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The home page view of The Poetry Project consists of thumbnail icons that
provide links to the videos, each displaying the name of the video artist
and the poet, and the titles of their works (see Figure 1).
The thumbnails are presented in a reverse order of publication, from
the final video (Seamus Heaney’s “Postscript” with Maud Cotter’s Neither
Here Nor There) to the first (Brendan Kennelly’s “Begin” and Katherine
Bougher Beug’s Begin). Clicking on a thumbnail starts the video, which
opens with a full bright green view with, at the bottom of the screen, the
logos of the project’s sponsors: the Kinsale Arts Festival, The Royal Hi-
bernian Academy, Poetry Ireland, Foras na Gaeilge, Culture Ireland, and
eu2013.ie (the culture programme for Ireland’s EU presidency). Two of
the videos are discussed more closely in this essay: Bernard O’Donoghue’s
“Westering Home” with Ailbhe Ní Bhríain’s Great Good Places III (pub-
lished in week ten of the project), and Peter Fallon’s “A Brighter Blue”,
with Padraig Fallon’s video with the same title (week fourteen). Both po-
ems and both videos engage explicitly with landscape, and in both works
the text of the poem as well as the accompanying video interrogate the
act of representation itself, through the use of vocabulary and visual im-
agery of frames, borders, windows and media technology. In the case of
the Heaney/Cotter video, the video is a shorter extract from an existing
Fig. 1: The Poetry Project home page.
installation. The audiovisual work paired with Fallon’s poem was produced
specifically to accompany the chosen poem.
As Patricia Coughlan has observed, Bernard O’Donoghue is a poet
whose work’s “critical neglect […] partly stems from his placing, as the
title of his 1999 collection puts it, ‘here nor there’: an early-1960s migrant
from North Cork, he is an Oxford academic specializing in medieval liter-
ature” (Coughlan 2009, 182). Despite his prolific poetic and critical pro-
duction, Coughlan also notes how O’Donoghue’s “recognition within the
received contemporary canon of Irish poetry is at best muted” (ibid., 182).
Michael Parker has similarly drawn attention to the scarcity of critical at-
tention dedicated to O’Donoghue’s work, and suggests that his settling in
England at an early age has led to an uncertainty as to his place within Irish
literary culture, not dissimilarly to the reception of Louis MacNeice earlier
in the 20
century (Parker 2009, 514). Perhaps for this very reason, how-
ever, O’Donoghue, whose work constantly returns to questions of home,
exile and displacement, was an appropriate choice for a project which en-
visioned the Irish diaspora as its main audience. “Westering Home” from
Here Nor There (1999) illustrates the above characterization of his verse.
The poem is an exploration of Irish landscape through the description of
a landscape not located in Ireland, with the descriptive details filling the
poem as it seeks to zoom in close enough to such minutiae to discover the
specific elements that would make a physical terrain an embodiment of
cultural or national character:
Though you’d be pressed to say exactly where
It first sets in, driving west through Wales
Things start to feel like Ireland. It can’t be
The chapels with their clear grey windows,
Or the buzzards menacing the scooped valleys.
In April, have the blurred blackthorn hedges
Something to do with it?
The rather ambiguous “things” starting to “feel like Ireland” describes
a gradual process rather than a sudden arrival. It is not the crossing of a
border (or, in this case, the sea) that prompts the recognition of a vista as
that of home, but rather this recognition takes place through association,
in the accumulating encounters with specific details. The poem concludes
with an acknowledgment of uncertainty of exact location and cultural
context: “…the whole business / Neither here nor there, and therefore
home.” “Home”, followed by a full stop, evokes an idea of a geographical
place as a centre and a marker of belonging, only to state the opposite. In
the title’s “Westering”, the verb’s present continuous suggests a searching
movement rather than arrival or conclusion. “Westering Home” narrows
down on the question of where “Ireland” and Irish landscape begin – and
therefore ends up affirming the condition or experience of seeking home
rather than finding a secure match between that experience and physical
location. The poem looks, sounds and feels like a traditional short lyric,
the speaker first encountering and then internalizing his surroundings, but
does not speak in a first-person voice; instead, it’s subject is the more col-
loquial, yet distancing and impersonal second person “you”; none of us
could pinpoint that very thing that makes a landscape “Irish”. No epiph-
any or final union between lyric voice and landscape follows as an answer
to the poem’s question.
Ailbhe Ní Bhríain’s Great Good Places III (2011) accompanies “West-
ering Home” and frequently produces, the project website informs us, vid-
eos with “composite and constructed imagery to create scenes in which the
dimensions of time and place are out–of–joint”. The works included in the
series Great Good Places I to IV are all constructed from scenes of computer
generated or manipulated deserted spaces, with embedded screen views or
windows breaking the illusion of realism. Sean O’Sullivan describes Great
Good Places as follows:
[…] the camera takes a fixed interior view of a dilapidated
cottage overlooking the ocean. The floors of this slack space are
textured by the light of a false sun. A rectangular portal stands
perfectly upright against the back wall, chopped into the scene
to show the statues of a faraway museum. Inside there, Ní
Bhriain variously animates a set of visual cues: a dead fox or a
taxidermied crow, and striped barrier tape hanging in the air.
Her rooms refer to one another recursively. (O’Sullivan 2012)
While the landscape of Great Good Places III is filled with what could
easily be recognised as signifiers of rural Irish landscape (the whitewashed
cottage, the green mountains sloping into the sea), it also undermines the
nostalgic aura that often marks these landscapes; rather than ancient ruins,
we see traces of contemporary neglect and disrepair (see Figure 2). Signs of
modernity, including windmills, electric lines and light poles are ill at ease
with notions of untainted rural authenticity, and the foreground of flat
grey concrete is dotted with rubbish, including broken plastic cups, paper,
pieces of wood, torn wrappings, and so forth.
On the right hand side of the cottage, a screen window raised on
boxes depicts an empty interior, with an image of an abandoned (or not
yet finished) empty room with a window – possibly the inside of the cot-
tage in the picture. This seems like an x-ray view through the wall, while
also resembling a window on a computer screen. A strip of striped con-
struction plastic ribbon slowly flows from outside this screen frame into
the picture and then disappears behind the interior wall, thus crossing be
border between the different framed images – from outdoor landscape to
indoor space, and then through the interior wall. The “great good places”
depicted here is a ruin, but too modern for nostalgic distance. Instead,
the plastic waste, the exposed electricity lines and the chipped paint evoke
Fig. 2: From Ailbhe Ní Bhíain: Great Good Places III.
a very mundane and dreary sense of absence in the present. As the view
changes, we see a field and a stone wall, with a fox carcass in the fore-
ground; the dead animals seems forgotten, its death insignificant rather
than tragic. The abandoned exterior and interior views of the video may
invite a construction of narrative of what was (before the cottage became
empty, before the items littering the spaces became mere rubbish) but offer
little faith in what might yet be. The slow, minimalistic soundtrack simi-
larly evokes a feeling of empty or vacated space.
The visual objects in the video – the cottage, the mountains, the
stone walls, and the green fields – and the verbal imagery in the poem are
in dialogue, yet it is only after reading the poem (the text only appears on
screen after the video ends), and its explicit question of where the “feel-
ing” or Ireland starts, that we are prompted to return to the video and
search it for similar signs of culturally specific location. It is thus possible
to understand the viewing experience of this poem video as an encoun-
ter with a series of overlapping or embedded frames, from the computer
screen to the window of the project website, to the thumbnail view of the
video, and finally to the frames within the video itself. The question of
O’Donoghue’s poem (“exactly where” does Ireland begin?), informs the
viewing-reading process: each framed view, whether the computer screen
or (architectural or digital) window, illustrates the attempt to define an
inside and outside. The deeper one progresses through these apertures,
the more evident their own role in the construction of the view becomes.
But when the videos of Great Good Places were exhibited in a gallery
setting in Dublin’s O’Connel Street, the contexts of both O’Donoghue’s
poem and The Poetry Project website were missing. Great Good Places III
was placed alongside Ní Bhríain’s other video works, with little if any
sense of an explicitly Irish context (see O’Sullivan, n. pag.). How we un-
derstand the landscape visible in the poem video is therefore to a great
extent defined by the framework provided by its material presentational
setting. While both the poem and the video, and the two in dialogue, are
interrogating the concept of “Ireland” or the role of material location in
the portrayal of landscapes, such a sense of indeterminacy of location is
bracketed as the poem video is presented as a part of a “celebration” or
Irish cultural production.
Peter Fallon, perhaps better known as an editor and publisher than as a
poet, is a writer whose work demonstrates, as Kelly Sullivan has observed,
an “agrarian sensibility” (Sullivan 2014, 152). Fallon’s translation of Vir-
gil’s Georgics, and several of his poems engage with the pastoral tradition,
and frequently draw on landscapes in County Meath in Ireland. Yet his po-
ems also manifest “the aesthetic necessity of remaining distanced from the
subjects about which he writes” (ibid.). For Justin Quinn, the collection
The Company of Horses (2007), in which “A Brighter Blue (Ballynahinch
Postscript)” was first published, is characterized by “a lack of interest in the
revelations and emotional shifts that might be going on in the lyric speak-
er” (Quinn 2013, 174). Any embeddedness in a familiar native terrain
is moderated by the awareness of poetry’s own position, and a constant
recalibration of the interrelationship between poetic voice in relation to
the material environment.
“A Brighter Blue” opens in an almost exaggeratedly nostalgic mode,
describing a rural vista of “home” and lulling the reader to the tempo of
the poem’s sonic pattern and slow iambic sway. The first stanzas also depict
a relatively conventional setting of an agrarian Irish landscape:
At home they’ve rowed the barley straw
they’ll aim to bale today;
so long now since
For darkening days
are here again,
more than mist,
not quite rain.
Like O’Donoghue, Fallon, too, directs his attention at the idea of “home”,
which, however, is now positioned quite firmly at the poem’s centre. In the
fourth stanza, we encounter a line that is also included in the video, and
puts an abrupt end to the succession of images in the preceding lines: “But
who lives in the real / world?” After this line, the poem’s register changes
to a poignantly self-aware mode, and a highlighting of the constructed
and virtual aspects of any landscape accessed through memory, language
or visual representation.
So quicken it anew.
Return, replace, repair,
Turn up the sun!
And put the leaves back
on the trees.
…Wash the sky
a brighter blue.
The penultimate stanza again contains many phrases also included in Cun-
ningham’s video: “Resurrect, resuscitate. / Refresh and renovate. Retrieve,
regain and re-install, / translate”. From a description of landscape, the fo-
cus turns to its constant revision through memory; a landscape can only
be accessed as a second-hand representation, through memory. The prefix
“re-“ overwhelms the latter half of the poem and undermines the intimate
connection between landscape and lyric voice. That the leaves have to be
put back in the trees and the sky painted with “a brighter blue” suggests
an anxiety with fading, and reminds the reader that memory is always
inseparable from forgetting. Richard Rankin Russel, in his review of The
Company of Horses, notes how the verbs dominating the rhyming quatrains
of “A Brighter Blue” “pile up”, and that the sonic patterns of the poem
recall “the alliterative and assonantal hopefulness of Philip Larkin’s late
environmental poetry” (Russel 2008, 155). But while Russel goes on to
suggest that the poem’s imperative verbs seek to “send us back into the
abundant energies of spring and summer”, he ends up reading the poem as
an act of what Svetlana Boym has termed “restorative nostalgia”. Verbs like
“refresh” and “re-install” are less suggestive of joyful possibility of return
than a manifested self-awareness of the re-constructive process of memory,
mediated by poetic expression itself. They critique any naïve belief in our
ability to repeat, to recall experience in its original fullness. For Boym, this
latter type of nostalgia is “reflective”, aware of its own incomplete returns
to the past (Boym 2001, 41-56).
The Roscommon, Ireland based Padraig Cunningham’s video A
Brighter Blue was specifically produced to respond to Fallon’s poem. It
opens with a split screen view of a natural/rural landscape – the upper part
of the screen lacks a frame other than that of the edge of the screen window
itself, whereas the lower part also depicts the frame of the window through
which the video is shot. Throughout the video, both views pan to the right.
In the below view, the domestic interior soon reveals a man sitting by the
window, quietly reading a newspaper. This initial sloe pan is then cut with
a close-up of a roadside electronic sign that fills the entire screen window,
initially zoomed too close for a clear view, before the split screen view
resumes again. Now, the bottom part of the screen shows photographs of
a natural landscapes and close-ups, browsed by who we assume to be the
man by the window in the preceding shot.
Cunningham’s video is almost like a videopoem in itself, as it incor-
porates written text within its visual representation. Eventually, the cam-
era’s pan reaches the road sign in the top screen view, and we can now read
the text “REAL WORLD” blinking on it (see Figure 3).
This is followed by the displayed text “BUT WHO LIVES IN THE”,
a first part of the sentence “BUT WHO LIVES IN THE REAL WORLD?”
Fig. 3: From Padraig Cunningham: A Brighter Blue.
The split screen view of the natural landscape versus photographs on table
continues, with the information board occasionally interrupting the view,
with fragments of text: “RE TRIEVE”, “RE GAIN”, “RE INSTALL”,
“TRANS LATE”, “RESTORE RESTORE”. The electronic board is a part
of the landscape viewed through the camera lens, with people and cars
occasionally walking past and behind it. Finally, both halves of the screen
display landscape photographs on a table, though the views are not iden-
tical. This view again alternates with a full close-up of the blinking light,
zoomed too close for the text to be readable. The poem’s concern with
fading and forgetting is reiterated by how the framed landscapes of the
video finally yield to the close-up of the electric screen. The vide may seem
somewhat excessively keen to offer us one split or framed view after anoth-
er, and to underline its point through the verbatim repetition of lines from
the poem. But while lacking the subtlety of some of the other video works
included in the project, it well exemplifies the visual aesthetic of multiplied
frames and perspectives that Friedberg describes in her work.
In both Fallon’s poem and in the video, the reconstructive character
of memory is communicated through the processes of remediation in ver-
bal and audiovisual art. The poem moves from “restorative” to “reflective”
memory, from a desire to access a past state of perfection to an aware-
ness of its own limited, conditioned and constructed nature. Similarly, the
videos commenting both poems underline the processes of restructuring,
framing and selection, exclusion and inclusion, on which any representa-
tion of landscape depends. In the case of Fallon’s poem, its title does spec-
ify an Irish context in its use of the place name “Ballynahinch”, yet the
poem is less focused on the essence of a specific physical location than its
formation, as it engages with memory through the language of visual art
and media technology. In short, the interrogative modes of the video and
the poem focus on the act of discursive framing that constitutes, rather
than reveals, a landscape. The specific question informing O’Donoghue’s
poem and Ní Bhíain’s video, of where (and if) a connection between cul-
tural specificity and national, geographical terrain can be found, is in the
latter poem video replaced by a temporal concern, of how landscape is an
unstable dimension, imagined in the virtual domain of memory.
But in “Brighter Blue”, too, the figurative as well as literal re-framing
of the poem video with the paratextual online elements of The Poetry Pro-
ject diminishes the self-aware bracketing of landscape as an embodiment of
memory and nostalgia. The multiple and overlapping frames which often
comment on each other make way to the neatly organized frames of the
thumbnails, and the stated emphasis on a “celebration” of Irish poetry and
art. In other words, the institutional framework is motivated by goals dif-
fering from the aesthetic ambitions in the verbal and visual works. While
it would be misleading to suggest that the project would seek to offer nos-
talgic or romanticized views of Ireland and its landscape, the emphasis on
the national and cultural context in itself invites the readers or viewers of
the work to receive them as “Irish”, even if questions of cultural specificity
might be of little interest to the participating writers and artists.
In conclusion, there is a double impulse at play in The Poetry Project; a lit-
erary/artistic/aesthetic problematization of the landscape motif as a marker
of cultural identity, and the making of its representations available to a
global audience via digital online media within the framework endorsed
and promoted by national, cultural institutions. Landscape as “an aesthetic
experience of the environment”, and a marker of a specific cultural con-
text, is thus at the same time questioned and legitimized by the project, as
each embedded frame, or each presentational setting, creates a new con-
text for reading and viewing. If, as Christopher Pinney has suggested, “the
journey [in a virtual as well as material environment] frames the foreign or
other scene for the traveler, who has seen it already constituted a picture or
image before” (Morse 1996, 210), a number of the works included in The
Poetry Project, including the landscapes portrayed in them, demonstrate
the ways in which Irish landscape is framed as other, yet recognizable, in
the age of global digital media. Understanding the works’ metaphorical as
well as literal frames and borders as parerga, structuring devices that bring
to being that which is framed, helps differentiate between the different,
co-existing representations of landscape within the works.
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Boym, Svetlana (2001): The Future of Nostalgia, New York: Basic Books.
Casey, Edward S. (2002): Representing Place: Landscape Painting &
Maps,Minneapolis (MN): The University of Minnesota Press.
Coughlan, Patricia (2009): Review of Selected Poems by Bernard O’Dono-
ghue, The Irish Review 40/41,182-185.
Davidson, Ian (2007): Ideas of Space in Contemporary Poetry, Basingstoke,
Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.
Davis, Alex (2000): “Deferred Action: Irish Neo-Avant-Garde Poetry”, An-
gelaki: Journal of Theoretical Humanities 5.1, 81-93.
Derrida, Jacques (1978): The Truth in Painting, translated by Geoff Ben-
nington and Ian McLeod, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Duffy, Patrick J. (1997): “Writing Ireland: Literature and Art in the Rep-
resentation of Irish Place”, in Brian Graham (ed.): In Search of Ireland: A
Cultural Geography of Ireland. London: Routledge.
Friedberg, Anne (2009): The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft,
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Genette, Gerard (1987): Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Leropoulos, Fil (N.d.): “Poetry-Film & The Film Poem: Some Clarifications”,
Lörzing, Han (2001): The Nature of Landscape: A Personal Quest, Rotterdam:
Mac Giolla Léith (1998): “Six artists in search of a landscape”, Éire-Ireland
Morse, Margaret (1996): “Nature Morte: Landscape and Narrative in Vir-
tual Environments”, in Mary Anne Moser and Douglas MacLeod (eds.):
Immersed in Technology: Art and Virtual Environments. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 195-232.
O’Sullivan, Sean (2012): “A review of Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s ‘Great Good Plac-
es I–IV’”, http://seanosullivan.ie/places/#.
Parker, Michael (2009): Review of Selected Poems by Bernard O’Donoghue,
Irish Studies Review 17.4, 513–518.
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Pound Tradition, Evanston, ILL: Northwestern University Press.
Pirinen, Mikko (2013): “Parergon, Paratext, and Title in the Context of
Visual Art”, in Nancy Pedri and Laurence Petit (eds.): Picturing the Lan-
guage of Images. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholar’s Publishing,
Poems on the Underground. (N.d.): http://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/poet-
Quinn, Justin (2013): ‘‘The Obscenities and Audiences of Peter Fallon”,
in Richard Rankin Russel (ed.): Peter Fallon: Poet, Publisher, Editor and
Translator. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 161-177.
Relph, Edward (1976): Place and Placelessness, London: Pion.
Rush, Michael (2003): Video Art, London: Thames & Hudson.
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Fallon, New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua 12.2, 154-156.
Savedoff, Barbara E. (2001): “More on Frames”, The Journal of Aesthetics and
Art Criticism 59.3, 324-325.
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