Guest Post, Liz Robbins: Generation Vex: Returning to Walls

Butterfly PaintingLast week, I had a conversation with a visual artist about the challenges of making art as we age. I’ll turn forty-six in December, and my friend is near there. I’ve read the statistics: the average poet peaks in her twenties; artists tend to be more in line with novelists, creating their best work in their forties (lucky guy). Still, with modern life and its distractions (see Anthony Varallo’s good post on interruption), finding inspiration tends to become more problematic with age.

The artist and I briefly discussed strategies we’ve tried to keep the wheels turning. He’s a pro: a gifted painter who reinvented his artistic identity by trying—and mastering—a new genre (video). He’s secured artist residencies. He’s earned a sabbatical. Yet he juggles a full-time teaching gig with a brilliant, lively family, which is to say, he drinks a lot of coffee. He’s constantly weighing appropriate balance and space—responsibilities galore, but good ones, ones crackling with depth and possibility. I struggle to find space—and inspiration within that space—for art in similar ways. In recent years, it’s been in the playgrounds of other art mediums, which sometimes means excellent live music shows, but often means wherever fresh contemporary visual art can be found locally; when on the Flagler College campus, where I teach, I frequent CEAM (the Crisp Ellert Art Museum). This is nothing new: poets have written ekphrastic poems since the beginning, many of them great and lasting (ie. Auden’s “Musee Des Beaux Arts”). And this is perhaps because there’s a certain kind of attention required of visual art—how color works to convey mood, for instance, or how vital a fresh concept to the work’s success—that helps remind us of important elements in poem-making. Not every poet has the same hurdles when it comes to making poems, but one of mine tends to be getting hyper-focused on the linear argument—that which I find most interesting, chasing the a-ha! moment—and therefore getting lazy about filling in with lush details. Or filling in the details, but not presenting them in strange or original ways. Another challenge is finding new themes: my obsessions have gone through the wash twenty times; all that hot water has faded and shrunk them. Spending a few hours with a visual artist’s work tends to get fresh angles spinning. For instance, one of my more recent riffs came courtesy of Anna Von Mertens, a highly-accomplished multi-media artist, currently living in New Hampshire. In this series, she’s taking well-known portraits (often self-portraits by artists like Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo) and from them, creating auras, using cloth, stitching, and homemade dye. Gorgeous. Mind-blowing. When I saw some of these in a CEAM exhibit, I immediately wanted to talk back to them, create a kind of tribute to them in poems. The result was a series of “aura” poems, using largely the Confessional poets. Here’s one:

aura: james wright
the head and torso shape that of a supplicant,
a nonbeliever in prayer, the eyes closed below
their frames, hands clasped at the heart, but the heart’s
red is the opposite of the dominant pigment, green: sap green
that breaks into flowering, o, Monet’s fields and water lilies
seeding and bursting beneath surfaces, all grown-blessed
in permanent green light . . . . Jenny the muse in hooker’s green:
river-rising just enough to be seen, he will wade in over
his head into the snake’s viridian venom, in the background
Van Gogh’s mother portrait, where the world’s players
smash against each other, competing terribly–
who wouldn’t waste a life for the naive green just breaking
into gallop? the wild fields blossoming?

As you can see, I’ve selected a dominant color palette that represents the poet/his work (green, with nods to significant painters who worked famously in green) and made allusions to Wright’s most well-known poems. What I’m most interested in is the conversation, the stimulation that arose from it. A familiar paradox, but one that bears repeating: artists must carve out vacuums in order to make art, yet art is not inspired by such vacuums, but life itself. In support of the collaboration of visual art and poetic inspiration, I bring my students to CEAM every semester, to view what riches our director has procured and to respond in poems; part of my own making process comes in designing prompts unique to the artist’s work. This experience is for them, for me, the dominant lesson: that the art-making engine runs on nouvelles idées, that we must constantly see potential inspiration everywhere and seek it out. If we’re young, the challenge comes in developing the habit; if we’re older, it’s in sustaining it. The irony, of course, with this particular mode: that the new ideas come from ideas already examined, though differently, by other makers. Another paradox (the soul of poetry).

Contributor Update: Sarah Vap

Past contributor Sarah Vap was recently featured on the literary podcast, Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People). Sarah Vap bio pictureRachel Zucker interviews Sarah about upcoming manuscripts, her writing as craft, and her panel at this year’s AWP. You can listen to the conversation here.

Sarah was also featured on the Speedway and Swan podcast with guest host Susan Briante. You can listen to that conversation here, where they discuss the many forms that poetry can take.

Sarah’s interview with Superstition Review can be found in issue 13 here.

#ArtLitPhx: Four Chambers Press call for full-length manuscripts

Four Chambers call for manuscriptsLocal literary publisher, Four Chambers Press is now accepting full-length manuscript submissions in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction through July 31st, 2017. Poetry should be between 60 and 160 pgs; prose should be between 30k and 80k words. For full guidelines, visit our website at http://fourchamberspress.com/submit.

From their press release: Four Chambers Press, an independent community press based in Phoenix, AZ is now accepting full-length manuscript submissions in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, hybrid, and all other forms of contemporary literature through Monday, July 31st, 2017. We also pun frequently on the idea of being a heart. Namely: that we’re lovable; somewhat cheeky; an occasional flirt. But we also take the responsibility of literature and book publishing very seriously. We will bleed for this if we have to. Our hearts beat for this. We don’t care where you come from or what you do. We’re interested in building something that’s going to outlast us. We want to feel something together. We’re interested in you. Writers of all backgrounds and skill levels are encouraged to submit. No fees.

#ArtLitPhx: Changing Hands presents Paul Brinkley-Rogers

Paul Brinkley-Rogers bio pictureOn Wednesday June 14th at 7PM, Changing Hands Phoenix will be hosting Paul Brinkley-Rogers as he discusses his new memoir, Please Enjoy Your Happiness. The memoir focuses on his time in 1959 when he had a love affair with an older Japanese woman while serving aboard a US Navy vessel outside of Yokusaka. Paul is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and veteran war correspondent that worked for many years in Asia, covering the war in Vietnam and Camboadia for Newsweek. 

Find out more about the event at Changing Hands’ Phoenix location (300 W Camelback Phoenix, AZ 85013) here.

Contributor Update: Sarah Pape

Past contributor Sarah Pape is the managing editor at the literary journal Watershed Review. The journal recently launched it’s spring issue for 2017 which features some impressive fiction, poetry, and artwork. The journal was founded in 1977 and operates out of California State University, Chico. Check out Watershed Review online here.

And check out two of Sarah Pape’s poems in issue 8 of Superstition Review here.

#ArtLitPhx: Rinky Dink Press Series 3 Launch

Rinky Dink Press logoOn Friday June 16th, Rinky Dink Press will be hosting a launch party for it’s newest series of micro-chapbooks. The event will take place at Wasted Ink Zine Distro from 7PM to 9PM. Stop in for refreshments and pop-up readings from ten brand new microzines and micro-chapbooks. All books will be on sale for $1 each, and performing poets include Virginia Chase Sutton and Randy Heflin. Other published poets include Justin Rogers, Jasmine Chatfield, Woody Woodger, Dane Hamann, Jessica Van de Kemp, Caroline Kessler, Alex Skorochid, and Nick Hopkins.

You can find the Facebook event here. Wasted Ink Zine Distro is located at 2222 N. 16th St. Phoenix, AZ 85006.

#ArtLitPhx: Edith Wharton: When Words First Spoke

Explore the life of renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist Edith Wharton. Dr. Rivers-Norton will discuss excerpts from “Edith Wharton: When Words First Spoke,” the fourth chapter of her latest book The Demeter-Persephone Myth as Writing Ritual in the Lives of Literary Women. The talk will focus on the novelist Edith Wharton, who experiences loss, illness and confusion as a child and is mystified by the aloofness of her mother. Consequently, she feels insecure and inferior. Although destined to be a writer, Wharton is profoundly shaped by family discord and a war-torn world, and often courts humiliation and consequent exile by voicing what others in her family do not want to acknowledge. Despite these restrictions, Wharton continuously recasts painful experience as fodder for the imagination to forge a lasting literary career.

This free event will be on Thursday, June 8 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Located at Arizona Humanities 1242 N. Central Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85004. For more information and to RSVP click here.