Thomas Kinsella and the Visual Arts

Tubridy, Derval. 2024. Thomas Kinsella and the Visual Arts. In: Adrienne Leavey, ed. Where Love and Imagination Colour the Dark: Essays on Thomas Kinsella. Winston-Salem, NC: Wake Forest University Press. [Book Section] (Forthcoming)

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Abstract or Description

When working with the poet Thomas Kinsella on the limited edition artist’s book The Táin, Irish artist Louis le Brocquy spoke about his need to find a way of devising a series of images to complement Kinsella’s translation of the ancient Gaelic saga that would not ‘disturb the imaginative reality’ of the epic poem. Eschewing representation, le Brocquy’s semi-abstract ink drawings encapsulated the vigour and dynamism of those raw texts, translated with a blunt force by the Dublin poet. Kinsella’s relationship with art is fundamental to his aim of ‘eliciting order from significant experience’. He has collaborated with artists on the illustration of his poems and translations, and has chosen archival images to accompany his Peppercanister series of poems (1972 to present) in ways that deepen and expand the breadth of understanding and inquiry into the ‘significant experience’ of contemporary Ireland. The chapter will examine the importance of art for the development of Kinsella’s poetic career. It will analyse early works such as the 1954 translation The Sons of Usneach, published in two editions, one with Celtic illustrations by Mia Cranwell, the other with line drawings by Bridget Swinton, and Kinsella’s first collection, Poems (1956) with illustrations by Elizabeth Rivers. Central to any discussion of Kinsella and art is his long-standing collaboration with Franco-Irish artist Louis le Brocquy and their fifteen-year project translating and illustrating the Táin Bó Cuailnge. The chapter will detail the development of the project and the relation between text and image in this livre d’artiste, exploring also the cultural relevance of this important work. Kinsella’s close working relationship with Dolmen Press founder Liam Miller alerted him to the aesthetic implications of the hand press and of typesetting. This understanding informed the aesthetic of Kinsella’s own Peppercanister Press, founded in 1972 and developed in collaboration with Miller’s Dolmen Press until the early 1980s when Peppercanister volumes benefited from the expertise of Ireland’s Gallery Press and Dedalus Press. The chapter will examine the source and aesthetic relevance of the diverse range of imagery used in the books published by the Peppercanister Press, arguing that these images are integral and necessary for a full reading of Kinsella’s mature work. Among the works considered are the illustrations for A Technical Supplement (1976) taken from Denis Diderot’s (1751-1766) Encyclopédie and the cover of The Messenger (1978) drawn from the popular Irish religious pamphlet of the same name. The chapter will conclude that it is only with a deeper understanding of the ways in which Kinsella has deployed art within his poetry that we can complete the ‘dynamic’ ‘act of reading’ about which Kinsella has spoken, and fully understand his response to ‘significant experience’ of Modern Ireland.

Item Type:

Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature



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Date Deposited:

05 Feb 2024 09:41

Last Modified:

05 Feb 2024 09:41


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