Tag Archives: Painting

Saying the Names; a Poem and a Painting

Saying the Names by Faye Hall, from a photo by Lancia Smith

The painting above is one of an sequence of three by the remarkable Canadian artist Faye Hall. This one was made in response to my poem Saying the Names, which I give below. Saying The Names celebrates the remnant fishing fleet in the little Northumbrian harbour town of Amble. The poem chants the lovely names of these vessels as part of a meditation on the power of language, of naming itself, and as an evocation of the unique atmosphere and history of that part of England. Faye has created a remarkable work, using a photopraph by Lancia Smith for the portraiture and encorporating lines of my hand-written text for the poem, in different scales, into the fabric of the painting, so that my words about sky and sea and light become part of her evocation of those same things in colour and texture. Faye has written an article about these paintings, and her collaboration with Lancia and with me in the Mennonite Brethren Herald here, but she has also given me permission to post the photo of her painting here on my blog, where I thought it would be good to set it alongside the poem and also a recording of my reading it.

In fact this is not the first artistic colaboration inspired by this particular poem. It was picked up in 2002, shortly after it was first published, by Kevin Flanagan and his Riprap Quartet and they played a jazz setting of it in the royal Festival Hall. we have since performed it together on several occasions and, fter the text of the poem I will embed a youtube video of one such performance. (If you are in or near Cambridge and would like to hear Riprap, and also have a chance to hear the great Beat writer and biographer Gerry Nicosia, then do come to the Unitarian church for a jazz-poetry concert on 8th September at 8pm. full details here.)

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.



Saying the Names

Dawn over Amble, and along the coast
light on the tide flows to Northumberland,
silvers the scales of fishes freshly caught
and glowing in their boxes on the dock,
shivers the rainbow sheen on drops of diesel,
and lights, at last, the North Sea fishing fleet.
Tucked into harbour here their buoyant lines
lift to the light on plated prows their names,
the ancient names picked out in this year’s paint:
Providence, Bold Venture, Star Divine
are first along the quay-side. Fruitful Bough
has stemmed the tides to bring her harvest in,
Orcadian Mist and Sacred Heart, Aspire,
their names are numinous, a found poem.
Those Bible-burnished phrases live and lift
into the brightening tide of morning light
and beg to be recited, chanted out,
for names are incantations, mysteries
made manifest like ships on the horizon.
Eastward their long line tapers towards dawn
and ends at last with Freedom, Radiant Morn.

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Filed under imagination, literature, Music, paintings, Poems

Shimerings of pearl; a poem finds its painting

A while ago I wrote a poem about a beautiful empty shell. It was a meditation on memory, on fullness and emptiness, but I was also trying to catch the light in the shell itself, or catch a gleam of it in the mirror of my words. Then just the other day I came upon this brilliant painting by Anna Todd, she catches just thel ‘opalescent shimmering of pearl’ I was trying to descrbe.  She has given me permission to post her painting here alongside my poem. check out her amazing site through the link on her name.

shell with marbles Anna Todd

Shell

I am alone, my fingers touch this shell
Of memory. I trace a graceful swirl
Of green and blue, like ripples on the swell,
Catching the light before they lapse and spill
And spend themselves on sand in soft caresses.
And I remember slowly savoured kisses,
Like moving in slow motion through deep water
That clarifies and washes us with light,
A light that burnishes this empty shell
With opalescent shimmerings of pearl.

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Filed under imagination, literature, Poems

Questions for a Picture

Who are these coming to the sacrifice? Keats

Beyond a lintel of cold marble, breathing,
Who are these figures on the other side,
Their golden flesh emerging from the dark?

Ages and stages of our passing life,
Con-centred on the mystery of birth?

The Virgin, the Wise-Woman, Mother, Father,
Lover, Brother, Magus, gathered here
And a little child to lead them…
Or is this Child the parent of them all?

Once-woven in the womb, now wrapped in bands,
White linen for the grave, linen for swaddling,
Through which our holy flesh already shines…

Does she receive Him from the hands of Wisdom,
Or pass Him softly to the hands of Death?

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Filed under christianity, imagination, Meditation

The Magic Apple Tree

Someday make a journey through the rain

Through sodden streets in darkening December

A journey to the magic apple tree.

And journey also, darkling, through your past

Journey through your seed time and your summer

And through the fall of every fruiting time.

Journey through the pictures packed like loam,

The rooting places of your growing soul,

The subsoil of your oldest memory.

Walk through the outer darkness of the world

Towards a buried memory of light

Whose faded trace no photograph records.

You glimpsed it once within the garden wall,

The image of an ancient apple tree,

The fall of light through branches and the fling

And curve of colour on the golden fruit…

All buried in the rubble of your fall.

Walk through the present darkness till you come

To the stone steps, the lions, the façade,

The white Museum with its plate-glass doors.

Through these you pass and up a flight of stairs,

To find the case and lift the dull brown cover

To see, at first, your image in the glass.

You see yourself, and through yourself the tree,

And through the tree at last, the buried light.

Boughs form an arch, the painting draws you in

Under its framing fringe of rich green leaves,

Beyond the music of the shepherdess,

Down through the dark towards the grey church spire

In to its heart : the arching apple boughs…

The sky is dark, intense, a stormy grey,

But just beneath the darkness all is gold:

The slope of hills, the fields of barleycorn.

The loaded branches of the apple tree,

Glow red and ripe and gold and bow themselves

To bless the fruitful earth from whence they spring.

These colours seem to fall from Eden’s light,

The air they shine through breathes a change in them,

Breaking their sheen into a certain shade

Particular and unrepeatable.

Some golden essence seems to concentrate

From light to air, from pigment into paint

In increments of incarnation down

to burn within these apples and this bough,

Which here and now at last, you recognise.

This is your own, your ancient apple tree

And here the light you buried for so long

Leaps up in you to life and resurrection.

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Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Poems