Wednesday 22 February 2012


Highlight of this week has been the first in a series of six workshops held at Tate Modern, led by poet Pascale Petit. I attended one term of these wonderful workshops a couple of years ago, and loved the whole experience. It is a privilege to work with Pascale, and with the other participants - but what makes these even more special is the place.
We meet when Tate Modern has closed, creeping in through a side door, and go to the chosen exhibition. There, twenty or so writers gather to take inspiration from being in privileged proximity to works of art, installations, by some of the world’s greatest artists.
Monday evening saw us in the Yayoi Kusama exhibition - not someone I was familiar with at all. Surrounded initially by colourful canvasses, which this octogenarian paints on a table, flat - it was an extraordinary enough experience, coming to terms with the images - black cartoon-like profiles, strange eyes, spiky fruit-like shapes, face upon face upon face, naif images - someone called it ‘aboriginal art’ whatever that means - all black on primary colours.
Then the installations, where we spent five silent minutes, soaking up the scene. First a half-lit domestic interior, complete with sofa and table set for supper, bookshelves, sideboard - everything covered in small neon dots, and lit by ultra-violet - like being in a still from a strange, empty home disco with a multi-coloured disco ball doing its thing!
Then the best (for this writer) an infinity mirror of a room, a myriad of tiny suspended lights that changed colour, a reflecting floor, and you were held somehow between there and here, up and down, and after a while, Kusama’s objective of obliteration of self came a little closer.
We wrote poems in response, and shared them - sharing lines, picking up lines written bythe artist as inspiration, if we wanted. And homework was to create a mirror poem. Or ‘specular’ poem. Never heard of this, and it is such fun to try out - a two stanza poem, in which the second mirrors the first, exactly. No words change - but punctuation can.

There is an example, by the poet who is credited with giving the name to the form, and making it her own, Julia Copus, here:


  1. That sounds brilliant. Loved the specular example. Will you be posting your homework?

  2. I've never heard of this sort of poem, either. I'm off to check it out now. And I hope to see the exhibit this weekend -- why see it in a civilised fashion on your own when you can be part of a screaming weekend mob? :-)

  3. Hi Neil - perhaps I wont post my own efforts. Got to at least keep up the illusion of genius, you know... (!)

  4. Hi Sue - ah, enjoy - take earplugs, seriously - for the mirror room. Cut out all the natter from visiting kids...

  5. First read Julia's poem in the "Staying Alive" anthology - ed. Neil Astley. Good stuff. Tried the form a few times, yet to master it!

    Would love to do this course.

  6. Wow, I love the specular poem! A bit like, is it a sestina, where you use the same words in different ways? Wot do I know?!

  7. HI Rachel - it aint easy, that's for sure. I thought it would be a simple matter to just repeat lines - but the syntax has to work. Am trying with some previously scribbled stuff to see if they will mirror - or at least, if they don't the result might be more interesting than the original!
    HOpe all is very well with you.

  8. HI T - I know, isnt it great! It makes things the same but not - so yes, its a 'form' - but the words have to be exactly the same - you cant change them at all. Not sure if that is the same with sestina's? Have I seen some where the line is as close as dammit but a word has changed slightly to fit the new context? Or is that the pantoum. Oh god...