This month’s Drawn to The Page workshop was lead by Ed Boxall, at Towner Art Gallery, with writers looking at the A Certain Kind of Light exhibition, a collection of art work featuring artist’s inventive, technically incredible, and very clever responses to light over the last 60 years. As we learned, light is everywhere and affects everything – from giving us headaches and seizures, keeping us alive, and feeding our inner lives.
Rather than direct writers how to respond to such an elemental and profound show, our workshop gave them a broad spectrum conceptually but also provided a formal limitation, as we suggested that they make their own ‘Books of Light, a small, handmade book about the element we were exploring.
There was a choice of how to make the books- it could be a ‘concertina’ style long thin folded panoramic sheet, a traditional stapled booklet of any size, or a format of the writers choice. The limitations were simply that each page must contain only one sentence. Each sentence could be any response to the show, or any statement about light. Every aspect of each sentence was up to the students. They were encouraged to be precise and honest with their language.
We talked about a few literary sources about light and read ‘Into The Twilight’ by Yeats, which we felt linked to the half-light twilight world of Room 5 of the exhibition. Room 5 was the last room in the exhibition and generally contained work that explored twilight, lights in the darkness, and light in more quiet and intimate forms than the rest of the show. We then read ‘Morning Poem’ by Mary Oliver, and ‘The Light’, a children’s poem by James Carter. We finished with a little from Gaston Bachelard’s ‘Flame of A Candle’, a wonderful book about the elemental profundity of candlelight and lamplight.
Writers spent about an hour on their books of light, using the project as a starting point for reflection, a way of getting started on an enjoyable flow of thoughts. Evocative statements began to emerge on the pages, rarely contained pronouns. A sentence per page encouraged phrases dense with imagery and ideas. Phrases to daydream on, rather than moments in an anecdote or narrative. Writers could have joined phrases together to form a narrative or linear verse but most chose phrases that were complete on their own.
We finished by making our own brief exhibition of the books. The books were an involving and fascinating record of an afternoon’s intense thought.
Each phrase on each page is a moment of reflection sincerely recorded. As such, they become a precious store of ideas, with phrases becoming a starting point for poems or stories. We wondered what poem might begin with the line “When the light goes out what remains of us?” – a poem about the mysteries of death or sleep? Writers could brainstorm their phrases and see what further writing might develop from each phrase.
To end the workshop, writers chose their favourite phrases with the intention of editing them together to form a group poem. We found that writers’ voices were so different in tone and content that in editing them together we lost these individual voices. Instead we left our favourite phrases to work in a similar way to the phrases in the individual Books of Light- as small, separate works of art that could bounce and refract off each other.
Ambivalence between the stars…earth transformed in snow and the telegraph poles signposting the way like scarecrows
A wave of musical notation scorched into permanence by light magnified
Absence of light, Absence of vision
Ring oh ring of rainbow light,
dancing dancing through the night,
Round and round and round we go,
oh no, have I got to grow up?
Light embellishes and enrobes “man made,
with hints of nature’s purity, beauty and excellence
Moving and changing
Dripping strings of stretched geometry
When the light goes out what remains of us?
Dark spaces captured in resin and given up to the light
The moon and Venus burnt into carbon
If I could be that spec of light moving around the earth 7.5 times in a flash of god’s eye how could I capture the madness? Would I end in an empty room? Television off.
We agreed that both the exhibition and the books let the wonder and complexity of light shine through. It was a very illuminating afternoon!