I am especially digging the prose poems in Rose Alcalá‘s MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem, 2017). They are haunting and illuminating, and leave my mind hanging in multiple imagined places. Which is always something to admire in a poem: its ability to shift me elsewhere.
AT HOBBY LOBBY
She tosses a bolt of fabric into the air. Hill country, prairie, a horse trots there. I say three yards,
and her eyes say more: What you need is guidance, a hand that can zip scissor through cloth.
You need a picture of what you’ve lost. To double the width against the window for the gathering.
Consider where you sit in the morning (transparency’s appealing, except it blinds us before day’s
begun). How I long to captain that table, to repeat in a beautiful accent a customer’s request. My
mother cut threads from buttons with her teeth, inquiring with a finger in the band if it dug into
the waist. Or kneeled against her client and pulled a hem down to a calf to cool a husband’s collar.
I can see this in my sleep, among notions. My bed was inches from the sewing machine, a dress on
the chair weeping its luminescent frays. Sleep was the sound of insinuation, a zigzag to keep holes
receptive. Or awakened by a backstitch balling under the foot. A needle cracking? Blood on a white
suit? When my baby’s asleep I write to no one and cannot expect a response. The fit’s poor, always.
No one wears it out the door. But fashions continue to fly out of magazines like girls out of windows.
Sure, they are my sisters. Their machines, my own. The office from which I wave to them in their
descent has uneven curtains, made with my own pink and fragile hands.
American painter Lee Price focuses on the subject of food with the solitary female figure in private, intimate settings — figures that are always lost in what might appear to be the bliss of consumption in highly unusual environments and portrayed from a unique aerial point of view. This odd perspective creates an illusion or feeling of an out of body experience as if the subject is looking down at herself. While clearly demonstrating her amazing technical skills, the circumstance of consistently depicting female figures in the act of compulsive behavior tends to hint at an underlying message. Price’s paintings have been the subject of numerous solo and group shows across the United States. She is represented by Evoke Contemporary in Sante Fe, New Mexico, and Wendt Gallery which has showrooms in Laguna Beach, New York, Singapore, and Vienna. Lee currently lives and works in Beacon, New York.
"There are two threads that my paintings follow: one being a discussion on women’s relationship with food, the other being a discussion on compulsive behavior. At times the two threads intertwine. The overhead perspective emphasizes the fact that the women are watching their own actions; watching themselves in the middle of their out of control behavior but unable to stop. The settings are private spaces, spaces of solitude, and mainly, unusual places to find someone eating. The private space emphasizes the secrecy of compulsive behavior and the unusual settings emphasize its absurdity. The solitude/peace of the setting is a good juxtaposition to the frenetic, out-of-control feel of the woman’s actions.
One of the most potent messages these pieces deliver is that of excessive waste. Not just material waste but the waste of time and energy that is used up in obsession. Energy that could be directed towards productive endeavors, through our compulsive activity, is instead being used to wrap us in a cocoon. Where we could be walking forward, we instead paralyze ourselves. For the women in these paintings, even with an excess of food, there is no nourishment. Unable to sit with the discomfort/unease of the present moment, these women take in excessive amounts and in the process are shutting out the possibility of being truly nourished.
Most women are brought up to be givers. To nurture others at the expense of our own needs. We hide our appetites, not just for food but in many areas of our lives, and then consume in secret. In my most recent works the women seem to be coming out of the closet. Eyeing the viewer — not censoring their hunger. My paintings ask what is it that truly nourishes us and how truthful can we be about the size of our hunger?"
I've recently been enjoying the fabulous Lauren Russell's What's Hanging on the Hush. My favorite thing about Lauren's poetry is her keen attention to musicality, a word sound skill at which not every poet is so deft. Consider the following example:
Throat to Ink, Ink to Fin
When I was ten,
my class went whale
watching off the California Coast.
I remember that time as worried
and tall, salt wind halo of frizz
gangly tip toe tripping
toward the rail, alone,
under my breath singing
"Shenandoah." I imagined
a soundtrack to my life, railed
in vibrato strain of bent-back
wind. The hiccup hack, leaning in.
My student writes an essay
about " the loneliest whale" that sings
at a pitch no other whale can hear. (Pitched
into the waves, an ocean tent, bent.)
"But how do you know it's the loneliest?" I insist.
When I was nine, calluses
on my palms from monkey bars,
I sang No man can a hinder me,
barring no note swung
vibrato lunge. But the end
of last summer hung
on a mockingbird song:
And the mockingbird
can sing like the crying
of a dove, the note bent
around a long vowel
strain, and notes
stuck to a mirror, and ink
tripped in the glass, fluke
and flippers rising back.
And my favorite poem in the collection:
I am lonely because I could not learn to be a body.
I was born upside down and could never balance on one foot.
I am lonely because there were too many cherry popsicles.
I was holding out for mango, and thus I missed the lesson on sucking up.
I was there for the lesson on ventriloquism: Be careful
when you transfer your voice to another. She might sell it on eBay.
He might dump it in the compost bin. You might be like the Little Mermaid,
lost outside your element, unable to speak to the Handsome Prince.
That is how I feel at parties, but I never had a singing lobster to help me adjust.
I am lonely because I shy away from lobsters.
I saw them crammed together in the supermarket tank, desperate with their pincers bound.
I was fourteen when I became a vegetarian. I was nine when I stopped watching TV.
I am lonely because I do not have a television.
When everyone talks about the latest reality show star, I say, "Who's that?"
and feel bored and superior. I was fifteen when I read Lolita in the bath--
an advantage of contact lenses, to be able to read in a room full of steam.
I am lonely because I stopped wearing contacts.
Some mornings someone steps onto the fire escape and empties a bucket
or bowl or bedpan or bamboo pot. I am always half asleep, and myopic
without my glasses I cannot tell if the dumper is a man, woman, child, or angel.
I am lonely because I never go to the window to find out.
Toyin Ojih Odutola
Toyin Ojih Odutola (b. 1985, Ife, Nigeria) creates drawings utilizing diverse mediums to emphasize the striated terrain of an image and its formulaic representations. She earned her BA from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and her MFA from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Ojih Odutola lives and works in New York.
Through black ballpoint pen ink, Toyin Odutola’s drawings question physical and sociopolitical identities as they pertain to skin color. Treating skin as topography, she layers ink as a means of mapping a person’s subjective, individual geography built from real-life experiences. Her interest in surface qualities stems from the history of African textiles, which inspires the artist’s rich textures on flat planes. Concerned with historical representations of black subjects in portraiture, Odutola undermines notions of blackness in her drawings by exploring what it means to look or be perceived as black, as, while drawn in black ink, not all of her subjects are of African descent. More recently, Odutola has begun to look beyond pen ink, working with charcoal and pastels to reflect the cultural diversity and ambition of American cities.
From the SCAD Museum notes on her exhibition, Testing the Name: The artist's unusual approach to the rendering of skin and its textures is an acute and considered comment on the representation of blackness. Her velvet, seductive surfaces claim territory within the art historical canon of portraiture, which historically favored whiteness. Ojih Odutola's radical black skins seemingly bend light, resisting a logical visual comprehension that speaks as complex metaphor.
The artist’s subjects are itinerant, cosmopolitan and, while intentionally not recognizable, drawn partially from her own inner circle. Ojih Odutola places individuals and couples in opulent interiors and rich landscapes, at leisure and in social interactions. Architectural details and objects surrounding her subjects receive equal attention. Of Nigerian descent, she grew up in the American South and developed a seemingly plausible narrative incorporating themes that, in reality, might not be so straightforward. The artist’s choices are a statement and decision to self-determination and, through their representation, bring into reality a hopeful present.
Good times at AWP 2018 in Tampa. Presented on a couple of panels. Visited with many old friends. And we introduced Berkeley to AWP! He did not like the bookfair.
Amy Sherald (American b. Columbus, GA 1973, lives Baltimore) received her MFA in Painting from Maryland Institute College of Art (2004), BA in Painting from Clark-Atlanta University (1997), and was a Spelman College International Artist-in-Residence in Portobelo, Panama (1997). In 2016, Sherald was the first woman to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait competition grand prize; an accompanying exhibition, The Outwin 2016, has been on tour since 2016 and will open at the Kemper Museum, Kansas City, MO in October 2017. Public collections include Smithsonian National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian National Museum of African American Art and Culture, Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Columbus Museum, GA; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City; and Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC. Sherald is represented by Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.
From the recent New York Times article, "Why the Obamas' Portrait Choices Matter":
"Ms. Sherald’s subjects...are mostly young and come in all shapes and sizes. Her images play black and white against color in different ways, most obviously in the skin tones, which are painted on the gray scale. This recalls old photographs but mainly gives the figures a slight remove from the rest of the painting, one that also signals their awareness of the obstacles to their full participation in American life. This simple device introduces the notion of double consciousness, the phrase coined by W.E.B. DuBois to describe the condition of anyone living with social and economic inequality."
Maria Raquel Cochez
Maria Raquel Cochez was born in Panama in 1978. In 2002, she received a BFA in Fibers from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA. In 2007, she moved to Atlanta, GA where she works mainly on conceptual photography, performance art, video, art objects, and painting. Her work is an elaborate story of the battle with self acceptance, executed through auto-referential, autobiographical, and biographical accounts parallel to this universal struggle.
Cochez has had several solo exhibitions in Panama, El Salvador, and the United States. She has participated in group shows throughout Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the United States, including the 7th Central American Biennial in Nicaragua in 2010. Her work has been reviewed in numerous publications across Latin America and the U.S. She has lectured and taught workshops in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama. In 2010, her work was acquired by the Ortiz Gurdián Art Center in Nicaragua, a museum housing one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary art from Central America.
My work is an exploration of the human experience existing within all the norms established around food, concepts of beauty, self esteem, and our own personal, sometimes skewed and often limiting definitions of these. Through a variety of media I examine the actions and perceptions of myself and others reminiscent of my own behaviors and thoughts dictated by an eating disorder and body image dysmorphia. It investigates the psychology behind the forming of beauty ideals in childhood, the cultural differences in beauty canons and their subjectivity, the self harm involved in distorted conceptions of the body, the sexual dynamic surrounding bodies not currently celebrated in the media, and the impact that distorted relationships with food can have on all of these premises. I examine the act of binge eating, the physical settings in which it happens, and the secrecy behind it; the cycle of loosing and gaining weight and the physical consequences of this symptom of the condition. My work is an elaborate story of the battle of self acceptance executed through auto-referential, autobiographical, and biographical accounts parallel to this universal struggle.
Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say:
“On what do we prop our lives and/ what if it can’t hold,” asks Welch in his tender, mysterious debut, a winner of the 2016 Iowa Poetry Prize. The props in question may be myth and memory, the book’s base elements, which Welch uses to tell new stories about intimacy and identity. Masculinity is a particular site of revision: the book begins with the loss of virginity rendered in Herculean terms—as a labor, even a slaughter, rather than a feat of bravura. Welch’s poems are about “skinny boys/ without a sense of butchery”—those for whom “honesty is a kind of/ solitude.” Such distance leaves his characters at the fringes of history, struggling to understand their place in it: “I don’t know/ how to collect each new// perspective,” Welch writes in the title poem, which opens with an astronaut’s description of the 9/11 attacks. But this remove also bestows vision, one that often makes the mundane life events the book recounts wonderfully unfamiliar. Welch sees snowballs as “brief comets/ smoldering// at my feet” and hears “Owls and their Michael Jackson/ hooting in the trees.” His work is at once cubist and confessional, aching and wry. Welch’s point-of-view, however eccentric, is an altogether welcome one.
Grace Mikell Ramsey
Grace Mikell Ramsey grew up on a farm in a small southern town in north-central Florida. She studied religion and art at Stetson University and after graduating, moved to New Orleans in the summer of 2007 to teach in the Recovery School District and make art. She received her M.F.A. in Painting from Tulane University in May 2012 and was awarded the Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Grant Award in June 2012. Her work has been shown at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Art Gallery and published in Oxford American Magazine, Artvoices Magazine, and Arkansas Life magazine.
"Working loosely from my own experiences, memories, musings, introspections, and fears, my paintings function in a dreamlike narrative space between fantasy and reality. I explore themes of girlhood and womanhood, using elements of ritual, magic and religious iconography to give color and light to what is kept hidden or left unsaid. These are the secrets of an insular world, but if there are mysteries in these scenes, there may also be moments of uncanny familiarity. Though this work arises from my private thoughts, I hope that it opens itself to possibility. The narrative and emotional threads grow richer and more complicated with every viewer who might think, for a moment, I’ve seen or felt or dreamed this before."
I highly recommend applying to the Wolff Cottage Writing Residency in Fairhope, Alabama. Timothy and I spent the month of January at the cottage and had a wonderful time. The town is beautiful with plenty of good food and scenery to enjoy. And the folks at the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts are some of the nicest people I've ever met.
A poem from Latest Volcano, "Leda Burning," will appear in the January 15, 2017 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. How crazy is that?
The magazine's poetry editor, Matthew Zapruder, writes of the poem:
An ekphrastic poem considers a work of art. This poem is a sort of shadow ekphrastic, one that describes a painting at the moment it is burned, in order to freeze us in Leda’s eternal triple violation: by the swan god, by personified fire and by the terrible desire of the soldier, which can be consummated only by destruction.
Pleased to have a poem included in this new anthology, just out from Les Femmes Folles Books and edited by the excellent Laura Madeline Wiseman.
Les Femmes Folles Books, 2017
Bared: Contemporary Poetry and Art on Bras and Breasts anthology collects the work of 170 contemporary women poets and artists. Exploring the gendered narratives that clothe and fashion the body, gender subversion, the traditional male gaze, feminist theories, and more, the artists and poets collected in Bared: Contemporary Poetry and Art on Bras and Breasts resist given narratives about the breast and bra by boldly presenting alternatives in written and visual art. The poetry and art of Bared consider commodification, training bras, mammograms, bra factories, biopsies, bra-fit, pencil tests, cancer, mastectomies, sexuality, implants, nursing, representation, and so much more, highlighting the importance of women’s bodies now and in the coming years.
“In this anthology, Kara Maria’s raw yet beautiful painted depictions of women holding up their bruised breasts, work alongside Kimberly L. Becker’s poem, heartfully and passionately honoring all that comes with being bound to these patches of round skin on our chests Nicola Santalucia’s playful narrative illustrations bring something new with Andrea Witzke Slot’s warm poetic contribution of women who find kinship in the park. Janelle Cordello’s sweet and sinuous line drawing and watercolor figures of women at ease in their underclothes as though in a locker room, cause more pause when taken in with Tara Betts’ artful poem about women models and Ann Bracken’s poem of a secretive tryst. Florine Desmonthe’s dark charcoal figures in abstracted muted backgrounds after reading Susanna Childress’ self-portrait poem brings a raw authenticity.” – Sally Deskins
Full List of Contributors
Kelli Russell Agodon | Kathleen Aguero | Nin Andrews | Amy Kollar Anderson | Catherine Arra | Lana Ayers | Melissa Balmain | Julie Brooks Barbour | Wendy Barker | Hadara Bar-Nadav | Ellen Bass | Kimberly L. Becker | Francesca Bell | Jacqueline Berger | Erin M. Bertram | Tara Betts | Katie Bickham | Sally Bliumis-Dunn | Ann Bracken | April Michelle Bratten | Becky Breed | Shirley J. Brewer | Kierstin Bridger | Julia Cahill | Cathleen Calbert | Susana H. Case | Grace Cavalieri | Amy Cerra | Sarah A. Chavez | Susanna Childress | Chuka Susan Chesney | Suzanne Cleary | Kaye Cleave | Maria Raquel Cochez | Marilyn Coffey | Maryann Corbett | Janelle Cordero | Kathy Crabbe | Catherine Daly | Julie Danho | Kate Daniels | Pam Davenport | Laura E. Davis | MaryLisa DeDomenicis | Lorene Delany-Ullman | florine desmothene | Danielle DeTiberus | Alexa Doran | Caitlin Doyle | Jehanne Dubrow| Denise Duhamel | Teresa Dunn | Jaclyn Dwyer | Meg Eden | Julie R. Enszer | Kate Falvey | Alexis Rhone Fancher | Laurel Feigenbaum |Noelle Fiori | Julie Fordham | Rebecca Foust | Jackie Fox | Sherese Francis | Jennifer Franklin |Alice Friman | Michelle Furlong | Kara Gall | Sandee Gertz | Bonnie Gloris | Camille Guthrie | Hedy Habra | Lois Marie Harrod | Janet Ruth Heller | Jaimee Hills | Trish Hopkinson | Katy Horan | Stacy Howe | Karla Huston| Barbara Helfgott Hyett | Gray Jacobik | Susan Jamison |Parneshia Jones | Alison Joseph | Julie Kane | Evelyn Katz | Jill Klein | Alyse Knorr | Judy Kronenfeld | Alexis Kyriak | Joy Ladin | K.A. Letts | Lisa Lewis | Marisa Lewon | Lyn Lifshin | Susan Lizotte | Ellaraine Lockie | Diane Lockward | Jessica Helen Lopez | Alison Luterman | Katharyn Howd Machan | M. Mack | Mandem | Katrina Majkut | Kara Maria | Maya Marshall | Jill McDonough | Susan McLean | Mary Meriam | Rosemary Meza-Desplas | Leslie Adrienne Miller | Rachel Mindrup | Amanda Moore | Catherine Moore | Joely Johnson Mork | Alice Morris | Kel Mur | Lesléa Newman | Alicia Ostriker | Jane Otto | Cristina Natsuko Paulos | Jennifer Perrine | Maria Peter-Toltz | Amy Plettner | Cati Porter | Courtney Kenny Porto | Andrea Potos | Lee Price | Suzanne Proulx | Hilda Raz | Susan Rich | Lauren Rinaldi | Barbara Rockman | Libby Rowe | Nicole Santalucia | Cathy Sarkowsky | Jane Satterfield | Lynn Schmeidler | Barbara Schmitz | Maureen Seaton | Laura Shovan | Martha Silano | Karen Skolfield | Andrea Witzke Slot | Amy Small-McKinney | Mary Beth Smith | Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam | Virginia Chase Sutton | Margo Taft Stever | Kim Rae Taylor | Sue Ellen Thompson | Carine Topal | KC Trommer | Meg Tuite | Ann Tweedy | Rhonda Thomas Urdang | Kathrine Varnes | Marlana Adele Vassar | Natalie Voelker | Stacey Waite | Catherine Wald | Beth Walker | Tracey Watts | Tana Jean Welch | July Westhale | Sarah Ann Winn | Rosemary Winslow | Anne Harding Woodworth | Janet Deker Yanez | Belgin Yucelen
Nate Marshall, Keith Kopka, Erin Belieu, Yolanda Franklin, Timothy Daniel Welch, and Tana Jean Welch. Photo by Laura Louise Minor. October 25, 2016.
I'm honored to be reading with Nate Marshall in Tallahassee tomorrow night! Check out his excellent book: Wild Hundreds, which includes the poem below.
in Chicago kids are beaten. they crack
open; they're pavement. they don't fight, they die.
bodies bruised blue with wood. cameras catch
us killing, capture danger to broadcast
on Broadways. we Roseland stars made players
for the press. apes caged from first grade until.
shake us. we make terrible tambourines.
packed into class, kids passed like kidney stones.
each street day is unanswered prayer for peace,
news gushes from Mom's mouth like schoolboy blood.
Ragtown crime don't stop, only waves—hello.
crime waves break no surface on news—goodbye.
every kid that's killed is one less free lunch,
a fiscal coup. welcome to where we from.
I had a great time reading with Ginger Murchison and Patricia Percival at the SHORE Reading Series!
The themes in Audrey Kawasaki's work are contradictions within themselves. Her work is both innocent and erotic. Each subject is attractive yet disturbing. Kawasaki's precise technical style is at once influenced by both manga comics and Art Nouveau. Her sharp graphic imagery is combined with the natural grain of the wood panels she paints on, bringing an unexpected warmth to enigmatic subject matter.
The figures she paints are seductive and contain an air of melancholy. They exist in their own sensually esoteric realm, yet at the same time present a sense of accessibility that draws the observer to them. These mysterious young women captivate with the direct stare of their bedroom eyes.
"Sometimes it’s OK to fall in love with pretty things and the alluring paintings of LA artist Audrey Kawasaki may well merit adoration through their aesthetic appeal alone, but there is a bit more to the gorgeous fantasy characters she creates on wood panel after wood panel. Death via skull imagery abounds in her works and sex is always brought up. Precious, pouty, sad-eyed and sexy, Audrey’s girls most often appear before us as if in the midst of their greatest indulgence, but right alongside the slightest of hints at the ephemeral nature of it all. In the end, all Audrey leaves for us to do after is wish we had been there for that (hopefully not so very) otherworldly moment too." —Whitney May, NY Arts Magazine