Poet Bog Polanco’s idea for this bite-sized poetry performance is really good: inspired by paintings from Scotland’s major collections he performs a series of poems he’s written in response to them. Sadly, however, the show fails because of some basic and avoidable errors.
The ideas he presents are often interesting but he has not researched the paintings properly.
Polanco’s passion for the paintings and interest in their history is evidently genuine but the key issues are lack of preparation, research and attention to detail. His outfit, a purple kaftan and felt slippers, is probably intended to be amusingly eccentric but it’s actually just distracting. He has not learnt his poems but reads them from a notebook, and races through them so there is no time to catch the meaning. He provides helpful binders on each chair so that we have an image for each verse to refer to, but the printouts are in black and white and grainy. Lines such as ‘silver and pink’ or his descriptions of a colourful portrait by Van Gogh are totally lost as a result.
A more overriding issue is the quality of Polanco’s work. The fact that he has not learnt the poems suggests that they haven’t been written that long ago and they are certainly presented in an unpolished state. The ideas he presents are often interesting but he has not researched the paintings properly. When talking about Rubens’ Feast of Herod for example, a biblical scene where the head of John the Baptist is presented to a horrified King Herod, he referred to it as ‘Herod eating some man’s head’. Such an obvious misunderstanding is hard to forgive because the actual story is full of bloodthirsty intrigue and betrayal which would have made an excellent poem. As it was, Polanco’s idea of creating nonsense words based on Van Gogh’s name and rhyming ‘Van go de be’ with ‘before I eat his noseology’ is confusing and bizarre.
Elsewhere the lack of art historical research is less noticeable. One better poem is inspired by Princes Street 1825 by Alexander Nasmyth. Here he is inspired by the changing face of Edinburgh, which in the Nineteenth Century underwent rapid industrial and architectural development. He identifies with ‘the Porteous mob, holding the bloody heads of Hogs’ and the poem explores the de-humanising effect of gentrification quite effectively.
In general, however, Polanco is let down by clunky verse that doesn’t do justice to his ideas or the paintings that he takes as his muses. He uses dated words such as ‘yonder’ and trite phrases such as ‘bravo Paris, bravo’.
Polanco has some big ideas and lots of heart but he needs to combine these gifts with craft and insight in order to serve the Old Masters he admires.