Frida Kahlo is known for her self-portraits, and here she holds a Mexican flag made of papel picado [cut paper] looking south on the U.S.-Mexican border. Kahlo was married for a time to Mexican muralist painter Diego Rivera, who was commissioned to paint extensive murals in cities across the U.S. Kahlo didn’t feel at home in the United States, and was upset by the industrialism she saw in cities such as Detroit and New York.
Buildings like esqueletos
block the Aztec sun—as I stand
over earth & wiring as roots.
Lindsey Thäden is the most recent winner of New York's 2016 #PoetweetNYC contest. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Philadelphia-based Apeiron Review, eleven40seven, New York Metro, Passages North and Vending Machine Press, which is e-published from Sydney, Australia.
Spanish Moss and Moonlight
The shape on paper was hers, light pencil tracings of the first ideas of how the moss would hang in front of the moon, the humid haze would hover in the luxuriant Louisiana sky. Now he was shaping it in three dimensions, his fingers and hands working together, centering, centering, pressing, smoothing the Lake Pontchartrain clay; his strong left leg powering the treadle, the wheel spinning, the vase rising from a shapeless lump of earth into an almost living, an almost organic form.
“Pinch in the neck,” she said, “there above that rounded shoulder that suggests the tops of the trees--constrict the clay into a sharply defined ring, a cylindrical edge that will pronounce: Here is a vase--a form with a hollowness, with emptiness, inside it. The blue and pale lighted circle of trees I have in mind will hold within that hollow space where all vases hide their secrets, the mystery of moonlit nights and bayous.”
She carries off the green ware, places it on her turntable and begins to shave off strips of clay, layers of clay, snippets of clay that drop to the workbench, leaving strands of moss to fall from the trees. As clay curls off the edge of her embossing knife, the live oaks and bald cypress rise, their branches woven, and everywhere the Spanish moss, drapes, droops, caresses the tree forms, bounds the growing image from above the way bayou trees frame the southern night skies.
With the first firing, the vase turns white as the fullest moon, ready for the glaze. The blues, pale, paler, palest, separate sky and foliage, shape and void, turn black bayou waters into a moonlit blue sheen, mark the sky for radiance with flowing silken glaze. The trees across the water loom upward, reaching, reaching, and the round moon hides behind fingers of moss, the deepest blue moss, moss that loves live oaks and warm nights and calling owls and chirping tree frogs.
And then the final fire, the kiln blazing, clay and glazes merging, capturing in the chemistry of ceramics and heat a moment of time, making it a piece of forever, burning into reality an imagining of shape and form and color and shadings. Oh, yes, here is what she saw before she began to sketch. And here is what his fingers felt before he took up the clay. Here is what they made, together, from earth and fire and memories, from Spanish moss, from live oaks, from moonlight.
Roy Beckemeyer lives in Wichita, Kansas His poems have appeared in a variety of print and on-line literary journals including Beecher's Magazine, Chiron Review, Coal City Review, Dappled Things, Flint Hills Review, I-70 Review, Kansas City Voices, The Light Ekphrastic, The Midwest Quarterly, The North Dakota Quarterly, The Syzygy Poetry Review, and Zingara. His book of poetry, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Review and Press, Lawrence, KS, 2014) was selected as a 2015 Kansas Notable Book. He won the Beecher's Magazine Poetry Contest in 2014, and the Kansas Voices Poetry Award in 2016.
Memory Is Organic
Early warmth urged green-fingered hands up from soil. Iris bulbs driven by need to resurrect, unbury what had been blacked out beneath the surface until strong sun penetrated, woke them. When the irises flower this March, I will resist mind-seeing my friend and mentor again, one year since she held court in her living room’s mid-century modern recliner, another consignment store find. She had a knack for looking carefully and into corners, for noticing, showcasing beauty. That March she shrank daily, unlike the tumors inside, becoming shadow; wisp; waif. But her authoritative tone remained, still her contagious laugh spilling over mouth’s brim, broad smile so comforting. Three of us summoned to say goodbye as a group that day, at an appointed hour, could not comfort back, could only sit for the assigned duration, making stilted conversation, conversation meant for continuation, meant for the living. Just as the iris bulbs she gave me have risen, bloomed, died back each year in their own way and time, my friend lived longer than expected. They were blooming in my yard as she was dying, as I was reading the last novel she would ever write, about an artist trapped inside a wrecked body. My mother’s cancer then also had re-bloomed in her chemo-broken body. She fought longer than my friend, surrendered more quickly—from the day I watched her doctor withhold, force her to ask how long? reluctantly answer. When the irises bloom again, I will refuse to think of my mother who loved irises, think how my friend transported and tended and shared the bulbs another woman had poured into her cradling arms years ago, the arms she once cradled her only daughter in. These irises, not yet loose and opening, not yet offering purple-blue velvet unfurling, shock of gold stamen, are readying to bring up from earth’s basement the secrets that nourished them through the past year, through cold seasons, and soon will, despite my resistance, force me to remember.
Janet St. John
Janet St. John lives and writes in New Mexico. Her poetry and flash fiction have appeared in numerous literary magazines includingThe Nebraska Review, Poet Lore, StepAway, After Hours, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing, Canary: A Literary Journal of Environmental Crisis,and bosque: the magazine. With arts funding under attack, she is dedicated to writing and creating even more art, keeping convos about the arts even more alive, and personally supporting as many artists and arts programs as she can. Her weekly blog series "Art & Soul Shorts" is part of that mission: https://www.janetstjohn.com/blog
Afternoon in Edinburgh
Your eyes pull me across the room, past the milling tourists, to where you wait, mouse-velvet collar turned against the stubble, brown beret atop your wild hair. You gaze at me across three hundred years.
Once, you painted burghers, their black robes shimmering like water, ruffs starched by obedient maids. They paid you well for their memorials, and it was they who tittered when they heard what was to be sold: the Mantegna, the Giorgione and the Raphael, objects of your lust. Inside the house, their wives ran fingers over fabrics that would no longer drape your rooms as they dreamed of their own parlours. Even with everything gone, there still was not enough for you had sinned gravely, loving Saskia beneath your class while living above it.
My sins are different than yours but sins nonetheless, so long as it is wrong to hide under guile, turn away toward ease and refuse to feel the weight of our lives.
Though you once preened like a cock, you never pretended the weight was not there. Even as a youth you felt it. Still in your twenties you squinted and saw Judas in the temple imploring the priests to take back their silver. They refused, of course, and turned their backs, and we know what came next – the hanging, the lynching, the digging in the potter’s field – but in the studio you lingered on this moment and felt its crushing weight. Now, you challenge me to be so brave.
You will live twelve years more and paint yourself again, with sallow skin and wiry hair. Defeat will hover but arrogance will save you. A delicate balance, it is, to teeter between what you know and what will save you.
If I could, I would reach under the crumpled velvet to embrace and comfort you, but there is no refuge for us, hubristic comrades, fellow penitents.
Kathleen Stone in a writer from Boston. Her critical art reviews and personal essays have been published in Arts Fuse (artsfuse.org) and Points East and she is at work on several longer projects. She co-hosts a monthly literary salon in Boston called Booklab and holds graduate degrees from the Bennington Writing Seminars and Boston University School of Law. Her website can be found at www.kathleencstone.com.
Ellis Wilson had more notoriety after his death than he did during his life, as a replica of this painting hung above the Cosby’s mantel in the 1980s hit series. The painting resides at Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. Wilson traveled to Haiti in the early 1950s and noticed that from a distance, people become a mass of darkness. After this visit, he began painting figures from a distance flat and featureless.
Black dress first worn by my sister
moist with my tears—following
bouquet of pink roses.
Lindsey Thäden is the most recent winner of New York's 2016 #PoetweetNYC contest. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Philadelphia-based Apeiron Review, eleven40seven, New York Metro, Passages North and Vending Machine Press, which is e-published from Sydney, Australia.
The Crucifixion of Christ
Stand back or you will miss its monumental gravity as it looms over you with the stark modernity of a Rothko. Francisco de Zurbarán’s seventeenth century painting of the crucifixion of Christ dominates the walls with monolithic austerity, a sombre narrative of light and shadow. Not the staged theatrical chiaroscuro of Caravaggio, but one of religious fervor, distilled into restrained emotion. The source of light is unknown, but omnipresent like God.
The pale body of Christ, ribcage and musculature protruding with naturalistic accuracy, hangs limp and passive. Only the flesh is dead, all else is life, nuanced, subdued. The cool umber of the wood sustains the bloodless body, then melts to the ground in a column of minimal brushwork. Bright white drapery winds around the slain lamb like a matador’s cape. The large round nails upstage the pierced wounds with iron dignity. From the painter’s brush, the grit of the soul envelopes the cross with the dense blackness of lava.
At the foot of the cross on a small, transgressive swash of white paint, Zurbarán signs his name with chaotic discretion.
From the towers of Seville to the stones of Golgotha, Zurbarán’s giant still life of the crucifixion is a tribute to the sobriety of death and the triumph of sacrifice. No pain, no pathos, no lament. The deed is done. The aftermath overwhelms us with soothing solemnity.
Jocelyn Ajami is an award winning painter, independent documentary filmmaker, and writer. She is the founder of Gypsy Heart Productions which specializes in documentary projects related to cultural awareness and social justice. Among her award winning films are Gypsy Heart, Oasis of Peace and Queen of the Gypsies.
As a leader with a global perspective, Jocelyn has been the recipient of major grants from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, The Leadership Foundation, International Women's Forum, and the Goethe Institute. Most recently, Jocelyn received first prize for her poem, "Chicago Burning" from Poets and Patrons, Chicago. Born in Caracas, Venezuela and educated in Italy and France, Jocelyn speaks five languages. She works and lives in Chicago, USA.
The Photos Were Like Paintings
The envelope of clouds had broken and the sun lit upon me. I pressed into the pink plaster wall and sheltered in a strip of shade. The wall was a pleasing pink, a pale rose pink. For an hour I had been inching slowly forward toward the ticket booth. There was still a long line of people in front of me. I was tired of standing. I was hot. I was bored. Only later did I learn I had been pressing against the outer wall of Claude Monet’s house.
I had long craved a pilgrimage to Monet’s gardens at Giverny. I was an American student in France in ‘74 when first I floated in his murals of water lilies that fill the walls of L’Orangerie in Paris. I had gone back through the years for other plunges into those water garden panoramas of no horizon, those planes of purple, blue, and green paint, the reflections of unseen trees on the surface of the pond. But I had never made the trek to Giverny.
This time in Paris, in 2016, I was with my husband, David. A warm day in May beckoned us out of the city. I would finally weave my traveler’s dream of the gardens. But I was to be let down. We had not accounted for the three-day weekend in France and the crowds of fellow visitors who, like us, had judged the day as perfect for a visit to the magic of Giverny.
Monet’s gardens—the home of the water lily pond—had begun as a simple idea: “. . . I should like to grow some flowers in order to be able to paint in bad weather as well,” he wrote his agent in 1883 not long after moving to Giverny. The gardens became his obsession, his muse. He lavished great chunks of time on plotting and planning. The pond, dug in 1893, was tended by a gardener whose only job was to maintain the lilies as Monet desired them, to remove dried leaves, fight the water rats who ate the bulbs.
Monet worked and reworked the gardens to reach the reality of his vision. Then he translated that vision using paint and canvas. Often dissatisfied, he destroyed hundreds of paintings. Is this not the crux of the artist’s challenge? For vision to survive execution?
The crowds of our fellow visitors at the entrance carried over into the gardens. David and I shuffled along within clots of people following the roped paths between flower beds. Keep moving. Avoid bumping other bodies. Try not to step on someone’s foot. Try not to step into someone else’s photograph (impossible!). I was always in the way of others or was ungraciously pissed off because they were in my way.
I saw, yes, the pale blue forget-me-nots below tulips of cabernet red, the frilly blooms of lavender iris amid blades of green leaves, the clumps of Persian red pansies with yellow centers. Yes, I took in the heavy drape of purple wisteria hanging from the pond’s Japanese bridge, reflections of encircling willow trees, the unbloomed buds of the water lilies. But for me the gardens were fragmented and shattered by the crowds. It was as if I were seeing the broken shards of a stained glass window.
We took the train back to Paris. The realm I had sought remained undreamed.
Back home in Seattle I glanced at David’s computer screen one evening as he edited his photos from Giverny. I was instantly snagged.
David had searched every scene for the best shot. He had reached beyond the jostle of bodies and slipped past the oppression I had felt. David has the artist’s eye and he had been in the garden of an artist. He had captured Monet’s carefully crafted layers of flowers, apple trees, pink house, and green hills. His framing, his edits nipped and cut most of the people. In his long shot of the pond the eye is pulled toward the dark green rounds of lily leaves, the surface reflections of trees, clouds, and sky, the oranges and reds of azaleas around the edges. The mind barely registers the people in coats of yellow, blue, brown, and red that speckle gaps in the foliage.
David’s photos were like paintings. In them I found the Giverny I had craved.
Nancy L. Penrose is a writer based in Seattle. Her essays have been published in Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee Literary Review; 1966: A Journal of Creative Nonfiction; Drash: Northwest Mosaic; the collections of Travelers’ Tales; and the anthology Burning Bright: Passager Celebrates 21 Years. Details may be found at www.plumerose.net.
The Wind From the Sea
The sheer window curtain bellies like a pregnant Muslim woman in her dupatta, filling with secret life from beyond the horizon. Fine incisions written as tatters say the sea has been restless for ages. The tea kettle outside the painting purrs today will start out calm. It is enough to know these things without having to say them. Wyeth’s painting holds them before us. Beyond the curtain is a road leading to the sea, to whales and fishermen with sore red hands. And to you, and to me.
Craig Brandis lives and writes in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Books absorb us, draw us inward— even when we’re most in public. The great photographer André Kertész made a lifelong project of exploring that paradox. Between 1915 and the 1970s, he travelled the world, snapping candid photos of people with their books, their magazines, and the occasional newspaper. On rooftops, behind stage doors, on trains, in parks, in bars and shops, bent over trash bins, tucked into alcoves; black and white; male and female; priest and rabbi and nun; rich and poor — wherever he found readers, he recorded them in the act. Reading is the great leveller, the great lifter, his images seem to suggest. In the republic of books, we are all equal.
There is something almost unbearably poignant about these photographs today. Yet, what we sense when we look at them is more than wistfulness for an imagined past, more than mere nostalgia. Shot from unexpected angles, they conceal complexities; often we have to work to discern a subject within the frame. The experience mimics the act portrayed. In these images, we don’t simply witness someone reading; instead, we read someone reading. So what we feel when we look at them is something akin to deep reading’s deep engagement.
Only a lover of books could take such photographs. Kertész could hardly have been blind to the irony of that. For it was brilliant photographers like him who were rendering text increasingly redundant in his day. “Your pictures talk too much,” said an editor at Life, in rejecting some of his images. Kertész’s photos were so expressive, so complete in themselves that they left nothing for a journalist to say.
Some of his photographs seem to acknowledge as much, and to draw the implications even further. One in particular, taken in his study in 1960, is a kind of oblique self-portrait. Shot from a sofa or chair on one side of the room, it takes as its subject a wall of neatly arranged shelves. In the foreground we can see the photographer’s bare feet.
Those feet by then had transported Kertész from the ticker-taped floors of the Budapest stock exchange, where his family had sent him to work as a young man, to the absinthe-scented cafés and paint splattered artists’ studios of Montparnasse. Later still they had explored the fire escapes, rooftops, and windowsills of New York. At the same time, they recall the dirty, naked feet of the young boys poring over a book in one of his earliest photographs. At sixty-six, he had not forgotten his beginnings.
The objects on his shelves evoke a full and cultured life. Books. Magazines and journals stacked in piles. 19th-century landscapes, dark and moody. One of his more surrealist works, from the Distortions series, hangs in the upper right; below it a glass-encased clock indicates the passage of time. A mirror reflects the artist back to himself; a lamp casts light on the portrait of a woman, possibly Elizabeth, his beloved wife. And amid all this evidence of a refined and cultivated sensibility squats a television. Its screen is blank. Above it dangles an empty picture frame.
It is tempting to see that television as an evil dwarf in a tale of loss and bitter discouragement. By then, Kertész had lived in the United States for more than twenty years, and he had failed to achieve any recognition as an artist. Too late, too late, this image seems to say. As photography had overtaken books, so television might overpower photography. And the world would turn, increasingly, to flat and featureless screens for instruction and entertainment.
Kertész didn’t live to see the spread of computers and Kindles and smartphones, and it’s difficult to know what he would have made of them. For if he sometimes seemed to dread the march of technology, he also embraced its advances; one of the earliest photographers to adopt a 35 mm camera, in his old age he also experimented with the latest Polaroid. What’s more, as the father of street photography, he was always eager to take pictures of ordinary people going about their lives. In fact, if he were still at work today, instead of readers, he might be snapping candid shots of men and women leaning over their laptops or fixated on their smartphones. But, “I do not document anything; I always give an interpretation,” he once remarked. So I doubt if his laptop series would have anything to say about stillness or deep engagement.
Then again, better than anyone, Kertész understood that we live in a liminal time. Screens may seem ascendant, yet books and words can still command a central place. A later photo from his study series illustrates. Taken in 1969, shot from the same sofa or chair as the 1960 picture, it depicts the identical set of shelves; a viewer will also recognize many of the same books and pictures and treasured objects, along with the same bare feet, crossed in almost the same pose.
But that is where the similarities end. In this photo, to the right we see the table where Kertész does some of his work, along with a tripod. In this photo, the photographer’s own photo, his Distortion, occupies a more central place on the shelves. And in this photo, there is no clock, no television, and no empty, dangling frame. Instead, the artist’s neatly organized books and papers dominate the scene. By then, Kertész had finally achieved the American recognition he had long desired, and I like to think that with revived reputation came renewed hope in the rich hermeneutical tradition from which he sprang, and refreshed belief in the power of the word and the power of artful arrangement.
He must have sat on that couch or chaise almost daily for decades, and almost always with a book. But he did not take a photo every time. What, then, prompted this particular self-portrait? We’ll never know. Perhaps a shaft of sun fell just so across his page, distracting him; perhaps a memory, called up by the story he was reading, momentarily tugged his attention away from the page.
Imagine. At seventy-five, he is white-haired, balding, age-spotted, mole-scattered—marked by time, just as his room is marked by time—and the feet stretching out before him ache from his morning’s walk. Outside, in Washington Square, the sounds of a guitar drift up towards the window; closer, in the kitchen, Elizabeth shuts a cupboard door and then begins to hum. He thinks about their evening meal—baked fish, perhaps, with a simple salad and baguette—something light and fresh to mark the season. Soon, he’ll open a dry Riesling and pour them each a glass. From their small round table, they’ll see the trees in the square below and the crisscrossed pattern of the pathways.
Before the stock exchange, before the war, before photography found him, he used to fish the Danube. That was in childhood. Sun glanced off the water, making him squint. Drifting, dreaming, sometimes he’d wait for hours for a tug against the line. He laid the catch inside his uncle’s wicker basket. The larger carp would thrash against its reed-lined sides.
The most valuable things in a life are a man’s memories. And they are priceless.
He looks at his familiar shelves. Perhaps he recalls his father’s bookshop, back in Hungary—the country he fled, first in pursuit of his art, and later, to escape Nazi persecution.
The moment always dictates in my work. So much history embedded in those carefully arranged lines and planes. So much life within those assembled pages. So much life in all pages. The novel in his lap, for instance. Words, like light, bracketing moments; words, like light, calling forth worlds.
Everything is a subject. Every subject has a rhythm. His hand closes around the camera’s familiar weight. The viewfinder frames the scene. Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph.
The shutter clicks.
I write with light.
He sets his camera down. Then he turns back to his book.
Susan Olding is the author of Pathologies: A Life in Essays, selected by 49th Shelf and Amazon.ca as one of 100 Canadian books to read in a lifetime. Her writing has won a National Magazine Award (Canada), and has appeared in The Bellingham Review, The L.A. Review of Books, Maisonneuve, The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, and the Utne Reader, and in anthologies including Best Canadian Essays, 2016 and In Fine Form, 2nd Edition.
Ivan Albright, to Whom I Keep Returning
Ivan Albright, 1897- 1983, was primarily a painter, but he also kept detailed journals of his work and wrote poetry as well. His work appalled many and fascinated many more. He wasn’t interested in conveying familiar forms or notions of beauty. A lengthy essay on Albright by Courtney Graham Donnell begins with a poem of the artist (after which the essay takes its title) in which Albright reports: “A painter am I / Of all things / An artist who sees / the door and chair / And sees on the smooth things a flaw there / and sees on the round things a hollow there / And colors are not just colors to him…” Later in the same essay, Donnell quotes Albright revealing: “If I stir, [objects] stir. If I stand arrested, they become motionless.” These two fragments from the artist begin to unlock why I find Albright’s work so compelling.
I first saw Albright’s work live at the Chicago Art Museum when I was a teenager. I remember being unwilling to move from his painting That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door). The painting enthralled me on multiple levels. First, the title intrigued me. I wasn’t used to artists who did more than hint at what their work was about or even distract from it through their titles. Albright’s titles tell part of the story of the work. (Of course, not wholly—he is an artist, and understands that the viewer/reader must also be allowed space to feel about the work. There must be enough loose threads that someone outside the work can pick up and tie to their own experiences.) His works bear names such as: Wherefore Now Ariseth the Illusion of a Third Dimension; And Man Created God in His Own Image (Room 203); Poor Room—There is No Time, No End, No Today, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever without End (The Window); Heavy the Oar to Him Who Is Tired, Heavy the Coat, Heavy the Sea. As an incipient poet, I was fascinated that a painting title could read as a compact story or poem.
Next, the dates given for the painting, 1931-41, struck me. The artist took a decade to complete a single canvas. More than inspiration, that suggested obsession. This was an artist who was compelled to visit and revisit his work, to tell different parts of the same story, to approach it from all angles. Indeed, Albright has noted that he wanted to convey the way light “fragmented” his subjects as it hit them from all sides. For many of his pieces, Albright built three-dimensional mock-ups in his studio so he could circle around them, enabling him to add details to his paintings for years longer than any human subject would be willing to sit.
This leads to the most compelling aspect of Albright’s work for me as a young person. His depictions were both arresting and horrifying—almost grotesque in their strangeness. Teens are learning that much about adult life contains just that mix of fascinating and frightful. They are acutely alert to ways in which surfaces misrepresent. They are still heavily undergoing socialization, that great falsehood in which they are told to act politely and strive for certain socially-permissible goals, while underneath, they know that what drives humans are baser, uglier, more selfish instincts. They are new to their sexualized bodies, which fascinate but also horrify. They are self-conscious about their hair, their skin, their symmetry (or lack thereof). Ivan Albright’s canvases showed that surface is an illusion, clean beauty is an illusion. He understood the multiplicity within us. He wasn’t afraid to look at ugliness and make it beautiful without hiding it or glossing it over. In fact, imperfection was the source of his inspiration. I was hooked.
Albright tells writer Katherine Kuh, “For some time now I haven’t painted pictures, per se. I make statements, ask questions, search for principles. The paint and brushes are but mere extensions of myself or scalpels if you wish.” This claim resonates with me, now a poet in my own right, all grown up. My poems are extensions of myself—statements, questions, and investigations of principles. They are about the process as much as the product. Ivan Albright’s work inspires Ekphrastic poetry because it asks for multiple visits, begs multiple interpretations. Even reporting what the painter is doing is an elusive project.
For example, when he paints wealthy art collector Mary Block (Portrait of Mary Block), is he celebrating her or gently mocking her? He conveys her strength of character, her wealth, and her command, at the same time that he makes her look menacing and ghoulish. Similarly, in his self-portraits, (specifically those from 1934-5), he places himself among desirable things in elegant clothes, yet manages to make himself look dissipated, like someone coming apart at the seams. The body of young female model in Three Love Birds has a youthful face while at the same time welling and bursting with the kind of bubbling accretions we associate with middle and old-age. All of this dissonance begs for a poetic response.
Too, I appreciate Albright’s desire to separate himself from movements and labels. He was unafraid to be other, a “voice” of one for an audience of one. Susan Weininger’s essay, “Ivan Albright in Context,” quotes him thus: “To join some general movement in art …is to join a buffalo stampede. I say, let the artist be the hunter rather than the buffalo.” As someone who dropped out of an MFA program because of distaste for how Academia seemed to demand a particular voice and produce an aesthetic in almost cookie-cutter fashion, I embrace this independence of spirit. Similarly, in this internet age with its plethora of literary journals, it’s not clear if anyone at all is reading our poetry except for the editors who selected it and the poets who wrote it. One has to write primarily for oneself, interrogating existence out of a private and obsessive motivation.
Finally, Albright models how I want to die. Four days before his own death, he created his final self-portrait (Self-Portrait 1983), a shaky line-drawing of his eyes, later made into an etching by John Paulus Semple. The body has all but gone, the life forced out of it, but the artist as witness, the vision of Albright’s singular intelligence, remain to the very end. That is what I hope for, to comment on my experiences until the biochemical mystery that makes me who I am ceases.
Thus, I offer Ivan Albright as a source of inspiration to all who read this. One can visit and revisit his works endlessly without exhausting their narratives. Each canvas contains a world and its stories, whether depicting the animate or the inanimate. Nothing is as it seems. Paraphrasing Albright, every time we stir ourselves to examine them, the canvases come to life. One suspects that even after we turn our backs, they go on living and speaking—if only to themselves.
(All quotations and images referenced from Ivan Albright: Magic Realist, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1997)
Devon Balwit is a poet and educator from Portland, Oregon, who learned to love art from her artist parents. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals, among them: 3 elements, 13 Myna Birds, Anti-Heroin Chic, Dream Fever Magazine, Dying Dahlia Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Free State Review, MAW, Rat's Ass Review, Rattle, Red Paint Hill Publishing, Referential, Serving House Journal, The Cape Rock, The Literary Nest, The Yellow Chair, Timberline Review, vox poetica, and Vanilla Sex Magazine. She welcomes contact from her readers.
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