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.


Filed under imagination, literature, Music, paintings, Poems

14 responses to “Saying the Names; a Poem and a Painting

  1. just wonderful. thank you to all the artists, and especially to the artist of artists.

  2. Greg Pyne

    Just brilliant, Malcolm. As a teacher just beginning the school year, officially my 7th, I still find it a wonderful surprise when the cluster of names on my new roster given out prior to the students’ arrival suddenly acquire faces and personalities, “mysteries made manifest” in a small way, perhaps…

  3. Pingback: Saying the Names; a Poem and a Painting…a poem by Malcolm Guite « Wandering Tree

  4. gerrydorrian66

    I thought the video was wonderful!

    I loved your line about the names being a “found poem” – it reminded me of the names and epitaphs read out in “On the Transmigration of Souls”.

  5. Good work, Malcolm — this is a very lyrical and strong piece of writing. I echo Gerry Dorrian about the “found poem” of the names.

    And I especially liked these lines also:

    names are incantations, mysteries
    made manifest like ships on the horizon.

  6. Pingback: Stream of Collaboration with Faye Hall | Lancia E. Smith

  7. Pingback: Stream of Collaboration with Faye Hall | Lancia E. Smith

  8. Pingback: Malcolm Guite and "The Singing Bowl" | Lancia E. Smith

  9. Pingback: Faye Hall Interview - Art begets Art

  10. Pingback: Malcolm Guite on Parable and Paradox

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.