Sunday, 20 January 2013

A Lipstick Feminist Addresses Newton

                         To see further who
                         needs the shoulders of giants?
                         I wear stilettos.

This is the third and final poem I have entered in the National Galleries of Scotland annual creative writing competition. The competition is for poetry or prose inspired by anything in the Galleries' permanent collection.

The inspiration for my poem is Sir Eduardo Paolozzi's sculpture Master of the Universe, which is to be found in the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (a similar but much larger version of Paolozzi's sculpture can be seen in the courtyard of the British Library, and there is another, smaller, version in the collection of the Tait).

Master of the Universe is based on the famous monotype Newton by William Blake, but it wasn't until well after I wrote the poem that I realised the whole meta / circularity thing going on here.

Blake's monotype is (supposedly) a negative response to the enlightenment in general and to Newton's Opticks in particular. Paolozzi's sculpture is based on Blake's picture, and my senryū is inspired by Paolozzi's sculpture and plays on the well known quotation from a letter written by Newton to Robert Hooke: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants".

There is some debate of course as to whether in that letter Newton was being modest or whether he was mocking Hooke because the latter was vertically challenged. 

I would never joke about anyone's stature (other than my own), and have everything to be modest about when I say of myself, my little senryū and its inspiration, that I am indeed standing on the shoulders of giants.

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I love women. How do I love them? Let me count the ways... Actually, since I want to keep my blog PG, I won't.

Suffice to say I have more female friends than male and I am constantly inspired by the brave, smart, funny, beautiful, kind, talented women in my life: my wife, my female friends, the women I work with.

The protagonist in my poem - a lipstick feminist with a penchant for high heels - was inspired by two project managers I worked for about eight years ago, one of whom I have lost touch with and one of whom has become a friend.  They were both great people to work for and whilst we worked very hard, and very long hours, we did have fun too, and I look back on that time with a great deal of affection. So, I dedicate the poem to them, and to all the other amazing women that I work with, especially the ones who wear really hot shoes...

As you will know if you have read my blog postings before, in the part after the break I always like to commend something to my readers, a work of art (though sometimes my take on that phrase may not chime with yours) that (at least in my warped mind) has a connection to the part before the break.

Today's first recommendation is, unsurprisingly, Eduardo Paolozzi's sculpture Master of the Universe, and my second recommendation is, equally unsurprisingly The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Please visit if can: enjoy Master of the Universe and the rest of the collection, let your children walk around Charles Jencks' Landform, stroll in the grounds, eat in the cafe...
My third recommendation is however much less obvious. I was first introduced to the the terms Lipstick Feminism and Stiletto Feminism by The West Wing (3:13) "Night Five". So, my recommendation is anything written by Aaron Sorkin (but especially The West Wing, especially, especially Series 2, and especially, especially, especially (2:22) "Two Cathedrals", though I also, for personal reasons, have a soft spot for (2:17) "The Stackhouse Filibuster").

I would have liked to have included a reproduction of Master of the Universe in the posting, but I'm still waiting to hear back from the National Galleries of Scotland how much they are going to charge me to licence the image. Hopefully not too much, in which case I shall update the posting.

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Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.