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Ekphrastic Poetry

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
When poets are writing Ekphrastic poetry there’s a fair chance they’ll be looking at an object from years ago. How often are they watching the piece being made? I had this chance when following Nick Williams, artist and poet from Preston, creating his River Clock sculpture in the summer of 2020.
During this time I was curious about aspects of his work and asked questions. I’ll just give his replies:I follow simple rules. 1: No tools. 2: Only use what is found at the place. 3: There must be an element of balance and balancing involved in each work. 4: Anything of interest that I feel could be used in a different way goes in the rucksack which is the most useful sculptor's tool.

Ekphrastic Poetry

a beginning

I choose each place by feel and by the wood that is in that place, looking carefully at each shape to see if they speak together...glad you like the stones, am interested in building the dry stone pebble wall outwards into spiral arms next time I go out... they reminded me a little of old harbor buildings and cairns and buoys too... some of the wood won't stand up alone even though I want it too so after propping it up with a another it felt right to begin to build the base of stones around. I breathed a sigh of relief when I removed the prop and nothing fell over.Every painting and poem and sculpture whether site specific or not has a story, every artwork in every medium has a story, the whole thing, art from the body decoration, drum beats and shamanic dancing to the cave paintings through to modern times has a story, even science is an art, numbers have a story, astrophysics theories and quantum theories all have a story, we are the story of the universe (a small part of it).

Ekphrastic Poetry

Nick in the act of creation

This has always been central to all my work as an idea. Time and space and the story made by them both. A sculpture made in the hinterland, in the tidal flood plain, the space between two states of being, the borders between land river and sea, dwells in two states, one submerged at certain times of the day or week and one unsubmerged in the water flows and adds a new dimension to the sculpture and this movement of water and weather and random things happening to it, slight minute changes which occur over time help continually co-create the sculpture, my hand, my eye and my mind guide the building of the repair and nature provides the accident and the transformation of static into narrative. At least that's how I see it. I went today to film the tide coming in and build an extra part of the spiral but the wind was very cold, and the tide didn't rise as far as I expected after yesterday, yikes, but even through my heavy duffle coat my shoulder whilst waiting for the tide to rise was cold to the marrow of the bones (they call this suffering for our art I had heard tell once - me ?) I decided that my arm had suffered enough after several hours of waiting and realizing the tide wasn't going flow completely over the banks.You must have just arrived after I had left... not so worrying that it hasn't washed it away as I tested it under flooding conditions and the water rise does no damage... more worrying is, as you say, the lowness of the river but have seen river fall like this before so is hard to tell... the reason for the river flood at this part of the river is not the Ribble water coming from its source but the sea tide which comes in from the coast and mingling with the river water, hence the salt you occasionally see on the grass like a thin film of dust.

Ekphrastic Poetry

River Clock

It is called river clock... the shadows line up with the wood at approximately 1.33 pm afternoon and that line of shadow is approximately at the ratio 1/2 thirds which is golden section (I know most clocks and sun dials would use 12 noon to 12 etc but I like the oddness of 1.33 plus if you take off the last 3 and turn it round it's PI 3.1(4).Yep, sheep very numerous if I sit still long enough I get sniffed which I quite enjoy. I have found if I become completely still most animals become calm around me, even had a butterfly land on a finger once. Today was hot and the heron of the Ribble was out to play, sadly yet again there had been some mindless vandalism since I was last there, but didn't take me more than a few minutes to fix (what is currently taking time is scouting up and down the river for large enough rocks and bricks to use for the segment walls as I elongate the spiral out like an ammonite, building method is as follows at the moment build a segment of the spiral as a walled enclosure then fill the enclosure with driftwood and then cover the driftwood with stone (this is symbolic as a burial of the trees yet also allows me to anchor any wood I deem beautiful enough to become a standing structure) carrying the larger rocks back from either end of the marsh is laborious but worth it.

Ekphrastic Poetry


The coast guard were there today because I found this (above) and reported it...when I left at 5:40/ 6 pm after answering the standard police questions for reporting such an object the bomb squad were on their way from Carlisle. Possibly a first or second world war mortar with the fin broken off at the back and the cap missing, it matched two items in their little blue book. I thought it was a beer bottle at first.The sculpture is slowly reaching the right height (currently the outer wall is somewhere close to my knee level), though may have to extend parts of the spiral and central stone edifices being built around the wood upwards in order to have them standing out of the water when the tide is really high - currently am in two minds about whether I should cover the wood entirely with stone as am adapting the idea of it as I build.I haven't worked on it or seen it since the thunderstorms when my boots got holes in so hopefully no-one has pinched it and started adding rocks, the only bits left to do are to cover the wood still sticking out of it with stone walls like a cairn (so it won't be any higher than maybe one stone above its current height).

Ekphrastic Poetry

stormy weather

There is wood underneath the stone surface in between the outer spiral wall and inner spiral wall anyway which is deliberate and will allow for the eventual and slow decline of the structure over a long period of time once finished. As each of the hidden pieces of wood rot down the pebble-stone overlay drops further towards the ground and thus over a period of three to ten years or longer the sculpture may slowly collapse into itself and become a ruin with an inner and outer spiral structure - again time and the long term or short term transient nature of all man made things are explored in this longer projection of the sculpture so that the slow collapse is part of the artwork too. If I came back in forty years time for example would it be covered in moss having become part of the landscape itself to be uncovered later by archaeologists who wonder what it was? Or will the river have eaten it and the flat salt marsh it rests on turn it at first into a lone island which slowly collapses into the river as the erosion takes it gradually away? All of these questions are being posed by me as I build.PS: Today Nick told me that the River Clock is still there.

Ekphrastic Poetry

x marks the spot

River Clock
(for Nicholas Guy Williams)
OS map 102
Reference SD482287
a place needing boots
sandwiches and flask
in a lightweight rucksack
that was slipped off
onto the grass bank
of a tidal plain
and another viewing
of what is going to be
difficult to explain
a spiral of old bricks
pebbles rocks flotsam
branches boughs and twigs
which is all true enough
but doesn’t take into account
that it exists in two states
as my mate tried to explain
submerged or unsubmerged
linked by quantum entanglements
of water and weather and time
or a peacock butterfly
flapping its wings
unlike today as swallows
flit on a brisk wind
scudding their calls to my ear
and there’s a touch of loneliness
on a base of green and gray.
First published in Acumen, March 2022
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