Tag Archives: painting

This is not Dante – writing prompt

Dante, by Botticelli

One of the poems in this week’s inbox came courtesy of The Paris Review: Identity Check by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. The title is intriguing enough, the first line is a bold claim and a denial:

This is not Dante

This immediately sets up tension and hooks the reader’s curiosity. If not Dante, who is it? We get an answer we know can’t be true: This is a photograph of Dante. Then: This is a film showing an actor who pretends to be Dante.

The poem continues like this. It reminded me of a poem of mine published in orbis magazine which uses similar techniques. If I feel really ‘stale’, then using two prompts of a different kind is guaranteed to work.

In 2017 I went to Tate Modern for the exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg – very stimulating. It included his telegram This is a painting of Iris Clert if I say so. A visit with a poet friend to Manchester Art Gallery then started the poem. The painting described is Portrait of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon. Here is the link.

Franz Kafka

This is a portrait if I say so

A portrait of Kafka, in a long coat; dark grey, almost black. No, it’s not. It’s just paint on canvas. This is a portrait of the man who was a friend of the man who put the paint on the canvas. Paint is history. Painting is looking for something, then losing it again. This is a portrait of a man, based on a photo of Kafka. My friend Kathleen asked Was Kafka’s face that long? The man in the long coat in the portrait is striding out. No, he’s not. The note to the right of the portrait says the man who is not Kafka is leaning against the pillar, but the pillar isn’t straight. This is a portrait of a man who isn’t famous, based on a photo of Kafka, and Kafka became famous, and the man who put the paint on the canvas became famous. Kafka is dead. The painter is dead, but this portrait is living, dead paint is living. This is the living portrait of a man who had friends. The man in a coat the colour of death. All colours become history. A coat; a face; a pillar. A portrait is, he says so.

Blossoming and Abundance – poetry, writing prompt

Credit: Watercolour by Prawny on PIxabay

The 10th edition of Poëzieweek (Poetry Week) has just ended. Over 120 activities happened in The Netherlands and Vlaanderen (the Northern, Dutch-speaking part of Belgium). Some of these will continue during the year.

The theme this time was Nature. During any year there are a several ‘book’ weeks in The Netherlands and readers can claim a free book when they purchase up to a given amount. As poetry books are expensive here, the sum of Euro 12,50 was easily reached!

The Dutch-Palestinian author and actor Ramsey Nasr was commissioned to write the poetry gift this year. He is well-known, as he was the Dichter des Vaderlands (the unofficial title for poet laureate) during 2009 – 2012.

The pamphlet with 10 poems is well produced on quality paper. It’s based on the hundreds of letters Van Gogh wrote from his youth until his death in 1890. Under the motto Blossoming and Abundance, the poet has selected and re-arranged Van Gogh’s words. The two blue horizontal lines on the cover indicate caesuras. These return in the text as thin blue vertical lines, showing where Nasr has deleted a word or several phrases from the original text.

I love how Ramsey Nasr has distilled the essence of Van Gogh. It is a very interesting way of using found material. Here are my translations of a few parts of some of his poems.

let us | find a task
that forces us to quietly | sit
busy with work that is simpler
than | tasks that | are useful


i am no better than another |
am not like a street pump | from stone | or iron |


i send you | the night |
the moon | cypresses |


it cannot | remain like it is now |
burn rather than choke |
a door must be open or closed
something in-between i do not understand


the mediterranean has a colour like | mackerel |
you don’t know | if it is green or purple
you don’t know | if it is blue for a second later
the constantly changing reflection has
taken on a pink or grey tinge |

A cylinder full of the rushing sea …


Mesdag 4

Panorama Mesdag is a cylindrical painting, more than 14 metres high and 120 metres in circumference. It’s a view of the sea, the dunes and Scheveningen village as it was in 1881. It’s the oldest 19th century panorama in the world in its original site.

Ever since getting my caravan in Holland, I’ve been visiting several times a year. When I am standing on the circular viewing platform in the centre, I know I’m just 14 metres away from the canvas. I know it’s all an illusion, but I can hear sea gulls, I get the salty tang, I see clouds pass by and the sun break through.

Mesdag 3

Painting the enormous canvas was a team effort: Hendrik Willem Mesdag with his wife Sientje and various able painters from the Hague. Other panoramas portray violent scenes (the battle at Waterloo, the Crucifixion of Christ). Here it’s visible silence, still as the hourglass (Dante Gabriel Rossetti), the tranquility of everyday life. A few fishermen are messing about with their nets, the boats are beached, the cavalry are walking their horses on the sand, women are chatting in a doorway, a dog lies down quietly.

Before the camping closes and I lock up my caravan, I will go and stand on that viewing platform again and say my goodbyes to Panorama Mesdag. The poem is by my friend Keith Lander.



Mesdag trieneke

The Mesdag Panorama
after a panoramic painting by Mesdag in The Hague

I’m on a school trip to The Hague
transfixed by the Mesdag Panorama,
especially the seascape stretching away
from the viewpoint on the man-made sandhill,
with fishing boats moored on the vast beach,
a troop of cavalry men in training,
and, joy of joys, a donkey ride.

When no one is looking I climb
over the railings onto the sandhill
and, without looking back, skip away
laughing and tumbling down the slope
towards the beach, the north sea breeze
in my hair, to run behind the military
and have endless rides on the donkeys.

Forty years later, a bored business man
with time to spare before an appointment,
I visit the Panorama and remember
I’ve been there before as a schoolboy.
As I stare at the seascape again I see
the boats on the beach, the military men
and a lost boy waving from the donkey ride.