Archives: Ekphrastic Poetry

Poetry Friday: Van Gogh Dreams

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Catherine at Reading to the Core. Stop by for a round-up of this week’s poetic posts.

Hello, Poetry Friday friends. I haven’t seen you in a few weeks. Before I get to this week’s poem — a quick update!

I took a blogging break while I was traveling with 17 other children’s authors on PJ Library’s Author Israel Adventure. It was a life-changing trip, full of new friends, amazing experiences, and lots of learning. I’ll tell you more about it in future posts. If you can’t wait, there is a great photo essay about our trip in Publisher’s Weekly — written and photographed by children’s author Mark Shulman.

Enjoying felafel sandwiches in Jerusalem with children’s authors Emma Carlson Berne (L) and Madelyn Rosenberg (R).

Because of the trip, I moved this year’s February Poetry Project to March. We are a small group this year, with some regulars and some new poets responding to a common poetry prompt every day. If you’d like to join, let me know. This year’s theme — definitely inspired by the incredible Mediterranean cuisine  — is FOOD. If you’d like to learn more about my annual poetry project, please read this 2016 post.

The only other time I have traveled abroad with a group of authors was four years ago. In 2015, about 60 poets/community activists gathered in Salerno, Italy for the 100 Thousand Poets for Change World Conference. That’s where I met Lisa Vihos, the poet I’m going to introduce you to today.

Lisa Vihos reading at 100 Thousand Poets for Change World Conference in Salerno, Italy, 2015.

Lisa Vihos is a Wisconsin poet and editor. Some of her books are the chapbooks This Particular Heaven (Kelsay Press, Kelsay Books, 2017) and Fan Mail from Some Flounder (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2018). Two of the anthologies Lisa compiled and edited are From Everywhere a Little: A Migration Anthology (Water’s Edge Press, 2019, co-edited with Dawn Hogue), and the book I’m featuring today: Van Gogh Dreams (HenschelHAUS Publishing, 2018).

Van Gogh Dreams is an apt title for this collection. The book weaves together ekphrastic responses to specific Van Gogh paintings (The Potato Eaters, Sunflowers, Starry Night, for example), poems in Van Gogh’s voice, and modern reflections on the artist and what 21st century creatives can learn from him.

If you’re in the Maryland/DC area, Lisa is coming to visit! She will be the featured author, along with Andria Nacina Cole, at Wilde Readings (the local literary reading series that I co-host). The event is March 12 at the Columbia Art Center, Columbia, MD. We start the open mic at 7 pm. (More info is here.)

I’m so excited to see Lisa again. Literary friendships run deep.

Here is Lisa Vihos’s poem from Van Gogh Dreams.

Love Letter for Vincent
By Lisa Vihos

I would have sat quietly
while you painted the stars
and I would not have tossed
the sunflowers
before you were done with them

I would have tended
the irises, dusted your chair,
and made your bed, in love
with the vibration inside all things —
just like you. I would not have judged

the cut ear or the old sermons.
I would have cooked your potatoes,
wiped clean your shoes,
and bought you another absinthe
at midnight in the pool hall.

I would have brought a picnic lunch
and a cool drink to the wheat field.
I would have marveled with you at the sun
and the patterns the blackbirds made
as they flew low along the horizon.

Posted with permission of the author.

Van Gogh Dreams is available here and on Amazon.

I love that the cover of Van Gogh Dreams is a work of  art in itself. As Lisa explains in the book’s introduction, it is taken from a collage created by her father, artist Georg Vihos.

While she’s here, Lisa will be recording an episode of the long-running Library of Congress podcast “The Poet and the Poem.” The host is Grace Cavalieri, our new state poet laureate of Maryland! I’ll share a link when the podcast is available.

Do you love Van Gogh’s paintings? You might want to check out Vans new Van Gogh fashion line. Yes, Vans the sneaker company. What would Vincent think, I wonder?

A Long Winter’s Nap

Buffy Silverman is hosting Poetry Friday at Buffy’s Blog today.

Around this time every year, my acupuncturist reminds me that winter is a time for hibernation. It’s okay to huddle by the fire with the family, to be more “in” and less “out” (whether that’s your physical or your energetic being).

When snow blankets Maryland, everyone stays in and hunkers down. At my house, we curl up on the couch and watch movies or play board games. The first time we had a blizzard while my eldest was away at college, it felt strange to sit out the quiet storm without him.

Follow Soul Roots on Instagram @SoulRootsPlanner.

Click on the image to read the Rosemary Chocolate Truffles recipe from Soul Roots Planner.

Curling up, staying warm, clinging to family — all crossed my mind when I received my Winter Poetry Swap package from the swap-mistress herself, Tabatha Yeatts of the blog The Opposite of Indifference.  There were treats to warm my spirit: homemade lip balm (one of Tabatha’s many talents), a box of delicious raspberry tea, and a planner filled with herbalist wisdom and recipes, including this one for Rosemary Chocolate Truffles.

Before I get too cozy, picturing myself staying in bed with my naturally delicious chocolate bon-bons, let’s read the ekphrastic poem Tabatha included with these gifts.

UPDATE: Typos that were entirely my fault have been corrected. Apologies to Tabatha!

Das Bett by Sofie Korner

The Bed
by Tabatha Yeatts

for Laura

She feels as though the bed is poised to roll her
out of it while she is sleeping, that no matter
how much she craves rest, the bed will
cast her away. perhaps the hands that
sawed and hammered the frame, tilted
the bed just so, sought to make it
inevitable that she would seek a
husband to keep her aboard.
she covers the bed with a
blanket of her own
making, colors
that cheer
her heart,
tucks the sheets in tight.

***

I’m intrigued by the tension that Tabatha creates in this poem. As a knitter, the finale speaks to me — that the woman solves her unease by making something beautiful. I get a sense that this grounds her and counterbalances the tilted bed.

Time to make some truffles! Enjoy your holiday treats and have a great weekend, poets.

Laura’s Bookshelf: The Frame-up

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Jone at Check It Out. She’s got big news about the Cybil Award for Poetry!

Happy Poetry Friday! Thanks for visiting the Poe House with me last week. I pulled a random name from the comments and Jama Rattigan is the winner of the Poe Keepsake Journal. Congratulations, Jama!

Before I get to this week’s post, I want to thank Arnold Adoff and the Virginia Hamilton Conference. Last week, I learned that my debut novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was named the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices honor book. “Surprised” is an understatement! It is a huge honor and I’m so grateful for the recognition. Please do visit the full list of award-winners. There are some phenomenal books among the 2018 awardees.

It’s been over a year since I started keeping a personal bullet journal. (If you’re not familiar with bullet journals, start with this post.)

Inspired by my educator friends, one of the new things I’m trying with my 2018 journal is tracking my reading. I’ve kept track via Goodreads before, but charting books is allowing me to take a close look at my genre preferences and how many children’s novels I read, versus YA or adult.

So far, it looks like this:

I am very excited about my most recent read.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s The Frame-up is about  boy who — spending the summer with his art-gallery-director father — discovers a great secret. Paintings are alive!

Let’s say you are a portrait. You keep all of the memories of your living person (the subject of the portrait) until the moment the painting is finished.

From that point on, you become your own entity, keeping quiet and still during the day, so museum goers won’t guess the truth. At night, you visit friends and neighbors in other paintings. And by visit, I mean going into a painting of a pub to drink and dance with your buddies or, if you’re a child, hopping into a seascape with a soothing pier for you to walk around. If that seascape is so soothing that you fall asleep in the painting — the wrong painting — no worries … as long as you’re back in your own picture by the time the museum opens.

But let’s say the gallery director’s son, Sargent Singer, happens to come along to the gallery one night and notice that your portrait frame is empty. And then what if he spots you, fast asleep on a pier, in the wrong painting?

This middle grade contemporary fantasy will be available in June. Pre-order now from Indiebound.

This is how The Frame-up opens. The painting that Sargent catches is that of a girl about his age, Mona Dunn. (You can view William Orpen’s Mona Dunn here.) The two of them spark a secret friendship, chock-full of adventures and mishaps.

How serendipitous that I’d have a chance to read the ARC right now, when our February Poetry Project is in the midst of writing in response to art! I know that members of this group are going to love how vividly MacKnight imagines the personalities of several paintings — all found at the real-life Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada.

It’s also a super fun book. The climax (involving nefarious goings-on at the gallery) is exciting, both in our world, and in the world of the paintings. And the resolution? It totally tugged at my art-strings. (Get it?)

I went back to the first February Poetry Project, looking for a poem to pair with Wendy’s book. The theme that year was vintage post cards.

Many of those poems were portraits of the people pictured on the cards, but only one imagined that the people in the image are awake, thinking beings.

Luckily, this poem is a good fit for Valentine’s Week.

Cartoon Boy Meets Cartoon Girl
By Laura Shovan

You have no lips to kiss or speak.
I have no ears to listen.
Let me lean on this picket fence,
watch you hover
over a loop of jump rope,
your braids drawn up
by bat-winged ribbons.
You cannot see my baseball cap
or read my cautious expression.
Your lashes fell a moment before
the cartoonist imagined us.
But I will wait. The next panel,
with your fluttering lids, must come.
The artist — would he leave us
forever like this?

Sadly, these two are frozen in their art, unable to move or communicate. They’d much prefer being in the wonderful world of The Frame-up. Find the original post with this postcard and poem at Author Amok.

Poetry Friday: Come Like Shadows

Carol Varsalona is hosting Poetry Friday this week. Visit Beyond Literacy Link for the PF round-up and for Carol’s Winter Wonderland gallery.

Happy Poetry Friday! January is hobbling to its frigid, icy end. It’s been a cold month in Maryland, as the blue hues of my temperature scarf will attest.

The annual February Poetry Project members are warming up for our month of daily writing. This year’s project theme is “Ekphrastic at Home.” Each day, a member of the group will share a piece of art that they own or keep on display at home.

Today’s warm-up prompt is one of three paintings I own by my grandmother, Joy Dickson. A New Yorker, child of a German Jewish engineer and his Romanian wife, Joy was destined to be a concert violinist. While studying at Julliard, she met my grandfather, a percussionist who had moved to the U.S. from France as a young child. His name was Charles Dickson. They married, struggled to start a business together, had three children (my father was the eldest). I don’t know whether she completed her degree at Julliard, but Joy never picked up a violin again.

Still, my grandmother had a creative spirit. At some point, she took classes at Parsons School of Design. I remember her always in the midst of a project. There was the large loom taking up space in her living room, a fabric made of wool and tree bark half-woven on its strings. There was a trio of monarch butterflies from her print-making class, a found-wood sculpture she signed with the pseudonym “Jandelay” so she could ask for — and get — the honest opinions of family members on her work. There was the Thanksgiving we found out she’d gone to clown college. (She was a hobo clown.)

Oil on canvas, by Joy Dickson

Although she died nearly 15 years ago, I feel like my children have grown up around Joy because her art has always been a presence in our home. The piece I shared today, a portrait of her mother Rachel (known as Rose), was probably painted when Joy was in her teens or 20s.

It was an honor to Joy’s memory to read the poems everyone wrote in response to her painting today. Some people wrote about the deep connection between mother and daughter, as if they knew the story behind this portrait.

My own poem is a memory of the last words I heard my grandmother say. It was the summer of 2003, and she was doing hospice at my parents’ home in mountains.

Come Like Shadows

By Laura Shovan

We circled her like three witches,
stripped her clothes, the old
button-down shirt she favored
since my grandfather passed.
No one had heard her voice in days.
Her hair, once auburn, thick,
wrapped in a scarf to keep
the tumor out of sight. The shower
bubbled and when we three women
pushed her under its stream,
Joy said, “Wait a minute.”
She’d told me weeks before
she was ready for this, but
as the world rolled into shadow,
she clung to its fabric. My aunt
washed her hair and I held her,
and my mother held her. No eloquence
in her words – my grandmother’s last —
but what other demand
could she make as she leaned
out of the spray to plant
a kiss on my bare shoulder?

***

On Monday, I’m participating in a guest-post at Nerdy Book Club about distance reading groups. If you geek out about middle grade books, give it a read!

Currently reading: No One Waits for the Train, by Waqas Khwaja

Announcing the 6th Annual February Poetry Project

We’re kicking off a new year of poetry at Reading to the Core. Stop by Catherine’s blog for all of this week’s poetry links.

Happy 2018, poets and poetry lovers. Before you know it, February will be here.

That’s right. It’s almost time for our annual daily writing workout.

A little history: For four years, my blog hosted a community poetry project.

Last year, the project moved to a closed Facebook group to accommodate our growing community of about 60 poets.

  • The 2017 project theme, 10 Words Found in the News, helped us create beauty, humor, and satire in response to current events. This prompt worked so well that, when February was over, we continued to write 10 Words in the News poems throughout the year.

This year, we’re heading back to the project’s visual-prompt roots.

Find a full definition at the Poetry Foundation.

2018 Theme: Ekphrastic At-home

The theme of this year’s project is ekphrastic poetry (writing in response to works of art), but with a twist. Poet Ann Haman suggested that we write in response to art pieces owned by members of the group.

Beginning January 31, a group member will post a photograph of a work of art (loosely interpreted) from their home collection. Art pieces might include paintings, sculptures, kids’ creations, photographs, or beautiful oddities. There will be a sign-up in the group’s files for those who’d like to be in charge of a daily writing prompt.

Special thanks to Kip Rechea, a past participant who will be acting as a group moderator and providing some administrative help.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR PROJECT NEWBIES: As always, the point of this exercise is to practice the habit of writing regularly, even if it’s just for one month. Members of the project post response poems the same day so that we can focus on generating ideas and giving positive feedback, rather than polishing for publication.

Interested in joining us? You can request to join the closed 6th Annual February Daily Poem Project here.