Five Leaves, 2006 - £5.00
THERE’S ALWAYS A RISK in writing about paintings and pictures (even famous ones) that the writer merely describes the picture, leaving the reader wondering why the poet bothered. Liz Cashdan avoids this trap, commenting in ‘Writing Edward Hopper’, “You say you just want to catch the moment,/ have no need of narrative, but your paintings/ leave no way out except to invent the story:/ however good your painting, I still need words.”
In ‘Playing Fields’ she links history students studying the Thirty Years War in 1944 with a picture drawn by Anita Spitzova who was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, leaving the reader to flesh out the link. A similar trick is used in ‘Border Country 1998’:
You say you’ve had enough of ruins,
act out a last fling in the theatre, and I’m taking
long-distance shots of you playing on the Roman
stage as if fixing your comic gestures’d unwind
history. With a flourish of scarf we drive back
to Palestine, not sure of what we’ve left behind.
Another poem recalls explaining the plot of Macbeth to a group of teenagers using a football set-up with Macbeth as Scottish striker who wants to be Duncan, the manager. So Macbeth-the-striker murders Duncan and takes over, but watches his best player join England, then loses his head before Duncan’s son wins the management job. To explain the play to a friend in Johannesburg, Mandela is metaphorically cast as Duncan. All of this effectively raises the wider question of inter-generational cultural references and how one generation passes down cultural knowledge to another.
These poems are multi-layered and demonstrate why, even when looking at a seminal piece of art, Liz Cashdan still needs words.