Design, Poetry, poets, recent, Writing

the flowering woman, or, Daphne in Te Aro

The Poetry Lightbox Series is curated by Wellington poet Sarah Scott at Thistle Hall and showcases fragments of poems, collage and erasure by writers responding to the natural environment in and around Wellington | Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

Sarah writes; By presenting written work in a visual form, it becomes both a visual and a textual experience. Both elements unsettle the text’s usual purpose, making it delightfully unclear whether the page is meant for reading, viewing, or something else. One of the inspirations behind the idea for this project is American poet Mary Ruefle’s erasure poetry, which she makes into works of art by painting out the words she doesn’t want to use with correcting fluid, leaving only beautiful, ethereal fragments. She says, ‘all the words rise up and they hover a quarter-inch above the page. It’s like a field, and they’re hovering. I don’t actually read the page. I read the words, which is different.’

Is it a poem or an image?

This magpie collecting of fragments is my typical visual process, I’ll collect images that attract me, with no real intention. Only later in the process of sifting and sorting, will the true worth or meaning of an image be revealed. A sort of purposeful accident, but the point to me is to keep the eyes open to the world around us.

Studio Notes

This poem fragment, crossed with two image cuttings, is called the flowering woman, or, Daphne in Te Aro.

The first image is a colonial-era botanical sketch from the German Transport Museum in Berlin. This softly-lit watercolour of flowering pōhutakawa attracted my eye from across a darkened room crammed with model ships. The second image is a half-destroyed carved wooden statue of a woman, from the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest.

The poem fragment is a line from a poem called “Mary, Ascending” about the passing away of one of my earliest mentors, Coromandel artist Mary Foreman.

I was lucky to know Mary as a teenager; she was my grandmother’s great friend. Mary was primarily a printmaker — she had a beautiful sinuous line in all her work, and to me she embodied the life of an artist. When Mary passed I was in Aotearoa and was lucky again to attend her funeral. After the service in her garden, I wandered down to the shady swimming hole in the back of her section where I’d swum as a teenager and young adult. The rope swing for dive bombing the dark green water was still there. That’s when I had the idea for the poem, that essentially all the eels, fish, birds etc. on her property had been her subjects, and she was a kind of secret queen of the beasts. It sounds a little wacky, but it fitted my idea of Mary, as some kind of next-level being.

The poem in turn sits inside a sequence called Bodies of Water, which uses the Beaufort Scale as a structure to explore transformation.

In the flowering woman, putting two unrelated images together, transformed them, their proximity suggesting the mythic Daphne’s metamorphosis into a tree. Somehow, from my current location, in the middle of the German response to the pandemic, I found Daphne’s self-protective shape-shifting to be a highly-relatable response to ever-present and swiftly morphing danger. So, in that sense, this image is a record of a state of becoming. This is how the creative process feels to me. The title also refers to the kind of mental, and spiritual flowering, when you hit your mark as an artist of any kind.

I’m so honoured that the flowering woman can be on this wall in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, especially whilst in covid-induced exile 💙