Charlie Dutton Gallery

Legend Trip

I love when random meetings produce unexpected and rewarding results. I met Alison Gill on one of Paul Carey Kent’s art walks through London, and in the pub afterwards, we struck up a conversation. Alison told me about her work as a sculptor, and I told her about my poems. Fast forward to last month, when Alison contacted me, in the process of looking for speakers / artists from other genres to interact with her upcoming show at Charlie Dutton Gallery. Alison’s practice draws from references to psychoanalysis, folklore, gaming, literature, mathematics, etc, so it is a natural extension of the work to create a ‘salon’ that brings people into the exhibition to talk about associated or related themes. Meanwhile, I was between projects (readers of Invective might remember a post a few months back lamenting this fact), and about to go off on a retreat. So it was, as they say, serendipity.

Before my retreat, Alison and I met a couple of times to talk through her work and the themes behind the show, Legend Trip. I liked the concept of the ‘legend trip’, a term coined by folklorists and anthropologists for a journey to a specific location which has some deeper and often more sinister history (I thought immediately of one of my favourite poems, ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’ which is about those places in the world, often quite innocent, that have provided the landscape for atrocities). The centrepiece of the exhibition is a large sculpture called The Magick Door (Kissing Gate), in steel, rubber and porcelain. The work consists of two round metal frames; the inner one, draped with an elaborate mane of inner tubes (some with dangling porcelain fingers), can be pushed forward, so that the whole structure moves on its axis, and the viewer can pass through the sculpture, like its dual-aspect title suggests, as through a door or a kissing gate.

There are also a number of drawings set in landscapes that are hard to navigate; often heavily pattered or entangled, with stairs that lead nowhere, populated by figures who are sometimes masked, or whose faces are obscured. There are traces of recognisable urban / suburban culture; abandoned cars, boys in hooded garments, heaped rubbish (that might contain the inner tubes and bits of metal sourced for The Magick Door).

Right up my alley. Fired by the ideas generated by Alison’s work, I went off on my retreat and wrote four new poems. It is not often that I write so quickly, but the joy of collaborating is that you are given permission to start from an outside stimulus (something other than the usual stuff that circles around in your head). The new poems had their premier last night in the gallery, to a small audience of poets and artists. This is one of the poems, which I read standing in front of the piece that inspired it, The Magick Door (Kissing Gate). The poem is in syllabics, in a pattern of 13 / 11 / 13 – indivisible, uneven numbers (and 13, of course has many other connotations).

As I explained last night, an odd North American reference crept into the poem. Magic Fingers used to be found in every roadside motel room on the Eastern seaboard when I was growing up – for only a quarter, you could make the whole bed vibrate. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but somehow, the dangling porcelain fingers made me recall its unseen, mysterious touch.


I am your port of entry, the point of no return,
you yield to my kludgy touch,
the Magic Fingers you can’t switch off. I am a screen

for your sins, discreet, like a Venetian blind you shut
to kill the light. I am night,
starless, sharp with little cries; you navigate through touch.

I am the Goddess Kali of a thousand fingers,
I’ll stroke, stroke until a scream
rises from your gut, the beast unfurled, a masterpiece

of hurt. I am your Painted Lady, your Queen of Spain,
a wing in the rake of thorns;
I cling to you like grave clothes, the suit you’ll never shake.

I am the circus freak, the double act of one. Gone
through a gash, flash in the pan;
it doesn’t last, the searing lash of pain, slash of skin,

peek-a-boo of blood. I’m in the driver’s seat, the scent
of burning flesh, gasoline
quivering my nostrils; I’m full-throttle towards the wall.

I am the swallow in your throat, hollow in your heart,
deep rut of the furrowed field.
I slay without a sound, here inside my velvet box.

Legend Trip is at the Charlie Dutton Gallery until 16th June