Hannah Frank: Poetry
Hannah Frank had a love for poetry as much for art. While studying at the University of Glasgow, where she graduated in Arts in 1930, she had a number of poems as well as a series of drawings published in the University magazine, the GUM under the pseudonym Al Aaraaf. She had taken this name from the title of a long poem by Edgar Allan Poe, about a star, which had been given its name by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. This mysterious star suddenly appeared in the heavens, and after growing brighter and brighter for a few days, suddenly disappeared, never to be seen again.
To read ‘Al Aaraaf’ by Edgar Allan Poe, click here.
One of Hannah Frank’s earliest poems, and one which she remembered all her life and was always happy to recite, was one dealing with one of her favourite subjects for her art: Fairies. It was published in the Glasgow University magazine, the GUM, in February 1927. Her 1925 drawing ‘Fairies in a wood’ seems to relate to this poem.
I stayed me there in tall trees’ shade
In Faery. And wild strange music played,
Piercing the air with sweetest strain,
So that I trembled. Dimly lit, a train
Moved from the forest’s depths.
I saw them by the weird moon’s gleam
On horses pass. As the riders of a dream
They passed – noiseless hoofs and harness swaying.
Fair ladies singing songs, and strange words saying,
As olden stories tell.
In Faery I stood in tall trees’ shade.
Dim were the windings of the glade.
They were gone. I heard music still,
Faintlier, wafted faintlier, till
It died in the forest’s depths’
by Al Aaraaf (GUM, Feb 1927).
Hannah Frank had several other early poems published in the GUM, all dealing with the same melancholy themes which were to recur in her drawings – death, the ‘cold moon’, unearthly shadows.
“Where has tarried, sister fair?
Thine eye doth gleam with boding light,
Haste thee, tell, my sister fair,
Cold is the Night.
“I have been where mortals dwell,
And whispered in a mortal’s ear.
Softly on his burning brow
Dropt I a tear.
“And I revealed a vision bright:
I led him to a wonder vale
Lit by the pallid moon, I ween
His face grew pale.
“Deep in the enchanted vale
Trees did writhe sweet od’rous shade
Over a starry haunted pool
Where dim forms strayed.
“There were soft-voiced symphonies
And dreamful long-forgotten songs
Of magic worlds, immortal loves,
And Faery throngs.”
“My sister, wherefore didst thou this?
Thou knewest he will surely die.
For thou hast cast a fatal spell.
Long will he sigh.”
“His gaze it grew both bright and wild
As he drunk deep the charmed strain.
Ah, then he uttered lowly moon,
All fraught with pain.
“He started up: he shrieked aloud –
I left him moaning there behind.”
“Alas, and wherefore didst thou this,
by Al Aaraaf (GUM 1927)
Slow They Glide…
Slow they glide with silent tread
Through halls of darkly clinging dread,
Avengers of the unhallowed dead.
Up there the cold weird moon is pale
As she hears the trees tell an awful tale,
The winds moan,
And the trees groan,
And whispering start and shuddering wail
For they know strange things that are happening
In the tall, grim house with the creaking stair.
Unearthly vengeance and endless care.
by Al Aaraaf (GUM, February 1927)
Out of the Night A Shadow Passed
Out of the night a shadow passed,
Out of a nameless land;
O hear! ’twas the hour of sorcery –
There was a witching hand.
Out of the night came whisperings – <
I heard a story told,
And weird spells cast by a wandering elf.
That charmed with fingers cold.
I felt the touch of a witching hand,
I moaned “Alas, alas!
My brow is moist: Ah, what art thou
That out of the night doth pass?”
Out of the night a shadow passed –
The hand was cold, cold;
The tale was wild and drear: I would
That tale had ne’er been told.
by Al Aaraaf (GUM, December 1928)
Hannah Frank found sources of inspiration from many other poems, including the poetry of the bible. Below are links to poems by Walter de la Mare, Henry Peachman, Arthur O’Shaughnessy, and Walt Whitman, which provided inspiration for her drawings ‘Mocking Fairy’ (1931), ‘There Sits Repentance’ (1925), ‘On Whom the Pale Moon Gleams’ (1929) and ‘Come Lovely and Soothing Death’ (1949). From 1928 she took manuscript classes at the Glasgow School of Art, the influence of which can be seen in the quality of the lettering forming part of her later drawings. Links to the poems are below.
Hannah Frank Poetry Competition
As a result of Hannah Frank’s close affiliation with poetry, and because of her love of poetry, a poetry competition was announced on the first anniversary of Hannah Frank’s death, 18th December 2009. The competition was judged by David Kinloch, who had been asked by the St Mungos Mirrorball organisation to write a poem in honour of Hannah’s 100th birthday in 2008. David’s poem inspired by Hannah Frank’s drawings ‘The Mocking Fairy’ is reproduced below. Presentations were made to the winners at a ceremony at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, on 23rd August 2010, the day which would have been Hannah Frank’s 102nd birthday.
The Mocking Fairy
This is the house that Hannah built,
one window lit, one window dark,
dark as the forest made of pen and ink
and the fairy mimbling, mambling in the garden.
A mocking, whispering aphid, this fairy
is vaguely anorexic, a line of arms and legs
that grows from trees scored up in black
whose sap is virgin paper, a wing-like translucence
tough as rope. One star falls beneath
the constellations, lower even than the moon,
falling on the grass of fallen stars
past the creeper that was human.
The house that Hannah built is odd:
symmetry suggests two windows,
three perhaps, with one behind the tree;
the unlit one peeks out, maimed but dark
against the mimbling, mambling in the garden.
Mrs Gill is there within the house;
can she hear the fairy from the lit
or unlit room? Would she cry out
in the small hours or at dawn?
Words are curling in the margins
at the paper’s edge and the fairy
feels them mimble mamle through her toes.
Mrs Gill is lit and unlit, star and tree,
rope of ink and moon and wing;
she flits between her virgin rooms
always on the bring of speech;
but never, never, from her cold cottage
answered Mrs Gill the fairy
mimbling, mambling in the garden
by David Kinloch, 2008
Category A (9 and under)
- Winning poem: “Buzzing Midgie“. Adam Hood, Linnvale Primary School,
Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire. The poem is based on the drawing The Mocking Fairy)
- Runner-up: “Sunset Mysteries“. Eva Dodds, Milngavie Primary School,
Glasgow. The poem is based on the drawing O That Was A Flight Through the Air)
- Commended: “Midnight Moon“. Teresa Bockmuehl, Cuddington, Bucks.
The poem is based on the drawing Moon Ballet
Category B (10-12)
- Winning poem: “Fat? Thin? Tall? Small?” Andrew Vettraino, Netherlee
Primary School, Glasgow. The poem is based on the drawing How Sultan After Sultan.
- Runner-up: “Singing Sisters“. Kezia Liddle, St Margaret’s C of E
Junior School, Newcastle-under-Lyme. The poem is based on the drawing Garden.
- Commended: “Many a Jealous Conference”. Stephen Ramsay, Dumbarton
Academy, West Dunbartonshire. The poem is based on the drawing Many a Jealous Conference.
Category C (13-15)
- Winning poem: “Xanthippe“. Harry Hudson, Oxford, Oxon. The poem is
based on the drawing Untitled 1932 – [HF088m on the web gallery].
- Runner-up: “Listen“. Zoe Barnes, Grantham, Lincs. The poem is based
on the drawing O Melancholy.
- Commended: “Quickening“. Emma Groome, Pontesbury, Shropshire. The
poem is based on the drawing Out of the Night A Shadow Passed.
Category D (16-18)
- Winning poem: “Theanthropy“. Shelby Derbyshire, Jarrow, Tyne and
Weir. The poem is based on the drawing Untitled 1931 [HF081m on the web gallery]
- Runner-up: “Egypt’s Agonies“. Rhona McKellar, Isle of Harris. The
poem is based on the drawing Then to the Rolling Heaven
- Commended: “When life gives you lemons“. Adam Burton, Eston, North
Yorkshire. The poem is based on the drawing Untitled 1927 [HF025m on the web gallery].
Category E (19+)
- Winning poem: “The Ballad of Two Women”. by Vanessa Austin Locke,
Brighton, Sussex. The poem is based on the drawing Dream.
- Runner-Up: “Undialled Dreams” by Gabriel Griffen, Orta San Giulio,
Lake Orta, north Italy. The poem is based on the drawing Out of the Night a Shadow Passed
- Commended: Tracey S. Rosenberg, Kinkardine, Fife
- Winning poem: “The Ballad of Two Women”. by Vanessa Austin Locke,
Visit Fiona Frank’s blog where you can see photos of the launch of the poetry competition, and an interview with Mrs Wood, teacher at Pollokshields Primary School, Glasgow, talking about an innovative way of working with children to produce imaginative poetry inspired by Hannah Frank’s drawings.
You can keep up to date with the latest Hannah Frank Art news by going to the ‘news’ section of this website, or else go directly to it via: http://fionaathannahfrank.blogspot.com
Art and Poetry, Poetry and Art – Schools Activity Pack
The activity pack ‘Art and Poetry, Poetry and Art ‘ is available by clicking here and is suitable for use with Upper Primary levels, although it can easily be adapted by schools for the early years of Secondary Education if required.
It has been prepared as part of the Cultural Connections Exhibition which ran at the Maclaurin Gallery in Ayr in summer 2014, featuring work by Hannah Frank.
The purpose of the activity is to encourage pupils to look closely at art and by doing this to respond on an individual level. Students are asked to use their own words and pictures to express a response. The pack also informs pupils about this artist and considers the use of Calligraphy in art.
The approach is cross curricular and the concept behind the activity could be used with any set of carefully chosen images or poetry allowing the teacher maximum flexibility. Whilst it is hoped that you will visit the exhibition, the activity can be undertaken in your own classroom.
Copyright on all images © the estate of Hannah Frank. Permission has been given by the family of Hannah Frank for reproduction for educational purposes. The example poetry is out of copyright.
We would appreciate feedback from schools, this is very much a pilot scheme and we welcome your views.
Please send your responses to the teacher pack to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The pack was written by Angela Short and Dianne Gardner with financial support from Hannah Frank Art