Poetry and Portraits in London

Last week I visited some friends and family in London. I LOVE London, but any visit there is always tainted by the fact that it’s just so damned expensive. £18 to visit the Tower of London? I’m not saying it’s not interesting, because it is, but the whole time I was in there I felt like I’d been ripped off. And there’s this huge pressure to try to enjoy everything so that you can get your money’s worth. Enjoyment is no fun when you have to work hard at it.

I’m just so glad museums and art galleries are (mostly) free in this country. I went to the V&A, which I’ve been meaning to go to for some time, and the National Portrait Gallery. The BP Portrait Award 2011 exhibition is on at the moment and it is incredible. There are portraits in there that look like high resolution photographs – you can see every single stray eyebrow hair and enlarged pore – then you read the tag that says Oil on canvas and are blown away. I stopped and lingered in front of Wendy Elia‘s ‘I could have been a contender‘ which pulled me in with its raw honesty. At least I assume it’s an honest depiction. Either way, it’s a brave person that paints themself naked and puts the canvas on display in a London art gallery.

One final ‘exhibit’ which I was really pleased to see in London was Christine de Luca’s Poem on the Underground, At Sixty. I was pleased for three reasons: 1. I recently promised two lovely ladies from Luath Press, who published the poem, that I would look out for it while in London. Mission accomplished. 2. It is a very nice feeling to read a poem written in dialect (At Sixty is in Shetlandic) – challenging and fascinating and pleasurable, like tasting an exotic new dish for the first time – and especially pleasing when it is a dialect of your country so you feel some kind of connection to the poem, even though you yourself don’t speak Shetlandic. 3. Poetry in surprising places is always a pleasure.

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8 thoughts on “Poetry and Portraits in London

  1. I don’t think of myself as particularly interested in poetry, but reading your last line perhaps I am after all – I was in Sheffield recently where the university has done its best to relieve the landscape of its big boxy modern buildings by slapping huge poems on the side of some of them, which are an absolute delight. And where I used to live in Kirkby Stephen, there is an actual honest to goodness Poetry Path through the countryside, a short loop of country lanes punctuated with about a dozen sets of lines carved in local stone, a collaboration between mason and poet. The presence of the poetry in both cases enhances your experience of the landscape.

    • The Poetry Path sounds nice. I’m the kind of geek that likes that sort of thing. I think there might also be some poetry along the Water of Leith? At any rate there are some words carved into stones on the ground. I can’t really remember that well because I was mostly interested in spotting those elusive Antony Gormley statues.

    • The Poems on the Underground are a great idea. I wonder when we’ll get Poems on Lothian Buses?

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