Poetry and Art – Visual Connections
Photographer Jacky Dillon in conversation with Poet Denise Bennett
The England Remembered Book
Denise: What drew you to work on a project about the Great War. The enormity of the First World War is so hard for us to comprehend, we watch programmes and we still can’t comprehend, but the main thing is that we try.
Jacky: Yes, it is difficult as it is so far beyond our personal experience – it seems unreal, but if I see an archive photograph then all of a sudden it is real for me. I know that there was someone taking that photograph at that instant in time and it then becomes incredibly real and you can’t avoid a sense of connection to the past.
Denise: Visual things do seem to touch me as a Poet. I saw a piece of artwork in Portsmouth Museum, 60 children ceramic dolls heads, representing those who sank with the Royal George. The Royal George was a ship that foundered off of Spithead with the loss of over 900 lives, far bigger than the Mary Rose. It was a family’s day and there were wives, sweethearts, lovers and children that all died, but it was seeing these physical 60 heads that moved me to write about the disaster.
Jacky: There are such strong links between poetry and art. I think that the connection between images and poetry really works too, that was why I started the England Remembered Project. The photographs themselves said something, but together with the poetry they said so much more. I felt it was a way of reaching out to people to say that this wonderful poetry is still here. The incredible circumstances that they created it in and to have people like yourself in the group of Modern Day Writers and Poets writing something today in memory of their work feels like completing the circle and bringing it up to date, which is really important, so that people have a way in to understanding more.
Denise: I think you are right, and it works differently each time, I do a presentation about the Royal George with about 10 different poems with some images. I don’t pretend to be a historian, I know when it sank and what happened, but my way in was these wonderful ceramic heads. I even contacted the artist in the Isle of Wight who made them, and she gave her permission for me to take pictures to use in my presentation. They are just so connected poetry and art – sometimes it takes your breath away when you see something.
Jacky: Yes, I have always been interested in how text and image work together so creating the England Remembered Book was a natural progression of the work I had already completed.
Denise: Was that the project for your Masters? How interesting…
Jacky: Yes, that is how it all started. I studied for a BA in Photography and then went onto an MA in Art Design & Media which I did at Portsmouth University with a group of Fine Artists. There were only two photographers in the group, but I learnt so much from the other artists and they were learning a different view point from the Photography. I am very interested in what the viewer sees within the image (the literal face-value) and what isn’t directly seen, but is added through social, cultural and historical references. What happens when you put words with that image and the whole area of how text an image work together.
I started using text in my BA work and then it just moved on into the MA projects. I shot the images for the England Remembered Book whilst I was taking my Masters and it started as a book purely with quotes from Great War poetry and lyrics of popular songs. I sort of felt that it could develop further and become something larger and it just grew.
Denise: So, it just grew from there into the England Remembered Project – which I became involved in writing for and took part in the Performance in 2014?
Jacky: Yes, just through talking to people who were interested in writing for the Project. I never really imagined that it would grow to the size that it did for the Exhibition and Performance in 2014 or that I would have so many people involved who have so much expertise in working within the area. I was just extremely fortunate.
Denise: And that they have the same passion that you have… So how is the England Remembered Book progressing?
Jacky: It is taking a little bit longer than I anticipated, but like yourself I believe that the research is really important. I am adding short biographies for each of the Great War Poets just 250 words and I don’t want to have anything in there that I haven’t researched thoroughly. Sometimes you start off thinking that you know a little about a Poet, after reading a couple of short biographies online, and then you read a book about them and you have so much more information that gives quite a different impression, but of course that is partly down to the biographer. Matthew Hollis’ book ‘Now All Roads Lead to France’ on Edward Thomas is so sympathetic and really made me think. (1)
Denise: Yes, I like Matthew Hollis’ book too it is very readable and very accessible.
Jacky: At the moment I am trying to write something that gives the reader a flavour of who the Poets were rather than just a historical list of dates and accounts. A connection to the poetry as well that adds something extra. This is really quite hard in so few words so that is why I started the England Remembered Blog. I was finding so much fascinating information that I could not include in the biographies and just wanted to share this with interested readers. It also gave the opportunity to showcase more of the Modern-Day writers work and let people have the chance to get to know them better too. The blog will continue after the book is released so people will have the opportunity to go on-line and find out more about their favourites through the interviews and additional poetry.
Denise: And you mentioned that there will be an England Remembered website too when the book is launched next year.
Jacky: Yes, the book, website and blog all have a similar look and feel and I wanted them to link together giving people an opportunity to track the work. If they think ‘that it is a really lovely poem’ and they want to read more these are places to showcase the work and give them the chance to find the links without having to search themselves. Hopefully it will all come together next year now.
Denise: I am sure that it will and there is no hurry is there, it is nice that you have such an interesting project to work on.
Jacky: I have been reading a book by Anne Powell called ‘A Deep Cry‘ about the Soldier-Poets killed on the Western Front. It is amazing – it is very factual; she has gone into such depth with her research including personal letters and accounts of events and she said that it took her 10 years to write. She lived in France not far from the Western Front, she went out with her husband who I think was a diplomat and she visited so many of the cemeteries and suddenly realised that she wanted to write this book. It includes a large number of the poets that I am interested in and I was fascinated by her work.
Denise: Well if you think about Michael Morpurgo and his ‘War Horse’, which is totally different, but amazing too. He sent that out for 20 years before someone would take it. They kept saying that nobody wants to know about horses in war and now look where it is!
Jacky: I guess the old adage is true ‘never give up’ and I knew when I started to try and get England Remembered into book form that it needed to have the other platforms, the website and the blog to support it. There is an @englandremembered Instagram too so that is not just the book on its own, but a whole network.
You can see a wealth of archive photographs of the poets and their families on Instagram @englandremembered
England Remembered is a project initiated by Jacky Dillon MA.
Jacky Dillon is a Fine Art Photographer with a BA (Hons) Photography (2002) and MA Art Design & Media (2008) from the University of Portsmouth. She has a studio at Art Space Portsmouth and has been a Member of the Group since 2008. Jacky also works part-time within the Faculty of Science at the University of Portsmouth. Read more about the England Remembered Project and Contributors.
Denise Bennett has kindly contributed two poems to the England Remembered Book; ‘Edith Silvester’ and ‘Letter to…’.
Denise Bennett has an MA in creative writing and has taught this subject for 28 years for Portsmouth College. Her work has been widely published and she has three poetry collections – ‘Planting the Snow Queen’ (2011) and ‘Parachute Silk’ (2015) were published by Oversteps Books and ‘Water Chits’, was published by Indigo Dreams (2017). She is working on a new collection.
England Remembered Book and Cover designed by Natalie Dowse
Header image © Jacky Dillon (Edwardian Pergola, West Dean Gardens – cover to the England Remembered Book)
(1) Hollis, Matthew, Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas, W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, NY (2012)
(2) Powell, Anne, A Deep Cry: Soldier-Poets Killed on the Western Front, The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire (2014)