"A POEM is always aware, for me, of what’s happening around it.”
Australian poet John Kinsella has most recently tested his poems’ awareness in a new collaboration with photographer and fellow West Cork blow-in John D’Alton for their book, A Shared Wonder of Light.
A collection of poems and photographs from West Cork and Kerry, the book pays homage to the loughs, bays and passes of the region, and a shared passion for the landscape and its history imbues the work of both men. But the collaboration came about with an encounter at the school gates where D’Alton and Kinsella’s sons are classmates. Originally, they agreed to work on an exhibition but the project evolved into a book.
“When I went looking for previous examples of this kind of collaboration they are hard to find,” D’Alton says. “But the question we’ve been asked most is how come people don’t put poetry and photographs together more often; poems show you things in a way that’s similar to how a good photograph does.”
They developed an informal pattern: the spark of inspiration for each page could start with either Kinsella or D’Alton: sometimes, D’Alton would send an image to Kinsella for him to respond to and sometimes Kinsella would send a poem, leading D’Alton on a kind of treasure hunt around the rugged coastline in search of a corresponding image.
'A Shared Wonder of Light' - John D'Alton and John Kinsella
Schull launch Newman's West, Schull on
June 3rd at 7pm. pic.twitter.com/XRJdLslcC6— Sheila Whyte (@SheilaWhyteBook) May 27, 2016
“It’s easier for him to respond to the pictures than it is for me to respond to the poems,” D’Alton says. “Last winter was a nightmare because it was so wet and I do most of my photography in the winter because the light’s better; more cloud, more drama.”
But Kinsella, who spends part of his year in Schull but teaches at Churchill College, Cambridge, and spends time in Australia, was challenged too, albeit in a different way. He considers himself a “poet of place and of the environment,” and as D’Alton’s journey was in traipsing across the landscape in search of inspiration, Kinsella’s was an inner one.
“In essence, as a writer, I need to feel, smell, see, hear and experience a place before I can write it,” he says. “I am not interested in ‘illustrating,’ any more than John is as a photographer, but in interacting with place and bringing often quite disparate and seemingly disconnected ideas and concepts to what is being seen and experienced.”
D’Alton, a former press photographer who packed it in and bought Newman’s bar in Schull, was born and raised in Portarlington. Kinsella settled in Schull with his wife, novelist Tracy Ryan, and their son in 2013.
The ‘shared wonder of light’ of the title comes from a line in one of Kinsella’s poems that he wrote for D’Alton’s daughter Gráinne when she was ill, entitled Oileán Chléire Revenation Poem for Gráinne. It is a poem that bridges distance with words to great effect.
Although the collaboration took place at times from opposite ends of the earth, and D’Alton prefers to go on his photographic outings alone, the pair did end up working in unison together once.
“I found it fascinating, and it will form the basis, for me, of future interaction with him,” says D’Alton. “Both being on the ‘scene’ at the same time brings an external element into the poem, if not the image.”
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