Born in his own mists of time in Glastonbury - the Avalon of Somerset - to a Welsh mother and an English father, Ian David Lukins has been living for many years in the Mols Region of Jutland, Denmark, where he has primarily been teaching, writing, translating and doing photography...
A LETTER TO GEORGE MACKAY BROWN:
(A 'Prologue' of explanation: I have just re-re-read a volume of poetry by the poet and writer, George Mackay Brown. I bought this collection - The Wreck of the Archangel - either on Orkney or shortly after returning from there in 1995. I - then - read it several times and wrote a 'thank you' on the back cover (that I now quote verbatim below).
It was never sent off, as I discovered, sadly, that dear George Mackay Brown had died in 1996.
George Mackay Brown is undoubtedly one of the great Scottish poets of the 20th century ... re-confirmed for me by this last, enriching read!)
Written in May 1997:
Dear George Mackay Brown - Bard of the North,
I wish to thank you for your poetry - your rich story-telling, your often-vivid, sometimes-austere images, your marvellous 'picture-painting' with words.
When I first visited Orkney, early in 1995, I did not know of you. Now I read you and re-visit Orkney from my home in Denmark, hear your voice in all seasons, and feel that I have been on Orkney, intimately, many times.
Keep writing as long as you are able, you wonderful bard. I hope to keep reading, and listening.
PS: You have ensured that I wish for a return visit to Orkney - to those sea-shaken, naked islands, to Kirkwall, and to Stromness (where I believe you live).
I may seek out your dwelling, but I won't try to enter. However, I hope this letter of gratefulness does.
THOUGHTS IN THE DARK:
What really scares is when Doctor Death turns up and takes your younger brother, your life-long playmate from primary school, then comes again and takes your Mum, and then your Dad, your favourite funny uncle, your spouse, your soul-mate, the very closest of the close, the ones you've shared most of your life with, who have shaped you, those closest who have stayed, who have always been there and who have mattered - not the many met during brief meetings or romantic flings that have only touched a single heartbeat - those few close enough to have pumped your heartblood, to have filled your brain again and again, those "me-surrogates" you have always wished to be with, always wanted to listen to for longer than was possible.
When the dear Doctor turns up and takes these, your scare takes a turn - becomes anxiety. You realize they are gone and lost forever - that you stand alone.
It's then you feel a deep shiverchill, sensing that your clothes are being taken off, that you will in just a moment be standing stripped naked ready to have Doctor Death's sweet-juiced health check yourself.
A COMMENT ON A LIMITATION OF FAME:
To my mind, Rowan Atkinson is a very funny man, a great comic actor, an enormously talented clown - I'm a true fan.
The main reason for this commentary is disappointment. I'll try to explain why:
Quite recently I decided to watch an episode of "Maigret" on the TV in which Rowan Atkinson was playing the famous Belgian detective.
I shouldn't have watched the programme. While watching, I soon realized that Rowan Atkinson, like other supreme comedian actors, just couldn't shake off his comic mantle. His role as Maigret was laden with yet more bathos than pathos.
I found myself wanting to laugh, but stopped myself - knowing that this kind of criminal murder wasn't meant to be funny ... even though Atkinson's expression was. His pipe - central to the figure of Maigret - seemed an awkward, unfortunate property for him. A heaviness, a shadow of Beanish awkwardness, hung about his performance ... like a shroud of grief.
I realized that this grief was my own: the grief of a fan, mourning an idol seen floundering in something 'not of himself'. An actor doing something too late, too wrong for him - his own comic talent being too well-established, too successfully-formed.
I think the mistake was largely due to something concerning the role - an already existent role that had been performed, rather than something new with no pre-conceived image, such as Mr. Bean, Black Adder, even Johnny English, the brilliant parody of Agent 007, which, in their variety, all have reflected the inimitable Atkinson 'personality'.
I saw the episode of Maigret through, desperately hoping that I would be able to adjust and accept Atkinson as Maigret. This didn't happen. Instead, I felt as if I were at a funeral, where feelings were strained and trapped, and it was impossible to feel happy.
I felt somehow cheated. Then I felt a frustration at everyone being cheated. The programme seemed a fraud.
Had Rowan Atkinson really wanted to act this role, or had his agent or a producer talked him into it? Surely, he didn't need to do it for fame or money. I felt that Rowan Atkinson had been cheated, or had cheated himself ... that he had cheated another actor out of a good chance at a leading role ... that he had also cheated his fans - including me.
I told myself to stop thinking so much about it - vowing neither to humiliate Rowan Atkinson's immense talent, nor to lose the enormous respect I had for him. So, I forced such thoughts to the back of my mind - considering the detective role just one BIG mistake!
However, this situation got me thinking further. It reminded me of the great Danish comedian, Dirch Passer, and his failed, near-tragic, attempt to act Steinbeck's Lenny Small in a stage production of "Of Mice and Men" in Copenhagen. Dirch Passer longed to act seriously, and prove that he could perform a completely straight role. He was not allowed to do this - due mainly to people's expectancy of him.
Passer wore a comic jacket that fitted so superbly that it became his straitjacket - fitting so tightly that it just couldn't be shed. For Dirch Passer it had become not only a jacket but a shroud.
Maybe, something similar is proving the case for Rowan Atkinson. I only pray that this is not so - hoping that he realizes, stops in time, and subsequently sticks to devising and creating yet more superb comic characters for us all to enjoy.
A COMMENT ON THE POP-OP POETS "nearing 100 days":
POP-OP started as an idea in the summer of 2016 - a response to what was being planned for Aarhus (Denmark's second largest city) that had been chosen as one of two "Cultural Capitals of Europe - 2017". What we heard talk of was projects for prestigious events - events that could publicise this title, put Aarhus on the map, get seen, make its inhabitants proud, justify such an honour, such a choice.
It all seemed very grand and above our heads - as such plans requiring heavy funding and months of organising always do - and certainly didn't look likely to involve us.
The 'we' in this case was the motley group of local poets and writers, who were already reading their work at a number of venues in and around the city - some of them trying seriously to establish themselves, and, if not live by it, thrive on it.
I, being one of these, felt the usual response - the one urged on by the frustration of why seemingly everything had to be elitist to have any chance of being publically noticed - the classic sorry-for-self, I-don't-belong-to-the-fund-swallowing-club feeling; oh, those envious drops of wormwood!
I chose to defy this mood, and stop moping. The fact that our (my) local city had been chosen as a Cultural Capital of Europe for one whole year was just too good an opportunity to miss.
How could we, who were small and comparatively 'invisible', and who were present before the cultural year officially started, be perhaps beneficial and benefit? Could we establish ourselves better, promote writing in our city by becoming more visible, more active - meeting people where they lived and worked, instead of waiting for them to come out to the few fixed venues and find us; maybe even actively joining us by writing and reading themselves?
It would have to be grassroots, low-key, direct - on the streets, in public places: malls, precincts, parks. The money-train was already out of the station and rolling. And - though it would be nice to get hold of some of the funding-dosh - it wasn't the primary reason for forming the POP-OP poets.
For many of us 'serious' types writing is something we want, even feel the need, to do.
That's when I shared the idea with another local poet, Tomas Dalgaard.
Tomas and I were agreed. The chance should be grabbed, and as many people as possible should be met in their daily surroundings.
We needed a group, enough to form a corps. But we also felt that it was important to start strongly with a few of the best of us and then build up, as hearsay would be important; perhaps vital for continuation and success.
In hindsight we were possibly too cautious, too ambitious - resulting in little to no progress being made in 2016.
POP-OP was born in unsteady rush in the middle of January 2017. We were joined then by Daniel Mantel, who was as eager as us to make the idea work. Daniel coined the name 'POP-OP'; which, I'm sure, proved important in saving the whole idea from being still-born!
We became more realistic, choosing to perform our work for different groups of students from the humanities faculties at the city university.
We were five who read our work for the first time at the Student Café on Friday 27th January 2017 as 'the POP-OP Poets'. Henrik Giversen and Anders Gade had joined us; both of them good poets with strong voices and impressive performance presentations. The turn-out to hear us was meagre; half of them being international students who didn't understand much Danish.
As a group we didn't get the impetus we had hoped, but we had begun - knowing from this experience that we had to grow and build in earnest if there was to be a viable future.
This we have managed to achieve. The POP-OP Poets is today a corps of fourteen poets and writers - eleven of whom have already been in action.
With spring now in the air, and spring in our voices and legs, we feel ready for the challenge of meeting fellow citizens of our city with our writing.
PS: The POP-OP Poets continue to exist as a group, now doing performance-readings almost exclusively indoors, but still in a wide variety of spaces - not just library centres and literary cafés. We are 14 active members with very different styles, but all with a love of words, and a wish to express them surprisingly, with vitality and newness.
A COMMENT ON POETRY:
Like Poul Valery before me, and surely quite a considerable number of those seriously active in expressing themselves poetically and even extending the art and craft of poetry, I believe that poetry must be read aloud. This is to me so essential, as sound and rhythm are vital components in being able to understand words sensually.
Literary analyses are all too often far too abstract and intellectual, failing - and, in worst cases, ignoring - to stress the musical quality of a poem.
All poetry, particularly lyrical poetry, uses sound and rhythm as central to expression. But no serious writer of prose ought to ignore these elements in the craft of storytelling either, if they wish to communicate intimately and deeply with the reader. The reader is listening through his or her eyes.
Readers have also become too intellectualised, and should - as was the case initially - if not return to being told stories and poems or being read to, then, at least, return to reading aloud in order to get a deeper dimension and intensity of experience - thus gaining a deeper love and understanding of words through the music of sound combinations made in collocation.
A COMMENT ON SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS:
This year (2016) many events are being organised to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. I'm one of a small group who chose to read some of his sonnets for discussion. Afterwards, I chose to go further by reading all 154 sonnets in sequence. This proved so fascinating that I have re-read them all several times since.
I have consciously tried to disregard the many wild-brewed academic theories about: who Shakespeare really was, the 'correct' sequence of these sonnets, who the young man being addressed actually was, whether or not Shakespeare was a homosexual etc. etc. and have read them closely at face value for their beauty and craftsmanship.
The read has been stunning, and revealing both as a thorough-going study of the intricate, complex character and nature of love, and as a reflection of Shakespeare's own creative, sensitive character.
The 154 sonnets - comprising two sequences: the first one, of 125 sonnets and an 'epilogal'12-liner(no.126), that I choose to call 'the beautiful youth', attempts to comprehensively characterize ideal, spiritual love; a direct 'I'voice address from Shakespeare to a man; the second sequence, comprising the final 28 sonnets, that I call 'the dark woman', at times using third-person address, portrays the character of physical desire and its detrimental effect on pure, untainted love.
In my view the irregularities, particularly in the first sequence, reflect natural changes of emotion arising out of any intimate love relationship, and enhance the constant flux of intense emotional passion and helpless insecurity any lover might feel. Shakespeare's creative genius and sensibility presents the full gambit of conflicting feelings reflecting how affected, devoted and dependent the 'I' voice is. His object of love is reverenced, urged, chastised, worshipped; receives tributes and jealous warnings.
It is in this first sequence that I sense the presence of Shakespeare; the insecure human being, full of sensibility and imagination. He lives for me so that I sense a thrill at knowing him spiritually in a way I've never discovered in his plays. In contrast, I find the wit, bitterness and distanced tone of the second sequence much more akin to that of his plays. These sonnets reveal a close relationship between Shakespeare's poetry and his passion.
Unlike the Petrarchan commentary on the meaning of love, I find myself presented in these sonnets with the direct, dramatic, vocally-witten, Shakespearean feeling of love; highlighted so masterfully by the contrastive presentation of carnal love in the final 28 sonnets, where the mistress is a lusty, luring temptress threatening - even desecrating - the ideal of pure love. In this second series the mistress is distanced and dangerous; the 'I' voice wary, feeble, subjected to her powers of seduction. The 'I' voice also expresses irony and sharp-tongued bitterness, suggesting that this 'dark woman' might well compete with him for the love of the 'beautiful youth'; Shakespeare seems doubly betrayed by his two 'loves'.
I have found these sonnets not only a fascinating presentation of the multifacetted character of love, but a further aid in appreciating Shakespeare's dramas; particularly his astute understanding and awareness of human nature.
"So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee." (final couplet:sonnet xviii)'
Shakespeare has done it. In these love sonnets truth and beauty have in their way defied death and the ravagement of time. We're still reading and being enriched by the insight and beauty in them more than 400 years after they were written!
I hope you'll now wish to read them yourself; aloud, of course.*
* FOOTNOTE: Now, near the end of this Shakespeare commemorative year (with four full readings of the 154 poems, plus a public reading of 14 of them in 'dialogue' with six pieces of music by Dowland under my belt), I reiterate the joy and enrichment his love sonnets have given me.
Should you wish to buy a copy of my poetry or comment constructively about any poem, please contact me via my e-mail: "ian at lukins dot dk"