How Poetry Can Serve Death: Memento Mori & Vanitas Studio

How Poetry Can Serve Death: Memento Mori & Vanitas Studio

Like love and sex, death is one of the great mysteries; meditate on the many approaches to the topic and develop exciting new work of your own in this field.

‘Already the worms are rising, pulling towards you, towards the thing you once considered you: the body’ – Kei Miller, ‘In Nearby Bushes III’

‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.’ – Ecclesiastes 1:2, The King James Bible

The notion of “vanity” has long been associated with human pride and avarice; in visual art, this “vanity” was often represented with a woman preoccupied with her beauty (Patriarchy, much?). In 1892, prominent American illustrator C. Allan Gilbert published his famous drawing All Is Vanity, employing a visual pun to simultaneously show a woman, sat at her vanity dressing table, and a human skull. Over this course, with the Memento Mori as our guide, we will explore the topic of death.

This Studio will guide us to explore death in life and investigate how different societies handle death. We will use this space to remember death, in any way we like. Every Esoteric school speaks of the value of these practices and the repression of death in Eurocentric-Western culture is often criticised. Like love and sex, death is one of the great mysteries.

Meditations on death will be welcome here and, alongside literary approaches to the topic, we will also explore the visual aspect of death, discussing how you might bring these techniques into your work. Sascha Akhtar, the course tutor, created her tribute to this genre with a visual poetry tarot deck, Only Dying Sparkles (ZimZalla 2018) and in this course will guide you to exciting new cross-genre work of your own.

Over the course we will take inspiration from temporal art – some visual, some poetry – to create new work of our own, for that is the very essence of Vanitas! All is temporary and constantly heading towards oblivion/the void/Hell/Heaven/reincarnation. You choose! See, it’s fun already! Anything skull-related gets extra credit.

Studios are 4 week intensive courses. Reading material will be distributed before the course begins. There are no live chats so they are suitable for both UK & International students. 

For more information visit our Online Courses page.

(Image credit: C. Allan Gilbert)

About Sascha Akhtar View Profile

Sascha Akhtar’s poetry has been widely anthologised and translated. She has performed internationally at festivals such as the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam, Avantgarde Festival Hamburg and Southbank Centre’s MELTDOWN festival London curated by Yoko Ono. She has also been part of poetry protests – Against Rape (Peony Moon, 2014) and Solidarity Park Poetry – Poems for the Turkish resistance (Ed. 2013). Her most recent collection is #LoveLikeBlood (Knives, Forks, and Spoons, 2020) and her previous collection was 199 Japanese Names for Japanese Trees (Shearsman, 2016). In 2017 and 2018, her fiction appeared in Storgy, The Learned Pig, Tears In The Fence, BlazeVox and Anti-Heroin Chic. She is currently working on a book of translations of the work pioneering feminist Pakistani fiction writer Hijab Imtiaz for Oxford University Press India, alongside a book of poems as a Tarot pack, entitled Only Dying Sparkles (ZimZalla), with original art by John Alexander Arnold.

‘The courses are stimulating and great for extending the range of one’s reading and writing. They’re refreshing and the process of giving and receiving feedback is useful.’

– Summer 2019 survey response

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