Friday, June 03, 2022

Red Letter Poem #113

 In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                                          – SteveRatiner



Red Letter Poem #113




Stasis: “the state of equilibrium or inactivity caused by opposing equal forces.”  Like that brief pause between the back-and-forth of a housepainter’s brush.  Like that childhood urge to climb higher, countered by the unrelenting pull of gravity, leaving you temporarily transfixed on your perch.  Like the need of a conscious mind to hold the world in abeyance at times – even while the poet’s temperament would opt for opening the floodgates and letting thought and emotion come rushing in.  So, in order to claim a moment’s quiet, the speaker in Christopher Jane Corkery’s poem observes the painter at work – not even the whole painter, but that portion visible through the frame of her window.  And the mind is stilled by the simple beauty of perception, by that life-long practice that allows words to coalesce into a clear picture, brimming with possibility.  “Yet briefly, no one is sick, and fate/ declines for this half-hour to announce a thing” – and suddenly the emotional valence is multiplied.  At the time, the poet’s household had experienced its share of calamities, and this thought, this poem, provided something of a respite.  And though this piece – taken from Christopher’s last book (Love Took the Words; Slant Books) – pre-dates the pandemic, doesn’t it resonate with something most of us have been feeling, and far-too-often: a desperate need to make it all stop, just long enough so we can catch our breath?


Christopher has the ability to craft poems that pulse with color, action, subterranean streams of emotion while, at the same time, helping the mind to achieve a moment of stasis where it can reflect on that mysterious confluence – observation, memory, and dream – forces that we instantly recognize as human (not to mention the workings of the mind’s own ineluctable machinery.)  She published her first poem in Southern Poetry Review in 1977 and has appeared widely in journals ever since.  She’s been awarded a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the St. Botolph Club Foundation, and the MA Artists Foundation.  She’s currently at work on her third collection, begun at the American Academy in Rome where she was a visiting artist in early 2020 before the pandemic drove us all into seclusion.  In addition to being a poet, she's also a doting grandmother and a sculler who has competed numerous times in the Head of the Charles Regatta.


I love how there is often a still point inside my favorite poems, hovering between what we know and what is unknowable – the carefully-crafted language helping us toward a greater acceptance of that decidedly human predicament.  And the emblems of that awareness – two roads diverging in an autumn New England wood; the pale Parisian faces rising from the dark of the Metro; or even a painter’s well-turned ankle glimpsed on a hot summer day – they seem to remain inside our consciousness, almost as they were our own creation.  And now, reading silently, they are.



Painter on Scaffolding in Summer



Inside the house, all I can see

are the painter’s legs from waist down.

And I am struck by his delicate ankles;

it is August, and hot, and he wears no socks.

On his feet old lace-up oxfords --

the elegance of it! Strong legs, and the barest

horizontal motions in the torso

as he edges clapboards. Back. Forth.


Why this seems hopeful I do not know.

Yet briefly, no one is sick, and fate

declines for this half-hour to announce a thing.

And I remember you standing at ease

after a race, the center of your chest moving,

not seeming to move.



                         – Christopher Jane Corkery 





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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Somerville Artist Richard Baker: On Closer Inspection

Somerville Artist Richard Baker: On Closer Inspection

By Doug Holder

I met Richard Baker at the Miller Street Art Galleries in Somerville, MA. He is a tall, thin man, with large glasses; that fits his inquiring sensibility. He wants viewers to look closer at his paintings of seemingly ordinary objects, and to realize the high holy of the banal or everyday.

Baker told me he came to Somerville after 25 years in New York City. During this time Baker taught at Rutgers in New Jersey, and had a studio in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. Baker told me one of the reasons he left the city was to pursue a love interest. But he found fertile ground in our burg, securing an ample and reasonably-priced space at the Miller Street Studios. He discovered living and working in Somerville was a less stressful environment than he found on the mean streets of NYC. He said, " I love the sense of community at Miller Street, and the ongoing conversation with other residents artists."

Baker told me that he has an interest in poetry, especially as it relates to painting. Like Jeannie Mortherwell, who I interviewed recently, he is a friend with the noted poet John Yau. It seems that he worked with Yau at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, as a coordinator of a program that worked with artists, as well as poets and writers. Baker told me he has had many conversations with Yau about the intersection of poetry and art. Baker reflected, "Poetry like painting is a snapshot of experience--it can be episodic and visceral."

Baker told me that he creates paintings of old book covers. For instance, I noticed he did an evocative painting of the " Naked Lunch" by Beat Generation writer and provocateur William Burroughs. Although a book cover painting can be seen on the surface level...there is more than meets the eye. Freud once said, " Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." But in this case it seems that Baker sees the metaphorical aspects of book covers. Baker opined, "Book covers are in essence a face. A face that ages, accumulates wrinkles, dogears, a frayed spine.. So much more is going on than simply a book cover."

Baker often uses the detritus of everyday life in his work. Newspapers, takeout coffee cups, books, etc...can take the stage. " I try to bring meaning to things we don't ordinarily think of," Baker said. And indeed --Baker is enamored with these seemingly banal objects. He told me he comes from "a very working-class background," so instead of focusing on, let's say the fine bone china in a patrician tea service, he may well be more enamored with an old Schlitz beer can. My kind of guy!

In terms of process Baker starts out with an abstract surface, and the often paints realistic objects over it. This is of interest to me because in writing a poem I start with a realistic surface and then transition to the abstract.

Baker can be found in his studio most of the time. He is a very established artist, with exhibits in prestigious galleries around the world, yet he is an affable presence, and welcomes people to visit the studio. Although many of his work are outside the price range of a casual buyer, there are some pieces that may be more affordable..

To find out more about Richard Baker go to: