Zhong Zhiyuan – elegance in stone

The sculpture of Zhong Zhiyuan 

Perhaps a trifle soft on, but there is a charismatic elegance to it nevertheless.

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Thoughts on Constitutional Monarchies

New essay in The Fortnightly Review.

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Performances in the Seventies

Here is a link to performance art from the seventies in my website archive

The photo above shows the core group of the Theatre of Mistakes: Fiona Templeton, Mickey Greenall, Peter Stickland, Glenys Johnson, Miranda Payne, Anthony Howell.

Some of these listed performances extend into the eighties and the nineties.

See also the website of The Theatre of Mistakes.

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Poetry of Protest



Anthony Howell says:

UPDATE – Unfortunately I have come down with a really horrible flu, so I have had to cancel my reading tonight. But please go and support the other readers on my behalf.


I am glad to be reading at Exile Lit Café on Tuesday 11 April at 7 pm


The theme is protest poetry and the organiser Afsaneh Gitiforouz says:


‘By protest poetry/art I take the broad understanding of work that is, or engages with, a protest against something, be it an internal or external force. It could pack soft or bold activism possibly with emotional outrage evidencing the spirit of the time as seen by the poet/artist.’ 

I note that Tuesday 11 April marks the 4th anniversary of Assange being imprisoned in Belmarsh.


Betsey Trotwood pub (first floor), 56 Farrington Road, London EC1R 3BL

Meeting with another poet of protest 50 years ago!

Here are links to poems that I may read – the first to Shireen abu akleh 

Another to Julian Assange.

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TIGER TOPIA – for Julian Assange



Marry your lover too soon after your husband has passed away

And you could die of tiger fright. They have these unfathomable eyes.

Their lean stripes, imagine them. How they slide between

Poles. Shaman-masked, marked with ancient writing.


Make offering unto the tiger, before you mount your motor-bike,

For in myth he would offer his back only to Bonbibi,

The Lady of the Forests, or to Durga as her vahan. Durga

The Invincible. Markings may remind you of a lightning strike.


And this champion of the unassailable force of the forest

Chained for the tourists to stroke nevertheless retains that spirit

That awes us so that we see on his forehead the sign of a king.

In his stripes I recognise the potent strength of Julian.


To chain the truth empowers the truth. Let no pathetic

Image of his meagre environment alter the vigour

Of his inspiration. Julian is the tiger. For when you ensure

The seepage of what must be told, your leak becomes a roar.


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The Swing Ceremony

Bangkok’s Giant Swing

As a monument, this takes some beating!

An annual swinging ceremony known as Triyampavai-Tripavai was held at Giant Swings of major cities until 1935, when it was abolished for safety reasons.

The Giant Swing was constructed in 1784 in front of the Devasathan shrine by King Rama I. During the reign of Rama II the swing ceremony was discontinued as the swing had become structurally damaged by lightning. In 1920 it was renovated and moved to its current location in order to make space for a gas plant. The ceremony was again performed until 1935, when it was discontinued after several fatal accidents.

According to an ancient Hindu epic, after Brahma created the world he sent Shiva to look after it. When Shiva descended to the earth, Naga serpents wrapped around the mountains in order to keep the earth in place. After Shiva found the earth solid, the Nagas moved to the seas in celebration. The Swing Ceremony was a re-enactment of this. The pillars of the Giant Swing represented the mountains, while the circular base of the swing represented the earth and the seas. In the ceremony Brahmins would swing, trying to grab a bag of coins placed on one of the pillars.

The ceremony was popularly known as Lo Jin Ja or Lo-Chin-Cha (“pulling the swing”).

It is known that Tamil verses from Thiruvempavai — poet Pratu Sivalai (“opening the portals of Shiva’s home”) — were recited at this ceremony, as well as the coronation ceremony of the Thai king. 


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Conflict with the Eyes Closed

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A Monkey Reflects upon Eternity

from the Ramakien Mural, Bangkok


We come back as us. Call it representation.

For so as to comply with time being space

And space time, from one life to the next,

There can be no development. We just exist again,

Each our own link in an undying chain.

Nothing can be altered, no mistake made

Undone. The bees return as bees


And begin as they begun. What we are on earth

We remain. If I am a rock in the jungle,

That is what I am. If I am indubitably me,

Then I always was, always will be.

No use relying on enlightenment

To get me out of this infernal loop.

Every instant I’ve been one of the troop


Exists and did exist and shall

So as to maintain the fabric of it all.

From a seed that fell into a crevice

Grows a tree, the seed however

Is once more the seed so that the tree

Growing so crookedly out of its crevice

May become that tree forever.


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The Ramakien mural surrounding Bangkok’s Emerald Buddha Temple

Wat Phra Kaew is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Wat Phra Kaew’s importance as a Buddhist temple in Thailand owes to its association with the kings of Thailand, but also because it houses the Emerald Buddha statue.

This temple is also home to a famous set of mural paintings that depict a Hindu narrative. The Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana was written by King Rama I (1737-1809) and his court poets. The reigns of Rama the First and his son Rama the Second are a golden age in Thai literature and art – with the completion of the epic Kung Chang Kung Phaen – and it’s also the time when Sunthorn Pho – the great Thai ‘Chaucer’ – was writing. It is a period where the influence of Western art and literature was merging with the South East Asian tradition: a merger epitomised by Sunthorn’s writing. In the murals one can also sense this awareness of European landscape painting as well as the influence of Chinese art.

The Ramakien centres on Prince Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, who is banished from his father’s kingdom  at the request of his stepmother. To avoid creating discord in the kingdom and in his father’s household, Rama leaves Ayodhya and lives in exile with his wife Sita and devoted brother Lakshmana. In focusing on Rama as an ideal king rather than a Hindu god, the placement of the Ramakien murals in the cloisters surrounding the temple seems appropriate. The kings of the Chakri Dynasty, who adopt the title of Rama for themselves, want to be seen as ideal kings. The placement of the murals outside of the main precinct of the temple  rather than at its centre ensures that they do not detract from the Buddhist nature of Wat Phra Kaew.

I would guess the mural is one, maybe two kilometres long! Each section, separated by wooden rafters, was painted by a different court artist, whose name is inscribed below, as well as the date and the name of any artist who may have restored it. It is a work of mutual art; a project that is over two hundred years old, and, because of its restorations, an ongoing creative work. I worry about the gold restoration, which looks as if it has been done with ‘white’ gold rather than the ‘red’ gold of the original which merges better with the entirety of the picture. Sometimes the restoration seems heavy-handed or unfinished. But these are uninformed observations. Comments welcome. Inscribed on the pillar next to each section is the verse of the Ramakien that is being shown us on the panel. Each panel merges with the work of the next panel, painted by another artist, and so it seamlessly unscrolls – not always as seamlessly as it might – one senses times of artistic rivalry between one painter and his neighbour.

But to my mind, the work is a masterpiece, for all my caveats. As well as giants, demons, angels and armies, there are acutely observed moments of ordinary life: women chatting, wives weeping at the knowledge of husbands killed in action, gardeners with watering cans, a child poking his tongue out at a guard who must stand to attention. My friend came here every day from school and could never get to the end of discovering startling new little scenes – scenes that are utterly charming.

See also Don’t Poke the Bear!

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