Wednesday 25 July 2012

Poetry and Pictures: a manifesto - Guest Blog from Nick Owen

From the earliest days of printing, a world of visual images with associated thought and feeling, juxtaposed with text has been part of the western way of enculturation, to help in the process of translating meaningless ciphers, squiggles on a page, into the stuff of inner experience, into understood written words, leaping from the page or screen into constructs of a mental world.

I will never forget the moment when words and images entwined and danced for me as I began to understand written text for the first time. It was like the moment when stumbling and sinking transform into skiing and swimming as learning transforms to achieving.

The real father of Poetry and Pictures as a genre has to be William Blake, a visual artist by trade, and one of the greatest poets in the English language. More recently, the last poet laureate, Ted Hughes, set the ball rolling for modern artists with his book, “The Remains of Elmet”. He wrote poems specifically for a photographer’s art works here. In a second book, “River”, he juxtaposed poetry with an artist’s photographs without connecting them more intimately.

Hughes only wrote the poetry. He collaborated with others to create these poem-picture works. We are encouraging such collaborative work, and are open to both photographers and poets, but we are mostly focused on creating a combined work made by one author. “Poetry and Pictures” is, I believe, the first attempt to establish the two arts together as a genre for the twenty first century. 

Photography has always struggled to establish its credentials as an art form in its own right. Poetry in turn, has struggled to make a case that it is still relevant to this fast changing world. Much modern writing is as uninspiring as a snapshot from a cheap digital camera. I believe that combining ideas expressed visually with ideas expressed in words can make for a powerful medium of expression, both folk art and high art. The idea is to link a poem with a picture or series of pictures. The two can also blend together into a single visual image, which is both poetry and photography. I am not sure how many variations on the overall theme will emerge. Already there are versions I had not dreamed about. I find the merging of words into visual art in graphic artistry a particularly inspiring form. Poetry condenses experience. A photographer or graphic artist can do the same with a visual image.

Video Poetry

Some of us are beginning to explore spoken poetry alongside a series of video images.

You can see examples here: 

and here: 

Critical Evaluation

Poetry and Pictures will receive much unkind critical comment from both poets and visual artists. A poetry critic is likely to think that a specific image can only diminish the power of the inner imagery generated by a poem. Sometimes and for some people this will be true. At others it will not. Poets may write in such a way that the two interweave.

Visual artists often protest that words detract from the image. But our culture is saturated with low grade imagery, devoid of emotional content. Some images are poetic on their own. Most are not. Individual P&P artists are building their own fascinating, challenging, even riveting approaches to this work. It is much too early to make adequate judgements.

I am indebted to Martin Kimeldorf, a member of the Poetry and Pictures International Group, currently hosted on the Flickr website, for the suggestion that we are creating a new folk art. Just as great novels grow out of fairy tales and great symphonies build from folk songs, so we may be able to create works of art at many different levels of merit and complexity. The way we identify ourselves as human beings and relate to each other as people is already being transformed by web formats such as Facebook, and Twitter, as well as weblogs. Poetry and Pictures can be incorporated into such a web format to create a way for everyone to develop self expression, self affirmation, a new kind of intimacy, friendship and better social relationships. The international group I have formed currently uses these very powerful tools for communication both in words and pictures which is provided by It is not perfect, since it is primarily designed for photo sharing rather than poetry. But the group already had 180 members within a month of starting, and representatives from Europe, North America and Asia. Within two years it had members from every continent. It grows at about 20 new members a month. There are now over 600 members. Oxfordshire has some of the leading lights, which include Mike Jones and Giles Watson.
Biographical Note

Nick Owen is a poet, playwright and photographer with over thirty years experience in the field of personal development education, working with all ages from unborn babies and their parents through to old people’s reminiscence groups. He has been a director of a school of psychotherapy. Nick recently won the Witney Calendar Photography competition.

 To find out more visit

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