Alan Murphy on Marc Chagall

Catalogue for Marc Chagall exhibition

Spotlight on Chagall

The back story of today’s #PoetryinJune choice of Alan Murphy is that yesterday I heard from a friend about a major exhibition of Marc Chagall’s (1887-1985) work that has just moved to Tate Liverpool. The timing couldn’t be better as I usually go over to the UK on a summer visit. I realised with a vague sense of shock that it was as long ago as 1998 that I went to London to see ‘Chagall, Love and the Stage’ at the Royal Academy. It was a stunning experience so I am keen on fitting in a trip to Liverpool with our summer travel plans.

This then leads me to Alan Murphy, whom we first saw at one of the Mountains to Sea Festival events at the County Hall a couple of years ago. I bought his collection The Mona Lisa’s on our Fridge (2009) which the author kindly signed for my daughter. Apart from the title poem, the book also contains two other art related poems; one on Picasso and one on Chagall. I will just quote the first and last verses to give you an idea.

According to Marc Chagallbook cover of The Mona Lisa's on our Fridge

How does it rain if the rain runs upwards?
 -in the mind of Marc Chagall.
How can a bun turn into the sun?
 -by the power of Marc Chagall.
And when does a town recline on a cloud?
 -when its world is Marc Chagall’s.

So doff your hat but hold on to your head;
Just lose your logical limits instead,
And gamely greet green, orange and red
 -the music of Marc Chagall.

My 1998 exhibition guide says of Chagall’s Russian – Jewish background that ‘An intense belief in the supernatural and miracles was part of everyday life’ and this is expressed in his paintings. Alan Murphy’s poem beautifully translates Marc Chagall’s scenes into words and puts over the sheer delight and exuberance of the paintings where ‘gravity wanes and withers’ (2nd verse). If you had never seen a Chagall painting, this poem would be a great introduction as it conjures up the surreal world that you find in his art. Alan Murphy is an artist as well as a writer and I think that his engagement with art comes across in this poem in a way that children can appreciate. Adults (well me anyway) can enjoy the fun with art too; there’s a also great poem entitled Pablo Picasso in this collection which is fitting as he and Chagall were artistic rivals.

Alan Murphy is based in Co Waterford and has published a second volume of poetry for children Psychosilly in 2011.

I hope you’re having a good weekend so far. After today’s piece on Chagall, drop by tomorrow for a poem to commemorate Bloomsday.

Update August 2013:

I did actually get to see the Tate Liverpool exhibition this month and bought the catalogue which I have featured in a blog post on Chagall. 



One comment on “Alan Murphy on Marc Chagall

  1. […] Chagall has featured in a previous blog post back in the #PoetryinJune series as the subject of an Alan Murphy poem. If you missed it first time round then do take a look at […]


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