Saturday, 5 October 2013

A Silent Collaboration


Back in April Andrew Forster of the Wordsworth Trust asked me (and 13 other Cumbrian/Lancastrian poets) if we'd take part in a collaborative project initiated by the Lakes Collective.

They were working on pieces specifically for an exhibition in St Oswald's Church, Grasmere and wanted poems that related, broadly, to an aspect of St Oswald’s or Grasmere. Each of the poems was then be given to a member of the Collective who'd produce a piece of art/craft inspired by it.

It's always nice to be asked for a poem. And I said yes. I couldn't make the arranged talk by the Minister of St Oswald's so went alone to wander around the church, and discovered this poem in it.
 A Silent Poetry
What the relic is to the original,
this church to its God,
a word contains its thought.

To question demands more,
like arch on arch offering more light
than plaster. Faith is speechless.

Only air distinguishes between
the layering of rushes
and feathers on a wing.

The same air turns yews to music
to shade to silence
to the brimming of this breath

so everything before and beyond
is lost, so deeply here,
like the towering river, its bells

water and rope, running
through our fingers, cannot
be held or stopped

to be named or sung
except by the blackbird
pulling worms from the grass

too busy to look up. It takes flight
as brother, sister,
a shadow overhead, underfoot.
John Wordsworth is called 'a silent poet' on his headstone, otherwise I'm not too clear anymore where this poem came from. But I still liked it and was happy to read it at the launch of the exhibition last Friday at the church.
 
What I wasn't expecting was the effect of the exhibition. The work created in response to all the poems was beautiful. More moving was hearing the artists talk about the poems they'd selected and how they'd responded to it, emotionally then creatively.

'A Silent Poetry' had been chosen by the painter Joy Grindod. She spoke so eloquently on her engagement with the poem's images of the elemental existing in environment, how the poem's play with air had led her to consider the lichen in the graveyard. She photographed the lichen and painted small plates of layered acrylic and paper that created these exquisite abstracts that she then stitched into a beautiful, roughpapered book.
We talked about lichens, clean air and the space of the abstract image, while turning the thick pages. She hadn't realised the title was born of the gravestone's epitaph, which made a pleasing serendipity. It was extraordinary to touch someone's reading of a poem. Usually, obviously, the only response I get is words or facial expressions. So to be able to linger over this thoughtful manifestation was thrilling and incredibly moving that someone had taken the time to read, reread and consider the words I had set down.

While Joy was the artist who solely worked on 'A Silent Poetry', two others used it as a starting point. Bookbinder Helen Golding Miller spoke of her delight to work with such small books, used as she is to working with family bibles and other large restoration projects. She ended up making a book of each poem, detailing how the shape, subject and sounds of the poems all informed the design of each book. And Sue Brophy, a jewellery maker, designed this necklace from the poem, taking the arches and light as the main feature of the poem and thus the necklace. Again, this reconfiguration of lines and images of a poem into a sculptured object was fascinating to hear about. It reinforces my conviction of poetry as sculptural, of the unexpected delights of collboration and of the blossoming that happens when we communicate.

Of course there are all the other poems and their individual responses - of cushions, cupboards, boxes, sculpture, ceramics, hats and paintings that are spread about the church, creating this inaudible dialogue between words and object. A hum that fills the rafters and beautifully displays the union between sacred and practical, idea and thing, one person to another.

The exhibition is on in St Oswald's until 9th October.

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