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.


Anonymous said...

The specular form reminds me of the 'write-through' form, that I thought I'd invented when I wrote-through Sylvia Plaths poem Collosus. I was in the thrid year of my writing degree, tutored by the linguistically innovative poet Robert Sheppard, at Edge Hill in Ormskirk.

I was working on my final six poems for the Poetry module, in spring 2004, looking out of the window at the fresh budding trees, extemporising what I saw, but not really excited, and then I had the diea to take what I had written and re-write it using the exact same words. So the second half of the poem contained the same words re-ordered. I'd just got Plath and Hughes collections out of the library, reading themm for the first time, and I flicked through them with the idea being to take one of theirs and write-through it, plumping for Collosus.

I published the write-through and documented the process here.

I often do this exercise. It is a useful way to generate text when you aren't firing with your own originality. You can write-through anything, and eventually you develop the skills where you can actually take apart the words into their constituent letters. I turned this text, a nasty anonymous comment on Katy Evans-Bush's blog, turning it into something positive.

"Dear Ms Baroque (If that is your real name)

Did you know the following?

a. Noone cares about your opinion.

b. Your photo alone is enough to make most either stop reading, vomit on there crotch or track you down just to slap you round your pretensious face with there flacid cock.

c. Your head is so far up your anal passage that you have gone on a disgusting trip, passing the wonders of your bowels, instestines, stomach, up your esphongus and out your mouth which has never known when to shut up."


Dear Baroque

Did you know that you
Alone make most here care
About your words
And love you for your
Face, your name, reality
And poetical opinion;

Sensuous sage who honey mouths
The art of hope,
A truth torc loose around your neck;

Sing with the eye alone
Hear alphabets’ music wooing in ether.

Your tongue scripts star-light,
Its naked truth shoving asunder
Chasms of doubt, out past new
Moon-strips opposite sun rings
Pouring down his wing-shook
Privacy, a huff on jute
You own,
chop to us

panther said...

Anonymous, I like what you're doing here, offering a powerful antidote to utter nastiness (why ARE some people so downright nasty and weird ???).

Am just off to read about your process.

Anonymous said...

Thanks panther

Dafydd John said...

Nothing to do with the present topic, I'm afraid, I just thought you'd like to know of this event: