Response to the poem – Star Roots by Tom Sheehan

Another instance of ekphrasis via a second commission to produce art work that will sit alongside a poem. As before, and in common with all the other contributors and the editors, this is unpaid. I have no problem with this and although it will, if chosen, remain private until publication of the anthology, I am able to bend it to my own purposes for the Part 5 assignment by integrating the image with text.

The poem is called Star Roots and it’s by Tom Sheehan who also wrote Single Shot. I find his work extraordinary – abstract enough to let a reader’s mind fly but with enough grounding to provide a frame – and this piece is full of world after world after world.

Deep in the august field, I loll with mice and deer and the jawboned lightning playing wild war games all across a sky’s blue air. One jagged tear of it ripped through the stoic barn from stem to stern, lighting haymow, empty stalls, untold years of leather collectibles on the hoofed-out floor.
No rain yet, though it’s aromatic on the wind raking the trees and exhorting whistles sharp and clear as commands out of electric wires. Why I sit here, plunked on my knees, with the barn beating up the balance of the marble world, is cosmic glory like white phosphorous exploding stars in a new-coming galaxy, is but the primal matter of selection, my opting for an evening of different light. Isn’t what’s left of a day, even the worst you can measure, as good as tender, coin in the hand, something for safe-keeping in our boot or belt? Isn’t it a pot of gold, unspent, glowing with promise, with one awesome purchase left? Isn’t its frank position, despite connivance or loss metered across daylight hours, like a presence known?
The clock spins, I move with it even as the grass grows under me, the ants mine the earth below in their silent economies, and moving meridians pass my eye in the mind’s planetarium. Time is merely circular and I catch myself and it coming together by degrees and by handful, by handful, old faces left for my finding at oddest hours.
Later on when I am housed, the roof a miniature sky and lightning sleeping like ducks on the vast pond of blue air, I’ll stand by the mow door asking the wind to come in, field to shake free my insomnias, hedge rows and stone walls to give up the last stand the mind makes, unless an old comrade’s face takes over.
Nothing more than this can prepare me for morning, the cycle of time, the circle of places, and the deep roots stars have in midnight fields, in the caverns of high barns.

Note: I haven't seen this in its proper formatting so I can't tell what the structure is, where the line breaks are, or what shape it is on the page. I imagine it isn't in paragraph form.



I forgot to take photos of the earliest stages so a description will have to suffice. This is an A3 sketchbook which I’d prepped with white primer before pulling and pushing pigment across it using a silicone pebble. The left side is a print of the one on the right but with additional brush marks, and the rip across the middle is, to my mind, a fortuitous reflection of the poem’s content (see line 2).

There is the outline of a man, the focus of the poem, on the left, made by cutting out the shape and painting over it in situ to leave those marks. The paint then transferred from the cut out to the right hand side.

These are single page images.

In taking these photos, I began to see the sketch book as a further dimension in this poem – the man in his multitude of worlds himself within another world that boundaries all of his. I’m thinking of maybe offering it as a single image – the fold in the centre the folds in time the story seems to suggest and the not-quite-mirror-image rips the notion of tomorrow being another day.

This is where we are tonight. Tomorrow is, as per the poem, another day so it may all change and I could just take it onto a single larger sheet.

In fact only minutes after writing that sentence, I realised two things; first, that it looks too much like the book cover which seems now to have been accepted by the publisher; and second, that I don’t like the rip. I’m also feeling that the sketchbook idea is a bit cheap and this deserves better. So tomorrow I’ll take the idea onto an A1 sheet folded to make A2 sized spaces for a painting and its print because what I do like about the sketchbook work is the print. Then I’ll use the text to inform the shapes more than I have here, and change the palette to be more consistent with the context set by the poem. Re-reading is a valuable tool, and also very satisfying when the material is so beautifully written.

7th September. I’ve used a folded piece of A1 cartridge, opened back up and sealed with acrylic primer mixed with gloss varnish because I wanted the medium to flow across it. I’m using my print/paint method.

Again I forgot to take photos along the way so the various layers underlying the near-final application are only visible through reduction by scraping and the use of a damp, rough rag. The figure is a piece of paper drawn after a photograph and represents the key character in the poem.

In the final pieces, which are now only remotely parallels of each other, I’ve added text relating to time:

  • Speed of light 299 792 458 m / s
  • Speed of lightning (670,000,000 mph) an actual lightning strike travels at a comparatively gentle 270,000 mph.
  • Speed of sound 343 m / s
  • Speed of thought average individual neuron sends signals at around 180 kilometers per hour
  • Speed of dark (matter) 54 meters per second, or 177 feet 
  • Speed of electrons electron is traveling at about 2,200 kilometers per second. 
  • Speed of fire up to 6 miles-per-hour in forests
  • Speed of solar system rotating around centre of milky way the solar system travels at an average speed of 515,000 mph (828,000 km/h). 
  • Speed of earth’s rotation roughly 1,000 miles per hour
  • Speed of moon leaving earth 3.78cm (1.48in) per year
  • Speed of a snail Garden snail: 0.048 km/h

Elements of the poem; such as circles, a forest, the evening sky, and lightning are contained within the imagery.

These crops might be more suitable to the publication but the editor has the ultimate say. Or I do as regards this iteration – if it survives the night and I still like it tomorrow, it can go!

It didn’t even survive the hour. The centre seemed too dark and flat for its purpose so I scraped on some T white.

8th September and I was less happy with the pink in the one on the right. Not so the recipients who seem to be very happy with it. Luckily, they don’t need the original and so I have adjusted it using burnt sienna. It’s still a little Disney for my liking but I could only change that by making another. Which I might do.

The editor asked me today for the title of my piece and as I’d been going by the title of the poem, I didn’t have one. Then I remembered putting all those numbers into it so I remade the video with those as captions and retitled my painting(s) The Speed of Things.

20th November. Although I revised the painting for my Studio Practice submission, the originals were still under wraps until today when the book was published.

The Speed of Things (2021). Accompanying Star Roots by Tom Sheehan. In A Christmas Canzonette. Eds Marie Fitzpatrick, Oonah Joslin, and Bill West. The Linnet’s Wings. Pp TBC.

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