Marnova – of and from a wandering mind…

Marnova's musings on life, media and Mongolia

Archive for May 2010

Consumed

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In this age of  communication,  I find myself bombarded with shocking images that I am becoming increasingly desensitised to.  I frequently recall some lines our poet laureate once wrote about in her poem about a war photographer:

“A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.”

– The War Photographer, Carol Ann Duffy

There are few images that shock and startle  me these days.  And yet this one did.  And it is good to know that I am not numb.  Really good.

Thich Quang Duc, Vietnamese Monk

Thích Quảng Đức protested against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's administration by setting himself alight. Credit: Malcolm Browne


At a busy downtown intersection in Saigon, on 11 June 1963, seventy-three-year-old Thich Quang Duc, sat at a busy downtown intersection and had gasoline poured over him by two fellow monks. As a large crowd of Buddhists and reporters watched, he lit a match and, over the course of a few moments, burned to death while he remained seated in the lotus position.  His heart did not burn and is now a Buddhist relic.

“I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think…. As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him. (1965: 211)”
-David Halberstam, New York Times (who declined to publish the image)

And the full poem, which I have never forgotten since I first read it.  There is something very real, immediate and pertinent about it.  And Carol Ann Duffy has deserved her ascendancy to poet laureate, there is something about her ability to weave strong imagery, metaphors and wry comedy into her topical poetry that makes kids and adults sit up and take notice. She was one poet that my students didn’t mind studying:

War Photographer

In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.

Thich Nu Thanh Quang

A Buddhist nun protests the government's Catholic regime in Hue, Vietnam Credit: AP, May 29, 1966

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Written by marnova

May 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm