Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Tuesday Poem - The Phenomenology of Stones by Thomas McCarthy

I've been rustling and rummaging since returning home; riffling through manilla envelopes, files, folders, shelves, boxes, plans chests and drawers that house preparatory sketches, writing fragments (a new literary genre, I learnt this week), outlines for exhibitions, ideas for installations, objects and projects (many of them realized, as many yet to begin, still others in process. . .); three-plus decades of consistent, pretty-much uninterrupted creative work. . . Going through all this material has been an interesting process, one that's triggered a wide range of feeling in me - in part because I think it will soon be a chapter in the past. I can't see myself continuing to work the way I have during the years preceding this one. This is not a sudden realization; change has been on its way for some time only now it's becoming emphatic, less equivocal. The world we all live in is not the same Now as it was Then and therefore invites a different engagement and response. I'll write more about this in a separate post;  today is Tuesday - and, therefore, Tuesday Poem day - but the reason I'm alluding to this now is because whilst sifting and sorting, I came across a sketchbook that contained the preparatory notes and drawings for an exhibition I put together in c. 2001, titled Altered Ground. In it I'd transcribed The Phenomenology of Stones by Thomas McCarthy. I first read this poem in the late 1990s when I was in my early thirties - a young wife and mother, artist and idealist. . . It moved me then and it moves me now (and I have always loved stones, seen life and felt the life-force in them). Stone tables - altars as bridge-builders and meeting places - have been a recurring theme in my work. The person who wrote the catalogue essay concluded his piece with McCarthy's poem. . . 


                     These summer days I carry images of stone,
                     Small pebbles from a photographer's shelf
                     Made smooth by a million years of sea and salt.
                     Sunlight shines roundly into their small room,
                     Twisting black grains into crystals and gems:
                     Lights call like young birds from their surfaces,
                     Sparrows of light flying from graves, from places
                     Where the dead had grown; the sorrow-gardens.

                     But the silence of stone quietens the mind
                     And calms the eye. Like their girl-collector -
                     In her deep solitude the stones are moved.
                         She is their dream-collector, pouring her kind-
                         ness into the sleeping form. They gather
                         Fables about themselves to entertain such love.

                    Thomas McCarthy
                          The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry - page 412

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. 

PS. Blogger's doing weird things today. I'm away to the Banks Peninsula for a couple of days - snow's been forecast so two days away could well turn into more. When is life not unpredictable/an adventure? 


  1. Intriguing; I enjoyed the dreamlike qualities of the poem.

  2. Stones hold the mystery of the world. This poem really expresses that. There is so much of things past held in a stone. Immortality lies within them.
    Banks Peninsula in the snow is amazing. I heva had that pleasure ...enjoy.

  3. Gosh, I absolutely love the sketchbooks. What particularly struck me about the poem was the juxtaposition between the final line of the first stanza and the final line of the last stanza (the last line of the poem). It seems to move from sorrow to love. Beautiful. Looking forward to hearing more about your shifting practice, Claire.

  4. There is something so quiet in this poem. The quiet diligence of stones, the quiet gathering of one girl, her hands, the stones. I really like the way this flows -- it speaks to a kind of timelessness. And the solitude is serene here. I like that very much indeed. I will hold onto this idea of "pouring her kindness into the sleeping form" -- and I like that line break, too.