Monday, 8 December 2014

Gallery Readings for the new year

The readings for January and February will be in the Blake Exhibition

If you want to see what modern poets make of Blake you will have to go to the poetry events I am leading at the Ashmolean. They are not shown on the Ashmolean’s own festival programme on-line nor on the Blackwell’s festival website.

However, you can find information about them on the written leaflet available in both places. Poems by Nick Owen, Tina Negus, Jalina Myana, Mary Stableford, Diana Moore, Julie Forth and others can be heard in readings at the museum exhibition at 12.30 and 14.30 on January 24th and February 21st. My illustrated presentation, “In the footsteps of Blake,” can be seen on 28th February at 11.00 -12.30 p.m. in the lecture theatre at the museum. You can find examples of poem-picture art inspired by Blake on the Flickr website here:

Or on this dedicated weblog:

Check last post for more details


This will be a Powerpoint presentation on the development of nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century poetry and pictures from the inspiring work of William Blake. The emphasis will be on connecting visual art with the written word and poetry.

It will also look backwards to much earlier connections between visual and linguistic codes in Egypt and China.

There will be references to the latest developments in multi-media self expression as well as an examination of the work of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and Pre-Raphaelites.

Blake will be seen as an inspiration both in terms of philosophy and psychology as well as the developments he inspired in poetry and the visual arts.

Extract from Poetry and pictures manifesto below

(From the earliest days of printing, a world of visual images with associated thought and feeling, juxtaposed with text has been part of the western way of enculturation, to help in the process of translating meaningless ciphers, squiggles on a page, into the stuff of inner experience, into understood written words, leaping from the page or screen into constructs of a mental world.

I will never forget the moment when words and images entwined and danced for me as I began to understand written text for the first time. It was like the moment when stumbling and sinking transform into skiing and swimming as learning transforms to achieving.

The real father of Poetry and Pictures as a genre has to be William Blake, a visual artist by trade, and one of the greatest poets in the English language. More recently, the last poet laureate, Ted Hughes, set the ball rolling for modern artists with his book, “The Remains of Elmet”. He wrote poems specifically for a photographer’s art works here. In a second book, “River”, he juxtaposed poetry with an artist’s photographs without connecting them more intimately.

Hughes only wrote the poetry. He collaborated with others to create these poem-picture works. We are encouraging such collaborative work, and are open to both photographers and poets, but we are mostly focused on creating a combined work made by one author. “Poetry and Pictures” is, I believe, the first attempt to establish the two arts together as a genre for the twenty first century.

Photography has always struggled to establish its credentials as an Art form in its own right. Poetry in turn, has struggled to make a case that it is still relevant to this fast changing world. Much modern writing is as uninspiring as a snapshot from a cheap digital camera. I believe that combining ideas expressed visually with ideas expressed in words can make for a powerful medium of expression, both folk art and high art. The idea is to link a poem with a picture or series of pictures. The two can also blend together into a single visual image, which is both poetry and photography. I am not sure how many variations on the overall theme will emerge. Already there are versions I had not dreamed about. I find the merging of words into visual art in graphic artistry a particularly inspiring form. Poetry condenses experience. A photographer or graphic artist can do the same with a visual image.)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Holy Grail

                                                                                         “There is a crack, a crack in everything.                                  That’s where the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

In a quiet corner of this old museum a grail lies. Far from the famed Pre-Raphaelites and Raphaelites and all the other ites it sits beside its ancient friend. The Holy Grail is said to heal and whole whoever drinks from it. But Christians think communion cups of any kind can turn your wine to blood, and golden salvers turn your bread to flesh. Ah! The grail that you see is not the grail that you think you know. Its holiness pertains to holes around its sides. Patched and patched, patched and mended, this Holy Grail is not exactly splendid.

Why are we here? Look with your inner eye. Go on, give it a try. Are those just rings that hold the handles on the lip, or can you catch a glimpse of fingers take a grip. Over the lip, over the lip, over the lip and in- Gwion dips and comes out Taliesin. Are you a bard, or druid, did you say? You’ll know the tale where Gwion steals new life and runs away. Ceridwen’s cauldron is the grail on display.

Cool and quiet, behind the glass, why not go by, and simply let this pass?  It asks no questions, hasn’t much to say, why not walk on, it will be here still on some other day? Oh, but if you will look closely then perhaps you’ll see a fire burn below it, a fire from a living tree- a fire that can turn base metal into gold, and other wonders, wonders to behold – if you could only see this object with your inner eye. I beg you once again, give it a try.

                                                                    © Nick Owen                                November 2014

Friday, 17 October 2014

October readings in the galleries

Poetry Tour in the Galleries Saturday 18th October

Meet Randolph Sculpture Gallery

12.30 and 2.30  Laura Guthrie reads "Gallery 21" The seated Muse, Clio  Gallery 21, Sculpture

12.40 and 2.40  Dr J A McGowan reads ‘Hadrian and the Old  fisherman’ Gallery 14, Cast Gallery

12.50 and 2.50 Sarianne Durie reads Stitches So Small  Gallery 5, Textiles lower ground floor

1.00 and 3.00  Nick Owen reads ‘Under a Blood Moon’   Gallery 46 Baroque Art

1.10 and 3.10  Mary Stableford reads ‘Holding a Cat and Dog Gallery 43 Italian Renaissance

1.20 and 3.20 Paul Surman reads ‘The Flight of the Vestel Virgins Early Italy Gallery, 42,

Saturday, 2 August 2014

last call for poetry summer school. Please book your ticket now

The poetry summer school was full last year, but at the moment, with staff sickness in the Education Department, they are looking to cancel the workshop.
We need a few more tickets sold by the middle of next weeks, so if you were thinking of going, or know someone who might be interested please look at the attached flyer.

I spent a few hours in the Tut exhibition on Thursday. It is very different from earlier Tut exhibitions, which showed the wonders of the tomb to people for the first time.
This exhibition is all about the context of the discovery, hence the title, Discovering Tutankhmun. Maybe it should be "Rediscovering Tutankhmun".

It was 1914, a hundred years ago, just as Europe sank into the terrible conflagration of a war that was supposed to end all wars,
that a very young Englishman and fine artist called Howard Carter was allowed to start excavating the Egyptian Valley of the Kings.
He was on the point of giving up in despair when the tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered in 1922.

The exhibition begins with images of that moment of discovery. In a single moment the world of three thousand years ago burst through
into the light of a twentieth century day. But will it make any ripples today?

I am looking for poets who can connect that shock and awe of a hundred years ago with the shock and awe of today.

The West seems set on humbling Russia, a country just one sixteenth of NATO's economic size, while standing idly by while hideous atrocities
are carried out by Israel in the middle east. A Third World War just might be looming. Our rulers are ignoring humanitarian needs again.

The second part of the Ashmolean Exhibition is called "Tutmania." It shows us the way in which the Western World responded
to the discoveries in the roaring twenties which followed the war and the flu epidemic which followed it, killing more people than the war itself.

We look at high culture and low culture, from the finest gold jewelry to the silliest pop song of the day.
The air waves hummed with "Old King Tut". The world loved it. But any poet of today could write a better lyric in five minutes.

Can anyone capture the spirit of our age through the mirror of the Pharaoh?

I was impressed by the skill and intelligence of the men and women who explored the contents of that tomb and brought it out into the modern world.
I was also impressed with the interaction between the lost and rediscovered Kingdom of the Pharaohs and the shattered and shaking Kingdoms of modern Europe.

As a psychotherapist and mythologist I perceive the culture of the twenties as manic, even hyper-manic.
The creators of the exhibition emphasize how economies and technologies were driving rapidly ahead as the effects of war faded.
They emphasize the great cultural enthusiasm for the Golden King, rescued from the obscure past.
They do not endorse the recent hi-tech research evidence that the young King was probably killed in battle, saying it is just one of many theories,
though they acknowledge that there was warfare both with the Nubians to the south and the Syrians to the north at this period.
They do cover the extraordinary history of the period a little, however. Tutankhamun, which translates as the living image of Amun, was originally
named Tutankhaten, the living image of the Aten. Tutankhamen, which my computer ties to tell me is the correct spelling, is a only historical distortion.

The exhibition does not explore the birth of a Communist alternative world out of the First World War, nor the collapse of that world over twenty years ago.
It could have emphasized the fact that King Tut undid the revolution of his culture-hero father, returning Egypt to the worship of the old Gods his father had briefly swept aside.
That is a far more interesting subject, but we do not have the right artifacts to support it.

Britain was very close to a general strike at this time. The old British/German monarchy had to reinvent itself to survive. The actual German monarchy was gone, replaced by a failing republic.

The mad mix of monarchy and capitalism which had created such an appalling war tottered on through the twenties in Britain.
Old King Tut was not so much a hero of a new world but the PR man's dream of a poster boy for continuing the old order.
In America, President Hoover named his dog "Tut".

"Tut", the emblem of an eternal empire, an unending golden Kingdom, is so far from historical reality.
I suspect he symbolizes most of all the attempt to push the genie back into the bottle, to restore the world to an old order,
which should have been swept away by an awareness of the madness of world war that order created.
Instead, we had the flappers and all that manic jazz, followed by round two of the unfinished world war.

Seven years ago, our capitalist Gods deserted us.

We propped them back up again, but for how long?

Is poetry or the museum relevant to any of this?

Come to the poetry workshop and explore it with me on 19th and 20th of August at the Ashmolean.

For Booking people need to visit to buy online, call 01865 305305 to book by phone, or call in to the Oxford Playhouse ticket office to buy in person.

taken from another weblog; very touching!

Why the world went wild for King Tut

But there is another, more poignant reason for Tutankhamun’s popularity: the impact of the First World War. The vulnerability of this pharaoh who had died while still an adolescent moved a public coming to terms with the loss of so many young men on the Western Front.

An article published in The New York Times in 1923 confirms that people at the time viewed the story of Tutankhamun through the prism of the Great War: “As the objects have been brought out, spectators have remarked that, from the manner in which they were bandaged and transported with almost tender care on the stretcher-like trays, they reminded one of casualties being brought out of the trenches or casualty clearing stations.”

Friday, 13 June 2014

Change of timing for June 14th readings

The gallery readings will start at 12.30 as usual but the afternoon session will start at 14.00 as there are only four readings

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

June Gallery Readings

Poet                        Poem                                           Object                                        Gallery

Nick Owen    Revelation  Plate with the Vision of St John the Evangelist and “grotesque” decoration                                                                   Italian renaissance tin ware collection

Peter Malin             Specimen              Interior with Mrs Mounter, Harold Gilman                     63

Diana Moore             heaven or hell                   Lelio Orsi's  'St Michael Subduing Satan
and weighing the souls of the dead'                        Italian Renaissance                                      43 

Vahni Capildeo        Through and through                 Glass                                                     64

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Songs of innocence and experience:Preparing for The Blake exhibition.

William Blake was an artist, poet, mystic, visionary and radical thinker. Working at a time of great social and political change, his work explores the tensions between the human passions and the repressive nature of social and political conventions. In Songs of Innocence and of Experience, perhaps his most famous collection of poems, he investigates, as he put it in the subtitle, 'the two contrary states of the human soul'. 

How was the work produced?

Songs of Innocence and of Experience is regarded as both a visual and literary work of art. Blake invented a new way of printing, designing the work in reverse with varnish on metal plates, which were then etched with acid to produce relief printing surfaces; these were printed in brown ink, and the prints were coloured by hand. Only a small number of copies were made, and sold privately to friends and collectors. 

Are the Songs directed at children?

Though Blake stated that children could understand his work as well as, or better than, adults, this is rather a comment on how children understand things directly and without the clouded perceptions that derive from the compromises required by adult life. The songs are specifically ‘of’ and not ‘for’ innocence and experience. 

How do the Songs relate to previous literature?

The work echoes the rhythms and forms of popular 18th-century children’s poetry and ballads. However, much of the verse directed at middle-class children at this time contained simple didactic messages, and Blake deliberately avoids this type of dogmatic morality – instead many of the poems in Songs of Innocence and Experiencecontain unsettling ambiguities. Blake’s very particular spiritual visions, which underlie all his mature writings, include reactions to philosophers such as Emanuel Swedenborg. 

What are the Songs about?

Despite the simple rhythms and rhyming patterns and the images of children, animals and flowers, the Songs are often troubling, argumentative or satirical, and reflect Blake’s deeply held political beliefs and spiritual experience. Blake’s vision embraces radical subjects such as poverty, child labour and abuse, the repressive nature of state and church, as well as right of children to be treated as individuals with their own desires. Many of the poems in Songs of Experience respond to counterparts inSongs of Innocence.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

April Gallery Readings

Poet                     Poem                            Work                               Gallery

Diana Moore   The Hunt in the Forest    Paolo Ucello                   Gallery 43 Italian Renaissance

Nick Owen         Griffin                             Griffin                                       East meets west space

Giles Watson,.     Battle of the Animals’          Battle of the Animals’   Tapestry     (French, c. 1769).

Jennifer McGowan   "Mortifications of the Flesh"  the dead Christ supported by an angel  gallery 47

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Paul Cézanne and the Modern: Mont Sainte-Victoire

The current exhibition at the Ashmolean is called Cezanne and the Modern.

It is based on a single collection of paintings, which begins with works of Cezanne and leads on to a number of early modernist painters.

The poster image for the show is one of Mt Ste Victoire, which Cezanne painted many times, usually from the same angle. The one below is one of my favourites.

This is not the one in the exhibition.

I have chosen the poster image of the Cezanne and the modern  (linked at the top)  for my poem this month, May 2014, partly because I love Cezanne's work, but partly because I don't like this version of the mountain.

As a photographer and mountain walker I am very interested to see how a painter handles light on a mountain. In this image Cezanne has gone a little too far from what I am pleased to see as a mountain scarp.

This one would be very dangerous to walk!

What is real and what is echo?

Is nothing real, as Baudrillard would have us believe? The hyper-real Cezanne painting is more real than the mountain, but maybe the poster has replaced the painting as our version of reality.

Please explore the paintings linked here and then read my poem.

It would be great if you then tell me what you think or feel.

Paul Cézanne: Mont Sainte-Victoire | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Mont Saint-Victoire


How I love your work
So distinctive
Ploughing a singular furrow
Through a parched landscape
Rejoicing in the cooler shady places
In redemptive blues and greens
Nature merged with abstract shapes

How I love your meditations
On the mountain
Far away
Mont Saint-Victoire
Mont Saint-Victoire

Bringing richness, saturation, colour
To a world too light, so bright
Shimmering with uncertainty
By day or moon-lit night

Why have they stretched your canvasses
Across modernity?
You will not fit the frame
Post modern dreams beyond modernity
Embrace your name
Mont Saint-Victoire
Mont Saint-Victoire
Mont Saint-Victoire

Let’s go, Papa

Oh no_ the place does not exist
It’s just the echo of a place
A simulacrum that persists
This is just one
Of a long, a long, long list

But Daddy
Out of all those paintings
It’s the only one that’s here
So surely, it’s a special painting


The only thing that makes it special
Is a feature I dislike
The shadow of the escarpment
Is more solid than the thing itself
Is more solid than the thing itself

And if Cezanne is really modern
Something new and true and great
Why pick on this
As poster image
Out of all these images, so special,
The one to which I don’t relate?

 ©Nick Owen    May 2014

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

TO LIVE FOREVER Poetry Summer School at the Ashmolean: August 19th and 20th.

100 years ago the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb thrilled and astonished the world.

We hope the exhibition at the Ashmolean this summer which is based on those discoveries will continue to enthral large audiences.

But will it inspire people to write great modern poems?
This two day poetry summer school/workshop with Nick Owen intends to support people to do just that.

Whether you only visit the Ashmolean for the two days of the workshop or spend a month exploring the exhibition before the workshop starts the aim will be the same, to help you write a poem which might inspire readers in another thousand years.

The course will pay particular attention to the way in which words and images entwine. Nick Owen will help you create photographs of images in the exhibition which you may want to set alongside your poem.

The Egyptians were inspired by the idea that they could continue their earthly journey towards becoming Gods in existences beyond the grave. They sensed unearthly powers and energies in the animals in the world around them.

Poetry workshops often focus on connecting more deeply with the senses, but seldom is there a connection with the inner eye or with the eye of Horus. Nick Owen draws upon the science of mythology and the concepts of C. G Jung to help open up new possibilities for your writing.

Your poems may be included in a book of poetry at the Ashmolean which is in its early stages of development. You will also have the opportunity to read your poem or have it read for you to an audience at the exhibition.

About Nick Owen

Nick has been a director of the Oxford School of Psychotherapy. He is an independent tutor in English Literature. He has two published books of poetry and has written for a wide spectrum of journals, covering poetry, art, psychology, psychotherapy and photography. His work has been widely anthologised. He has run workshops in creativity for twenty years and leads the “Poetry at the museum programme,” at the Ashmolean. 

Dr Giles Watson writes of him “…. humane, compassionate, observant, and possessed of the requisite courage to face the fears as well as the joys of life; and that is truly a poet."

On his most recent exhibition: “This is an exhibition of the highest quality. Poems and pictures are quite superb.” Christine Whild.

Dates: August 19th and 20th.
Venue: The exhibition and the Ashmolean Lecture Theatre

Places: 15 

Gallery Readings for Saturday 24th May

Poet                   Poem                     Work                                 Gallery

Dr J McGowan   Troy: After the Horse (the sketches of Aeneas, Dido, and Creusa)                                                                          Cezanne Exhibition

Nick Owen    Mt St Victoire          MT St Victoire       Cezanne Exhibition

T Vincent Isaacs      Happy Buddha'.  Miss Orovida Pissaro.        G  62                       

Giles Watson     Cistern in the Park of Chateau Noir (Citerne au Parc du Château Noir)                                                                 Cezanne Exhibition

Peter Mallin  "Dolls' House":     Mme Pissarro Sewing beside a Window and Jeanne Holding a Doll                                        Gallery 65).

Friday, 28 March 2014

Poetry Tour in the Galleries on Saturday 29 March

Meet Randolph Sculpture Gallery 21

12.30 and 2.30 Sarianne Durie reads Mother & Child, Gallery 19 Ancient Near East

12.40 and 2.40 Nick Owen reads Boar, Gallery 40 European Ceramics

12.50 and 2.50 Vahni Capildeo reads Snake in the Grass Gallery 41 England 400-1600

1.00 and 3.00 Dr Jennifer McGowan reads The Child Italian Renaissance Gallery 43

1.20 and 3.20 Tony Vincent Isaacs reads Jeanne holding a fan, Pissaro Gallery 65

Please join us to hear these recitals in the Galleries.

Friday, 28 February 2014

FAR FROM ROME by Vahni Capildeo

The blue dusk settles at a rate,
and fields can be forgotten
as they are; as-they-were appear
uppermost, lidded, swept smooth;
beneath, left still, kiln-fired
vessels belonging to him,
pleasing to his strong, torn hands –
so very much not in Rome,
this redeployed general.

The sea mixed in your eyes,
arrived at cruel decisions
yet stalling execution.
I would have sworn to die for you
sooner than try to live with you.
The sea swarms in my ears.
I sift your breath through mine.
A modern probe might take me
for less-than-human remains,
for nail-seed dirt and cumin.
I wouldn’t mind; being her,
and yours.

            But not in this life –
the intolerable one
which, when the blue dusk scratches,
lends it my eyes. To discern,
alone, your life, indicts me.
Such knowledge a reburial.
Turn me to copper, one of you
gods he only temporized with:
melt me down then score me
the music for last things.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Readings for February

Nick Owen            Our father             Bust of Thomas Combe               Pre-Raphaelite gallery

Diana Moore                                       The Tallard Madonna                  Early Italian gallery

Vahni Capildeo          Far from Rome          All Roman Remains              Gallery 13

Debbie Moogan   ‘the hunt in the forest"                 Early Italian gallery

Jenifer McGowan   Being British in gallery 21 statue of Clio             Randolph gallery

Tina Negus   WINGED INANNA as MISTRESS OF BEASTS.                Sumerian gallery

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Gallery Readings for 25th January 2014

Paul Surman - The Dog Speaks ~ Gallery 43 -- Italian Renaissance --  Second Floor

Diana Moore  --  Two Bream and a Ray 'Come Dine With Me' --  Gallery 13  -- Rome --  Fish Plate -- Ground Floor 

Dr Jennifer McGowan -  Story Of A Young Man Told By A Melon -- Gallery 46 -- Baroque Art  --Second Floor
  after Cecco della Caravaggio, “Interim with a Still Life and a Young Man Holding a Recorder”
Tony Vincent Isaacs - Guido's Light -- Gallery 8 -- Guy Fawkes Lantern -- Ark to Ashmolean -- First Floor

Lucinda Kowol   Grave Goods  -- Gallery 19  -- Ancient East -- Ground Floor  

Mary Stableford -  'Goodbye-ee'  -- Gallery 63 -- 'The Brighton Pierrots' by Walter Sickert  Third Floor