Two Girls and a Beehive: Poems about the art and lives of Stanley Spencer and Hilda Carline Spencer


‘Nothing less than a masterpiece of ekphrasis, this is a work of extraordinary unity, daring and emotional breadth… These poems marvellously reconfigure Spencer’s tawny pigments, scenes of warfare and bohemian domesticity, couplings in low-ceilinged rooms, flowered prints, the strange militancy of his Christian faith and, above all, the annihilation of a woman artist on the altars of desire, betrayal and art. I am smitten from the first page to the last.’ ~ ANNIE FREUD

“I read this with exhilaration and pleasure: a marvellous act of dual authorship by two poets at the top of their game. Something magical happens in these pages. Works of visual power exchange speech with poems written in response to them. Biographical poems thoroughly inhabit and re-imagine the minds of Stanley and Hilda Spencer. The book is an act of what Dante called visible speaking (esto visible parlare): visual practice takes on a refreshed verbal life; the landscapes of paintings rise clear in the mind’s eye; and their subjects speak newly to the mind’s ear.” ~ DAVID MORLEY

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Two Girls and a Beehive offers a minutely observed exploration of the life and work of visionary artist Stanley Spencer and his first wife, Hilda Carline. Inspired by paintings, letters, personal and social history, these poems illuminate Spencer’s creative legacy and engage the reader with the contradictory beatitudes of his art.

Rosie Jackson and Graham Burchell. Paperback, 210 x 135 mm, 84 pages, April 2020

“I’m full of admiration. It’s amazing to have found this visual raw material that opens such a door into poetry. The richness of each and every poem is simply incredible. I find the sequence so inspiring – I think it’s partly because the imagination is in such force throughout, the abundance, the high-wire acts. I don’t think ekphrastic poems are very easy at all because the words can easily seem superfluous and the poems not take off at all, so to achieve this again and again without running out of steam..! I thought the balance of ‘things’ and the transcendent was so well done. Also, of course, it’s interesting and unusual that there are two poets working together seamlessly, it seemed. I’ve not got far yet with looking up the paintings, but when I looked up ‘John Donne Arriving in Heaven’ I saw just how much the poem had taken off from the painting… ” ~ Moniza Alvi
“The art and lives of Stanley Spencer and his first wife Hilda Carline Spencer have been told before, but rarely with such heart breaking and intellectually fascinating force. Not the least impressive aspect of the work is the dual authorship, in which Jackson and Burchell achieve a unity of voice while allowing their own individual gifts to shine through. Authorship is identified in the ‘Contents’ list, but not on the individual poems, so you are free to read each poem as though anonymous. Ekphrasis makes enough demands as a genre, but for two poets to ‘voice’ the genius of a great painter is something unique, at least in my experience.” William Bedford, in London Grip

“This is a quite wonderful collection which anyone, but particularly those with some knowledge of or interest in Spencer and his paintings, would relish. An amazing achievement.” ~ Carole Bromley, The High Window


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