6th - 22nd October 2017

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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: A Highland Romance at Manchester Art Gallery

A paintng of the sea near Scotland by Henry Moorecourtesy Manchester Art Gallery

  • A paintng of the sea near Scotland by Henry Moore

Tucked neatly in the depths of Manchester’s prestigious art gallery; A Highland Romance: Victorian views of Scottishness is a newly curated collection of Victorian art celebrating the Scottish wilds. Cool, cosy and the perfect setting for Shetland-based poet Jen Hadfield’s enchanting words, directly inspired by the paintings themselves, that we were all so very lucky to experience.

Hadfield is an accomplished poet and artist whose skill at exploring the materiality of language will come as no surprise to her fans. Much smiling and nodding of heads in the audience as she presented her new work, specially commissioned by Manchester Literature Festival . It allowed a breath of modernity in amid some very Victorian and (certainly in the case of the Highland cows and red deer) often stereotypical images of the Highlands.

In Hadfield’s expansive mind’s eye an old-fashioned perspective of Arran is encroached upon by submarines and sanitary towels, a simple game of skipping stones is intruded upon by a fighter jet and a Victorian fishing scene becomes a thoroughly modern picnic. Yet tonight’s inspiration isn’t restricted merely to the odd oil painting. Modernist sculpture and 18th century textiles also have a part to play in this rich artistic heritage.

Although the audience were, quite predictably, too reluctant to ask the questions they would like, the opportunity to witness the art in situ and experience it so obliquely and through such a vivid imagination was one not to be missed. With the unpretentious artwork reflected in the poet’s simple figure, this understated scene, thrown into sharp relief against the hullabaloo of a fashion show downstairs, explored the thought processes that go into and inspirations behind a piece of poetry; a process, it seems, that is far from simple.

Nevertheless, it is safe to say that the poetry lovers of Manchester left feeling enchanted and convinced by the seeming effortlessness of it all, enhanced by the reflective mood and show of respect for the natural beauty of this great region. We should feel awed and humbled by nature in all its glory and it is remarkable individuals like Jen Hadfield who will, in the end, drag us away from our iPhone screens and help us to realise this.

About the writer: Lucy Rock rattles on about all things bookish at Literary Relish and For Books' Sake and proudly runs the Manchester Book Club. An office monkey during the day, she is determined to shake off the chains and buy a farm up in the hills one day. A hippie and librarian at heart.