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Painting and Poetry

Posted on May 6, 2018 | 2 Comments

For 25 years I have been burning poetry.

Writing words and then setting fire to them.

A form of literary self-harm.

A few weeks ago, several things came together over the course of a weekend, which put an end to the burning.

I spent an evening at The Theatre by the Lake, in Keswick, listening to translations of Pablo Neruda’s poetry and then watched a film about his life.

I told the friends that I was with about my habit of destroying the words I wrote for myself. They insisted I stopped burning poetry. That I should share the words instead. They said I could share the words with them. That it would be ok.

One of them is my poetry keeper. Keeping my poems safe so that I cannot destroy them.

The same weekend I listened to the lyrical Ben Okri reading from his new book “The Magic Lamp, Dreams of Our Age” – a collection of adult fairy stories inspired by paintings by Rosemary Clunie.

I was fascinated by the way the book came to life… he borrowed paintings from Rosemary, left them in an odd place in his house, walked past it day in, day out, and then finally, when the mood took him, wrote a short story. The short stories piled up in a box and eventually he got them out and made a book.

The poetry keeper asked Ben what happens to words that we throw away, or destroy?

Ben’s answer gave me the final push to start writing and stop burning. He said the words we destroy never go away, that they come back more fiercely and powerful than ever before.

I told him about the burning when he signed my book after the event, he wrote: “To Tara, Best wishes for the courage to not burn, but to give mind-heart birth to the words that return in dream stories. Story time, Ben Okri.”

Like all good things that come together when the time is right, I have started a Poetry and Painting course, hosted by Susan Allen from the Wordsworth Trust and the artist Alison Critchlow.

It’s an outreach project, most of the people on the course are from West Cumbria Carers Poetry Group – they all spend their life caring for someone. Poetry is their release.

The first day involved looking at paintings and reading poetry by Dorothy Wordsworth, writing Haikus from chopped up Wordsworth poems and then creating a couple of paintings inspired by poetry.

Despite an overwhelming urge to throw up, I wrote one of my poems down… froze to the spot while the others read it… remembered to breathe and then painted on top of it…

It’s the really long one among the photos below…

Oh and we have a hat – where unwanted words and bits of painting go… so I can’t destroy anything at all. It will be re-used, re-cycled, re-imagined…

Watch this space…


  1. Alison Critchlow
    May 6, 2018

    Fabulous to read your words and know that they are being kept and shared…

  2. Jen Grange
    May 6, 2018

    Brilliant work Tara, can’t wait to see more!xx


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