"In the Insect Room": a poem by Gillian Clarke

Marsh Fritillaries

A drawer of butterflies,
each impaled on the tiny stilt of its pin,
as numerous as those quivering, alive
in the colonies on Cors Llawr Cwrt, larvae
that live on Devil’s Bit Scabious on the bog.
They hunger, eat, belong, mate, breed and die.

I love their language, pupae, chrysallis,
the coloured oculi that dot their wings,
their almost symmetry, their beauty
nourished on buttercup, betony, bugle,
sprung from the hoof-prints of grazing cattle
on wetland and marsh.

Though none here stir, they could be alive.
If I gaze long enough, they move.

 

The Snowdon Rainbow Beetle

Trapped like the Snowdon Lily when ice lost its grip
as loosening glaciers began to slip,
mountains gave way with a slow, deep groan,
scouring valleys from the tuffs and ash
of old upheavals, this creature went its own way
to survive on Snowdon’s western flanks
feeding on flowers of the wild thyme.

Genetically distinct, a jewel,
its elytra striped with emerald, copper, gold,
precious metals of the mountain’s heart,
blue of the inky llyn, the colour of slate
in rain.

      What’s beauty for, but to disguise
a beetle as a waterdrop to hold
Snowdonia in a carapace of gold?

***

Gillian Clarke is the National Poet of Wales. Her latest collection is Ice (Carcanet, 2012). “In the Insect Room” was written while she was poet in residence at the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge last spring. She will be appearing with Carol Ann Duffy at the Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on 3 April. The festival runs from 1-6 April (cambridgeliteraryfestival.com; 01223 300 085).

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Russia's Revenge

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Harry Styles: What can three blank Instagram posts tell us about music promotion?

Do the One Direction star’s latest posts tell us about the future of music promotion in the social media age - or take us back to a bygone era?

Yesterday, Harry Styles posted three identical, captionless blank images to Instagram. He offered no explanation on any other social network, and left no clue via location serves or tagged accounts as to what the pictures might mean. There was nothing about any of the individual images that suggested they might have significance beyond their surface existence.

And, predictably, they brought in over a million likes – and thousands of Styles fans decoding them with the forensic dedication of the cast of Silent Witness.

Of course, the Instagrams are deliberately provocative in their vagueness. They reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s three-panelled White Painting (1951), or Robert Ryman’s Untitled, three square blank canvases that hang in the Pompidou Centre. The composer John Cage claimed that the significance of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings lay in their status as receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them. The significance of Styles’s Instagrams arguably, too, only gain cultural relevance as his audience engages with them.

So what did fans make of the cryptic posts? Some posited a modelling career announcement would follow, others theorised that it was a nod to a Taylor Swift song “Blank Space”, and that the former couple would soon confirm they were back together. Still more thought this suggested an oncoming solo album launch.

You can understand why a solo album launch would be on the tip of most fans’ tongues. Instagram has become a popular platform for the cryptic musical announcement — In April, Beyoncé teased Lemonade’s world premiere with a short Instagram video – keeping her face, and the significance behind the title Lemonade, hidden.

Creating a void is often seen as the ultimate way to tease fans and whet appetites. In June last year, The 1975 temporarily deleted their Instagram, a key platform in building the band’s grungy, black and white brand, in the lead up to the announcement of their second album, which involved a shift in aesthetic to pastel pinks and bright neons.

The Weekend wiped his, too, just last week – ahead of the release of his new single “Starboy”. Blank Instagrams are popular across the network. Jaden Smith has posted hundreds of them, seemingly with no wider philosophical point behind them, though he did tweet in April last year, “Instagram Is A BlackHole Of Time And Energy.”

The motive behind Harry’s blank posts perhaps seems somewhat anticlimactic – an interview with magazine Another Man, and three covers, with three different hairstyles, to go along with it. But presumably the interview coincides with the promotion of something new – hopefully, something other than his new film Dunkirk and the latest update on his beloved tresses. In fact, those blank Instagrams could lead to a surprisingly traditional form of celebrity announcement – one that surfaces to the world via the print press.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.