The dress and the ladder

I wanted to share a song that I’ve been preoccupied by a little. It’s a song by the French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel and, when put prosaically, couldn’t be more French. An adult looks back at a formative sexual experience of his adolescence, when he – basically – looked up the dress of a girl who had climbed up a tree ahead of him. Put like that, it sounds prurient and a bit pervy. So far, so middle aged French singer-songwriter. Continue reading “The dress and the ladder”

Just like two women

Francis Cabrel is one of my favourite singer-songwriters, coming from the region of France where I lived for ten years. I learnt much of my French from his songs, as he writes with a great deal of intelligence and poetic sensibility and love for language and music – in the best tradition of la Chanson Francaise but also set apart from it.

His new album, however, has raised some questions and for me it’s an opportunity to think about translation a little. Continue reading “Just like two women”

The Sail

Wait, always wait.
Storms in abeyance
Fabric unspun, pieces of loom
Unwoven threads, weight and comb
Potential, weft, rags, fragments.

But in the mind’s eye –
The cloth, storm-soaked linen woven sunken silken
Heave, pull, shine before the sun in vast, away, billows
Of beauty against the sky, big, great, greater than worlds
Greater than skies.

And down again – who will weave these pieces
Who will tie these ends, draw and smooth and pull together and
Little by little build and make.

Wait, and wait
Pieces in becoming
Strewn, kinetic, imbued
Fictive emptiness
Skeins of skies and of selves
Wealth, heft, depth

Your solemn joy and full emptiness and not being what one is
Only means being before the being.
Be calm, becalmed – as ponds, puddles, clouds, tempests and torrents
Are all on your trajectory.

I will be the gravity drawing the drops
Pooling them around you.


Tweet Titian! Some wonderful poetry guidelines.

Having been alerted to this fun competition via a Twitter contact, I had a great deal of fun composing an entry. I wanted to share on here the guidelines for writing your poem, provided for the National Gallery by George Szirtes. I’m not generally a poet as I prefer writing prose, but these beautifully composed points could inspire any kind of writing, including art history, and could even inspire structures of thought which might not even necessarily reach incarnation via the written word.

  • Writing poems about paintings is not a matter of description. It is a matter of passing through. What you see and know accompany you.
  • You pass through into a perception you don’t yet understand. You watch and listen as you move. You are inside it, looking around.
  • You may know something of the artist, you may know something about art. That knowledge is your sense of direction.
  • Your medium is words. Words are the air you breathe in the imagined space of the image. It is the rhythm of words, their colour and weight.
  • The picture is speaking to you. It speaks to memory and the unknown. You enter and discover. You go your own way.

– George Szirtes

Tweet Titian! | Twitter poetry competition | The National Gallery, London.