Image features screenshots from “HAUSU” (1977, dir. Ōbayashi Nobuhiko)
Slowmix is an online multimedia mixtape series, consisting of things I like or find interesting. It’s performative, but not in the way I associate with social media, more like when you want to impress someone you care about. It’s partly ‘do you see how cool I am?’, but equally, trying to get closer by sharing something small and personally significant. Each mix has a name, which doesn’t indicate a theme, just a vibe.
At the end of 2020 I made you a slowmix called WOLVES with: an amulet, folktales, horror zines, a Russian painting, binturongs and animal guts.
This strange, dark, poem is included in The Puffin Book of Twentieth-Century Children’s Verse. I bought this book as a teenager, more interested in the idea of being someone who read poetry, than actual poetry.
It’s by Ted Hughes (1930 – 1998), an English poet I don’t know anything about, except that there is good reason to think being married to him is what led Sylvia Plath to kill herself by putting her head in a gas oven. A lesser known fact is that his partner after Plath, Assia Wevill, a holocaust survivor, also killed herself, and their four-year old daughter… with a gas oven. Regardless, history seems to agree that he was a great poet.
An amulet is supposed to protect you, but to my ear, the poem sounds like a cursing chant used to trap someone or something. Maybe it has to be both. For traveling unknown roads in the dark alone, maybe what’s needed is a fearsome song you can sing on loop.
Ivan and the Grey Wolf
Asked to provide a myth to understand these times, the mythologist Dr Martin Shaw offers ‘not the whole story, but an image’. He tells us about young Prince Ivan who sets out on a quest to find the firebird. As night falls, the prince comes to a crossroads. If he goes right, his horse will die but he will live, and if he goes left, he will die but his horse will live. He chooses the right road. Out of the gloom springs a fierce grey wolf, knocking the prince off his beloved horse before tearing it apart and gobbling it down. With bloody jaws, the wolf turns to Ivan and growls: ‘Get on my back. Where you’re going, a horse is useless.’
‘We’re in wolf time now’.
Buaya dengan Serigala
I couldn’t sleep and started looking for cures. One of them was this old book, published in 1977 by Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka. It’s a collection of folktales from Asia, translated into Malay.
‘Buaya dengan Serigala’ is a story from Bangladesh. Wolf is very smart, so Crocodile wants her to educate his seven children. Wolf tricks Crocodile mercilessly, eating all his babies, lying again and again to escape his wrath. The story ends with Crocodile dragging Wolf down into the river. There’s a curious moral ambiguity that’s quite rare in these kinds of tales, or at least in the more modern re-tellings. Wolf satisfied her appetite for young crocodile, and Crocodile sated his thirst for revenge.
The end page of each story lists the author and the illustrator (both from the tale’s country of origin), as well as the English translator and Malay translator. Something about this polyphony – a tale passing through many hands and tongues – is soothing, and perhaps instructive.
It is a painting of a dream. Day opens like a portal in the night. Orange lights flare in the dark and silent town, reflecting eyes from deep shadows in the trees. The scent of animal was strange in the streets where it walked out from, not heading in the direction towards dawn. It would stay there, just outside the walls.
The Panthers, 1907
Matiros Saryan (1880 – 1972)
Tempera and oil on canvas. 35.5 x 51cm
The Picture Gallery of Armenia, Yerevan
This is a painting from another book I had as a young girl, Fantastic and Imaginative Works by Russian Artists. It was published by Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad, in 1989; and printed in USSR, thus, before the fall of the Soviet Union.
Rumah Hantu Comix (Malaysia) & Subp A Roht (Thailand)
Rumah Hantu Comix was one of the coolest discoveries in a year when I could hardly finish reading a book. They publish horror comix from South East Asia. The first issue of Kesumat Maut is pure pulp joy. Corpse humour doesn’t get fresher than this.
It reminded me of Subp A Roht (sadly, R.I.P.) from Thailand, a graphic broadsheet published in 2011. My friend Shahril Nizam contributed artwork to the Monster issue and gave me a few copies, which I treasure.
Here is Arctictis binturong (family VIVERRIDAE) caught on night cam. Apparently, this creature smells of buttered popcorn, which, not knowing, if I were to encounter an odour so distinctly associated with civilization in the deep Borneo jungles where binturongs are usually found, would scare the shit out of me.
Images from eMammal.
Happy New Year!