Monday, 23 February 2015

POEMS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

Just over a week to go until our Out of Time exhibition opens in the Friends' Gallery at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick.  The photographs are framed and mirror plated, the poem panels are printed, the catalogues are ready and I am rehearsing my introductory poetry reading.

Poems and photographs go well together.  I think my favourite will always be Orkney:Poems and Photographs by George Mackay Brown and Gunnie Moberg.  Recently I have been thinking of poems about photographs.

Adam Thorpe's "On a Photo of a Wainwright's Shop" (from the collection Voluntary) begins "This was where they made / each thill of dung cart, or jackwain's tailboard".  He revels in the arcane vocabulary of the wainwright's shop while mourning a now obsolete craft - "in for the kill / came the oiled pistons, the heedless Ford".

Sinead Morrissey's collection Parallax is much concerned with photography.  In "Photographing Lowry's House" she writes in the voice of the newspaper photographer who was given half an hour to take pictures of the interior of painter L S Lowry's house by the house clearance men.  Morrissey conveys the frenzy in which the photographer worked: "My camera / clicked and whirled. / Upstairs I found his studio. / I changed the film."  His "final shot" is of the artist's "trilby and his mac, hanging / from a hook, in black and white."

In "Siege" by Gillian Clarke (from Letter from a Far Country) it is a beautiful spring evening.  The poet is sorting photographs - "I, in my father's arms in this garden / with dandelion hair", "My mother, posing in a summer dress / in the corn at harvest time."  The poet is listening to "Radio news / like the smoke of conflagrations far away."  But suddenly images of war intrude: "Radio voices break and suddenly / the garden burns ... in my kitchen / is a roar of floors falling, machine guns."

On the cover of Folk by Tony Curtis is a photograph of the poet's parents.  He found it in his father's Bible after he died.   "Folk" is also the name of the title poem. It is a wonderfully affectionate piece of writing.  "My mother wears / my father's heavy raincoat" (several sizes too big for her).  His father sports "goggles and gloves"  They are about to go off on a motorbike ride as they begin a new life together.  "Hold on!" I hear him / say to my mother, / ... and she did, tightly / with both arms, / for the rest of their lives."

There is an elegiac quality to all these poems and I wonder how inevitable that is with photographs from the past.


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