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For a long time, poet Lorna Goodison thought her creative talents would lead to a profession in the visual arts. But "one day the painting stopped coming, and I was just writing all the time," Goodison said. Like a scorned lover, her talent and passion for painting "went off in a huff because I wasn't paying any attention to it."
Painting by Lorna Goodison, from the private collection of Dan Kelly, photographed by Hugh Wright
Even though Goodison exchanged the brush for the pen, her previous career as a painter continues to influence her poetry, including her latest collection of poems, "Supplying Salt and Light," published by McClelland & Stewart.
In her poems, Goodison paints scenes with words, transporting readers through all the senses. Her poems are journeys, exploring Afro-Caribbean history and religion, inspired by her own travels and her upbringing in Jamaica.
The idea for the poem "To Make Various Sorts of Black" came from a book called "The Craftsman's Handbook," a 1443 how-to guide on Renaissance art by Florentine painter Cennino d'Andrea Cennini, who wrote about the attitudes of medieval artists and offered advice on methods and techniques.
When Goodison read parts of the book, she was surprised by Cennini's suggestions for how to obtain the color black. "It had never occurred to me ... that you could learn how to make a color like black," Goodison said.
Her poem is about mixing the color black and then using the paint, images that Goodison describe for their historical context.
Listen to Lorna Goodison read her poem "To Make Various Sorts of Black," which was published earlier this year in her latest collection of poems, "Supplying Salt and Light."
To Make Various Sorts of Black
According to The Craftsman's Handbook, chapter XXXVII
who tells us there are several kinds of black colours.
Then there is a black that is obtained from vine twigs.
then quenched and worked up, they can live again
There is also the black that is scraped from burnt shells.
And then there is the black that is the source of light
A lamp you light and place underneath -- not a bushel --
surface of the earthenware dish (say a distance of two
Strike till it crowds and collects in a mess or a mass;
or consign it to shadows, outlines, and backgrounds.
As many times as the flame burns low, refill it.
Photo by Bristol City Council
Goodison was very taken by Cennini's description of using soot as a paint ingredient. "I have seen artists do this, that there is a black that they obtain from the soot that comes from the flame of a lamp," Goodison said. "The source of that black is light."
Cennini connected the opposites of light and dark together in his descriptions of paint. Goodison connects feelings of pain and comfort, grief and happiness together through verse.
Goodison's father died when she was a teenager and she relied on poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Keats, John Donne and George Herbert for words of consolation. "I didn't always understand [the poets'] conceits but I knew there was something there and it was making me feel better," she said. "I like poems that have a bit of medicine in them, and I try to put a bit of medicine in my own poems."
Poetry is an antidote for life's challenges, Goodison says. "It's not a papist plot ... it's not a plot to make you look stupid. It is something that will make your life easier."
Poem excerpted from Supplying Salt and Light. Copyright © 2013 Lorna Goodison. Published by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
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