the poem and the picture

28 February, 2010

So much to write about. I’ve just started a new post about a few things that have been going on in the writing stakes recently, but my head isn’t quite where it should be this evening so I’ll finish that off tomorrow and for now I’ll just mention a great workshop I went to yesterday.

When a (fiction) coursemate told me that a recent favourite, Kathryn Simmonds,* was running a Poetry School workshop in Cambridge I thought it was time to check one out. Perhaps it seems overkill to be doing something like that in the middle of an MA… but we don’t really do writing exercises or have workshops structured around a theme, and I thought it’d be good to mix things up a bit. There were only a few of us, which was nice in some ways because it made it quite intimate, but I missed having a broader range of voices.

The workshop was based around the idea of the poet being an image-maker, and we started off by talking about William Carlos Williams and how his writing was all about the snapshot, the thing, and how isolating the image and letting it speak for itself is a Modernist tendency, a move away from the Romantic. We looked at lots of poems and did some writing exercises based on responding to images we were given. Writing exercises: I’ve not really done that kind of thing in a group setting before, and it’s a bit weird, especially as I write so slowly and the first 90% of everything I write tends to be drivel. But it was good to be forced to just get on and write – all part of the loosening up I’ve been feeling going on recently.

Then we talked about ekphrasis – the response of one artist to the work of another; in our case, poets responding to pieces of visual art. Lots of interesting stuff going on here, looking at poems and the pictures and photos they were responding to. Writing a response to a Lee Miller photo was one of my favourite exercises of the day. Our final exercises involved the (personal) photos that we’d been asked to bring along; unable to choose I’d taken along a whole envelope full. But when it came down to it I chose this photo:

But then of course we were asked to swap photos, and had to write about each others’, before returning to our own. Interestingly enough I was much more pleased with what I wrote about someone else’s baby snap, but I think I will return to this picture and see if I can take it somewhere.

In the mean time here’s a poem that I wrote in response to a painting five years ago. It’s one of my favourites.

Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride

The world blooms darkly round us, gorgeous
in its strange detail, a vast house waiting
to be explored. For now, though, all that matters
is us, the glowing centre, steeped in light:
our own light. We are the sharpened point
of focus – our composition, angles,
specific cadences of touch. We begin
by examining the tiny brush-strokes
of each other – the minute creases round
your eyes, a curl of hair that frames my face –
marvelling at the luminous volume
we’ve suddenly gained, contained within this
one square inch of canvas: my hand placed on yours,
yours on the red, the beating of my heart.

This was meant to be a much shorter post. My brain is addled. Apologies for the clunkiness.

*Strangely enough, my post about her collection Sunday at the Skin Launderette is one of the external links on her wikipedia page.

One Response to “the poem and the picture”

  1. Emily Dening said

    Hi Katherine

    Just discovered your blog. I enjoyed the workshop and am hoping it may lead to something — but very slowly!


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