This weekend, I had the good fortune to spend Saturday morning in the company of a dozen plus fellow Clydebuilt poets. The project, run by St Mungo’s Mirrorball, regularly brings emerging poets together with established poets.
Run with the support of Glasgow Life, Clydebuilt is an excellent way of expanding and developing a poets skills and repertoire. This time, there was an unruly flock of us flapping about Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, under the wing of David Kinloch, poet and professor of creative writing at Strathclyde University.
We were gathered to explore ekphrasis – the practise of writing in response to visual art. I’ve responded to many things poetically – literature and the dramatic arts often bubble up, forcing words and images through my consciousness and onto the page.
The visual arts do have a different quality though, and this was one of the things we discussed. There is a narrative in ekphrastic study about the envy writers have of visual artists. Aside from the everyday wonder we feel at someone being capable of something we fail abysmally to emulate, there is a theory that we (the writers) think they (the artists) have a somehow more direct expressive link to the world at large, through their media and their practise.
This was a myth David was keen to dispel. Speaking as someone who dabbles in film, photography and acting, I definitely concur that there is as at least as much involved in using other media to reflect the world as there is in using language.
There does remain, that said, a level of remove. Perhaps on the part of the practitioner, the challenges are different. It does occur to me though, that as consumers or enthusiasts we enjoy still and moving imagery in a different way from how we enjoy poetry, or essays or literature. The phenomenon of language may well be hard wired in humans, but the phenomena of looking and seeing have been hard wired a lot longer, in each one of us as individuals and on an evolutionary timescale.
It was great to see some familiar faces, and spend a morning immersed in art and poetry, and contemplating their relationship. And whilst convivial in itself, it was also purposeful. The esteemed professor is organising a conference on ekphrasis this June, a part of which will be a master class led by Cole Swensen, the eminent American poet and academic.
So, between now and a reconvention in May my fellow Clydebuilters and I will be giving voice to the beautiful, rich and varied paintings and objects in Kelvingrove’s collections, before poetry collides with art and academia. Hopefully, a good few of the poems will be something to shout about. Having this enquiry going on in Glasgow unquestionably is.