Last week I led a workshop with a group of writers and artists in Bridport. Penny, Lorraine, Frances, Geoff, Val, Sally, Karen and I looked at the relationship between poetry and art. There is a thriving artistic community in Bridport, as in some other Dorset towns and villages, and we wanted to explore what sorts of understanding and inspiration art and poetry could give to each other.
‘Ekphrasis’ is the term often used for this connection between two different forms of art and it has a long tradition. Think of Keats’ poem, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, in which he describes the scenes on the antique urn, and reflects on the perfection of the moment caught in time.
‘Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve:
She cannot fade though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!’
‘Not my Best Side’ by UA Fanthorpe uses for inspiration the painting, ‘St George and the Dragon’, by Paolo Uccello. Fanthorpe’s poem is divided into 3 sections, each in the voice of one of the creatures in the painting: the dragon, the girl and St George, in that order. The poem seems to want to give a voice to figures previously considered of ‘lesser’ value than St George.
‘It’s hard for a girl to be sure if
She wants to be rescued…’
Don McLean’s song ‘Vincent (Starry Starry Night’), which could also be considered a poem, uses the paintings and the life of Van Gogh for its subject and its inspiration.
This long tradition of one art form informing, inspiring and developing another can be employed to bring depth to our own writing. I find a visit to, for example, an art gallery, museum, or concert can give me ideas, imagery and new understandings.