Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Artists Käthe Kollwitz and Dorothea Tanning Meet in the Virtual Studio

Self-portrait seated at a table, 1892
Self-Portraits: Käthe Kollwitz 
by Susanna Lang

She was old even when she was young.
Kept late-night vigil, the lamp
shining white on her smooth skin,
the unmarked page, her stilled hands.

The same eyes look out from
her sketch at 60, my age now. 
The years between all war years.
Her gaze disembodied, no paper

ready for her pencil, no hands,
only a smudge of charcoal
haloing her face. The same
downturned mouth.

She knew even before her child
was born, what emptiness
would hollow out her body
Self-Portrait en face, 1923
at his death; had swallowed

the grief of all the mothers who sat
by all the deathbeds, heads in their hands
and the long night folding
like a cloak around their shoulders.

After Dorothea Tanning's Still in the Studio, 1979
by William V. Ray

Use blunt edges.  Thick black.  Face — make it red as intrusion.  Use a knife.  Use the

pistol-handled brush.

Studio — a fragile ark.                                                             Studio — razor line.
Scrape it off.  Scrape it.  

In my head but they’ll see it.

  Ghetto-brown window.  Way in and out.

Can’t turn to face who’s in the room.

About her painting Tanning wrote: "April 1976. There is no light in the studio, nothing moves and the colored jokes are fading fast. The disorder is grievous. (Is the heart condemned to break each day?)

June. Still in the studio. Everything is there at the bottom of my crazy brain. Everything. But it’s stone-heavy and will not rise. Most of the time it’s all dark down there. You can stumble around for hours without joy. My mind is a cave and its words are hidden in boxes and trunks with lost or rusty keys. If you find the keys they don’t fit the locks. Or if they fit they don’t turn. Or if they open the lock the lid does not rise, the hinges are stiff. Even if, finally, the trunk is opened, most of its contents are rotted or moldy from their long wait and aren’t worth the trouble of dragging into the light.

I went on painting, numbly, doggedly, somberly, something that when it was finished I called Still in the Studio. But it was as if the paints had curdled in their tubes. Colors that I had so loved stubbornly eluded my brushes in this brokenhearted work that turned out to be a kind of farewell to Paris and to France."

     –from Between Lives: An Artist and Her World. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001, pp. 297-298.

Susanna Lang’s most recent collection is Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013). A two-time Hambidge fellow and recipient of the Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer's Center, she has published original poems and essays, and translations from the French in Kalliope, Southern Poetry Review, World Literature Today, Chicago Review, New Directions, and Jubilat, among other journals. Her books include translations of Yves Bonnefoy as Words in Stone and The Origin of Language. Lang teaches in the Chicago Public Schools. See her author's page here.

William V. Ray is a retired English teacher, who has also been an editor, freelance writer, and, of late, a café owner. His published work includes textbooks as well as poetry and poetic prose.  He is the editor of the recently revived online journal The Courtship of Winds.  He lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.  For more detail, please visit his page at LinkedIn:


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