We met when I went to The Tyrone Guthrie Centre in 2003. It was my first residency and was I preparing my second collection Toil the Dark Harvest for publication. Susan and I developed a close relationship while there and performed a memorable 'call and response' reading where we found linking themes in our poems that echoed off one another. She has returned to Ireland a number of times to read at the Cúirt International Literature Festival in Galway and to give workshops at the Anam Cara Writing Retreat in Cork. We have always tried to find unusual places to read and they have included the top of a mountain in Connemara, the Shandon Bells in Cork and a washing pool in Limerick. We didn't get a chance to to that this time but a very special treat for me was to see the painting The Courtyard by Max Liebermann that is in the Frye.
Susan introduced me to the painting through her own poem of the same name which she sent to me some years ago and I keep it in my office under my keyboard to surprise and delight me on days when things are grey. To be introduced to the work that inspired her poem was wonderful because I could see how she transformed the painting into something new and faithfully created her own work of art.
Here is the poem from her most recent collection Cloud Pharmacy:
After the painting Courtyard, c. 1882
by Max Liebermann
She labors, but at what she cannot know
for sure. She is alone, but does she know
how she’s observed? The outer wall, the window
where girls of white and rose watch knowingly
(they think so) above a makeshift fence; they can’t
foresee the story of her winged back, know
nothing of the image-maker’s script, the color work –
her supporting bit as laundress, lover, know-
it-all in service to the day’s grey socks. Her face
remains defiantly obscured. What can she know
of art? She is arms – green bucket– angled foot –
headscarf – house dress – body of a woman. Knowledge
that she would most likely like to wash away – what good
will it do her? Blue motion of her life elevated to nowhere.
She’s judged simple, dirty, ugly – and maybe so.
But see this future person standing here, knowing
all she does of sorrow, bend to palm the frame
stung by something the world cannot express: the notion
of a second soul. She journeys in, traveling by window –
Worker, rich girl, artist in the street: go beyond the known.