Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Poet Jim Lewis Encounters Andrew Wyeth "In the Evening"

Jim Lewis is a poet, musician, and nurse practitioner. His poetry and music reflect the difficulty and joy of human interactions and often draw inspiration from his decades of experience in healthcare. When he is not writing, composing, or diagnosing, he is often on a kayak, exploring and photographing the waterways near his home in Northern California. His work has appeared in Spark! A Creative Anthology, Vol I, and will appear in anthologies by Red Dashboard and Arachne Press later this year. Says Lewis, “I love reading and my children are all avid readers, as are my grandchildren, especially the two in the photo.” The following poem was inspired by the discovery of Andrew Wyeth's "Helga" paintings.

andrew in the evening
Braids, 1979, by Andrew Wyeth

her place:
evening is hard he said
moving between this world
and the other
guarding my words
tending with such care
the fences i have built
to make this little place
in our lives
i weary of the deception
but no solutions come
conscience urges me
to give you up
pull the curtain
cover the inspiration you are
and paint my kitchen window
or the pastor's children
but then
something of me would die –
On Her Knees, 1977, by Andrew Wyeth

he paused and noticed
she was quietly arranging
her hair and her collar
smiling at the familiar monologue
knowing he would return
that she would give him
what she could give
no fear and no regret
paint what your heart sees
she said simply
i will be here

his place:
evening is hard he said
stopping to kiss her hello
and sample the stew that simmered
like his passion for beauty
i am driven to create
and some days it just doesn't work
the colors are wrong
the light in the waves
mocks me and eludes me
maybe i should paint the kitchen window
or the pastor's children –

he paused and noticed
she was quietly arranging
the plates at table
knowing he would never quit
until he got it right
she would continue to give him
all she could give
no recrimination
no looking back
paint what your heart sees
she said simply
i will be here

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Poet Steve Klepetar Explores Van Gogh's Houses

Steve Klepetar’s work has appeared in such journals as Glass, Stirring, Red River 
Review, Snakeskin, Black Market Lit and many others.  Several of his poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.  His most recent collections include Speaking to the Field Mice (Sweatshoppe Publications, 2013), My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto (Flutter Press, 2013) and Return of the Bride of Frankenstein (forthcoming from Kind of a Hurricane Press). Klepetar teaches English literature at Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota. Read more on his website here

The White House at Night, 1890

Black Cat Women

After Van Gogh, The White House at Night, 1890

Black cat women on a village street, strolling
their great hips rolling, like they've forgotten
last night when they leaped lean on jagged fences
screeching with toms in the yellow moonlight.

Wakened to a feathery, tropical town, yellow-green
parrot hot, jasmine smelly with sun bouncing white
off red-roofed stucco walls, they meander baking
stones.  Their green eyes ache, squinting in blades

of light.  Today, squeezed tight into blue-green
bodices, ink black skirts, kerchiefs cover silky
wild hair tamed in tight coils, knot-topped on heads
swaying slightly up leering yellow stairs, lurching

the high street ablaze with spiky trees, stabbing
traps of shrub and neon-bright bush.  This life a day
light dream, nothing but glinting interlude before
sun sets, and black cats yowl in the colorless cool.

House With Blue Roof
House with Blue Roof, 1890

"Are there minds and interiors
of homes more important than
anything that has been expressed
by painting?  I am inclined to think so."
                                                   Van Gogh

Problem of color, of blue
and streaks of white like the bone
beneath. Of dark green and pale
translucent green, liquid
as the eyes of cats.

Inside, the rooms are dark and cool.
Wood and wicker chairs, the floors    
rubbed bare.  On the table, fruit

and wine, flowers, cheese and bread. 
Come, take the knife, cut yourself
a thick slice, sip the fragrant wine,
rough and new as what you drink at home.

Getting Calm
Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Remy, 1889-90

"I must not think of all that - I must
make things, even if it's only studies
of cabbages and salad, to get calm..."
                                                  Van Gogh

The vestibule arches calm and solid,
ceiling space of Romanesque vaults,
brass ponderous as quiet afternoon. 

Through open doors green day stabs
across the dried blood asylum floor,
a little rectangle of world.

This hallway is my mind, calm as arches
hunched to hold fingerprints
of sun.  Inside I count my breaths,

heavy and even, my pulse
splashing as I tally shadows,
black-stroke strong.


Madmen calm sometimes, creating quiet
spaces between wild emotions of eye,
effort seldom seen.  I must not think

of screaming faces in the Cyprus trees,
heaving lines of earth, grass and hill. 
Crows rise like black checks of misery

to the seeping ink of night sky.  Corn 
burns, a fire of gold, but I must make
myself calm, painting salad in my quiet
room, finding design in veins of lettuce
leaf, true colors at the blend
of carrot, onion, chard.


Tonight calmness will pervade
my dreams, gray rain on dark fields.
Mud sucks at my boots, blue

mountains seem to rise, like heaving
backs of earth.  I walk through wet
crops, peasant-faced, the weasel

of Saint-Remy.  I walk calmly
in the mode of love, offering what
I can: sweet young green of almond

bursting blossoms white as wedding
veils, rough-barked trunks of trees,
uneasy calm between the crows and storm.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Kay Ryan Gathers Her Mother's Lilacs

Searching for poems about Mary Cassatt's work - what else would we publish on Mother's Day? - we found this lovely hommage by the former Poet Laureate Kay Ryan to Cassatt's "Lilacs in a Window." It's followed by Ryan's thoughts on ekphrastic poetry. More about Kay Ryan here.

by Mary Cassatt

Do colors

call to one another—
lilac in a window

call green; green

beg relief from


thing the other’s

name? No lilac

without end?


my mother’s choice,

one bush

by the desert house

against sand and

bitter wind

called to her

green, green

without end.

Ekphrastic poems. Norris Palmstreick asks if I write them. Well, now that I have looked up the word and determined that an ekphrastic poem is one that describes another work of art, usually a painting but also possibly sculpture or music, I am prepared to say that I have done so, after a fashion, but not recently.

I should start by admitting that I have a certain prejudice. I am inclined to see poems-about-paintings as easy poems, or exercises, or trainer poems. The writer is playing tennis against a nice, solid backboard. The artwork is already there; all the poet has to do is dance around in front of something both fixed and culturally valuable. One feels a sense of pre-approval if one writes about Great Art.

But please, I don’t want anybody throwing Rilke’s torso in my face. Of course there is no “kind” of poetry that one can really say is “easy” or any such thing. We all just have approaches that rub us mostly the wrong way.

Twenty years ago, yes; I demonstrated definite ekphrastic tendencies: poems treating of Hopper, Van Gough, Matisse, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Chagall, even Giotto and El Greco. And why wouldn’t poets write about artists of all kinds? One is alone and cherishes the struggles (ending in triumph, of course) of others who were alone. Also, there is the pleasure of jobbing out one’s aesthetic musings.

Maybe I’m wrong to think I ever really wrote ekphrastic poems. I have always found “material” (such as the content of a picture, or a story from my life or anyone else’s) very hot to stand on; I’ve had to jump off pretty fast.