Turner Contemporary, Margate
In the town where TS Eliot wrote much of The Waste Land, his great poem echoes down the years in an evocative show that ranges from Edward Hopper to Tacita Dean
TS Eliot sat down to write The Waste Land in a seaside shelter at Margate. The seats are still there, peeling red paint beneath a wrought iron pavilion, looking out at the icy grey waves. From here, Eliot watched children playing on the beach, but also the agonising exercises of soldiers severely injured in the first world war. “On Margate Sands,” he wrote, “I can connect/ Nothing with nothing.”
It is not the least virtue of this enthralling show that it puts you right on the spot. At Turner Contemporary you can see the shelter just across the beach; and you can imagine Eliot sitting there in November 1921, recovering from a breakdown, with this spectacle of innocence and anguish before him. The opening gallery gives potent period context. Käthe Kollwitz’s devastating woodcut Hunger shows a woman weeping because she can no longer feed her baby in the ruins of postwar Germany. Olive Mudie-Cooke’s dark lithograph of the British military cemetery in Etaples shows nothing but crosses as far as the eye can see. Yet Margate’s local paper that same year is advertising the annual Armistice celebrations, with dancing, tea and ices. Truly the times are out of joint.