CMA Thinker
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CMA Thinker

The Art of Poetry: Bringing Art to Life Through Words

Deidre McPherson, Department Director of Public Programs, Public and Academic Engagement

On Saturday, April 21, in honor of National Poetry Month, the CMA hosted Speak Up, Speak Out: Ekphrastic Poetry Day in partnership with Literary Cleveland, Lake Erie Ink, and Twelve Literary Arts. Ekphrasis is a Greek work, meaning description; ekphrastic poetry is directly inspired by art.

Image courtesy Nathanael Garrett for Cleveland Museum of Art.

Through a series of workshops, an open mic, and in-gallery performances, we empowered people to share and develop new ideas and perspectives about works in the museum’s collection. And we were proud to convene and collaborate with the local organizations that are shaping our city’s literary arts scene with programs that encourage and showcase creative writers.

At the CMA, we want to present public programs that introduce new ways to experience our collection, using it as a lens through which we understand today’s world. With the help of these poetic expressions, we hope you find new meaning in the artworks, never looking at them the same way again.

Image courtesy Nathanael Garrett for Cleveland Museum of Art.

At the CMA, we want to present public programs that introduce new ways to experience our collection, using it as a lens through which we understand today’s world. — Deidre McPherson, Department Director of Public Programs

Ekphrastic poetry brings art to life through words. Read a selection of works below to see how poets reimagined artwork from the CMA’s collection with words in honor of National Poetry Month.

Image: Just the Two of Us, 1982. Julia Wachtel (American, born 1956). Acrylic on canvas; 187.9 x 198 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Dorothea Wright Hamilton Fund, 2014.394

Study №5 by Michelle R. Smith

After Just the Two of Us by Julia Wachtel

Women should be gentle.

Women should be meek.

It is best when they serve &

It is worst when they speak.

Girls are so small.

Girls are so cute.

We love when they are powerless &

We love when they are mute.

The best type of girls & women —

The ones we enjoy the best —

Are those put down in pictures &

Trapped at our behest.

Dominance is so primary

To being American & male

That we will buy girls or women

If someone puts them on sale.

So let’s celebrate misogyny,

Objectification

& all the anti-woman violence

Still plaguing our nation.

Image: Landscape, Glen Canyon, c. 1960. Brett Weston (American, 1911–1993). Gelatin silver print; 19.3 x 24.4 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of the Christian Keesee Collection, 2017.139. © The Brett Weston Archive

Photograph of the Glen Canyon by Ali McClain

After Brett Weston’s Landscape, Glen Canyon

When we visit the Glen Canyon

We take a three-hour trail

And eat our lunch on a dramatic rock.

I serve hummus and avocado toast.

It is fall.

The weather is mild, the sun

Easy on our skin.

We watch and watch and watch.

Nothing is as beautiful, as quiet, as still.

I envy the river’s reach.

So fine are the clouds.

So wonderful to simply gaze and relish nature’s work.

Image: Cumulo, 2014. Sanford Biggers (American, born 1970). Spray paint, interior paint, fabric treated acrylic paint; 182.8 x 189.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Agnes Gund, 2015.82

Going Nuclear by Mary E. Weems

After Cumolo by Sanford Biggers

When the world ends

in the fire next time

some will be making breakfast, love,

quilting, painting, writing their version

of important moments

no one will be left to read.

Image: Saint Peter Repentant, 1645. Georges de La Tour (French, 1593–1652). Oil on canvas; 114 x 95 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1951.454

Saint Peter Repentant by Kisha Nicole Foster

After Saint Peter Repentant by Georges de La Tour

Pleading for forgiveness

for wrong done.

Staring stoic at memories

vivid colors of grief.

Ignoring our flesh voices

for spirit speak.

Time now is reverence

the giving up of our

wrongdoings.

Posture triangular

light dimmed

a sign of sleeplessness

Hands clasping

cupping flaws

Somber we sit in a state of shock

A rooster crowing

our denial.

Image: Rho I, 1977. Jack Whitten (American, 1939–2018). Acrylic on canvas; 182.8 x 213.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Scott C. Mueller and Margaret Fulton Mueller, 2010.1. © Jack Whitten

Rho 1 by Damien McClendon
After Jack Whitten’s Rho 1

my mind is all railroads

to places that probably need more music

places that can use a record store of wonder

yet the Airway is fixed in static

the doorway is the only thing not broken something out there still thinks I can be a bird

you have to believe in Wings to be a bird and I am too much a railroad laying on the earth broken

always in need of more music always in reception of infinite static

and unforgiving wonder

suspended unmoving wonder

you are the bird

Soaring Over ocean static

never dreaming of railroads

because freedom is your music

and it has never been broken

so it has always been broken

or at least felt The Wonder

of shattering and all that music

what a bird would give to not be a bird to have the need for railroad

to just be static

those with wings in the boredom of static willing to fall from the sky to fill the broken

things on tracks remind me of absence the railroad going nowhere worth the loss of where we are

the Wonder is worth more

and any bird will tell you what train to take to find the music

and Truth is all the paths lead music even the static

all the birds will send you this until the broken is not as big as the wonder and all the birds will send you

a railroad native music no static anywhere Birds everywhere Wings not broken

Wonder as long as a railroad to Infinity

Read a larger selection of poems from poets who participated in the inaugural Speak Up Speak Out event, and check out a series of images from this program below.

Image courtesy Nathanael Garrett for Cleveland Museum of Art.

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