Pictures and Poetry Online Transcripts

Pictures and Poetry

In these workshops, we use artworks as the inspiration for writing ekphrastic poetry (poetry inspired by pictures). They are run in partnership with Hereford Mind, Heffernan House, Hereford, to help people maintain their mental health and equilibrium, which is of course all of us! Now in the lockdown we are delivering these sessions via zoom, see poster. If you would like to attend the next session, please message manager@poetry-festival.co.uk. We are very grateful to practitioner Sara Jane Arbury for changing to online delivery and sharing her transcripts for sessions. Scroll down for transcript of April’s session on the paintings of Edward Hopper, and May’s session on Journeys. 

Session July 2020

EXERCISE ONE: This is a warm-up writing exercise called Lines About Headlines

Choose a headline from this list and write a poem/piece inspired by it. This may be stream-of-consciousness thoughts, a newspaper item, a diary entry, a piece from the point of view of a character involved in the story, an interview…etc.

The headlines have been collected from newspapers since March 2020. They can be used as prompts to write lockdown poems from different angles.

EXERCISE TWO: The theme of this exercise is THE ART OF L S LOWRY
This part is about looking closely at Lowry’s artworks and considering example poems.

Let’s begin with some quotes by Lowry on art:
“You don’t need brains to be a painter, just feelings.”

“I am not an artist. I am a man who paints.”

“If people call me a Sunday painter, I’m a Sunday painter who paints every day the week.”

“My ambition was to put the industrial scene on the map, because nobody had done it, nobody had done it seriously.”

“I wanted to paint myself into what absorbed me … Natural figures would have broken the spell of it, so I made my figures half unreal. Some critics have said that I turned my figures into puppets, as if my aim were to hint at the hard economic necessities that drove them. To say the truth, I was not thinking very much about the people. I did not care for them in the way a social reformer does. They are part of a private beauty that haunted me. I loved them and the houses in the same way: as part of a vision.”

“I am a simple man, and I use simple materials: ivory black, vermilion, Prussian blue, yellow ochre, flake white and no medium. That’s all I’ve ever used in my paintings. I like oils … I like a medium you can work into over a period of time.” While Lowry often claimed to only use these five colours, he also used titanium white and zinc white. This use of other paints became helpful when determining that works were genuine and not forgeries.

Lowry on painting his Seascapes:
“It’s the battle of life – the turbulence of the sea … I have been fond of the sea all my life, how wonderful it is, yet how terrible it is. But I often think … what if it suddenly changed its mind and didn’t turn the tide? And came straight on? If it didn’t stay and came on and on and on and on … That would be the end of it all.”

There is a lot of information about the life and work of L S Lowry here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._S._Lowry

For more information about Lowry, visit: https://thelowry.com/

Information about Lowry’s work can also be found here: https://www.christies.com/features/10-things-to-know-about-LS-Lowry-8657-1.aspx

Take a close look at the following artworks by Lowry. Consider how they work as art, how and why were they created, how the artworks make you feel, etc…

Pictures from L to R clockwise: L.S. Lowry: Going To Work (1943) LS Lowry’s iconic painting ‘Going to Work,’ was commissioned in 1943 at the height of the Second World War by the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC). Heavy industry was playing a crucial role in the war effort and the WAAC wanted to reflect that in their art collection.  Filled with all the signature features that have made Lowry such a much-loved artist, ‘Going to Work,’ is set in front of the Mather & Platt engineering works in Manchester as the crowd of matchstick workers flow into the factory. The white sky and ground, originally thought to be snow, is in fact an evocation of industrial haze. At the time, Lowry was paid 25 guineas for the commission and finished ‘Going to Work’ in three months. Once complete, it went on display at home and abroad as the WAAC attempted to promote Britain’s Second World War effort; The Rush Hour (1964); Seascape (1945); Girl With Red Shoes (1960); Two People (1962)

Now look at these poems:

Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs by Brian Burke & Michael Coleman:
For a film of the song, visit here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmopSVOMSsU
For the lyrics, visit here: https://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/m/matchstalkmenandmatchstalkcatsanddogs.html

Notice the rhyme scheme used in the lyrics of this song (aa b cc b in the verses) and the use of a chorus.

L S Lowry by Howard Chapman:
https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/l-s-lowry/
(Notes from the author: Common to most urban landscape paintings of L. S. Lowry is a curious pale yellow hue, reminiscent of the snow scenes by Dutch masters but peopled by the peasantry of Salford. The background was borne of a practical technique, layering white paint on the bare canvas or wood and then scraped smooth. This provided a clear base for the composites of industrial buildings and strange isolated folk who so fascinated Lowry. Growing up in Old Trafford in the 50’s I remember that yellowed light, later banished by ‘smokeless zones’ and the ‘Clean Air Act’. Lowry evokes that light for me: dank November nights carrying ‘Pink’ paraffin home, the can cutting into cold hands, the menacing smog filling me with dark imaginings of bogey men and murders. I remember, too, when I first started work in Trafford Park, once the largest industrial estate in Europe. The AEI Metrovic factory I travelled to features in a number of Lowry’s paintings. The early morning bus filled up with workmen coughing up phlegm. The gloom seemed to be outside and inside and within, like a thorough shroud for body and soul)

Notice the descriptions, the sounds of the words and the ‘word music’ in this poem.

Haikus by John Kitching:
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ZV7JlTpXeAQC&pg=PA209&lpg=PA209&dq=the+pen+in+my+hand+kitching&source=bl&ots=4NFmfIkgn3&sig=ACfU3U0yS_WTzosn2ZjBPapNoakg1QfYdg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiXy5zojqzqAhVlRRUIHbBpD0kQ6AEwAXoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=the%20pen%20in%20my%20hand%20kitching&f=false
An example of a poem called a renga – linked haikus on a common theme. Haikus fit well with Lowry’s artwork as they are also seemingly simple forms that say so much more than the sum of their parts. A haiku is a short poem of three lines with a syllable structure of 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second and 5 syllables in the third line. You can link haikus about a common theme together like beads on a string to create a longer poem called a renga.

Think about the form, patterns and repetitions in the poems, the ‘word music’, what each poem is saying to the reader, how you feel when you read them, etc.

EXERCISE THREE: Write a poem inspired by the theme of The Art Of L S Lowry

This part is about writing your poem.

Choose an image to work with. Make notes about it. What does it make you think about? What do you notice about it? How does it make you feel? What do you think about when you look at it?

Next, write a detailed description of the work of art. Include words that indicate size, shape, colour, light/shade, objects, figures, positions etc. You may notice details in the painting that you hadn’t before.

Finally, write a poem in response to your work of art. If you need inspiration, look back at the notes you have made. Remember, there are many different ways to go about this.

Some suggested approaches:
•           Write about the scene or subject being depicted in the artwork.
•           Relate the work of art to something else it makes you think of or a memory.
•           Write about the experience of looking at the art.
•           Speculate about how or why the artist created this work.
•           Imagine a story behind what you see presented in the work of art.
•           Imagine what was happening while the artist was creating this work.
•           Speak to or directly address the artist or the subject(s) of the painting, in your own voice.
•           Write in the voice of the artist.
•           Write in the voice of a person or object depicted in the artwork.

Your poem could be written in the form and/or style of one of the example poems – eg: using the particular rhyme scheme of the Matchstalk song; including lots of details and description of a lived experience as in Howard Chapman’s poem; adopting a form such as a renga…

And, of course, you are perfectly free to do your own thing!
Enjoy!

©Sara-Jane Arbury

Have you uploaded your Poetry of the Woods on our online submission?

The Festival is grateful to Arts Council England the Garfield Weston Foundation, and to Herefordshire Mind where these workshops normally take place

Participants’ poems inspired by this session


Session May 2020.

EXERCISE ONE: This is a warm-up writing exercise called Words In Names
Write your full name on a piece of paper (or use someone else’s name).

Now spend 5 minutes listing as many words as you can find that appear in your name. Try to find at least ten words and try to find words with lots of letters, for example, I have the word JANUARY in my name SARA-JANE ARBURY!

Next write a short piece/poem/story using as many of the words in your list as possible. You may repeat any found words.

This is also an unusual way to create unique messages for friends and family members by using their names as the starting point!

EXERCISE TWO: The theme of this exercise is JOURNEYS
This part is about looking closely at artworks and considering two example poems on this theme.

“People have always moved around the world. Early humans were nomadic, travelling in search of food, shelter, and safety. Today, people move for many different reasons, including economic, political, cultural, religious, and environmental. Sometimes, events beyond people’s control, like war or natural disaster, leave them displaced and forced to migrate. Other times, people migrate voluntarily, perhaps in search of better work opportunities or a different lifestyle. For many artists, their own migrations and those of their ancestors shape their identities and the art they produce. As people move, they bring their traditions, knowledge, and beliefs with them. Often, as much as they absorb the culture of their new home, they influence it with their own traditions.”
(Preface to Migration & Movement exhibition, MoMA, Manhatten)

Take a close look at the following artworks. Consider how they work as art, how and why were they created, how the artworks make you feel etc…

Paintings top row left to right:

René Magritte: Le Domaine d’Arnheim
https://www.christies.com/features/When-artists-dream-of-far-flung-lands-10390-3.aspx (follow the link and scroll down to the picture)

The Belgian Surrealist, René Magritte, named this painting after the short story The Domain of Arnheim by Edgar Allan Poe. In German, the word ‘Arnheim’ means ‘home of the eagle’, which is reflected in Magritte’s imperious bird-mountain (look closely!)

Magritte had never been to the Alps, but in 1926 he came across a photograph of the mountain range in a travel brochure and used it as inspiration for his bird-mountain. He was so pleased with the results that he painted the Alpine vista another nine times. It became one of his most enduring symbols.

Carry Akroyd: Winter Thrushes Head Home
https://www.carryakroyd.co.uk/prints/ (follow this link and click on the title of the picture to call it up)

Third painting no commentary

Paintings bottom row left to right:

Ford Madox Brown: The Last of England
https://medium.com/thinksheet/how-to-read-paintings-the-last-of-england-by-ford-madox-brown-73eb9e41840f
This painting is in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Brown began it in 1852 when emigration from England was at a peak, with over 350,000 people leaving that year. The painting depicts a man and his wife seeing England for the last time. The white cliffs of Dover are disappearing behind them in the top right of the picture.

In the foreground a row of cabbages hang from the ship’s rail, provisions for the long voyage. In the background are other passengers, including a pair of drunken men and a family. The father is barely visible except for the pipe he holds; his daughter has her arm around a curly-haired boy. There is a fair-haired child eating an apple behind the man’s shoulder.

In order to mirror the harsh conditions in the painting Brown worked mostly outside in his garden, and was happy when the weather was poor – he recorded his feelings of delight when the cold turned his hand blue, as this was how he wanted it to appear in the painting. He was seen as strange by his neighbours who saw him out in all kinds of weather.  His diary noted that the “ribbons of the bonnet took me 4 weeks to paint”.

Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Panel No. 3 (1940-41)
https://www.phillipscollection.org/collection/browse-the-collection?id=1153&page=3

Follow this link to find out more about the life and work of Jacob Lawrence
https://lawrencemigration.phillipscollection.org/

The Migration Series is a group of sixty paintings by African-American painter Jacob Lawrence which depicts the migration of 1.6 million African Americans to the northern United States from the South that began in the 1910s. Lawrence conceived of the series as a single work rather than individual paintings and worked on all of the paintings at the same time, in order to give them a unified feel and to keep the colours uniform between panels. Viewed in its entirety, the series creates a narrative that tells the story of the Great Migration. Lawrence created the sixty paintings in the series in 1940–41 when he was twenty-three years old.

The panels depict the dire state of black life in the South, with poor wages, economic hardship and a justice system rigged against them. The North offered better wages and slightly more rights, although was not without its problems.

Now look at these two poems about journeys: Sea Fever by John Masefield
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/54932/sea-fever-56d235e0d871e
and Out Of Africa by Grace Nichols
https://prezi.com/pudzhk1_zo3-/out-of-africa-by-grace-nichols/ (scroll down for the poem)

Think about the form, patterns and repetitions in the poems, the ‘word music’, what each poem is saying to the reader, how you feel when you read them, etc.

Jerri Finch: Abundant Splendor
http://jerrifinch.com/painting-journeys.htm (follow the link and click on the image of the man in the air on the far right of the screen as you look at it)

EXERCISE THREE: Write a poem inspired by an artwork on the theme of Journeys.
This part is about writing your poem.

Choose an image to work with. Make notes about it. What does it make you think about? What do you notice about it? How does it make you feel? What do you think about when you look at it?

Next, write a detailed description of the work of art. Include words that indicate size, shape, colour, light/shade, objects, figures, positions etc. You may notice details in the painting that you hadn’t before.

Finally, write a poem in response to your work of art. If you need inspiration, look back at the notes you have made. Remember, there are many different ways to go about this.

Some suggested approaches:
•          Write about the scene or subject being depicted in the artwork.
•          Relate the work of art to something else it makes you think of or a memory.
•          Write about the experience of looking at the art.
•          Speculate about how or why the artist created this work.
•          Imagine a story behind what you see presented in the work of art.
•          Imagine what was happening while the artist was creating this work.
•          Speak to or directly address the artist or the subject(s) of the painting, using your own voice.
•          Write in the voice of the artist.
•          Write in the voice of a person or object depicted in the artwork.

Your poem could be written in the style of one of the example poems.

And, of course, you are perfectly free to do your own thing!

©Sara-Jane Arbury

Have you uploaded your Poetry of the Woods on our online submission?

The Festival is grateful to Arts Council England the Garfield Weston Foundation

Participants’ poems inspired by this session


Session April 2020.

EXERCISE ONE: A warm-up writing exercise called In Our Mind’s Eye.
It takes the concept of Slow Looking as its inspiration. Here is an article about Slow Looking from The Guardian:
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2018/jul/24/why-taking-it-slow-in-an-art-gallery-could-change-your-life

Choose a picture that you have displayed on a wall at home. Slow Look at it like this: Study the picture for 5 minutes. Really look at it. Absorb yourself in the picture. Then write a piece about it for 5 minutes without looking at it. What do you remember about it? What impressions do you take from it? Is there something there you haven’t noticed before? What is its essence? Finish your piece by telling us why you have the picture displayed on your wall.

EXERCISE TWO: The theme for this writing exercise is THE ART OF EDWARD HOPPER
Before you begin, take a look at this picture of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Nymph%C3%A9as_(1905).jpg
This link will take you to an article called Backing into Ekphrasis: Reading and Writing Poetry about Visual Art by Honor Moorman. The article contains two poems inspired by Monet’s painting. One poem speaks to the artist in a spectator’s voice and the other adopts the voice of the water lilies themselves.
http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/ekphrasis.pdf

Now look at these paintings by Edward Hopper (1882-1967, American painter and printmaker):
Room In New York
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_in_New_York#/media/File:Room-in-new-york-edward-hopper-1932.jpg
Cape Cod Morning https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/cape-cod-morning-10760
Cape Cod Evening https://www.edwardhopper.net/cape-cod-evening.jsp
Room In Brooklyn (scroll down for picture)
http://www.thelonelypalette.com/episodes/2016/12/28/episode-13-edward-hoppers-room-in-brooklyn-1932
Night Windows https://www.edwardhopper.net/night-windows.jsp
Hotel By A Railroad https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hotel-by-a-Railroad-Edward-Hopper-1952.jpg

Cape Cod Morning 1950 by Edward Hopper

Choose one of these images to work with and make notes about it. Why did you choose this picture? How does it make you feel? What does it it make you think about? Memories?

Make notes describing the picture – colour, light/shade, objects, figures, positions, shapes, etc.

Finally, write a poem in response to your picture. Look back at your notes for inspiration. Here are some suggested approaches:

Write a poem in the style of one of the example ‘Monet’ poems (addressing the artist directly as a spectator or in the voice of someone or something depicted in the picture).
Imagine a story behind what you see presented in the picture. What else is going on in the scene?
Write about the experience of looking at the picture. Relate the picture to something else it makes you think of, for example, a memory or your current situation.

With thanks to Backing into Ekphrasis: Reading and Writing Poetry about Visual Art by Honor Moorman

You might enjoy this article about why Edward Hopper is a telling artist for the coronavirus age

© Sara-Jane Arbury

Have you uploaded your Poetry of the Woods on our online submission?

The Festival is grateful to Arts Council England the Garfield Weston Foundation

Participants’ poetry from this session