Monday, 6 June 2011


'Shell' is the final poem in a series of four, all created as poetic commentaries on the 'Gloaming' series of artwork by the visual artist Melaneia Warwick. This being the last poem, I wanted to address the issue of ekphrasis within it and, in particular, Roland Barthes' claim that the creator of a work of art is merely a functionary. He postulated that the real artist was the person who viewed the work: a postmodernist point of view that strips the author/artist of all her power, breaking it into fragments and issuing a piece to every member of an ever-expanding audience.

What Barthes seems to be saying is that the meaning of a text/work of art owes nothing to its creator and everything to its interpretor. 'The birth of the reader,' he hypothesised, 'must be at the cost of the death of the author.'

For me, creating an ekphrastic poem without acknowledging the artist's intentions is both pointless and disrespectful. Whilst the poem will always be my interpretation of the artwork, it must still pay homage to the art and be driven by the visual narrative played out upon the canvas. I can put my own personal spin onto it - even use it as a metaphor for my own experiences - but I must never lose sight of the fact that it is the artist's creativity and hard labour that have spawned and inspired my poem.

With this in mind, I have attempted to celebrate the existence of a truly wonderful artist within the body of my poem. Not only does Melaneia 'live' inside her painting, she is 'pulsing with feminine light' as the creator of a stunning piece of art.

Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Melaneia for inviting me to collaborate with her on this project. It has been such a privilege to step inside her works of art and, driven by emotions generated by her incredible creativity, produce this series of four poems. For those of you who have connected with Melaneia's artwork and my accompanying poems, we will be publishing them together in a commemorative book - hopefully during the coming summertime. Look out for more details on this blog and Melaneia's website.


Should I prise open those pleached fingers
and snatch you from the grip of the beast?

Nudged by the catchlight in your ironbound eye
I think again. Perhaps that scalloped hand
pumps your lung, holds you together
in the absence of bones?

You see, it’s all oxblood and mahogany in there,
hardly the bar at the Folies Bergére:
no mirror, no reflective gaze of the audience,
only you and your invisible gods in their boxes.

I step back inside to search for ekphrastic stars,
gaze at the red and blue fronds of la gerbe
wilting beneath a window of broken colours,
your lips spring-clipped in silence,

that bloodless limb skidding in white impasto.
I delve under layers of paint, burrowing beneath slithers
of warm oil to spawning grounds pulsing with feminine light
and there, in the catacombs of your painting, I find you

offering your art up to the angels, leaving your shell
to careen through space.  Only the pigment
of you remains, unconscious material oxidizing
towards a more stable state.