(On Viewing Ceramic Poppies to Commemorate World War I, for sale, at the Tower of London)

Hard flowers try to bloom and grow
(but cannot tell what soft ones know
of how to live and how to die)
plugged in a tower’s moat gone dry,
a pretentious, gaudy memento.

The tourists come, the tourists go
to see the pottery poppy show.
What causes them to want to buy
hard flowers?

Because they’re cooked-up in a studio?
And virtuous? (The quid pro quo
will go to charity).But who can justify,
however sentimental, hope to pacify
a bloody horrible hard woe
with hard flowers?

42 responses »

  1. So well expressed Cynthia. And I do know exactly what you mean. They are as stiff and starchy as the British culture!! I have to say though, they looked pretty impressive as a work of art but that’s all.

    • In my years at The Massachusetts College of Art and Design, I participated in many a hot discussion about “public” art, and these kinds of blockbuster installations….The question always arose, is this art? And many other questions too, about public space, funding, justification by charitable works, mob mentality, etc. etc….a ripe realm for thought.

      But how is it you’re British and you’re not “stiff and starchy” at all, my friend! πŸ™‚

  2. i appreciate your point of view, Cynthia, and concur, they are artificial and for me inappropriate..there’s no true reflection of the terrible and wonderful sacrifices so many men and women made during brutal wars.
    A fine offering. Kudos!

  3. Thank you Cynthia. I have to admit that I was totally ignorant about this memorial art, and on investigation find the images stunning. Public art of this nature is always a little unnerving but I found the images an unusual way to memorialize the magnitude of the British WW deaths, It also reminded me of my father’s stories about the wild flowers, probably including poppies, which sprang up in the bomb sites of the London blitz. The tourists should be offered a copy of your poem to wrap their mementos in, after all what on earth does one do with an artificial red poppy once one gets it home? It is the sort of thing which ends up cluttering the attic and, in years to come, being thrown away with little knowledge of its origin or meaning, if any.

    • Not only are those poppies artificial…they’re bad fakes! I like my artificial flowers to be trying to look real….in silk…crepe paper..something floppy and soft. What struck me most about those poppies was their hardness— something I don’t associate with flowers. Their effect is totally visual, from a distance, and in great numbers. Up close, they are vulgar, dead things…
      which is not how I wish to think of all the souls who had to suffer through the inexplicable stupidity of war and it’s glorification. Thanks for a thoughtful comment, Jane.

  4. very powerful, Cynthia – I’m torn on what sort of meaning can be derived by something that seems a “surface” remembrance at best (a tourist enticer at worst) … yet in some ways I think it does aid to help younger generations better visualize the scope of what’s been lost, though even that would just be the barest of understanding

    love this piece – it’s appropriately thought-provoking

  5. Cynthia, I have seen “hard flowers” (in other art works) and agree they aren’t appropriate as a memorial to our veterans. Real flowers that could be replaced regularly would be more symbolic, emotional and human, not to mention beautiful. Your poem is a thoughtful perspective that opens one’s eyes – that makes us more aware of the power of the various mediums used in art. This was no doubt a sincere expression of the artist, but one that jars. Thank you for giving me something to ponder.

    • I go so far as to question the sincerity of this kind of “Art”, Betty. Maybe I’ve seen too much of what goes on behind the scenes when a giant installation like the one at the Tower of London these past months is conceived and mounted. The objective is notoriety for the makers and money for the backers, who then load it with the sentimentality of “a good cause” so who could object? They thereby absolve themselves of guilt. Their hopes are fulfilled when a gullible public comes in droves. Or, in the case of the more “outrageous” installations, everyone is talking about it.

      I guess I’m carrying on, a bit. I was angered to see the technique being used around remembrance of war and veterans. Thanks for contributing your thoughtful response. This poem is about the meaning and value of Art, as much as anything else…as you pointed out.

  6. Your words stay with me Cynthia – I understand, they are powerful and show how the reverence that was lost in this exhibit and commercialism. I hope you don’t mind but I wanted to offer my naive view from a different perspective.

    Someone spoke a phrase long ago to me that I’ve never forgotten, “It’s not what, but who is most important.” I agree with you that a hard, imitation of the real thing (that wasn’t that good) is not appropriate, as an artist I’m visual. It was the impact of seeing the total that profoundly affected me, the sheer number of 884,000+ lives that were lost in the war and then top that with all the lives that could have been,but would never be born. The effect has stayed with me, painting poppies won’t be the same for me. Maybe they thought that real poppies would have died before they were finished setting up the exhibit, and if it rained the same it would surely have been disastrous. Maybe silk poppies would have been a better material.

    But then I said to myself, Cynthia has made a good point, so why am I torn. I went back to my memory of Normandy – the sheer number of crosses gracing the graves of those perished souls; and then my mind takes me to a concentration camp in Germany from WWII (I barely learned about the war in my American history class) and most of the folks on this same trip choose to go off and have other fun that day, but my teenage years got the better of me and I went to a place that has forever haunted me, the visuals are indescribable; and then I consider our own Civil War, most US citizens have never visited the battle grounds – let alone know what the war was about, but going to watch a reenactment has a lifelong impact and knowing that some 500,000 souls were lost (brothers against brothers, fathers against sons, etc.), you tend to walk the ground a little differently; and finally I think of the Vietnam War Memorial – so many rejected “the” Wall, but the impact of that long black wall has been felt by millions. (not to ignore the many wars off today and yesterday)

    So I’m still torn – I understand and feel your anger and yet, feel the effect of such an exhibit.

    I’m glad you wrote about something that disturbed you so greatly, it’s a beautiful way to be able to express yourself and impact others thought.

    • Dear Mary—I am very touched that you took the time to comment so beautifully, and I think I do understand why a person of your artistic gifts and sensitivity feels torn when considering all this. What is the purpose of art? Some say it has none, others disagree. And you know, as I do, just from hearing how others react to the work you show on your blog, that much is in the eye of the beholder. There really is no permanent universal answer, I think. And the purpose of war? To even think in those terms leaves us dumbstruck. So, my little poem, hastily written but thoroughly heartfelt, seems to have elicited all kinds of thoughtful response here, just like the poppy extravaganza itself! …and I am especially grateful to you for yours.

      • You are very kind Cynthia – to echo your thoughts. I have someone close to me that could care less about art, doesn’t mean a whole lot to them – which blows my mind. You may have written your poem in haste, but it reads incredibly well and elicits thoughts from all over the world – that speaks for itself. Have a great day, even if it’s cold out there!!

  7. It is a brilliant spectacle, isn’t it …? But a strange one. I think many are attracted to it because of its very size, and also its ‘unusualness’ – not to mention its being in the grounds of the castle. I should prefer that they simply left it there, rather than have people buy it apart, so to speak: more than likely that charities to whom the earnings go will distribute them to administrative areas, anyway.
    Now, the POEM – that’s a horse of a different colour ! THAT’s a lasting tribute, indeed !!!!

    • Are you saying my poem is a horse? Best definition yet! πŸ™‚

      I think you’re right, M-R, about the bigness of it….it overwhelms and that’s part of its efficacy….the mind boggles. And I share your cynicism somewhat about charity—you know, that thing that rightly begins at home and flows outward spontaneously but should not be publicly vaunted….Too bad you’re in Australia and I’m here and we’re both past it….or we could meet at the Tower of London once the red installation is removed and go back to proper tourism….maybe sing a couple of verses to the spectre of Anne Boleyn “with her head tucked underneath her arm”……

      • Crikey, you difficult bloody woman !!! [grin] – I was quoting YOUR writer, and you know it !
        Having reached the stage of being past it – with regret – I can only agree: while age brings many good things, not having the energy or the springy muscles to enable spending weeks on an aircraft (for so it seems) isn’t one of ’em.
        Have you read Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” series …?

        • No, I have not read Wolf Hall….not yet. Novels I don’t much read, but I’m aware that Wolf Hall falls into two categories that I do like…the historical, and especially the late medieval. So, should I get TO it?

          • I can only say that back in the days when I could still read, I was totally involved in it. I don’t remember the previous time I fell do totally into a novel; but it was probably another piece of historical fiction by another Englishwoman, Rose Tremain, and her “Music and Silence”. Such brilliant researchers they are ! – such amazingly talented wordsmiths !

  8. Excellent poetry Cynthia. As with all good art, you speak your heart (whether in words or visually) and ripples or waves roll out – maybe much like the flowers? As you say, there will be no Universal agreement and thank goodness-what a world if we were all the same! For me, ‘mans inhumanity to man’ has always been astounding and appalling Whether tasteful or tasteless, the flowers are… but not for long! Your poetry however, as M-R says,is a lasting tribute indeed!

  9. I enjoyed this poem, too. Here in Canada we have a famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae and no matter how many times I read it, I still find it a moving poem. It puts me in the fields and in the hearts of those who fought (and died). My students enjoy it, too. It is powerful to see fields and fields of wild poppies. I did check out the installation. Though I enjoy all the red, I too find clay flowers, their hardness, lack of movement and decay disappointing as your poem articulates, beautifully.

    • “In Flanders Fields” is a poem we memorized in school, back in “the dark ages” when children were made to commit poems to memory. πŸ™‚ I agree with what you say about it, and wrote “Hard Flowers” in the same form (rondeau) as McCrae’s poem to make the link—in my own mind, if no one else’s. This whole topic is complicated but I’m glad it sparked conversation, and thank you for your part in it!

  10. Hello Cynthia!! I’m still on my official blog break, but just dropping by to ask if I could publish your
    brilliant poem in a literary magazine I’m creating soon? I’m publishing on WordPress and it will be free for anyone to view. All credit will go to the original authors and links back to their blog/social media will be given.

    I’ve got a great selection of writers work for the first issue, I’m hoping it will be a useful place for readers to find where the good writers are on the internet. It will predominantly be poetry, but will also include short stories. But if you’d rather not, then please don’t hesitate to say no, I won’t mind.

    And I absolutely agree with you on this, I think it’s a hideous way to pay tribute to those who died all those years ago, and I don’t know anyone else who likes it either. It reminds me of something horrible from Alice In Wonderland – a bright blood red nightmare!! Very pleased to see someone pointing that out, and as always, so wonderfully written!

    Hoping your New Year is a good one! I shall be back blogging in a few weeks πŸ™‚

    • So nice to hear from you, Suzy…I’ve missed you! Your literary magazine sounds like great fun, and I would be honored to be a part of it, thank you. It’s a new idea, in these parts, and you are a good person to take it on, with your serious love of the arts and impeccable good taste. πŸ™‚ I look forward to your being back in the swing of things, here in blogsville—trust you have enjoyed your break and been able to recreate pleasantly. Happy New year!

      • I missed you too Cynthia, I shall be very pleased to get back here!! πŸ™‚ Thank you for allowing me to borrow some of your marvellous writing, I’m sure it will add a great thought provoking piece to the first issue. I know some of the other writers will find the points you’ve made of interest. They come from WordPress, Blogspot and Tumblr and others are from a writers site where I started out called called Jottify (some very good writers on there). It’s so good to know writers from different places, and I’m sure over time I’ll discover even more in many directions.

        I meant to say that you don’t need to follow this magazine (unless you want to of course) it really is designed as a magazine not so much a bloggy blog – if that makes sense?! I feel writers of blogs really need ‘readers’ as there are only so many blogs the writers on WordPress can follow before it becomes overwhelming. I’m hoping to publicize it on Twitter as that’s where a lot of readers are.

        When the first issue is published I’ll leave you a link to the post. And I shall be back to the blog in a few weeks! πŸ™‚

        • A magazine more than a bloggy blog….that does make sense to me. There is only so much time to follow all the good blogs….and we need time off to actually write! You’re probably on to a good thing, here, madame editor…do keep me posted! πŸ™‚

  11. Here’s the link I promised to the first issue of ‘The Writing Garden’ http://thewritinggarden.wordpress.com/ thank you so much Cynthia for letting me publish your extremely thought provoking poem!β™₯ Have a good read of your work just to double check it has survived the copy and paste. I’m sure it’s fine, but just in case. Checking my own work is quite a different experience. I’ve included a little click and listen button at the end of your poem just to encourage anyone who’s paying attention that you have an audio version to listen to. I hope you like the rest of the post – but don’t read it all at once!! πŸ˜‰

  12. Pingback: The Writing Garden ~ Issue One | The Writing Garden

    • Hi Cindy…I guess you browse, like I do! This exhibit at the tower of London set me off, so I had to write about it….it is indeed a hard world that displays and sells hard flowers! Thanks, as always, for your wonderful encouragement!

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