Poet Marion Clarke talks abour her involvement with CAP’s “The Way It Is” Project

How did you get involved with the project?

Back in March I received an email from CAP Coordinator Shelley Tracey with a letter from Chief Executive, Conor Shields, inviting me to participate on The Way It Is project. I was both intrigued and excited at the prospect of collaborating with an artist, so I immediately wanted to be included.

What were you being asked to do?

Project participants were invited to produce a collaborative, artistic response to their experiences of the pandemic. During a Zoom induction meeting, each of the (?) poets were allocated an artist. I was delighted to find myself partnered with an old friend—the Belfast-based, visual artist Anne Quail. We had been primary school pals growing up on the shore of Carlingford Lough, so I knew it would be an interesting partnership.

How did you go about working together?

Although we had only bumped into each other a handful of times (usually at a festival or music gig) in the intervening decades, I was aware of Anne’s work as an artist from her interview in The Monthly some years ago. What was immediately apparent from her paintings was that nature was a recurring subject, and colour and light featured a lot.

After the online induction session, we arranged a socially-distanced meeting in my garden in Warrenpoint. This turned out very productive. Anne showed me some more images of her work and we discussed a triptych she’d planned to create especially for the project; this would be a triptych of the vista of Carlingford Lough and the surrounding mountains. She explained that the natural surroundings of our childhood hometown had remained a source of inspiration and, more recently, of comfort to both herself and her sister Caroline who was extremely ill at the time. I explained that I too had often been drawn again and again to the local landscape for both my own artwork and nature poetry. Also, during lockdown my husband, daughter and I found our daily walks along the shore together very special—in fact they kept us from going stir-crazy—so we knew our collaboration would feature this part of the world, in both words and paint.

I then showed Anne some examples of my haibun, haiku, tanka and senryu so that she became aware of the scope of these poetry forms. Haiku usually focus on aspects of the natural world. Tanka poems and haibun can be nature-inspired, although these tend to have more authorial input than haiku. Senryu are more about human nature and our experiences in the world, for example, how our lives became almost virtual we all moved online during lockdown. So I thought these forms would be ideal for The Way It Is project.

During one of our online communications, I asked Anne to provide a list of words that reflected her paintings, with a view to using these a potential starting point for one or more of my poems. One in particular, eutierria, meaning ‘oneness with the earth and its life forces’ and it was so appropriate I used it as the title for a haibun.

You were working on the impact of the pandemic as the key theme?

The first haibun I wrote, Best Laid Plans, was based on the real events of the Monday before St Patrick’s Day. It reflects the uncertainty, doubt and impending cancellation of life as we knew it. There was a real sense of something bad coming up and for me, Anne’s first, rather dark painting reflects this feeling. Most of my poems are from personal experience, the paintings or a reflection of life during the pandemic.

Are you happy with the end result?

I haven’t heard yet which poems will be used (because I write short form poetry, I ended up submitting quite a few pieces) Even towards the final stages of submission, I was still writing in response to news reports of the devastating effects of the pandemic around the world, particularly in India. My sister-in-law is from Delhi and I had met some of her relatives when I travelled to India to a family wedding. When I heard that her cousin was in hospital with Covid, it brought it all much closer to home and one news report resulted in my haibun, Attention Seeking.

I found Anne’s paintings luminous, colourful and very uplifting and I was delighted when she responded favourably to each poem I sent her for comment. I really wanted to make sure that I produced at least one that reflected the range of emotions stirred up by the lough for both of us. The beauty of Japanese-style short form poetry is that the reader effectively completes the poem according to their life experience. Anne said she was particularly fond of my three tanka. This is a five-line poetry form from Japan that allows more of the author to be present than haiku, because of the extra two lines. Since Anne and I have both experienced the grief of losing of a sibling, Tanka #1 begins with a dedication to our departed sisters, Caroline, Sheelín and Niamh. I find Anne’s art very spiritual and she was moved when I shared this poem with her. I hope that the combination of the luminescent centre painting of Anne’s triptych and words of this particular tanka will resonate with anyone who has lost a loved one during the pandemic.

So, all in all, I’m really happy with this collaboration. I’m looking forward to seeing which poems Conor will select out of those I have sent him. I have faith that he will find at least three, as I know he is a big fan of short form poetry!

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