Saturday, October 14, 2017

Dianne Firth: The 'Poetry and Place' Exhibition

Dianne Firth: Poetry and Place (2017)

Poetry and Place

Belconnen Arts Centre

26 August - 17 September 2017

Dianne Firth: Poetry and Place (2017)

So, a couple of days ago I received a very interesting email from textile artist Dianne Firth, in Australia. In it she said (among other things):
Dear Jack,

At the 2016 Poetry on the Move festival, at Paul [Munden]'s request, you wrote a poem about Canberra. For the 2017 festival I created a textile work in response to that poem and I would like to send you a catalogue book from the resulting exhibition 'Poetry and Place'.

Could you please send me your mail address.

I haven't yet received the catalogue - I'm looking forward to that very much - but I have managed to learn quite a lot about the exhibition by doing a bit of trawling around the internet.

It's not as if this came as a complete surprise. I remember the original request, and doing quite a lot of scrabbling around to put together something which might be construed as a poem about the Canberra landscape (quite unfamiliar to me until my visit to the 2016 Poetry on the Move Festival, as one of the judges of the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor's Poetry Prize).

I did duly send off the poem, "Canberra Tales" (which you can read here, if you're curious) before the deadline in December last year, but then after that I don't think I heard any more about it. I assumed that it was a bit too weird and/or insufficiently concerned with landscape to be of much use, and so - instead - I received the lovely present last year of an art piece by Bronwyn based on the first part of the it!

Bronwyn Lloyd: 1942 (2016)

I have to say that I love art-poetry collaborations. It's always so exciting to see what an artist has made of your own crazy musings, and I do seem to have clocked up quite a few of them over the years (check it out here, if you don't believe me).

This one was a bit different, though: this one was international. For a start, Dianne Firth is pretty eminent among Australian artists. In fact, she was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday awards, which is no mean feat, and her work is clearly highly valued both in Australia and abroad. The brief for the show was as follows:
Inspired by her love of Canberra’s landscape and by contact with poets at the university’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, Firth invited poets from Australia and overseas who were in town for the summit to write about the beauty of our environment.

Some of them got carried away and came up with many poems. One British poet declined, Canberra was too far from the hedgerows of England.
I can't help wondering if I was the principal culprit among those 'who got carried away and came up with many poems' - as you can see from the list below, I seem to have been the only one whose poem got four separate works allotted to it!

The 14 poets in question, then, were:
From Canberra ... Jen Webb, Merlinda Bobis, Paul Hetherington, Subhash Jaireth, Penelope Layland, Paul Munden, Jen Crawford and Wiradjuri poet Jeanine Leane. From overseas ... Pamela Beasant (Scotland), Katharine Coles (US), Philip Gross (UK), Alvin Pang (Singapore) and Jack Ross and Elizabeth Smither (NZ).
And here are a few of the 34 works included in the exhibition:

Dianne Firth: Alvin Pang's "Icarus"

So there's the show (or the closest I can get to reconstructing it at present). Unfortunately I was too late to buy the works based on my poem, but Jen Crawford and Jen Webb were both kind enough to take photos of it, and no doubt there will be more about it in the catalogue.

So, all in all, I think I'd have to rate this as one of the nicest surprises I've ever had: entirely out of left field, but one of those serendipitous events which sometimes light up one's day. Thanks, above all, Dianne Firth - but thanks, too, to Paul Munden, for facilitating the choice of poems in the first place, and thanks to Jen Crawford, for reading out my poem at the end-of-exhibition event, and thanks to Jen Webb, for posting about it on facebook, and thus putting me on the right track!

Dianne Firth: Jen Crawford's "Call"


Richard said...

Congratulations Jack! I looked at your poems which are interesting. Are these responses to Firth's art?

If so I speculate you do what I do, I kind of imagine myself 'coming away from [the thing that inspires or motivates me] at an angle so that it is not a description but the thing [not talked about necessarily or only obliquely] becomes somehow an extension, a new total.

The tenuous connections method is also another way.

The other way around, waiting for the artist's response: well it is another thing. Sometimes it is hard to see the connection but a good artist can indicate or add. If the artist is doing as the writer then a new thing is created in the artist's direction.

With enough such interactions you start to enter into the regions of the transfinite...

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

No, no, no -- her four art pieces are responses to my poems. That was the point of the project she set up. I don't yet have a copy of the catalogue, but I imagine it will all be explained in there.

I have to say that I think she has shown considerable ingenuity in finding a visual referent in each part of the poem: in the first, the photograph; in the second, the Tasman sea; in the third, the 'mountain' on the ANU campus; and, in the fourth, the criss-crossing roads of Canberra.

They're certainly not landscape poems in any conventional way, but I find myself seeing less and less distinction between nature and culture nowadays.

Richard said...

I see. I was confused by moving between the two post places: here and where your poems are. Your poems were very good, strange and some times quite brilliant to surreal...

That one about Kermode is baffling (although the idea is intense, Kermode, the academic is put to the test which he should pass...Alvarez should the old battler). Of course Kermode has written a lot of good critical books (one I see seems to connect to Alvarez). The juxtaposition is in that (and some of the other poems) bizarre and at first almost comic but clever because surprising.

Of course the way we 'see' things is not in a direct way. Nature could be said to be anything and everything. Without culture of some kind, and we have always had such culture, in one way of seeing it, there is no Nature or perhaps even no 'nature': a sense of what we are, artifacts and stories, tools, everything. Hence the writer adds to this.

Regardless of how it went, I see the possibility of it creating more and more 'complexes' or art and literature, everything in fact. Although the focus is in some place or idea I don't see it all limited to that, such as Canberra or Auckland.

Now moving from the art-poetry complex thus created, perhaps a new thing could be and maybe already is, created...

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

It's good - as always - to get your commentary on these posts, as they make me realise that I haven't been as clear as I meant to be on the other website.

The fact is that I'm still waiting to get a copy of the catalogue before I can fill in certain aspects of the exhibition. I don't even know which authors some of the works above are linked to, let alone the content of their poems.

I may just add some extra details -- but if there's a lot, it might be more practical to add a coda to the post above. What do you think?

thanks again, jack

Richard said...

I think this kind of cooperation is always confusing. But it is reasonably clear. People have a tendency to kind of skim read (which way is not always bad either). That said I think you should update on it and add (or put another post up if time and energy permits), also tell people more about your own poems: which poems are very interesting. In fact I saw other interesting poets on there, one was Elizabeth Smither, someone who has been around a lot,and is very good as a writer poet and so on.

Richard said...

Ever since I got hold of her poetry book 'Professor Musgrove's Canary' I have tended to pick up books (including a few of her it seems many, novels) by her but though I have read some of her poems and written a poem that started off thinking about a portrait of her* (in the NZ Listener) I haven't, to my shame, read enough of her work. But what I loved about that book immediately, was the cover. (Just as I got a lot of books by Will Self and also Susan Hill because of the covers...initially for the covers often of paper backs...but now I want to read them): I think though that that shows how prolific some poets are and either the importance of art-literature and art-lit with the cover having an effect on the book, whether it is sold. Literally.

Of course the books have to be good. Smither's titles are good also. I think it is only recently that NZ books have begun to look as interesting as other books from Britain, Europe or the US (Smithyman's books look reasonably good but somehow he has been overlooked more than he should have been by international critics)....

I mentioned her -- and these things -- in my usual irrelevant way but as I type this I am thinking that your style has some similarity with Smither's.

And looking at this post here: my eye is drawn to the art. It is great. It is much harder to concentrate on writing. Reading poetry, especially but not only modern poetry, is hard: whereas we tend to respond to art work of the type seen here more immediately. This takes over the reading of it (of the art and your explication and the poems themselves!). Of course some people can take in all these things very quickly and assess so it is no problem for them.

I think you need to post, or re-post, showing the poems first then show the response by the artist to each poem. People may not respond, but I think it eventually gets seen by enough.

Another step in all this would be another response to the two things: the art and the poem. This could be then responded to again, perhaps with or by music or some other media (audio, braille et al).And now I am heading toward infinity again!

Do these collaborative things work well? I'm not sure. If there are connections they are not direct and that is good. I think it is more fun, the reader gets to respond in many different ways. My view of the poem-art may have no connection to the artist or the writer's intentions but the fact that I respond (either by a letter or simply silently contemplating these) is good in itself. It deepens things. That is what you are doing. In a time when crazy men shake nuclear spears at each other we can think of interesting things that reflect the strangeness of those men but also the richness of (if the fallibility) of the strange or "crazy" human mind of soul or whatever it is...

* The poem is not about the poet in question as such but kind of takes off from the image, knows it is about a poet, and creates a composite of the image of her a la Ashbery's 'Self Portrait...' also using the technique of "exact measurement" and the irony or comic aspect is that of say a Beckett character obsessed with pacing a certain number of paces or his seeming obsession with numbers and measurement, repetition etc Smither's poetry also (like yours also Jack?) seems to have that surreal-comic-ironic tone, and those "jumps": those witty unexpected images, and the near or neo "Metaphysical" conceits...And of course my poem is a kind of oblique Ekphrasis I think the term is, and that is what is what is happening here. Of course I tend to be very liberal in my interpretation and classifications of these things.