Saturday, November 15, 2008

That's how the archetypal Tower crumbles

Sue Hartman has finished her piece "First Step" for the 2008 Poetry Scores Art Invitational, which will go down Friday, Nov. 21 at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, 3100 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood.

Sue's title, like the titles of all of the pieces in the show, is drawn verbatim from K. Curtis Lyle's great poem about 9/11, Nailed Seraphim. That's the idea behind a Poetry Scores Art Invitational: artists respond to the same poem, title their work with a scrap of language from the poem, then we hang their pieces in the space according to where in the flow of the poem the title appears.
Here's the part of Curtis' poem she responded to:

The first step was the hardest
Like the first word of a poem
The pen scratching uncertainly
But indelibly, across the paper stairs
Of the babbling tower

John Minkoff's piece responded to the same lines in his drawing, and no wonder: these lines are both a scene-setter and a show-stealer.

Sue also sent a remarkable analysis of the poem and her creative process. This really got me thinking about the poem all over again, which is, of course, why we do these things. Here is Sue on Curtis and on painting to his poem:


The line shows up on one of the flights of stairs. It kinda references "feet don't fail me now," as well as Ground Zero and the collapse of the Towers in general. The more times I read Lyle's poem, the deeper I fell into it.

While I was drawing/painting it, it occurred to me that the stuff we've been taught about humans facing fear with either a fight or flight response was too limiting. Shocked, some people freeze in place and are unable to act or even think sometimes, and others react with resignation and acceptance. There is a kind of grace in facing "what is" when what you are facing is the insurmountable. Some bow to the inevitable when the archetypal Tower crumbles and sends the world into upheaval.

Also, as Lyle said in the poem, a man who survives against all odds must enter some transcendent state to be able to do so, when no one else could. It likewise seems to me that type of consciousness that allows a survivor to keep running while the world crumbles could actually parallel and be similar to the mental state of people who don't make it out alive. There's a sense of vividness and detachment that happens when tragedy occurs.

Personally, I am thinking of the young man who crashed and died in our driveway and the sense of fragmentation that brightens colors and heightens noises in the aftermath, but it also makes everything distort and look surreal and somewhat distant. It's a weird phenomenon.

That's where my reverie took me when I was painting and maybe it'll explain partially, at least, where I took the painting. That is, if I took it anywhere.

It' s different than anything I've ever attempted before. Sometimes when I was working on it, I got the feeling, like I sometimes do in writing, that I wasn't doing it myself. It came out different than my original vision by about 180 degrees. When I tried to impose logic on my impulses, I screwed it up and had to rework that part. The color was the part that weirded me out the most. The color choices seemed like taking dictation.

I KNOW Curtis Lyle will love all that. As I said: why we do these things.

All art at the invitational will be on sale in a silent auction setting, with starting bids set by the artists (and typically set low). Every year, this makes for steals. The show runs 6-10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21, with free beer partly donated by Schlafly.

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