Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Nightfishing" with poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in 1953 in Tacoma, Washington. She began writing poetry as a student at Mount Holyoke College and, as an undergraduate, twice won the Glascock Award for Poetry. Her first two collections, Portraits and Elegies (1982) and The Lamplit Answer (1985), confirmed her early promise. In 2000, Schnackenberg’s Supernatural Love: Poems 1973–1992 was released as well as the book-length poem The Throne of Labdacus, a retelling of the Oedipus myth from the points of view of Apollo and a slave. The latter won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. The poet’s sixth collection, Heavenly Questions (2011) won the Griffin International Poetry Prize. 

Schnackenberg’s many honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Radcliffe Institute. She is the recipient of the Rome Prize and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She currently lives in Boston.

The following Schnackenberg poem challenges our notion of ekphrasis because the image is not, as in most art poems, a celebrated work, but the clock in the speaker’s kitchen. A planter’s clock is reproduced to show the various elements she mentions.


The kitchen's old-fashioned planter's clock portrays
A smiling moon as it dips down below
Two hemispheres, stars numberless as days,
And peas, tomatoes, onions, as they grow
Under that happy sky; but though the sands
Of time put on this vegetable disguise,
The clock covers its face with long, thin hands.
Another smiling moon begins to rise.

We drift in the small rowboat an hour before
Morning begins, the lake weeds grown so long
They touch the surface, tangling in an oar.
You've brought coffee, cigars, and me along.
You sit still, like a monument in a hall,
Watching for trout. A bat slices the air
Near us, I shriek, you look at me, that's all,
One long sobering look, a smile everywhere
But on your mouth. The mighty hills shriek back.
You turn back to the hake, chuckle, and clamp
Your teeth on your cigar. We watch the black
Water together. Our tennis shoes are damp.
Something moves on your thoughtful face, recedes.
Here, for the first time ever, I see how,
Just as a fish lurks deep in water weeds,
A thought of death will lurk deep down, will show
One eye, then quietly disappear in you.
It's time to go. Above the hills I see
The faint moon slowly dipping out of view,
Sea of Tranquillity, Sea of Serenity,
Ocean of Storms... You start to row, the boat
Skimming the lake where light begins to spread.
You stop the oars, midair. We twirl and float.

I'm in the kitchen. You are three days dead.
A smiling moon rises on fertile ground,
White stars and vegetables. The sky is blue.
Clock hands sweep by it all, they twirl around,
Pushing me, oarless, from the shore of you. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rita Dove on the Lessons of Lady Freedom

Rita Dove was born in Akron, OH, in 1952 and has many poetry collections, honors, and awards to her credit.  In works like the verse-novel Thomas and Beulah (1986), which won the Pulitzer Prize, On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Sonata Mulattica (2009), Dove treats historical events with a personal touch, addressing her grandparents’ life and marriage in early 20th-century Ohio, the battles and triumphs of the Civil Rights era, and the forgotten career of black violinist and friend to Beethoven, George Polgreen Bridgetower. Poet Brenda Shaughnessy noted that “Dove is a master at transforming a public or historic element—re-envisioning a spectacle and unearthing the heartfelt, wildly original private thoughts such historic moments always contain.” In 1996 Dove received a National Humanities Medal. She is currently Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The Statue of Freedom is a bronze statue designed by Thomas Crawford (1814–1857) that, since 1863, has crowned the dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Yesterday, January 21,  she would have witnessed the Women’s March on Washington, one of the largest protests in U.S. history. In 1993, the statue was removed for repairs and Dove, from her office as U.S. Poet Laureate, got a rare look at Lady Freedom up close. It inspired a poem that addresses “how in our country, and as represented in the District of Columbia, you can see the contrasts abutted right up against one another: poetry and pomp, government and the disenfranchised, lofty ideals and complex reality,” she explains. This statue was “not just Lady Freedom but also the troubling conscience standing on the street corner demanding that we take a look, that we consider each of us as individuals. We should not forget her lessons—even if the dream of America is tarnished or eaten away by corrosion or in need of cleaning and repair, it is not defunct.”

Lady Freedom Among Us

don't lower your eyes
or stare straight ahead to where
you think you ought to be going

don't mutter oh no
not another one
get a job fly a kite
go bury a bone

with her oldfashioned sandals
with her leaden skirts
with her stained cheeks and whiskers and heaped up trinkets
she has risen among us in blunt reproach

she has fitted her hair under a hand-me-down cap
and spruced it up with feathers and stars
slung over her shoulder she bears
the rainbowed layers of charity and murmurs
all of you even the least of you

don't cross to the other side of the square
don't think another item to fit on a tourist's agenda

consider her drenched gaze her shining brow
she who has brought mercy back into the streets
and will not retire politely to the potter's field

having assumed the thick skin of this town
its gritted exhaust its sunscorch and blear
she rests in her weathered plumage
bigboned resolute

don't think you can forget her
don't even try
she's not going to budge

no choice but to grant her space
crown her with sky
for she is one of the many
and she is each of us

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hidden Valleys, Furry Teacups, and St. Francis in Ecstasy- Happy 2017!

Joan Mitchell's, La Grande Vallee IX, 1983-84

The Hidden Valley

A bold impasto muscles in its swatch of joy,
invents an opening where she escapes
the farm chores and his daily blows.

Brush strokes stain the air orange
and amethyst, nail pollen to a martin’s nest
and immolate in rock pools of cool limestone.

White-tailed deer leap among the birches
that watch over her, red poppies lick
charred wood of an old barn, and everywhere

are relics to break a toe on—barrows netted
in burdock, wagon wheels in fallow soil.
Hooves echo in the canebrakes near granite

headstones: those dead unbridled leave
the living to hack out what is green, unsaid.
She sits urchined in summer fruit, breathes

a granary of air, cooler now
as evening settles on the leafy tops
where memory’s wind-flush sleeve is hostage.

A Furry Teacup

Remember? How can I forget?
It was a January morning so cold
it froze my nipples and we were at
Meret Oppenheim, Object (or Luncheon in Fur), 1936
the Café du Flore—Pablo, Dora, and I.
None of us had heated studios so
we needed warmth and cheering up.
Pernod helped with that and soon
we were laughing about Duchamp’s
latest prank and agreed “all art is shit.”

As we were leaving, Dora admired
my fur bracelet and Pablo said “Meret,
you could cover everything with fur,
even this cup and saucer.” We laughed,
a little tipsy. Later Breton asked me
to contribute to his exhibition.
I remembered Pablo’s remark
and thought “Why not?”

At the flea market I bought a muff
of Chinese gazelle, cut it up
and glued it to my cup and saucer.
It gave them a nice warm coat,
poor naked things. That piece eclipsed
all my paintings. No one wanted them.
So I retired. All art is shit.

Bellini’s St. Francis in Ecstasy

I thought I would be near you in the cave.
I wear the dark as comfortably as this cassock
Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy, 1475–1480
stained with the five wounds, steeped
in all my mortal smells.

I thought here the flame burns
that melted the cliffside rocks, but no,
what burns in darkness is my emptiness,
old terrors, a mind shackled to its knives.

I begged to know your will and waited
for my second death.

You brought me a donkey that brays
at clouds, spring lambs grazing  
on wild thyme, a heron stretching
its long neck towards the water spout,
a fat rabbit tempting me to break my fast,

all calling me to join them
in the laurel-scented air, to feel
Tuscany’s hard pebbles under my bare soles,
to fill my lungs and sing you canticles of praise.

Lisa Mullenneaux is a Manhattan-based writer and the founder of this blog. When she's not writing, she teaches writing for the University of Maryland UC.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Emily Bilman Explores the Eros of Vermeer and Bronzino

Allegory with Venus and Cupid, 1545

Eros, An Allegory
after Bronzino’s Allegory with Venus and Cupid

Deceit, your hands are the tools of impunity.
You hold a honey-comb inside one palm,
A bitter scorpion-sting inside the other.
Pleasure, your child-prisoner, laughs as he scatters
Roses to Venus and Cupid in their nuptials.

Sly as a straying vixen, Deceit, you stare
Fraudulently at the erotic love scene
From your niche: your white body is born
From serpent-scales while your face of
Marble-melancholy is broken by reproaches.

A satyr and a masked nymph lie at Venus’s feet.
Old man Time and the livid female mask of Oblivion
Compete for this regal gift behind a blue silk drapery.
Pleasure and Deceit, sculpted from soft marble-flesh,
Vye, throughout, to bait and abet lust for Love.

Vermeer’s Love Letter
The Love Letter, 1669-70

There’s a sly complicity between the mistress
And her maid who gazes with pleasure 
While the lady turns to her with an anxious
Anticipation as she holds the love-letter,
The palimpsest of her lover’s passion.

He left her to sail on rich tumultuous shores.

Her painter-husband’s camera obscura 
Reproduces the scene from the slightly 
Opened door of a dark side-room littered with
A creased map while she placidly reads
His letter in the comfort of her kitchen
Suffused with a soft subdued light.

The framed painting, an intended indenture,
Feigns the fate of hand-to-hand adventure.

Dr. Emily Bilman hosts poetry meetings in her home in Geneva, Switzerland.  She earned her PhD from East Anglia University, where she taught literature; her dissertation, The Psychodynamics of Poetry, was published in 2010. Peter Lang published Modern Ekphrasis, which discusses the poetry-painting analogy from Plato to Derrida, in 2013. Two poetry collections, A Woman By A Well and Resilience are available from Matador. Her poems appear in The London Magazine, The Linnet’s Wings, Hunger Mountain, at, and many other journals. Read more on her website here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Neil Ellman Meets Paul Klee's "Wild Man"

A frequent contributor to P&P, New Jersey poet Neil Ellman has published more than 1,350 poems—most of which are ekphrastic—in print and online journals, anthologies, and chapbooks throughout the world.  His latest chapbook, Of Angels & Demons (Flutter Press), is an ekphrastic collection based on the works of Paul Klee. Read an interview with Ellman in which he explains his life-long fascination with writing poems about art. Click here.

The Future Man
Klee, 1933
(after the Watercolor by Paul Klee)

He will be neither man nor machine
neither illusion nor material
not a new beginning nor an end.

He will have neither passion
nor the capacity for thought—.
he will be an afterthought

Without character or a name
he will have no sense of who
or what he is

taking any form
that suits his momentary needs
without conscience or remorse.

The Future Man will be
a cipher, a fallen star
the consequence of his past.
Klee, 1922

The Wild Man

(after the watercolor by Paul Klee)

The man in the wilderness
is wilder than the trees
wilder still
than the creatures
that inhabit
the forest, moor
desert and prairie
is a man possessed
by his natural state
venom in his fangs
a rattle in his tail
the wilderness consuming
his humanity
as it retrieves
its spires and pyramids.

The Man of Confusion

(after the watercolor by Paul Klee)

Disembodied, disillusioned
Klee, 1939
by the pallor of his skin
and tremors in his hands
an aging man is easily confused
by a shadow without the sun     
and the moon without its glow

too easily bewildered
by the flight of crows and ravens
on a black-star night   
or the way a river bends
toward light

he knows the end is near
but not the reason
or the road to take
confused by creation
the dissonance of his life
and the voice of death from air.

Gaze of Silence

(after the watercolor by Paul Klee)
Gaze of Silence, 1932
In silence
eyes gaze within
and without
words and expectations
without knowing
what is there to know
but seeing, believing
the images in the clouds
as if they were real
without comment
knowing they are not
in silence
the eyes gaze
like the Sphinx
over a desolate land.