Tuesday, September 5, 2017

In Memoriam: John Ashbery

John Ashbery (1927-2017) is recognized as one of our greatest poets. He won nearly every major American award for poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Yale Younger Poets Prize, Bollingen Prize, Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, Griffin International Award, as well as a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Ashbery’s first book, Some Trees, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1956. The competition was judged by W. H. Auden, who famously confessed later that he hadn’t understood a word of the winning manuscript. Ashbery published a spate of successful and influential collections in the 1960s and ‘70s, including The Tennis Court Oath (1962), The Double Dream of Spring (1970), Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975) and Houseboat Days (1977). Up until his death on September 3rd, the poet continued to publish and win awards. 

Many critics describe Ashbery’s poems as a “verbal canvas,” weighing the importance of the poet’s art criticism in France during the 1950s and ‘60s, and in New York for magazines like New York and the Partisan Review. “Modern art was the first and most powerful influence on Ashbery,” according to Helen McNeil in the Times Literary Supplement, especially the vigor and inventiveness of Abstract Expressionism. (credit: poetryfoundation.org)

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, a portion of which we reproduce here, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, an unprecedented triple-crown in the literary world. Essentially, a meditation on Francesco Parmigianino’s painting "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (1524), the narrative poem showcases the influence of visual art on Ashbery’s style, as well as introducing one of his major subjects: the nature of creativity, particularly as it applies to the writing of poetry. 

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
by John Ashbery

As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams,
Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together
In a movement supporting the face, which swims
Toward and away like the hand
Except that it is in repose. It is what is
Sequestered. Vasari says, “Francesco one day set himself
To take his own portrait, looking at himself from that purpose
In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers . . .
He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made
By a turner, and having divided it in half and
Brought it to the size of the mirror, he set himself
With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass,”
Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait
Is the reflection, of which the portrait
Is the reflection once removed.
The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
Which was enough for his purpose: his image
Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.
The time of day or the density of the light
Adhering to the face keeps it
Lively and intact in a recurring wave
Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
But how far can it swim out through the eyes
And still return safely to its nest?

Hear Ashbery reading “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.” Click here.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Kisses, Sea Shells, and Dora Maar

Portrait of Dora Maar
            — Pablo Picasso, 1937

Perhaps it’s not half bad to be split
down the middle, one eye watching across a bridge

of nose at the other, evincing the artfulness
of faces. This is as up-close as it gets 

to plumbing deep through non-symmetrical windows 
to the fickle soul. A chance to gaze 

from the same side of the mirror: at once
a smile’s hint and hooded skepticism. One eye’s 

dark lashes strike out like talons at the soft egg 
of the other, coddled one day, pierced the next, 

the way the egg must allow the peck; 
the eye, light.   

The Kiss
            — Gustav Klimt, 1908-1909

Wreathed in laurels and cloaked in geometry, 
he bends, as men will, to roundness. 

She bends to earth, arrayed in curves of color, 
blue-flowered hair, gold-shawled ankles

as though her way dwells in air, all zephyr 
and sun, yet rooted as a garden, toes gripped 

to grounding, body tasting body, 
its sweetness and its sweat.

Bernadette McBride is author of three full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which is Whatever Measure of Light (Aldrich Press, 2016). Her poems have appeared in the UK, Canada, numerous U.S journals and anthologies, and on PRI’s “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor. A former Pennsylvania Poet Laureate for Bucks County, she is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has won several awards. She is a college English professor, serves as poetry co-editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal, and welcomes your visit at bernadettemcbrideblog.wordpress.com

"Shell Fragment" by Nancy Canyon

The Sea Shell

by Marin Sorescu
Translated by Michael Hamburger

I have hidden inside a sea shell
but forgotten in which.

Now daily I dive,
filtering the sea through my fingers,
to find myself.
Sometimes I think 
a giant fish has swallowed me.
Looking for it everywhere I want to make sure
it will get me completely.

The sea-bed attracts me, and
I’m repelled by millions
of sea shells that all look alike.
Help, I am one of them.
If only I knew, which.

How often I’ve gone straight up
to one of them, saying: That’s me.
Only, when I prised it open
it was empty.

Nancy Canyon's paintings are published online, in print journals, and as book covers. She can be found daily working on her art in the Morgan Block Artist Studios in Historic Fairhaven, WA. She shows in Bellingham, Edmonds, Seattle, and Spokane.  See more of her work at http://canyonwriter.blogspot.com and www.nancycanyon.com.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Krassner Without Pollock: "What Beast Must I Adore?"

Ready to rejoice? Women of Abstract Expressionism (Yale University Press, 2016) is a long overdue survey of the contributions of female artists to the movement that flourished in New York and San Francisco in the 1940s and ‘50s, the first movement that artists could claim was uniquely American. What I love about this book, besides the full-color plate illustrations, are the biographies of more than 40 artists, most of whom I didn’t know. In addition to the better-known Helen Frankenthaler, Elaine de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell, we discover the work of Michael (Corinne) West (1908-1991), Ethel Schwabacher (1903-1984), Anne Ryan (1889-1954), Deborah Remington (1930-2010), Bernice Bing (1936-1998),and many more. Talented painters, like Lee Krassner and Elaine de Kooning, struggled to get recognition on their own merits after their husbands—Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, became famous. As Krassner once remarked, “I daresay that a great deal of my so-called position or lack of position, whichever you want to call it, in the official art world is based on the association with Pollock. It is almost impossible to deal with me without…Pollock.” (Art Talk: Conversations with 15 Women Artists, Harper-Collins, 1975) 

So here’s a tip of the chapeau, to the painter who drew inspiration from Arthur Rimbaud’s lines in A Season in Hell, lines that Krassner had pinned to her studio wall.

   To whom shall I hire myself out?  What beast must I adore?
   What holy image is attacked?  What hearts shall I break?
What lie must I maintain?  In what blood tread?

Lee Krassner, "What Beast Must I Adore?" 1961
Lee Krassner, Self-Portrait, 1930
Lee Krassner, Igor, 1943
Milkweed, 1955
Imperative, 1976

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kate McGloughlin's "Requiem for Ashokan"

The Ashokan Reservoir, Shokan, NY

My people were forced to leave their land and the beautiful farm and gristmill they owned to make room for the reservoir that was needed to provide drinking water for the other half of my family, who came to New York from Ireland with the thirsty multitude that descended here in an enormous wave.

I knew my great grandmother, Bessie Bishop Davis, and I can tell you she never got over the loss. She was 98 when she died and was still pissed that they “stole her home”.  So, how can a place that holds this much grief be a place that provides an equal measure of peace and inspiration to so many people?  There’s more to it than the ever-changing aesthetic hit of mountain, water, and sky. I think the story, itself an elegy, lays a thick layer of beauty-born-of-tragedy on this place, and I’m sure that’s the real thing that people respond to when they visit the Ashokan Reservoir.

Kate McGloughlin, painter and printmaker

There she was in a nest of driftwood, bleached
Far downstream and ripped from her rightful place
Vessel and provider

White and swollen, sideways and mistreated 
Off her blocks and useless 
No other from her tribe to lay eyes on
No nod of reassurance or familiar 

Cruel edges of noon, sharp focus
Glaring reflection, no ripple
Stillness only, bearing witness
Of this incarnation 
Adrift, no hope of return

In the tired hour, pushing
Tossing about on white horses
Made by the northeast wind on water
Rock gently, displaced mother
Waiting to be claimed

The moon knows her longing
Light blue and holding 
The old trees loosed by the same
Rage of nature, gnarled and bared
By another turn of the sun

It's fullness emptied by drought and thirst
Weathered shards of lost wood drifts,
Nesting on the shoreline,
Fishing boats as eggs
Held close in safety
Where water meets earth
Light breaks the calm surface
That belies the century old loss
Uncovers history, ourstory 

The traces of past mark the
Place where their hearts were left behind
Aching for their own long ago
Dragging feet, trudging out 

Spitting bitter and salt
Tears mix with the sweat
Feel the heft of dead family
Rising from earth to the new
Eternal rest
Reservoir Sketches
Coal skuttle dropped
In thin air, chunks flying east
In winter, form a transient V

Upended brooms
Jab skyward from the snow
Afternoon light warms their wiry selves

Maggie's Water

Here in this place without right water
The white of his collar never quite white
And Willie sick again at his stomach

They had so much at home, always,
Every day from the sky and the
Bog, thick with it
Never more than a quick drop in the well
To collect more to carry in 

And that brook, I remember—
I hear it in my dreams,
Drowned only by a memory of the roaring sea
I never knew it would be the water
At home that I would long for

And the mention of thirst—
Quench, then numb me 
The Thirst inside me too great
To quell from this tap

I ache for home and the knowing,
Here in the crowd, I'm hated
For nothing, really, just being other

As I wither, will these children
Know the ripping away it took
To give them a better life?

These Apple Trees?
Yes, they have value
My grandfather planted them
To feed us
To prepare us for later
Something to sell
Something to sweeten
Something to eat and remember him by

Fourteen acres of Pippins
And Vanderveers and others
I now care for, 
My turn to climb and prune, 
Debug and harvest -
Generations have witnessed the transformation
Every full turn of the sun

The slaying of these trees—
Tender blossoms in May
Growing offspring in Summer
Ripe fruit in September
Quiet nubs in Winter—
Hastens my own Winter, 
Withers my own growing,
My roots also torn, 
Grubbed, then burned

Artist’s Statement
Requiem for Ashokan began to materialize in September 2016, during an intensive, seven-day drawing and painting residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. It continued at another 10-day drawing and printmaking residency at the Artists Association of Nantucket in February 2017, and was completed at home in The Graphics Shop at the Woodstock School of Art in Woodstock, NY, and at the Women's Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY.

At each place I had the good fortune to collaborate with other fine artists, namely, Patti FitzMaurice and Mary Emery, and to finish the handmade book with Chris Petrone. This work is imbued with their spirit. Both residencies were offered to me to complete a personal project that tells the story of loss surrounding the devastation my ancestors endured during the creation of the Ashokan Reservoir, and was spurred on by long talks and walks at the Ashokan with author Gail Straub. The generosity and visionary spirit of each of these artists helped make this work possible.

Requiem is being exhibited at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum in June 2017, and includes written text, a handmade artist's book, and audio files narrating both sides of the story from both sides of my family—the settlers and the immigrants. The invaluable role these art institutions play in bringing work to fruition cannot be overstated, and I will remain grateful to each for its contribution. Read more about the exhibit here.

Painter and printmaker Kate McGloughlin lives and maintains a studio in Olivebridge, NY, near the site of the Ashokan Reservoir. During her 25-year career, she has exhibited worldwide in many notable galleries and four museums. McGloughlin is president of the Board of Directors of the Woodstock School of Art, where she teaches printmaking, landscape painting, and directs the newly renovated Printmaking Studio. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a BFA in Drawing and Painting and studied printmaking with Robert Angeloch and others. As co-founder of Destination Arts Creative Workshops, she travels and paints all over the world. McGloughlin is the youngest artist represented in the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum’s permanent collection.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Happy Birthday, Gwendolyn Brooks!

We celebrate the birthday, June 7th,  of one of our most distinguished poets, Gwendolyn Brooks. She would have been 100 years young. Born in Topeka, KS, she grew up in Chicago and published her first poem at 13. Brooks was the winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for her collection Annie Allen, the first African American to win that award. Throughout her career she received many more honors, such as being named Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress in 1985, having her image on a US postage stamp, and being presented with the 1995 National Medal of Arts. Her characters were often drawn from the inner city life that Brooks knew well. She once said, "I lived in a small second-floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then the other. There was my material.” So let’s celebrate the woman who wrote: "I am interested in telling my particular truth as I have seen it." 

Primer for Blacks
by Gwendolyn Brooks

The Emancipation Approximation
 (Scene #18)
, Kara Walker,
is a title, 
is a preoccupation, 
is a commitment Blacks 
are to comprehend— 
and in which you are 
to perceive your Glory. 

The conscious shout 
of all that is white is 
“It’s Great to be white.” 
The conscious shout 
of the slack in Black is 
"It's Great to be white." 
Thus all that is white 
has white strength and yours. 

The word Black 
has geographic power, 
pulls everybody in: 
Blacks here— 
Blacks there— 
Blacks wherever they may be. 
And remember, you Blacks, what they told you— 
remember your Education: 
“one Drop—one Drop 
maketh a brand new Black.” 
         Oh mighty Drop. 
______And because they have given us kindly 
so many more of our people 

stretches over the land. 
the Black of it, 
the rust-red of it, 
the milk and cream of it, 
the tan and yellow-tan of it, 
the deep-brown middle-brown high-brown of it, 
the “olive” and ochre of it— 
marches on. 

The huge, the pungent object of our prime out-ride 
is to Comprehend, 
to salute and to Love the fact that we are Black, 
which is our “ultimate Reality,” 
which is the lone ground 
from which our meaningful metamorphosis, 
from which our prosperous staccato, 
group or individual, can rise. 

Self-shriveled Blacks. 
Begin with gaunt and marvelous concession: 
YOU are our costume and our fundamental bone. 
      All of you— 
      you COLORED ones, 
      you NEGRO ones, 
those of you who proudly cry 
      “I’m half INDian”— 
      those of you who proudly screech 
      “I’VE got the blood of George WASHington in MY veins” 
      ALL of you— 
            you proper Blacks, 
      you half-Blacks, 
      you wish-I-weren’t Blacks, 
      Niggeroes and Niggerenes. 


Hear Gwendolyn Brooks read "We Real Cool."

Ajitto, Robert Maplethorppe, 1981    
The Whips That Striped the Backs of Slaves
by Levi Mericle

The whips that striped the backs of slaves so millionaire masas could feel fulfilled.

How dare we?

The policemen’s club and pepper spray that mocked the actions of the Civil Rights Act 
by making a mockery of flesh and blood.

How dare we?

I want you to take a knife and run it across the palm of your hand 
and tell me that the black person sitting next to you bleeds differently.

How dare we?

This isn’t about just listening to the police
but it’s about the police being justified beyond what justifies a race.

It’s as if our gun is pointed to the preference of skin color
more than a preface of a crime.

How dare we?

Time places a border between our differences, I know.
You may try to make yourself think and believe that we are much improved

And yes that’s true.

But until you can look at the black man your daughter’s about to marry
without your stomach churning,
you have no right telling me black lives matter.

Until you’ll let your young white son date a little black girl in middle school
don’t you dare tell me we are different.

It has nothing to do with time,
it has nothing to do with “LIVES MATTER”
it has to do with you removing the bigoted sunglasses you’ve been wearing.

Because when I walk outside I see a bright blue sky
and a pitch black night,

I see a rainbow when it rains
And people living and breathing in our world.

Because black lives matter.

So can you just lower your weapon of hostility and recreate your heart to listen with your eyes.

And don’t scrutinize.

Until you can erase all the past from your mind
and see the lives right here,
right now as equals,

don’t tell me we are different.

Levi J. Mericle is a poet/spoken-word artist, lyricist, and fiction writer from Tucumcari, NM. His work has appeared in many anthologies and literary magazines and journals, such as Black Heart Magazine, Apricity Magazine, Mused, Flash Fiction Magazine, eFiction India, Awakenings Review, and the University of Madrid’s literary journal. He is an advocate for human rights and for the anti-bullying movement.