And so it's spring. We should be flinging open our doors and running out to greet the day. Long walks, bare feet on green grass, outdoor meals with friends, the occasional – brave! it's still April - dip in the Hampstead ponds. But this year it's different. At time of writing, we're facing a hunkering down. At time of reading, it'll be in full force. We turn to books, to films, to poetry. Last month we featured two poems we love, now it's the whole, wide world of Mary Oliver.
I first came to her poetry via maybe her most well known: Wild Geese. If you've not read it, stop right now and google. Speaking to a friend recently, who was going through a particularly rough time, it felt like I had no words. Instead, I sent them Oliver's. For a while I taped a torn out page of the poem in a place I saw countless times a day. These words, and others she's written, have left an indelible mark.
In conversation with On Being's Krista Tippett Oliver says: 'I got saved by poetry. I got saved by the beauty of the world.' Her attention to the natural world is unique and enchanting. Her recounting of it direct and irrepressibly full of grace. She asks again and again, in light of all there is to see and be astonished by: how then, shall I live? (Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life? / Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? / I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.)
At a time when we crave nature, and cannot experience it in all it's glorious fullness, let Oliver's observations fill the hole. Start with American Primitive or Dream Work, the 1986 collection in which Wild Geese was first published, but don't miss her later work nor her prose. We love 'A Poetry Handbook', 'Upstream' and 'Long Life'. As Oliver writes about the redemptive refuges of writing and reading, in her essay Staying Alive: 'I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything – other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion – that standing within this otherness – the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books – can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.'
Soon we will be outside again and all the better equipped to love the world, ourselves and each other.
First love from some of our first film loves.
Weep as a glowing Ali Macgraw and mediocre Ryan O'Neal meet, marry and then have to say goodbye in the preppy 1970s classic Love Story. And then weep again when Vada loses a mood ring, and subsequently her best friend – with whom she shared an adorable first kiss – in the early nineties dream pre-teen movie My Girl. Embroider your crush's name onto your underwear, as per Lux in Sofia Coppola's directorial debut The Virgin Suicides, or learn to dance the tango, the cha cha, and the mambo with Baby in Dirty Dancing – cheesy yes, but is there anything more thrilling than falling in love while performing what is ultimately a feminist act? Eat and cry with incredible abandon alongside Adele in Blue is the Warmest Colour, or find what you were looking for all along in a Tuscan vineyard a la Liv in Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty. Watch Leo and Claire watch each other as Romeo & Juliet through the blue-glow of the fish tank, or swap Claire for Kate, and wonder again why she didn't just move up to make room for Leo on the floating door in Titanic. We've written about Un Amour de Jeunesse before but this gem by Mia Hansen-Løve has to be mentioned – do you ever really get over your first? And it's never to late to fall again as documented in the odd but affecting Harold & Maude.
Let the sofa-bound, nostalgic day dreaming commence.
AMONG THE TREES
Entering the bunker-like, Brutalist space of the Hayward Gallery is nothing like entering an enchanted forest. And yet Among the Trees, its current exhibition, is full of magic. At the entrance we gaze in the gloom, at large scale images of Japanese tree canopies, a Tarkovsky-inspired painting of a white birch grove, and a photograph of one of the oldest living trees in the UK, before being drawn up to the mezzanine, mesmerised by a huge, six screen video portrait of a horizontal spruce tree, with a woman in a blue coat and hat standing, very small, at the bottom. It takes a second to realise that each of the six screens is not in sync. 'Unlike classical representations of landscape, many of the works in this exhibition avoid the easy orientation offered by foreground, vista and horizon. Instead they invite us to get lost, and to experience – on some level – that uncanny thrill of momentarily losing our way in a forest, and seeing our surroundings with fresh eyes.'
Each room on the lower and upper levels has its delights. We loved George Shaw's The New Romantic and Mariele Neudecker's glass boxed forest bathed in a yellow smog. Upstairs, Ugo Rondinone's cold moon, cast from an ancient olive tree growing in Southern Italy, is a full sized white fairy tale. Another large scale video installation, Jennifer Steinkamp's digital forest titled Blind Eye, cycles endlessly through the seasons. Ralph Rugoff, the Hayward's director says: 'The Japanese have this concept of tree-bathing where you go into the woods to experience the atmosphere the trees create. I think it's the same with Jennifer's piece even though it's all in a computer.' But while many of the pieces are transporting, it cannot be forgotten – and is one of the reasons that the exhibition exists - that the destruction of the world's forests is accelerating at a record pace. We cannot live without trees, neither in our lives nor our imaginations.
(We were fortunate enough to visit the Hayward Gallery before it made the decision to close for a while in the light of the current situation. We share our love for Among the Trees in the hope that the gallery will reopen before the end of its run on May 17, 2020).