Leaving the Tate
IComing out with your clutch of postcards
in a Tate Gallery bag and another clutch
of images packed into your head you pause
on the steps to look across the river
and there’s a new one: light bright buildings,
a streak of brown water, and such a sky
you wonder who painted it – Constable? No:
too brilliant. Crome? No: too ecstatic –
a madly pure Pre-Raphaelite sky,
perhaps, sheer blue apart from the white plumes
rushing up it (today, that is,
April. another day would be different
but it wouldn’t matter. All skies work.)
Cut to the lower right for a detail:
seagulls pecking on mud, below
two office blocks and a Georgian terrace.
Now swing to the left, and take in plane-trees
bobbled with seeds, and that brick building,
and a red bus… Cut it off just there,
by the lamp-post. Leave the scaffolding in.
That’s your next one. Curious how
these outdoor pictures didn’t exist
before you’d looked at the indoor pictures,
the ones on the walls. But here they are now,
marching out of their panorama
and queuing up for the viewfinder
your eye’s become. You can isolate them
by holding your optic muscles still.
You can zoom in on figure studies
(that boy with the rucksack), or still lives,
abstracts, townscapes. No one made them.
The light painted them. You’re in charge
of the hanging committee. Put what space
you like around the ones you fix on,
and gloat. Art multiplies itself.
Art’s whatever you choose to frame.
Fleur Adcock was born in New Zealand in 1934 bur has lived in England since 1963. Her latest publications are Selected Poems (1983), The Incident Book (1986) and Time-Zones (1991), all published by Oxford University Press. She is also the editor of The Faber Book of the Twentieth Century Women’s Poetry.