All posts in “poetry”

Poet Morgan Parker on Mickalene Thomas, Beyonce, and Figuring History

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, if you’re not sure what to read, visit the library inside of the exhibition Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, closing May 13. While there you’ll notice a book of poetry by Morgan Parker titled There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House, 2017). It’s a recent favorite read of this particular copywriter and the cover of the first edition (now sold out) featured a Mickalene Thomas artwork. More importantly, within the pages of this smart, irreverent, and deeply personal collection of poetry is a piece inspired by Thomas, reprinted below! Morgan Parker simultaneously brings great depth to listening to Drake and immense weight to racial discrimination as she fearlessly invokes generations of social injustices within her powerful and playful prose. Parker stopped by the exhibition while visiting Seattle and shared some thoughts on Figuring History as well!

We Don’t Know When We Were Opened (Or, The Origin of the Universe)
after Mickalene Thomas

By Morgan Parker

A sip of liquor from a creek. Saturday syndicated
Good Times, bare legs, colors draped like
an afterthought. We    bright enough to blind you.
Dear anyone, dear high-heel metronome, white
noise, hush us, shhhhh, hush us. We’re artisinal
crafts, rare gems, bed of leafy bush you call
us           superfood. Jeweled lips, we’re rich
We’re everyone. We have ideas and vaginas,
history and clothes and a mother. Portrait-ready
American blues. Palm trees and back issues
of JET, pink lotion, gin on ice, zebras, fig lipstick.
One day we learned to migrate. One day we studied
Mamma making her face. Bright new brown, scent of Nana
and cinnamon. Shadows of husbands and vineyards,
records curated to our allure, incense, unconcern.
Champagne is how the Xanax goes down, royal blue
reigning. We’re begging anyone not to forget
we’re turned on with control. We better homes and gardens.
We real grown. We garden of soiled panties.
We low hum of satisfaction. We is is is is is is is is
touch, touch, shine, a little taste. You’re gonna
give us the love we need.

SAM: Reading We Don’t Know When We Were Opened there’s a lot of assonance that creates repetition and fragmentation that feels to me like a sonic equivalent to Mickalene’s visual fragmentation. What in Thomas’ work inspired you and this poem, formally or thematically?

Morgan Parker: I’ve always loved Mickalene’s work, for the glitter and the color and the attention and the audaciousness. Her work is a celebration, and it’s also a politically intentional decolonization of the art history canon. She builds new worlds and revels in those worlds. I wanted my poem to reflect her work and add to it, translate it in my own words.

How do you think the persona poem and the way that Mickalene Thomas casts her models as art historical figures and tropes relate? Mickalene’s figures are looking right at you and this alters their role—makes them dimensional, such as in a painting like Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet. Where do you think that same dimension lives persona poems?

God I love this painting. I like to think of all my first-person poems as playing with dimensionality. I’m interested in using the singular figure, or voice, to call up cultural figureheads and historical tropes. Persona poems are an extension of that—they have two first-person speakers.

What stuck with you from your visit to the exhibition? Any lingering or new thoughts?

Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir I always makes me cry. It was also fantastic to see Robert Colescott’s work in person, as I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I love the way it engages stereotypes and recasts history so playfully and comically. In a different way than Mickalene, there’s trickery in acknowledging the audience’s gaze—that’s something I’ll be thinking over for a while.

 

Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night. In 2019, a third collection of poems, Magical Negro, will be published by Tin House, and a young adult novel will be published with Delacorte Press. Her debut book of nonfiction will be released in 2020 by OneWorld. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the creator and host of Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets with Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She lives in Los Angeles.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Images: Photo courtesy of Morgan Parker. Photo by Nina Dubinsky. Video: Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet, 2012, Mickalene Thomas, Sydney & Walda Besthoff, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, © Mickalene Thomas. Photo courtesy of Morgan Parker.
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SAM Staff Reads: Kusama’s Turbulent Garden

Yayoi Kusama’s visual art output is prolific, but did you know that she was also a writer? Beyond penning her autobiography, Infinity Net, in 2002 she is also the author of Hustler’s Grotto (1992), a collection of three novellas written between 1983 and 1992, and various books of poetry. Stay tuned to this blog series for a focus on Violet Obsession (1998), a collection of Kusama’s poems paired with images of her performative work including her Happenings and her activations of her Infinity Mirror Rooms. We’ve invited SAM staff to spend some time with Kusama’s poems and select a piece that speaks to them. We’ll be sharing selections from Violet Obsession alongside the musings and inspirations of SAM Staff. The exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is on view at SAM through September 10.

SAM’s Copywriter and Content Strategist, and an author in her own right, Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, gets things started with with her thoughts on one of the more light-hearted poems in the collection.

TURBULENT GARDEN (AT THE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL)

it’s a breeding ground of stray cats here
parent cats have mated with their children to produce children
brothers have mated with sisters to produce children
and now the place is teeming with cats
when beams of the crescent moon fell upon the garden
the cats ate that moon
stars adhered one by one to the garden
the cats played with the stars
it’s a garden of cats
where no one dies and the numbers only multiply

it’s an exceedingly strange
cat way of calculating
all the leaves from the treetops       fell upon the cats
when the lonely winter comes
the shadows of cats just keep on increasing
they’re playing with one another
in the deathless garden
the rotting tails of fish accumulate
left over rice too is put aside
things human beings have contributed

they’re all disfigured cats
some with only half a tail
some with an ear torn off
some lame
not one complete cat in the lot

No one appears to have died
it’s even more turbulent on windy days
“meow, meow”—they run around
busy f***ing
they leap about
I’m glad I’m not a cat
I wasn’t born a cat
because I’m not really fond of all that f***ing

(1983)

– Yayoi Kusama

For me, the first appeal of this poem is the repetition. Kusama’s concerns with reproduction ad infinitum are clearly linked with breeding in this poem in a way that a work like Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field only implies. But in this poem, as in her visual work, what she reproduces is imagery, not just words (though the refrain of “cats” does reverberate throughout). Disfigured cats nibbling on a sliver of moon or batting around stars, never dying and endlessly multiplying are the fish tails and rice (rather than meat and potatoes) of the poem. But, it’s the turn that occurs at the end, when Kusama interjects in the first person, that lifts the poem above a landscape of feral felines into a psychological setting, all too fitting given the subtitle of the poem. We are taken directly into Kusama’s self proclaimed issues with sex at the end of this poem in a straightforward way. In her autobiography she talks at length about her fear of the phallus as the impetus to creating the soft sculptures that have appeared often in her work: in frames on wall, on furniture and boats, and in her Infinity Mirror Room. In contrast to the sheer volume of this motif in her visual work, her quick mention of being glad she’s not a cat allows the poem to be a playful menagerie in some undying garden, only lightly touched by human influence.

I think immediately of Turtle, my childhood cat. For weeks my brother almost had me convinced that she was a robot, until I saw her give birth. My father found her on a construction site in Manhattan on his walk home from work. She must have already been pregnant when he brought her into our tiny apartment. A few weeks later my parents pulled me out of elementary school in the middle of the day to come witness the birth of two kittens. Turtle caused another kind of issue at school: inquiries as to if everything was OK at home in response to the large and numerous scratches on my arms. Turtle didn’t take to domesticity and ran away within the year. We eventually gave her kittens to a neighbor. Turtle might not have liked being a mother, but she taught me how to climb trees.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Source: Kusama, Yayoi. Violet Obsession. Translated by Hisako Ifshin and Ralph F. McCarthy with Leza Lowitz. Edited by Alexandra Munro. Berkeley, CA: Wandering Mind Books, 1998.
Illustration: Natali Wiseman.

 

 

 

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Object of the Week Landscape: Autumn

With the onset of fall, some lament the end of summer, but the vivid beauty of the season and the assuring rhythm of change just make me grateful to be alive in such a scenic place. I find it worth musing on: Tuning into the natural artistry of the moment makes it easier to lose those long, warm summer days.

But if you’re still in need of centering, we’re your blog!

Helping us to embrace the autumnal mood, this six-panel Japanese folding screen depicting Autumn poetically pictures a misty chill over the water and the hillsides. Exposed but stubborn trees dot the landscape with green. All across the screen figures enjoy the waning bounty of land and sea, busily preparing for the coming winter: fishing, traveling, gathering. The screen embodies a visual poem to fall.

Landscape: Autumn

To lead you further down the path to fall zen, here is an offering of seasonal poems from the master of the haiku, Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694):

None is travelling
here along this way but I,
this autumn evening.

The first day of the year:
thoughts come—and there is loneliness;
the autumn dusk is here.

Autumn wind
through an open door—
a piercing cry.

On a withered branch
a crow has alighted:
nightfall in autumn.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Landscape: Autumn, 16th century (Muromachi period, 1333-1573), Attributed to Sesson Shukei (Japanese, 1504-1589), ink and color on paper, 66 15/16 x 138 3/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.127, Photos: Paul Macapia.
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Plateau Artists’ Book on View at Bullitt Library

In conjunction with the exhibition, Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection, this installation features the Native American artists’ book, Terrain: Plateau Native Art & Poetry.

terraincover2a

Cover of Terrain: Plateau Native Art & Poetry. Olympia: Self-published at Evergreen State College, 2014. SPCOL E 78 C64 F43 2014.

Terrain: Plateau Native Art & Poetry is the print portfolio/artist’s book that was curated by artist Joe Feddersen, Evergreen faculty emeritus and member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. Corwin Clairmont, Salish and Kootenai, was responsible for printing the works’ monotypes and creating the embellished folio cover.

Enos_ElephantRock

Elephant Rock, monotype by Vanessa Enos.

As one reviewer described, “[Terrain] presents a visual and verbal journey through physical, emotional, and visionary landscapes.” Feddersen, in the volume’s introduction, explains:

“Defined by the crest of the Cascades to the Continental Divide, touching northern California extending far north into British Columbia, Terrain speaks of the textures of the earth—the homeland of the Plateau people. This compilation of expressions, relief prints and poems, breathes the life of ongoing cultures inherent to place.”

carraher_homelessterrain

HomelessTerrain.info, monotype by Ron Carraher. By moving a QR code scanner over the image, the viewer can connect to Carraher’s website.

In a phone interview, Feddersen impressed upon me the importance and purpose of this project. It was a chance to shed some light on artists of the Plateau area, who don’t often receive the attention that artists from the Northwest Coast and Plains regions receive. It was also an opportunity to bring people together. More than half of the participants were present at the printing: older artists working alongside younger artists; well-known artists working alongside emerging ones. It became a very multigenerational experience.   Editions were produced for museums, the artists themselves, and people who volunteered on the project. When the artists came to Evergreen State College in the spring of 2014 for the exhibition component of the project, they got to exchange prints with one another. Feddersen described it like a “coming home week”—a time when people came back together after being dispersed in their various locales, away from their Native culture.

passmore_unnecessaryhousing

Unnecessary Housing, monotype by William (Bill) Passmore.

The portfolio is comprised of prints and poetry by thirty-four Plateau artists and writers: Leo Adams, Sherman Alexie, Neal Ambrose, Gloria Bird, Ron Carraher, Vic Charlo, Corwin Clairmont, Cameron Decker, Alyne Watamet DeCoteau, Debra Earling, Vanessa Enos, Carly Feddersen, Joe Feddersen, Ryan Feddersen, Jennifer Feddersen, Frank Finley, Ric Gendron, Cheryl Grunlose, Michael Holloman, Van Holloman, Rochelle Kulei, James Lavadour, Miles Miller, Ramon Murillo, Ed Archie NoiseCat, William Passmore, Lillian Pitt, Lawney Reyes, Susan Sheoships, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Kirby Stanton, Toma Villa, Ramona Wilson, and Lizzy Woody.

The SAM Libraries are grateful to have this distinctive work. Artist’s books by Native artists are unfortunately rare. Feddersen hopes that projects like this will continue. We do too.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Terrain: Plateau Native Art & Poetry is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum, during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm. During the run of Indigenous Beauty, we will rotate the selection of prints and poems being displayed.

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