Search results for 'Stephanie Green'

Unmapped; Welsh poetry: Stephanie Green

13 Mar
Anna King, Rebecca Sharp

Anna King and Rebecca Sharp

For my last blog at StAnza, meditating on poetry inspired by landscape/art or vice versa, I went along to the exhibition, ‘Unmapped’ , also about the marginal.  A beautiful collaboration of paintings by Anna King and poems by Rebecca Sharp, it is also available in book form.  Paintings and poems are a conversation about places rarely noticed, the derelict,  the leaking boundaries between past and present, absence and longing.  ‘I love to explore empty feral places’ says Anna King, ‘where nature is slowly and relentlessly taking the land back.’

I loved how painter and poet echo each other:  brush or maybe palette knife strokes are clearly visible in almost half-finished paintings, where the background shows through, just as in  the poems the past haunts the present.   Rebecca’s vocabulary echoes the painter’s  techniques: ‘gouging’,  ‘scratched’, ‘seeping through’ and ‘Ink from a stairwell/bleeds into a boy’.

This is poetry as psychogeography, strangely evocative when they hint at so much absence: ‘We were always somewhere else,/waiting to appear.’    Anna Crowe calls these ‘restless, shifting poems’  and you can read the full review and see more poems and pictures through the project website, and press Book for pictures, and Work for poems.


Welsh poetry, past and present

It was sound career sense of Dylan (pron. Dullan, so you can show off you know this) Thomas to die a bohemian death in New York, said Robert Minhinnick  at his Past & Present talk.  It would not have had the same myth-making impact if he’d died in Swansea Hospital after a bender in a local pub.  Recent research indicates that Dylan did not die so much of drink, as of a diabetic attack.

It is Dylan’s centenary next year so ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid’ warned Minhinnick. Personally, I can’t wait.

Lynette Roberts is not so well-known, of course. Born in Argentina, but moving to Wales on marriage, she was writing in the 30’s and 40’s and admired by T.S. Eliot as a fellow modernist. Sadly Roberts suffered from schizophrenia and wrote no more after the 50’s – perhaps explaining the diminishing of her reputation.  Like Roberts, Zoë Skoulding‘s own poetry explores language as  ‘soundings’, or  ‘noise’ so her talk revealed her own interests too.


Zoë Skoulding/photo Stephanie Green

Deryn Rees-Jones, short-listed for the T.S. Eliot prize in 2012, gave a reading of her tour de force ‘Dog Woman’ a sequence inspired by Paula Rego’s paintings which were a highlight of the festival

Other highlights were Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch’s Antarctic poems and Eurig Salisbury, Welsh Children’s Laureate. ‘I like eggs for breakfast, especially omelettes,’ he said.  He tells this to the kids he visits at school  – it’s important they eat well (as well as enjoy poems).

These readings were a great note to end the festival on.  Diolch yn fawr for having me.

Tipyn Bach of Welsh:

Hwyl Fawr (pron Hoo-ill vow-r)  Goodbye.  (Lit . Have great fun.)  There is no Goodbye in Welsh – appropriate because we hope we’ll meet again at StAnza 2014.

Stephanie Green: Nature poetry or Eco-poetry?

10 Mar

At Saturday morning’s Poetry Breakfast, which was also webcast, there was much talk of the relationships between ecology, poetry, history and the natural world by the panel. And the thorny issue of definitions came to the fore.

I’m not sure Mandy Haggith talks to trees but she certainly lies under an aspern tree near her sea-croft in Assynt to learn from trees – getting permission to be dormant for a few months, or to have roots, for instance.  In fact, she is editing an anthology of poems about trees ‘Tree Alphabet’ based on the ogham (Celtic) runes which look like little trees.  Does she write eco-poetry?  Enviromental issues are the day job.  In her poetry, she says, it’s more a response of wonder.

A lecturer at Crichton Campus, Glasgow University in Dumfries, David Borthwick‘s  research interest is eco-poetry, but he was hesitant about this ‘new-fangled’ term -since there is no school and it is not prescriptive.  Stressing a continuity with the Romantics, he said  the modern development is more an awareness of  our effects on nature, and trying to be less human-centric.

Artist Carry Ackroyd

Artist Carry Ackroyd

And after the  Romantics, whether it was possible to write about the Lake District  and say something new was something poet and Director of the Wordsworth Trust, Andrew Forster is concerned.  Finally, artist, Carry Akroyd, explained how she first became interested in John Clare’s poems. Just as Clare documented the changes to rural life, both threatening wildlife and  the landless poor, dispossessed by enclosures, Carry Akroyd too cares deeply about the threat to the Northamptonshire landscape and rural life by intensive agriculture.  She also delighted us with a wonderful imitation of various bird calls as she performed one of his poems.

It seemed I could do no better than rush down, after the discussion was over, to see her exhibition at the Preservation Trust Museum:

Event Exhibition photo, Carry Ackroyd

‘Found in the Fields’ is a series of lithographs in dialogue with the poetry of the ‘peasant’ poet John Clare.  Carry’s bold, stylized lithographs, both in line and colour, contrast sweeping perspectives of farmland  and geometric trees,  with detailed foregrounded birds and creatures:  ants, worms, snails and weeds which is farming ‘as seen from the mud’.  They capture the essence of wildness and my favourite is the atmospheric ‘Rookery.’

Snippets of Clare’s poetry appear in the pictures, scribbled here and there, merging into the design:

‘Both milkmaids* shouts and herdsmans *call/

Have vanished/

with the green’

perhaps sums up the general tenor – but these pictures are not only laments but express a joy in nature close-up.

You can see the lithographs and more of Carry’s work on:

Poetry, out of line and by design: Stephanie Green

10 Mar

As I entered the Town Hall a voice reciting poems seemed to come from nowhere – I looked around but saw no one – then traced it to overhead speakers.  This is just one of the weird and wonderful incarnations of poetry outwith the page that one encounters round StAnza this year, as part of one of the festival themes, Designs on Poetry.  The Breakfast event, ‘Out of Line’ was also  appropriately surrounded by digital poetic installations – slides of the Badilisha  Poetry Xchange  projected on the ceiling above us, and on the walls was Jon Stale Ritland’s ‘Body Searches’  slides of biological cells and visual poems inspired by the ‘grammar’ of DNA.  The Q & A at the end of the session was open to Twitter…phew and that’s only the half of it.  There was also the visual minuter, Ariadne Radi Cor, creating an artist’s account of proceedings .

Our panel of George Szirtes, Ken Babstock, Chris Emery (Salt Publishing) and academic Andrew Roberts (replacing Greg Thomas who had to cancel) discussed traditional form v concrete poetry, and ranged through the new poetics and the effect of the internet, creative writing at the universities, self-publishing, the multiplicity and variety of places where poetry appears but issues of diminishing sales, fragmentation of audience, new elites and the rise of artists’ books.

Metaphors to describe the design of poetic structure were banded about such as  chiselling, architecture, sculpturing, embroidery, knitting and sewing, but after the event I went along to an exhibition where this was literally realized.


Farlin  involved pairs of poets and craftmakers from Shetland and Fife. Last week at Inspace in Edinburgh, I heard and saw Jen Hadfield read via Skype from Shetland, whilst Kathleen Jamie performed in the flesh in Edinburgh and was relayed to Shetland, so I am already converted to this amazing live/virtual phenomena (actually, since sons have lost the art of pen and ink, this is how my husband and I communicated with our son whilst he was at uni).  So I was interested to learn that the Farlin  poets and craftmakers had collaborated via Skype as well as snail mail.

From exquisite jewellery of silver leaves  to textile embroidered bags, the craft was varied and impressive. The poets, too. My favourites were the sinister bird-creature made out of silver wire by Shetland artist Helen Robertson paired with Fife poet, Paula Jennings’  ‘Seabird, What has Death Left in your Belly?’:  and the particular line ‘Death steals life but leaves a changeling’ which evoked the bird so well.  Another favourite was the pairing of the concrete poem of a tree by Bruce Eunson, Shetland poet and Fife artist, and Molly Ginnelly’s  installation of tree fragments (twigs, stick etc).



Tipyn Bach of Welsh

Lesson Two:

Dai iawn, diolch

pron Die yown dee-olch (ch as in Scots loch)- Very well, thank you.

Which is what Gillian or one of the other Welsh poets might have answered yesterday to your Shw mae

Photos by Stephanie Green

Stephanie Green: Douglas Dunn Workshop at Balmungo House

9 Mar

Poet Stephanie Green writes about her experiences of the first of StAnza’s 2013 workshops at a sunny (!) Balmungo House with Jean Johnstone and Douglas Dunn.  

Just before StAnza proper began I was thrilled to attend two all-day workshops, not just one as last year, at the beautiful Georgian Balmungo House surrounded by the vibrant abstract paintings of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. For more about the artist, one of the St Ives set, and background history of the house, have a look at my StAnza Blog last year.

Jean Johnstone and Douglas Dunn

Jean Johnstone and Douglas Dunn (Credit: Stephanie Green)

Workshop One was rich and varied, with artist Jean Johnstone and Douglas Dunn, poet and former Head of English at St Andrew’s university on the relationship between art and poetry, and starting with a slide-show of Barns-Graham’s work and talk by Dr Helen Scott, the curator.

Jean showed us her own fragile artist’s books made from hand-made paper, such as the dark, textured ‘mountain-paper’- made in Bhutan and Nepal, which must be shaken so that the pen does not snag on dust and seeds. As precious objects they are enfolded in beautiful silks (which reminded me of seeing sacred masks in Bali revered this way) and Jean’s unwrapping of silks, then ribbons and finally unfolding the pages was indeed like a ritual which she insisted should be done slowly. She has responded to many poets including Michael Longley, John Burnside and Kathleen Jamie. Writing the verses in her own hand, rather than calligraphically, she always chooses one image, and prefers something skeletal, like a leaf after the winter etched in burnt umber.

Mountain-Paper Books

Mountain-Paper Books (Credit: Stephanie Green)

We were allowed to handle the books, to sniff the faint bees’ wax from the coating on their covers and encouraged to finger the edges of the pages. This was a wonderful meditative experience to set us up for writing our own poems, or as Douglas Dunn said, notes for poems—so liberating not to be expected to produce a finished poem.

Encouraged to wander freely round the house, we chose a painting to respond to in our writing. There were so many stunning, vivid works, some vast, that it was difficult to choose and inspiring to say the least. ‘Response’ rather than description was the operative word as Douglas, in his charming way, full of poetic snippets and light-hearted asides, which led to the heart of the matter, suggested approaches to our work.

And there were always the swathes of snowdrops under the trees we could write about Douglas Dunn suggested, if we preferred, though his expression hinted he was teasing. “So difficult not to be twee”, he added with a twinkle.

The day ended with a reading by Douglas of two of his poems from ‘A Line in Water’ his collaboration with artist Norman Akroyd. A perfect day and a perfect ending. (Sorry for being twee, Douglas.)


Stephanie Green: Sean Borodale, Gillian Clarke’s StAnza Lecture, and Liz Lochhead

8 Mar

Poet Stephanie Green on some of yesterday’s StAnza events: Sean Borodale, The StAnza Lecture, and Poetry Centre Stage with Gillian Clarke and Liz Lochhead – the national poets of Wales and Scotland.

After the Balmungo workshop with Sean Borodale, it was a great pleasure to hear him reading his Bee Journal poems: with their acute observation and unusual word juxtapositions, chromatic fields, voicing a ‘landscape’ indeed. As Simon Armitage has said “honey itself in poetic form”! Sean was incidentally sitting in a bardic-type chair – which I’m sure, if he was Welsh, he’d be awarded at the Eisteddfod.

Gillian Clarke

Gillian Clarke (Credit: Stephanie Green)

And as one of the strands of this year’s StAnza is Welsh poetry I couldn’t miss the StAnza Lecture given by Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales. As you might expect, was about Welsh language and poetry but Welsh has more to do with Scotland than you might think. Did you know, we share a language and a poem, Y Gododdin? Composed in Brythonic (which became Cymraeg (i.e. the Welsh language), it was spoken in Scotland up to the Middle Ages, (except for the Highlands) and all down the west coast of Britain – the train route Gillian had taken in fact to Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North). Y Gododdin is the earliest British poem written down, (composed between the 7-9th centuries and written down in the 13th Century, ) and the first by a named poet, Aneirin, about a battle fought in Caetraeth (modern Cattrick, Yorkshire) where soldiers had issued out of Edinburgh.

But the lecture (which kept breaking into a poetry recital, since, as she said, she is a poet, not an academic) was also about “childish matters”: the song and mystery of nursery rhymes and their connection with our first experience of language and the roots of poetry. “If there is no music we won’t remember it. If we don’t remember it, is it a poem?”

Gillian elucidated for us the arcane art of cynghanedd, a system of alliteration and rhyme – the first time a list of rules has been made to sound fun. (If you want the geeky details, have a look at Literature Wales website.) But as Gillian said, “Never let a rule or form kill a poem. Always use your ear.” Quoting snippets of poetry she illustrated the beautiful sound patterns which also influenced Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and Carol Ann Duffy. I think a lot of the audience will be going off muttering consonantal patterns – watch out for a revival of alliteration in English poetry.

Liz Lochhead

Liz Lochhead (Credit: Stephanie Green)

And later at the Centre Stage readings, we heard more of Gillian’s poetry, appreciating the sound patterns as well as the glorious physical detail of her obsession with the ‘glamour’ of snow. She read with the equally superb, Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s Makar, whose dramatic monologues with their many voices and incisive edge made this an inspired pairing. It was a treat to hear two of my most favourite poets – both National Poets and both delighting us with their cadences, Gillian’s lilting Welsh and dramatic articulation of Liz’s Scots.

Tipyn Bach (A Little Bit) of Welsh:

I have decided to give you a Welsh (Cymraeg) Lesson a day, in honour of the slew of poets from Wales at StAnza this year.

Lesson One: Shw mae (pron shoo my) = How are you? This is what they say in South Wales, where Gillian Clarke comes from. So make sure you try it out on her when you get your copy of Ice signed.

Look out for more posts from Stephanie as the week progresses!

Stephanie Green: Sean Borodale Workshop and Lucilla Sim Exhibition

8 Mar

Poet Stephanie Green writes about her time at Sean Borodale’s workshop at Balmungo House, The Narrow Road to the Deep North exhibition by last year’s artist in residence Lucilla Sim, and the Festival Launch event with Lesley Riddoch.

Sean Borodale Workshop at Balmungo House

I was looking forward to see how 2012 T.S. Eliot short-listed poet, artist and film-maker, Sean Borodale

Sean Borodale

Sean Borodale (Credit: Stephanie Green)

would interpret the workshop title ‘Chromatic Fields: voicing a landscape’: though, in the event, not a landscape, but paintings, since it was raining. I was hoping we would write ‘note-poems dictated by phenomena’ as his own poems in ‘Bee Journal’ has been described by Alice Oswald. And indeed, this is what we did, using the chromatic range of the ‘landscape’ of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s paintings, our own senses, but also considering the spatial and temporal, like a documentary film where’s an immediacy unreeling in real time, revising and self-editing on the spot. Surrounded by Barns-Graham’s Modernist paintings, we considered abstraction in terms of a poem: form, the ‘field’ or space of a poem, and how to create collages of dislocated phenomena.

I left the workshop buzzing with ideas and strategies of how to approach new poems using the techniques of artists and film-makers. Balmungo House is particularly suited to fostering this cross-over of the arts: given permission, as we were, to roam the house, to immerse ourselves in Willie’s dynamic, bold paintings and respond in exciting new ways.

From poems inspired by art, to art inspired by poems: with time to spare before the Official Festival Opening, I had a look round Lucilla Sims’ exhibition and was bowled over.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Lucilla Sim

Lucilla Sim (Credit: Stephanie Green)

Last year, at the Balmungo workshop, I met Lucilla, StAnza’s Artist in Residence for 2012, so I was particularly interested in seeing what had come out of her residency. The title refers to the Japanese poet, Basho’s famous journey and resulting haiku, but, of course, hers is an artistic journey. Her work uses fragments of text and collage, paints and inks where she builds up surfaces and layers. Some of the works are directly inspired by specific poets, such as Michael Symmons Roberts, the Irish poet Tony Curtis, Lavinia Greenlaw, John Glenday, and John Burnside, and in others, as she says are ‘glimpsed and vague, a drift between the fleeting impulse and memory’.

I particularly loved her response to ‘A Scattering’ by Christopher Reid, a collage where fragments of book spine and cover suggest the title. She told me she had also incorporated a cutting from the Guardian Review. I also loved her response to ‘The Iron Age Boat at Caumatruish’ by Bernard O’Donoghue, where the boat suggests the shroud of Christ, hinted at by O’Donoghue’s poem of this title:

If you doubt, you can put your fingers
In the holes where the oar-pegs went

– a reference to Doubting Thomas putting his fingers in Christ’s wounds, of course.

Festival Opening

Then it was rush, rush for the festival launch, taster readings by Gillian Clarke, Alvin Pang and Erin Moure plus some bouncy music from St Leonards’ School pupils (I liked the hats, guys) and the exquisite St Andrew’s Buchanan Quartet.

Stephanie will be posting about StAnza all week! You can find her poetry musings outside of the festival on her blog.

‘What I’m looking forward to at StAnza’: Stephanie Green

6 Mar

In the first of her Festival Blogs for StAnza, poet Stephanie Green gives us us her personal preview of the StAnza line-up. She will be reporting back on her experiences over the next five days, so keep following! 

603458_10151171877642165_1834394057_n Stephanie Green croppedFirst of all it will be fascinating to see what the atmosphere will be like without the Byre.  The Keep Calm and Carry on spirit that Eleanor Livingstone and her team have displayed organizing new venues, the rallying around of St Andrew’s,  town and University  have been magnificent: a sort of crisis camaraderie will prevail, I’m sure – with the Town Hall Supper Room as the new social and foodie Hub.  In years to come, there will be reminiscing – ‘You had to be there.’  I for one, intend to be there at as much as one can humanly take. And there’s a lot on.  More than ever it seems.

This year not one, but two all day workshops at the Georgian Balmungo House in its beautiful setting – I hope the daffodils are out. Douglas Dunn and Sean Borodale as the tutors. And there’s plenty of other poetry workshops – you could do almost one a day.

All the headliners go without saying, but having lived in Wales for 13 years, I’m a bit biased, so my favourites will be the Welsh poets who will be there en masse this year.  For the faint-hearted, their poetry is in English, but you might catch a bit of Welsh sprinkled here and there, not least in the cadences of Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales a total MUST paired with Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead.  What a stupendous billing.

There’s also a slew of other Cymry:  Robert Minhinnick, former editor of Poetry Wales and co-founder of Friends of the Earth (Cymru), so there’s bound to be some politically and environmentally charged poems, Zoë Skoulding, the present editor, an academic whose poetry is complex and multi-layered, and she’ll also be talking about an overlooked but recently rediscovered Welsh poet, Lynette Roberts. I’ll be checking out,  young and talented, Eurig Salisbury, the Welsh Children’s Laureate. Eurig and Ifor ap Glyn will be  participants at the Translation workshop (so you might hear a bit more Welsh there). Deryn Rees-Jones whose highly original and deeply moving latest collection was short-listed for the T.S. Eliot prize last year will be a Must and last but not least, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch whose extraordinarily lyrical poetry takes us in her latest volume to the Antarctic.

More bias:  two of my mates will be Must See: Jean Atkin, whose poetry has been produced  in evocative artist’s books by Hugh Bryden of Roncadora Press.  See

And Patricia Ace who launches her first collection.  With a West Indian/Welsh ancestry, she is noted for her moving poems, full of warmth and humanity, often writing about her teenage daughters (and they still speak to her.)

And if you want to spice up your lunch-hour, I recommend the Edinburgh performance stars, Harry Giles, and Rachel McCrum. I’ve seen them both perform with high octane pizzazz– Harry at Inky Fingers, and Rachel at Rally and Broad, a literary cabaret plus other delights such as flame-throwing acrobats. I kid you not.  There won’t be flames at StAnza but I can promise you flair.

Stephanie Green on Day 5: Was it all a dream?

20 Mar

Sunday 18 March

As always during  StAnza , listening to a waterfall of poetry each day, I’ve entered a virtual reality of poetic images and this festival literally – blogging daily.  It’s been fun, though busy, busy.

Also, rushing around taking snaps for this blog and StAnza’s website gallery archives, seeing the world through a camera lens has added a dimension to the festival’s exploration of the Image,  musing on the themes of perception, framing, point of view, focus, the cold eye, the moving eye  and so on,  both in art and in poetry.  Not only the artist/poet’s p.o.v.   but the observer/reader/listener’s and so on. Not just the image but the experience it evokes….

Much to ponder on.  Notes to read through and digest.  Who knows perhaps my own poems will benefit?

The poets, poetry and art installations were the main thing, without whom etc. But being at the festival as a volunteer, has also let me experience first hand,  just how much behind the scenes and front of house hard work goes on. A hundred times’ more work than my little mite.  A daily miracle in fact: a small army of people, many of them volunteers,  pulling together.  But like a good trooper, I must not dispel the magic for the audience. Continue to believe it all happened with the wave of a magic wand, wielded by Fairy Godmother, Eleanor Livingstone.

But thanks to Eleanor and thanks to Annie, for letting me come to the ball.

And since the Image was the theme, I  leave you readers with a series of images from the festival.

More stone carvings by Line Cutter John Neilson (on show in the gardens of  the Preservation Trust Museum, St. A) and  inside the museum, part of the Poem Pedlar’s Pearls’ collection, a last image – a shirt with the perennial subject of most poetry.

Stephanie Green: Stereoscopes, and Dual Perspectives

18 Mar

Saturday 17th March, 2012, Day 4

A Poetry Breakfast, complete with coffee and pastries, is a great way to wake up at StAnza.  The Breakfast topic today was ‘Iconic’ with Robert Crawford, Michael Symmons Roberts, Lavinia Greenlaw – all poets and professors as Norman McBeath, the only photographer, commented. They all brilliantly highlighted the various perspectives and aspects of issues surrounding  the image- even straying into the different perspectives of poetry and science, poetry and the religious icon.  In fact, the conversations were so complex and detailed I cannot do more than recommend you try to hear audio clips of it online – when it eventually appears on the StAnza website.

Photography featured  in this discussion and  has throughout the festival.  So I was intrigued to learn that the University also holds one of the largest and most important collections of historic Scottish photography.  St Andrew’s is the hub of Scottish photography.

Apart from the other major photo exhibitions I’ve already blogged about, wavering on the walls of the Byre today were a selection of poems  alongside photos which inspired them : one from the University’s Special Collections archive and others from contemporary student photographers , chosen by ‘Stereoscope,’ the university’s student-produced photography magazine.

A Stereoscope is not something I had encountered before. If you’re into Photography, you may know that it was invented by Sir David Brewster (based at St Andrew’s) to provide the viewer with a dual perspective, creating a 3-D effect, (though wikipedia disputes this- oops do we believe wikip?– conceding he did invent a certain type of stereoscope with prisms  instead of mirrors. Not sure I want to get into this controversy and irritate the powers that be at St A. )  In his day he was more famous for inventing the kaleidescope (though he never made a penny from it as others copied it before he got his patent granted.) No wonder he was noted for his bad temper,  but  Brewster’s correspondence with Wm. Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the calotype established St Andrew’s as ‘the epicentre of early photography.’

Carson Wos from ‘Stereoscope’ told me the two intriguing photos that got the most responses were Roman Koblov’s  and Jeremy Waterfield’s .  You can see all 5 photos on their magazine blog.

Outside in the grassy courtyard,  chiselling away, was line cutter, John Neilson, working away at a plaque depicting a few lines of verse by Brian Johnstone (former StAnza Director). What had poetry, calligraphy and line cutting on stone in common I wondered?  Beauty of line?  John’s response was that he felt both poet and line cutter valued paring down.  For him, if he was going to spend hours, days, chiselling away, thinking about the poem, it must not be banal or trivial.  Each word must count.  And literally too, he said grinning. The more words, the more it cost!  Hmm, I thought, perhaps many of us wordy, rambling poets should take that to heart.

John has much experience carving lines of poetry. In particular I loved the serpentine words carved on stone slabs on the floor of a church in Bath and also his carving of Carol Ann Duffy’s words at the Much Wenlock Festival, 2010:

‘How your sweetness pervades

My shadowed, busy heart.’

You can see photos of his work on the Letter Exchange website. He is also Editor of their journal ‘Forum’.


Stephanie Green: Tea, cakes and a chat with Jackie Kay; the art of the two Ruaridhs

17 Mar

‘The lovers are caught with their

tea-cups and champagne’- Lavinia Greenlaw.

This verse, was printed on the icing of one of the empire biscuits on offer round  the highways and byways of the festival- a novel way to digest poetry.

Not champagne but fizz enough was to be had yesterday, having  ‘Afternoon Tea with Jackie Kay’ – only 15 of us in the intimate setting of a sitting-room in the Albany Hotel – poetry readings and chat about the tricky sensitivities needed writing a memoir. This was the highlight of the festival for me so far: Jackie’s humour and humanity, cake on three-tiered plates and her cheery dog!

Today I also met up with another poet, Rody Gorman (below, right) and the artist, Derek Robertson (below, left) – the two  Ruaridhs. (Rory, Roderic/Derik/Rody all have the same Gaelic root) to talk about their collaborative project – poems and paintings.  The Image was foremost in my mind, given the festival’s theme- but the paintings are not merely illustrations of the poems, though the poems came first.  Derek told me they did not discuss the ‘meaning’ of the poems nor what each were doing.

Derek Robertson and Rody Gorman

Rather, I thought,  the process of collaboration was more like call and response, theme and variation.  Both were inspired by the landscape of Skye. Derek’s started off as watercolour washes up in Skye but later he superimposed very similar images from East Fife where he lives: broken down sheds, boats, sea-shore.  Both naturalistic and symbolic, the effect is like a palimpset, earlier images showing through, associations sparked off by the observed here and now- very much a toing and froing between past and present.

Rody’s  experimental ‘word amalgamations’ are a similar process:  all the possible associations and translations of a Gaelic word are given in the English.  This was not because of his experience as a translator, he told me, but came from his poet self.  A Gaelic speaker would be aware of all the associations of a word.

It was not a question of using the same image, more it was the process of creating images poet and painter had in common:  shape-shifting, the images morphing into each-other, images splintering, coming together in new combinations,  accretions of associations.

Both poet and painter take us on a walk through time and memory, accessed by the concrete image. I thought back to Lavinia’s workshop- accessing deep emotion through the image, the Simonides poetry/photography collaboration  and Robert Crawford’s comment ‘how poetry can make time collapse’.  The festival’s theme, exploring the Image, through the different media, makes me see a common thread – not just of Image but of emotion, time and memory.

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