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Poetry and Art

John Walker was prompted to make Passing Bells when he re-read the World War I poetry of David Jones (who wrote the classic, In Parenthesis) and Wilfred Owen, both of whom served in France.

Art and poetry have a long association. Simonides called painting silent poetry and poetry painting with the gift of speech. Five hundred years later Horace wrote: 'Ut pictura poesis': as is painting, so is poetry. John Dryden, in the late 1600s, held that painting and poetry were both based on the idea of perfection and that their subjects generally had to be great and noble.

Many artists have been inspired by poetry. There are skills in great art, said Joshua Reynolds in 1770, 'that can only be acquired by him that enlarges the sphere of his understanding by a variety of knowledge, and warms his imagination with the best productions of ancient and modern poetry.' J.M.W. Turner told his students that 'We cannot make good painters without some aid from poesy.'

The poems of Owen and Jones strive to make sense of the horror of trench warfare in France. Walker's plates in Passing Bells suggest by their form and their content that what has to be described is beyond explanation or even description, that the effort of trying to tell the truth is almost too much: an echo of Theodor Adorno's argument that there could be, and should be, no lyric poetry after Auschwitz.

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