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.


  1. Your careful anlaysis of this work of art is only exceeded by your sincere care for the artist as an artist and as a women. The journey from your initial wish to "pry" the fingers from her "imprisonment" to that wonderful resolution of oxidizing change into the pigment essence of the artist is brilliant, I believe. Disturbing somewhat, beautiful imagry, and a satisfying resolution for this reader to see the woman/artist still in tact but changed. Bravo, Peter!

  2. Hi Jacquie ~ I love your comments because your interpretation is exactly what I wanted to achieve: a celebration of the artist as both artist and woman. And, for me, 'essence' is definitely the word that underpins 'pigment'. It was a difficult poem to write, in that I wanted to take it down a particular pathway whilst, also, attempting to 'do the artwork justice.' Thank you so much for all your support & encouraging comments.

  3. Equipped with my Peter Wilkin dictionary, I needed to look up the meaning of ekphrasis. And ekphrasis is exactly what you so spectacularly achieved with your poem. I thought though that the post-modernist approach was to state one's biases upfront prior to interpretation (I was unaware that the artist needed to be arbitrary).

    For me the beauty in art is that the artist expresses something that stirs our humanity, and that each of us has a unique way of responding to a particular art work. But I do believe that we bond with the artist when we do this, precisely because we are human.

    I love the way you describe her spirit as being free, the colour being her essence, and that she does not need to be saved, because she is already free. And you embrace her spirit by finding her in the painting.

    Your thoughtfulness and mindful interpretation is exquisite and the depth of this work impresses me deeply.

  4. Hi Quirina ~ thank you yet again for taking such an interest & for your wonderful comments. My postmodern comment was Leotard-driven, I guess. Rather than acknowledging a meta-narrative (the artist's interpretation is the only interpretation) he has taken that privilege away &, instead, privileged the numerous micro-narratives of those who view the art.

    And I agree entirely with what you say about beauty in art ~ as Keats so famously wrote: 'Beauty is truth, Truth beauty'. When beauty is stirred in the individual it encapsulates an indefatigable truth.

    As for bonding with the artist, it is impossible not to do that when we are stirred by such passion & emotion (even if our feelings towards the art are negative or ambivalent). It is a human relationship facilitated by the work of art. The artists emotions are alive & well within the artwork & it is those that we connect with intersubjectively.

    Which leads on to the final part of the poem, where -as you say- the artist is very much alive & free as a bird. And it is this I wanted to celebrate after having found her.

    Again, thank you so much for your thoughtful & encouraging comments.

  5. The imagery is so rich. I keep returning and reading and each time somethings else leaps out at me. The whole idea of Beauty and Truth has fallen out of favour. I am heartened that there are those who still care and acknowledge the transformative side of Beauty. You unpack the image so delicately with your words - I have a clear experience of your experience- an intersubjective connection to what you express.

    You treat both the artist and her image with great tenderness, it flows through each word you write here. I get the sensation of an incredibly gentle crucible doing its great work.

  6. Thank you for such lovely, positive comments Marousia. I did think of Keats' 'Urn' when I first started to create this set of poems & it's interesting that 'Beauty' has surfaced in this final set of comments.

    And I'm pleased you've mentioned intersubjectivity because I feel it's crucial to understanding any work of art. To connect with a piece of art I have to have a relationship with it &, in doing so, it ceases to be an isolated object. Instead, a state of I-Thou has been achieved. I become 'at one' with the painting.

    Thanks again for such thoughtful and supportive comments.

  7. I cannot believe it took me this long to read this truly wonderful poem in the series. It is an homage to Mel, to art, to femininity. I am blown away. It also has the scent of oils, water and brushes coursing through it's veins. And your commentary at the beginning is also fascinating. What a gift you have, Peter. I would view/read another ten of these collaborations with Mel and enjoy everyone for it's unique take on the art. Well done.

  8. Ok so I had to check the thesaurus a few times, but this poem is so well presented and well crafted, great homage to the painting your words emphasise the beauty of the art considerably, a gorgeous marriage I must say.

  9. "no mirror, no reflective gaze of the audience, only you and your invisible gods in their boxes." acknowledges the parallels between artists and mystics. Your grace as a poet shines through clearly. As a painter self possession is one of my main objectives so I appreciate your comments about not wrenching the creation from the creator to be devoured by the audience. For me art is not voyeurism but an invitation into intimacy. I wrote a blog post out the Reciprocity of Vulnerability in Art that may interest you, I don't know how I found your blog but I'm thrilled to be here. Thank you.