9 August 1945: A makeshift house made from the rubble left by the atomic bomb explosion in Nagasaki. Photo: Keystone/Getty.
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"Nagasaki: Midori’s Rosary": a poem by Rowan Williams

The air is full of blurred words. Something
has changed in the war’s weather. The children
(whose children will show me this) have been sent
to the country. In the radiology lab,
Takashi fiddles, listening to the ticking bomb
in his blood cells, thinks, once, piercingly,
of her hands and small mouth, knotting him in
to the long recital of silent lives
under the city’s surface, the ripple of blurred Latin,
changing nothing in the weather of death and confession,
thinks once, in mid-morning, of a kitchen floor, flash-frozen.
 
When, in the starburst’s centre,
the little black mouth opens, then clenches,
and the flaying wind smoothes down the grass 
and prints its news black on bright blinding
walls, when it sucks back the milk
and breath and skin, and all the world’s vowels
drown in flayed throats, the hard things,
bone and tooth, fuse into consonants of stone,
Midori’s beads melt in a single mass
around the shadow with its blackened hands
carved with their little weeping lips.
 
Days earlier, in Hiroshima, in what was left
of the clinic chapel, little Don Pedro, turning
from the altar to say, The Lord be with you,
heard, suddenly, what he was about to claim,
seeing the black lips, the melted bones,
and so, he said, he stood, his small mouth
open, he never knew how long, his hands
out like a starburst, while the dialogue
of stony voiceless consonants ground across
the floor, like gravel in the wind, and the two
black mouths opened against each other,
 
Nobody knowing for a while 
which one would swallow which.
 
*

A note on the poem: Midori Nagai was a young housewife from an old Nagasaki Catholic family who died in the bomb blast in 1945; her husband (Takashi) was a radiologist, and after the war became a peace activist. The melted rosary is preserved at a museum in Nagasaki commemorating Takashi Nagai’s work.

Rowan Williams is a poet, critic and theologian, and former archbishop of Canterbury. He is Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Dr Williams’s new collection, The Other Mountain, will be published by Carcanet in October.

Rowan Williams is an Anglican prelate, theologian and poet, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012. He writes on books for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The seven per cent problem

Marvel Studios
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In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, every other line reeks of a self-help manual

This lame sequel suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing.

The 2014 romp Guardians of the Galaxy boasted the budget of a blockbuster and the soul of a B-movie. What that meant in practice was that audiences had to endure the same biff-pow battle scenes and retina-blistering effects as any space adventure, but they were rewarded with eccentric characters and tomfoolery for its own sake.

Despite the Marvel Studios imprimatur, the film showed the forces of intergalactic evil being fought not by superheroes, but by a ragtag band of bickering goofballs: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, a self-regarding rogue in the Han Solo mould; the green-faced alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax (Dave Bautista), a literal-minded hulk; Rocket, a racoon-like warrior (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and Groot, a piece of bark that says “I am Groot” over and over in the dulcet tones of Vin Diesel. Movies this odd don’t usually become $770m smash hits but this one did – deservedly.

Those characters return in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (the “Vol 2” reflects Peter’s love of mix-tapes) but the new film suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing. Gags are rehashed; several sequences (including an interminable slow-motion section involving a laser-powered arrow) are dragged way beyond their desirable lifespan. Late in the day, Rocket tells his shipmates that they have too many issues, which rather pinpoints the problem with the screenplay by the director, James Gunn. Gunn has saddled his characters with unreasonable baggage, all of it relating to family and belonging. No matter how far into space they travel, all roads lead back to the therapist’s couch.

Peter, raised by his late mother, is delighted when Ego (Kurt Russell) materialises claiming to be the father he never knew. The old man makes grand pronouncements, only to undercut them within seconds (“’Scuse me, gotta take a whizz”) but, on the plus side, he has his own planet and pulls the whole “One day, son, all this will be yours” shtick. Gamora also has family business to contend with. Her blue-skinned sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), wants to kill her: Nebula has never quite got over Gamora being Daddy’s favourite. To be fair, though, he did force them to fight one another, replacing parts of Nebula’s body with metal whenever she lost, so it’s not like we’re talking about only one sister being allowed to watch Top of the Pops.

The more Peter gets to know Ego, the less admirable he seems as a father, and soon we are in the familiar territory of having parenting lessons administered by a Hollywood blockbuster. The reason for this became obvious decades ago: the film industry is populated by overworked executives who never get to see their children, or don’t want to, and so compensate by greenlighting movies about what it means to be a good parent. Every other line here reeks of the self-help manual. “Please give me the chance to be the father your mother wanted me to be,” Ego pleads. Even a minor character gets to pause the action to say: “I ain’t done nothing right my whole life.” It’s dispiriting to settle down for a Guardians of the Galaxy picture only to find you’re watching Field of Dreams with added asteroids.

Vol 2 gets by for an hour or so on some batty gags (Gamora misremembering the plot and star of Knight Rider is an especially juicy one) and on the energising power of Scott Chambliss’s glorious production design. The combination of the hi-tech and the trashy gives the film the appearance of a multimillion-dollar carnival taking place in a junkyard. Spectacular battles are shot through scuffed and scratched windscreens, and there are spacesuits cobbled together from tin pots and bubble-wrap. This is consistent with the kitschfests that inspired the Guardians aesthetic: 1980s science-fiction delights such as Flash Gordon, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

If only Vol 2 had mimicked their levity and brevity. Gunn ends his overlong movie with a bomb being attached to a giant brain, but this is wishful thinking on his part. He hasn’t blown our minds at all. It’s just a mild case of concussion. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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