Tuesday 13 November 2018


Mike Maguire, Manager of Limerick City Library (the Granary), will open proceedings.

Here are a few thoughts on Surrealism, and the use of surreal images in painting and poetry, which I hope will whet your appetite for the occasion! 

Baguettes instead of fair-weather clouds in the sky, a man in a bowler hat with a green apple hiding his face, a floating boulder, men in pinstriped suits falling like a shower of rain, a panoramic scene ensconced in the contours of a tree, as if one could see through the trunk: these are some of the images from the paintings of Magritte that I evoke in my poem in honour of the Belgian Surrealist painter. (The Speaking Trees, page 4).
    These images challenge our ordinary perceptions and sense of reality, indeed they have a lot in common with the state of dreaming, but at the same time they invite us to look at surprising aspects of the visible world. You see Magritte’s baguettes floating in the sky and have to admit that they bear an uncanny resemblance to those long clouds associated with fine weather, (the kind that appear at the beginning of an episode of the Simpsons!)
    Surrealism challenges our sense of reality by seemingly ridiculous associations: the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table is the example which the founder of official Surrealism, André Breton, offered in his Surrealist Manifesto. Surrealism challenges our sense of reality by seemingly ridiculous associations, which are like the secret logic of dreams. It claims to access the unconscious mind where feelings and memories are often hidden away from ordinary life.
     Poets as well as painters have often come up with images which are surreal. T.S. Eliot begins ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ with an image which is strikingly so:
    Let us go then, you and I,
    when the evening is spread out against the sky
    like a patient etherised upon a table.
    This image is certainly surreal and also challenging to the whole concept of poetry that was prevalent at the time. You have the first two lines leading you to expect a typically lyrical poem, but your expectation is exploded by the third line. This was not the kind of thing expected of poetry! It has nothing to do with a beautiful sunset, the calm of evening, instead it evokes illness, something not right, something out of kilter. In this case it evokes Prufrock’s unease with his own life, and maybe as well it expresses Eliot’s sense of being out of synch with the kind of poetry that was prevalent at the time.

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