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“Tejas Verdes: I was not there”: Poetic responses

The following poems were written by Dr Steve Willey and Serena Braida, after attending ‘Tejas Verdes: I was not there’ – a collaborative project between sociologist Dr Margarita Palacios and London-based Chilean visual artist Livia Marin, held at the Peltz Gallery from 3 June to 15 July 2016.

Bringing together Palacios’s research on violence and Marin’s work around loss and care, the project consisted of visiting several ex-detention and extermination sites in Chile – such as the Tejas Verdes concentration camp – and the performing of an aesthetic intervention in each of them. The result of the intervention was the production of a series of abstract realist objects that registered traces of the material remains of these sites, marking the materiality of the violent event in its multiple layers of meaning and yet registering its unreadability. This aesthetic intervention explored the possibilities of representing violence without reproducing it and the challenges of non-colonizing experiences of witnessing.

As part of the event series around the exhibition, attendees were invited to provide a textual response to their experiences of the artworks. The following are two poem which were submitted.

Tejas Verdes

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‘Nine Speculations on Colour’
Or ‘30 Minutes in Tejas Verdes: I Was Not There
By Steve Willey


A frayed edge of brown on white, a thread,
A point of oblivion. Fire has caught it. An analogue.
A wall has come away at a point of oblivion. I forget.
Each projection, a recess, each recess a receding secret.
My tongue, a hand, my eye. I am here. Touching
A shadow of hair, or ash, or grass.
One more analogue for colour.
A pebble, a red, a catalogue. I forget.
The walls have been brought back, to yellow.
The colour of witness. Red earth: the colour of witness.
The refusal of words: the colour of witness. A process
Of whiteness. Clay for contrast. I forget.
A frayed edge of sun. The brick. The blue paint. Doors.
Drips in latex. A mouth. A point of oblivion.
A crease. A frayed edge of brown.
Respond or forget. I forget. The black earth turns.
Forget. There is symmetry in it. There is a mirror in it too.
The upturned smile of a suture.
A frayed edge returns. Here in this too uncertain brown.

In the middle of the room rests a long white table.
On the table lie eight restless corpses.
The corpses have recorded their own coffins
They sing in the earth of themselves.
Their coffins are the state. Soundless and surgical
A clean violent hum. A topography of pain, unapparent –
We, the mourners, gaze. Insufficient. Permitted as frequency
To block out the I. Stuck here with this language,
I insert a corpse into my mouth. I suck on it.
I roll my tongue around to salve its amber doubt.
Unnecessary, I return
To the corpses. In the sunlight, the corpses.
I return to them a tongue. A shoulder runs.


This is the aesthetics of the record.
This is the aesthetics of the transport.
This is the aesthetics of the guest-book.
This is the aesthetics of ill-attention.
This is the aesthetics of a peeling.


The walls of the gallery display the walls of the extermination camp.
The walls of the extermination camp do not forget this grave insult
And display their disdain. This is how abstraction becomes blame.


The walls transform to cloth
Irreducible buildings become coats
Your face becomes a wall I peel
Where only the blind listen
A fragment of bone bursts the fattening river
Process becomes a ripping or a photograph
Violent, noisy, too soft the invasive
Now all the rhythm of a timed-out pen.


A single grain, its head is bowed in shadow and in custom.
Sprouting from a map, a country and a promise
The lyric of this grain is the corpse
I keep missing. A poetics of diminished architecture
Builds no poem-world around
This grain, or pins the motivation to move from silence to song.
This grain, this corpse, this only single grain,
Caught up in a focus of exclusion
Cannot know about the dead, but it has thrived on them, fed.
A forensic throng. An analogue. A rhyme. A no sudden song.


Rage is in this. Desperation too.
In the gap between breath and insulation.
I am reminded of Frankenstein.
Of how the monster hid his monstrosity
Inside a wall to patiently learn their language.
And when he spoke, he was heard.
When he was seen, the walls refused to house him.
In this configuration walls are not architectural: they are guilty.
Rage is in this. Shock too.
Step back and breathe the walls apart.


Acid, eggs, grain, ulcers, phlegm.
Tape, celluloid, plague,
Pathogen, alchemy, dogs.
In this desert of graves: glass
In the inadequacy of testimony: walk.


The colour is repellent,
Almost revolting
A smouldering unclean yellow

Strangely faded
By the slow-turning sunlight.
It is a dull yet lurid orange
In some places,
A sickly sulphur tint
In others.

The paper stained everything it touched
Yellow smooches on all my clothes,

There are always new shoots
On the fungus,
And new shades of yellow all over it.

I cannot keep count of them.
It is the strangest yellow,
It makes me think
Of all the yellow things I ever saw

Old foul, bad yellow things.
A yellow smell.
Outside you have to creep
On the ground,
And everything is green
Instead of yellow.

But here I creep smoothly on the floor,
I cannot lose my way.

All text in IX taken from words surrounding the eight appearances of ‘yellow’ in Charlotte Perkins’ short story ‘The Yellow Wall Paper’

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By Serena Braida

hip room. far-off. spitzer Schrei
disjointed. un-jazzed
unlike our kitchen
unlike delighted pecks.

Son of man, man, mum
mum’s recipe for defending our memories: grind orange dowel until
azure and chalky
to take stubborn strata smells
off your clothes, agitate

here is my pupa
the peeler nothing
lovelier than her fuzzy  surface
to be translated into mortars, that is, male
purity of sounds.

a theory of arms for the arms she never cared for.

deserted snow to hydrate her a fecund
quality of salt on her lips,
the shit of warriors smeared on the geographical nape,
lime buttocks, almendras breath, a new Democracy,
a batch of hell

* This poem was written upon visiting the Tejas Verdes: I was not there, and attending the roundtable the Aesthetics of Witnessing: A Conversation about Violence and the Challenges of its Representation, held on the 9 June 2016

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The Birkbeck Medieval and Renaissance Studies Summer School: On the River

This post was contributed by Jackie Watson, a third year PhD student in English at Birkbeck.

A rare opportunity to relish learning…

I’m convinced there is nothing so quirky, and at the same time so profoundly intellectual, as the Birkbeck Medieval and Renaissance Summer School (BMRSS).  It is a showcase of academic expertise – with papers, this year on The River, from leading academics.  But what makes it special is how it encourages people from a range of backgrounds, different ages and academic levels, to meet and share their excitement in medieval and early modern literature, history and art. This year’s group is ‘typical’, people doing courses at BA, MA and PhD level, in different disciplines, from lots of different places in the UK and beyond: all talking animatedly about ideas raised by the conference, but also about their academic aspirations, and possibilities for future learning and research. It’s an encouraging environment, and highly unusual in today’s short-sighted, outcome-driven HE system…

Nothing, perhaps, shows how unusual it is more than the programme.  Such is the ambition of the summer school to provide different learning experiences to a wide variety of students, that it’s incredibly difficult to organise…  Most conferences take place in one building – with, at most, the need to move from one room to another: nothing so lacking in ambition for the BMRSS! Sessions on maps at the British Library, a group going to Shakespeare’s Globe, and another touring the city to find evidence of its lost rivers…  Greenwich Maritime Museum, Renaissance Print-making and modern river poetry…  With options at every turn, no-one’s summer school is like anyone else’s!  It’s ambitious, unusual, and very quirky…

Take the search for lost rivers…

For a variety of reasons, some of us turned down the opportunity to see Macbeth.  Seen it already, perhaps, or just about to… but all of us were very excited to ramble around London finding evidence of all those rivers whose names we’d heard so often – now, usually, underground and unseen.

Beginning in Islington with the creation of the New River and a statue of the man responsible (Hugh Myddelton) we wound our way, water-like, downhill to the Thames…  For three hours…  And at every turn we were nearly so distracted and fascinated by what we found that we risked not reaching the Globe to meet the others.

Consider the fascination of a hole in the road…

In his morning paper on Spenser and Jonson’s contributions to river poetry, Adam Smyth had (just in passing, you understand) mentioned the fact that you can, if you lie in the middle of a particular London street and listen at a grate, hear the rushing waters of the Fleet beneath.  A mildly interesting, and quite an innocent remark to make, if slightly tangential to Jonson’s account of the river’s detritus…  However, to such a group as this, such an inconsequential comment is a challenge; find the road, practically lie in it, and listen to the watery voice of the past.

Lea, Fleet, Walbrook, Quaggy, Tyburn etc. were soundly commemorated by the walk.

On to Clerkenwell (only one of the wells we passed), and St John’s Priory museum – the joyous ShaLT project app (from recent research into Shakespeare’s London Theatres involving an interactive map showing early modern sites in London), allowed us to find the site of the Elizabethan Revels Office.  We had to tear ourselves away, and on to Smithfield (past the site of the inn/brothel owned by George Wilkins, co-writer of Pericles) and St Bart’s museum (Hogarth paintings), diverting slightly to George Frederick Watts’ memorial to heroic self-sacrifice at Postman’s Park (many of whom seemedto be victims of the waterways we were interested in)…

And that was only one afternoon of the three days… Such an opportunity for learning is unforgettable, and, unfortunately, rare in today’s educational climate. Long may the quirky BMRSS continue to buck the trend!