Friday 22 March 2013

Transformations: Poetry from Art at Tate Modern, Pino Pascali's Trap

When Pino Pascali exhibited Trap at gallery L'Attico in Rome in 1968 he had himself photographed standing inside it for the catalogue. He also included photos of his pet chimpanzee and of himself costumed in raffia like a tribesman. Trap, which evokes rope traps used to hunt animals in the jungle, is made of the braided steel wool found in Brillo pads. He also exhibited Ponte, a ropelike bridge such as would be hung between tree canopies. Pascali was one of the Arte Povera group who made sculptures from cheap household materials but he died at the age of 33 from a motocycle accident, which somehow made this man-sized trap more poignant.

We sat around it
and read two poems which have entrapment both in their theme and forms: 'The Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford' by James Fenton and 'Net' by Robin Robertson. Both are in free verse but written for the eye so that the shape suggests traps or nets. I've always loved Fenton's Pitt-Rivers Museum poem but it was enlightening to read it in the context of Trap and to hear the group's comments.

he form, despite being free, is structured so that after meandering through an inventory of curiosities in the museum cases, such as "a mask of Saagga, the Devil Doctor" and "earth from the grave of a man / Killed by a tiger and a woman who died / In childbirth", it lures the reader towards the finale of the lonely child wandering into the forbidden woods of his father's estate "MEN-TRAPS AND SPRING-GUNS ARE SET ON THESE PREMISES.' / For his father had protected his good estate." Each stanza begins with a one or two-word line like a door or lid to each room or cabinet of 9 more, longer, lines, containers of 'primitive' artefacts collected in empire times. The visitor to the museum thus enters both history and the forbidden woods of his or her psyche.

Robin Robertson's 'Net' has a narrower focus. A woman loosens her white silk scarf in a restaurant and her companion is drawn back "to another ocean, / another ravishing. // That moment, / at twilight, / when a cloud / of starlings / slip-drags...". The poem, with its very short lines, drifts down the page in billows of indented skeins, until "I found myself / caught, / felt myself / being pulled in." We see a double image of the ensnaring woman and the cloud of starlings "spilling the net of itself".

The task was to write a poem loosely responding to Pascali's Trap, which includes a domestic element and something of the wild, and also to consider how the form of the poem might evoke the theme.

The remainder of the session was spent in feedback workshops. For this we divided into small groups of threes or fours so that each poet would receive a short burst of intensive feedback on one poem in progress. Next week will be our last, in the Lichtenstein exhibition, with the explosions of the 'War and Romance' room, and will culminate in a celebration readaround for everyone to share a poem from the course, to perform it and bring in copies for us all. My next Tate Modern course will be in the autumn.