Category Archives: Art

Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester

The Poetry Shed

Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester

Shading her eyes with a small black fan
she looks distressed and even out of place.
Ash trees cast a greenish shadow on her face.
To me she seems older now, frailer than
in the short winter days of that other year when
the quiet ghost of a drowned baby played
with black hen, spiders, women who prayed
for open roads, escape, a private den.

There was a boating lake once in the park.
We wait for panini, service is slow.
Café in the trees, I say, canopy.
Her ear rings sparkle, her eyes are still dark.
It’s from the Greek; “konops” means mosquito.
Paula’s face lights up; her imagination set free.

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Fokkina McDonnell’s poems have been published in over 20 anthologies and in magazines, such as Magma, The North, Orbis, Poetry News, Strix, Erbacce, The Journal. Several have been placed, commended…

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Discarding clothes

discarding clothes

It’s now just over a year since I closed my psychotherapy and supervision practice. I’ve gone through some wobbly spells. But, I feel more settled in this new way of being, especially after five glorious weeks in my caravan in Holland.

In my psychotherapy work, sitting closely with traumatised clients, I used to dress in sober colours: plain tops and trousers in grey, dark blue, black, dark green. No long, shiny ear rings, or clanging bangles… I wrote the poem Discarding clothes on a workshop last year, after a poem by Robert Vas Diaz.

Discarding clothes

Cheerio, black briefcase,
hand stitched in France,
with the deep smell of leather.

So long, three-piece suit,
pleated skirt, thin stripes;
a trio of ceremonial blue.

Farewell, flat shoes
you sensible goodie-goodies.
There’s pale skin underneath my watch.

I’m flip-flopping into retirement
with dangling silver ear rings,
Capri trousers, a selection of sleeveless tops.

I’ll need to fly back to Hawaii and Fiji.
Aloha! Colourful kaftans,
strapless pink and a cocktail or two.

 

The photo is of exhibits in the current exhibition Stage of Being at Voorlinden Museum, Wassenaar, the Netherlands: Please (neon) by Jeppe Hein from Denmark, with Dawn (polyester, hair, glass, oil) by John DeAndrea, USA.

Decluttering

 

Blue Horn 1

There will be many varied events across the country today on National Poetry Day.
Twenty poets have donated poems to York Explore Libraries.  These will be on display in the libraries in and around York and given out to visitors. Below is the poem I gave away.

Decluttering

I rarely used the cups and saucers:
good enough for the Red Cross.
Dark forest-green rim and each of the five

remaining dinner plates (Poole Pottery, Dorset)
chipped, thin brown cracks running
across the plain centre like a fault line.

You have turkey and trimmings in front of you.
You were wearing that 70s polo-neck jumper,
corduroy trousers, the lopsided smile.

Stacked securely in a cupboard,
suddenly taken away,
placed in a black plastic bag.

 

The accompanying picture is of Blue Horn by Tony Cragg. He collected 40 used objects in different shades of blue and then ordered them by size in the shape of a scythe, a reference to one of the oldest things used by men to work the land. The artist looks for ways to connect art with daily life.

I took the photo during a recent visit to Voorlinden, a new private museum in Wassenaar, the Netherlands.

Comares, Spain

Comares Spain. Window & Steps

Comares Spain. Window & Steps, David Goad

While tidying and sorting folders on the laptop I came across this image. It was a reminder of the enjoyable project that the late Linda Chase organised jointly with Hot Bed Press in Salford. The photographers and print makers based there put work on a website and we, poets, chose something that inspired us. There were two exhibitions with readings of the poems, both very enjoyable events. One was at Hot Bed Press, the other at the Village Hall, Manchester.

I met the artist David Goad at the Lowry just before he moved to France and bought a copy of the work – a linocut/drypoint with hand colour dating from 2006. David was quite amazed that I’d got Triptych from his art.  Posting this is a reminder for me to make more time to go to art galleries and museums – that’s where I find inspiration when I feel stale…

Triptych

His song, like a veil,
laid out on the dry, cracked earth.
A farmer, soldier or goatherd
under the halo of this midday sun.

A future anchored in the past.
A past mirrored in the future.
And what are these offerings?

A man, his wife.
His life, her life.
The smallest token.
Words left unspoken.
Their family name.
The curved greyness of shame.

Only when shaken
or beaten with a stick
does the olive tree yield
its small, black fruit.

Against distant thunder
the cling-clang of their bells:
the counterpoint of loneliness.

 

Bee Journal

9 (2)

The Love Bee with Distiller-Bee on the right

6

 

 

In the 1800s the Manchester textile mills were called ‘hives of activity’ and the workers compared with bees. The Borough of Manchester was granted city status in 1842; on the city crest seven bees are flying over a globe, signifying Manchester’s industry being exported. Images of bees can be found on buildings and bins. After the Arena bombing last year many Mancunians got themselves bee tattoos.

So, there is a lot of interest and excitement about bees currently dotted around town, in parks and public spaces. Over 100 large bees have been decorated by artists, while 130 little bees are part of the City Learning Programme. It’s how creative producers Wild in Art are celebrating their 10th anniversary, and there are some fabulous creatures to be found. The bee below shows some Manchester landmarks: the Town Hall, a Grade I listed building, the Manchester Central  Convention Complex (the original Central railway station) and the Beetham Tower with 47 floors, until recently, the tallest building in the UK outside London.

4 (2)

This is Manchester, C Elliott

On a recent trip to Leeds University to visit the Special Collection I was delighted to see a copy of the 1634 revised edition of the first English-language book devoted to beekeeping The Feminine Monarchie, the histori of bee’s. Charles Butler was also called The Father of Beekeeping. He was a priest and kept bees at his parsonage. Butler writes about bee gardens, hive making, enemies of bees, feeding, pollination and swarm catching. The book also includes a musical score: a four-part madrigal that mimics the sound of swarming bees!

Butler cover

One of the most original poetry collections I read in the last few years is Bee Journal by Sean Borodale. It was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Poetry Prize. Borodale had previously published books based on walking and writing on location and Bee Journal was supposedly written at the hive, with the poet wearing a veil and gloves! The 90 pages chronicle the life of the hive, from the collection of a small nucleus on 24 May – extract below –

He just wears a veil, this farmer, no gloves
and lifts open a dribbly wax-clogged
blackwood box.
We in our whites mute with held breath.
Hello bees.
Drops four frames into our silence.

to the capture of a swarm two years later, with all the learning, joy and anxiety in between  The poem titles are all dates, some with additional notes, as below:

14th August: Bee Inspector
Today a DEFRA bee inspector clipped the wings of our queen.

Some days the poems are only a few lines, or a single word. 7th January starts:

Four inches of snow. The hive a hut
of silence and darkness.

A year later, there is the entry for 13th January: False Spring Week’s long hoax of mild weather/and bees wander like fools.  On the 15th January Sean makes herb tea for his bees, adding grains of salt and their own honey (10%) to boiling water.  Opposite is the devastating empty page, titled 24/25th January: Bees Die.

In between, there are many poems full of joy and marvel. Here’s a stanza from 2nd May:

A bee, a tine being struck was out:/sound like a rooting of thin flash/in liquid form poured from a bucket the size of an adult/tooth./Magnet of listening, I to hear it/turned the pole of my head.

Because of the regular small interventions the beekeeper has to make, his observations and devotion turn to a deep intimacy, with unusual imagery and dense, “clotted” language.  Reading it was an amazing experience.

 

 

Ink wasters

pen 2

The late poet Gerard Benson coined this term for the warm-up, stream-of-consciousness exercise at the start of a workshop: Start writing, don’t stop writing, don’t think, just keep the pen moving.

If you’re familiar with The Artist’s Way, then you have the Morning Pages in your toolkit. To me, the Morning Pages are still more of a “dumping” ground of grumpy stuff, Aargh – not a morning person and never will be….

At a workshop the tutor or facilitator gives a starting line and sets you off. But, how do you create that effect when you’re by yourself? How do you nudge your self on to the track? Here are some options I’ve used:

Liminal lines
The immediacy of being on a threshold of sorts, for example:
Standing on the flood line I noticed…
When I stepped into the room…
Waiting on the platform there was…

Lines that open onto the unexpected, the other side
I turned the corner and then…
As I opened the door…
At the back of the cupboard…
I thought I saw…., but….
I never even once…
It was that dream again…
Sometimes you’ll think of…
No telling what arrived here in the night…

Unlikely/Doomsday scenarios
It hadn’t stopped snowing for thirty years…
It rained for ninety days, then suddenly….
The morning after the storm…
Your body lies on the floor, with or without you…

Juxtapositions
I have an envelope with pieces of paper, some with names of rooms in a house, others with objects, others with abstract nouns. So, we might get hallway, stapler, vanity. Off we go just putting those together in some way or another.

List poems
We’re not expected to write a “proper” list poem with a story arc, a development, an argument. Just a list of anything will do. Six lines is a good starting point, six things I would never eat for breakfast. Then another day there could be a list of the opposite: breakfast favourites (scrambled eggs and my poet friend E told me to add mustard and some dill, homemade porridge with berries, and I’ve just found out that one berry is one calorie, so I’ll have a few more, and strong black coffee in the mug with lavender fields on it. That mug was given to me by a lodger who’d had wanted to become a nun, but then decided to train as a nurse instead….)

Borrowed lines
Using opening lines from poems often work. I have typed up a batch of these, cut them out and put them inside an envelope. Picking one out gives the surprise effect that just reading it in the book doesn’t give.

I’m signed up with the Academy of American Poets for poem-a-day. I really like getting a surprise poem in my inbox every day and sometimes use the title or the opening for my warm-up. Yesterday’s poem started Imagine your heart is just a ball. Go to poetry.org to sign up. Similarly, there may be good “triggers” from other websites – on-line magazines, poetry publishers. A recent newsletter from Carcanet showed Snow in C Sharp Minor which I found intriguing and could have used as a prompt. It is a poem from Errant by Gabriel Levin.

And there is always Carl Sandburg’s This morning I looked at the map of the day…

Sometimes ink wasters can be developed and turn into a poem. It’s rare for one to be a complete poem straight-away. That’s a bonus. Below is one of those. It was published in The North, No 48.

On the town

In the time it took to buy a birthday card, a special
80th birthday card, they had arrived in a long, black limousine,
jumped out, set fire to the hotel and released wicker
baskets. The flying baskets with wicker wings chopped
tops of trees, trees falling on traffic lights – chaos everywhere
and in the middle of it the small bronze statue.
A smiling woman holding doves covered in birdshit.
The wind howling, sirens crying like the end of the world had come.
And me and that card that had cost me £2.99 and nowhere
to buy stamps, no letter box to post it.

The Artist’s Way

At Ty Newydd on the Writing Retreat the other week I talked with one of the people about books that might be helpful for dealing with “blocks”. I mentioned Julia Cameron’s bestseller The Artist’s Way. They hadn’t heard of it.

The book was recommended to me by a good friend who was a musician/painter. It had helped him work through blocks about being an artist and he thought I might benefit too. The Artist’s Way was first published in 1992 and it is A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self.

The book is based on the creativity workshops Julia Cameron had been running. In the book she briefly introduces Spiritual Electricity: the Basic Principles, then outlines the Basic Tools. Each of the 12 chapters addresses a major block. You’re expected to work through a chapter each week, by completing various exercises. Most pages have one or two short quotes about creativity in the margins. I found many of these very uplifting and supportive.

the-artists-way.jpg

I have just found the Contract which I signed on 30 June 1997. I had also highlighted a quote by Oscar Wilde: The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

In sequence the chapters are Recovering a Sense of: Safety, Identity, Power, Integrity, Possibility, Abundance, Connection, Strength, Compassion, Self-Protection, Autonomy, Faith.

I found several of the exercises, tasks, questions extremely challenging and even very painful at times. Julia Cameron had warned me about the process in her initial chapter, that working through the course would be peaks-and-valleys, that I would experience anger, grief, defiance, want to give up the whole thing before I came to the creative U-turn from which there would be choppy growth.
She was correct! But I stuck with it and I have kept up with the Basic Tools since then:

1) Morning Pages – the main purpose is “to get to the other side” – of the critic, it’s a “brain drain”, just stream-of-consciousness dumping, angry, whiny stuff. Cameron suggests three pages in long-hand and she says “you shouldn’t even read them yourself for the first eight weeks”. After that period, it’s okay to read and see if there are things that could be used in your creative work.
2) The Artist Date – a block of time, perhaps two hours a week, set aside to nurture our inner artist. It doesn’t need to be expensive; it could be a solo walk on the beach, a visit to an art gallery, seeing an old movie. It’s the time commitment that is sacred. This is all about “Filling the Well, Stocking the Pond”.

If I was compiling that list of books that changed my life, The Artist’s Way would be on it.