Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Messages from nature

April 15, 2020
Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist’s book by Liz Mathews 2020

In these dark times, it’s so heartening to see the new little leaves on the oak tree, violets in every pavement crack, and the blossom on the apple trees promising an abundant harvest of apples and cherries, later in the year. It’s heartening to think that there will be a later in the year. Narcissus, this beautiful and brave poem by Maureen Duffy brings a rousing wake-up call that echoes many of our thoughts and desperate hopes for this time of worldwide crisis. So much loss can only strengthen our determination to heed the voices of the earth, now demanding loud and clear that we must make the world a better and safer place while we still have the chance.

…proclaiming Spring, calling on

us all to live, put on our green

before the skies darken and we

run out of Springs forever.

Detail from Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Page 2 of Proclaiming Spring, text by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Page 3 of Proclaiming Spring, text by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Page 4 of Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Page 5 of Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

page 6 of Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Narcissus is from Maureen Duffy’s latest collection, Wanderer, published February 2020 by The Pottery Press.

 

Alone together

April 1, 2020
Larksong - text by Jeremy Hooker, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Larksong, words by Jeremy Hooker, artist’s book by Liz Mathews

 

 

Greetings for April and all good wishes from Potters’ Yard in these sad and difficult times. I’m working at home as usual with my partner Frances in our shared studio, so apart from how very quiet it is, and an unusual interest in food shopping, our working life is not much different from our normal daily routine. But the exhibition I was preparing for, which was due to open in early May, has now been postponed until next year, and all the other events I have scheduled for this year are cancelled, suspended or postponed in the uncertainty. And of course these things that I’d normally think of as major disasters are the least of our worries.

One of the things I’ve found most comforting and uplifting in these last few weeks has been the extraordinary blossoming of goodwill that has turned our society into a true community, with people doing their utmost to contribute to the good of their fellow humans. And it’s a good thought that though we’re alone in our homes, isolated from physical contact and proximity, we can still be together in social ways, keeping in touch and sharing things that bring us together virtually. I love this inspiring video forwarded by my friend Priscilla in America (and originally sent to her by artist, calligrapher and musician Jan Owen), showing musicians from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing Appalachian Spring together – though they are each in their own homes.

Spring  (artist's book by Liz Mathews) words from Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde

So I’m aiming to do as much online as possible, to focus on spring and share some rainbows of hope and flashes of light – and bring you here on this online galleryblog Daughters of Earth some private views in the next few weeks, for viewing at home, away from the ebb and flow of the outer world:

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This paperwork is called Prism II, and it’s on handmade paper (70cm x 50cm approx), lettered in acrylic paints applied with a pen improvised from a wooden clothes-peg. I love to use odd lettering tools – bits of driftwood, sticks from trees – and I like to choose something appropriate to the text. Here Winifred Nicholson is talking about a happy home environment – the words are from her article called ‘I like to have a picture in my room’ – and the clothes-peg has very domestic, almost intimate connotations, some of which can perhaps be transferred into the letters as they’re formed. It’s a nice tool to use for this purpose too, as the flat, absorbent top edge of the peg makes a great italic nib, but without the control of a ‘proper’ pen. And without the little dip in the nib that helps regulate the flow of the ‘ink’, you get a much more free, irregular ink-flow – in fact the ink does what it wants to, rather than what you think it should. I like the materials I’m using to contribute their own life to the work we’re making together, and here, this irregularity lets a lot of light into the form of the letters – soft broken edges on the absorbent paper, no hard edges or straight lines. And light through colour is the essence of the rainbow, the prism breaking up the lightwaves into their constituent hues.

ROYGBIV by Liz Mathews

I’m still working on the last few paintings and drawings for my exhibition, now re-scheduled for next April – so the pressure’s off, but the structure of my working week is keeping me sane, so I’m sticking to it. The exhibition – at London’s lovely Burgh House – was to have been called The Prospect of Happiness – and it’s now known as Postponed The Prospect of Happiness – which is almost too poignant. So I’m trying to inject a note of optimism and hope into the artworks I’m making:

The Prospect of Happiness  (text by Frances Bingham, paperwork by Liz Mathews)

This is The Prospect of Happiness, on handmade paper (about 70cm x 50cm) with watercolour paints mixed with Thames water, and lettered with a Thames driftwood stick. The words are from Frances Bingham’s novel The Principle of Camouflage, and the ‘prospect’ is the view from high on Hampstead Heath, down across London, to the downs on the south side – a view very familiar to us both from our local walks – especially on a clear spring day. The ‘tree-crowned hill’ is perhaps Boudicca’s barrow – which features in Frances’ most recent book London Panopticon as the end of a pilgrimage – the view then being at twilight. I like to think that though it’s not so easy to get to the actual place at the moment, this view and all it contains and represents is ever-present in our minds.

Blake's London  - text by William Blake from Jerusalem, paperwork by Liz Mathews

This is Blake’s London, a paperwork I made last week for the exhibition. I’ve been thinking about this piece for a long time, and it has finally come together. It’s on handmade paper (approx 30cm x 42cm) and the words are from Blake’s Jerusalem – not the great anthem we sing (And did those feet…) – that’s from his Milton, but from his later weird and visionary poem Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion which the poet Southey got a quick preview of in 1811, and ungratefully described as:

“a perfectly mad poem called Jerusalem” (from Kathleen Raine’s William Blake for Thames and Hudson).

It seems that Blake worked on writing, designing, engraving and printing this book for over a decade, beginning perhaps in 1804 and continuing to add to the poem until 1820, and he illuminated only one copy, which he did not sell but was still in his possession on his death. Kathleen Raine gives us a way of understanding the work:

Blake’s ‘visions’ do not belong to time, but to the timeless; they are related as parts to a whole, but as parts of the surface of a sphere, all equidistant from the centre, rather than in the time sequence to which in this world we are normally confined. Like dreams they came to him in single symbolic episodes, or images; there is some attempt at chronology, but the material does not lend itself to this order, any more than would a series of vivid dreams, all relating, perhaps, to an unfolding situation, but not forming a consecutive narrative.

(How much this reminds me of the ‘unfolding’ situation now – and how prescient Blake’s vision, how all-encompassing!) And about his over-arching vision for the work itself:

A single inspiration informs words and decoration alike.

It is this unity of inspiration, and integrity of text and image that has always been my highest aim for my own work. I chose these particular words because they celebrate our patch – the area of London that is home for me and my partner – and because they seem to represent the most harmonious aspect of the city – benign and beautiful architecture on a human scale gracing fields as a natural evolution, rather than urban nightmare obliterating wasteland with ‘development’.

As I was making Blake’s London for my exhibition in the context of visions of London, including portraits of historic London houses and writers’ London landscapes, I wanted a very particular image to set the words within – an image that would be an embracing vessel for the text. I chose for this to draw Euston Arch – built in 1837, just ten years after Blake’s death, as the grand entrance way to the new Euston Station, gateway to the north – and embellished in 1870 with the letters E U S T O N cut into the architrave in letters of gold – and demolished in the new London of the 1960’s to the distress of many soulful Londoners including John Betjeman. I drew the arch from a contemporary photograph.

Liz Mathews drawing Euston Arch

I thought that the arch’s golden pillars could here stand for the beautiful trees of Euston Grove, that wonderful green space surviving in front of the dark and dowdy Euston station. These huge trees are now over 200 years old, contemporary with Handel’s great plane trees of Brunswick Square, and have survived not only the bombs of the Blitz but the more insidious erosion of the constant traffic of Euston Road, the most fume-laden air in London – and played their part in protecting us Londoners from those fumes. And yet these trees are now threatened with demolition themselves, much to Londoners’ distress, to make way for HS2 building works. So the final lines stand as a plea, a spell, an invocation of Blake’s spirit to aid the hopeful vision of a future in which this particular green and pleasant bower may be spared the fate of Euston Arch.

I referenced Blake’s own design for the poem in making the work, composing the text layout inset into the image in little clouds, and the lettered font itself from one of the pages of Jerusalem in Blake’s own finished and illuminated copy:

Page 160 from Kathleen Raine's William Blake (Thames & Hudson)

And I followed the design for the starry sky in one of Blake’s watercolour drawings from his Illustrations of the Book of Job, in which The Morning Stars Sang Together, balanced like wing-walkers along God’s outstretched arms:

detail from The Morning Stars Sang Together, watercolour by William Blake c.1821, from Kathleen Raine's Blake biography (Thames and Hudson)

I like to think of those angelic morning stars shining through the branches of the great plane trees at Euston, still singing for us all.

Blake’s biographer the poet Kathleen Raine and the visionary painter Winifred Nicholson were great friends, so it seems appropriate to bring them together in this post, and finish with Kathleen Raine’s own view of the time and the city:

Blake's Graffiti by Liz Mathews (poem by Kathleen Raine)

This is Blake’s Graffiti, a ‘banner-book’ made from driftwood, the ‘pages’ made from shards of a broken wooden wine-box we found washed up on the Thames foreshore near London’s Southbank Centre. The pages were first dried out, then bound together with linen book-binding tape and handmade paper, then painted and lettered with acrylic paints mixed with Thames water. The text is from Kathleen Raine’s poem What Message from Imagined Paradise; she could be writing it about today’s news – but I feel the message is perhaps ultimately comforting. Let’s focus on the delight as much as we can, and both hope and pray that we can ensure things change for the better after all this.

What message from imagined paradise

Can bring hope to us, whose daily news

Is of polluted forests, poisoned seas

Of the polluted air, the clouds

Laden with sour vapours from our furnaces;

What can we hope or pray for that can heal these

Mortal wounds to our brief beloved earth?

 

Implicit in each beginning is its end:

What poet can write

Of beauty truth and goodness in these days

(Or say rather, of what else?)

And yet I feel delight

As I look up into today’s blue skies

Where the sun still gives light

And warmth (wisdom and love, Blake says)

And on this doomed decaying city rise

On the last days as on the first

These marvels inexhaustible and boundless.

 

Kathleen Raine

 

Eight artist’s books by Liz Mathews

February 18, 2020

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Paper Wings

55 love poems by Maureen Duffy set to paper by Liz Mathews

A contemporary illuminated manuscript in the form of a double-sided concertina book, setting 55 love poems by Maureen Duffy with one poem to each page of handmade paper (30cm x 42cm). The dazzling variety of the poems, and their recurring themes and motifs proved inspirational for the use of vibrant and diverse materials and tools in making the book. Materials include handmade papers, acrylics and watercolours mixed with honey, wine, blood, snow-melt and rain; lettered with diverse tools including reed pen, Japanese brush, driftwood stick, clothes-peg and swan’s feather quill. The book was originally exhibited (before construction) as an installation flying overhead in the London gallery of Enitharmon Press in 2014.

Book measurements: 31cm x 22cm x 7.5cm closed: opens to 11.5m long x 31 cm high. (Portfolio slipcase 33cm x 23cm x 8.5)

One-off original in slip-case £4000

(A half-size facsimile of this book copy – 1 in a special facsimile edition of 5 – is currently on display in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library, in a new exhibition of the work of 17 contemporary book artists – all women.)

 

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Tatter’d colours

Text by Anne Finch from The Soldier’s Death (17th century)

Eight flag-pages made from French linen canvas, bound with a continuous length of linen bookbinding tape, to be read as a book or hung in the form of regimental colours. I came across this poem by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, in AP Wavell’s Other Men’s Flowers (Jonathan Cape 1944), and found its appalled pacifist-Jacobite overtones both astonishing and inspiring within the Field-Marshall’s collection of favourite poems, known to him by heart. I too am a pacifist (probably also an ‘appalled pacifist-Jacobite’ in fact), and much of my work has been concerned with conflict, and, like this poem, with the effects of war on the individual. (For more on this, see The Dunkirk Project, and my artist’s book Thames to Dunkirk.)

Materials include linen thread and bookbinding tape, acrylic ink and paints, charcoal, soot, ash, chalk, clay slip, mud, tea and acid-free matt varnish, the text lettered with a driftwood stick and large Japanese brush. Contained in a kitbag/cover made from English cotton duck, linen thread and tape, and acrylic paints, with materials and instructions for hanging and restoring to book form lettered on the flap of the kitbag case.

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Tatter’d colours (artist’s book by Liz Mathews) exhibited at The Forum, Norwich, and photographed by Gary Florance

‘To hang Tatter’d Colours, remove book from kitbag cover and unroll to flat book form. Unthread the long end of the tape binding the pages at top left, and hang from hemp ropes or beams in diagonal sequence as illustrated on the kitbag flap, fixing each flag with twine through the loops at the top. To rebind into book form, fold pages into sequence, aligning top edges with care, and thread the long tape back through the top left loops in the order indicated on the kitbag flap.’

Measurements: each page 70cm high x 40cm wide, book opened to hand extends up to 4m including the interval tape linking the flag-pages. Kitbag measures 47cm x 14cm x 11cm

One-off original  £1000

Tatter'd colours by Liz Mathews (detail of kitbag/cover)

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Sir Orfeo

Text by Maureen Duffy from her epic poem Sir Orfeo (published in Past Present, Pottery Press 2018)

Artist’s book made from a single huge sheet of handmade paper. The paper is painted, lettered, folded and torn into 12 double pages, but still retains its ability to be restored to the whole image – in keeping with the text, a contemporary retelling of the Orpheus story in an English medieval romance about a king who loses his queen and his position and identity, almost his life, and then by great good fortune and his own goodness, regains everything. This restoration to wholeness is echoed by the form of the book.

The whole sheet is lettered with Sir Orfeo’s name; the large letters then form the framework of the design for the individual pages, where the story is told and reflected in a semi-abstract design of watercolour and handmade acrylic inks. This book was originally shown as the stage backcloth to the first public performance of this bardic poem by the poet, accompanied by jazz pianist and composer Dorian Ford and world singer Vimala Rowe, performing Dorian’s original settings of words from the text (at Burgh House in Hampstead, London, 2017). After the performance, the backcloth was folded into the form of the book, but can easily be restored to the single sheet. I am particularly interested in this tension between duality and integrity of form in my books, especially where it reflects some aspect of the text itself.

Measurements: whole sheet of paper 200cm x 70cm high, book closed 25cm x 28cm x 2.5cm. Contained in portfolio slipcase made from handmade papers 33cm x 29cm x 3cm

One-off original £800

 


 

Singing the Year (text by Vita Sackville-West)

Singing the Year

Lines from Vita Sackville-West’s English epic poem The Land.

In the form of a double-sided concertina book with 12 pages, one page for each month, Singing the Year is constructed so that the December page can be attached to January, and the year flows in a seamless cycle, repeating and renewing, like ‘patterns on a scroll unwinding’. I have kept the design simple to allow the vibrant colours, sounds, sights and atmosphere of the text describing the organic seasonal cycle to speak for themselves.

Materials include various handmade papers, watercolours and handmade acrylic inks, acid-free adhesive, and the book is lettered with driftwood sticks and a wooden clothes-peg. In the ‘May’ page shown below, the blue beehives are made with little stacks of paper, the swarm with a scrap of russet gold paper attached to the page with honey mixed into the acid-free adhesive, and the warm golden colour of the lettering also has honey mixed into the paint, lettered with a little wicker stick.

Each page 42cm x 30cm (approx), opening to a circle with maximum diameter of about 5 metres

One-off original in slip-case  £1200

May page from Singing the Year (text by Vita Sackville-West)

February page from Singing the Year (text by Vita Sackville-West)

 


 

Version 2

The Seasons Alter

Text from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the 1623 First Folio version, with original spellings and renderings.

This book is made from a single sheet of handmade paper 52cm x 72cm, painted, lettered, folded and torn into a sequence of pages which draw the text continuously across both sides of the paper, creating a double-sided painting which folds to a book with 24 pages in sequence. The text is from Titania’s prescient Act 1 speech in which she warns of climate chaos and the dissolution of the cosmic order as a consequence of conflict, exploitation and reckless violation of the natural world. The colours and brushwork reflect the flowing sequence of the text and present the confusion of the seasons swirling to an inescapable vortex, mixing the gentle, traditional and predictable characteristics of each season with violent disruption and discord.

Materials include handmade paper and acrylic paints mixed with mud, rainwater, icicle-melt, so that the weather has a material presence in the work; it was air-dried in winter sunlight, and first shown in an exhibition in Norwich Millennium Library. In slip-case made with the same materials.

Measurements: double-sided single sheet of handmade paper 72cm x 52cm

One off original £1200

 

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Swallows on the Thames (text by Matthew Arnold)

Swallows on the Thames

Lines by Matthew Arnold from The Scholar Gypsy

Another book made from a single sheet of paper, setting Arnold’s lines in a painting made with acrylic paints mixed with water from the Thames, and lettered with a Thames driftwood stick. The single sheet is made up of 12 pages that flow across the sheet ‘as the ox ploughs’, in a continuous unending sequence, and fold down to a book 20cm x 20cm x 1cm (approx), and the work can be read page-by-page as a book, or framed for display on the wall. This dual nature can perhaps reflect an imaginative idealisation of a mid-summer reverie, an afternoon’s shady lazing on the river in its country-mode, which contrasts strongly with its urban manifestation in the following book, Strand of the Thames.

Measurements: sheet opens to 72cm x 52cm, and the closed book is 20cm x 20cm x 1cm (approx). Contained in portfolio slip-case made with the same materials.

One-off original £700

Swallows on the Thames (page 5)

Swallows on the Thames (page 6)

Swallows on the Thames (detail) text by Matthew Arnold

 


 

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Strand of the Thames

Text by Virginia Woolf, from her Diary (1939)

Artist’s book in the form of a 1930’s photograph album: a setting of Virginia Woolf’s diary record of a Thames-side walk, set in 15 grisaille watercolours of the actual sites where she’s walking; watercolour paint mixed with Thames water and the text lettered with a Thames driftwood stick. This book lent itself particularly well to a small edition; I took monochrome photos of the watercolours for each page, and constructed each volume for the edition in the same way as the original/prototype, as a concertina photo album on black handmade paper, fixing the photos in with acid-free photo corners. (All materials in both original and edition acid-free.)

The one-off original is now in the permanent collection of the British Library.

Measurements: original 42cm x 31cm x 5cm (approx); limited edition 15cm x 12cm x 1.5cm

Signed and numbered limited edition (of 20) £40

Read more about this book on the British Library’s blog in a guest article by me: Virginia Woolf’s Haunted Walk

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Rag – Luideag

Text by Ruaraidh MacThomas/ Derick Thomson; book by Liz Mathews

I was inspired to set this extraordinary poem (in the original Gaelic as well as the poet’s own translation to Scots English) by the moving poignance of the idea, and by how surely the words describe the fragility of the language, surviving shredded and scattered, clinging to sharp rocky headlands, used only by ‘ragged children’, exposed to the wind and weather, sounding with the sea in its voice.

I set the lines in both languages, one like a shadow or reflection of the other, on 8 clay pages, scraps torn from a single sheet of stoneware clay, the words scratched into the surface of the clay, so that they are ‘written on the rocks’. The hard sharpness of the fired clay shards reflect both the harshness and fragility of the poem’s atmosphere and meaning.  The clay pages are tacked with linen thread to a rough cotton cloth, ripped and wind-torn to a ragged softness. The scruffy cloth is distressed with a mixture of paint, charcoal and soot, strong tea and Scotch whisky, and finished with an acid-free sealant. Contrasting in texture with the stony clay, it wraps the shard/pages to protect them when the wall-hanging is folded down to a book. The closed book is contained in a box made from recycled cardboard and handmade papers, tied with a rough cotton and linen strap, like an old cardboard suitcase.

Measurements; box 30cm x 16cm x 13cm; book opened to wall hanging approx 120cm x 70cm at widest

One-off original  £1600

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Liz Mathews with young visitors to turnthepage artists’ book fair, Norwich

 

Journeys of imagination

February 18, 2020

New from The Pottery Press

F4C7B535-6A9A-403D-BACC-5466C2EC7DEAWanderer by Maureen Duffy

New poetry by ‘one of Britain’s foremost writers’ (Guardian), and ‘a unique literary talent’ (Sarah Waters)

We travel with Maureen Duffy on the Wanderer’s terrifying voyage, on exploratory passages to India and Ravenna, on a very English train-ride, to concerts and galleries (and on the journeys of imagination they stimulate), through the gardens and street-markets of London, and to the junkshop of the remembered past. Maureen Duffy describes one of these poems as ‘a kind of elegy to life and love’, the ultimate theme of this brave and passionate collection.

Maureen Duffy’s published some 34 works of fiction – since her first novel That’s How it Was came out in 1962 to immediate acclaim – and at least 10 collections of inspiring poetry including her wonderful Collected Poems. Then there’s her non-fiction including biographies of Henry Purcell, Aphra Benn and Britain itself. And then she’s written some 16 plays for stage, screen and radio, including Rites at the National Theatre, and recently Hilde & Virginia at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre, with Sarah Crowden. Maureen’s play Sappho Singing has recently been adapted as a film, to be premiered on International Women’s Day (8th March) 2020 at the Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill. And Paper Wings, lettering artist Liz Mathews’ artist’s book setting Maureen Duffy’s love-poem cycle Songs for Sappho is currently on show in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery.

Wanderer, Maureen Duffy’s new collection, is as inspiring as ever. Brave, truth-telling, passionate and tough, these poems speak vividly of the cosmic and the local, and how the two are connected. Intimate, entertaining, yet characteristically engaged with the dark troubles of humanity, they are drawn from her London life, her East End roots, and her lifelong themes and empathies, confirming her local alliegiancies and her citizenship of Europe and the world in multi-coloured words.

’Tough poems, made of the rough substance of real lives… a beautiful answering back against the worst.’ (David Constantine)

Wanderer by Maureen Duffy

Pottery Press pamphlet 5, 48 pages with 31 full-colour images setting the poems by lettering artist Liz Mathews

ISBN 978-0-9930171-5-5

£9.99

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3B868791-9A27-4E1C-8DBD-077971230311London Panopticon by Frances Bingham

Today’s the day. Sometimes it seems that this day, today, whichever day it is, might be the last chance to – do what? – something essential, yet unnameable, before the deluge. Seize the moment…

Blue makes a London pilgrimage from the Thames up to Hampstead Heath, walking through time and the city, meeting Londoners past and present on the way. A litany of London voices – irascible Jeremy Bentham, Wose the tree-guardian, Virginia Woolf street-haunting, Fletcher the sacked banker and innumerable others – sing their city incantation: protest song, lament, celebration.

London Panopticon also draws on a Londoner’s perspective, on a visionary journey within this heartland. Frances Bingham, like Maureen Duffy, writes across the literary spectrum, and has published fiction, poetry, non-fiction and plays, most recently Comrade Ackland and I for BBC Radio 4. She has rediscovered the neglected poetry of Valentine Ackland in Journey from Winter (Carcanet 2008), her acclaimed critical edition, and her definitive biography of Ackland is forthcoming next year (2021). London Panopticon really defies categorisation, encompassing short-form fiction, lyrical prose-poetry and play-script; the narrator Blue makes a journey through the day and the city, and encounters places and people at the heart of the city. I’ll just call it an urban Under Milk Wood, inspired by London itself.

‘London Panopticon is more than a pamphlet. As sparkling and all-encompassing as the city itself, it is a vision, a love song, a pilgrimage, a perfect union of image and word. And it takes one’s breath away!’  Mimi Khalvati

London Panopticon  by Frances Bingham

Pottery Press pamphlet no 4, 80 pages with 28 b/w images by lettering artist Liz Mathews

ISBN 978-0-9930-171-4-8

£9.99

Both books available from The Pottery Press, or to order from your local bookshop.

John Clare’s green hours

July 13, 2018

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Today – 13th July 2018 – is the 225th anniversary of the birth of the poet John Clare on 13th July 1793, a poet whose words have inspired so much of my work. And this afternoon, I unpacked from the kiln a bowl – just cooled from Wednesday’s glaze firing – with lines from his poem ‘Love lies beyond’, that seem to embody peace and loving memory. On a day when the heavens’ eternal blue has been disturbed (in London at least) by military helicopters carrying powerful people to and fro on their relentless business, and earth’s green hours are more threatened than ever before by humanity’s heavy tread, perhaps it’s a good moment to hear Clare’s gentle voice and his faith in the enduring power of love.

The bowl was commissioned to celebrate a special mother, whose favourite lines these were, and decorated at midsummer, like John Clare’s midsummer cushion, with cornflowers, lavender, thyme and forget-me-nots.

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Love lies beyond

The tomb, the earth, which fades like dew –

I love the fond,

The faithful and the true.

 

Love lies in sleep –

‘Tis happiness of healthy dreams.

Eve’s dews may weep,

But love delightful seems.

 

‘Tis seen in flowers

And in the even’s pearly dew

On earth’s green hours

And in the heavens’ eternal blue.

 

‘Tis heard in spring

When light and sunbeams, warm and kind

On angel’s wing

Bring love and music to the wind.

 

And where is voice

So young, so beautiful and sweet

As nature’s choice

Where spring and lovers meet?

 

Love lies beyond

The tomb, the earth, the flowers and dew.

I love the fond,

The faithful, young and true.

 

John Clare, 1793 – 1864  

 

Under the Quarry Woods

April 26, 2018

9780993017131Under the Quarry Woods by Jeremy Hooker is the third in our series of pamphlets from The Pottery Press. Quarried from journals written over 16 years at his home in a Welsh former mining village, these new prose poems by the eminent poet and critic are alive with observations, impressions, memory and dream.  Forming a meditation on a place and its people, they reveal an industrially- scarred landscape in which the writer finds himself to be at once a stranger and at home – and his response is powerful, moving, lyrical and humane.

As a lettering artist I’ve been lucky to work with Jeremy Hooker’s words for many years now, setting his lines and poems in an on-going collection of artist’s books, many of them in my Singing the Year series of contemporary Books of Hours, and in an artist’s film The moment that holds you.  I found this new sequence as inspiring as ever – subtle, deeply felt, closely observed, visually arresting word-pictures that reveal more than they say.  The harshness of the scarred landscape is illuminated by glimpses of natural beauty and by possibilities of regeneration for the land and its fractured communities – and shadowed by some impossibilities too.

These juxtapositions and contrasts in texture, colour and tone were very stimulating for me as an artist – and for the design of the book cover I looked for an image that combined darkness and light, destruction and tentative regeneration, drawn from the deep woodland landscape.  I chose a photo I took a few years ago of a lightning-struck oak tree in the middle of the woods, surrounded by small oak saplings sprung from its acorns, all under a lowering sky of heavy cloud; dark layers of woodland and cloud-cover, with the small new growth determinedly emerging. Lightning oak with saplings.

For the colour images within the book, I chose a poem from the heart of the sequence:

As I wait in the car four seagulls fly over the supermarket carpark, crying.  For an instant I smell the sea and hear the swash of waves on shingle, curling over and withdrawing.

Distance returns, restless as the tides.

My memory is salt with longing.

I made an artist’s book setting this poem with a sheet of handmade paper the colour of sand and shingle, folded and torn into a sequence of pages, but readily restored to the whole image – and then I painted the image with watercolour and gouache mixed with salt-water, lettering the words with a small driftwood stick and a wooden clothes-peg. The book is called Salt wave, and it’s contained in a portfolio slip-case, shown here first:

saltwave cover

SWp1

SWp2

SWp3

SWp4

SWp5

Swp6

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Under the Quarry Woods is available from The Pottery Press at Potters’ Yard Arts for £5.

ISBN: 978-0-9930171-3-1

Contact studio[at]pottersyard.co.uk

A Triptych from The Pottery Press

April 26, 2018

Past Present by Maureen Duffy  9780993017124.jpg  9780993017131

The Pottery Press is celebrating its first three pamphlets, with the publication of the third: Under the Quarry Woods by Jeremy Hooker on 23rd April 2018. The Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town London hosted a packed celebration for us on the day of the launch, with a lot of Prosecco, book-signing and partying, and all three writers reading from their books for a very enthusiastic audience.

[A little background: The Pottery Press is a micro-press set up by Potters’ Yard Arts (artist+writer partnership Liz Mathews and Frances Bingham based in Tufnell Park, North London) to publish limited edition artists’ books and text/image collaborations.  I’m the artist half of The Pottery Press, which we set up in 1999 – last century – with our first publication MOTHERTONGUE in 1999, an artists’ book with a narrative poem by my partner Frances, and images by me. Fifteen years later, the second Pottery Press book was Paper Wings, an edition of my artist’s book with Maureen Duffy, setting to paper her inspiring 55-love-poem cycle Songs for Sappho. Both of these books are in the British Library’s artist’s books collection and the National Poetry Library – and we still have a few copies of each available to buy from The Pottery Press.]

For our first pamphlet, Past Present, we’re very proud that Maureen Duffy again entrusted an extraordinary text to us – in fact two: Piers Plowless and Sir Orfeo. Maureen read first for us in the celebration, followed (hard task) by Frances with The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney – and then we were very happy that Jeremy Hooker allowed us to lure him from his Welsh rock for a rare London appearance, to read from the third pamphlet, Under the Quarry Woods, which we’ve just published. I’ve been lucky to work with the words of all three of our writers – and more inspiring words for a lettering artist to set would be hard to find. These pamphlets continue our tradition of making fusions of word and image – and beautiful books.

So, to begin with Maureen: she hardly needs any introduction from me, having published some 34 works of fiction, at least 9 collections of poetry, non-fiction including acclaimed biographies of Henry Purcell, Aphra Behn and Britain itself, and 16 plays for stage, screen and radio, most recently Hilde & Virginia at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre earlier this year. As though this were not enough, she’s also a tireless activist and pioneering campaigner for writers’ rights, President of Honour of the British Copyright Council and the ALCS, Vice President of the Royal Society of Literature, and what’s more, an inspiring collaborator and encourager of the work of others. She writes across the literary spectrum, and in the words of a recent TLS article:

‘Maureen Duffy has inspired many other writers and proved that the English novel… can be fantastical, experimental and political. Perhaps it is her poetry, though, that most fully captures her range, as she presses on like a medieval troubadour across barriers of genre, gender, space and time.’ (Maggie Gee in the TLS)

Past Present by Maureen Duffy

In Past Present the coupling of two long poems makes a weird and powerful statement about England on the edge; a land with an imagined mythic past, a millennial present and perhaps apocalyptic future. The second poem of the coupling is a catchy, robust new translation of the medieval lay Sir Orfeo, which Maureen performed last summer at Hampstead’s Burgh House, accompanied by Music for Sir Orfeo composed and performed by acclaimed jazz pianist Dorian Ford and award-winning world music singer Vimala Rowe.

For this celebration Maureen read from the poem that opens Past PresentPiers Plowless – which embodies this fantastical/political troubadour strain; it’s her contemporary riff on the medieval poem by William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman, a powerful critique of an affluent society that sacrifices its most vulnerable citizens for the financial gain of the few – a dark vision of Austerity Britain never more relevant than right now.

…I see them stream as in Blake’s darkest dream over London Bridge…

Piers Plowless has recently been included in the British Library’s influential online series Discovering Literature, in an article by Lawrence Warner, who describes it as a ‘modern reincarnation’ of Langland’s poem, but ‘not a translation… Even better, it is a poet’s invocation of the poem across time and space’.  We in the audience held on to our hats!

9780993017124.jpgOur second pamphlet is a playtext: The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney by Frances Bingham, script for a new play, produced at Arcola Theatre London in November 2017:

In the blue hour of Paris twilight one trailblazing artist paints a remarkable picture of her life, her liaisons and her passionate self-belief: Natalie Barney.

Frances also writes across the literary spectrum, and has published fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, including her acclaimed critical edition which rediscovers the poetry of Valentine Ackland. She had a daunting task, not only in following Maureen, but also because she was reading to an audience that included Amanda Boxer, the actor who commissioned the play and starred in the world premiere production last November. Amanda inhabited the part completely and unforgettably, as so many of us witnessed, but for our celebration on Shakespeare’s birthday we had to put up with the writer’s reading…

They say it takes two to tango, but in my case it’s sometimes three.  Or more.

Natalie Barney was an unstoppable force in modernism and the early gay rights movement. Her lovers were the most beautiful women of the era; her friends were the most celebrated artists of twentieth century culture. She was condemned by some as a wrecker of lives and fascist sympathiser, celebrated by others as a dynamic patron of the arts and supporter of writers, especially women, in her legendary Parisian salon. The Blue Hour is an impressionistic portrait of this phenomenon and the multiple stories of her life; an imagining of her inner voice.

9780993017131Our third reader was Jeremy Hooker, poet and critic, teacher and broadcaster, whose collection of prose poems Under the Quarry Woods was published on 23rd April, the third in our triptych of pamphlets. This is his 17th collection of poetry, published alongside 18 volumes of prose in the form of journals, essays and influential critical studies of writers from Dorothy Wordsworth to David Jones, as well as editions of writers including Richard Jefferies, Alun Lewis, Edward Thomas, Wilfred Owen and Frances Bellarby. For the last fifty-odd years he’s been writing about poetry, nature and place, and Under the Quarry Woods continues this life’s thought and work. These prose poems are quarried from journals written at his home in South Wales, on the outskirts of Treharris, a former pit village in that once-important mining area:

‘The difference, here, is that my sense of belonging has lifted off, like mist blowing away from the hills.  And what is laid bare is the history, the world-transforming movements that changed the landscape, and the way of life they created in the communities, in neighbourhoods that are now ghosts of themselves, with people that are made to feel useless, people who are lost.’

Alive with observations, impressions, memory and dream, the poems cumulatively form a meditation on a place and its people, revealing an industrially-scarred landscape with a deep history, its harshness illuminated by glimpses of natural beauty and possibilities of regeneration for the land and its fractured communities.

All three of our writers read and performed their work with real engagement, giving an inspiring and moving experience for the audience.  Although very different in style and voice, they share in common qualities of beautiful lyricism and true humanity – and one audience member said to me afterwards that she had been enthralled in turn by each reader – and found the evening inspiring and hope-restoring in these difficult times.

Pottery Press logo

The look and feel of a book is important to us both. Each pamphlet has an individual design, with covers and accompanying images by me. As a lettering artist, I aim for a fitting vessel for the very special words: a design that’s appropriate for each individual text, and instead of illustrations, I include accompanying images where appropriate, giving the words space and a context that allows them to speak for themselves. Sometimes these are settings of the words (as in Under the Quarry Woods), sometimes they’re colour studies that evoke the atmosphere of the text (as in Past Present) or black and white title pages or drawings that visually punctuate the pages. Each book is designed, edited and typeset independently, and printed in a small edition with full ISBN apparatus so that it can be ordered through any bookshop. The books can also be purchased directly from us at Potters’ Yard – contact details here.

Under the Quarry Woods by Jeremy Hooker

ISBN:978-0-9930171-3-1 £5

 

The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney by Frances Bingham

ISBN:978-0-9930171-2-4  £4

 

Past Present: Piers Plowless & Sir Orfeo by Maureen Duffy

ISBN:978-0-9930171-1-7  £5

 

 

 

The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney

November 3, 2017

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‘They say it takes two to tango, but in my case it’s sometimes three.  Or more.’

Here at The Pottery Press we’re proud to announce the publication of our latest book: The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney, Frances Bingham’s revealing new play which opens at the Arcola Theatre in London on 7th November.  Amanda Boxer (Mosquitoes, National Theatre; Medea, Almeida Theatre) plays Natalie Barney in this world premiere, directed by Kenneth Hoyt.

In the blue hour of Paris twilight, one trailblazing artist paints a remarkable picture of her life, her liaisons and her passionate self-belief.

My cover painting for the book is a watercolour called Twilight in the Rue Jacob and was inspired by a still from Tristram Powell’s 1962 film Natalie Barney, showing Natalie opening the doors of her book-filled room to the leafy shadows of her twilit garden, an image that seemed to me central to the story.  

Natalie Barney was an unstoppable force in modernism and the early gay rights movement.  Her lovers were the most beautiful women of the era; her friends were the most celebrated artists of twentieth century culture.

The play welcomes us in to share a private hour with Natalie and to witness her wild and visionary creed up close; the book allows us to savour again this intimate exchange.  There’s an interview with the actor Amanda Boxer, director Kenneth Hoyt and writer Frances Bingham on Youtube and Facebook, as well as a Facebook event, and Frances has contributed a guest blog post to the Arcola Theatre’s blog, which you can read here.

The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney is Pottery Press Pamphlet number 2, and is available to buy by post from The Pottery Press, or in person from the Arcola Box Office or the Owl Bookshop, Kentish Town, for £4. Or you can order it from any good bookshop with ISBN 978-0-9930171-2-4

 

A walk with Virginia Woolf

September 25, 2017

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The British Library has recently acquired three more of my artist’s books for their permanent collection. The first is called Strand of the Thames, and in it I’ve set an extraordinary entry from Virginia Woolf’s Diary of 1939. She writes about discovering the Thames foreshore in London, observing and thinking as she walked – and so I followed in her footsteps seventy years later, and found everything (everything) still as she described. I made the book in the form of a 1930’s photograph album, with 15 grisaille images of the places where VW’s walking and observing, like photographs in watercolour, and to bring the material presence of the river itself into the book, I mixed the watercolour paint with Thames water. The words are lettered with a little driftwood stick from the river, picked up on that same strand.

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A limited edition of Strand of the Thames

Making editions of my artist’s books isn’t always easy or appropriate; one-off works sometimes don’t lend themselves to duplication in any way.  But I like to make editions where possible, as they are a much more affordable version of the artwork, and for this book, because of the photograph-album reference in the original, I’ve made a quarter-size facsimile (4×6 photo size), constructed in exactly the same way on handmade paper, with black-and-white photographs of the grisaille images mounted with acid-free photo corners. This is a signed limited edition of 20, and the British Library have also added one of these to their collection, but there are a few left available from the studio, at £40 each. [Contact lizmathews(at)pottersyard.co.uk]

You can read more about this book on the British Library’s blog, in a guest post by me: Virginia Woolf’s Haunted Walk

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From walking with Virginia Woolf to flying with Maureen Duffy

The other one of my artist’s books that was recently added to the British Library’s collection is Paper Wings.

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One of a special edition of five, this artist’s book is again constructed in exactly the same way as the original. With Paper Wings, the ‘original’ is also a prototype, since I intended to make an edition of the work from the start. It’s one of my all-time favourites among my oeuvre – inspired by Songs for Sappho, a very exciting love poem cycle by Maureen Duffy, which the poet allowed me to set in its entirety and to publish for the first time here at The Pottery Press.

A new love song cycle by Maureen Duffy is an event in itself – and these poems are engaging, witty, moving, personal yet universal, and a profound exploration of all the weathers of love by a poet who brings her years of experience and a deep, sensitive humanity to the work. And the cycle itself is dazzlingly inventive, drawing the reader into the immediacy of the experience with running themes and motifs, contrasting humour and vulnerability, strength and tenderness, darkness and light in the different weathers and moods, the spiralling hopes and fears of a love documented from its beginnings through the seasons of three years, and on into the future.

Paper Wings detail

I’ve written before here on Daughters of Earth about my work on the book, and its first flight as an installation at Enitharmon’s London gallery. The book itself is now constructed into a double-sided concertina that opens fully to 27 metres long, with each poem-page forming a link in the chain and set so that the first and the last songs are back-to-back, forming an unending cycle within the book, in reflection of the song-cycle itself. This form gave me an opportunity to reflect that infinite variety and inventiveness of the individual poems by giving each a full page of handmade paper 30cm high by 42cm wide, and working on the design of each setting individually, often incorporating materials from the words.

I mixed paint with wine, riverwater, honey, wax, sugar, salt, mud, snow, rain, earth, clay, herbs, tears or blood, and lettered the words with a driftwood stick, a twig from an apple tree, a white dove’s feather, a reed pen, a clothespeg, a chopstick, a hand-cut bamboo nib, a paintbrush and a clay-working tool, as well as the occasional steel nib – and I used many different methods of construction for the pages to reflect each poem as closely and as materially as possible. I’ll show you a small selection of poem-pages here, beginning with Song 42, where it all started for me. I was delighted when Maureen Duffy came to a private view at midsummer 2012 of light wells, my exhibition at The London Centre for Psychotherapy  – and even more pleased when she bought one of the pots in the show. At this private view we talked a little about the possibility of my setting some of her work – I’ve been a very appreciative reader of Maureen’s fiction and poetry for many many years, and wanted to work with her words – and to my great pleasure she was open to the idea. You can perhaps imagine my delight when she sent me this poem a few days later – a poem inspired by one of my own bowls – the latest in the poem cycle she was then writing. And we went on from there:

Song 42

The idea of these love poems as messages flying through space, linking the parted lovers with a strong cord, is one of the themes running through the cycle that evoked very powerful images for me.

Eleventh Song

Also present in that first poem-page is the motif of the cosmic circle or sphere, or by extension two parted hemispheres, that conjures Donne – a motif that I’ve referenced throughout the cycle, including the pages for the first and last songs, as well as in the circular structure of the book itself:

Twentysecond Song

Fifth Song

Many of the poems were written in direct response to a contemporary event; this next one evokes that extraordinary cosmic moment in December 2010 when the light of the sun shining on the full moon was completely eclipsed by the earth’s shadow:

Song 24

Third Song

‘Like Hafiz seven centuries ago’, I formed the letters of Third Song with a reed pen from Persia – exactly like those that can be seen in the British Museum – dipped into red wine.  For the next one, I drew and lettered with a traditional Japanese brush and based the design of the image on a 10th Century woodcut from The Tale of Gengi – also written by a woman:

Song 32

And for this next one I posed for 32 self portrait silhouettes in a variety of hats, and lettered the poem with rainwater mixed into the white paint:

Thirteenth Song

For Song 44 I made a snow-cage through which to glimpse the words with white paint mixed into snow-melt:

Song 44

Because I was setting the entire cycle, and couldn’t pick and choose which lines to set, I found one or two challenges to my image-making skills among the poems.  These poems are very contemporary, wrought from the fabric of everyday life, and I’ve never before set a poem with the line ‘my email is down’ –

Eighth Song

– or one referencing a draining board:

Song 53

but with both of these, I thought that what worked so well in the poem would also work in the image it evoked in my mind, and just trusted the words – with some success, I think. Some of the poems brought a strong visualisation readily to my mind, and clearly suggested materials I could include – for the next one I mixed the honey-coloured paint with sugar:

Sixteenth Song

and this one I lettered with a white dove’s feather picked up on Hampstead Heath:

Song 30

For my favourite of all, I mixed the paint with honey, and lettered it with a wicker stick:

Song 33

– and if you look closely, you can see some little stripy bee-shapes in the surface texture of the handmade paper, transferred from the drying towel in the press – another embodiment of the words in the material form of the setting.

Paper Wings DVD

You can see that I took these photographs of each poem-page before the construction of the book, and I used them to make an artist’s film. More than a simple film-of-the-book, Paper Wings the film is an exciting, immersive experience. As the pages turn, Maureen Duffy reads each poem – her lived-in voice bringing a living and breathing presence to the cycle, within a soundtrack of the seasons.

The film is available on dvd from The Pottery Press, for £10. (Contact thepotterypress[at]pottersyard.co.uk)

 

Paper Wings limited edition book

From the photographs I also made a limited edition of 100 full-colour books, bound suspended from a top-binding for two reasons: first, to reflect the form of the installation (where the poem-pages were strung overhead like prayer-flags with the words flying through the air), and also to allow the reader to follow the through-the-year sequence like a calendar, so you can stand the book and turn the pages day-by-day. Each book in this edition is numbered and signed both by the artist and the poet, and again, available from The Pottery Press for £15 – we have a few copies left.

Paper Wings special edition

And the Special Edition of five (one of which the British Library have just added to their collection) is a half-size facsimile of the original, constructed in exactly the same way as the (27-metre-long) concertina book, from full-page digital reproductions of each page and acid-free adhesive. It’s contained in a slipcase made from off-cuts of the handmade papers in the original, and it’s numbered and signed by the poet and the artist. I have a couple of copies still available for £250. The British Library are now showing their copy in an exciting new display in the Treasures Gallery, which features the work of 17 women book artists within an exhibition called The Art of the Book.

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I think of Paper Wings as a key feature of my continuing Singing the Year collection of contemporary illuminated manuscripts. I’ve enjoyed screening the film at arts festivals, including BABE 2017 at the Arnolfini in Bristol, and turn the page artists’ book fair in Norwich, as well as showing the book at events including The National Poetry Library’s Material Word, and King’s College London’s Fabrication Arts and Humanities Festival. But somehow I feel reluctant to part with the original, which is still with me here in the studio. It took me five months to make, during a time when I was very ill, and it was quite literally a life-saver, an escape from the harsh realities of pain and fear into a world of inspiration and poetry.  It represents for me something inexpressible – as perhaps the best poetry always does – and it gives a material form to a poem-cycle that speaks of unending love. I’ll be reading it again on National Poetry Day.

 

 

 

Past Present at The Pottery Press

September 19, 2017

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The Pottery Press is proud to announce the publication of a new title, the first in a new series of Pottery Press Pamphlets.

Past Present: Piers Plowless and Sir Orfeo

by Maureen Duffy

(From the Forward by Frances Bingham)

In Past Present the coupling of two long poems by Maureen Duffy makes a weird and powerful statement about England on the edge; a land with an imagined mythic past, a millennial present and perhaps apocalyptic future. For the past: her catchy, robust translation of Sir Orfeo, a medieval narrative lay which migrates the Orpheus myth to the England of a folk tale and gives it a happy ending; the classical Underworld becomes Elfland under a green hill, the Arcadian landscape an English orchard.

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Duffy’s skilful translation catches the energy and rhythm of the original, its narrative immediacy and sturdy language, so that the reader experiences it as a bardic re-telling in that truly folk idiom.

And as for the present:

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The New Vision of Piers Plowless is Duffy’s contemporary riff on the visionary medieval poem Piers Plowman – an inspired evocation of everyman Piers and his creator Will Langland with Blake and the protesting Muses in a dark satirical vision of 21st Century austerity Britain.

And where is our Piers who can set all to rights?

Where should we search for him?

Who’ll build us Jerusalem?

Blake’s vision of London as the new Jerusalem, a place of visions and nightmares, is ever-present in Duffy’s London trilogy of novels and her poetry, and in this long poem it inspires her to a magnificent rant, addressed to fellow-author Will Langland who wrote his protest song for everyman Piers and the ‘fair field of folk’ so many centuries ago.

Her protest against a so-called austerity which causes suffering to the poorest in society while sparing the richest, and tries to silence the arts and deplete learning and libraries, has never been more relevant.  But crucially, like her medieval model, there’s robust humour here too – and a breath of hope, a call to arms.

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                                         … I see them stream

as in Blake’s darkest dream over London Bridge…

‘Blake’s darkest dream’, the cover image, is by lettering artist Liz Mathews who has worked with Maureen Duffy’s poetry before, notably in Paper Wings (also published by The Pottery Press).  Liz has also lettered titled pages and painted 9 full-page colour images for Sir Orfeo; atmospheric colour studies rather than illustrations, they accompany the text, dreamlike and evocative.

Frances Bingham, London 2017 (from her Forward)

Past Present: Sir Orfeo & Piers Plowless  (The Pottery Press 2017) £5

contact thepotterypress(at)pottersyard.co.uk

Past Present and Sir Orfeo

Sir Orfeo, an artist’s book

I’ve also made an artist’s book inspired by Sir Orfeo, setting lines from Maureen Duffy’s translation into a work made from a huge single sheet of handmade paper – 2 metres long by 70cm high – torn and folded into a sequence of pages, but readily restored to the unifying whole image, the hero’s name writ large across the sheet like a medieval banner for Suleiman the Magnificent.

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In July the banner was hung as a stage backdrop at the launch event for Past Present at Burgh House in Hampstead, where a capacity crowd heard a spirited reading of Piers Plowless from Maureen Duffy, followed by the premiere performance of Songs for Sir Orfeo, a work in progress: celebrated jazz pianist Dorian Ford is composing a jazz opera setting Maureen Duffy’s translation, and some of the first songs were performed by award-winning world music singer Vimala Rowe. (This exciting event was filmed and will shortly be available on dvd.)

Here is my artist’s book, page-by-page. Each double-page spread is followed by close-up details so that you can read the poem:

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Sir Orfeo is a one-off signed original on handmade paper 2m x 70cm, in a slipcase. £700