Taxidermy … what remains

I’ve been trying to think about the taxidermy project from last year, which came out of Susannah Gent’s residency and exhibition at Bank Street Arts.  I’m going to get the poems typeset and bound, and put a copy in the reading room at Bank Street.  Before thinking about how to move the project forward, or whether to do so, I’m going to spend some time thinking about the poems that came out of it, and some of the notes provided by the writers.  For example, Noel Williams sent me his notes on the process of taking in the exhibition to writing and revising the poems.  Here’s an excerpt:

“One might argue that what I wrote about was not immediate, but sublimated, as, to me, the notes clearly have sexual threads but escape the literal by weaving through a loosely maintained metaphor. I think my idea was actually about the duality of fairy-tale – that on the one hand it is the Disneyesque prettification, and on the other its about rape, death and violence – unified in the unicorn, I guess. I suspect there might be a real poem here for me, if I can find a language to cope with it, but my notes essentially (it seems to me) were skirting around what I might’ve wanted to say, rather than actually saying it.”

This idea of Fairy Tale was also dominant in Helen Cadbury’s poem, “Young Red and the Fox”‘ which Helen did write almost immediately, on the train home from the private view.  And Jenny Donnison was also drawn to the mythical, with her poem, “Teumessian Fox”, although Jenny’s approach was also less immediate.  Her experience of Susannah Gent’s work, the notion of the urban fox and the way some of the animals were anthropomorphized, became a starting point for further research.

My own poem, “Taxidermy in 3 Parts”, was written from a visual perspective, in that I haven’t done any research, but tried to write what the visual experience of the exhibition brought out of me.  I reached for the metaphor of space and stars, in the opening 2 poems, which I did post a while ago, in an earlier draft.  Something I’m interested in and was brought to mind by this particular head.





The green skin of sky stretches into stag

pricked with stars, pale beads lit like gilt

or the nighttime crack of burning grass.

As you move close, its silk hide free falls


the curvature of space.  Gold remains,

Polaris, so tightly stitched the star is made

less of gas and hydrogen dust than petals,

florets, a chrysanthemum of all things.


The eyes, Orion’s, look down from their mount

blinded, leave only the outline of animal

a trace of horseness beneath the stitch, the fold


and gather of silk hide, bordered and hemmed

repeating flecks of tailor’s tack, overlock darn

a frayed yarn where the bobbin was cut.


I had real trouble having to rely on my ability to take a specific point and imagine my way to a poem.  I wrote the poem, all three sections, over a period of time, but I was still working with the immediate response, mostly.  I didn’t add research, or develop the thoughts to any real extent, only working on how I might express them better.  I’m still working on that, really.

Do call in to Bank Street to read all the poems in full.  They’ll be available from the end of September.

Also, Susannah Gent and poet Fay Musselwhite continue to collaborate, and their project, “Goat Boy”, will be performed at this year’s Off the Shelf Festival.


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