Vandalism and Duende: The Poetry of All Things

This is a small performance piece I gave at Maori in Valletta on Wednesday 24th August 2016, organised by Inizjamed as part of the Mediterranean Literature Festival:

Say No to Vandalism (Damian)

My name’s Lizzie Eldridge and I originally come from Glasgow in Scotland. Some of you may have heard of Scotland. Some of you may even have been there. But just to jog your memory. We’re the ones who voted to say ‘Yes! We want to stay in the European Union’ during that recently surreal, absurd and bleakly comic but not-so-very-funny-at-all-when-you-stop-to-think-about it – that political shenanigans known as Brexit!

Anyway. Leaving politics aside for one evening…(as if you ever can…) My city Glasgow, well, we’re very very friendly, very welcoming (…particularly if you come from Europe) We really are very friendly, as you can probably tell from my general demeanour, appearance and overall genial interaction with you tonight.

But we do have our own wee ways of doing things, our own particularities, our own idiosyncracies, which may seem a bit strange if you don’t actually come from this city. If you’re barrani – as you Maltese like to say! For example, if we like you, we can come across, well, as almost unpleasant…So if we give you a compliment, that’s when you know you’ve got a problem, pal…

Now, this word ‘unpleasant’ and all its different meanings, permutations and connotations. It’s actually an epithet I could easily attach to my own ‘Oh so recently published novel’ Vandalism. Now, please – don’t think that I am merely here to promote my own work! Far be it for me to do such a thing (although why else I’d be here on a Wednesday night in the middle of the working week is beyond me…)

Lizzie Maori

Now why, you must be wondering, would a writer (i.e. me) describe her obviously brilliantly written piece of fiction – nay, literature no less – as ‘unpleasant’? Let me explain…

Vandalism deals with the big issues. It deals with all the things – good and bad, ugly and beautiful, heartbreaking and deeply joyful – that confront us all as we meander along this so-called journey of life. And it deals with these in a very direct way. It doesn’t shy away from the conflicts and contradictions which inevitably occur when emotions and events come together, crash and collide, in all sorts of messy and unpredictable ways.

But at the heart of all this carnage, this brutality, there is poetry because poetry is, for me, the fundamental essence of life. Poetry is the texture, the shape, the feel, the movement, the pulse, the energy…Poetry is the essence of our existence.

And this reflects the influence of a particular writer on my life, my thinking, my ideas, my work: Federico García Lorca. Lorca was a Spanish writer murdered by the fascists at the very start of the Spanish Civil War. And Lorca says this:

Poetry exists in all things, in the ugly, in the beautiful, in the repugnant. The difficult thing is to know how to discover it, how to awaken the deep wells of the soul.  Lorca photo

In Vandalism, the central character, Moira, is watching her best friend dying of breast cancer when Ewan, a man she loved many years ago, reappears in her life. When they originally met, nine years previously, their love affair had limits, parameters. Seven weeks to be exact. You see, when they met, Ewan was already planning to move to Toronto to start a new life, a new job, and the likelihood of him ever returning to Scotland was pretty remote.

In one chapter, there is the recollection of a night nine years before when Moira and Ewan set off into the Glasgow evening to try and catch sight of the full moon. They don’t succeed in their quest but when Ewan leaves, Moira writes this poem:

                        we searched for the moon that night

futile for the clouds

and we were in the city

where lights smother stars

we found the swing park though

kissing beneath out blanket sky

that hid our goal

the moon was full that night

 

and now you’re gone

a journey beyond my world

beyond this city

where lights reflect tears

you left before the moon

could swell to its full strength

and fading stars

seem bright beside my hope

 

but last night something strange

the moon was clear

so gold and round

but not quite full

one small corner shuddered

a head just slightly bowed

a silent soft respect

for the moon we never found

The moon has a fundamental and significant role throughout all of the work of Federico García Lorca. And Lorca appears as a character in my other novel, Duende. Set in Spain during the period leading up to the Spanish Civil War, Duende focuses on the lives of two men, two homosexual men: Nayo, an artist, and José, a philosopher. The story focuses on their love, their life together, the development of their ideas and thinking – all against the brutal and terrible backdrop of escalating violence, political and social divisiveness that culminated in civil war.

At various points during the story, José writes a poem for Nayo and this, as it happens, is his final one:

if Paradise was ever lost completely

if light grew dead

and darkness embraced my mind

if the curve of your body

became a shadow

and the sky collapsed within the sea

I, sleepless, would forever search for you

 

the truth I seek,

desire, delight and dreams

the honesty of angels

whose wings

unfurl to the pulse of our existence

 

windows watching strangers

lighting shipwrecked passers-by

church bells

toll against a weary world

spinning ceaselessly around

 

if the shoe fits

chains may break

and blindness turn to sight

 

the sea baptized us

the water and the wind

gave us a name

 

a sheltered cove

was our creation

our beginning

and our end

 

wine and stars

white moon and snow

sharp russet rose

 

perhaps no home

or country

but still a memory

a whispered touch

a long held sigh

 

you are all I want

all I could need

it’s you I find

infinite and dancing

in the pathways of my soul

The soul, and Lorca’s desire ‘to awaken the deep wells of the soul.’ This, ultimately, is the search for duende. And duende is that need, that impulse, that compulsion, to connect with the deepest parts of ourselves and, in doing so, to make contact with the overarching and vast forces of the universe in which we live and breathe. Frightening, dangerous but vital and imperative, I want to finish with a description of duende taken from the novel itself:

Duende. Mysterious and inexplicable like Goethe’s notion of the Demonic. Duende, that mischievous spirit in myth and folklore. Duende. Something primal, living, shuddering and vibrant. Duende which evokes tears through its music and its poetry. Duende which comes from the depths of the body through the roots of the earth and shakes the entire universe.

Duende Take 2

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