From Hepworth's Garden
Poems about painters and St Ives
by Nathan Thompson, Norman Jope, Stephen Middleton, Peter Gillies, David
Grubb and Brian Louise Pearce
at the third turn of the echo
the encore begins there will be more
together give or take than there was
something to do with speaking into the future
near the beach exchanging
with tides to light and shade
glossing over the specifics bottles
a footprint rounded plastic
the dancers trained in moon enhancement
glide over craters ruffling flags
to touch a decision taken
rock's malleable glands lava overheard
FIVE FOR PETER LANYON
Mead Gallery, Coventry, January 1993 (revised 2009)
Construction for St. Just
The dead are laid cruciform on towers of glass.
Bells form radials, whose arachnid fault-lines
mirror the street-plan.
Turquoise becomes transparency. Under the
polished ground, its oilskins prickle. Indolent
lamps form hives. Chapels crumble into the mist,
as grey blood shivers in the space of the clock.
Their wings are as small as the coracles of
saints. Magnetic lodes impale the ones who have
plunged from solar heights.
Woman, bent into the geographies of granite and
moonlight, sinks her face into the labyrinths of
the west. A wave-horse spreads its star-gazy dung
across the tilth, where wind sears rab with salt.
Patience is painted as ancestral green.
Atmospheres retreat into her crimson tunnels.
Riches are displayed on the hems of clouds that,
sailing beneath the soil, anoint its bones with
stars and verdigris.
Or, if you turn it over like a card... the
skew-whiff patterns of Brythonic settlements are
revealed, lanes that evade the piled-up walls for
a beauty silvering the edge. Either way, you must
hold your ground - for there is no available
ground. Just layers of air, of area itself.
Slivers of angels gasp in decompression chambers.
Heavens tighten in a gem made huge by clever
At the core of this chunked-off form, a
mine-stack's Set-black shadow ascends. Desert
prince, he is proud despite these stony
boundaries. Volcanic saps are doing their work -
there is a scarlet flash at each rampart of the
base. Energy distends in a feedback loop, as the
brain implodes into a cell that mirrors it.
Atlantic midnight colours its edge.
Then light creates a sapphire alchemy. Rain takes
shape in mineral air. A white trace feathers at
the chimney-top. Were it smashed to pieces, this
construction would become a deposit of midnights,
sleeked with batholithic downs in the eyes of
Blue takes off in bestiaries of thunder, sated
with forms that coerce repentance.
Offshore, the buoys are hidden as porpoises flash
past the turn of the headland. Movement inscribes
a scarlet slash, at the risk of a kistvaen
chamber for the knights of vertigo. Here is one
propelling his helicopter horse, a whir of swifts
beside him as he swirls defencelessly. And the
scene is crossed by a darker trance - that is how
one's dessicated life can appear, when slicked in
a seagull's eye.
Icarus is inscribed on sanguine wax. The way back
down, and the way back when, are rarely the same.
This one surmounts a cone whose occluded world is
out of focus. Twin tracks head across the August
stubble-fires to foam-quenched Polaris. The blood
slick trawls its absence over dripping fields too
greasy to walk. The world below is unfocussed,
for your sweat has coated the lens. It dribbles
from wings. Kernow ceases to be real, its kobold
beacons opaque and mute.
Standing stones retreat into rusted shadows. The
tribe's mythologies are no longer able to save. A
black fuzz at the bottom left is in no way a
premonition, but a beard of midnight that looms
like the Bay's leviathans. A paintbrush parts the
thermals, and the winds of applause can't keep
Falling now, into the chessboard canvas of
another county, at the end of a summer joyed by
play permutations, you have nothing left to
think, no way of saying anything more than you
already know. So you let your eyes re-create your
childhood landscape, hedging fields with stone
and making them as smooth as coal-dust, feeling
rock stamp into your mind with the shock of
falling. Penwith granite fixes your gaze with all
You ignore the fall, the thump of a single
pigment flooding your mind, the death that is a
razor slashing at canvas. Naked as your birthday,
you unravel into the silence of its crimson
St. Ives, May 1983 (revised 2009)
In her garden
I walked, musing, through her strewn bones
in spring light - sheltered by tall trees
and the hillside behind me, facing cottages
above the bay's smooth water. A blackbird
trilled in the branches - green-gold voice,
above the wind's flash that smoothed young leaves
in her quiet garden. High above my shoulder,
through a hole in the porcelain sky, seeped sun.
My path circled, through grass darkened by shadow,
hooping through shrubs and flower-constellations
and the secrets of her littoral garden,
beached shells of another's mind.
Here, where her feet once moved, her thoughts lay smiling.
And within the shade of her living garden
I stopped, thoughtful, lost in her mind's landscape,
my nerves tangled, feeling along cool lawns.
Yet I touched no human.
Pure stone found me, instead. Forms beyond visibility
as if they were numinous. A telluric alphabet -
bone, chitin, the invincible. Indecipherable messages
that reduced to themselves only. And nothing flimsy
for interpretation. Whilst all around, greens jigged
and yellows boasted from them, I saw their symbols
granite-hard. In her nowhere garden
as the hacked blackbird gleamed, quarried into song.
Of Eagles & Thermals
Sand how to reach Upbeat, when the act of
painting filled him with dread. At Anticoli
Corrado, across from the Abruzzi mountains. The
Thermal(s) there. On which, the guide told me,
eagles float, swooping down sometimes to take a
climber's dog. At 5000 feet we look up, anxious.
The guide a fan of Daniele Sepe who set 'La
Montanara', that Alan Lomax, Lanyon's
contemporary in visiting Italy, recorded. 'La
Montanara' the aching folk laments of Abruzzo /
the mountain girls he drew and painted. At
Corsham Court, but bored with Wiltshire. &
suffered from the voracious, complicated void
that is depression. Blue Day. Worked with
blowtorch, & pain, on assemblages, took to
gliding, for sport & to map a landscape. Overview
& meeting. And to St Ives. Porthmeor &
Porthleven. Marine rust - the wreckage of a sea.
Surmise credits the era's fears & gliding. Eagle
to reach Upbeat, & work it. Gliding, sustained
minor injuries - but died. And I try to explain
field recordings to a mountain guide whose
language I cannot speak. And down from
Castelluccio to the bleak Piano Grande, burnt
ochre from long summer, the Paragliders descend.
Starkly beautiful, but, she says, you would go
mad in the end, living here, & looking at that
For Ben Nicholson
One line encounters the next
brushed with oil:
on top of diluted colour
the soft pencilling like sleet
at an alarming angle
with hilled horizons,
and so much else
like white water
mistaken for moonlight.
There was no more snow today,
only your white
inside and outside the frame
bearing what was hoped for
in pristine order:
glimpses, as if the past
could be somehow relived.
Back at the old harbour wall
I waited awhile
in the white ocean light:
how the tongue will remember
the sharp taste of
when na´ve at twenty
I saw on the chalkiest of blues
your childish red boats
in paint as dry as plaster
but shining like the surf
with the same sense
of stylish ease.
There was no more snow today,
only your pearl grey on white
that is pictured in front of me;
as if the slow pace
of colourless memory
avoids turning the world
into the darkest possible blue.
ENTERING LIGHT AT ST IVES
Silence becoming light silence,
stone becoming the speech of light.
Entering light that lifts
and what the mind will make of this
and what cannot be said cascading
into something only attempted.
What we bring here falls back
because of perceptions and expectations
and what the mind insists upon.
What the sea says when it meets the sky,
what the water makes of tides and time
and the gorse garlanding.
I came here to be with others
and as I entered I was alone again
sand into sky into sun.
The words on the grave tiles muttering
but I could not hear them because
of the words held in my heart.
The light says yes and the silence says
listen to me and the music says if only
we had more time.
What do we bring but the noises that have failed us?
What do we ever say but other people's riddles?
These stones reaching above our definitions of eternity.
And is the God here, intent, listening?
Does He see us in our hauling of the holy,
does He care about our futures and fumbling,
does he go out into the shades of trees and listen
as our silences begin again, as we walk away and
drive back to our houses and careful consructions?
The centre of the stone is moon,
in the healing, in the shaping, in the way of the idea;
the centre of the wood is winds,
in the holding form, in the seeking,in the branching of it;
the centre of the light
coming out of winter fields and walls that have lost their place
and ancient villages that have returned to earth.
At Easter, on the seeking shore,
those with necessary prayers
and bells in the head,
their child of light.
ST IVES CONJUNCTION
for Barbara Hepworth
In the garden the sun
falls on the stone
forms, shimmers on the bronze
like fire on one
anvil and altar. Lone
shadows are tons-
ured by light. Feeling flows
from surface and
context, cast and leaf's writ,
bites in thought, throws
St. Ives bay wave and sand,
ribbed Yorkshire grit,
whin, marble, Penwith rock
in the one fur-
ace, fired to affirm-
ation by the cock
of her mind, white-hot earn-
er of sta-
tes of playing. Wakefield is
come to Trewyn:
Riding contours, Roman
skies are in kiss
of chisel on stone. In
whin's the woman.
Brian Louis Pearce
All poems are included in the book
From Hepworth's Garden Out, edited by Rupert Loydell: