Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 22: Mellisa McCarter

Mellisa a fellow Sarah Lawrence poetry graduate, was a pleasure to write with and I very much enjoyed her ideas about various pieces throughout the museum. Her poem and observations are below.

Photo Credit due to the John Singer Sargent Gallery

The Wyndham Sisters, 1899
                  (A Portrait by John Singer Sargent)

We always have flowers at hand
to make company more pleasant,
removed before they die
at the first sign of browning.
So why is Mother in the background
if not to remind us of our own mortality?
The painter saw only what he meant to see,
blanched the peonies and compared us to gardenias
by applying his salve to our complexions.
Pamela didn’t trust him to overlook her maternal waist,
not with the evidence behind us on the wall.
Madeleine, impatient and a little bored,
the shadows were left on her face.
I saw opportunity right away,
gave the canvas all of my youth
with a look that said beneath this skirt
are legs that could strangle a man.
Though, looking back I’m not so sure
if we weren’t a portrait of death to be
rising from a chiffon vapor.

Trying to explain to a friend a quote by E. L. Doctorow, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia,” I found it difficult to explain the voices that creep into the writer’s head without sounding like a lunatic myself. But, anyone who has written while viewing art will understand exactly what this means.

I find that one of the best tricks to jumpstart these voices is to go to an art museum and write. There’s something about seeking out a narrative that’s not your own or an image that breaks you out of a daily pattern and puts you into the realm of the unordinary.  It frees the voice within—or gives you a borrowed voice with which to stir the pen. Even an empty room at The Met teems with voices and characters from the imagination. Just as yoga releases energy from stretching the body,  art releases the dormant mind.

The Met was a wonderful place to start writing as it houses more than paintings.  I found that it was easy to write once I sat down.  Moving about, my eyes preferred to sponge up everything for later. I chose to write an ekphrasis rather than just free-writing, eager at the moment to explore the mysteries of detail in “The Wyndham Sisters” by John Singer Sargent. I found a lot going on in the portrait just by their expressions alone.

Thirty days is about what you need to really appreciate everything that the Met has to offer.  I tried to take in as many rooms as I could just before I left mid afternoon.  I could imagine how odd I looked bouncing from room to room, pausing here and there and scribbling a note or two for future poems, but otherwise scanning as much as I could take in before my departure.  Brilliant idea, Caitlin.  Thanks for the great time.

1 comment:

  1. The poem is outstanding. I find it a thesis of thoughts capturing present as well as the finite aspect of life. It captures the concept of impending death from the day we're first born.
    The observations are equally intriguing. Perhaps the voices creeping into the writers head are kindred spirits who have passed on and given the open mind of the writer, wish to communicate and share their thoughts and feelings.