Vol.5, Number 1, March 2009
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> STEVE MUMFORD: MOSUL JOURNAL
These drawings are from my sixth trip to Iraq, in April and May of 2008. I spent a month in Mosul, staying at the US and Iraqi armies’ combat outposts and larger bases. I accompanied the soldiers on missions every day and brought my art supplies in a photographer’s vest that fit over my flack jacket so that I could work from life. I carried an artnet.com press pass and sent jpegs of my drawings to that website.These trips were inspired by the premodern tradition of war art and history painting and Winslow Homer’s nineteenth-century Civil War paintings specifically. I was not interested in making art about the morality of the Iraq War, or its politics; nor did I want to rely on secondhand images. I wanted to record my own subjective experiences through the role of artist-reporter, and to collect material for larger oil paintings to be done back in New York.
– S.M., May 31, 2008, NYC
Baghdad Journal (Artnet, 2003-2004)
STEVE MUMFORD IS A NEW YORK ARTIST AND AUTHOR OF BAGHDAD JOURNAL: AN ARTIST IN OCCUPIED IRAQ (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2005). HE FIRST WENT TO BAGHDAD IN 2003 AS A WAR ARTIST, LIVING AND WORKING AMONG THE IRAQIS AS WELL AS EMBEDDED WITH THE US MILITARY. HIS ARTWORK IS REPRESENTED BY POSTMASTERS GALLERY IN NEW YORK. (IMAGES APPEAR COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND POSTMASTERS GALLERY, NY.)
> GRAHAM ALLEN: AFTER LIVY
These are the first few poems from a series which is in process. They form the central part of a cycle of poems, Trasimene, based on the lake in Umbria in which Hannibal achieved his second significant victory on Italian soil in the Second Punic War. I visit Lago Trasimene every year and over time I’ve worked on a collection which attempts to link modern Italian lake-life with the historical events which happened there over two thousand years ago. “After Livy” starts with a meditation on Hannibal’s life after he and his army had been defeated by the Romans, something most historians don’t feel the need to discuss at great length. But it moves on to consider the relation between poetry and historical knowledge, in particular issues of individual and collective heroism. Unlike Byron at the beginning of Don Juan, I’m not in search of a hero. I think we’ve had far too many heroes. Lago Trasimeno is a place that can remind people that all “heroism” fades back into the landscape and into geological time and that we should more than ever before, as Keats puts it in his meditation on poetry and history in The Fall of Hyperion, “think of the earth.”
– G.A., May 2008
GRAHAM ALLEN WORKS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK, IRELAND. HE HAS PUBLISHED NUMEROUS BOOKS ON LITERARY THEORY AND ROMANTIC LITERATURE, INCLUDING MARY SHELLEY (PALGRAVE, 2008) AND THE READER’S GUIDE TO “FRANKENSTEIN” (CONTINUUM, 2008). HE HAS BEEN PUBLISHING HIS POETRY IN JOURNALS IN IRELAND AND THE UK SINCE 2006 AND IS WORKING ON TWO COLLECTIONS, SOME THINGS I NEVER DID AND TRASIMENE.
The storm fizzes and crackles
In your brain, as you scatter
Back to your flammable shack,
Your mind full of current and full of Barca,
The chosen one, storm-maker,
Sweeping down from out of the Alps.
He was a man who made the weather,
Spreading violence out of his lips, his eye,
To scholars, poets, and other men
Who retreat, cower and wait for death,
And can barely understand
The common soldier’s unbroken line,
Their willingness to face the fire.
At Saguntum, for example,
They pushed on without him, the enemy’s
Hot spears whizzing past their heads.
Livy on the second wave, gives the detail:
Victories, defeats, standoffs, politics,
Encampments, a list of comically
Demotic omens, sky-crack and shining what?
Not withstanding. There are
No sides in the aftermath, Scipio
Junior no agent of hope,
No new modernity, this side
Of the lago’s dirty wall. Barca
And all his pissed-up elephants
Is no hero to me, who twitches
At the furthest, muted rumble. I want
What he thought and what he wrote
Years after he declined to enter
Rome, declining years of non-
Existence everything that was left
To own. What did he drink? What smoke?
What dream? What lago did he despair on?
Poetry is at war with history.
It’s sad, but it’s true. It has to be.
No matter how you turn or twist it
Science gives way to sympathy
And that won’t stretch beyond these hills,
Unless it’s coloured by today,
Our trivial, frivolous inconsequence.
Knowledge is what gets drunk and eaten.
Carthaginian, Roman, Celto-Iberian,
Who are these people to you or me?
Life begins and ends as a wave
Sucked up and spilt out by the trees.
La Repubblica posts a series every decade,
But the facts of the matter, if you want them, are this:
The lake once stretched to Cortona and beyond
And once was a tiny pond in a ditch;
The hills have grown by half an inch
Since smarty-pants beat his neighbour at chess.
He will not tell you
How the dead converse with the dead,
Continue to contest,
Weigh their pugilistic body weights,
Flipping the coin on butchery.
Who made most rivers bleed
With blood? Who caused the most smoke?
Who stripped the most women destitute?
Who captained the most diverse
Rainbow array of corpses?
Go to Lucian, if you must,
And compare how the Kings of carnage
Dispute their culls like bureaucrats,
Putting spin on productivity,
The delivery of deliverables.
Go to Lucian, if you must,
And despair, and then tell me
We await the return of the heroic.
“I bore my exile patiently,”
Dryden translates, assisted
By eminent hands. Twenty thousand
Or more, lost within the icy peaks,
Fifteen thousand drowned, beheaded,
By Trasimene’s shores, at Cannae
The unprecedented rout,
Outdoing the Somme, outdoing number.
Patiently. One would need something more,
Something like guilt, regret, revelation.
I would take enlightenment,
The slow, steady comprehension
That life is life and death is death
And intervention for the gods alone,
Not for the likes of you or me
Or men who enter god look-alike contests.
The Bin-Laden of his generation,
Learning to accept the necessity of love.
Storming Norman confessed,
Though it’s uncertain he was citing
Livy. Cannae was
His blueprint, ancient model,
His thin blue line intertext,
Sucking in the greater strength,
Like a snake consumes a dog
Or horse, outflanking swelling
Pride as a womb, suffocating force
With a bitter caress. But he omits
The final chapter of the day,
The afterword and epilogue,
The hard, bloody, liquid labour,
Where no foot can stand
And the ground begins to melt and
Gag on its super-sized feed
Of bone and blood, and the corporals
Hoarsely reiterate, will we ever be done?