You Will Remember Me
Word Galaxy, an imprint of Able Muse Press, 2023
The Ekphrastic Review: Tell us how you discovered ekphrasis, or came to be interested in writing ekphrastic literature.
Barbara Lydecker Crane: In 2005 I began taking a series of classes in poetry writing from Cambridge poet and artist Tom Daley; I learned so much from him. He introduced me to many traditional forms—sonnet, villanelle, pantoum, sestina, ghazal, ballad, etc.—as well as to ekphrastic and persona poems. My new book’s poems are ekphrastic and persona, as each is written in the imagined voice of a particular artist, and each references a particular portrait painting by that artist. Writing from others’ viewpoints felt very freeing; I was writing on their behalf more than mine. Sometimes I was quite critical in my portrayal (such as with Gauguin and Dali) but usually I tried to portray each artist empathically, often alluding to both their strength and weakness, or their confidence and fear.
Also, ekphrasis interests me because I was a Fine Arts major in college and a professional artist for many years—first in graphic design, then in designing and making “art quilts” (for wall display). These quilts were predominately landscapes, so it was a refreshing change to create all this people-centered work. I still love making art, but I find words are a great material: unlike fabric, they are free, they don’t fade, and they are infinitely changeable. One needn’t unstitch to edit! And published poems remain in my hands—unlike sold artworks.
The Ekphrastic Review: What is your process like? How do you find your way into a painting?
Barbara Lydecker Crane: For this collection, I kept looking at paintings—in books, on the web, in museums—and some made me want to research, delve deeper, and try to imagine why the artist painted that subject in that way. If I felt that I was saying what he or she might choose to say, then it seemed I had found my way into that artist’s mind. Or at least I hope I did.
I am so happy that Able Muse Press is including colour illustrations. Many of the paintings are public domain - free use; for some I obtained permission from the artists themselves; for others the process became too expensive or labyrinthine. Most of the poems do have accompanying art. The missing ones can be found on the web, with directions for that in the Notes at the back of the book.
The Ekphrastic Review: Tell us about your interest in portraits in art. How did you decide to write about this theme?
Barbara Lydecker Crane: By chance, I found a copy of Janson (the iconic art history textbook) at a library booksale. The picture of the mosaic at Hagia Sofia intrigued me: what must it have been like creating it, setting in thousands of tiles to create this glittering, towering, mystical image? Around the time I wrote that sonnet (which is not in this book), the pandemic began. I huddled with my computer, my books, and my notebooks, and wrote about 100 poems in the next few years, all ekphrastic persona poems relating to portrait paintings. This book contains 65 of them. Now that I think about it, I think writing about all these artists gave me a great raft of imaginary company during Covid isolation. And these artists certainly gave me perspective.
The Ekphrastic Review: Your collection is all sonnets. Do you always write in that form? Do you find the constraint of form limiting or liberating?
Barbara Lydecker Crane: Good questions. No, I don’t always write sonnets, though I’ve written more of them than any other form. I find it’s both limiting and liberating to write in form. Of course a sonnet limits you to about 140 syllables, so you have to make every one count! But making it short and sweet can somehow be liberating, too. And there’s always the chance that a rhyme word search leads into an unexpected but welcome direction. When a formal poem ends just right, it seems “like a box that clicks shut.” X.J. Kennedy said that. It’s an elusive and very satisfying sensation, and one I only seem to find in a formal poem, when I get lucky.
The Ekphrastic Review: What were some especially delicious discoveries you made about paintings, portrait subjects, or artists during the research and writing for this collection?
Barbara Lydecker Crane: So many! Caravaggio’s using a dead prostitute as his model for the Virgin Mary…Dali’s outrage at his parents’ fixation on their deceased firstborn, also named Salvadore…Warhol’s sly joke about his deceased mother…Artemisia Gentileschi’s rape and subsequent trial…the story of Lavinia Fontana’s arranged marriage turning out happily…Rembrandt’s bankruptcy…the rivalry between Rafael and Michelangelo…I could go on and on. There were so many fascinating discoveries.
The Ekphrastic Review: In an era where we are absolutely saturated with images, is visual art still important? Why or why not?
Oh my yes, just as important as music or dance or any art form. Visual art is a form of expression and communication, with no translation ever needed. Since the rise of photography, portrait painting has definitely declined. But what a fascinating record it is—historically, psychologically, and artistically.
The Ekphrastic Review: Which poem or painting in this collection did you find most challenging, and why?
Barbara Lydecker Crane: I’d say it was the portraits by the living artists, especially Julie Dowling and Amy Sherald, because I didn’t want my words to say something that might offend them in any way, but to still “speak” with conviction in critical ways. Fortunately the two have interviews on the Internet, elucidating their life stories and their views. And I sent each of them “their” poem in permission requests for their art images, so that each could see what I was trying to say as if I were her.
Also very challenging was Lucien Freud. He seems to have been a conflicted and troubled man, and yet pretty arrogant. That was a hard mix to try to convey.
Of course there were many that I researched but never wrote about—those where I couldn’t find the drama of an artist’s life, or the drama of a portrait, that would invite me (and readers) in.
The Ekphrastic Review: Tell us about a few favourite poems in the collection, perhaps something about how the pieces came together, and what they mean to you.
Barbara Lydecker Crane: I'd cite the female artists here who persevered against great odds, including discrimination, disability, poverty, and war—including Cassatt, Laserstein, Kahlo, Pajakowna, and Serebriakova. Their works are inspirations, and their lives show me just how fortunate I am, in so many ways.
The Gainsborough poem about Mr. and Mrs. Andrews is another favourite, with my double-entendre at the end. In fact no one knows why this work was left undone (Mrs. Andrews’ lap is unpainted). But research told me that Gainsborough held a grudge against this couple, and it’s clear that Mr. Andrews was a hunter. Likely Mr. and Mrs. Andrews asked for something genteel to be painted in her lap, such as flowers or a book. I hypothesize that Gainsborough suggested—then insisted on—a fresh-killed bird, or (ahem) a ‘dead cock.’ I don’t often have a bawdy sense of humour, but I discovered that Gainsborough did!
The poem called "Boterismo" was fun to write, and I can empathize with the poet that Botero paints: I’m imagining this painted poet, like me, must await the right words to complete his poem. Right words do fall, like sweet fruit—in time.
The Ekphrastic Review
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