Art and poems meet in a series of illustrated prints

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BLUE HILL – The Connections, formed decades ago, have come full circle this year thanks to a collaboration between Brooksville poet and printer Beatrix Gates and Blue Hill printmaker Tim Seabrook. Seven of Gates’ poems found new form in a series of Seabrook and tinted prints by painter Leslie Cummins.

Engraver Tim Seabrook, poet Beatrix Gates and painter Leslie Cummins video discuss their collaboration in Close Apart. The film kicked off the Word Literary Arts Festival earlier this fall in Blue Hill last month. MAT SHAW PHOTOS

In “Close Apart,” Blue Hill documentary filmmaker Matt Shaw explored the artists’ collaboration for two years. The commissioned film opened at the 2021 Word Literary Arts Festival last month in Blue Hill.

As printers, Gates and Seabrook go back a long way.

“I met Tim when I brought my printing press to Penobscot,” Gates said. “If you are a letter press printer and meet another, you are bound for life. “

It was in the 1970s, a time when women just weren’t running letter presses, she recalls. But Gates had started Granite Press to publish poetry, especially poems that might not find their way to the biggest publishers.

Their collaboration is a testament to what Gates said is crucial for poets – to make the kind of connections that fuel their creative energy and also expand their audiences. And she knew it was an unusual project and considered it a gift, she said.

The series ran for two years and included seven poems, one from each of Gates’ poetry books spanning the early 1970s through 2020.

Gates said Seabrook’s approach showed respect for the original composition of the poems, which Seabrook adhered to in the prints. And knowing the couple for 45 years, “I could trust them,” she said in “Close Apart,” the movie. “There would be no sentimentality in the pictures, no excess.”

Seabrook worked in the Fab Lab at the University of Maine at Orono to create the copper plates for each engraving. And he sent each one to Gates for review.

“The poems were filled with images – textured and layered,” Seabrook said in “Close Apart.” “There is conflict. “

The same goes for Seabrook’s prints: its layers and textures combine with Cummins ‘colors and Gates’ words to create tension and harmony, often at the same time.

Brooksville poet Beatrix Gates has decades behind her as a poet, editor, creative non-fiction writer, librettist and teacher. She’s still going strong. AMERICAN ELLSWORTH PHOTO BY ANNE BERLEANT

While Seabrook and Cummins have worked together for decades – the couple previously owned and operated Five Star Orchard in Brooklin – Seabrook had never collaborated with a writer before or mixed words and images into his prints.

He started with seven pieces of white paper on the wall. “We had read one of the poems, I was starting to put in a few lines. I keep rolling into these things, Seabrook explained in “Close Apart.” “We don’t get done right away. They are made to fit in with integrity and value, just like the poem.

When it came time for Cummins to add the watercolor tints, she and Gates discussed each print, deciding not to color at all for “The Verge.”

“Every color had to speak,” Cummins said in the film, adding in a subsequent email, “The colors and the way they descend were in the service of [Seabrook’s] original drawing. ”So, when she first looked at intense colors, she came up with Seabrook’s idea of“ calm colors that might ignite ”in the poem“ Mother Tongue, ”which begin :

fire, hanging: proudly.

you dress in torn air

and bring violence from the ground.

your ash sister weaves

loose holes in the sky

In “Your grief, my grief”, the only color is the yellow of a half arch in a lower corner. “Leslie chose the color of consciousness, golden yellow,” Gates said. “It makes him pop. “

Gates looked at the plaques three times as Seabrook created them, but said she trusted him as an artist. “I feel that Tim has created a space in which the poem can exist, and the poem speaks in space with the engraving.”

“The three of us really worked together and enjoyed pretty much every minute,” Cummins said.

The prints are on display at the Backlight Grafika Gallery at 207 Union St., Blue Hill, and can also be viewed online at BacklightGrafika.com, as is Matt Shaw’s film “Close Apart”. But Cummins was quick to push for a live viewing of the print series.

“Seeing an original print is a reality, with added clarity, tonal scale, texture and intention,” Cummins said. “In a reproduction, you cannot grasp the ingenious methods of [the] printer attaching real strings to the copper plate to make the balloon lines in the poem / print, ‘The Balloonist.’ Or the depth of the etching bite on some of the prints, bringing drama to the black ink. A drama never seen in a reproduction.

“Tim and I make these prints expressly to restore the beauty of the handmade,” she added. The opening hours of the gallery are Tuesday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment. Visitors are asked to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks.

For Gates, this type of collaboration was new creative territory, although he worked with Seabrook to write his first publication, “Mother Tongue,” published by Gates’ hopalong press, his first.

A teacher, translator, librettist, and creative non-fiction writer, Gates released “Mother Tongue” in 1973, the year she graduated from college. She had been encouraged early on by her middle school English teacher and her high school secretary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jean Valentine, who won a National Book Award for poetry and has remained a longtime friend.

In those early years, Gates scoured standard poetry anthologies and rarely found female poets inside. So she went to Cambridge bookstores and learned who wrote poetry and published now. “I educated myself,” she said. “I didn’t even know I was doing it.”

In his work, “the images occur upstream, and I learn to write towards them. And I don’t mind not knowing what it is, ”she said. “Jeans [Valentine] taught me to be patient and to live with the mystery. The poem is there, you will find it. You can take risks, but don’t cut it. “

It’s clear that at 72, Gates’ passion hasn’t slowed down. She recently completed a writing workshop for the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, then traveled to Cambridge to study her work in progress.

“People have to have ways to speak the truth and poetry is part of that,” she said. And his advice to aspiring poets, or artists in general, is, “You have to have a presence, and you do that by participating in the community. “

Anne Berléant
Journalist Anne Berleant covers news and reporting in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking the local trails, reading, or watching professional tennis. Email him at [email protected]
Anne Berléant
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