This week dropping in is Sharon Larkin, author of the thoughtful and perceptive Dualities.
Hi Nigel – thank you for this opportunity to say a few words about one of my poems from Dualities.
I’ve chosen the poem ‘On not Making a Scene’ a quarter of the way into the collection. Most people will be familiar with the paintings of Edward Hopper and, in particular, the work entitled ‘Room in New York’ that inspired this ekphrastic poem. The dual themes of relationship differences and individual disassociation are set out for all to see in the painting. And these are themes that spar with each other through the collection, I think.
My first degree combined literature and art history so ‘reading a painting’ and ‘painting scenes with words’ are pretty much second nature to me. I’m never without a camera on daily walks and a number of my poems in ‘Dualities’ start with images captured in the natural world (eg ‘Damselfly Dancing’, ‘Hare Trigger’, ‘Rendezvous with Bindweed’) or, as here, studied in a gallery.
I often focus on details, or select a specific angle, whether viewing a scene, lining up a shot, or considering an artwork, and these approaches are, I think, evident in this poem. For example, the odd shape of the woman’s forearm in the painting struck me as looking like a broken limb, or the armchair in which the man sits looked, to my mind, like the large glove a pitcher in baseball uses, equally capable of catching effortlessly, holding on tight, or tossing swiftly out. The inconsequential table mat became, to my eye, the doily in my poem … something which seemed, somehow, to call out for attention … almost as an ignored infant might cry for parental care – surely drawing the couple together. The theme of the ‘reconciling child’ returns in the last poem in the book but there is no reconciliation in ‘On not Making a Scene’ … and I found myself willing the male character to escape, if only for a breather from the claustrophobic interior, perhaps to one of those Hopperesque bars down the street. Breakout or breakdown often seemed to present themselves, as equally unpalatable options, in this collection.
As for the woman character in this poem, the ‘suffering saint’ is a trope often apparent in literature and has, of course, been a stock figure in art down the ages. But sometimes, as in this Hopper work, and my poem, there’s a sniff of passive aggression in the air too, which threatens to trigger an explosive reaction in the other character. This dysfunctional dance between partners, often dragging with it internalised conflict within the individuals, is pretty much in play throughout the book, until maturity and altruism … or maybe merely resignation, apathy and old age … begin to take over in the last quarter of the collection.
Thank you again for this ‘excuse’ to take a closer look at one of the poems in ‘Dualities’, to alight on some of the (possible) ‘motives’ behind it, and to pull into focus themes that might be lurking in the collection as a whole.
Next week read my review of this fine collection.