Thursday, September 12, 2019

Newtown Library Company Reading Sept 20

Poetry Night: Sharon Olson

Who: Sharon Olson
When: Friday, September 20, 2019 at 7:30PM
Where: The Newtown Library Company, 114 E. Centre Ave. Newtown, PA
Bring a friend and a poem for the open mic!

Sharon Olson is a retired librarian, a Stanford graduate, with an M.L.S. from U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. in comparative literature from the University of Oregon. Her chapbook Clouds Brushed in Later (1987) won the Abby Niebauer Memorial Chapbook Award, and a full-length book of poems, The Long Night of Flying, was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2006. Her second book Will There Be Music? was published by Cherry Grove Collections in early 2019. She has published (with co-author Chris Schopfer) numerous articles about the Sandford family of New Jersey in The Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey. She is a member of the U.S. 1 Poets’ Cooperative and also performs with the Cool Women Poets.

114 E Centre Ave, Newtown, PA 18940, USA

Monday, May 27, 2019

Next Reading, June 10

Poets at the Library

Monday, June 10, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon St.
Newsroom, Second Floor

Featured poets Gretna Wilkinson and Sharon Olson read for 20 minutes from their works, followed by an open-mic session.

Sharon Olson is a retired librarian, a Stanford graduate, with an M.L.S. from U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. in comparative literature from the University of Oregon. Her chapbook Clouds Brushed in Later (1987) won the Abby Niebauer Memorial Chapbook Award, and a full-length book of poems, The Long Night of Flying, was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2006. Her second book Will There Be Music? was published by Cherry Grove Collections in early 2019. She has published (with co-author Chris Schopfer) numerous articles about the Sandford family of New Jersey in The Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey. She is a member of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative and also performs with the Cool Women Poets.

Gretna Wilkinson began her career as a missionary teacher in the jungles of her native Guyana. She has performed her poems on radio and television and is published in Saranac Review, The Literary Review, and Poets of New Jersey: From Colonial to Contemporary, among others. She’s been featured in The New York Times, The Star Ledger, Courier News, and others. After 17 years as a college professor, she joined the Visual and Performing Arts Academy of Red Bank Regional High School where she ran the Creative Writing program. Her online literary magazine, was nominated Top 10 Literary Blog on The Web (Feedspot). She is an honorary Eagle Scout, Monmouth County Art Educator of the Year, Red Bank Regional Teacher of the Year, and was recently named Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Ekphrastic Poetry: Part Four, Finding Comfort

Geertgen tot Sint Jans
John the Baptist
in the Wilderness
The genius of my first art professor, Patricia Rose, was how she demonstrated the power of detail in works of art, especially the capability of details to convey emotion, a surprising revelation. I remember sitting in the dark as she displayed the slide showing John the Baptist in the Wilderness by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, and then she zeroed in on the proliferation of flowers and animals, and the way the central figure sat in this wild grass, with one foot slightly above another ("one foot deliciously massaging the other beneath it"). It was many years later that I wrote about this image, the poem appearing in my book Will There Be Music? 

Hieronymus Bosch
The Extraction of the
Stone of Madness
Similarly in my poem "Motley Fool" I have examined closely Hieronymus Bosch's "The Extraction of the Stone of Madness," depicting an early form of the medical barbarity known as trepanation ("ice fishing into the skull to pluck the fish of madness"). I think the viewer places himself into this work, commiserating with the victim, this patient of 1494.

Death of Harold
Bayeux Tapestry
By chance I came upon the story of a friend of mine, a librarian named Ellin Klor, who was clutching her knitting materials while running up some stairs, and inadvertently stabbed herself in the heart with one of the needles (she survived!). Somehow this tale fit so nicely with a long poem I was writing about Einstein ("how starlight bends around the sun"), color theory, horse racing, and the Bayeux Tapestry ("Heavenly Bodies Along the Rail"). The detail in the tapestry that captivated me was the place where the dying Harold is depicted ("a spear hanging like a tear from his eye").

As a young woman reading Proust (my literary side) I remember being interested
Adoration of the Holy Wood
Piero della Francesca
in the way he was able to focus on such interesting themes, like the way one saw a steeple "move" as you traveled by coach upon different curving roads. And I loved his description of three trees, "those trees themselves I was never to know what they had been trying to give me nor where else I had seen them." By the time I had read these words I had already seen "these trees," those in Piero della
Overlooking Arezzo
Taken by author, 1967
The Three Trees
Francesca's paintings, an engraving of three trees I had laid eyes on in Rembrandt's house, and a group of cypresses I had photographed above the city of Arezzo. The poem I wrote about all these ideas, if one could call them ideas, is called "Placement."
Portrait of Masolino
Town Hall, Panicale
Basilica of Sant'
Eustachio, Rome

Finding comfort in art can be as simple as noticing a portrait looking down upon you as you are being married in a town hall (Masolino in "The Marriage Ceremony"), or seeking solace from the head of a stag on the front of a church ("Meditation in Rome"). 

The appearance of my father in a vivid dream, not long after his death, seemed at the time to remind me of the Raphael drawing I had seen long ago in the Vatican, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes ("the disciples reached down for the nets, sun on their muscled arms").

This ends my art tour. It has been a pleasure being your guide.

Raphael, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes

Ekphrastic Poetry: Part Three, Portrait of the Artist

Quite a few of the poems in my book Will There Be Music? contemplate the artist more than the works themselves, and in some cases they focus on the subject of rather public art. In part two of this series I mentioned a game I had made up to mimic the pose of figures in Henry Moore's works. My husband Bill became an early convert to this game, aptly copying the "lean" of Jean-Paul Sartre in the statue of him by Roseline Granet outside the Biblioth√®que Nationale. I had always imagined the fragility of the man being pictured here "marching against the wind and rain." My  poem about him remarks upon the writer's melancholia, and the irony of his known intolerance for statues of famous people. I learned later he was not really fighting a true storm, but that the sculpture was made from looking at a photograph of him, taken on a beach in Lithuania, where he was trying to evade crowds of onlookers.

Sometimes it is not exactly a work of art that inspires a poem, it might be a death mask ("Nietzsche's Death Mask") or a desk left behind in a California mansion ("Franz Werfel in California, 1945"). One of the artists who has been a constant influence ever since I discovered him in a class on twentieth-century art is Emil Nolde, a complex figure whose works span the period from the 1880s to the 1950s. Nolde was born in a region claimed back and forth by both Denmark and Germany, but he always felt he was German, and many of his early paintings championed old Germanic myths and folk figures. This got him into trouble with the Nazi regime which interpreted these images as "degenerate," and banned his works from museums, and prohibited him from painting at all. Nolde himself espoused anti-semitic views, a viewpoint he later tried to expunge from his memoirs. My poem "Painted Into a Corner" celebrates his landscapes, which I have always found to be spectacular ("red skies all but overwhelming the naval blue mountains below them"), as well as his expressionist works ("those wild women shaking their naked bodies in a primitive dance").
Emil Nolde, Dance Around
the Golden Calf, 1910
Emil Nolde, En Meer

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ekphrastic Poetry: Part Two, Feminism in Art

Giovanni Pisano,
Madonna and Child, 1301
This is the second part of an art tour based on some of the poems in my book Will There Be Music? In part one I recounted my experience taking Renaissance Art as a freshman in college. I had an amazing professor, Patricia Rose, who was at Stanford only a short while, and later had a long, illustrious career at Florida State. You might find it hard to believe, but this morning I was able to find, without too much trouble, my notes from her course. I wanted to look up what she had said (or what I had written down) about Giovanni Pisano's Madonna and Child in the Cathedral of Prato. This church possesses a relic known as "the sacred girdle," the one that Mary gave to Thomas (in Italian cintura, this girdle is more like a waist sash). My notes record how the mother and child are looking at each other, how the child is touching his mother's crown, and how the mother's body curved to receive the child. These are all details I remember noticing when I finally saw this work in 1967 when I was a student in nearby Florence. And years later, writing the poem "In the Bowery" I was reminded of the twisting of this woman's body, and how similar it was to the motions my mother made escaping her girdle ("our mother seen once struggling to throw her girdle to the floor"). A minor step in my feminist history: I never wore one myself.

Caryatids of the Erechtheion,
slopoet at the Acropolis, 1972
The poem "Caryatids" takes me back to the summer of 1972 when I backpacked through Europe for three months by myself, picking up various companions along the way. The caryatids of the Erechtheion were so inspiring, and years later I delved into the derivation of the word "caryatid," how it was a reference to the women of Karyae ("nut women [who] placed baskets of live reeds on their heads and danced"). I also made reference to how one of them was stolen by Lord Elgin, a theme that parallels real-life abductions of women. Before we turn to that theme, you might note this photo from 1972 to prove I was really there...

John Sloan, "The Picnic Grounds," 1906-7
Bernini, Apollo
and Daphne, 1622-25
A course on American Art led me to the works of John Sloan, and to one painting I was able to see in an exhibition, his painting "The Picnic Grounds," 1906-7. Years later this led to the poem "Trees Painted White," a meditation on those white trunks I had seen in Sloan's painting, and elsewhere in my world, trees treated for bugs and/or to retard sunlight ("lime in the whitewash choked the bugs"). The poem then travels on to the story of Apollo and Daphne, how she was being pursued by Apollo and the gods who were on her side suddenly changed her into a laurel tree. Of course, life as a tree was perhaps not a great option, but she at least escaped ravishment ("Daphne shrieked, ran pell mell away from lust"). Before I went to Italy for the first time in 1967 I had also had a course on Baroque Art, including Bernini, so one of my pilgrimages in Rome was to the Borghese Gallery to see his magnificent sculpture of this subject.

Posing with Henry Moore's
Draped Reclining Woman
at the Norton Simon Museum,
Pasadena, 1985

slopoet with Henry Moore's
Reclining Woman in front
of Leeds Art Gallery
I think in addition to wanting to view art, I sometimes had a secret desire to be part of art. The poem "No Breath, No Smut" mentions the curious tradition of tableau vivante, a practice I had seen at the almost tacky Laguna Festival of the Arts, where real people portray individuals from famous works of art ("the flutter of an eyelash allowed yet no pause to heave or sigh"). In the same poem I also refer to a game I made up, "Capturing Henry Moore," where it was my custom to climb up next to one of his pieces and try to mimic the pose. The first time I did this, I think, was in 1985, posing with Moore's "Draped Reclining Woman" at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. Here I am in 1994 posing next to his Reclining Woman in Leeds.

I'm not particularly religious but nevertheless I've been drawn to
Hieronymus Bosch,
Crucifixion of St. Julia/
St. Wilgefortis.
stories from the Catholic faith, especially their saints. The female saints often had been young girls about to be married off by their fathers to some lucrative suitor. Yet their faith led them to reject these offers, often with tragic consequences. These are stories similar to that of Daphne, where the man is threatening to ravish them, and they find a way to escape. St. Wilgefortis' fate was especially tragic. When she refused the man her father procured for her, a miracle happened and she started to grow a beard. The man backed off, and her father was angry, had her crucified to punish her (see my poem "St. Wilgefortis," "there she hung in red gabardine, hair on her chin"). One particularly poignant painting of her is by Hieronymus Bosch, his Crucifixion of St. Julia, sometimes also referred to as the Crucifixion of St. Wilgefortis.

On a trip to France in 1986 I visited the Abbey of Charlieu in Burgundy. There I was able to tour the
Detail, Abbey of Charlieu
ruins with an amiable guide, a woman who pointed out to me all the details I shouldn't miss. Like the sculptural relief of a woman with a frog suckling her breast (see my poem "The Woman of Charlieu"). It was explained to me that this was a warning against the pleasures of sex, what would happen to the transgressor, in this case the woman's punishment in hell would be very grave indeed ("the snake curling around her legs, a sign the woman had been in sin").

Marcel Duchamp,
Nude Descending
a Staircase No. 2, 1912
My heroine in feminist art might be Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending the Staircase," referenced by another poem in my collection ("Duchamp's Nude Descending the Staircase"). At least that was my interpretation, as in this poem I imagined myself facing the challenges of advanced age ("her bones less dense, they said"), how it was a miracle really one can keep climbing and descending those stairs ("her daily descent into the ordinary").

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Ekphrastic Poetry: Part One

Fred Marchant said of many of the poems in my book Will There Be Music? that one might "call these poems ekphrastic...[or] an extended ode to the imagination and its many forms of expression." One of the goals of writing ekphrastic poems is to make them stand alone, to succeed without needing to see the work of art that is being written about. But no one can deny it is a pleasure to see both of them together, though few books of poetry come with illustrations.

I thought it would be fun to reveal some of the works of art that I was writing about in the twenty-four (my count) ekphrastic poems in my book. So this is Part One. In each part I will talk about a few of the poems, and reveal their inspiration.

This poem is about my first year of college, when I was given permission to take three whole quarters of an upper-division class in Renaissance Art. The poem compares the paintings of the Mannerists, Madonnas with "elongated necks and twisted limbs" and those of their predecessors such as Raphael, "how the sweetness unnerved them." Two of Raphael's paintings are mentioned, Madonna of the Cardinal and Madonna of the Goldfinch. And in the final stanza, the landscape changes to that of "Rogier van der Weyden and the Hospice de Beaune." These are all references to paintings I later saw in my travels to Italy and France.

Parmagianino, Madonna
with the Long Neck
Raphael, Madonna
of the Cardinal

Nicolas Rolin, detail of
Rogier van der Weyden's
Last Judgment, Hospice de

Nicolas Rolin was the man who founded the Hospice de Beaune. He also commissioned another famous work of art by Jan Van Eyck, The Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin, in which he is pictured seated with the Madonna and child. This work is referred to in another of my poems, "Chancellor Rolin Transported Downtown." In 2011 I decided to write a poem about a work of art to be featured in the Madison Art Society's annual show at the Scranton Library in Madison, Connecticut. This was part of a regular collaboration between the Society and the Guilford Poets Guild. I chose a pastel by Christine Ivers entitled "Empty Bed." I was intrigued by the title, and the way the man in the foreground was eyeing the nudes in an art gallery from his vantage point outside, looking through the window at night. My interpretation was that this was his consolation for having an "empty bed" at home. But what also captivated me was the way the whole thing reminded me of the Van Eyck painting. They both used three arches as a sort of motif. That was just the starting point as I ended up inventing a whole story that transcends many centuries, imagining Rolin as suddenly a modern figure who had once posed for a painting with a woman he knew...("We were playacting, she was a local model and the child, not hers"). There is another connection between the two works of art. The Christ child holds what is commonly referred to as an "orb and cross." If you turn this image upside down you get something that looks like the feminine symbol. And there is such a feminine symbol on the window of the art gallery in Ivers' work ("The insignia of Venus hanging over the entrance"). Here ends Part One.

Christine Ivers, Empty Bed,
pastel (by permission of the

Jan Van Eyck, Virgin
with Chancellor Rolin

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Will There Be Music?

You heard it right here, my new poetry book Will There Be Music? has just been published by Cherry Grove Collections, and is now available from Amazon. See a special page I created on this blog, "New Book for 2019," for more information about it!