Inspiring Poetry: Shadows and Dreams
In October 2015, poets gathered at the museum for a day-long workshop focusing on ekphrastic poetry, the description in verse of a work of art. Visiting Shadows and Dreams: Pictorialist Photography in America, they found plenty of inspiration. Pictorialist photographers emphasized creativity and personal expression in their work, and the photographs in the exhibition represent a wide range of imaginative, artistic visions. After looking closely at the exhibition, each poet selected one or two of the photographs on view to use as a focus for the day’s writing.
Below, enjoy a selection of the poems written in the workshop. Inspired? Sign up for the next writing workshop on Saturday, August 20.
The Terminal, 1893. Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946), photogravure, Image - h:12.10 w:15.70 cm (h:4 3/4 w:6 1/8 inches) Paper - h:27.90 w:19.90 cm (h:10 15/16 w:7 13/16 inches). Gift of Karen and Walter Holtkamp 2014.421
See how she leans, yearning ear to window,
glazey eyes not so secretly wishing it be he
down there at the terminal,
tending to those fog-backed beasts,
easing their twitching haunches itching from exertion,
there at the end of the Harlem line.
So she looks and waits and wills him to turn
to her window, not caring if the dirty snow
mocks her unwomanly wanting for him
in all his work-worn glory.
Her fingers pinch curtain panels in dreamy substitution
for holding his hand, her cheek on his shoulder,
listening to him speak of the horses and how they slay
him with their thunder, so proud is he of their will.
In repose she waits once more, quietly, a shadow
and hopes for his settling gaze to land on her, and not the beastly horses.
Terminal Tower, Cleveland, 1928. Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971). gelatin silver print, Image - h:33.50 w:25.70 cm (h:13 3/16 w:10 1/16 inches) Paper - h:34.40 w:26.10 cm (h:13 1/2 w:10 1/4 inches) Matted - h:60.96 w:50.80 cm (h:24 w:20 inches). Gift of Max and Betty Ratner 1985.76. © Estate of Margaret Bourke-White /Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Terminal Tower. 1928.
There is no traffic
No evidence of rain
Just a familiarity
The time lapse I took in reverse
Terminal Tower. 1928.
The engineering of men
The smoke choking me
A vile scent
Something they grew used to
Viaduct with graceful arches
Smoke stack with bright white steam
A bridge Still There
Billows of clouds in variegated shades of grey
Was anyone looking at them?
Imagining the future
Tall pillars, odd shaped boxes and floors
Windows in varying degrees of openness
If trees, if grass, if a river
It disappears into the black
Where was the sun?
The angle of the light that birthed the tiny rectangles.
What was the season, the time of day?
And in the meantime
The mean, mean time that was to come.
The depression. Divorce. Cancer. Death.
What were you doing the day it was taken?
Rocking your granddaughter
Red cabbage with allspice and bacon
SHE was standing on Pearl Street, making art
An icon for my time travel - 2015
To visit with you
The longer I stayed, the more I entered
The more light I was exposed to
My fingers, taking notes
Shadowing in layers on the white paper
Me, Mom, Grandma, Great Grandma.
Seeking the color of my genes
The seeds of my being
Returning with their tears
-Karla L. Rivers
The Orchard (Julia Hall McCune, Letitia Felix, and Stella Howard), 1902. Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925). Photogravure, Image - h:20.50 w:15.70 cm (h:8 1/16 w:6 1/8 inches) Paper - h:28.60 w:21.10 cm (h:11 1/4 w:8 1/4 inches) Matted - h:45.72 w:35.56 cm (h:18 w:14 inches). Gift of John Flory, Elizabeth Flory Kelly, and Phoebe Flory 1980.149
I am always looking up. See the light
caught in these leaves, I say,
don’t you want to feel the rays
against your upturned chin, back arched,
arm raised to pluck a piece of God
from this tree, one globe of water and fire,
fruit of dust and patience. I choose
this one. Pose me always facing west.
I will turn from the shadows
in the shadow of apple canopies.
Why do you bow, dear Julia,
to pick discarded fruit
when you can reach heaven’s
orbs at their source?
I can’t abandon fruit that has fallen,
why leave it to return to dust—
isn’t there enough of the stuff
already, dust in my skirt, dust
in the grass, dust eating at the edges
of this orchard—enough with dust
already. Why let this one fall to earth
and rot, why not save it? I turn
and stoop, back to the sun.
I’ve had enough of its glare,
its insistence, the way it overexposes.
I carry light captured in the crumpled
plumes of my skirt. See it bellowing,
mingling with dust? It’s becoming
dust itself, linen and light together
with my dry bones, someday. Even
if it’s just this moment, I want to save
one apple between my thumb
and forefinger. I want to make it
Girls, look at the blurred bright line
that borders our orchard.
We are on the edge of eternity,
it’s coming, the place where trees
cast no shadow. Girls, I say
in a whisper, it will swallow us
soon—our gowns, our shadows,
our apples, the grass, the dust,
the trunk. Just keep picking.
This may be the only tree left
in the garden. The tree, too,
reaches up and down. Reach
for the unseen apple in the canopy,
reach for the fallen fruit
just beyond the hem of your skirt.
Keep reaching. I am watching—
your dark shadow sister—make
After Clarence White: The Orchard, 1902/1907; platinum print.
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