Saturday, 1 August 2009

Cover art of The Treekeeper's Tale

This is the cover image of my latest poetry collection The Treekeeper's Tale. I made the artwork while I was in the Sculpture School at the Royal College of Art in 1986. It was called 'Wound' then, but I've since renamed it 'Treekeeper'. It was one of the sculptures in my MA degree show. The studios were in the sheds behind the Natural History Museum in Kensington Gore, and a few of the birdskulls came from the skips, though most were found on beaches, woods, or bought. The monkey skull was stolen during the show. There was another student who we called the Bone King and he and I used to swap finds. The face is a lifecast, cast into fibreglass with white polyester resin filling. The relief was mainly white with green, rose and red tints.

I loved working in my studio, and the way artists can be in their own created worlds. I miss that about being a poet – now that I have an 'office' rather than my world made physical. But there are compensations, and ultimately metaphor can become a realer world to me than one made of stuff. A poem is a house and each stanza is a room. It has always been important for me to be able to make an alternative world I can live in. This world may be located faraway, so my poems are often situated in Venezuela, Nepal or Kazakhstan. Sometimes they are both here (where I live or have lived) and there, the two superimposed.

In The Treekeeper's Tale those giant coast redwood habitats might be in zoos, or in a glasshouse at Kew Gardens. Many of the poems in the book are about 2,000-year-old people, creatures, or excavated museum objects (horses in permafrost, ice-preserved mummies, a Galilean fishing boat), so this transporting of locales is also on a temporal plane, from the deep past. The redwood trees are 2,000 years old and 2,000 feet high. Someone's sculptures? Hermits lived in the lightning-struck ones. They lived inside the sculptures. It might be uncomfortable, damp, but the trunk could be a kind of exoskeleton, protecting the inhabitant.

What would it be like to be half human half tree? Perhaps that's what I was after in my sculpture. It was only a small piece (3' diameter). I was never satisfied with my artworks but it had a quietness, a listening-ness. When I lived with my mother as a teenager I taught myself to vanish into myself, to be there but not be there, for safety. So I have a fascination with altered states and how to travel faraway into yourself yet out of yourself. I wonder what other people see in this piece and in the object-poems?


  1. Hello Pascale,

    It's lovely to hear you talk about your work like this. When you write, 'ultimately metaphor can become a realer world to me than one made of stuff', I feel a real resonance with my own feeling about writing a poem. I've just begun to dip into 'The Treekeeper's Tale' (yesterday actually) and I'm looking forward to getting to know the poems.

    'Blue Foal Dreaming' was breathtaking.

    In terms of travelling far away into myself, I think it's an essential part of living every ounce of life that can be lived -roaming imaginatively is more powerful for me than physically ranging about the globe. I'm learning to make fuller use of blurring the line between a waking world and a dream/daydreamed world to find all of my selves.

    Alison White

  2. Hi Alison,

    Thanks for your response, and liking 'Blue Foal Dreaming', and reading my book. I usually don't know what I'm going to say when I write these posts about my work, they are an exploration and I hardly edit them, so glad you found a resonance. They are afterthoughts as I tend not to analyse what my poems are about when I'm writing. What matters when I write a poem is that it feels true and the images are physically well formed.

    Good luck with your own adventures in poems.

  3. Hello Pascale

    I have just discovered your site and spent a long time today enjoying the amazing combination of poetry and art. When I looked at the cover image for The Treekeeper's Tale, which I am now very much looking forward to reading, I saw a crown of thorns, emotional pain, inward resistance, distance. It also made me think of the way some people or events can inhabit your mind and work their way in, like roots in the soil, difficult to dislodge.

    If only I lived in or near London and was able to attend one of your courses at the Tate - (perhaps sometime you will take pity on those of us who live further afield and offer a weekend)But I find it encouraging anyway that a poet of your reputation welcomes beginners as so many serious workshops seem to be for more advanced poets. I am thinking now I must visit the Tate - perhaps with my daughter who is currently at the RCA - and try for myself.Thank you for the inspiration


  4. Hi Avril,
    Thanks for your encouraging remarks, glad you enjoyed the poems and images. I love that analogy of the cover being like roots in the soil. I may do an all day Tate Modern class at some point next year. But I also do workshops elsewhere. There's a course in south of France next May, a Starting to Write Arvon at The Hurst, and a Ty Newydd next August. Dates are on my website I'm also doing a workshop at the Aldeburgh festival and this will be using modern art to make poems. So perhaps we'll meet one day.

    It's good to work with advanced poets and I do but I also enjoy working with poets at the beginning or middle of their writing. Good luck with your work.

  5. I love this sculpture, its so haunting and mesmerising. I like your thoughts about created worlds and alternative realities too.