The Eye vs The Hand | Fotografiska Poems, Stockholm

Returning to Stockholm this weekend allowed me to visit some of the places I didn’t have chance to when I lived there last year. High on my list was ‘Fotografiska’ a museum dedicated to photography. I was lucky enough to see Ren Hang’s “Human Love” exhibit as well as Cooper & Gorfer’s collection “I Know Not These My Hands”. Walking around exhibits I find it odd if I don’t have my notebook with me. I’m ready to jot down some inspiration that comes from looking at the work before me. Here are a series of poems from Fotografiska’s exhibits

 

Dior Haute Couture,

2014
transparency
with an orange tint
free me from the box
of couture culture
or smash the glass
and join me,
being blind is easier.

 

2014 Blue
porcelain
will break if handled carelessly
so display me in glass
for the eyes
so many eyes
look
but don’t touch
ask
but don’t expect answers

 

2010
one side dark
red streams into deep indigo
they’re scared to let me out
facing the light
fantastical, carnival yellow
judge me if you will
but you were once me

 

I Know Not These My Hands, Cooper & Gorfer

Empty Portrait of Cecilia Roppalini
find me
by looking for my shoes
as my body
floats
in an ether
you will never find
the song of the forest
my only constant
o, find me
listen for footsteps
and weeping
beyond the trees
of twilight

 

Censurado
everything is falling apart fine
they will come for me soon
I will be taken treated
black bag over head safely
like my father
I don’t have time
I hear the sirens children singing

 

Human Love, Ren Hang

Human Love
you laugh at my nipples
the hair on my vagina
and two bums exposed
the body is the window to nature
look outside
leave your skin in the forests
rural;
and urban
exposure

lips are just petals
lilies the eyes
you are one with the forest
and you have no choice

don’t fall from the tree
the branches will cut the skin
they will cut you
expression has consequences

I go back to the water
naked
and warm
the currents take me under
I am born again

concrete metropolis
herding sheep
closed
sit on the rooftops
nipples hardening with the breeze
while sunset bathes you

you thought it was mountains
no
they’re bums
of different colours
you were partially correct
it’s a landscape of nature
as we are nature; exposed

humanlove

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Poetics & Travel | The Journey of Joe

A very meta title for this post I know. I wanted to write this piece because it’s nearly been a year since I set up this site for all my travel & travel related articles. In this past year approximately 1000 people; from the UK to Kenya to Ecuador to Indonesia, all over the world, have visited the site to have a look at what I’ve got to say. Although I’ve written about many places I’ve traveled to, I’ve still, not caught up with all the stories I want to tell. I’m going to blame this on university, work and the distractions of daily life, alas I’m proud of my little blog and proud of myself for sticking to it! I guess this is a post about my writing journey and what used to influence me compared to what does now. I feel like I’ve matured a lot in regards to my writing in a short space of time. I’m more well read. I’ve had more experiences and this has all contributed to me developing as a writer. When I started this blog I was adamant that all I wanted to be was a travel writer. I was only going to write about travel. Luckily for someone my age I had been to a lot of places already so I had a lot of material to work with. My first few articles are very ‘travel writery’ in the sense that they’re run- of-the-mill stories that you will have read a hundred different times. They’re very Travel Writing 101, telling you where the best place to buy churros is, or that you’re best travelling to places in the winter months because it is cheaper. Informative, yes, but not very exciting or edgy.

The massive change in my approach to writing came from moving to Stockholm. Now, I was not only visiting a country but living there and as a result I was completely immersed in the culture and everyday life. I felt I could no longer write about ‘The Best Sights in Stockholm’ or ‘The Best Coffee Shop in Stockholm’ because I was no longer a tourist. These things had blended into the background after a couple of months. The inspiration instead came from everyday life; the people, personal growth, the university and events. Stockholm made me question and come to terms with my place in the world. I never thought I could be called ‘immigrant’ or ‘foreigner’ because living in the political climate of the west the “others” are labelled the ‘foreigner’ or ‘immigrant’. It made me think about travel in a completely new context; certain people can’t just travel anywhere they want – why is this? How come the ‘world’ isn’t for everyone? Stockholm is a creative hotspot so I was in the right place to develop as a writer. I used to go around the museums and attend events by myself and afterwards I would write about my experiences, primarily through poetry. This helped me rediscover a craft I had repressed because of judgement. I used to believe the general consensus was that poetry was lame and only to be used when writing about flowers or relationships. Stockholm made me realize that this was not true. It allowed me to explore more dynamic and diverse themes and questions. My poetry as a result became a lot more political and socially challenging and I discovered other poets that had been doing the same for decades.

I’ve brought this knowledge back to the UK and I have found my creative calling in poetry. I’ve used these skills to put a creative spin on travel writing. Instead of just telling readers where the best food or hotels are. I want to tell a story from that place and really try to take you to that environment with me. I think that’s successful travel writing. To conclude, it’s been a great year for the blog. I’m excited and proud of how much my writing has developed and the range of articles I’m experimenting with. From travel-poetry to existential-travel writing. Thank you to readers who have stuck with me from the beginning and I do hope you still enjoy reading what I have to say!

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Goodbye!
Hej Då!
Adios!

 

I Had No Words Because Jökulsárlón Took My Words | The Lagoon of Glaciers

Iceland. A dynamic landscape of ash, ice and rock. After stepping off the plane you’ve basically just stepped into Game of Thrones. Cruising your way through the town of Vikings and of Elves and of Fairies. Mystical beings are waiting for you in cliff-side caves or the local supermarket. Iceland will enchant you. You will be dreaming of Iceland for many months after your stay – if you decide you want to leave.

The focus of today is ice. Glaciers dominate your vision as you stand on the flat plains looking up at the mountains. The mountains that have been formed millions of years before your existence, in a cataclysmic sensation of the Earth’s power. It is beyond what your imagination can fathom after reading a primary school textbook. Ice and snow smother these mountain ranges in pure white. It creates the illusion of an eternal winter. This can’t be real; where are the skyscrapers? The traffic? The metropolises we are so used to visiting? They are not here. This is nature’s natural beauty.Indefinitely, and it is beautiful. You will see many of these glaciers on your four hour car journey from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón – the biggest glacier lagoon in southern Iceland. Glaciers will be your new favourite thing.
Jökulsárlón makes you wait. She or he (I cannot not logically place a gender on Jökulsárlón. Jökulsárlón can choose whatever it wants to be without judgement from us) makes you wait until the very last second of your four hour car journey from Reykjavik. You know that Jökulsárlón is there. Your satellite navigation system is telling you so, and they never lie. Yet you cannot see Jökulsárlón and you start to worry that your efforts have gone to waste. You start to get angry over lost time. All that you can see are mounds of grassy rock. No lagoon or water. You pull over as instructed by your tom-tom (other satellite navigation systems are also available) and step out of the car. Pebbles and small stones crunch under your feet as you slowly ascend the hill. Hoping. Praying that you will be rewarded once you reach the summit.

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You are.

Your breath leaves you for just a moment. Your eyes grow wide, tears may also start to form. Silence follows. The only sound you will hear is the soft beat…beat…beat of your heart under your layers of jumpers. This is because you were not expecting it to be this exquisite. Don’t get me wrong I know you thought Jökulsárlón was going to be beautiful, you’ve seen the pictures, but now you are experiencing Jökulsárlón. It has stripped you bare – back to your primitive ancestry – roaming these hills. When you were naked, both in mind and body amongst the harsh landscape. When you were naïve to technology and narcissism and entitlement and privilege. It has invited you to try again at a relationship long lost. A relationship with Earth and it’s beautiful children. Jökulsárlón has reawakened you from slumber.

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It’s blue waters are not a blue you have seen before. It is a blue that does not look real. It would not have a pantone number. It looks like the most delicious water on Earth but you know you must not drink, even though you are desperately thirsty. Ice glides gracefully across the surface, in shapes of swans and fairies and letters. It’s up to interpretation really, most of them just look like blocks of ice. Yet they are beautiful. You want to jump across the ice, deeper and deeper into the lagoon but you shouldn’t. The ice is slippery and you would fall in. There are ducks, yes ducks, the same ducks you would find in the pond at your local park. Yet for some reason that only higher powers can understand, these ducks are paddling in the effervescent waters of Jökulsárlón. Be kind to others in this life and you could be reincarnated as one of these ducks, instead of dirty pond ducks. You don’t want to be one of those ducks.

It is time to return to your bulky blanket and warm cocoa. You pass the familiar glaciers like old friends on the way back to your nest. You feel different. You have changed in this short journey. This day and this experience,
I believe,
has allowed you to regain some kind of paradise

 

A Poem For Guatemala | The Land of Eternal Spring

Cosecha de Primavera

Behold the Banana Republic
Mestizo’s reap the Earth’s produce
before the sun sets on the plantation.

naranjas zanahorias, manzanas
verdes, bananas
amarillas y sandias
purpuras

.
Mothers and daughters
in straw hats and cotton skirts,
planting seeds
in the land of eternal spring
for a pocketful quetzales

.
And if you’re lucky
you’ll see one dancing on the highest branch
of the ceiba tree.

 

(Spanish Translation)
Cosecha de Primavera

Mirad la República Bananera
Los mestizos cosechan y la tierra produce
antes de que el sol se oculte en la plantación.

naranjas zanahorias, manzanas
verdes, bananas
amarillas y sandias
purpuras

Madres e hijas
en sombreros de paja y faldas de algodón,
plantado semillas
en la tierra de la primavera eterna
por un puñado de quetzales.

Y si tienes suerte
veras uno bailando en la rama más alta
de un árbol de ceiba.

 

For Guatemala

xx

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Lessons From Kusama | Embracing Love & Sexuality

“Become one with eternity.
Become part of your environment.
Take off your clothes.
Forget yourself. Make love.
Self-destruction is the only
way to peace.”
– Yayoi Kusama

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Yayoi Kusama is a name that will not be unfamiliar to the contemporary artist. Her unique style of polka-dot paintings and sculptures have spanned decades. I went to see her famous ‘Infinity’ exhibit in Stockholm during the summer and I fell in love with, not only her work, but the inspiring woman behind the polka-dot canvases.

Kusama symbolises love, pure love, between anyone regardless of gender or background. So much so that while she was in New York she created her own church of “self-obliteration” and to this day suggests that she performed the state’s first homosexual wedding. During her time in New York, Kusama produced a number of “happenings” the purpose of these events had the stated intention of disassembling boundaries of identity, sexuality and the body through public nudity. I wish I was able to walk the streets of 1960’s New York because I dream of being able to attend one of Kusama’s “happenings”. It’s all very hippy but the idea of being stood in public completely nude while having polka-dots painted on me, just feels very liberating compared to our current oppressive times in regards to sexual exploration.

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“Orgy Cape” – Yayoi Kusama
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New York Happening
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“Happy people needed for a Kusama Happening”

Kusama came from a traditional Japanese family and found escapism through her work. Despite growing up in her situation she held acceptance dear to her heart and I believe she was both an inspiration and an advocate for LGBT communities. Not that she would call herself this, as she simply believed in the love between two people. For her; sex, skin and sexuality are not taboo. They are completely natural and should be explored, which I totally agree with. We grow up in a prudish culture that shames sex and this should change because to repress sex and the body image creates problems with relationships and confidence. I think Kusama embodies everything of the free spirit and ever since viewing her work and learning details about her life, I have been completely inspired by her message.

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Infinity Room

If you ever get the chance to see her work, I completely recommend that you do because not only is it stunning (in particular the infinity rooms) but the message beneath is a powerful one.

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Me and Kusama!

Psychogeographies | Connections to Roads Previously Travelled

Picture this, a day in December (that’s a Blondie reference). There is a soft crunch as my shoes step on a pathway of snow that has hidden the delicate greenery of previous seasons. The Baltic wind kisses my cheeks and I gently rub my earlobes to allow the blood to start moving. This sounds very poetic but in reality I am using all my strength to hoist myself up a flight of stairs. Holding onto the rail, pulling many muscles in my arm as I slip on the ice. This is my attempt to climb Södermalm hill, which at this point feels like Everest.

“So, what was your favourite place in Stockholm?” I have been asked this question over and over again since returning from my studies abroad. Now after living in the city for a few months, of course, I visited pretty much everywhere you could. You would think that it would be difficult to whittle it down to just one place. I mean there are multiple contenders; Gamla Stan – Stockholm’s Old Town and one of the main reasons for visiting the city. There is Stadsbiblioteket, the national library, also, the Modern Art Museum, which became my own personal muse, and so many other places. This is because Stockholm is a bustling and creative city bursting at the seams with action and diversity. However, the answer I always give to the question is; Södermalm hill (or more commonly known as ‘Tinder point’ to my friends – because if you happen to go on a Tinder date in Stockholm chances are he/she’s taking you up there!) but forget I told you that, Södermalm hill, or ‘Skinnarviksberget’ is Stockholm’s highest natural point, giving you the perfect view of this beautiful city.

Last year I was introduced to ‘Psychogeography’ by writer Nuala Casey. The definition of which is this; “the study of the influence of geographical environment on the mind or on behaviour.” For example, people from the north of England and the south are both seen as having completely different behaviours. It also relates to the idea that we have a connection with certain places; this could be a destination we went on holiday as a child, our home town, or anywhere we have a memory that sticks with us. I think of Psychogeography a lot when I look back at my travels because I think as I travel I leave a part of myself in that destination as I pass through. None more so as Stockholm because it’s a place where I really changed as a person. Södermalm hill nee’ Tinder Point nee’ Skinnarviksberget is special to me because it was the first place in the city I visited. I won’t forget that evening, the sun set at 8:30pm (which seems totally alien to me now) and there were hundreds of people sat on the rocks. They were drinking wine or beer and chatting as we collectively admired the beautiful city that sat before us. Some days I would go there by myself, whip out my notebook and just write. It gave me a lot of inspiration because it made me completely aware of where I was (literally because I could see everything) but also emotionally. It put me on a pedestal where I could evaluate if I was making the correct choice in how I was changing. If I didn’t have a choice I could both worry and be excited about how I would grow. The best times were on a night in December as my Stockholm journey was coming to an end. In minus temperatures (minus 16 one night) I would still go into the city and take on the mammoth task of climbing the highest point. I gracefully (not) slipped a lot on the stairs but luckily no one was around to see my embarrassment, as they weren’t stupid – tucked up in their warm houses. Despite this, when I got to the top it was worth it. Silence. Except the faint murmur of city life across the water in front of me. The bitter Scandinavian wind bit my cheeks and made my fingers numb. As I stood there in the dark and the cold, the only light was that from the metropolis below. I felt pretty complete. I was sharing a moment of reflection with myself. The person I had become. This new person stood where the old naïve person was sat drinking a beer five months ago. Both of us looking at the same view but with completely different thoughts. It’s actually hard to put into words how I felt up there. People may think I’m just super emotional but I believe we all have a place where we have had a feeling similar to this.

Psychogeography… think about it, think about if your surroundings make you happy, if not, think about a place that does make you happy, then take off your shoes and run there.

Paradisiacal Homophobia | The Caribbean Psyche

I have been wanting to write this piece for a while now. I suppose it’s a little darker than my other posts but I don’t really enjoy “oh you must try this spaghetti bolognaise from..” or “it’s only 20Euros from the airport by bus” travel writing. I’m moving my writing in a new direction this year to more poetic travel prose while also asking bigger questions about travel; our global citizenship, places where minorities cannot go, escapism through travel, ethics and larger ideas such as these.
Paradisiacal Homophobia and the Caribbean Psyche.
Joe Shaw.

“Over the last decade the attitudes of Commonwealth Caribbean people towards homosexuality have been discussed at length in the popular media. This is especially true of media outside of the Caribbean, which has taken a keen interest in what has often been called ‘Caribbean homophobia’.” (Gaskins, J. 2013). The main culprit of extensive homophobia in the Caribbean, for me, would always be Jamaica. However, my visit to the Central American-Caribbean hybrid nation of Belize was my first insight into what it is like to be a LGBT traveller. In 2005 popular gay magazine Advocate suggested in an article that the Bahamas should be moved to a ‘watch-list’ so that LGBT travellers would know to avoid it as a destination, showing how homophobia in the Caribbean spreads throughout all of its nation states. Research before visiting these places is important as attitudes between these states can differ slightly, from physical affection in public to hotels rejecting bookings from same sex parties. It makes me contemplate my situation in the world as these places are seen as the epitome of idealistic paradise. They are home to the textbook white sandy beaches, clear skies and turquoise waters. However, underneath the surface lies something much more ugly. For example; a newly-wed (heterosexual) couple can book a Jamaican honeymoon or wedding without a second thought of rejection or discrimination. It arises the question of where minorities can and cannot go in the world.

My experience of homophobia in Belize was during a festival on the island of Caye Caulker. I am eating authentic Belizean food from street stalls – barbecue chicken and rice, washing it down with a lukewarm beer because even on a night temperatures are high. Steels drums are pounding in the background, which pours Caribbean atmosphere into the street. Locals shout loudly to each other and dance by the sea. Idealistic-no? As I talk with my friend a group of locals approach my other -slightly drunk- friends and ask them “Tu Eres Maricon?” over and over again. Obviously their Spanish is none existent and they don’t understand what is being asked, much to the amusement if the local Belizeans. However, I was able to translate the accusation as “You are a faggot?”. In that situation you forget the delicious food, intoxicating beer and music flowing through your ears. You feel small and vulnerable . This is because of what we know of the homophobic Caribbean psyche. That this situation could become dangerous quite quickly. “Male homosexuals, especially, face constant threat from organized homophobic gangs. They risk physical harm and even death if they publicly reveal their sexual orientation.” (Wahab, A and Plaza, D. 2009). Although the attention in this situation was not on me, the only homosexual in that group. I still felt I had to get out of that situation so I made my excuses and left to go to the beach with one of my group. As eye contact from one of the locals would make me feel as if he had discovered my secret, which could potentially cause me harm. Now there is no way of that local knowing exactly that I was homosexual but it wouldn’t matter. There is this paranoia that even a slight queerness could somehow break this masculine shell of what it means to be Caribbean. The point of this incident is to express how LGBT travellers need to be aware in countries that are backwards when it comes to same-sex equality.

Why does the Caribbean have a particular problem with homophobia? Where does it come from? Well evidence suggests it comes from two sources. The first, which is ironic to me, is the British colonisation of the Caribbean. Coming from Britain myself, which has come a long way in regards to LGBT rights – same sex marriage, anti-discrimination acts in the workplace and many gay spaces in cities for example. Yet the message it left behind for its colonies has resulted in a vicious oppression of the LGBT minority. The main example during my research was the “Buggery laws”, which made same-sex intimacy illegal in 11 of the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean countries. “The term “buggery” is considered interchangeable with sodomy and was used in English legal documents to describe sexual intercourse between men.” (Gaskins, J. 2013). This shows the major influence British colonisation had on the psyche of homophobia in the Caribbean, which is still rife today. The second example is Christian fundamentalists from the US. The homophobia in the Caribbean is promoted “by the literal interpretation of Christian texts condemning sodomy” (Wahab, A and Plaza, D. 2009). An incident in 1998 Bahamas resulted in a group of Christian fundamentalists protesting the arrival of a cruise ship carrying gay passengers, which was used as an argument to re-instate the sodomy laws the Bahamas had previously decriminalised (Gaskin, J. 2013). I believe that both of these influences have created a ‘hostile paradise’ for LGBT travellers today.

So, what can a LGBT traveller do before going to a country that has strict negative attitudes towards homosexuality? And I would suggest that you still go to these places. An aspiring traveller like me believes that I should be able to step onto any beach, road or park that I want. To be stopped from doing so because of my sexuality would be a failure to myself. However, unfortunately caution should still be taken in certain places. The UK Government posts these tips:

1) Excessive physical shows of affection, by both same-sex and heterosexual couples, are often best avoided in public
2) If you intend to visit cruising areas or use a dating app, find out about the local situation and take sensible precautions if you meet someone; some dating apps have safety tips; in countries where attitudes towards LGB&T people are hostile, police have been known to carry out entrapment campaigns
3) Be wary of new-found ‘friends’- criminals sometimes exploit the generally open and relaxed nature of the gay scene
4) If you receive unwelcome attention or unwelcome remarks it’s usually best to ignore them
5) You’re more likely to experience difficulties in rural areas so it’s best to exercise discretion
6) Some resorts can be quite segregated – when you are outside the ‘gay neighbourhood’ expressions of sexuality may be frowned upon
7) Some hotels, especially in rural areas, won’t accept bookings from same sex couples – check before you go
8) Avoid possibly risky situations – don’t do anything that you wouldn’t at home.

If you do run into any trouble while abroad and you are unable to contact the local police, because of fear of further discrimination then the British Embassy in that country is your best option.
I hope you enjoyed this post. It’s an incident I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. It actually inspired by Dissertation idea. I believe it shows an insight into minority travellers. This is where I want to take the blog this year. Rather than just describing a destination to you in the sense of where you can visit, how much things cost and public transport etc.. I want to discuss the big ideas and emotions around travel. They won’t all be serious like this but I want to push my writing into the more academic as well as poetic prose, to suit my personal writing style.
REFERENCES.

Wahab, A and Plaza, D. (2009) Queerness in the Transnational Caribbean-Canadian Diaspora, Caribbean Review of Gender Studies.

Gaskins, J. (2013) ‘Buggery’ and the Commonwealth Caribbean: a comparative
examination of the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago

GOV. UK. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-foreign-travel-advice