Tag Archives: Photography

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

Kindling the Imagination An interview about Poetry and Truth

Kindling the imagination. Photo courtesy of Lancia smith.

A while back I agreed to do an extended interview for the Photographer Lancia Smith’s excellent Web site The True the Good and the Beautiful, which she was going to run alongside some superb photographs she had taken at this years CS Lewis Summer Institute. When Lancia sent me the questions and I began to answer them, I realised that she had such a gift for framing the questions that I was delving deeper and giving better and more coherent answers than I had done before, even in my own ‘notes to self’ about what I was thinking. Her interview, in three parts, covered everything for my childhood, my journey to faith and the first kindlings of my love of literature, to my understanding of balance and variety in life and writing, my attutudes to suffering and depression, and finally delving deeply into the heart of what I am saying in Faith Hope and Poetry and helping me to set out my own poetic credo. I thought readers of these pages might be interested to see the interview so I am posting links to all three parts below, each with a little hi-light to give you a flavour of whats in each section. I hope you will also enjoy a more general exploration of her site. Click on the title of each part to go to that section of the interview.

The three parts of the interview are each illustrated by some of the remarkable Photographs she has taken, one of which I have posted above, and another of which has now prompted some further collaborative work with another artist

Part I Childhood, Faith, and Sources of Inspiration:

What role does inspiration play in your work?  Where does inspiration come from for you? What are sources of Joy?

Now there’s a question! At one level, everything is gift; to live, to breathe, to comprehend, to write, to create. Even when we are ‘working’ at these things with all our might, it is still a gift, still a grace to be alive at all and able to work at anything. So I don’t think of the creative process as a certain amount of hard work topped up by inspiration, I see the work itself as the inspiration. Having said that there are of course times when one is more or less aware of the nudge, the proffer, the gift of words and lines and images, arising as given things from an unguessed at depth and one receives them gladly. I find inspiration throughout nature but especially in images of light and water, light reflecting on water. The lines in my sonnet ‘O Oriens’: “ So every trace of light begins a grace/ In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam/ Is somehow a beginning and a calling;” are literally true.

I think the poetic language about waiting on a muse is something to take very seriously and I think the reality behind every Muse is the Holy Spirit.

Part 2 Balance in life, dealing with darkness, paganism and poetry

How do you overcome the difficulties you encounter in your own life and reconcile their reality with the beauty that you also must bear witness to? How is it that you are able to see what is bitter and not what it ought to be and yet be able to also witness the Beauty that is beyond it?

You are certainly right about the burdens and shadows, and right to say that a creative vocation seems to involve a particular kind of exposure and vulnerability to periods of darkness and depression. I think there are several important truths to notice here. The first is that sometimes tears and grief are the right, and indeed, only possible response to things. The Bible is full of tears and outpourings of grief, and there is no promise that we will not shed them, only that one day God himself will wipe the tears from our eyes. And He can only do that because as a human being He has shed them himself, and knows from the inside what the depth of our agony can be. So there is a proper place for the depiction of suffering and the expression of bitterness in Art as in life. We don’t need some anodyne sugary literature saying peace, peace, when there is none. But it is also true that the agony in the Garden and Good Friday are not the end of the story. ‘Love is come again like wheat that springeth green’, and Love has the last word.

Part 3 Poetry and the role of the poet

Why have you pursued poetry as your venue? Why poetry instead of great fiction like LOTR or The Chronicles of Narnia? Those genres draw on ancient theme, myths, metaphor and work to heal and to illuminate. What is the compelling call of poetry and song-lyrics for you?

Well your phrase ‘compelling call’ is just the right one. There is something in poetry itself, in the magic of rhythm and rhyme, which woke me up, and called me. Reading certain poems I would feel something quickening in me, ‘my heart in hiding stirred’ to borrow a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins. Poetry, for me, always carries a sense of chant, and it is from chant that we get both, enchantment and chanson, both magic and song.

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Filed under imagination, Theology and Arts

Introducing Margot

Self-Portrait at Pentecost -Margot Krebs Neale

I have been grateful to the Cambridge photographer Margot Krebs Neale for some of the beautiful images which have accompanied my poems on this blog, and I know that many of my readers have found they form not so much an illustration as a commentry, or in some ways a kind of poem in themselves. Some of you have wanted to know a little more about this collaboration and about Margot, so I have asked her to introduce herself in this last interlude’ post before we enter into the more intense sequence of Holy Week Sonnets. Here is what she writes:

“Malcolm kindly suggested introducing Margot. Well, when I was a baby my parents were sent to Poland and there asked a Polish woman, Cenia M. to look after their children during the day. She told stories and I loved them also accompanying stories were dressing up and images. So words translated into the physical world, with their litteral sense and as symbols. Yellow was the sun as much as the sun was yellow. When I went to French schools, stories were somehow replaced for me by poetry. I had a good memory for them but when one teacher punished the excessively talkative pupils by making them learn one stanza during break time and if punished again the next day, two and so on, my memory and taste for poetry grew and grew.
Always I loved expressing with images something of what I had heard. Prayers and songs had a good place in my poetry books, so naturally when I first read Malcolm’s sonnets I did the same, used some of the very large number of photos I have taken since I was eight to reflect what I hear.

“One of the very large number of photos I have taken”

Malcolm shared some of them and gradually \I moved from responding when it sprung form reading/hearing to looking to respond to all poems with more concentration and effort, exchanging views with Malcolm.
My picture for Palm Sunday will I hope illustrate what I like particularly, a picture which can be read in various ways. Who stands in the eye of the camera? The photographer, the writer, the reader, or God himself? The camera is a wonderful instrument for speaking with several voices and remain invisible or choosing not to. I hope my pictures speak my language to tell what I saw but also that they may speak your language to tell you a story you need to hear, Malcolm’s poems do that for me.”

“…and one I took yesterday”

You can see and ‘like’ a facebook page for Margot’s photographs here: Margot’s Page

My next post, for Palm Sunday begins a series I will post each day for Holy Week.


Filed under imagination