The Doing is the Discovery and the Discovery is the Making: Sheila Murphy talks to Mark Roberts

Sheila Murphy has been Rochford Street Review’s first feature artist and her work has been highlighted throughout Issue 13. A brief biographical note accompanies her final work in the issue ‘Motion Juncture’

Over the last few weeks Sheila has responded to a series of questions from Rochford Street Review about her work, concentrating particularly on her visual work.

Quotidian Rapture by Sheila Murphy.  Ink drawing on paper, treated digitally.
Quotidian Rapture by Sheila Murphy. Ink drawing on paper, treated digitally.

Mark Roberts: I first came across your poetry in the early 1990s when you sent some work to P76 Magazine. I didn’t come across your visual art work visual poetry until we connected on Facebook over the last couple of years. I was wondering if you describe what you see the relationship is between your poetry and visual work? Did the poetry come first and the visual work grew out of it? Would you describe yourself as primarily as a poet/writer or an artist or are all forms equally important to the way you approach your art?

Sheila: I have been a poet for most of my adult life. Having studied language and literature, as well as music, formally, I chose to explore poetry writing from a more independent, if well-read, perspective. The poetry has been and always will be a vital part of me.

I have allowed myself a greater initial relaxation in visual work than I have done in poetry. There is a sharper edge to a great deal of my poetry, more definitive form, shall I say. The visual work has grown over the past 15+ years. I have invested many hours in it. I work very hard and seek precision in the drawings, in particular. I gain feedback from one primary individual, who also provides editing suggestions in my poetry.

I am generally an “and” person, more than an “or” person. I have many endeavors and interests that coexist in my life. Making room for many different entities is a commitment that I hold dear. This means that poetry and drawing can coexist comfortably. They seem to be mutually reinforcing.

Mark Roberts: I am interested in how writers become interested in, and start producing Visual Poetry. How did you find your way into Visual Poetry, who were your influences/mentors?

Sheila: The visual art work and visual poetry emerged in 1999, and was amped up in 2002 as I participated in the Avant Symposium at The Ohio State University, put on by Dr. John M. Bennett. I have many friends in the visual poetry and visual art realms, and have always possessed a strong inclination to do two-dimensional art.

Solfeggio – Sheila Murphy
Solfeggio – Sheila Murphy. Hand-drawn ink drawing treated digitally

I particularly appreciate work by K.S. Ernst and John M. Bennett, both of whom I collaborate with. Scott Helmes, another collaborator of mine in words, primarily, is an admired visual poet. Bob Grumman is an exceptionally intriguing visual poet, with his Mathemaku, a source of infinite interest. Marton Koppany and Jukka-Pekka Kervinen are additional individuals whose work I admire greatly.

Mark Roberts:  Following from the first question I asked you – you said that your writing and visual work is “mutually reinforcing”. I am interested to understand how you approach a new visual work or a poem. Do you know at once if an idea is going to be a poem or a visual piece? Can it be both? Do you bring a different creative approach to a visual work than to a poet?

Sheila: I do know immediately, yes, regarding the road branching between visual  and word-centered effort, which is alert to the impulse to create. Of course, there is the issue of visual poetry, in which the two may be commingled. That, of course, gives us a third branch! Your question, though, about how work forms remains apt. I involve my hands or voice in making something. With visual, I actually feel the pulse of motion, and allow it to focus my mind on where the work is headed. The doing is the discovery, and the discovery is the making.

With poems, the hearing faculty, and the hands, as well, with their corresponding “new body part” of keyboard or other writing instrument, are charged and attended to. I hear something or I feel words from a page, and I am off on a strong charge toward finding the poem. As an illustration, I just a moment ago came upon the word “monetize,” one that suggests a certain pallor. The thin level of living that emerges in context of money-mainly thinking. It occurred to me that somewhat was there, stirring, so I let the fingers on the keyboard (that aforementioned body part joined with the rest of me at age 16 way back when) find a poem. They did. It seemed to work. I received validating feedback from my friend Doug Barbour, also my long-term collaborator, as I shared the piece with a list (Poetry Etc).

Motion Juncture by Sheila Murphy.
Motion Juncture by Sheila Murphy. Ink drawing on paper, treated digitally.

Mark Roberts. I am interested in the background of the three pieces we have run in Rochford Street Review Issue 13 (the cover image has had some great feedback by the way). Could you provide a few sentences  about these works – when were they produced? What did they grow out of? Where they part of a sequence or similar works?

Sheila:Thank you for sharing the response you have received about the cover piece. I have been drawing pieces of this nature for several years. They emerged from absolute focus on the interplay of lines and their relationship within a system of conforming processes that inter-relate and thereby redefine themselves as the work grows. The biological and organic nature of a system means, as you know, that there is an inherent pull toward the essence of where the system “goes.” I cannot presume to know ahead of time. The piece morphs, and I drive with it. The relationship among parts is part of that seemingly chemical reality, if I may slightly mix scientific metaphors.

Part of what excites me about the visual is that my perpetual attraction to it has at last come to be realized. I always wanted to “go there.” I was always a sound, music, poetry person. (Music came first.) The outgrowth of where sound would take me was in part social-educational, as I felt the perceptions about poets during my formative years and realized that I belonged there. Taking my musical training and inclinations to that place was natural and greatly satisfying. It remains so to this day.

The visual sense came later, much later. I found my way there, and lucky person that I am, here I am now. This process of finding the visual offers a way of making palpable the conceptual reality I seem to inhabit. The physical presence seems a small miracle, as much of what I do occurs in thought and feeling. There is a clear sense of its own entity.


 A non exhaustive Sheila Murphy Bibliography

Visual Poetry Books

  • Yes It Is (with John M. Bennett). Luna Bisonte Prods. 2014
  • 2 Juries + 2 Storeys = 4 Stories Toujours (with K.S. Ernst). Xerolage 55 from Xexoxial Editions. 2013.
  • This Is Visual Poetry. 2010.
  • Permutoria (with K.S. Ernst). Luna Bisonte Prods. 2008.

Poetry and Writing

  • Continuations 2 (with Douglas Barbour). The University of Alberta Press. 2012.
  • American Ghazals. Otoliths Press. 2012.
  • Noun that I’ve Been Watching. White Sky Books. 2012.
  • American Haibun. White Sky Ebooks. 2012.
  • The Daylight Sections. White Sky Books. 2011.
  • Beyond the Bother of Sunlight (with Lewis LaCook). Blazevox [Books]. 2011.
  • Reverse Haibun. White Sky Books. 2011.
  • Circumsanct. White Sky Books. 2011.
  • Toccatas in the Key of D. Blue Lion Books. 2010.
  • Quaternity (with Scott Glassman). Otoliths Press. 2009.
  • how to spell the sound of everything (with mIEKAL aND). Xerox Sutra Editions. 2009.
  • Collected Chapbooks. Blue Lion Books. 2008.
  • Parsings. Arrum Press (Finland). 2008.
  • The Case of the Lost Objective Case. Otoliths Press. 2007.
  • Continuations (with Douglas Barbour). The University of Alberta Press. 2006.
  • Incessant Seeds. Pavement Saw Press. 2005.
  • Proof of Silhouettes. Stride Press (UK). 2004.
  • Concentricity. Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press. 2004.
  • Green Tea with Ginger. Potes & Poets Press. 2003.
  • Letters to Unfinished J. Green Integer Press. 2003.
  • The Stuttering of Wings. Stride Press (UK), 2002.
  • The Indelible Occasion. Potes & Poets Press, 2000.
  • Falling in Love Falling in Love With You Syntax: Selected and New Poems. Potes & Poets Press, 1997.
  • A Clove of Gender. Stride Press (UK), 1995.
  • Pure Mental Breath. Gesture Press (Toronto), 1994.
  • Tommy and Neil. Sun/Gemini Press (Tucson, Arizona), 1993.
  • Teth. Chax Press, 1991.
  • Sad Isn’t the Color of the Dream. Stride Press (UK), 1991.
  • With House Silence. Stride Press (UK), 1987.


  • The Art of Survival: an Anthology. Kings Estate Press, 2014.
  • Reading the Difficulties.. The University of Alabama Press, 2014.
  • 147 Million Orphans. Gradiant Books, 2014.
  • 1000 Views of “Girl Singing”. Leafe Press, 2009.
  • Visiting Wallace: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Wallace Stevens. University of Iowa Press, 2009.
  • Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh. Salt Publishing, 2009.
  • Anthology: Spidertangle. Xexoxial Editions, 2009.
  • Visio-Textual Selectricity. Runaway Spoon Press, 2008.
  • The Hay(na)ku Anthology, Volume II. Meritage Press, USA. xPress(ed). Finland. 2008.
  • >2: An Anthology of New Collaborative Poetry. Editor, with M.L. Weber. Sugar Mule Press, 2007.
  • The First Hay(na)ku Antholgy. Meritage Press, 2005.
  • Fever Dreams: Contemporary Arizona Poetry. The University of Arizona Press, 1997.
  • The Gertrude Stein Awards in Innovative American Poetry,1993—1994; 1994—1995. Sun & Moon Press.
  • Primary Trouble: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Talisman House Press, 1996.
  • A Curious Architecture: A Selection of Contemporary Prose Poems. Stride (UK), 1996.
  • The Art of Practice: 45 Contemporary Poets. Potes & Poets Press, 1994.

Exhibitions of Visual Poetry and Art

  • Lists: an International Special Exhibition. Minneapolis, 2014. June, 2014.
  • Visual Poetry Exhibition. Ráday Könyvesház. Budapest, Hungary. April, 2010.
  • Asemic Exhibit in Smolensk. Russia. April 17 – May 1, 2010.
  • Explanations of Signs. Collaborative Paintings with Rupert Loydell. University College Falmouth. 2009.
  • Visual Poetry Etched on Glass Wall. Rondo Community Library and Housing Project, Minneapolis, 2006.
  • Blends and Bridges. Cleveland, Ohio, 2006.
  • Still Life with Words: an International Exhibition. Gallery 308, Minneapolis, 2005.
  • SoundVisionVisionSound III. Nave Gallery, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2005.
  • Infinity. Dudley House. Harvard University, 2005.
  • Vispo at Durban Segnini Gallery. Miami, Florida, 2005.





Donate Ad2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s