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Ekphrasis

PAOLOZZI_1I’m currently working with my students looking at Eduardo Paolozzi: General Dynamic F.U.N which is the Hayward Gallery’s touring exhibition and we’re doing a combination of found poetry, using texts about Paolozzi and his life, and  responses to his work. He’s described as a compulsive collector, a jumbler of icons and a pioneer of Pop. We’re somehow creating poetic photo-montage.

A while ago I wrote a piece about ekphrasis and thought I’d post it here. It’s a summary really – a bit about other exhibitions and books, and a bit about definitions. It was written as an introduction to ekphrasis – an ekphrastic painting-by-numbers.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary ekphrasis is “a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art” and hails from the Greek, ek and phrasis, ‘out’ and ‘speak’. So in this instance it is a poem that comments on another art form, for example a photograph or painting. It flourished with the Romantics; ekphrastic poetry has been around forever and is very much alive and kicking today. In 1996 Blake Morrison wrote Pendle Witches, collaborating with the artist Dame Paula Rego to produce a large format book of poems and 12 etchings published by Enitharmon.

metamorphosis-poems-inspired-by-titianAn excellent collection published by The National Gallery, Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian has 14 leading poets’ responses to three great masterpieces by the Renaissance painter, Titian: Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon and The Death of Actaeon. There’s a diverse range of poems from poets including Hugo Williams, Jo Shapcott, Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, George Szirtes and Lavinia Greenlaw, each illustrated with full-colour details from Titian’s work. It demonstrates how strongly art speaks to writers and how it can be interpreted 500 years later. A nice tie-in is the readings by the poets on the gallery website.

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A fantastic collection, What the Water Gave Me is published by Pascale Petit who runs “Poetry from Art” courses at the Tate. It is a fabulously rich and powerful book. Scottish poet and author Jackie Kay describes the poems as “fresh as paint… [that] make you look all over again at Frida and her brilliant and tragic life.” Kay’s book, Reality, Reality, is just out from Pan Macmillan. What’s interesting about this collection is that you don’t necessarily need to know that much about Frida Kahlo’s work and life, it’s all there in the poems, but it does make you want to hunt out the gallery exhibiting her work.

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It’s books like Petit’s that made me really interested in the idea of cross-media work. When I wrote Eva and George – Sketches in Pen and Brush the project snowballed and grew into a collection with illustrations by the artist, George Grosz, alongside the poems. I got swept away by his work and felt as if I inhabited his skin, or rather his wife’s, as the whole collection is written entirely using her imagined voice. Plunging yourself head first into someone else’s work can have an astonishing effect on your writing.

Formerly- coverIn this year’s Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry Tamar Yoseloff’s collection of sonnets illustrating Vici MacDonald’s photographs of London made the shortlist. Formerly is a memorial to a disappearing city and Yoseloff spent hours looking through thousands of photos in order to select the 14 she needed for the collection, each supported by a sonnet, irregular and anarchic. Why the sonnet? Yoseloff explains, “I decided early on that my poems should be sonnets, the classic form for elegy, but also the appropriate length for a small glimpse”. The collection is 14cm x 12cm and fits into your pocket (well, almost) and there’s something rather nice about knowing it is there – a bit of London and a collection of sonnets in the back pocket of your jeans.

First published in newbooks magazine.

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Launch of Eva and George

The Young Plan: 1929cover eva

Whiteman, your King of Jazz,
dazzles you. Germany cannot pay.
We watch as banks slump,
benefactors bankrupt; you paint
body parts recumbent:
a thigh out of place, a torso
limbless, a breast of lace.

Tonight you play the banjo
and we remember our forgotteness:
Germany pivoting on its wheel
in the darkness and you crossing
through granite to pick and pick
at its city, extracting life
from crystal seams.

 

Widmung an Oskar Panizza

In this infernal abyss you paint your psychiatrist
and lunatics, bleed them on to paper: Liebeskonzil
syphilis, hellscape. Here in your red world,
the grim reaper rides the coffin, takes a slug
of spirits, drops the dead in some pitiless pit.

There’s no mercy with your marauders, your whole street
clambers through chaos and somewhere in it
you’re trapped opening and closing your sketchbook
like it’s a pair of wings desperate to leave.

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Copies now available from

Pindrop Press

“These are fine hard-bitten poems with the imaginative strength and resonance to stand alongside the work of George Grosz without    being in any way diminished by it. The realisation of Eva Peter’s voice is a triumph, and introduces Abegail Morley as one of our most impressive and rewarding poets.”   Peter Bennet

“Abegail Morley’s sequence Eva and George: Sketches in Pen and Brush, marked by both  authenticity and originality, impresses with startling imagery and the striking juxtaposition of the private and the public. Her poetic  account of George Grosz and Eva Peter’s life in the Weimar Republic is at the same time a compelling panorama of a whole era characterized by struggle, violence and radicalism.” Wolfgang Görtschacher, Poetry Salzburg Review

“Morley skilfully captures the rawness of George Grosz’s acerbic images of despots and outcasts in post WWI Germany,while tenderly evoking a portrait of the man behind the art. In lucidly-voiced poems spoken by his wife, Eva Peter, she explores the passion and compassion that drove him. In doing so, she reminds us of the casual and calculated malice we are capable of inflicting on each other in daily living, and that ‘We are those passers-by’.”

Heidi Williamson