Category Archives: Wales

Image: Paintings and Poetry in Up in the Air

Up in the Air poetry book

My new poetry book, Up in the Air, is divided into five sections – Air, Love, Water, Air (again) and Image.

The Image section consists of eight poems inspired by paintings, photographs, a display, a poster and a line drawing. In this post I’ll identify some of these pictures and talk about how they inspired my poems.

First off, the paintings.

The section begins with On Justice, inspired by the painting of Margareta van Eyck by her husband Jan van Eyck. The painting hangs in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges. When I saw it, I was mesmerised by the character in the woman’s face. I could see her intelligence and what I thought was a hint of sharpness, possibly even bitterness. My poem (check it out here if you don’t have the book) wanted to capture that, as well as meditate on the failure of even the greatest art to transcend mortality.

Image: Margareta van Eyck Portrait

The next poem, Self-Portrait, is based on one of Van Gogh’s paintings. There’s a lot going on here, as you can see, plenty of light, colour, chaos and energy. This painting is a gift to anyone’s imagination, so I just let mine run riot.

Exhibition, Merton is a long poem based on the paintings of the artist Jocelyn Merivale. I used to work with her husband, John, and so had the pleasure of studying her paintings in their home. Jocelyn’s main theme was water and especially the sea – but she also painted birds and portraits. Jocelyn died a few years ago and her website is currently down whilst her paintings are being professionally photographed, but below is a close up of Field of Birds. You can see more of her paintings here.

Image: Field of Birds, Jocelyn Merivale

The other poem based on a painting is Looking at it Now. Paolo Uccello’s Saint George and the Dragon in the National Gallery is a masterpiece. But, as with the poem that follows it, Beast (based on a gallery drawing), I wanted to re-imagine the relationship between man, woman, and ‘monster’, to reflect more modern sensibilities.

Image: St George and the Dragon

The Ogrw-Garw Display was an exhibition about one of the valleys in South Wales, created by a friend. The exhibition comprised beautiful photographs of the ancient oak woodland scattered across the mine-scarred landscape. But in the middle of the display was a single black-and-white photo of… a group of school children.

I wrote Ugandan Bestiary after a safari holiday with my wife in 2007. Back home, I studied the photos of the trip, mulling over the animals we’d had the good fortune to see.  In doing so, I came up with this series of short, vignette-style poems.

Image: Ugandan Bestiary

Finally, Christ in the Crowd was randomly inspired by this poster for Jesus Christ Superstar. As they say, inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere.

Buy Up in the Air here:

The Old Man

I used to do a lot of hill walking when I lived in the right places, principally Stirling, where I went up into the Highlands, and Cardiff, where I used to drive to the Brecon Beacons. The Surrey Hills, where I live now, are good – but they’re not quite the same. There’s nothing like proper mountains for a sense of freedom.

The old man in this short poem is the the Old Man of Coniston. Those who know that fine mountain in the English Lake District will also know that this photo is not taken there, as I don’t have any digital photos from that walk, which was done a long time ago. (It’s in the Brecon Beacons, near Pen y Fan).

The Old Man first appeared in Orbis poetry magazine, no.88.

The Old Man

In stride pale valleys grow before us,
smoothed between slumbering beasts,
and exciting strange pools of thoughts;
after roaming the Old Man and returning
like water we fall together
by a crumbling river and you sing,
a silly song, into my ear
as I rest my thoughtless head in your lap.

Who are you to me?
Dreaming child, self-absorbed,
before eroded thoughtways
you sing the possibility of freedom.

The Welsh Marches – Photoblog

Rowan Cottage, the house that Lizzie inherits in The City of Light, is set near the fictional village of Hebley, loosely based on the black-and-white village of Weobley. I’ve already posted about the real garden of rooms that The Secret of the Tirthas is based on here, but here’s a few photos of the remote, beautiful, and occasionally austere area known as the Welsh Marches, which serves as a backdrop to the books:

Looking towards Hay Bluff and Twmpa, at the western edge of the Black Mountains

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The Golden Valley

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Across the border in Wales: Herefordshire bull, Vale of Ewyas

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Ruins of Llanthony Priory, Vale of Ewyas

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Pen y Fan, the highest of the Black Mountains

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