Monday Jul 22

NelsonMarilyncreditRachelElizaGriffiths Marilyn Nelson is the author or translator of over twenty-four books. Her latest collection of poems is Faster Than Light (2012), winner of the 2013 Milton Kessler Poetry Award. The Homeplace (1990) was a finalist for the National Book Award. The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (1997) won the 1998 Poets' Prize and was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Award, the PENWinship Award, and the Lenore Marshall Prize. The Cachoiera Tales and Other Poems (2005) won the L.E. Phillabaum Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.Her numerous young adult books include Carver: A Life in Poems (2001), which received the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, was a National Book Award finalist and was designated both a Newbery Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Another of her young adult books, A Wreath For Emmett Till, also won the 2005 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and was designated a 2006 Coretta Scott King Honor Book, a 2006 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and a 2006 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book. Her honors include two NEA creative writing fellowships, the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award, an A.C.L.S. Contemplative Practices Fellowship, the Department of the Army's Commander's Award for Public Service, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship and a fellowship from the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Nelson is a professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut, was founder/director and host of Soul Mountain Retreat, and held the office of Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001 to 2006. Marilyn was awarded the 2012 Frost Medal, the Poetry Society of America's most prestigious award, for "distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry." In January 2013 she was elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets.

LardyPhilippe Philippe Lardy, born in Switzerland, is an illustrator and painter. He attended the School of Visual Arts in the late 80's in New York. He co-published "GIN & COMIX" with Jose Ortega, inspired by RAW Magazine, bringing together an international showcase of artists. He drew for numerous prominent American periodicals, publishers and corporations. Among his clients are the New York Times, Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Levi's, Bluenote Records and Disney. Lardy moved to Paris in 2000 and began to give greater emphasis to his painting while remaining an active American illustrator. He is the art director of "SOLDES ALMANAC," an art publication infused with outsider art, philosophy, politics and comix, "words for the crazed and the wise." In the next issue, he is presenting a sequential story inspired by images from the subconscious, titled “HYPERSOMNIA.” His art tends to be stylized and graphic with flat colors. Textures are worked in layers that can resemble frescos. Subjects are symbolic and explore the dreamlike nature of archetypes.  Co-founder of le Crayon, the French illustration society, he produces editorial illustrations and gallery art, both of which have been widely exhibited. Lardy has been honored with awards such as American Illustration, Communication Arts, the Society of Illustrators, and PRINT magazine. LINKS: here & here.

Marilyn Nelson and Philippe Lardy interview with John Hoppenthaler

The two of you first collaborated on A Wreath for Emmett Till (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), a sonnet crown based on the brutal 1955 murder of a fourteen-year-old African-American child visiting relatives in a small Mississippi town.  Accused of giving a white woman a "wolf whistle" outside a market, he was killed by the husband of woman and his half-brother.  It’s an extremely difficult subject matter for a book intended for juveniles. How did the collaboration come about?  Can you talk a bit about that collaboration, its difficulties and logistics, and what the experience was like for you?

MN: That first collaboration was created by our publisher, who decided which artist to pair with the text I had already written. I don't think Philippe knew the specific story, or the general history of American racism, and his initial sketches were a pretty visceral response. I was hoping to be able to present a copy of the finished book to Emmett Till's mother, so I asked Philippe to tone down the emotional level of his art, give the reader/viewer more breathing space.

PL: My first reaction was a deep emotion, a state of shock. Marilyn Nelson's writing was so finely crafted; it was musical piece, an opera. The structure, precise and harmonious, gave emphasis to the brutal and senseless murder of Emmett. Additionally, I felt that the book's meaning even outgrew the story of Emmett, that it contained a universal message. It gave echo to my personal questioning at that time, which was about needing to face and accept both the luminous and the dark side of oneself in full conscience to avoid destructive behavior. There was no need to add elements to Nelson's writing that would reinforce these images in a literal sense. I needed to create a stage that would give a new point of view to the piece of art. I thought that the illustrations should not be sentimental but symbolic and also very structured with the use of recurrent motives throughout the book. I had no direct contact with Marilyn Nelson during the making of the illustrations. I was interacting with a designer/art director. It was a regular commissioned job from an editor, who gave me much freedom to determine my personal approach to the piece. Images were created after the writing was completed. A Wreath for Emmett Till is a very unique project, and it came at a perfect timing for me, as it was at mid distance between fine art and illustration. My only dream would be to redesign the object in a new size and manner that would give it a greater impact and artistic significance, which I think it deserves.

It seems to me, Marilyn that collaboration differs from solo art in a number of ways that are intriguing.  One of these ways is that a reader tends to move from a relatively singular engagement toward one that must allow for duality.  That is, we must think more fully in terms of comparison and contrast, cause and effect, intent and terminus.  Can you talk about the images and ghazals in these terms?  In what ways do you feel that the poems, prompted by Philippe’s prints, make use of the “stuff” of the images, the texture and spirit of them?

MN: I'm not sure how to answer. What I can say is that I proposed to Philippe that, as our original collaboration had been one-way— the artist's images responding to the writer's text—we try the opposite kind of one-way collaboration, the writer's text responding to the artist's images. My ghazals are responses to Philippe's images.

The ghazal, as I understand the form, comes from ancient Asian roots.  In the United States, we tend to credit the late Indian American poet, Agha Shahid Ali, for its relatively recent popularity.  Why did this particular form feel right to you as you sought to respond to these images?

MN: I chose to write ghazals only because I had never tried to write a ghazal. I think you have to try to write in a form before you can really understand how the form "works." In this case, the repeated phrase is the anchor tying my words to Philippe's images. The anchor, the pivot-point, the point of the compass: the poem can only go so far away from the image inspiring it.

Philippe, you are an artist who lives in both the world of art for art’s sake and art for utility’s sake.  Is that fair to say?  You are very prolific; on one hand you participate in graphic projects such as record covers, t-shirts, brochures, annual reports, shopping bags, and advertising and corporate images for many large companies, and on the other, you create art that is exhibited in fine galleries throughout the world.  How do you balance the two?  How do the processes differ?  Does one function sometimes contribute to the other?

PL: When I arrived in New York, where I spent thirteen years, I became, quite unexpectedly, an illustrator and collaborated with a wide range of clients. I learned the craft of communicating ideas in a metaphorical way. What makes illustration such a wonderful medium is that, unlike gallery art, it is "un-honorable," it is "B" art. The true art of the moment, that speaks to the people. Illustration is all about creating images from words. When I was starting in the "business," art directors pushed me to be as creative as possible; it was all very exciting. But things got different at the end of the millennium. Magazines where folding, as they were owned by a very limited number of conglomerates. We had less and less freedom. There was too much pressure on us.  I got tired being asked to repeat my style and ideas again and again. The illustration blues! At that time, vivid images from my subconscious started to impose themselves as a new path to create art. I gave up being strictly an illustrator and left for Paris where I started to work on my own images, large paintings and collaborated to the new magazine, SOLDES, as an art director. There I had found a free ground to publish the works of the artists I admired (often my friends from the US), and a way to create my images in a free and uncensored environment.

Marilyn, you are now retired from teaching at the University of Connecticut, and you finished a five-year-term as poet laureate of Connecticut in 2006.  I know that you’re the founder and director of the Soul Mountain Retreat, a writer’s colony that grew out of your experiences with Cave Canem.  How’s that going?  What else is on the way from Marilyn Nelson?

MN: I bought a large home in the country and ran Soul Mountain as a small artists retreat in my home for ten or eleven years, at first with financial support from the University of Connecticut, then later at my own expense. I wanted a Soul Mountain residency to be seen as an honor, a gift, so I didn't ask guests to pay. At first, I had an assistant. But for most of those years, I did it alone. I stopped when I could no longer afford the financial and physical costs. I still live in the house. I'm waiting to hear about a couple of manuscripts publishers have been sitting on. I have a contract to write another book. I don't know what comes next.

And how about you, Philippe, what things should we look forward to from you in the coming months?

PL: I am working on a graphic novel, HYPERSOMNIA, from ten years of notes from my dreams. It is basically the story of an artist who is looking for a way to create meaningful art away from the hype by exploring the darkest sides of himself in a new light. I am also preparing a fine art show in Geneva with large paintings of Water Dams, exploring their symbolic meaning with large cardboard sculptures in collaboration with French artist Martes Bathori. Also with SOLDES magazine, the third issue of our Almanac that comes out every couple of years will be presented next month. It contains prestigious artwork from artists such as Cal Schenkel, the author of many Frank Zappa record covers, hyper hobo artist Allison Schulnik from L.A., Christian Marclay, Annie Sprinkle on the concept of EcoSex and much more. SOLDES is partially translated into English.


My Memory

imageformymemory Each moment I pass through takes me in and becomes me.
All time and the universe meet in my memory.

Cell by cell, atom by molecule, I am made new.
Yet something persists that calls itself my memory.

Sometimes I’m afraid my soul is a shallow river.
Then I look down into the depths of my memory.

Do we dream selves? Or are we dreamed by the universe?
Does the universe smile, as it dreams my memory?

Every Columbus expects to sail to a new world.
I’ll get there poling the coffin of my memory.

An old woman sleeps like a cathedral on a hill.
Inside, a girl prays for guidance through my memory.

Like the face of water moved on, the brain has ripples.
The nothing nowhere mind is smooth as my memory.

Bon courage, little adventurer, as the current bends.
Fear not. Whatever you find will be my memory.

The Light Sphere

imageforlightspere My eyes saw a baseball sized light speed from the height here.
Take us to your leader, my ears heard from the light sphere.

I met myself in the future, in that crystal ball.
You’ll need an armored heart to look into the light sphere.

The horror and beauty of unleashed humanity
sleeps in a snowed-under village inside the light sphere.

All the things you’ve refused to confess about yourself
stare unapologetically back from the light sphere.

The drone cam will fly on, reveal my shame to others,
unless I can find a way to destroy the light sphere.

Now you’re in a stone hut somewhere high in the Andes.
You yawn and stretch, then see me watching from the light sphere.

The bearer of bad tidings pauses, about to knock.
Should he tell the truth? Leave them laughing in the light sphere?

Toy people look through the glass and cry to me for help.
They don’t know the toy universe floats in the light sphere.

Night Doves

imageforNightDoves Unbeknownst to you, you’ve become a source of white doves.
Pry open your sternum, release a flock of night doves.

The rewards of introspection: lifelong solitude,
the secret-keeper’s smile, being pregnant with night doves.

Which comes first: spring, or the doves cooing back its colors?
Joy bears sorrow. Mourning grows in the eggs of night doves.

What if a photograph really does capture the soul?
Am I the stained-glass window, or am I the night doves?

Every morning the sun comes to me to beg for light.
Ask love’s door to open, if you want to free night doves.

This poem is brought to you by forces that desire you.
Please remit, and download your own podcast of night doves.

I used to be so sure I knew where I was going.
Then I exploded and was the parent of night doves.

Alone facing my terrors, I hear rain at midnight.
How many breaths before my last? How many night doves?

A Floating Hull

imageforafloatinghull I picked a star, wished for one personal miracle.
Then my ship came in. I looked up at a floating hull.

You can learn many things looking at undersides.
From here, one sees the barnacles on a floating hull.

Some get seasick. Some develop acrophobia.
Some ignore the ladder lowered from a floating hull.

We come in peace, the voice proclaimed as they descended.
But we disappeared when we entered a floating hull.

In this ark, the past will travel into the future.
Tomorrows sleep curled together in a floating hull.

What grateful curses we pay the savior-enslavers.
Home: a meaningless syllable, in a floating hull.

I swear by all goodness: I believe these promises.
You’re doomed, if you stay, to be crushed by a floating hull.                   

Abandon the mundane quotidian, join the crew.
Our reality show: Life Inside a Floating Hull.


photo credit for Marilyn Nelson to Rachel Eliza Griffiths