With “Cities of Stone, People of Dust,” Leslie Hossack offers a portrait of three cities, Berlin, Jerusalem and Masada. I was affected most by the photos of people at the Western Wall, formerly called the Wailing Wall, their dark clothes against the bright sunlight and stone wall, the way they leaned into the wall. sadness.
On her site, Leslie Hossack talks about an ongoing tension in her work between the micro and the macro and that tension is definitely prevalent in the photos of this exhibit: the smallness of the soldiers under the large tree, three tiny people holding hands and walking along a massive arch-like bridge, dark clothing against a white wall.
In her poems, Pearl Pirie echoes the elements of the photographs, including the micro/macro aspect: the starkness of the landscape, the hope, sadness and temerity of the people. In “Against this Hot Sun” she writes “we could each lose/the stories that form us,/lose from the white/limestone of our bones…” and in another poem, she writes of capitulation: “we capitulate to what can’t be won.” (The fly on the Western Wall).
In order to write in response to someone else’s interpretation, it is necessary to yield, to capitulate in a sense or to lose oneself to that interpretation. I have said before that in her writing, Pearl is a chameleon and never has that been so evident as with these poems in which she shows her ability to match colours with the colours of the photographs, the understated emotion of the photos.
“who does not/make themselves as small/as one tilting shadow?” (The fly on the Western Wall)
For some poems she switches to colloquial American slang, such as “bro” (Doing the tour), while for others she borrows Arabic words “too much Ma’aasalama in their mouths/not enough peace in their palms” (Men).
“A song becomes a horn,/a car motor, once you stop hearing the words.//a song becomes a dancer like grass/feet tied against the music.//only the blades wing once sounds/lose meaning.” (Men). I found this to be very compelling. Not a horn becomes a song, but the other way round. Feet tied against the music. It’s the “against” that is creating the tension here. Fascinating and heart-wrenching.
In Pearl’s poems there are these beautiful lyrical moments or unique observations that take my breath away:
“the harp/that holds up the road hums the wind.” (Bridge of string).
“repetition is a seed/you have to take all of.” (Children’s memorial)
Even wry humour finds a home in Pearl’s poems:
“heaven and hell’s doors bloom corn smut.”
Don’t get me wrong, there is no over the top sentimentality in these poems and none in the photographs either. What this exhibit offers is a combination of raw truth and stark beauty.
Cities of Stone, People of Dust
Photographs by Leslie Hossack
Poems by Pearl Pirie
Now until September 2, 2011
School of Photographic Arts
The Red Wall Gallery
168 Dalhousie St.