Royal Academy

Poet in Residence


poet in residence At Royal Academy: 2011-2012

These performance works were staged in the Fine Rooms at the RA and were created specially in response to the blockbuster exhibitions about Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas And David Hockney. For each work she researched the artist and their connection to poetry and literature, in each case there was a rich source of material.

Working with National Theatre actors, among them Prunella Scales and Timothy West, she selected relevant poetry, drew from the artists’ reported speech and diaries. Her residency culminated in a gala event across the road at BAFTA: ‘The Masters Room.’ Her final event: Obscuring the Word, was an elegy to Cy Twombly, created and performed specially for the Royal Academicians.

summary of the events:


Royal Academy Residency: Van Gogh: The Man and His Letters


Vincent moved from mental distress to intense lyricism and back again. His letters capture the story of his creative processes, and the cultural and emotional backdrop of his world. These narratives were cradled by his love of poetry and literature. Actors and poets will read from Vincent's letters, read poems that he mentioned and loved, and poets will read new work inspired by the exhibition. By weaving strands from this world together, we will access the hidden literary man behind the easel. The evening is programmed by Pele Cox, poet-in-residence for the show.

‘I would like to repeat how much I appreciated the wonderful poetry evening that you organised in connection with the exhibition The Real Van Gogh: the Artist and his Letters of which I was the curator.  I thought that the way that you so imaginatively and skilfully wove together different strands – Van Gogh’s own extraordinary and revealing words in the letters, readings by contemporary poets responding in different ways to Van Gogh’s work, and the readings from The Odyssey, which was such a bold idea, all contributed to an extraordinary evening.  Everyone I spoke to was really impressed and stimulated.’ 

- Ann Dumas, Curator of Degas and the Dance at the Royal academy

Royal Academy Residency: Degas And The Ballet: Picturing Movement

To celebrate this wonderful Degas exhibition we will explore the relationship between Degas and his friend Mallarmé, by recreating the atmosphere of an evening at a ‘Mardi’, the salons held every Tuesday by Mallarmé at his house in Paris. Degas attended these salons frequently and loved to read out texts and plays particularly by Racine, Molière and Saint-Simon. 

The last poem from the five to be read today will be an extract from Mallarmé’s controversial ‘L’Après-midi d’un Faune’ this demanding and beautiful work has a curious history and was rejected by the poet’s contemporaries on the board of the poetry magazine Le Parnasse Contemporain, as they feared ridicule, this was not unlike the reaction to Degas’, ‘Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen.’ A ballerina from the English National Ballet will dance to this poem- A living expression of one of Degas Dancers

This event will also feature poems written and read by contemporary poets.

royal academy Residency: David Hockney: A Bigger Picture

Hockney’s profound love of poetry bought to the surface work by Walt Whitman, Stephen Spender and W.H Auden and underpinned a plethora of Hockney’s reported speech and interviews to create an extraordinary reconstruction of the artist in performance by the actor Christian Roe.

ROYAL ACADEMY Residency: Cy Twombly- Obscuring The Word: A Tribute

‘Each line is the sensation of its own realisation.’ Cy Twombly

My final performance as Poet in Residence at the Royal Academy is a tribute to the American painter Cy Twombly. During my time at the RA I have linked my worked directly to the great artists displayed in the main galleries: Van Gogh in 2009 before I was appointed Poet in Residence, Degas in 2011 and David Hockney in 2012. Researching each artist’s love of literature and poetry and using this to examine them from a literary dimension.

I was delighted to find that in each case there was a wealth of material. It was magical to combine Van Gogh’s letters with his love of poetry. The Degas event was written as a reconstruction of the salons of his great friend and magnificent poet Mallarme. This highlighted the close relationship between these two controversial men of their time. Hockney also has a great love of poetry this enabling me to examine his art, humour and his sexuality.

all these artists were rich in material. But with Cy Twombly poetry went a stage further taking text directly into his paintings, using pencil to create a strange surface of distorted words. My endeavour is to travel with Twombly from his time at the Black Mountain school where this straightforward love of the work of his professor the great poet Charles Olson slowly mutates into the indistinguishable literary references used in his later paintings.

To achieve this with my last event I am working with an Iraqi poet who has not only translated Homer into his mother tongue but will reach another level of obscurity presenting Homer through an ancient form of Arabic chant- a strange and beautiful event.