Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Interview in Horizon Review & Poetry at Tate Modern

Issue 3 of Horizon Review has just gone online and includes Michelle McGrane's interview with me, Dreams, Spirits and Visions. Michelle also has two fine poems featured from her forthcoming collection The Suitable Girl which I highly recommend.

Last night was the first session of my Poetry from Art course at Tate Modern. Twenty-seven of us sat in Anselm Kiefer's installation 'Palm Sunday' in the Energy & Process collection and soaked up the uprooted palm tree and its thirty-nine vitrines. I can gaze and gaze into these and always see new things among the ghostly plants and pods bursting from cracked clay, smoke, earth, ash, ladders, flying clothes and scratched words. I handed out a hat containing lines from Paul Celan's poems (huge influence on Kiefer), carefully selected but picked at random to incorporate in a 5 minute quatrain, then asked everyone to introduce themselves by offering the group a gift line from their resulting quatrains. These were poems in themselves. After discussion of Celan's techniques (twisting language to say the unsayable, in his case the aftermath of the holocaust), everyone had ten minutes in which to respond to the installation in a poem, aided by selections from the list of gift lines.

The results were impressive and rather moving, as one by one, each participant stood in front of
'Palm Sunday' and read out their first drafts. The course is launched! I've been planning it for months and thrilled with the results so far, but it never fails to amaze me how people can write to order in such a short time. Perhaps pressure is the key. Next week we are in the John Baldessari: Pure Beauty exhibition and I'm plotting writing games for his extraordinary new ocean installation 'Brain/Cloud', if Tate confirm we can keep the AV on that evening. This is also where we will hold the public reading at the end of the course on November 23rd. Book early if you'd like to come and hear the poems written on the course, entry is free but seating limited.

I've encouraged the poets to email me their works in progress but guess I'll have to respond on the hoof as next Tuesday I'm off to Tel Aviv to take part in the ninth Sha'ar International Poetry Festival, and I get back on Sunday night, just before Week 3 in the Pop Life exhibition, and after that I'm off to do lots of things in the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, so an exciting time ahead.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Tezcatlipoca & Guest blog for Bernardine Evaristo

This week I'm delighted to be a guest on Bernardine Evaristo's blog. Bernardine's latest novel Blonde Roots made the Orange Prize Longlist, then was shortlisted for the Orange Youth Panel Award, which it won. My guest blog is titled A Suitcase-full of Hummingbirds and explores the relationship between images and my poems and how I draw on my training as an artist in my poetry. This image from my guest post of a suitcase-full of hummingbirds in pyjamas prompted me to write my poem 'The Strait-Jackets' in The Zoo Father.

One source of imagery for me has been Mexico, both Frida Kahlo and Aztec mythology. I love this animation of Tezcatlipoca the Aztec night jaguar/ trickster god, twin to the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl. I used Aztec mythology in my third collection
The Huntress, all about my mother who suffered from severe mental illness and seemed to me as a child and teenager to be a powerful trickster, always changing faces, some quite terrifying. However, the fire/ice jaguar in this animation is a beautiful creature, and I hold on to the idea that there was some beauty within her under the terror.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Poetry from Art at Tate Modern: Anselm Kiefer

I'm researching for my Poetry from Art course which starts at Tate Modern on 19th October, enthralled as always by some of the art, and hoping we can start in the Palm Sunday room by the German artist Anselm Kiefer which is in the permanent display Energy & Process on Level 5. There's not that much space in the Kiefer room and the group's large – 26 poets plus one Tate staff and myself. If they let us work in there I guess we'll set the chairs in two rows against the back wall, facing the installation. If we're not allowed then we could work in the room next door and walk in to write.

Anselm Kiefer is a deep-thinking, spiritual artist, and will be a stark contrast to the Pop Life: Art in a Material World exhibition where we'll be working in later weeks, and to the ironic cool of John Baldessari. But in each show there are pieces I am getting very excited about working with. For now, I'll leave these images to speak for themselves, but am collecting words towards writing about them, and more importantly, towards fun ways for the class to write about them. But whenever I peer into those vitrines behind the powerful palm presence, I see new misty shapes emerge.

For our last session, on Monday 23rd November, we'll be giving a public reading of poems written during this and previous courses, in the Pure Beauty: John Baldessari show on level 4, 6.45 to 8.45pm. Details will soon be up on the Tate Modern website, (click on Talks & Discussions and Courses & Workshops).
If you'd like to come, early booking is essential as space is limited . Entry is free.