Stephanie Green: Tea, cakes and a chat with Jackie Kay; the art of the two Ruaridhs

Saturday 17 March 2012

'The lovers are caught with their

tea-cups and champagne'- Lavinia Greenlaw.

This verse, was printed on the icing of one of the empire biscuits on offer round  the highways and byways of the festival- a novel way to digest poetry.

Not champagne but fizz enough was to be had yesterday, having  'Afternoon Tea with Jackie Kay' – only 15 of us in the intimate setting of a sitting-room in the Albany Hotel – poetry readings and chat about the tricky sensitivities needed writing a memoir. This was the highlight of the festival for me so far: Jackie's humour and humanity, cake on three-tiered plates and her cheery dog!

Today I also met up with another poet, Rody Gorman (below, right) and the artist, Derek Robertson (below, left) - the two  Ruaridhs. (Rory, Roderic/Derik/Rody all have the same Gaelic root) to talk about their collaborative project – poems and paintings.  The Image was foremost in my mind, given the festival's theme- but the paintings are not merely illustrations of the poems, though the poems came first.  Derek told me they did not discuss the 'meaning' of the poems nor what each were doing.

Derek Robertson and Rody Gorman

Rather, I thought,  the process of collaboration was more like call and response, theme and variation.  Both were inspired by the landscape of Skye. Derek's started off as watercolour washes up in Skye but later he superimposed very similar images from East Fife where he lives: broken down sheds, boats, sea-shore.  Both naturalistic and symbolic, the effect is like a palimpset, earlier images showing through, associations sparked off by the observed here and now- very much a toing and froing between past and present.

Rody's  experimental 'word amalgamations' are a similar process:  all the possible associations and translations of a Gaelic word are given in the English.  This was not because of his experience as a translator, he told me, but came from his poet self.  A Gaelic speaker would be aware of all the associations of a word.

It was not a question of using the same image, more it was the process of creating images poet and painter had in common:  shape-shifting, the images morphing into each-other, images splintering, coming together in new combinations,  accretions of associations.

Both poet and painter take us on a walk through time and memory, accessed by the concrete image. I thought back to Lavinia's workshop- accessing deep emotion through the image, the Simonides poetry/photography collaboration  and Robert Crawford's comment 'how poetry can make time collapse'.  The festival's theme, exploring the Image, through the different media, makes me see a common thread – not just of Image but of emotion, time and memory.