Paradise has been on the ol’ brain lately. Although it always is in some way, swinging slowly and wildly between “wow, where am I” to “wow, I want to go there” to “wow, the world is an amazing place, just look at this!” I have however been forced to think in a more focused way for a collaboration with NY writer Elizabeth Rush, and our collection of photos/a book called Paradise is What We Do (now on exhibit at Proteus Gowanus gallery in Brooklyn if you’re in the area). We have been going back and forth with our titles and the introductory essay. The process inspired a bit of a personal retrograde into my MA thesis on a Marianne Moore poem called Black Earth.

Moore was a modernist, pal of Pound and Eliot et al. She may or may not have ever had a lover in her life. She lived with her Puritan mother. She was a major collector of ‘trivia’. She had a wicked way with words. Reading one of her poems can be a bit like trying to find yourself out of a maze in a dream. The more you try to make sense of it the harder it is to find your way.

Black Earth is written in the voice of an elephant, an elephant who rolls around in the dirt (as they do) and loves the way the mud is encrusted on it’s skin (as they would, natural sunscreen amongst other things). The elephant questions the spiritual reasoning of a ‘fallen’ earth and an elsewhere after-life paradise. “The elephant is? / Black earth preceded by a tendril?” The tendril, a question mark, an elephant trunk, a shoot of new growth. Without going too far into the poem (have a read of it below, it’s beautiful, Moore knows her natural world well, every creature, species, thing, she mentions is worth a closer look), basically it is a round about, carefully thought out, way of asking, what if paradise is right here? right now? Maybe all it takes is perspective.

In the Paradise is What We Do book, Rush and I have put together a series of photographs taken with half-frame cameras (two photos on one frame). Each frame is titled after what happened in between the two photos, the bit that you can’t see and which is signified by a big fat black line. The photos are taken from all over the world, on all sorts of adventures, but the titles are mostly internal and/or relatively mundane. The point is, paradise isn’t a place, it’s how you choose to be in any old place, any old obscure absurd imperfect place. There isn’t really a point, just seeing and hearing and being there. The simplest things can somehow be the hardest things to do, especially when the lynch pin to our collective identity as a species is our capacity for ‘reason’, which we feel we have to legitimise whenever we can.

Black Earth
By Marianne Moore
Openly, yes,
With the naturalness
Of the hippopotamus or the alligator
When it climbs out on the bank to experience the

Sun, I do these
Things which I do, which please
No one but myself. Now I breath and now I am sub-
Merged; the blemishes stand up and shout when the object

In view was a
Renaissance; shall I say
The contrary? The sediment of the river which
Encrusts my joints, makes me very gray but I am used

To it, it may
Remain there; do away
With it and I am myself done away with, for the
Patina of circumstance can but enrich what was

There to begin
With. This elephant skin
Which I inhabit, fibered over like the shell of
The coco-nut, this piece of black glass through which no light

Can filter—cut
Into checkers by rut
Upon rut of unpreventable experience—
It is a manual for the peanut-tongued and the

Hairy toed. Black
But beautiful, my back
Is full of the history of power. Of power? What
Is powerful and what is not? My soul shall never

Be cut into
By a wooden spear; through-
Out childhood to the present time, the unity of
Life and death has been expressed by the circumference

Described by my
Trunk; nevertheless, I
Perceive feats of strength to be inexplicable after
All; and I am on my guard; external poise, it

Has its centre
Well nurtured—we know
Where—in pride, but spiritual poise, it has its centre where ?
My ears are sensitized to more than the sound of

The wind. I see
And I hear, unlike the
Wandlike body of which one hears so much, which was made
To see and not to see; to hear and not to hear,

That tree trunk without
Roots, accustomed to shout
Its own thoughts to itself like a shell, maintained intact
By who knows what strange pressure of the atmosphere; that

Brother to the coral
Plant, absorbed into which, the equable sapphire light
Becomes a nebulous green. The I of each is to

The I of each,
A kind of fretful speech
Which sets a limit on itself; the elephant is?
Black earth preceded by a tendril? It is to that

The above formation,
Translucent like the atmosphere—a cortex merely—
That on which darts cannot strike decisively the first

Time, a substance
Needful as an instance
Of the indestructibility of matter; it
Has looked at the electricity and at the earth-

Quake and is still
Here; the name means thick. Will
Depth be depth, thick skin be thick, to one who can see no
Beautiful element of unreason under it?