Friday, November 21, 2008

Word is shield for Jon Cournoyer

Here are two looks at Jon Cournoyer's contribution to the 2008 Poetry Scores Art Invitational, which bears the magnificent title -

Here is the carrier of the new word
Raised magnificently
Against those who would enter the exalted crucible
In shroud
- and an opening bid that requires the eyes to resize the frame, once or twice, looking for the mizzing zeroes: $100, folks. I am personally bidding with about $250 tonight and will certainly be getting into the action on Jon's piece.

The invitational is a one-night group show and silent auction going on 6-10 p.m. tonight (Friday, Nov. 21) at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, 3100 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood.

Our annual Art Invitational has a few simple rules, which Jon (among the most beloved and accomplished of local artists) embraced. Artists must respond to the poem that is the subject of the event, and they must title their work after a verbatim quote from the poem. The work is then arranged in the exhibit space based upon where in the flow of the poem the quote chosen as the title appears.

This year, the poem we all have been inhabiting is Nailed Seraphim, a meditation on 9/11 and the American crucible by local (national) poet K. Curtis Lyle. Curtis' piece ranges wildly in diction, tone, and mood. Whereas many artists reveled in its sarcasm and profane humor, Jon and several other artists - Michael Hoffman, Cindy Tower and Christopher Gustave hang beside him - tackled one of the more intensely lyrical passages of the poem.

It's the second of the poem's seven sections, which I'll share in full with links to the other pieces:


2. The Arrival At Ground Zero

Spirit Catching: ‘home is where the hatred is
and it might not besuch a bad idea
if I never went home again’ - Gil Scott Heron

At first he was welcomed;
Home is the hunter;

Home is the hero
Home is the man who looked upon death
The demonic, the unspeakable horror
Of the reversed god joke

Here is the carrier of the new word
Raised magnificently
Against those who would enter the exalted crucible
In shroud
Soak themselves in camphor, swallow marigolds,
Wash dead flowers down with embalming fluid
And chant the song of the scorpion
From the mid heaven
Of the Age of Aquarius

Here is the man who is whole;
Who is one, distilled, refined, synthesized
And nailed to solar essence

Like Lord Krishna
With a fragment of himself
And remained


One thing I love about the art invitational process is it makes you focus on individual elements of long poems (Poetry Scores specializes in long poems). In fact, when artists start to submit titles for an invitational, I'll often think, "That's not in the poem, I wish people would just play by the rules." Then, skimming the poem as I prepare some polite way to chastise some great artist who is doing us a favor, sure enough, I find the line, right there in the poem where it had always been.

Take the lines Jon chose, for example:

Here is the carrier of the new word
Raised magnificently
Against those who would enter the exalted crucible
In shroud

I did not recall those lines anywhere in the poem. They are beautiful lines. Jon evidently seized the image of the word being "raised" to substitute a shield for the word. Playing off of lines that immediately follow the image of "the reversed god joke," Jon pulls his own reversal.

The "word" is often imaged as a "sword," partly because of the obvious possibilities of s/word play, partly because of some rather brilliant things Jesus Christ was reported to have said. Jon substitutes, instead, a shield. Word is shield. Shield is word.

This shield is a deeply personal piece that he labored over and struggled to relinquish. Jon brought it to board member Jon Eiler's house on Wednesday and shared some beers with the better part of the Poetry Scores board. His shield sat on the table between us (along with Lyndsey Scott's piece) while we visited.

It was exactly like having some priestly relic, or some rusted fragment from an ancient foreign war, sitting there, exalted, among us.


Curtis will perform the poem tonight as well, backed by Baba Mike Nelson, David A.N. Jackson and Christopher Y. Voelker. The event is free, and the Schlafly beer will be free, and John Eiler's pate four ways will be free. If you want to bid on the art, bring your cash, check or credit, since we will close all sales Friday night.

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