Nothing New Under the Sun

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4th of July in my neighborhood

Cleveland is preparing to host the Republican Presidential Convention in just a few days.  This opportunity has given the city the impetus to complete a number of infrastructure projects so Cleveland will shine in the eyes of all the out-of-towners.  Our brand spanking new Public Square is a hit, by all accounts.  But I’m not sure the re-designed bridges into the city will be done in time.  The Cavaliers’ championship got in the way a little when game six came back to the “Q” where the convention will be held, holding up the schedule for preparing the arena for the promised “show.”  The security zone for the convention will make it very hard for ordinary folks to get close to the action – not just protesters, but the locals who just recently fell in love with the splashy, family-friendly Public Square.

But down the road about five miles, in University Circle, the Art Museum recently put on a show that was as open as any kind of public event could possibly be.  Starting with Parade the Circle and ending a week later, the Museum’s Centennial Festival Weekend was filled, hour by hour, with open access to a dizzying schedule of creative performances and interactive events, topped off  by a grand, perfect-weather Solstice celebration and an outdoor Cleveland Orchestra performance.

I was pleased to be part of this Centennial Weekend  and, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, participated as a member of Literary Cleveland, writing ekphrastic poems inspired by works of art in the Museum’s collection.  One of the works I chose was a painting by American artist John Rogers Cox, titled Gray and Gold.

Gray and Gold It is a work that has fascinated me for decades, with its surreal juxtaposition of nostalgic Americana against the menace of a pending storm.  In researching the work I learned that Cox was a member of both the Regionalist School of American scene painting (he was from Indiana), like Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and Edward Hopper, and worked in the Magic Realist Landscape tradition. The painting was done in 1942, shortly after America entered WW II, a time of great patriotism and great uncertainty and fear.

As much as I thought I knew this painting by heart – I’d kept a very large framed poster of it for many years – I now had the chance, with this ekphrastic assignment, to study it in greater depth in the Museum itself.  And a detail that had escaped me previously created the impetus and inspiration for the poem I eventually wrote.  Two tiny white squares of paper on a telephone pole at the bottom of the painting spoke to me of how everything comes around again, and how the emotions and the polarization of this political season, while alarming, are not new.

You can read the poem, Crossroad, here.

 

 

 

 

 

Ekphrastic Celebration

balloonsMilestones should be celebrated.  Graduations  – ‘tis the season, Solstice – coming up, and birthdays.  For art lovers in Cleveland there’s a big one of those happening right now. Our illustrious Art Museum is 100 years old this month.

I don’t normally use this blog to promote things, but since I get to be a teeny, tiny part of this great celebration, I am taking a liberty. And my part has a lot to do with the ‘paying attention’ focus of this blog. During the Museum’s Summer Solstice weekend coming up (June 25 and 26), the good folks there have invited local artists of all disciplines to come and showcase their work for the public – inside and outside the Museum.

I will be there Saturday as both a local poet/artist and representing Literary Cleveland, a new organization dedicated to “serving writers and readers through a collaborative network of services that inform, advance and elevate the literary arts for the benefit of all in Northeast Ohio” according to the mission statement.

My task will be to compose ekphrastic poems, inspired by favorite works of art in the Museum. If ‘ekphrastic poetry’ is not a familiar term, I will tell you that ekphrasis is from the Greek.  It is a form of rhetoric that attempts to bring the experience of an object to a listener or reader through highly detailed descriptive writing.  Ekphrastic poetry is as old as Homer’s description of the shield of Achilles in The Iliad.  It has become an established poetic undertaking, with poets responding in verse to their experience of a work of art (usually) in another medium and most often a work of visual art.

For this event I will be paying close attention to some of my favorite works in the Museum and to my own experience of them.  I’ll try to translate my experience into poems which I hope will honor the artwork and resonate successfully as creative efforts of their own.

So, I will be at the Museum, in a tent somewhere around the lovely Wade Lagoon, Saturday, June 25 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, working on my poems.  So far I’ve chosen two pieces to write about; a painting, Gray and Gold, 1942  by John Rogers Cox (American, 1950 -1990) and an ancient, ‘flame style’ Japanese cooking pot from the Middle Jomon period – about 3,000 BC.  Here’s the images.  Gray and Gold

CMA Jomon Pot

If they turn out well, I’ll post the poems after they are done.  Come visit if you can.  It’s free.

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