2b Illustrating poetry

The aim of this exercise (and Assignment Two) is to encourage you to develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones, to give a sense of something rather than a record of it..

Choose a poem that resonates with you then interpret it through photographs. Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.

Start by reading the poem a few times (perhaps aloud) and making a note of the feelings and ideas it promotes, how you respond to it, what it means to you and the mental images it raises in your mind. Next, think about how you’re going to interpret this visually and note down your ideas in your learning log.

You may choose to develop this idea into creating a short series of images reflecting your personal response to the poem (or another poem). Write some reflective notes about how you would move the above exercise on.

The number of pictures you choose to produce for the exercises and assignments in this course, including this one, is up to you. Try to keep in mind the following tips for knowing when you have done enough/not done enough:
• Are the images repeating themselves? Are there three versions of the same picture for example? Can you take two out?
• Does each image give a different point of view or emphasise a point you want to make?
• Do the images sit well together visually?
• Have you given the viewer enough information? Would another picture help? Blog about it.

C&N, p. 60

[16Feb20] Initial thoughts

One of my earliest web sites, written towards the end of the last century, was Poetry Corner. In 2009, this was subsumed into Snap-Dragon, a portal of sorts. This was all written in Microsoft’s Front Page HTML editor, a piece of bloatware that produced absurdly inefficient code – the site has not been updated for a long time. But back to the poetry.

I have two favourite poems, Henry Reed’s poignant Lessons of War: Naming of Parts and E.J. Thribb’s frivolous In Memoriam Kenneth Wood, inventor of the “Kenwood” Mixer and the Reversible Toaster.

To these may be added a couple that I have encountered more recently, Anti-Hiraeth, by Mab Jones and The Lyric Eye by Zaffar Kunial.

The poems are copied at the end of the page.

[18Feb20] Anti-Hiraeth cannot be done without returning to Wales and that is unlikely to happen soon. (When it does, I intend to shoot another EyV Square Mile.)

In Memoriam is amusing whimsy.

Naming of Parts was always going to be the target for this exercise. The glory of the poem is the way that it intertwines two incongruous narratives – one is always about firearm components (overlaid with the barked You ‘orrible little man instruction of a sergeant major) and the second about flowers. The key linking element is spring as a homonym.

Fig. 1
Young girl holding a flower, demonstration against the war in Vietnam, Washington, 1967
Marc RiboudMarc Riboud

(There are, of course, numerous other themes and contrasts: poorly-equipped and ill-prepared troops; insects promoting fecundity while mankind industrialises slaughter and so on.) But it’s guns and flowers in essence so my initial thought was a triptych — gun on the left, flower on the right, something in the middle. This morning, Marc Riboud’s iconic (a much overused term, but accurate in this case) iconic image of an anti-Vietnam protester (fig. 1) came to mind. So it’s off to the Imperial War Museum (IWR) this morning with a daffodil in a yoghurt pot – it’s the only flower currently available in the garden.

[18Feb20 22:01] The IWR was hopeless: not an accessible barrel in sight.

Having defined what is needed, completion will have to wait until I find a rifle (preferably with a bayonet) to photograph. The lone daffodil is now on the dining table.

Gun, Flower
Nik Filter Analog Efex,
I’m feeling lucky…

[25Feb20] Aware that some readers might feel short-changed by my efforts so far on this exercise, I have returned to it and learned two important things about my attitude to aspects of photography.

In the first instance, having thought of a ‘solution’ to the exercise, making the actual shot become unimportant. Part of this must be because it was an externally designed and set task to which I was not particularly devoted — had it been a personal project I would have pursued it more vigorously. It was only later that guilt kicked in.

So, having decided that something must be done, I considered appropriation. This notion is firmly in my mind at the moment, having recently experienced Eleanor Macnair’s work, and read, at her bidding, Robert Shore’s fascinating Beg, Steal and Borrow: Artists Against Originality. I thought I was set to find a solution by Googling images of rifles, apple blossom and bees, but having found them, to my surprise, I simply could not bring myself to fiddle with someone else’s photographs. I enjoy Richard Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy) (and his audacity) and I enjoy and understand (I think) Jonathan Lewis’ Mona Lisa pieces but, it would seem, only at a distance. Fiddling with my own sketch with Nik Filter’s Analog Efex set to I’m feeling lucky… (fig. 2) was trauma-free. I am comfortable with showing artists’ work on this site, although I do regard it as an educational resource and limit the pixel count to a dimensional maximum of 960, to bolster my fair use defence. But interfering with another’s work is another matter.

Fig. 3
Chanson, Shakespeare, NPG

Moving on,

Having decided to represent a complex poem with a single image and then failed to deliver that image, I will placate the reader by enpicting (we might be present at the birth of a new word) a second poem, but again, with only one image. Zaffar Kunial’s Lyric Eye concerns a poet coming to terms with his art. He uses the metaphor of looking at a portrait of Shakespeare at the National Portrait Gallery and seeing a reflection of his own face merging with the portrait as his words join Shakespeare’s in becoming part of the lexicon of English literature. This is captured quite nicely in fig. 3, an image of the Chandos portrait at the NPG to which Kunial refers. The depicted viewer’s mobile screen is visible, echoing the portrait (although there is insufficient detail to discern any reflection). It is arguable that a photograph of someone taking a standard selfie looking away from the painting might have better captured the absurdity of that idiom, but fig. 3 is more faithful to the subject.

Any progress on Exc. 2.3 will be shown below.

Gun, Flower, 25 Feb 2020
Fig. 4
Gun, Flower, 25 Feb 2020

And here it is – Fig. 4 — I was reminded that there is an air pistol in the loft that I have had since childhood. It was retrieved and the well-travelled daffodil inserted.

Henry Reed

Lessons of War: Naming of Parts

To Alan Michel

‘Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria’

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards; we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring. It is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb; like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.

E.J. Thribb

In Memoriam Kenneth Wood, inventor of the “Kenwood” Mixer and the Reversible Toaster.

So. Farewell then
Ken Wood.

Inventor of the

Reversible the of
Wood Ken.

Then farewell

E.J. Thribb, inventor of the
Reversible Poem (½71)

Published in Private Eye, Number 936, 31 October 1997, page 19.

The cleverest poem by the cleverest of poets

Mab Jones


Do I have to write about these bold Welsh hills
As senseless and certain as an old man’s knees
Do I need to contemplate the coughing wind,
the spit-soak (?) rain, the sky as grey as a flannel?
So many poets spin meaning from this landscape,
dip ink from in its wells.
But why should I pen what I feel pens me in
The woollen past, as smothering as a blanket?

Give me what is new
give me youth, travel, fashion,
airports and Twitter,
my Italian coffee maker.
Give me strong wi-fi which pierces the fog of the Rhondda
bringing me daily connection with the world.

Old man Wales with your bleating hymns of the past
you can’t tell me how to feel
can’t tell me what to do
though, like the sheep, I’ll leave you all my bones.

© Mab Jones

Transcribed from a radio reading.

Zaffar Kunial

The Lyric Eye

I’ve stood at your portrait at different times
Clocked my own face now and then in the glass
a cloud eclipsed, vaguely before, or behind you.
Half-cast † , at a loss,
even the gloss, back then, at school, left me looking this blank
in the dark, not on the same page as you.
But when I stand
almost in a blink, I can place my eyes glazed over your stare.
Let you lend me your ear, your famous cheek,
let the flare of your nostril stretch thin air ,
even try on your earring from five feet.
Four (?) centuries apart, I swear, by this lapse
the light on you mouth seems cast half on mine
when I borrow the line between you lips.

† Kunial explains this word in the broadcast before reading the poem.

Transcribed from a radio reading.