Women in Frame

By Jack Wright

On the evening of November 6 at King’s Place, Poet in the City assisted in the launch of an important and ambitious project.

‘Women in Frame’ focuses on artist Claire Eastgate’s ongoing collection ‘Painting the Poets’, a legacy project documenting the finest contemporary female poets across the U.K. Those in attendance were fortunate enough to watch several of these poets perform in an event as varied as it was vibrant.

Before making their way into Hall Two, the audience were treated to a performance by Lisa Luxx. Her potent messages on the role of women in the ongoing Lebanese revolution were as fierce as they were tender and served as an excellent precursor to ‘Women in Frame’. Luxx is one of the poets painted by Eastgate during the project and her oil sketch stood beside others made of the evening’s speakers.

The event began with short readings by three of Eastgate’s subjects: Gillian Clarke, Hannah Sullivan and Deanna Rodger. Jasmine White followed with a brief Poet in the City welcome to those in attendance.

After the initial readings, Claire Eastgate began an interview with Dr. Georgia Haseldine, assistant curator at the National Portrait Gallery. A discussion around female portraiture lead to Eastgate elaborating on her creative process, recalling how she endeavoured, in her work, to identify ‘the essence of the writer’: who they are, what they had to say, and why? She encouraged the subjects of her portraits to remain active, rather than still, in order to capture a more organic representation of the women in frame.

The range of poets who performed at the event varied and the importance of variety became clear through the conversations with Eastgate. There was a consistent emphasis on looking back, whether that be to unheard female voices throughout earlier centuries, or, indeed, in the work performed. Sullivan, for instance, began with an extract from her T.S. Eliot prize-winning Three Poems, yet focused the majority of her performance on a new piece, Tenants, a poem written in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Before Sullivan, Gillian Clarke read a variety of her work, delivering messages that remain as important nowadays as they did when originally composed. Though the lens of nature, Clarke viewed the humankind in a variety of lights, varying from pity to scorn. ‘Swans’ was a particularly impactful piece.

A further fireside chat preceded the finale of ‘Women in Frame’: three spoken word poems by Deanna Rodger. Her words and delivery offered a fantastic perspective of London. As she closed her book and settled into the rhythm of performance with which Rodger is so familiar, the audience grew enraptured.

‘Women in Frame’ was fantastic, first and foremost, because the celebration and preservation of the work of women, in all artistic forms, from painting to poetry, was placed front and centre. Luxx and Rodger’s performance-based work excellently paralleled the spoken verse of Clarke and Sullivan, and the perspective gathered from Eastgate served as a fantastic framework for the event as a whole.

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