Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Edward Hirsch and Agnes Martin Paint the Horizon

Born in 1950 in Chicago, poet and critic Edward Hirsch has long been fascinated with artists and the source of artistic creativity. He has authored eight books of poetry, four books of criticism, and edited the anthology Transforming Vision: Writers on Art (Bulfinch Press, 1994). 
Agnes Martin (1912-2004) was a Canadian-American painter and writer, who considered herself an abstract expressionist. Her convictions about the emotive content of her work, underlying its apparent reticence and austerity of form, were expressed in a lecture, "We Are in the Midst of Reality Responding with Joy," delivered at Yale University in 1976. Read the lecture here. More about Martin here.


With My Back to the World, 1997

The Horizontal Line 
(Homage to Agnes Martin)

It was like a white sail in the early morning

It was like a tremulous wind calming itself
After a night on the thunderous sea

The exhausted lightning lay down on its side
And slept on a bed of cumulous sheets

She came out of the mountains
And surrendered to the expansiveness of a plain

She underlined a text in Isaiah:

Make level in the desert
Mountain, 1960
A highway for our God
Every valley shall be exalted

And every mountain and hill shall be made low


The mountain grew tired of striving upward
And longed to flatten its ragged peaks

The nostalgia of a cathedral for the open plain

The nostalgia of a soprano for plainsong

I know a woman who slept on a cot
And sailed over the abyss on a wooden plank

She looked as far as the eye can see

But the eye is a circle—poor pupil—

And the universe curved


It was like a pause on the Bridge of Sighs
An instant before the storm
Or the moment afterward

My friend listened to Gregorian chants
On the car radio as he raced down
A two-lane highway in southern France

I remember riding a bicycle very fast
On a country road where the yellow line
Quivered ever so slightly in the sun

The faint tremor in my father's hand
When he signed his name after the stroke

The beauty of an imperfection

An almost empty canvas turned on its side
A zip that forever changed its mind

From its first pointed stroke
To its last brush with meaning
The glow of the line was spiritual

How the childlike pencil went for a walk
And came home skipping

It was like lying down at dusk to rest
On the cool pavement under the car
After a blistering day in the desert

The beaded evanescence of the summer heat

The horizon was a glimmering blue band
A luminous streamer in the distance

I recited, Brightness falls from the air
And the line suddenly whisked me away

No chapel is more breathtaking
Than the one that has been retrieved
On the horizon of memory

She remembered the stillness of a pool
Before the swimmers entered the water
And the colorful ropes dividing the lanes

Each swimmer was a scar in the blue mist

Invisible bird,
Whistle me up from the dark on a bright branch

It's not the low murmur of your voice
Almost breaking over the phone
But the thin wire of grief
The hum of joy that connects us

Sacred dream of geometry,
Ruler and protractor, temper my anguish,
Untrouble my mind

Heartbeat, steady my hand

Each year she crossed a line
Through the front page of a fresh diary
And vowed to live above the line

She would not line up with others
She would align herself with the simple truth

She erased every line in her notebook but one
Farewell to the aspirations of the vertical
The ecstasies of the diagonal
The suffering cross

Someone left a prayer book open in the rain
And the printed lines blurred
Ink smudged our fingers when we prayed

Let every line be its own revelation

The line in the painting was surrounded by light
The light in the painting held its breath
On the threshold of a discovery

If only she could picture
The boundlessness of God drawing
An invisible thread through the starry spaces

If only she could paint
The horizon without limits

A horizontal line is a pilgrimage

A segment of devotion wrested from time

An infinitely gentle mark on a blank page

The stripe remains after everything else is gone

It is a wisp of praise with a human hand

It is singing on a bare canvas


ekphrastic poems painters poets

1 comment:

  1. Your link to Martin's lecture goes to a blog where the text is the blogger's, not Martin's. Try this link instead, & you'll hear Martin delivering the lecture herself: library.si.edu/digital-library/collection/hirshhorn-audio-archive/agnes-martin-midst-reality-responding-joy.

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