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Poetry and Art: How an anecdote about Picasso led Conor Carville to write ‘Camouflage’

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.

The germ of this sonnet came from an anecdote about Picasso. In 1939 he was walking in Paris in with Gertrude Stein when they saw a camouflaged truck for the first time, and were amazed by it visually. After it had passed Picasso is said to have turned to his friend and fellow modernist and said: ‘we did that’.

I suppose he saw some kind of relation between the flat fragmented forms of both his Cubism and her prose on the one hand, and the new techniques of war on the other. That got me going, and as I tried to describe the moment two other modernist paintings came to mind: Kasimir Malevich’s White Cross on a White ground, and le Douanier Rousseau’s ‘Tiger in a Tropical Storm’. Suddenly I had a poem!

Conor Carville, May 2022


English Martyrs book coverConor Carville is a poet and critic from Armagh, N. Ireland. Camouflage appears in his collection English Martyrs, published by Two Rivers Press in 2019. He lives in South London with his wife and daughter.

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Poetry and Art: Tim Dooley on his poem ‘6 Panels’, written in response to Anni Albers’ artwork ‘Six Prayers’

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.


‘6 Panels’ was written in response to Anni Albers’ artwork ‘Six Prayers’, a textile commissioned by the Jewish Museum of New York as a holocaust memorial. This abstract pictorial weaving formed a central part of a major Albers exhibition at Tate Modern in the winter of 2018. I found the work very moving and returned to look at it on more than one occasion, before attempting to start a piece of writing suggested by it. My response was an attempt to use language in a partly pictorial way, interweaving various threads across the six columns of the poem so that its sections, while they could be read downwards vertically, would also resonate horizontally through associations or echoes. The threads I drew on were: notebook observations from the windows of the gallery directly behind the area where the work was exhibited; notes on the pattern and variations of the panels themselves; quotations from Albers on her work; materials used in the work, or colours associated with them; tools and materials necessary for survival and shelter in the wild (an Albers theme); prayers from a range of major religions; figures in solid geometry; mythical representations of the weaver. I don’t consider the resulting text as presenting any argument or underlying idea. It’s an attempt instead to create a harmonic structure out of disparate materials and a minor tribute to a major work.

Tim Dooley, May 2022

Discoveries Book Cover‘6 Panels’ appears in Tim Dooley’s new collection Discoveries, published April 2022.

Tim Dooley is a tutor for The Poetry School and a mentor for the prison charity, Koestler Arts. He was reviews and features editor of Poetry London between 2008 and 2018, a visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster from 2016 to 2021 and a judge for the John Pollard International Poetry Competition at Trinity College Dublin in 2019 and 2020. He was previously a schoolteacher for many years. His poetry collections include the Poetry Book Society Recommendations: Tenderness (Smith Doorstop, 2003), Keeping Time (Salt, 2008), and Weemoed (Eyewear, 2017).

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Poetry and Art: Jenny Halstead writes about her monotype inspired by Oscar Wilde’s ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.


An exhibition at Reading’s Turbine House in 2019 entitled In Reading Gaol by Reading Town, showcased artwork from Reading artists inspired by Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol. Jenny Halstead’s monotype is reproduced here, together with some creative context from the artist.

The Ballad was written after Oscar Wilde was released from a two-year sentence of hard labour, and was prompted principally by a hanging that had taken place in the Gaol during that time, which greatly affected both the poet and the other inmates.

My first thoughts turned to what the word ‘ballad’ typically suggested: a simple song, often with a memorable refrain conveying a moral, often expressed in combination with a mournful melody.

Monotype seemed the appropriate medium, given its immediacy as the product of a single pull without a printing press. My intention was to catch a precise moment on the stroke of eight, the victim alive one moment, dead the next, but the rope still swinging, with the horror of and end-of-life event set over against the haunting line: ‘nimble feet to dance upon the air’. The shapes on either side represent an inverted tent, ‘the little tent of blue that prisoners call the sky’. The whole conception is intended to look unrefined and brutal.

Jenny Halstead, February 2022

Jenny Halsteads artwork inspired by The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Jenny Halstead is a long-standing member of the Reading Guild of Artists and founder of the Whiteknights Studio Trail.

Also by Jenny Halstead: An Artist’s Year in the Harris Garden (2013), Silchester: Life on the Dig (2015, with Michael Fulford), The Art & History of Whiteknights (2020, Editor).

The Two Rivers Press edition of The Ballad of Reading Gaol is illustrated with imagery by Peter Hay.

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Poetry and Art: Sue Leigh writes about the influence of Winifred Nicholson

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.

Small and expansive: writing about the paintings of Winifred Nicholson

The life and work of Winifred Nicholson, the British twentieth-century artist, has always been significant to me. Inspired particularly by colour, light, flowers, landscapes and seascapes, her pictures have a freshness and immediacy (she painted quickly), a lyrical intensity. Her work is joyous. The paintings – often of pots or jugs of flowers on windowsills with a view of mountains, snow or sea beyond – bring together near and far, the small and expansive. It is as if by looking with attention at those flowers we might begin to understand what she calls ‘the secret of the cosmos’.

There is often a visionary quality to her work as in ‘Flower Table’ (1928–9) which she painted at Bankshead, the Cumberland farmhouse where she lived for most of her life. The pots of flowers in this painting sit on a heavy work table which itself sits on a rag rug (Winifred Nicholson designed rag rugs and was also interested in other crafts). I love the radiance of this painting, its silvery light. It is both domestic and homely but also otherworldly.

Why write about a painting? I am always questioning how we might respond creatively to the world and experience. Winifred Nicholson uses colour and form to express her vision. I try to articulate my own, not with paint but with language. Writing about painting helps me think again about the act of making, to consider the possibilities and limitations of different mediums. I live in language but sometimes I would like to be a painter just to see what happens, beyond the words.

Sue Leigh, March 2022


‘Flower Table’, Winifred Nicholson (1928–9)




Flower table poem by Sue Leigh from Her Orchards



Sue Leigh read English at London University and completed her doctorate at the University of Aberystwyth. She worked for Faber & Faber for a number of years before leaving London and settling in rural Oxfordshire. She now works as a freelance writer and poet, and as a part-time tutor at Rewley House, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. The poem ‘Flower Table’ appears in her latest collection Her Orchards, published in 2021.

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Poetry and Art: Alistair Noon unearths a Flemish landscape painting

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.


Some time in the early 2010s I was looking for furniture at a Berlin flea market when I came across a faded but striking framed reproduction of a harvest scene with stylized hills. Not that I recognized the picture, but it was clearly a Flemish landscape, a genre I’ve always liked for its tendency towards realism, ensemble casts and non-sacrality. For fifteen euros, it was a deal.

Several years later, I was half-way through a day of inspecting Habsburg loot at Vienna’s gigantic Kunsthistorisches Museum (which also cost around fifteen euros) when my partner excitedly directed my attention upwards in one of the galleries: “That’s it! Up there! That’s it!” Not faded at all, and half as big again as the reproduction, hung “Autumn Landscape (October)”, by Lucas van Valckenborch.

It’s one of at least seven seasonal landscapes painted by Valckenborch in the mid-1580s, each of them incorporating the work traditional for the month in question. It’s not clear whether Valckenborch intended to paint one for each month, or did so and the others were lost. In any case, five survivors are now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and a reproduction of one them can be found propped on a chest of drawers in a bedroom in the Berlin district of Wedding.

A contemporary and acquaintance of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Valckenborch’s biography exhibits the typical elements of his profession at the time: lots of artist relatives with the same name to confuse art fans with, a patron to paint, and a peripatetic existence depending on where there was work and where he wouldn’t be persecuted as a Protestant. His fish market scenes are good as well.

Alistair Noon, March 2022

Lucas van Valckenborch, Autumn Landscape, 1585

In the distance, spot the castle
guarding its great trove of rocks;
deep within, no doubt, an arsenal,
kitchens, vaults and lots of locks.

Over that domain, a cloud
waits to salvo off its drops
onto that grey cone-roofed round
watchtower on the top-right outcrop;

by the cloud, a line of cranes
flies across and on until
every bird forgets the rain
once it finds a drier hill;

down below, men rolling barrels,
women plucking, unseen bees –
by the bucket, piles of apples;
folk in ruffs at wine and cheese.


Alistair Noon lives in Berlin. Paradise Takeaway, a long poem beginning and ending at Luton Airport, is forthcoming from Two Rivers Press in 2023.