Last night, I had the pleasure of attending Alice Ekphrasis at The British Library, an event conceived by Abegail Morley, Catherine Smith and Emer Gillespie
An ekphrasis is (in my very basic terms) when one piece of artistic work is based on another, in this case it was poems written in response to the most renowned work of Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but with the given line up of poets, I knew it would be good. And it was. Mona Arshi started us off with Alice “shaking her anklets” in a wedding dress shop in Pune, India and (by way of the Head Teacher’s office, Instagram and a nightclub) we ended with Alice “off her head” and endlessly waiting…(Luke Wright)
The poems challenged and probed into areas not trodden and I was particularly struck by Sasha Dugdale’s The Ballad of Mabel, which explored an unseen character, mentioned by Alice and who she fears she is becoming. Dugdale allows us to see why this “stain from the inkbottle” unnerves Alice and, in doing so, also unnerves the reader. Poor Mabel, indeed.
Another poem that sticks with me is Abegail Morley’s Daisy Chains and Downers, particularly the line “Walton Road parts its lips, exhales|I slip down to the unwelcome place”. Alice is falling, but not as we know it.
After the readings, I had the pleasure of a quick chat with the lovely Hollie McNish. I love her poetry and first saw her in Edinburgh with my poetry pal, Stephanie Arsoska. I recently chose her poem Mermaids to read at my poetry group and her poem last night, Shrinking, about a waitress in an Alice costume at an airport Wetherspoon’s was just brilliant. She captures people and society so perfectly and so poignantly.
There is also an exhibition at The British Museum about Alice and Lewis Carroll to celebrate 150 years since the publication of Alice in Wonderland, which is open until 17th April and I would definitely encourage you to treat yourself to a copy of the Ekphrasis book while you’re there. I always carry a poetry book around in my handbag and for the next few weeks, there will definitely be an Ekphrasis in there, nestling amidst unposted letters and yesterday’s receipts.
N.B. The clarity of photos are due to the lighting and absolutely nothing to do with Jess Mookherjee making me drink absinthe beforehand, as we channelled our inner Byron and went down the rabbit-hole…