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  • Writer's pictureJohn Dempster

Painting with words: yesterday's workshop with Paul Shanks

We had a great HighlandLIT event yesterday evening at the Glen Mhor hotel. About seventeen of us attended a workshop led by HighandLIT chair Paul Shanks. Paul’s theme was ‘painting with words.’ He introduced us to 'ekphrasis' a Greek word meaning 'description’ traditionally used of a piece of writing describing, and evoking the spirit of - or indeed taking issue with - a work of art. The word is now more generally used to describe expressing the spirit of any creative piece in a different medium to that in which it was originally created.

Paul introduced us to a number of works of art and poems inspired by them, showing us how the poets, more than simply describing what had been painted, deploy all the senses in evoking the scene depicted, and in some cases imagine what lay beyond the frame. The resonance between the poet’s reality and the original artist’s reality is the source of the poems’ energy. We discussed, for example W. H. Auden’s Musee des Beaux Arts, and the Brueghel painting ‘The Fall of Icarus’ and Paul Muldoon’s reflection on Edward Kienholz’s installation ‘The State Hospital.’

Then it was our turn. Paul had a number of artworks on display, and we were given time to respond to them in verse or prose. I was amazed by the quality of writing which was elicited from others in the group. It was moving to be sitting beside people who, sitting quietly with pen and paper were bringing into being arresting phrases, expressing profound responses to the paintings despite having had just a few minutes to reflect.

It was a great evening – thanks to everyone who came along, and to Paul who is a gifted tutor – he inspires, listens reflectively, and responds encouragingly.

It was also exciting to hear from Paul about the Writing Competition which HighlandLIT is running this year, with the theme ‘Highland Light’ – there will be prizes, and an anthology of the prizewinner pieces and other entries will be published later in the year. Full details will be published very soon.


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