Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Songs of innocence and experience:Preparing for The Blake exhibition.

William Blake was an artist, poet, mystic, visionary and radical thinker. Working at a time of great social and political change, his work explores the tensions between the human passions and the repressive nature of social and political conventions. In Songs of Innocence and of Experience, perhaps his most famous collection of poems, he investigates, as he put it in the subtitle, 'the two contrary states of the human soul'. 

How was the work produced?

Songs of Innocence and of Experience is regarded as both a visual and literary work of art. Blake invented a new way of printing, designing the work in reverse with varnish on metal plates, which were then etched with acid to produce relief printing surfaces; these were printed in brown ink, and the prints were coloured by hand. Only a small number of copies were made, and sold privately to friends and collectors. 

Are the Songs directed at children?

Though Blake stated that children could understand his work as well as, or better than, adults, this is rather a comment on how children understand things directly and without the clouded perceptions that derive from the compromises required by adult life. The songs are specifically ‘of’ and not ‘for’ innocence and experience. 

How do the Songs relate to previous literature?

The work echoes the rhythms and forms of popular 18th-century children’s poetry and ballads. However, much of the verse directed at middle-class children at this time contained simple didactic messages, and Blake deliberately avoids this type of dogmatic morality – instead many of the poems in Songs of Innocence and Experiencecontain unsettling ambiguities. Blake’s very particular spiritual visions, which underlie all his mature writings, include reactions to philosophers such as Emanuel Swedenborg. 

What are the Songs about?

Despite the simple rhythms and rhyming patterns and the images of children, animals and flowers, the Songs are often troubling, argumentative or satirical, and reflect Blake’s deeply held political beliefs and spiritual experience. Blake’s vision embraces radical subjects such as poverty, child labour and abuse, the repressive nature of state and church, as well as right of children to be treated as individuals with their own desires. Many of the poems in Songs of Experience respond to counterparts inSongs of Innocence.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

April Gallery Readings

Poet                     Poem                            Work                               Gallery

Diana Moore   The Hunt in the Forest    Paolo Ucello                   Gallery 43 Italian Renaissance

Nick Owen         Griffin                             Griffin                                       East meets west space

Giles Watson,.     Battle of the Animals’          Battle of the Animals’   Tapestry     (French, c. 1769).

Jennifer McGowan   "Mortifications of the Flesh"  the dead Christ supported by an angel  gallery 47

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Paul Cézanne and the Modern: Mont Sainte-Victoire

The current exhibition at the Ashmolean is called Cezanne and the Modern.

It is based on a single collection of paintings, which begins with works of Cezanne and leads on to a number of early modernist painters.

The poster image for the show is one of Mt Ste Victoire, which Cezanne painted many times, usually from the same angle. The one below is one of my favourites.

This is not the one in the exhibition.

I have chosen the poster image of the Cezanne and the modern  (linked at the top)  for my poem this month, May 2014, partly because I love Cezanne's work, but partly because I don't like this version of the mountain.

As a photographer and mountain walker I am very interested to see how a painter handles light on a mountain. In this image Cezanne has gone a little too far from what I am pleased to see as a mountain scarp.

This one would be very dangerous to walk!

What is real and what is echo?

Is nothing real, as Baudrillard would have us believe? The hyper-real Cezanne painting is more real than the mountain, but maybe the poster has replaced the painting as our version of reality.

Please explore the paintings linked here and then read my poem.

It would be great if you then tell me what you think or feel.

Paul Cézanne: Mont Sainte-Victoire | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Mont Saint-Victoire


How I love your work
So distinctive
Ploughing a singular furrow
Through a parched landscape
Rejoicing in the cooler shady places
In redemptive blues and greens
Nature merged with abstract shapes

How I love your meditations
On the mountain
Far away
Mont Saint-Victoire
Mont Saint-Victoire

Bringing richness, saturation, colour
To a world too light, so bright
Shimmering with uncertainty
By day or moon-lit night

Why have they stretched your canvasses
Across modernity?
You will not fit the frame
Post modern dreams beyond modernity
Embrace your name
Mont Saint-Victoire
Mont Saint-Victoire
Mont Saint-Victoire

Let’s go, Papa

Oh no_ the place does not exist
It’s just the echo of a place
A simulacrum that persists
This is just one
Of a long, a long, long list

But Daddy
Out of all those paintings
It’s the only one that’s here
So surely, it’s a special painting


The only thing that makes it special
Is a feature I dislike
The shadow of the escarpment
Is more solid than the thing itself
Is more solid than the thing itself

And if Cezanne is really modern
Something new and true and great
Why pick on this
As poster image
Out of all these images, so special,
The one to which I don’t relate?

 ©Nick Owen    May 2014

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

TO LIVE FOREVER Poetry Summer School at the Ashmolean: August 19th and 20th.

100 years ago the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb thrilled and astonished the world.

We hope the exhibition at the Ashmolean this summer which is based on those discoveries will continue to enthral large audiences.

But will it inspire people to write great modern poems?
This two day poetry summer school/workshop with Nick Owen intends to support people to do just that.

Whether you only visit the Ashmolean for the two days of the workshop or spend a month exploring the exhibition before the workshop starts the aim will be the same, to help you write a poem which might inspire readers in another thousand years.

The course will pay particular attention to the way in which words and images entwine. Nick Owen will help you create photographs of images in the exhibition which you may want to set alongside your poem.

The Egyptians were inspired by the idea that they could continue their earthly journey towards becoming Gods in existences beyond the grave. They sensed unearthly powers and energies in the animals in the world around them.

Poetry workshops often focus on connecting more deeply with the senses, but seldom is there a connection with the inner eye or with the eye of Horus. Nick Owen draws upon the science of mythology and the concepts of C. G Jung to help open up new possibilities for your writing.

Your poems may be included in a book of poetry at the Ashmolean which is in its early stages of development. You will also have the opportunity to read your poem or have it read for you to an audience at the exhibition.

About Nick Owen

Nick has been a director of the Oxford School of Psychotherapy. He is an independent tutor in English Literature. He has two published books of poetry and has written for a wide spectrum of journals, covering poetry, art, psychology, psychotherapy and photography. His work has been widely anthologised. He has run workshops in creativity for twenty years and leads the “Poetry at the museum programme,” at the Ashmolean. 

Dr Giles Watson writes of him “…. humane, compassionate, observant, and possessed of the requisite courage to face the fears as well as the joys of life; and that is truly a poet."

On his most recent exhibition: “This is an exhibition of the highest quality. Poems and pictures are quite superb.” Christine Whild.

Dates: August 19th and 20th.
Venue: The exhibition and the Ashmolean Lecture Theatre

Places: 15 

Gallery Readings for Saturday 24th May

Poet                   Poem                     Work                                 Gallery

Dr J McGowan   Troy: After the Horse (the sketches of Aeneas, Dido, and Creusa)                                                                          Cezanne Exhibition

Nick Owen    Mt St Victoire          MT St Victoire       Cezanne Exhibition

T Vincent Isaacs      Happy Buddha'.  Miss Orovida Pissaro.        G  62                       

Giles Watson     Cistern in the Park of Chateau Noir (Citerne au Parc du Château Noir)                                                                 Cezanne Exhibition

Peter Mallin  "Dolls' House":     Mme Pissarro Sewing beside a Window and Jeanne Holding a Doll                                        Gallery 65).