Douglas Thompson kick starts the evening by taking us on a whirlwind tour of the poetry and philosophy that has influenced his interpretation of what love is. We are catapulted through the ages of love poetry, from Anna Akhmatova’s ‘Everything’ which Douglas believes describes the heightened state of awareness that experiencing love is akin to. Then to the links between love and death that are explored by many authors such as Leonard Cohen and Rainer Maria Rilke who speak to the heightened awareness of death that love can bring us.
Douglas suggests that poetry can emulate or describe this heightened state of awareness through images that are so vivid they remain with the reader long after they have finished the poem. Images of colour are, he argues, one of the most effective ways of achieving this as he describes the way he was completely taken over by the colour red that is evoked upon reading Edwin Morgan’s ‘Strawberries’. Not only does this poem provoke truly vivid images but also the feelings and emotions that go along with the image of the colour red. Douglas feels this poem is “erotic but not pornographic”, with a sense of illicit love woven throughout. This reflects many of the traditional associations with the rich red colour that we associate with the strawberries mentioned in this poem, including sensuality, romance, and perhaps even danger.
In the second part of the evening Douglas moves onto his own poetry, alongside which he also shows some of his own photography, graphic images and artwork by his late brother. Douglas explains that whilst links between the poems and images do exist he has no set rules for how to link a poem and an image. In some cases he has written a poem about an image, in some he has created an image specifically for a poem, and in other cases he has simply found that a certain poem and image fit well together despite having no prior intentions to put them together himself.
One of the first poems that Douglas reads for us is ‘Poem for November’ which is presented alongside the image that he created for the poem after the poem itself was completed. ‘Poem for November’ is itself an image of a cold autumnal day that is interrupted, for the speaker, by a memory of what seems like warmer, sunnier days, when his love had not yet left him in the same way that just a glimpse of blue sky can sometimes break through dark clouds. It is possible to apply Douglas’ own earlier reading of the way in which love is similar to some sort of heightened state of awareness to his own poem here. The “humdrum” life the speaker is experiencing in the first part of the poem might not seem as if it owns itself to heightened awareness. It seems to me that the speaker has accepted his new life without his love and is simply trying to get through the grey days that now lie ahead. However, the way the “carnival flags defy the grey” later on suggests that the speaker maintains some of his previous “brief dreams of sweet escape” and “reckless flight”.
Douglas ends the evening by reading from his poem ‘The Submerged Princess’, which he created the image for before writing the poem. Looking at this complex image it is easy to see how the poem, which embodies so much varied female spirit, came about. I am particularly inspired by how multifaceted both Douglas’ poems and images are, every time I look back I notice shapes that were not there before that add new nuances to the poetry they accompany.
Words by Kate Jackson