Art and Poetry

Following on from taking part in the Hampstead Poetry Slam, I was invited to give a talk  to local schoolchildren who were visiting the Constable exhibition at the Hampstead Museum (Burgh House).

It is not that well known that Constable’s love of Hampstead led him to create some of his most important work. You can see some of his magnificent paintings of Hampstead Heath at Tate Britain.

Constable lived in Hampstead for a number of years and is actually buried  in the churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead which you will find at the end of Church Row.

The children,  who were from St Michael’s school, Highgate, spent the morning walking on the heath and learning about Constable’s life from the museum’s curator, Rebecca Lodge. In the afternoon they were going to be brainstorming ideas  and – on their return to school – writing poems inspired by their experiences.

I began by reading them this poem which I had written when I was 8 or 9.

 The Squirrel and the Hare

“What of the woods?”

said the squirrel to the hare

“branches bare, thick moss

everywhere

where nuts can be found

and the ground

is as flat

as a beaten door mat …”

“Well? What about that?”

said the hare.

“So, what do I care

for the branches bare?

I have the hay

and seeds can be found

on the ground which is sweet

and lies lush at my feet …”

“Please come to the woods!”

“No thanks,” said the hare

“I’m quite happy here.”

Then they both said together

“Never mind the wind or weather

We will always stay together

 Squirrel and hare.”

Now, should you find their bush

Please tiptoe and don’t stare

For you may find them sleeping there …

Squirrel and hare.

 I followed this with a reading of  “Where Go the Boats?” by Robert Louis Stevenson another one of Hampstead’s many famous residents over the years. This poem was one of my favourites when I was a girl and is still a favourite of mine today.

Where go the boats?

Dark brown is the river.
Golden is the sand.
It flows along for ever,
With trees on either hand.

Green leaves a-floating,
Castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating—
Where will all come home?

On goes the river
And out past the mill,
Away down the valley,
Away down the hill.

Away down the river,
A hundred miles or more,
Other little children
Shall bring my boats ashore.

 I then read my poems, Hampstead Heath, To Marc Chagall and Chasing Picasso explaining why I had written them and why I had used certain words and expressions.

Hampstead Heath

The candy floss is sour

The swings go slower now

Everything goes slower now

Instead of rainbow colours

I see peeling paint

stage make-up

and torn clothes

All the fun of the fair

is written in quotes

and a question mark

The toffee apples

are yellow with age

We grew up together

Pennies are to be counted

before they’re thrown away

Each roundabout is analysed

Which goes furthest

longest, cheapest?

No more impulsive jumping on

Sad faced people in jumble sale clothes

Snot nosed children hands outstretched

Gypsy Marie – cross her palm with silver

or be cursed for ever

Fairylit night of Christmas boxed bulbs

Tinny pops scratch out a legend of

Hold on to me babes

and let’s spend the night together

Couples entwined

hands in each other’s pockets

feeling their way through

the darkening night

And, as for me

I can still hear the shouts

and the screams

the ‘roll up misters’

when all the fun of the fair

is out of sight 

To Marc Chagall 

Sorrow washed your father’s face

the day that you were born

Chagall

your singing rabbis weeping

and your unborn children dancing

Ride over rooftops

Chagall Chagall

We must keep singing

I laughed at your weeping rabbis

until they began to sing

In Jerusalem

Chagall

they sing your song

in the streets

Chagall Chagall

Ride over rooftops

We must keep singing

Sing softly Chagall

for your weeping rabbis

are sleeping

Chagall Chagall

Vitebsk

is a watercolour splashed dream

and my unborn children

are dying

Ride over rooftops

Chagall Chagall

We must keep singing

Chasing Picasso

Trapped between

glass fingers

pointing skywards

we find the

Chicago art museum

and wander down corridors

lit by Renoirs

come face to face

with a Modigliani

The Chagall windows

are bathed in light

and love

Among the floating couples

and dancing rabbis

I spy the Statue of Liberty

torch held high

Chagall’s homage to America

Ten minutes to closing

and we run to find the Picasso

breathless

hopeful

leaping stairs

two at a time

“We’re closing ma’am”

I’m here from England

I explain

It’s my last day

I must see the Picasso please

Amazingly he lets me through

We have a few seconds

in front of the Picasso

the old man with the guitar

Only time to take

one swift photo

one fleeting memory

We leave

breathless and laughing

I feel as if

I have been

chasing Picasso all my life

confusing

amazing

challenging

witty

audacious

Picasso

Hand in hand

we stride back to our hotel

under brilliant blue skies

and the startling backdrop

of skyscrapers

windows shimmering

and winking in the sunshine

watched by thousands

of office workers

trapped behind their desks

Tomorrow we fly home

Tomorrow

I find

I left

my camera

behind.

I then spent time brainstorming the children’s thoughts on their walk on Hampstead Heath.  I was impressed with their enthusiasm, their use of language and their eager responses to my questions.

I ended the session by reading a poem Charlotte Bronte had written when she was 13. This rare poem is soon going to be auctioned. It is said that it will fetch about £45,000!  By good luck  it had been published that very day in The Times newspaper so I was able to share it with the children.

I’ve been wandering …

I’ve been wandering in the greenwoods

And mid flowery smiling plains

I’ve been listening to the dark floods

To the thrushes thrilling strains

I have gathered the pale primrose

And the purple violet sweet

I’ve been where the Asphodel grows

And where lives the red deer fleet.

I’ve been to the distant mountain,

To the silver singing rill

By the crystal murmering mountain,

And the shady verdant hill.

I’ve been where the poplar is springing

From the fair Inamelled ground

Where the nightingale is singing

With a solemn plaintive sound.

I came away hoping that I had been able to enthuse  the children enough to give at least some of them a life long love of poetry.

If  you’d like to visit the Constable exhibition at Burgh House in Hampstead here’s the link:

http://www.burghhouse.org.uk/museum/constable.aspx

There’s also going to be an exhibition of  work created by schoolchildren and other local groups for the Constable: 200 Years in Hampstead project. “Inspired by Constable” takes place at Burgh House, Hampstead, from 3-26 May.

Even if you can’t get to the exhibition, Burgh House is well worth a visit in its own right.
© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems
 
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3 Comments on “Art and Poetry”

  1. Tessa says:

    It sounds as if you all had a lot of fun.

  2. Brian says:

    Great post Andrea. Sounds as if it went well.
    Well done.
    Interesting to read all the poems.
    Brian

    • Thanks Brian. It took place on 1 March. I was meant to go there again today to take a similar session with another school. But, alas, I have a cold and have lost my voice! So not much use for reading poetry – the blog is by way of compensation!

      If there’s anyone out there who would like me to do something similar for their school, I’d be pleased to hear from you.


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