Stone Moon: Seven portraits of seven poems

Stone Moon: Seven Portraits of Seven Poems is a collaborative exhibition by the distinguished British poet, Fiona Sampson and Edinburgh-based artist, Alison Grant.

Initially intended for the Rodd in Herefordshire, along came Covid and the 2020 showing had to be postponed. Now six of the seven artworks have found their way onto the walls of the Scottish Poetry Library, just off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Each piece was inspired by a separate poem from Sampson’s eighth poetry collection ‘Come Down’ (Corsair, 2020). By scanning the relevant QR code, the viewer can simultaneously listen to the poet reading each work.

Fiona Sampson MBE FRSL is a big name in the poetry world and a distinguished academic to boot. So it was with a degree of awed trepidation that I initially familiarised myself with her work. Great art is invariably demanding: you’ve got to meet it halfway. And this is exactly what the artist, Alison Grant, has tried to do here. Each work is not so much the illustration of a poem as a personal response to the multifaceted, elusive medium that is poetry. In Grant’s own words: ‘I have tried to look at what is a poem, tried to make a portrait of a poem’.

This was no mean feat given Sampson’s extraordinary ability to interweave the material and spiritual in her work. Indeed, two of Grant’s chosen poems, ‘Noumenon’ and ‘Phenomenon’ explicitly reference the Kantian opposition of objective reality and subjective experience. Though rooted in place – a tributary valley of the Wye on the Welsh border where the poet lives – the poems are as fluid and fleeting as consciousness itself.

Hearing them read aloud only emphasises this. As the critic John Kinsella writes: ‘I am amazed at Fiona Sampson’s ability to be metaphysical and visceral at once – to be savagely tender even, at times. Her image-making is entirely original, as is her diction; and she can elevate the ordinary and settle the elevated.’

Fortunately, Grant is a talented and sensitive printmaker, who was clearly aware of the challenges she faced. What’s more, as a former landscape architect and biologist, she is attuned to the role of nature in the poems. Her use of the ancient Japanese Suminagashi technique (in three of the works) is particularly effective. Wind, river water, snow, and even the poet’s breath were used to disturb floating ink, thus creating a sense of timeless movement which complements rather than detracts from the poetry. In their organic abstraction, these prints are quietly intricate, but never reductive.

The two more figurative pieces ’Line, Manticore’ and ‘Surfacing’ are more problematic. Whatever the artist’s avowed intention, they have an illustrative quality, which some may deem superfluous. After all, good poetry ought to be able to stand alone. Yet both works are skilfully executed and may even serve to render the poetry more accessible. ‘Surfacing’ brilliantly captures the perspective of the creature moving from darkness into light. While Grant’s textured manticore is multidimensional and visceral, like the poet’s.

Find out more about Stoen Moon HERE.