See Saw; A Series of Poems on Art, Adrian BucknerThe jacket has a background of what looks like yellowy clouds is an entirely clouded sky. Over this the text is mostly large and black. First the title, filling the full jacket width right at the top. Then the author's name below this in fairly small black lower case, centred. Just above half way down the jacket, this time left justified, is the subtitle, broken into three short lines like a poem: A SERIES / OF POEMS / ON ART. These words are smaller than the main title but still pretty big and visible from a good distance away.

Leafe Press, 2023   £8.00


Ekphrastic poems come in all sizes, from the petite (where the artwork is so hidden you need a torch) to the huge full-light-of-day Art History lecture. My taste is for the petite, the sideways-glance, the playful — and so the poems in this pamphlet suit me. A set of twenty-five nine-liners, they nod to the paintings that jump-start them into life. After that, they do what art does for me: they set up an internal conversation that can go anywhere.

Take the opening poem, ‘GiottoThe Entry into Jerusalem, c.1305’:

I am a smiling donkey
I am practically giggling
With the Good News

In the story of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, culminating in the crucifixion and resurrection, the donkey has only a bit part. He’s just the mode of transport, a necessary part of the gospel — but in this poem he’s the centre. Once you notice his face, his happy willingness to do his best, it’s easy to step back from the main story. We’re all bit players, after all, and the donkey’s childlike innocence is touching in its accuracy: ‘practically giggling’ captures it perfectly.

Buckner’s encounters with artworks show how they draw a private and often unexpected response from the viewer. Like ‘DuchampFountain, 1917’:

My name is Rachel Mutt
I work from four to eight three times a day
Nine days a week fifteen months of the year

Cleaning lavatories in an Institute of Higher Education
In the English Midlands

I’d forgotten that Duchamp had added the signature ‘R.Mutt 1917’ to his urinal. In this poem it triggers thoughts about a cleaner, struggling with her own surreal times; it not only brings the human into the idea behind Duchamp’s art but reminds me of what — and who — I often overlook in my surroundings. It’s not preaching, though; this is light-touch, just a nudge.

Reading See Saw is a three-way conversation: the artworks, then Buckner and what he shapes into his poems, and then the reader (me), enjoying my own encounter with the poems (plus my own thoughts about the art works). A painting (or ceramic) is only the start of rolling ideas around — and who knows where they’ll end?

D. A. Prince