Where less means more
Isovaka Bennett wrote much of this pamphlet whilst visiting the Walker and Lady Lever Galleries in Merseyside. Many of her poems are ekphrastic, intended to be read alongside the paintings to which they allude. The poet’s economy with words is a great strength. There is not an ounce of spare flesh in this work, yet her imagery is so vivid and fresh that it enables the poems to stand entirely alone.
In the opening stanza of ‘In the Kasbah’, Bennett’s precise observations appeal to the reader’s senses:
they eat sliced oranges
bright with sugar.
He pours mint tea from a height,
loves the drama.
Her word choices are so evocative; awakening our eyes, ears and taste buds, they enhance the accessibility of the scene she creates.
Another example is in the first poem of the series, ‘Nocturne at the Walker Gallery’, which concludes with ‘the quench of peaches’. This is a brief but beautiful description suggesting ripe juiciness, likely conjuring memories of childhood summers and gorged sweetness. The referenced artwork shows us the fruit, but Barrett takes that image and explodes it into something we can almost taste — something we can savour.
In ‘Elaine after Lancelot’, Bennett’s focus shifts to the background:
Fierce sun makes no difference
to a dense forest —
there’s always carnage, antique bark,
In these two short couplets, the forest becomes metaphorical, impenetrable and deathly. Having read those impactful sixteen words, we may be drawn first to the background in the painting.
It is unusual for a reader to be allowed so much access to the source of a writer’s inspiration. This makes this a highly personal and inclusive collection of poems.
Bennett is a hugely confident writer: she writes powerfully, yet with such brevity. By interpreting and deepening meanings within each artwork, the writer provides her audience with greater conviction in their understanding of both poetry and painting, thus creating a fascinating exchange between the reader, the poet and the artists upon whom she has focused.