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By: Jill Saudek

Poems from Paintings

Pages: 232 Ratings: 4.7
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These poems were inspired by works of art, chosen across place and time for their intrinsic power and the challenge they present to provoke thoughts and feelings in the viewer.

Ideally, readers should find a reproduction of the painting – easily available on the internet – to contemplate, before reading the poem. The hope is that readers might become aware of previously unnoticed aspects of the work and be interested in seeing how their own responses match or indeed conflict with those of the author.

Thus, the collection aims to offer an invitation to contribute to an ongoing dialogue between the artist, the poet and the reader. All art forms open a window into other lives and ways of seeing; this interplay between the genres provides an opportunity to reflect upon much that lies beyond one’s own immediate experience.


Jill Saudek was born in Oxford in 1946 and grew up in Marlow. She studied English literature at Newnham College, Cambridge University and became an English and drama teacher in a variety of schools. She retired in 2009 and now lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren in South East London. She has enjoyed reading her own stories and verses to all her small relatives but writing serious poetry is a new venture, undertaken during the covid lockdown.



Customer Reviews
4.7
6 reviews
6 reviews
  • Laura Hawryluck

    This is a lovely book for anyone who loves to wander through art museums, pause and reflect on the paintings before them. Ms Saudek offers a starting g point for reflections and discussion of some of the greatest works of art. In a time when travel is still challenging, this book allows the reader to feel like they have indeed travelled to and are present in hallowed spaces of art museums around the world especially if read as it’s intended by pulling up the subject paintings. If you love art museums as much as I do, this book is a gem that will only deepen the experiences and emotions evoked by masterworks.

  • Judith Forshaw

    Jill Saudek’s book is fascinating and unusual. The poet has written her poems after close study of 118 works of art ranging from the earliest times to the 20th century. If nothing else, the book offers the non-expert an eclectic treasure chest of amazing art but it also encourages the reader to engage actively in the viewing and reading process. Saudek invites the reader to focus closely on each work and to consider how our responses either converge or diverge from her own. I was struck by how strong my feelings were when reading the poems and studying the paintings, sometime concurring with Saudek’s view and other times not. This is a wonderful book to dip in and out of to enjoy Saudek’s intelligence and dexterity with words and the art which inspired her.

  • Louise Wilford [review first appeared on the blog 'Lou's Writing News, Cues and Review']

    This is an excellent and entertaining collection of poems by a talented writer. The problem with poems written in response to existing paintings, of course, is that the expense of including prints of the actual paintings in the book itself is prohibitive, so readers are encouraged to look them up online. This is well worth doing, as the poems – though many stand up very well on their own – are definitely enhanced by the experience of seeing what inspired them. The result of viewing both picture and poem is that the reader’s understanding of both works is heightened.
    Saudek’s writing makes use of elegant and vivid images. In her poem arising from Edvard Munch’s painting ‘Moonlight’ (1893), for example, she writes:

    ‘Now the posts seem stems of silver
    Their cut heads like the frail flowers which quiver
    Fearful, beneath the window’s guillotine’

    Such magnificent comparisons more than makeup for the occasional slightly creaky rhyme or the odd dip into something approaching cliché here and there. In such a large collection, such moments are forgivable and the reader is well-compensated by Saudek’s gift for imagery.
    I was also struck by her sense of rhythm, enriched by subtle use of alliteration and assonance:

    ‘The salt dead sea, strewn with carcasses
    The lowering hills of heat-struck rock, bare, barren,
    Air becoming fire, terrible silences…’
    [Holman Hunt, ‘The Scapegoat’, 1855]

    On the whole, she uses rhyme as a subtle scaffold for the verse, often making use of half-rhymes, embedding rhyming words in the middle of lines or eschewing any rigidly formal rhyming pattern in favour of a fluid system where the rhymes appear where they will. Saudek has an admirably light touch with rhyme, on the whole, something which I greatly admire. I think rhymes reach their greatest power when they are elusive, restrained and understated. Saudek is able to confidently use more obvious rhyme-schemes, however [as in Cezanne: Mont St Victoire, C 1905], and to use robust rhymes in a playful way [as in Van Gogh: The Bedroom at Arles, C 1889] – it might be that the paintings themselves, their styles and their subjects, lend themselves to different levels of control.
    In such a generous collection, there is bound to be some variation in quality from poem to poem, but I can say that I have read about two-thirds of the book now, often dipping in randomly, and so far I have seen no serious dilution anywhere. There are some stand-out poems, of course, and their identity will vary from reader to reader.
    I understand that, before embarking on this work, Saudek wrote a series of poems based on other poems (which are also going to be published by Austin Macauley, I believe), and I expect these to be equally as delicious and enlightening as this current collection.
    Varied, imaginative, often unusual, often poignant, often amusing, psychologically insightful and beautifully written, these poems are a satisfying cornucopia of work to dip into, and their accompanying paintings add an extra layer of delight for the reader.

  • Robert Bell

    Look long and hard at the painting and see all there is to see (you think). Then read the poem and be amazed by how much more is revealed by Miss Saudek's poetic imagination. Or read the poem first (they can stand alone as finished works of art) then look at the painting and be delighted at how apt the poem was and how you already had the picture in your mind's eye, never having seen it before. Miss Saudek's brilliant juxtaposition of painting and art favours both and yields experiences both scintillating and profound.

  • Laila Simpson

    Jill Saudek's sensitivity to the visual images and colour palettes of a variety of painters has led to a remarkable poetry anthology. She has responded imaginatively to paintings from C1700 onwards, crafting characters (for instance in Manet's A Bar at the Folies Bergeres), scenes (Constable's Flatford Mill) and moods (Millais's Autumn Leaves). The reader is drawn into an understanding of the paintings and an appreciation of Saudek's poems. Her literary allusions invariably contribute to a further grasp of nuances of meaning while her sure grasp of rhythm and rhyme create musicality and a delicate structure.

  • Mark Pinchin

    I thought all of the poems were wonderful in explaining deep human emotions, with the carefree exuberance of youth set so often wistfully against the passing of time.

    I do not know many of the paintings which for me was an advantage as I was able to compare the painting itself with the image I had created in my mind's eye. Like all really good poetry it stands alone and the vibrant, colourful images I formed in my head were enough. I looked up a few paintings purely from curiosity and it was a thrill to enjoy the contrast!

    I found this brilliantly written, highly creative and imaginative collection as exciting a poetic experience as any I have ever enjoyed and I find myself continually returning to the book to unearth fresh treasures.

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