apropos putting things into words -

Aquabob, clinkerbell, daggler, cancervell, ickle, tankle, shuckle, crottle, doofers, honeyfur, zawn
IMG_0972The English language used to be a rich language, full of vivid, precise words to describe the landscape and natural phenomena. But where are these words nowadays? According to Robert Macfarlane we have not kept up with developing this side of our language, on the contrary we have an impoverished language for landscape. He is worried that  A language in common, a language of the commons, is declining.

Here are some examples of (almost, or soon to be) lost words:

  • a caochan: a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight
  • feadan: a small stream running from a moorland loch
  • rionnach maoim: the shadows cast on the moorland by clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day
  • spangin: walking vigorously
  • roarie bummlers: fast-moving storm clouds

Words die when we stop using them. But we do also create new ones. Finding the right words, the best words, is a difficult job. Some of us spend most of our days searching for them.

Why should this loss (the loss of words) matter? You can’t even use crizzle as a Scrabble word: there aren’t two “z”s in the bag (unless, of course, you use a blank). It matters because language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted.

- Robert Macfarlane

“The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there,” observed JA Baker in The Peregrine (1967), a book that brilliantly shows how such seeing might occur in language. To me there is a parallel here – writing about art and writing about nature are similar activities. As a writer I comprehend, perceive, discern, recognize and understand the world and myself through and with words.

It is of the greatest importance that we keep our language living.

a grounded instance of seeing

I’ve just read this very interesting text on ekphrasis by Alfred Corn, the text can be found at poets.org; here are some passages on contemporary poetry

Notes on Ekphrasis

Perhaps the most effective contemporary poems dealing with visual art are those where the authors include themselves in the poem, recounting the background circumstances that led to a viewing of the painting or sculpture in question; or what memories or associations or emotions it stirs in them; or how they might wish the work to be different from what it is (a very interesting point I haven’t considered). The center of attention in this kind of poem isn’t solely the pre-existing work but instead is dual, sharing the autobiographical focus found in the majority of contemporary lyric poems written in English.

Poems like these unite ekphrasis with the autobiographical tradition, which is equally ancient and probably more important than ekphrasis alone. (…) Of course you can argue that an ekphrastic poem providing no information at all about the author may still convey autobiographical content indirectly, in the form of “voice,” tone, level of diction, and the kind and frequency of judgments made in the course of presentation. In “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” Rilke gives us no precise autobiographical facts about himself; nevertheless, we get a strong sense of the author’s character and prospects from his presentation of the subject, in particular, when he imagines the torso saying to him, “You must change your life.”

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from Richard Mosse The Enclave (2013)

More directly autobiographical ekphrastic poems locate the act of viewing visual art in a particular place and time, giving it a personal and perhaps even an historical context. The result is then not merely a verbal “photocopy” of the original painting, sculpture, or photograph, but instead a grounded instance of seeing, shaped by forces outside the artwork. In such poems, description of the original work remains partial, but authors add to it aspects drawn from their own experience—the facts, reflections, and feelings that arise at the confluence of a work of visual art and the life of the poet.

Isn’t a grounded instance of seeing a great concept & wouldn’t it also present us with an extremely challenging position to write from – as if from within …

Heart of Darkness – the Pink Version

My first ekphrastic text will be on Richard Mosse’s The Enclave. I went to see the exhibition in Amsterdam a year ago, tomorrow I will go to Copenhagen to see it again – The Enclave is now on show at Louisiana in Humlebæk.

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I will start my journey into Mosse’s work by first writing a review of the exhibition for Morgenbladet. A newspaper review has to be short, precise and to-the-point, it teaches the writer to compress – the essay allows one to digress. So in a way these two genres can be understood as antithetic. Still I believe writing a review is a good entranceway into a more complex text.

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My main question to myself is why I find these pink images of war so totally enchanting, hopefully my text will tell me …


Richard Mosse (born Kilkenny, Ireland, 1980) is an Irish conceptual documentary photographer. The installationThe Enclave premiered at the 2013 Venice Biennale in the Irish Pavilion, and in 2014 Mosse received the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for his work.

imaginative contact

My OFFICE is up and running; warm and welcoming – and very quiet. I go there every morning, not bringing my mac. I write and read, undisturbed. Being off-line makes all the difference. In the afternoon I go back home, where I also have a work-station, and a computer, and this is the place I write my reviews, my blog posts and do all kinds of worldly things.

shedexplosion01Cornelia Parker: Cold Dark Matter, An Exploded View © Hugo Glendinning

I have two major writing projects going on. One top secret purely fiction, the other a book on art, which I’ve already written a lot about on these pages. But during the last two weeks I’ve gotten a better grip on it.

I’m writing a series of ekphrasis’ on contemporary works of art. My intention is to bring the reader into imaginative contact with the artworks I’m writing about, convey a feeling of being there, with the art – in it. Thats why I have chosen ekphrasis as method.

Origin of EKPHRASIS

Greek ekphrasis, literally, description, from ekphrazein to recount, describe, from ex- out + phrazein to point out, explain

Ekphrasis of a work of art is an ancient literary practice. An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. But one can also write ekphrastic in other genres. Through the act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a work of art, the writer amplifies and expands its meaning.

During the Greek period ekphrasis included descriptions of battle implements, as well as fine clothing, household items of superior craftsmanship (urns, cups, baskets), and exceptionally splendid buildings.

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Cornelia Parker: Cold Dark Matter, An Exploded View © Hugo Glendinning

Today ekphrasis seems mainly to be connected to visual arts, which is also where I am writing from. My intention is to find a place to speak from in-between poetry and factual prose – the lyrical essay might be the best definition.

Writing an ekphrasis on for example Cornelia Parker‘s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), one of the artworks I will be writing about, will probably not have very much in common with Homer’s poem on The Shield of Achilles … but still, in one way, this is the tradition I plan to position myself within. (Always use the very best as your models -).

corneliaparker. manchester

Cornelia Parker: Cold Dark Matter, An Exploded View 

Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) is on show in The Whitworth in Manchester until 31 May 2015