Exercise – responding to a poem

Choose a poem that resonates with you then interpret it through photographs. Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.  (C&N course notes p60)

Time for another admission of philistinism; poetry does not feature particularly large in my life or upbringing. I tend to prefer comic verse and doggerel to more ‘serious’ poetry. One exception, and the only poem ever to make me cry on reading it is Spike Milligan’s The Children of Aberfan, from the 1972 collection, Small Dreams of a Scorpion. I was a primary school child in 1966, the same age of many of those that died, and the news reports gave me nightmares which may explain my reaction when I first came across the poem.

And now they will go wandering
Away from coal black earth,
The clean white children,
holy as the Easter rose,
Away from the empty sludge-filled desks,
Away from the imprisoned spring
that opened its mouth
To breathe air
and moved a black mountain to find it.

 

So,
Away they shall go – the children,
wandering – wondering
more loved
more wanted
than ever.

 

I don’t burn coal any more.

A literal interpretation would not be possible without a logistical exercise on a Gregory Crewdson scale (which would be tasteless) but it occurs to me that, in a more general sense, this is a poem about loss of children and the loss of childhood.

My wife has kept the first pair of ‘proper shoes’ that each of our children (now aged 27 to 33) wore; I feel that the empty shoes make a good metaphor for lost or nostalgically-remembered childhood. I tried a series of still-life set-ups in the house and the garden, with varying degrees of success. Here are the contact sheets.

 

Most of the images in sheets 8 and 9 were intended for a planned composite image involving a fireplace, footprints and shoes but I didn’t follow it up because the footprint images were unsatisfactory and I was very pleased with the still-lifes.

I applied the same post-processing treatment to all the images in an attempt to give a faded, nostalgic feel (white vignette, vaguely high-key processing, warmed-up colour balance and slight desaturation) with a degree of success. This exercise is also a basis for a possible response to Assignment Two (Photographing the Unseen)

 

 

My favourite image from the set is below, one of a series with shoes placed in a bed of forget-me-nots (themselves a metaphor for nostalgia and remembrance) and one which I believe captures the essence of Milligan’s second stanza.

_IMG6061

Reference 

Milligan, S. (1972). Small Dreams of a Scorpion. 1st ed. Penguin.

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