April 12, 2016

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Poetry Friday: Poetry Postcard 12

Highway and byways - Paul Klee
Highway and Byways, by Paul Klee
The 44 Postcard Project is finally tripping the light ekphrastic -- getting all artsy. ( defines ekphrasis as "poetry confronting art." So there.)

One of the lovely ladies who donated old postcards for my project sent an art card with this painting by abstract expressionist Paul Klee.
The painting resembles an oddly pieced quilt. Or a step-pyramid. Or a poem by Baltimorean Chris Toll.

Let's start with Chris Toll. The poet, who was active in the local literary scene, died unexpectedly this fall. I'd never met him, but we were Facebook friends. 

I was at a reading a few months after he passed away and glanced at one of Toll's books of poetry. There was a poem that ran down the page in several ... I wouldn't call them columns. The words were arranged on the page as if they were sprays of water coming down from four separate shower heads. 

It was the tumbling down the page quality of Toll's poem that connected, for me, with Klee's painting.

Toll was known for his experimentation with form
and playfulness with language.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get my hands on a book of Toll's work quickly. I moved and did some research on the painting.

Klee painted Highway and Byways after a trip to Egypt, December 1929/January 1930. Some critics say that the horizontal blue and gray area at the top is supposed to be the Nile, Egypt's great highway. The verticals are fields, or roads and paths leading to the Nile or -- there are all sorts of interpretations.

First draft: some weird combination of
1) my memory of Toll's poetic form
2) sketchy details from post-college trip to Egypt
3) facts about the painting's history.

Each of these elements had its own skinny-pyramid-like stanza running down the page. Clumsy.

Eventually, I ended up with this poem (very experimental, for me), combining pieces of all three first-draft stanzas, with a dash of stylistic playfulness a la Chris Toll:

Swimming in the Nile, Age 21,
with My Grandmother

After Highways and Byways, Paul Klee (1929)

The/re is in
Klee’s parallels so-
me stickiness,
something of
gran(ny)te layers,
storeys high-
roglyhpics faded
as a girl’s thighs
viewed two feet
be neat/h the
mur(dar)k surf
face. The river
never tips
its palm, re
veals no drown(ed)
& out god,
no ancient sun/
ken byways, no
virgin’s bliss
full fortune.

by Laura Shovan

In other 44 Postcard Project news, I have written 21 poems. That's nearly halfway.

It is also the equivalent of that moment in a marathon (disclaimer: I have never run a marathon) where you say "I can't do this -- I'm terrible at running. I should try flower arranging instead."

Me running. Not a pretty sight.
The last three things I have written for the project: poetic lightweights, devoid of meaning. Fluff.

The recent poems include rebellious facial moles, angry chickadees and hot-pink evening gloves (I swear, this will make sense when you see postcards 19, 20 and 21).

My brain is screaming like a sprained hamstring. "I have been stretched to my limit," it says. It wimps out. It whimpers, "How about a limerick today? They're easy."

I'm getting a little punch drunk on the project. Maybe this weekend, I'll turn the corner.

Some info on the stash of postcards I discovered (in my own basement -- sheesh):
It's not "Where's Waldo?" but "Have you seen Hawthorne?"
From my 1989 summer at the University of London, I have:
1 from the British Library
2 miscellaneous art-photography cards.

Somewhere, there is a photo of these postcards tacked to the wall of my London dorm room.

From my BFA at New York University and various visits to Manhattan, I have:
1 from the Museum of American Folk Art (lesser known, awesome)

And then a bunch from books of postcards that my mother -- and possibly others -- gave me as stocking stuffer/ birthday gift fillers over the years.

5 Great Authors (Library of Congress)
5 Matisse: A Postcard Book (Running Book Press)
1 Women Who Dared (LOC) -- I'm pretty sure I have more of these tucked away somewhere --

and 4 random cards from author/illustrators. Revealing to me that this obsession with postcards is not new.

You can still sign up for a poetry postcard. I'd love to poem-bomb your mailbox. Leave a comment and we'll connect by email.

Wishing you a happy Purple Poetry Friday. GO RAVENS! I will take it as a sign from the universe that VIOLET Nesdoly is hosting today.

Full postcard information:

PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
Hauptweg un Nebenwere, 1929, R 10 (90)
Chemin principal et chemins secondaires
Mainway and sideways
Gemälde, Oelfarben auf Leinwarnd,
Keilrahmen, 83/67 cm, signiert rechts unten
Museum Ludwig Köln

VD 208 – Vontobel, Feldmeilen/Zurich – Printed in Switzerland
©1985, Copyright by COSMOPRESS, Geneva

The one and only NFL team named for a work of literature.


Fats Suela from Gathering Books said...

Love the poem, Laura! Wish I can be just as creative with words! I don't watch football but I like the Ravens, too, because a good friend of mine used to live in Baltimore and is rooting for them to this day! =)

Fats Suela from Gathering Books said...

Oops, I meant to say Author Amok. My mistake! Thanks again for sharing the poem!! =)

Linda B said...

Love all your news about the postcards, & about this poet Toll & his, now your, play with words. I like that I could try to figure out which word you wanted to work within the lines, or perhaps both. Nice! Best to you as you turn the corner, & OKAY-GO RAVENS! (much talk in Denver this week, of course)

Diane Mayr said...

Laura, it was so much fun reading your poem and looking at it, sort of crossed-eyed, in an attempt to see the multiple words and meanings. I appreciate your fatigue and hope a second wind will soon be at your back.

Liz Steinglass said...

You can do it
if you try!

I love the poem, especially all the double meanings and broken words. My favorite is the river never tips its palm.

Katya said...

I love the plays on words in your poem.

Bridget Magee said...

Congratulations on your impending halfway point victory with this amazing project. You deserve a pat on the back (*pat-pat*) and then some. Now that the Packers are out...Go Ravens! Happy Friday! =)

jama said...

Interesting poem, Laura -- reminded me of cummings. Loved hearing the backstory about Toll and how you combined various elements to fashion a new poem.

Halfway there -- sprint to the finish :)!

Joyce Ray said...

Love, love your poem! In your link to Toll's book, author CA Conrad commented that "Poems that wake us are the very lightning rods to enter storms with." Your poem wakes the reader and challenges us to think about your words in fresh ways. I'm writing an ekphrastic poem now, and your poem challenges me to move away from overdependence on the art.

Best wishes for your Postcard Poem project. You're in the homestretch. Dig out those Women Who Dared postcards. They'll inspire you.

Joy said...

Change your chant. Instead of saying you've pulled a hamstring, tell yourself, you are amazing! You've gotten half way there. Stop
judging the poems and just write them. Have fun writing.
Thank you for bringing Toll's poetry to our attention. I love you extension and experimentation with that. It is brilliant.
Keep going, I can hardly wait to see the next poems. Enjoyed the back story.

Author Amok said...

Just got in from a long morning. Thank you all for your comments. I'd sign you all as a cheerleading squad any day! I will think positive and keep going.

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

Such fun reading your poem and taking in all the stylistic devices you used to add to its playfulness. The postcard project is going strong again this year!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Okay, what did you put in your coffee this morning (or week)?

This is all great, Laura - thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes guts and glories of your project. I will revisit your poem - love all that wordplay.

"no ancient sun/ ken byways" - wonderful!

Tabatha said...

Great post -- you really quilted these pieces together. I can imagine how exhausting it must be to keep up this level of inventiveness! You are really stretching yourself. Joyce's quote is one I'd like to remember.

Margaret Simon said...

I love the playfulness and artsy-ness of your poem. Your whole project is inspiring. I am writing poems to my father's Christmas cards. There are only 9! I don't think I could do 44! But if you need someone else to bomb, someone who loves poetry and appreciates the creative effort, please consider including me.

Violet N. said...

Your project is so interesting! I'm sure this bout of poetic bends will soon pass, you'll get your second wind or (to extend the metaphor) your lungs will regain their equilibrium, and the words will flow again. Loved the way you described your research and thought processes as you wrote this poem. Thanks for your contribution to Poetry Friday!

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

I like the emotion that you've packed into the poem, but thank you also for your information about Toll - whom I'd not heard of, even though I was born in Towson! (and even though I've grown up a Pats fan, I'd still be happy to see the Ravens make it! They might be the only professional sports team, period)

Renee LaTulippe said...

What a funhouse of a post! I was here, I was there, I was upside down - love it! And what a great poem experiment, so fun to try to decipher and grasp all the hid (den) meanings. :) Hey, I would love to be poetry-bombed!

Ruth said...

I know I say this every week, but this is a really cool project. I've been collecting postcards all my life, and this is a fantastic way to use them.

Irene Latham said...

Laura, you had me at the title of this one. I understand your disenchantment at this point... good time to visualize yourself at the end of the race, feeling high on your accomplishment. And hey, fluff is NECESSARY. You know? Love to you! xo

Author Amok said...

Hi, everyone! We are hosting a gaggle of 12/13 year olds for a little belated birthday celebration today.

Thanks for your comments. This is how my mind works much of the time. I try to rein in the bounciness for blog readers, but this time the crazy slipped through. Shocking, I know.

Renee, I can tell from your comments that you HAVE found HAWTHORNE! Congratulations. One poetry postcard is your prize.

I was working on poem 22 this morning and the darn thing wants to be a sonnet. What?!

Irene Latham said...

Laura, you had me at the title of this one. I understand your disenchantment at this point... good time to visualize yourself at the end of the race, feeling high on your accomplishment. And hey, any good quilt has gotta have some fluff. xo

Author Amok said...

Irene -- thanks for putting things in perspective. You're right. A good quilt has to have some fluff. Perfect metaphor.