Responding To Poetry

Episode 67 · April 13th, 2019 · 30 mins 30 secs

About this Episode

In this episode, Rebecca speaks with us again from the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo, Ireland where she is on a 3-week painting residency. Today she’s going to talk a little about the residency in general and specifically about a project she is working on there, a series of paintings based on a poem by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

A little background about Ballinglen /an artist residency est. in 1992 to bring established
artists and younger artists of recognized ability from Ireland and internationally to
North Mayo. The benefit to the community was recognized from the beginning—an
area of economic downturn, population dwindling. The latest development is the
construction of the Ballingeln Museum of Contemporary Art to house the
collection of art donated by fellows and to host curated exhibits.

Fellowships—6 weeks (can be divided) and include housing and a studio.
4-5 artists at a time/quite competitive esp. as profile getting larger w/museum

Since 2013 also hosting week-long workshops led mostly by current or former

Typical day for me—in the studio most of the day with time out for a walk. About a
mile and a half to the beach; other good places to walk also
Early to bed/no wifi or other distractions in the cottages.

Enjoy socializing with other artists when that happens; but everyone works very
hard and are focused on their work

My project:
Invited into a 2/person exhibit with Jerry to be based on the theme of response to
poetry/poetry of our choice, no mother parameters.

Not a big poetry reader myself but have been drawn to the work of Seamus Heaney
B. Northern Ireland 1939/died Dublin 2013

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1995 was awarded to Seamus Heaney "for works of
lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."

His work contains many references to his rural upbringing as well as to modern day
Ireland—sometimes very down to earth, other times spiritual references, sometimes
shifting within the same poem.

Dualities of material/transcendant, life/death. Topics of memory, journeys,

I chose his long poem in four parts: Squarings—reference to marbles/ “anglings,
aimings, feints and squints you were allowed before you’d shoot” overall shifting
perspectives throughout the poem on many levels

The 4 sections are Lightenings (which he explains as the “phenomenal instant when the
spirit flares with pure exhilaration before death.”) Settings (referring both to places and
the act of anchoring things, memory) Crossings (journeys/transitions) and Squarings.

Written after the death of his parents and themes of memory and the journey of life are
throughout. Seems like a search for meaning in life.

The whole poem has a particular structure such as 12 lines in each poem within it, 12
sections in each of the 4 parts, which he said came to him intuitively.

Not much analysis written about the poem—I looked—but that was good actually
because I’ve had to really study it. It keeps revealing more every time I read it.
(Reassuring to me that I can still read deeply in this age of quick reads and overload of

So the reading and re-reading is part of the whole process, every day.
How to respond to the poem which is very complex, full of imagery yet also ,much that
is hard to pin down.

Decided to do 12 paintings but beyond that not to confine myself to numerical structure
of the poem. It is actually very freely constructed with poems in one part referring to
other parts.

Certain moods and images struck me from the work and these I keep in my mind in a
general way but trusting that some essence of the poem will come through without
forcing. Not illustrations but free interpretations.

I’ve finished 7 so far—
In terms of form and content: An open-ended feeling—what techniques will capture the

Emphasis on line—related to the act of writing poetry? My own use of line
Flat, graphic quality, some remind me of prints—they are done on paper which I will
eventually mount but these aspects of form also relate to poetry in book form
Some symbolic drawing into the surface related to specific images from the poems
Strong shapes and contrasts—relate to the dualities of his themes
The abstract artist Sol Lewitt did a series of drawings to accompany the poem in 2003.

Heaney said of these: “ They have the right balance of complete confident pounce, and
momentary delicate shimmer.” Very different than my own—his are based entirely on
the grid and contain no imagery; but I aspire to the same goal--

Very interesting project /eager to extend to more poems before the show and who
knows after that. Working with poetry seems to open new doors for how I approach the