From the blog

Painting with words

Canvas for thoughts

What is it that you do when you write a poem?

I like to think of poetry as a mental canvas. The words that I write are, to me, very much like strokes of paint: full of colour, capable of bringing up any number of images in a reader’s mind.

It’s a wonderful thing and a fascinating ability of language, that we’re able to pack meaning into words the way that we do. Of course this works two ways: packing meaning into words is an act of great violence on our thoughts.

I have always thought of words as rather tight shapes, and of the process of reducing what we think to them as a funnelling exercise. It’s often a case of finding the closest-fitting shape, and it hardly ever reflects the full cinemascope of what we think. 

What I think with a word is different to what you think with a word.

I say table and you might think a coffee table or a dining table or a thin little wire thing that now sells for $100 a pop in a shop in LA with half-finished walls and only pastel furniture.

I find cave paintings intensely more evocative.

What a terrible waste of human consciousness for so very awfully long, trying to come up with little boxes and syntactic and grammatical structures to try and fit the cosmos of our thoughts and emotions into, and it turns out we may as well just go back to cave painting.

And yet, bit by bit, I find that I can make up an image that maybe you’ll read as I read, and bring up similar sensations or emotions for you as it does for me.

What’s more incredible than that, painting with words?

Music and colour

Music is a big part of my life. I think this might be true for most people. We share a very particular connection to music: it affects our mood, how we perceive the world around us, and it has the capacity, for many of us, to conjure up deep emotional and inner worlds.

An interesting thing about music is that all that depth of emotion and colour doesn’t come from the notes that are played as such, but rather from the relationship between them. The tension between the notes and chords is what gives them their colour.

// cue blue note jokes //

Isn’t it amazing how well music and poetry go together? I’d say they work the same way: it’s not the specific words I use but all of them together that work up the colour, the tone of a poem, the feeling it leaves in your mouth.


You see a painting all at once – but do you really?


Bit by bit, you put together a poem and you like the way it feels when you read it.

I find this is quite a lot like painting.

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