Netherlands.
Sen McGlinn, 2002, working on a sculpture at the International Sculpture Symposium in Singeroz-Bai, Romania. Photo: Leidi Haaijer, The Netherlands.
He is applying glue and white rice to a tree trunk in the town park.
A Home for Small Animals, 2002
an igloo-form made out of stacked firewood, with no entrance,
in the Singeroz-Bai, city park.
I like the art of poetic suggestion, of the found object, and of the minimum intervention that helps the viewer to read ‘with the grain’ of the found. The sculptors were presented with wood, and with a park: I decided to take both as the found.
'Standing Stone', 2002 in the Sintgeorz-Bai town park.
Ait Burn and Worm's Turn
Ait burn and worm's turn
flames my discontent.
Land of nothing, unprimed canvas,
mere lumps in the ocean end.
and unkind clears
(it surely passes)
ache for the plough
for trees unplanted.
Hard home, I can't look back
in anger or affection:
You've got nothing going for you cat!
I'll be back.
The glove discovered on the stair
after a last farewell
must be wrapped and posted after.
Clothes she wore, lying jumbled
in the room of the deceased
must be picked and placed away
though the breath stumbles.
Times of the heart-skein flayed
bare as ´the anatomy of a horse´,
tissues shrinking from the touch of air.
After this, mainly silence:
Saint John writes to us
out of the night.
Then, the pressed-down question-rod,
touches a buried main.
Here-am-I lightenings illuminate
the circulation of the blood.
A bud in the dull brain flares:
´loving is a little death´.
The laid sod crumbles, the desiccated slain
touch rain, and prophecy a storm.
From naked to knowing
nothing will be the same.
The dead Dead Sea´s too salty to decay:
the unbearable sun had dried the clay
and clogged the Jordan's veins
the storm cloud breaks upon a hill,
somewhere near Jerusalem.
Once, in a siege, a way was dug
down through the living rock to water,
and then forgot. Black Friday's sudden flood
finds this way.
A finger-to-finger lightening vaults,
a touch, a flash, a flood
and the ocean and Jordan are joined.
The river Jordan is joined to the Most Great Ocean, and the Son, in the holy vale,
crieth out: ´Here am I, here am I,
O Lord, my God!´
Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, page 11
Printed in Arts Dialogue,
June 1999, page 15.
Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1956, Sen McGlinn's first book of poems, Dawndreams was published by Caxton Press in 1973. In the same year he became a Bahá´í. His ambition at the time was to be a painter. He pursued this almost full-time, living in an old farmhouse with other artists (In New Zealand, the sixties lasted until well into the seventies). They lived very lean for those few years. He abandoned painting suddenly, on deciding that he would never be more than a mediocre painter. Soon after, he went as a Bahá´í 'pioneer' to the Chatham Islands, an isolated group of islands about 800 km west of the South Island of New Zealand, with a population of approximately 600. He was initially treated as an odd-ball by the islanders, living in his tent, but gradually won their confidence as he went from ditch-digger to harbour master.
In the following poems, Karore and Ranga-ika are places on the south coast of the main Chatham Island (here called 'cat island'), where stone cliffs fall hundreds of feet to the sea. The level unfenced land behind is known as the 'clears'. Mangere is an uninhabited Island nearby.
The tide strides to the moon's measure,
the resounding sorority of waves
chase, around these ragged rocks,
our sister world, unceasingly.
Their shawls are all tatters, white in the wind;
they bruise us in their haste
tearing off our substance,
Every seventh wave, a grain of sand.
From Karore to Ranga-ika
the cliffs are twined with the frayed cords
of waterfalls, snapped
halfway to the sea.
We spend half our lives
herding wool on the hills,
but when the waves heave mucky-grey
and the night winds salts the island,
bending iron roofs as the lights flicker out,
we know the cords have reached the sea
and we are tied as ever.
On such nights the island is torn from its moorings,
dragged a few hundred miles further
from the uncomfortable presence of land
and the lighted cities that dwell there.
Later he moved to the North Island of New Zealand where he lived in a number of towns, having various jobs from swimming pool attendant to door-to-door salesman to accounts clerk. In 1982 he made another sudden change to his lifestyle, moving to live in the Hauraki Gulf on a small boat he had built. Based around Waiheke Island, he divided his time between writing poetry, Bahá´í activities and carpentry jobs.
Prayed and fasted, the obdurate self
a lump of dough,
The mail does not come,
it could be Sunday.
I hide from wanting guests.
I drop a plate,
Stand staring at the fragments.
They look so sharp.
One undeservèd morning
A swift kick in the chest
boots me through.
The Village of the Hidden Singing Birds
The Village of the Hidden Singing birds:
know it by its silence. The absence of an ambience
of chits and twitters and casual patterned calls
makes the good day sit uneasy.
Today I walked from end to end;
dirt roads and quaint reclusive homes
straggling up the hill.
A cold day, but clear, and silence everywhere.
No canaries swung in cages in the passion-flowered trellis
nor any wild song-bird in the shadow of the bush,
and evening was not marked, as in any other town
by roost-burst and clatter as the flock settles down.
I know it for the village of the hidden singing birds,
a mystery, a myth, rumoured but unplaced,
like the cities of the Amazons, the country of the blind.
I'll find it out, tonight, their secret place,
and listen, chance enchantment,
for the ache to hear inherent
in my birthing bone.
Although much of Sen McGlinn's writing in these years touches on his daily adventures with nature and, via her, the divine, he was also in touch with the world of contemporary New Zealand poetry and arts. The following poem refers to Billy Apple, a New Zealand conceptual artist based in New York who, in the 1980s, shook up the art scene each time he returned with minimalist works that absolutise the object.
The Holiness of Doubt
I abjure you, Parthenon,
I abjure, Venus,
I eschew all singlemindedness, except,
The bleak courage of those who have no choice.
No more the crisp Granny Smith
Its flesh of ice, its certain skin,
Billy Apple, I smuggle you leaf-curler,
An embrace of bruise and blemish.
I praise the amputee's iambic doubting gait,
Faulted, fractured, and unsure of grace,
Every step a questioning
Of gravity's faithfulness.
Send to surgery the gangrened mastery,
All smooth gliding and untruthfulness.
Admit the ambush botched
But pursue the well-pursed poem doggedly,
Like a one-legged footpad.
The victim will stop along the road, sure,
The tortoise hunts the hare.
Kick those pearls into a corner
And pull up a sea-urchin.
I want you to feel at home.
Detail of the sculpture, History of Civilization, at the DRAP Recycle Art Event, Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, Spain, 1997.
Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet
Like Courbet, with his pack of trade, I came
As proud to paint myself, vagrant on the land
And, gypsy in the whistling wood,
I found no lady, but a land
Through which no travellers passed
And wanted none within its brined bounds to tune
Nor any aid to celebrate the storm
For though the poet struts and thrusts his chin
Halfway to heaven, and wills the storm his pride
What came without his aid will rage without,
The island elements demand a poll-tax,
the empty head is returned.
And if I sing the jewelled isle,
Splendid on a splendid day,
With Mangere's stone blue misting away,
I'll sing from a safe distance.
And the lonely girls,
That needed but a love to live,
Maud, or Rose, or Venice,
That rang in a vagrant's heart like a gift of bells
Are not here, and the gypsy is dry
And dying in my shell.
The panzers, when they came
The panzers, when they came,
destroyed first love's flamboyant cavalry
like summer's mustard, scythed and thrown.
My private patriotism
(Which is, our need for one-another)
learns the pass-words of endurance.
The silk oxen stand waiting
For the golden yoke.
When Solitude hurts my head
When solitude hurts my head
the tide runs not red
but dark as the sleeping hill
patterned with street-lamps and stars.
When solitude hurts my head
the traffic does not slow
but busy in the head-lit night, ashore
the party-goers go.
When solitude hurts my head the moon
is no more thin, or pale, for that
but intersects the destined cloud
When solitude hurts my head
I stand in the hatch and watch
the black tide sink the bay.
Moon and stars and clouds and cars.
When solitude hurts my head I pray
in the warm, lanterned, cabin,
while far far away, on shore
The cold electric street-lamps stand.
Ship-wreck (For Peter Smart)
The lee coast sidles closer:
crab for sea-room, lose by inches.
Calculate the squall's spume-talloned paws
and measure off the rocks that punch their tops
craggèd, in the waves' interstices.
The sound of the wind shines through the hull
as if it were glass; the cabin
is thundered in surf, and this familiar little tub
is whole alive, felt every plank, in the anxious eye.
So, those most intimate of vessels
wherein the blood is said to course:
unregarded, 'till the night alone
when it hums and leaps in ribs and ears
and drags towards the instant of rupture;
the life-blood's artery, pierced and splintered,
a wave to stun a bull, and tumbling foam.
Peter Smart was the editor of Caxton Press, a major publisher of New Zealand poetry and prose.
In 1984 he married and moved 3000 km southward, to live in the Dunedin Bahá´í Centre while doing a degree in English Literature. In his first week of study and marriage, with the aid of local poets, he published Feeding Harbour: Selected Poems 1973 - 1983. In 1987 he published his epic poem, "New Vessels" but that's another story!
Adapted from the
Arts Dialogue, March 1995 article.
Roger White's Notes Postmarked The Mountain of God
Reviewed by Sen McGlinn
Notes Postmarked The Mountain of God is a cycle of poems structured around the nine days of a pilgrimmage, but it is certainly not a poetic description of pilgrimmage: the themes are "the mind's spat with the heart"
(p. 25) and the incarnation. Not God's incarnation, but our own, our uneasy alliance of spirit and indespensible flesh. The sequence of what we might call 'pilgrimmage experiences' is inextricably tied to earthly details, positive and negative: a bad night's sleep, too-hot coffee, a bird-song in the gardens experienced as a distraction.
Of course this is also the narrative of a particular pilgrimmage: the character of the pilgrim is piece by piece revealed in and between the lines, and the particularities of the places, orange blossom and heat, taxis and tourists and the pilgrim-house, are there. But the sequences seem to be a deliberately adopted form in which his meditations can be evolved. The mountain of God and the daily insistences of Israel provide a landscape of symbols for ideal and everyday realities. The pilgrim begins with a certain picture of a 'spiritual' pilgrimmage, which is at first confirmed: the postcards of Haifa did not lie. But he finds that he himself is an incongruous piece in this picture:
He hears a fellow pilgrim weep
and longs to have his own heart break
or conflagrate that he might rush forward,
ashes dribbling from his cupped hands,
to scatter them upon the threshold.
A scornful voice in his heard cause him to
The poem the pilgrim then writes, the first of several inset within the frame of the whole, reflects on the vindication of the Báb, but his dreams are not triumphant, but troubled by painful memory and presided over by crows. The poem progresses towards an acceptance of the internal and external dichotomies. The voice in the head which he calls his 'spurious brother' is eventually embraced. The pilgrim is constrasted to the bird in the garden, whose "unselfconscious trill… clothes in song his mounting ecstasy". Self-consciousness inhibits submersion into experience, but it is this distance, and then the consciousness of that distance, and finally the acceptance of the distance, which generates the pilgrim's poems. Thus the 'spurious brother' is also a vehicle of grace....
Excerpt from the BAFA newsletter, September 1993
An article by Sen McGlinn: Some thoughts on art and the Bahá´í Faith
...In the past the arts have often been viewed with some suspicion by religions and by 'religious people'. At various times the visual arts, music, and dance have all been forbidden on religious grounds. In the Bahá´í Writings the arts are praised, and these former prohibitions are annulled:
O bird that singeth sweetly of the Abhá Beauty. In this new and wondrous dispensation the veils of superstition have been torn asunder and the prejudices of eastern peoples stand condemned. Among certain nations of the East, music was considered reprehensible, but in this new age the Manifest Light hath, in His holy Tablets, specifically proclaimed that music, sung or played, is spiritual food for soul and heart.
The musician's art is among those arts worthy of the highest praise, and it moveth the hearts of all who grieve. Wherefore... play and sing out the holy words of God with wondrous tones in the gatherings of the friends, that the listener may be freed from chains of care and sorrow, and his
, 2001, by Sen McGlinn, at Performances Conditionelles
, organized by Christophe Doucet
, Taller, France.
soul may leap for joy and humble itslef in prayer to the realm of Glory." 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 112.
We have permitted you to listen to music and singing. Beware lest such listening cause you to transgress the bounds of decency and dignity. Rejoice in the jou of My Most Great Name though which the hearts are enchanted and the minds of the well-favoured are attracted.
These prohibitions have in part been due to the feeling that the arts appeal to the senses, and are therefore liable to lead us into sin. This suspicion is part of a whole complex of cultural and especially religious ideas about our senses, our bodies, the world and human sinfulness. But the theological background of the Bahá´í Faith is new and different, and this implies a new attitude to the body and the world. Nevertheless, the Bahá´í Writings do take note that the arts can be misused:
We have made music a ladder by which souls may ascend to the realm on high. Change it not into wings for self and passion.
Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas p.31
Such a chaste and holy life... involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations... it condemns the prostitution of art and literature... It can tolerate no compromise with the theories, the standards, the habits, and the excesses of a decadent age. Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 30.
Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is endowed with such potency as can instill new life into every human frame, if ye be of them that comprehend this truth. All the wondrous works ye behold in this world have been manifested through the operation of His supreme and most exalted Will. His wondrous and inflexible Purpose. Through the mere revelation of the word "Fashioner," issuing forth from His lips and proclaiming His attribute to mankind, such power is released as can generate, through successive ages, all the manifold arts which the hands of man can produce...
Bearing these warnings in mind, we can say that the general attitude to the arts in the
Bahá´í Writings is very positive. Where it has sometimes, in the past, been felt that the creativity of the artist infringes on the prerogative of God - especially in so far as making images of human images goes - in the Bahá´í Writings this re-expression of the creativity of God is a positive attribute:
No sooner is this resplendent word uttered, than its animating energies, stirring within all created things, give birth to the means and instruments whereby such arts can be produced and perfected. All the wondrous achievements ye now witness are the direct consequences of the Revelation of this Name.
Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 141-2.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, working through his soul, man is able to perceive the Divine reality of things. All great works of art and science are witnesses to this power of the Spirit. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 85
The arts are therefore a dependent imitation of God's creativity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
10 more paragraphs to come...when there is time...
Excerpts from the BAFA newsletter, December 1991, pages 11 - 13.
- Member of the BAFA board. 1989 - 1996
- Poem: The Glove, Arts Dialogue, June 1999
- Artist Profile & 3 Poems: Arts Dialogue, March 1995
- Poem: The Holiness of Doubt, Arts Dialogue, December 1994
- Article: Aesthetics and Multiplicity, BAFA newsletter, December 1993
- Poem: How the elements, BAFA newsletter, June 1993
- Article: Poetry Circles, BAFA newsletter, March 1993
- Remembering: Roger White, BAFA newsletter, September 1993
- Poem: A Letter to Roger White, BAFA newsletter, September 1993
- Review: Notes Postmarked The Mountain of God by Roger White , BAFA newsletter, September 1993
- Article: Dizzy Gillespie (1917 - 1993), BAFA newsletter, March 1993
- Poem: Casual Encounters are pitfalled, BAFA newsletter, June 1992
- Article: Art meets Science and Spirituality, BAFA newsletter, June 1992
- Article: Some thoughts on art and the Bahá´í Faith, BAFA newsletter, December 1991
- Review: Art Forum East in Bratislava, BAFA newsletter, September 1991
- Poem: Ascending Poem, BAFA newsletter, October 1990
- Letter: Response to Sara's Dilemma, BAFA newsletter, July 1990
Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands