I recently came across a portfolio of artwork left over from my art school days, buried at the back of my wardrobe under the pile of Christmas presents I have already begun to stash away and the bursting bag of camera lenses with mismatched lids. I looked over it with a bit of fondness, a bit of embarrassment, and the occasional 'actually, that's really good'. And I realised just how much my work has moved on from art school.
I still was - and forever will be - drawing-mad, but spent most of my time with a camera in my hand, full of confusion, floundering for direction, and struggling to pinpoint exactly what it was that my tutors, and the course, 'wanted from me'. I don't think I found the answer to that at art school, frankly. I needed a lot more practice and a lot more life to even touch on the answer to that. A husband, a daughter, a few losses, a few scares, and twenty sketchbooks later, and I feel closer to it. Still not there, but closer.
But there were a few pieces of 'me' hidden away in the pages of battered sketchbooks and crammed folders. Most of the guilty-pleasure drawings that I knew didn't really fit the project I was working on but which just demanded to be drawn anyway. And my found poetry.
My very favourite class at art school was not a class on art at all, but on writing. Run by the brilliant Dr Mick Gowar, it was my first introduction to Edward Gorey, and for that alone was worth the price of admission. But it also introduced me to a delicious altered book technique called - variously - 'altered poetry', 'altered pages', 'found poetry', 'discovered poetry', and 'blackout poetry'. Whatever your term of choice, it involves, essentially, the hunting down of hidden poetry within larger pages of text, and the subsequent obliteration of all superfluous words, to leave behind a brand new 'secondary' text.
I was hooked.
While Tom Phillips, the king of this technique, uses drawing, painting, collage and colour in his A Humument, I never managed to make the figurative drawings work with this technique, and found myself favouring minimal pages of black or white, which I produced a veritable tower of during my university days.
There is something so appealing about the notion that these little 'secondary texts' were sitting there in the page since the 1970s, when most of the original books I used were published, just waiting to be found. In fact, although I am not in ANY way, shape or form comparing myself or my work to Michelangelo, I am reminded of a Michelangelo quote that I have always adored: 'Carving is easy. You just go down to the skin and stop' (The Michelangelo Gallery), and his reference to seeing an angel in the marble and carving 'until I set him free'.
Perhaps it is best for me to abandon my post here, in the wake of such a beautiful notion. Feel free to leave at this point. Truly. Won't be offended. I can't compete with Michelangelo.
But, nontheless, here is my little nod to this notion. A small selection of my little pieces of discovered poetry, unpolished and awkward - but perhaps forgiveably so, considering the forty years they spent sitting on a page, waiting for someone to find them and set them free.
(Have included transcripts, since since some of the scans are a little small and fuzzy)
He Is Not Their Father
He is not their father
But so tolerant
Must be admiration for the dominant
And desire to please
This is not love
Those feelings may leave another isolated
A Comfort Sound
A comfort sound
A pleasing little sound
A piece of warm happiness
Learn to know joy
Learn to understand
Learn To Be Frightened
His usual fear raised
Terrified by first glimpses
Clinging so hard that he left marks
His mother stood looking
And they called to each other
Through the ensuing storm
Fear is learned
The sound of alcohol in a man's voice
Learn to be frightened
It is hard to avoid
Her mother still wants to help
'I'll do it myself', she says
Make a sharp break with mothers
I don't need to transcribe this, do I? Every full stop on a double page spread? Really? Oh, go on then.