When Walter Jule assigned a routine creative project to one of his University of Alberta printmaking classes in 1994, he could never have known that it would spark a decades-long friendship with one of his students, poet and novelist Wendy McGrath.
“He’d asked people to bring in objects,” McGrath remembers. “Something that they would find inspiring for their prints. So I brought in a stack of books. I had a collection of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s poems, and I ended up doing some prints based on Terror and Erebus … I brought in a whole stack of books that had really interesting ideas that I thought I could work into prints.”
Now, this unexpected partnership has given birth to A Revision of Forward—part poetry collection, part graphic exhibit at SNAP Gallery, the culmination of a 12-year collaboration between poet and printmaker. Friday’s launch party and poetry reading at SNAP will bring together the images and the words, allowing viewers to experience the interplay between them. (The book will then be available from Audreys Books.)
“Walter brought me some very initial ideas printed on gampi paper, a Japanese paper that’s quite translucent but very tough,” she says. “And he had these very ephemeral black-and-white images on the paper and he wanted to do a collaborative project … And so I lived with those initial prints for a while—had them up on my dining room wall. And what grew out of that initial period were some poetic fragments that became the genesis of this long poem.”
“A Revision of Forward” is the last and longest poem of McGrath’s collection. It has evolved over the years along with Jule’s prints. Its stanzas experiment with the visual aspect of text, spreading out across largely blank pages with their own quiet artfulness. They are best described as broken mirror poems—flipping halfway through and sending you backward along the same lines, revising the original meaning with slight variations: “look the other way for a truth / not a thin-skinned lie / O love / O love / you are a thin-skinned lie / a truth told to look the other way”.
Fragments of Jule’s prints accompany the long poem, but they don’t crowd out McGrath’s text. The gallery exhibit will focus on the images, just as the book concentrates on the words. It was important for both artists to let their work grow spontaneously, rather than having her poems become captions to his prints or his images becoming mere illustrations of her words.
“This project is different or unique in that it’s not a case of, ‘OK, Walter, I’m going to write a poem and then you can do a print,’ or ‘Walter, you do a print and then I’ll write a poem,'” McGrath says. “I think that rather than [being] descriptive, it’s more organic. I think that these kinds of successful artistic, image-and-text collaborations work when the poem doesn’t try to be a print and the print does not try to be the poem. But rather they become each other … The soul of the poem is captured in the print and the soul of the print is captured in the poem.”
Reception on Fri, Sep 25 (7 pm)
Exhibition runs until Sat, Nov 7
A Revision of Forward