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Visual Poetry … Words Conjure More than Meaning

Poetry. Words. Visual Poetry. Body Language and Movement … Say “moon.” Feel your mouth curve. Breathe. Sometimes Breathing Feels Like Dancing. Sometimes Dancing Feels Like Breathing. These days, in gratitude, I Feel Like Dancing and Breathing. Namaste´

Maureen Shaughnessy 1987 Artist
That moment when you are trying to explain all the swimming thoughts and notions that go into a piece or series and you realize that you can’t get it all out and you crack up at yourself.

My post for today is about two things I think are related. Poetry — visual poetry. And how I feel about aging. I originally published this post on April 12, 2007 and the photos are from an exhibit in 1987 in Helena, Montana at the Third Eye Gallery.


Trying to look like one of the calligraphic stick-sculptures in this installation"Fragments of An Ancient Poetry"
Trying to look like one of the calligraphic stick-sculptures in this installation”Fragments of An Ancient Poetry”


I used to be part of a weekly online poetry group and originally wrote this post for the writing prompt, The Body Knows.

Fragments of an Ancient Poetry

Imagine a word such as moon. When you say moon, your lips curve. The word itself has curves. It conjures: round and old, and traveling on a long, slow-sounding journey. It’s interesting to me, that along with the sound of a word, the visual aspect of the word affects its meaning.

As a sculptor, I’m fascinated by the shapes of language and as a writer I’m drawn to the meaning of shapes. This is a natural merging of two of my primary interests.

Fragments of an Ancient Poetry is a three-dimensional page of my sketchbook-journal, revealing the increasingly refined and complex strokes of a thought process, or poetic idea.  ~ excerpted from my Artist’s Statement for Fragments of an Ancient Poetry.


art installation by Maureen Shaughnessy
Installation piece by Maureen Shaughnessy titled “Sometimes Breathing Feels Like Dancing.” Handmade paper cast on willow branches.

I completed the majority of the pieces in this exhibit (along with some working studies, sketches and paintings also exhibited) while attending a paper-making intensive at the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta, Canada.

The other major piece in the exhibit is titled Sometimes Breathing Feels like Dancing. There were 10 large figures comprising a series of yoga/dance poses. I made the figures with handmade paper and willow branches, and had access to a live model (a dancer) at the Banff Center while I was doing my studies for the sculpture.


Installation art by Maureen Shaughnessy, 1987
Looking at the photos of this exhibit almost 30 years later, I realize I have always been so supported by my friends in Helena.

Now for some thoughts on aging and how that is related to these sculptures …


"Day Dream Night Being" Maureen in 2006/2007
“Day Dream Night Being” Maureen in 2006/2007

2007 (when this post was first published):  

  • I’m 20 years older now. Maybe 20 years wiser, though that’s arguable. As I revisit my artist’s statements and photographs of my work from that period of my life, I realize I have a different perspective now. I hope it’s a broader perspective. I still love these pieces and wish we lived in a house with walls large enough to display them. I definitely feel differently about my body these days. And I know my heart and head are different.
  • I look at the figures in Sometimes Breathing Feels like Dancing. I see my youthful body bent gracefully, supplely, just like the willow branches I used to form the dance. My life has taken some twists and turns … in many ways I am still dancing with life. And death. With joy. And sorrow. And grief. Feeling the grace along with twinges of pain, love, longing … feeling bent, slightly dried out, though still beautiful.
  • Will I ever truly know the steps of this dance? Enough to look ahead, to feel confident that I will not trip over my own feet? That I will be able to glide over the dance floor without regret, with my heart open to the music, to the senses, to the love of the one whose body sways in rhythm with mine?
  • Looking back on the experiences that have brought me to this threshold, I would also say, that “Sometimes Dancing Feels like Breathing.” ~Maureen Shaughnessy, April 2007
My mom and me in 2014
My mom and me in 2014

My thoughts in 2015, 8 more years later:  

  • I’m 60 now. I am happy to be this age. My body, my face, my hair all look very different. I have gained weight, have wrinkles (duhhhh) and my hair is really short, silvery (and cute.)  My body is shorter too — almost 2 inches shorter. Geez!
  • And… I am still beautiful. Sometimes I hate looking in the mirror. Sometimes I love the way I look. Sometimes I feel bent and do not feel the grace. Other times I just do a happy dance. I revel in stretching my muscles on a walk or hike. I have less sorrow. Less heart-pain. More joy. Lots more joy.
  • I think I am wiser. World-smart. More engaged with others, though content to spend long hours alone.
  • My heart is full with the love of my partner, Tim, our 5 children and 5 grandchildren and all of my siblings and mom.
  • I have lost some people who are important to me. I have gained new friends. Really good friends.
  • When I had that solo exhibit at the age of 33, I did not know I would become a full time artist. Or that I would own a gallery with my husband whom I had not yet met… I had no idea of the trajectory my life would take. The ups and downs.
  • I am grateful for every single moment I have had and every feeling, joy and loss, every person whose path I have crossed.

Sometimes Breathing Feels Like Dancing. Sometimes Dancing Feels Like Breathing. These days, in gratitude, I Feel Like Dancing and Breathing. Namaste´

1987 Independent Record Article about the mixed media sculptures exhibited in 1987 at the Third Eye Gallery in Helena, Montana

All of the black and white photos were taken by my dear friend, Robin Leenhouts. She is a wonderful artist and art teacher, now living in Milwaukee.

7 replies on “Visual Poetry … Words Conjure More than Meaning”

I loved this post; engaging subject and beautifully written. I am going to add you to my link list and come back.

it’s been awhile since you commented on this post, Princess … I just found your comment, and already I notice you have been coming to my writing and leaving comments all over the place. thanks so much — it’s always really great to know people are reading my blog, to get feedback. Helps make the big “void” of blog silence more bearable. I mean all the ones who read and don’t ever comment. It’s okay that people do that – just not as much fun for me, nor as satisfying as having an actual conversation.

You know how sometimes we stumble on a post/blog narrating our personal journey? That’s what I felt anyway upon reading yours. “Sometimes Breathing Feels Like Dancing” or “Sometimes Dancing Feels Like Breathing” – sometimes slow, sometimes fast, solo, partnered or aided(with a breathing tube, confusing. . . .And, yes, I’ve tripped over a few times trying to dance the ‘Swan LAke’. Apparently, I got “2 left feet”. Didn’t suit me.

Cheers n’ nun bless, parolee

I saw the glam shot on Facebook and looked forward to the post. For one thing, I had to enlarge the letters several times so I could read the text. LOL. I am far from feeling thankful or pleased with where I am at almost 57. The body not functioning at least as well as they used to has been a real b1=ch. I hope I get to where you are towards 60 because I don’t want to live bitterly forever. On the other hand, I don’t really remember my relative youth, let alone fondly, as I lived forever hoping that tomorrow will be a better day. I don’t think I’m a bitter of pessimistic person, but I know that I don’t feel as much big joy as perhaps others do. Anyway, I shall check back with you in three years and a bit?? Besides reading your posts regularly, that is.

I couldn’t have said it more succinctly, Maureen.
I feel much the same. My life today is full of joy. I have left much of the sadness behind. Oh, somedays it is still there & I still cry. But, most days are joyful & fun.
I look forward to my day when I wake instead of dreading yet another day in grief and sadness. I am so grateful today for all that I am blessed with: my husband, children, gradchildren, my lovely home. Life is so full of so many possibilities!
I am grateful to know you and your loving, joyful spirit! Deb

I just saw your comment, Deb and wanted to thank you for writing. I really appreciate that you read my posts. I also am grateful to know you. <3

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