Sunday, 20 November 2011
Pictures, forms, families (6): the event
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
The intensely air-conditioned lecture theatre of the Castle Museum. Martin and Helen arrive just before me and we walk up together. Chris Gribble is to be our Chair and he appears. Then Anna Green, our host together with Harriet Loffler, the Co-curator. Norwich City are playing Arsenal at home at the same time (final score an honourable 1-2 defeat), there has been no great fuss of the reading so for a while we wonder whether we will outnumber the audience. Andrea turns up. Will we have the images on the screen behind us? It turns out we won't. Technical problems. Eventually some twenty-five people enter, prepared to listen. Poetry on match-day on a Saturday afternoon. Lucky to get so many.
We have drawn two tables together at the front and arrange ourselves. Anna introduces Chris who introduces us one by one as we talk about the pictures then read our poems. We go: Martin, Andrea, Helen then me. It seems I am the only one to have chosen paintings, the others have chosen photographs or sculpture or videos, though Martin's refers to paintings too. I think it is Andrea or Helen who say the problem with having the catalogues was that there are already words there that suggest how the pictures are to be interpreted. It's the same with all the images of course so that can only be part of it. But then there is also the question of how paintings are clearly constructed whereas photographs seem simply to appear. To think about this would require many more blog-posts so I won't do that here. For me it is chiefly a matter of familiarity. If I already know something very well it makes it harder to write about, unless the work is as powerful as the Andrews. Poetry is never just saying what you know. Negative capability, said Keats. I have loads of that.
I can't speak about the poems of the others as I don't have them in front of me, but they are all vivid and sound very good. One of Martin's is in the form of a specular, the form invented by Julia Copus which runs not only the end words but every line forwards and backwards. Martin is keen to emphasise this is not just showing off or cleverness. I think to hell with that. As if cleverness were a crime or a hindrance to feeling! Form invents feeling and supercharges it. His specular sounds very well, as do his other poems. As does Andrea's ballad, a form she usually avoids, she tells us. Again, I think everything is possible and everything is possible to do well, to leap from. So why not leap? Helen moves readily into fairy tale so her subject is immediately familiar territory to her. They all sound good poems.
Chris asks about form. It is not that overt formal devices - rhymes, stanza shapes, particular rhythms - are better than what seem to be covert informal discoveries. They are not, but neither are they, as many contemporary poets know, invalid. There is no need to go into the closed versus open form arena, still less try to fit into the straitjacket of traditional versus modern (as if traditional and modern were always the same, enjoying a fixed relationship). I don't even think it is easier to be naff in form than in free verse" it just sounds more naff. There is no opposition between form and feeling or intelligence and feeling and as for the distinctions between personal and impersonal, they seem gestural pedantry to me. You may be very clever but I really feel things, is the argument. Yeh, right, I don't feel anything, is the proper answer.
The hour goes very quickly. It is brilliant sunshine outside. As I walk down St Giles the iron fencing of the church is glowing extraordinarily. It is pure gold. It is burning gold. The cause? The sun is shining on a shop front opposite and the reflected light turns black to gold.