Sunday, 20 November 2011

Pictures, forms, families (1)

Michael Andrews Melanie and Me Swimming 1978-79

Along with three other poets (Martin Figura, Helen Ivory and Andrea Holland) I was commissioned to write a poem / poems for the exhibition Family Matters: The Family in British Art, currently at the Castle Museum, Norwich, The reading and discussion took place yesterday afternoon, after which I wasn't home till gone midnight so no blog yesterday.

The Great British Art Debate may not amount to much more than what the curators already know and may be keen to tell us in their missionary endeavour, but then again it might. This show was particularly well curated with paintings, prints, photographs, videos and sculpture arranged in broad themes rather than chronologically, so the catalogue itself comprises five booklets headed Childhood, Inheritance, Parenting, Couples & Kinship and Home. The well known was balanced against the hardly known and the British aspect included immigration from the Commonwealth rather than from many other possible places, but that was a reasonable and perfectly justifiable decision since the British connection is bound to be stronger from within the old empire. The fact is, it is a moving and exciting show well worth going to see.

How do we go about writing? In my case I went in with a notebook and more or less wrote out two out of three poems, finished the third at home, then drafted all three into shape. I didn't get the catalogue for some reason so it had to be more or less then and there. But that is often how it works for me anyway: start writing, follow some distant glimpsed light and gallop there without breaking pace. It's an act of almost absolute trust in the improvisatory moment-by-moment process. It is how it has always happened before, even with the long poems. Go hell for leather while the light is visible or just round the corner and stop once it is no longer there. Complete a section. Then return, because you know, or have a very strong hunch, that there is more light.

The three works that offered the prospect of light were, paradoxically, all rather dark in tone and mood were Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787) The Hon. Thomas and Mrs Barrett-Lennard with their daughter Barbra Anne, 1750, Michael Andrews (1928-1995) Melanie and Me Swimming, 1978-9 and the photographer Thomas Struth's The Smith Family, Fife, Scotland, 1989.

Why is that? A separate post for it.

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