Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Tag: art

The crystal ball

The plunge towards Halloween, no matter how our fingernails scrabble at the granite walls as we slide, is inexorable. So here is another gothic offering from 2006, the year I scaled the Mountains of My Madness. This one was inspired by a painting by J.W. Waterhouse…


             The crystal ball


Where has the seeress lost herself?
In what relentless seas
Sails she, with helmsman sprite or elf,
To seek elusive ease?

What worlds are cupped within her hands?
And where her steady gaze
Falls, are there rich, exotic lands
In sunlit ancient days?

Her lips that seem to wish a kiss,
Her beauty gowned in red –
Is all her being wrapt in bliss,
Or does she see the dead?

Lo, there! Her grimoire and her wand –
Behind, a grinning skull –
Are spirits summoned to respond,
Or are her senses dull?

What knowledge, what enlightenment
Seeks she in realms arcane?
Beware, my sweet! All’s transient,
Your loveliness will wane!

Whatever is the magic lore
Whose secrets now entice
You through a dark and one-way door –
You pay too high a price!

So lady, lay that art aside,
Forswear your mantic ball
For mind’s health, beauty’s morningtide –
Or, hazarding, lose all!

Pinning the tail on sunlight

Nice things people have said to me so far in 2019:

“You’re too brilliant to pin down, Marie. Like trying to pin the tail on the sunlight.”

“In my version of you, more like trying to pin the blame on an exploding supernova.”

“… arrogant bint!”

The third one there was said affectionately, I can assure you.

Not so much a revival, more a recycle:

In 2010 I opened a new website for my Lithopoesis project. I have played around on the edges of experimental poetry more-or-less ever since my stint of writing sonnets came to a close (“I’ve learned how to draw,” I said, “and now I’m entitled to pickle a shark and call it ‘art’.”), and it is now almost a decade since that particular period of work. The last post I made there, adding a forgotten piece of work, rather than constructing something new, was in 2012.

impact 01bNow, however, I have decided to add another page there, to house the dribs and drabs of what I call ‘Impact Art’. Now, you know me – I don’t like to explain what I’m doing. You read my poetry and my prose, as is, and you make what you can of them. I feel, more often than not, that explanation is a destructive process. You, on the other hand, take over the matter of creation as soon as you see something of mine, as soon as you look at it, give it attention, relate to it, react to it, interpret it. Let that interpretation run to a scholarly thesis if you wish, go nuts, it’s fine by me.

So go and have a look at my ‘Impact Art’. Clicking the image to the right of this post will take you to its threshold; or you can simply click on the ‘Impact Art’ tab at the top of the page, over on the Lithopoesis site. Follow the blog there – I’ll post an update in the blog section whenever I add something new.

Am I still writing poetry?

Yes, over at Kvenna ráð I am. I’m resting my ‘Two hundred and seven words’ prose-poetry at the moment, and dropping an occasional haikuform poem, but yes I’m still dabbling. Go there, follow that too.

Thank you.




Following a brief discussion on social media about image and meaning, I have been asked to provide a piece of my ‘impact art’. I believe it is going to be used in an article elsewhere. I will let you know.



Aspiring cover artist wanted!

2Are you an aspiring artist? Would you like to take a punt at designing a cover illustration for my latest YA/teen vampire novel, KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, sequel to From My Cold, Undead Hand? I have little to offer you at this point except recognition, but in that respect I would be helping you and you would be helping me.

Your illustration does not have to be fancy. In fact if you could take a cue from Millie Ho’s excellent black-and-white cover for the first book in the series (look right) you’ll see the kind of aesthetic we’re looking for.

If you would like to offer your services, please get in touch with the publisher direct.

Thank you,


The disappearing original…

Regular readers will know that from time to time I write about art in general. It is not an easy subject to write about, strange though that may seem, because each one of us has prejudices that are difficult to shake off. To one of my readers, for example, technique or technical skill is all-important. To that person, Caravaggio’s work is ‘better’ than Rothko’s because the former’s is representational and skillfully so. Yet as a writer I know only too well that Virginia Woolf, Tolstoy, John Steinbeck, J K Rowling, Barbara Cartland, E L James, and I all use the same technical skills as each other in writing, and that nevertheless we do not produce works of equal – what? – worth, quality, whatever. Nor do we all enjoy equal success, nor is that success necessarily commensurate with any particular literary merit, nor, to come full circle, is that literary merit necessarily relative to our levels of technique. To my mind this subverts the idea that technique is an over-riding rubric for judging artistic worth.


Duchamp, ‘Fountain’, 1917

“But this argument,” my reader who values technique above all may object, “has been used since the early twentieth century, as an excuse for treating as high art presentation after presentation where skill and care have been abandoned in favour of facility of execution. A child could have painted some ‘modern art’. A chimpanzee could have. Experts have been fooled. A urinal, bought no doubt from a builder’s merchant, has been exhibited as a sculpture.”

I dare say that is all true. And I dare say that my friend never ceases to be irritated therefore by the whole idea of Conceptual Art. This was defined by American artist Sol LeWitt thus:

In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

It is an attitude that uses what is presented as art to question the nature of art itself. I dare say that during the period of its currency, a lot of people have jumped on a clever-clever bandwagon. Nevertheless I would say that as a broad movement in art it has certainly made us think. Specifically it has made us think hard about the authorial presence in art. In my own writing – although of course I do write conventional novels, short stories, and poetry – I have never ceased to question my own ‘presence’, and have experimented with work outside my ‘normal’ field. For several years in my regular poetry blog I dispensed with the idea of ‘text’ as it is commonly understood, and presented poems as jpg images. These have looked like text in Courier font, but they have all been images. Though I hardly ever stated this much, I hoped that people would question whether they were looking at words or a picture. Did anyone? I don’t know.

Also I wondered whether it served any purpose to caption each one “© Marie Marshall”. It often seemed an act of desperation rather than fact, an attempt to re-establish the authorial presence where I had only just abandoned it, or where it was at the very least debatable.

Recently the affordance of regular space on someone else’s blog prompted me to carry out a conceptual experiment. Here’s how it went:

The main concept was an exploration of what was an ‘original’ piece of art. I was approaching it in a way that only the technology of the internet could afford – I dare say this concept is not unique, but it was to me. I started with a piece of scrap A4 paper, some magic markers, and some highlighters. On the sheet of paper I made one rectangle of red and one rectangle of yellow. In the red rectangle I placed an upper-case letter ‘F’, and in the yellow a lower-case ‘f’.

The presence of the letters was itself a supplementary ‘concept’. The ‘Ff’ asked viewers – or readers if you prefer – how minimal a presentation recognisable lettering could be and still convey some kind of meaning; and if that meaning contained expression, was it in any way ‘poetic’. I did not and do not invite the answers yes, or no, or maybe, although I know at least one of my regular readers will give one without hesitation. I merely posed the question and let it hang there.

Anyhow, the next stage was to scan the piece of paper. Having made a scanned image, I shredded the paper. Then I used the standard image-handling programme on my computer to adjust the colour and sharpness of the image. Next I posted it to the blog where I was guesting. Lastly, I deleted the image from my own computer. The only place where the product of all this activity was viewable was on a web page which, when the site owner closed the guesting period, was out of my control.

I won’t labour this point, but having revealed the process, I was asking people viewing the final product whether they considered what they were viewing to be an ‘original’, or whether an ‘original’ existed at any ‘stage’ of the process.

It has always made me chuckle that although one raison d’être of conceptual art has been to challenge the commodification of art, some works have attracted big money from collectors, galleries etc. My ‘Ff’ had, like so much on the blogosphere, no commercial value whatsoever.

You may be wondering why I haven’t included in this article a glimpse of ‘Ff’, or at least a link to it. That’s because the owner of the blog recently removed all the guest items. I took a deliberate step of placing ‘Ff’ in peril when I put it somewhere over which I had no control. That was part of the concept. Its disappearance now adds another layer of questioning. It existed. Does it still exist in the memory* and experience of those viewers and readers who looked at it? Does it count as my work at all, now that it is ‘lost’? Does ‘lost’ work belong in the recognised corpus of any artist or writer, past or present?

It would of course be counter-productive to attempt to answer any of my own questions.


* Memory is not like a photograph album anyway, but rather it is like a million-million tiny bombs of sensation, each exploding in an instant – there and gone – each somehow related, sometimes arcanely, to the next. A sight, a sound, a feeling, a scent, they populate a space in your mind that sometimes seems infinite, more often like a room in a house…



The Elvish Knight. (Child Ballad 4)

Rackham detail


A knight came out of the fairy land
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And he’s asked a lady for her hand
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

First go and fetch me your father’s chest
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And then put on your Sabbath best
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Go down to the stable and meet me there
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And it’s I on a colt and you on a mare
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

It was she on the white and he on the bay
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Three hours before the break of day
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

It was over the moss and over the mire
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
It was over the bush and over the briar
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

It was he as the groom and she as the bride
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And they rode till the came to the cold river’s side
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Dismount, dismount my lady fair
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
For it’s six pretty maids I have drowned there
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Take off, take off your silken gown
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
For it’s much too fine to sink and drown
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

First draw your brand and crop those thistles
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
For I cannot ’bide their jags and bristles
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Then he’s turned around for to crop them all
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And she’s catch’d him around the waist so small
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Then she’s thrown him over the water’s brim
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Oh I’ll surely drown for I cannot swim
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Lie there, lie there in the water deep
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Now close your eyes and go to sleep
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Then she’s up on her horse and she’s rode away
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Three hours before the break of day
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Now a magic bird in her window high
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
It’s begun to prattle and begun to cry
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Oh do not prattle and do not scold
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And your cage shall be made of the finest gold
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Now her father on hearing the bird did say
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Oh why do you sing at the break of day
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

There came an old tomcat my life to take
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And I called to my mistress so she would wake
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o


As you know, I like composing (new) versions of Child Ballads. The poem above – song, rather – is a version of Child 4, often known by such titles as The Outlandish Knight and May Colvin and False Sir John. When I do this sort of thing, is it folklore or fakelore? You decide.

The illustration at the top of the page. is a detail from Arthur Rackham’s May Colvin.

Other stuff for you to see today: My one-off artistic statement, and some guest poems on the site of my friend Mari Sanchez Cayuso – desert poem 17, desert poem 18, and desert poem 19 – definitely not Child Ballads.


Parade throws and other lovely stuff

When they speak of ‘Mardi Gras’ in New Orleans they don’t just mean Shrove Tuesday, they mean a whole season when parades and all kinds of other high jinks can take place. It may surprise you to know that the parade season has already started there. Part and parcel of the parade procedure is the ‘throw’. Throws are gew-gaws and souvenirs that the marchers give away – literally throw into the crowd. This means that on Saturday all the throws containing my quick-fire poems about Doctor Who landing the TARDIS in New Orleans have… gone! Not one remains! Well, what does remain is the blog record of the assembly line – check it out here!

Ben Crystal

Ben Crystal

In other news, renowned Shakespearean actor Ben Crystal, who is the son of linguist David Crystal and the brains behind the project to present Wm Shakespeare’s plays in their original pronunciation, declared my ‘A sonnet to explain why Veronica Franco misses the first hint of spring‘ to be “Lovely stuff!” Let me explain something: Ben really understands iambic pentameter, and I’m honoured that he should have even read my little piece of not-so-serious sonnetry.

Anything else been happening this weekend? Well, I have been working on some extra material for the possible TV adaptation of ‘Axe’, and have picked up one of my shelved novel projects, The Deptford Bear, to see if I can get it moving again. So far it stands at a little over 11,000 words and I think it can work.

Fairy folk, writing advice, and no borders!

My publishers recently had a couple of little display stands at the Fairy Folk Market in Murray Street, Pretoria, SA. The hawk-eyed among you will spot my first novel, Lupa, featured on the shelves.

fairy folk 1

fairy folk 2

I must confess I keep forgetting it’s summer down in South Africa!


I recently came across this piece of writing advice from Ernest Hemingway. It’s good advice, and I find that unconsciously I have already been following it…

The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time. Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.


Something else I came across recently was this art ‘installation’ by Indian artist Shilpa Gupta. Basically she has created rolls of ‘incident tape’ on which the words ‘THERE IS NO BORDER HERE’ are repeated. The tape can be brought into use anywhere – anywhere the public can see it – wrapped around and along fences, suspending a miniature globe, in short stretches almost as a single slogan. But the main installation at art galleries is in the form of a paragraph of what can be fairly called concrete poetry, in the shape of a flag. Gupta is drawing our attention to the arbitrariness of lines on a map, to things that divide one human being from another.


The exhibition in which Shilpa Gupta’s work is displayed is currently in Scotland, and I would like to get along to see it. (I’m grateful to Paul at Bookseeker Agency for the photograph, taken at Glasgow, I believe.)

Download my free ‘From My Cold, Undead Hand’ wallpapers

FMCUH eyes

Make the most of your desktop with these cool, noir wallpapers, and help me celebrate the publication of my first teen-vampire novella. There is a lot of empty space so that your icons don’t appear as ‘clutter’. Choose glacier white or nightwalker black – just click on a thumbnail below and a full-size image will open…

The artwork is © Millie Ho; permission is not granted for use other than as a desktop wallpaper.

FMCUH white wallpaper     FMCUH black wallpaper

Throwaway art and poetry


If you have not already done so, please check out, or even follow, my New Orleans collaboration for Mardi Gras 2015. Thanks.