Workshops are great: something to kick start the creative processes. Last weekend I was by the (almost flooding – eek!) Wye with Jo Bell and Martin Malone: excellent weekend which I have already mentioned here.
I have to confess, though, when Martin said his Sunday morning workshop would include ekphrasis – the poetry of visual interpretation of an image or object (a classic example being Keat’s Ode to a Grecian Urn) – my heart sank a little. Ekphrasis poetry has been a regular feature in MWC Young Writer Comp entries. It’s obviously been culled from classroom exercises; the poems come in as bundles, rather like the poems based on Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife that also regularly appear. On the whole, the Duffy offspring are more satisfying than the poems based on medieval oils, where the students falter between ancient and modern language and are unfamiliar with artist, historical background (plague, religion, peasants); the Duffy poems at least have a voice to start with. Some of the students manage to find a way, a character, an angle, that takes their poem on to the short list. But I always struggle critiquing the poems from such class exercises.
Martin had a pile of art post cards. I picked Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s painting of A Girl and Her Duenna from c1670.
In fact the ekphrasis was the final part of a lively session that included processes in form; memories; drawing maps, swapping them and then writing based on a strange map. (I had Angela France’s map which included “here be dragons” – yes! – and sublime details hinting at what she thinks of big conurbations.)
It was really rather good fun – as is so often the case, I needn’t have worried. (When will I learn?) With time – and internet – I could find out more about the painting, its characters, the painter and so on to add more weight to the poem. Meanwhile, here is, more or less, what I wrote on Sunday morning.
Safe winter shuttered,
early flowers, pale flesh
yearning to escape
Her duenna laughs
at market ostlers’ whistles
but the girl’s gaze
is for lavender distance,
mountains and imagined oceans,
the approach of harvest.