Poem for Che as Told by a Synaesthete

I am a synaesthete and an artist. Although, it is often difficult for me to separate those two things as every moment of my living experience is coloured in some way by this rare trait I have, figuratively speaking and in actuality. I’m wired differently than is considered the norm, neurologically speaking. Synaesthesia is the merging of sensory inputs. Usually, by the time we reach the age of 7 our sensory inputs begin to divide, so that hearing, vision, smell, taste and touch are no longer interconnected. For some of us however, that doesn’t happen, and those neural connections remain intact.

Not all synaesthetes perceive the world in the same way. There are some 40 different kinds of known Synaesthesia. The most common is colour-grapheme Synaesthesia, whereby a sound will have a colour value upon hearing it, to put it in very simple terms. I personally can relate to most of the types of Synaesthesia in the current list, so I’ve discovered.

The words are an excerpt from a poem by Ahmad Shamlou, Funeral Address (For Che Guevara). I had mistakenly thought Reshma the author.

Whole conversations, songs, stories, poems, will generate entire worlds within my mind’s eye and will trigger physiological effects, it can be immensely overwhelming, but at the same time profound, beautiful and inspiring. It’s as if all the settings on my sensory inputs have been turned up to the max, and they all intermingle with the impossibility of a dream.

Everything I do is an artistic expression measured by my inability to distinguish one sense from the other. And so, it is a small leap for me to make in translating words, thoughts, and emotions into physical paintings. I have been doing it my whole life.

A new friend of mine, a wonderful conceptual artist and comic wrote a poem a few days ago which opened up a rabbit’s hole down which I jumped. I had mentioned in a Tweet how I wished I could show her the colours I saw when I read her words. She, quite deftly challenged me to produce a painting depicting how I experienced her words.

Magicians of smiles in nightcaps of pain – With footprints deeper than joy.

By Che Guevara (Original poem not known – citation needed).
Che Guevara’s Poem as Told by a Synaesthete – Oil on canvas, 18×24″, 2022. Original art by, Maria Jones-Phillips

When I commit to doing one of these Synaesthesia pieces through the medium of visual art, things happen very quickly and I have to make mental and actual notes so that I don’t lose the often fleeting sensations I’m experiencing. I ‘saw’ what the painting would be as I looked at the blank canvas while I contemplated her words. I made quick visual notes of shapes and colours, and in indelible ink penned her poem on the canvas and my thank you note to her for the inspiration. It felt like what I was supposed to do. It was part of the art. In my hurried process I exchanged her ‘in’ for my ‘with’, but the sentiment was thus embedded within the foundation of my nascent painting, now hidden from sight under thick layers of linseed oil and ground pigment, but there nevertheless. A testament to creativity in collaboration, but also a whispered suggestion that perception alters from one person to the next in ways that evolve to create new things. New concepts. I can only hope I was able to match her intent, and create something if not equally pleasing, then at least complementary.

I hope I did you proud, Reshma.

Thanks for reading.


Sister Queen Witch

N.B. An amendment to the above post: It has since transpired, as evidenced from Reshma Eyafés YouTube video that she created in response to my work, that the ‘poem’ that inspired my own creative work was in fact an excerpt from a poem by Nobel Prize winning poet, Ahmad Shamlou, Funeral Address (for Che Guevara), 1975. This was not mentioned, and neither was I familiar with Shamlou’s work to have spotted the discrepancy. I have however, made corrections where necessary. I have changed the title of my work accordingly, although it is still dedicated to Reshma, as she was the person who inspired this piece as creative catalyst.


Published by Maria a.k.a. Bess/Ishaiya

I am an artist, writer, photographer and social commentator. Mum, wife, Synaesthete, linguist, cook, ex-musician and philosopher. Not necessarily in that order.

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