Thursday, 17 March 2011

Trapped Memories, Invented Truths

When Melaneia Warwick recently invited me to collaborate with her on a limited edition book I was overjoyed. I had 'discovered' her and been following her as @Melaneia on Twitter for months, intrigued by her wonderful artwork.

Melaneia is a rapidly emerging visual artist who currently has a solo exhibition entitled 'Trapped Memories, Invented Truths' at the Butetown History & Arts Centre in Cardiff. Her artistic practice is concerned with the nature of oral history. She draws and paints in the way stories are told: there is a narrative, yet the characters are not figures but objects borrowed from friends’ houses – a top hat, an angel’s dress, a gourd.

These objects are not chosen for their formal properties but for the tales they could tell. Each bibelot (curio), whether a treasured or neglected possession, invites speculation about its history and, by association, our own: where does it come from? What has it endured? How will it be remembered?

Melaneia’s artistic process contains clues to her own history, one informed by her mother’s prowess as a storyteller, her dual nationality and her mastery of linguistics. In childhood she began painting with her fingers on woodchip paper. Now, she continues to forge a visceral connection with her subject. Rather than only drawing from observation, she uses her hands to explore its contours and its inner recesses and then draws from memory and sensation. It may take weeks to effect the object’s transition from a stranger spotted in a dusty store to a casual acquaintance to a much-loved friend.

Our collaboration, which we hope will come to fruition by the end of 2011, will focus on Melaneia’s 'Gloaming' series and include giclee prints, reflections, observations and word sketches: fairly brief interpretations of each of the four paintings in the series.

Although I have already written a number of preparatory haikus & senryus about each of the four paintings, I wanted to write a longer poem about a single painting that would afford me the space to word-paint my own invented truths. The painting I have chosen is called ‘Protective’: 

And here is my poetic interpretation, also called 'Protective', of Melaneia's painting:

You stood back at first, stunned by its opalescence
and nacreous pinks. Slowly, as if to spin out the thrill,
you raised it to your ear and gasped as Etesian winds
picked up those apple-scented murmurs of Eden.

It was when you peered inside and drew your finger
over its satin lamina that realisation began to dawn.
This was no discarded carapace. This was the creaking
frustration of compressed wings, a floundering Throne.

And then you saw her, the whole unfolding of her body
as she levitated in the gathering storm: a dithering angel
with coralline pinions, each laboured flap flinging droplets
of holy water, splashing a sacrament on your soft skin.

You smiled and held out your hands, invited her to stay,
said she could sleep in the room purged of all shadows.
That was when Truth raised her eyebrows in disbelief,
when the squall struck, sweeping her back to the sea.

Friday, 4 March 2011


In a theatre of green sanitized people
you lay blocked into submission,
screened from the red-soaked gauzes
piled like sandbags round your belly.
‘Is she alive?’ you asked me,
your eyes crushed with disbelief.

Four days later (your milk
still oozy droplets of yellow)
I watched the pain raid your face
as you softly trod the cobblestones
in our street, sunlit puddles
of mud steaming like butter-rich stew.

Driven by moon tides, your baby
(all ribs and thin flesh,
her navel clipped in pink plastic)
lurched blindly to your swollen nipple.
Your eyes, blue as stars
blazed gently on her artless fumbles.

When morning yawned we huddled
like hostages, her tiny breathings
captured beneath soft blankets.
Pillow-propped, you offered her your milk.
I caught the heft of your sigh
as she suckled to the lick of your flow.