Friday, December 28, 2007

Interview with Diane Tucker

Diane Tucker, author of Bright Scarves of Hours (Palimpsest Press 2007), was interviewed by rob mclennan for his 12 or 20 questions series. Below is an excerpt. The entire interview can be found on his blog. The link is provided below.

Q: Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Diane: By theoretical concerns I assume you mean do I write consciously to serve one literary theory or another? No, I don’t. Though obviously I write in a certain style and have studied certain poetry and not other poetry; I know no one writes in a vacuum. I value clarity, precision, accuracy, honesty. I value these things fanatically, rabidly. Whatever theoretical concerns those represent I leave to the theoreticians.

Questions? Each poem probably does try to ask the right question and/or to answer it, I guess. But honestly I think worrying about the effect of my body of work would be too distracting. Thomas Merton said we have to be detached from the results of our work. I believe this. It’s my job to write the best poems I can and disseminate them as best I can. “The rest,” as Eliot says, “is not our business”.

Frankly I’m not interested in any questions that are merely current (except maybe “Is my bus going to be on time?” and “Do I need another cup of coffee?”, to which the answer is nearly always “Yes!”).

To read the entire interview, go to rob mclennan’s blog

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Three mischievous squirrels and cutting glass by candlelight

How does one create a glass book?

Like my other chapbook projects, I came to this one with a vague idea of what the finished book should look like but had no clue how to get it from concept to reality. Lots of trial and error was going to be involved. I have taken a stained glass course before and know the basics: cut, grind, foil and solder. However, this project involved backing the glass with paper sheets and making sure the “pages” were not too thick. It is a book after all, and as such, it is meant to be read, handled, and stored on a shelf. If the pages were to be two-sided, the light would not shine through the glass. I had to think of the glass in terms of texture instead of light. And there were other issues as well. What kind of framing material should I use? How should the pages open? What type of hinging options do I have?

It all started with the idea of a themed windowpane called a “triptych,” in which three windows relate to each other in style and content. How could I make the typically religious themed composition work metaphorically in a modern poem? I told Christian about this idea for a book and he said, “you know I have a poem called triptych.” What luck! The poem was suited perfectly for this project. It is organized in three parts, as all good triptychs should, and its theme of love works well with a medium typically reserved for religious imagery. After all, what requires more faith and fervor than love? And there is an ironic resonance of this in the poem. Since the panes must relate to each other, they should be visible simultaneously. The book had to open out on both sides making the complete triptych visible, and then fold shut and store like a book. This decision determined the type of hinges I would use.

The poem uses the metaphor of the window and how it frames a moment, which is particularly suitable for this project. I decided the frame around the pages should be wood, to mimic the look of a bedroom windowpane (the persona’s perspective), thereby stressing the importance of framing in the text. The images in the poem centre on ice/ snow/ crystals. There is also mention of smoke and foliage, things that can blur vision. This dictated my glass selection. I chose glue chip, water glass, artique, baroque and spectrum, all in varying degrees of transparency. In them I see crackling ice, raindrops, frost, swirling snow, ferns and cobwebs. One glass has a thin curved line that reminds me of the etchings on ice formed by a skate blade.

I played with the idea of using red in one of the panes, since there was mention of a flame in the poem. I thought it would enliven the work and create a sense of contrast. Christian, however, saw the work as monochromatic in tone and thought the use of red too bold in relation to the unchanging tone of the speaker. I agreed and nixed the red. As a result, the panes are quite subdued in colour, with ranges and mixtures of grey, blue, black and white. When my husband saw the finished panes he declared them “dull.” This was wholly predictable since most people think of stained glass as those brightly coloured jewels hanging in windows with light streaming through. Next to them, these were rather anemic looking, but how perfectly they fitted the crystalline text. I pressed his fingers on the glass, asking, “have you ever touched such a richly textured page?”

Chaos Ensues

Now that my decisions were made I bought the materials and got to work. In this sort of production, what usually happens is a therapeutic calmness. The concentration needed to build and shape with one’s hands creates self-possession. My usual frenetic thinking is forced to quiet itself while my mind and hands work in unison.

But this tranquility would not last. Not one, but two, mischievous squirrels fell down my chimney and into my studio space (a.k.a. the laundry room). I heard some squeaking noises at the bottom of the flue and knocked lightly against the vent to see if something was inside. It hissed back. Knowing there was a frightened animal inside, I wasted no time closing off the rest of the basement, wedging the outside door open with a shoe, despite the considerable cold, and then opening the vent cover. Out flew two squirrels into the laundry room. They ran manically from wall to wall, jumping over shelves, knocking down the suspended light fixture, while I stupidly tried to direct them to the open door. “No, not over there you dumb… NO! NO! not on the table, MY GLASS… you’re going to knock down my glass!”

Now this in not the first time I’ve had a run-in with these bushy-tailed rodents. Cute as they are in parks and dangling from trees with their high wire trapeze act, I have grown to detest their swishing tails and clicking noises. When my husband and I first bought this house, I planted a perennial garden full of specialty bulbs. A rather indulgent purchase, I had the bulbs imported from Holland — Rembrandt tulips with their colourful and dramatic petals, delicate fountain tulips and double flowering varieties that resemble roses. But I never got to see them. The squirrels made quick work of my specialty imported Dutch bulbs, digging them easily from the newly packed dirt. I chased them away from my garden on a regular basis, trying various “tips” from other gardeners on how to dissuade them, but nothing worked and I could frequently be seen running through my yard yelling obscenities at squirrels, which I should point out is not a good introduction to one’s neighbours.

After that fiasco, I have never trusted another squirrel. We have an on-going feud concerning the garden, and they seem to taunt me from high up in the trees when I walk underneath, hissing and throwing the occasional acorn at my head. But lately, we have come to an understanding, each respecting the other’s space. Or so I thought. I wonder how it happened, can imagine them up on the roof, “you go, I dare you...” says one. “Well I double nut dare you,” goads the other.

Our past encounters have taught me that yelling at a squirrel and calling it names never helps the situation, and yet this situation warranted extreme behaviour. I thought if I could scare them away from the chimney side of the room they would be forced to go in the other direction, towards the open door. This worked for one of them. The other squirrel, to my dismay, did not follow. He remained hiding on top of a ceiling beam. I hit the beam with a broom in the attempt to bully him down. He pushed as far back as he could go and began growling, very low at first, until his growl sounded more like something that would come from a large canine and not a cute and fuzzy character from Bambi. I decided to leave him alone. I opened the window, shut the door and, very annoyed that my work was halted for the evening, I went upstairs.

I figured he would leave first thing in the morning, driven by thirst and hunger, but when I went into the laundry room the next day he was still hiding. He had found his way across the beams and into the ceiling over our basement hallway. I rapped on the ceiling and sure enough the ceiling began hissing back. The squirrel stayed there for two and a half days before I heard some crashing noises and saw the half empty bottle of detergent being knocked down as he made a mad dash for the window.

Finally, I could clean the mess and get back to work, or so I assumed. Later that same day as I was grinding glass I heard a loud thump and then some scratching noises. I tapped against the vent and sure enough it hissed back. What is going on? Did the first one come back looking for his friend? This time I knew better than to let him out. Yes, he was afraid, but I figured he was safer there than running over my glass covered work surfaces. When my husband came home, he tried disconnecting the vent to trap the rodent, but the wily squirrel was quick and nothing worked. So once again, an inanimate object in my basement was hissing at me. First a ceiling vent and now duct tubing.

It seemed a weird parlour trick. I’d rap on the vent and it’d hiss back. If I rapped three times maybe it would tell me a message, like a spirit from another dimension. The vent talked to me. Perhaps I could invite friends over and we’d crowd around it, light some candles, hold hands and ask it questions. “Should I make spaghetti with pomodoro sauce for dinner tonight? Hiss back three times for yes.”

A day and a half later the squirrel finally found its way out. An open window and a peanut butter treat did the trick. I guess I’ll have to cancel my talking vent party. A whole week had passed. The squirrels had hijacked my workspace and now I lost a week of valuable time. Christmas was fast approaching and I had promised Christian I would have the books to him beforehand.

What some people will do for art

The following Friday I arranged for my mother to watch my daughter so I could have the entire day to work, but once again bad luck intervened. It was storming outside, a sleety snow that soon turned to ice and began covering everything in a thick heavy layer.

There was a power outage. This meant no soldering gun, no grinder and no light. I found a kiwi-melon scented candle and some matches. As a side note, I have no idea where these candles come from. Melon scented or not, I had no choice if the books were to be finished on time. Cutting glass by candlelight is not the recommended way. For starters the low light makes it more likely to cut oneself, or impale oneself depending on the situation. I was lucky really. I managed to slice only one finger, which matched both in position and angle the first one I sliced in full light. It probably had more to do with the fact that I was cutting the glass on the top of my washing machine than anything else. The lid of the washer, of course, is convex, and although not ideal, all my other work surfaces were cluttered beyond usability. As I pushed the blade across the surface it gently rocked from side to side, making a straight cut impossible.

Two sliced fingers, a burn on my wrist from the soldering gun, and a shard of glass embedded in my forehead which I dislodged with a pin… to name just a few bodily injuries from my glass book experience. When I tell people this list, I usually get something like “what people will go through for art.” Truth is I’m kind of clumsy and me with anything even remotely dangerous is sure to cause injury. Rushed as I was the frame did not look quite right, and in an attempt to dissemble it one of the glass pages was broken. A new page and frame had to be constructed last minute, very last minute. I finished both books and shipped them UPS to Christian, scheduled to arrive just four days before Christmas. Creating a glass book was a daunting undertaking. Add to that the hijacking of my studio space by ill-tempered squirrels and an electrical blackout due to an ice storm and you have all the misfortune needed to stage a farce. Hopefully those who ordered one think it worth the wait.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Some women can’t wear white without getting a stain, and then there are those who tumble headfirst in a dress on Main Street

As I was walking from my hair appointment today, my long fluffy scarf blowing in the breeze, I made the irreversible mistake of trying to quickly scamper across a busy car-filled street. I was in an unusually good mood. It had been too long since my hair looked and smelled nice, and the sun was out despite the snow still covering the ground. I put on a dress this morning with the intention of “wowing” my husband, also long over due. When I left the house I wavered over my shoe choice. Heels were definitely not practical but my dress would not look as pretty if I were wearing mukluks, so I slipped on my chocolate brown heels. They are not too high, but high enough for someone inexperienced in the skill of balancing on the balls of her feet.

As a hurried across the street I could feel my feet sliding forward at a rate that the rest of my body could not maintain. I fell, make that nosedived, into a curling tumble onto the asphalt. I rolled the rest of the way until I made it to the sidewalk. Embarrassed, I pushed the length of my skirt back down my legs and wrapped the long scarf up around my face attempting to conceal my identity. I hustled myself away from the intersection as fast as my broken heel would take me. Now I am not a coordinated person; in fact, I am quite clumsy in regular shoes on warm summer days, so I certainly had no business running in heels in the middle of winter.

My ungraceful collision with the ground got me thinking about how stubborn people can be, that we refuse to admit we are, at times, incapable. The negative connotations of “not good enough” seem endless. If we are not capable at one thing, then surely that means we are incompetent at many things. When did we all become such over-achievers? Why does it have to take my face smashed against asphalt to remind me that I cannot do all things well?

When I was about twelve years old I was in skating lessons, and I decided I was going to sew a skating dress for an upcoming local competition. I had never sewn before, but that seemed a small matter. I made the entire dress using strips of iron-heated adhesive. What I hadn’t planned on was the cold air in the arena making the adhesive hard and brittle. The dress began falling apart on me as I cross-cut, twirled and spiraled across the ice. By the end of the routine I was holding a sleeve in my hand and the other was holding my skirt from falling down. This was the first of many times that I flashed an unwitting audience.

I have since learned to sew, and the curtains that hang throughout my house are testament to my skill. I have also learned to skate and, although I won’t be doing any double axles, I can glide in a perfectly acceptable fashion. But I’ll never be that woman who can wear white and not get a stain or the woman who has perfectly coifed hair, while selecting a firm but not too firm melon, in the grocery store. Sometimes it takes an embarrassing moment to remind us that we cannot be this woman. In my case the reality of my inadequacy literary threw me to the ground. Next time I should skip the heels and opt for a more practical pair, standing tall for practical women everywhere.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Great Book Covers

Some of my favorite 2007 book covers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Amphora Interview (2007)

Parts of this interview were published in Amphora (no.146, June 2007) entitled Vocational Soul Searching

Q: Your development as a writer coincided with learning some of the book arts - letterpress and binding. What was the connection?

A: As a writer you realize that the words, the way they look on the page, the space that surrounds, all plays a role in how that work is interpreted. Poetry, in particular, cannot be disassociated from its visual context. Listening to someone read a poem is completely different than reading its form on the page. Some lines are longer, extending past typical margins, or extremely short, perhaps only a word. They could be indented at the beginning or enjambed or dropped down at the end. Poets break their lines to create pauses, emphasis, or a distinct visual pattern on the page. The text of a novel flows from page to page without visual distinction until the end of a chapter. Not so with poetry. Poets are very aware of spatial connections on the page. I have always been drawn to poets like Blake who blur boundaries, meld images with letterforms, disrupting easy distinctions. He was someone who did everything himself—the writing, plate-making, printing. I don’t think many people realize how many stages a manuscript goes through once it has been accepted. It really explodes the notion of authorial intent. So many people have a hand in the process that there is something appealing in the idea of a poet/ artist, someone like Blake, who follows through on their own instincts and innovation without interference. Of course, I am no Blake, but one day I’d like to design and produce my own chapbook rather than handing my poems over to someone else.

Q: Why were you interested in learning about the production of books?

A: The production of books does not happen in isolation—there are many cultural, historical, and technological forces at work. I find it fascinating how different printing technologies have affected the production and distribution of texts. Moveable type not only made work available to more people, it also created a stable text. For the first time, a text could be duplicated without the mistakes of a scribe. The internet, once again, is revolutionizing how we read. The linear top to bottom text is being replaced with hyperlinks that create a jumping text that once again is unstable. No two reading experiences are the same. Binding also greatly affects how we read. Most books are left bound codices, but there are so many other options. Books bound at the top so the pages flip up, a segmented book with many binding points, or one that has no binding at all. Binding affects how we turn pages, and how we experience the text. With creative bookbinding, reading becomes more performative and individualized. As a writer, the ways in which design affects interpretation and technologies affect not only distribution but the reading process itself, is of great importance.

Q: How are most PP books printed - all letterpress, combination of offset and letterpress, etc?

A: I have my trade books printed on a commercial offset. My limited edition books are done in combination with letterpress. Currently I have only done letterpress covers, although I would like to start doing letterpress broadsides. The more I get into it, the more I love doing it.

Q: Why letterpress? Why, in addition to PP's trade titles, books printed and made by hand?

A: Letterpress has a beauty about it—the way the paper glistens under the light and the way the slight indentation feels under my hand. I love blind stamping for this reason. There is a simplicity about it. Objects made by hand, whether a table, stained glass window or book, are one-of-a-kind and there is great care taken in the production of them. That means something in this commercial age. And doing everything myself gives me the most creative freedom as a designer. I have the flexibility to explore my wildest ideas, like designing the spine of a book to hold a syringe, as in Marty Gervais’ chapbook Taking My Blood.

Q: The reason d'etre on your home page suggests that for your publishing program, financial viability of a given text (will it sell enough copies?) are eclipsed by your judgment of whether the text should be published - whether it is important, regardless of whether enough readers can be found to make it pay for itself. You wouldn't be the first publisher to take this stance, but you must also therefore subsidize the publishing with other endeavors that do (more than) pay for themselves. What are these?

A: As a publisher of contemporary Canadian poetry, I had to come to terms with the fact that my press would never be a commercial success. So I asked myself, would I be willing to sell cookbooks and self-help manuals so that I could be a financially successful publisher or would I rather publish books that I find meaningful and be willing to subsidize by other means. I chose the later. I began selling design and letterpress services a couple of years ago. The problem is that I get so busy with my publishing that I turn down well-paying jobs because I haven’t the time to do them.

Q: Who do you see as your clients for these services?

A: So far the people who have contacted me for letterpress services are those interested in buying custom invitations. As for design, I have had people contact me who are self-publishing and don’t know how to do the typesetting for a commercial printer. My hope is that other literary presses will ask me to design their books.

Q: How do you respond to people who believe that, if a book cannot be made to (at least) pay for itself, it shouldn't be published?

A: I guess that goes back to the question of what kind of publisher you want to be. It is a personal choice, and of course money is always a factor in what kind of risk people are willing to take. Certainly, many great books did not have a readership until many years after they were originally published. No one knows for sure what books will become required reading in the future, and value in literature has never been determined by publishing success. Putting high ideals aside, publishers have to seriously think about what their goals are before they accept that first manuscript. As a publisher, I go with what I believe in. Early in my publishing career I was very naive and lost a lot of money, and then made the mistake of publishing a book I thought was good enough, but not great, because it would sell well. After, I became so disillusioned that I took some time off to rethink my whole publishing program. I felt like I had lost my focus, that I wasn’t having any fun, and I certainly didn’t want money to be the determining factor in selecting a title. What came out of that vocational soul-searching were my limited editions. I thought why would I want to continue publishing 400 copies of relatively ordinary looking books when I only sell half the print run. I rather print 100 copies and spend more on making beautiful, high quality books that I love, and I know others will appreciate, potentially making less, but valuing the process and the outcome more.

Q: You are working in two parallel publishing veins, trade and limited editions. And while they have many superficial similarities, there are fundamental differences, from modes of production to the kind of person who buys them. Do you find one more interesting, or rewarding than the other?

A: The trade books are the books that are produced with a more general, wider audience, although for poetry the audience is always somewhat limited. I find these books easier and quicker to produce. The limited editions are time intensive, but the rewards are also greater. I am more emotionally invested in the limited editions because they are so hands-on, and I am involved in the process from start to finish. For each book there is a creative vision. I then work with the materials, manipulating and tweaking the vision as I go along.

Q: Can you discuss this in relation to a specific project?

A: With Paper Lanterns, I knew I wanted the chapbook to be travel-inspired, like a personal journal that someone brings along on a trip, but also be reflective of traditional Asian bookbinding. I played with the construction of the cover for quite some time before deciding on one that would wrap around the foredge like an envelope and then secure in the center. The spine edge would be left exposed so that I could stab bind single pages into a text block. The covers are attached with a decorative tortoise shell binding. The top cover has a letterpress title in vertical orientation that resembles the look of a Japanese title bar. When the cover is opened, I added a liner to make it look like the inside of an envelope. The first page is a “postcard”. When I first saw the photograph used on the front of this postcard, I knew it was the perfect image because of the vertical sign behind the woman. All I had to do was remove the sign’s original text and then add my own to mimic the vertical text found on the letterpress cover. What most people probably cannot tell is that the new text on the sign is actually the title of the book in Chinese. This project was definitely a labour of love. There was a lot of time spent on the details—editing and ordering the poems, picking papers that reflected the Asian theme, twisting paper into string for the inner binding, creating cancelled stamps in Photoshop with Japanese stamps I bought off EBay. There were also many gluing dilemmas with the design of the cover and the use of different paper weights, and numerous mixing experiments involved in getting a crisp letterpress impression with metallic ink on textured paper. Being involved to this extent was at times frustrating, but it was also rewarding. There is a sense of accomplishment that one can only get by being involved in the production process.

Q: In the limited editions (e.g. Paper Lanterns), is the internal text offset or digital?

A: The text was done on my Mac with Quark Xpress and then printed on a laser, the postcards were all done on my Mac but I had then commercially printed on an offset.

Q: Who are your exemplars/favorite contemporary publishers of limited editions? What do you collect? Where do you go to see the work of others publishing contemporary poetry in limited editions?

A: I really like Greenboathouse and JackPine. I have work from those two presses, as well as from MotherTongue and Frog Hollow. I primarily buy limited editions on-line. There are small-press fairs, where you sometimes find gems. It is nice to actually look at the books before purchasing, but I've not yet been disappointed with an on-line purchase. I also collect 19th poetry books. I bought a few through used bookstores, but primarily off EBay or from ABE.

Q: How are you distributing/selling PP books? Is it different for the trade books & limited editions? Do these books go to two different types of readers/collectors?

A: I recently joined a distribution service and they will be handling all my trade sales. It was getting to be too much for me, with all the phone calls and shipping to individual stores. It is hard enough to balance all that life requires without having to spend time on tedious things—I was getting increasingly cranky. I am hopeful that this arrangement will work out, and am curious to see if increased sales will compensate for the revenue lost through fees, percentages and additional charges paid to the distributor. As for the limited editions, I do most of my sales through my web site to individual collectors and to book buyers for libraries. A smaller percentage is sold to bookstores where the author is doing a reading. These are not the type of books that I would want shelved and then returned if unsold as with trade books, because they would likely get damaged. Besides, people who go into Chapters are not looking to buy a $65 poetry book. They want something cheap and easily consumed and discarded. It is not surprising that poetry in general doesn’t sell well at large chains. Independent bookstores sell more poetry. The web has been great. Word of mouth between collectors goes a long way, but I know that I have made some sales because people were simply searching on-line for something different.

Q: There's a long tradition of poets becoming interested in printing, sometimes as a means to get their own work published, but less often than people probably think. Why is that? Is it because poems are shorter than prose, and so less daunting to undertake? And why has there been this long-held bias against self-published work, when (for example) in the music world we celebrate people who record and release their own songs?

A: I can’t say that I have ever heard that recording artists avoid this stigma, so I can’t comment on that. As for poets, I know that writers like Margaret Atwood first published their own poetry in a chapbook. I think that slim book sells for over $1000 now. It is unfortunate that people assume if you can’t get someone else to publish your work, then it mustn’t be any good. It will be interesting to see if the advent of print-on-demand services will create a resurgence in people publishing their own work. There is certainly a history there, even for novelists. Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ernest Hemingway, all self-published. I think, though, that since poetry books tend to be fewer pages than novels, it is more economical for a poet to self-publish. I also think that poets, for the reasons I gave earlier, concerning the link been words, interpretation and spatial cues, are more interested in the design and presentation of their work. I suppose experimental writers of any genre would be more likely to go the self-publishing route because of the freedom it affords them.

Q: Given PP's stated goal of publishing "to give voice to the marginalized, to build and support new literary communities," especially for poetry, do you find the limited edition a more effective method of connecting texts and audiences?

A: In general, the people who buy and collect limited editions do so for different reasons than people who buy trade books. For some collectors, content is less of an issue, so I’d have to answer no to that question. The quoted statement applies to my goal as a small press publisher of poetry. Larger publishing houses tend not to publish poetry, unless by a highly recognized and award-winning poet, because not enough copies can be sold to make it worth their time and resources. They simply can’t make money. This is where small presses, I believe, have their unique power and important social function. They are the risk-takers—the ones who publish unknown, marginal or experimental poets and create audiences for them. If it were not for small presses, then these books might never be published. Some, perhaps, should have stayed unpublished, but others will have a great impact on many people.

Q: How do you recognize such text/poems/poetry that fulfills this role? This may come down to simple (& impossible to explain) publisher's instinct, but thought I'd ask.

A: I make decisions relatively quickly, based on if I find the work intriguing. If, after a few pages, I am not intrigued enough to want to read more than it goes in the reject pile. Most end up there. For the few that make it further along, I can’t explain exactly how I decide. Ultimately, I go with what I like.

Q: What are some of your upcoming projects?

A: In 2007, I am publishing two poetry trade books and two limited-edition chapbooks. The limited editions are Valerie Stetson’s The House Poems and Christian Bök’s Triptych. I am very excited about Triptych, which is one poem in three parts. It will have a stained glass overlay, and be built into a hinged wooden frame that folds up and stores in a sleeve. I haven’t quite figured out some of the technical details, but that is part of the challenge and the fun.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Finally Finished?

I have finally finished my manuscript, or at least I think I have. I am, no doubt, the type of writer who could go on revising and editing indefinitely. I simply don’t know when to stop. It has been seven years in the making, and I’m still not convinced it is done, but then, it probably will never be. For me, poems are fluid and their movements never have a permanent shape.

Here are a few of their current shiftings:

Self-Portrait, Elizabeth Siddal, 1853-54. Oil on canvas.

Your stiff collar and hair neatly pinned into a chignon
suggest Victorian modesty, yet there is defiance
in your sharply drawn nose, chin slightly raised.

A study in contradictions. You burn slow.
All around you green — a swampy marsh like singed
leaves, sap, wormwood, at once sweet smelling
yet choked with decay. Quickening.

He painted your gaze downcast,
claiming the right to control what your eyes gathered in.
Yet here you are starring back at me, those large, sad eyes
demanding I see you as you are. Confronting me. Boldly.
A viridescent haze around your head like unripe fruit.

Beata Beatrix
Beata Beatrice, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1864-1870. Oil on canvas.

I look at you through his eyes.
The contours of nose and chin brushed onto canvas.
He controls your hair, an ecstatic red, your eyes shut
as if in trance. This last portrait,
completed after your death, paints you
as Dante’s muse. As Beatrice, eternal.

Framed inside a frame, the dove places
a poppy in your hands — already colder
than they once were.

He chose you as his favorite model,
made you his mistress and student.
For hours you sat or stood motionless,
the feeling in your arms gone dead,
while he drew you thin and pale,
with hands and mouth curled shut
like a bud not yet bloomed.

The illness that kept you weak, withdrawn
into darkened rooms with blinds snapped shut,
did not affect your beauty. He told you
you looked most beautiful while sleeping,
painted you languid and heavy-lidded,

as if your eyes had nothing to say,
except when mirroring his own.

Still Life

He does not like to paint bowls
of apples and pears, decaying roses
in a light filled vase. Chiaroscuro.

The bare scarcity of an object
frightens him, the nakedness of a face
alone in saturated light. Clean cut
shadows on cheekbones.

He surrounds his women
with subtext. Crowns of dainty blossoms,
thick furs,
birds in flight.

A face crowded by symbolism. Silenced.
Leaves and flowers, stylized, pushed up
against the flatness of canvas.
Her eyes are open, yet she is closed
to the world.