Poems about paintings

A couple of comments made by Joy Hendry and Tom Pow at Sunday’s Great Grog reading have got me thinking about the subject. Joy said she didn’t like poems about paintings, and Tom said in that case he would read one about a painter, not a painting.

We’ve got the National Galleries of Scotland’s annual competition for poems inspired by objects in their collections, and I’m delighted that several of my friends have featured in the lists of prizewinners. I’ve never entered, although once or twice I’ve thought about it. The idea of interpreting a visual image in words, or constructing a narrative founded on that image, doesn’t really appeal to me. If that’s what Joy meant, then I agree with her. Why construct a word-picture when the real picture is in front of you? And yet you occasionally get the wonderful exception that proves the rule – I’m thinking here of Frank O’Hara’s Why I Am Not A Painter. Here the relationship between the two art forms is concisely and cleverly compared and contrasted.

I’ve more often been inspired by sculpture, however. The subjects, shapes and surfaces interest me; the feel of smooth bronze or cool stone is a sensual pleasure. Carving in particular is a process which makes me think about vision, inspiration and patience, and finding the hidden core of something beautiful in a lump of amorphous stone.

And music is another inspiration, which I share with Margaret Christie, who also read at the Great Grog.

Anyway, I’ve just had a phone call from an artist friend I’ve long wanted to work with. Her paintings are abstract, and yet they always make me think interesting thoughts, and write poems which have no obvious link to the painting – like Frank O’Hara’s poem in fact. She tells me she’s inspired by my poetry, and often recalls lines of mine. This time we want to create something together, although at this stage we haven’t decided whether it will be an exhibition, a publication, or something else. I have no idea what poems will come out of it, except that they will be neither descriptive nor narrative. I hope they’ll take me off in new directions. That’s always exciting. More on this when we’ve worked out what we want to do.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
This entry was posted in ekphrasis, Frank O'Hara, National Galleries of Scotland, poetry and art. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Poems about paintings

  1. Andrew Philip says:

    All the best working it out! Will you blog about the discussions? I went through a similar process with my friend David Martin, which eventually ended up with me responding to the paintings you can see < HREF="http://davemartist.typepad.com/photos/back_catalogue/index.html" REL="nofollow">here<>. The poems are there too, but the formatting is completely awry and I’ve revised them somewhat since.

  2. Colin Will says:

    Thanks Andy. I followed the link, and it was clearly a very positive and fruitful collaboration. I’ll blog later as discussions with Carmen progress.Colin

  3. Andrew Philip says:

    It was indeed. It was largely me responding to the paintings, even though we’d wanted to do something much more integrated, but Dave took a line from one of the poems for the title of the painting it was responding to, which was pleasing.See you tomorrow!

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