My #conscientpodcast conversation with my father-in-law, the poet and educator Robin Mathews, which combines a 2021 recording about radical listening with a 2004 recording about political poetry and the role of the artist in society, including Robin reading 3 of his poems: at the Café Lenin, The Lady From Iraq and Unmarked Graves.
This is a special edition of the conscient podcast. You’ll hear two recordings that I did with my father in the law, the poet and educator Robin Mathews. I did not narrate his extensive biography however there are some links in the episode notes below for you to learn more about his distinguished career as a writer and activist.
The first recording is from just a few days in Vancouver, where I ask him to help me understand the origins of the term radical and also the notion of radical listening, which is the theme of this 3rd season. The second recording is from 17 years ago, in 2004 which was a series of conversation I had with Robin about political poetry and the role of the artist in society. I thought I would bring these two conversations together in this episode.
You’ll also hear him read three of his poems. The first is at the Café Lenin from his Think Freedom book of poetry published in 2004 by Northland Publications. The second is The Lady From Iraq, written in 1991. The third is from this year, called Unmarked Graves.
In particular I like this quote from our 2004 conversation about the role of the artists in society:
It doesn’t do to dictate about the artist, because artists are as various as it is possible to be. A great many artists can only have their being in withdrawal and insularity, retreat and silence and so to call upon them to be social activists would be wounding and maybe destructive but in the large picture of the artist in the society, even the artists that I have described, must in himself or herself, recognize that to be artists is a special function and a special blessing and in response to it, the artist must take responsibility for the nature of the society in which he or she lives. And that’s asking a great deal, but I don’t think it’s asking too much.
I want thank Robin for sharing his deep knowledge of arts and culture and his passion for poetry and literature. I also thank him for being a generous and supportive father-in-law to me and a loving grandfather to our children. Though she does not appear in this episode, I also recognize the work and wisdom of Esther Mathews as an activist and cultural worker.
Poems narrated in this episode
at the Café Lenin (2004)
We’ll meet at the Café Lenin.
when the midnight hour has toiled.
We’ll drink to the hopes, the past held dear
on a planet grown tragically old
We’ll mourn the loss of the ozone,
the oceans depleted of fish; we’ll remember the songs that were sung by the frogs,
we’ll remember and wonder and wish
We’ll sit in the Café Lenin
with its decor of scarlet and black
mourning the million’s gone down to their grave
so the markets can stay ‘on track’.
We’ll drink to the men and the women
who fight for the Good and the Just
and are torn from hope and human love
by Imperial greed and lust.
We’ll praise all revolutions –
no matter how poor or small –
where the weak and the tortured fight to break free
of Capital’s murdering thrall.
We’ll meet at the Café Lenin
in the darkness and dead of our night.
We’ll remember, dream – and then plan a fresh
for a New Day filled with Light.
The Lady from Iraq
The lady in the High-Class Store, backs the madmen on the Hill. She blesses them and thinks it right, that they should kill and kill, because the world, she says, is bad and good. Our leaders stand up for the right. The bad must feel our heavy wrath falling on them in the night.
The lady in the High-Class Store Doesn’t wish her neighbour ill, Doesn’t have a racist hate, Doesn’t rifle from the till.
Like you and me she starts her day with coffee by her lawn side view, Sews for her daughter, loves her son, Fears the different and the new.
She talks about our U.S. friends. She says they need to go to war. As friends we ought to follow them. We can’t do less, she thinks, or more.
She’s built herself a fortress mind. She wanders in a burning wood where admen tell her what is True, The TV tells her what is Good.
She doesn’t know her choice has been. Packaged somewhere far away. When she sees there’s throwing stones, She wants to throw some of her own.
Her leaders know that. They depend that she’ll continue being she. They build their banal madness on her firm predictability.
Unmarked Graves (2021)
Hearing voices rising from unmarked graves
seeing forms as though of bodies
bound in ill-fitting cerements
moving away from habitations
moving silently through unbroken forest
as if along worn trails
Hearing voices murmuring unintelligible phrases
and seeing the shapes of bodies
(or what were once bodies)
bound in ill-fitting cerements
moving silently through unbroken forest
moving where there is no pathway….
Their voices rising from unmarked graves
echo in the empty passageways of memory.
When they speak
(as if they are speaking to one another)
their voices rising from unmarked graves
are not wise and rounded and certain voices
(as the voices of the dead should be:
voices that rise from completed lives)
they are uncertain voices
echoing in the empty passageways of memory.
No history can restore them.
No intention can give them wholeness back,
as if their destiny
is barely to be heard or seen
except as voices rising from unmarked graves –
except as shadows bound in ill-fitting cerements
moving through unbroken forest –
having been given release
to utter cries of forlorn hope
cries that come to the ears as the cries of those
lost in the empty passageways of memory –
as cries uttered in sadness and abandonment
rising from the unmarked graves of those not known
but walking on the ghostly pathways
of a past erased
and only found again in palsied memory …
and in dream.
Links mention in this episode
Ma conversation #baladoconscient avec mon beau-père, le poète et éducateur Robin Mathews, qui allie un enregistrement de 2021 sur l'écoute radicale avec un enregistrement de 2004 sur la poésie politique et le rôle de l'artiste sur la société, avec Robin lisant 3 de ses poèmes : at the Café Lenin, The Lady From Iraq et Unmarked Graves.
Ceci est une édition spéciale du balado conscient. Vous allez entendre deux enregistrements que j’ai réalisés avec mon beau-père, le poète et éducateur Robin Mathews. Je n’ai pas fait la narration de sa biographie détaillée, mais vous trouverez des liens ci-dessous pour en savoir plus sur sa carrière distinguée d’écrivain et d’activiste.
Le premier enregistrement a eu lieu lue 25 novembre, 2021 à Vancouver, où je lui demande de m’aider à comprendre les origines du mot radical et aussi la notion d’écoute radicale, qui est le thème de cette 3e saison. Le deuxième enregistrement date d’il y a 17 ans, en 2004. Il s’agit d’une série de conversations que j’ai eues avec Robin sur la poésie politique et le rôle de l’artiste dans la société. J’ai donc pensé réunir ces deux conversations dans cet épisode.
Vous l’entendrez également lire trois de ses poèmes. Le premier s’intitule At the Café Lenin et est tiré de son recueil de poèmes Think Freedom publié en 2004 par Northland Publications. Le deuxième est The Lady From Iraq, écrit en 1991. Le troisième, que vous allez entendre, date de cette année et s’intitule Unmarked Graves.
J’aime particulièrement cette citation tirée de notre conversation de 2004 sur le rôle des artistes dans la société :
Il ne faut pas dicter le rôle de l’artiste, car les artistes sont aussi divers qu’il est possible de l’être. Un grand nombre d’artistes ne peuvent exister que dans l’Isolement, l’insularité, la retraite et le silence, et leur demander d’être des activistes sociaux serait blessant et peut-être destructeur, mais dans l’image globale de l’artiste dans la société, même les artistes que j’ai décrits, doivent reconnaître qu’être artiste est une fonction spéciale et une bénédiction spéciale, et en réponse à cela, l’artiste doit prendre la responsabilité de la nature de la société dans laquelle il ou elle vit. Et c’est beaucoup demander, mais je ne pense pas que ce soit trop demander.
Je tiens à remercier Robin d’avoir partagé sa profonde connaissance des arts et de la culture et sa passion pour la poésie et la littérature. Je le remercie également d’avoir été un beau-père généreux et solidaire pour moi et un grand-père aimant pour nos enfants. Bien qu’elle n’apparaisse pas dans cet épisode, je reconnais également le travail et la sagesse d’Esther Mathews en tant que militante et travailleuse culturelle.
The post e88 robin mathews – on radical listening & political poetry appeared first on conscient podcast / balado conscient. conscient is a bilingual blog and podcast (French or English) by audio artist Claude Schryer that explores how arts and culture contribute to environmental awareness and action.
About the Concient Podcast from Claude Schryer
The conscient podcast / balado conscient is a series of conversations about art, conscience and the ecological crisis. This podcast is bilingual (in either English or French). The language of the guest determines the language of the podcast. Episode notes are translated but not individual interviews.
I started the conscient project in 2020 as a personal learning journey and knowledge sharing exercise. It has been rewarding, and sometimes surprising.
The term ‘conscient’ is defined as ‘being aware of one’s surroundings, thoughts and motivations’. My touchstone for the podcast is episode 1, e01 terrified, based on an essay I wrote in May 2019, where I share my anxiety about the climate crisis and my belief that arts and culture can play a critical role in raising public awareness about environmental issues. The conscient podcast / balado conscient follows up on my http://simplesoundscapes.ca (2016–2019) project: 175, 3-minute audio and video field recordings that explore mindful listening.
Season 1 (May to October 2020) explored how the arts contribute to environmental awareness and action. I produced 3 episodes in French and 15 in English. The episodes cover a wide range of content, including activism, impact measurement, gaming, arts funding, cross-sectoral collaborations, social justice, artistic practices, etc. Episodes 8 to 17 were recorded while I was at the Creative Climate Leadership USA course in Arizona in March 2020 (led by Julie’s Bicycle). Episode 18 is a compilation of highlights from these conversations.
Season 2 (March 2021 – ) explores the concept of reality and is about accepting reality, working through ecological grief and charting a path forward. The first episode of season 2 (e19 reality) mixes quotations from 28 authors with field recordings from simplesoundscapes and from my 1998 soundscape composition, Au dernier vivant les biens. One of my findings from this episode is that ‘I now see, and more importantly, I now feel in my bones, ‘the state of things as they actually exist’, without social filters or unsustainable stories blocking the way’. e19 reality touches upon 7 topics: our perception of reality, the possibility of human extinction, ecological anxiety and ecological grief, hope, arts, storytelling and the wisdom of indigenous cultures. The rest of season 2 features interviews with thought leaders about their responses and reactions to e19 reality.
my professional services
I’ve been retired from the Canada Council for the Arts since September 15, 2020 where I served as a senior strategic advisor in arts granting (2016-2020) and manager of the Inter-Arts Office (1999-2015). My focus in (quasi) retirement is environmental issues within my area of expertise in arts and culture, in particular in acoustic ecology. I’m open to become involved in projects that align with my values and that move forward environmental concerns. Feel free to email me for a conversation : firstname.lastname@example.org
acknowledgement of eco-responsibility
I acknowledge that the production of the conscient podcast / balado conscient produces carbon. I try to minimize this carbon footprint by being as efficient as possible, including using GreenGeeks as my web server and acquiring carbon offsets for my equipment and travel activities from BullFrog Power and Less.
a word about privilege and bias
While recording episode 19 ‘reality’, I heard elements of ‘privilege’ in my voice that I had not noticed before. It sounded a bit like ‘ecological mansplaining’. I realize that, in spite of good intentions, I need to work my way through issues of privilege (of all kinds) and unconscious bias the way I did through ecological anxiety and grief during the fall of 2020. My re-education is ongoing.
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