Light Alchemy by Pippy Firman and Deirdre McGarry | Book Reviews | Poetry

By Grace O'Reilly

This book, a collaboration of art and poetry, is a delightful mix.  Artist Pippy Firman, (real name Patrick Forlorn), and poet Deirdre McGarry joined forces for this book, which was first published in 2021, by Red Books Press in Wexford, Ireland.  The bright and colourful painting on the back and front of the book, is one of Firman’s paintings which was photographed by McGarry for this purpose.

The works within this book are the opposite in terms of colour from the cover, in the sense that they are black and white, (which are not technically ‘colours’).  It is pretty awesome though as it resembles a blackboard as the page, with white chalky images and words.  Blackboards these days are now a thing of the past!  Pippy’s work of faces are featured on the left-hand side of the page, and Deirdre’s poetry are featured on the right-hand side of the page.  Together they tell a story.  Unlike a typical book, there are no page numbers.

One day Patrick “picked up a brush instead of a pen”, and art was made, literally!  “Eventually there was a crowd in the room..” with all of his painted faces.  I can’t even draw a stick man, but I adore art, and wow, these just drew, (no pun intended!), me away.  Every single stroke makes up the picture and is so important to the overall effect of the piece at the end.  As a writer I understand that in the literary world, that every single word, and indeed the way in which every single sentence is structured is vital to how the piece of reading is going to be.  Therefore, even punctuation marks, can make and do make a HUGE difference, to the tone and meaning of the piece.

There was an exhibition of these faces in the Annexe in 2020, which was received well.  These faces were different people for different viewers who really looked at them.  Eamonn Colfer said that, “Each portrait was painted with a particular emotion.”

At the exhibition McGarry was so captivated and moved by these faces, that she put words to them, her own personal feelings and recorded other people’s views in the form of poetry.  Deirdre was so drawn into the faces, (again, no pun intended), that she actually wanted to speak to these faces and get to know their story.  Pippi and Deirdre both “chose one word each independently of each other for the title of this book.”  

Here is one example of a poem from the book.

“They said you were Oscar Wilde

but weren’t we all?

In our own minds smart

and witty, loyal and betrayed

playboys and husbands


the sparkle from my stars

dances in the minds

on the water in the shallows”

Pippi’s portrait image is by Ray Connolly and Deirdre’s portrait image is by Padraig Grant.  This is one of those books that can be enjoyed again and again over time, and where it will find a place in your home and on your bookshelf, and possibly in your hearts.  You can purchase this book from the shop Red Books in Wexford town or on their website

(c) Grace O’Reilly

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