Francesca Woodman

Don Paterson

copyright ©2015 by Don Paterson


At the heart there is a hollow sun
by which we are constructed and undone


Behind the mirror. Favourite place to hide.
I didn’t breathe. They looked so long I died.


What’s shown when we unveil, disclose, undress,
is first the promise, then its emptiness


Ghost-face. Not because I turned my head,
but because what looked at me was dead.


— We don’t exist — We only dream we’re here
This means we never dieWe disappear


We’d met ‘in previous lives’, he was convinced.
Yeah, I thought. And haven’t spoken since.


All rooms will hide you, if you stand just so.
All ghosts know this. That’s really all they know.

Notes on the Poem

Don Paterson's 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection 40 Sonnets tries on different forms of sonnets and sonnet-like structures from poem to poem. “About half the poems in Don Paterson’s latest book are strict sonnets and half are wild or disobedient sonnets", is how the 2016 judges describe them. In "Francesca Woodman", he wends mysteriously through a series of seven rhyming couplets with an enigmatic young American photographer as his muse. Francesca Woodman worked largely in black and white photography. Her subjects were often herself or female models, in various states of dress or undress. She used different effects and conditions to create blurred, obscured, murky images - surreal, sometimes whimsical, sometimes dark in tone. Woodman died by suicide at the age of 22, in 1981. Most hauntingly, these words seem to capture what Woodman was confronting in her subject matter: "What's shown when we unveil, disclose, undress, is first the promise, then its emptiness" Equally striking are the opening lines ... "Behind the mirror. Favourite place to hide. I didn't breathe. They looked so long I died." which poet Helen Mort took as inspiration for a writing and photography workshop she describes here. 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize winner Eve Joseph devotes an entire section of her collection Quarrels to ekphrastic poems responding to images from the work of American photographer Diane Arbus. Also from the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist, "Verso 40.6" from Dionne Brand's The Blue Clerk uses as its inspiration a historical photograph by French photography pioneer Louis Daguerre. What arresting pas de deux come from the pairing and melding of photography and poetry.

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