Literature Ambassador: Shoreline Voices

Oh how I love it when someone sends me a press release, it makes life so much easier. And this is exactly the kind of thing I’d go to if I had the cash.


Saturday 3rd June, 2.30 pm. Theatre Royal Studio, 66-68 Shakespeare Street, Dumfries.


Standing on a clear day on any prominent hill or headland in Dumfries and Galloway you can see easily, to the south, the Cumbrian Lake District and the Isle of Man. Westwards, you can see Ireland. Travel, commerce and exchange between these lands has been traditional to the existence of our region for thousands of years. It has often been easier to sail from one shore to the other across the sea, than to labour along hilly terrains between valleys and distant towns in the same land. In its way, the Northern Irish Sea can be seen as an ‘island’ of water bounded by its shorelands and hills. It never formed a country of its own, but it has structured what it is to live in this part of the world.

Modern transport and convenience are now encouraging us to imagine our landscapes differently, but not necessarily true to the longer span of time. InSight seeks to explore, encourage and enjoy those traditional links across the northern Irish Sea. We want to find ways to foster new connections and collaborations between our four shorelines.

On the Shore

In this first event, four of the finest living poets from these areas perform their work and discuss it with cultural commentators representing the shorelines – and with the audience – revealing new insights and perspectives.

The four poets are:

Stacy Astill (Isle of Man): As the first living Manx Bard, in 2015 Stacey did a huge amount to promote poetry during her year as Bard, both at home and abroad. She took part in a cultural exchange with the US, where she worked with people in prisons and correctional facilities; she held special poetry events and workshops around the island, appeared on the radio; and gave talks in schools and at events such as TEDx Douglas. One of Stacey’s poems features on the main window of the Henry Bloom Noble library in Douglas, which she officially opened in her role as Bard, and where she has hosted two evenings of poetry and prose to mark International Women’s Day, in 2016 and 2017.

Paul Yates (Northern Ireland): Born in Belfast, but with family connections to the Mourne coast near Annalong and Kilkeel, he is a poet, painter and film-maker. Paul has had eight books published, including ‘Mourne’ (2005), and his work has been translated into French, Danish and Russian. His documentary and poetic film productions (including ‘XII Months of Mourne’) have won wide acclaim and his paintings and video art feature in various private and corporate collections. Some of his poetry film will be shown in ‘Shoreline Voices’.

 Liz Niven (Dumfries and Galloway): is a widely published Scottish poet writing in Scots and English. Her last collection, The Shard Box, was a Scottish Libraries Summer Read. Awards include McCash/Herald for poetry and TESS/Saltire for her ground-breaking work for the Scots language in education. Residencies range from Poet-in-residence at Inverness Airport to commissioned poetry engraved in wood and stone in southwest Scotland. She is an honorary Fellow of the Association of Scottish Literature and on the Executive Board of Scottish PEN. ‘The stance that Liz Niven takes, that the Scots are internationalists, travelling, commentating and contributing, makes this collection unique and important, particularly as the poet frequently uses the Scots language to address other cultures and by doing so reclaims our mother tongue as literary, contemporary and internationally valid.’ (Janet Paisley)

 Peter Rafferty (Cumbria): is a poet, translator, and sometime geomorphologist, who was born and lives in Carlisle. With one collection, Eoliths, published by Arrowhead, and anthology appearances that include The Cockermouth Poets and The Faber Book of 20th Century Italian Poems, he is currently working on absolutely the last revision of his Laforgue selection.

 Also taking part are:

Ruth Taillon (Northern Ireland): is Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies based in Armagh, Northern Ireland and Dublin, Ireland. The Centre has a unique role in promoting and improving the quality of cross-border cooperation – on the island of Ireland and beyond – through research and provision of resources, tools and other practical support. Ruth has many years’ experience working with a range of public and civil society organisations in both jurisdictions as a researcher and evaluator specialising in gender, equality, and peace and conflict issues. She is currently a member of the Irish Government’s Oversight Group for the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Ruth also occasionally writes and lectures on Irish women’s history, about which she has a strong personal interest.

 Dr Brian Irving (Cumbria) : thinks of himself as a ‘Solwayman’, someone who has experienced the area both as an onlooker and champion and as a participant in some of the many and varied pursuits the area has to offer. He was born in Carlisle and has lived in the area all of his life. He has managed the Solway Coast ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ for over 20 years and in that time has written and delivered four statutory management plans to provide protection, restoration and conservation to the designated 118 sq. km on the English side. Brian is passionate about the relationship between England and Scotland – for him there is no distinction both geographically and culturally. He says – “It is only land ownership, wealth and politics that inevitably influence where the Solway rests. Take those ‘higher’ influences away and a palpable cohesion exists”.

 Dr Valentina Bold (Dumfries and Galloway): teaches Scottish literature at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde and is a member and of the University of Exeter’s Atlantic Archipelagos Network. She recently co-curated ‘Swords in the Stories’​ for 2017 Year of Heritage, History & Archaeology with Dumfries Museum and is working on another exhibition
on the History of Scottish Children’s Writing with the Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh in 2018. Current research includes a study of the modern revival of pilgrimage journeys in Scotland, and an edition of James Hogg’s Brownie of Bodsbeck & other Tales to be published by Edinburgh University Press in 2018.

Julian Watson (Dumfries and Galloway): Originally from the north of England, he has worked in museums, arts centre management and exhibition organisation in Ireland (both sides of the Border) and Scotland. A practicing artist, Julian has an interest in community mapping and borderlands. With Valentina Bold, he is organiser of the InSight project’s first steps.

This event is intended to be the first of a series of multidisciplinary events organised through InSight, which, over the coming years, will celebrate the conversations which the Shorelines can have with each other.

SHORELINE VOICES | Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival


Non Titolo

It’s as hot as a Gaucho’s armpit at the moment. Which is rare in Scotland, so when it happens I want to immerse myself in it. Hence my silence. I’ve been out playing in the elements with the old camera my brother gave me at the start of April. A Nikon D70s, it’s not the kind of camera someone who calls themself a photographer would deign to pick up, but I don’t deign. I think of myself as more of an explorer than anything, and am delighted to be in a position to explore through the lens of this newly acquired toy; especially as I have more chance of being consumed by ants than of possessing the kind of camera the average semi-pro would deem worthy of his touch.

Here are some initial findings:

These Small Explosions
Lichen on a tree at Kelburn Castle.
Reciprocal Arrangement
A rather magnificent (cherry?) tree, also at Kelburn Castle.
Pod in the Dark
A sculpture at, yes, the castle at Kelburn.
Continuous Growth
The door to the polytunnel that’s birthing my tomatoes.
Moffat, Scotland, from Gallow Hill
The town in which I live.


Slug Time

After I’ve met a deadline I always have the feeling of floating on a raft that’s broken free of its tether. Free, light, and utterly out of control. Even writing this I don’t know what my next sentence will be; my head is empty. I try and make myself work, but am distracted by the slightest thing. I feel hungry and full up at the same time. I don’t know what I want to do, what I should do.

Still Life Photography by Eryl Shields

I’m like a street in which nobody lives, a party to which all the guests have failed to arrive, a field that has been so intensively farmed not even weeds can grow there. I need the cognitive equivalent of red clover to replenish the nitrogen, or a barrow load of manure.

Part of me wants to embrace this stage: go to bed and read; wander aimlessly round a gallery full of Picassos; sit on a sun warmed rock and watch the storm come in, but I have responsibilities. And so I am filling, like a drain in a monsoon, with a sense of resigned panic.

I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, there’s nothing you can do so it’s not a cry for help. I’m not suicidal. I just wish this feeling would go away so I can get on with being myself. So what is it? Am I tired, or just lazy? Or, is this the dreaded creative block that, I’ve heard, can last for years?

I’m pretty sure I’m not lazy, long periods of working 16 hour days have satisfied me of that, regardless of the efforts of the school I attended, and my ex husband to convince me otherwise. Actually, I don’t believe in laziness. It’s just a word we use to undermine people who work differently to the accepted norm. It is possible that I’m merely tired, and a wee break will sort me out. Though I’ve had almost a week of doing bugger all, and the deadline wasn’t that arduous. This leaves

Creative Block

What is that then? According to GoodTherapy.Org

A creative block might be experienced by anyone, for a number of reasons. Many writers, artists, and musicians reported periods of stalled creativity at some point in their careers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and cartoonist Charles Schultz among them.

I know, too, that the poet Louise Glück suffered a debilitating two year period of writers’ block before writing The Wild Iris, which won her a Pulitzer. She got over it by gardening so intensely she began to wonder what a poem written by a flower might be like. I don’t have two years, so back to Good Therapy:

It can be difficult to get past a creative block, but often simply becoming aware of when, how, and why a creative block develops can help a person work to address the creative block and prevent it from returning.

And here’s their list of possible causes (which one, if any, applies to me?):

The depletion of all creative energy after a fully immersed period of creating – possibly

  • Self-doubt, both pertaining to ability and talent – I have been susceptible to this, but I think I’ve overcome it.
  • Repeated rejection of one’s work – recently my work has been accepted by just about everyone I’ve submitted to, though that has made no difference to my material circumstances so there may be something in this.
  • Anxiety regarding the outcome of a project or task – unlikely.
  • The need for perfection – not something I suffer from any more.
  • The dependence on substances to be creative – no, though if I could afford substances who knows?
  • Onset of an illness or medical condition I suppose I’ll find out if this is so in due time.
  • A sudden loss of meaning and purpose in one’s work – possible.
  • Negative self-talk or criticism it’s not that I don’t look at other people’s work sometimes and think it beyond my capabilities, but I know I’m still learning, so don’t think this applies. That said, I do worry that I’m running out of time.

So, what now?

The allotment, I think, is calling. Should I immerse myself in that and forget art for a while? Maybe I’ll find an interesting way to photograph weeds, or come back one day and write a poem from the perspective of a community strawberry patch…

Meanwhile if there’s anyone out there with a solution I’d welcome your thoughts.


Creative Practice #2: Emerging Artist

It being virtually impossible to earn a living by making art, emerging artists rely on awards and bursaries from legacies, NGOs, and arts foundations. Ergo, I’m in the process of applying for an award from Jerwood Visual Arts (part of Jerwood Charitable Foundation) in conjunction with Eastside Projects and WORKPLACE, for a project I’ve been wanting to develop for a good six months.

The idea began to surface, like mayflies from a river, after I made this image:

Still Life Photography by Eryl Shields

which itself arose out of a completely different idea that turned out to be impossible to implement in my limited space. But, having brought the tin all the way from our kitchen I decided to try an alternative approach. I made half a dozen shots from different angles, and immediately liked this one best. After faffing about with tone curves in Lightroom (which always takes me days) I made a print, and as I was in the process of matting it I started thinking about all the biscuit tins lurking in cupboards around the country, waiting to dispense comfort and joy. I wondered about the diversity of them: what they look like; what they contain; how they came to be in the hands of their particular dispensees. Some inherited, some received as gifts, some bought, some found. There must be so many biscuit tin stories out there, all of which have the potential to tell us something about ourselves. To add, in fact, to the sum of human knowledge. Albeit in a small way.

I have a problem about the way we marginalise the domestic realm and privilege the commercial. As well as with our overly narrow definition of heroism: why is it heroic to save a life, but not heroic to create and nurture lives? Why is it heroic to fight and banish aliens but not bacteria? Thus, my initial idea was to make portraits of the nation’s biscuit tins in the heroic tradition, and at the start of the year I applied for a bursary to do just that. I was shortlisted but didn’t get it. Which has turned out to be a good thing, because the idea has morphed.

Now my plan is to hear the biscuit tin stories and allow them to suggest the style of the individual portraits: Modernist; Avant Garde; Allegorical; Cubist; Surrealist; Impressionist, there are myriad options of which Heroic is just one. It would, then, be bonkers to limit the possibilities at this stage with my own preoccupations.

Oh, and if you are an artist in the early stage of your career with a project you wish to develop, the deadline for this award is 5pm on May 8. You don’t have to have been to art school, it’s free to enter, and there’s no age limit; so what are you waiting for?

Literature Ambassador #6: Outreach

This seems to be a quiet week for bookish events in the region, so I thought I’d broaden our horizons and show you this:

which I heard about only because it was on the evening news today. That video features the first ever Colonsay Book Festival in 2012, the fifth was held last weekend, and because I know bugger all about it I pulled this from their website:

The people of Colonsay, like many communities large and small, have always shared a love of books and literature, joining in book groups and participating in fringe poetry sessions at the music festival. At a community meeting in June 2011, the idea of a book festival for the island was tentatively mooted, and ten months later, at the end of April 2012, we were welcoming our first six authors and an eager audience.

Now in its sixth year, the festival is, we think, still one of the smallest and most remote literary events in Britain, held on the beautiful island of Colonsay in glorious springtime. In 2017 again, the festival will take place over the last weekend of April – the 29th and 30th – and this year we are delighted to be welcoming another fantastic line up of authors.

Alexander McCall Smith: “This was a wonderful start to a literary festival that I am sure will become one of the most enjoyable festivals on offer. Everything worked so well and the atmosphere was extraordinarily friendly.”

Liz Lochhead: “To say this is a BRILLIANT festival – simply the best – is not to say too much…..”

And here’s a little about the island itself:

The island of Colonsay, one of the most remote and most beautiful in the Southern Hebrides, is a 2 hours, 20 minutes sail from Oban, on the west coast of Scotland. South of Mull and west of Jura and Islay, the island is about 8 miles long and 2 wide. Famous for its golden beaches, such as Kiloran and Balnahard, it is home to a wealth of bird, animal and plant life, and has a fascinating history and archaeology. Whatever your interest – walking, swimming, fishing, golf (on the ancient machair links of Machrins), painting or photography – you will be able to enjoy it here.

And to show you how remote it is:

Colonsay Oronsay-Map

I’ve never been to Colonsay, but this has put me in mind of one of my favourite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, so it looks like I’ll have to change that soonest.

Random Affective

Apologies, I can think of nothing to say today; so that’s what I’ll do.

There is a Garden

Nature Photography

Abstract landscape photography

Literature Ambassador #5: Bookish in Spring

Organised by The Association of  Wigtown Booksellers  Wigtown Spring Book Weekend is now a well established annual festival. You’ll find four days of events in bookshops and cafes around town, as well as in the new WFC venue space at Number 11 North Main Street.

The whole programme can be found here and you can book tickets online, over the phone at 01988 403222 or in person at the WFC offices (11 North Main Street).

Just to whet your appetite here’s a quick sketch of some of the things you can expect to see:

How Birds Make Place in Literature

Dr. David Borthwick event

Dr David Borthwick

Monday 1 May, 12noon
Number 11

With an emphasis on migrant birds, Dr Borthwick discusses the allure of birds in literature.

Dr. Borthwick was the dissertation supervisor for my M.Litt, and boy did her make me work! He has since soared to new heights, and is now quite an expert on birds, especially geese and swans, and especially in literature. He’s also a marvellous writer and poet in his own right, his twitter stream is a joy.

More info and booking details here

A Suggestion of Bones

Kriss Nichol event

Kriss Nichol

Friday 28 April, 7pm
​Number 11

A Suggestion of Bones is the second poetry pamphlet by Kriss Nichol who, “uses language like a knife”.

I met Kriss recently when she came to Moffat to read from, and discuss, her latest novel Monsoons and Marigolds. She was great: she presented each member of the audience with a tissue-paper marigold made by her own fair hands, and she answered every question put to her with exuberant honesty. I love to hear about artist’s processes and Kriss more than satisfied my curiosity.

More info and booking details here

Scotland in Books

Scotland in Books

Until 14 May
Number 11

Photographer Celeste Noche has captured bookshops, libraries and personal collections in her illuminating exhibition.

10am-5pm on Saturday, 10am-4pm on Sunday.

More info here

Stories Untold: The Invisible Experiences of Traveller Girls in Scotland

Dr Geetha Marcus

Dr Geetha Marcus

Saturday 29 April, 3pm
Number 11

Dr Marcus tells some of the remarkable untold stories of Scotland’s young Traveller women.

I don’t know Dr Marcus, so I googled and found (in her own words):

In 2012, I was awarded a jointly funded Scottish Government/ESRC doctoral research into the educational experiences of Gypsy/Traveller girls in Scotland.  In the course of my research, I have conducted an extensive range of in-depth interviews with young Traveller women about their racialised and gendered experiences within public spaces of school and private spaces of home. As a South Asian and advocate of black feminist thought and methodology, my work also explores research into the marginalised experiences and multiple identities of women of colour within predominantly ‘white’ spaces.

More info and booking details here

Featured work


All weekend
Number 11

Visit the festival shop at Number 11 where you’ll find Galloway Chillies, Aldaron Woodcrafts, Christine Galloway Designs, Peter Wareing Ceramics and Patchwork and Paper by Julie A T.

10am-5pm on Saturday, 10am-4pm on Sunday.

The Spring Kist


29-30 April
County Buildings, Wigtown

More than 25 stalls featuring arts, crafts, food and drink from the region and beyond, including 12 new exhibitors.

10am-4pm each day

More info here

So, that’s just a tiny taste of what the weekend holds for you in Wigtown, there’s still time to book a flight from anywhere in the world, I’ll pick you up at the airport… X

New Loves #1: Gerhard Richter

According to my Pinterest boards I’ve been aware of Gerhard Richter and his work for some years, but it was only seeing this picture

Oil painting, White, by Gerhard Richter
White (oil on paper, 2006), by Gerhard Richter.

a few days ago that led me to see how important he/it is to me. It reminds me of the slightly grubby net curtained windows of my childhood. There’s a holiday cottage feel; is that a garden of salt wind battered shrubs veiled by the nylon? I can see a shingle beach, cut knees, a much worn hand-knitted sweater of dubious origin, a burger van run by a grumpy man too fat to stand on his feet all day. As you can imagine I was instantly smitten, and went straight to his website to find out as much as I could about Richter. I’ve barely stopped looking since. And I found this:

Apples: Gerhard Richter, 1988, oil on canvas
Gerhard Richter: Apples (1988, oil on canvas)

which I assumed was a photograph (until put right by the caption). It’s like the love child of an Antonio Lopez Garcia painting, and a Josef Sudek photograph, and I find myself quite hypnotised by it. Add

Rosen: Gerhard Richter (oil on canvas, 1994)
Gerhard Richter: Rosen (1994, oil on canvas)

and you’ll begin to see a pattern, if not to Richter’s work than in my choices. He does with oil paint what I want to be able to do with a camera. Or, for that matter, fiction and poetry. I’m not quite sure what that is, but I know it’s something to do with domesticity; perspective (seeing, not seeing); memory, and fragility. And that’s all I can say for now, but here are another couple, just for your delight:

Haus - Gerhard Richter (1992, oil on canvas)
Gerhard Richter, Haus (1992, oil on canvas.


Woman's Head in Profile - Gerhard Richter
Gerehard Richter, Woman’s Head in Profile, (oil on canvas, 1966).

Literature Ambassador #4: Textual Healing

As a creative practitioner I’m very interested in the notion that art can heal, or at least strengthen us against life’s ills. I don’t know how close to the truth this comes, but I do know that the medical profession is beginning to take art seriously as a therapeutic force for certain conditions, with even hospitals employing artists and writers to run classes, for patients and staff alike. I also know how much the arts have helped me negotiate difficult times, and have seen its beneficial effects on my own students. Perhaps all it does is redirect our minds from the horrors for long enough for us to recalibrate, and perhaps that’s all we need.

With today’s announcement from that idiot woman who purports to lead us (as if we need to be led, ffs) adding another mine to the field, the need for some sort of diversion has become critical. So, here are a few options for the people of Dumfries and Galloway.

On Monday 24 April

Roncadora Press

will launch its two latest publications:

Roncadora Press launch event

Sheeppenned, by Hugh McMillan


Buirds, by William Hershaw

I’ve been to a few events featuring McMillan (an award winning poet who happens to live in Dumfries and Galloway) and always had a ball. The last was at the Moffat Museum Social where he entertained volunteers with his mix of poetry, history, and activism, leaving us all feeling much lighter of heart. I can’t recommend him highly enough, but who am I? Here’s what the Scottish Poetry Library says about him:

Hugh McMillan’s work has been anthologised and broadcast widely, and has won various prizes, most recently the Cardiff International Poetry Competition in 2010. Postcards from the Hedge won the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in 2009, and he has also been shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Award and the Basil Bunting Award. Not Actually Being in Dumfries: New and selected poems was published by Luath Press in 2015. Luath also published his book about his home region McMillan’s Galloway: An unreliable journey in 2016.

I don’t know William Hershaw at all, but his Scottish Poetry Library entry tells me we’re are in for a treat.

William Hershaw was born in 1957 in Newport on Tay into a family with a coal-mining background. He is now Principal Teacher in English at Beath High School, and has written two textbooks on the teaching of the Scots language in secondary school.

Hershaw has written poetry in both Scots and English; his pamphlet Winter Song won the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award in 2003, and he won the McCash Prize for Scots Poetry in 2011. In 2007 he collaborated with sculptor David Annand, writing the poem ‘God The Miner’ which is inscribed on the statue ‘The Prop’ as part of the Lochgelly Regeneration Project. He was funded by Fife Council to write musical settings for the poems of the legendary Fife poet and playwright Joe Corrie: in November 2012 Cage Load Of Men: The Joe Corrie Project by The Bowhill Players was released. Grace Note published three of his Scots language plays in 2016, including a translation of Shakespeare’s Tempest, and a novel, Tammy Norrie. His play Iolaire premiered in March 2016 at the Scottish Parliament, performed by pupils from Tynecastle High School and Stenhouse Primary.

He has co-edited the literary magazine Fras with Walter Perrie.

It will be interesting to see how these two writers spark off each other and, indeed, the venue:

The Stove Network

which is (in their own words):

‘a membership, artist led organisation based in Dumfries. We are a means for the creative community to play a significant role in the future of our region. We see the arts not as something solely for an ‘arts audience,’ but rather as a vital contribution to society on all fronts.’

That operates from 100 High Street, Dumfries.

I joined as a member at the very start, have run creative writing workshops there, and was part of the team who set up their monthly spoken word event. It’s one of my favourite entities (place, action, idea, group of people) in the whole world. I’d go there all the time if I wasn’t stuck out here in the middle of too-far-from-everywhere-on-a-bicycle country, it’s the kind of place where all your worries evaporate as you cross the threshold.

Here’s another text based art event happening at The Stove this month:

Reel to Real: Writing in the Sky

April 26 @ 7:00 pm9:00 pm

Reel to Real

A documentary on migration, poetry and humanity’s place in the natural landscape.

Writing in the Sky follows Dermot Healy’s process in creating his seminal work, A Fool’s Errand, an epic poem on the migration of barnacle geese, which pass over his home in Sligo, Ireland.

After the documentary, writer and poet David Borthwick will be sharing some of his knowledge and reflections on our local, migratory barnacle geese population.

Tickets: £4/2 on the door. Tickets are available in advance from the Stove cafe, or can be reserved online by emailing katie[at]

and, of course,

Brave New Words

Brave New Words poster

is on the last Friday of the month (April 28) as ever, at 7-9pm.

And here’s one last shout for Big Lit, the book festival in the Stewartry that takes this weekend, and looks like it’s going to be a doozy.


Paper Textiles by Isabell Buenz
Text-Isles exhibition: Original and extraordinary text-related art work on exhibition and for sale in The Bakehouse Studio by seven talented and innovative artists from Intertwine – Galloway Textile Collective – comprised of professional textile artists, living and working in Dumfries & Galloway. April 20 – 23 10.30 – 4.30

So, take your mind off the petty infighting, the warmongering, the sheer stupidity of the current political mindset that seems to be sweeping the western world, and get thee to a book event in serene Dumfries and Galloway. You will return refreshed and ready to face another week.



Creative Practice #1: On Timing

I live with a musician who is very aware of his craft. Since I moved in with him, five years ago, I’ve been learning about the concept of timing. That it exists, that it’s important, and, to an extent, why. The greatest compliment The Mr. can give another musician is that her or his timing is spot on.

At first I thought this was all about the beat, and that all one had to do to be good at timing was to keep to the beat. It’s like the song’s pulse, I was told when I took lessons in African drumming, but I realise now that that’s just the start of timing’s uses. Just as the heart skips, races, or slows depending on emotional triggers, timing is used in music to build and release tension, and, thus, trigger emotions in the listener. And the more creative musicians use it to add layers of meaning. I’m told Bob Dylan is particularly good at this, and although I sense this is so, not being a musician I couldn’t tell you why. My interests lie in literature and visual art, so what are the timing equivalents in these disciplines?

Timing in Literature

The reason I’m thinking about this at all is that I’ve been reading Saul Bellow’s book, Humboldt’s Gift, for the last two months (at least). It’s not a hugely long book, but it’s intense, like drinking a double espresso with a grappa chaser, and I can only read a few pages before the room starts to spin. He packs an enormous amount of information into a single action point: back-story; memories; description, other points of action, you name it, but it never feels laboured, everything has relevance, and he always comes back to the main point in the end. The story and all its elements hang together perfectly in a gravitational field of Bellow’s own making. Once I’ve finished it I’ll attempt some sort of analysis, but for now I’ll be rather more generic.

As far as I can remember from my university days, the literary tricks that play with time are such things as sentence length; syllable count; line breaks (in poetry); physical gaps (white space) on the page, and breaking up the action in the way Bellow does. When done well, these devices add meaning to the action/story, and important information about the main protagonist. They build tension, and release it at precisely the right time (just before the reader explodes?); they let you saunter along for a while and relax, and then snap you back to the main point/theme, or they set you skipping and bouncing, running and gasping, floating and dreaming. Is all this the literary equivalent of musical timing?

And what of the visual arts?

I can’t talk at all about sculpture, video installations, or performance art. My area is strictly two dimensional: painting, photography, collage, etc., and as I’ve had little formal training I’m learning as I go. So I’m guessing slightly when I say the visual equivalent to musical timing is the space between the objects on the plane, and between them and the frame. No doubt I’ll come back to this at a later date, for now it would seem best to just show some examples of what I mean, and to mention the word ‘gravity,’ which I’m told is key.

Ellsworth Kelly- Untitled - 1954
Kelly places two objects on the canvas, both extend outside the frame so you can’t tell which is larger. It looks like the right hand object holds the power and is either pushing the other out, or pulling it inside the frame, but we know they can’t both fit. They are just touching, if that; is it a kiss, a shove, or is one about to consume the other?
Masao Yamamoto
This is a little more obvious than the Kelly composition above, it reminds me of the way a wonky washing machine can disturb your peace. The bottle looks like it could fall any second. I like the way the two flowers in the vase look rather like startled eyes too, as if this is a creature aware of its own mortality.
Martine Franck - Observatoire de Meudon, France
A single, distant figure walks across the path between an avenue of trees. It is icy cold. Yet, within that still, frozen hush is a sense of speed. The eye hurtles into the distance, driven by the line of white sky showing between the tips of the branches. They are then funnelled into a mist shrouded urban landscape. This photograph seems to span centuries.
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