The Hollow of the Hand
PJ Harvey & Seamus Murphy,
It was an impulse buy in Foyles yesterday. The names PJ Harvey and Seamus Murphy were enough to sell it to me. I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘fan’ of Polly Jean Harvey, but only because I’m too old and preoccupied with life to fit into that category. Were I a teenager though, I would probably be stalking her, dressing like her and reading every word written about her!
I’m already a great admirer of her collaborations with photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy and the videos he made for her album, Let England Shake, can be viewed here.
This weekend, the Southbank Centre hosted a debut performance of poetry readings, songs, images and a short film from this latest project and judging by the book, it must have been a very moving and visually stunning experience.
Between 2011 and 2014 the pair set out on a series of journeys to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington DC; Harvey recording the experiences in words and Murphy in pictures. When I read the cover blurb, it seemed strange to me that Washington DC would be included in the collection. This is probably because I’ve never been there. Now, having read the poems, it makes perfect sense.
Those of us who have never ventured into the more deprived areas of the USA, probably think of it as an extremely affluent place. I only have a vague inkling of what its rougher areas must be like. I once accidentally ended up in a black suburb of LA when I was visiting as a teenager. As I innocently walked towards what looked like a cornershop from home, a man approached me with an expression of complete horror on his face and said, you shouldn’t be here, girl, get back in the fucking car. As we were driving away, I saw a man spreadeagled on the pavement and a policeman pointing a gun at his head.
Reading this poetry collection, I realise that Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington DC are very similar; they are places brutalised by violence and poverty.
The poems and images complement each other perfectly and it served to reinforce my belief that crossover projects between film/poetry/fine art/photography are of great artistic value. There is also something really wonderful about artistic collaboration; when I was at art college, collaborations were not at all encouraged, and we were expected to stay within our ‘disciplines’. This created a rivalry between painting, sculpture, textiles and other departments, that was completely counterproductive. This bunker mentality was the enemy of creativity and I hope that it has now been abandoned in our colleges and universities.
Anyway, back to the book! It’s great and I’m really pleased that I bought it on a whim. I worked in a military history environment for many years and already have an interest in modern warfare, but this is not a prerequisite for enjoying the collection. Poetry enables us to access place and personal experience in a different way to reportage and this book is an enlightening, poignant record of PJ Harvey’s journey through areas torn apart by conflict.