A reading today with George Szirtes , Helen Ivory and Andre Holland at Norwich Castle of our poems commissioned for the Family Matters exhibition. The exhibition consists of five themes: Inheritance; Childhood; Parenting; Couples & Kinship; Home. It takes from all periods and art forms for each of these, which one of the things that makes it interesting. It is compelling to see what the different mediums and periods make of each theme.
I have form on writing about family and much baggage to drag around the exhibition with me. As a photographer, I was drawn to the photographs all of which were familiar to me. I was particularly pleased to see Thomas Struth’s Smith Family photograph there. An influential picture for me and my own photography, particularly when I was making This Man’s Army. Struth is a subtle and complex photographer. Interestingly we all wrote about photographs, despite all the introductions assuming paintings were the thing. I’m not sure what this means other than perhaps ‘painting’ is shorthand for art.
So I wrote about the Smith Family – giving the parents and their six grown up children all staring out at you a stanza each and I wrote about Julia Margaret Cameron’s Devotion . But the piece that transfixed me most was Gillian Wearing’s 2 into 1, a video piece where the mother talks about her relationship with her two sons (the border of love and hate) and they (separately) talk about their relationship with her. Wearing has transposed and lip-synced the speech so the boys speak with their mothers voice and she with their’s. It is a chillingly effective piece, the mother’s words in a number of places are clearly received opinions from her toad-like sons. She shares their high opinion of themselves, they are unusual, but they are absolutely adorable with their strong personalities. Towards the end she confesses that she is constantly faced with the border of love and hate, love is the usual and the major emotion, but at times you really, really do feel hate towards them. Daddy isn’t given a voice in this, but one feels his presence throughout.
I chose to use Julia Copus’s invented specular ’mirrored’ form. This is her The Back Seat of my Mother’s Car. It is devilishly tricky and I devised a spreadsheet to help me out! The use of form can be nothing more than a juggling act devoid of emotion or substance. In this case it seemed to fit the job in hand, a poetic version of the Wearing inversion of voices. It also offered the possibility for the mother to reclaim the words, or for me, rather presumptuously to do it for her. And so began an intense two weeks of writing one poem, using some of the words of the video, with minimal interference from me. I’m not sure I’ve finished with it yet, it needs to sit in the drawer for a while.