DEPTFORD QUATRAINS From a Painter’s Perspective

After the initial enthusiasm for this project I began to feel daunted. After all these elegies are long, wordy poems and the last thing I want to do is to illustrate them or make literary paintings.

How to start then? By reading the poems obviously but also giving equal importance to the three other elements; myself, Susan and and our walks in and around Deptford.

I find Martyn Crucefix’s translations interesting and inspirational and coupled with this quote from Matisse “I am unable to make any distinction between the feeling I get from life and the way I translate that feeling into painting” I began to feel I could make a start.

Size and proportion are something I think about a lot and I was unsure what size to make my canvases. Given that there are some very concrete, day-to-day images in the poems I had inspiration to use the dimensions of the Enitharmon edition (roughly eight inches by eleven and half inches). I started by dividing the canvas in half to represent the original poem on one side and the translation on the other.

I felt that using something as mundane as the dimensions of a real object as a starting point would mirror the concrete images in the poems. Constraining as this seemed it was also strangely liberating and ideas began to flow.

I was very pleased to read then in the introduction to the Enitharmon edition that the first two elegies had appeared to Rilke “as two halves of a folding screen”. This seemed like a good omen and I felt able to forget my misgivings and just get on with painting.


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