The T J Clark Seminar at Keble

Poems about paintings have long been part of literary tradition, and many such poems go on being written. Why? What is hoped for from them? What is involved in the passage from picture to word? This seminar series will look at particular poems and paintings, ancient and modern, with such questions in mind.

The Poetry & Painting seminars, with world renowned art historian Professor Timothy Clark, take place three times a year.

The next seminar in the series will take place at 5.30pm on Thursday 25th January 2024 in The Pusey Room at Keble. The topic will be: ‘How is a Poem about a Painting?’

Professor Clark includes the following note:

“When we say a poem is ‘about’ a painting, what do we mean by ‘about’? The question is sharpened when we say, as we do from time to time, that the poem says something about the painting that only a poem could.  Do we mean it describes the painting with special aptness or power (or restraint)?  Or do we admire it as a kind of meditation on the painting, putting the painting’s meaning into words, or speaking to the place of the painting in a life? (And so on.) Does putting a painting into words involve adding ‘dialogue’ to it?  Doesn’t that violate the painting’s essential muteness?  Aren’t certain poems decidedly better than the paintings they are about – what the painting might have been if it had language at its disposal?

I’ve asked you to read poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Riley, Paul Durcan, R. S. Thomas and myself.  There is a point in having an array of different poems and poetic strategies at our disposal, given the questions posed above, but inevitably we shall concentrate on one or two poems on the 25th – maybe Bishop’s Large Bad Picture and Durcan’s No Flowers.  Maybe.  And please, if you can, have a look again at Ashbery’s Self-Portrait – at the part of the poem where Parmigianino’s painting ‘reappears’, towards the end: perhaps starting from the lines ‘Parmigianino/ Must have realized this as he worked at his/Life-obstructing task…’.”

Enquiries: please contact Matthew Bevis.


‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’ (pdf) [For the Parmigianino painting, see here.]

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