Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Late Walk, Matapouri Track - Concept and Verbalisation

Limited vocabulary poems offer good opportunities for expanding writing skills. When using this technique, concepts involved must be clearly defined within the restrictions of a finite lexicon. In some ways, this may be seen as constraining,which it is, but it also offers freedom to describe in unorthodox and creative ways. It also offers the writer an opportunity to investigate questions such as whether it is possible to hold a concept without the ability to describe it, or how words are constrained by, or can be liberated from, the concepts to which they have become attached.

A Late Walk, Matapouri Track

To enter, I badly needed
Vixen nerves
The courage of midnight,
A shadow path
Into the hollow clearings,
The stink of den deepening
With the starless darkness.

Mortified I imagine hands,
Feel the pelt forest,
From the fur riven stump,
And something touches
My cold face,eyes,
With sacrificial fingers
Tearing delicately.

I imagine a legend,
Blank heirlooms,
Run through dreams,
The thrill of fronting
A long, distressing,
Hot-house death
A cold loneliness.

In sharp recognition,
A fox-faced sun
Springs into the
Redstained half-light,
Immaculate,
Brilliantly red,
Then burnt yellow.

With a deeper cry
My child shadow,
With a sharp history
Alive with her instinct
Of self-preservation,
Sings Her birth-yell.

© Martin Porter 2012

"A Late Walk, Matapouri Track" is a poem written about the Tutukaka coast using words taken excusively from three poems, Ted Hughes “The Thought Fox” (1957), Adrienne Rich “Abnegation” (1969) and Adrienne Rich “Fox” (2001). The challenge was made easier by selecting a range of eras and two different poets, but more difficult as there are no foxes in this area of New Zealand.

Although the limited vocabulary might be seen as a serious constraint, it turned into a remarkably liberating experience, revealing opportunities for metaphors that would have remained invisible otherwise. In some ways, this can be seen as a subordinate of the syntax-semantic-vocabulary model of ekphrasis, but where the semantics and syntax are not constrained, only the vocabulary.

An additional, unexpected, benefit was the development of the concepts by the vocabulary. The development from dark fear to bright relief was steered, but not created, by the available lexicon, but the remaining words revealed an unthought-of opportunity of further investigation into self-realisation, progressing the poem from a merely descriptive piece to one with a moe sophisticated meaning.

More detail of the actual process of writing this poem can be found in my blog "Small Stony Notes and Jottings" here and in additional entries in the same month.

Monday, January 7, 2013

More notes on Ekphrasis

I said in my last entry “By providing already processed material (ekphrasis) provides constraints but also different approaches for the writer and even new ways of thinking.”

One model I use is to consider the process of creative writing as utilising three different language processes:

■ Vocabulary, which provides a lexicon of words as descriptors
■ Semantics, which provides an understanding or meaning
■ Syntax, which offers structures in which words can be arranged to give meaning.

Recognising a framework such as this is useful when writing is based on another art form:

■ Unmodified description of items and actions provides a limited lexicon for use
■ The perceived subject of the source (including any title) and the response to that subject provides an understanding to be conveyed
■ The structure of the source and the techniques used can provide structure eg: repetition of motifs can be reflected as repetition of key words or phrases

In this way, writing can be creative, but limited by the source material. It is an author’s choice whether to supplement the constraints with additional material.

“So we all find the shore before sunset”, based on “War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet” by Turner attempts to limit the vocabulary to material presented in the painting, including shape and colour. The perceived supernatural and accusatory semantics of the painting have been reflected in the inclusion of the observer as well as the haunting guard and infantry. The structure of the poem includes cliche to reflect the subversion of the traditional “victory” painting by Turner and stanza break to reflect the balance of elements in the painting.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Notes on Ekphrasis

Creating poetry is more than just sitting down and writing “stuff” in a particular form. “Stuff” rarely materialises like manna, it must be found from somewhere.

Finding “stuff” to write about can be difficult. The notions of “writing what you know”, “write what you see around you” and “write from experience” are all good in principle, but when these sources seem exhausted, dry or repetitious and unchallenging, it can be useful to take a break and borrow material from somewhere else. I do not believe that everything should be written from direct experience and as a scientist, I would be peculiarly stunted if I started experimenting or theorising based only my own experience.

Other artists provide a useful source of material, usually “pre-sorted”. I suspect few artists create work from material they think unimportant, so looking at a piece of art gives an already considered source. I often chose paintings and photographs as a source, often for an exercise rather than with the deliberate intention to write a poem. Interestingly, I choose the work, I am not forced to a given work. I tend to approach this material in different ways, sometimes taking them at face value, sometimes with a more cynical eye. Sometimes my approach changes during the exercise.

The choice provides more than a source, it also provides constraints to the writing. The style of the source is often reflected in the writing style, for example, the impression of simplicity in Spencer’s “St Francis and the Birds” is reflected in the simple style of the resulting poem. Constraints may be subverted when the source acts as a catalyst to a wider ranging piece as in “So we all find the shore before sunset”, based on Turner’s allegorical “War.The Exile and the Rock Limpet”.

Although it is dangerous to mix sources, I find contrasting pieces, often in different genres, can provide a mid-ground that provides valuable thinking space. The poem “Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère, Édouard Manet, 1882″ was originally based not on the painting itself, but on Copolla’s film “Lost in Translation”. The painting provided the material, the film the constraints.

Sometimes it is not the image that provides the material, but the technique. My Marilyn poems are often based on photographs, but one in particular “The digital enhancement of photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio” is based not on the image, but the enhancement techniques.

Ekphrasis has moved on since the days where it just involved detailed description of other artists’ work and this progress makes it a valuable resource for writing. By providing already processed material it provides constraints but also different approaches for the writer and even new ways of thinking.

Friday, December 7, 2012

War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet

So we all find the shore before sunset

War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet
J.M.W. Turner, 1842

A cat may look at a king,
an exile may look at a rock limpet.
In rust-red, a doomed sun rides down,
haunts the sky and sea.
Tents on a battlefield look beautiful,
ethereal ghosts blown by wind
from fight to failure, ripped and ruined,
hanging from barren orchards, orange
in the salt marsh dusk.
                       Limpets grip
grimly to hard hats, strong
against gyre and flow, ever resisting,
grinding moats and entrenching
sockets into hollowed rock.

Mists sink as spectres, clean
of mire and mortality, stare
from eyeless orbits.
                        A cat may look at a king,
an emperor may look at a rock limpet,
while we, each one of us,
watched by an all-seeing guard,
cling on.

© Martin Porter 2012

This poem is an exercise piece, based on Turner’s painting in the Tate Britain. The poem uses a combination of colour palette and composition, scene setting and the introduction of ideosyncratic imagery in an attempt to emulate Turner’s vision. The introduction of the cliche (dating from as far back as 1562) “a cat may look at a king” is intended to reflect the odd image of the rock limpet in the painting. Using the cliche also aids the inversion of the emperor looking at the rock limpet and it is this inversion that is one of the crucial elements of the poem’s central question of who is in control here.

Other elements are also in play. The ghost-like tents as a metaphor of the spectral group of presumed dead army also reflects the conical shell of the limpet, and the hard hats of the limpet reflect the armour of the dead infantry. The motion of the sea is used as a metaphor of the ebb and flow of military campaigning. The similarity of sound between “guard” and “god” is also intentional.

What else is central to the poem? The inclusion of the audience, perhaps of the painting or perhaps of the poem, to make a final thought was important. I did not want to leave without the thought that we, all of us, may be in some way responsible for war, not necessarily directly, but possibly by our lifestyle choices, our wilful ignorance (or ignore-ance) of the desperation of others or just sheer indifference to our societal responsibilities.

Although an exercise piece, this poem has something to say, difficult as it must be to anyone who comes to it cold. This has grown from a simple collection of ideas from a painting to encompass contemporary and disturbing concepts.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Horse in Winter

Horse in Winter

Uffington, 1964

chalk supple
stretch in mid-stride
holds my stare
to the downs

sharp silhouetted
clean profiled
the eye a stop
to my eye

yesterday
snow fall
from nowhere
covers the grass

i
look to the scarp
to see the horse
as nothing

© Martin Porter 2012

This is a simple descriptive piece with no punctuation. The “i” is left lower case as using a capital “I” gives it a significance that is not necessary in the poem.

Poems with limited punctuation can raise controversy. Avoiding the obvious punctuation maintains the simplicity of the description, relying on the line and stanza breaks to provide the indicators for the reader.

To further assist the reader the location and date of the event being recalled is included.

The Uffington Horse is one of the more famous ancient monuments in England and has been well preserved, despite the occasional defacement as an act of vandalism of for ill-judged publicity.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Poetry on the Move in Guernsey


I am honoured that “My Lover is a Rainstorm” is one of the poems features in the Poetry-on-the-Move project in Guernsey.

The poem will be displayed on Guernsey buses and at Guernsey airport in time for the Second Guernsey Literary Festival featuring Roger McGough, Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy, Candy Neubert, Michael Morpurgo, Louis de Bernières among others. Click on this link to visit their website.