Neptune’s Scribe lays down her pen


from Melancholia by Lars von Trier

REEF has closed and my residency is officially over, so I’m a little sad, yes . . . but although hosting the Sea Changers event felt like cresting a wave, I wanted to say my final farewell from Neptune, where I’ve spent so many fascinating hours these last two months.

As Neptune’s scribe, I first want to share some of the other writers I discovered, or read in a new light, for my fiction workshop at the gallery. Okay, okay, Homer – or the woman we think of as Homer – was a poet, but one who composed immortal stories best known in English in prose translation, so I felt no qualms about including The Odyssey: quite apart from his elemental omnipresence in this epic sea voyage, Poseidon makes a crucial cameo in the story, cursing Odysseus for blinding his son, the Cyclops. Purists may like to seek out Judith Kazantzis‘ pamphlet poem of the scene; I confess that I didn’t reread Ulysses to find how Joyce rendered it, but moved on instead to science fiction – Stanislaw Lem’s classic Solaris, with its gelid ocean of delusions; and a short story, ‘The Star’, by H.G. Wells, which places Neptune on a collision course with Earth, and reinforces Wells’s reputation as a visionary humanitarian, awake to the pleasures and sufferings of people all over the world.

When it came to literary fiction, though planet and god proved elusive, Neptunian themes of deception, addiction and dissolution abounded. As a Brightonian, I didn’t have to go far, presenting a section from Bethan Roberts’s brooding psychological drama My Policeman: a chilly swimming lesson near the pier, in which all is not as it seems. I also returned to John Banville’s Man Booker prize-winning The Sea – not as plotless a book as some reviews make it out to be, but in fact a series of carefully submerged mysteries. And I discovered ‘Walking on Water’ a lyrical flash fiction by Iranian writer Payam Feili that explores the power of namelessness and allowed me, with my focus on testy Neptune, to also address the traditional association of the sea with motherhood.

Finally, I had the privilege of hearing workshop participants read the first drafts of pieces that I hope they will one day add to Neptune’s archive. Though I have to move on to other projects now, I am leaving that temple door wide open  . . . my Neptune residency has been good for me, a chance to openly express aspects of myself that in the past have felt separate, even secret – teaching and astrology, poetry and science fiction, politics and spirituality – and I’d like to continue to find ways to integrate these parts of my private and public personas. Perhaps one day I’ll develop these posts into a longer study, but in the meantime I’m on the look out for more examples of Neptunian art. Last night, responding to a recommendation by a workshop participant, I watched Melancholia, Danish director Lars von Trier’s lush take on ‘The Star’, in which two wealthy sisters confront the destruction of Earth by a looming blue planet. von Trier, as his recent perplexing outburst in defense of Hitler demonstrated, is no Wellsian artist-activist; but having endured the gynocidal orgy that was his previous film Antichrist, I was intrigued to discover that Melancholia had a strong feminist subtext. Emotionally at least, it is the women who survive the crisis because, unlike the alpha males around them, they are able to live with their own fear and grief, in part for the sake of a child.  Perhaps, I wonder, von Triers’ stated dismissal of the work as ‘a woman’s film! . . . a wrongly transplanted organ!’ reflects the difficulty he may have accepting his own severe depression. (He does at least accept his ill-considered remarks at Cannes were highly offensive to many people, and immediately apologised for them.)

But let me not leave you on an even slightly contentious note. May we all continue to care for each other and tread lightly through our darker sides . . . I wish you all rich voyages into 2015, and perhaps, the gods willing, I’ll see you next summer at Neptunalia – the Roman festival, traditionally held July 23rd, a time of licentious merrymaking spent in huts in the woods, drinking springwater and wine. I don’t know yet where I’ll celebrate it, but having had my fill of drunken youths in Brighton, I suspect its more likely to be in Ashdown Forest than Benidorm!


Neptunian Revellers (rehearsing for their marathon performance of The Odyssey, I am sure).