‘Writing with’ Lila Matsumoto

On Friday 7th December, poet Lila Matsumoto visited the University of Westminster to talk to our Creative Writing BA students, as part of the Westminster Writes Speaker Series.  Lila’s talk, ‘Objects aren’t Torpid’, focused on ekphrasis (writing in response to an artwork or object).  For Lila, ‘ekphrastic response can be a democratic process’ – an image or object’s openness to interpretation means that any poet or writer’s response will be just one of many possible ways to understand and engage with that stimulus.  For this reason, Lila often presents her poems with images of the original stimulus, to encourage imaginative and interpretive engagement from the reader/viewer.

A feminist engagement with poetic practice means that Lila performs ekphrasis as an act of ‘writing with’, rather than writing through, on, about, or around.  In ‘writing with’ the objects, Lila’s poetry is intended to enter into a relationship with those objects, instead of eclipsing them, subordinating them, or seeking to be an authority over them.

In other ways, too, Lila’s poetry is a process of ‘writing with’.  Her poetic practice of ‘collecting and constellating words and phrases’ from elsewhere/everyday life and bringing them into unusual relationships within her poems means that there’s a two-fold opening for ‘writing with’.  The first is in writing with the language she has found and the makers of that language.  The second is in the ways that her poems become open to interpretation from the reader.  Lila’s placing of words and phrases into relationships that are not simply semantic invites readers to become active collaborators in the process of making meaning from those relationships, and from the relationships between the poems and the objects.  

These practices, which allow and enable the poem to be always open to the engagement of others, invite participation in the poem’s work – to enter into the poetic space and become actively engaged, alive.  These relationships make each poem a utopian space: a space we can enter as equal individuals and be valued as co-contributors.  

There’s something utopian, too, about the unsettled way the relationships between the poems and the objects trigger openings that can never quite be closed and resolved.  By bringing two works into relationship in this way each is held in open tension with its non-identical counterpart, in ways that give rise to a proliferation of possibilities dancing around an unknown and ever-shifting centre.



At the start of the session, Lila invited us to write with Philip Maltman’s painting Little Big One – a painting Lila herself writes with in her new book, Urn & Drum (Shearsman, 2018).

Little Big One by Philip Maltman
Little Big One by Philip Maltman


feather           blue







r[ai]n  in / certainty


            bla[c]k            space

                        render.ed       mean/ing




3 thoughts on “‘Writing with’ Lila Matsumoto

  1. Reblogged this on Alice Hiller and commented:
    Reading different poets, and thinking about how we each find our own ways of ‘saying the difficult thing’, or simply creating an open-ness, and possibility of voice, I was very grateful to find this account of Lila Matsumoto’s feminist-creative practice of ‘writing with’ the objects of her poems – rather than assuming dominion over them. Very often, when we stop trying to ‘control’ our voices, and our subject matters, we become more able to enter the energetic heart of what we are trying to make – as Lila Matsumoto does in her collection ‘Urn & Drum’ , published by Shearsman in Bristol in 2018.

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