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Robert Peake on Reading at the Royal Academy

Stolen from his blog with kind permission: here

Last night I participated in a truly unique poetry reading sponsored by Ekphrasis. A dozen of us poets dispersed ourselves amongst installations in the Sensing Spaces architectural exhibit at the Royal Academy. As patrons wandered through the exhibits, we read poems to them, which we had written in response to these very spaces.

It was challenging. Bursting into poetry as the spirit moved me felt a bit like trying photo-1-300x300to be a one-man flashmob. Having never done any busking, I was unaccustomed to people wandering into or out of a room while I was reading a poem. Based on their responses, I think it was challenging, too, for the patrons. I saw many a bemused and bewildered smile.

Often, when we encounter something surprising like a provocative art installation, we seek guidance–in the placards on the walls, or the words of a knowledgeable guide. Yet we poets were the opposite of guides–raising yet more questions in response to their questions, bringing our own thoughts, music, and imagery to bear. The patrons were therefore simultaneously experiencing their own responses to the installations, and responding to ours. Challenging, indeed.

Yet challenge is not a bad thing in art; far from it. Being of service to an artistic experience, even if it is a bit personally uncomfortable to pull off, is always a privilege. To do something truly original like this is rare. We are so accustomed to the conventions of performance, so comfortable in knowing our place on either side of the “fourth wall”.

A film crew was on site to record the evening’s antics. Having individuals dressed in black point high-end videography equipment at you pretty well guarantees that people will gather in the form of an audience, and clap at the end. It is a familiar format; it tells us our roles. Yet some of the most interesting moments for me involved a more causal mix of reading, conversing, and admiring the spaces. I also managed to experience several other poets reading as well, which was fascinating, and made me feel proud to take part.

The challenge of it also brought us poets together with a sense of solidarity. For the patrons, I think it added an element of surprise. There was an atmosphere of playfulness last night that I had not experienced in my previous visit. You never knew when you might round a corner, and there would be someone reading a poem. I felt a bit like a poetry ninja.

Ekphrasis also put together a handsome anthology of the poems, which they made available to us all on the night. Hearty thanks are due, and congratulations, to Emer Gillespe and Abegail Morley for pulling this off with such grace, as well as Owen Hopkins of the RA, Kate Goodwin the curator of the Sensing Spaces exhibit, and of course the six remarkable architects who realised these installations for us all to enjoy. Here’s to more layered and provocative artistic experiences to come.

You can read all six poems I wrote in response to the Sensing Spaces exhibit, and listen to audio recordings, on my Sensing Spaces, Wandering Words page.

Robert Peake

Robert Peake is an American poet living in England. His newest short collection is The Silence Teacher (Poetry Salzburg, 2013). His previous short collection was Human Shade (Lost Horse Press, 2011).

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EKPHRASIS at the Royal Academy

Sensing Spaces: Wandering Words

sensing

Friday March 7 2014 7pm – 9pm

Seven internationally influential architects transform the main galleries of the Royal Academy of Art in London, ten poets respond to their work in an exciting evening of peripatetic poetry.

‘Imagine, feel, share, explore, touch, reflect’ – where we are shapes how we feel, what we hear colours our experience… We are delighted to announce our first event in collaboration with the Royal Academy.

The poets contributing response to Sensing Spaces are:

Patricia Debney Sasha Dugdale Ian Duhig Martin Figura Vanessa Gebbie Emer Gillespie Helen Ivory Maureen Jivani Edward Mackay Abegail Morley Robert Peake Catherine Smith Tamar Yoseloff

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Two members of the public will be invited to read as part of the evening alongside established poets. If you would like to take part, please send your work to info@ekphrasis.org.uk

Tickets for the event can be booked on the main RA website.

Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined

25 January — 6 April 2014

http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/sensingspaces

WHO WE ARE

Abegail Morley, Catherine Smith and Emer Gillespie, together we share a passion for creating a dialogue between the arts.

‘It’s the exciting bit, really….how arts practitioners in one sphere can take something created by an arts practitioner in another sphere and see something fresh and inspiring in it,’ Catherine Smith

‘I find that what I see and read sets off a chain of thoughts in my own head that can lead to a poem I would never have thought of writing in the first place. The poem furthers my communication with a work of art, I can talk back to it, talk back to the artist who created it, or explore the resonance it creates inside me,’ Emer Gillespie.

EKPHRASIS provides an evening of conversation and exploration inviting collaboration with some of the most original voices working in poetry today.

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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.