Bird Skulls and Gnomic Tomes at the Pallant House Gallery


    Last week I was in the audience for the Carolyn Trant and James Simpson evening at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

    It was an hour of bird skulls, owl cries and ragged Barabbas. James is a fine poet of the South Country. He was reading from his Untenanted Room cycle. His work carries the musk of leaf litter, the thin sharp wind that comes needling through gaps in downland fences and sticky blood on the fingers of the gamekeeper.  Here is poetry that fixes you in its stare, while at the same time frets to you in several voices – some strident, some delicate, some half-heard, some lucid.

    His collaboration with Carolyn is an ongoing process of creation. They talk brightly about how they journey together ever more deeply into a mutual forest of the imagination.

    Carolyn is an artist of striking playfulness and stark vision. From her fingers come books, tableaux and illustrations that tell glimpses of stories you know and others you think have heard in memory of dreams. Crows twine with branches. Maidens slip like distracted love letters down dark twittens. Books open and transform like concertinas to make tactile the stuff of myths.

    Her Gawain and the Green Knight tome is a giant book of green embossed cowhide, bigger than a church Bible. It is illustrated with gory, eerie woodcuts and summoned words that hang on textured paper.

    Last week I saw that clocks can be stopped and illuminated lore can be uttered.

    Steven O’Brien