Lorna Goodison’s poem On Becoming a Tiger (1991), tells the story of a woman, who upon having her tiger’s eye ring stolen takes the advice of writer Rainer Maria Rilke: “If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.”
The tiger was actually always asleep
inside her, she had seen it
stretched out, drowsing and inert
when she lay upon her side and stared
for seven consecutive days into a tall mirror
that she had turned on its side.
There is sometimes an assumption that poetry is too esoteric to be useful. This is not the case in Goodison’s poems, which although lyrical, often impart practical knowledge to the reader. The poem To Make Various Sorts of Black (2013) is an example of this simultaneous beauty and utility. In writing the poem, Goodison was inspired by The Craftsman’s Handbook (1443), a technical guide for renaissance artists by Florentine painter Cennino d’Andrea Cennini, which describes various types of blacks and how they are made. As it happens, Goodison’s own take on these colours proved an inspiring starting point for The Toronto Ink Company, who developed a series of black pigments based on the techniques described in Goodison’s poem.
Goodison, currently the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, will be giving a talk at Oakville Galleries on Wednesday, June 27th in parallel with the exhibition An Assembly of Shapes. The exhibition features works in (and related to) contemporary painting; Goodison, whose work is known for its rich visual descriptions, initially came to poetry as a painter.
Later in the summer, Jason Logan of the Toronto Ink Company will also be making a trip to the Galleries, to deliver a workshop on street-harvested pigments, similar to those he made based on Goodison’s poem.
Image: geetha thurairajah, A Kind of Existence After My Own Heart, 2016, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Projet Pangée, Montréal.