Last Monday my new Poetry from Art at Tate Modern course started in the Yayoi Kusama exhibition. Twenty six of us sat in her colourful recent paintings room (they're like a cross between outsider and Australian aboriginal art and exquisitively colourful and organic), between two installations: Infinity Mirrored Room: Filled with the Brilliance of Life and I'm Here, but Nothing. We read excerpts from Kusama's autobiography where she recounts her childhood 'hallucinations' and how these have served as obsessions for her art. We wondered if they were really hallucinations, or perhaps a glimpse into dimensions where the ego's boundaries are blurred. She says her ego was obliterated when the room she was sitting in when she was a child was taken over by polka dots and flowers, and in her parents' propagating fields where violets and pumpkins spoke to her. When her dog spoke Japanese and she barked back was she experiencing an extreme degree of negative capability?
We started the session by nonstop writing to the paintings which surrounded us, then everyone offered the group a gift phrase from their lines and they could incorporate one of these as well as a phrase from Kusama's poems into their response. The group then had ten minutes to write a short poem about anything in one of these three rooms that resonated for them. I brought in some short poems from Bunny by Selima Hill, as Kusama's work reminds me of the cut-glass-coloured voice of Hill's teenager who is haunted by a lodger.
The homework was to write a 'mirror' or 'specular' poem. This could respond to Kusama's Infinity Room or be about any subject. We read a superb example of the form by Julia Copus: 'The Back Seat of My Mother's Car', where the window at the back of the car works as the mirror hinge of the poem before it reverses back on itself. The second part of a 'mirror' poem is the same as the first half but the lines are in reverse order; only the punctuation can change.
Tonight we will travel to Tate Britain for our second session, to work with a brand new exhibit (in the twentieth century British art rooms) which stunned me when I went there last week for a recce, but I'm not saying what it is. Like the Infinity Room it will be a surprise.
Eyes of Mine Yayoi Kusama 2010, acrylic on canvas