PJ Harvey and Seamus Murphy (Bloomsbury) 2015, 231pp, RRP $85.00
Kosovo. Afghanistan. Washington DC. Singer, songwriter and poet PJ Harvey and photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy visited these places between 2011 and 2014 with their notebook and camera in hand. Their plan: to document through poetry and image the character of these places; all devastated, crumbling, contemporary societies, in one way or another.
Harvey said that, ‘Gathering information from secondary sources felt too far removed for what I was trying to write about. I wanted to smell the air, feel the soil and meet the people of the countries I was fascinated with.’
This desire to connect at an earthy and human level is evident in her poetry. While others might have focussed on the politics that have reduced these places to rubble redolent with violence, Harvey concentrates on capturing deeply personal moments. Her poetry is lyrical and rhythmical, as one might expect from a songwriter of her depth and experience. Harvey uncovers the small moments that have big impact, and does this with class, restraint and an eye trained to understand people.
Murphy captures the death, destruction and emptiness of Kosovo with images that contrast resilience with sacrifice. In Afghanistan what is notable is the lack of adult female faces. There are many male faces, and the odd burqa here and there, but Murphy, with this obvious omission, uncovers one of the great shames of this country. In Washington DC he finds a comparatively urbanised and contemporary society, but Harvey’s poems reveal the betrayal of these images – Washington DC is a warzone, too. It’s just hidden beneath business suits and gold stilettos.
This collection is a moving and nuanced record of the turmoil of our times. It brings into sharp relief the connections between three seemingly separate places and draws on the commonality of both our humanity and our stupidity.
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