Robert Perkins


A Letter From Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney Nobel Laureate Poet

Seamus Heaney
Nobel Laureate


Dear Rob,  

If I could be a symphony that would cover all the expressible and inexpressible, I'd be up to writing you the letter that I'd like to. Your work is out of this world, drawn out of this-worldness and a love of it, drawn towards a point beyond which offers a perspective. Heart-breaking, spirit-leveling, true to life. As Frost said, strongly spent is synonymous with kept.



Robert Perkins is known for his storytelling through books, film, and the spoken word. Born in Boston and classically educated at Milton Academy and Harvard University (AB 1974), he received an MFA from the Graduate Program at Bennington College in 2004. His true education began while spending his 19th year on Bowditch Hall, the men’s locked ward at McLean Hospital in Belmont MA. (Humpty Dumpty River). Although it did not initially appear so, the trauma of this experience was the key to his life.

For fifteen years Perkins produced independent films for PBS and Channel 4 in England, traveling to wild and remote corners of the world. Based on 16 solo canoe journeys in the Canadian Arctic his reputation grew as a writer and filmmaker. He combines observation with reflection, creating a quirky and insightful body of work that caused one critic to call him the Lou Reed of documentary film. Instead of traveling different rivers, he focused on one, The Great Fish River, or Back River, northeast of Yellowknife. He knows this watershed, its tributaries and wildlife, its stories. The river flows unimpeded for 560 miles to the arctic coast, the only large arctic river completely inside the tundra.

In college in the early 1970s, Perkins began collaborating with poets using their gift to him of handwritten poems, or fragments, to create visual equivalents. His combining word and image created an on-going project called The Written Image. In all his work, intimacy is a key word. The poet’s handwriting, along with their words, creates a self-portrait of the poet. Perkins’ collaborations escort poems from between book covers into the visual world. He has worked with over forty poets, including two Nobel Laureates, Octavio Paz and Seamus Heaney. This geological cross-section of great wordsmiths starts with those writing in the mid-20th century and will continue through the beginning decades of the 21st.

Perkins follows the tenets of Social Practice, a movement where the edges of what is considered ‘art’ remain constantly in flux. His combination of images, whether in film or on canvas, his storytelling, and his commitment to community building find expression through his ability to create unexpected beauty in, with, and from unlikely places and people.